Introduction: Display Case
This project was designed and constructed by Jens Sehm of As You Like it Fine Furniture and Custom Woodwork in Ashland, Oregon. Jen’s gave me permission to document the construction process.
This project is made from solid quarter sawn white oak hardwood. The final thickness of the boards is 1 ½”. The overall size of this project is 6’ 6” wide, 8’ 6” tall and 13” deep. The shelf cubbies are 17” square. The cantilevered desk is 57” long and 18” wide. The basic construction methodology is mortise and tenon joints. Mechanical cams are used to hold the outside sections of the case together.
This project is very large and heavy. It requires at least 2 people to move it around. It was constructed in two stages: the first stage was assembled and glued in a workshop; the second phase was assembled on-site with mechanical cams and tenons to facilitate moving. When building a project of this size, it is important to know the ceiling heights, door widths, corner turns and hallway runs, otherwise you may not be able to install it.
The project was stained with black aniline die and finished with satin varnish.
This project requires basic woodworking skills and access to woodworking machines. Woodworking machines have sharp cutting edges and are NOT forgiving. You should be properly trained in the use of these machines. Ensure that you wear safety glasses and hearing protection, use push sticks, hold-downs , clamps and a cutting sled to cut the project parts safely.
The most important aspect of this project is making the various component parts square and flat. This project requires precise stock prep, sizing and joinery. Any minor measurement, cutting or joinery mistakes will be multiplied many times over and the unit will not align properly.
On a scale of 1-10, 10 being very difficult, this project is a “7.5”.
Approximately 220 board feet of rough sawn 2” thick quarter sawn white oak hardwood.
150, 180 and 220 grit sandpaper.
Glue (yellow woodworkers glue)
10 sets of 4 - Heavy-Duty Universal Connector s(Rockler Woodworking supply PN#57218. Price $11.59)
1-3/8'' (35mm) Forstner Bit, 3/8'' Shank (Rockler Woodworking supply PN# 21214. Price $12.19)
18 @½” x 3” lag bolts
Tools & Equipment Needed:
Table saw with a cross cut sled
Festool Domino jointer
Planner or flat bed drum sander
Bar or pipe clamps
Step 1: Stock Prep
This project is made from solid wood. Purchase a minimum of 120 board feet of 2” thick quarter or rift sawn white oak. You will need 5 pieces that are 9’ long and at least 7” wide.
The final piece is 13” wide so 2 boards will have to be glued together to achieve a 13” width.
Joint one face of each board on a jointer.
Make the other side parallel using a planer. Size the boards to a little more than 1 5/8” thick.
Sand the boards on a wide belt sander to 180 grit. Reduce the thickness to 1 ½”.
Make one edge square to the faces using a jointer.
Using a table saw, cut the other edge of the board parallel. Leave the boards as wide as possible.
NOTE: It is best to mill a couple extra boards during this process in case you make a mistake in the joinery.
Step 2: Glue Boards Together
Now that the boards are flat and have square edges, you need to join the boards to achieve a final width of 13”. Leave the boards as wide as possible. You will cut them to final width later on.
There is a desk extension on one side of the unit. It is 18” wide and 57” long. You will need to select and match boards for this desk top as well.
Careful grain and color matching is important.
Select pairs of boards that provide a good visual appearance.
Use woodworker’s yellow glue and glue the two boards together. Make sure that the edges of the boards are aligned.
NOTE: Because this project is comprised on many parts and that these parts will be drilled in a variety of ways, it is important to label each part as to its final placement and orientation.
Step 3: Cutting the Shelves
Select seven long boards. Cut the boards to their final lengths.
The two outside boards are cut to 103” and the inside vertical dividers are cut to 91”. The bottom and top are cut to 72 ½” (These measurements take into consideration how the top and bottom of the unit are attached).
Identify and mark the outside faces of the two outside boards. Mark the top of the three other vertical dividers. These references will help ensure that the joinery is cut on the correct faces and that the reference points are established. Set these boards to the side.
You will need 16 boards that are 13” deep and 17” wide for the shelves. These are the final dimensions so take care is cutting them to the exact same size.
Use a table saw to cut the laminated boards to 13 1/16” wide. Joint the cut edge on the jointer to reduce the width to 13” and to clean up the cut edge.
Use a cross cut sled to cut the shelves at exactly 17” long.
- These piece have to be cut exactly the same. Square ends are imperative!
- It is recommended that you make a few extra shelves in case you make a mistake. Even though this may be viewed as a waste of material, the time it would take to mill a replacement to the exact size is difficult.
Step 4: Joinery: Shelves
A Festool Domino jointer and tenons were used to connect and align the horizontal shelves to the vertical dividers.
Four mortises were cut in both the shelves and the vertical dividers. Mortises are cut in the center of the thickness of the shelves. The spacing of the mortises allows for the placement of the cam connectors and screw inserts.
The mortises were cut 3/8” wider than the tenons to allow for adjustments. The depth of the mortises was 5/8”. Mortises are cut on both sides of the vertical dividers which are 1 ½” thick. A 5/8” mortise on both sides of the vertical dividers leaves ¼” of wood between the mortises.
