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POPULAR WOODWORKING February 200354Making built-in furnitureisnt tough. Ive seenlots of first-time wood-workers build bookshelves thatfit in the nooks by their fireplace.But making built-ins that hugthe wall, sit level and are anchoredfirmly to the house requires a lit-tle more know-how.Luckily, with a little planningand a few modifications to theplans of almost any cabinet, youcan make it a built-in. After try-ing different systems for makingbuilt-ins, this is the one that Iprefer. Its simple, rock-solid andalmost foolproof.Cabinets in a Crooked HouseIf youve ever hung a cabinet orbuilt in a few shelves, youve prob-BUILT-INBASICSably noticed that your rooms arentall square and your walls arentall plumb. This is usually theresult of your house settling. Itsalso possible your framers or dry-wallers were sloppy.Either way, dont build yourcabinets crooked to fit a catawum-pus corner or sloping wall. Alwaysbuild your projects square and adda couple features to allow themto fit in an irregular space. Thereare two tricks to accommodatingout-of-whack walls: oversized backrabbets and fitting strips.Big Back RabbetsAll cabinets should have a backthat rests in rabbets in the sidesof the case. This ensure a tight fitbetween the back and sides. Withfreestanding furniture, if your backis 12"-thick, then the rabbets forthat back should be 12" wide. Thisis not so with built-ins.You need to cut a rabbet thatis significantly wider. How wide?I usually make it between 114"and 112", depending on how outof kilter the wall is.What this large rabbet does isit creates two long tongues on theback of your cabinet that canMaking a built-in is easyonce you understand scribing, fitting strips andFrench cleats. Heres a solidlesson in all three.by Christopher SchwarzComments or questions? Contact Chris at 513-531-2690 ext. 1407 orchris.schwarz@fwpubs.com.1/2" x 11/2"rabbetin sides of cabinetShelfWallSideBackSideWallShelf3/4"x 1" fitting stripglued to side of cabinetBevelShelfSideWall11/2"1"Biscuits press-fitinto slots (no glue)to hold fitting stripBackingstripComplex fitting stripPlan viewSimple fitting stripPlan viewBack Rabbet DetailPlan viewWEEKENDBOOKCASEYou can build the bookcase unit Iminstalling on the left using just onesheet of 34" plywood and one-halfsheet of 12" plywood.Best of all, you can build thisunit in a weekend. I know, I know youve heard this story before(Chippendale Highboy in aWeekend!) but its true. I built thisbookcase in one day and finished itthe next. Weve included plans anda cut list later on in the article thatshow you exactly how to do it.Photos by Al Parrishbe scribed to fit almost any wall.Whats scribing? This is whenyou cut the edge of the cabinetso it matches the shape of yourwall and fits tightly against it.Scribing isnt difficult, and Illshow you how I go about it later.Fitting Strips, Scribe StilesFitting strips and scribe stilesare two other weapons in your ar-senal against the crooked wall.They are a lot like the large rab-bets on the backside of your cab-inet, except they help fit the sidesof your cabinet to a wall or to an-other adjacent cabinet.If you are building and in-stalling a face frame cabinet, yourbest bet is incorporating a scribestile into your design. With thistechnique you make your face-frame stiles (the vertical piecesof the frame) wider so they ex-tend out over the sides of the cab-inet by 34". Cut a rabbet on thebackside of the stiles, which makesthem easier to scribe to fit, andyou then have a seamless wayof attaching your cabinets to wallsor to other cabinets.If you are building a cabinetwithout a face frame then youshould turn to the fitting strip.POPULAR WOODWORKING February 200356There are a wide variety of cabinet levelers you can buy, but they all basically workthe same way. Many of them are adjustable at both the foot and from abovethrough an access hole you drill in the cabinets bottom.This feature is a hugeconvenience when leveling your cabinet on an uneven floor.Fitting strips are attached to thecabinet sides and are cut to fitagainst a wall. Typically you cuta 45 angle on the backside of the34" x 1" fitting strip so when youscribe it there is a lot less mate-rial to cut away. There are a va-riety of different ways to attacha fitting strip to a case. Whatevermethod you use, avoid using metalfasteners because they could getin the way when you scribe andthen trim the fitting strip to size. If the case is small, you cansimply glue the fitting strip to theside of the case. If the case is large,you should come up with an al-ternate plan. Its no fun turninga big case on its side, trimming alittle more and then setting itback up over and over again.One solution is to glue a back-ing board to the cabinet behindthe fitting strip that is a little