October 2012


[Note: This entry was actually written in July 2013. I changed the posting date to keep my blog entries in chronological order]

By George Taniwaki

There are literally hundreds of woodworking plans for wine racks available on the web (Fig 1). They are all probably nice and you can easily find one you like among them.

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Figure 1. An example of the many wine rack designs available on the web. Image from Woodworkers Workshop

Despite the glut of designs, I’m going to add to the pile by describing a wine rack I designed and built for our new kitchen breakfast bar. The wine rack has two unusual features; it is back-lit and has clear polycarbonate shelves and dividers.

I started with a pencil sketch of the breakfast bar (Fig 2a). There will be a rectangular cavity for the wine rack. The space is 17”W x 44”H x 24”D. However, there is a drain pipe in the back that will limit the depth of the wine rack to 14″-1/2”.

I also measured the dimensions of some typical wine bottles. A standard shaped 0.75 liter wine bottle is cylindrical and about 2-7/8”D. Sparkling wines are sold in a bulb shaped bottle that is about 3-3/8”D at its widest point. Both types of bottles are about 12” tall.

Based on these dimensions, I made several preliminary sketches. (Unfortunately, I didn’t save them.) I made a detailed exploded view drawing of the final design (Fig 2b). Photographs of the completed rack ready for installation (Fig 3a and 3b) are shown below.

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Figure 2a and 2b. Pencil sketch of the breakfast bar (top) and exploded view of the wine rack (bottom)

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Figure 3a and 3b. Front and side views of finished wine rack before installation

This wine rack has two different sized slots. The smaller slots are 4” x 4” and can accommodate standard shaped 0.75 liter wine bottles. The bigger 5-1/2”x 5-1/2” slots can hold the fatter bottles typically used for sparkling wines. Instructions for making this wine rack are provided below.

Make the carcase

The carcase is a simple rectangular box made from 3/4” plywood. I used sande, a hardwood grown in Central America (available from Home Depot). This is the same species I used for all the other kitchen cabinetry.

Start with a sheet of  3/4” x 4’ x 8’ plywood. Using a table saw and a circular saw with a shooting board, cut out the four panels.

Using a table saw with a dado head cutter or a router, cut 3/4”W x 1/4” D rabbets along the top and bottom of the two side panels. These will hold the top and bottom panels.

Using a table saw with a 1/8” blade, cut 1/8” W x 1/4” D dados into all the sides to hold the vertical dividers and horizontal shelves. The top has 3 dados, the bottom has 2 dados, and the sides both have 7 dados. Use a crosscut sled (not the fence or a miter gauge) to ensure the dados on the left and right panels are parallel and identically spaced (accurate to within 1/32”). The dados must be aligned or else the wood supports for the dividers and shelves (described below) will not fit.

A construction note: My normal table saw blade has a thin kerf (about 0.09” ) and is too narrow to cut a 1/8” dado in a single pass. There would be no way to ensure accuracy using two passes, especially with so many cuts. Conversely, the kerf on my stacked dado head cutter blades are too wide (about 0.16”) to cut a snug 1/8” dado. I ended up buying a blade with a 0.12” kerf specifically for this project.

After the dados have been cut, use a chisel to add 3/4”W x 3/4”L x 3/8”D notches to the back of dados on the top and bottom panels (Fig 4). These notches will hold the vertical supports.

Assemble the carcase using glue and cabinet screws. Plug the holes. Finish all the visible sides with stain and 3 coats of varnish.

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Figure 4. Dados and notches for the top panel of carcase

Make the vertical dividers and horizontal shelves

The vertical dividers and horizontal shelves for the wine rack are made from clear gray 1/8” polycarbonate sheet. You can buy plastic sheet goods from a local hardware store or from a plastics specialty store. I bought mine from Tap Plastics in Bellevue, WA.

Unlike acrylic (often called by the trade name Plexiglas), polycarbonate is very flexible. It is also crack resistant and impact resistant but can be easily cut on a table saw.

Using a table saw and a circular saw with a shooting board, cut out the vertical dividers and horizontal shelves. There will be 3 long dividers, 2 short dividers and 7 shelves.

The dividers and shelves will interleave to form individual partitions for each wine bottle. Thus, each piece will need a 1/8” slots cut half the width of the piece where it mates with a cross-piece. These cuts need to very accurate (within 1/32”) or else the wood supports (described below) will not fit.

