Reclaiming Oak to Make a Bespoke Cabinet
Having recently renovated our living room, the old IKEA table (with the set of four small cube drawers on top) didn’t come up to the same quality as the solid oak widescreen TV unit.
A friend of ours gave us the IKEA table and cube drawers the year before when he was having a clear-out prior to moving home; at that time, they were a perfect fit for the space. However, the table legs and top are only veneered hardboard with hollow interior reinforced with cardboard, and the set of cubed drawers is just 1/4 inch thick plywood. So neither the table nor the cubed drawers could be dressed up to look as good as oak, and besides, the table just created wasted space underneath, space which could be better utilised with a cupboard.
Defining the Objectives
- Replace the IKEA table and set of cubed drawers with a cabinet to blend in with the existing solid oak furniture – e.g., that was oak (or oak finish) to the same height and depth as the existing oak TV stand and with a similar finish and general overall look.
- A new cabinet with a large drawer for all the bits and pieces currently stored in the cubed drawers standing on the IKEA side table
- A cupboard under the drawer to utilise what was previously wasted space
Sourcing the Wood
Finding a suitable cabinet with a large drawer of the correct dimensions to fit the available space and which would match the general style of the existing oak furniture was a tall order; even if we did find one, it would most likely not be cheap, unless perhaps if it was made from softwood with an oak finish.
However, down in my workshop at the end of the garden, I had some salvaged oak timber and a small stock of solid oak floorboards leftover from a previous DIY project; enough to make a nice oak cabinet and at no cost other than the expense of some hinges and handles.
Dowel Jig for Joining Planks
Most people would use a biscuit jointer to join wood together to make a tabletop, one tool which I have not invested in because I would not use it often enough to warrant the expense. Instead, I use a dowel jig, which does the job just as well, is a lot cheaper to buy, and is a lot more versatile.
In the UK, the dowel jig is just $50. In the US, it seems to be nearer to $150 for some reason!
How to Make the Oak Top
For the cabinet visualised in my mind, I drew some rough sketches on paper, to which I added the crucial measurements – e.g., height, width and depth.
To make sure I had enough wood, I then measured the salvaged oak timber I found in my home workshop, which, as it turned out, was just enough to make the tabletop and four legs.
To make the tabletop for the cabinet, I first cut the long piece of solid oak into four equal lengths, trimmed one piece to width (to get the correct overall depth of the top), and then joined the four sections together with glue and dowel.
Step-by-Step Guide to Making the Table Top
Lay the large piece of oak timber on the worktop, and with a tape measure, square and pencil, measure and mark the width for the table for the first cut.
- Cut the first piece and lay it on top of the remaining timber to mark the next cut line with a pencil; cut and repeat until all the required lengths are cut to size.
- Use the dowel jig as a guide to drill holes at regular intervals on all the inside edges to the same diameter as the dowel (e.g., 8 mm), taking great care that you always clamp the dowel jig to the corresponding side and end for each adjoining piece – e.g., the upper surface and left side so that the holes will always align up correctly.
- Once all the holes are drilled, clear out any debris – e.g., with a long thin screwdriver.
- Apply generous quantities of wood glue in each hole and along both edges to be joined, gently push a dowel into each hole on one of the sides, and gently tap into place with a hammer.
- Clamp all the planks together with sash clamps, from underneath and on top (to prevent the boards from bowing), and tighten all clamps; keep checking and tightening each one in turn until none of them will tighten any further.
- Leave overnight for the glue to set.
- Sand all surfaces and edges smooth with a belt sander.
- Then use an ordinary sander-fitted fine-grade sandpaper to get a really smooth finish, and round off the edges.
- Clean off the surplus sawdust with a little white spirit on a cloth, and leave for half an hour to dry.
- Then rub teak oil into the wood grain, wiping off any surplus, and leave to dry overnight.
- Finally, using beeswax that doesn’t contain silicon, generously rub it into the wood grain, wiping off any surplus as you go, and buff to shine when dry (after 15 or 20 minutes).
