Sycamore Pantry

The best way to match solid wood and veneer is to make the veneer by Icon Kitchens.

Sometimes you just fall in love with a special kind of wood. For me, that wood is quarter sawn sycamore, but I’ve never had a chance to build something big that would really show it off. When my wife and I needed a new pantry for our kitchen, we found that commercial units were way too expensive, not very well crafted and used boring wood. I volunteered to make it myself. Out of sycamore, of course.

For ease of construction, I designed a pantry composed of four separate units. They’re standard plywood boxes with face frames and overlay doors. The problem was, I didn’t want to spend big bucks on custom-made quarter sawn sycamore plywood. I considered buying some sycamore veneer and gluing it to a substrate myself, but then, I thought, it might not match the solid wood in the face frames.

My solution was to make my own thick veneer and design the boxes so I could mill all the parts on my jointer and bandsaw and planer. It worked great, although I needed lots of clamps!

To build this pantry, you’ll need quartersawn sycamore or a similar light-colored species of  clear walnut, two sheets of birch plywood and four sheets birch plywood. I prefer high-quality multi-ply plywood for casework. It has several more laminations than standard birch plywood, fewer voids, holds fasteners better and is generally more stable, flat and uniform.

Veneer the Side Units

1. Select seven long sycamore boards for re-sawing into veneer. Look for boards with the most interesting grain patterns. Plane the boards then resaw them down the middle. Mark pieces from the same board so you can bookmatch them later

2.Cut the side unit’s plywood parts

3.Glue a pair of the veneers to the cabinet’s sides. You may have to joint these pieces first to make a tight seam. Use twelve pairs of cauls to glue each side.

4.Use a flush-trim router bit to even the veneer with the plywood’s edges. Run the glue-up through a planer until the veneer is making the final side. Trim the sides to final length.

Veneer the Base Cabinet

5. Cut the plywood parts. This cabinet projects only beyond the tall cabinets, so there’s no need to veneer the entire sides. You only need a strip of veneer. This veneer is let into a wide rabbet, which you can make on the tablesaw using a dado set. Clean up the rabbet with a block plane, if necessary.

6. Cut the veneer to size and plane it as thick as the rabbet is deep. Glue one piece to each side.

Join and Assemble

7. Cut the plywood parts for the upper unit.

8. Rout dadoes and rabbets in all the cabinet’s sides. Although the back for each cabinet. wide. This allows for a 1/8-in. flange behind the back that can be scribed and trimmed later, so each cabinet can follow the contour of the wall when it is installed.

9. Glue and clamp the tops, fixed shelves and bottoms to the sides of all four cabinets. Drill holes for shelf supports before installing the backs, for easier access. For the upper unit, offset the holes in the divider to the left or right or they will run into each other.

10. Install the backs with nails around the perimeter. Run screws into the top, fixed shelf and bottom. This strong joinery, combined with the back’s substantial thickness, means that you won’t have to install unsightly nailing strips to secure the cabinets to the wall.

Apply the Face Frames

11. Mill the face frame parts from the rest of your sycamore boards. Attach the rails to the stiles with biscuits, pocket screws or dowels.

The frames should be flush with the outside faces of the cabinets, and the top edge of both the bottom and fixed shelf need to line up with the top edge of the appropriate rails. Note that the face frame for the base cabinet is taller than the cabinet sides, to allow room for a subtop.

12. Sand the face frames and clean out the corners with a chisel. Install the face frames with glue, finish nails and clamps. Fill the holes with birch-tinted putty.

13. Reinforce each cabinet’s joints with many small glue blocks. Use more blocks behind the face frames, where they join the cabinets.

14. On the base unit, install cleats to support the subtop. Cut the subtop to size but don’t attach it yet. It’s a lot easier to install this cabinet without the subtop in place.

15. Make sycamore-edged shelves for all the cabinets. Trim the shelves shorter than the distance between each cabinet’s sides.

Make the Doors

16. Both the paneled and glass doors are constructed essentially the same way. Mill all the rails and stiles to size, then rout or dado a groove down the center of each part’s inside edge.

17. Rout or dado tenons on the ends of each rail. Resaw bookmatched panels from thick boards and plane them to fit into the grooves. Apply finish to the panels before installing them.

18. Glue the doors together. Use Space Balls to prevent the panels from rattling in the winter when they shrink in width.

19. Rout a rabbet around the backside of the two glass doors using a bearing-guided rabbeting bit. Square the corners with a chisel. After applying a finish to the doors, install the glass. Use wooden retaining strips or a silicone bead to hold it in place.

Install the Cabinets

20. Sand all the components to 220 grit and apply a clear polyurethane finish.

21. Position the cabinets in your room. Determine the highest spot on your floor and place the cabinet that sits here first. Shim the remaining cabinets to align with this one. Attach the cabinets to the wall with screws driven through the backs and into your wall’s studs.

22. Add pulls to the doors. Install the doors with full overlay hinges.

23, Make the crown molding, then fit it to the cabinets. Finish the molding as loose pieces, then pin-nail it to the cabinets, butted to the ceiling.

24. Add the base molding.

Make the Countertop

25. Glue the countertop from boards that are 4-in. or so wide, alternating heart and bark sides, to ensure that the top stays flat.

26. Install the subtop in the base unit. Trim the top to the exact width of the base unit. Screw and glue the countertop to the cleats. Install the backsplash and side pieces. These hold the top down and allow for the top to expand and contract. Add the front and return trim.

This pantry really shows off the distinctive figure of quartersawn sycamore. To make thick veneer from sycamore boards, re-saw the best pieces down the middle.

For the sides of the tall outer cabinets, glue the veneer to a plywood substrate, using curved cauls to distribute pressure. Run the panels through a planer to clean up the bandsawn surfaces.

Here’s one bookmatched panel, close up. When sycamore is quartersawn, you can clearly see its numerous ray cells scattered all over the surface. They give the wood an almost textured look.

The sides of the middle base cabinet are veneered, too, but not all the way across. Only a few inches of the sides project beyond the tall outer cabinets. Cut a wide rabbet to receive a strip of veneer.

Glue the veneer onto the rabbet. This side is too wide to run through the planer after glue-up, so thickness-plane the veneer beforehand.

Pin-nail solid sycamore face frames to the cabinet sides. The center base unit’s face frame extends above the cabinet’s sides. This hides the front edge of a plywood subtop.

Build the door frames with extra-deep grooves so the solid-wood panels can expand in summer. Place soft-sponge Space Balls in the grooves to prevent the panels from rattling around in winter.

Build the glass doors in the upper cabinet the same way as the paneled doors. To make the glass easy to install from the back, turn the grooves into rabbets with a router.

Hang the doors after the cabinets are installed, to make sure they’re perfectly level. Support the doors on a ledger strip to line them up.

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