The positioning of the mortises in both the vertical dividers and the shelves is consistent.
- You will need to identify 8 shelves that will be used for the two outside bays. Mark the tops of these shelves and label the ends with identifiers for placement. These shelves will need to be drilled to accept the cam connectors and the pins. Labeling will be important when you start drilling holes.
- The placement of both sets of mortises should be EXACT.
- Use a scrap piece of the same milled wood to create a couple extra pieces with mortises. This will be used as a template in the following steps.
Step 5: Joinery: Vertical Pieces
The placement of the mortises in the vertical dividers is CRITICAL! The cubbies are 17” square.
The best way to ensure placement consistency is to use one of the shelves as a guide. It is best to use the same shelf throughout this process to ensure consistency.
Take one of the shelves and attach a cleat to the end. Make sure the cleat is securely attached to the end of the shelf. This will serve as a reference to ensure that the shelf is flush to the top of the vertical divider. This shelf will only be used to cut the first set of mortises on each of the vertical dividers.
Clamp this shelf on the top of a vertical divider. Make sure the shelf cleat is flush to the end of the vertical divider and that it is square. Since the shelves are already mortised, the center line of each mortise should be marked on this shelf. Use this line as your jointer reference.
The Festool Domino jointer should be set in the same position as when the shelf mortises were cut.
NOTE: Remember that the two vertical end boards are longer than the other vertical dividers by 9”. Use the top of the vertical dividers as the reference point.
Step 6: Joinery: Vertical Pieces
Once the first set of mortises are cut, place tenons in the mortises and set a shelf onto the tenons. This will establish the next set of mortises.
Use another shelf as a guide and clamp that shelf on the vertical divider. Make sure the shelf is flush to the upright shelf and is square to the vertical divider.
Using the reference lines on the shelf, cut another set of mortises.
Repeat steps #4 & 5 to cut all the mortises on the five vertical dividers.
Step 7: Connecting Hardware
Because of the overall size of this project, it was necessary to use “knock-down” connectors. In this case the Heavy-Duty Universal Connector available from Rockler Woodworking Supply PN#57218. Price $11.59.
Sold in packages of 4 (includes 4 cams, 4 connecting bolts and 4 threaded inserts). Cam installs in 35mm (1-3/8") dia. hole, 11/16" deep. Bolt requires 10mm dia. hole. Requires minimum material thickness of 1".
The cams are only used on the outside bays of the unit. The middle section is glued with Festool Domino tenons.
An Alan wrench is used to secure the threaded insert and the cams.
Step 8: Joinery: Mechanical Connectors
As shown in step #7, cam connectors are use to connect the shelves on the two outside sections to the glued middle section. This allows the unit to be moved and installed easily.
Cams install in 35mm (1-3/8") flat bottom holes, 11/16" deep. A perpendicular 10mm diameter hole needs to be drilled to accommodate the connecting pin and the threaded insert that holds the connecting pin.
NOTE: Exact placement of each of these holes is critical. The holes need to be perfectly straight.
The use of a template is required to ensure proper placement of the pin holes and the inserts. The template is created during the processed defined in step #4. The template should be drilled with a 10mm hole centered in the cam hole.
The threaded inserts are placed in the vertical dividers and the holes are drilled in the ends of the outside shelves.
Registering the template is easy. Insert tenons into the boards and place the template on top of them.
Step 9: Joinery: Hole Placement for Connectors & Lag Bolts
Identifying and marking the holes for the cams and for the pins is important. Even though the cam holes will be covered with a plug, the visual appearance of the project requires that these holes are as hidden as possible.
The holes for the cams on the two lower shelves are on the bottom of the shelves. The holes for the cams on the upper shelves are on the top of the shelves.
The top and bottom horizontal pieces are attached with ½” lag bolts through holes drilled through the outside faces for the three middle vertical dividers. The ends of the top and bottom have cams that connect to the sides. These are recessed in a flat bottom hole.
The holes for the threaded inserts are on the inside faces of the last two vertical dividers.
Step 10: Joinery: Drilling Holes for Mechanical Connectors
The holes for the cams and for the pins need to be drilled perfectly parallel and perpendicular to their respective faces.
The best way to do this is with a drill press or a boring machine. Careful and accurate setup is critical.
The holes for the cam are 35mm (1-3/8") and 11/16" deep.
The holes for the pins are 10mm diameter are go through to the cam hole. Drill at least 55mm deep.
The holes for the ½” lag bolts is 9/16” for the bottom and top pieces and 3/8” for the vertical pieces. The depth of these holes into the vertical pieces is1 ¾”. The lag bolts are 3” long.
NOTE: Exact placement of each of these holes is critical.
Step 11: Joinery: Top and Bottom Pieces
Drilling the holes for the connector pins in the ends of the long top and bottom is best accomplished with a template. The template is the same as that created in step #4 and used in step #8.
Attach a cleat to the top of the template to ensure that it registers to the top face of the top and bottom. Clamp it to the board and make sure that it aligns with the center line of the cam holes.
Use a 10mm drill bit and drill the holes through to the cam hole.
