Kitchen Project - The Pantry (5 of 9) - Recap

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For two centuries American homes have featured a pantry, a place to store jars and boxes of ingredients and foods – often home canned vegetables and home cooked preserves. Sometime around the middle of the twentieth century, as processed and canned foods penetrated the market and folks canned and preserved less, the pantry fell out of favor and many houses built then do not have them. But the pantry has found favor again, perhaps because the appearance of warehouse shopping encourages bulk buying, or perhaps simply because the concept is a good one.

The kitchen Norm plans to remodel had a pantry cupboard. It has fixed shelves – a drawback because sometimes large items require more space between shelfs. The shelves have notches, allowing light from the top of the cupboard to reach even the shelves at the bottom. But they also come with a drawback: when the door is closed, that void represents unused space. Norm can solve that problem by building a box on the inside of the door for smaller items.

The refrigerator stands next to the cabinets and is about six inches proud of them. But newer refrigerators are shallower; Norm expects that he can build a box around the refrigerator and preserve the cabinet line.

Back in the shop, Norm reveals the cabinet for the pantry. He constructed it using his standard cabinet approach: the bottom shelf and top shelf attach fit into rabbits cut into the top and bottom edges of each side and are secured with glue and screws. A dado in each side and in the top and bottom shelves captures the back. Glue and screws secure it. A groove cut in the front edge will receive biscuits that secure the face frame to the cabinet.

Norm considered the height of this cabinet carefully. The diagonal must be less than the height of the ceiling, or it will not be possible to rotate the cabinet into place. Since Norm wants his cabinet an inch from the ceiling, he has constructed the base separately from the cabinet. He can stand the cabinet up and then lift it onto the base.

Norm makes the face frame from solid poplar. He uses one inch stock for this face frame because the door will carry a great deal of weight. Pocket screws and glue attach the pieces of the face frame to each other, and the inside will feature a bead detail like that found on other parts of the cabinetry.

For this frame, Norm uses a round over bit to cut the bead right into the face frame components, with a pair of featherboards to keep the stock tight against the fence and the table of the router station. At the points where frame elements join, Norm cuts a miter into the stiles and then slices away the bead detail. A corresponding miter in the rails makes a tight butt joint possible. Norm starts with the stiles, using the table saw tipped to 45° and carefully adjusted for correct height. A stop block ensures consistency in cutting the stiles. Then Norm cuts away the bead detail as much as possible with the saw, using marks on the fence and the stock to ensure he doesn't go to far. He cleans up the remaining bits with a sharp chisel. Once he's happy with the fit, he cuts pockets and uses glue and pocket screws to secure the pieces.

The face frame will only come about halfway up the bottom shelf, so Norm covers it with a maple veneer that will hide the plywood edges. The exposed part of the shelf will act as a door stop. To provide a solid backing for the face frame and a place to attach biscuits, Norm secures a plywood cleat under the shelf. Once he has cut biscuit slots into the back of the face frame, Norm attaches it to the cabinet with biscuits and glue, and then clamps it until the glue sets. As before, the biscuits make a strong joint that has no external fasteners, and so no need to worry about nail pops, countersinking and filling.

While this dries, Norm visits a kitchen made by the people whose cabinet shop inspired his designs. It has a refrigerator set into the wall, a large hot wall next to it with a commercial size range, a nice spice rack that slides out of the wall next to the range, and very nice cherry cabinetry. Above it are some glass panel cabinets for storage of the glassware and china, with the mutton bars of the windows aligned nicely with the shelves. Counters are of marble, and so is the sink, and a wooden panel conceals the dishwasher. A slightly curved bead board end and a furniture-like corner complete the wet wall.

An island features a large teak prep area with a disposer and a sink cantilevered off of one corner. The sides are curved and feature half glassed windows for more dish storage. Behind it a floor to ceiling wall of cherry conceals a microwave and wine chiller. There's also a toaster oven and some pantry space (doors with shelves on the inside to maximize storage space. A large panel conceals access to the pantry behind the door, which features plenty of storage, much of it adjustable.