To make accurate, repeatable cuts, we need to set up a jig for each cut. To cut the 3 slots for the top 6 shelves, set up a crosscut sled on the table saw. Align a blank shelf to the first cut. Add a block of wood flush to the right edge of the shelf and clamp it to the crosscut sled to make a position stop. Add a piece of 2”x4” lumber behind the saw to make a depth stop.

Make the first cut, flip the shelf over and make the second cut (Fig 5). Repeat for the other five pieces. To make the center cut, move the position stop over and cut the six shelves. (Practice with 1/4” plywood before cutting the actual shelves and dividers.)

Use the same technique to make the two slots needed for the bottom two shelves. Note that the second shelf will have both the top and bottom slots cut into it, for a total of 5 slots.

Use a similar technique to make the slots needed for the vertical dividers (Fig 6). The bottom edge of the top dividers and the top edges of the bottom dividers are rather flimsy. Cut them off, leaving about a 1” tongue tapered at a 45 degree angle.

The front edge of the vertical dividers and the tongues will be visible. Using a file, ease the edges. Sand the edges smooth using progressively finer sandpaper, down to P400 grit. Then polish them using medium and fine buffing compounds and a clean cloth (Fig 7). When you are done, the edge should be as smooth as the factory surface.

To test fit the shelves and dividers, first lay the carcase face down. Slide the shelves into place in the correct order, slot side facing up. Slide the lower dividers in place. Finally, slide the upper dividers in place (Fig 8).

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Figures 5 to 8. Using a crosscut sled and stops to accurately cut the slots on the shelves; Using a similar setup to cut the dividers; Sanding and polishing the front edge of the vertical dividers; Dry fitting the shelves and dividers

Make the shelf and divider supports

To keep the horizontal shelves and vertical dividers from flopping around, we will add wood supports to them. The shelf supports are in front and the divider supports in back.

There are five divider supports, three for the top part of the wine rack and two for the bottom. To make the divider supports, start with 1”x3”x4’ nominal (0.75”x2.5”x48” actual) S4S poplar. On a table saw, cut a 1/8”W x 3/8”D dado in the center of both 1” sides (Fig 9). Set up the table saw with a fine tooth blade and rip the stock at 3/4″. To avoid dangerous kickback, keep the wide side of the board against the fence and the divider support to be cut on the free side of the blade. To ensure both dividers are the same thickness, use a stop on the free side (Fig 10). On the miter saw, cut the supports to length.

There are seven shelf supports, five narrow ones for the top part of the wine rack and two wide ones for the bottom. . The top five shelf supports are made the same way as the divider supports. The bottom two shelf supports are 3/4” x 1”. To make them, start with a 1”x2”x4’ nominal (0.75”x1.5”x48” actual) S4S poplar. cut a dado on the wide side, 3/8” from the edge. Rip to 1” width and cut to length.

Each of the supports needs additional dados to allow the shelves and dividers to interleave. To make these dados, first bundle the supports using masking tape, place the bundle in position over the shelf or divider that it needs to match and mark the location of the cross dados (Fig 11). Set up the table saw with a crosscut sled and cut the dados (Fig 12). Remember that the second shelf support needs to have both sets of crosscut dados (five crosscut dados total).

Dry fit the supports to make sure they align with the shelves and the dividers.

Sand the dividers smooth. Finish all the visible sides with stain and 3 coats of varnish.

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Figures 9 to 12. Cutting the dado for the 3/4” wide supports; Ripping the finished support to width; Marking the locations of the cross dados; Cutting the cross dados on a crosscut sled

Make the face frames

Since the wine rack is confined within a cavity, it does not need a face frame to resist racking. Instead, the face frame is designed to cover the edge of the plywood carcase and hide the gap between the wine rack and the cavity. Thus it will be the reverse of a normal face frame by being  flush with the inside of the carcase and overhang on the outside.

Start with two pieces of 1” x 2” x 8’ nominal (0.75” x 1.5” x 96” actual) S4S poplar. Cut the four pieces of the face frame to length, sand, and finish all the visible sides with stain and 3 coats of varnish.

Make the back

The wine rack will be back-lit, so will need a translucent back (not clear which would expose the lights and electrical workings). Also, since the wine rack will not rack, the back does not need to be made of a solid material like polycarbonate. Instead, we will use a glass fiber nonwoven fabric. I used Synskin available from Tap Plastics. It is designed to look like the mulberry paper used to make shoji screens but is much tougher. To make the back, simply cut a piece sized close to the dimensions of the wine rack.

Assemble the wine rack

Lay the carcase face down. Peel off the protective paper off the shelves and slide them into place in the correct order, slot side facing up (Fig 13). Peel off the protective paper off the dividers and slide them into place.

