Arkansas Black Walnut Cabinet
May 1, 2017
We have good friends living in the Ozark Mountains of
Northern Arkansas, fronting the White River in an incredibly beautiful spot,
especially in the spring when all of the trees leaf out. As
there are an abundance of hardwoods and small sawmills in the area, I've
always got an eye out when visiting them for acquiring some lumber to bring
back to my shop. My friend taught high school for many years in the area and his co-teacher
(wood shop) got us connected with a great deal on some local black walnut
rough-sawn lumber that had been stored and stacked inside a garage for
several years and was well seasoned. So, we purchased a small trailer,
loaded up the lumber (and a vintage pre-owned Honda Four Wheeler for use on our ranch) and headed down the road for home.
The cabinet plan I drew in Sketch Up was based on a discussion with my friend's wife regarding
a space in her dining room that was currently occupied by a factory piece
she wanted to replace. Opening my mouth, I mentioned the possibility of
building something out of the Black Walnut Lumber. The rest was history, as they say.
Once I got the lumber unloaded into my shop, I was able to sort through it
and get a good look at color, grain, checks, etc. and formulate a plan to
turn it into a finished cabinet. As all of it was rough 4/4 stock,
fortunately, I already had some 8/4 of a similar color walnut that I could
use for the legs.
Legs are milled, cut to length and marked for mortises. Rails have the
rough tenons cut with a dado stack on the table saw and then hand planed to
fit the mortises in the legs. The side rails are dry fit to the leg mortises to complete the end
assemblies. The back rails (upper, middle and lower) are milled and tenons cut to fit into the back legs.
The front lower rail will be attached to a shelf in the front and then an arc cut into it.
The cabinet front will be divided between 2 doors at the top, 2 rows of
drawers in the center, and an open shelf at the bottom. The rails
dividing the drawers compartments are mortised into the side of the front
The front stretcher is dovetailed into the top of each of the front legs and
makes the rough case considerably more ridgid. Two vertical back
stiles are mortised into the back rails, dividing the back into 4 separate
panels. The middle back rail is dadoed to accept a shelf for the door
compartment. The bottom back rail is dadoed to accept the bottom shelf. The underside of the stretcher, as well as the top side of the door
compartment shelf are mortised for the door hinges.
Vertical dividers are mortised between the horizontal drawer rails at the
front on the cabinet. The dividers have a piece biscuted into the back
that is attached to the case back stiles with a tenon. These will
provide support for the drawer runners (the drawing shows 3 drawers, but I
divided the lower into 2 separate drawers instead of a single).
Now that the case can be dry fit together and the measurements for the
panels can be made. Rough stock is chosen for grain and color, then glued together.
There will be a total of 6 panels in the sides and back of the cabinet. Each
will be fitted with a rabbit on all the edges and then fit into dados cut in the legs and rails.
Now that all of the case pieces are fit (there are approx. 55 of them,
absent the drawers, doors, and top) glue-up can begin. First the front
is put together, including the 2 front legs (after tapering the lower ends),
lower front rail with shelf attached to it, and the drawer rails.
Next the cabinet back is glued as a single section. As in all of the
sections, the panels will float freely in the dados to allow for seasonal
wood movement (especially in hot, humid Arkansas). The sides are then
attached to the back, with glue applied only to the upper and lower rail
tenons where they attach the to back legs. Lastly, the front section is glued to the sides (top and bottom rails) and
the top stretcher is glued to the tops of the front legs. Now the case is ready for drawer and door measurements and construction.
Drawers are built from Bigleaf Maple sides, alder bottoms, and walnut
fronts, with through-dovetails at the rear and half-blind at the front.
I rough-out the half blinds with a small router and then finish them with a
Doors are built from a frame joined together with bridal joints. The
joint mortises are cut with a table saw tenon jig using a dado blade and the
tenons are cut with a dado stack on the table saw as well. The doors will have a free-floating panel, similar to the case, with a
rabbit on all edges that fits into a dado on the sides. After rough fitting the doors to the opening, mortises are routed and
chiseled for the hinges.
I rough fit the door while the cabinet is lying flat on a table, using
clamps as temporary stops. The brass knife hinges fit into the
previously mortised stretcher and shelf. The hinges will be removed
before applying finish to the cabinet and door and then finalized after the
last coat of finish. Next, the top is glued up, trying to find some
pieces with figure and color that match the case. The top will extend past the case by about 3" and be beveled back on the
underside toward the case, leaving an approx. 3/8" edge. I turned some African Ebony knobs on the lathe for the doors and drawers.
The cabinet is finished with 4 coats of wipe-on polyurethane finish, sanding
between coats with up to 600 paper. Walnut, in a natural finish, I
believe makes a welcome complement to almost any living space.