Quilt-Front Wall Cabinet

Create a one-of-a-kind door panel from small cut parts.

Overall dimensions: 28 1⁄2"w × 10"d × 32 3⁄4"h

Having grown up helping my grandmother wind warps onto her loom and watching my mother knit sweater after sweater, the fact that I look to textiles for design inspiration isn’t a surprise. But adapting a fabric-based quilt pattern into a solid-wood door panel presents some interesting design and technical challenges. To make the parts align, your measurements need to be spot on. The panel must also be assembled in sections. The gluing and trimming process takes time, but will reward you with a spectacular final result.

The rest of the cabinet is very straightforward to build. The shelves join the sides with simple tongue-and-groove joints. The face frame goes together with pocket screws, and the door frame joinery is cut with a set of matched router bits. At the end of the day, you’ll have a real heirloom in which to house all sorts of treasured keepsakes.

Note: To accomodate wood movement you’ll need to cut the parts for the “quilted” front panel so that the grain runs from corner to corner. See “The Importance of Grain Direction” below.

Position the sides so that you have good clamp access along the edge of your bench. Run the router from left to right to make the cuts.
Embedding the bit in a sacrificial board gives you a continuous surface to guide the shelves against when cutting the tongues. 

Make the case

1 From 1" (4/4) stock, mill the case sides (A) and shelves (B, C) to the sizes listed in the Cut List.

2 Stick the sides (A) together, back edge to back edge, with a few short pieces of double-sided tape. Referring to Figure 1, lay out the dado locations for the tongue-and-groove joints, striking lines across both boards. Clamp a T-square guide across the pieces, and rout the dadoes with a 1⁄4" straight bit, as shown in Photo A above. Make the 3⁄8"-deep dadoes in two passes to avoid straining the bit.

3 Chuck a 3⁄4" straight bit in your table-mounted router. Fasten a sacrificial face to the fence, and cut a cavity for the bit to run in. Adjust the bit’s height to set the thickness of the tongue and the fence position to set its length. Cut the tongues on the ends of the shelves (B, C), as shown in Photo B, making them just shy of 3⁄8" long. This ensures that the shoulder will fit snugly against the sides.

4 While you have the 3⁄4" bit set up, cut 7⁄16" deep × 7⁄8" wide rabbets along the back edges of the case sides (A) and the top face of the bottom shelf (C). Stop the rabbets on the sides where they intersect with the dadoes for the bottom shelf.

5 Apply glue to the dadoes and tongues, and assemble the case (A, B, C). Measure the diagonals to make sure the case is square—the two measurements should be equal.

6 Cut the back (D) to fit in the rabbets. Use a chisel to square the rabbets on the case sides where they end at the bottom shelf. Spread glue in the rabbets and across the back edges of the shelves; then drop the back in place and fasten it with 3d finish nails.

Make the face frame

1 From 5/4 (1 1⁄4" thick) material, mill stock for the face frame rails (E, F), stiles (G), door rails (H), door stiles (I), and case top (J). (Note: The thickness of the door frame pieces should match that of the face frame pieces.) The case top (J) is 1" thick.

2 Cut the face frame stiles (G) to the length and width given in the Cut List and the rails (E, F) to the given widths. Measure the width of the case, and adjust the length of the rails as needed so that the face frame is 1⁄16" wider than the case itself. (You’ll plane the rails flush after assembly.)

3 Drill pocket holes in the ends of the face frame rails (E, F), referring to Figure 1 and Photo C.

4 Glue and screw the top rail (E) to the stiles (G), clamping the pieces flat on your bench to keep the faces flush as the joints go together.

5 Clamp the partially assembled face frame (E, G) in place on the front of the case. Mark the location of the top surface of the case bottom on both of the stiles.

6 Unclamp the frame from the case, and screw the bottom rail (F) in place, 1⁄2" below the marks you just made.

7 Lay out the angled cuts at the bottom edge of the assembled face frame (E, F, G). For the centered arc, simply trace a quart finish can. Bandsaw along your layout lines, as shown in Photo D.

