Computer Armoire

Computer Armoire

Build an updated
American classic
from bargain-priced
plywood and poplar.

By Jeff Corns

My wife and I enjoy antique country furniture. It's usually
a bargain, but we've been unable
to find a piece that would hold all
of our computer gear. I'm a professional
cabinetmaker, so naturally
my wife said, "Honey, can't you
make one?"

Back in the day, practical-minded
country cabinetmakers often
used a variety of plain woods in
one piece of furniture to save time
and money. They'd paint or stain
their work to give the different
woods a uniform look. I adopted
the same strategy with this cabinet–
the sides and top are birch plywood,
while the face frame, doors
and moldings are made from yellow
poplar. Red paint ties everything
together.

I designed this case like a TV
cabinet–with pocket doors that
slide into the case, out of the way.
The keyboard and mouse sit on a
generously-sized shelf that slides in
and out; the printer sits on a shelf
above the monitor. The lower half
has a large open space for the computer's
tower, plus drawers to hold
documents, cords and all the other
stuff we seem to accumulate.

For a big piece, this armoire is
pretty inexpensive. The pocket door
hardware is pricey, though. If you
want to cut costs, you could use
standard hinges instead, and make
shelves to hold your gear. With
pocket doors, you have to build a
free-standing unit that slides into
the cabinet (Photo 10).

 

Make the face frame

1. Mill the face frame stiles and rails
(A1 – A4; Fig. C). Drill pocket holes at
the ends of the rails. Cut grooves in
the stiles to receive the cabinet's sides
(Photo 1). The exact location of these
grooves depends on the precise thickness
of your plywood. It's best if the
face frame ends up 1/32" or so proud
of the plywood, so you don't have to
sand into the plywood's veneer to
even the joint later.

2. Cut grooves in the rails to
receive the cabinet's subtop and
shelves (B2, B3 and B4; Fig. B). Cut
tapers on the bottom end of the face
frame's stiles. Mark the location of
the rails on the stiles, then assemble
the face frame with pocket screws
(Photo 2).

 

Make the sides
and shelves

3. Cut the sides (B1) to final dimension.
Make sure they're square and
exactly the same size. Rout a rabbet
along the sides' front edges to receive
the face frame (Photo 3 and Fig. C).

4. Place each of the sides on the
face frame. Mark the location of the
grooves in the face frame's rails onto
the sides (Photo 4).

5. Dado the sides to receive the
shelves (Photo 5 and Fig. F). Rout a
rabbet along the back edge of the
sides to receive the back pieces
(B20, B21). These pieces only cover
the upper half of the cabinet, so
stop the rabbet at the dado for the
middle shelf.

6. Rout a rabbet (Fig. A) along the
front edges of the sub-top, center
shelf and the bottom. These rabbets
fit in the face frame's grooves. Notch
the front ends of each piece to clear
the back of the face frame.

7. Cut feet on the bottom of each
side. Note that the front foot is narrower
than the back foot. Adding the
face frame will make both feet the
same size.

8. Cut a notch in the back of the
center shelf, towards the left side (Fig.
A), for wires between your computer
and any hardware you may store in
the armoire's lower section.

 

Assembly

9. Lay the face frame inside up on
a large worktable or on a pair of sawhorses.
Place one of the sides into
the face frame, without glue. Glue
and nail the sub-top, center shelf, and
bottom–one at a time–into the side
(Photo 6). After all three pieces are in
place, glue and nail the other side.
Glue and screw the left divider for
the lower section (B5) in place. It's OK
for these screws to show–you won’t
see them once the keyboard shelf
goes in. Glue and clamp edging (B6)
on this divider to cover its plywood
edge. Glue and nail a block (B22)
under the bottom for support.

10. Flip over the entire unit and
remove the face frame. Have all your
clamps ready, then glue and clamp
the face frame (Photo 7).

 

Add the trim and top

11. Make the waist molding (C1,
C2) and fasten it to the cabinet
(Photo 8). I screwed the molding
from the inside, but you could nail it
from the outside.

12. Cut the top (B7) to size. Add
blocking (B8, B9) around the edges to
double the top's thickness. Miter and
glue the poplar edging (B10, B11) to
the top's fronts and sides. Screw the
top to the cabinet. You won’t see
these screws once the computer
shelving unit goes in. Add the crown
molding (C3, Photo 9). I made my
molding on the table saw (Fig. E), but
you can use a commercial crown
molding. If you do, you may have to
adjust the top's size.

 

Add blocking

13. The lower right side of the case
must be built up to allow the drawers
to clear the doors. First, screw blocking
(B12) behind the right face frame
stile. If you'll be using door hinges
that wrap around the stile, as I did,
you'll have to notch part of this piece
to accommodate the hinges. Make
and install some additional blocking
(B13), a stile (B14), and the right
divider (B15).

14. Add blocking (B16 – B19) on
the inside of the cabinet for the
pocket door hardware. The total
thickness of these built-up blocks is
about 1-3/4", but determine their
exact thickness by measuring your
case. Once in place, the blocking's
surfaces should be set back 1/32"
lower than the inside edge of the
face frame. Flush is OK, too, but the
blocking should not be proud of the
face frame.

