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ShopCam HiLites for 11/1/00
Frame of Reference

With the one odd, clamp-only joint ready for rough handling, it was time for business as usual. For me, that's a combination of glue, biscuits and screws to assemble plywood cabinets - one joint at a time.

Oh, I've had my huge clamp creatures before, rushing around tossing cauls, balancing pipes, and bending time just to avoid having the glue grab on my assembly before I can even check for square. And if you use yellow glue, you know it sets fast!

Some folks eschew the use of screws - it's not really fine woodworking. I don't care. Some folks use a staple gun to hold the joint closed but I never found a staple long enough to pull a cupped panel tight. I remember exactly the day I read in a magazine where Sam Maloof used a couple screws for holding his famous chair joints together. I was sold!

The screw of choice is your every-day coarse drywall variety. I like the 2 1/2" #8 using an 1/8" pilot hole for plywood, and a 9/64" pilot hole for MDF. I don't bother with cutting a countersink since screws are only an option where they won't be seen - just run them in below the surface. And since I'm using biscuits and glue too, consider screws as little clamps that keep on clamping!

After the other upright is screwed to the hidden end of the left base cabinet, the next step is attaching the divider. The best way I've found for locating it's position is using a couple panels cut to the same size and laid in the bottom of the cabinet on either side of the divider. Eventually, the two panels you see in the photo will be used for shelves.

The panel/shelf also serves in locating the biscuits with your biscuit machine's fence flipped back or removed. In this configuration, referred to as a T-joint, the base of the biscuit machine references the placement of the biscuits. The result is exact placement of the divider where you want it - in the middle.

After the divider is biscuited and screwed, it's time to attach the two stretchers which span the length of the unit, and give you something to screw through for attaching the upper unit to the base cabinet. Since we're using plywood, which glues really well, we can get away with a narrow stretcher of only 3" wide; one biscuit at each end. If we were using MDF or melamine, I'd go for a 6" wide stretcher so I can get in two biscuits.

The shelves/panels we used to locate the divider also prove very handy here. The unit is flipped on it's front and the shelves are dropped down to square up the cabinet sides when clamping in the stretchers.

By dropping down the shelves and shoving them tight against the bottom, I remove any bow which could leaves us with any un-square joints. Then I clamp the cabinet to the workbench to keep it from moving around too much during the rest of the assembly. Oh yeah, measure your diagonals to check for square.


Once the stretchers are secured and the sides/bottom are clamped to the bench and can't move, I stand up the shelves to locate the top of the divider exactly in the middle (again). I don't use a biscuit here - it's unnecessary, but I do work some glue into the butt joint under two screws.

That puppy isn't going anywhere! :)

While the glue is setting on the first box, it's time to repeat with the second. Eventually it will have to make it's way onto the workbench. Maybe in an hour or so. 'Til then, the tablesaw will do nicely.

When the second cabinet is assembled and clamped to the workbench, it's time for lunch.

With both base cabinets assembled and resting flat upside down on the bench, I decide to work on the lower faceframes. Under different circumstances, I might start on the upper casework but for Mr. D.'s wall unit, the upper sections are just different beasts from the lower units. Besides, I have a small shop and the mantra of small-shop owners is: 'Create no cabinets before their time!" :)

In sorting the faceframe stock, the longer, straighter pieces are reserved for the upper unit with the rest culled out for the bottom. Then it's off to the Glider for crosscutting to length.

The last pieces for the lower faceframe are the kickplates which hide the front edge of the cabinet bottom and provide backing for the base molding. Since only 1/2" of this piece peeks up from behind the base molding, I decide to make it out of plywood with a 3/4" edgebanding. So far so good.

Then I make my first mistake - I completely forget the plywood is 1/32" thinner than the 3/4" solid wood faceframe stock, and then flush out the edgebanding on both sides with a router. Doh!

In the foreground, at right, is the kickplate with a stile peeking up from behind. As they are both glued flush to the cabinet face, there would be a drop-off when going from the stiles to the kickplates. Not good.

If I had noticed this earlier, I could have used a shim, such as a thin piece of laminate, to prevent flush-trimming flush, and could have left the edgebanding proud on the inside where it only connects to the cabinet bottom, thus allowing the kickplate to stay in the same plane as the stiles. Dang!

What to do???

I really wanted to get a faceframe assembled today, so re-edging the kickplates was out. I could have slipped a piece of veneer in between the edging and the bottom, sort of a shim, but that's half-baked woodworking in my view.

In the end, I had a couple wide pieces of walnut laying around and selected one to replace the plywood kickplates. It was almost the same thickness as the faceframe stock so all I needed to do was make one pass through the planer, straighten an edge and rip to width. In a matter of minutes, I was back in business and the cost was 4 board feet of walnut. Not a bad deal - I might not be so lucky next time!

In crosscutting critical pieces, as with the kickplates, which really determine the squareness of an assembly, I clamp my parts to the fence of the Glider.

At right, the lower half of the frame is dry clamped and I've cut a couple identical templates to accurately size the openings. The plan is this: assemble the frame around the templates, pop them out, trim the templates to the size of the finished doors and drawer faces, and then flush-trim the doors/drawer faces to the templates. Ideally, this should result in perfectly fitted doors and drawers without any fussing.

I've used this method a couple times before with good success. Cross your fingers!

BTW, the middle stile could have been butted to the top of the kickplate. One way to do that is with pocket screws. I know lots of folks love this technique but screws without biscuits just don't thrill me. Maybe I'll try it someday.

Another way is to cut a tenon in the end of the stile and a mortise in the kickplate. Or I could use a dowel or buy one of those little Ryobi biscuit machines.

Any of these methods would work. I kinda like having the stile run all the way to the floor. It lets me use the same fastening technique I'm using everywhere else and the stile is like a post, shoring up the center of the cabinet. (That's ice tea I'm drinking...:)

 The top rails between the stiles are narrow and only get half-biscuits. By clamping them edge-to-edge in the vise, I can cut the biscuit slots in both pieces at once.
Here is the finished assembly with the melamine templates inside, keeping it square while the glue sets. Sure hope I can get those out! :)

If you have any questions or comments about Mr. D's Walnut Wall Unit, please post them at the Info Exchange.

Jim Mattson

 Onward to the Next Installment

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