[5/9/2023: This article was written fifteen years ago. I can't locate it in our archives, so I'm thinking it never got uploaded. Have a look.]
This weekend, I made some door pulls for the cabinet I've been building. this article is about how I designed and made the pulls.
The cabinet has four doors that meet in the center. The doors are made of walnut that I cut on my property last fall. The panels are wormy chestnut that I've had laying around in the shed since 1977. The panels are set apart from the frames by rosewood splines, adding a bit of visual separation and a transitional color/value element.
As usual, my first decision was about function. I hung the doors on self-closing Euro hinges, so I wouldn't need catches. When you have a door catch, the pull should be located over the catch so you don't torque the door every time you open it. Without catches, I could put the pulls anywhere I wanted. I decided to make pulls that would compose themselves around the center point where the doors came together. That intersection seemed to call out for a contrasting detail to break up the expanse of walnut.
I usually start by sketching tiny thumbnail drawings of some possibilities, trying to keep my mind open to different looks and compositions. Here, I was pretty certain of the general shape and feel I wanted, a swooping design that contrasted with the stark linearity of the cabinet. I sketched some variations of that shape, trying to imagine how I would attach them to the cabinet. Would I use standoffs, or would I make them of single pieces of wood screwed to the doors? Would I screw them from the front, and if so, how would I deal with the look of the screws? If I screwed them on from the back, how would I make sure they were all aligned uniformly with the doors? Lotta thoughts to keep in your RAM while you're designing things.
Once I had the general notion of the shape of the pulls that I wanted, I mocked up some paper cutouts and stuck them on the doors to evaluate. After mocking up the paper cutouts, I decided to soften the pointy ends, so I cut out another design. This one I liked.
At this point, my shape was only in two dimensions, on paper, so I made a prototype pull to get the final contours right and to make sure my concept of the undercut pull was going to work. (Function first, y'know.) Making the proto also allowed me to figure out how I was going to produce four of these things with my available machines and processes. Back in the good old days, I had a two-bag pneumatic sander that I used for exactly this type of "carving." I could adjust the pneumatic pressure in the bags to follow whatever contours I wanted. In the absence of this machine, I needed to waste the unwanted material with the machines on hand, mostly a bandsaw and a belt-disk sander. Once I had proven the concept, I made a list of the steps involved in creating this shape, including the bandsaw table angles for the various preliminary cuts, and the disk sander table angle for fairing the outside curve.
Next, I cut out the first blank and got the shape exactly the way I wanted it. To keep things simple, I made the inside curve the same radius as the idler drum on my stationary belt sander. Then I traced three copies of the outline onto my rosewood pieces and cut them out on the bandsaw. I faired all four on the sanders and made sure they were as close to identical in shape as I could get them.
I had jointed one face of my rosewood in advance but I hadn't thicknessed it because the chunks were too short to run through my planer. So, after I had made the pull blanks, I flattened one side on my disk sander and ripped them to thickness on my Hammond Glider. It's ideal for oddball operations like this. The cross fence sets the thickness, the hold-in clamp holds the piece absolutely solidly, and the sliding table moves it past the blade to make the cut. The Glider (also called a Trim-O-Saw) has a blade that is mounted directly to the arbor flange with screws, so there is no arbor or arbor nut sticking through. This feature allows you to raise the blade (and the right-hand table) as high as you like. I can trim stock up to 4 1/2" thick/high with this arrangement.
Next, I contoured the faces of the pulls on the disk sander. I had gauged a line around the outside curve about 3/8" from the bottom that would be my grinding limit for this step and my bevel line for the outside bevel. Sanding this shape on a disk sander is a very touchy process; you have to check your progress regularly by holding the piece up to window light, understanding that the hard disk is not going to give you a perfectly smooth contour no matter what. You'll have to smooth everything out with a randon-orbit sander or a sanding block later. I have some thick coated foam abrasive pads that I got from our advertiser, 2Sand.com, that worked well for this final smoothing.
Once the contouring was done, I bandsawed the cutout and the outside curve. Then it was back to the sander to clean up the bandsaw marks.
I had decided to mount the pulls with round-head brass, 10-24 machine screws from the rear of the door, so there wouldn't be any visible fasteners on the faces of the pulls. I needed to locate the screw holes accurately in both the pulls and the doors, or else I'd end up with misalignment. So, after I had sized all the pulls to the same shape, and prior to contouring them, I made up a drilling template that I used to locate the pilot holes in identical locations in the back of the pulls. I drilled and tapped these before proceeding with the shaping. Depth was critical. I had to make sure that I didn't drill the pilot holes too deep, or else I'd expose them when I contoured the faces of the pulls. On the other hand, I wanted as much thread as possible for a solid attachment. I decided on 1/2" depth, which would solve these two conditions. The trouble was that I didn't have a bottoming tap, so I would either have to grind the tip off my tap or improvise. I made a quick-and-dirty bottoming tap out of a steel machine screw. It worked like a charm, chasing the threads right to the bottom of the pilot holes.
To drill the holes in the doors accurately, I made up a little drilling guide out of a scrap of walnut with fences straddling two adjacent edges. I used my earlier drilling template to locate the holes in the guide. I clamped the guide to each door, registering the fences on the corner of the door and protecting the back of the door with a pine backup block that also protected against breakout on the back of the door. The guide made quick work of the drilling. I finished up by counterboring the back of the door to sink the screw heads flush with the surface.
Mission accomplished. All that was left was to cut off the screws so they protruded the exact amount through the door, and I was ready to mount the pulls.
Here's a view of the back of the cabinet. I used up some aromatic cedar that had been kicking around my shed forever. The pieces are random width and t&g'd together, with a tongue around the perimeter that goes in a groove around the inside of the carcase. I figured out how much expansion room I'd need and sized the pieces accordingly. Each piece is screwed, with one screw in the center of each, to the fixed center shelf of the cabinet, with the appropriate gaps to allow each board to move independently with humidity changes.
Finally, here's a look inside the cabinet. The two top shelves are adjustable on magic wires. The lower ones and the vertical divider are attached to the exterior box with sliding dovetails to ensure rock-solid stability. I'm thinking about adding a drawer or two under the fixed center shelves. Right now, I'm in the process of SealCoating the inside of the cabinet and varnishing the outside.
Believe it or not, this unit is going to live on our back porch to store dog food and bags of charcoal and other clutter that has been plaguing us for years. It's under cover but exposed to the elements, so wood movement was a serious consideration in its design. But that's another story. I'll post a photo of the finished piece with the pulls installed as soon as I get the finish on.
[Fast forward to today: After sitting on our back porch for about eight years, the cabinet was starting to look a bit weathered, so when we moved to Florida in 2018, I refinished it, and now it resides in our entrance foyer, a more appropriate place for this piece.]
Nice cabinet and great pulls. I don't know about the whole article, but I remember seeing these pulls in the past.