The Sliding Cabinet Doors


Do you consciously try to work to a certain level of detail or quality? It occurred to me that I in fact do not. Detail for me has been a cumulative journey of work, slowly noticing new opportunities for improvement. Above is a good example of something I would have missed not that long ago, aligning the panel width to center the joint in the panel frame. If I hadn’t done this it would have been off by about 1/4″, not much, but enough for the eye to notice some small wonky disharmony.

And can I give a shout out to the dividers? Its one of those tools that connects us back as craftspeople to the ancient past, literally thousands of years. If you’ve any experience with these tools you come to understand how underrated present society views the technical capacity of the ancients. Take for example the Antikythera Mechanism made before the birth of Christ, and consider for a moment what skills and tools it would take to make it.


The panel length was marked directly from one of the stiles.


And then trimmed to length. The concrete in my shop is pretty cold in the winter, so I wear boots most of the time now. Ever notice how well plane shavings stick to your socks?


So! Everything was finish planed, and any spots of difficult reversing grain worked smooth with a card scraper. I need a high angle kanna, or a proper cabinet scraper. When I finish planed the carcass panels prior to assembly the heat from pushing the scraper blistered my thumb, haha.


No glue for these tenons, so assembly was just tapping things together, making sure the tenon shoulders were good. If you’ve never made cabinet doors before you may be wondering why the stiles stick out beyond the rails. That extra wood is known as the “horn” and helps to keep the stiles from splitting when the tenon is driven or wedged. A horn is also used on shoji, which both protects the panel corners during transports and allows for adjustment of the fit of the shoji panel to its adjacent wall or column. With shoji only the horns ride the bottom groove of its track, but for my cabinet doors the whole length of the bottom rebate will ride the groove.


The wedging tightened up the joints quite nicely. White Ash has plenty of flexibility, so no worries for me of splitting the tenons. I’m loving putting joints together with wedges. I mean, drawboring and pinning is elegant in its own way, but makes a more direct visual statement having the joinery visible on the face of the frame. Wedging keeps a cleaner look to the lines on the front, while still showing off a bit, haha.


After really firmly driving the wedges the horns were sawn back flush with the rails, and then the rail rebates were sawn to match. No end grain blowout from having the mortises so close to the rebate, so I was quite relieved.  There are no hard or fast rules when it comes to proportioning joinery, its very much something that you come to understand by eye what will work. In this case I followed the rule of thirds concerning tenon thickness, but after that it is just a balancing act between making a tenon of good enough size to provide a strong connection and leaving enough wood, enough relish, on the end of the stile.

After flushing up the rail/stile connection on the back of the frame…


A bit of fitting and trimming to get the doors moving smoothly but not rattling around too loose. Finally this piece of cabinet work is effectively done. I’ll take some more photos after I get it finished and installed. Its been quite a journey, thanks for following along! I’m not quite sure what I’ll be working on next, I certainly have no dearth of options.


Its Good To Have Hand Planes


I had such high hopes that magically I would get the sliding doors for this cabinet finished in one day, haha. There’s so many little details I always forget until I’m in the thick of it. For instance, cutting stopped dado’s by hand with a router plane can be a time suck, but I love it.

I’ve been keeping my tools right beside me as I work, very convenient. It never ceases to amaze me how many hand tools you can fit in a small space.


I started by mortising the stiles. Brought the aburatsubo out because these mortises will see no glue, just a wedged tenon to hold things together, so no worry of spoiling the glue surfaces. I love working with an oiled tool, it really eases the work. Camellia oil smells wonderful too.


Each of these mortises is in a different state of being cut. First is a ‘v’ notch (on the right). Then a hole drilled down in the center, in this case a smaller diameter drill than the mortise width. The hole allows the chisel to drive quite a bit deeper for the last operation, cutting straight down and to the end grain lines. Normally I’ll cut all the ‘v’ notches at once, less switching between tools and postures. The faint wetness around the edges of the mortise is from the oil that lubricates the chisel.