Visual Guide to Making the Top
Choosing the Method of Construction
I could have just fitted a back and two sides to the tabletop to make the carcass for the cabinet, in which I would then add the base, drawer support, and then the drawer and doors to fit (a traditional boxed construction cupboard), like a kitchen cabinet.
However, as I had the available oak, I wanted to make legs and for the legs to be a visible part of the design feature. In opting for legs in my design, I then needed to decide how to fix them to the tabletop. Options I considered included:
- Mortise and tenon joints, and
- To make a frame for the underside of the table to which (on the four inside corners) the legs could be securely screwed.
However, having salvaged the four double-ended screws from the old IKEA table, I decided they would be ideal for securely fixing the legs to the underside of the tabletop.
The wood I had available for the legs was two short pieces of oak just long enough, with each measuring about 2 x 4 inches planed.
Design Layout for the Legs
In my design, as the new cabinet I was making would abut with the TV unit, and as there would need to be a workable gap against the skirting board of sidewall (so I could manoeuvre the new unit into place once made), the legs on the side of the cabinet needed to be near flush.
Whereas I wanted to recess the legs by about an inch in the front and back so that:
- At the back, the tabletop would be flush with the wall, without the base touching the skirting board; and
- At the front, the tabletop could be aligned with the top of the TV unit while at the same time, the leg of the new unit wouldn’t protrude beyond the chamfered edge of the leg from the TV unit that it was abutting to.
Tips for Oiling and Waxing Oak
From experience, I found that rubbing teak oil into bare oak wood gives it a natural and long-lasting oak look, which can be further enhanced with the application of beeswax.
Whereas spray furniture polish (which invariably contains silicon) isn’t long-lasting and invariably only serves to attract dust rather than provide long-lasting protection.
Step-by-Step Guide to Making and Fitting the Legs
- Cut down the middle of the length of the two pieces of oak to create four identical pieces of wood measuring approximately 2 inches square.
- Placed all four pieces in the wood vice, ensuring the undersides are all level with each other and use a belt sander to make the top surfaces flush. Turn each piece of wood 90 degrees, put them back into the wood vice and repeat the process of belt sanding to level the surfaces with each other; repeat twice more to make all four legs identical.
- Cut the legs to the required length.
- Use an ordinary sander with fine sandpaper to sand each leg to a smooth finish, and then clean with white spirit and leave to dry.
- Rub Teak oil into each leg and leave to dry before polishing with beeswax.
- Then mark the centre point of the top of each leg by drawing a straight line from corner to corner to create a cross.
- Drill a pilot hole at the centre point, slightly smaller than the width of the double-ended screws, and fix the screws in place with pliers, making sure not to squeeze the pliers too hard so as not to unduly damage the thread.
- Measure, mark out and drill the pilot holes on the underside of the tabletop for where the legs will be screwed in place. If fitting the leg on the edge of the table (rather than having it inset), set it a further eighth of an inch in to avoid the risk of the top edge of the leg being visible if you are slightly out in your measurements or drilling, and being in just a fraction of an inch aesthetically looks better than being flush anyway. Also, ensure the screw is deeper than the length of the screw and don’t drill the pilot hole too deep for risk of drilling right through the table.
- Finally, screw the legs to the tabletop.
Visual Guide to Fitting the Legs
Choosing the Materials and Method
Let's go over how I approached the materials and method for the project.
For Constructing the Base and Shelf Supports
I could have opted for side or base runners for the drawer support, but I decided on a shelf that the drawer would fit into simply because it (along with the base) would give added support to the legs.
I didn’t have any suitable oak for this part of the DIY project, but I did have some pine boards salvaged from an old wardrobe, which being on the inside wouldn’t detract from the rest of the cabinet being oak; and besides, as oak is heavy a little bit of pine in the construction would help to make the whole cabinet just a tad lighter. The other advantage of using shelving for the drawer support and base is that they provide convenient anchor points for fixing the sides and back panel.
