Friday, September 16, 2016

A Bathroom Cabinet, Part 1: Design and Stock Prep

We recently had the upstairs second bathroom renovated and I volunteered to make a wall cabinet.  It's tough to get a decent picture due to the size of the room, but here goes.
Maple sink cabinet, empty wall above toilet
From the other side ...
Some bare real estate above toilet
The space available dictated the size of the cabinet.  My wife wanted the height, including items that may be placed on top of the cabinet, to be about the same as the mirror height.  The width was to be close to that of the toilet's water tank.  Overall the cabinet was to be close to 18" x 18".

My wife looked on the internet for some ideas of what she wanted.  She would find something and I would draw my rendition on Sketchup.  We went a few rounds on this until finally settling on a design she liked.  The first two designs were clearly different from the last two.
Version 1: three shelves
Version 2: two shelves
She had some specific height requirements for the lower shelf, so only two shelves would fit in this configuration.  Then she found some other things on the internet and the next design mimics that.
Version 3: can use the top as a third shelf
Finally, she decided she didn't like the side slats, so the sides became solid.  And I changed the profile of the edges around the top.
Version 4: This looks better
Another view showing the hooks she wants below the lower shelf.
View from below
The sides will be housed in dadoes in the top and the shelves will be housed in dadoes in the sides.  The upper back piece that will be used for hanging the cabinet.  Combined with the lower back piece, these will also add some racking resistance.  The two back pieces will fit into rabbets.

There is something I'm concerned about - the dadoes in the underside of the top will be only 1/4" from the edges.
Rear view of top of cabinet with dadoes and rabbet
I'll have to be very careful cutting these as the 1/4" left on the edge can easily split off.  (OK, they're already successfully cut, but if I had to do this over I'd make the top wider or move the sides in another 1/4").

I had a couple 10-foot maple boards in storage and will be using one for this.  Unfortunately they are a full 1" thick, so I had a lot of planing to do.  I started by breaking them down to more manageable sizes using my Bill Schenher split-top saw bench.
Ripping with the aid of the split in the top of the saw bench
A couple of rough pieces up on the bench
Parts cut to rough shape, stacked and stickered for the weekend
After letting the wood acclimate to my shop for a few days, I started planing.  The top will be 3/4" thick, but all other pieces will be just over 1/2".  Sure wish I had resaw capability of some kind - either a bandsaw or a big frame saw.  Someday I'll make a frame saw from a Blackburn Tools kit.  In the mean time, I made plenty of shavings for Misty to play in.
Misty inspecting the shavings - "Hey, what was that outside?"
The white bag on the left is stuffed tight with shavings, too.

Anyway, my right palm was bruised a little and some blisters were starting on the fingers with all the planing.  I tend to grip the plane tote with a death grip when working hard.  After that my hand feels (and looks) like something from a horror movie.  I ended up altering my grip for some operations to ease the pressure.  When planing across grain using a scrub plane I eased up on the grip like in this picture.
The pushing grip - watch out for the pinky finger, though
And, yes, that's masking tape on one finger to keep blisters from forming.  I got the top to about 13/16" thick and all other parts to 5/8" and let them sit overnight.  Turned out to be a good idea as the narrower boards cupped a little by the next day.
Stacked and stickered again
I did that again the next day, bringing the thinner parts to 17/32".  And I again needed to fix a little cup after letting them sit overnight!

Next time: joinery and shaping


  1. This looks like a nice project Matt. I think all of the design iterations would make fine units. Wow, that is a lot of planing, especially in maple. Rest up, I'm looking forward to seeing your next round of progress.

    1. I can't tell you how tired I was after each day of planing. One day I felt so beat up, like I'd been worked over by some mob henchman. Fortunately that feeling didn't last long.

  2. I like the one with the slats. And definitely put a frame saw on the A list. Planing a 1/2" of maple is a royal PITA not to mention all that wasted wood.

    1. Yeah, I hate wasting anything, especially wood. I hope I can get to making a frame saw later this year or next.

  3. Should be an interesting project, curious to see the final reveal

    1. It's getting close to done - it's dry assembled, though the sides and top edges are not yet shaped. I might have to wait a while to complete the project, as my wife still needs to find hooks that she likes. It'll be easier to put in the hooks before it is glued up.

  4. I like the model with the slats too. It looks like a lot like and Greene & Greene / Arts & crafts piece.

    1. I'm a little concerned that the design we chose will look too "box-y". But it's a learning experience and I can always build something else if I/we don't like it. I kind of liked the slat model, too.

  5. Hi Matt,
    wow. A lot of design considerations. Glad that you could find a design that you both like.
    I like the straighter lines best. I think that will fit the other bathroom interior pretty well.
    Regarding the wood preparation I gone over to prepare not all parts at once.
    Planing down so much material is a lot of effort in such a hard wood. Have done that with Oak and it was not a piece of cake.


    1. Hi Stefan. It's an interesting thought about fitting the piece with the other cabinet in the bathroom. In retrospect I should have thought more about that. Doing a frame and panel construction like the other cabinet could have been more harmonious. But then I'm not sure how I would have incorporated the curve at the bottom. Something to think about for next time.