Tallboy Linen Cabinet Part 2

As all-American as jazz music, the traditional styling of this hefty linen cabinet is a meld of the influences of Gustav Stickley, the Arts & Crafts movement, and Greene & Greene styling.

In Part 1 of this project, we completed the full carcase of a linen cabinet that is a true blend of American styling. With construction influences from Gustav Stickley, and accenting details inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement, this piece of furniture is as American as it can possibly be. With the carcase completed, it’s now time to move on to the doors, the drawer dividers, the drawers themselves, hardware and final finishing. 

As you learned in Part 1, even though this is a large project, it’s not particularly difficult to build as long as you take your time and measure carefully. As with the carcase construction, remember to dry-fit all of the components, and when you’re satisfied with the fit, assemble them with glue and clamps.

Drawer cavities

Before we begin making the drawers and doors, we first have to construct someplace for them all to go. 

The six large drawers in this cabinet are divided by 3/4" stock. Each of the vertical dividers (piece 21) is cut to length, and then passed across a dovetail bit chucked in the router table to create pins that fit the tails you milled earlier in the drawer support frames (Fig. 1). Dry-fit each divider to the cabinet as in Fig. 2, and when the fit is right, glue and clamp them in place.

A longer divider (piece 22) fits between the two lower doors and is attached in the same manner.

Complete the front face frame by installing short lengths of 3/4" stock (pieces 23-25) snugly behind the build-up pieces you installed earlier. These frame segments are simply cut to size, then glued and clamped in place (Figs. 3 and 4).

The small drawer nest

Four small drawers in the top of the cabinet provide a spot for storing smaller linens and related items. The framework for these drawers is called a “nest,” and besides providing a home for the drawers, it also creates two cubbies which will be fronted by a pair of glass doors.

Begin building the nest by cutting the parts for the two sidewalls. These are frame-and-panel subassemblies where the panels (piece 26) are 1/2 " Baltic birch with that same old rabbet along all four edges of one side. The frames consist of two stiles and two rails each (pieces 27 and 28). Plow a 1/4"-wide by 1/2 "-deep groove in the inside edge of each part, then mill matching tongues on the ends of the rails. 

Dry-fit the panels to the frames and, when everything fits right, glue and clamp each sidewall together. As with the panels on the main carcase, these panels aren’t glued in and are free to float to accommodate swelling and shrinking caused by seasonal differences in humidity. 

Six crossmembers (piece 29) are dovetailed into the sidewalls to create the nest. Plow dovetailed grooves in each sidewall following the locations and dimensions shown at left, then mill matching pins on the ends of the crossmembers. Dry-fit everything together and test it in the cabinet for fit, too. When the fit is good, glue and clamp the nest together.

After the glue dries, remove the clamps and place the nest in the cabinet. Use a pencil to mark its outline on the cabinet back (Fig. 5), then take the nest back out. Drill a few very small holes through the back – enough to let you transfer the nest location to the outside of the cabinet. These holes will let you know where to nail the back to the nest after the latter is installed.

Secure the nest with countersunk screws driven up through the bottom (Fig. 6) and down through the top of the cabinet. Complete the installation by nailing it to the back with panel pins.

The lower doors

I got lucky here! I had one beautiful board with very dramatic flake which was just the right size for the four panels (pieces 30) in the lower doors. After planing them to 1/2 " thick and cutting them to size, rabbet the back edges of each panel. I installed a shop-built zero-clearance fence on the table saw (Fig. 7), and cut the 1/4"-deep rabbets using a 1/2 " dado head. Although this method can be a bit awkward with large plywood panels where the cut sometimes ends up being uneven due to undulations or waves in the plywood, it is a quick way to perform this task on the small panels we’re using here (Fig. 8).

Cut the lower door stiles (pieces 31 and 32) and rails (piece 33) to size, then mill 1/4"-thick by 1/2 "-deep tongues on the ends of each center stile. Then plow a similarly dimensioned groove in the long edges of the center stiles, the bottom edges of the top rails, the inside edges of the outside stiles and the top edges of the bottom rails. Dry fit the doors together, as you want them to be the full size of their respective openings in the cabinet. It’s a lot easier to trim them to fit than to add to them if they’re a hair too small. Apply glue and clamps, checking that the doors are flat and square as you apply pressure.

When the glue is dry, trim equal amounts of stock from all edges so that the final door dimensions are 1/16" smaller than the openings all around (1/8 " in each direction).

