Each morning, you probably look
at a plain old medicine cabinet. Why
not upgrade it?
As a focal point in your bathroom,
a new cabinet is a golden opportunity
to display your skills. You’re sure to
get praise from everyone who visits!
But build it with care, because it will
be hung right at eye level.
I made this cabinet from rift-sawn
white oak. Rift-sawn figure, on both
faces and edges, is mainly composed
of straight lines. Looking at the end
grain of rift-sawn wood, you’ll see
that the growth rings generally run
from corner to corner, and that’s why
faces and edges look alike. I chose riftsawn
wood because I like its straightgrained
appearance, but it also allows
the edges of the door to blend seamlessly
with the cabinet’s sides.
I didn’t skimp when selecting the
wood. Using wood with similar figure
is often more important on a small
project than on a large one, because
the few pieces in a small project are so
close together. An oddball stands out
like a sore thumb.
I used dovetailed corners, an
arched rail and decorative plugs to
give the cabinet a unique look. To
make the dovetails, I used a jig that
allowed me to make the tails wider
than the pins.
The door hangs on Euro-style
hinges. I’ll admit that they’re big and
ugly, but I really like their functionality
and adjustability. I added a soft-close
device to the hinges that enables the
door to close without making a sound
(see Sources, below).
The cabinet and door backs are
thin slats connected by tongue and
groove joints. Making them in solid
wood eats up lots of time and material,
but they look fantastic compared
to a piece of plywood.
The mirror is 1/8" thick glass with
vinyl backing. (The backing will hold
the glass together should it accidentally
break.) I had the mirror cut by
a glass supplier, who also added the
backing. You may want to ask your
local building inspector if there are
bathroom-mirror code requirements
for your area.
Removing the towel storage door
for a refill is very simple. It sits in a 1/8"
deep groove in the bottom shelf and
a 3/8" deep groove in the fixed shelf
above. To take off the door, you just
lift it up, then out.
Speaking of doors, you’ve probably
noticed that the front door doesn’t
have a handle. The door extends
below the cabinet; to open it, you just
pull on this lower lip. That’s the way I
like my design–clean and simple.
Make the cabinet
1. Cut the cabinet sides (A1) and
top and bottom pieces (A2) to size. I
made all of these pieces 1/16" extralong,
and set up my dovetail jig so the
tails and pins protruded 1/32". Rout
the dovetail joints (Photo 1, Figs. B &
C). I used a Leigh Super Jig.
2. Lay out stopped rabbets on the
side pieces (Fig. B). Cut the ends of
the rabbets with a handsaw (Photo
2). Rout the rabbets and square their
ends with a chisel. Rout through rabbets
on the top and bottom pieces.
Drill 5mm shelf-pin and hinge mounting-
plate holes in the sides.
3. Cut the fixed shelf (A6) and towel
storage sides (A8) to size. Rout grooves
for the towel storage door (A9) in the
cabinet bottom and the fixed shelf
(Photo 3, Fig. C). Cut biscuit slots to
join the fixed shelf, towel storage sides,
cabinet bottom and cabinet sides.
4. Make an oval template for the
towel dispenser hole (Fig. C). Cut the
hole in the cabinet’s bottom using a
scroll saw or jigsaw. Round over the
hole’s outside edge.
5. Finish sand the interior surfaces
of all of the parts you’ve made. Assemble the cabinet in stages. Make
sure the parts are square and aligned
during assembly, and allow the glue
to dry before proceeding to the next
stage. First, join the cabinet bottom,
towel storage sides and fixed shelf. Add
one cabinet side. Next, add the cabinet
top, and finally, the remaining side
6. Use a belt sander to make the
dovetails flush, then finish sand the
outside of the cabinet. Ease all edges
Make the door
7. Cut the door stiles (B3) 1" longer
than their final size. Mark the finished
length 1/2" from each end (you’ll trim
the stiles to their finished length after
assembling the doorframe). The extra
1/2" makes assembly easier–aligning
the parts during assembly isn’t as critical.
Cut the rails (B1 & B2) to final size.
Make extra stiles and rails for testing
your mortise and tenon setups.
8. Lay out the plug holes on the door
stiles (Fig. D). Make sure they are exactly
5/8" square. Drill holes to clear most of
the waste (Photo 5), then square the
holes with a chisel (Photo 6).
9. Cut mortises in the stiles (Photo
7) and tenons on the rails (Photo 8).
I used my scroll saw to cut away the
waste between the double tenons on
the arch rail and cleaned up the cut
with a chisel.
10. Make a template of the arch rail’s
curve (Fig. D). Lay out and cut the curve,
then sand it smooth (Photo 9).
11. Glue the door frame. Trim and
sand the ends of the stiles flush with
the rails. Rout two rabbets inside the
door: first, the rabbet for the slats,
and second, the rabbet for the mirror
(Fig. D). Go slow when routing
against the grain on the arch rail, to
avoid chipping out the short grain at
the ends. Square the corners of the
rabbets (Photo 10). Have the mirror
made to fit the door.
