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AW Extra - Cherry Pie Safe


Cherry Pie Safe

This versatile classic goes together fast with biscuits.

By Dave Munkittrick and Bruce Kieffer

Pie safes like this one were once commonplace. The pierced-tin panels kept insects out while providing ventilation for cooling baked goods.

Our version is built of solid cherry with a simple, modified-Shaker style that blends easily into most any decor. Adjustable shelves and a pair of drawers make it a versatile storage cabinet. The pierced-tin panels that once cooled pies provide ventilation for a modern sound system. Or, you can use this pie safe to store clothing and take some of the pressure off that overstuffed closet or bureau.

Biscuits make the joinery on this project as easy as pie. If you’ve never made a project of this scale before, or are new to biscuit joinery, this is the perfect place to start. You’ll need to know how to make stopped rabbets for the back and dadoes for the drawers, but hanging the flush-fit doors is a breeze with no-mortise hinges.

Getting off to a good start

You’ll need a biscuit joiner, a tablesaw set, a router with a 3/8" rabbeting bit and a jigsaw to complete this project. With the exception of the drawer bottoms and back, the whole cabinet is made of solid cherry. One of the tricks to using cherry is to be fussy about your lumber. The color of cherry can vary greatly (that’s why it’s often stained dark by manufacturers). Select boards with uniform color or ask that the wood you order come from a single tree.

We spent about $900 on this pie safe. You can shave off some of that cost by punching your own tin. Now, let’s head for the shop.

Start with the wood

Sort your wood for grain and color. Most cherry boards have some sapwood, the offwhite wood found on the outer edge of the trunk. Plan your cuts so the sapwood is kept to the inside where it won’t show. Select flat, straight-grained wood for the doors and face frame. This is one place you can’t afford any warping. Cut the drawer fronts (W) from a single board so the grain flows from one drawer to the next. Choose boards with compatible figure and color for the sides (B) and top (A). Use the less desirable pieces for shelving.

Tips for better biscuiting

-There are three common sizes of biscuits: #20, #10 and #0. #20 biscuits offer the greatest gluing surface and are therefore the strongest. Use these whenever possible even if it results in the biscuit “breaking out” of the joint (Photo 8). Breakout occurs on the face frame and door frame where narrow rails join the stile. But that’s not a problem if you offset the center mark for the biscuits so the breakout won’t be seen. We did this on the face frame so the biscuits break out where the drawers and top cover them (Fig. B). Breakouts on the door frames are covered by the tin panel stops. We offset the top-rail biscuits to keep the top edge of the door clean (Fig. C).

-Assembly with biscuits needs to go smoothly because the biscuits swell quickly once glue is applied. For a more relaxed assembly, use an extended-open-time glue like Titebond’s Type II Extended or Liquid Hide Glue (see Sources, below).

-Take the time to dry-fit each assembly using all the biscuits and clamps you’ll need for the real thing. You’ll be able to rehearse your glue up and red flag any misaligned biscuits.

-Getting glue in the biscuit slots can be a bit messy. Just squirt a bead into the groove and spread it along both side walls of the slot with a small glue brush (see Sources, below).

The carcass

1. Lay out and cut the biscuit slots for the top (A), sides (B) and shelves (C) (Photo 1).

2. Dry-fit first then glue up and cut to length.

3. Use the leg patterns (Fig. A) to lay out the shapes on the bottoms of the sides. Cut them out with a jigsaw.

4. Use a tablesaw to cut the rabbet on the back rail (D) for the back (Z). Use a router with a 3/8" rabbeting bit to cut the stop rabbet on the sides for the back.

5. Lay out the fixed shelf locations on the cabinet sides, then cut the biscuit slots for the shelves and the back rail (Photos 2 and 3).

6. Drill holes for adjustable shelf pins (see Sources, below; Photo 4).

7. Finish-sand all the pieces starting with 120-grit and working your way to 320-grit for an oil finish. If you plan to varnish, stop at 220-grit.

8. Dry-fit and glue the carcass using four clamps and cauls for the shelves (Photo 5) and a fifth clamp for the back rail. Be sure the carcass is glued up square.

