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Computer Armoire


Computer Armoire

Build an updated American classic from bargain-priced plywood and poplar.

By Jeff Corns

My wife and I enjoy antique country furniture. It's usually a bargain, but we've been unable to find a piece that would hold all of our computer gear. I'm a professional cabinetmaker, so naturally my wife said, "Honey, can't you make one?"

Back in the day, practical-minded country cabinetmakers often used a variety of plain woods in one piece of furniture to save time and money. They'd paint or stain their work to give the different woods a uniform look. I adopted the same strategy with this cabinet– the sides and top are birch plywood, while the face frame, doors and moldings are made from yellow poplar. Red paint ties everything together.

I designed this case like a TV cabinet–with pocket doors that slide into the case, out of the way. The keyboard and mouse sit on a generously-sized shelf that slides in and out; the printer sits on a shelf above the monitor. The lower half has a large open space for the computer's tower, plus drawers to hold documents, cords and all the other stuff we seem to accumulate.

For a big piece, this armoire is pretty inexpensive. The pocket door hardware is pricey, though. If you want to cut costs, you could use standard hinges instead, and make shelves to hold your gear. With pocket doors, you have to build a free-standing unit that slides into the cabinet (Photo 10).


Make the face frame

1. Mill the face frame stiles and rails (A1 - A4; Fig. C). Drill pocket holes at the ends of the rails. Cut grooves in the stiles to receive the cabinet's sides (Photo 1). The exact location of these grooves depends on the precise thickness of your plywood. It's best if the face frame ends up 1/32" or so proud of the plywood, so you don't have to sand into the plywood's veneer to even the joint later.

2. Cut grooves in the rails to receive the cabinet's subtop and shelves (B2, B3 and B4; Fig. B). Cut tapers on the bottom end of the face frame's stiles. Mark the location of the rails on the stiles, then assemble the face frame with pocket screws (Photo 2).


Make the sides and shelves

3. Cut the sides (B1) to final dimension. Make sure they're square and exactly the same size. Rout a rabbet along the sides' front edges to receive the face frame (Photo 3 and Fig. C).

4. Place each of the sides on the face frame. Mark the location of the grooves in the face frame's rails onto the sides (Photo 4).

5. Dado the sides to receive the shelves (Photo 5 and Fig. F). Rout a rabbet along the back edge of the sides to receive the back pieces (B20, B21). These pieces only cover the upper half of the cabinet, so stop the rabbet at the dado for the middle shelf.

6. Rout a rabbet (Fig. A) along the front edges of the sub-top, center shelf and the bottom. These rabbets fit in the face frame's grooves. Notch the front ends of each piece to clear the back of the face frame.

7. Cut feet on the bottom of each side. Note that the front foot is narrower than the back foot. Adding the face frame will make both feet the same size.

8. Cut a notch in the back of the center shelf, towards the left side (Fig. A), for wires between your computer and any hardware you may store in the armoire's lower section.



9. Lay the face frame inside up on a large worktable or on a pair of sawhorses. Place one of the sides into the face frame, without glue. Glue and nail the sub-top, center shelf, and bottom–one at a time–into the side (Photo 6). After all three pieces are in place, glue and nail the other side. Glue and screw the left divider for the lower section (B5) in place. It's OK for these screws to show–you won’t see them once the keyboard shelf goes in. Glue and clamp edging (B6) on this divider to cover its plywood edge. Glue and nail a block (B22) under the bottom for support.

10. Flip over the entire unit and remove the face frame. Have all your clamps ready, then glue and clamp the face frame (Photo 7).


Add the trim and top

11. Make the waist molding (C1, C2) and fasten it to the cabinet (Photo 8). I screwed the molding from the inside, but you could nail it from the outside.

12. Cut the top (B7) to size. Add blocking (B8, B9) around the edges to double the top's thickness. Miter and glue the poplar edging (B10, B11) to the top's fronts and sides. Screw the top to the cabinet. You won’t see these screws once the computer shelving unit goes in. Add the crown molding (C3, Photo 9). I made my molding on the table saw (Fig. E), but you can use a commercial crown molding. If you do, you may have to adjust the top's size.


Add blocking

13. The lower right side of the case must be built up to allow the drawers to clear the doors. First, screw blocking (B12) behind the right face frame stile. If you'll be using door hinges that wrap around the stile, as I did, you'll have to notch part of this piece to accommodate the hinges. Make and install some additional blocking (B13), a stile (B14), and the right divider (B15).

14. Add blocking (B16 - B19) on the inside of the cabinet for the pocket door hardware. The total thickness of these built-up blocks is about 1-3/4", but determine their exact thickness by measuring your case. Once in place, the blocking's surfaces should be set back 1/32" lower than the inside edge of the face frame. Flush is OK, too, but the blocking should not be proud of the face frame.


Build the computer shelving unit

15. Check the inside dimensions of your cabinet before building the computer shelving unit. The unit must be 4" narrower than the face frame opening, giving 2" of clearance on each side for the pocket doors. The unit's height should be 1/4" less than the distance between the center shelf and the top of the face frame, to allow you to slide it in. Cut the plywood parts (E1- E6; Fig. H). Glue, clamp and trim the edging (E7 – E10). Glue and screw the unit together. Nail the divider (E5) from underneath–screws will show here. Drill 5 mm holes for the shelf pins. Cut the shelf (E6) and glue and clamp on a poplar front (E10). Cut the keyboard shelf (E11) and glue and clamp on its front and back edging (E12).

