Floor cabinet

A plywood box forms the heart of this project, while face features add style and grace

By Steve Maxwell


Photo by Roger Yip

If there are kids in your life, you’ve probably eaten more than your fair share of fundraising chocolates, citrus fruit and cookie dough. But worse than the prospect of eating that tenth giant chocolate bar is the thought of selling it-and deliverance from that fate, along with raising money for a local nursery school, is why I built this project. Since building two projects is as easy as building one, I doubled the recipe and kept one for myself.

My design incorporates three features that I like in a cabinet: all four sides are finished; all sides are solid-wood frame-and-panel assemblies; and a hand-carved detail graces the door and attracts the eye.

Before getting started, note that the materials list includes measurements for all the project parts but only the inner box parts should be cut to the sizes listed. The other part sizes are estimated dimensions. Cut these parts to fit as they’re built.


Build the inner box

First, cut the inner top, bottom, sides, shelf and back to size. Cap the front edges of the three horizontal parts with strips of solid wood. This hides the exposed plywood edges. Seal the inner plywood box faces with two coats of urethane before putting the box together-it's easier this way and there's less chance of missing any drips that remain on the final surface. Plunge the slots for #20 biscuits through the urethane and assemble. Wipe away any glue squeeze-out from the sealed surface and attach the back panel using only finishing nails only. The back edges will be hidden by solid wood.

Stile and rail secrets

Stand the plywood box upright on your workbench before cutting and fitting the stiles and rails. Cut the eight corner stiles to length and width first, then saw 45° angles along one edge of each stile using a tablesaw. Join the matching pairs of stiles with glue and masking tape. Before the glue dries, draw a screwdriver shaft along the length of the mitred corner. The pressure of the screwdriver shaft closes any small unsightly gaps that would otherwise stand out on the finished cabinet. Remove the glue squeeze-out from the inside corner of the mitres and set aside to dry.

Next, cut the side, back and door panels to size. Cut the pieces 1/2" larger than the measurements in the materials list-fine-tune these later after measuring the stiles and rails.

Remove the tape and clamp the corner stile assemblies to the plywood box. Next, measure and cut the rails to fit between them. Butt joints work well here because they're easy to strengthen with biscuits, floating tenons or dowels. Cut the rails 1/32" longer than needed, then loosen the clamps and fit the rails between the corner assemblies.

Once the rails are fitted on all four sides, mill 1/4"-wide by 1/2"-deep panel grooves along the inside edges of the stiles and rails with a table-mounted router and fence. Strengthen the joints with either biscuits, floating tenons or dowels.

Low-tech, high-style cabinet panels

Clamp the stiles and rails onto the cabinet again, one side at a time. Measure the length and width of the panel openings, down to the bottom of the stile and rail grooves. Determine the right panel size by subtracting 1/16" from the smallest top-to-bottom measurements and 1/8" from the side-to-side width of the openings.

I make raised panels with an ordinary benchtop tablesaw and a hand plane, even though I have a big router that could easily spin a panel-raising bit. The reason I do this is appearance-long, slim and flat-faced bevels on panel edges look great and can't be reproduced with a router.

To duplicate this panel-raising method, tilt the tablesaw blade 15° from vertical. Set the saw fence to leave 1/4" of wood at the narrowest part of the taper and rip around all four panel edges. Then, fine-tune the rough bevel with a hand plane. My saw isn't big, but it can still handle these cuts in a single pass using a sharp blade. If your saw struggles with the cut, lower the blade and make each cut in two passes.

Next, draw reference lines on the face of each panel, a little further in than the farthest reach of the bevels. These are planing guides, and help create a consistent bevel. Clamp a single panel to the edge of your bench with an end-grain side sticking out over the edge. Smooth the bevel face with a razor-sharp jack plane, working from one side of the panel to the other. You have three goals as you do this: smooth the bevel; increase the bevel width so it extends to the pencil lines; and make the outer edge of the bevel thin enough to fit into the stile and rail grooves. It's a trial-and-error technique, so stop every few strokes and test-fit a stile or rail over the panel edge.

When all the panels are completed, hand sand the bevels and faces with 240-grit sandpaper. Dry-fit the parts once more, then assemble permanently onto the plywood box with glue and pipe clamps. Stain the edge-grain panel edges before assembling to conceal any new wood that might become exposed as it shrinks over time.

Veneered top

Build the top starting with an oversized piece of cabinet-grade plywood. Cover the plywood with 1/4"-thick solid wood veneer sliced on a tablesaw. Edge glue the veneer together and apply to the plywood base with more glue. Once dry, trim the top to size and add the mitred top trim. Secure this with glue and clamps, then after the glue has dried, plunge slots for #20 biscuits across the bottom faces of the joints. Secure the top to the cabinet with more biscuits or dowels before adding the top cove moulding.

