Window Wall Unit
Words and photos: Jonathan Chappell
My client wanted to fill a space that used to be an external window. Rather than simply block it up she wanted to turn it into a useful feature.
When I first met her it became clear she appreciated quality and was not afraid to pay for it. The open plan kitchen and dining area was furnished with Tas oak table and chairs, antique hallstand and New Guinea rosewood kitchen doors, among other items. A general sympathy to the interior was the only requirement. The dimensions were fixed by the size of the former window and the unit had to be as shallow as possible.
At 1800mm high x 1780mm wide the hole was almost square. The proportions were improved by dividing it into a series of rectangles: six drawers in two banks with four glazed doors on top. Mirror backs and 10mm thick toughened glass shelves would complete the top section to show off the china collection to maximum effect.
The carcase and drawers were made from silky oak veneered particleboard with solid jarrah edging on the drawer fronts and the doors were traditionally constructed from solid silky oak.
The drawer fronts were cut 26mm undersize ready for each edge to receive a 12mm jarrah lipping.
There are three main ways to treat the edges of veneer board—apply 0.6mm veneer tape, a 2mm edging (made from three layers of veneer), or a solid timber edge. Each process is progressively more expensive and time consuming and I used all three.
The edgings were fixed to the veneer board with PVA and held in place with masking tape until dry.
This was made as a single box of veneer board with 0.6mm veneer tape applied on the edgebander. The vertical panels were cut to the same length so the sides sat between the top rails and bottom panels. The advantage of this technique is that with a heavy item such as a large drawer box there is no danger of punching the base panel up inside the cabinet during transport, and it reduces the number of different size components on the cutting list. All parts were sanded to 180 grit and hand finished with two coats of polyurethane varnish prior to gluing and screwing together.
A simple jig was made to rout out the mortise holes.
Traditional long and short shoulder haunched mortise and tenons were used on the door frames.
The drawers were cut, edged and finished in the same manner as the carcase. Measuring 838mm wide and a mere 260mm deep they were to sit on top quality ‘Blum motion for wood’ runners. These are a superb item with a smooth, soft close action. They come as a pair of runners with a clip screwed to the underside of the drawer on each side to fix the drawer to the runners. A cam adjuster at the back of the runner enables height adjustment so the drawer fronts do not have a ‘weatherboard’ appearance.
Test fitting how the three units would come together.
Gluing up one of the drawers.
These runners require the sides to protrude 12mm below the drawer bottom. This hides the side of the runner and aligns the drawer in the correct position. The bottoms were glued and screwed to the front and back then the sides were glue-and-biscuit joined so the screws can’t be seen when the drawers are open.
The top section consisted of two double door cabinets. This time the carcase parts received more robust 2mm veneer edgings as this area is exposed to a higher level of use and the thicker edge will reduce the danger of chipping. A larger arris can also be sanded on 2mm edging giving a more pleasing finish.
Before assembly the sides were bored for the hinge plates and shelf pins. The cam adjustable horizontal hinge plates needed two 10mm holes bored into the carcase side for the plastic dowels. This is a neat piece of hardware—far less conspicuous than the more common cruciform type hinge plate found on the average kitchen. A hinge-boring machine is needed for this process but if you don’t have one a screw-on version is also available. You could also use a hinge-boring bit in your drill press to drill the holes.
The glass shelves are non-adjustable and sit on neat 5mm round pins set at equal spacings (don’t forget to allow for the thickness of the glass). The top section sides were cut to full height with top and bottoms in between as the extra strength needed for the bottom cabinet was not required, and the hinge plates and hinges could be bored without resetting the stops on the machine.
With the boring completed the parts were sanded and the cabinets assembled dry and unfinished. The three boxes were then set up on a couple of stools and screwed together ready for the drawer fronts, doors and panels.
There is nothing quite like pressing your own veneer to get good results for grain matching, but pre-veneered board often has consistent figure from one board to the next. It is my preference to stand sheets against the wall before cutting and plan where to cut important components such as the drawer fronts. There was a nice crown figure at one end of each sheet so these were cut off for use on the drawers before anything else. These were then cut to width so the pattern would be symmetrical. This may seem wasteful but it is essential for a good job and the offcuts get used for things such as drawer parts.
Showing how the drawers were constructed and how the runners are concealed.
