Posted by joeabbott on February 9, 2014
In the 60s and early 70s, reference to “The Doors” could only mean the Jim Morrison-led rock group of that name; in this blog, it means I’m coming to the close on the story of my cabinet project.
With the doors largely being the last remaining part, I felt pretty good but the cabinet sure looked incomplete. Last time I wrote about construction we had glued the last piece of the top onto the substructure; that was last Saturday night. When we woke on Sunday I was able to remove the clamps, look at where it was, and reflect on the fact that I had less than one week to finish everything else. Me, nervous? Heck yeah.
Trimming the top
The top being glued on just meant that all the top parts were in place; but they weren’t the right shape, so to speak. I had a quarter inch overhang on the front and up to three quarters of an inch on the back; the sides also required trimming. Here, however, I was able to use a power tool with something like confidence: I had a pattern bit and router. Game on!
The pattern bit allowed me to run the router along the contour of the substructure, tracing out the exact shape of my pattern … in this case, the top would be the exact shape as the cabinet substructure. This meant the top would fit perfectly with the lower portion. I was pretty pleased with myself. This strategy worked well for the left side, front, and right side but, disappointingly, there’s a gap at the back of the far left cabinet wall (that wall is a bit short) and I ended up routing a bit of a divot unexpectedly. While I can say it “adds character”, I was disappointed it happened.
While Suzy was out and about, I used the day to sand sand sand. Well, first I started with a chisel to scrape off stubborn glue, then I sanded. The house was a mess, I was a mess, but the top was the smoothest of smooth. I was able to use a wet-dry vac to keep most of the dust out of the air, but there was still a lot of cleaning ahead of us.
Also, when pushing the cabinet substructure against the wall and preparing the glue it to the base, I found that our wall isn’t perfectly straight and while the cabinet touches the wall at the lower portion, at the top there’s about a quarter inch gap. Darn! And I sit here reflecting on the fact that I had just buzzed a goodly part of the top off that might have pulled up that gap a bit. Double darn!
The top of the cabinet doors fit into a rail that’s mounted to the top. These rails have a couple grooves in them and give the doors and inner channel to slide in. With the top being 1.5” thick, I could have built the channel directly into the top of the substructure, but I just didn’t have confidence in my chops. I had one last check to confirm the channels in the cabinet and in the rail were positioned the same and it was time to attach the rail to the top.
And, I botched it.
The rail is 2.25” with the door tops running in the channels and I held the rail to the top with some screws running up through a .5” bit of wood in the center. I had clamped the rail into position and was driving the first screw in using a drill motor and proper bit when I over sunk the screw and the rail splintered. Grief.
I manically extracted the screw but there was a lot of damage to the rail and I just didn’t have time to remake the part or glue this one up. As the sliding doors are 20” long, I convinced myself that they’d still function even with this defect, at least for a short while, so I kept moving along. And, as I look back now, the doors do work fine but once I find the time, I’ll be pulling out that rail (it’s just held in with five screws) and fix it proper. A saying that I tend to lean on a lot for stuff I’ve built is, “I’ve made it so I can fix it”.
For the remaining fasteners, I used a screwdriver. The old fashioned type you manually twist.
Getting it done
On Monday I could hear the clock ticking and we were getting down to the wire. My plan was this:
- Monday – attach the cabinet top to the base and install rail; cut parts for doors
- Tuesday – trim cabinet base and apply oil to cabinet; glue up three doors
- Wednesday – glue up second set of three doors and trim up first three
- Thursday – trim up last three doors
- Friday – apply oil to doors
- Saturday – final cuts on doors and install them
I was working this week so the amount of project time I had was limited … I’d have to skip workout on Tuesday and Thursday; Suzy was taking Friday off to clean the house top-to-bottom. It would be a busy week … time to execute!
Glue ‘er down
To attach the substructure and top to the base, we had a few options. I didn’t want to run fasteners down through cabinet floor where you could see them, so we couldn’t drill down from the top; I could come up from the bottom but I didn’t have enough room for a screw driver; or we could glue it down in front and then run some countersunk fasteners in along the back up against the wall.
Glue and screw it was.
I tipped the front of the unit up and Suzy pushed in a few sticks to hold it up. We then squirted glue into our hands and used our fingers to smear it along the front top and bottom edges. Once glue was along the top and side … and we’d washed our hands … I lifted the unit again and Suzy pulled out the sticks. A few gentle shoves to get it into place and it was ready for clamps.
In the end, we didn’t use the fasteners. Short of a house-destroying earthquake, it doesn’t seem anything is likely to move that cabinet, so we’re calling it good the way it is.
