Canadian Woodworking
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Make a cabinet on stand with sliding doors

Author: Carl Duguay
Photos: Carl Duguay
Illustration: Len Churchill
Published: February 2024
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Functionality and solid construction, not ornamentation, are the highlights of this cabinet.

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  • DIFFICULTY
    4/5
  • LENGTH/TIME
    4/5
  • COST
    3/5

This unadorned cabinet leans heavily on Danish modern design, in particular the work of James Krenov. It uses traditional mortise and tenon and dowel joinery with a simple shellac finish. The height was chosen to suit the client and the wood was selected to complement the furnishings in her liv­ing room.

It really doesn’t matter in which direction you start building. I always start with the base, then the cabinet, and finally the doors. I begin by milling all my stock to rough dimension and then let it acclimatize in the shop for at least a week.

Cabinet on stand

Cabinet on stand

Templates Are Great
Duguay used a hardboard template to lay out the curves on the legs. This offers uniformity across the different parts.

Templates Are Great

Avoid Mistakes
When you’re attaching the feet, consider where you put the dowels. Disaster can strike if you don’t plan properly when cutting the curves in the legs.

Avoid Mistakes

Cut the Tenons
Duguay uses a simple shop-made tenon jig to machine all the faces to form each tenon. This is done on the table saw, though you could use a router jig or cut these with hand tools.

Cut the Tenons

Nice Fit
Duguay fits the mortise and tenon joints that secure the aprons to the legs with sharp hand tools.

Nice Fit

Careful Layout
Chopping mortises by hand works nicely and is enjoyable. The key to this approach is careful layout and sharp tools.

Careful Layout

Dowels Can Be Simple
A simple dowel jig, like this one Duguay used to secure the cabinet corner joints, is easy to use and surprisingly strong. It can be used to bore holes in the top / bottom, as well as the sides.

Dowels Can Be Simple

The Base is Done
Here, the base is just about ready for the cabinet. Duguay chamfers the upper ends of the legs once the cabinet is in place. This allows him to create the perfect look.

The Base is Done

Smooth Grooves
Here, the ends of the door grooves get squared up. The deeper grooves are located in the cabinet top.

Smooth Grooves

A Door, Unassembled
All the door parts are machined and ready for assembly.

A Door, unassembled

A Door, Assembled
Ensure the doors are square before they’re put aside to dry.

A Door, Assembled

Door Groove Details
Here you can see the grooves that house the lower edges of the doors.

Door Groove Details

Looks and Function
The base rails are as much for the aesthetics of the piece as they are to add structural rigidity to the base.

Looks and Function

A light and airy base

The legs for the base have a slight curve towards the front and sides. Once the stock is cut to final dimension, I attach the feet with dowels. The dowels must be installed off-centre. Remember to mark the dowel locations on the bottom of the feet, otherwise you may be in for a nasty surprise when you cut the curved leg sides to final shape.

Draw the leg pattern on a piece of 1/4″ hardboard and trans­fer the cut lines to the legs. Before shaping the legs, lay out and cut the mortises for the aprons. I do it with drill and chisel, but other options include the router table, a hollow chisel mortiser, handheld router and mortising jig, or Festool Domino. Once the mortises are cut, I shape the legs on the bandsaw and fair them using a block plane and scrapers, and, if needed, a final touchup with 180-grit sandpaper.

The next step is to cut the aprons to length, which I do on the table saw using a crosscut sled and then cut the mortises using a tenoning jig. Dry fit the aprons to the legs to ensure that every­thing is square.

You can now lay out the mortises for the rails further down the legs. The shoulders of the tenons are cut at an angle relative to the curve of the legs. These rails aren’t necessary for structural support so they can be omitted. Make sure you do a final dry fit before glu­ing up the base.

A stable box on top

Unless the design incorporates curves, cabinets are quick and easy to build. No one joinery method is superior to another; choose the one you’re most comfortable with. For over 40 years I’ve used dowel joinery on display cabinets and not one has come apart. A simple dowelling jig makes it easy to ensure that the dowel holes are per­fectly aligned. For 3/4″ stock, either 5/16″ or 3/8″ dowels work fine.

Before assembling the box, cut the grooves for the sliding doors and the back panel. The doors on this cabinet are 1/2″ thick, so I made the grooves 1/4″ wide and 1/8″ deep on the bottom and 5/16″ deep on the top. The grooves are routed so the doors are about 1/8″ apart when installed. This will prevent them from rubbing together.

For the back, you can install a plywood panel, a frame and panel or, as I did, a shiplapped slat back. You’ll need to rout a rabbet around the back of the cabinet to house the slats, which will be nailed into place, but just not yet.

If you plan to install a shelf or two in the cabinet, now is the time to drill the holes for the shelf supports. I usually drill three to four holes about 1-1/2″ apart so the shelf position can be adjusted. I use brass shelf supports that are only 9/32″ in diameter, making them less obtrusive inside the cabi­net (#63Z0216, leevalley.com).

Once again, dry fit everything before breaking out the glue and clamps. Once you’re satisfied, glue up the box, then nail the back in place.

I installed a riser between the cabinet and base. The corners are mitred and the riser is screwed to the base. You can attach the cabinet to the base by installing screws through the bottom of the aprons through the riser and into the base of the cabinet. However, I chose to rout 1/4″ × 1/4″ slots on the inside face of the riser and use L-shaped shop-made blocks to attach the cabinet. You could also use Z-shaped metal clips (#BP581142G, Richelieu.com).

Frame and panel doors

I make sliding doors between 3/8″ and, as on this cabinet, 1/2″ thick. Here again, you have several choices for the joinery, includ­ing mortise and tenon, tongue and groove, cope and stick, and spline, which is what I used for this project. The grooves for the splines and the door panels are the same width as the panels are thick (1/4″) and 7/16″ deep. I made the door panels 1/4″ thick – you could make them a tad thicker. The grooves in the rails and stiles to accept the panels are just under 1/4″ deep. I like to keep the doors as lightweight as possible, as they slide nicely then. The door panels are free-floating, though if you use sheet stock there’s nothing wrong with gluing them in place.

After you’ve assembled the door, cut the rebates on the top and bottom of the doors to fit into the grooves in the front of the cabi­net for the doors to slide back and forth – about 3/16″ at the top and 1/8″ on the bottom.

A simple finish in and out

My standby finish for furniture that won’t be subject to a lot of handling is shellac. I typically lay on six or seven thin (2 lb.) coats. I then buff on a coat of wax. I prefer shellac because it highlights wood figure, enhances colour, provides good wear resistance and is excellent protection from moisture. It’s also great inside enclosed spaces like cabinets and drawers because it’s vir­tually odour-free. For your cabinet, apply a finish that you’re comfortable using and gives the look you want.


Carl Duguay - [email protected]

Carl is a Victoria-based furniture maker and the web editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.

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