Walnut Media Cabinet

Lots to talk about here. This is a project I just completed and installed in our newly redecorated living room. It functions as a stand for the TV, and for storing all the other pieces of electronic trickery required for a modern media extravaganza. Key aspects of the design were to provide appropriate storage, while keeping the cabinet low enough to provide a comfortable angle for viewing the TV. Sometimes function drives form- although in this instance I hope that the two end up complimenting each other.

I was extremely fortunate to spend a couple of weeks attending a Classic Casework course at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine (woodschool.org) earlier this summer. This cabinet was largely conceived and built during this course- although, for obvious reasons, the course did become known as the “Fiddly Joints Course”. A huge thank you to Tim Rousseau, Kendrick Anderson and Jeff Mazur for all their guidance and help in this project.

So, with basic dimensions determined, the challenge was to create a clean and hopefully elegant cabinet. Wood selection was critical- almost entirely walnut- in achieving the clean look, with care in matching grain as much as possible for wide panel glue-ups and using a single long panel for the top and both sides- resulting in a waterfall effect at each end.  To make this effect work it was necessary to use a very long (16”) miter joint where the top meets the sides. This joint lacks the strength necessary for use in a piece such as this, so an intriguing adaptation was required- multiple L shaped tenons made from stacked and glued ply-wood squares provide a strong glue joint in both planes- and I am pretty sure I would not have come up with this without help, so all credit for Tim for this one!

The top was not the only fiddly joint in this cabinet though- to achieve the look of almost no visible joints, everything else turned more complicated. The shelves are housed into the sides of the case using multiple haunched, stopped tenons. Even the vertical dividers impart important strength to the cabinet- the joints are 15” long stopped sliding dovetails, and are not going anywhere soon!

In keeping with the clean look of the cabinet, the front piece- a center drawer with a fill piece either side- is made from one piece of walnut. This design decision resulted in sliding dovetails being used throughout the drawer construction. The drawer includes a small divided section to help keep things organized in what is a rather wide drawer. My time at the Center provided an opportunity to try out vacuum press veneering for the first time. I took the opportunity to try this out on the drawer bottom- so some beautiful birdseye maple makes an appearance every time you open the drawer.

As is usually the case, when you endeavor to make a piece look simple, the effort required increases exponentially. As a result, this case has been slowly coming to completion in my workshop in the 8 weeks or so since I left Maine. A thousand little things seemed to slow the pace- drawer making and endless fitting, hand scraping the finish while preserving the crispness of all the edges without making them too sharp for fingers, achieving just the right level of setback for the center panel on the front, details, details, details. And lastly the finish. The folks at the Center raved about Osmo. It was originally developed as a wipe on finish for floors, is very low VOC, and finishes as a hard wax. It comes in several tints and sheens- I opted for the clear Satin-matt finish. The case as you see it now has three coats, each progressively thinner. A final buff with butcher block wax completed the finishing.