James Krenov’s Tasmanian Blackwood Cabinet my way…

I wasn’t even really looking for this type of work years ago, I just know that I felt lost in furniture making, I needed something that felt familiar, that I could improve upon and go somewhere with. Going to Inside Passage and learning from a true Master who was trained by Krenov gave me new hope. Reading Cabinetmakers Notebook was a revelation, it was the right message at the right time of my life, this is the work that interests me now. Maybe it is not the most practical, but it is inspiring and enjoyable building this way. Nothing overly complicated, just humble good work with respect to material and of course the use of fine tools. Welcome Schooner into the tribe.

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I wanted to push myself on this build so I decided on doing the cabinet in Veneer and lighting it.  I knew it would be a lot of work and would take forever, and it did. A while back I had ordered 100 bdft of English Brown Oak to do this cabinet in, but I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off, so really this cabinet is..well…a well built mock-up- if you can believe that. The Brown Oak is super old and I wanted no mistakes. I have learned so much building Jim’s cabinet. The Oak sits in my home shop waiting for me to begin something like this again…


I left the Alder interior unfinished. The natural wood smell is wonderful when the door is opened. I oiled the exterior and applied a wax. I also had glass shelves cut for the cabinet if it is ever used as a liquor cabinet.



Handmade Aluminum Door Pull came out pretty nice.

Schooner weird angle good




Continuing on, here we go…


A nice detail shot of the door edge, bridle joint, applied edges and rabbet. Applied edges have been softened and all the veneer work done. Although I made the applied edges thick enough to rout some sort of profile, I decided against further embellishment and left it “el natural”.   The edge of the door is hidden by about 3/16″ which allows for some possible future wind in the door; it also helps to soften the look.


It was time to start thinking about a back panel. I had run out of the Alder (whoops) but I did manage to find something similar in my local hardwood store (aka my school shop) Thankfully, a piece left over from a student project worked well.  I framed the panel in Walnut. The alder panel is about 1/2″ thick and is made up of 5 pieces.


A long time ago, in a far away post of mine, I showed fellow woodworkers this little trick. By finding center of both the panel and the frame and drilling and notching a small cut out you can place a piece of dowel in the frame to help keep the panel centered in the groove throughout the seasons. The nail is my homemade dowel center which places a center point mark on the panel so I know exactly where to notch it. Then I remove the cut nail and drill for the appropriate sized dowel. In this case a 3/16″ dowel  worked just fine.


Did some finishing with shellac on the inside of the door frame and oil on the front. Not a good idea to use any sort of oil finish inside a cabinet as the smell of oil in an enclosed space will always be somewhat nasty to whomever opens the door. Shellac has no odor after it has cured. I also started fitting the glass stops. I used brass nails, but once I hung the door and was taking another look at the stainless steel knife hinges, I thought the brass looked kind of odd. Took out all the brass Eustachian pins and used nickel ones instead.


Hung the door and finally tested the strength of the knife hinges. This door is heavy but it glides open and close effortlessly. I am actually quite surprised on how much weight these little knife hinges can support. Upon looking at this picture I realized that the upper and lower glass stops needed some further reduction and tapering. Off to the block plane to fix that 🙂


It was time for the mock up of the stand. There was only one 90 degree joint  in the whole stand, regardless it was nice to be working in solid wood.


Floating tenons, the only way to do curved joinery. Glad I made a full sized template based off the bottom of the cabinet for all this curved joinery.


Very important to do these mock-ups so one can get a feeling of what looks right and what needs some re-thinking. I knew it would be important to make the stand as substantial as the cabinet. When drafting out the stand I added a bit of extra width and length to the stand so it had the appearance of being larger than the cabinet. I thought about tapering the legs  but I really wanted to keep the solid look of the leg. Sometimes simple is better.


Then everything again in Walnut. Picking straight grain required some considerable grain choices, Walnut is not the most cooperative wood for this.


Marking cuts and angles direct from the shop drawing.


Using this Veritas set up block allowed me to bring each angle on the aprons up to the blade exactly where I needed to cut it.  I couldn’t tell you the angles, but every cut  worked out beautifully. A riser block, a clamp and this set up block was all i needed.


While I was working on the stand at home I took some prep time at school to use the metal lathe and milling machine to make a door pull out of Aluminum. If it works out I may make one in stainless to match the stainless knife hinges.



A little curvery added to match the cabinet.