The upper doors

The upper doors are a bit trickier than the lower ones. Here, we don’t have a panel, but we do have a grid and some glazing. The construction is mortise-and-tenon, and a mortising machine or a mortising attachment for your drill press can make short work of it (Fig. 9). If you can’t arrange access to either, drill out most of the waste in each mortise with a Forstner bit and clean up the openings with sharp chisels.

Begin building the doors by cutting the stiles (piece 34) and rails (piece 35) to size. Then lay out the mortises for the tenons on the ends of the rails, following the dimensions given in the drawing below. Chop these mortises using a 1/4" bit in the mortising machine (Fig. 8). I find it’s a lot easier to chop my mortises first and then trim the tenons to fit, rather than tackle it the other way around.

Use your dado head and miter gauge to create matching tenons on the ends of the rails (Fig. 10). Then dry fit the doors, clamping them together temporarily, and you’re ready to move on to the decorative grids.

These are short lengths of 1/2 " x 3/4" stock (pieces 36 and 37) that are half-lapped and then secured in mortises in the door stiles and rails. If you’re using quartersawn stock, make sure the 3/4" face displays this grain. That means that you’ll start by ripping 3/4" square strips off the edge of a board, and then plane one of the quartersawn faces down to 1/2 ".

Set up a 3/4" dado head to make the half laps (Fig. 11). Their locations can be found in the illustration on this page. You can use the same setup to create the 1/4" thick tongues on the ends of each part.

Dry-fit the vertical and horizontal grid members together, then lay them on top of the doors you clamped together earlier (Fig. 12). Use this setup to mark the locations of the small mortises for the grid members, then chop these on your mortising machine. Dry-fit the grids to the door stiles and rails, but don’t glue up anything yet.

With a straight bit chucked in the router table, mill a 1/4" square rabbet on the back bottom edge of each top rail, and the top edge of each bottom rail. These rabbets are for the 1/8" thick glass. Using the same setup, create stopped rabbets on the four stiles (Fig. 13). Stop each cut before it gets to the large mortise. A pencil mark on the table and another on the workpiece will guide you.

Assemble the doors with glue and clamps, making sure they are square and flat. After the glue dries, remove the clamps and square the corners of the rabbet for the glass (Figs. 14 & 15).

Install the glass with a retainer (piece 38) everywhere the grid meets the door frame. These retainers are just short sections of a simple rabbeted molding. Secure them with countersunk 5/8" screws. Note that in Fig. 16 I used some leftover felt cabinet door pads to cushion the glass.

Install all four doors with simple butt hinges – the ones I used sport finials and a bronzed finish, in keeping with the period nature of the piece. Clamp a couple of pieces of scrap on either side of the door to balance the router as you guide it freehand to remove the waste from most of each hinge mortise (Fig. 17). Finish up with a chisel, then drill pilot holes for the screws and drive them home.

The cavities behind the upper doors become usable spaces when a floor (piece 39) is installed in each. These are just pieces of 1/2 " Baltic birch plywood cut to size, with a strip of 1/2 "-thick by 3/4"-wide oak (piece 40) glued to the front edge. Notch the oak to fit around the frame segments, then install each floor with two screws front and back, driven up through the drawer support frame through piloted, countersunk holes.

Build the drawers

All 10 drawers in this project are built exactly the same way, except that some of the dimensions are different.

The very first step here is to have all 10 pairs of drawer slides in hand before you start. I used nominal 20" bottom-mount slides: They are 193/4" long and attach to the bottom of each drawer side. They extend three-quarters of the length of the drawer – about 15". Full extension slides are another viable option, but they can be quite expensive.

Most drawer slides require that the drawer box is 1" narrower than the opening (1/2 " on each side). Read the instructions on yours to confirm this, and make adjustments to dimensions in the materials list, if necessary.

I used clear pine for my drawer boxes. It’s a lot less expensive than quartersawn oak, virtually blemish-free and a lot lighter. Poplar is also a good choice for the drawer boxes.

Cut all of the drawer fronts, backs and sides (pieces 41-44) to size, then install a 1/4" dado head in your table saw.

The following method for drawer construction requires changing the height of the blade just once during the entire process. It also lets you cut an invisible groove in each part – sides, fronts and backs – for the drawer bottoms (pieces 45 and 46), without having to stop the cuts. For help with this process, see Fig. 18 and the sidebar “A Classic Drawer Construction Sequence” on page 20. Make the cuts in scrap for each setup, testing the fit before you commit to the actual workpieces. 

