Radius Cabinets Photo Essay

Staining and Installation: Section 3

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Natural Cherry Staining Technique
Polish Staining Salon

The Natural Way

No fuss no muss, my "Polish Naural " technique, as my buddy "Ski" calls it. It takes longer this time of year; summer is much quicker because of more UV rays - though they have to be flipped often so they don't cup. This is by far my favorite treatment for good cherry.

But if you must stain cherry with liquid, this is the best technique I have found to get a rich glow with very little blotching - even on highly figured cherry. I use an oil stain (already a no no according to most articles on finishing), but prior to staining I heat the surface of the cherry with either natural sunlight or quartz halogen lights. I then flood the cherry with plain mineral spirits, repeatedly filling those areas which are most thirsty. It will absorb a lot of thinner and take quite a bit of time. When satisfied that the most absorbant areas are saturated, I wipe the surface with a spirits wetted rag, and let most of the surface spirits evaporate under the light.

Then, I apply oil stain and let it dry before wiping down with a rag dampened with thinner. It will look like shit for a long time, but it will dry eventually. I do not even consider top coating for at least 3 or 4 days minimum after doing this.

This method has a number of drawbacks. It stinks up the shop for a prolonged period; it is too slow for production work, except for high, high end "Pieces"; and it has to be done with the stock horizontal.

But, you wind up with a deep, rich, glowing stain that can be coated with water clear finishes without tinting, toning or anything added to impede the light's penetration through the coating to the wood's beauty beneath. This is the only method I have found to retain most of the chatoyance of figured woods after staining. But then I am not a professional finisher either.

One word of caution to those new to spraying finishes; be sure you don't spray the cherry, or any wood, that has been under quartz lights or sunlight long enough to get warm. It will almost guarantee "solvent popping", which will form little volcanoes throughout your coating. Little bubbles of gas (solvent evaporated way too quickly by the warm wood) will float up through your coating and not pop until after ruining your day.

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Partial Pre-finishing before Assembly

Cabinets Partially Coated

As recommended by Michael Dresdner, in his informative and hilarious book on finishing, I completely finish coated most of the parts in the shop prior to assembling and later installing on the job. The exceptions were the wide (18 1/2" x 5/4) cherry board forming the top to the lower units, the face frames and the glued up curved top shown here.

You may notice that the perimeters were coated but not the rest. This was because some jobsite fairing and sanding would be necessary on the bullnose, yet I didn't want to have to spray tight to adjacent vertical surfaces, which would result in excess overspray. It worked quite well. Thank you Michael.

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Assembling Tops: #1

Stainless Dowels for Precise Alignment

Stainless Dowells & Custom Jig

Nothing beats having your own machine shop, except maybe a ham sandwich. This dowelling jig features a choice of 5 registration marks all of which are within o.ooo5" of bearing the same relationship to each other and each drill bushing. Drills had to be sprayed with lubrication before drilling each hole, or they set the chips on fire sometimes (if they would even go through the bushings).

Except for the lower carcases everything had to be out of solid cherry. The tops were wide and formed a "U" shape, surrounded by walls, and had to turn 90 degrees in two places. In addition, the owner's humidifier was so powerful both Dave "dog bed" Schrader (whom I often work with) and I thought he had a plumbing leak. It was like being in the Congo Rain Forrest there. It was nice getting back to Dave's shop, where most of the fabrication was done.

So I reasoned the best way to handle expansion problems was like this. I figured that as the radius top expanded in the jungle atmosphere, its outside circumference would increase by a factor of slightly greater than pie. This should allow enough room for the back slats to expand without causing the whole thing to self destruct.

And I had bias grain meeting end grain instead of long grain meeting end grain, and burried most of the joint behind the face frames and under the sides.Only the first few inches of the tops actually touch each other. Behind the face frames, the tops have been cut back. No glue was used anywhere. Long stainless rods and dog bones were used to draw the tops together, and the stainless dowells kept them aligned. Dave and I were able, with the aid of frequent loud and plaintive stress relief expletives, to spin the corner units into the dowels sticking out of the center unit, and hook the damn thing together.

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Assembling Tops: #2

Test Fit  and Rough Fairing

Shop Testing Again

Close enough for pre- installation fairing. I had held off on assembling the sides of units adjacent to the radius corner units until I knew exactly where they should go in relation to the bullnose, and the adjacent faceframe stile. The backs, obviously didn't matter that much. All the sides were as thick as possible and had 1/2" tennons fitting into the 1/2" dados in the tops. All the straight counter tops were one board, as were all the sides and panels except the center door panel



Mating Together

Radius assembly jig


After wrestling with the corner units in the shop forever, I finally realized that squaring round objects was taking way too long. So I made a full scale drawing on melamine and set the corner bases on it where I gestimated they would probably go - given the shape of the room. Then I was able to size the more standard "filler" cabinets, fabricate the tops, then the uppers. But how to get them back together in the same relative position in that tiny, lopsided room was still a problem.

The 7 ' long gismo pictured above was just the ticket. But if I had remembered to bring it with us the first installation day, Dave and I wouldn't have gotten so adept at moving cabinets around to absolutely no purpose whatsoever for at least two hours.


Perfectly Clear

Installation Jig

Penmanship Still at Triple Bogey Level

But at least it didn't rub off. Pictured here is the left side of the jig above. The outside faceframe stiles of the lower left corner unit fit into the right slot in the picture above. The oustide faceframe stile of the other corner unit fit in the corresponding slot on the other end of the jig. ( In other words, one cabinet stile per each innermost slot in the first picture)

The edges of the plywood outside the slots butted the sides of the lower cabinets. Then we brought the other corner unit stiles into contact with the two perpendicular legs (shown in the first picture) and centered the middle lower unit between them, and fastened them together.

Once we had the bottoms of the lowers all attached, we slid the jig up to the top of the lowers and repeated the proceedure. This done, we could square off the jig toward the open end of the horse shoe to determine relative "parallelity" to the walls.

The outermost slots fit into the upper units' face frames, and an addition to the perpendicular legs was hot melted on to account for the larger radius. We then repeated the same proceedure with the tops of the upper cabinets. The bottoms of the uppers could not move since they were attached to the tops.

I had never been fond of hot melt till Dave introduced me to the orange 3M guns and their large glue sticks. I won't leave the shop without it, if I can remember.

If the above process sounds easy, don't you believe it. Assembling and disassembling lowers time and again to hack and gnaw away material that can't be reached to scribe first, on a finished floor in a teeny little room in the jungle -well, never mind.

I'm just thankful I had Dave and the plywood gizmo - if only I could find a cheap maid.... Back to Top

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