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Cabinet Doors with Stile

February 4, 2010

My cabinetry skills are getting a serious workout as I try to get the kitchen into something resembling decent shape. Currently we are concentrating on refinishing the large built-in that is the main cabinetry in the kitchen. I have built new doors for it as they were missing, some new shelves were needed in the “pantry” side of cabinet as well. I will be making some drawers this weekend to replace the badly built old ones that have fallen apart.

All of the original wood is some sort of pine so I am using the same. This has been quite a trial by fire for me as I am learning the difficulties of working with pine. I am finding that it is very important when selecting wood to try to find quarter-sawn lumber as it is much more dimensionally stable than flat-sawn. Also, there is a lot of case-hardening in pine and you really have to think about what form the wood will take when you re-saw it. Case-hardening (as I learned it was called) is when the wood is dried and appears to have become dimensionally stable but actually has large internal stresses built up. This can show itself quite nastily when you are ripping the boards as often the stress will release quite suddenly. The deformation seems to generally occur in a direction perpendicular to the growth rings. Sometimes though the stress has built up around knots and other irregularities and will cause the wood to deform in very odd ways that can cause the saw to bind.

Thankfully I managed to avoid any serious set-backs, but I did end up tossing out some of my work as the wood was simply too warped. Next time I buy wood I will pick my boards more carefully… I think this whole woodworking thing may be what they call a “learning process.”

I used the doors I still had as templates for the doors I had to make.  They look similar to the photo above (stolen from google images).  Based on how the original doors were made, I decided to try a technique where with a bit of planning you could make simple raised panel doors with only a table saw. The technique is actually pretty simple; First, after making all your measurements you rip down a bunch of boards to the dimensions of your rails and stiles. Mine were 2.25″ except for the bottom rails which were 3″. I decided to use 1×6 lumber as it is cheaper than getting twice as much 1×3. Unfortunately, there was more case hardening than I would have found with the 1×3. Pieces that were too severely warped after ripping were set aside to be ripped into edge facing for plywood. I then cut the boards to length for rails and stiles, making sure to add the tongue length to the rails. I cut some 3/8″ plywood down to the proper size for the panels. I swapped out my ripping blade for a dado stack 1/4″ wide and ran some scrap through to set the depth of cut to a bit over 1/4″. I then set my fence exactly 1/4″ off the blade and ran the rails and stiles through to cut the grooves. I ran them through twice to ensure an even cut and to clean any loose material out of the groove. I then clamped a sacrificial fence to the normal fence and set it so that it was just touching the saw blades. Using this setup and the miter gauge I cut the tongues in the end of the rails. After dry fitting the rails and stiles I dropped the blade to 1/16″ and rabetted the edges so that they would fit in the groove. I dry fit the panels then checked everything for straightness. Several pieces had to be replaced.  Comparing the finished pieces, it was quite obvious that my doors got better as the process progressed. The final product is nearly identical to the original doors and after sanding and painting I doubt they will be distinguishable from each other at all.

I also had to replace about 6 shelves in our “pantry.”  I made them out of 3/4″ plywood that I faced with scrap ripped to 1/4″. I made sure the pieces were oversize and simply trimmed the overage with the laminate trimming blade in the router. Of course the pantry itself isn’t particularly square anymore so each shelf had to be trimmed a bit to fit. Now all the shelves need is a quick sanding and paint and they’ll be all done.

I think the most important thing I’ve learned from this project is that in the woodshop jigs are your friend. Taking a bit of extra time to setup a simple jig or feathering boards makes all the difference between a nice predictable cut and losing a finger.  Some of my next tool purchases will include lots of clamps (you can never have too many) and bunch of milled aluminum stock that will fit into the miter guides in my table saw.

Finally a bit of a historical architecture. The pantry I mentioned is tall and narrow; it’s about 15″ square and runs from the floor to the ceiling. In both the floor and ceiling there are opening covered by chicken-wire. The shelves would have originally been made out of a wooden frame with chicken wire as well. This was a common feature in the early 19th century and is known as a “California Cooler” and uses the chimney effect to keep air moving through the space. It was used to store root vegetables and other items as bungalows typically did not have real cellars. I didn’t want to remove this interesting bit of history, but I also definitely don’t want critters to have access to my pantry. Therefore I decided to leave them in place and just cover them over so someone can re-discover them in another 100 years or so.

My grandparents are going to be visiting this weekend on their way to a cruise. I am excited to see them as we didn’t get a chance to go to New Mexico where they live this year.

Hopefully drawer building goes well this weekend, I am a bit nervous as drawers are supposed to be the most difficult thing to build. Thankfully working in pine means that my mistakes will be relatively inexpensive!

I apologize for the lack of pictures, I will try to take some tonight and update to show what’s going on!

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