Thorsen Cabinet Completed!

I wrapped up the assembly of the Thorsen cabinet, finally, yesterday.  Rubbing out the parts, installing the stained glass and doing the final assembly all went without a hitch.  I wasn’t able to get a good picture of the completed project — only mediocre ones.  My camera phone doesn’t do well with a lot of contrast and the dark cabinet needs a lot of light to photograph well.

First off, I rubbed out all of the parts with 0000 steel wool and black BriWax.  The was goes into the pores in the wood and adds a bit more color.  I’ll probably topcoat it with regular paste wax later for protection.  I installed the stained glass into the door using the wood retaining strips I’d made, securing them with my pin nailer.

Glass installed in the door, finish rubbed out

Glass installed in the door, finish rubbed out

Case and shelf rubbed out...

Case and shelf rubbed out…

Slats for ship lapped back rubbed out

Slats for ship lapped back rubbed out

Once the parts were all finished it was time to assemble it.  First the back was screwed in, then I hung the door, and that was it.  Why did this take me all day?  I did waste some time trying to match the patina on the handle with the hinges, but I couldn’t get the hinges to darken properly.  I’ll have to read up on patinas, I thought I understood the process.

Back installed into the case

Back installed into the case

Then I hauled the project into the house.  I haven’t hung it yet, I decided I need to repaint the wall where it’s going…which will lead to repainting the room, and god only know what that will lead to.  I actually want to make paneling for the room to match this cabinet, in the style of the Thorsen house where it follows the outline of the cabinet.  But first there are six other projects I want to do, so we’ll have to settle for a fresh coat of paint for now.

My photography skills notwithstanding, I’m really happy with the finished project.  There are (always) a few things that I see to improve on in the next project, whether it’s proportions, construction or finish details of course.  But I try not to dwell on the minor glitches and enjoy the overall result.

Finished cabinet

Finished cabinet



Another view of the outside

Another view of the outside




Categories: Woodworking | Tags: | 19 Comments

Inlay Experiments II

Yesterday I continued with my inlay experiment.  I sawed out the rest of the pieces of the Stickley design I’m using.  The part of the process I was most worried about was the sawing, which turned out not to be that big a deal.  I’m not saying that my cuts are great — they aren’t — but I can see where with a little practice I will be able to get the hang of sawing with a jeweler’s saw.

I was using a 3/0 64 TPI jeweler’s saw blade made by Flying Dutchman.  It’s .009″ thick and .017″ wide.  It cuts nicely, but I snapped bunches of blades, mostly trying to get the tension in my Knew Concepts saw frame right.  I have to say, I think the quick release mechanism needs a little more design work on that saw.  The tension adjustment also affects how much of the blade the saw will clamp — if you can’t repeatedly clamp that same amount of blade every time you can’t repeat the tension mechanism.  And the difference between “enough” and “too much” tension with the 3/0 blade is zero.

So I switched over to a #3 45tpi Olsen blade I had on hand — it doesn’t cut nearly as well.  I could tell the difference, it seemed to “catch” or “bind” much more easily.  I was surprised I could tell so much difference.  I did order a half gross of the #3 Flying Dutchman blades from Mike’s Workshop so I’ll have them on hand to try next time.

After sawing out all of the pieces I did a bit of filing to improve the fit between adjacent pieces.  Then I laid out a copy of my pattern, covered it with waxed paper and started super gluing the pieces together.  The glue I have is a little too thick — I need a lower viscosity superglue, something else for the shopping list.

Assembled inlay, pieces superglued together on top of waxed paper layered over a copy of the pattern.

Assembled inlay, pieces superglued together on top of waxed paper layered over a copy of the pattern.

Then I peeled the inlay off of the waxed paper and cleaned up the back with a razor blade.  It doesn’t look too bad.

Back of the inlay after gluing up and scraping off the bits of stuck waxed paper.

Back of the inlay after gluing up and scraping off the bits of stuck waxed paper.

