Project Linen Cupboard: Success is in the prep

IMG_1485 - Crunch time, making the cut -

After reviewing the images in my last post I was reminded of the beauty of walnut in its original form, cut from the same tree you get to see how the heart of the tree (often the darker part) and the grain runs through each consecutive piece. So often today we see only the end product, the industrial process is removed from view, we are presented with smooth, clean-cut surfaces free form the natural blemishes and much character.


- A few of the boards joined and resting whilst I get on with the next lot -

In my previous city life I recall attending many meetings in large corporate offices, I remember how many of the walls and swish boardroom tables were extravagantly covered in glossy veneers.  Although this was clearly wood at some point in its life, the uniform matching of the grain pattern and heavy lacquered finish had somehow made the material seem unreal. In a way it is made to look ‘natural’ but in fact, sadly, so far removed.


- This is in fact three boards of walnut from different parts of the tree joined together, this will become the side of the cupboard section -

With today’s technology it is relatively simple to coat man-made boards of MDF and ply-board with fancy veneers. As most industrial veneers are typically less than a millimeter thick its easy to match colour and grain pattern for large projects like fitted interiors and much of the high end furniture you see in the concessions of the luxury departments stores.


- The joined board should match in colour and grain, can you spot the three separate boards here? -

I should probably state that I do not have a problem with veneering, I have used veneers in many of my projects, and it is an interesting, versatile and effective material. I do think it’s a shame, however, that a lot of the mass-produced and exclusive high-end furniture today is highly engineered, using in most part man-made board and veneers. I suspect the large furniture manufacturers’ arrive at this point because it’s easier, costs less and offers consistency.

My training has taught me the importance on choosing the right material for the purpose; in terms of making this is principally a technical consideration where movement of a natural form needs to be factored. After all a piece of handmade furniture should last generations, designing and making with the future in mind is key.

With this in mind I favour the use of veneer and man-made boards when technically necessary. The linen cupboard will in most part be made from solid walnut, I will use a high grade water resistant MDF for the door panels and veneer with a fine French walnut I have matched to the solid. There is no shame in this, in fact it offers the best possible technical solution to guarantee that this piece of furniture is enjoyed for many years.


- Two boards of matching walnut joined together -

The burr is another exception when it comes to veneer. Wait, I hear you cry... what is a burr…or Burl as our North American friends refer to it?

A burr is essentially a highly decorative part of a tree found across many tree species and is much prized for its complex figure and pattern. When you are out and about I am sure you have all noticed trees with rounded outgrowths on the base of the tree or the trunk; this is generally filled with small knots from dormant buds or fungus. The stunning effect makes the material quite fragile and as such it is most often turned into veneers.

I managed to pick up some stunning examples of burrs on my last trip to the veneer supplier; I will post a few images of these in my next post.


- Planing the joined boards to make sure they are super flat and the same thickness -

Well the point of all this rambling neatly brings me to the progress on the linen cupboard. I have spent the last week sorting through the planks of walnut in order to work out how to best cut the various components. After many hours of strenuous lifting, flipping, spinning and lifting again I finally made a decision.

In selecting each component I had two concerns:

1. Is it big enough?

2. Does it match?

The key to getting the right look for the cabinet rests squarely with these decisions. It is not just about colour but also about how the pattern of the wood flows around the piece. Getting this balance is tricky. Walnut is a bit of a pig to work, one one hand it has great character and colour and on the other it is full of knots and quite tasty to the woodworm; it brings a new meaning to pitfalls!

I have inserted various images of this process including the joining and preparing of the timber throughout this post, I hope you find them interesting.


Once all the prep is done its time to start dovetails on a cupboard that's 1.5metres tall, this might involve a ladder...

until next time...