Ark Cabinet for Synagogue

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Project by elschaefer posted 10-29-2012 09:27 PM 2025 views 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This was my first attempt at a “fine” cabinetry project using hardwoods and hardwood plywood. I usually do fabrication for theater and other entertainment venues, so this was a bit of a different animal for me but I was very pleased with how it came out.

The project was a collaboration with my mom’s art studio- we designed the unit together, I fabricated the wood components of it and a company that does waterjet fabrication did the metalwork. Our client was a synagogue in Los Angeles who needed a portable unit that they could easily assemble and disassemble for their high holiday services every year. It had to have space for two torahs (holy scrolls used in Jewish services), hidden LED lighting to illuminate the interior, and a lit element suspended above the unit as an “eternal light,” another element of traditional Jewish worship spaces.

The main cabinet was the primary woodworking project, and the most challenging element for me to build. I kept kicking myself throughout the fabrication for designing the curved top! But it turned out well (only took me two tries to make the top stay together) and luckily all the pieces ended up fitting together when it was time to do the install. I used 4/4 Birch for the face frame, the stiles and rails of the shaker panels on the sides, and all the trim pieces. I used 1/2” Baltic Birch plywood for the recessed panels on the sides, the base, and the back of the cabinet. On the inside of the cabinet I added the angled trim pieces to the bottom to hide the wiring from the LED strip lights that illuminated the interior. These were nested behind pieces of aluminum angle iron that we screwed into 45 degree dados just behind the face frame.

The finish on the cabinet was a tinted glaze covered in a catalyzed lacquer, meant to make it look closer to a warm Maple. We got it to the finishers at the last minute and were only barely able to get it done in time for the installation, but it turned out looking pretty good.

The base, doors, and the eternal light element were created by a fabricator in LA that uses a waterjet machine to cut precision shapes out of lots of different materials. The doors were two layers of 1/4” aluminum sandwiched around a stainless steel mesh to create a scrim-like effect. The base was 1/2” aluminum with slots in the middle so the two piece could be slid apart and stored flat when the unit was not being used.

The two backing pieces that supported the eternal light were frames of 1” steel box tube that I welded together, then faced with 1/2” shop birch plywood. We then wrapped them with a flame-retardant fabric patterned to fit nicely into the aesthetic of the space where the ark would be used. I used a french cleat system to secure the backing pieces to the rear of the cabinet, and Irwin Quick-Grip clamps to keep them in place when the unit is in use.

Our client was very happy with the results, and we’re hoping that this design proves successful enough to be reused for other synagogues. Comments, questions, criticisms appreciated! Thanks!

3 comments so far

View Chris Moellering's profile

Chris Moellering

227 posts in 2790 days

#1 posted 10-29-2012 11:52 PM

Nice work.

-- Grace & peace, Chris+

View woodworm's profile


14470 posts in 3733 days

#2 posted 10-30-2012 04:26 AM

Interesting design, great job!

-- masrol, kuala lumpur, MY.

View Matthew T. Smith's profile

Matthew T. Smith

53 posts in 3349 days

#3 posted 03-15-2013 02:37 AM

What a nice design. I have just been commissioned to design an ark cabinet myself and find your piece one of the more inspirational I’ve coma across. For a first time “fine” furniture piece you did quite well. Congrats. No wonder they were pleased.

-- Matthew, North Carolina,

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