8 Clamp the frame back in place, and trace along its bottom edge onto the edges of the case sides. Carry the lines across the sides, and use a block plane to bevel the bottom edges of the sides to match the angle of the rail.

9 Glue and clamp the face frame to the case. Once the glue dries, flush the frame to the case sides  with a block plane.

10 Cut the case top (J) to the size given in the Cut List. You may need to edge-glue a few boards to make up the necessary width. Tilt the blade on your tablesaw to a 16° angle, and bevel both ends and one edge of the top. Run the piece vertically against the fence to make the cuts.

11 Drill and counterbore seven screw holes through the top for the fasteners that will attach it. Locate three of the holes so the screws will catch the top rail of the face frame. (Be careful that you don’t hit the pocket screws.) Locate the other four holes so the screws go through the ends of both side pieces. Screw the top in place with #8 × 13⁄4" screws and plug the holes.

12 Cut the hanger bars (K) to the size given in the Cut List. Tilt the blade on your tablesaw to a 30° angle, and bevel one edge of each of the hanger bars. Glue one of the bars to the case back flush with the underside of the top.

Rout the stiles and rails with their good faces against the table and the inside edges against the fence.
Use a square piece of stock as a backer when routing the rail ends to prevent tear-out.

Make the door frame

1 Cut the door stiles (H) and rails (I) you milled earlier to the sizes in the Cut List. Double-check the size of the opening in the face frame before cutting the pieces to final length. Lay out the pieces in their respective positions for the best grain composition. Mark the outside face and inside edge of each piece.

2 Rout the inside edges of all four pieces with the sticking portion of a cope and stick router bit set, as shown in Photo E. Set the fence so its face is tangent to the bit’s bearing.

3 To make the mating portion of the joint, switch to the coping bit. Adjust the bit’s height to correspond with the sticking cuts you just made. Again, position the fence so it is tangent with the bit’s bearing. Fine-tune the bit height with a piece of scrap. Then, use a follower block, as shown in Photo F, to keep the rail perpendicular to the fence and to help control tear-out that can occur when routing end grain.

The Importance Of Grain Direction

It’s tempting to simply cut the pieces so the grain runs parallel to the edges of each piece, but this would cause two problems. First, when you assembled the panel, some of the joints would be end grain to end grain. Such a joint isn’t very strong and could easily fail. Second, putting the panel together with the grain running in different directions could cause trouble with wood movement.

Wood expands and contracts with changes in humidity–more across the grain than it does with the grain. If you mix up the grain direction in a glued-up panel, all of your hard work could easily come undone as soon as the weather changes.

Tip Alert

Initially, the parts are almost, but not quite, perfect squares. To avoid confusion, draw reference lines across the pieces to indicate the precisely dimensioned edges.

Make the door panel

1 Mill enough 4/4 stock for all the panel pieces to a thickness of about 3⁄4" (you’ll mill the panel to final thickness after it is all glued together.) To make a panel like the one shown, you’ll need three 5 1⁄2 × 36" pieces of bird’s-eye maple for the large squares (L), one 41⁄2 × 24" piece of wenge for the 12 small squares (M), and two 4 1⁄2 × 42" pieces of jatoba for the rectangles (N).

2 Adjust your chop saw (or the miter gauge on your tablesaw) to make 45° cuts. Cut all three of the 5 1⁄2"-wide pieces (for making parts L) into a series of 4"-wide parallelograms, as shown in Figure 2. Next, cut all the 4 1⁄2"-wide pieces (for parts M and N) into 2"-wide parallelograms.

Square the end, and then cut the blanks for the large squares. Clamp a stopblock to your sled to make sure each piece is exactly 3 3⁄4" wide.
Glue up the panel in stages, first making strips of alternating species.

Use a router and a shop-made straightedge to joint, or straighten, one edge before ripping the strips to final width.