With the mortises cut I pulled out my router plane and tackled the stopped dado that house the interior panel.











The router plane scoops into the cut, and I chop down a bit ahead of the cutting depth at the end of the cut to free the shaving. Once all of the dados are cut in one direction I re-set the fence to finish the groove at the other end going the opposite direction.

How about some action footage?


Notice how I offset the panel groove from the mortise and tenon to preserve the strength of the mortise. This kind of detail is straight from Odate’s book “Making Shoji”


Most days these cool planes sit on a shelf gathering dust. Today they all get to come out to play. I used my plow plane on the rails, after cutting the tenons, to drop in the panel groove.


And then the skew rabbet plane got some action cutting the rebate on the outside edges that ride the sliding door grooves in the cabinet carcass.


Lastly my little chamfer plane worked some of the edges. I love the skewed cut on this little guy, gives a brilliant shine to the cut surface of the chamfers.


What was once a simple stick, two days later becomes quite a bit more complicated in cross section. Why would I spend half a day doing something I enjoy when I can spend two days in the doing?

Seriously though, tomorrow I’m going to finish these doors up and get the cabinet rolling.

Adding the Back


A dial caliper is a handy tool for finish planing the cabinet partitions such that they fit their grooves.  I didn’t cut the interior shelf partitions for this cabinet until the main carcass was assembled, so there was no way to manually check the fit of the panel to the groove, I find the dial caliper more accurate in any case.


The trick with fitting these panels is that they are snug enough to fit securely, but loose enough to basically just barely be able to push in by hand. Too tight and you end up bowing out the adjacent panels, so I had my straight edge to check the middle horizontal shelf for deflection as the verticals were put in place.


This is one of those times I’m glad to have such a large shooting board, it could in fact be larger, but I worked around the short length by flipping the panel.


Inserting the final shelves you can see that the shelf is held by the stopped dado at the front and the nailed cabinet backing in the rear.


These last horizontal partitions were set slightly back from the verticals so that the edge chamfering could be continuous, a small detail but a nice one. Also, they were cut from one run of joined paneling so that the grain flows properly between divisions.


And then the modern age intruded with my 18 gauge nailer to put the tongue and groove pine back on.










Today my challenge is to make the three small sliding doors, and tomorrow is finishing and the caster wheels for the bottom if I can find where UPS left the package, sometimes its a bit of an easter egg hunt if its been snowing and they don’t want to plow through the snow on the driveway.

Assembling Cabinetry


Assembling major parts of a cabinet that you’ve spent months working on doesn’t need to be stressful if you get everything you might need ready before hand. Clamps already the right length, the right hammers and scrap block, a wet rag in easy reach, and a way to check for square and adjust after the joint is together.

I’ve got to keep my writing today brief, its literally freezing in my trailer this morning and typing lets my hands get too cold. I want to get into the shop and warm up sawing or planing some shit.

Even having everything at the ready I glued up only one side at a time of the dovetailed bottom.


Moving down to some low saw horses the shelf panels were set into their mortise/groove.


And the dovetails glued and tenons driven home. If you’re thinking, thats an odd looking cabinet, you’re right. Its a built in, made to fit an odd shaped opening into a bedroom closet that happens to be beneath the 12/12 pitch of the roof, thus the angle on the top of the cabinet. Lots to come together here, a very focused few moments of getting it all together.

All of these pieces have been finish planed and worked with a card scraper, so there’s the extra challenge of not wanting to ding or scratch too much. In the lower shelf area you can see there are further grooves for the rest of the shelving, and three parallel grooves on the front of the cabinet for the sliding doors.


