Canadian Woodworking

Doors and drawer fronts are great opportunities

Blog by Rob Brown
Birds and Berries

By their nature, doors are very functional. Drawer fronts might not have the same level of importance, but they still provide an attractive, clean look on furniture and cabinetry.

Larger doors allow people to secure their houses, keep the bad weather out and provide privacy. Cabinet doors give us a visual block from all the items we store in kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms and storage areas.

What I find interesting about doors and drawer fronts is that they offer a great opportunity when designing and making furniture and other interior woodwork. One approach to door and drawer front design is to go simple. Whether it’s frame and panel, cope and stick, or slab, these common options are usually unadorned. Even though I appreciate a simple look for a door or drawer front, I can also see that the door or drawer front can be used as a blank canvas, allowing the maker to bring a lot of visual energy into a project that’s otherwise visually very simple.

More is not always better

To be clear, I’m not a “more is more” kind of guy. I usually prefer a clean, uncluttered approach to design and construction. Simple lines and clear, straight grain can be a wonderful thing. Having said that, there are also times when a piece of furniture or woodwork needs a certain something to give it a point of interest. That’s often when doors and drawer fronts come into play, and it seems like a lot of other makers agree with me.

There are certainly other parts of a piece of furniture that can accept a special design element, too. Shapely legs, a gently curved cabinet gable, a geometric pattern on an apron or a power-carved top are just a short list of options that could add a striking element to a piece of furniture. Thinking about it some more, maybe doors and drawer fronts are just the most obvious location for a strong focal point. They are, after all, very similar to a blank canvas used by a painter. Even the proportions are often similar.

What technique can you use?

If we think of a door and drawer front like a blank canvas, we then have to figure out what technique to use on it. The techniques a woodworker has at their disposal are vast. Carving, marquetry and veneer matches were what makers hundreds of years ago focused on. These approaches are still valid today, but the world of tooling has opened up a lot more options since then. Power carving and texturing with a wide range of tools, including non-wood materials like copper, stainless steel, glass and hand-made Japanese paper are just the tip of the iceberg. Exotic woods, with their wild colour and grain, are available from around the world with just a few clicks of a mouse.

I’m a big fan of texturing wood. You can even add texture to wood with tools you already have in your shop. Experimenting on a scrap of the same species is key, as every species reacts differently with each technique. Smooth wood is great, but textured wood is amazing and will draw viewers to reach for it right away.

An opportunity

Think of a door or a drawer front as an opportunity to experiment with a new technique. You might find scouring the internet is a useful starting point, though that approach sometimes gets overwhelming, as there are so many good (and bad) ideas out there. Another approach is to just head into the shop, close the door behind you and start experimenting.

Have you made any piece of furniture where the doors or drawer fronts were the highlight of the piece? Send me a few photos, as I’d love to share some images in a future column

Birds and Berries

This cabinet, made by Craig Thibodeau from Virginia, U.S., has marquetry on the two doors. It’s a beautiful piece of furniture with a simple design.

Birds and Berries

Pentagon Sideboard

Made by Ottawa native Christopher Solar, this sideboard has a very simple carcase and base, with the focal point being the veneer match on the doors.

Pentagon Sideboard

Pussy Willow Sideboard

I made this sideboard years ago. The laser cut, stainless steel door panels are the focal point of an otherwise simple piece. This ran as a project article in our Aug/Sept 2013 issue.

Pussy Willow Sideboard

Curvy Doors

This bathroom vanity, with its power carved and painted doors, ran in our Feb/Mar 2023 issue.

Curvy Doors

End Match

I made this walnut secretary desk as a culminating project in college about 25 years ago. The short cabriole legs catch your attention, but even though the veneer match on the front door panel is quite simple, it’s one of the main focal points.

End Match

Figure Is Fun

Another secretary desk I made; this one has a blistered mahogany drop front panel. A piece of figured wood will often be enough to dress up a piece.

Figure Is Fun

The Interior

Once the blistered mahogany drop front is opened it reveals the curly anigre drawer fronts in the interior. The design is otherwise quite simple.

The Interior

Demilune Sideboard

Another piece from American maker Craig Thibodeau, this sideboard features both figured wood and marquetry on its doors.

Demilune Sideboard

Balanced, Bookmatched Panels

I made this black cherry and ambrosia maple sideboard about 15 years ago. Although the top has a very bold look to it, the doors are the focal point of the piece. I noticed some patterns in the grain and bookmatched solid wood panels to give some balance. This was a project in our Dec/Jan 2010 issue.

Balanced, Bookmatched Panels

Use Some Paper

I made this cabinet to house these two pieces of decorative paper made by a paper artist in Toronto. The simple overall shape of the cabinet and door frames showcases the paper nicely.

Use Some Paper

Nami Cabinet

This cabinet, made by the company Demuro Das, has a simple case with solid bronze inserts over the door panels.

Nami Cabinet

Nami Cabinet Detail

The bronze door inserts are frames by a very simple case.

nami cabinet details

Open Doors

Although this is slightly off topic, once the doors are opened my eyes are drawn to the six overly visible European hinges that allow the doors to swing. This is a bit of an eyesore, in my opinion.

Open Doors
Published:
Last modified: November 15, 2023

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

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