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AW Extra 9/26/13 - Oak Medicine Cabinet


Oak Medicine Cabinet

Add style to your bath.

By Bruce Kieffer

Each morning, you probably look at a plain old medicine cabinet. Why not upgrade it?

As a focal point in your bathroom, a new cabinet is a golden opportunity to display your skills. You’re sure to get praise from everyone who visits! But build it with care, because it will be hung right at eye level.


Design notes

I made this cabinet from rift-sawn white oak. Rift-sawn figure, on both faces and edges, is mainly composed of straight lines. Looking at the end grain of rift-sawn wood, you’ll see that the growth rings generally run from corner to corner, and that’s why faces and edges look alike. I chose riftsawn wood because I like its straightgrained appearance, but it also allows the edges of the door to blend seamlessly with the cabinet’s sides.

I didn’t skimp when selecting the wood. Using wood with similar figure is often more important on a small project than on a large one, because the few pieces in a small project are so close together. An oddball stands out like a sore thumb.

I used dovetailed corners, an arched rail and decorative plugs to give the cabinet a unique look. To make the dovetails, I used a jig that allowed me to make the tails wider than the pins.

The door hangs on Euro-style hinges. I’ll admit that they’re big and ugly, but I really like their functionality and adjustability. I added a soft-close device to the hinges that enables the door to close without making a sound (see Sources, below).

The cabinet and door backs are thin slats connected by tongue and groove joints. Making them in solid wood eats up lots of time and material, but they look fantastic compared to a piece of plywood.

The mirror is 1/8" thick glass with vinyl backing. (The backing will hold the glass together should it accidentally break.) I had the mirror cut by a glass supplier, who also added the backing. You may want to ask your local building inspector if there are bathroom-mirror code requirements for your area.

Removing the towel storage door for a refill is very simple. It sits in a 1/8" deep groove in the bottom shelf and a 3/8" deep groove in the fixed shelf above. To take off the door, you just lift it up, then out.

Speaking of doors, you’ve probably noticed that the front door doesn’t have a handle. The door extends below the cabinet; to open it, you just pull on this lower lip. That’s the way I like my design–clean and simple.


Make the cabinet

1. Cut the cabinet sides (A1) and top and bottom pieces (A2) to size. I made all of these pieces 1/16" extralong, and set up my dovetail jig so the tails and pins protruded 1/32". Rout the dovetail joints (Photo 1, Figs. B & C). I used a Leigh Super Jig.

2. Lay out stopped rabbets on the side pieces (Fig. B). Cut the ends of the rabbets with a handsaw (Photo 2). Rout the rabbets and square their ends with a chisel. Rout through rabbets on the top and bottom pieces. Drill 5mm shelf-pin and hinge mounting- plate holes in the sides.

3. Cut the fixed shelf (A6) and towel storage sides (A8) to size. Rout grooves for the towel storage door (A9) in the cabinet bottom and the fixed shelf (Photo 3, Fig. C). Cut biscuit slots to join the fixed shelf, towel storage sides, cabinet bottom and cabinet sides.

4. Make an oval template for the towel dispenser hole (Fig. C). Cut the hole in the cabinet’s bottom using a scroll saw or jigsaw. Round over the hole’s outside edge.

5. Finish sand the interior surfaces of all of the parts you’ve made. Assemble the cabinet in stages. Make sure the parts are square and aligned during assembly, and allow the glue to dry before proceeding to the next stage. First, join the cabinet bottom, towel storage sides and fixed shelf. Add one cabinet side. Next, add the cabinet top, and finally, the remaining side (Photo 4).

6. Use a belt sander to make the dovetails flush, then finish sand the outside of the cabinet. Ease all edges with sandpaper.


Make the door

7. Cut the door stiles (B3) 1" longer than their final size. Mark the finished length 1/2" from each end (you’ll trim the stiles to their finished length after assembling the doorframe). The extra 1/2" makes assembly easier–aligning the parts during assembly isn’t as critical. Cut the rails (B1 & B2) to final size. Make extra stiles and rails for testing your mortise and tenon setups.

8. Lay out the plug holes on the door stiles (Fig. D). Make sure they are exactly 5/8" square. Drill holes to clear most of the waste (Photo 5), then square the holes with a chisel (Photo 6).

9. Cut mortises in the stiles (Photo 7) and tenons on the rails (Photo 8). I used my scroll saw to cut away the waste between the double tenons on the arch rail and cleaned up the cut with a chisel.

10. Make a template of the arch rail’s curve (Fig. D). Lay out and cut the curve, then sand it smooth (Photo 9).

11. Glue the door frame. Trim and sand the ends of the stiles flush with the rails. Rout two rabbets inside the door: first, the rabbet for the slats, and second, the rabbet for the mirror (Fig. D). Go slow when routing against the grain on the arch rail, to avoid chipping out the short grain at the ends. Square the corners of the rabbets (Photo 10). Have the mirror made to fit the door.

12. Drill 35mm holes for the hinge cups on the right door stile. (It’s best to attach the hinge mounting plates to the cabinet and test your hingehole drilling setup on a 30" long piece of scrap wood.) Since you’re working in a confined area, attaching the lower hinge mounting plate and adjusting the hinge requires a stubby #2 Posi Drive screwdriver. (You can jury-rig one using a Posi Drive screwdriver tip and a 1/4" box wrench–see Sources.)