I put a coat of shellac on the board I’m inlaying into, this was a suggestion from one of the videos I watched.  I glued the inlay to the base with Duco cement, scribed around it and then popped it loose.  I worked some blue child dust into the cut line.  But it’s not really clear enough — in part because the grain of the wood is picking up a lot of the chalk dust too.  Next time I’m going to put more shellac down to try to close up the pores in the wood.  It will get sanded off (or washed off) later in the process – it’s not the final finish, just part of the process.  I’ll try it without the shellac some time too, but the Sapele I’m using has a pretty distinctive texture that grabs the dust.

Then I started routing the cavity with my new tool from William Ng.  My first impression of the tool is mixed.  It’s beautiful and nicely made, but one of the two lights on it doesn’t work.  In fact, I don’t care for how the lights are designed, the internal mechanism seem pretty fragile.  The one that works isn’t very bright either, and they don’t stay positioned.

My other complaint is that trying to route to .100″ depth causes enough vibration that the depth screws come loose and the cut drifts deeper.  Routing to a shallower depth – say .080″ – seems to solve this.  I guess inlay is only set in about .060″ normally, so maybe I’m trying to do too much with the tool.  If I absolutely need to go to a deeper depth I’ll have to use my trim router to hog out the waste and use this just for sneaking up to the lines.

(I did email William, hopefully he’ll have some suggestions on the tool)

Starting to clear the waste with a 1/8" router bit.

Starting to clear the waste with a 1/8″ router bit.

The router base has a setup to connect an air line to clear the chips away — I need to get that set up before I do this again because it was impossible to see what I was doing.  My work height was wrong, the lighting was bad, the cut kept drifting deeper and the chips were in the way.  In short, excavating the cavity gave me problems.

The theory is that you should excavate the majority of the waste, leaving a small bit next to the scribed line, then go back (maybe with a smaller bit) and sneak up to the line using tiny passes.  Needles to say, I overshot the line in one spot and decided to scrap this part and re-do the inletting.  But even with the disadvantages above, in most places the edge was coming out nicely.  I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to do this part of the process next time, I already prepared another base with a couple of coats of clean shellac and will glue the inlay down before I head over the hill for work.  Maybe I can try excavating again one night this week – but first I need to work out the lighting problems and set up some sort of raised work area so I can see what I’m doing.

I messed up the excavating, and will do that part over on a new blank

I messed up the excavating, and will do that part over on a new blank.

Categories: Woodworking | Tags: | Leave a comment

Spray Day – Getting Topcoats on the Thorsen Cabinet

Yesterday I set up my finish stands outside again and shot the Thorsen cabinet and Spider table with some shellac.

I’d left off on both with having given them a base coat of linseed oil.  The Spider table top had been sanded to bare wood, it had gotten at least 4 coats of Linseed Oil over the course of a week or so, the quilted western maple really drank up the oil.  I let it dry a week to make sure there wouldn’t be any oil seeping back out later.  I mixed Blond Shellac with just a small bit of Garnet Shellac (4 parts clear to one part garnet) and reduced it to about a half pound cut, then shot several coats on the base and top.  The top got a few more passes then the base.  It’s fairly smooth, I’ll rub it out with steel wool and wax next week and re-attach the top so I can put this back into service.

Spider table after topcoats, drying

Spider table after topcoats, drying — the color is not as orange as the picture shows

Then I loaded my spray gun with straight Garnet Shellac, diluted to about a 1/2 to 3/4 pound cut and sprayed several coats on all parts of the Thorsen  cabinet.  At one point I got some dry spray on the door — it looked like a fuzzy brown mold.  I waited for it to dry, then used a scuff pad to take it down smooth, then shot a nice wet coat over the entire door and it all melted beck in.

The pictures aren’t great — my iPhone takes nice pictures when the light is even, when there are sharp contrasts due to lighting it’s not so happy.  As usual, outside in the sun the parts look very red, inside the shop they look very brown, the reality (in person, in the house) is in between those two extremes.

I wanted enough Shellac on these parts to give them some gloss and add some color, but not to obscure the grain.  If I wanted a glassy smooth surface I’d need to sand and re-shoot them to make sure the grain was filled with shellac.  The final step will be to rub them out using 0000 steel wool and a colored Briwax.  The was will fill the grain and add some interest to the final color.

