In “My Living Room Wall: Part 1,” I documented the design concepts, the firewood box, and the stone mantel-shelf; now we’re onto the cabinets and shelves.
Installing the tops and trim, the face frames and doors, as well as the tapered columns, took a lot of thought and a lot of time. Other than baseboard molding, I didn’t want to install any scribe molding or trim on top of the face frames, so the wood tops had to go in first. After calling around to a few local lumber mills, I found two 8/4 x 14-in. pieces of old growth Douglas fir, one 16-ft. long, one 14-ft. long. I bought them both: one advantage—besides world-class steelhead fishing—to living in Southern Oregon. From those two boards, I managed to cut both the cabinet tops and all the upper shelves in my living room. But there wasn’t room for even the slightest mistake.
The Cabinet Tops
Gluing together scraps of 1/4-in. plywood with 2P 10, I made templates for both cabinet tops.
|Using a combination of plywood scraps, shims, and hotel card keys, I elevated the templates until they were nearly flush with the stone.
|I ripped a short length of 1 1/2-in. pine to position the templates so that they’d be 3/4-in. proud of the final face frames.
|I started by scribing each template to the stone.
|A grinder was the best tool for the job—the scribe lines were so irregular.
Once the templates fit tight to the stone, I scribed and fit the two wall ends, which was much easier than the stone.
The walls were out of square, but only the front half of each top would be visible—the upper cases would cover the back. Still, I scribed and cut each wall end before gluing it to the template—right in place, so that the templates would be exactly the length of each shelf.
|To be sure the templates didn’t break, sag, or deflect, I glued in an extra support before removing each one.
|The cuts at each wall were easy with a short guide rail and track saw.
|I used the grinder for the scribes at the stone, leaving the front edge square and undercutting most of each scribe line.
|With both tops cut, I tipped them one at a time into place, knowing they’d be a little long.
|The extra length left me enough wood on the front edge to scribe an accurate vertical line to the stone.
|Once the tops fit snug, I started shimming, using 1/4-in. plywood, hotel card keys, and business cards, too. After traveling to more than 200 Katz Roadshows over the last fourteen years, I have a lot of hotel card keys.
The stone wasn’t perfectly flat, but it was pretty dang close.
|In the end, I was using business cards as feeler gauges to determine if I needed to add one more under the wood tops.
Upper Shelves & Face Frames
I didn’t want to apply any spray finishes inside my home, so I prefinished the tops, installed them with screws driven from underneath, and then built the upper cases. I used the same pocket-hole joinery for the upper boxes. For the upper shelves, rather than using flimsy adjustable shelf pins, I cut mortises for dominoes, which was a lot easier than you might think.
I clamped scrap plywood to my worktable, capturing all four sides.
Using a long T-square, I drew layout lines for each row of mortises, then temporarily screwed down a straightedge.
With both cases installed, I was ready for face frames. Because the tapered columns on the mantelshelf would cover the ends of both upper cabinets against the brick fireplace, I didn’t have to worry about the O.D. (outside dimension) of those frames. But I had to be sure the stiles were wide enough to capture the side of each tapered column. I also needed to have enough width on the stiles to scribe the outer edges to each wall, so I made the stiles on the upper cabinets 3 1/2-in. wide, figuring I’d scribe off about 1/2 in. at each wall, and I’d have an extra 1/2 in. at the fireplace. Because I added 1/2 in. to the stiles at each wall, I also added an extra 1/2 in. to the overall width of the face frames, leaving me plenty of wiggle room for scribing. Better safe than sorry.
On the lower cabinets, I made the stiles 3 in. at the fireplace—knowing I had to scribe those stiles to the brick hearth; I made the stiles at the wall 3 3/8-in. wide and added 3/8 in. to the O.D. of the frame, so I’d have enough extra material on both stiles for scribing.
The upper frames were easy to scribe and fit—the side at the fireplace was open, so I simply held each frame against the wall, made sure the inside of the frame was parallel with the inside of the case, then scribed and cut the stiles against each wall.
