I will be attempting to send out this newsletter on a monthly basis. Its purpose is to promote woodworking with a strong emphasis on kitchen cabinetmaking. The idea for the newsletter came about as a result of the many questions I receive via my “free advice” service through my home page. Many questions that I receive are identical and often there is a common thread.
Subjects like cabinet refacing, refinishing, hardware sources, and cabinet building are often dealt with.
I hope to address these common issues as I’m sure others are facing the same situations. I will keep the newsletter as non-commercial as possible and only mention sources and equipment if they apply to the topic being discussed. I’d appreciate your feedback as well as any comments on what should be included in upcoming issues.
The hybrid cabinet
The European style of kitchen cabinets is very different from our traditional North American cabinet. In some European countries, kitchen cabinets are considered furniture and moved along with other goods when a house is sold. Imagine buying a house, with our North American ideas, and walking into an empty room instead of a kitchen full of cabinets. It would be quite a shock! I’m sure the real estate agents in those countries would assume we understood the normal practice of taking the kitchen cabinets when you move. It would certainly ruin my day.
Europeans cabinet designers have developed the base cabinet leg which replaces our base frame, the bottom mounted metal drawer slide, and most importantly, the hidden hinge. Many North American cabinetmakers realized the advantages of these hardware designs and have incorporated them into our traditional cabinetry style. The Euro cabinet doesn’t have a face frame. The cabinet sides (called gable ends) have applied tape to hide the particle board core. Therefore, the cabinet’s strength is very dependant on the box (carcass) construction. The North American cabinet has traditionally used a face frame for strength and appearance.
However, in the last few years, we’ve incorporated the Euro legs, slides, and hinges with the strong carcass and our face frame resulting in what I believe to be the best cabinet made to date. The traditional hybrid cabinet is very strong, adaptable to any floor situation, and equipped with long lasting and dependable drawers. Most importantly, the center stile (being the vertical frame member between the doors) has been eliminated because of the Euro hinge’s ability to hold it’s position. It’s a great cabinet, a true mix of the best of two styles, with many, many advantages. I’ll get into more applications and problem situations that have been solved by using this cabinetry style in upcoming issues.
Cutting melamine particle core board
Most of my work in kitchen cabinets involves cutting melamine coated particle core board (MPCB). The cabinet carcass in my style of hybrid cabinet is made from 5/8″ MPCB. Until recently I have been using a 10″ “triple chip” blade. The cuts were reasonably “chip-free”, however, they still had an unacceptable amount of chipping on the underside of the board. The perfect solution to this problem is a scoring saw. It uses two blades, in line, on a table saw to get the perfect cut.
But, if you’re like me, spending thousands of dollars on this specialized saw is out of the question. Just recently I was talking to a local saw blade supplier and discussing this problem. I said that I was using a 10″ TCG (triple chip grind) blade as I understood this was the correct one to use. He told me that wasn’t the case. A blade called a melamine blade was the proper one for the operation. This blade has a 30 degree ATB (alternate tooth bevel) and it states that it is “recommended for extra fine chipless sawing on acrylics and formicas or melamine where a scoring unit is not used”. I tried the blade on my 3 hp. table saw and it works like a dream! This blade is made by FS Tool Corp., however any high-quality blade with the 30 degrees ATB design made specifically for melamine will work fine.
To achieve the perfect cut with table, radial arm, or miter saws, make sure your blade has carbide teeth. Sharpen your blades regularly and check the condition of the saw bearings as well as the “trueness” of your guide systems. During my visit with the blade rep, I learned that there are many blades designed for specific purposes. These include cutting solid surface materials, ripping composite boards, and a blade designed for cutting wood to be glued into panels. It was time well spent and I suggest you contact a knowledgeable blade representative in your area.
Re-facing or replacing
There have been numerous letters recently from those who are trying to decide whether to re-face or replace their kitchen cabinets. My response has always been the same. Ask yourself whether or not you are satisfied with the current location of the cabinets and if the interior spaces are adequate.
Modern cabinets have adjustable shelving, melamine coated interiors, and are adaptable to many accessories such as shelf pull-outs. If you’re satisfied with the cabinet body, then re-facing may be a good alternative. However, compare the re-facing cost to the replacing cost. Is the difference great enough to warrant a simple face lift? As always, if you plan to use a contractor, get three quotes with references and follow-up on those references.
There often seems to be a lack of good task lighting in kitchens. Normally, the light source is a bulb in the center of the room. Standing at the kitchen counter makes matters worse because you end up blocking the light. However, there are a couple of inexpensive and unique ways to improve illumination, both general and task lighting.
General lighting can be improved by using a fluorescent fixture on the ceiling in place of the tungsten bulb. The four tube fixture can be hidden with a hardwood box made from 1 inch by 6-inch boards. Use flat molding such as door stop or parclose on the edges of the boards to support a piece of white plexiglass. You’ll have a better light source that is cooler and less expensive to operate.
Task lighting can be improved by mounting single tube fluorescent fixtures on the back side of a 1 inch by 4-inch board attached to the underside of the upper cabinets. It’s important to mount the fixture to the back side of the board (valance) and not the underside of the cabinets. This will prevent someone from seeing the bare bulb when sitting in the kitchen. The wiring for under cabinet lighting can be run behind the valance and into the wall. Installing a switch and box completes the job. You’ll find these task lighting systems looks good and is very effective. One thing to remember about surface wiring, some areas have electrical codes that require special electrical cable when its surface mounted. It’s best to check the code in your area before installing this system.
What you can also do is put a light under your cabinets so that it doesn’t matter where do you stand or what part of a day it is, because the light will be at the bottom of the cabinets and will always fall onto the surfaces that are under those cabinets. In this way, you will always have enough light without any shadows. You can put a switch next to the regular one or you can put those lighting that activates with your clap. Your bulbs can be small neon ones so the light can be white, and will not spread too wide.
Particle board screws
I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about particle board screws (PBS). Some people are having difficulty finding them at the home store or hardware supplier. The PBS or “chipboard” screw, as some suppliers call them, should be widely available throughout the US and Canada. They are very easy to identify because of their thin shaft and coarse thread. Most PBS screws also have little lines or “nibs” under the head to help them countersink and grip the board. Very often they’re sold with a square drive head called a #8 Robertson. They allow you to join particle boards together with a simple butt joint. It’s an amazingly strong joint that is often used in building the carcass for kitchen cabinets.
This is the end of the first issue of Rideau News. I don’t want to make each issue so long as I know bandwidth space and time is valuable. However, I want to try and include bits of information that may be of benefit to you. If you have any subjects, related to kitchen cabinetmaking, that you want me to try and cover, please drop me a line. I’d appreciate the feedback.