And that’s as far as I can go on this project for a little while.  I want to give the shellac a week to completely cure so I don’t rub through it (ask me how I know).  I started on the stained glass, but cracked the only piece of this special clear I had, and it will be 10 days before I get more glass in.  So I’ll have to figure out something else in the shop to keep me busy for this week.


Cabinet case


Another view of the cabinet case



Cabinet back in the shop - this is close to the actual color

Cabinet back in the shop – this is close to the actual color

Slats for the ship lapped back

Slats for the ship lapped back

More back slats

More back slats

Categories: Woodworking | Tags: | 4 Comments

Pondering Details – or Outlay for Inlay

Last weekend I worked through most of the design for an Arts & Crafts bookcase, to the point where  I’m pretty comfortable with the scale, style and proportions.  I think the joinery is going to be rock solid.  I have some concerns about getting the sliding dovetail to work properly, and about getting clean through mortises, but otherwise the construction is relatively straightforward.

What’s missing?  Aside from some spectacular and unusually wide Quartersawn White Oak planks, I need to sort out the accents that will make this piece “pop”.  I want to have inlay on the back splashes (at least) and a subtle but coordinated stained glass design for the doors.

Most craftsman furniture had relatively simple, abstract geometric inlay designs.  My understanding is that these are generally attributed to Harvey Ellis.  There is even a place (Mission Furnishings) that reproduces these designs in veneer sheets to glue down to a substrate.

There cabinet doors with veneered "inlay" (marquetry, really) panels

There cabinet doors with veneered “inlay” (marquetry, really) panels

Many of these designs were vertically oriented, fitting onto door stiles, table legs or chair slats.  That’s a small conundrum, as the area I want to decorate is horizontal.  There are a couple of “textbook” Ellis designs for horizontal areas, like this one:

Original Ellis' design

Original Ellis design

And others that could certainly be adapted.  The veneered panel seems like a simple approach, especially if I could click on a web page and have a canned design delivered that I just need to glue down — but it’s not as satisfying.  I also want a design that will coordinate with whatever I do in the stained glass for the doors.  I also know that I’ll  be dying this piece, and the idea of masking the inlay to keep it from getting colored isn’t a satisfying feeling.  I can just see the dye leaching under the masking stencil and ruining the inlay.  Ick.

Another Ellis design

Another Ellis design

There is another factor, which is that a lot of Greene & Greene furniture had delicate inlay designs using wood, shell and metal, and I want to learn how to do that myself.  I’ve been greedily gathering videos, images and articles for a while, and I’m eager to try this out.  William Ng has taught a class on G&G Inlay in the past, but I don’t see it on his 2015 schedule (rats!).

Detail of inlay drawing from the Thorsen house

Detail of inlay drawing from the Thorsen house

Some of the G&G inlay was silver wire and shell and relatively simple design, like on this table and chair from the blacker house.  The weaving vine and petals on the leg are obvious (if not completely clear), but you will need to look closer to see the matching detail on the table top.  In fact, I want to make this exact table as a practice project to learn inlay. (I wonder if my wife will let me get away with that before the bookcase?)

One example of G&G inlay

One example of G&G inlay

Other Greene & Greene inlay was significantly more complex, like this example from a desk done for the Pratt house in Ojai, Ca.  The tree was inlaid in different species of wood, left proud of the surface and carved.  I love the organic feel and the Japanese influence of the design.

Detail of an inlaid desk done for the Pratt house

Detail of an inlaid desk done for the Pratt house

My understanding of the process is the the individual pieces are cut out and then either singly or as a unit scribed onto the surface which is then excavated with a tiny router bit and chisels.  The inlay is then glue into place, and either sanded flush or textured.  Obviously any dying would have to be done before wood was inlaid, although metal and shell could be done before dying.

I found a video that demonstrated the process of doing a flush inlay nicely.  I’m definitely going to buy a tiny router base for my Foredom tool and give this a try soon.