The frames on the bottom cases were a little tougher. The frames were 3/8 in. too wide, allowing extra room for scribing, so I started by angling each frame in toward the brick hearth, then marked and cut to that scribe line. No, the brick wasn’t that far off, it was pretty straight—I exaggerated the scribe line in this drawing so it would be easier to see in step two.
Next I measured the exact width of what would be the finished frame—measuring from the very top of the hearth, on a level line to the wall. I then marked that measurement on the face frame, hooking my tape measure on the cut scribe line.
The last step was to angle the frame back into the opening against the wall. I spread my scribes to that measurement mark and scribed the shape of the wall onto the frame.
I used a jig saw to cut the scribe lines at the hearth, and a track saw to make the cuts along the wall. Just as I did with the cases and the shelves, I pre-finished the face frames and installed them with pocket screws run from inside the cases, then tied the coffered ceiling into the cabinets. In this progress photograph, taken around Thanksgiving (notice the pumpkin), you can see the mockup I made for the tapered columns. But I had miles to go before I could work on those!
I dry-fit the doors, clamped them together, then used a rabbeting bit to rout ‘off’ the back edge of the 1/4-in. slot in the upper panels, which would enable me to install the upper panels after the doors were finished and installed.
I used Domino tenons to secure the stiles and rails. I learned the hard way that the Domino mortise had to be cut after cutting the 1/4-in. slot, otherwise the bearing guide on the slot cutter could fall into the Domino mortises. I tried my best to stop the 1/4-in. slot cutter at each rail, which wasn’t so tough at the bottom and top rails, but at the mid-rails, sometimes the Domino mortise was cut right through the slot. Fortunately that didn’t matter—the 5m x 30m Domino tenons penetrated deeper than the slot, and the mortises were wider, too, so the tenons still fit snug.
While we were finishing the upper shelves, we stained and finished the panels for the cabinet doors before assembling the doors. I’m still experimenting with the best procedure for finishing doors, a way to avoid getting glue on the thin veneer of the panels, and a way to avoid stain build-up in the corners. Plus, every time I spray pre-cat water borne varnish on Douglas fir plywood veneer, it seems to outgas air bubbles or something, which is easy to fix, just a little sanding before the last two coats of finish. But that sanding is much easier to do if the panels aren’t installed!
You may have caught this detail early on, but I had to hinge both sets of doors toward the walls—none of them could hinge toward the fireplace, otherwise, when opened, they’d be too close to the fireplace, and the doors on the television side would block the TV. Yes, I should have designed the cases for fold-away doors, but having hung a lot of full-size multi-fold doors, I figured I could accomplish the task, and if the doors sagged a little, so what—it’s my own home.
But I used piano hinges to eliminate as much sagging as possible. Installed without a mortise, piano hinges leave a tremendous gap between the doors on the back side of the hinge. So I cut a shallow rabbet in both doors where the hinge barrels pointed inside the case. I didn’t rabbet the doors where the hinges pointed into the room.
I’m not sure how for so many years I managed without a jointer; it’s certainly one of the most important tools in my shop. Once they were assembled, I measured the I.D. of the face frames AGAIN, subtracted 1/8 in. for each hinge and for the gap at the ‘strike’ or ‘lock’ stile, then jointed all the doors down to the proper dimension.
|Rabbeting for the hinges also made it very easy to position the hinges, without worrying about them slipping.
|I used my crown coping jig to hold the doors plumb while I pre-drilled for each screw with a Vix bit, and drove in fasteners. I adjusted the opening on the crown jig each time I added another door to the set.
I knew the doors wouldn’t fit perfectly the first time I hung them, but they were pretty close. Those piano hinges always spread doors apart a lot more than you think they will. All together, the set of doors was almost 3/8 in. wider than the opening, and the set of doors wasn’t perfectly square to the opening either. Instead of trying to scribe corrections on each door, I eyeballed the overall fit and jumped in.
While pre-finishing the cabinet doors, I started experimenting with patinas on copper. I found several sources online, typically a few that were on the ridiculous side. One included instructions for peeing on the copper.