Step 12: Threaded Inserts for Connector Pins
The connector pins are secured to the vertical dividers with a threaded insert.
Use a 7.5mm or a 9/32” drill bit to drill the holes for the inserts. Drill 5/8” deep.
Use an Allen wrench to set the insert. Make sure the insert is goes into the hole straight.
Step 13: Dry Assembly
Throughout the process you will be assembling and disassembling the unit several times. This is necessary to ensure that all the component parts are fitting together properly.
During this process make the necessary adjustments to ensure that the shelves fit flush to the vertical dividers and that all the cams and tenons aligned properly.
Once the unit is assembled, you will have to fit the desk and mark the placement of the mortises in both the desk top and the shelves that hold the cantilevered desk top.
Step 14: Desktop
The desktop connects to the second set of shelves. It is 57” long, 1 ½” thick and 18” wide.
The desktop fits flush to the right side of the cabinet and the outside edge of the second section of shelves to the left.
In order to ensure that it is exactly the same thickness as the shelves it connects to, both the individual shelves and the desktop were put through a wide belt sander at the same time.
The desktop is connected to the three shelves with mortise and loose tenon joinery.
Dry fit and clamp the desktop to the shelves.
Mark the location of the mortises. Two mortises for each shelf, a total of six mortises across the length of the desktop.
Use the Festool Domino jointer to cut the mortises on both the three shelves and the desktop.
Step 15: Finishing Prep: Sanding
All the component parts were milled and sanded to 180 grit.
During the construction process nicks, dings and scrapes were unavoidable.
Now that all the component parts are prepared for assembly, it is time to sand each individual component part to 220 grit.
It is also a good idea to sand assembled sections of the project to ensure that the shelves are flush with the vertical dividers.
Step 16: Finishing Prep: Masking
The areas where the shelves connect to the vertical dividers and the ends of the shelves must be taped off to prevent finish from being applied.
This will ensure that the glue will have a clean surface to bond.
Use painters (blue) masking tape and carefully tape off all the areas that glue would be applied to. Make sure that the tape does not overlap areas that will be exposed after assembly.
Step 17: Finishing
The client wanted to match an existing wall unit and provided a sample of the desired finish. The objective was to retain the natural wood grain so a translucent black aniline die was used to match the clients sample.
The finish was then sprayed with a satin varnish for protection.
After the finish dried for 7 days, the masking tape was removed and the assembly process started.
Step 18: Assembly: Stage #1
The assembly process needs to be done in sections. Start with the right side of the middle section.
Organize the component parts. This is where the labeling of each part and its orientation is critical.
This glue-up is best done with the assistance of another person.
In order to ensure that the middle of each shelf fits tight to the vertical divider, it is best to use felt lined cauls.
Layout the clamps that will be used. Have wet rags for wiping glue squeeze-out. Place one of the vertical dividers on risers in order to lift it off the table so clamps and cauls can be place underneath.
Squeeze glue into the mortises and insert the tenons in the vertical dividers. Place the shelves onto the tenons and ensure that they are positioned flush to the vertical divider’s edges.
Squeeze glue into the mortises and insert the tenons in the ends of the shelves.
Place the other vertical divider on top of the shelves. Align the shelves flush to the edges of the vertical dividers. Place the cauls on the top and bottom and clamp tightly.
Use a square to make sure that the unit is square.
Wipe off the glue squeezed out of the joints.
Step 19: Assembly: Stage #2
Layout and organize the next set of shelves and the corresponding vertical divider.
Repeat the process outlined in step #18.
Step 20: Assembly: Stage #3
After the middle section was glued, two ¾” plywood pieces were attached to the ends to facilitate shipping.
On site, the unit was laid down on the floor.
The first step was to glue on the desktop. In order to do this, the shelf and the right side needed to be assembled with the connectors.
Step 21: Assembly: Stage #4
The desktop is attached with 6 tenons that are mortised into three shelves and the desktop.
Squeeze glue into the mortises on both the shelves and the desktop. Spread the glue in the mortises to ensure good coverage.
Squeeze additional glue along the edge of the desktop. Brush glue evenly along this edge.
Insert the tenons into the desktop mortises.
Align the desktop into the mortises in the shelves and clamp.
Make sure that the desktop is flat and on the same plane as the shelves. Let the glue dry at least 6 hours.
Step 22: Assembly: Stage #5
Attached the bottom and top to the middle section.
Both are attached with ½” x 3” lag bolts.
Step 23: Assembly: Stage #6
Organize and layout the remaining shelves. Start with the right side of the unit.
These shelves are attached using the cam connectors and pins.
Insert the cams and tenons into the shelves (the tenons are not glued. This facilitates disassembling the unit if necessary down the road).
Insert the pins into the vertical dividers.
Connect the shelves first then add the sides. Notice that the unit is standing on blocks to facilitate the assembly of the sides which are longer than the middle section.
Step 24: Cam Plugs
The holes for the cams are covered with a wood plug that is available from the supplier of the cams.
The plugs were finished with the same aniline dye as the display unit.
These plugs are forced fit and not glued. Once again to facilitate disassembly.