16. Stain and finish the unit and the inside of the armoire. Put the drawer slides onto the keyboard shelf and inside the unit. Place the unit in the cabinet (Photo 10), center it, and mark its location. Remove the unit and drill six holes through the center shelf in order to fasten the unit in place later on.


Build the back, drawers and doors

17. Mill the back pieces (B20 and B21; Fig. K). Cut rabbets on the edges that overlap to create shiplap joints. Stain and finish the pieces, then fasten them to the case.

18. Build the drawers (D1-D4; Fig. J). Make them 1" narrower than the width of the opening, to allow for two 1/2" drawer slides. Use any type of joinery you wish; I used sliding dovetails. Stain and finish the drawers.

19. Mill the door stiles and rails (F1, F2, F3; Fig. D) and machine them with a tongue-and-groove router bit set (Photo 11 and Fig. G).

20. Glue up the door panels (F4, F5) and plane them to final thickness. Saw a bevel on their faces (Photo 12 and Fig. G), then lay the panels flat on the saw and cut 1/16" fillets next to the bevels. Paint the bevels and the back of the panels before assembling the doors.

21. Glue the doors together. Be careful not to get glue onto the panels. I use rubber Space Balls inside the grooves to prevent the panels from rattling (see Sources).

22. Trim the doors so they have a 1/8" gap around the entire opening.

23. Install the pocket door hardware and drill holes in the doors for the hinges (Photo 13).



24. Now for the fun part. Apply two coats of paint on the entire cabinet–this will blend together the birch plywood and poplar parts (Photo 14).

Cutting List

Shopping List

Fig. A: Exploded View of Case

Fig. B: Plan View of Face Frame

Fig. C: Face Frame and Side Joint

Fig. D: Exploded View of Doors

Fig. E: Crown Molding

Fig. F: Plan View of Cabinet Side

Fig. G: Door Joinery

Fig. H: Exploded View of Computer Shelving Unit

Fig. J: Exploded View of Drawers

Fig. K: Back

Click any image to view a larger version.

1. This cabinet is basically a big plywood box with a face frame on its front. Groove the face frame's stiles to fit the sides. This joint makes it easier to glue on the face frame later on.

2. Join the face frame with pocket screws. They're plenty strong for this job, which is simply to hold the face frame together before gluing it to the cabinet.

3. Rabbet the cabinet’s plywood sides to receive the face frame. This joint ensures that the sides and face frame are flush. Test your setup on a scrap piece before cutting the actual pieces.

4. Place one side of the cabinet on the face frame. Make a mark opposite the groove in the frame's middle rail to locate the dado that receives the middle shelf.

5. Cut the dado in the cabinet's side on the tablesaw. Use the same setting for the opposite side of the cabinet. Cut additional dadoes for the top and bottom shelves.

6. Place one side onto the face frame, without glue. Insert the middle shelf into the side's dado, and glue and nail the shelf to the side. Install the other two shelves, then attach the other side.

7. Glue the face frame to the cabinet, using plenty of clamps. You could nail the face frame instead, but holes in the cabinet’s front are unsightly, even if they’re filled.

8. Add a square molding around the cabinet’s waist. The molding makes the cabinet look like it's two separate units, so it doesn't seem so huge.

9. Add an overhanging top to the cabinet, then nail a crown molding underneath it.

10. Build an inner box to go inside the cabinet. There must be 2 in. of clearance on either side of the box for the pocket doors.

11. Make the frame-and-panel doors after the cabinet is assembled. Mill the doors' stiles and rails, then cut the joints using a tongue-and-groove set.

12. Bevel the edges of the door panels to fit the grooves in the stiles and rails. Use a tall fence, a zero-clearance insert and a featherboard to make a clean, safe cut.

13. Glue the doors together, then drill holes in the doors to receive Euro-style pocketdoor hinges. Use a fence to ensure that all the holes are set back the same distance.

14. Paint the cabinet. Paint allows you to use inexpensive materials, and you don't have to worry about matching grain. Plus, paint can really brighten a room!


Note: Product availability and prices are subject to change.

Woodworker's Hardware,, 800-383-0130, 1" Maple unfinished wood knob, #A00932; Double Roller Latches, LA191 AC; Full Wrap, Ball Tip Hinges, A03175TB ORB, Oil Rubbed Bronze; 18" KV Full Extension Drawer Slides, KV8400 B18; 16" Full Extension Drawer Slide with Hold Out Feature, KV8414 B16; 5mm Spoon shelf supports, THB6144 Nickel; 1/4" Space Balls, #SB260P. 

Hafele,, 800-423- 3531, Pocket Door Slides, 408.24.324; 35 mm Hinge packs, 408.24.020. 

Olde Century Paint, oldecenturycolors. com, 574-654-8894, #2017 Barn Red acrylic latex paint (2 qt. required).

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker October/November 2009, issue #144.

October/November 2009, issue #144

Purchase this back issue.