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    Shaker Cabinet Breaks the Rules

    I often find that beginner woodworking books feature plans that while easy, are...shall we say..."less than stellar" in their appearance. OK, I'll say it: they're often ugly. Why is it that those who design simple furnishings for the novice woodworker to build, come up with clunky, silly looking objects that are best left for the kindling pile?

    Shaker wall cabinetThis weekend, while flipping through a pile of books just like the one I mentioned above, I came across one publication that actually included some simple, appealing projects. This little hanging cabinet was one of them (Photo: left. Click to enlarge), although I felt I could improve upon its basic design. The original was built by the Shakers of New Lebanon, New York in the 19th century. It's made of 1/2-in.-thick pine and was meant to hang from a wall peg, hence the large hole in the arched top.

    While I generally love the simple, utlitarian nature of Shaker design, I just can't get my head around the two vertical front pieces that run along either side of the door. They make it more difficult to access the full contents of the cabinet and give the piece a rather "heavy" appearance. I also didn't like the square, squat nature of the overall shape. Why not make the cabinet a bit more slender? the bottom line is, we shouldn't be beholden to any design simply because it's printed in a book. Experiment!


    Shaker cabinetAfter having suitably offended the "Shaker Gods," I broke out a book on Shaker design (Photo: right. Click to enlarge), some graph paper and came up with a design I feel solves those two issues. First off, I changed the original square shape to a more pleasing rectangle--longer in height than in width. Then I tackled those two vertical front pieces. Actually, I simply tossed them aside and opted for a door that stretches the full width of the front.

    Now, in keeping with the Shaker original, and out of a desire to come up with the simplest design possible, I wanted a door made from solid wood. A frame-and-panel door would be a bit difficult for the novice woodworker. There's only one problem: a simple wooden door without a frame is going to be prone to cupping, so I need to come up with a way to keep that door flat for the long haul. At this point, I think I'll opt for two battens that stretch across the width of the door's interior (from left to right). The battens should, theoretically, keep the door straight for the next 100 years.

    A Suitble Finish for a Shaker Classic

    For the finish, I thought I'd use up some milk paint from a recent entertainment center project. I've still got supplies of black and barn red paint. Perhaps a nice antiqued finish is in order? I could apply the red coat first, then cover it over in black and sand through the mutliple coats in those areas that would typically see a great deal of wear.

    My next question is: what do you think? Any other ideas for this little cabinet? What about the latch? Do I get rid of it and recess mount some magnets that will discreetly keep the door shut? Biscuit joints or dowel joints? My associate, Lisa Morgan and I will be tackling it's construction here on StartWoodworking.com in the coming days. We'll be taking into account, your input, so don't be shy!

    Follow the Entire Project Series

    Shaker Cabinet Breaks the Rules
    Build a Shaker Wall Cabinet, Step-by-Step
    Part II: Build a Shaker Wall Cabinet