Twin Sideboards archive
Friday 15 August 2008
Mark Ripley makes two sideboards to complete his dining suite
Having made a 3 metre long refectory table and 12 chairs for a large open-plan room, these two sideboards were the final pieces in the jigsaw. The space is in an impressive barn conversion and the whole commission was made over a period of nearly 12 months. This gave us time to consider each phase carefully, creating a result that both the clients and I am very pleased with.
I used pegged mortice and tenon joints throughout the table and chairs with chamfered and stop chamfered details. The sizes of the two recesses between oak frame members of the building that the sideboards were to occupy were of unequal length. I decided to have one four-door and one three-door sideboard with doors of equal size throughout. So, having determined most sizes and detailing, proportioning became the main factor in developing the designs. Making maximum use of the available space while equalising the door sizes was a brainteaser but the resulting proportion was
I have often wanted to use wrought iron fittings on furniture but rarely had the opportunity. They make a bold statement which works close up as well as at the other end of the open plan space 40ft away. Wide vertical frames are required to plant the hinges. The lay-on hinges require the doors to be fitted flush with the surrounding frame. By extension the drawer fronts also needed to be flush. My normal practice is to recess doors and drawer fronts slightly to create a shadow line. Well-fitted flush drawers leave little or no visual break between themselves and the cabinet. I am not particularly keen on this so I plane a small chamfer around the edges of the drawer fronts. This matches the necessary gap around the doors and accentuates the proportions of the piece.
ConstructionI used European oak (Quercus robur) for all external surfaces, with oak-veneered ply for back panels and drawer bottoms. 'Euro oak' is a term that has crept in over recent years and appears to cover a multitude of sins. French oak is managed the best, I have been told by those who should know, while Eastern European sources are more dubious. The quality of the wood itself seems to be consistently high. Some suppliers do not volunteer information about the source of their European oak unless pressed. The advantage over English oak is cleaner boards with correspondingly less wastage. Visually there is very little difference to my eye and as it comes square-edged, processing is much quicker than on waney edged English oak. I used oak-veneered 19mm MDF for cabinet bases, shelves and dividers. Crown cut American white oak veneer matches French oak rather well. The shelves are removable.
Although I had bought enough wood for the project, when all was prepared I was not happy with the tops. What feels right and what does not is largely subjective. All I knew is that I would always be unhappy with the job if I did not do something about it. Buying additional stock set me back a day and ate into the profit margin but that is the way it is sometimes.
Making the topsBegin with the jointed boards for the ends, tops and door panels. These are, with the exception of the tops, reinforced with biscuits. Set loose tenons into routed mortices in the edges of the top butt joints. These are 50mm long, 22mm deep and 6mm wide (2 x 7/8 x 1/4in). Drill pairs of 6mm diameter holes through the mortices to take turned pegs. Turn the 6mm diameter dowels with a slight taper to ease entry into the hole. Fit these after assembly and finish them flush with the panel.
Front and back framesSet out the front and back frames taking care to allow for the thickness of the side panels that overlap the back panel but not the front frame. A divider is fitted behind the right hand side muntin. The corresponding muntin in the back frame is 125mm (5in) wide so that when the divider is in place the visible frame is a consistent width around the inside of the cabinet. Tenons are cut on the top and bottom of the vertical pieces making gluing up easier. After years of cutting tenons on the bandsaw, I have now started using a routing jig (diagram). I made this after successfully using much more complicated jigs for a set of chairs. Although it feels slower, overall I think it is quicker because there are fewer operations. Using a slot cutter, rout a 6mm (1/4in) groove around the inside edge of the frame to take the veneered back panel. Seal the panel before assembling the cabinet to make later finishing operations simpler.
Fit the front frame, like the top, with double pegs. Accurate joint making minimises the need to face off assembled frames and means that the components can be sanded prior to assembly. Cleaning up the frames requires paring off the bead of excess glue with a chisel and face sanding with a random orbit sander.
Carcass assemblyThe solid wood end panels, MDF divider and front/back frames are finely tuned to one another. I find that a freshly sharpened general-purpose blade in the bench saw produces excellent results when crosscutting veneered panels. Any problems encountered can be overcome by placing a sacrificial panel of plain 6mm MDF under the veneered piece before sawing and this will prevent the veneer chipping off. Seal all interior surfaces after carefully masking the joints and cut back with 320g silicon carbide paper. I use thinned Polyurethane as a base for both oiled and waxed finishes. My use of Polyurethane is longstanding and I like it for its durability, toughness and compatibility with Danish oil. A small coffee table I made about 20 years ago was finished with it when I was experimenting with finishes for my work. In spite of ten years family (ab)use it looks excellent, maintained only with a regular dressing of beeswax cream.
Useful biscuitsBiscuits are used to join the front frame to the ends. Screw and pellet the ends to the back panel. Biscuit joint the divider to the front frame and back panel. Next fit the bottom panels. Rabbetts are screwed around the bottom inside edges of the cabinet to take these. Those at the ends are slotted to allow for movement. By the time the bottoms have been screwed in place, the whole structure is both stiff and strong.
I was delighted recently to pick up an early edition of The Technique of Furniture Making by Joyce for 50p in a jumble sale. It is interesting to note how much has changed in the past 30 years with the invention of machines such as the plunge router, random orbit sander and biscuit jointer revolutionising the efficiency of small workshops. It is also gratifying that most of the 500 pages of condensed wisdom and advice is still relevant.
The base panels have a 4mm (5/32in) gap for shrinkage at the back again to allow for movement in the solid wood ends. Accurately preparing these is fairly straightforward but it is advisable to use the base panels as templates for the shelves before fitting them.
PlinthPrepare mitre joints for the front of the plinth and butt joints at the back. Again fit biscuits to strengthen the joints and chamfer the outside top edge of the assembled plinth. Plane the plinth and cabinet to a close fit and join them together with anodised stretcher plates. These sit on the underside of the base rabbets.
The same stretcher fittings are used to fit the top.