Nine-month Comprehensive: Building a Tool Cabinet

Written by Heide Martin on .

The second project of the Nine-month Comprehensive is focused on honing machine skills and learning the value of well-made shop fixtures and tooling. For three weeks students all work on variations of a tool cabinet design: everyone relies on the same jigs and builds a cabinet of the same basic proportions, with the ability to customize the interior to best fit their personal tool collection.

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Above, Jonathan Reif's tool cabinet (2012 Nine-month Comprehensive). The customized interior provides plenty of space for this impressive collection of hand tools.  

The tool cabinet design features dovetail joinery, curved doors fitted with staves, fixed dovetail dado shelves, adjustable shelves, and optional interior drawers. The curves and staves add complexity to the build, adding a number of advanced machine processes and unique design considerations. Below, a router table setup to add groves into the door rails to accept the staves.

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The staves are linked to each other with floating splines. Below left, Mason McBrien adds a groove into the side of a stave to accept the spline. Right, assistant Patrick Coughlin adds a bare faced tenon to the top and bottom of the staves, where they will fit into the rails.

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Below, student Jeffery Mazur uses the shaper to place an angled groove into the outer door stile, where it will accept the outermost door stave.

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Shown here in use by student Ren Provey, a second shaper jig creates a rabbit that will mate the innermost stave to the inner door stile.

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The fixed shelves are set in place with a sliding dovetail dado, giving the carcass increased rigidity and strength. Below, student Rachel Davis checks the height of the dovetail bit before running her shelf stock through.

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Below, co-instructor Owain Harris shows students Eric Dunder and Sam Friedlander how to best operate the router for cutting dovetaile dados in the sides of their cabinet carcasses.

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The adjustable shelves are set in place with adjustable pins. A former student of the Nine-month Comprehensive designed this drill press jig to assist in drilling the pin holes in the carcass sides. The slots on the bed of the jig serve as references for the hardwood stop shown in the below left photo.

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The students are now two weeks into the three-week project, and every case is glued up, awaiting doors. Proper dry-fitting and gluing technique is part of the curriculum, and shown below are instructors working with students through this process. Class assistant Patrick Coughlin helps student Imri Givon with a dry-fit, instructor Aled Lewis applies glue together with student Rachel Davis, and co-instructor Owain Harris helps student Mya Nelson to check her clamped cabinet for square.

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Over the next week, students will be completing their doors and then adding custom details to the interior to personalize their cabinets. Below are a few cabinets by former students, including Jim Spencer, Yorgo Liapis, and Mason McBrien.

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