Air Force Cabinet

What is your passion? What is your favorite hobby? For me it’s woodworking. This business, the website you are reading, is my way of sharing my passion with the world. I document what I do and present it in such a way that generates revenue for my family. But I also try to present it in such a way that there is some kind of value for the reader, or viewer, in hopes that people can learn from what I am doing. The positive feedback from people learning from my content is incredible. It reinforces my joy for teaching people what I know and helping them along. So when scheduling allows and I get the opportunity to help someone with a woodworking project outside the digital world I really enjoy it.

This project was supposed to be a dining table. My friend Jason took on a job to build a dining table and we worked out an arrangement to build it in my shop. A week or two before our set starting date the client took another path and the dining table was no longer in the cards. I told Jason he should still come out and build something in the time we had originally planned anyway. Out with the dining table idea and in with the Air Force cabinet idea. Jason is a pilot instructor in the Air Force and had the idea to build a cabinet for his office that incorporated his training squadron patch logo. The cabinet would house his puck board, a 4′ x 4′ magnetic white board used to keep track of his Airmen. He also wanted the cabinet to somehow incorporate his squadron patch logo. A few minutes in SketchUp and this is what I came up with.

Curly ash will be used for the case and for the door panels. Rough sawn 8/4 is where this build starts.

The curl in this wood is incredible. I had an entire log section milled to 8/4 stock and had some stability issues when initially using it. I think letting it sit in my shop for the past 6 months or so has allowed it to settle down considerably. The stock I pulled out for this project didn’t have any defects in it, which was a relief.

We only had one panel glue-up for this build. The door pull was to be a 12-14” diameter circle.

For a strong corner joint, we went with a through mortise and tenon joint. The Pantorouter was used for this. It’s an incredible joinery machine that shines with unique setups or with batch operations. Once set up the precision is always there and using it is fast and efficient. Mortises first.

Followed by the tenons. Tenons are cut second with this machine because the sloped templates allow for very precise sizing of the tenon.

Jason thought it would be nice to add a contrasting color wedge to the mortise. I agreed. To do so we set up a stop block on the table saw miter sled to make two repeatable slots on each tenon.

Bubinga was used for the “wedges.” I put wedges in quotes there because they weren’t much of a wedge. They were rectangular in shape and sized a tiny amount thicker than the opening of the slot. Driving them home with a lubricating hide glue will ever so slightly compress the joint tighter and provide increased visual interest without risking splitting the mortise board or requiring dovetailing of the mortise for a true wedged fit. Just the mortise and tenon joint alone provides all of the strength needed for this to last long term.

Next up is the horizontal bracing pieces to go inside. The top will be for the french cleat to mount the cabinet to the wall. The middle brace will hold the sides parallel long term. And the bottom, along with the other two mentioned, will provide backing support for the magnetic puck board.

More ash for these pieces. They were attached with screws through the top and bottom panels of the case and to the sides with pocket hole screws.

With the case done attention shifts to the doors. Walnut door frames with 45 degree shiplap panels.

The first order of business is ripping and milling all of the walnut frame pieces.

Tongue and groove joints were to be used for the door frame construction. At the router table, a tongue and groove bit was set to be centered in the thickness of the material. Every piece gets a groove cut along its interior side length.

A matching tongue piece is established on the ends of just the rails (horizontal door pieces). A coping sled is really handy for this situation. I’ve made raised panel doors without a sled by using a sacrificial push and backer block in the past. A coping sled is much safer and makes the cuts foolproof.

Now that the door grooves were established we could cut the shiplap slats to size. We started by resawing them a little thicker than necessary at the bandsaw.

To get them all to a uniform thickness we used the drum sander. This was a slow process. A drum sander is a super handy tool but it’s still pretty slow. Especially when working with thin pieces that don’t have much friction with the conveyor.

A pair of alternating rabbets on the long edges of the panel pieces is needed to achieve a shiplap joint. It’s basically a long, wide half lap joint. For this, we used the router table once again.

While moving the pieces around a bit we realized the door joints had to hold a considerable amount of weight. To ease a little uncertainty we added a domino to each door frame joint for reinforcement.

Now the panels can be cut and fitted. This was a tedious back and forth process that could have been done a lot easier.

I should have cut a piece of plywood to fit the interior space and used it as a template to size all of the individual pieces. Instead, we did things the hard way by sizing each piece and checking it’s fit one at a time.

But we made do and got it them done. Because we chose to leave the panels floating and not glue them to one another we used tape to maintain sanity and prevent them from moving while trying to get them all fitted. Once everything looked good we glued up the doors.

By now the door pull panel was dry and ready to be cut on the CNC. Jason is part of the 43rd Flying Training Squadron which has a firebird as their patch logo. A V carve toolpath with a 1/4” bottom depth was used for the logo and a profile toolpath with four large tabs were used to establish the shape of the door pull.

To color the logo we sprayed the entire top surface, and carved surface, with Deft Sanding Sealer. This is to seal the wood fibers and prevent any bleed from the dye. I recommend a couple of coats.

