Finally getting to the end on this house renovation. This week I got to finally work with some wood, albeit only plywood.
The front bedroom needs some built-ins in the alcoves to right and left of the chimney breast. I’ve already made some plinths, because the idea is to stand cabinets in the holes, rather than try to deal with hanging shelving onto the wall. The walls in these corners are in quite bad shape, as is often the case with older houses. The walls elsewhere are great, but one had to be entirely re-plastered.
I built the cabinets with birch ply and have routed out the rear to accept a ply back board. I did all this on a rare sunny day in London and I have to admit I was very pleased I’ve recently invested in a secondhand Festool router, (so old it’s actually pre-Festool and called Festo). I also have a secondhand TS55 plunge saw from Festool and these two tools are worth their weight in gold for this type of work. All the sheet stock is now prepped to size and I lipped the shelves with tulipwood, so that you don’t see the raw ply edges. The shelves have had two coats of clear varnish.
When I get to put the cabinets together, (I don’t have a Domino), I’ll screw the main parts together and maybe even screw the shelves in too. Not sure they’ll need to be moved much, so might avoid doing the shelf-pin-hole thing. I figure I’ll then add pocket holes around the outside and once I’ve sized up for a face frame to hide the cabinet edges, I can attach in that way.
Only other decision is whether I should attached the doors to the face frame, or size the face frame so it’s nearly flush and add hinges to the inside of the box in the conventional way.
Any thoughts on both methods would be appreciated. The first method will require some proper face-frame hinges and would also require face-frame material of a good quality. Something like maple with good strength, which would be more resilient to knocks. I could circumvent this by going down the second route, the face-frame being decorative with Euro-style hinges attached to the box. I’ll have to decide on this.
Fairly busy with the day job at the moment, but in my spare time I’ve been reading some excellent woodworking books and been giving a bit of thought to how things open and close. The drawings and captions below are from the excellent ‘Woodwork Joints’ by William Fairham. Very interesting to see some variations in shutting joints described in details. So often you get your best impression of a piece of cabinetry by how well the doors or drawers close. I like the attention to detail and variation in these closing joints.
One of the other books I’ve been reading is the superb ‘Modern Practical Joinery’ by George Ellis. In his book, Mr.Ellis writes with great clarity about on airtight case work. If you are one of those people (like me), who spends as much time studying the superb cabinets in museums as studying what’s inside them, it’s a very interesting chapter. I’ve made a pdf for download if you are interested to see it, as the book is now out of copyright.
I’ve seen various moulding planes over the years that can help you achieve dustproof joints and recently saw a lovely set of airtight case moulding planes, which I wish I had bought. If you have a proper set (they need to be paired planes), then I would be interested in seeing them. For the time being I’ll have to swoon over this lovely line-up until another set surfaces somewhere…
I would also be very keen to have the chance to study some good quality airtight cabinets built from the late 19thc and to take some photographs of details. Perhaps someone can help with access to the basements of London’s museums, or a kindly antique dealer might have a few dismantled carcases stored in a room. I know the renowned makers Holland & Sons of Mount St were supposedly charged with making good cabinets for some of London’s museums. However, the last time I saw some of their work for sale, the prices suggested there won’t be many of those left lying around!
In the meantime, big thanks to a reader of the blog by the name of Tom Kenyon. He read this post and suggested other readers might benefit from reading the chapter on making airtight cases from Volume 7 of The Modern Carpenter and Joiner and Cabinet Maker edited by G Lister Sutcliffe and published in 1902. He’s right, the drawings are superb and are paired with excellent explanatory copy. He has been kind enough to provide me with scanned pages as a downloadable pdf (10.5mb). Thanks Tom. (I think this is out of copyright now, so is ok to share for educational purposes).
Pictures below show a group of 9 airtight case-making moulding planes by MOSELEY of London, part of a private MOSELEY collection.
The gentleman’s ‘curio cabinet’ of the 19th century was developed and enlarged by museums to house their exhibits. Well before the days of air conditioning and effective chemical methods of conservation the main emphasis was placed on reducing the flow of air and associated dust and damp which could otherwise lead to the decay or degradation of fragile exhibits. Hence the airtight joint was adopted by the museum sector.
This group includes a set of three planes to make single joints plus a set of three to make double joints. Because of the accuracy required all planes were fenced. A fourth plane, the combined hollow and fillet, was used to form a separate piece inserted to the head and foot of the case and forming a stop.
The other type of plane required to form the joints where the door stiles meet is the hook joint plane, this group includes the two fully boxed and long brass fenced examples shown above and below.
Airtight planes sometimes appear, mainly as single items and rarely in completes sets in excellent condition such as these.
Further details on airtight case-making and these specialist planes by Mark Rees can be found in The Tool and Trades History Society’s Journal No.4 from 1987.