Making a Knife-Hinged Jewellery Cabinet

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Words and photos: Charles Mak

My daughter, Tiffany, kept her favourite pieces of jewellery in her bedside table’s drawer, cushioned in their original bags or boxes. I edge-joined some project left-over boards and built this small cabinet for her jewellery. With the dual mounting design, she can choose to leave it on the wall or place it on her dressing table as the need arises.


As she prefers to keep the jewellery in their original holders, I included only three storage shelves. French cleats on the back and a recessed handle on the top give flexibility in how it can be placed. Finally, to add some elegance to the cabinet, I used the knife hinges to hang the door.

Knife hinges are often seen in cabinets built by James Krenov. There is little margin for error in their installation, but I will show you step by step how you can install them like a seasoned furniture maker.


Overall the cabinet is 510mm high x 230mm wide x 150mm deep. Building a small cabinet can be as challenging as making a huge cabinet. This cabinet, made from poplar, plywood and padauk, will take your cabinetmaking skill up a notch. As in many of my projects, I took advantage of power tools for speed and efficiency, for example, using a domino joiner to join the carcase and drawer with loose tenon joinery. However I rebated the sides and mortised the hinges all by hand, which were precise and fun to make.


The carcase

The carcase consists of the top, a fixed shelf and the bottom, all joined using the domino joiner.


After making the back rabbets on the sides with my skew rabbet plane (photo 1)...


...I cut all the mortises for the dominos (photo 2).

It is easier to install the recessed handle on the top before the carcase is assembled.


I first drilled two overlapping stopped holes with a Forstner bit and then chiselled out the bottom flat (photo 3). I dry-assembled the carcase and held it together with clamps – no glue. The rear panel was cut to size and put aside until the final assembly.

The door hinges (with holes)

The layout for the door hinges (the ones with pivot holes) is straightforward; I always mount them first. Starting with the door’s top edge, hold the leaf centred and flush with the door’s end.


After scribing the layout of the hinge leaf with a marking knife (photo 4), clamp the door in the vice with two support pieces to avoid splitting the thin mortise walls when chiselling.


This also providing a wider base for the router plane (photo 5).

When chiselling hinge mortises by hand, I first rough out the waste with a series of cuts down the length of the mortise and then in the opposite direction. In this step, I use the chisel with its bevel down and stay clear of the layout lines. After removing the bulk of the waste, I then chop and pare to the lines.


If you remove the waste with a trim router, make multiple passes and complete the mortise walls with a sharp chisel. Pre-drill and install the leaf on the top edge, and repeat the same procedure for installing the hinge on the door’s bottom edge (photo 6).

The carcase hinges (with pins)

The layout procedures for the carcase hinge leaves (the ones with the pins and washers) are not the same because of the gap between the carcase and the door. The door’s gap is usually the same as the thickness of the washer on the pin leaf. (The washers of the hinges I used have the same thickness as a gift card.) To allow for wood movement, you may leave a wider gap on the unhinged side between the carcase and the door.


With the carcase still clamped in place and starting from the bottom side/fixed shelf, place the pin leaf and the gift card against the side where the door is to be hung. Scribe across the end of the hinge as well as the elbow (photo 7) and remove the shelf from the carcase.


Use two wheel marking gauges or a double-ended gauge for the next step to record two settings. Set the first gauge to equal to the distance of the front edge of the door to the installed door hinge’s edge (photo 8) and then the second one equal to that distance plus the width of the pin hinge leaf. Using the two settings, scribe the mortise lines on the fixed shelf between the end and the elbow marks. Cut out the hinge mortise as before and install the pin hinge leaf.

Since the top is set back from the sides, for the top carcase hinge, add the set-back distance to the two previous settings. Use the new gauge settings but the same steps to layout and cut the mortises. Install the hinge leaf on the inner top surface.

After one last round of dry fitting and making any necessary adjustments, assemble the carcase and hang the door.

The shelves

Drill the shelf supports holes on the sides. I used plywood as shelves and covered the edges with poplar edging strips.



To make the strips, I put a profile on an oversized blank with my hollow moulding plane and then cut out the strips on the tablesaw (photo 9).

The drawer

The cabinet drawer is joined using dominos. I cut the drawer front from the same board as the door for a continuous flow of grain pattern.


Here is a trick I used to set the drawer’s front flush with the sides: Make the drawer a little shallower and attach two small screws to its back for fine adjustment (photo 10).


I chose an oil finish – boiled linseed oil – for the cabinet and I applied several coats with light sanding between coats. Adhering to Tage Frid’s advice, I avoided finishing the inside of the carcase or the outside of the drawer sides to prevent sticking. For a low sheen, I waxed and buffed the surfaces as soon as the top coat was cured.


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