9. Glue the drawer kicker cleats (J) to the bottom of the lower shelf. If you own a pneumatic brad nailer, tack the cleat in place first so it won’t slide around when you apply the clamps. (Brad nailers can be like a third hand during assembly.)

The face frame

10. Lay out the face frame, as shown in Fig. B.

11. Cut the biscuit slots (Photo 7) and dry fit the face frame.

12. If you are mortising in your hinges, now’s the time to lay out and cut the hinge mortises on the inside edges of the face stiles.

13. Lay out and cut the leg profiles on the bottom of each stile (Fig. A).

14. Begin the glue up with the drawer divider mullion (S) and the lower rails (R). Then glue the rest of the face frame together.

15. Trim the protruding biscuits and finish sand.

Final assembly

16. Glue the face frame assembly to the carcass. Tack the face frame in position with brads before applying clamps. Trim the face frame overhang with a flush-trim bit in a router.

17. Center the drawer kickers (E) in the drawer openings and attach them to the kicker cleats with a 6 x 1-1/2" screw.

18. Attach the drawer runner cleats (H, Fig. D) with a brad, glue and clamps.

19. Assemble the drawer runners (F and M) and position them on the cleats so they set 1/16" into the drawer openings (Fig. D). Attach the runners to the front cleat only (Fig. D). You’ll attach the back of the runners later.

20. Attach the top (Fig. A).

21. Make the cherry quarter-round molding (K and L) from a 3" wide piece of cherry. Round over the two long edges with a router and a 3/4" round-over bit. Rip the moldings off the piece and cut to fit. Glue and nail the front molding in place. Nail the side moldings in place but only glue the miter joint and the first couple of inches at the front of the case. This will keep the miter joint tight but still allow the carcass to move with the seasons.

The doors

22. Use a tablesaw to cut the rabbets on the back edges of the door rails (U).

23. Cut biscuit slots, dry-fit, glue and clamp the door frames (Photo 8).

24. Finish the rabbets on the doors with a router and a 3/8" rabbeting bit—this will also trim the protruding biscuits. Square the corners with a sharp chisel.

25. Fit the doors.

26. Make the door latch (N) and mount it and the door stop (G, Fig. A.)

27. Make the tin panel stops (V) and miter to fit in place, but don’t attach them yet.

The drawers

28. Cut the dadoes and rabbets in the drawer fronts (W) and sides (X).

29. Finish-sand the insides of the drawer pieces, then glue and nail the drawers together making sure they are square.

30. Finish-sand the outside of the drawers.

31. Attach the drawer runners to the drawer runner cleat (Photo 9).

32. Drill holes for the door and drawer knobs.

33. Attach the back with screws. Screws allow you to easily remove the back for finishing and you won’t be accidentally driving nails through the side of the cabinet.

The finish

34. Finish-sand the outside surfaces and ease the edges.

35. Apply three coats of Danish oil.

36. Mount the tin panels in the doors, hang the doors and attach the knobs.

37. Attach the back and stand back to admire your work. Just think; food safes like this used to hold biscuits; now they’re held together by them!


Frank Paxton Lumber Company,, 800-522-3305, 4/4 Cherry, 100 bd. ft.; 1/4" x 4' x 8' cherry plywood.

Titebond,, Titebond II Extended, 1 gal., $29.99; Titebond Liquid Hide Glue, 16 oz., $13.99.

Highland Woodworking,, 800-241-6748, Small glue brush (pack of 10), #166025, $2.50; 2-3/4" Horizontal toggle clamp, #166105, $11.99 ea.

Woodcraft,, 800-225-1153, 1/4" dia. brass shelf supports (25), #27I11, $2.99; Pewter no-mortise ball hinge, #130191, $4.50 each.

Van ***’s,, 800-558-1234, 1-1/4" dia. cherry knob, #02032579, $1.79 ea.

Country Accents,, 570-478-4127, Pierced-tin panel, 10" x 14", $20 - $30 each, depending on the pattern.

Cutting List

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker April 2000, issue #79.

April 2000, issue #79

Purchase this back issue.