nar-rower. Then you attach the fit-ting strip to the backing boardusing several biscuits but no glue.This allows you to set the cabi-net against the wall, mark yourscribe, cut it and then put thecabinet in place. Then you finetune the fit by pulling the stripout for more trimming. See thedrawing on the previous page.Attaching it to the WallThe other big issue when installinga built-in is how you actually at-tach it to the wall. There are anumber of ways to do it. Somepeople simply run some long screwsthrough the back and into thestuds. This works, but the screwheads are visible inside the cab-inet, and you must use really longscrews to reach into the studsacross your big back rabbet.Another solution is to installa hanging strip inside your cab-inet. The hanging strip is usual-ly a piece of 34"-thick materialthat is about 3" wide and is nailedor biscuited between the sides right beneath the top. With thissystem, you attach the cabinet tothe wall through the hanging stripusing countersunk screws, whichyou can then plug to hide them.The system I prefer uses aFrench cleat. It sounds compli-cated at first, but once you getit straight in your head youll seeit has some advantages.The French cleat uses twocleats, each with one long edgebeveled at 45. One of the cleatsis screwed to the wall and theother is screwed to the back ofthe cabinet. The two 45 an-gles nest together, locking thecabinet to the wall. This is a com-mon way to hang kitchen wallcabinets, but Ive found its greatfor hanging cabinets that go tothe floor, too. And Ive comeup with a method that makes iteasy to do. But before you can in-stall any cabinet, the first thingyou have to do is get it sittinglevel on the floor.A Word About Cabinet BasesWhen building large cabinets, itsbest to build a separate base fromthe cabinet itself that is about 3"to 4" in height. You can then setthe base in place and level it usingwooden shims or leveler feet.Leveler feet are a piece of hard-ware that attaches to the insidecorners of your base and have feetthat screw up and down. You ad-just the feet until the base is leveland then set the cabinet on topof the base and move on to thesection on scribing.With smaller cabinets, suchas the bookcase shown here, youcan skip the separate base and in-stall the leveler feet under thebottom shelf or use shims to levelthe entire cabinet. Either way,you must get the cabinet levelleft-to-right and front-to-backbefore you proceed.SideTopBackScrew throughbottom cleatinto studsWallScrew top cleat to cabinetFrench cleat detailProfile viewpopwood.com 57ScribingScribing isnt difficult, but it re-quires practice. The first thing todo is take a look at your cabinet.If it is going in a corner, then youshould remove the big back rab-bet that goes into the corner itsonly going to get in the way ofscribing the other rabbet and thefitting strip (if you have one).Now push the cabinet backagainst the wall or walls untilsome part of the cabinet meetsthe wall. Its time to mark a scribeline on your back rabbet. Get acompass that allows you to lockthe swinging arm. Using a ruler,find the biggest gap between yourwall and cabinet. Set the distancebetween the pencil and the pointof the compass to this distance.Now trace the shape of thewall onto the back edge of thecabinet. Use the point of the com-pass to follow the wall and let thepencil draw that shape onto thecabinet. Keep the compass level. In the photos, youll see I usea European-style scribing tool in-stead of a compass. This piece ofred plastic costs about $8 (ouch),but its a lot easier to handle thana compass. This scribing tool issold as the McGrath Scribe andOnce the cabinet is level front-to-back as well as left-to-right you can plug the holesyou drilled to access the leveler hardware. Many brands of levelers come with theirown plastic plugs, though a shop-made tapered wooden plug works just as well.To set your scrib-ing tool, use aruler to find thebiggest gapbetween the backedge of yourcabinet side andthe wall. Set yourscribe to span thisdistance exactly.Now run thescribing tool upthe back edge ofyour cabinet being sure tomaintain contactwith both the walland cabinet. Thepencil will drawyour cut line onthe back edge ofthe cabinet side.Many professionals use a belt sander to remove the material down to the scribeline. Belt sanders are a little too speedy for my tastes. I prefer to use a jigsaw to cutright up to the line and then clean up the cut with a block plane. Its still quick, andtheres little chance of obliterating your scribe line.Profile Gauge, and it is availablefrom Diefenbacher Tools, 800-326-5316 or diefenbacher.com.Ask for item # 663-1000.Once youve drawn your scribeline, trim the back rabbet to thatline. You can use a jigsaw followedby a hand plane, a belt sander oreven a hand-held power planer.Test