3 Mount a fresh, 1⁄8"-kerf combination (or crosscut) blade on your tablesaw. Cut each of the 4"-wide parallelograms into a rectangle that is 3 3⁄4 × 4" for parts (L), using a crosscut sled with a stopblock. Cut one end square, as shown in Photo G; then slide the piece against the stopblock for the second cut. Without moving the stopblock, cut 12 of the jatoba parallelograms into 3 3⁄4" rectangles, half the needed number of (N) pieces.

4 Square the ends of the wenge and remaining jatoba parallelograms, leaving the resulting rectangles as long as possible. Remove the sled, and rip all of these rectangles to exactly 1 7⁄8" wide.

5 Cut the wenge rectangles into 1 7⁄8 × 2" pieces for parts (M).

6 Glue the 1 7⁄8"-wide jatoba rectangles (N) between the large squares (M), as shown in Photo H. Here, make five strips as follows: two that have two large squares with a single rectangle in between; two that have four squares with three rectangles in between; and one that has five squares with four rectangles in between. Make sure the bird’s-eye pieces are oriented so the 3 3⁄4" dimension runs between the rectangles.

7 Glue the 2 × 3 3⁄4" jatoba rectangles for parts (N) between the small wenge squares (M) lengthwise. Make sure to orient the small square’s 1 7⁄8" dimension so it is perpendicular to the glue lines. Now assemble four strips: two with two small wenge squares alternating with two rectangle jatoba pieces; and two with four small wenge squares alternating with four jatoba rectangles.

Edge-glue the strips as shown. Lay out the door panel on the center of the glue-up. Use a bandsaw to cut the first straight edge.
Rout matching mortises for the hinges in the door frame and face frame. Cut the mortise slightly deeper than the thickness of the leaf to shrink the door-to-face frame gap.

8 Once the glue-up dries, trim one edge of each of the strips so it is straight. Clamp a straightedge along the edge you’re trimming, taking care to make it square to the glue lines. Run a router along the straightedge to cut the piece, as shown in Photo I.

9 Once you have a straight edge on each of the strips, rip the other side straight on the tablesaw. The narrower strips should be cut to 1 7⁄8" wide and wider ones to 3 3⁄4".

10 Edge-glue the strips to make up the panel (Photo J). (Note: you may want to find a shop with a wide belt drum sander to sand the panel to its final 5⁄8" thickness. You can also sand and scrape the panel smooth; then adjust the depth of the rabbet to fit the rails and stiles.)

11 Lay out the final rectangular shape of the panel on the sanded piece. Cut one edge straight on the bandsaw. Then use that edge as a reference as you cut the other three sides.

12 Rabbet the edges of the panel to fit in the door grooves.

13 Glue and clamp the door frame together with the panel in place. Check for square.

Finish up

1 Check the fit of the door in the face frame. Ideally there should be about a 1⁄16" gap all the way around it. Trim it as necessary with a block plane.

2 Cut the mortises for the hinges in the face frame with a 1⁄4" straight bit in a trim router. Equip the router with a 3⁄8" guide bushing, and use the jig shown in Photo K and Figure 3. Similarly mortise the door frame.

3 Finish the cabinet with several coats of your favorite wood finish. I finished this cabinet with three coats of Enduro-Var by General Finishes.

4 Drill through the door stile opposite the hinges for the pull. Finally, add the catch to the door and underside of the second shelf.  

More Colorful, Less Complicated Panels

There are a several ways that you can make a quilt-inspired door panel. The easiest method is to lay out a pattern onto a solid panel and incise the lines with a router bit. You can then use stains and/or dyes to enhance the geometric beauty of the design. For a complete step-by-step tutorial for making this crazy quilt design, see onlineEXTRAS, below.

For more complicated designs, you can enlist the help of a woodworker with a CNC (computer numerically controlled) router. A CNC operator can convert your sketch into a file that will drive the router. To find a CNC machine in your area, check out 100Kgarages.com. You can also contact the author for additional information and an estimate.

About Our Designer/Builder

Ken Burton has been working with wood for more than 30 years and writing about it nearly as long. His latest book, Crafting Wooden Lamps, is now available from F&W Media. Check out his website at wrwoodworks.com.

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