Click on any of the images to view a larger version

1. Cut the biscuit slots about 6" apart for edge joining. The biscuits align the surface of the boards producing flush joints that require little sanding. You don’t want to expose a biscuit joint when making your final cuts so keep your biscuits at least 3" away from the ends of the top (A) and the leg cutout area on the sides (B).

2. Cut the slots in the end of the shelf with the base of the plate joiner on the cabinet side. Clamp the shelf on the side so the top edge of the shelf lines up with the top edge of the layout mark on the side. Mark for biscuits in the middle of the shelf and 3" in from each end.

3. Cut the slots in the side with the plate joiner held vertical and using the markings on the shelf.


Somehow we managed to cut a biscuit where none belonged. A careless pencil mark can be mistaken for a biscuit mark when you’re cutting your way through a pile of frame members. Here’s how we fixed it: Use a compass to mark a 4" dia. circle in some 5/32" thick cherry and cut it out on the bandsaw. Glue the circle into the bad slot and clean up any excess glue. After the glue dries, flush-cut the repair.

4. Drill for adjustable shelf pins using a perfboard template. Mark the bottom and back edge to correctly register the template on the other side of the cabinet. Mark the holes to be drilled (every other hole gives a 2" spacing) and use a sharp brad-point bit. Make your own fool-proof depth stop from 3/4" x 3/4" stock that’s drilled down the center and cut to length.

5. Clamp the carcass assembly using shop-made cauls to distribute clamping pressure across a wide joint. See Photo 6 for how to make cauls.

6. Make your cauls from 2x4s cut to the width of the cabinet. Make sure they are well dried and all four sides are square. Plane or sand a 1/16" crown on each caul and mark the crown with an arrow. While you’re at it, make some extras and keep them for future use.

7. Cut slots in the ends of narrow parts, like this face frame rail, using a simple jig to steady the work and provide a wider surface for the plate joiner fence. We used a 12" x 30" piece of melamine with a 3" x 18" piece of hardwood centered along the edge. Add a couple of hold-down clamps (see Sources, below left). Note how the cabinetmaker’s triangle identifies the piece being cut as the top rail.


The Cabinetmaker's Triangle

Labeling your project parts with letters and numbers works fine when you’re dealing with a few pieces. But if your pile of parts gets mixed up it can take a while to sort things out again. The cabinetmaker’s triangle allows you to instantly identify the location and orientation of each individual piece. Here’s how it works: Group your frame members face-side up in the same orientation they will have when assembled (stiles are vertical, rails are horizontal, etc.). Mark each group with a triangle that points up towards the top of the cabinet. (With parts like the top and shelves, the triangle will point to the back of the cabinet). The triangle leaves two lines on each piece making identification a snap (See Figs. B and C, below). If two or more assemblies are identical, like our pair of doors, add an extra line along the triangle’s side for the rails and along the bottom for the stiles.

8. Assemble your door frames on a perfectly flat surface using identical clamps. This helps ensure a flat door and saves all kinds of headaches later. Spacer sticks hold the frame up off the clamps (so it won’t get stained) and in line with the clamp screw pressure (so it won’t get twisted). Note how the biscuits protrude into the panel rabbets. They’ll be removed later when the rabbets are completed with a router.

9. Mark the position of the drawer runners on the lower back support cleat. Have the drawer in place with even margins around the opening and enough room between the slides and drawer sides for smooth operation. Remove the drawer and fasten the runners with screws.

Punch Your Own Tin!

You’ll save money and have fun doing it. Everything you need is available at Country Accents (see Sources, at left): 10" x 14" tin blanks ($4.30 each); the pattern ($2); the hole punch (T-0359, $5.95); and the lampmaker’s chisel (T-0259-3/8, $7.95). Expect to spend 30 to 40 minutes punching each panel. Don’t try to do all six in a row or you’ll feel like punching more than tin. Take it easy and spread the job over a few days.

Wear a pair of gloves when handling the tin to keep from etching in fingerprints. Tape the pattern to the tin with masking tape. Use pushpins to hold the work down on a piece of particleboard and have at it. Complete instructions come with every order.

Fig. A: Exploded View

Fig. B: Face Frame Layout

Fig. C: Door Frame Layout

Fig. D: Interior Construction

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