I still don’t have a handle on the inlay design to use on the bookcase, but I’m staring at lots of stained glass and inlay designs (and pottery, tile and textile patterns) looking for inspiration.  Once I get a better bead on where I’m headed I’ll add some designs to my CAD model and see how it feels.  For now I’m going to watch that video again…



Categories: Design, Woodworking | Tags: | 5 Comments

Designing an Arts & Crafts Bookcase IV

So, where was I?  That’s right, trying to sort out the details on the joinery on the Craftsman-styled bookcase I’m designing.

I had the overall structure together, and I’d just shortened the through-tenons.  Originally the tenons we about two inches narrower than the bookcase was wide, so they nearly cut the case sides in half.  That would have been an unfortunate moment in the shop when I realized that, right?

So I changed the single wide tenons into two narrower tenons, and that took care of that.  But I still had the niggling concern about the overall strength where the wide pods joined the main unit, and to a lesser extent the strength of the center unit.  Except for the through tenons, the other shelf-to-sidejoinery was just short stub tenons.  And in they configuration, most of the glue area is long grain to end grain, not ideal.  So here is where we left off:

Previous version of the Bookcase

Previous version of the Bookcase

My concern is that there isn’t enough structure to keep the side pods from pulling out of the center unit, the only thing keeping it there are the 3/8″ long stub tenons on the ends of the shelves, back splash and toe kick.  The solution, I think, is to put some mechanical strength into that joint.  The best way I can think of is to substitute a sliding dovetail joint for the stub tenons.

The decision to add this joint gives me loads more confidence in the structure of the design, but it also sets off a small panic attack because it’s not at all forgiving in terms of fit.  If it’s too tight it won’t go together — or worse will seize up during assembly.  If it’s too loose it won’t have the strength it needs.  There can be a lot more slop in a hidden tenon.

So the first thing I did was go look at how people make this joint.  It could be done with hand tools, but I doubt I’ll do it that way.  So the more common approach is to use a dovetail bit in a router to cut the slot and shape the flared tenon.  I looked at bit sizes and found a Whiteside bit that will make a large enough cavity without having to re-set the alignment to cut the groove wider.  When I do this, I’ll remove the bulk of the waste with a straight 5/8″ bit in several passes.  Then I’ll use the dovetail bit just to cut the walls and a shaving off of the floor of the groove.  I drew up a diagram of the joint in 2D to check out the router bit geometry and make sure it will work as I hope.

Mockup of the sliding dovetail joint I'm using

Mockup of the sliding dovetail joint I’m using

Once I’d figured out the process (at least the theory of the process) and finished talking myself into this change I updated the CAD model.  I removed the stub tenons on the two middle shelves in the sides and in the center unit, and added the dovetail.  I added the dovetail slot in the case sides and fixed up the model as necessary.  The top and bottom shelves on the side pods still have through twin tenons on one end and stub tenons on the other end.  I could change those to sliding dovetails too, but I don’t think it’s necessary structurally, and the setup would be slightly different because of the stopped rabbet for the back.  I might still change those, I’ve been know to reverse myself on occasion.

This is the view of the back of the unit, with the ship-lapped back removed.

Back of modified case showing sliding dovetails for the middle shelves.

Back of modified case showing sliding dovetails for the middle shelves.

There are a couple of other “tweaks” to the design too.

The top profile on the back splashes now has an elliptical arc, I think this is a nice improvement.  Ralph (Accidental Woodworker) nudged me in this direction.  It was something I wanted to try, and I’m glad for the shove.  It sorta wakes things up.

The doors are different now too.  I made the stiles and top rail wider by a quarter of an inch, and the bottom rail wider by a full inch.  I think the wider bottom rail is an improvement.  I added hinges and pulls – although I just made these pulls up, I don’t think you can buy them.  I’ll almost certainly having something similar but different (and commercially available).

Version 3 of the Bookcase

Version 3 of the bookcase design

The arc in the top of the back splashes looks more subtle than it is in this view.  In a straight-on view is more apparent I think.  Aesthetically, I don’t think I’m missing anything by omitting the through-tenons on the middle shelves.  I’m feeling pretty good about the overall visual impact and about the structural integrity of the unit.  I don’t think I have any problematic wood movement issues, and except for the sliding dovetails there isn’t anything too concerning in the construction.  The through tenons worry me a bit I guess, that might be fussy.

