Saturday, January 23, 2016

Which Surfaces are Important? A New Kitchen Cupboard

I spend a great amount of time making sure that all the surfaces of my planes are quite refined. These surfaces come under great scrutiny and so justify the time spent. No so with furniture making.

When you commence the building of a piece or furniture or cabinetry you should evaluate it’s style and use when determining how much work any given surface requires.

Even on higher styled pieces of furniture there are surfaces that quite frankly just don’t need to be refined to a very high degree. As we look at cabinetry that is used in a more work a day situation it becomes even less important.

How many times have you spent an extraordinary amount of time refining a surface only later to apply a finish that raised the grain of that surface which required sanding to level the raised grain only to realized that this same work would have been required no matter how much you worked the surface prior to applying that finish? In other words you did an unnecessary amount of work.

In an 18th or 19th century joinery shop any workman observed spending time refining non show surfaces would have been warned and then most likely have been dismissed if he persisted in this action.

I guess there may have been situations or designs that required refinement of interior surfaces but in most cases those surfaces would have been left as they were from the jack plane.

A display cupboard with glass in the doors, or an open hutch section would have been an exception, however any surface that faced to the wall would have been left un-refined. As an example, the walnut clock I recently completed had back boards that were finished only on the side facing the interior of the cupboard. The backs of those boards were left with the finish right off the re-sawing blade from the bandsaw. In many cases in history even the interior surface may have been left rough as well. I felt I was justified refining the interior surfaces considering a person would in fact see that surface approximately every 14 days when the clock needed to be re-wound and set. However those would not have been considered show surfaces in earlier centuries and that labor would have been saved for the decoration of the exterior of the piece.

It seems I read about a cabinet maker that made the statement " I always thought if I ever had the chance to put my hands on a piece made in the Goddard and Townsend shop that I would never wash my hands again, once I had this experience I was so dismayed with the roughness of the interior of the piece I decided to wash my hands of the entire experience." That may not be the word for word quote but you get the idea of what I'm trying to express. Even the highest styled furniture of the day did not have highly processed secondary surfaces.

When I saw the picture above I had to wonder if this drawing began as a piece of art work and maybe the pressing need to complete the piece caused it to be included as a back board or if this bit of artwork was applied after the fact. I thought this was quite the curiosity.

Today I started a storage cupboard for our kitchen. We’ve used a hanging corner cabinet in our kitchen in the space where this new piece will reside. The corner cabinet stays tucked in the corner and doesn’t interfere with traffic flow in the kitchen, however corner cabinets are not the most efficient storage devices. Frankly there were some common kitchen devices we would have enjoyed using in our kitchen but we refrained from acquiring them because we just had no where to store them.

My first inclination was to build a free standing corner cupboard that would afford more storage in the space wasted underneath the wall hung unit presently presiding.

After giving this idea more thought I concluded that a shallow rectangular shaped cupboard would most likely provide more efficient storage.

As Julie and I developed this idea thru comments and conversation we decided on a simple piece that would receive a Cape Cod red exterior and a colonial yellow interior.

I spent one weekend afternoon gluing up some pine panels for this piece and as I began flattening and refining the glued up panels it caused me to think about what surfaces should be well refined as show surfaces and which are the surfaces that are only relative to joinery or to creating an environment for a box of cereal or small kitchen appliance. Excessive work on these surfaces would certainly be a waste and I should probably save that effort for work on show surfaces and pieces made from my best hardwoods.

There were 2 high spots across the width of this panel

As I mentioned this will be a painted piece so I glued up the side panels from some already surfaced pine. The next day as I began to work these surfaces I didn't just randomly start cross traversing the surface. I checked the surface with a straight edge to determine where work was needed. In the picture above I planed across the width of the panel because there was actually 2 high spots present across the width of the board. When these were mostly removed I planed down the length of those areas and then in order to promote adhesion of the paint I sanded the panel with 150 grit sand paper. This is the inside surface of the side so I was done. The interior surface needed no further refinement.

This side showed a high area along the glue line

The outside of the panel only showed a ridge right along the glue line. I leveled the ridge by planing across the ridge with a smoothing plane. A couple passes down the ridge area with the grain, some sanding with 150 grit and once again the surface prep to this side was completed.

The surface of this panel showed only slight misalignment along the glue joint

This surface only showed a slight misalignment at the glue line so an even smaller plane leveled this area very quickly. More sanding with 150 grit and these pieces were ready to be sized and the back edge rabbeted for back boards.

My point in all this explanation is when working with pre-surfaced material you only need to remove the problem areas after glue up. Not every panel has to be cross traversed with a jack, planed with a jointer and then worked with a smoothing plane. If there is a problem area on the board, remedy that and move on. 

On another note. When myself and other plane makers demonstrate planes at woodworking events we typically set smoothing planes to take a very light see thru shaving. This is to show how high a standard the plane is made. You would really only use the plane set in that way for the most figured woods. In most cases you should set the plane to take a comfortable shaving but thick enough to expedite the completion of the work at hand.

If you think I'm suggesting that you use your planes out of context, or do less than your best work, that's really not the case at all. Remember that in this case we are working with previously surfaced stock. No need to repeat work already done.

The next day the sides were joined to the interior panels and a face frame was made and glued to the other parts that make up the case. This piece is progressing rapidly.

Here you can see the shape of the foot. I've reinforced the join at the very bottom of the foot with a glue block on the inside surface. This area is vulnerable to damage so the extra work here is justified. You may also notice that the cross members are fastened to the dividing panels with cut nails. Not only do cut nails give a certain look to the piece they are highly functional fasteners.

More as I progress to the details of the exterior and the moving parts of the cupboard.


I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.

                                                                                    Martin Luther King, Jr.

1 comment:

  1. Looking good Ron. Anxious to see the rest. All my best to you and Julie.