A Sideboard Bar Cabinet from Walnut and Quarter-Sawn Oak
In late June I decided to build a sideboard bar. I thought it would be my summer project. It is now almost February and I am finally finishing it. I could blame that on the fact that I’m a full-time grad student with a full course load, even over the summer, but the fact is I had to learn how to do much of the steps of this project for the first time, and with a full-time job on top of the course load, it was slow going.
I’d like to walk you through the steps of how this project came to be. The basic process of this, or any woodworking project, is to break it into smaller projects, and then those into smaller projects still, until you have something that you can complete over the weekend or several short sessions. For me, this project started with a drawing. I didn’t use plans, per se, but I did have a drawing. I first drew a very rough sketch of what I wanted it to have, and then a more refined sketch after looking at some pictures in books and online, and then finally a third sketch which is what the project ultimately came to resemble. Not everything in the drawing made it in; some things that weren’t in the drawing were added. This is what I came up with:
The first thing I did was rip the legs from one of my massive walnut slabs. I used a thick-stock blade from Freud because these slabs jam up the table saw when its got my normal blade in (I prefer a thin-kerf blade normally, and it’s no match for these slabs).
These are the legs, rough cut and unplaned (I had one left over):
The bulk of this project is frame and panel construction: the doors, the side panels, the main visual elements of the piece all consist of oak frames with walnut panels. I did the doors and the side panels together, because they were basically the same process. I started with the rough sawn oak:
It was kiln dried, and what generally happens is that the wood gets comfortable in its rough-sawn form. When you put it through the planer it opens pores in the wood to the moisture in the air, and as it absorbs or loses moisture, it moves. So I planed, jointed, and cut all the oak for the frames not to final dimensions, but within an 1/8th of an inch of final. Then I let them sit on edge, exposed to the air for a week. They warped, they twisted, they bent. So I planed, jointed, and cut them again, until they were straight and true again. Then I waited another week. They moved a bit more. I took them to final dimensions and they didn’t move again.
Meanwhile, I made the panels to go inside.
I rabbeted the sides and then routed out the frame sides to receive the panels.
The curved tops of the doors were made with a template I cut from some hardboard, which ensured that all pieces were identical. I just attached it with some carpet tape and used the flush trim bit. I made a special jig to hold them because I didn’t want my fingers that close to the bit on such a small piece.
That basically concluded the milling of the doors and panels. I dry fit them to make sure.
Perhaps the most challenging issue of this project was the finish. I didn’t like the intense contrast of the above, I wanted the oak and the walnut to be of similar tones, but the figure in the quarter sawn oak to pop. I went through several frustrating trials (to the tune of more than 20 scrap pieces tested with various finish combinations and layers) until I settled on Transfast’s Dark Mission brown dye as the main element of the finish. Now, here was the tricky part. I could only apply water-based dyes prior to glue up, because an oil or urethane based dye would reject the glue and essentially ruin the project. Since I knew I would be using such finishes, I needed to make it so the last layers of the oak’s finish were the first layers of the walnut’s, so I could glue it up and then finish the whole piece. The final finish schedule was like this:
1 coat, dark mission brown
Another layer of dye:
That concludes the oak part. Now I glued it up with the walnut panels:
I put on 2 coats of a mixture of 1/3 boiled linseed oil, 1/3 mineral spirits, 1/3 polyurethane. That was followed by 3 coats of Arm-R-Seal:
That finished the doors! It was fall, by now. School had started, the leaves were already turning colors.
Then I made the wine rack:
I made the bottom cross bars the same way I did the curved door parts: template + flush trim bit. I milled the rest of the cross bars. The maple ones are for the back; out of sight, and very hard.
Then I made the top. I put up a blog post about it a few days ago:
I milled the mortises in the legs, then glued up the sides with the help of dowel pins.
This gets us close. I made some carcass details, the drawer housing, the middle shelf:
I made the auxiliary stuff: cutting board, drawers, and backsplash.
I made the cutting board with some stuff from the scrap heap. Walnut, cherry, maple, oak.
I used Motawi tiles in the backsplash.
I added the pull-out drawers to the middle and bottom shelves.
Set up time! I could not have done this without Rach. We built a stack and then put the side panels onto it:
Dovetailed top rails help keep the top from shifting.
I put the rest of the finish on, and moved it upstairs, with the help of my friend Elliot. I attached the top, and the back, put it in place, and loaded it up!
As one project ends, another begins: this is the single massive walnut timber that I will cut the legs of my dining room table from: