Introduction: Comic Book Display Cabinet
My son and I love collecting comic books and wanted a cool way to display our favorite ones, but also allow us to easily change them out. We decided to make a comic book display cabinets, with colorful LED lights that can coordinate with the theme of the comics. Imagine how cool it would be to have a cabinet with green lights with Hulk comics, or blue lights with Superman comics!
In this Instructable, you’ll learn how to build and assemble a cabinet out of wood (I’m using walnut). You will see how to install LED light strips, how to veneer plywood, and even how to make picture frames.
The materials really depend on how complex you want to make the cabinet. For mine, I used the following materials:
- Hardwood for the cabinet body, door frame, and four picture frames.
- One sheet of 3/4" plywood.
- Walnut veneer.
- Glass or acrylic for the cabinet door and picture frames.
- Rare earth magnets.
- Magnetic latch.
- Hinges and coordinating knob.
- LED strip lights.
- LED light channel and channel covering.
- Finish of choice.
Step 1: Build Picture Frames
The cabinet will display four comics, housed in picture frames. The comics are the main feature, so I’m starting the project with the frames, which will then allow me to determine the size of the back panel, and in turn, the cabinet itself.
Using hardwood, I cut the boards for the frames to 1 inches wide. I then used the table saw to cut a rabbet in the back of the boards that is 3/16” wide and 1/2" deep. This ensures that the frame doesn’t cover too much of the cover of the comic and leaves plenty of space for extra thick issues.
I used a special table saw jig that I made for cutting picture frames. It’s not necessary to use this particular jig, but it is helpful for cutting 45 degree angles. I cut my boards so that they form a picture frame that is approximately 11-3/4”L x 8-3/8”W.
The frames were glued and held together with painter’s tape. While the glue was drying, I cut the acrylic and backer board to size using the table saw.
Once the frames were dry, I reinforced them with splines. I try to shoot for a slightly loose fit during dry assembly because, in my experience, tight fitting splines tend to not fit once I apply glue. To make splines, I built a jig. This jig rides over my table saw fence and holds the frames at a 45 degree angle over the saw blade. I ran the frame over the saw to cut out a groove in each corner.
I planed a piece of walnut thin enough so that it fits into the grooves that I just cut. The spines were then glued in place. I ground off the excess splines, but you could easily use a flush trim saw as an alternative.
Step 2: Cut and Veneer the Back Panel
Now that I have the frames made, I can make the back panel. Having the frames allows me to lay them out on a piece of 3/4" Baltic birch plywood to see how much of a gap I want between the frames. I settled on a 1” gap between the frames, and a 3” gap from the frames to the interior edge of the cabinet.
I cut my plywood to rough size, leaving it a little bit longer and wider than the final size. I used the table saw, but you could also us a circular saw with a high tooth count blade.
The plywood is going to be veneered so that it matches the walnut cabinet. I’m using pressure sensitive adhesive (PSA) walnut veneer. That’s a fancy way of saying that the veneer has a sticker on the back so no glue is required. I slowly applied the veneer to the plywood by peeling the backing off and sticking it to the plywood, using a squeegee along the way to ensure there are no air bubbles under the veneer. I only veneered one side of the plywood. If this was regular veneer requiring glue then I would veneer both sides of the plywood because veneering only one side can cause the plywood to cup. That’s not an issue with PSA veneer.
After applying the veneer, I cut the panel to final size on the table saw.
Step 3: Cut Parts for the Cabinet Sides
With the back panel done, I broke down the material to make the sides of the cabinet. I milled the lumber in two stages, letting the wood acclimate to the shop before milling it down to the final thickness, which is a little over 3/4" thick. The final size of the cabinet will be approximately 32”L x 25”W.
The cabinet sides need to be 5” wide. This gives me enough room for the picture frames and back panel, plus extra space behind the panel to hold the electronics for the LED lights. After cutting the pieces to 5” wide, I cut the top, bottom, and sides to their final lengths.
The length of these pieces depends on the type of joinery you use. I’m going to use dovetails. Using my Leigh dovetail jig, I cut the tails and pins on the boards. Dovetails can be cut many ways. I discuss some alternatives in the video of this project build.
Step 4: Route Groove in the Cabinet
The next step is to cut a groove in each cabinet piece to hold the back panel. Using the router table, I set a router bit so that it’s sticking up about 1/4". I want to give myself about 2” of space between the back panel and the back of the cabinet sides.
I do not want an entrance or exit point because these will be visible once the cabinet is assembled. I plunged the piece onto the router bit, pushed it along the fence, and lifted the piece up before the bit exited the piece. I test fit the back panel to ensure that it fits snuggly in the groove.
While at the router table, I cut grooves for the LED lights. The LED lights will be housed in an aluminum channel. The process for cutting these grooves is exactly the same as the groove for the back panel. I cut the groove approximately 1” from the front edge of the cabinet sides, using the same plunge method as before. I test fit the aluminum channel to ensure that it fits in the groove and is flush with the inside face of the cabinet.
Step 5: Make a Tunnel for the Wires
The power pack for the lights will be mounted behind the back panel. This means that the wires that run to the lights need to be ran from the back of the cabinet to the front. Using the router table and a miter gauge, I routed a very short dado that connects the two grooves previously cut for the back panel and the light channel.
I took a piece of scrap wood and cut it into a wedge. The wedge was glued into the dado that I just cut, but I left a tunnel underneath the wedge. This gives me enough space to run the wires for the lights. I used a handplane to plane the wedge down flush with the inside face of the cabinet and then sanded it so that it virtually disappeared.
Step 6: Assemble the Cabinet
Finally, it’s time to assemble the cabinet! I used Titebond Hide glue while assembling the cabinet because it has a longer open time than normal wood glue.
