Wall-Hung Display Cabinet

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This article is from Issue 39 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Foolproof joinery and eye-catching detail in one lovely package

Author/Builder: Geoffrey Noden; Designer: Yeung Chan

Small treasures beg worthy display. This cabinet, designed by furnituremaker Yeung Chan, is a treasure itself, and perfect for housing prized possessions. Beautifully proportioned, it includes radiused sides and decorative mullions that overlay the door glass. The door projects slightly beyond the sides, creating a stepped reveal to complement the offset rails and stiles. The frame-and-panel back underscores the fine craftsmanship, and the bottom riser shelf elevates items above the lower door rail. Elegant, discrete knife hinges prevent interruption of the cabinet lines, and the door pull nestles in a notch in the case side. The projecting front edges of the notched adjustable shelves press against the glass to mimic muntins. I built the cabinet from mahogany, but you can use Spanish cedar (a mahogany substitute) or other reasonably straight-grained wood.

The joinery in this project is surprisingly simple, involving a bit of doweling and some tablesaw and router work. In addition to performing basic shaping with a hand plane and spokeshave, you’ll also learn how to install knife hinges and create overlay mullions. Work carefully and you’ll have one exceptional cabinet on the wall and a batch of handy skills under your belt.

With the inward face of the case top/bottom jig against the registration panel, drill the 5⁄8"-deep dowel holes in the case bottom.

Mill and drill the top, bottom, and sides

1 Study Figures 1 and 2 to familiarize yourself with the cabinet’s construction and details. This is an important step.

2 Favoring attractive grain, lay out the pieces for the top and bottom (A) and sides (B). Mill the sides to the size listed in the Cut List, but leave the top and bottom oversized about 1⁄2" in length for now. Label and mark the parts for correct orientation.

3 Make the doweling jigs as shown in Figure 3. Also make a 57⁄8 × 17" “registration panel” that you’ll use to position the case top/bottom jig (see Photo A). Ensure that the panel is dead square, mark the faces to distinguish them in use, and glue and tack a couple of small plywood scraps to the rear edge to serve as registration stops. Draw a centerline across the rear edge, and mark mating centerlines across the rear edges of the case top and bottom (A).

4 Clamp the registration panel to the inner face of the case bottom, centering the two with the panel stops against the rear edge of the case bottom. Secure the case top/bottom jig in place at one end of the registration panel with the jig’s outside face oriented outward. Then drill the 5⁄16"-diameter dowel holes 5⁄8" deep into the case bottom (A), as shown in Photo A. Without moving the registration panel, turn the jig 180°, and secure it at the opposite end of the panel so that the “out” label faces outward. Then drill those holes. Repeat the procedure to drill the holes in the case top, orienting the opposite face of the registration panel upward this time.

5 Clamp the case side jig to the end of a case side (B), orienting the jig’s outside face toward the side’s exterior face. Then drill the dowel holes 5⁄8" deep as before (Photo B). Repeat to drill the remaining case side holes.

6 Carefully mark out the shelf pin holes where shown in Figure 2. Use a 1⁄4" brad-point bit in the drill press to bore them 3⁄8" deep.

Clamp the properly oriented case side jig to the end of a case side, and drill the 5⁄8"-deep dowel holes.
Rout the stopped dadoes in the case sides by feeding toward a right-hand stopblock for one dado and a left-hand stopblock for the other.

Use a jack plane or smoothing plane to shape the radius on the sides. Work to lines drawn on the ends using a template.

Complete the sides and fit the riser

1 Lay out the 1⁄4"-wide stopped dadoes in the sides (B) to accept the riser shelf splines. Each dado sits 11⁄4" up from the bottom end of the side and stops 3⁄4" from the front edge. Rout the dadoes 1⁄4" deep. For the left-hand case side, feed toward a stopblock at the right, as shown in Photo C. For the right-hand case side, feed toward a stopblock set up to the left.

2 Saw or rout the 1⁄4"-wide × 1⁄2"-deep rabbets in the front and rear edges of the sides.

3 Mark out the radius on the ends of the sides, using a plywood template based on the Side and Stile Detail in Figure 1. Then hand-plane and sand to your lines (Photo D).

