Canadian Woodworking

Entertainment Unit

Author: Kory Larsen
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: October November 2007

When moving into our first new home my wife and I decided to do away with much of the store bought furniture we previously bought.


This resulted in an ultimatum of sorts – “TV on the floor”, or “Kory into the workshop”. I didn’t need much persuasion.

For this project I used materials I had on hand, and managed to be creative enough to make them all work together. The dimensions in this article reflect the size of TV and other gear I own – you’ll need to adjust dimensions to suit your media collection. The overall design of this project is based on a quick sketch and then measurements taken of the components that needed to be housed within the unit. I did, however, give some thought to ventilation for these components and planned the dimensions of the carcass accordingly. I needed the cabinet to be assembled easily so I constructed it as two units, the upper one for the TV and the bottom one for the stereo and CD/DVD collection.

I used two-sided pre-finished birch plywood for the tops, bottoms, sides and backs, and spalted maple and black walnut for contrast and accents. I was fortunate to find the spalted maple in a second hand shop on Saltspring Island that was already re-sawn and planed to 316″.

Construction Notes

I chose a combination of dado and pocket-hole joinery to construct the cabinet carcasses. This type of joinery is quick and strong enough to withstand the weight of the TV and other components. The pre-finished birch is a great product to work with, being stable and of uniform thickness. Not having to finish the inside and outside of the cabinet before assembly saves a lot of time and work. The finish used on this product is both durable and easy to fix with spray lacquer if a scratch or two occurs during the construction. When using pre-finished plywood ensure that you use a sharp blade and have your table saw set up square and true to avoid splintered cuts. Using a zero clearance insert is a good idea as well. You also need to rough-up the finished surface in those places where it is to be glued to ensure good adhesion. Make sure you leave sufficient ventilation space around the TV and electronic components as they tend to heat up in use. For this I cut holes in the back panels.

Begin With Upper and Lower Units

• Cut the sides (A, B), tops (C) and bottoms (D) of the upper and lower units to size.

• Cut the shelves (E) to size.

• You can either fix the shelves in place or make them adjustable. (Note: the top shelf to which the flip down door is attached should be fixed in place). For fixed shelves lay out dado lines on the sides. Cut the dados using a dado blade on the table saw or a router. For adjustable shelves lay out shelf pins. Drill the holes with a drill driver or a router and shelf hole jig (see Shelf Hole Drilling Jig sidebar.). If you don’t have a dado blade you can cut the dados on the table saw in two ⅛” passes and mill a 1/4″ rabbet on the shelf sides.

• Cut rabbets on the tops and sides to accept the back panels (F, G). I like to leave the rabbets for the back panels rather deep (at least 1 ½”) so that if the cabinet is up against a wall there is room for wiring behind the cabinet.

• Lay out and drill holes for pocket screws on the two tops (C) and two bottoms (D). Drill the holes on the outside surfaces so that the holes will not be visible from inside when the boxes are put together.

• Dry assemble the units.

• Cut the back panels (F, G) to size and test fit them.

• Glue and clamp the upper and lower units together. Check to ensure that they are square.

• Assemble the top unit and the bottom unit with pocket hole screws.

• Apply glue to the back rabbets and install the back panels.

• Check for square once more and adjust if necessary before the glue sets.

• Pin or screw the back panels in place.

• Set the two units aside to dry. You can scrape off any excess glue about one-half hour after glue-up, as the glue will be tacky yet come off easily.

Splined Door Frames are Easy to Make

Because I don’t own a stacked door frame router bit set, I chose to use spline joinery for the stiles and rails. I cut through dados, which means that the splines are visible on the ends of the frames. Optionally you could use dowels or mortise and tenon joinery.

• Mill wood for the upper door and folding door panels (H, I). You many have to glue up several pieces to obtain the required width. Make the panels slightly oversize and trim them to finished dimension after the stiles and rails are made.

• Purchase the frosted glass for the lower door panels (J). It’s best to obtain the glass before you begin the project. Optionally use a wood panel.

• Select 1″ wood for the rails (K, L, M) and stiles (N, O, P). Straighter grain wood works best as it tends not to warp or rack as much when machined to the finished dimensions.

• Plane the stiles and rails to the finished thickness and then joint and cut them to width.

• Cut the stiles and rails to length allowing a little extra to be trimmed exactly to size later.

• Set a dado blade to the thickness of the panels (slightly proud of ¼” to let the panels ‘breathe’ in the frames), and ⅜” above the height of the table saw top. If you don’t have a dado blade set you can rout the dados on a router table. (Note: If you are using glass for the lower doors carefully measure the thickness of the glass before cutting the dados).

• Use scrap pieces to test the depth, position of cut, and thickness of the dado before cutting the dados on the stiles and rails. Make your cut in the center on each frame piece.

• Trim the stiles and rails to finished length, label them, and set them aside.

• Cut the door panels to finished length and width to fit the doors frames.

• Mill the splines (Q) for the door joints. Cut the splines from the same stock as the stiles and rails. Aim for a spline thickness that is a hair thinner than the spline width. Cut the splines slightly longer than needed and sand them flush after the doors are assembled.

• Glue splines in the bottom rail and stiles and clamp lightly.

• Slide the panels in place, but don’t use any glue. The panels will expand and contract within the frames.