What’s left in the design?  A few details, mostly.  I want to add pins through the edge of the case sides to lock in the through tenons.  I want to try adding ebony pegs to the doors at the joints.  I want to play with adding  an inlaid design in copper and pewter to the back splashes.  And I need to design the stained glass panels for the doors.  Finally, I need to develop a set of plans that I can take out to the shop too – but that fairly simple since I have the whole think in 3D CAD, it’s just plunking parts on pages and organizing the dimension callouts.

Version 3 of the bookcase, front view, looking down

Version 3 of the bookcase, front view, looking down

Closeup showing door pull

Closeup showing door pull


Categories: Design, Uncategorized, Woodworking | Tags: | 3 Comments

Designing an Arts & Crafts Bookcase III

First, thanks to folks that pointed out potential issues with the previous version of the bookcase design.  The key concern so far was around the length of the through tenons.    While I’ve seen other cases built this way, I can see it seriously weakening the case sides.  So, here is the previous version for comparison first:

First complete version of the bookcase, with long through tenons

First complete version of the bookcase, with long through tenons

I decided to make some changes to address this.  First all of the through tenons were made into split tenons.  3″ wide on the main case and 2.5″ wide on the side pods.  Between the twin tenons is a 3/8″ long stub tenon that fits into a groove in the case sides.

Twin through tenons with a stub tenon and shallow dado

Twin through tenons with a stub tenon and shallow dado

On the opposite side of the through tenons there is just a wide stub tenon and matching dado in the inner case side.  This means less of the sides is removed for the joinery.  I’m on the fence about whether 3/8″ is long enough for the stub tenon on the sides without a though tenon.  Maybe that should be a half inch or even 5/8″?  It’s a balance I guess, between glue surface and side strength.  My gut feel is to increase in on the inner sides to a half inch.

3/8" stub tenons join to the inner case sides.  The same from the long shelves into the sides.

3/8″ stub tenons join to the inner case sides. The same from the long shelves into the sides.

I also made the back splashes taller, I like that better than the shorter version.  And I removed the through tenons on those parts.  I don’t think it added anything visually, and it’s one less visible joint that could show problems.

So, here is the second version.  It’s better I think.  The back splashes might be a tiny bit too tall, but I could go either way.  I’m concerned about the strength of the stub tenons into the case sides — in particular the short side shelves into the center case sides.  There isn’t much glue area there, and it’s mostly end grain on one side of the joint.  I might need to think about that a little more.  I could make it deeper, maybe with twin tenons that went quite deep into the sides.  I could thing about a sliding dovetail joint (but that seems like it would really complicate matters).  I’m open to suggestions on that joint.  Pocket screws? (kidding).

The more I think about it, the more I’m convincing myself that I should change the joinery once more.  Through tenons on the top and bottom shelves, and sliding dovetails on the middle two shelves in each unit.  That will lock the units together mechanically and there won’t be any reliance on glue strength for the overall structural integrity of the piece.

Version 2 of the Bookcase, with improved joinery and some small refinements

Version 2 of the Bookcase, with improved joinery and some small refinements

Categories: Design, Woodworking | Tags: | 6 Comments

Spider Table

Probably fifteen or more years ago I got “revved up” on woodworking, went out and bought a bunch of power tools while at a woodworking show.  I’d done wood shop in junior high, and felt invincible.  I also had a credit card with no balance and had visions of building a house full of furniture.

I made a couple of pieces, but my vision and focus were out of alignment with my skills.  I didn’t have any hand tool chops, and after six or eight projects I got distracted with a customized Studebaker pickup project and later starting and growing a chopper parts business.

Custom Studebaker - Chopped 4", Sectioned 6", Caddy 500 motor, independent front suspension...  One of these days I'll get back to work on this project.

