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I Embark on a Massive Project – Renovating my Kitchen Cabinets

Several years ago, I was interviewed on a woodworking podcast. A common question with such interviews is “What are you working on?” There is also the very similar, “What’s on your bench?” The natural follow-up then is “what do you plan to do next?” At the time, I had contemplated my next project being building new cabinets for our kitchen. Upon telling them this, both of the guys interviewing me let out a collective sigh; it was more like a groan really. I made a mental note of this and asked them about their response. It seems that building kitchen cabinets is viewed by some as a dreaded chore. If you consider the demolition which normally comes with replacing kitchen cabinets, I suspect it could be just that, a dreaded chore. This was not an encouraging moment.

Our house was built in the early 1980s. It is a modest home, a whole lot larger than our starter house, but not as big as others. I think of it as a cottage which is a good name for a house our size. Many years ago, we went through a slight kitchen renovation after a stove top fire. The cabinets were painted and new hardware installed. But the existing door profile is original and this design greatly, greatly dates our kitchen (greatly, greatly, greatly). We have become used to the look, and we seem to always have a good reason to put off this renovation. But, I have continued to think of ways to make this project as simple as possible and a way to keep the kitchen functional during the renovation. I always knew a kitchen reno was coming.

The time for a change

As my wife and I get older, we have felt the need to move to a home better suited to our lifestyle as we age. I am 61 years old, so it is not like I am becoming frail, but we would like a one-level house with a full basement so I can do woodworking and so we have somewhere to hide from tornado warnings. The housing market has been hot and we know this is something we need to do, so a decision was made to sell our house. In advance of putting our home on the market, it is time to update the kitchen and do something about the cabinets.

I contemplated the many options for a renovation:

  • A total replacement of cabinets which I would build and install. This would require demolition of the existing cabinets.
  • Ordering custom cabinets which I could assemble and install. Plus demolition.
  • Leaving the existing cabinet boxes in place and doing something like a re-face of the face frame and order custom doors and drawers.
  • Build custom doors and drawers; paint them and paint the existing cabinets.

After much thought, the last option is the route I went. Since we are going to sell our house, I did not think a whole cabinet tear out and a remodel as a wise option. Same for re-facing our cabinets. A coat of paint will suffice for the cabinet boxes/face frames. I will be making 29 new doors and 5 drawers. And with this option, I hope to avoid this being a dreaded chore (but possibly a chore).

Why so many doors?

Twenty-nine doors sounds like a lot and it is. Part of the renovation will be pulling off the plywood soffit which extends above the upper cabinet doors all the way to the ceiling. The soffit is a piece of plywood which simply encloses the space above the upper doors. I will remove the plywood and build a new face frame turning this area into newly found storage space. There are three sets of upper cabinets and three sets of base cabinets. See the images below…

Note the top row of doors. This is the newly found storage space.
The fridge wall – more new found space at the top.

I’ll discuss my plan for this project in my next post. I’ll go over the new door design which is simple but I’ll add a little style. Also coming up will be the construction method which will involve what I am calling reinforced pocket screws.

Another decision is also what kind of lumber to use. Can I get away with pine or will I need to step it up in quality. The design and materials used will also be impacted by the need to keep the construction method as simple and fast as possible, and since we will be selling the house, high-end (or even moderate) materials will be out.

I’ll get into more details soon.

A Chest of Drawers Using SketchUp Match Photo

A while back, I saw an intriguing piece of furniture on Peter Follansbee’s website. It was a photo of a chest of drawers at a museum somewhere, can’t remember where (see it here). I thought enough of the design that I began creating it in SketchUp. I did not have any dimensions of the original. “No problem,” I thought; I’ll just draw a quick, basic version of it on graph paper, determine the overall dimensions which look right; then create a close representation of it in SketchUp. But, I then lost interest in this idea.

Fortunately Peter built a version of the chest of drawers (hereafter referred as “COD”) and in one of his construction blog posts, he gave it’s rough dimensions. After Peter finished building it, I remembered a seldom used feature in SketchUp called “Match Photo.” I wondered if I could use Match Photo to create an accurate model. With a photo of the finished COD and the dimensions, Match Photo should be able to help me make a model, or could it and how hard would it be? Using this SketchUp feature led to the completed model shown above and below.

The reason for this post is to point out this seldom used feature within SketchUp. When I mention Match Photo, most people don’t know about it, have not used it, or have just a basic understanding of how it works.

Match photo is especially helpful when few dimensions are known. In a furniture design, some dimensions are not all that critical. For example, how far some of the moldings extend outward does not need to be exact, but should be close. Some dimensions are important for the overall scale and proportion. Match Photo helped be in both instances.

The Follansbee COD in SketchUp using Match Photo. Note the black lines of the SketchUp model.

What is Match Photo?