I put glue on the sides of both the pins and tails. I also put glue in the groove that houses the back panel. It’s very important to not get glue in the tunnel that we just made!
The cabinet was held together with pipe clamps until the glue was dry.
Step 7: Sand the Cabinet
Now is the best time to sand the majority of the cabinet. Using a random orbit sander, I sanded the cabinet, moving up in sandpaper grits from 80 to 150 to 180 to 220 grit.
The inside areas and edges of the cabinet are hand sanded using a small block of wood with sandpaper wrapped around it.
Step 8: Attach Frame Mounting Blocks
The picture frames are going to be held in place to the back panel using rare earth magnets. The reason being is that we want an easy way to remove the frames and change out the comics. When putting the frames back into the cabinet, we want to make sure that the frames stay exactly where we want them, with a 1” gap between each one. To do this, I’m adding mounting blocks. This gives the frames something to sit on, keeping them aligned exactly where we want them.
I cut some scrap wood and placed it around the frames, and between all of them. This helps to keep the frames in place while we’re adding the mounting blocks. I put some painter’s tape on the inside corners of the frames. I then attached thin blocks to the panel, in the inside corners of the frame, using super glue.
Step 9: Apply Finish to the Cabinet
After the mounting blocks were attached, I applied finish to the cabinet. I’m using General Finishes Arm-R-Seal wipe-on varnish. I have another Instructable on how to apply wipe-on varnish if you want detailed instruction on how to apply it.
Using a rag, I applied three coats of finish to the cabinet. Between each coat, I sanded with 600 grit sandpaper. Do not apply finish inside the groove that will house the aluminum track.
Step 10: Build the Cabinet Door
I broke down lumber to build the door of the cabinet. I want the door to be Shaker style and approximately 2” wide. I cut the pieces for the door rail and stiles to length and width, which should be identical to the length and width of the cabinet. I also planed down the pieces to approximately 3/4" thick.
I assembled the rails and stiles using mortise and loose tenons. I’m using the Festool Domino to do this; however, you could also dowels for the same thing.
We need a rabbet in the back for glass to fit into the door. There are two ways to do this. You can assemble the door and then using a rabbet bit in a router to cut rabbet. I used the table saw to cut the rabbets, and then I glued a small block at the end of each piece so that the entrance and exit points will not been visible after assembly.
Next, the door is fit to the cabinet. I used no-mortise hinges. This makes the process super easy. I drilled and screwed the hinges into the cabinet. Using some scrap wood, I elevated the door until it was the same height as the cabinet. I drilled and screwed the hinge into the door.
With the door attached, I can then make any adjustments necessary. In my case, there was very slight overhang at the top right corner. I used a handplane to shave off some wood from the top of the door until the door fit perfectly onto the cabinet.
After the door was glued and assembled, I cut glass to fit into the rabbet. Cutting glass shouldn’t be scary. You can buy a cheap glass cutting wheel at any big box store. Set a straight edge on the glass and, with even pressure, score the glass along the straight edge. Put a pencil directly under the score mark and gently press down on the glass. It should break exactly where you scored it. After inserting the glass, I added a few strips of wood that will be nailed into place.
Step 11: Attach the Picture Frames to the Cabinet
I made marks in the back of the top corners of the picture frames and corresponding marks in the back of the cabinet. Using a forstner bit, I drilled holes in the back of the frames and into the cabinets. These holes will house the rare earth magnets that hold the frames to the panel.
The magnets are glued into place with epoxy. It’s important to note the poles of the magnets. You don’t want to glue magnets in place and they repel one another.
Step 12: Install the LED Lights
The first step in installing the LED lights is to put the aluminum channel into the groove. The channel can be cut with basic woodworking tools. I used the table saw to cut the channel to length. Using epoxy, I glued the channel into the groove, but left an opening where the tunnel is located in the bottom left of the cabinet. This gap will be covered with the channel cover that’s added later.
The power pack is attached to the back of the cabinet panel. The pack includes the power supply that plugs into the wall, and an RF receiver. These are held in place with Velcro. I also added a bracket out of wood scraps to hold some of the extra cables.
I’m using LED lights that use a RF receiver. There are two main types of lights, RF and IR. IR receivers require direct line of sight, meaning the remote has to be pointed at an IR sensor to work. The RF receiver allows the remote to work through walls. You can point the remote in any direction and it will work.
I ran the cable from the RF receiver through the tunnel and out the front. These cables plug into the LED light strip. The strips were then installed into the channel. Light strips are really easy to apply. I peeled off the adhesive sticker on the back and stuck the light strips to the channel, wrapping it around the entire cabinet. Once I reached the starting point again, I cut the light strips along a marked line. Every so many inches, the strips have a mark on them that tells you were you can cut them with scissors.
After making sure the lights work, I snapped the light defusing cover over the channel.
Step 13: Install a French Cleat
The cabinet is pretty heavy at this point so I want a strong mounting bracket to hold it to the wall. I’m using a French cleat. Using some 3/4" plywood, I cut a piece at a 45 degree angle. I cut another piece of plywood and glued them together. This stack of plywood matches the depth of the back of the cabinet. I glued one part of the cleat to the back of the cabinet. The other part is screwed into the wall. The two 45 degree pieces hook on one another, making for a rock solid hanger.
Step 14: Install the Latch and Knob
Using the same method as we used to install the rare earth magnets, I drilled holes in the corners of the cabinet. I screwed in magnetic latches into the cabinet, and screw into the corresponding part of the door.
I also attached a simple knob that coordinates with the hinges.
Step 15: Hang the Comics
The last step is to pick out which comics you want to display and hang them up!
If you make this project, please send me some pictures. I'd love to see them! You can find me on Instagram @genealogistwoodworker.