In cleaning up the shop this past weekend, I came across the prototype for the Krenovian wall cabinet I built for the April issue and was reminded of how helpful it was in working out and hopefully improving the design – even though I failed to mention it in the article (I’m wordy as it is, so something has to be left on the cutting room floor). I build prototypes using a lot of different methods and for different reasons depending on the project at hand. And while I’ve ruined more than one decent board as a result of not building a prototype, I’ve never regretted any of the time spent working out the details on either offcuts of plywood, MDF, foamboard or whatever happens to be in the scrap bin (er, scrap corner) of my shop.
Prototypes are great for gauging the overall proportions and weight of a piece because they show you how the piece will look in three dimensions. And because they make it easy to alter details – stock thickness, moulding and profile treatments and, in some cases, joinery details – I’ve come to rely on them heavily. Below are a few details on how I built the prototype for this particular cabinet, as well as a few notes on how it was useful.
Do you find that prototypes are a good way to refine your own work? If so, how do you build them and what about them do you find useful? If you don’t find prototypes necessary, what takes their place in working out the proportions and details of a piece?
To see the original James Krenov piece that inspired my version, take a look at Krenov’s own “A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook.” It’s long been one of my favorites, and one of the very first places I go when I need a little workshop inspiration.
Simple Construction: Scrap plywood is simply butt-jointed and screwed together. It can be easily disassembled if parts need to be trimmed down. In this case the overall depth of the piece decreased by a full inch only because it looked too overwhelming when mocked up – I couldn’t see this on paper or in my SketchUp drawing.
Whatever is Quickest: Because it’s so quick to set up and use on the fly, I join the doors using a Festool Domino, though they could be screwed together instead. Prior to having the Domino, I’ve even mocked up doors using double-sided tape at the joint, or by using masking tape across the width of the joints.
Give Yourself Options: It’s worth taking the time to try door parts of different widths. On this cabinet I wanted to find that sweet spot between bulky and frail. It’s amazing how much of a difference 1/8″ can make on the door rails or stiles.
Try Something Non-Traditional: By mocking up the doors using loose-tenon Domino joints that were slightly off center, I was able to flip the stock so that I could envision the offset of the door rails against the stiles – one of my favorite features on this piece. You might not even notice it at first, but it creates a shadow line that draws your eye to the detail. After seeing it on the prototype, I was much more comfortable using thinner door rails.