Apply clear silicone sealant into the dados of the divider supports and apply them to the back. Use masking tape to hold them in place until the silicone cures (Fig 14).

Flip the carcase over. Apply clear silicone sealant into the dados of the shelf supports and apply them to the front (Fig 15). Apply wood glue to the edge of the carcase and align the face frame pieces. Tack them in place with brads. Once the silicone cures, attach the back to the carcase and dividers using 1/4” T-50 staples (Fig 16). Use a hammer to drive the staples flush to the carcase and dividers. You will want to use plenty of staples since you don’t want a bottle to push through the back.

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Figures 13 to 16. Installing the shelves and dividers; Applying the vertical divider supports; Applying the horizontal shelf supports; Attaching the fabric back

Electrical work and finish up

In this design, the lights for the wine rack are placed on the same circuit as the other accent lights. Run an electrical line from one of the accent lights to the back of the cavity the wine rack will be in. Since this is outside the fire barrier, the wiring may need to be in a metal conduit. Wire an outlet box (Fig 17).

We want the lighting behind the wine rack to be even and don’t want individual bulbs to create hot spots. To achieve that, make sure there is at least 4 inches of space between the back of the cavity and the back of the wine rack when it is in position. Any closer than that and the lights will show through.

Line the back of the cavity with white flame retardant vapor barrier. Wrap an 18’ long LED rope light around the cavity and attach is securely. If any part of the rope flexes away from the back, add more tie downs to maintain the 4” space between the lights and the back of the wine rack (Fig 18).

Nail or screw in two 2”x4” cleats to support the wine rack and add shims as needed to ensure level (Fig 19). Slide in the wine rack, add some bottles, turn on the lights, and admire your work (Fig 20). Notice on the upper left slot that two half bottles (0.375L) can be doubled up in a single slot. Also notice on the credenza on bottom right is a double bottle (1.5L) that doesn’t fit in the rack.

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Figure 17 to 20. Installing the outlet box; Testing the LED lights; Installing cleats and shims; Finished wine rack in place with a few bottles

The total cost for the project is itemized below.

Lumber, stain, varnish $   70
1/8”x4’x8’ sheet gray polycarbonate $200
2’x4’ sheet of glass fiber fabric $  20
Carpentry, painting, and cabinet installation labor $     0
Electrical materials, incl. 18’ LED rope light $   65
Electrical labor, rough-in and finish $    0*
TOTAL $355

*I am my own electrical contractor. If you hire this work out, it would add about $150

For more ideas on home remodeling projects see the Home Remodeling Guide.

All drawings and photographs by George Taniwaki unless otherwise noted.

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[Note: This entry was actually written in May 2013. I changed the posting date to keep my blog entries in chronological order]

by George Taniwaki

Before the remodel, the kitchen had two windows on the left that were single horizontal sliders while the right window was an aluminum garden window. All three windows were trimmed with 2″ wide MDF casing with mitered corners (Fig 1a).

As part of the kitchen remodel, we replaced the three windows with fixed (nonopening) windows and trimmed them with traditional 3-1/2″ wide solid wood Craftsman-style casing (Fig 1b). Note how the casing above the windows fits flush to the soffit.

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Figures 1a and 1b. Kitchen windows before remodel (above) and after (below)

Finish carpentry is usually straightforward work and often doesn’t even require a tape rule. However, this project is bit more complex, but manageable for an advanced do-it-yourself homeowner.

Install the replacement windows

To unify the kitchen design, the three replacement windows will all be the same size and style. To determine the correct size, measure the dimensions of the three rough openings for the existing windows. The width of the replacement windows should be about 3/8″ narrower than the narrowest rough opening. Similarly, the height of the replacement windows should be about 3/8″ shorter than the shortest rough opening.

Once the windows arrive, inspect for damage. When installing them, note that the rough-openings are not likely to be identical in size, nor will they be level, plumb, and square. By using shims and a level, install the new windows and ensure they are level and plumb. When mounting the windows, make sure they are square relative to the foundation of the house, not to the rough openings. Follow the directions that come with the windows.

The exterior opening is finished with brick molding to match the existing siding (Fig 11).

Even after the careful installation, I noticed a few problems with the new windows which may typically occur.

