A cabinetmaker tackles twoboard construction

by Warren A. May

A custom cabinetmaker has to be ready to make pieces of furniture that the general marketplace doesn't provide. At the same time, a craftsman is better off doing work that he feels a sympathy for. I had the chance to satisfy both requirements recently when some customers complained that they couldn't find furniture roomy enough to store quilts and other bulky items. Quilting is a popular hobby and home-industry in this part of Kentucky, and even if the quilters themselves didn't need a storage cabinet, I was sure the quilt collectors would.

The design is taken from the two-board hutches made by rural handymen all over this country. It's called two-board construction because of the sides—one long board on each side runs from floor to top to support the upper shelves and doors. A second, shorter board is attached on each side to support the counter and the lower shelves and doors. My adaptation, instead of shelves and doors at the bottom, has a pair of deep drawers. With some minor changes in the plans, this piece would be very easy to adapt to make a gun cabinet, a hi-fi center, a kitchen cabinet, or even a tool cabinet.

1 have seen a lot of the old hutches, and I'd say the old joinery standards were, well, quick. Typical construction was a simple nailed butt joint reinforced with a nailed cleat on the inside. Shelves were laid atop nailed cleats as well. The two side boards often were not even glued along their length—the lower shelf cleats held them together. Lumber thickness varied randomly within any one piece, and so did cleat widths. It's as if whoever built these pieces was in a great hurry to get on to more important work, such as pulling stumps or cutting firewood.

These hutches served as storage and display pieces; sometimes the top doors were glazed so the contents would show, perhaps an imitation of the high-style city furniture, where china and porcelain figurines might have been kept visible yet out of harm's way. Ironically, all the glazed hutches I've seen had curtains inside so that the contents wouldn't show.

Hutches might be found in any room of the house, but most of them seemed to end up in the kitchen, storing canned goods and other non-perishable items. Inevitably, the doors sagged in time and rubbed a groove in the counter (I raised the doors in mine to prevent this). Some pieces were repaired with as much abandon as they had been made in the first place, and most have accumulated six or eight coats of paint, with apparently never the same color twice in a row. I love these old hutches because of the story they tell about past times. 1 remember one day seeing an old cabin that had sagged down a couple of feet on one side as the earth beneath it gradually eroded away. On the front porch was a two-board hutch that had managed to keep together and keep its balance all the while—it was about 20° out of square when I saw it, but it hadn't given up. In fact, I managed to purchase it, straighten it up again, and give it a second chance. It has a place of honor in the gallery my wife, Frankye, and I run. Country crafts look just right in it, something you can't say about display cases made of glass and stainless steel.

So, when it came to making a cabinet for traditional quilts, I was predisposed to a two-board design. I felt that I could avoid the design's construction flaws without losing its character.

I like to run my shop, which is in a corner location down the

The quilt cabinet owes its lines to traditional hutches, but the joinery and detailing have come a long way from the originals.

Photos Brunncr Studio

Traditional Furniture Projects 61

Mitered Through Dovetail

A mitered through dovetail is wade the same as a regular dovetail, except that the top corners are tablesawn at a 45° angle before the rest of the joint is cut. Notice the author's reminder to himself not to cut the top layout line for the first pin.

Carcase construction

Screw filler strip to back rail with horizontal cleat to form rabbet for back frame.

A mitered through dovetail is wade the same as a regular dovetail, except that the top corners are tablesawn at a 45° angle before the rest of the joint is cut. Notice the author's reminder to himself not to cut the top layout line for the first pin.

street from the gallery, so that most operations can be done by one man. My helper and I are likely to get customers stopping by at any hour of the day, and this way one of us can get on with the job while the other goes to talk. Over the years, I've worked out a router-joinery method that's clear enough so that either one of us can take up where the other leaves off, and which even allows one-man glueup when necessary.

If you consider the construction of the quilt cabinet, you'll get the idea. The sides are solid wood, and the crossmembers (whether shelves or front and rear drawer rails) fit into routed mortises, which are easily made with a straight bit and a right-angle fence clamped to the work. For a stock thickness of 34 in. or % in., I have found that a %-in.-thick tenon works best, with a length of y,e in. Mortises are in. deep, to allow some end clearance, and can be routed in one pass in most woods.

I use several short mortises along the width of shelves rather than a long dado for two reasons. First, it is easier to fit the parts; second, the sides are stronger. At the top and bottom corners of my cases, I offset the tenons toward the inside of the cabinet, as shown in the plans, so as to leave more wood and help prevent end-grain breakout. I make tenons with a dado blade on the ta-blesaw, then clear the waste between them with bandsaw and chisel. The back of the case fits into a rabbet and is secured with brass screws. This allows the back to be removed for finishing the piece, which makes for a much cleaner job.