Then Marsh black stencil ink was sprayed (waaaaaaay better coverage than black paint). After the ink dries the entire top surface is sanded down, through the sanding sealer. Here’s the result. A really crisp carving with flawless contrast.

During the waiting time while the sanding sealer and the ink dried we trimmed the tenons flush and sanded the sides of the case.

After allowing the doors to sit in clamps overnight (two weeks, actually) we started the process of attaching them to the case. I gave Jason the option of mortising the hinge into the project or surface mounting them. This was our last scheduled day and we were up against a time crunch so we didn’t go the extra mile to mortise the hinge. No big deal. Surface mounting will work just as well. The only difference is the resulting gap between the doors and the case. In some situations, you’d really want to mortise the hinge in place. In this case, there isn’t a noticeable difference.

To mount the hinges we clamped the doors in the 180° open position and taped the hinge in place.

The tape prevents the hinge from sliding around while we drilled the 3.5 million holes necessary for 48” long piano hinges. It felt like even more holes than that, actually. A self-centering drill bit was used for the holes. We made sure to get a few screws secured before drilling all of the holes. The tape does a good job of preventing the hinge from sliding when starting the process. Screws do an even better job, obviously.

Perfect fit! This is when we had the first “wow” moment. The project was coming together and all of the little details were adding up. The grain selection where the door frames met in the middle was great. The angled shiplap pieces resembling the shape of the firebird was great. The contrast of the walnut and ash was great.

To hold the doors shut we planned on using magnets. Nice magnetic door catches were used on the handle-less door.

The door with the handle was cut from it’s blank, the tabs trimmed flush at the router table, and prepared for sanding. We wanted a wide, shallow chamfer on the back of one side to be a finger grab. To do this we marked the depth in both directions with a pencil to let us know where to stop. The belt sander in the horizontal position was the quickest and easiest way to get this done safely.

With the finger grab complete the belt sander was put back to vertical and the perimeter of the handle was cleaned up. It’s easy to sand too much so we rotated it gently with the direction of the sander and was careful to not put too much pressure against the belt.

More sanding, yay! We disassembled the cabinet and Jason got started on the powered sanding areas. I followed up with hand sanding where necessary.

To clean burn marks off the narrow edges of the door frames a hand plane is the best tool. A scrap wood dead-man helps hold the door in the workbench vise. I know someone will ask…the leg vise is on the other side of the workbench. I like the leg vise and iron vise equally the same. They both clamp wood. I used this side because it was closer to me. I always pick whatever one is more convenient with location and with no obstructions on the bench.

Then the handle is mounted very carefully with two screws from the inside of the door. We also added a bead of glue to lock it down.

For a finish, we went with an oil wax mix. I’ve used this on many projects so far and I like the look as well as the ease of application. It’s nearly impossible to screw up this finish. Wax on, wax off. Or is it oil on, oil off…

We were extra cautious with the door handle as I wasn’t sure if the ink would bleed when the finish was added. Luckily, it didn’t bleed at all and turned out great.

One door had magnetic latches installed in the case to hold it shut. The second door, the one with the handle, was to rely on a magnet in the first door frame and in the back of the door handle. To locate the magnets I used a small finish nail in the door, cut it short, dabbed a black marker on top, and then shut the door onto the handle to transfer the location. This worked great. Epoxy was used to hold the magnets in place.

And with that this project is complete. All that’s left to do is hang the french cleat on the wall, hang the cabinet, and install the magnetic puck board inside. There’s a lot that I like about this build. The contrast of walnut and ash is much more pleasing to me than the typical walnut and maple. The alternating door panel directions that play with the direction of the firebird logo. The through tenons on the case. The grain selection of the door frame, door panels, and case sides. The logo door pull. The “wedged” tenons. Every bit of it is interesting. That said, it really is just a simple cabinet with two doors. The woodworking itself takes a back seat to the wood.

Thanks for following along with this build. Don’t forget to sign up for my email newsletter at jayscustomcreations.com/newsletter so you don’t miss anything that I publish.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Very handsome work. I’m not surprised by your result.

    Just one question… Why didn’t you use the Air Force mascot (peregrine falcon)? Our country has very specific specs for each emblem that represents each branch of service. What you created is unique. Nothing wrong with your design although without your explanation of what it represents I would have had no idea what it was symbolic for.

  2. I had the same question. Just reading the title, I expected the AF logo, but this is going in his buddy’s squadron for their student tracker board. It looks like they replicated the squadron patch. Looks great!

  3. Thanks, Jay. This is the first email and project I’ve received from you, and I’m both grateful and impressed. You and your friend did some very nice work here. The project turned out great. I agree with one of the other comments, that case will be the envy of the other squadrens.

  4. Fantastic project. I’m afraid you’ve outgrown my abilities and I cannot afford your fancy machinery. I think I’ll just start watching the plebs and hand tool guys. It’s been a good journey and congratulations on your rise to this level.
    Bye.
    Terry from Australia.

  5. Nice work Jason. Also, another great job presenting the build process. Easy to follow and the images helped in relating the details. I’m digging those star knobs on the PantoRouter.

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