  1. The windows are not centered within the rough openings, leaving several large gaps (over 1/2″) between the windows and the framing
  2. The windows are not all at the same height. The middle window is about 1/4″ higher than the left and right windows
  3. The windows are too tall and don’t have room at the top for the wide casing to fit under the soffit
  4. The new windows are vinyl-clad and won’t match the color or texture of the solid wood casing

The casing design

The basic design for the casing for the windows was specified by Soderstrom Architects to be 3/4″ x 3-1/2″ S4S oak stock with a 3/4″ bullnose accent on the crown (Figs 2a and 2b). Since all the doors in the remodel are fir and hemlock, I decided to make the window casing from hemlock rather than oak. Also, 3/4″ bullnose stock is hard to find, so rather than custom mill it, I went with the more commonly available 1/2″ (0.46″ x 1.20″ actual) bullnose (Fig 3).

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Figures 2a and 2b. Front view of entire window (left) and detail of upper left corner front view and cross-section view (right). Drawings courtesy of Soderstrom Architects

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Figure 3. Front, top, and side views of top casing when using 1/2″ bullnose

I modified this design to solve the four issues identified earlier. First, I will add shims as needed to fill any gaps the between the framing of the rough opening and the casing (solving problem 1). I will also add wide shims to the top of all three windows behind the casing to support it (problem 3).

Second, I will use hemlock to clad the window to completely hide the vinyl (problem 4). Each piece of the hemlock casing will be a custom sized to ensure the bottoms of all three windows are the same height from the countertop (problem 2) and the tops of all three windows perfectly fit under the soffit (problem 3). Each of the four sides of each window will be covered by four pieces of hemlock casing. The top side will receive an additional bullnose accent.

The front view, cross-section view through the side, and cross-section through the top are shown in Figures 4a to 4c. The four pieces of hemlock casing are numbered 1 through 4 and have red lines and gray fill. (The bullnose accent is omitted for clarity.) The shims have red lines with white fill. The double pane glass is shown in with blue lines. The location of the vinyl cladding or rough opening is shown with dashed green lines.

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Figures 4a to 4c. Front views and cross-section views of casing design

Make the casing

Make accurate measurements in the field of all the dimensions of the windows and the distance from the framing of the rough openings to the windows (Fig 4). There are 3 measurements to make for each piece (length, width, thickness), up to 5 pieces on each side of the window, 4 sides on each window, and 3 windows, for a total of 180 measurements. Use an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of all of them. Using Excel also allows you to sort the pieces by size so that you can develop a cut list.

In all of the descriptions below, when cutting the pieces to length, cut them about 1/8″ longer than required and trim to exact length in field (using a block plane) to ensure a tight fit in the corners.

Shims – Start with 2″x4″x8′ nominal (1.5″x3.5″x96″ actual) lumber. Cut the lumber to length. (It’s okay to make the shims a little short since they will not be visible.) Rip it to the required width and thickness. The top shim is about 2″ thick, so it will require gluing up two shims (one 1.5″ thick and another 0.5″ thick).

With the shims in place, the sizes of pieces 3 and 4 will be nearly identical for all 3 windows.

Piece 1 – Start with 1″x4″x8′ nominal (0.72″x3.5″x96″ actual) S4S hemlock. Plane it 0.60″ thickness. Round over one edge. There are various widths, ranging from 0.6″ to 2.7″ to fit around the window (there should be about a 1/8″ reveal between Pieces 1 and 2). Cut stock into pieces long enough for each width. Rip the stock to the various widths. Cut to 1/8” over final length.

As can be seen in Figure 4b above, the back side of piece 1 fits against the glass pane of the window, meaning it is visible from the outside. Finish the back side with 3 coats of gloss enamel paint to match the color of the exterior trim. Finish the two sides visible from the inside of the house with stain and 3 coats of varnish (Fig 6).

Piece 2 – Start with 1″x3″x8′ nominal (0.72″x2.5″x96″ actual) S4S hemlock. Plane it 0.60″ thickness. Round over one edge. There are various widths, ranging from 0.8″ to 2.5″. Rip the stock to the various widths. Cut to 1/8” over final length. Finish the two visible sides with stain and 3 coats of varnish.

Piece 3 – Start with 1″x3″x8′ nominal (0.72″x2.5″x96″ actual) S4S hemlock. Rip it to 2.2″ wide. Round over one edge. Cut to 1/8” over final length. Finish the two visible sides with stain and 3 coats of varnish.

Piece 4 – Start with 1″x4″x8′ nominal (0.75″x3.5″x96″ actual) S4S hemlock. These are the most visible pieces, so ensure the stock has good grain pattern and is straight with no bow, twist, or cup (Fig 7). Round over two edges. Cut to 1/8” over final length (there should be about a 1/4″ reveal between pieces 3 and 4.).