Make the slats

13. Cut the slats to size (A3-A5, B4 & B5). Cut their grooves on a tablesaw, then rout the tongues (Photo 11, Fig. E). Assemble the door slats first. Fit them together, including shims, inside the door’s rabbet. The gaps between the slats allow the wood to expand in the summer, when it’s humid. You will probably have to trim the width of the end slats to make the final fit. Draw, then cut, the curved upper ends of the slats (Photo 12). Fit the cabinet’s back slats in a similar way.

14. Pre-drill holes for the screws that attach the slats to the door and cabinet (Photo 13, Fig A). Drill holes in the back slats for the screws that attach the cabinet to the wall.


Finishing up

15. Make the adjustable shelves (A7) and towel storage door (A9). Check the door’s fit in the cabinet. If the door is too tight, plane it a bit thinner. Lay out the towel-level viewing slot (Fig. A). Drill 3/8" dia. holes at the slot’s ends, then cut the slot (Photo 14).

16. Trim the cabinet’s door, if necessary, so that it’s flush with the sides and top. Round over its edges.

17. Mill a 12" long piece for making the plugs (B6). (I chose a piece whose end grain ran at a slight angle–less than 10°–from side to side.) Make it square and slightly larger than the widest hole you chopped in the doorframe. Before you cut each plug, round over its end with sandpaper to form a pillow shape. Cut three plugs from each end of the plug stock (Photo 15). Arrange the plugs near their holes so that the grain of the plugs on one side of the frame is a mirror image of the plugs on the other side. Running the grain upwards and inwards, like an arch, looks best. Fit each plug by sanding its sides at a slight taper. You’ve got a good fit when the plug is tight on all sides, and almost all the way in the hole. Glue and tap the plugs in place.

18. Remove the slats, hinges and mounting plates. Complete whatever sanding is necessary and ease any remaining sharp edges. Apply a clear protective finish–I used wipeon poly. Reassemble the cabinet and door. Hang the cabinet on the wall using appropriate wall anchors. Set the adjustable shelves in place. Mount the hinges, add door bumpers (see Sources), align the door, add the soft-close device, and fill the towel dispenser. That’s it!


Cutting List


Fig. A: Exploded View


Fig. B: Side


Fig. C: Fixed Shelf & Bottom


Fig. D: Door Details


Fig. E: Slats

Click any image to view a larger version.

Hidden Towel Dispenser. Peek inside the cabinet and you’ll find a built-in dispenser for folded paper towels. It has a window in front to let you know when you’re running low.

1. Begin by building the cabinet’s case, which is dovetailed together. I used a Leigh jig to make joints with wide tails and narrow pins.

2. Saw the ends of the cabinet’s sides, prior to routing a stopped rabbet. This will make squaring the rabbet’s ends much easier.

3. Rout a groove in the cabinet’s bottom for the towel storage door. Control the groove’s length with stop blocks.

4. Glue the case in stages, ending with one of the sides. Use a large L-shaped block to keep the case square.

5. Moving on to the door, use a Forstner bit to remove most of the waste in the holes that will receive square decorative plugs.

6. Square the holes with a chisel.

7. Cut mortises in the stiles. Make the mortises slightly deeper than the length of the tenons, to leave room for excess glue.

8. Saw tenons on the door’s rails using a tenoning jig. You can cut both sides of a tenon, without having to re-adjust the jig, by using a spacer.

9. Bandsaw an arch in the top rail and sand it smooth. To fair the curve, use the cutoff to hold a piece of self-adhesive sandpaper.

10. Glue the door together, then rout two rabbets inside it: one for the mirror, and one for the back. Square their ends using a guide block that’s clamped to the door.

11. Make slats for the back of the door and the back of the cabinet. Rout tongues on the slats using a straight bit.

12. Space the slats with cardboard shims, then set the door frame on top. Trace the curve and cut the slats on the bandsaw.

13. Install the slats in the back of the cabinet. Drill pilot holes and fasten the slats with small screws.

14. Make the door that hides the paper towels. Cut a viewing slot in the door so you can tell when it’s time for a refill.

15. Lastly, add the decorative plugs. Saw them in a shop-made miter box. Draw a line on the box to indicate their length.


Note: Product availability and prices are subject to change.

Woodworkers Hardware, 800-383-0130, 120° Self-Closing Hinge Full Overlay, #B071T5550; Hinge Mounting Plate, #B174H710E; Soft Close Device, #B973A0500.01; Hinge Arm Cover Plate, #B070.1503BP; Hinge Cup Cover Cap, #B070T1504; 5mm Brad Point Drill Bit, #VB5MMBIT; 5mm Nickel Self Support Pins, #THB6144; Clear Door Bumpers, #3MSJ6553; #2 Pozi Screwdriver, #B POZI; #2 Pozi Drive Tip, #P002PD 2., Big C-Fold Junior Paper Towels, Georgia Pacific #20886.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker February/March 2010, issue #146.

February/March 2010, issue #146

Purchase this back issue.