Custom Studebaker – Chopped 4″, Sectioned 6″, Caddy 500 motor, independent front suspension… One of these days I’ll get back to work on this project.

One of the projects I completed was this table, affectionately known as the “Spider Table”.  I drew this out old-school using a t-square, french curves and a compass.  I was keen to play with figured woods, and decided to use a combination of Birdseye, Tiger and Western Quilted Maple.  I added the Bloodwood banding by laminating it between two other pieces of Birdseye Maple, and decided to have a looser arc for the banding than for the bottom of the skirt.

The once-fabulous "spider table"

The once-fabulous “spider table”

This table has served yeoman duty in our living room ever since.  We get an unholy amount of sun and heat in that room with large windows, two sliding glass doors and a southern exposure.  Even though I waxed the top periodically it was scratched, faded and even worse cupped.  The metal z-clips had worked loose so the top was loose on the base.

Long story short, it had seen better days.

The top of the table is badly cupped, there is at least 1/8" of light under the straightedge...

The top of the table is badly cupped, there is at least 1/8″ of light under the straightedge…

So I dragged it out to the shop and pulled the top the rest of the way off.  The original finish was plain Watco Danish Oil, and held up just fine on the bottom.  Even the legs seem OK.

Bottom of the top showing the original finish

Bottom of the top showing the original finish

I broke out my orbital sander with some 120 grit and sanded both the top and bottom, and hand sanded the edges.  My goal is to remove the staines and scratches on the top, and remove enough of the finish on the bottom to open up the pores.  I’m going to try and straighten out the cup in the top, but first I think I need the wood to be able to breathe a little…

Starting to sand the top to remove the coffee stains and gouges.

Starting to sand the top to remove the coffee stains and gouges.

After sanding it I sprayed both sides with water, I tried to soak the top in particular.  I noticed that if I lay a board on the garage floor it will invariably cup away from the floor.  If I flip it over it will reverse itself.  I used this trick to straighten out a severe cup in the lower shelf on the Thorsen Table, so I figured I’d try it again.

Top saturated with water to try to reverse the cupping.

Top saturated with water to try to reverse the cupping.

My guess about how this works (and why the top is cupped in the first place) is uneven drying between the top and the bottom.  So I hope by wetting the board and keeping the cupped side down on the cool garage floor is will start to reverse the damage.  I’m going to leave it for 24 hours like this and check it.  Hang on, I’ll start the clock now…

Tabletop, cupped side down on the floor.  I moved it off the MDF and directly onto the concrete after this picture was taken (and after I cleaned up the mess in the shop).

Tabletop, cupped side down on the floor. I moved it off the MDF and directly onto the concrete after this picture was taken (and after I cleaned up the mess in the shop).

…ok, I just checked it after 24 hours.  It seems to have moved a tiny bit, but it’s no where near flat yet.  So, another spritz of water, and back on the garage floor for another day.  If it took 15 years to warp this might not work as well as I’m hoping.  I’ll give a couple of days and see where it ends up.

If I can’t get it to flatten out, I’ll have to live with it as-is.  My thinking is that I’ll sand the whole thing — only lightly on the base, then hit it with Linseed Oil and a Shellac top coat.  If it was bare wood I might consider using a very light dye to bring out the figure, but I’m trying to keep it simple and just put this table back in service.


Categories: Uncategorized, Woodworking | Tags: | 3 Comments

Designing an Arts & Crafts Bookcase

My wife has been wanting a nice bookcase for the guest room for a long time.  We recently redecorated that room with a wall cabinet, pair of stained glass sconces and a picture frame I made (plus paint), so the bookcase would finish the room off nicely.

Sconces and Cabinet in the guest room

Sconces and Cabinet in the guest room

My first thought was to build the Limbert 355 bookcase.  I like the design, it’s got a unique style and would hold a fair number of books.  The Limbert 356 was the same basic design, but with two doors.  This would be fun to make, but it was a no-sale with the wife.  She wanted something shorter and wider.  Maybe five feet wide or so, and three to four feet tall.