The top piece of casing has a 1/2″ bullnose accent that consists of three pieces as shown in Figure 3. Cut the bullnose stock to 0.9″ longer than piece 4 and bevel at 45°. Cut two triangular shaped return pieces for each end. Glue the bullnose pieces to the top piece of casing and tack in place with 1″ 18ga. brads. Be careful not to split the wood when nailing the small return pieces.

For all sections of pieces 4, finish all the visible sides with stain and 3 coats of varnish (Fig 8).

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Figures 5 and 6. Accurately measuring the window dimensions; completed piece 1 showing stain and varnish on front and paint on back

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Figures 7 and 8. For piece 4, avoid twisted or cupped pieces of wood like the one on the far left; staining, varnishing, and painting of pieces in progress

Install the casing

Dry fit the shims, then screw them in place. Do not use a framing nail gun since an incorrectly placed nail could damage a window (Fig 9).

Dry fit pieces 1 and 2 around the windows. The pieces should fit snug so they stay in place without glue, but not so tight that changes in humidity could damage the frame or break the glass. Once all the pieces fit, remove them and apply clear silicon caulk to the painted side of piece 1 and spread it smoothly over the entire surface. Stick the pieces to the glass. You may need to use a wedge to keep the pieces from sliding around (Fig 10). Go outside the house to confirm a glue line is not visible (Fig 11).

Apply clear silicone caulk on piece 2 and attach them in place.

Dry fit piece 3 and install using wood glue and tack in place with  1-1/4″ 18ga. brads nailed into the framing (Fig 12).

Piece 4 is installed using 1-3/4″ 16ga. brads nailed into the framing. Fill the nail holes with putty. Finish the repairs with stain and one coat of varnish.You are done (Fig 13).

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Figures 9 to 12. The shims are screwed in; piece 1 held in place using a scrap of wood and a wedge until the clear silicone caulk dries; checking the exterior to ensure the caulk is evenly spread on the glass; piece 3 nailed to the framing

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Figure 13. The completed left window showing top casing fitting exactly under the soffit, please ignore the construction debris outside

Overall, the windows look nice from the inside. From the outside, you don’t notice the wide white band around the windows caused by piece 1. It probably would have been easier, and perhaps cheaper to buy windows with fir or hemlock frames in the first place rather than buy vinyl windows and cover them with wood. But it’s all a learning experience.

For more ideas on home remodeling projects see the Home Remodeling Guide.

All drawings and photographs by George Taniwaki unless otherwise indicated

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To learn how the image in Figure 13 was made, see this May 2013 blog post.

[This is a follow-up to an Aug 28 blog post.]

The Toledo Blade (Oct 2012) has an excellent article summarizing the results of an investigation into an accident that occurred during surgery to recover a kidney from a live donor. The kidney was accidentally discarded and the transplant had to be cancelled. Neither the donor nor the recipient were harmed, but the very valuable kidney was lost. The patient may need to wait, possibly for several years, for a deceased donor kidney to become available.

The accident occurred at the University of Toledo Medical Center, one of about 268 hospitals authorized to perform kidney transplants in the U.S. The report available online, was produced by Dr. Marlon Levy, the surgical director of transplantation at Baylor All Saints Medical Center in Fort Worth. The report summarizes the chain of events that led to the accident as follows.

First, while the donor surgery was in progress one of the circulating nurses took a break. When she returned, she was not briefed on the status of the surgery. She thought the surgery was completed and began the clean up procedure, which includes disposing of the waste ice from a refrigeration unit used to temporarily hold the donor kidney. Unfortunately, the live donor kidney was still in the ice, but was not visible to her. She dumped the ice, and thus the kidney, into the biological waste chute. Although the error was discovered quickly, it took over two hours to recover the kidney. After such a long period of without refrigeration in an unsterile environment, the surgeon decided the kidney could not be safely transplanted into the patient and it was discarded.

This is the first known accident to ever occur in the U.S. in which a medically viable live donor kidney was discarded. As mentioned in the Aug 28 blog post, there have been over 50,000 live donor transplants performed in the U.S. in the past decade without a recorded loss of a kidney. Still, this is a serious error and resulted in the following changes at the UTMC. Hopefully, similar reviews and changes will be implemented in all transplant centers.

Improve communications

● Members of the surgical team must check with the surgeon before going on break.

● Strict adherence to an existing policy that requires a “handoff” briefing whenever a new person enters the operating room. In this case, it was not done, possibly because the new person was not really new, but returning to the operating room from a break and also because she was not a replacement for a person who was leaving.

