Medicine Cabinet Build – Casework

Hello and welcome back to my blog for part two of a continuing build to create a pair of Medicine cabinets from white cypress.

I’m currently working on the inner case, the inner case will hold shelving and stand as the foundation for the project, it will have an outer casework attached to it which will hold the door.

I’ve chosen miter edge dovetails for the inner case, the dovetails will be invisible when installed, so I want a mitered edge to show on the inner case.  I begin with layout off all four corners, I layout the tails and baselines.  I will use the cutout tail board to transfer my layout onto the pin board and any inconsistencies in my cutout will be accounted for.


I begin my saw work by cutting to the line with a dozuki saw, you may notice my slight tapering of the dovetails (from outside to inside) which will make for very tight dovetails, something which softwoods will accomodate.


The waste has been sawn away and what remains is to cut down to the baseline with a chisel.  I am using a shinogi shape chisel, meant for use with a gennou, but doing so by hand.  I’m cutting from the inside of the board to the outside because only the inside will be visible.  Ideally I will have a perfect baseline, but if any inconsistencies are visible I would prefer them on the outside of the case, in this instance.




Next I have rough sawn my miters and I’m setting up a paring block to trim them to the line.




I’ve transferred my marks, cutout my pin board much in the same way as the tailboard and have trimmed my miters all the same, it’s time to see how they come together.


Looking decent, minor misalignment which will disappear in the glue-up in this instance.

And the outside of the case looks good as well, though it will disappear into the wall.  Rinse and repeat three more times and we’re well on our way.


Next I begin the inner case work by laying out and cutting grooves that will hold the shelves and back panel.  The back of the case is not mitered so I will have to make the groove in the top of the case as a stopped groove.  I could simply cut it clear through, but I would prefer not to have the error visible to those who may remove this from the wall in years to come.  I use a grooving plane for this work and do so with a batten.


The sides are complete, now onto the topped groove for the top.  I use a mortise gauge (Kibiki) to apply the layout lines, much in the same way I did for the side grooves.  I follow this by chopping a series of cuts, then going back over those cuts until all of the waste is broken up.  I then use my chisel on the bevel to remove the waste (much like a plane).  I am careful to follow the grain when I do this in order to minimize the risk of excessive tearout.  I trim the sides with a knife (Kiridashi) to get a sharp line.


I followed this up, much in the same way as the side grooves (except, crossgrain) to create grooves that will hold the shelves.


This case will spent its life in a high humidity environment, in order to minimize the risk of it separating at the connection between the shelves and the case sides I’ve decided to use through tenons along with dados to secure the shelves.  They will be wedged on the outside of the case to ensure that they do not come loose in the future.

I use my kibiki gauges to mark the shelves and transfer those marks to the case, then transfer knife marks to the outside of the case.  I will be paring away waste and want to ensure that I do not chip out the outside of the case.


These are fairly small square tenons, I started by drilling the waste then followed up by paring the remaining waste out.



Now that the mortises are shaped I cut the tenons.  I start by sawing the lines, then coping out the waste.


Then follow up by paring to the baseline.  In order to gain leverage over the work, I’ve moved to my saw bench, the lower height also makes it much easier to maintain perpendicular to the work.  On a thicker piece I would use a paring block as any inconsistency will be visible.  On this piece it is 1/4″ thick so any inconsistency can be touched up with the chisel.


I rinse and repeat three more times.  In order to maintain the case width I do a test fit to make certain that the case sides are not bulging, if they are it requires new baselines to be laid out and then further paring to trim back to the lines.  That was the case here, and it required me to trim back by 1/32″.  It may seem very minor, but will alter the fit of the outer case and interfere in the glue up.  I will be gluing the dovetails (they require glue), but if you will notice they are oriented in a way in which the wedged shelves will also prevent them from pulling apart if ever the case sides should attempt to cup.

Prior to assembly I chamfer all edges which will not be surrounded by the outside case and after assembly I finish plane then chamfer any edges which could not be otherwise chamfered.

The wedges are then inserted and finally cut flush.  I use glue to help retain the wedges.  The wedges are made using a material harder then the case to help create an interference fit between the shelves and case sides.


The inner case can now be planed to a finish, outside edges trimmed flush and chamfers touched up with a chisel.  It’s important to keep an eye on grain direction when using a chisel to detail a case.

I’ve processed the material that will be used for the outer case, saving the best material for this section.  This material is quarter sawn, clear and straight grained, it planes beautifully and will be the major visible component of the case.

You may notice that I sand nearly nothing.  All of my finished surfaces are created with a plane, plane blades when finally honed can create an incredibly smooth surface often much better than those created by sand paper.  Sanding mottles the grain, but planing creates a shimmery effect which is stunning, this is especially noticeable in softwoods.


I’ve laid out and began cutting the first dovetail for the outer case.


This is where I will leave off for today, I hope you enjoyed your visit.

Medicine Cabinet – Casework Part II

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