Limbert 355 Bookcase

Limbert 355 Bookcase

I looked through all of my books and googled for images and plans to no avail.  There were a couple of interesting hits, like this one by Kevin Rodel.  I like this one a lot, but I don’t think I could pull off the inlay.  I know I’ll be making this in quartered white oak and dying it to match the other furniture I built for the room, so that would make the inlay dicey anyway.  But it was a no-sale too — apparently we need to see the books in the bookcase.

Cabinet by Kevin Rodel.

Cabinet by Kevin Rodel.

I did find one design my wife liked, although it doesn’t really work for me.  It’s OK, just not enough visual excitement.  It looks too close to some inexpensive plywood bookcases we want to get rid of.

Wide mission-style bookcase I found on Pinterest -- without any attribution.

Wide mission-style bookcase I found on Pinterest — without any attribution.

So I fired up my copy of SolidWorks and started doodling.  I had an idea for a larger central unit flanked by two smaller bookcases that were shorter, narrower and set back from the main unit.  I’m imagining the side units having doors with stained glass panels, and the middle unit being open to show off the best looking books.  The top of each section would have short sides and a backsplash like a lot of Stickley serving tables.

I started by blocking out the dimensions / proportions for the front view.  This is just a simple 2D drawing at this point.  I started by drawing a square 60″ wide and 42″ tall.  I added lines to represent the major elements — center unit, side pods, shelves, backsplashes, and a door on one side for comparison.  I tweaked the sizes and played with shapes until I had a sense of where I wanted to go with this.

Rough dimensions and overall proportions being worked out in CAD

Rough dimensions and overall proportions being worked out in CAD

I settled on 42″ tall because I could get three generously tall shelves and a backsplash — and it would fit under the picture that I already hung in the room.  The height for the shorter shelves is just what looked good to me at this stage, it will change as I go.  The way I design I get the big bits in place, then start solving fit/clearance problems.

So I started by modeling the case sides and and central shelves.  SolidWorks (and other 3D CAD programs) generally start by making a 2D drawing that is then “extruded” or otherwise manipulated to make a solid object.  So if I were to draw a 12″ by 12″ 2D square and extrude that sketch 1″ I have a one board foot CAD model.  If instead I rotate it around one side of the square I have a 12″ thick by 24″ diameter hockey puck.  Most furniture is simple rectilinear parts, if I was trying to model a 1940 Ford where everything is changing radius surfaces it would be a much different story.  Modeling this piece is just a process of drawing rectangles and extruding them into solids or extruding cuts into existing solids to make mortises or rabbets.

Step one, I’ve modeled one side and created a mirrored part — this is an incredibly useful feature in SolidWorks.  The two parts are linked, so if I add a dado or move a mortise on the original part the mirrored part stays in sync.  I modeled the shelves, backsplash and toe kick too, all as separate parts.  These individual parts are mated together into an assembly.

The top shelf has 1.375″ long tenons that protrude through the sides, the other shelves have .5″ tenons that fit into blind slots in the sides.  I made the sides 1.125″ thick, and the shelves 1″ thick.

Mockup of the central bookcase unit

Mockup of the central bookcase unit

There are lots of details to play with in the design, but at this stage I’m more focussed on blocking out the main elements.  Should the backsplash be shorter or taller than the sides?  Should it be flat or arched across the top?  It doesn’t matter at this point.  I need to get far enough along to verify the proportions in 3D and verify the fit of all of the parts.

My next step is to model the outer sides and side shelves.  The shelves in the main unit are 29″ wide right now. and I made the shelves in the sides 15″ wide.  I set the depth of the sides at 10″ — that’s two inches shallower than the main unit.  I wanted some set back on this, but as you’ll see this caused a problem as soon as I got a little further along.

I only added the left side pod for now, assuming there will be problems to sort out before I go any further.  You can see the blind mortises for the side shelves in this view on the right side of the model.  I also modeled a door to fit into the left side opening.  This should give me enough information to start troubleshooting the layout.

Bookcase with central unit and the left side pod in place.  The right side pod will be the same, but I don't want to do that until I check the design at this stage.

Bookcase with central unit and the left side pod in place. The right side pod will be the same, but I don’t want to do that until I check the design proportions and fit of the individual parts first.

