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Hoosier Cabinet


Hoosier Cabinet

Recreate and American icon.

By Tim Johnson

Eighty years ago, before built-in cabinets were common, every modern homemaker wanted a “Hoosier” cabinet in her kitchen. As a baking center,it was the last word in efficient design and convenience, packed with labor-and time-saving features. Millions of Hoosiers, almost all manufactured by companies in Indiana, were sold before styles changed and built-in kitchen cabinets became the rage in the 1940s.

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Why not put a Hoosier in your kitchen?Use it as a bread making center, a coffee bar, or to store dishes and linens or pots and pans. It’s still perfectly suited to today’s modern kitchens.

This Hoosier is loaded with useful features. The center section slides in and out to maximize the usefulness of the porcelain enamel work surface. Two drawers are mounted under the work surface and slide with it, so their contents are always within reach. A tambour door provides access to the cabinet without the nuisance of swinging doors.

Although it’s a big project with many pieces, this Hoosier cabinet is not hard to build. It’s made from dimensional3⁄4-in.-thick wood. The cabinet joinery is simple, using dadoes, dowels and rabbets.The doors and cabinet sides are made with routed stiles and rails. The drawers are done on the tablesaw, and both the drawers and doors overlay the openings, so fitting them is a breeze. All the hardware surface mounts and you can buy the tambour ready to install!

You’ll need a dado set for your tablesaw, a router,router table,and bits (stile and rail, round-over, and flush trim), a doweling jig and a drill. A jointer and planer are handy, but optional.

For materials, you need 40 board feet of oak, one and one-half sheets of 3⁄4-in. A-1grade oak plywood, two sheets of 1⁄4-in.A-1 grade oak fiber core plywood, and 15 board feet of 4/4 birch for drawer sides and runners—not bad for such a large piece. All the hardware, from the porcelain enamel top to the “ant traps” is available from companies that specialize in the restoration of antique Hoosiers (see Sources, below). Your cost will be about $475 for lumber and $300 for the tambour system and cabinet hardware. If you want to dress up the interior, as we did, with internal bins and canisters, you’ll spend another $200.


Straight grain looks best

Give a sense of order to the cabinet’s structure by using straight-grained material for all face, door and side frame pieces. Cut straight-grained stock from the edges of plain-sawn boards or buy rift-sawn oak (about $50 extra). Either way, it’s worth the effort.


Make the doors and cabinet sides first

It may seem odd to make doors before the cabinets are done, but it’s a good idea. The doors are the first thing you see, so they should get the best-looking panels (Photo 2). Besides, they’re lipped doors that overlay their openings, so an exact fit isn’t critical.

Cut all of the door and side frame stiles and rails (A1 - A6 and B1 - B9) at the same time. Use flat stock. Bowed or twisted pieces will make your life miserable.

Make these pieces into frames for the doors and sides using stile and rail cutters (see Sources, below) mounted in your router table. A reversible cutter set (Fig. A) won’t break your budget ($40 to $85) and making the change from one cut to the other only takes a few minutes. Make coped cuts (Photo 1), then rearrange the cutters for the profile cuts.

Assemble the routed frames and find panels (C1 - C5). Finally, glue the parts together into doors (Z1, Z2 and Z5) and cabinet sides (D1 and L1).


Build the two cabinets

The upper and lower cabinets share joinery methods and have similar components. Make one and you’ll have no trouble with the other.

Build the lower cabinet first (Fig. B). After making the sides (D1) and cutting them to width (Photo 3), square one end with a router and straightedge, then cut the other to finish length on the tablesaw. Make the top and bottom rails an extra 1⁄8-in. wide and the stiles an extra 1⁄4-in. long so you’ll have plenty of extra height to square the sides. After the sides are cut to size, cut rabbets in the back stiles for the plywood back. Cut the plywood shelves (D2) and divider D3). Then cut dadoes for them, after using scrap stock to set the depth and width. Fit the plywood back (D4) and then assemble the lower cabinet (Photo 4).

The upper cabinet (Fig. D) is similar to the lower cabinet, but has a middle half-width shelf (L5), which requires extra dadoes. It also has a rabbet for the top shelf (L2) instead of a dado. It’s easier to glue this cabinet together in two stages. Keep the top shelf in place but unglued while gluing up everything else and glue it separately later.

Face frames (E1 - E5 and M1 - M5) give the cabinets strength and a clean appearance (Fig. G). Doweling jigs (see Sources, below) make assembly fast and accurate (Photos 5 and 6). You’ll need cauls and at least a dozen clamps with 30-in. capacity to glue the face frames on the bottom cabinet and even more for the top. Or you can use a nail gun and glue and nail the face frames to the cabinet. After gluing, ease the side, top and tambour opening edges with a 1⁄4-in. round-over bit.