Apply the mouldings

Mouldings add visual interest to the cabinet. Add them to the foot base, skirt, bullnose door opening trim and top cove moulding. I milled my own mouldings, with the exception of the top cove. Use a combination of moulding profiles that makes sense with your router bit collection.

Applying the mouldings is standard cabinet work; proceed around the cabinet, taking measurements as you go and cutting all the moulding pieces to size. Fasten the mouldings with glue and as few nails as possible.

Make the door

Measure the door opening and add 1/8" to the width and length. Build the rails, stiles and panel to suit. If you plan on carving the door panel (See “Carving Your Niche,” next page), practice on some scrap first. Carve the panel before beveling the panel edges. That way, if you do mess up, you won't lose as much. Once completed, plane the oversize door to the final size for a perfect fit.


To duplicate my blue, antiqued finish, start by applying a coat of medium-brown stain. Once dry, add two coats of blue milk paint. Simulate worn areas by rubbing through to the underlying brown. Seal the whole finish with two coats of water-based urethane, sanding lightly between each.

Carving your niche

The incised carving in the door is easier to make than it looks. Start with a compass and draw a 2 3/4"-rad. circle. Next, move the compass point to the top of the circle (don't change the radius setting) and scribe an arc from one side of the circle to the other. Move the point of the compass again, this time to one of the intersection points around the outer circle, and draw another arc. Continue moving and drawing this way until all the petals are complete.

Open the compass to 3 3/4" and draw another series of arcs from the same pivot points at the outer tip of each petal. Make these arcs short, though, so they form the two sides of each incised triangle.

Finish the layout by drawing a 2 1/4"-rad. circle from the centre of the pattern to define the outer side of each triangle, and a second outer circle 3/16" larger than the first.

For carving you'll need three tools: a 45° V-shaped parting tool; a 3/8"-wide #5 gouge; and a 3/8" skew chisel. Start by defining the outer circle with your parting tool, always staying between the two circular lines. Next, chisel grooves along the centre of each petal, running from the centre to the outer edge of the circle. Widen these grooves with vertical cuts down toward the centre of the petal using the gouge. Alternate back and forth between the parting tool and the gouge, continually deepening and widening each petal until they are nearly as deep as they are wide. Complete the triangles in a similar way, then sand the area around the carving to remove stray layout lines.

Tools & Materials

Part Material Size (T x W x L*) Qty.

Inner Box

Inner bottom, top, shelf birch ply 3/4" x 10 1/2"* x 15 3/8" 3
Inner sides birch ply 3/4" x 10 1/2" x 35" 2
Inner back birch ply 1/4" x 17" x 35" 1

The Door

Door panel pine 3/4" x 10 1/2" x 24 5/8" 1
Top door rail pine 3/4" x 2 1/4" x 9 3/4" 1
Bottom door rail pine 3/4" x 2 3/4" x 9 3/4" 1
Door stiles pine 3/4" x 2 1/4" x 29 1/8" 2
Bullnose edging pine 1/4" x 7/8" x 96"** 1

Outer frame

Front corner stiles pine 3/4" x 1 3/4" x 35" 2
Side, back corner stiles pine 3/4" x 2" x 35" 6
Side rails pine 3/4" x 2" x 7 7/8" 4
Side panels pine 3/4" x 8 5/8" x 30 1/4" 2
Front, back rails pine 3/4" x 2" x 14 3/4" 4
Back panel pine 3/4" x 14 7/8" x 30 1/4" 1
Back, front base skirts pine 5/8" x 2 5/8" x 19 1/2" 2
Back, front base caps pine 7/16" x 3/4" x 19 1/4" 2
Back, front base feet pine 5/8" x 3" x 20 1/2" 2
Side base skirts pine 5/8" x 2 5/8" x 13 1/8" 2
Side base caps pine 7/16" x 3/4" x 12 3/4" 2
Side base feet pine 5/8" x 3" x 14" 2
Top base ply 3/4" x 10 3/4" x 17 1/8" 1
Top veneer pine 3/16" x 10 3/4" x 17 1/8" 1
Side top trim pine 3/4" x 1 1/2" x 14" 2
Front, back top trim pine 3/4" x 1 1/2" x 20 1/4" 2
Front, back cove mould. pine 3/4" x 3/4" x 19 1/2" 2
Side cove moulding pine 3/4" x 3/4" x 13 1/4" 2

*width includes solid wood edging
** total length required

* Length indicates grain direction

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Floor cabinet

Illustration by Len Churchill

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