Friday, December 17, 2010

No Screw for You!

Hey PORC lovers.  I'm working on the titles of my posts to see what kind of responses I get.   Don't worry, I will likely end up with a half naked hottie at some point in one of my posts to capitalize on our wonderful obsession with pretty things.  Maybe then I can get 200 fans on Facebook, and one of my readers will get a free table.  Until then, I've decided to withhold one of my favorite things in life.  A Good Screw.  Keep reading below for all the painstaking details.

I like a challenge.  I am working on a fancy little project for some repeat clients.  A simple bookshelf.  Open design, modern look, and beautiful material.  As with many projects, I was approached to "copy" a cabinet they had found at a retail store, but then modify it to fit the space and needs.  Many woodworkers hate this kind of assignment.  They feel it is below them, they feel used, and don't enjoy copying the works of others.  I couldn't disagree more.  I love seeing what kind of pieces are being made for the select masses and study the design.  I KNOW for certain that the designers that made said piece have oodles more experience than I do.  Why not learn from them?  And why should I feel like I'm taking a creative backseat to them?  The original design is simply a blueprint for final project.  A place to start.

This is the original idea that I got to work with.  When getting all the modifications they wanted to have, I shot back some drawings for them to look over.

OK, fast forward.  After a few go arounds with the final dimentions.  We ended up with this.

So, when do we get to talk about the screwing thing?  NOW!  Now is the time.

Earlier I mentioned liking a challenge.  So I gave myself one.  Can I build this entire unit and not use a single screw, or nail for that matter?  Short answer is "Yes, I think I can." I assembled the entire thing using traditional mortise and tenon joinery.  Is it overkill?  Maybe.  Is it time consuming?  YES!  But this kind of case construction works with cabinets made of plywood, AND on solid stock.  And when done properly, the allignment is flawless.

In my post just yesterday, I talked about my 5 favorite tools. 4 of them were used to build this cabinet.  As usual, Festool was there for me.  After cutting up the large sheet goods,(cut to length with the Festool Saw) I needed to glue up some plywood, so out come the clamps.  26 to be exact.

I chose to use 5/16" solid walnut for the edging of all the 1" shelving and dividers.  Once the glue has set for about an hour, I trim the excess glue with a chisel plane.  Timing here is key.  If you go too long, the glue sets up and you rip off veneer.  If you don't wait long enough, you end up with a big mess and you compromise the joint.

Then it's time for some careful layout with tool #3 from yesterday.  After that's complete, it's time to drill a lot of holes.

Once every piece gets sanded, were off to the races.  Assembly! (this is where we cross our fingers and hope that everything fits like a glove.  After a dry fit, all of the pieces are labeled and disassembled.  Out comes the glue and clamps.

I start at the bottom and work my way up.  By the time it's all said and done, I've got about 20 clamps holding everything together.  Now I get to watch the glue dry.  :)  The nice thing about using tenons to hold everything together is they also provide an accuracy that is nearly perfect.  AND, AND, AND, so far... no nails or screws.

That wraps up about 13 hours in the shop.  The next stage will be to build 4 small drawers, mill up some nice walnut for the 3" face, and finish her all up.  As you can see, there is nothing "production" about this.  In spite of the origin of this project, when we are all said and done, we'll have a delightful custom piece made to order.

Is the construction process clear?  Is there anything you would like to see in the next phase of this project?  If so, hit me up in the comment section.  Have a great weekend all!



  1. Ok, so not only am I going to state the obvious, which is that my husband is a total stud in the cabinet making department, but he also managed to take all of these pictures as SELF PORTRAITS!!!! While working with glue and all sorts of time sensitive factors! Just to bring all of us some cool info on how everything comes together. That was a lot of hard work.....ok, maybe one screw then. :)

  2. Great post and good to see what you are working on. I just put up a post about my glue-up. Yours is much more complex - was it very stressful?

    I usually wipe squeeze out with a damp cloth, but of course that raises the grain and I have to make sure I don't miss the area when final sanding. I may give your method a try.

  3. Thanks Ye Olde Crawe!! :)

    Jeff, Thanks for the note. I go back forth with using a damp rag. It depends on the wood and if it solid or plywood. It's a bit more work to scrap the glue while it sets, but saves a ton of time when I move on to finishing and find a streak left over from glue up. Everyone has there own way though. :)

  4. Jason, just found your blog, thanks. Let me start with a simple question. If you're going apply 5/16" by 1" solid banding to 3/4" plywood, how do you flush up the edges and not sand or plane through to the plywood veneer? Is the answer very carefully or do you have a trick?

  5. Welcome James.

    Thank you for your involvement in the Blog!

    You ask a great question. It wasn't until you asked that I realized I was a bit unclear. The shelving is actually 1" thick and the wood edging was about 1/16" heavy to that. Once I plane the glue back as shown, I add one more step! HOWEVER, I didn't remember to post it originally. I flush trim the wood edging with a small router. Then I hit it with an orbital sander to get the baby good and smooth to the touch. I've tried about a zillion ways of omitting the routing step but had no luck. As hard as I try, the small variances in both the plywood and edging require the extra step for a near perfect union.

    Do you have a method that works for you? PLEASE share it with us if you do. I am always willing to try something new!

    Thanks again. Look forward to your response.


  6. Jason, Thanks. I too have tried a zillion ways. The router trick works, I clamp an additional board to the opposite side I'm working to give the router more bearing. For cabinets with face frames I hold the frame slightly proud of the botton for overlay doors or hold the bottom proud of the frame for inset doors. The latter acts as a stop but calls for the same condition as you have with the shelves.For full overlay doors, the condition applies all around. The best solution I've ever seen was a machine that cut, glued and trimmed the banding on the panel and spit it out at the other side. Maybe I was dreaming?

    Thanks again.