Building Cabinets – Cherry Sideboard

THIS SIDEBOARD IS a hybrid – an interesting mix of plywood and solid-wood construction. It requires accurately cutting plywood parts, a lot of biscuit joints (you may want to add gravy!), and a pleasant workout with a spokes have to shape the oval legs.

I really designed myself into a corner when I built the sideboard, though. I had previously made a similar piece with rectangular sliding doors, which fit behind the curved legs. I built standard doors for this piece and intended to hinge them on the legs. Nothing doing. I think I exhausted every hinge solution available , but none worked on a curved door stile inset next to a curved leg.

I realized there was only one solution: hanging the doors on the straight sides, so they open towards the center drawers. I know it’s a little odd, but it works well and the doors don’t interfere with the drawers.

Buy the wood

You will need two sheets of 3/4″ cherry plywood. I prefer Columbia’s Classic Core (see Sources). It has an aspen veneered core, which is free of voids, and MDF crossbanding under the face veneer. It’s light and very flat. For solid wood, you’ll need 8/4, 6/4 and 4/4 cherry. You can make the drawer boxes from any hardwood or from Baltic birch ply-wood. You’ll need one sheet of 1/ 4″ plywood for the drawer bottoms.

Build the interior case

1. Cut out all of the plywood case parts: the back (A1), bottom (A2), vertical divider (A3), horizontal divider (M) and upper divider (A5). Cut each piece about 1″ extra-long and 1/2″ extra-wide.
2. Mill strips of solid edgebanding (A7). Glue the edgebanding on the bottom edge of the back and the front ends of the vertical, horizontal and upper dividers. (Note that the bottom, A2, doesn’t receive edge-banding.) Trim the edging flush with the panel’s surfaces and rip the pieces to final width. Crosscut the pieces to length.
3. Cut biscuit slots to join the pieces together (Fig. A). Space the slots about 4″ apart, center to center. To reference the biscuit slots for the vertical dividers, use a piece of plywood with a strip screwed onto one end. Mark the location of the slots on this jig, then hook the strip onto the end of the piece you are cutting slots in.
4. Dry clamp the dividers to the bottom, then put on the back and mark a line under the horizontal divider. Take off the back and clamp a straight board on the bottom side of that line. Cut biscuit slots in the back for the horizontal divider, then cut matching slots in the divider itself. Cut slots in the ends of the back, bottom and horizontal dividers.
5. Sand all the interior surfaces. Cover the biscuit slots with tape and apply your finish of choice. I use shellac and wax.
6. Glue the bottom, vertical and horizontal dividers. Add the back (Photo 1). Getting sufficient clamping pressure is tricky. I made a couple of open-ended boxes and clamped them to the horizontal divider. During glue-up, I pulled the back tight by engaging these boxes with deep-reach clamps. Screws through the back will work, too.
The sideboard’s interior is an open-ended rectangular plywood box, joined with biscuits. The back, which makes the structure rigid, goes on last.

Build the sides

7. Mill the side’s top and bottom rails (A11 and A12). Cut the side panels (A6) to exact length and about 1/2″ extra-wide. These panels are quite prominent on the finished piece, so I plan the cuts carefully. I want the panels to have a balanced, bookmatched look, as if I had laid them up myself. Sand the faces of the panels. Glue the rails flush to the backside of the panel, then rip the assemblies to their final width. Draw a curve on the bottom rail (Fig. D). Bandsaw and smooth the curve.

8. Mill blanks for the legs (A5). Use a negative – space paper pattern to lay out the legs (Photo 2 and Fig. D). Orient the pattern so the wood’s grain direction follows the leg’s curve. Bandsaw the leg blanks and spokes have the legs to the pencil lines (Photo 3). Make a jig to cut the legs to length (Photo 4).
Layout the curved legs using a window-style pattern. Position the pattern so the leg’s curve follows the wood’s grain direction, then draw the pattern and band saw the blank.

Use a spokeshave and a plane to smooth the bandsawn surfaces. Work the leg down to the pencil lines.

Cut the legs to length. Place each leg against a template mounted to a straight board. This ensures that both ends of the leg are square and parallel to each other.

9. Cut biscuit slots to join the legs to the sides. Draw lines on the legs following the inside edge of the panel. Clamp a narrow board to the legs following this line and cut the biscuit slots (Photo 5). Cut matching slots in the side panels.
Cut biscuit slots in the legs. Clamp a board to the leg to guide the plate joiner. Assemble the sideboard’s sides, without glue.

10. Cut biscuit slots to join the sides to the interior case. There is one row of slots down the back, a second row across the bottom and a third row along the horizontal divider. Be careful to position the slots for the back so they don’t coincide with the slots for the legs.

Assemble the case

11. Clamp the legs to the sides, without glue, and clamp the ends to the case. Use a single-bevel marking knife to scribe, in each front leg, the location of a notch for the horizontal divider (Photo 6). Mark the intersection of the bottom (A2) to the legs – this is where the bottom rail (A9) joins to the legs. Unclamp the side assembly and remove the front legs. Cut the notches with a handsaw, then chop and pare to the knife lines. Re-clamp the legs to the sides and the sides to the case.

