Up next in the shop will be a stained black credenza. My customer likes to entertain and will be using this as a bar in her loft located in Portland Oregon’s Pearl District. The inspiration for this design came from a piece my client saw in an import shop in her neighborhood. The original piece was the wrong size, poorly built, and a bit too rustic for her taste. The part she liked the best was the natural wood grate work on the doors contrasting the stark black case.
After considering her entertainment needs and style cues, here is my version.
The top and casework will be built out of white oak, stained black with a satin poly finish topcoat. The gridwork on the doors will be made out of alder. At this point, I’m not sure if I will stain the alder a contrasting color or leave it natural. I think putting an oil or lacquer finish over the natural wood will bring out the color we are looking for. Whatever finish I decide on for the doors, I will certainly spray the finish on even though spraying a finish is my least favorite way to go, do to set up and clean up being time-consuming. Can you imagine how long it would take to hand brush each square, front back, and inside!
On the left side of the credenza, I will install a shallow drawer for her to store her cocktail napkins, corkscrew, and other supplies one would need to entertain with. I will size the drawer down so that you will not have to have the doors hyper-extended to operate the drawer. The drawer runners will be handmade from wood so you will never have to worry about them wearing out.
The right-hand side of the credenza will have an adjustable shelf. The adjustment mechanism will be a custom-made ladder system. The shelf will be notched to fit around the shelf brackets to maximize support and shelf space.
I know, you can buy these types of shelf supports from several different woodworking stores, but why? I’m a woodworker, why not build my own. Besides, the ones you can order come is specific sizes and I would have to modify them to fit anyways. I will also be cutting the ladders closer together so there will be more shelf location possibilities as well.
Building the Panels
I got started gluing up the panels for the back and sides. There is six total. I started out with 1/2″ stock and milled it down to 3/8″. I think this is a good durable thickness for a panel. I hate it when I see a piece of furniture in a store where the panels are made of 1/4” thick plywood or less, you can easily bust through the panel. How many times have you tapped on one of those flimsy panels and it rattled, echoed, or almost fell out. With a 3/8” thickness of solid wood, it will last a lot longer and will have a better, solid feel to it.
At this point, the panels are a little oversized. I will cut them to exact dimensions when I test fit them into the framework.
Staining before Assembly
There is a downside to using solid wood for the panels rather than plywood. That is the expansion and contraction of the wood as the humidity changes. Because of this, I will cut the dados a little deeper to allow for movement. I will also stain the panels before assembly. There is nothing worse than staining the panel after assembly and have it shrink, pulling the edges out of the dado to reveal the unstained area along the edge. Besides, it is easier to stain being separate.
Trying to stain wood black turned out to be much more difficult than I had thought. Oak has a deep-pitted grain so my first pass did not soak into the grain and the pitted areas did not accept any stain. It looked terrible. In an attempt to solve this, I used a grain filler to fill the grain. I died the grain fill black before spreading it onto the wood. Unfortunately, when it dried, it dried as a dark gray. Luckily, when I stained the wood the grain filler absorbed the stain fine and turned black. Nevertheless, my black stain did not turn the wood black; it looked more like a dark purplish-brown.
The next thing I tried was to use an ebony dye stain from General Finishes,
It took three coats of build-up before I achieved a true black, but I must say after using General finishes dye stain, I will probably never use a traditional stain again. Dyes are much more vibrant in color and still allow the beauty of the wood to show through.
Building the Frames
While the dye and finish dry on the panels, I turned my attention to building the frames for the panels. The side frames will incorporate the legs and the back panel will be mortised and tenoned into them. To cut the Mortises I use a hollow point chisel in my drill press.
The hollow point chisel has a drill bit inside of it that drills out the majority of the wood and the square chisel cut the mortise square as it is plunged into the wood.
The 1st two steps are not always exact, and I typically cut the tenons a bit tight. You can always remove more wood but it is hard to put back. To get the best fit I use a shoulder plane and chisel to do the final cuts by hand, fine-tuning the mortise and tenons until they fit perfectly.
Here is one of the sides of the credenza after I have test fitted all the mortise and tenon joints. I marked each joint so when I take it apart to install the panel and apply the glue for final assembly, it will go back exactly in the same position, as each tenon is now specifically cut to fit its corresponding mortise so it has to go back this way for a proper fit. I will do this for the back and other side. When I mark the pieces I number them on the tenon and inside the mortise so they don’t get sanded off or cover in a stain. As with many of my woodworking processes, I learned that one the hard way.
Assembling The Panels and Top Glue Up
It is always a good idea to do a test fit before, you start spreading the glue to be sure everything fits properly, and you didn’t forget anything. It is a good thing I followed that advice. When I did my test fit, I realized that I did not have a notch for the base of the cabinet to fit in, so I broke out my mallet and chisel and hand-chopped one out on each of the legs.
The back has four panels in it. During my test assembly, I discovered, getting all four panels to stay flat was a challenge. I also didn’t think I could get all the glue spread in all the joints and squared up in the clamps before the glue started to dry. To make the assembly process easier I glued up the two middle panels first. Then once they were dry I glued on the final panels on each end.
The credenza is so wide that I didn’t have a clamp long enough to clamp across the entire width. What better excuse to go to my favorite woodworking store to buy a new tool (as if I needed an excuse). They didn’t have a clamp long enough to do the job, but I found some clamp extensions by Bessy that I thought would work. Well, I have the old-style Bessy clamps so they were not compatible. But Hey, no biggie, back to my favorite store to buy new clamps.
The right-hand side of the panel is the bottom; if you look closely, you will see a groove cut down the length. This is for the bottom to ride in. The bottom will only be attached to the front, as the sides and back float in groves. This will take care of expansion and contraction with changes in humidity, and will allow the bottom to move without cracking.
I waited until I had the main cabinet of the credenza built before I milled the top. I wanted to be sure of the exact width and length of the cabinet so I could get a feel for how far I wanted the overhang to be, and be sure it was even all the way around the cabinet. I ended up going with an inch and a half for the overhangs. It had a good visual feel to it.
Production Work and Final Assembly
One of the most boring and dangerous things about any kind of construction is repetitive production work. You have to turn out the same piece over and over again. This is when you get bored, your mind wanders, and you stop paying attention. This is not a good thing when you are standing over a table saw. Knock on wood I have only had some close calls from wandering minds.
Practicing extreme safety, I set up this little jig on my miter bar. To do this I set up my stacked dado cutter to the same width as the material and set the depth to half the thickness of the material so I could create a half lap joint. I made a cut in the sacrificial backer board and moved it over the width of the opening I wanted the grid to be. Slid in a stop block and I was ready to cut the half-lap joints at even spacing’s.
To finish the frames I used a Deft satin lacquer, in their spray can. This saved me from having to drag out all my spray equipment and having to clean the gun. I also really like the spray tip they use. It produces a fine mist, almost like a fog, which leaves are smooth finish with very little sanding between coats.
While I was in the finishing mode, I stained and finished the inside of the cabinet. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to apply a stain and finish on an inside corner while messing up the adjoining side. Pre-finishing those pieces eliminate that frustration. I just have to be careful when doing the final assembly not to damage this finish.
The final assembly was a bear. Due to the large size of the credenza, I had a heck of a time getting all the pieces lined up and in the clamps by myself. It is times like this I wish I could have a helper on call, but after some finagling and I`m sure some unmentionable words. I got the main cabinet in the clamps and squared up.
Follow the link if you would like me to build you a custom Credenza., or if you want to start a new project and have a one-of-a-kind custom-made piece of furniture built from your design ideas.
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