I found another more reasonable method: mix one table spoon of salt, one table spoon of baking soda, and one ounce of household ammonia bleach with a quart of water.
|No matter what method you use to apply a patina to copper, you have to start by cleaning the copper very well, and sanding it lightly. All instructions I read said to sand in one direction, but I used a random orbit sander and 400 paper.
In the end, I chose an acid solution, which was very similar the baking soda and ammonia solution. I started with one quart of water and added some salt. Probably a lot more than tablespoon.
Next I poured in muriatic acid. The instructions said to add 1 oz. of acid. I poured in a little bit more.
|I added a second layer of copper and scattered more sawdust on top, then sprinkled more of the acid solution until the sawdust was good and wet.
I wanted to seal the patina so that it wouldn’t flake off. On my first attempt, I sprayed the panels directly with pre-cat varnish. That didn’t work. The patina separated perfectly from the copper and came off in micro-thin sheets. The next time, I brushed three coats of Zinsser shellac on the copper before spraying the panels with varnish. That worked perfectly!
Each panel is uniquely colored and textured, so after finishing the panels, I removed the doors—again, lined up each set in my shop, then tried to pick a pleasing arrangement of panels.
The panels were cut from a partial roll of 20-oz. copper I bought from a gutter company, which was pretty thick stuff.
As I mentioned earlier, Todd and I went around and around with the design of the tapered columns. I’d always been attracted to tapered columns that included collar moldings and Celtic designs, like this one in New Orleans.
Then, one night in a hotel room, while watching the documentary Muscle Shoals on my laptop, I saw the column of my dreams—tapered newel posts with stepped edges, matching plinths, and the coolest acute-angle pendents I’d ever seen, set off with two lines of half-round molding.
With the copper panels finished, I installed the doors—again, then quickly mocked up one of the tapered columns. My living room sat like that for about a year—that much time passed before I had an opportunity, or the courage, to tackle those columns.
|The pine mock-up helped me figure out exactly how wide to make the sides, which I’d need to scribe into the brick and into the face frames. Once I had those dimensions, I cut the 7/8-in. thick panels with a track saw.
|I cut a 3/8-in. x 3/8 in. rabbet in both back edges of the face panel, which made it much easier to position the sides and maintain a perfect 1/2-in. x 1/2-in. step at each corner.
|The rabbets also provided a good way to temporarily assemble and secure the pieces for each column.
|I didn’t want to fasten the pieces together until they had been scribed and cut, so I clamped them together.
|First I scribed the plinth to the stone, making sure it sat perfectly level before I ran my scribes around the bottom.
|Then I stacked the column on top of the plinth and scribed the back of both sides to the brick.
Cutting the scribe line that abutted the face frame was easy—it was perfectly straight, but the scribe on the brick wasn’t. I positioned the panel under my track, so that I could remove as much waste as possible with the saw.
I set the saw somewhere near a 20-degree bevel, so it would be easy to plane to the scribe line, and so the panels would fit even tighter to the brick.
|Then I planed to the scribe line, holding the planer upside down so I could see the cutter and bring it right to the scribe line by tilting the planer a little more or a little less as I made the cut.
|After all the pieces were cut, I assembled the columns, gluing and clamping the tapered panels together along the 3/8-in rabbets. I used pocket screws to secure the panels to the plinth.
|I made all the plinth cap moldings with a bevel on the back to match the pitch of the tapered column. To make the compound miters easier, I taped up a pitch block to my miter saw.
Cutting all those pieces required more patience than any other part of the whole project. Fortunately, corners formed by the rabbets were exactly 1/2 in. x 1/2 in., but each of the other pieces had to be cut and marked, then cut again, and sometimes again, and a few times thrown away and cut again!
The end result was definitely worth it. Every time I load firewood in the cabinet—from outside the house, I’m thankful for investing so much effort in the design and the installation.
And every time I look at that wall, I’m thankful, too, for all the years I’ve spent learning the craft, and more than anything, all the years I’ve invested in learning patience.