Set timing of clean up

● Nothing may leave the operating room until the patient has been removed after surgery.

Make the donor kidney easier to view and track

● Use a container with a sealed top to store donor kidney before transplant (see photo below)

● Add a bright label to the refrigeration unit when it contains a kidney (see photo below)

● Add an infrared motion detector to the refrigeration unit that activates an alarm when anyone gets close to it.

● Add a switch to the door of the refrigeration unit that activates a visual and auditory alarm when it is lifted.

These last two changes seem like overkill. Given the seriousness of the accident, it is likely any person who works in operating room will be aware of the risk of losing an organ and unlikely to repeat this error. In fact, focusing so much attention on the refrigeration unit may inadvertently lead personnel to pay less attention to other equipment or procedures that may also have a high risk of causing errors.

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(left) Prototype of new container to be used to store donor kidneys. (right) Plastic tray that will indicate a kidney is in the refrigeration unit. Both photos from Toledo Blade, Dave Zapotosky.

[Note: This entry was actually written in April 2013. I changed the posting date to keep my blog entries in chronological order]

by George Taniwaki

The home remodel plans created by Soderstrom Architects call for wood panels containing square and rectangular wood blocks arranged in a grid pattern. These panels will be used on cabinet carcases, cabinet doors, and as wall coverings. The wood blocks are stained and varnished. There is a 1/2″ wide black border between each block. A detail from the architect’s plan showing the panels is shown in Figure 1.

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Figure 1. Detail from architect’s drawing. Courtesy of Soderstrom Architects

After some experimentation, I came up with a way to build these panels that is fairly fast and ensures the grid lines are even, straight, parallel, and square. It involves using 3/4″ plywood and a router to cut the 1/2″ wide grid pattern.

A note on the other methods I tried and discarded. My first idea was to use a circular saw and table saw to cut out individual blocks out of 1/2″ thick solid wood or 1/2″ plywood and glue them onto a sheet of 1/4″ plywood at 1/2″ offset. I experimented using 2″x2″ plywood squares as a test. I noticed that even with a sharp saw blade, cutting plywood with a circular saw is prone to tear out. Further, even when I used 1/2″ wide slats as temporary spacers to align the blocks, I could not attach the blocks to the plywood accurately. The gaps were not even.

My second attempt was to cut the individual blocks as before, but to glue them onto the 1/2″ spacers, once the glue dried, I glued the whole thing to a 1/4″ plywood panel for support (sort of like oversized marquetry). This worked better, but was tedious and the inaccuracies were still visible.

Thus, we will not cut the blocks out and instead use a router to create dados in a sheet of plywood.

Choose the right plywood

The first step in making the panels is to choose the right plywood. We want to match the doors and millwork used in the remodeled house, which are made of solid fir and hemlock. Both species are widely available as S4S stock here in Seattle. However, neither wood is readily available as veneer for plywood, making them expensive. So instead I chose sande. Plywood made from this Central American tropical wood has a grain similar to hemlock, is cheap (about the same price as luan, birch, or poplar veneer plywood), and available in a variety of thicknesses at Home Depot.

For the panels, we will use 3/4″ nominal (18mm or 0.70″ actual), 9-ply, 4’x8′ (1220mm x 2440mm actual) sande plywood. Looking through the piles of plywood at Home Depot, you will notice the quality of individual sheets of sandeply vary widely (it is rated B/C grade, sanded smooth) and sometimes an entire pallet will contain sheets where the veneer has poor grain color and small knots, dark streaks, putty repairs, overlapping core plies showing through, or other defects. You can work around some of these defects. However, for projects where you need to use the entire sheet, it is important to choose the best quality sheets. This may require patience and multiple trips to the store waiting for a pallet of good quality sheets to arrive. For an example of the range in veneer quality see Figures 2a and 2b below.

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Figure 2a and 2b. Examples of sandeply with acceptable grain (left) and unacceptable light color and knotty grain, dark streaks, and putty repair (right)

Make panels up to 48″ wide

Once you have the plywood in your shop, cut it to the desired dimensions using a table saw with extensions that allow safe handling of large sheet goods or a circular saw with an accurate shooting board. (For instructions for making a shooting board, see an upcoming blog post entitled “Make shop jigs”.) Make sure your saw is tuned and has a sharp blade. Your life will be miserable if you try to cut sheet goods on a table saw or  circular saw that is out of alignment or has a dull blade.