Finish the lower cabinet

Install drawer runner assemblies in the lower cabinet. They fit behind the face frame so only the runners protrude into the drawer openings (Photo 7). Make the birch uprights (F1) first. They fit against the divider on the left and the cabinet side on the right. To locate the positions of the runners (F2), set one of the uprights in place behind the face frame and mark it for dadoes centered in each drawer opening. Use this piece to set up and cut the dadoes in all four pieces. Mill the runners from straight-grained birch stock so they’re flat and square. Cut rabbets in their front edges so they’ll extend beyond the uprights to the front of the face frame. Then screw them in place.

The legs (G1) have long tenons for gluing behind the cabinet frame (Fig. B, detail 2). With the cabinet upside down, fit the tenons to the front inside corners of the cabinet, making sure the leg shoulders butt solidly against its bottom edges. Then glue them in place. Glue a rail (G2) to the back edge of the bottom shelf for the back legs, rabbeted so it fits between the leg tenon and cabinet back. After gluing, add corner blocks (Photo 8). Then drill holes in the legs and insert the caster sleeves.

Turn the cabinet upright. Add guides (H1), stops (H2) and ultra-high molecular weight (UHMW) plastic strips (J) (see Sources, p. 63) for the sliding center section in the cavity at the top of the cabinet (Fig. B, detail 1). Make sure the guides are perpendicular to the cabinet front and flush with the inside edge of the face frame stiles.


Install the tambour in the upper cabinet

Adapting a dedicated tambour and track system made for a kitchen “appliance garage” (see Sources, below) saves the trouble of making a tambour and routing tracks for it in the cabinet. Instead, simply cut the plastic tracks (N1) to fit the opening and make an access slot in them for the tambour (N2) (Photo 9). Cut the tambour to width and then install the system following the manufacturer’s instructions. Make and attach the front rail (N3). Drill holes through the bottom slats of the tambour for fastening (Photo 10).


Assemble the center section

Cabinet side brackets (Q) (see Sources, below) hold the upper cabinet above the lower so the center section (Fig. E) has room to fit between them. The center section slides inside the cavity at the top of the lower cabinet, limited by stop blocks (H2 and S3) and the cabinet back. The porcelain enamel work surface (R1) fits neatly inside the concave curve of the side bracket. It contains a web frame for rigidity (Photo 11).

Three rails (S1) support the center section and allow it to slide. The outer rails, spaced 1⁄32-in. narrower than the opening between the lower cabinet stiles, limit side-to-side travel. Dadoed runners (S2) in these rails hold narrow drawers (Fig. E).

Cut dadoes in the rails and glue the runners in them before drilling holes for the mounting screws. Position the rails 11⁄4-in. back from the front edge of the porcelain enamel work surface to allow a sufficient overhang once the drawers are in place.


Make the drawers

All the drawers (parts T, U, V and X) are side hung (Fig. C). Their joints are made using simple tablesaw cuts (Fig. F and Photo 13).

The cabinet drawer fronts are lipped 3⁄8 in. on all four sides so they overlay the openings. The cutlery drawer fronts have lipped edges, but are flush top and bottom to maximize their depth. Drill centered holes for the knobs before gluing the drawers together.


Finish and mount the doors

Rabbet the backsides of the openings at the top of the doors for the glass (see Sources, below). Then create the 3⁄8-in. lip on the door fronts by cutting a 3⁄8-in. square rabbet around their back edges (Photo 14). Test fit the offset hinges to make sure the lip is the right thickness. Put a door in its opening and lay a hinge on it. If the lip is too thick, the hinge won’t lay flat on the cabinet and the door will bind. First mount the hinges on the doors (Photo 15), then mount the doors on the cabinet (Photo 16).


Apply a finish

This Hoosier is finished with a mediumbrown colored, oil-based gel stain topped with three coats of ambertoned waterborne poly. Before using them, I made double sure these two different finish products were compatible. First, both were made by the same manufacturer. Second, I read the labels, which verified compatibility by name.

Gel stains are easy to apply and color surfaces evenly. I used two coats because I wanted a deep color. Toning the poly warms the color of the stained wood. Each coat enhances the effect. It’s an easy way to get a nice looking, durable finish.

Before finishing, remove all of the hardware, sand everything and remove the sanding dust. Dampen the surfaces and sand again, lightly, because the waterborne finish will raise the grain, even through the oil stain.

After letting the finish dry thoroughly, mount the glass (Z3) in the doors, reassemble your Hoosier, and (have your spouse) start baking.


Fig. A: Frame and Panel Construction

Fig. B: Exploded View of Lower Cabinet

Fig. C: Side-Hung Drawers

Fig. D: Exploded View of Upper Cabinet

Fig. E: The Center Section

Fig. F: Drawer Construction

Fig. G: Face Frames


(Note: Product availability and costs are subject to change since original publication date.)

Hardware Kits for this project are available from Phyllis Kennedy Hardware, Inc., 10655 Andrade Drive, Zionsville, IN 40677; 317-873-1316. Basic Kit contains porcelain enamel top, legs, slag glass, metal side brackets and cabinet hardware necessary to complete the cupboard; $235. (Does not include tambour and track system.)Add-on Kit contains flour bin (which is not food safe), sugar jar, spice jars and carousel and a door chart set; $200.

Hoosier Hardware and Accessories: Complete line available from Van ***’s Restorers Catalog;, 800-787-3355.