Clamp each side to the case and mark the horizontal divider’s position on the front leg . Remove the side and cut a notch in the leg to receive the divider. Re-clamp the sides onto the case.

12. Mill the bottom rail about 1″ extra-long. Both ends of the rail must be cut at an angle to fit the legs, and this is best done one end at a time. Clamp the rail to the case and mark the angle on one end. Cut the angle to an exact fit, then clamp the rail back in place and mark the other end (Photo 7). Cut this angle on the rail about 1/8″ past the mark, then make a series of nibbling cuts until the rail fits perfectly between the legs. Remove the sides from the case once more.
Cut the lower front rail extra-long and hold it up to the case. Cut both ends of the rail at an angle to fit the legs.
13. Mortise the ends of the rail and corresponding locations on the front legs (Fig. O). Make loose tenons for the joint (A10) and glue the tenons into the rail.
14. Clamp the legs back to the sides. Mark the outline of the sides on the leg in preparation for shaping the legs (Photo 8). In addition, mark the thickness of the door on the legs-this area will not be rounded, either. Use a spokeshave to shape the legs, avoiding the areas you’ve marked (Photo 9). Put the legs back on the side now and then to check your work. After the legs are shaped, sand and glue them (Photo 10). Plane the inside face of the side bottom rail so it’s flush with the legs.
Mark the legs for shaping into an oval. Mark around the rails and panel – these areas on the leg will be left flat.

Spokeshave the leg to create its oval shape. Leave flat areas between the pencil lines, where the rails and panel go.

Glue the legs to the side assemblies.

15. Glue the bottom rail to the case with the side assemblies clamped on. This ensures that the rail is centered in the proper position. You can use a few biscuits to help align the rail flush to the bottom of the case. Glue both sides onto the case (Photo 11).
Glue the sides and lower front rail to the case. The open-ended boxes clamped to the upper shelf allow deep-reach clamps to pull the sides tight.

Add doors and drawers

16. Mill pieces for the doors (B1-B4). Scribe the outside edges of the curved stiles (B2) directly from the legs, and cut and smooth the curves. Layout the inside edges of the stiles so they’re parallel to the outside edges (Fig. O), then cut and smooth them. Cut and smooth the curves on the inside edges of the rails (B4). For the curved ends of the rails, scribe them to the stile’s curve, then bandsaw and sand to the line with a drum sander or oscillating spindle sander. Rout mortises for the loose tenon-joinery and glue the doors together. Use a piloted rabbeting bit to rout a rabbet around the inside of the door for glass (Fig. O). The type of glass
retaining strip I use requires a rabbet and a narrow slot, which I routed with a slot cutter . The strips squeeze into the slots, so no nailing is required (see Sources).
17. Install the doors’ hinges (see Sources) and hang the doors. You probably noticed that the doors and drawers on my cabinet don’t have any pulls. I like that clean look, so I just carved a recess behind each door and drawer for your fingers. If you prefer to add pulls, that’s fine.
18. Install drawer slides in the cabi-net.1 used Blum Tandem undermount slides (see Sources), which require 1/2″ of clearance on each side of the drawer box and 9/16″ of clearance under the box. The bottom is 1/2″ up from the sides’ bottom edges. Build the drawer boxes (C5-C10) and attach them to the slides.

19. Make the drawer faces (C1-C4). Their top edges are curved, but leave them straight for now. Install the drawer fronts on the drawer boxes using 3/32″ or 1/8″ shims to set the gaps (Photo 12). Start at the bottom and work your way up. Once all the gaps are set, remove the drawer faces and cut and sand their curved top edges (Fig. D).
Temporarily attach solid-wood drawer faces to the drawer boxes using hot glue. After the faces are positioned, pull out the drawers and fasten the faces with screws.

Make the top

20. Mill and glue the top (A13).I used 4 boards to get the required 25″ width, placing a wide board in front to accommodate the top’s curve. Cut the top to size, then saw and smooth the curve (Fig. D). Rout a 3/8″ roundover on the underside. Sand the top to 220 grit.
21. Drill shallow holes in the side top rails and back for figure eight desktop fasteners (see Sources). Attach the top (Photo 13).
Attach the top using figure-eight desktop fasteners, which provide clearance for the drawer boxes. A stubby ratcheting screw-driver is very handy in this small opening.

Disassemble and finish

22. Remove the top, doors and drawers. Remove the drawer fronts from the boxes. I used shellac and wax on all the interior portions of the case, including the doors and drawers. On the exterior, I used four coats of Watco Danish Oil, wet sanded in between coats with 400 grit paper, and finished with a paste wax applied with 0000 steel wool. The top needs more water resistance than an oil finish can deliver, so I sprayed it with lacquer, instead.
23. Install glass in the doors using the rubber retaining strips and re-assemble the sideboard.