For the first two cuts, the blade height is 1/2 ". For the final two cuts, it’s 1/4". The fence is 1/4" away from the cutters for all passes.

After the corner joints are completed, plow the groove in the inside bottom of each part for the drawer bottoms. These are 1/4" square grooves (Fig. 19). Then glue and clamp all 10 drawers, checking for squareness as you apply pressure. Don’t glue the bottoms in their grooves, as they need to be able to respond to changes in humidity.

The drawer faces

Cut each of the drawer faces (pieces 47 and 48) to match its respective opening, then take 1/8" off one side and the bottom edge. This gives you 1/16" clearance all around.

Install the drawer boxes in their openings, following the instructions that came with your drawer slides. For the large drawers, you’ll need to install side cleats (piece 49) to support the slides. These are just pieces of 3/4" x 2" stock – I used leftover pine (Fig 20). Glue and clamp them in place, being careful not to glue them to the floating panels, then secure them with a couple of screws driven up through countersunk, piloted holes in each drawer support frame. It’s all right to shoot them in at an angle toward the front and back if you don't have enough room for your drill.

Install the drawer pulls next. I visited the hardware store because the bolts that came with the pulls were 1/4" too long for my 3/4" thick stock. They were dome-headed, too, so I swapped them for countersunk stove bolts that are flush with the back of each drawer front. Remove the pulls and completely finish the drawer faces before proceeding – unless you drill bolt-access holes in the fronts of all the drawer boxes (which actually isn’t such a bad idea), you won’t be able to remove the hardware again.

Place two 6d finish nails in each opening as spacers. These will locate each drawer face vertically in the middle of its opening. Apply some hot-melt glue to the back of each drawer face and press it in place, making sure it’s centered side to side. Let the glue set for an hour or so, then open each drawer and install the face permanently with half a dozen countersunk 11/4" screws driven through pilot holes in the front of the drawer box.

A Classic Drawer Construction Sequence

To create this simple and extremely reliable drawer joint, set the height of the 1/4” dado head to 1/2" and: 

A. Cut the drawer fronts and backs.

B. Cut the drawer sides.

C. Lower the blade to 1/4" and cut the drawer sides.

D. With the blade still at 1/4", cut the drawer fronts and backs. You can leave the dado set right where it is, and use the same setup to cut the groove in each part for the drawer bottom.

The crown and hardware

Installing the door pulls is very simple: Just locate them properly and drill holes for the bolts. I swapped these for slightly shorter ones, too, although I retained the dome heads. Stop the swing of each door with a couple of magnetic catches and you’re ready to tackle the crown (piece 50). This is just a chamfered board measuring 3/4" x 2" x 98", that is mitered to fit around the sides and front at the top of the cabinet. The chamfer is 221/2  degrees. Install the crown with glue and countersunk screws driven down into the cabinet top.

Finishing

One of the most overlooked aspects of woodworking is finishing. With all the convenient finishes available today such as quick-drying lacquer and polyurethane-based varnish sprays, to name just a couple, it’s easy to wrap up the job in a short time.

Gustav Stickley took his time. He actually fumed each quartersawn white oak piece in an ammonia tent, to attain that inimitable finish of his that is still so familiar a century down the road. The Shakers preferred more traditional finishes – waxes and polishes, for the most part – and these required time and experience to achieve a look that was just right. 

My instinct on this piece was to follow tradition. I sanded everything down through the grits to 220, then applied several coats of natural Danish oil, an easily renewable finish that has been around as long as woodworking. It brings out the flake in quartersawn oak like nothing else. I was tempted to complete the job with a paste wax, but the piece looked complete after the fifth coat of oil. Sometimes you just need to stop when the job is done.

John English

Originally from Ireland, John English is a trained cabinetmaker and the author of more than 500 magazine articles. He lives with his wife and two teenage sons in Casper, Wyo., at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. His Web site is woodezine.com



Materials

The following are available at any hardware store or home center:

Screws, #8 x 15/8" (30)
Panel pins, 5/8" (100)
Upper door glass, 101/16" x 173/4" (2)
Drawer slides, 20"

Specialty hardware/supplies:

Optional 20” full-extension drawer slides, #131199, $13.99 (pair)
Mission door hinges 2”x2” w/finials (8), #130403, $7.99 (pair)
Large Mission drawer pulls (6), #123874, $14.99 each
Small Mission drawer pulls (4), #123875, $12.99 each
Mission door pulls (4) , #123876, $10.75 each


Source: Woodcraft Supply Corp.
(800) 225-1153
woodcraft.com 

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