Stand in Walnut, still need to run a 1/4 cove around the top outside edges. This will give the cabinet a bit of a floating feeling over the stand, hopefully 🙂


Schooner sitting on the stand, I still need to make brass hardware to fasten the cabinet to it. I also need to make the battery access panel and engrave the door pull with a schooner engraving of some sorts. Stay tuned for final photography on this one.

Electronics and Woodworking

I have always had an interest in lighting up a cabinet, but I didn’t want to have a cord coming out of the back or down the leg so it could be plugged in. It had to be battery powered and use little voltage so the battery would last. The battery compartment would also have to be hidden, and all wiring invisible. Bulbs also had to have the  capability of being replaced if they burned out. It was a bit of thinking and relying on something I made many years ago in an electronics course I took while being trained as a shop teacher.


Small 3mm soft white led lights (used in scale HO trains) perfect for the liquor cabinet.


Working on the wiring channel. I plan on routing deeper and placing the wires in a flexible plastic tube. I will later cover the whole thing up with JB Weld and veneer over top of it.


The lights follow the curve and are operated by a hidden micro switch which will turn the lights on when the door is opened and off when closed. The switch will be hidden by a Krenov style spring loaded door catch.


Once the circuitry was completed, I turned my attention to all the offsets and edge details I need to complete so the cabinet appeared Walnut from the outside and  Alder for the inside.


Something beautiful about using a well tuned plane and getting full width shavings which show off the lumber core assembly.


Rabbeting the front left side panel so the door edge will be somewhat hidden. It’s a nice detail but since everything was curved already I had to trap the panel at the correct angle so the rabbet was square to the edge.


Completing applied edges in Walnut to hide the lumber core. Three layers of cork on these cauls distributed proper pressure for a seamless look.


Looking a lot more like solid wood now 🙂


Then some early morning burnishing to polish the surfaces. The wood, not the Mustang 🙂


Milled a rebate into the back part of the cabinet to receive the back panel. Seeing all the layers of wood reminds me how much work was involved in making this cabinet. Not something you want to mess up on.


Began the door levelers for the bottom. Since the door will be a heavy beast I did 3 as Krenov did on the Tasmanian Black-wood Cabinet he built.

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Really happy with how this cabinet is turning out. Stay tuned!

Lumber Core and Veneer

Hey folks here’s an update on 14, which I think I will rename Schooner, more on that later. I have been busy this summer with veneer and all the nuances of making it, and as the title suggests, the hand made plywood it attaches to. It is a long process, but one that gives the builder ultimate control over surfaces and grain.


The veneered side panel, made up of  5 strips of Walnut of varying widths. No book matching all slip matched so it looks like one plank of wood.



It begins with a blank of suitable material for making veneer. It is important to save the side cuts so they can be used as solid material for what are called applied edges. If done properly, without too much jointing, it is near impossible to tell if the wood has been altered in any way.


One of the cabinet sides made of poplar, and shaped  to continue the curved nature of this build. Poplar has been rift or quartered cut and then sawn into staves about 2″ wide. It is then edge glued back together so each staves grain opposes the adjacent piece. After shaping, each side panel will be cross banded with a commercial veneer (1/42″). This will eliminate any expansion problems. Finally, the application of the walnut veneer will finish things up. All of this is possible with my lovely little vacuum bag I got from Joe Woodworker. Thanks Joe! I got videos of it at my Instagram feed, @robertallanwhelan


Shaping components by hand can sometimes introduce a bit of wind into a cabinet. I had about a 1/16″ over the span of this rather large cabinet. Not bad me thinks, I took care of that by planing opposite “tight” edges of both sides.


I will hide a bit of the door edge by placing it in a rabbet that will be milled into the left hand side of the cabinet.


The template I used to shape the sides and also a shot of the plywood templates used for drilling jigs. Used 1/4″dowels but probably could have gone with 5/16″, ah well… it’ll all work out in the end.


You can see the cross banding in this shot.


Laying out rabbets on template. Success with all drilled holes on both sides! Plywood templates worked so I’ll be less stressed when it comes time to actually drilling into the top and bottom components.

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Applied edges being test fitted to cabinet sides


It was important to make some angled cauls that distributed even pressure to the applied edges. Looking for gap free joints on both sides to make the veneer seamless.

Stay tuned! lots more to show…..












Cabinet 14




Some of my much loved tools…..