With the legs being about 2 inches thick and the material to be used for the sides and back panel and the front being about ¾ in depth, the drawer support and base would need to be inset into the legs by about an inch; so as to ensure the final outside surfaces would be flush with the legs.
Step-by-Step Guide to Fitting the Base and Shelf Supports
- Accurate measure the inside dimensions of the legs at the point where they will be fixed to the tabletop. Don’t take the inside measurements at the other end of the legs (furthest away from their fixed point) because, at this stage of construction, the legs are not rigidly fixed at this end and can move slightly; thus, any measurements taken here will give false readings.
- Cut two equal panels (one for the drawer support and one for the base), making each two inches wider and 2 inches longer than the internal measurements of the table legs.
- Cutting a one-inch notch out of the corner of each panel.
- Measure and mark on each leg where the shelves will go, and using eight small pieces of wood as shelf supports (hardwood) predrilled with pilot holes, screw them on the inside of the legs at the marked positions.
- Turn the table upright, add a little wood glue to the top of each of the eight shelf supports, slot the two shelves in place, pull tight with slash clamps, and screw into place.
For Accurately Positioning the Shelf Support for the Drawer
With the table upside-down, I placed the two floorboards for the drawer sides on the underside of the tabletop and then placed the pine panel for the drawer support on top of the two floorboards. This gives an accurate fixing position for the supports because the floorboards are tongue and groove – when the tongue is shaved-off to make the drawer top flat, it automatically gives the required eighth of an inch gap necessary to ensure the drawer runs smoothly (and doesn’t stick) in use.
Fitting the Drawer Supports
Making the Back and Side Panels
I glued and screwed three wooden batons (one at the back and one on each side) on the underside of the tabletop, level with the shelf edges as top anchor points for the panelling.
For the back panel (which, like the shelves, would be out of sight), I once again used the pine sheets salvaged from an old wardrobe. After measuring, cutting to size, and testing for fit, I marked out and cut an access point for the electric socket that would be hidden by the cupboard once it was in place in our living room. It’s one socket that we don’t need to access often as it’s only used to feed the TV 8 gang extension power lead wall mounted behind the TV (located for easy access); and the power lead, in turn, feeds our TiVo box, which we keep on 24/7 to prerecord selected programmes for later viewing.
The side panelling was simply constructed with solid oak tongue and groove floorboards, which were left over from a previous DIY project, each one being glued and pinned into place.
Visual Guide to Fitting the Panels
Making the Drawer and Doors
The drawer and doors were made from the same solid oak floorboards used to make the side panelling, using the salvaged pine as the drawer base.
The drawer is a simple box construction, glued and screwed together from the inside using small pieces of wood in the corners on the inside; to give a clean exterior finish. Likewise, the base was made to fit inside the box and screwed and glued in place from the underside using the same four pieces of wood that was used for securing the four corners of the box together. As the base is ¾ inch pine, once fixed in place, it's solid; whereas if I had used thin wood (e.g., ¼ plywood), then it would have needed additional support.
For each of the two doors, I simply used two pieces of oak floorboards for each door, bracing them together with oak wood. I made the braces by cutting a length of floorboard into strips, chamfering the ends and rounding all the edges with a sander to give an aesthetically pleasing finish, and once fixed, I rubbed the freshly cut and sanded edges of the oak with Teak oil to blend them in with the rest of the oak.
I then fitted the hinges, chamfering the hinged edge slightly so the hinges closed fully, and finally fitted the handles before giving it all a good final polish and locating it in its final position in our living room.
Doors and Drawers Constructed and Fitted
Arthur Russ (author) from England on September 17, 2016:
Thanks, yes recycling salvaged wood to make your own furniture does save lots of money. To buy an oak cabinet of a similar size to the one I made here would typically cost anything between £200-£300 ($250-$400); whereas by using the reclaimed oak it cost me almost nothing.
Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on September 15, 2016:
Very cool project.
peachy from Home Sweet Home on September 15, 2016:
wow, if you can do that, you are saving lots of money