4 Dry-fit the top and bottom (A) to the sides (B), using 5⁄16"-diameter dowels 11⁄4" long.

5 Make the riser shelf (C), determining its exact length by measuring the distance between the case sides. Initially rip the shelf about 1⁄4" oversized in width, and then rip a 1⁄16"-thick strip from the front edge. Drill a 1⁄4" -diameter blind hole 1⁄8" deep in the front edge, centered 1⁄2" in from the end of the shelf where shown in Figure 1. Epoxy a rare-earth magnet into the hole, and then glue the strip over the magnet. Afterward, rip the shelf to final width by cutting away the rear edge.

6 Standing the riser shelf (C) on end, supported by the router table fence, cut the stopped grooves in each end. Then make and fit splines for the joint (see Figure 1).

7 Lay out the knife hinge mortises in the case top and bottom where shown in Figure 4, using the hinge leaf as a tracing template. To position the leaf, I first placed a 1⁄32" plastic laminate shim between the hinge and the wide face of the case rabbet. I then extended a combination square blade from the front edge of the case bottom to the front edge of the leaf, adjusting the blade as necessary to create a 1⁄8" gap between the rear edge of the hinge and the narrow shoulder of the rabbet. Trace the leaf profile with a knife or fine-tip pen. You’ll cut the mortises later.

Complete the top and bottom

1 With the case still dry-assembled, mark for the ends of the rabbets in the case top and bottom (A), referencing off the ends of the rabbets in the rear edge of each case side (B).

2 Trace along the ends of the sides to transfer their curves onto the case top and bottom. Then use a compass or pencil and washer to draw a line offset 3⁄16" from the case sides.

3 Disassemble the case and drill the top and bottom (A) for the hinge knuckle using a 5⁄16"-diameter brad-point drill bit (Photo E). Then rout the recess for the hinge leaf (Photo F) so that the leaf is flush to the surface when inset. I routed to the inner mortise edge, and then widened and squared the cut with a chisel to create a snug fit. With the leaf in place, drill the screw pilot holes (which would be a difficult maneuver after assembly).

Use the drill press to bore a 1⁄8"-deep blind hole to accept the knuckle of each hinge leaf.
Outfit your router with a 1⁄4" straight bit and edge guide to rout most of the waste from the mortise.

Spokeshave the edges working to layout lines and gauging your progress with a template. 

4 Rout the 1⁄2" stopped rabbet 1⁄4" deep in the back edges of the top and bottom (A); then square up the corners with a chisel.

5 Bandsaw the ends of the top and bottom (A) slightly outside the 3⁄16" offset lines you made in Step 2.

6 Make a plywood template from the End Profile in Figure 1, and use it as a shaping gauge when spokeshaving the ends of the top and bottom (Photo G). Use a template made from the Front Edge Profile to gauge progress when shaping the front edges.

Using curved cauls, glue the sides to the shelf riser, with the squaring panel sitting in the rear rabbets.

Glue up the case

1 Sand top and bottom (A), sides (B), and riser shelf (C) through 220 grit; then apply three coats of shellac, avoiding joint surfaces.

2 Make two 57⁄8"-long hardwood clamping cauls, bandsawing a curve into each one to match the curve of each case side.

3 Dry-fit the case parts (A,B,C) together with dowels and splines, measure between the rear side rabbets, and make a plywood or MDF panel that fits exactly between them. This “squaring board” should be about 18" long, and have dead-square corners.

4 Glue the sides (B) to the splined riser shelf (C), and dry-fit the case top and bottom (A) in place with the squaring board in the rear rabbets (Photo H). If necessary, cock the clamps slightly to bring the rabbets fully against the edges of the squaring board. After the glue cures, use a sharp chisel to pop off any hardened squeeze-out.

Glue the top and bottom to the sides, squeezing against the squaring panel if necessary to bring the case into square.

5 Make two 3⁄4"-thick MDF clamping cauls, sizing them to extend slightly beyond the ends of the case top and bottom. Clamp the top and bottom to the sides as shown in Photo I.

Make and fit the back

1 Make the stiles (D), rails (E, F), and back panel (G) to the sizes shown in the Cut List. If you don’t have a single board wide enough to make the back panel, glue it up from several narrower boards.