Hey folks, long time no see. So I must admit I am suffering from Instagram addiction, so yeah…that’s where I’ve been.  At the amusement of my wife of course! The tech savy English Teacher extraordinaire who is adept at Twitter and Instagram, Facebook, and of course Plants vs Zombies. She mentioned I am about 5 years behind the times with just about everything.


I probably would have never pursued further study in Cabinetmaking without this amazing wife of mine who pushed me to challenge myself and let me go off to BC 4 years in a row to get training at Inside Passage.

So this Instagram thing, I never knew there was such a community of woodworkers on that little phone app. It’s a great way to see what people are doing without having to log into a computer and search random blogs. I stumbled upon one of my ex students who is enrolled at NAIT in Carpentry, he is buiding beautiful stairs at a shop where he apprentices and a canoe with his Dad in their garage. So pretty cool to keep in touch with the like minded. I will still keep this blog running as a means of cataloging my work and trying to provide some insight into this wonderful craft some of us choose. However, it is my hope to  try and photograph the entire build of Cabinet 14 on Instagram also. Check it out at


As for Cabinet 14, it seemed somewhat fitting a title as any, as it will follow the same cabinet on stand philosophy of  13 that I did way back when. This cabinet will probably be my toughest build as it will have a door that is curved with 5 panels of glass in it. It will also be veneered and that requires making my own plywood. God forbid I purchase Baltic Birch as substrate, why? because nothing in this Province is flat or stays that way after I buy it. I’m done with store bought man made crap. I will also be trying to make my own knife hinge and incorporate a bearing into the hinge as opposed to just a simple steel pin.To make further difficulties for myself I will also be building “Squadron” along side 14. Throw in two kids under the age of 3 and I’m thinking maybe I’ll be done in 20 years or so.Thank god I don’t depend on this craft for a living!


A 33″ radius for the door for 14.


Squadron takes on it’s wing shape from a P-51 Mustang. This is an introspective piece with Aluminum panels, air brushing and rivets. 


Brainstorming on Squadron


A late night glue up of a door rail for 14


Build too long but allows me a good opportunity for truing surfaces, thicknesses and lengths.


Cutting rails to length.


The first mock up! Wasn’t happy with the squat feeling of the cabinet, too short and wide.

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New height of door compared to mock up.


My little shop helper, great at re-organizing wood stock and cabinet parts.


Cutting Bridle Joints…ye old tenon jig from Delta Machinery. Love it.. Broken, missing parts but still works 🙂




Spent some time fitting the sticks used to hold the glass to the door rabbets. I decided on Ash in keeping with the cabinet. The drilled hole in the sticks are a fraction bigger than the brass nails I will use. The sticks are shaped, ends tapered and edges slightly eased with a jewelers file. After countersinking the holes, 3 coats of Shellac are applied, then steel wooled with wax. During the install glass is placed and clamped tight with the sticks. I then use a small drill bit to mark the door rabbet so pilot holes can be drilled. Pilot holes are drilled at a very slight angle to the front faces of the  rails and stiles. Nails hold better at an angle and the chance of telegraphing a nail shank to the inside of the cabinet is minimized.




82 degree countersink from Mari-tool eases each drilled hole.


Top and bottom sticks are just a tad taller than the sides for added feng shui.


A small tack hammer is needed to attach these 1/2″ Brass Escutcheon pins



Almost done folks…..oh the back panel is quartersawn Sycamore. I machined it to 5/16″ and placed a tongue and groove on each piece. They will be screwed in from the back and  a french cleat will attach the cabinet to the wall. More shots of that to come later..

Oh, and hopefully I’ll figure out a better door pull than green masking tape..




Frax got some glue over the Christmas break!


Traditional old fashion white glue, gives me about 10 minutes for a typical glue up. Soldering brush (cut down and all loose hairs pulled out) a dowel rod and an old foam brush with the foam removed. Don’t throw those things out they make good glue spreaders.


I was doing a demo on gluing with students one day when a former student in his second year of Cabinetmaking came in to see me. He told us a story of how his bench mate filled each dowel hole with glue and then proceeded to use a 4lb deadblow mallet to drive the top of a desk and a side together. He watched in horror as the entire side blew out and glue shot everywhere. So yeah, a drop of glue in each hole smeared with a dowel rod works just fine.


Did some pre -finishing with super blonde shellac before gluing up.


Bridle joints or “through mortises” are striking  joints to use in door frames.


