Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Furniture vs. Cabinet: Who wins?

Hey there PORC fans.

I'm neck deep again with more to do than time in the day.  My poor wife is starting to refer to the shop as "The other women."  I've even gone so far as to take my beloved banjo over there to force me to take a bit of 'me' time.  In spite of the crazy hours, I'm having a blast putting together the latest couple pieces.

Western Black Walnut could be one of my all time favorite woods.  It's easy to work with, has the most amazing and unpredictable colors, and in Portland Oregon, seems to grow like a weed.  I am fortunate to have the largest Walnut distributor in the County just up the road.  Below are 2 bookmatched drawer fronts waiting for final fitting.

I am hardly a well schooled expert on Walnut varieties, but most of the Eastern stuff we get out here has had so many things done to it to make it look consistent, that it's lost all of its charm.  This stuff is full of charm and character.  Good for some, not for all.

I should have been snapping pics throughout the building process, but it really came down to focusing on building.  Sorry friends.

I did discover a few new things that work well when building.  (It's always a learning project at this place)  This cabinet if a freestanding piece of furniture.  So I wanted to build it as such but incorporate some nice "cabinet" like features.  This includes fancy drawer slides, and nice clean durable pre-finished Maple ply for the interiors.   Not only is the ply durable, but the contrast with the walnut makes my heart go pitter patter.  It is also going in a kitchen, so I need to finish it like a cabinet, not furniture.

How different finished surfaces meet is always a challenge.  It you try to flush them up, you always end up with a seam that is not perfect.  I generally set the casework back of the face frame.  However when using drawer slides, the casework needs to be at least flush with the face frame.  In this case I took it one step further and brought them in about 1/4".  I love how clean the look is!  AND it's a nice and easy to mount the drawer slides to the cabinet.  Lesson one.  Learned.

The next thing I discovered is quite silly.  Did you know they make hinges that are flat on the outside of the hinge?  Most normal hinges are intended to sit proud of the mating wood they are mounted to, and in return are not flat on the outside.  That would not work in my case, (do you see below how the two pieces of wood attached to the hinge are not on the same plane?) so I went on the hunt for an alternative.  I was thinking about knife hinges, but then was schooled by the good folks at the greatest little (OK, not so little) hardware store ever.  I ended up using a butt hinge that is flat on the outside so I can be set back from the fixed mounting place. The dull finish is perfect for the pulls that are in route. Lesson two.  Learned.

I also needed to address the whole issue of two varieties of Walnut.  My original plan was to glue up my own veneered plywood for the panels, however the veneer I chose was way to busy and visually distracting.  Thank goodness I discovered that before I started cutting the stuff up.  Sadly I had already  purchased the material, but I will store it away for a rainy day.  The Eastern ply didn't match at all in terms of color, so I had to make up a stain to make them work together.  1 die, and two gel stains, and I got what I wanted.  The strong lines of of the panels keep the surrounding figure at the forefront.

The big butt kicker were the drawers.  I wanted to use nice soft close slides, but we also wanted to use smooth soft closing slides.  I did not want to apply a front to a drawer box.  So... I ended up spending some 11 hours making 6 rabbited half blind's on the Leigh gig.  The thing that schooled me here was that I had to completely conceal the drawer hardware.  I eventually got it, but I can tell you, it was not a fun day.  Lesson three. Learned

I picked up a new edge sander this week also.  I've been wanting one for years, and finally an opportunity appeared and I jumped all over it.  Woo-hoo!  It's a great tool for down and dirty chamfers.

So, all in all, we ended up with a "cabineture."  (I made that word up you see.)  There are plenty of purests out there that would never use plywood or drawer slides in a true heirloom piece of furniture.  However, I think it is possible to blend the two worlds.  Do you think it worked?

The stools and finishing are next up, but that my friends, is for another day.  I gotta fly!

I would however like to hear from the folks on the other side of the land about their Walnut.

As always, thanks for stopping in.


  1. Well, I've seen it, and I can tell you it works! This is one of the most beautiful pieces I've seen come out of your shop. said you have to finish it like a cabinet, not a piece of furniture. What is the difference in finishing for the two?

  2. I really like seeing something that makes me say "I'd like to build one of those." The wood is cool, the design is pleasing and your dovetails turned out great. Like your new sander too.

  3. @Joanna, thank you for the kind words. It will indeed be lovely once it's all done. In regard to the finishing, I am primarly refering to the need to have a very durable finish that will protect against food and water spills. Alot of wonderful "authentic" wood finishes are beautiful, but don't hold up well to spills and such. The clear varnish I will use on this should do the trick.

    @Jeff, I've had a great time making it. I have no doubt that you could do one just like it, but likely even better. Go for it!