The last part of the day I spent building door parts. We had the door bodies ready but needed to cut the edge bands. That was pretty simple: I used my table saw to cut a long strip of bamboo at 2.25” and then I cut them into ~20” sections. Once I had 12 of them, I moved on to cutting biscuit slots: four in one side of each edge band, and four on both sides of the door body.
With biscuits, you usually line up your parts and strike a line across both pieces simultaneously, using that line as the guide when using your plate jointer tool. As I had so many parts and I didn’t want to keep the like pieces together, I used a template. I figured out a good layout by placing biscuits along the panel and then cut a couple “template” pieces of wood; using those templates, I struck lines on all parts at those locations. Simple.
After pulling the clamps off the cabinet, I got a belt sander out and showed no mercy to leveling out the part of the base so it was even with the cabinet. I had 60 grit installed on the sander and leaned in hard to shave off that overhang. It was a BUNCH of work. And, probably not the right tool, but I didn’t have room, time or intelligence for anything else. In a couple spots I marred the walls but those can be mended.
After the 60 grit I moved to 80 grit, 100 grit, then 150. I ran a finishing pass of 220 over all of the newly exposed parts and liked how things were looking.
With Suzy’s help we taped some wax paper between the wall and the unit and I was then able to start applying oil and wax to everything.
Seattle saw a cold snap come in: all the gluing I had to do for the doors now had to come inside where it was warm so the glue could set. We have a large enough house to hold stuff but nowhere inside do we have a workshop-like situation setup! But, I used the counter in the laundry room, the kitchen table, and parts of the front room where the carpet was rolled back for space to setup the doors.
To assemble the first door, I did a loose dry-fit and found the marks for the biscuit locations matched up. No reason they shouldn’t, but as I used a template and assembly line-like construction methods, it was nice to see the marks line up. I thought I could get three panels going at once and still have time. After gluing the edge bands and door body, I popped in glue-brushed biscuits and clamped it up. But, with the clamps I wanted to use, I still had 1/8” gap. More clamps, more tightening. Something wasn’t right … my biscuits had swelled or something! I clamped tighter!
In the end, it took five of my best parallel jaw clamps to pull up this panel! Needing five clamps and an entire day to let the glue set, I’d never finish them all on time. Suzy and I went to run errands and I reflected back on what was going on … it just shouldn’t take five clamps! And then it hit me: I’d been playing around with my plate joiner settings and I’d changed the depth stop.
When we got home I checked the joiner and sure enough: set at stop ‘10’ and I needed ‘20’ for the plates/biscuits I was using. Ugh!
It was too late to “save” that one part but I brought all the other pieces to the garage, reset the depth stop, and cut all parts. The next few panels fit much better.
Wednesday – Friday
The rest of the week went to schedule without a hitch or me working terribly late. Saturday came and I had six boards with nice edge banding. To be honest, that back sides of the doors are a bit dodgy. I wanted them to look nice but just didn’t have time for the perfect job … and so you can still see some glue, the thicknesses aren’t perfect, and there are gaps that went unfilled. But, they were all nicely oiled and ready to be cut.
The cabinet was also in good shape. I’d oiled three days and laid in wax for two days. I used something called Johnson Paste Wax for the insides … mostly because I had a large can of it. Unfortunately, it smelled terribly of some petroleum product and required that we air the house to get that stink out. I used a beeswax paste on the top and side, though, so that wasn’t as bad.
It was looking good for being ready for the party but I was still a bit nervous. Things had gone well but without the doors, the cabinet looked unfinished. And it was!
Here I planned to talk about all the steps and stuff I had to do to get the doors to fit. One, this post is already long enough; two, I’m not sure I remember it all. I made a lot of trips between my workshop and the cabinet. A lot.
They required trimming, finessing, more trimming, and more finessing. But, once I finally got one to fit, the others fell into place reasonably quickly. Each needed its own special handling, but they all worked well.
I will say that without my shoulder plane, this job would have been either terribly hard or just impossible for me and my skill. It was the tool I needed and it worked like a champ. So very happy Suzy got it for me years ago. #TheRightTool
But, it was gratifying to see door after door fall into place and, at 1:30PM, I took the last shot of the cabinet with all doors installed and the job “done”.
I likely won’t post again about this specific project. It was a lot of fun and a lot of challenge but even I’m tiring of all the words committed to it in this space. I’ll work on some small shelves for Suzy and start looking toward the next big project: the bookshelves.
For now, I have a few pickups on the cabinet, I need to spend a day sharpening all my tools that have been neglected in the rush to get this completed, and I need to get my head somewhere else for a bit. Thanks for following along and I look forward to catching up again later.