2 Rip the 1⁄4" grooves in the rails and stiles 3⁄8" deep where shown in Figure 1. Then saw the 1⁄4"-thick stub tenons on the rails using a tenoning jig. I cut the tenons as shown in the sidebar (page 38), using a scrap plywood standoff to protect the jig from damage, since the tenon shoulders are so narrow. Instead, you could cut each tenon in two passes, flipping the workpiece over on the jig for the second cut.

3 Cut a 3⁄8" rabbet 1⁄8" deep around the front edges of the back panel, and then finish the panel with several thin coats of shellac, applying it to the long-grain edges but avoiding the end grain at the top and bottom. Also apply finish to the rails and stiles, avoiding surfaces to be glued.

Clamp up the back assembly with 1⁄2"-diameter dowels against the edges to center the clamping pressure and prevent bowing.

4 Glue up the frame-and-panel assembly (D, E, F, G), centering the panel between the stiles (D) (Photo J). But first apply a drop of glue in the middle of the top and bottom edges to keep the panel centered during seasonal movement. Make sure the assembly is flat and square under clamp pressure.

5 Check the fit of the assembled back in the case rabbets, and plane the edges if necessary while maintaining square. Then glue the assembly into its rabbets.

6 Rout recesses for the keyhole hangers, and install them with the supplied screws, making sure they penetrate into the case sides (B).

Make the door

1 Make the door stiles (H) and rails (I, J) to the sizes shown in the Cut List, noting the differences in thickness and widths. Use straight-grained wood, and mark the parts to identify their desired orientation. 

2 Set up a dado head for a 1⁄4"-wide cut, and saw the open mortises in the stiles, offsetting them 5⁄32" from the inside face as shown in the Side and Stile Detail in Figure 1. Cut the 

1 1⁄2"-long mortise in the top of each stile first (Photo K), and then raise the blades to 17⁄8" to saw the bottom mortises.

3 Saw the tenon cheeks on the rails. As when cutting the stub tenons previously, I employ my dado head blades with shims (Photo L). Finish up by sawing the tenon shoulders (Photo M).

4 Dry-fit the parts and sand them through 220 grit, easing all interior edges on the face. Prefinish the surfaces, avoiding glue areas and the exterior frame edges.

5 Glue up the door, making sure it’s flat and square under clamp pressure. After the glue cures, pop off any excess with a chisel.

6 Rout a 1⁄4"-wide rabbet 5⁄16" deep to accept the glass. I did this on a router table with a 1⁄4" rabbeting bit. To avoid tear-out, take several passes, finishing up with a very light final pass. Then chisel the corners square.

7 To make the mullions (K), begin with a 1⁄4"-thick piece of straight-grained stock about 11⁄8" wide. Fit it to exact length between the rail rabbets. Use a dado head and sacrificial face on the tablesaw rip fence to cut a 1⁄4" rabbet 1⁄8" deep on each end, guiding the piece with the miter gauge and extension fence. (If the piece is bowed, cut the rabbets in the convex face so the mullions will press against the glass.) Rip the piece down the middle, and then use a hand plane to remove any sideways crook from each mullion as you bring it down to its final 3⁄8" width.

8 Lay the mullions in place in their rabbets, insetting them 4" from the door stiles. Mark out the 3⁄8"-wide × 1⁄8"-deep notches in the rail rabbets, and then cut them out with a chisel. Sand and finish the mullions, but don’t install them yet.

Single-Pass Tenoning

For efficiency and accuracy, I saw tenons in one pass, using the outer blades from a dado set separated by an appropriate number of shims. I had a local machine shop make eight 4"-diameter discs for me from aluminum plate of various thicknesses: two at 3⁄32", two at 1⁄8", and four at 3⁄16". I then thinned several of the discs on a drum sander as necessary to create a variety of thicknesses, numbering them for easy reference.

To set up a cut, I mount the necessary combination of discs between the dado blades, fine-tuning the distance between the blades by using the thin shims that came with my dado set. For quick setup, I keep notes of the shim combinations used for commonly cut tenons. When sawing like this, make sure to use a zero-clearance throat plate in your saw.

