• ANDREW LAWTON, a member of the Society of Designer Craftsmen, has been making furniture full time since I 980. He rescued GoatsclifTe Workshops -run by pioneer craftsman Ben Coopland from the 1920s to the 1960s in Grindleford, Derbyshire -from near dereliction. Lawton's 1991 Spiral Table in English walnut inlaid with sycamore received a Guild Mark from the Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers.

above: Photo i An alternative to the frame and panel back - solid with skewed dovetails

AN.Y TRADITIONAL corner cupboards suffer from the same weakness: the carcasses, particularly the backs, are often of a lower standard of craftsmanship than the doors and leading edges.

Antique examples usually have nailed-on pine backs while modern reproductions invariably sport a thin ply panel, at best screwed, at worst stapled on.

Andrew Lawton makes a bow-fronted corner cabinet

We can do much better than that. A sound job should be properly framed up and panelled, if solid timber is being used, or where a flush interior is called for, the carcass can be assembled from lipped, veneered MDF or other manufactured board.

A third method, which lends itself particularly well to relatively small, wall-mounted pieces is a solid timber carcass jointed with skewed dovetails, see photo I. The cabinet described here is just such a piece, the latest of many similar and related cabinets I have made over the past eighteen years, see photo 2.


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a bow



Despite its apparent simplicity, this is an exacting piece to make and has to be tackled in the right order, beginning with a full drawing of the doors as if they were flat, not curved, accurate templates of the carcass, top and bottom, and doors.

In cabinetmaking, the doors can be, and usually are, made after the carcass has been put together, but here they must be made first to ensure that the faceting of the doors accurately follows the stepped edges of the carcass, which is a salient feature of the design.

If, after gluing up, it is found that the doors don't quite match the templates, being either a little too sharply or gently curved, the top and bottom can be made to match, and the eye will never notice.


The doors of this piece are not simply sets of tapered slats of solid timber shot to an angle and glued-up as in classic coopered fashion. It is possible, and easier, to make them that way, but it is an extra risk. There is always the chance that long-term changes in relative humidity could cause the doors to go out of shape.


The method used here is to sandwich lengths of MDF between two skins of thick, bandsawn veneer. The veneers have to be fairly thick to allow the segments to step back and forwards alternately, see fig 1.

The thin segments are faced with 3.5mm (/iin) veneers and the thick slats with 6mm (!4in). On no account should veneers of different thicknesses be mixed on the same slat since this could cause an unequal pull, and consequent distortion.

Prior to veneering, the slats should be end-lipped, not to disguise the fact that they are MDF and to pass

"Prior to veneering, the slats should be end-lipped, not to disguise the fact that they are MDF and to pass them off as solid timber, but because raw MDF is not attractive"

them off as solid timber; but because raw MDF is not attractive. The doors of this cabinet are end-lipped with a deliberately darker coloured elm to emphasise the construction rather than conceal it - the client was made aware of this and why it was done.

The two outer slats of each door, the counterparts of the hinging and meeting stiles of a conventional door, are done slightly differently in that they are single-direction laminated, again for dimensional stability. Alternatively these segments could have a long edge-lipping applied before being veneered.


The veneers were cut from several matching boards from the same tree, using the bandsaw, but could just as easily be done on a circular saw, although this would be more wasteful.

They are glued on with Cacamite, evenly applied with an old photographic roller.

All ten slats are faced at one go between eight sash-cramps with several thicknesses of MDF on the outsides to even out the pressure. A couple of sheets of newspaper are slipped between each slat to act as a cushion and prevent them from sticking together. It has to be admitted that this method is somewhat Heath Robinson compared to using a vacuum press, but in small spaces it can be a good alternative.

Dummy run

After cleaning up, the slats are sawn to the trapezoid shape taking measurements directly from the full size drawing, and the edges shot to the required angle on a surface planer with the fence tilted.

A dummy run should be carried out first using scrap to ensure that the angles conform to the door templates.

In the absence of a machine planer above: Photo 2

the joints could be shot by hand with Wych elm and a try plane, using a sliding bevel tapered panels with an angled jig to help maintain a provide an consistent angle. A jig of this interesting angle description is used to guide the on cogner router when machining the grooves cupboards in each abutting joint, into which a ply tongue is fitted when assembling the doors, see photo 3.

Door assembly

Each door is assembled dry, complete with ply tongues, to check that all the butt joints will pull up tightly.

Fig I. Section of door segments

3,5mm sawn veneers

Fig I. Section of door segments

Ply tongue

6mm sawn veneers

3,5mm sawn veneers

Ply tongue

6mm sawn veneers

Variable Angle Joints Plwyood
TOP! Photo 3 An angled jig ensures plywood tongues are the correct angle to parallel Joints in coopered door

ABOVE! Photo 4 Cramping the door up, G-cramps exert downward pressure to avoid springing

By using sash-cramps to squeeze the slats together, balanced by G-clamps at each end to exert downward pressure, it is possible to achieve tight joints. If necessary, a central sash-cramp may be needed, but you can't use a G-clamp here to pull downwards - a supply of weights will give the down-thrust.

A practise run with a door made of plain MDF or cheap timber is strongly recommended before risking spoiling the real thing.

Rather than gluing-up on the bench, the cramps are best rested on a pair of trestles to enable the joints to be inspected from underneath and any excess glue removed without having to manhandle the whole assembly, see photo 4.

After the glue has set, overnight if possible, the doors can be removed from the cramps and checked for twisting on a flat surface and against the templates; if all is well they can be put to one side and a start made on the carcass.


The first step is to machine up enough timber for the top, the bottom, the two halves of the back, and as many shelves as required.

The back halves should be carefully trued-up to form perfect rectangles and then shot to conform to the template, see photo 5. Note that the angle of the apex of the back should be slightly more than 90°. This is to create a small area of clearance when the cabinet is attached to the wall and

Fig 2

Fig 2

Short weak grain

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