Joinery for the Byrdcliffe Cabinet

The plans for this cabinet from Chris Schwarz’ original article had a fairly simple door.  The rails and stiles had a 1/4″ wide by 1/2″ deep groove down the middle of the inside faces.  The rails had a corresponding 1/4″ thick by 1/2″ long stub tenon.  That would be fairly easy to produce on the table saw, but I don’t think it would work well for my variation of the cabinet.

Here are the problems.

First, I’m not making a frame-and-panel door.  I’m doing a door with a stained glass insert, so I need a stopped rabbet that opens to the back to insert the glass into.  Second, the glass will be heavier than the carved panel and need a little more support, so I’d like a little stronger joinery.  It’s a lot of work to make the stained glass panel, I don’t want it to get damaged.

So my updated design uses mortise and tenon joinery.  To pull off the stopped rabbet the shoulders are staggered.  This is a fairly standard approach, I just needed to figure out the dimensions to make it work with my stock thickness and width.

I started with a CAD mockup of the door.  The overall dimensions are approximate, but the thickness and width of  of the stock are spot on.  The design for the glass is stretched to fit, I’ll have to lay that out more carefully before I cut any glass to make it.

CAD Mockup of the Door

CAD Mockup of the Door

In the exploded views you can see how the outside shoulders of the tenons are set back further — by the width of the rabbet.  I have the mortises at 1″ deep, which seems plenty strong.  But I’m not sure how to make the mortises, I don’t have a lot of experience making mortises.

Part of my consternation is that I’ve been saving my pennies (literally) for a big hollow chisel mortiser that I could use to make doors and gates — and I’m still a few pennies short of a mortiser (there is a joke in there somewhere).  I could do it with a router and a template, but the rabbet causes problems in designing the fixture which then has to sit on top of it.  By time I have the thickness of the jig (accounting for the guide bushing) plus the depth of the rabbet I don’t have enough bit length left to make a deep enough mortise.

Since routing won’t work, I could drill a series of holes, and then clean that up with a chisel.  I tried that and wasn’t happy with the results.  The drill bit wanders (even using a drill press and a fence).  It doesn’t really seem like it’s any savings over just chopping with a chisel in the first place.

I did several practice mortises with a chisel.  I can get a reasonable mortise — in fact, a pretty nice mortise, as the rabbet helps keep things on track.  But I made the mistake of cutting the stiles to the correct length instead of leaving “ears” on them.  On every attempt at chopping a mortise I split the end out.  Not good.

So I have to make more stiles now, and this time leave them long.

Exploded View

Exploded View

Dimensions for the mortises, rabbets and tenons

Dimensions for the mortises, rabbets and tenons

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Joinery for the Byrdcliffe Cabinet

  1. José Santiago

    Hi Joe
    I think a bit and brace can help you here as you have much more control than a regular drill bit. The challenge is having the right size and an auger bit file. You can use a forstner bit in a brace as well. Either way clean up with a chisel is needed. This is much less pounding and decreases the ends splitting. It’s quick too.

  2. Tim

    Hi Joe,

    Looking at the exploded view of the top rail, I would slide the whole tenon down, so that the bottom of the shoulder is in-line with your rabbet, leaving a larger haunch at the top shoulder. This, in conjunction with ears (or horns) on the stiles, should leave you plenty of “relish” to chop your mortises without splitting the stiles. Good luck.


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