A few weeks ago, I conducted a consult with a local client in the neighborhood about their damaged credenza cabinet base. They wanted the top repaired or rebuilt, but upon inspection, it turned out that the entire cabinet was beyond saving. The amount of weight on it over the years, including a hutch, took it’s toll. After a few days, I sent them a design to view and they agreed to a new cabinet, one built to withstand far more weight which would be a pseudo-replica. In order to keep it economical, the project called for mainly 3/4″ plywood, A1 (furniture grade). It can easily be made with all hardwood, but at much more cost. Plywood is far more stable also, completely resistant to expansion and contraction. A1 face veneer is as good as it gets for grain consistency also.
The design called for double layer top and sides. After cutting a couple sheets down to required sizes, the glue ups began. normally, laminate glue ups allow for trimming to size later with clean up cuts. Since the design had the rabbets built in for the top to sit in as well as a backing, the sides and top had to be glued carefully. The sides weren’t too difficult, but extra care was needed for the top to ensure the pressure was evenly distributed from the center outwards in order to prevent gaps. The new torsion box flat top really helped, the 72″ cabinet top glue up was completely manageable.
Following that, we needed to cut a bunch of dado’s. This part was more complex; some were through, others stopped. In either case, the actual thickness of the plywood was a consideration, since most sheets are not actually 3/4″. The stuff we had, from Canada, was close to 23/32″ (or .706″ to be exact). The Freud Dial-a-Width Stacked Dado blade set excels in these operations. The DeWalt plunge router handled the rest nicely. Any mistakes during this process likely results in a complete do-over. Test cuts are a must; triple checking all measurements is just a start.
Side Glue Up
Glue roller, much faster
Once all the dado’s were properly cut, it was time to begin a series of dry assemblies. It’s much easier to prevent minor tear-outs and such if all edges are lightly sanded. The parts tend to fit easier also. Once we had the thing together, we needed a strategy for the case glue up process. I didn’t have enough really long clamps and I didn’t want to do an entire case glue up at once anyhow. We ended up assembling in two stages, which worked out very well. The bottom, sides and lower middle were done first, then the rest later.
Edge banding (not house work)
After the case was put together, the remaining steps were much simpler. Putting the final components on the cabinet is esp. rewarding as the project comes to fulfillment. The clients wanted sliding doors, so I made hardwood tracks for three 1/2″ thick doors. In order to get the doors into the grooves, the upper tracks had to be at least twice as deep which worked out well. The drawer installed nicely also.
The last part was the face frame, which is all solid, red oak hardwood. It provided a good opportunity to show Miranda how to sneak up on a perfect fit with flush edges and such using a plane, card scraper and a bit of sanding. All these pieces can be left a touch over-sized in many respects which allows for a chance to sneak up on perfect fits and edges. I’ve noticed over the years that I do much less sanding which saves a ton of time with better results.
Testing is critical
With the cabinet assembly and preparation complete, the only step left was to apply the finish. Since the project required color-matching, we planned this part with a more deliberate, 3-step approach. First step: seal || Second step: toner || Final step: top coat. As usual, it’s best to conduct tests prior to the real thing especially for color-matching. I wasn’t entirely sure how to do this properly, but my friend Todd and the the pros at Sherwin-Williams gave me great advice.
(disclaimer: I have zero sponsorship or ties to any manufacturers). We spent the whole day spraying until complete. The sealer is a vinyl material reduced slightly with lacquer thinner and manually catalyzed. It leaves a white dust everywhere, but does a great job sealing. The toner step took about 3 hours. We used a greener product lacquer thinner and dye to achieve as close a color-match as we could. During this step, the HVLP gun was dialed down significantly and the over-spray was non-existent with all the doors open. The top coat was a lacquer product, pre-cat, (required for catalyzed sealer – must match) and thinned. Each coat took about 15-minutes at most to dry. The sealer too about 30 minutes to dry maybe. The shop was about 58 degrees with the doors open. Only lacquers will work this well in these kinds of conditions.
The very last steps included reinstalling the drawer hardware, adding the door handles, and going over the entire assembly for a super-fine grit light sanding and rubdown with a light oil soap. We also added non-friction tape to the bottoms of the doors and sanded / waxed all contact points. Hard to believe at this point it was completely done, but that was it. I look forward to the next one.
Left side and drawer
Thanks for reading!
Your Arctic Woodworking Friend,
-- Troy Bouffard || Master Sergeant, US Army (Retired) || http://www.birchhillwoodcrafts.com