Prefinishing Project Parts

Finishing parts before assembly is efficient because it allows easy access to areas that might be difficult to reach after assembly. Apply the finish as you normally would, avoiding surfaces to be glued by either masking them off or simply using care in application. Prefinishing also prevents discolored areas caused by remnant glue resisting finish that’s applied over it. Best yet, hardened glue squeeze-out on prefinished parts simply pops off with a sharp chisel.

When sawing the door mortises, be sure to place the back face of the workpiece against the jig.
Saw the door rail tenon cheeks only after setting the jig for a perfect cut, using scrap.

A raised standoff board prevents the tenon offcut from jamming between the blade and fence.

After fitting and installing the door, mark its edges to correct remaining inconsistencies in the reveal.

Fit the door

1 Place the door into its opening, pressing it against the left-hand case side. If any tapered gap, or reveal, exists between the bottom of the door and the case bottom, plane the door bottom to remove it. Then measure and note any reveal at the top of the door, but don’t correct it yet.

2 Screw the case half of each hinge in place. Then connect the two bottom hinge leaves, and measure the amount of upward projection. Subtract from that measurement half the distance of any upper reveal you noted in Step 1. The result represents the depth of the door hinge mortises to be cut.

3 Lay out the door hinge mortises as shown in the Side and Stile Detail in Figure 1. Rout and chisel the mortises as before.

4 With the leaves of both hinges connected, slide the door into place onto the leaves. Holding the door to the left, check the reveal on the hinged side. If it’s inconsistent or more than about 1⁄32", carefully lengthen the mortises to correct it.

5 Next, check the reveal at the right-hand side. Mark for a 1⁄32" gap there, and then hand-plane to your line while creating a 2° back bevel to allow swing clearance. Finish by marking and planing the top edge of the door to create a similar reveal.

6 Drill screw pilot holes for the door hinges. Screw the bottom hinge leaf into place, and then slip it onto its mate. Holding the upper hinge in place, slip the mortise around it, and then install the door screws. Now check the reveals again, and mark for any inconsistencies (Photo N). Remove the door, re-plane the edges if necessary, and sand them to ease any sharp edges.

7 Lay out and drill a 1⁄8"-deep hole for the door magnet, locating it directly opposite its mate in the riser shelf. Install the magnet with epoxy, checking it for proper polarity first.

Make the pull and its recess

1 Make the pull (L) from a contrasting wood (Figure 1 Pull Detail). I used rosewood, but suit yourself. Sand it through 220 grit. 

2 Lay the pull against the case side midway up, and trace around its edges to define the front edges of the recess. Scribe a line 5⁄32" in from the case side edge on both the inside and outside faces to define the depth of the recess. Carefully saw, chisel, and file the recess to match the pull’s profile.

3 With the door in closed position, glue and clamp the pull in place while nestled in its notch.

4 Sand the notch and apply shellac to it and to the unfinished surfaces of the door.

Hang the door and make the shelves

1 Make the 1⁄4"-square glass retaining strips (M, N), and fit them into the door rabbet. Predrill the strips at a slight outward angle for easy installation with their escutcheon pins. Locate the bottom and top holes behind the mullions, and space the side holes about 61⁄2" apart. Sand and shellac the strips.

2 Glue the mullions into their notches, install a piece of 1⁄16"-thick glass with the retaining strips, and re-hang the door. Finish up by applying a thin coat of furniture wax to the cabinet, and cover the door magnet with a self-adhesive felt dot.

3 Make the shelves (O) to the sizes in the Cut List. Notch the edges where shown in Figure 1, noting that the left-hand notch is a bit longer. The notches accommodate the door stiles, allowing the shelves to extend just shy of the glass. Sand and finish the shelves, and install them after inserting the shelf supports.

4 Hang the cabinet with pride, and fill it with riches.  

About Our Author/Builder & Designer

Geoffrey Noden has been woodworking for over 30 years. The first American graduate of the John Makepeace School for Craftsmen in Wood in Dorset, England, Noden now builds custom furniture in Trenton, New Jersey. He is also the inventor of the Adjust-A-Bench and the Inlay Razor. For more info, visit adjustabench.com.

Yeung Chan is an award-winning furniture designer and builder living in the San Francisco Bay area. A graduate of The College of the Redwoods’ fine woodworking program, he studied under James Krenov and teaches woodworking classes at schools throughout the country.


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