Any office starts with a desk, Norm explains, and his system starts with a base cabinet that will eventually contain drawers. The desktop, which he'll construct from long leaf pine, will rest atop it. That assembly will fit between a pair of wing walls. A shallow pencil drawer hangs from the top above the chair well. Three drawers in the cabinet will include a large file drawer (at the bottom) and two narrower drawers above it.
The cabinet is a little shorter than a typical kitchen cabinet. It's 29½” tall, which (with a 1” top) will make a surface 30½” tall, the right height for a desk. The cabinet follows Norm's usual construction techniques: rabbited joints secured with glue and screws, side panels of pre-finished plywood. On the side that will be visible and painted, Norm has used pre-primed plywood to make the finishing task even easier. This cabinet will also not feature a toe kick, since it is not designed to be used by a person standing in front of it. It has a face frame of poplar, assembled using pocket screws and secured to the carcass with biscuits; the carcass has a continuous slot to simplify that attachment. Biscuits provide a secure joint while avoiding the problem of dealing with visible fasteners like screws and nails. No matter how skillfully filled, nail holes tend to show.
Norm visits a new kitchen in a friend's house. It's a new kitchen in an older house. There's a bar with a marble top, a hot wall, cabinetry with inset doors and narrow rails and styles, made of prefinished plywood. The counter top wraps around an “ell” to the wet wall under a window. An island dominates the middle of the kitchen, in fact, it is the island Norm constructed a few years earlier, with a butcher block top and a wine cooler at one end. There's a built in refrigerator and a corner nook. That leads Norm to the office area. A knee hole is flanked on the left by a pair of file drawers, and the writing surface is marble, and large enough for a computer, telephone and workspace. There's a cork board in the back, illuminated, and a bookshelf above. This all sits in an alcove between a pair of cabinets that function as wing walls. The computer is of a sort found in many kitchens – it's also a television and requires no tower – all components are built into a single unit, the monitor. A wireless mouse and keyboard complete the station.
The current version of the kitchen uses a roll top desk (another Norm project) as the office; the telephone is mounted on the wall behind it and the television rests on the bar, a good distance away. It all sticks out too far: the desk is thirty inches deep and sits in front of a three inch deep baseboard heater. Norm proposes to remove that and cut the desk back to about 24 inches, to recover nearly a foot of space. He also wants to conceal the office, which is the purpose of the wing walls. Integrated into the desk, they don't change the architecture of the home.
The inside of the wall is ½” MDO (medium-density overlay), a pre-primed, very smooth suface that will take a final coat of paint nicely. The frame is ¾” plywood, made from scraps – lighter than 2x4 framing and far less likely to warp or twist. Screws secure the frame elements to each other, and glue holds the MDO panels to the frame. A solid piece with bead detail to soften the corners conceals the structural details. Norm has added a few notches to permit passage of wires that will bring electricity for the desk lighting and the computer. Cleats attached to the floor, back wall, and ceiling secure the wall. First, Norm will screw the cleat to the home's wall, floor or ceiling, and then he'll attach the wing wall to the cleat.
Norm needs to build the other wing wall, which he does now (following the obligatory safety lecture). He cuts narrow strips of plywood and uses a dado cutter to remove material for the wires, then secures the strips with brads before drilling and countersinking the necessary holes for the screws. He doesn't use glue to secure the structural members, because it won't stick will to the smooth surface of the MDO, and because the structure of the wall will work to secure the members together even as they make it rigid. He lays a nice bead of glue on top of the frame and then a piece of MDO on top of that. He repeats that process to finish the wall.
The office sits near the island, and the top of the island will be made of butcher block. The island's cabinets will be of reclaimed pine, so Norm chooses the same material for the desktop. He prepares these pieces with the jointer, and uses a surface planer to make them all the same thickness (pausing briefly to explain how the surface planer works). Before gluing them he matches grain and color as best he can. Then a few biscuit slots and some glue secure the pieces together. Because this kind of wood contains a great deal of pitch, Norm works very hard to make sure the surface is flush. That pitch gums up sandpaper and makes sanding very challenging.
That brings Norm to the drawers. Dovetail joinery holes the sides to the drawers; Norm uses his dovetailing jig, dovetail router bit and router to cut the slots and fingers. A dado near the back of each side recieves the back of the drawer, and all pieces receive a groove at the bottom into which the bottom of the drawer fits. Norm also machines two grooves into the bottom back of each side to receive the drawer runner. Then he assembles the sides to the front (with glue) and slides in the bottom (no glue) before attaching the back and securing it with glue and few brads. This basic technique works for all the drawer boxes.
Once the top sets, Norm sands it smooth and then takes it to the router table. There he'll round off the edge using featherboards and a round over bit. There's a little more work to do here, but Norm wants to start the overhead shelving unit before he takes care of it.
The shelves are very long, so Norm doubles up two pieces of ¾” plywood to create a strong shelf that will not sag, attaching them with glue and a few brads. The top shelving unit starts with a small shelf that will conceal task lighting. Above it is the heavy double shelf, and between these two shelves will be pigeon holes (separated by ¼” thick plywood dividers set in shallow dadoes). Above the thick shelf Norm plans two adjustable shelves, so he'll add some shelf pin holes to the sides. Finally, a fixed “top shelf” completes the unit. All these fit into dadoes and rabbits.
Norm uses his miter gauge, stop block and dado cutter to create these dadoes. It turns out that ¼” plywood is slightly narrower, which Norm must account for. He uses a single saw blade (in a zero clearance insert) and runs the piece through twice to create the necessary dado for the pigeon holes, adjusting the fence slightly. To assemble the pieces, he'll use glue and screws, and his earlier technique of drilling from the dado side to precisely locate the screw position. Then he turns over the piece and completes the countersinking. With a router and slot cutting bit, he cuts the groove that will accept the biscuits that secure the face frame. Tiny caps of maple attach to the pigeonhole separators to conceal the plywood edges with glue and a single pin.
Norm assembles the face frame with pocket screws and secures it to the shelving unit with biscuits. While it cooks, Norm turns his attention to the drawers.
He uses a small spacer block to bring the runner up to the proper level, then attaches the runners to the cabinet and small plastic catches to the front of each side of each drawer. These engage the runner with a firm push, and secure the drawer. It has full extension, soft close, and will hold a hundred pounds. For the bottom drawer, which is larger, Norm creates a panel front (the top two drawers are too small for this to work; they'll receive fronts made from plain MDO). He uses the usual technique: rails and styles with tenons and dadoes, glued up. The inset panel floats, and Norm finishes it with the molding detail. That finishes the drawers and the kitchen office; it's ready for installation and paint.
Norm closes the show by discussing the next phase: the island. There people will prepare and eat food. Norm also wants a spot there for trash storage, tray storage, and a place for the microwave. Share this article with your friends