The drawer fronts were cut 26mm undersize ready for each edge to receive a 12mm jarrah lipping. This would allow the finished drawer front to go straight on with minimal adjustment. The jarrah was machined just 1mm thicker than the board and mitred using a carefully set drop saw. This was then fixed to the veneer board with PVA glue and held in place with masking tape until dry. A surprising amount of pressure can be applied using masking tape and if any area needs extra attention simply double the thickness. The lippings were carefully sanded flush ready for the bevel to be cut. This was done with a fence set to a 10° angle on the spindle moulder. This proved a little awkward so the next job I have like this will find me investing in a variable angle cutterblock. Finally the edges were all sanded by hand using a wooden block to keep the lines sharp.
I have seen many ways of making glazed doors, some cheap and some dodgy but there is really only one way to go—long and short shoulder haunched mortise and tenons. I decided to keep the doors traditional as it is the best join to use and I don’t get nearly enough opportunities to practise these skills in my work.
After planing the stock to size the first job is to select the components for grain match, once this is done the mortises can be cut. First the stiles are lined up and clamped together so the mortises can be marked out. Marking the joints all at once saves time and cuts out inconsistency.
A jig was made to hold the stiles and give extra support for the router when cutting the holes. Once this was done the spindle was set to rebate the timber for the glass. It is essential that the rebate covers the width of the mortise, no more and no less or the joint will not work.
Finally the tenons were cut, in this case on the panel saw. I set the saw to leave the joint just big enough so that a skim with a paring chisel to remove the rough surface left by the sawblade created a perfect join. This is when the joint can be assembled with a moderate amount of hand pressure, perhaps with a light tap or two to get it home. When the door is glued up the PVA glue lubricates the join so it slips together easily but speed is of the essence as PVA can grab very quickly, especially on a warm day.
Commercial hinges that are easy to install, remove and adjust were used.
Once the doors were dry and sanded the hinge holes were cut and the bevels cut in the same manner as those on the drawer fronts. I used Blum 107° ‘inserta’ hinges. These have tool free assembly and with a cover cap no screws are visible on the finished job. An added advantage is their easy removal and reassembly for polished work. The doors closed on Blum soft closers drilled into the carcase top and bottom at the handle side of the doors.
The outside of the cabinet was finished with silky oak veneer board panels 200mm wide with 2mm edging carefully mitred around the carcase and dry screwed in place. The drawer fronts were then fitted with a neat 2mm gap between each and any fine tuning necessary carried out at this stage. The doors were fitted and adjusted, then the piece was taken apart to be prepared for finishing.
The edges of the ‘hole in the wall’ were covered with jarrah architraving continuing the bevel theme used on the doors and drawer fronts. This could not be pre-fitted as the final position of the architrave would not be known until installation time.
The handles were also jarrah, tapering in on all four sides and pre-bored with two 2mm holes using carefully set stops on the drill press for No.6 screws. A jig was made with corresponding holes to bore the drawers and doors on site for fitting. The handles were sanded and screwed to a base board ready for finishing.
All seen parts received a final sand then it was off to the finisher. Although the hand finishing I did was fine for largely unseen parts such as the drawers and their carcase, the other parts were spray finished in a dust free booth with a single pack lacquer giving a consistent result suitable for this type of cabinet. The glazing beads were sprayed in the shop with an aerosol can of polyurethane varnish simply to reduce the number of bits I had to take to the finishers.
Assembly and installation
Re-assembly after polishing is straightforward—as long as you have remembered to number each component as it was taken apart! Simply reverse the procedure with a squeeze of glue included, glaze and hang the doors and get it into the van. Good handling is all important for polished work—the base unit was screwed down and the top units and mirrors strapped into a vertical position. My preferred packaging for this type of work is old towels from the local op shop—these are cheap and thick enough to give good protection and small enough to use in all the right places.
The most important thing when installing a job is that it is level. This was easy as this one went into an existing cavity. With the bottom panel in place the drawer box just needed a couple of packers to level it up and was screwed back to the studs. The top cabinets then were placed in the hole and the whole lot fixed together. The outer panels were then fitted with all screws hidden either behind the drawers and hinges or, in the case of the top panel, screwed from the outside where it would be covered by the architrave. The architrave was carefully mitred and fixed with screws from the inside. Fortunately the screws were out of sight behind the hinges and the final top piece was glued in place so that not a single screw cap was needed. The mirrors were stuck in place with a good quality double sided tape with a few dabs of liquid nails for luck. Shelves in place, doors hung and handles fixed and the job was finished.
The end result was a cabinet made to pre-determined dimensions having a mix of traditional qualities with modern functional hardware for a high use area. It fitted in well with the existing furniture and the most important thing of all was that when I left I had a very happy client.
This story first appeared in issue 67 of Australian Wood Review magazine.
Jonathan Chappell is a furniture designer/maker in Brisbane. Contact him via www.jonathanchappell.com