the fit of your scribe line tothe wall and make any necessarycorrections.Once the back is fit, scribe thefitting strip (if you have one)where the front of the cabinetmeets the wall. Once everythingfits snugly, attach the case to thewall using your French cleats.Installing French CleatsIts simple to get a perfect fit withthese cleats if you follow thesesteps. I like to use plywood or anytough hardwood such as maplefor the cleats. First rip your twocleats to about 3" wide and cutthem to length so theyre about1" shorter than the width of theback of your cabinet. If your backpiece is 2312" wide, then cut thecleats to 2212" long this givesyou some left-to-right play dur-ing installation.The first step is to install aLargest gapbetween walland cabinetScribe linecleat on the wall so its perfect-ly level and about 212" belowwhere the top of the cabinet willtouch the wall. Screw the cleatto at least two studs in your wallusing #10 x 3" screws.Now push the cabinet in placeagainst the wall and use a steplad-der so you can work on the top ofthe cabinet. Take the other cleatand drop it behind the cabinetwith the bevel facing the back ofthe cabinet. It should drop intoplace with 12" or so sticking abovethe top of the cabinet. Mark aline on the cleat where the backand cleat intersect. Lift the cleatout and rip the cleat to width ex-actly to your line.Pull the cabinet away from thewall and screw the cleat to thebackside of the cabinet so the topedge of the cleat is perfectly flushto the top of the cabinet. With the help of an assistant,lift the cabinet a few inches andplace it on the cleat on the wall.The cabinet should sit flush againstthe wall, flat on the floor and re-fuse to rock or move. If the cabinet doesnt sit onthe floor, remove one cleat andshave off a tad from the bevel witha hand plane or a jointer. Or youcan adjust the leveling feet. If thecabinet rocks a bit on the cleat,add a short strip or two of mask-ing tape to the bevel on one cleatand that will tighten things up.Theres another type of cleatthat some prefer. Instead of rip-ping a 45 bevel on each longedge, cut a rabbet on each longedge. The rabbet should be ex-actly one-half the thickness ofthe cleat so that the cleats nesttogether like a shiplap joint.Install the first cleat againstthe wall. When you attach thesecond cleat to the cabinet, nudgeit up 18" and then screw it in place.This will prevent the rabbets frombottoming out when they nestand will give you a little play whenthe cabinet rests on the floor.Cleaning UpWith the cabinet in place, youmight have to screw one of theside pieces to a wall to pull thecabinet tight against the wall.The cabinet is now complete,except for any trim around thebase and crown. To finish the runof cabinets shown at the begin-ning of the article I still need tobuild and install another largeunit with drawers and doors. Thencomes the trim moulding. Andthen comes a cold beer. PWPOPULAR WOODWORKING February 200358Clamp your cleat to the back of the cabinet with the top edges of the cleat andcabinet back perfectly flush. If theyre out of kilter youre going to make trouble foryourself, so take care. Screw the cleat to the cabinet using long screws that youcountersink into the cleat.Install the first French cleat to your wall using the longest screws available.Thesescrews must anchor the cleat into the stud wall of your house, or the cabinet couldcome toppling down if someone tries to climb it.With the back rabbet scribed and a cleat screwed to the wall, push your cabinetin position and drop the second cleat in place behind the cabinet back. Using asharp pencil (top), mark a line on the cleat where the cabinet back and cleatmeet. Remove the cleat (bottom) and rip it to width. If you had to scribe nearthe top of your cabinet, you might have to plane down your cleats a tad, too.Cleat for cabinetMark where theback and cleat meetRip cleat to this line exactlyCabinetbackSee French cleat detail See back rabbets detailSee fittingstrip detailsfor scribingto wall11 3/4"40" Adjustable91/4"91/4"33/4"popwood.com 59When I build a project for myfamily, Ill come up fromthe shop and the first words outof their mouths are usually some-thing like: Arent you done mak-ing my (corner cabinet, enter-tainment center, Morris chair,carved weasel) yet?Well this time the joke wasreally on them. I went down tothe shop at 8 a.m. one morningand by 5 p.m., this bookcase wassanded, assembled and ready forfinishing. They were shocked.Begin by cutting the big 114" x 12"back rabbet on the back edge of thesides.The most accurate way to makethis rabbet is by using a dado stack inyour table saw. Make a couple passesand be sure to keep even downwardpressure.THE ONE-WEEKENDBOOKCASENO. ITEM DIMENSIONS ( INCHES) MATERIAL COMMENTST W L 2 Sides 34 12 80 Plywood 12" x 114" rabbet for back 