 

Build the computer
shelving unit

15. Check the inside dimensions
of your cabinet before building the
computer shelving unit. The unit
must be 4" narrower than the face
frame opening, giving 2" of clearance
on each side for the pocket
doors. The unit's height should be
1/4" less than the distance between
the center shelf and the top of the
face frame, to allow you to slide it
in. Cut the plywood parts (E1- E6;
Fig. H). Glue, clamp and trim the
edging (E7 – E10). Glue and screw
the unit together. Nail the divider
(E5) from underneath–screws will
show here. Drill 5 mm holes for the
shelf pins. Cut the shelf (E6) and glue and clamp on a poplar front
(E10). Cut the keyboard shelf (E11) and
glue and clamp on its front and back
edging (E12).

16. Stain and finish the unit and
the inside of the armoire. Put the
drawer slides onto the keyboard shelf
and inside the unit. Place the unit in
the cabinet (Photo 10), center it, and
mark its location. Remove the unit
and drill six holes through the center
shelf in order to fasten the unit in
place later on.

 

Build the back,
drawers and doors

17. Mill the back pieces (B20 and
B21; Fig. K). Cut rabbets on the edges
that overlap to create shiplap joints.
Stain and finish the pieces, then fasten
them to the case.

18. Build the drawers (D1-D4; Fig. J).
Make them 1" narrower than the width
of the opening, to allow for two 1/2"
drawer slides. Use any type of joinery
you wish; I used sliding dovetails. Stain and finish the
drawers.

19. Mill the door stiles and rails (F1,
F2, F3; Fig. D) and machine them with a
tongue-and-groove router bit set
(Photo 11 and Fig. G).

20. Glue up the door panels (F4,
F5) and plane them to final thickness.
Saw a bevel on their faces (Photo 12
and Fig. G), then lay the panels flat on
the saw and cut 1/16" fillets next to
the bevels. Paint the bevels and the
back of the panels before assembling
the doors.

21. Glue the doors together. Be careful
not to get glue onto the panels. I
use rubber Space Balls inside the
grooves to prevent the panels from rattling
(see Sources).

22. Trim the doors so they have a
1/8" gap around the entire opening.

23. Install the pocket door hardware
and drill holes in the doors for the
hinges (Photo 13).

 

Paint

24. Now for the fun part. Apply two
coats of paint on the entire
cabinet–this will blend together the
birch plywood and poplar parts
(Photo 14).

Cutting List

Shopping List

Fig. A: Exploded View of Case

Fig. B: Plan View of Face Frame

Fig. C: Face Frame and Side Joint

Fig. D: Exploded View of Doors

Fig. E: Crown Molding

Fig. F: Plan View of Cabinet Side

Fig. G: Door Joinery

Fig. H: Exploded View of Computer Shelving Unit

Fig. J: Exploded View of Drawers

Fig. K: Back

Click any image to view a larger version.

1. This cabinet is basically a big plywood
box with a face frame on its front. Groove
the face frame's stiles to fit the sides. This
joint makes it easier to glue on the face
frame later on.

2. Join the face frame with pocket screws.
They're plenty strong for this job, which is
simply to hold the face frame together
before gluing it to the cabinet.

3. Rabbet the cabinet’s plywood sides to
receive the face frame. This joint ensures
that the sides and face frame are flush. Test
your setup on a scrap piece before cutting
the actual pieces.

4. Place one side of the cabinet on the face
frame. Make a mark opposite the groove
in the frame's middle rail to locate the
dado that receives the middle shelf.

5. Cut the dado in the cabinet's side on the
tablesaw. Use the same setting for the
opposite side of the cabinet. Cut additional
dadoes for the top and bottom shelves.

6. Place one side onto the face frame, without
glue. Insert the middle shelf into the
side's dado, and glue and nail the shelf to
the side. Install the other two shelves, then
attach the other side.

7. Glue the face frame to the cabinet, using plenty of clamps. You could nail the face frame
instead, but holes in the cabinet’s front are unsightly, even if they’re filled.

8. Add a square molding around the cabinet’s waist. The molding makes the cabinet look
like it's two separate units, so it doesn't seem so huge.

9. Add an overhanging top to the cabinet, then nail a crown molding underneath it.

10. Build an inner box to go inside the cabinet. There must be 2 in. of clearance on either
side of the box for the pocket doors.

11. Make the frame-and-panel doors after
the cabinet is assembled. Mill the doors'
stiles and rails, then cut the joints using a
tongue-and-groove set.

12. Bevel the edges of the door panels to fit
the grooves in the stiles and rails. Use a tall
fence, a zero-clearance insert and a featherboard
to make a clean, safe cut.

13. Glue the doors together, then drill holes
in the doors to receive Euro-style pocketdoor
hinges. Use a fence to ensure that all
the holes are set back the same distance.

14. Paint the cabinet. Paint allows you to use inexpensive materials, and you don't have
to worry about matching grain. Plus, paint can really brighten a room!

Sources

Note: Product availability and prices are subject to change.

Woodworker's Hardware, woodworkershardware.com, 800-383-0130, 1"
Maple unfinished wood knob, #A00932; Double Roller Latches, LA191
AC; Full Wrap, Ball Tip Hinges,
A03175TB ORB, Oil Rubbed Bronze; 18" KV Full Extension Drawer Slides,
KV8400 B18; 16" Full
Extension Drawer Slide with Hold Out
Feature, KV8414 B16; 5mm Spoon
shelf supports, THB6144 Nickel; 1/4"
Space Balls, #SB260P.


Hafele, hafele.com, 800-423-
3531, Pocket Door Slides, 408.24.324; 35 mm Hinge packs, 408.24.020.


Olde Century Paint, oldecenturycolors.
com, 574-654-8894, #2017 Barn
Red acrylic latex paint (2 qt.
required).

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker October/November 2009, issue #144.



October/November 2009, issue #144


Purchase this back issue.