Once the sheet is cut to size, mark the location of the grid lines (Fig 3). (Making a story stick can be helpful.) Set up a shooting board against the mark. Using a router with a 1/2″ straight cut bit, cut a dado at a depth of 0.16″ (Figs 4 and 5). This depth ensures the grain direction visible in the dado matches the direction of the surface veneer. Make two passes with the router to ensure the bottom of the dado is flat.

When cutting sandeply across the grain, the resulting edge will haves lots of fuzz (Fig 6). Remove it using a metal file without a handle. Scrape the fuzz back into the dado using the file. Then hold the file flat against the wall of the dado to cut off the fuzz. Smooth the wall of the dado with a medium grit drywall sanding sponge.

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Figures 3 to 6. Cutting the grid lines

Clean off the panel. Fill any defects or voids with wood putty. Apply the light-colored stain to the raised portion (I used a mix of 1 part MinWax Red Oak to 8 parts MinWax Natural). After drying, apply three coats of polyurethane varnish, sanding between coats (Fig 7). Try to keep the dado free of varnish. After the last coat of varnish is dry, remove any excess varnish inside the dado using a utility knife or chisel.

Using a foam brush, apply the dark-colored stain (I used MinWax Ebony) to the inside of the dado (Fig 8). Make sure you cover the entire wall of the dado and produce a clean, sharp edge. The grain of the wood will wick the stain onto the face (Fig 9). Use a clean cloth with a bit of mineral spirits to wipe off this excess stain (Fig 10). Repeat the wiping process every few minutes until the stain stops wicking. Don’t worry if you accidentally wipe some of the stain from inside the dado (Fig 11).

After the stain dries, use a fat chisel-tip permanent marker to fill in any light spots in the grid pattern. Continue until the color is even. Use a clean cloth with a bit of mineral spirits to wipe off any stray marks (Fig 12).

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Figures 7 to 12. Staining and varnishing

That’s it. The rest of this blog post will cover making larger panels and finishing the edges of the panels with veneer or molding.

Lap joints make larger panels

One of the projects that will use these plywood panels is the back of a breakfast bar (see blog post entitled “Build a Breakfast Bar) that is about 5-1/2′ wide. A single plywood sheet can only make a maximum 4′ wide panel. Thus, two panels are needed for the back. To join them, use a router to cut a rabbet on both panels to create a lap joint (Fig 13). Note that the lap joint aligns with the dado of the grid pattern. Also note that the rabbet for the lap joint is deeper than the dado used for the grid. This gives the joint more strength. Stain the walls and bottom of the rabbet black and the joint will not be visible. Do not glue the rabbet joint to allow the panels to move.

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Figure 13. Schematic showing cross-section of the dado and lap joint

Veneer banding hides end grain

The exposed end grain on cabinet doors, shelves, and dividers made from plywood can be finished many different ways. For our projects, we will hide the end grain using 13/16″ wide hot-melt adhesive birch veneer banding tape. Birch has a color and grain that is a good-enough match for sande. First, cut a segment of tape about 1″ longer than the edge of the panel to be covered. Using an iron set at cotton (400F) and the steam off, tack down the ends of the veneer to the panel, leaving about 1/2″ overhang on each end. The tape is wider than the plywood panel. Rather than placing it in the middle and trimming the excess off both sides, align one edge of the tape to the front face of the panel (the side you will normally see) using your fingers to feel the edge (Fig 14). Don’t let the tape drift away from the edge or else the plywood end grain will be exposed.

Using the iron, melt the adhesive on a two-foot long section of tape (Fig 15). Again, use your fingers to ensure the tape just barely covers one edge of the panel. Use a roller to apply pressure on the glue until it sets (Fig 16). Repeat the heating and rolling process until all of the tape is glued down. If any part of the tape needs adjustment, reheat it starting from the end, peel it up, and repeat the heating and rolling process. Once the glue is cool, place the panel on edge and use a sharp utility knife to cut off the excess from each end of the tape (Fig 17). Lay the panel front-face down and use a sharp utility knife to cut the excess tape (Fig 18). Be sure to keep the knife parallel and flush to the back face of the panel to get a straight cut. Sand both sides of the tape to get a smooth edge (Fig 19).

Wherever there is a dado groove from the grid pattern intersecting the edge, cut out a notch with a utility knife. Keep the blade parallel and flush to the walls to avoid cutting into the plywood.

Stain the veneer tape to match the face of the panel and apply two or three coats of varnish.

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Figures 14 to 19. Adding veneer to end grain

Side note regarding Figure 18, there are special knives available to cut veneer banding tape. In fact, I own one, but find it easier to just use a utility knife.