2 Top and bottom 34 1034 2212 Plywood Biscuited into sides 3 Fixed shelves 34 1012 2212 Plywood Biscuited into sides 3 Adjustable shelves 34 1012 2238 Plywood 1 Kick 34 334 2212 Plywood Biscuited into bottom 1 Back 12 2312 78 Plywood 1 Fitting strip 34 1 80 Plywood Use if unit goes in corner 2 French cleats 34 3 2212 Plywood 45 bevel on one long edgeYou can download an optimization chart for this project at: popwood.com/features/mag.htmlTHE ONE-WEEKEND BOOKCASETheres nothing fancy aboutthis basic bookcase unit, but itdoes hold a ton of stuff, is inex-pensive to build (about $70 inmaterials) and goes together asfast as a highboy on The NewYankee Workshop. Well, OK,its not quite that fast.Follow the photos and draw-ings to build your own. But beforewarned. Once you build some-thing this fast, your family is goingto think you spend most of yourtime in the shop just goofing off.1 Exploded viewBack rabbetPOPULAR WOODWORKING February 200360To lay out the location of your shelves, clamp the two sides together and use a framing square to mark theshelf locations. Use the drawing to lay out the locations of the fixed shelves, top and bottom pieces.All the permanent shelves are attached to the sides usingbiscuit joints. Clamp the shelves at the location where theywill join the sides. I then made a simple template to lay outthe locations of my biscuit slots. This saves a lot of measuring.Take the fence off your biscuit joiner (or retract the tools fence fully into the fenceassembly). Cut three biscuit slots in the shelves as shown. I used #10 biscuitsbecause I was out of #20s.4SUPPLIESLee Valley Tools800-871-8158leevalley.comCabinet Levelers, One-ton GlideEach glide is rated for 2,000pounds. Foot adjusts over arange of 214".Item # 01S08.01, $3.70 eachNickel-plated Shelf SupportsItem # 94Z04.02, $3.50 for apackage of 50.2Template helps layout biscuit locations3If you work in a small shop (likeI do) the No. 1 challenge witha piece of furniture like this is cut-ting down the plywood into man-ageable sizes for my table saw.Luckily, Nick Engler showedme how to do it quickly and ac-curately. Engler made a simpleplatform from 2 x 4s that you placeon two sawhorses in your drive-way. Using a special shop-madefence and a circular saw you canmake perfect cuts in sheet goods. The original article appearedin the April 2001 issue. If youdont have that back issue, weveposted this article on our web siteat popularwoodworking.com.When you get to our home page,click on Select Articles, scrolldown and youll see the article ti-tled Sawing Plywood andParticleboard.Ive built many cabinets usingthis simple jig and highly rec-ommend it.Screws or Biscuits?I built this project using biscuitsand a 12"-thick back, which makesthe case quite rigid. Another pos-sible approach is to screw the fixedshelves in place through the sidepieces using #8 x 2" screws.If the sides of your bookcasearent going to show (or you dontmind the look of plugs) this is asolid way to make a bookcase.One final option Im fond ofwith large cabinets is to use bothbiscuits and pocket screws to-gether. This hybrid system is aboutthe fastest and most accurate wayI know to build a case.First cut the biscuit slots, thencut the pocket holes on the un-derside of the shelves. Glue upthe case and then drive the screwshome. The biscuits line up allyour joints perfectly, and the screwsallow you to do this all withoutany clamps at all. PWpopwood.com 61Now turn the biscuit joiner on its head and cut the slots in thesides pieces of the cabinet.Iron on some adhesive edge-banding to cover all the visibleplywood edges. Use a household iron set on high.After acouple minutes of ironing, take the iron off the tape and use asizable block of wood to rub the edging down.The wood actsas a heat sink to cool the adhesive and set the edge-bandingin place.Use a file to trim the overhang of theedge-banding. Remember that files cutonly in one direction. Move them theother way and theyll cut poorly anddull quickly. Now sand all your parts at150 grit and then 220 grit.Always do a dry run before gluing up your case. Once youre sure everything works, use a slow-settingglue. I have become quite fond of the new Titebond Extend glues.They are very strong and give you justenough working time to get a big case together by yourself. Once the glue is dry, cut the back to size.You want a perfect fit because the back will keep the cabinet square once its screwed in place.Drill your shelf pin holes every 2" oncenter.You can use a commercial jig likethe one shown or make your own fromscrap.Then attach the kick to thebottom using glue plus biscuits orpocket screws. I finished the bookcasewith two coats of spray lacquer in thebackyard on a nice breezy day.56897Files cut onthe pushstroke


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