Over the winter I worked on the remodel of a large house built in 1916 as one of the original homes in the planned community of Shaker Heights, Ohio. Part of the remodel included removing some old walls and doorways, including some 100 year old framing studs. As these studs were simply tossed into the debris pile, I fished them out and took them home. They looked about like this one, but many had flush sawed nails in them that were a real challenge to remove.
The Linen Cabinet
A linen cabinet was part of the planned remodel, so the topic came up about using some of the old wood as part of the linen cabinet, and can I build it? Well, sure!
This cabinet was to be about 54 inches high and 36 inches wide. It would have an open shelf at the bottom about 15 inches high, and two cabinet doors above about 38 inches high. Originally it would be 13 inches deep, but the homeowner wanted it less deep, about 6 inches. Ok, great but now you will have to roll your towels instead of fold them. That left me with the problem of how to hold a stack of rolled towels in place when the doors were opened.
But more interesting was, how to use the old wood? The cabinet structure really should be hardwood. And since it’s in a bathroom, where the humidity changes greatly during the course of a day, that hardwood should be quarter sawn. Quarter sawn wood moves about half as much as flat sawn wood with moisture content changes, so it was settled, I’ll use quarter sawn white oak for the cabinet body and face frame. The old pitch pine studs would become the panels in the frame and panel doors. This sounds like fun.
Building The Panels
I cleaned up two gnarly studs on my cheapo jointer and cut them in half. Then I resawed them on the bandsaw into three half inch thick boards and jointed them on a good jointer. I laid each set of three out on a table and looked for the best book match faces and saved those two. The third went into a wood rack for some other project. Once I had selected 4 pairs of boards, I laid them out on a table to find the best orientation to get two book matched panels. One board from each pair went into each panel. Not bad, even the nail holes are book matched!
These pictured above are already glued up so I spared you the tedious process of filling all those nail holes and knot holes with epoxy. Over. And over. And over.
The rest of the house has flat panel doors, so the outside shows a flat panel and the inside has a raised panel. The rails and stiles are quarter sawn white oak.
I was able to find some very nice white oak from a couple of sources. Some was super figured with very prominent medullary rays, which is sort of the white oak trademark.
Some of these were almost an inch thick so that gave me some room to joint out the bow, and the cup, and the twist, although it took some elbow grease since I had to hand plane the last half inch that my 6 inch jointer couldn’t reach.
So, the cabinet gets put together. Behind the doors were supposed to be three adjustable shelves. I altered that in order to provide my solution to the rolled towels falling on the floor problem – vertical slats to keep them in. The vertical slats required a fixed shelf as a bottom attachment point. I raised that shelf high enough that two rows of toilet paper could be stacked underneath the towel bin. I also made two shelves that can be used behind the slats if you wish.
You are looking from the bottom up, and I have placed the face frame on top to check for fit. You can see the slats and the euro style holes for the adjustable shelves. Also, I prefinished the parts in this cabinet. That face frame was just about to get prefinished as well.
The Completed Assembly
I was able to find 1/4″ book matched white oak plywood for the back, and that completed the wood materials requirement. The doors I fastened using Blum “euro style” soft close hinges. Pretty nice. For the knobs I chose clear acrylic that looks like the old glass knobs of the era.
With this shelf arrangement it can store six bath towels. The thin slats were placed where they can hold a smaller 26 inch towel, but a much larger 34 inch towel will fit too. Up top is a beach towel from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki, so you could store very large body towels as well.
The exterior finish was intended to match the very dark finish of the rest of the house, but getting white oak that dark is really difficult. I used some old Indian tricks to get it this dark, but it still is not as dark as the rest of the house because, I think, it isn’t 100 years old yet.
The picture below shows the raised panel on the inside and a better view of the Blum hinge. You have to look really hard, buy you can also see the vertical line of holes for the adjustable shelves
Note the middle slat has two brass screws at the bottom so a shelf can be added or removed. The slat fits into a rectangular pocket at the top of the cabinet, and can be easily pulled out. Also note the cathedral pattern on the back that is centered in the cabinet. That’s why it’s so important to use book matched plywood for nice cabinets.
Lastly, a view of the shelves inside the cabinet. The stain is much lighter here, so you can see the figure. It’s amazing. These were really nice pieces of wood. Note the chamfer on the front edge of the shelves.
What I Learned
The basics of cabinet making is not difficult, but custom projects often take me into areas where I don’t have a lot of experience, and one of those is using finishes. I have done a lot of finishes; wipe on stains (like this), sprayed lacquer, shellac, and alcohol based stains, rubbed shellac (french polish), as well as varnishes and urethanes, but pushing the limits has not been my thing. To get the darkness of this stain I consulted with a well known furniture finisher and antique repairer who showed me a lot of his work and gave me some very good tips.
I also learned that custom projects can move slowly. There is so much thought that goes into detail that you never expected, like the vertical slats. I was planning to dowel and glue them all in until I realized the shelves would be too long to fit. And how wide is a towel anyway? And how high is a roll of toilet paper?
Come to think of it, I should have written those numbers down somewhere.
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