So what are the problems I need to sort out?

First, the setback on the side makes the toe kick on the side units look too far back.  I think it’s just too severe at two inches of setback.  I’m also concerned about running out of room for books — with the sides at 10″, a rebate for the back of a half inch, an inset door at least .75″ thick (it really wants to be .850″ thick to hold the stained glass with a retaining strip) I’m running out of depth for larger books.

There is another problem with the depth of the sides — making the shelves shorter for the inset door runs into clearance problems with the through tenons in the side.  It just barely works at this stage, meaning the front edge of the through tendon is still 1/8″ set back from the front edge of the shelf.

But if I zoom in to look at the fit of the door — with the door tight against the shelves — let’s see what we have.  This is looking up from ground level at the lower left side of the case.  You can see that the door is sticking out in front of the lower shelf.  On the side pods I want the top and bottom shelves to be set back from the sides by about .25″, with a tiny radius on the case sides.  I want the door set back maybe 1/8″ to 1/4″ from the edge of those shelves.  So, something here has to change, because this actually doesn’t work!

There is also something wrong with the height of the toe kick, or at least the positioning of the toe kick on the left pod.  I’ll need to investigate that.  It should end at the floor level, but it short by maybe a quarter of an inch.

The door doesn't quite fit...

The door doesn’t quite fit…

My approach to fixing the problems so far is fairly obvious.  I’m going to make the case sides wider, probably going from 10″ to 11″ – which will still give me a full inch of set back.  I’m also going to shorten the length of the through mortises in the sides.  Right now they are set at 1″ from the front and back of the case sides, I’ll change them all to 1.5″.  That means editing the models for the sides and all of the shelves to adjust the tenons to match.  Not a huge deal, but this is exactly why I didn’t want to get too far ahead of myself.

I’ll also make the door thicker, and leave some clearance between the interior shelves and the inside of the door – at least 3/8″.

There is another problem to sort out at this stage: the back.

What I’ve used for most cabinets I’ve made in the last year or so is a ship lapped back.  I like being able to finish the back and case separately, and I like the visual interest from the grooves between the individual boards.  When there are fixed shelves it also means I can screw through the back into the shelf to support the shelf and help keep the case from racking.  I also prefer a solid wood back over thin plywood.  If I’m building a plywood cabinet then that’s the natural choice for the back, but in a solid wood cabinet…

That meant that my starting position was a ship lapped back.  I modeled rabbits into the back edges of the case sides and top and bottom shelves, but let’s take a look at the back of the unit at this stage.

I see a problem with the back here, how am I going to fit the back so that it's attractive and strong?

I see a problem with the back here, how am I going to fit the back so that it’s attractive and strong?

The red areas are the rabbets I have in the model at this point.  From experience I know I need about 1/2″ of width to attach the back to the case with screws.  With the case sides at 1.125″ thick, if I put a 1/2″ wide rabbet in for the back on the side pod I’ve got a 1/8″ of waste left.  Of course I could just completely cut away the back of the tall sides at that point.  I’m also concerned about where the gap between the slats will end up, I don’t want a gap between slats right next to the side.  And I don’t want a slat that spans the tall case side because then it has to have a dog leg cut at the end.

I think I can calculate the slat sizes properly so that they end up just right though.

Another option for the back would be to make a frame and panel back.  The downside with that is I’ll need to make the rabbets a bit deeper, probably 3/4″ for the frame.  I’d want cross bars in the frame where the shelves so I can screw the back to the shelves, because the panels will be set back from the face of the frame.  I’m not sure what I’d use for the panels if I went with tis approach.  Plywood would be the simplest, and I could glue it into the slots in the frame without worrying about wood movement — that would make for a pretty strong back.  But I would lose the ship lapped look.

I think I will work out the first set of problems with the depth and door fitment, and then make two copies of the model.  I’ll add a ship lapped back in one and try a frame and panel back in the other, and see what I prefer.  I’ll post more on this as it develops.


Categories: Design, Uncategorized, Woodworking | Tags: | 6 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.