Waxing each joint with Beeswax to make glue removal effortless.


Square and all joints tight..still somewhat stressful even after doing a couple of thousand glue-ups  with students.


After the glue up I began fitting the partition. Diagonal sticks or “bar gauges” are still the best way to get accurate dimensions off a case and then transferred direct to the tooth of a table saw blade and a stop block.


Still too tight on the spline…off to the shooting board.




Edge treatment with a nicely tuned spoke shave.There will a negative space under this partition that I will need to remedy. In the picture below you can see how the partition is just level with the lower door rail. When a customer looks into the cabinet from wall height the objects will not be hidden from viewI have a solution for it but it will be a lot of work. No not a drawer, something else….



Gettin there, next post..sticks!

Stay tuned!




IMG_0909Olive was used for small parts. It is  a beautiful wood to hand tool with small knives and chisels. This little wing shape will be the door levelers for Frax. I decided against the typical round levelers I have been putting in cabinets lately. This is more”fitting” for the cabinet even though it was a little tricky to fit itself.



The door catch mortises area pretty standard except for the front of the cavity which is sloped 10 degrees. I needed to angle it to follow along with the edge treatment of the cabinet top. The mortise will be a little deeper than what you see here as I am still roughing it out. I will use olive for these parts too.

I roughed out the initial cuts for the mortises with my Router, something I have never tried before. It worked pretty well but the true work still belongs to well sharpened chisels.



They’ve been a good set of chisels for me throughout the years. Even though I am tempted to try the new pmv chisels by Veritas. I remain loyal to the little company in England (Ahsley Iles) that is still producing these fine chisels one at a time. If you are interested you can buy them at Tools for Working Wood in Brooklyn New York.

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I am trying out some new hinges from Lee Valley. They look similar to the ones I learned how to make at IP but they don`t come with screws. A number 3-4 half inch screw fits nicely in the countersink. Unfortunately one of the leaves was bent out of flat,  I quickly remedy that, but it has me a little doubtful on purchasing  them again.

My usual trick on marking with a knife, taping and then routing.

I wanted the edges of the cabinet top and bottom to be clean and uninterrupted with knife hinges mortises. This required some finesse layout and fitting to be done on the cabinet doors and case. The cabinet must be clamped tight, as if it was glued together. I then placed a hinge leaf in the cabinet doors and used that to mark for the cabinet top and bottom. I was lucky enough that my cabinet doors and the case had no wind  so the layout was fairly easy. Gotta love Ash for cooperating nicely in that regard. Also necessary is drilling the radius of the knife hinge. The rest of the mortise is routed and chiseled clean.

Also required: Careful drilling 🙂 Actually just trying out this new Iphone 6S camera quality.


The finished install. Still have to soften the edges of the knife hinge mortise with some 1000 grit, it gives the area a nice look and sometimes hides less than accurate chiseling.


Almost ready to finally glue this case up.






Shavings and Rabbets

Progress has been made on “Fraxinus”. I have doweled the cabinet , rabbeted the doors, and fine tuned edge profiles.


Doweling jig for cabinet side right. Used some left over black locust from some coopering planes. Extremely hard, great for jig bodies.


Performed the art of “free style” rabbeting at school on a router table with a 3/16″ rabbeting bit. Snuck up on the cut to leave a 3/16″ finished edge.  Finished up corners with me Ashley Iles 🙂


Speaking of rabbets, door edges have a 10 degree bevel to cant the cabinet doors outward. I followed up with a matching rabbet. I used a straight router bit that I ground with a small 1/16 “ish” radius. A nice little detail on these cabinets.



Easing the drilled holes for dowels, great insurance over any mishaps when gluing the case together. Sharp edges, both dowel end and drilled holes, should be eased. Having parts fit easily together,with no chance of tear out or interference, makes for happy glue ups and smiles from woodworkers.


The front of the cabinet, left hand side. Closely stacked dowels at both ends of sides provides a more secure connection in areas where doweled cabinets can fail.


Tracing off the angle to the top and bottom. I used a washer with a 1/2″ setback which will provide enough material to hand plane the bevels and round overs. Some day I will buy those nice Veritas offset wheel gauges.


The double bevel of the top. The bottom bevel is wider and steeper than the top. I couldn’t tell you the angles as I did this all by feel. Penciled in some guide lines and using my block plane to do all the handwork.



Frax is coming along nicely 🙂

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