The top part of the quilt cabinet shows how such a construction would work for a simple bookcase. Just rout mortises for as many shelves as you would like, assemble by working the shelves in one at a time, then screw on the back. I like a solid top applied afterward, with a molded edge. The bottom can be similar to the top if the bookcase is hung on the wall; if it stands, you can apply a base and filler strip, as at the bottom of the quilt cabinet. I like the idea of a filler strip instead of carrying the sides all the way down, because it keeps the end grain away from the floor, where it might pick up moisture.

When my helper and I make a chest of drawers—the bottom half of the quilt cabinet is an example—the router-joinery method is very straightforward and allows easy assembly. To begin

Counter

Short side board

Dust Panel Construction

Screw through slots in side rail.

Dust panel Back rail

Center shelf

Bottom shelf

Screw filler strip to back rail with horizontal cleat to form rabbet for back frame.

Glue base to sides at front 2 in. only; secure rear with screws in slotted hole.

Top shelf

To assemble, glue up counter, sides, shelves and front rails. When dry, attach side rails, slip dust panels into place, and glue rear rails. Then fit doors, drawers, back frame and base.

Long side board i

Screw and plug.

Rabbet for back.

Counter

Screw through slots in side rail.

Dust panel Back rail

Glue base to sides at front 2 in. only; secure rear with screws in slotted hole.

Top shelf

To assemble, glue up counter, sides, shelves and front rails. When dry, attach side rails, slip dust panels into place, and glue rear rails. Then fit doors, drawers, back frame and base.

Center shelf

Short side board

Bottom shelf

62 The Best of Fine Woodworking

Drawings: Joel Katzowttz

Hutch plans

Rise allows door clearance.

Glue sides to base at front only, use screws in slotted holes at rear.

Hutch plans

Main rails and stiles, 21A-in. x7/e-in. stock, cut to fit.

Door and panel construction

Doors With Stiles And Panels

Re-ground shaper cutter cuts tongue to fit standard groove; versatile panel edging is used for door panels, back panels, drawer bottoms and dust panels.

Standard inner railing

Drawer sides are 9/is in. thick poplar, bottoms are 3/e in. thick. If drawer bottoms will not plane clean at full 3/a-in. thickness, plane thinner and save for dust panels.

Attach back frame with brass screws after finishing.

Main rails and stiles, 21A-in. x7/e-in. stock, cut to fit.

Door and panel construction

Re-ground shaper cutter cuts tongue to fit standard groove; versatile panel edging is used for door panels, back panels, drawer bottoms and dust panels.

Standard inner railing

Drawer sides are 9/is in. thick poplar, bottoms are 3/e in. thick. If drawer bottoms will not plane clean at full 3/a-in. thickness, plane thinner and save for dust panels.

Attach back frame with brass screws after finishing.

Glue sides to base at front only, use screws in slotted holes at rear.

Rise allows door clearance.

with, we make up a standard yellow-poplar drawer rail in large lots, then use it for interior rails in all pieces. This alone saves a lot of confusion. The same profile, in show-wood, can be used for rails and stiles for doors and back panels, so we usually run off some in cherry and walnut as well. To shape the edges of the panels themselves, I re-ground a standard shaper cutter as shown above, to raise the panel and cut the l4-in. lip at the same time. We leave this cutter on the shaper most of the time, because in addition to door panels and back panels, the shape is handy to thin down the edges of both drawer bottoms and dust panels.

In making a chest with drawers, we cut the sides of the case to size first, then rout mortises for the front and back drawer rails. Front rails are routed to fit flush with the edge, back rails are set in to allow room for the back framing. The front rails are show-wood, of course, and on a wide drawer, we often back them up by gluing on a strip of the standard yellow-poplar rail to give extra strength and to minimize any chance of warping.

For a chest, the first stage of assembly consists of gluing the front rails into the sides and clamping things square. When the glue is dry, we add the front backup rails, if any, and side rails, securing them as shown in the drawings. Then we slip in the dust panels and attach the back rails. The top can then be screwed on from beneath and various forms of base moldings and feet can be added. Although it's nice to have company, all this can be a leisurely one-man job.

Of course, the quilt cabinet is more complicated than a simple chest of drawers. To build this piece, first dovetail the counter to the short side boards. Measure this to determine the shoulder-to-shoulder length of the shelves and drawer rails. Then disassemble the dovetail joint and glue the long side boards to the short ones. Proceed to rabbet the sides for the back framing, then rout the mortises for the shelves and rails. Next, measure all this to get the true sizes of the drawers and doors. Once the overall proportions are established, you can let the piece build itself to its own measurements as it goes along.

It will be necessary to dry fit the dovetails at the counter, but I'm not sure whether to recommend that you dry fit the whole thing. We have found that another advantage of using the same joiner)' from piece to piece is that you quickly learn what tolerances to allow so that joints practically weld themselves together. If you dry fit too often, the wood becomes overcompressed and some of this strength is lost. □

Warren May lives in Rerea, Kentucky.

From Fine Woodworking magazine (March 1986) 57:49-51

Traditional Furniture Projects 63

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