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    5 Tips for Better Cabinets





    At some point, just about every serious budding woodworker will tackle the construction of a cabinet—most likely with a door. While building a small cherry and pine cabinet recently, I realized that there were a whole slew of lessons packed into this common woodworking project. Here are some of the highlights.

    Consider a bit of fakery

    On this cabinet, I wanted to mimic the look of a traditional ship-lapped back without spending all that time milling, profiling, and mounting all those individual ship-lapped boards. My solution was to glue up one pine panel and then fake the ship-lap effect at the tablesaw. I angled my blade to 45-degrees and lowered it so that just the tip of the carbide teeth were protruding from through the saw’s throat plate. Then I just made a series of evenly-spaced non-through rips cuts that give the effect of a back composed of multiple pieces. Just be sure to leave room for expansion and contraction of the solid-wood panel, in the grooves the back sits in. You don’t want that back to crack as it expands during the humid summer months!

     

    Where and how you apply glue is important

    This little cabinet was built using through dovetail joints, and while a woodworker’s natural instinct might be to apply glues to both halves of the joint (tails and pins), there’s a better way. If you brush on a bit of glue on the sides of the tails, and leave the pins dry, you’ll be able to more easily control squeeze-out. When you set the pin board into the tail board, any squeezeout will naturally occur on the “outside” of the cabinet or drawer box. Why is this important? Most folks will tend to handplane the exterior of a dovetailed drawer or cabinet after glue-up, and that handplaning will take care of any squeezeout in short order.


    Apply glue to the tails only.

    Now press the pin board into place.

    Pine cauls work better with wax

    Whenever I glue up a dovetailed box, I use pine blocks as cauls at each joint. Just be sure to wax these blocks to prevent them from sticking to the glue. As the dovetail joint comes together, the pins will press out beyond the tails ever so slightly, and into the soft pine blocks. A perfect, custom caul that will help to seat the joint fully.

    Remember, don't try this with another hardwood like cherry. The point of using pine cauls lay in the softness of the wood and it's ability to absorb the pins as they protrude pas the tails. After your glue-up is complete, you'll notice an impression of the dovetail joinery left in the pine.

    Dadoed shelves are pinned in place

    Cutting a sliding dovetail to seat shelves can be really tricky. Instead, consider using simple dado joinery. To add a bit of strength, and style, you can pin the joints using wooden dowels of a contrasting color. In my case, I used walnut dowels to pin my cherry cabinet together. I drilled a hole in a thick block of wood and used that as a guide for straight holes that went through the cabinet sides, and into the end grain of each shelf. Next, I cut off the dowels, and used a block plane to bring them almost flush to the cabinet sides. I finished things off by paring the dowels flush with a sharp chisel.


    Drilling with a guide block.

    Block plane the dowels.

    Flush finish with a chisel.

    Rip your shelves slightly wide

    I ripped my shelves about 1/16-in. too wide. This resulted in the front edge of each shelf sitting just proud of the cabinet sides, and this was done on purpose. After the glue dried, I came back with a handplane and carefully planed the edges flush with the rest of the cabinet. Using this method is considerably easier than trying to rip the shelves to exact width at the tablesaw ahead of time.


    Plane the shelves flush.

    Before (left) and after (right).

    Ed_Pirnik

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