Frameless Track System with Tambour Door: Part # NPSW30 30 OW and NPST3; $62. Woodworker’s Hardware, PO Box 180 Sauk Rapids, MN 56379, 800-383-0130

Reversible Stile and Rail Cutters are widely available at home centers, woodworking specialty stores and through the mail. One mail-order source is MLCS, 800-533-9298,; Item #8853; “Traditional” profile cutter set, 1⁄2-in. shank; $65; item #6553; ”Traditional profile cutter set, 1⁄4-in. shank; $65.

Doweling Jig, part #124315; $50 Hinge Bit, part #12808; $9 UHMW Adhesive-Backed Plastic, part #16L64; $6, Woodcraft Supply,, 800-225-1153.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker December 1999, issue #77.

December 1999, issue #77

Purchase this back issue.

Click any image to view a larger version.

1. Make cope cuts in the end-grain of all of the rails first. A shop-made sled holds them safely in position while cutting. Glue a block of wood with one squarely cut end on top of a longer piece of 1⁄4-in. plywood. Screw on a toggle clamp. The sled assures a square cut and the block acts as a backer, preventing blow-out.

2. Be selective when choosing panels for the doors and cabinet sides. Slide the frames around on the plywood until you find attractive panels. Don’t worry about wasting a little plywood. Locate panels for the upper doors first. Then find panels for the the lower door and cabinet sides.

3. Trim the cabinet sides to width and the front stiles to size at the same time. Routing the narrow front stiles is dangerous. Instead, it’s good practice (and faster) to make them the same width as the back stiles and cut away the excess width after the side is glued up.

4. Keys to a successful, square glue-up. Work on a flat surface. Keep the bottom shelf from sagging with a long support block under the center divider. Slide the back into place. Align the cauls and clamps with the dadoed shelves. A shim centered on the cauls distributes pressure along the joint; apply even clamp pressure front and back. Measure diagonals to check squareness. Have help. If you don’t have help, use glue that has a long open time.


I cut a dado in the wrong place—an easy mistake to make. If it happens to you, here’s a good repair. Cut three pieces that fit the dado and match the grain of the surrounding areas. Plane them flush after gluing and they’ll be almost unnoticeable.

5. Clamp the face frame pieces together after positioning them carefully. Then, mark them for doweling. Make sure the drawer rails are properly spaced. Mark each joint for doweling. One line drawn straight across the joint marks both pieces for the doweling jig. Label both pieces of each joint so they don’t get mixed up.

6. Drill holes for dowels. This doweling jig allows you to drill two holes, even on narrow pieces, from a single pencil mark. Clamp the piece in a vise. When narrow pieces have to be mounted off to one side for drilling, a spacer block evens clamp pressure. I like to hold the jig while drilling to keep it steady.

7. Birch runners in simple frames support the side-hung drawers. The dadoed uprights center the runners in the drawer openings. Screw these frames to the back of the face frame and to the inside walls at the back of the cabinet.

8. Glue the leg to the lower cabinet. Then glue corner blocks to the leg tenon and cabinet frame. These mail-order legs (see Sources, below) are authentic Hoosier replicas, ready for skirts and casters.

9. The tambour system is a snap to install. The system works like a window shade, using spring tension to help lift and roll the tambour, which travels up and down in grooves in the plastic tracks.

10. Clamp the front rail to the tambour and attach it from the backside with screws. The tambour and rail rest on spacer blocks that allow room for the clamps.

11. Assemble the web frame inside the porcelain enamel work surface. It fits inside the lip. Fit the stiles first. They have access cuts in them so the rails drop in place and slide into position.

12. Trim the tongue on the drawer front. First cut a vertical slot, leaving 3⁄8-in. at the front (the same thickness as the door lips) and 1⁄8-in. at the back. Then cut the tongue to length.

13. Round the door edges with a 1⁄4-in. bit after cutting rabbets around the backs. The two adjacent edges of the small upper cabinet doors (Z2) are not rabbeted.

14. Use a spacer to locate the door hinges and drill centered holes for the screws. The hardware comes with plated brass screws, which break easily. Either use a steel screw to cut threads in the holes first and lubricate the brass screws before using them, or replace them altogether with stainless steel screws.

15. Mount the doors on the cabinet, centered in the openings. Their 3⁄8-in.-wide lips allow room for minor adjustments. A straightedge clamped evenly across the top of the cabinet aligns the door tops.


mikedoc293 wrote re: Hoosier Cabinet
on 05-14-2009 5:46 AM

Hi there, I like the cabinet which is similar to one I am making for my son's new apartment. I wonder if anyone knows where I can purchase ice box handles, the kind that are about 6 inches long and are brass or stainless steel. I live in the UK and I can't find these handles anywhere.

Thanks in advance

tamac38 wrote re: Hoosier Cabinet
on 05-24-2009 6:46 AM


Tom Montuori wrote re: Hoosier Cabinet
on 12-07-2010 9:56 PM

Nice cabinet I wish the plans were more detaled.

I would love to take on this project.