Hand tool cabinet (Krenovian-influenced process)

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Project by JasonD posted 05-02-2011 04:36 AM 5300 views 6 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch

In “A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook”, James Krenov talks about starting projects with just a few preliminary sketches / ballpark measurements, then allowing the project to take shape from that basic idea as it proceeds. When I first read that a year ago, I though to myself, “sure, that might work for you, but I’d never be able to pull something off without detailed plans for every step of the project”.

Well, I finally got up the courage to jump into the deep end of the pool head first. I needed a small cabinet to hold my joinery saws and marking & measuring tools. The project was made entirely with hand tools, all the ripping was done with a $10 Stanley saw with a plastic handle (proof that you don’t always need expensive tools to get the job done). I plan to blog about the build process and post in-progress pics later (maybe tomorrow if I have time), but a few tidbits about this project:

- first time that I’ve ever used hand-cut dovetails in a project (carcass)
- first time that I’ve ever used hand-cut half lap joints (door frame)
- first time that I’ve ever used a glass panel in a project

Lessons learned:
- hand-cut through dovetails are much easier than I thought
- hand-cut half lap joints to make a frame are much harder than I thought
- working with glass makes me nervous :)

The first picture shows the cabinet hung on my shop’s French cleat system.
The second picture shows the magnetic catch that I made (screw + flat washer + rare earth magnet).
The third picture shows most of the tool holder that I made from yellow pine scraps. They are sitting on my newly-made shooting board; which makes dimensioning small pieces SO much easier.
The fourth picture shows the cabinet before being hung; just wanted to show a pic with a side view to show the dovetails.

All comments / critiques are welcome. Thanks for taking the time to look / read.

11 comments so far

View saddletramp's profile


1180 posts in 4138 days

#1 posted 05-02-2011 04:44 AM

First hand cut dovetails, first hand cut half lap joints, first project without a detailed plan.

FIRST RATE!! good job.

-- ♫♪♪♫♫ Saddletramp, saddletramp, I'm as free as the breeze and I ride where I please, saddletramp ♪♪♪♫♪ ...... Bob W....NW Michigan (Traverse City area)

View Chelios's profile


568 posts in 4565 days

#2 posted 05-02-2011 04:47 AM

Very inspiring, thanks for sharing. The cabinet turned out real nice

View docholladay's profile


1287 posts in 4558 days

#3 posted 05-02-2011 03:12 PM

Good work. The Dovetails look great. Nicely done.

-- Hey, woodworking ain't brain surgery. Just do something and keep trying till you get it. Doc

View DocSavage45's profile


9071 posts in 4342 days

#4 posted 05-02-2011 05:29 PM

Great first steps fellow Krenovian! Any powertools? Krenov used them. Where is your material coming from. The first steps are the hardest..thanks for sharing.

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View JasonD's profile


180 posts in 4361 days

#5 posted 05-02-2011 05:56 PM

Thanks for the kind words, everyone!

DocSavage45 wrote: “Any powertools?”

If you count the cordless drill I used to install the door hinges, then yes. Other than that, all the milling, dimensioning, and joinery were done with hand tools. Figuring out how to make the dado / groove for the cabinet back without a plow plane was a challenge; but it was a lot of fun and I learned a ton.

I’m hoping to get the build process blog started today. It will have in progress pictures to show the tools and methods that I used. And for the record, I’m not opposed to using power tools. I just prefer the peace / quiet of well-tuned hand tools; also once you get the hang of it, hand tools can be quite fast; especially if you’re only making a few pieces. If I were making a shop full of cabinets, obviously it would be a different story.

View Brian S's profile

Brian S

108 posts in 4093 days

#6 posted 05-02-2011 06:36 PM

That looks fantastic. Really great work.

How did you install the glass in the frame on this case? I know that I would probably have used a router to make a groove for the plate, but I’m not sure how I would have gone about it with only hand tools. Did you use a router plane or a tongue and groove plane, or did you do something else entirely?

-- Brian

View JasonD's profile


180 posts in 4361 days

#7 posted 05-02-2011 07:47 PM

Brian, I scored the lines to define the sides of the rabbets using a mortising gauge. I chopped out the majority of the waste with a chisel. Then, I used a chisel bevel-down to clean up / smooth out the last 1/16” or so of waste. The glass panel is held in place with a little silicone. I made glass stops by ripping some scrap pine with a panel saw. I used a jointer plane to square them up, cut miters in the corners with a backsaw, and used a block plane to clean the miters up. I tacked the glass stops in place with really small brads hammered in at a slight angle.

View Brian S's profile

Brian S

108 posts in 4093 days

#8 posted 05-02-2011 08:09 PM

Thanks Jason, I’ll have to try that some time. It’s nice to hear that you can do these things without some super-specialized hand tool, and still have a great piece like yours.

-- Brian

View Ken Fitzpatrick's profile

Ken Fitzpatrick

376 posts in 5523 days

#9 posted 05-03-2011 04:11 AM

Very nice. Love the french cleat system. Am doing over my shop now and think I will keep it in mind.

-- • "I have noticed that nothing I have never said ever did me any harm."....... Calvin Coolidge

View bigike's profile


4059 posts in 4788 days

#10 posted 05-03-2011 04:14 AM

neat, very nice job.

-- Ike, Big Daddies Woodshop, http://[email protected]

View a1Jim's profile


118334 posts in 5076 days

#11 posted 05-03-2011 04:16 AM

Looks good. This will serve you well for years to come.


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