12. Drill 35mm holes for the hinge
cups on the right door stile. (It’s best
to attach the hinge mounting plates
to the cabinet and test your hingehole
drilling setup on a 30" long
piece of scrap wood.) Since you’re
working in a confined area, attaching
the lower hinge mounting plate
and adjusting the hinge requires a
stubby #2 Posi Drive screwdriver.
(You can jury-rig one using a Posi
Drive screwdriver tip and a 1/4" box
Make the slats
13. Cut the slats to size (A3-A5, B4
& B5). Cut their grooves on a tablesaw,
then rout the tongues (Photo
11, Fig. E). Assemble the door slats
first. Fit them together, including
shims, inside the door’s rabbet. The
gaps between the slats allow the
wood to expand in the summer,
when it’s humid. You will probably
have to trim the width of the end
slats to make the final fit. Draw, then
cut, the curved upper ends of the
slats (Photo 12). Fit the cabinet’s
back slats in a similar way.
14. Pre-drill holes for the screws
that attach the slats to the door and
cabinet (Photo 13, Fig A). Drill holes
in the back slats for the screws that
attach the cabinet to the wall.
15. Make the adjustable shelves
(A7) and towel storage door (A9).
Check the door’s fit in the cabinet.
If the door is too tight, plane it a
bit thinner. Lay out the towel-level
viewing slot (Fig. A). Drill 3/8" dia.
holes at the slot’s ends, then cut the
slot (Photo 14).
16. Trim the cabinet’s door, if
necessary, so that it’s flush with the
sides and top. Round over its edges.
17. Mill a 12" long piece for making
the plugs (B6). (I chose a piece
whose end grain ran at a slight
angle–less than 10°–from side to
side.) Make it square and slightly
larger than the widest hole you
chopped in the doorframe. Before
you cut each plug, round over its
end with sandpaper to form a pillow
shape. Cut three plugs from each
end of the plug stock (Photo 15).
Arrange the plugs near their holes
so that the grain of the plugs on one
side of the frame is a mirror image of
the plugs on the other side. Running
the grain upwards and inwards, like
an arch, looks best. Fit each plug by
sanding its sides at a slight taper.
You’ve got a good fit when the plug
is tight on all sides, and almost all
the way in the hole. Glue and tap
the plugs in place.
18. Remove the slats, hinges and
mounting plates. Complete whatever
sanding is necessary and ease
any remaining sharp edges. Apply a
clear protective finish–I used wipeon
poly. Reassemble the cabinet
and door. Hang the cabinet on the
wall using appropriate wall anchors.
Set the adjustable shelves in place.
Mount the hinges, add door bumpers
(see Sources), align the door,
add the soft-close device, and fill the
towel dispenser. That’s it!
Fig. A: Exploded View
Fig. B: Side
Fig. C: Fixed Shelf & Bottom
Fig. D: Door Details
Fig. E: Slats
Click any image to view a larger version.
Hidden Towel Dispenser. Peek inside the cabinet and you’ll find a
built-in dispenser for folded paper towels.
It has a window in front to let you know
when you’re running low.
1. Begin by building the cabinet’s case,
which is dovetailed together. I used a
Leigh jig to make joints with wide tails
and narrow pins.
2. Saw the ends of the cabinet’s sides, prior
to routing a stopped rabbet. This will make
squaring the rabbet’s ends much easier.
3. Rout a groove in the cabinet’s bottom
for the towel storage door. Control the
groove’s length with stop blocks.
4. Glue the case in stages, ending with one of the sides. Use a large L-shaped block to keep the case square.
5. Moving on to the door, use a Forstner bit
to remove most of the waste in the holes
that will receive square decorative plugs.
6. Square the holes with a chisel.
7. Cut mortises in the stiles. Make the mortises
slightly deeper than the length of the
tenons, to leave room for excess glue.
8. Saw tenons on the door’s rails using a
tenoning jig. You can cut both sides of a
tenon, without having to re-adjust the jig,
by using a spacer.
9. Bandsaw an arch in the top rail and sand
it smooth. To fair the curve, use the cutoff
to hold a piece of self-adhesive sandpaper.
10. Glue the door together, then rout two
rabbets inside it: one for the mirror, and
one for the back. Square their ends using a
guide block that’s clamped to the door.
11. Make slats for the back of the door and
the back of the cabinet. Rout tongues on
the slats using a straight bit.
12. Space the slats with cardboard shims,
then set the door frame on top. Trace the
curve and cut the slats on the bandsaw.
13. Install the slats in the back of the cabinet. Drill pilot holes and fasten the slats with small
14. Make the door that hides the paper towels.
Cut a viewing slot in the door so you
can tell when it’s time for a refill.
15. Lastly, add the decorative plugs. Saw
them in a shop-made miter box. Draw a
line on the box to indicate their length.