• Glue splines in the top rail and stiles and clamp. Check for square, adjust if needed and set aside to dry.

• If you use glass for the lower doors insert a piece of thin felt between the glass and the trim pieces. Use brads to hold the trim in place (pre-drill the nail holes). This makes it easy to change the glass if it breaks.

Trim Covers Plywood Edges

• Cut ⅜” x ⅞” strips (R) from left over black walnut material and plane to 1/4″ thickness for trimming out the carcass boxes later.

• To hide the end grain of the birch plywood on the boxes, I edge banded the edge grain with a ¼” x ⅞” hardwood edge banding (R) of an accent wood.

• Place the upper cabinet on the lower cabinet and temporarily screw them together.

• Begin working your way around the boxes applying the edge banding, mitreing corners and taping the material to the box to fit perfectly, with edges flush to the inside of the cabinet and proud by ¼” on the outside. Glue strips in place and either use tape to hold them while the glue dries, or if you have a headless pinner gun, pin them in place.

• Glue and fasten the middle trim (T) only to the lower cabinet so that you can disassemble the unit if you need to move it in the future.

• Complete the trimming of all raw edges to finish the carcass.

Crown Moulding Enhances Top

For the mouldings I used western maple cut on a simple 45º profile.

• Cut material for the top (S) and bottom (U) mouldings. For this style of cabinet a modern, simple, beveled profile worked best. You only need to install moulding on the front and sides of the top and bottom.

• Rout or cut on the table saw the desired profiles.

• Cut the mouldings to length, using mitres at the front corners.

• Glue the moulding in place. Optionally secure them with headless brads.

• To stabilize the top mouldings glue support blocks (X) to the top (C).

• Mill stock for the feet (V). I cut a 10º taper on the sides.

Simple Inlay Embellishes Doors

I used a very simple inlay method to‘pretty-up’ the door fronts on this cabinet, involving just a thin kerf saw blade and preparing matching inlay strips. Of course, if you don’t have a thin kerf blade, a standard saw blade will work – only you’ll end up with a thicker inlay.

• Set a sharp, thin kerf combination blade in your table saw, and raise it about ⅛” above the saw table top.

• Set the rip fence to center on each door frame.

• Rip thin dados in all four frame sides of all the doors. Remember to hold the frame down on the table saw with even pressure when dadoing to provide an even depth.

• Rip thin strips of contrast wood (W) to fit the dados (see Cutting Thin Strips sidebar). Cut the strips slightly thicker than the dado depth.

• Apply glue and tap the inlay into the dados leaving them slightly longer than needed. You can flush sand the ends later.

• Allow the inlays to dry, then hand plane or sand all the edges flush.

Final Touches Personalize Cabinet

I installed the shelves (E) to accommodate my particular stereo components, and drilled holes for wiring to exit the back of the cabinet. I also applied walnut trim to the front of the shelves. To ensure that the DVD’s and CD’s would remain accessible at the front of the cabinet I installed battens at the backs of the shelves.

I finished the cabinet with a clear satin wipe-on polyurethane. I applied three hand rubbed coats, sanding lightly between each coat. This really brought out the beauty of the black walnut and spalted maple.

I chose 230º Hetal hinges for the four front doors on the unit. They were easy to install (with the right size Forstner bit) and are self-closing and slightly adjustable to get all the gaps around the doors as perfect as possible. For the flip-down door I used a pair of simple European Blum overlay hinges that are also self-closing and adjustable to get perfect alignment with the top and bottom doors.

This project was born out of necessity but has become a beautiful part of our living room. When closed, it shows off the wonderful grain and high contrast of the black walnut and spalted maple. When open, we have all of our components and media materials easy to access and organized (and all those pesky wires are hidden!). This cabinet was fun to build and the result is very satisfying!

Cutting Thin Strips

Cutting thin strips on the table saw can be a bit nerve racking. Use this handy jig to make the job safer and quicker. You’ll need a piece of ply or wood 3″ – 4″ long, and about ½” narrower than the distance from the table saw blade to the outside edge of the mitre slot. Cut a ⅜” x ¾” strip of wood about 14″ long to fit into the saw mitre slot. Screw the ply onto the strip, and then add a small stop block to the end of the strip so that it stays in place in use. Insert a flat head screw into the edge of the ply. Now place the jig into the mitre slot, and adjust the screw so that the distance from the outside edge of the saw blade to the head of the screw is the thickness of the strip you want to cut. Move the rip fence so that it pushes the stock up against the screw head, and cut a strip. Continue re-adjusting the rip fence after each cut. For thin stock you only need to raise the saw blade slightly above the height of the stock. Make sure that you use a push stick.

Shelf Hole Drilling Jig

To drill consistently spaced shelf holes use a simple shelf hole drilling jig. This one is made from scrap plywood. Locate two or more holes the distance that the shelf holes are to be from the edge of the shelf – 1 ½” in from each side is a good distance. Space the holes at whatever distance you want your shelves to be – if you want adjustable shelf spacing drill the holes every 1 ½” to 2″ apart. A lip on the side of the jig allows you to hold it tightly against the shelf while drilling. Use a dowel as a register pin to ensure that the holes will continue to be accurately spaced. To make a more permanent jig use bushings and inserts available from Lee Valley (item #25K62.20).

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