Back in the shop, Norm has laid out the parts of the door. It will have four panels trimmed with molding. His first step is to cut a groove in all the parts to receive both the panel, and the tenons he'll craft onto the ends of the rails. This groove is offset slightly so that the panel sits are the correct position to receive the molding. With the sacrificial fence and two heights (because the dado is off-center), Norm cuts tenons into the ends of the rails. He first clamps the center stile to all the rails, then slides in the panels and attaches the end stiles with the same system of glue and pocket screws. He checks the diagonals to make sure they match (a test for squareness) and leaves it to set.

With a miter gauge (with a stop) and his table saw, Norm cut a series of molding pieces to trim the panels. The stop makes cutting pieces precisely to length easy; Norm cuts the longer pieces just a touch too long, so they fit tightly. Glue and some pin nails secure them to the rails and stiles, and they'll lock the panels in place.

With his Plexiglas shelf jig, Norm drills the holes for the pins that will support the adjustable shelves. Once he drills a single hole, he can move the jig and lock it in place with a shelf pin before precisely drilling the remaining holes. When he reaches the end of the jig, he simply moves it down and locks it into another hole. Norm drills holes down the center of the back to prevent sagging, and pairs of holes in each side.

A small piece of poplar, installed behind the top rail with glue and nails, provides a stop for the door.

For the shelves, Norm has again turned to the prefinished plywood. It's durable surface will withstand cans sliding over it, and it is stable. To discourage sagging as well as dress the edge, he uses glue and biscuits to attach a piece of solid maple slightly thicker than the shelf; this gives the shelves a look of real solidity.

It's time to hang the door. Norm wants four hinges on each door to ensure that it is well supported. He creates a small jig to facilitate cutting mortises for the hinges, using his table saw to nibble a rectangular slot into the jig which is slightly larger than the desired opening. The difference is the thickness of the guide collar that fits around the router bit. A small cleat completes the jig; this cleat ensures proper placement. To verify he's constructed the jig properly, Norm tests it on a piece of scrap wood. Once he has fine-tuned his jig, Norm attaches it to the cabinet with locking pliers and, routes out the hinge mortises, and finishes them with a corner chisel. To ensure proper fit, he sets the door into the frame and makes sure the top and bottom gaps are equal, then uses a utility knife to transfer the hinge positions. That done, he cuts the mortises in the door using the same techniques. When attaching the hinges, Norm cautions that the holes must be properly square, or the screw heads will be proud of the hinge and the door will be hinge bound.

With the door attached, Norm considers the storage system he'll mount in the door. Included in the requirements is a particular container of plastic wrap the chef wants on the door, so Norm will ensure there is space for it. He starts with a box, made of 1/2” plywood, pre-edged. Norm will assemble the sides and back and mount this one the inside of the door. The bottom fits into a pair of dadoes in the sides, while the top uses a mitered joint reinforced with a biscuit. The back drops into rabbits in all four sides, and Norm secures it with glue and a few pins.

Smaller boxes fit inside the large door box. These feature box joinery to attach the sides to the front and back. Each side has a slanted slot cut into it that rides on a slanted piece of hardwood mounted on each side of the box. The slant prevents an abrupt opening of the door from causing the boxes to slide out. Norm cuts the box joints using a jig set up for 1/4” spacing, and a router with a collar and a 1/4” bit. For the bottom, Norm makes a “stopped” groove by carefully lowering the stock into the router bit (he uses the router table) and then advancing the stock to a marked place and lifting it off of the bit. Without this technique, the end of the groove would be visible to anyone looking at the box joint, and would be unsightly. The box joint presents many glue surfaces, making it very strong. To make the slanted slots, which must be mirror images, Norm constructs a jig that has two parts – one for cutting each sort of slot. He then cuts the slots in pairs. Norm makes the matching cleats from hardwood, tacking them with pins. Eventually, he'll use glue and small screws when he knows the final locations.

There will be six such boxes inside the door, along with about seventeen linear feet of eighteen inch deep storage – a useful addition to any kitchen.

Norm closes the program by previewing the kitchen/office, the next program in this series.