Side note about making cabinet doors. A plywood sheet is often under stress. When you cut it, the two resulting pieces may warp to relieve the stress. Thus, any doors made from these pieces will not be flat and aligned. The solutions are: add a frame around the panel to stiffen the door (in which case you don’t need to add veneer banding), bend the doors flat using steam (I haven’t actually tried this), start over with another piece of plywood, or just live with it.

L-shaped molding hides end grain on outside edges

Where two faces of a cabinet meet, end grain will be visible unless we hide it. We could use the same veneer banding tape solution described above, but then there will be an obvious line in the face of the plywood where the sande panel and the birch veneer meet. This will look worse in the case where the banding is cross grain to the face of the plywood. An alternative solution is to make the joint a design feature by covering the edge with L-shaped molding. A schematic of the design is shown in Figure 20.

To prepare the panels for the molding, set up a handheld router with a 3/4″ straight cut bit set at 0.35″ deep. Using a shooting board, cut a 0.35″ wide rabbet on the back of each panel (Fig 20-2). Dry fit the two panels to ensure the joint is accurate (Fig 20-3). Make sure you have the overlap in the correct order.

Set the router bit at 0.13″ deep. Using a shooting board, cut a 0.15″ wide rabbet on the front of the first panel. Using a table saw, cut off 0.13″ off the end of the second panel. Using the router still set at 0.13” deep, cut a 0.38″ wide rabbet on the front of the second panel (Fig 20-4).

To save time, once you are comfortable with how this joint works, you can skip a few steps. Cut the second panel to the final size (0.13″ narrower than the original dimension). And cut the back side rabbet for the second panel 0.22″ wide (Fig 20-6).

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Figure 20. Cutting the rabbets in the panels

The L-shaped molding (Fig 20-1) fits over the two panels (Fig 20-5). To make two pieces of molding, start with a piece of 1″x4″x8′ (nominal) S4S poplar stock. Pick poplar with even color, avoid wood with green or dark splotches. Set up the table saw with a stacked dado cutter and sacrificial fence to cut a 3/8″ wide rabbet 3/8″ deep (Fig 21). Run the stock through one side and then the other. Set up the table saw with a fine tooth blade and rip the stock at 3/4″. To avoid dangerous kickback, keep the wide side of the board against the fence and the molding  to be cut on the free side of the blade (Fig 22).

After cutting, sand the molding to remove saw marks, stain, and finish with three coats of varnish. Two panels with rabbet cuts are shown in Figure 26. The finished joint covered by L-shaped molding is shown in Figure 27.

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Figures 21 and 22. Cutting the L-shaped corner molding

Flat molding hides exposed edges

The inside corners formed where the plywood panels meet another surface (such as the floor, wall, or countertop) are covered with 3/4″ x 1/4″ flat molding. The molding hides any gaps or uneven lines. It has the same width and thickness as the L-shaped molding to ensure an even appearance where they meet. The 3/4″ thickness means it will also fit well with base molding and shoe molding on the wall (Fig 27).

To make eight pieces of molding, start with 1″x6″x8′ (nominal) S4S poplar stock and use a table saw to rip eight 0.25″ wide strips off of it. As with the corner molding, to avoid dangerous kickback, keep the wide side of the board against the fence. To make additional cuts quickly, use a stop block jig to set the free side at 0.25″ (Fig 23). After making each cut, adjust the fence to align the stock to the stop block to set the thickness to 1/4″. Repeat until all eight pieces are cut (Fig 24).

After cutting, sand the molding to remove saw marks, stain, and finish with three coats of varnish. A photo of the flat molding in use is shown in Figure 27.

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Figures 23 and 24. Cutting the thin flat molding

Note regarding Figures 22 and 23, the table saw blade guard and splitter removed to show details. Always have a guard and splitter in place when using a table saw.

Apply the molding

To use the molding, glue it to the panels and tack it in place using brads. Attach the corner molding on first (it is nearly always vertical, Figs 25-1 and 27), then the flat molding on any vertical edges (Figs 25-2 and 17), and finally the flat molding on any horizontal edges (Figs 25-3 and 27).

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Figure 25. The order to apply the molding

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Figures 26 and 27. Edges formed by a panel meeting another panel, a wall, and floor before molding is applied (left) and after (right)

Note that in the before photo (Fig 26) a piece of horizontal molding is already installed on the lower left. In the after photo (Fig 27) the base molding and shoe molding has been applied to the wall.

All drawings and photographs by George Taniwaki unless otherwise noted