This feature enables the SketchUp user to import an image and then align the origin and three axis so they match the imported photo. With at least one known dimension, you can adjust the 3D field of view to be in scale with the object in the image. Above, note that the green, red and blue axis align with the COD. I then drew a basic box which represented the overall shape of the COD. This box is separate from the photo, but as you can see above, SketchUp blends the two within the workspace on your computer screen.

You can see that this was not a perfect match. Despite knowing approximate height and with of the COD, my 3D model is not quite as wide as Peter’s finished furniture. Match Photo is available in SketchUp Make 2017 and SketchUp Pro. I don’t think this feature is available in SketchUp for Web.

Once I had the overall size established and the COD image imported into SketchUp Match Photo, I could zero in on specific parts and determine their approximate size. For example, I first determined the width of the legs below the base molding. A close look at the photo above shows the black lines I drew on top of the photo which helped me determine size of the side panels and there are lines showing spacing in the upper cabinet. The process was to first draw the lines and then measure them. This was a great exercise to understand the abilities of Match Photo.

Front view.
Note the turned elements throughout the design.
As is typical with my SketchUp models, this one is fully detailed.
There are extensive moldings.
The drawers are an unusual design.

I studied photos from Peter’s website to better understand how the COD was built. Peter’s photo documentation during construction of this chest was extremely helpful in making my SketchUp model mostly accurate. I came away from this exercise with a better appreciation of Peter Follansbee as a woodworker of national importance. His blog is one which is always on my must read list.

More About Match Photo

See the video below and the link below for part 2…

Match Photo, Part One

See this link for the second video on Match Photo.

See my updated SketchUp model page by clicking here.

The Liquor Box, Part 5 Finished

Hey y’all. We left off last time with the box components completed, but not glued together. There remains three steps which need to be accomplished before I can call the box finished.

First, the box lid and the box itself are basically a frame and panel assembly. The sides of the box and lid form the frame and the top and bottom are the panel. The top and bottom are sized to allow for seasonal wood movement and will float within their frames. Due to this, I need to apply the finish to the top and bottom prior to glue-up.

Applying finish means I need to get the top and bottom ready for finish. The material for both is walnut which was sourced from a friend. The board given to me had some of the pith or center of the tree in it. Some of the pith was soft resembling rot, but I’m not sure it was actually decay associated with wood rot. Regardless, I needed to remove a small amount of loose material and fill it prior to finish. And there were additional repairs needed (which gave this material it’s rustic look).

To do this, I turned to Starbond Brown Medium CA glue. I had seen this used as a filler a number of times on Instagram. Combined with an activator, this filler/adhesive dries almost instantly. Upon application, the look is pretty horrible, but ultimately it worked well as a filler…

Filler applied to the bottom of the box. I hope the final look is much better.
Much better after sanding.
This is the top after an application of a clear water based polyurethane.

After multiple attempts to get the finish just right, I saw again how beautiful walnut is. The photo above does not pick up the subtle tones of pink/purple. Again these highlights are subtle, but these hints of color make walnut a truly beautiful wood.

I applied finish to the interior dividers and the interior faces of the ash components and completed the glue-up giving the box its final shape.

Glue-up complete. The box still needs it’s keys and handles.

Adding Walnut Keys

One of the design features of the liquor box are walnut keys or splines used at each corner. This type of joinery is both effective as well as decorative. I think these keys adds a contemporary design element to the box and the fact that the keys will be walnut all the better.

But this step is especially stressful. Imagine all the work leading up to this point only to have the box ruined by an errant cut meant to make way for the keys. Another thing: I have never made this type of joint before. I have no experience here.

To cut the slots for the keys, I needed to make a sled which will hold the lid and box at the correct angle as it moves through my table saw blade. I created a model of the sled in SketchUp which helped me plan this step. Sorry for the bodacious number of photos below, but I think they better explain what I needed to do…

Nervous: ready to cut slots for keys.
Slots cut with no errors. Thin strips of walnut seen will become the keys.
Small pieces of walnut keys being sanded to fit.
Walnut keys glued in place and trimmed with a saw.
Keys planed flush with the outside edge of the box.
Keys installed and a little finish on the ash previewing the final color combination.

All the planning payed off as the keys were installed without any issues; a great relief. And I love the look of the double keys evenly spaced along the corner of the box.

All that remains is a handle for the top which was screwed in place. Then handles for the box ends where were glued on.

The Finished Liquor Box

Here it is. I could not be more pleased…

Careful viewing of the image at the top of this post shows the original walnut handle which had some sapwood along the top. I removed it when I became unhappy with the finish for the lid. I re-finished the lid and decided not to make a design statement with the second handle; no sap wood.

When completing a project, I normally reflect back on the original design, below. Note that all the handles have an additional slender strip attached. This was added afterwards (no photos of it added) helping provide a better grip to the handles.

So, there it is; my first box project. Just like the many other forms of woodworking, box making is its own sub-category of the craft. I would like to continue to make more boxes in the years ahead. I tend to build large projects, so box making is a fun change.