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Woodwork 

Winter 2013-2014

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Display Cabinet

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Display Cabinet

Open sides and built-in lights showcase your treasures.

By Randy Johnson

Some cabinets are all about displaying the beauty of wood. This cabinet, with its glass doors, shelves and sides and built-in lighting, is all about displaying what’s inside. Whether it’s your collection of antique tools or fine porcelain, whatever you put inside is sure to shine.

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Rough cut the stiles for the sides, back, doors and legs. Make a couple extra pieces of each part in case a couple end up warping badly.

Click any image to view a larger version.


Let your roughsawn lumber rest for at least 48 hours. Spread out the parts so air can freely circulate around them. Most wood has a tendency to warp or twist a little after it is rough sawn. Letting your rough parts rest allows them to stabilize before you do the final dimensioning.


Joint and plane the parts. Let these parts rest for a few days as well. Then use a straightedge to check for flatness. Pick the straightest and flattest boards for the doors.


Use a tongue-and-groove joint for the side and back frames. The groove is quick to make on your router table, and the tongue can be cut with a dado head on your tablesaw.


Assemble the side panels on a flat bench. Check for twist by sighting down a pair of winding sticks, which are simply a matching pair of straight boards. Adjust the frame in the clamps until the sticks are parallel.


Glue the tapered legs to the assembled side frames. The legs should be flush with the inside of the side frames. Sand the panel side of the legs and the outside of the side frames before gluing these parts together. If you get any glue squeeze out at these inside corners make sure to clean it up with a damp rag before it dries.


Rout a rabbet around the inside of the side panels for the glass. The router leaves rounded corners, so cut them square with a chisel.


The tongue-and-groove joints at the corners of the box frames provide positive alignment for clamping.


Glue and clamp the box frames. Make sure they are perfectly square and flat, because they determine how square and straight the cabinet ends up.


Dry fit the box frames to the side frames. Once you’re sure the parts fit square and true, add glue and leave everything clamped until completely dry.


Assemble the frame-and-panel back. First clamp the center stile and top and bottom rails. Then add the panels and the side stiles. Take a dry run at this assembly before actually gluing it.


Screw the back to the top and bottom box frames. Add a mending plate along the side to hold the back to the side leg.


Slide the bottom in place. The bottom is screwed at the front through the front support board and held at the rear by a dado in the back panel. The dado is 1/8" extra deep to allow the bottom to freely shrink and expand.


Drill the holes for shelf pins. Using a shopmade template and a self-centering drill bit makes this simple and accurate. Align the template with the inside edge of the side stiles.


Attach the solid-wood top with tabletop fasteners. This allows the top to expand and contract without cracking. The slots can easily be cut with a plate joiner. Note that wiring grooves have already been routed in the top of the box frame and back.


Install the low-voltage lights. This style of light is typically made up of a bezel, a bulb and reflector, and the lens. The transformer and switch are then attached to the back of the cabinet.


Drill mortises in the door stiles. Center the mortise bit right in the middle of the groove.


Saw the haunch on the door rail tenons. The haunch will fit into the groove in the door stile and stiffens the mortise-and-tenon joint.


Attach the doors with no-mortise hinges. Put the door in its closed position and mark for the location of the hinges. The doors will likely fit snug at the top and bottom, and that’s okay for now. Open the door and install the no-mortise hinges. Because you don’t have to fuss with making mortises, their nickname is “the frustration-free hinge.”


Check the clearance gap along the top and bottom of the doors. Use a ruler as a guide and draw a pencil line for an even gap. Then remove the doors and belt sand to the pencil line.


Install the glass and retainer strips after you have stained and finished all of the cabinet parts. Predrill small holes in the retainer strip and then use a brad pusher to install the small brads. The brad pusher is a lot safer than a hammer around glass.


This story originally appeared in American Woodworker January 2003, issue #98.

January 2003, issue #98

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