“It’s not that I had a message that was outstanding or unique or anything like that. I just expressed the feelings that a great number of people had … ‘Live the life that you want to live. Don’t be unhappy in your work.’” …James Krenov (1920-2009)
In this woodworking article we study the making of a custom bathroom wall cabinet of beautifully grained black walnut with raised panel doors. The cabinet measures 20″ x 24″ x 5″ and features brass cabinet hardware. Bridle joints are the choice of wood joinery for the frame and panel cabinet doors. The carcase of the cabinet is joined using a biscuit joiner, biscuits, yellow glue and butt joints. All the walnut stock has been dimensioned to 3/4″. The back panel is 3/8″ thick and has been let into rabbets on the inside back edges of the top, bottom, and sides. The panel is made of a 1/4″ MDF core with front and back veneers of 1/16″ bookmatched walnut. Veneer was ripped on the band saw, the edges were jointed on the jointer, and then matched together during a dry fit. Finally, the MDF and veneers were laminated using glue and a veneer press to create the panel.
Constructing the Door Frames:
1.) The dimensioned material for the rails and stiles is 3/4″ x 1-3/4″. A 1/4″ groove to house the raised panels was then created for each rail and stile on the table saw using a dado blade combination.
2.) The bridle joints were created on the table saw using a tenon jig along with a dado blade setup. The mortises of the stiles were initially cut and the the tenons of the rails were then sized to fit. Final fitting of the mortise was made using a shoulder plane. Make sure the fit is snug and is a good looking fit as this joint will be exposed revealing quality craftsmanship. (The Spline Miter Joint is also a great choice of decorative joinery as it is also a very stable and strong joint.)
Creating the Raised Panels:
1.) The walnut material for the raised panels was selected because it had a lighter wood tone than the rest of the cabinet thus creating a nice contrast. This particular wood was chosen because it has a wonderful grain pattern.
2.) The raised panels were cut on the table saw. First, the rectangles of each raised panel were scored to about 1/8″ using a dado blade. This procedure involves the panel laying flat on the table saw. The rip cut is performed with the fence in position and the cross cut is made with the aid of a miter gauge set to 90 degrees to the dado blade. Keep in mind that this operation needs to be performed four times because there are two panels and two sides to each panel. So, use the same tablesaw set up for each panel side.
2.) To create the angle for the raised panel we tilt the dado blade to 5 degrees and raise the dado blade to the height of the scored outline we created in the previous step. For the actual cutting of the 5 degree angles a shop made jig was used. The jig fits over the table saw fence, has a handle, and slides along the fence as the panel is secured in place with a toggle clamp.
3.) Any necessary clean up of the raised panels angles is performed with the shoulder plane.
Assembling the Raised Panel Doors:
1.) Dry fit the raised panels into the 1/4″ groove of the rails and stiles. Make sure the fit is snug as it need not be too tight or too loose. Bevel the raised panel edges with a block plane if need be.
2.) Next we dry fit the complete door assembly. When we are happy with the results of the door’s fit it’s time to prepare for the final assembly of our doors.
3.) For the gluing operation we will need a glue bottle, parallel clamps, F-clamps, cauls, glue brush, rags, etc. (Use F-clamps to create pressure on the bridle joints.)
4,) Apply yellow glue to the surfaces of the bridle joints. Remember…only apply a dab of glue to the center of each raised panel where it meets the rail. This will allow for seasonal wood movement of the panel.
Fitting the Raised Panel Doors:
Fit the doors into the opening of the carcase by obtaining the desired clearances at the top, bottom, and sides. (I left 3/32″ on both sides where the hinges are and left a 1/16′ margin at the top and bottom. Where the two doors meet in the middle I left a margin of 1/16″.) Also, it is important to back bevel the doors edges where they meet in the middle. This will allow the necessary clearance for the doors to open freely without hanging up on one another.
Mortising the Gains for the hinges on the carcase and on the doors:
Choose a method that works best for you. You can use a router with a template made for the hinge size or you can simply cut the gains using a mallet and a chisel. Yours truly laid out the location of the gains using a knife, combination square, and a butt gauge. Then it was time for the mallet, chisel, and some hand work.
Fit the shelves:
The shelves have a thickness of 5/16″. Shelf pins are set into the interior’s side walls at desired locations.
Hanging the Cabinet Doors:
Brass hinges were used in this instance. I like the look of brass against the walnut’s wood tones. Get a nice fit with the hinges.
Set the door knobs:
Choose your location and drill. When drilling make sure to use a backer board to avoid blowing out the backside of the stile. Decorative brass door knobs were the selected hardware choice.
Apply the Wood Finish:
1.) Remove all the hardware.
2.) Sand and scrape the walnut to a desired surface preparation. This cabinet was sanded to 400 grit sandpaper.
3.) Choose your favorite wood finish and apply. Numerous applications of Satin Arm-R-Seal urethane top coat were applied to the custom bathroom wall cabinet and raised panel doors.
Attaching the Cabinet to the Wall:
1.) There are two 1/4″ x 2″ x 18-1/2″ rails inside the cabinet. One interior rail is placed where the back panel and the cabinet top meet. The other interior rail is placed where the back panel and bottom meet. (Screws will be driven through these rails.)
2.) The desired height of the cabinet location was determined. Wall studs locations were also found. Screw holes were pre-drilled and countersunk in the interior back rails. Screws were then driven through the interior rails and the back panel and also into the wall studs to secure the leveled cabinet.
Learn more about Bridle Joints.