With the glue drying I cut my wedges for securing the mechi (stub tenons) from the same white oak I used to peg the sliding dovetail rod tenons. Last time I used a wedged tenon I glued the wedges, this time no glue at all, just pure joinery. What am I spending all this time on cutting complicated joinery if I can’t trust it to hold without glue? Well, I’ll find out…

Make sure to make your wedges plenty longer than you’ll need. I needed mine to be, theoretically, 3/4″. I cut them out at 1-1/8″ length, and they drove deeper than I thought they would.


I started all of the wedges at the same time. It seems to be important to  drive them down relatively equally .


Just how hard are you supposed to pound these in there anyway? I pounded them in with the clamps on out of fear that the hammer blows might cause the cabinet side to back off the shelf.


I don’t have a flush cutting saw so I used a couple thicknesses of paper to hold the saw blade slightly above the surface and keep the teeth from scratching up the panel.


A few passes of the block plane flushed them up with the panel.


With the dovetails planed flush I slid on the skirt’s sliding dovetail keys.


And slid it over into position with taps of my genno.


Now its ready for the rest of the shelving, the tongue and groove pine backing, sliding doors, and casters on the bottom to get things rolling. You know the one thing I completely forgot in the design? Some type of handle or pull so that the unit can be moved in and out of its opening….I spent last night looking at lots of hardware, too many choices. I like flush ring pulls like you might find on a boat, I could also see a forged iron ring pull. Any ideas of what would look good? Leave me a comment below, thanks!

Joiners use Joinery

That’s why I’m not called a fastener, or a stapler. Or a nail gun ninja for that matter. My ultimate goal revolves around fast accurate work with sharp edges, be they powered or pushed by hand.


So I set to work making some sliding dovetail rod tenons to join a cabinet skirt to its carcass bottom. The clamp gives the scale, these are pretty small. The dovetail is 1:6 and the tenon 3/8″ thick. They’re small enough that it’s not worth getting a saw out to cut the tenon shoulders. Its fun chisel work, to form dovetails. Give it a try!


I made the rod tenons out of White Oak, a denser wood than the White Ash the skirt is made from. Using a sliding dovetail rod tenon allows for the dovetail to be installed and plugged, and then the rails to be set on to the tenons and pegged. However, I want the room in the mortise for the expansion and contration of the panel work, so I’ll not be plugging the mortise.


I started the mortise and sliding dovetail by drilling as much of the waste as possible.


And then chisel work to pare the end grain to the line, followed by a router plane to clean to depth, where I gave myself five thousandths clearance over the 3/8″ height of the dovetail. The walls of the dovetails I chopped with an undercut as close as I dared by eye.


And then to be followed by a paring block with the correct 1:6 ratio. This is the first time I’ve used a paring block to form the dovetail cheeks and I loved it. Both faster and more accurate, two of the dovetail keys fit well with no further paring.


Basically, everything has to fit perfectly if I expect all of them to slide properly when the skirt is assembled. Layout using story sticks to transfer marks between parts was critical, no measuring from a scale, and using a marking knife. All of the rod tenons were previously fitted to their mortises in the skirt, and thus were unique and needed to be individually numbered to keep everything organized.


After fitting the sliding dovetails I went ahead and drilled, mortised, and pegged the joint, again with Oak.


And then glued the skirt boards together, checking repeatedly for squareness. This is how I left it for the night. I’ll get back into the shop today and have a moment of truth checking the fit, I’m excited! Did I mention the sole purpose of the skirt board is to hide the caster wheels on the bottom of the cabinet carcass? Its an extra day of work to make the attachment this way, but I’ve learned a tremendous amount about this connection which I hope to use on pieces in the future.

I hope everyone is staying warm by the fire, getting ready to celebrate some holiday cheer. Can you believe the new year is so close at hand? As a blogger I have an easily searchable index of what I’ve accomplished over the past year, and even so it feels like the past year has just swept by. I think of what I want to accomplish in the next year and there are so many things that are unknown, but that is part of the joy in life. So I wish you, dear reader, many exciting possibilities in the time to come as well.