A Ming-Inspired Cabinet (78)

Continuing with the description of mounting the demountable frame and panel backs to these two cabinets. The method of using clips so as to make the panels relatively easy to remove, should the need arise, is something I borrow directly from some Ming cabinets.

Some may wonder if having demountable rear panels might be going overboard, however, imagine for a moment you are tasked with refinishing such a cabinet at some later date. One has to agree that it would be leagues easier to refinish the inside of the compartments with the panels out of the way, than with them in place. I detail my pieces, construction-wise, with such people in mind.

In the previous post, I left off after having fitted the back panel assemblies, and getting ready to install the clips. I was debating with myself whether to make the clips obvious to view or to make them more discrete. In either case, the clips are not typically presented to view, as this is the back of the cabinet. I was wondering if I made them unobtrusive if a future effort by some person at repair or refinishing would proceed in obliviousness to the possibility that the backs could be demounted.

In the end, I decided to make the clips unobtrusive. If someone was looking more than casually at the back of the cabinet, I imagine they would spot the clips and apprehend how they worked. At least, that’s my hope.

The starting point for the clips is having completed all the mortising for them in both back panels frame members and surrounding carcase boards. The tree panels are held in place with a total of 16 clips, and some of the clips are shared between panels.

After making a first clip on the milling machine, I checked it for fit in its mortise, both axes:


As mentioned, the pattern mill came in very handy once again on this project. This time, I swapped out the jaws on my Kurt D688 vise for an aftermarket type which have a shallow half-dovetailed rebate along the edges. This allowed for a secure grip on the part while decking about 1/8″ (3mm) of material off in one pass:

A while later, I have the clips fitted to the cabinet backs, but their heads are not recessed as of yet:

Another view, with the cabinet laying on its side, upper end toward the camera – note the long clips used in the dividers between panels:

After all the clips were fitted, each housing could be enlarged with a step/rebate so as to bury the head of the clip:

A clip in the down position:

Recessing the clip heads allowed the end of the clip to fully protrude:

The excess could then be removed with a flush cutting saw. As this is an exposed face, I took an extra step and used a layer of masking tape to make the cut a hair off of the surface:

One the tape was peeled off, a kote nomi could be used to complete the end grain trimming:


Here’s a look at the two clips holding the bottom rail of the lower back panel:

The clips are fitted sufficiently tightly that they have to be driven in and out with a hammer. They won’t come loose in service.

A view of a clip on a stile – I feel these are discrete yet clearly present, not completely hidden or hard to spot:

Clips which protrude through the top of the carcase, as they lie under the cabinet bonnet rail, were summarily trimmed off without the extra masking tape step:


I’ll be sending that saw back to Japan soon for re-sharpening.

A view of a clip trimmed on the cabinet side board:

This view shows the side of the cabinet, giving a look at the modest visual impact of the added clip ends:


The clips could have been left longer and chamfered, for a more overt joinery ‘statement’, or done blind, with the clip head designed differently so as to permit extraction from the head end. As they are flush, there will be times of the year when the end grain protrudes slightly from the surface, or is recessed slightly, however given the material and the location where it will spend time, we’re talking about a hundredth of an inch or so (I have a bookcase in my study with the same system so I’ve had a chance to observe seasonal movement with the clips for a few years), so it’s not something I am especially concerned about.

So, cabinet 1 now is through the fitting of the rear demountable panels and all the associated clips:

The second cabinet is not far behind, as all that remains on that piece is to open up the mortises for the clips so as to allow their heads to be sunk flush with the frames. I’m looking at another 2~3 hours to see that through completion, and then it will be on to the last item of construction, namely the front bifold doors. Woohoo!

All for this round, thanks for visiting. Comments most welcome. Post 79 is next in this thread.

14 Replies to “A Ming-Inspired Cabinet (78)”

  1. Yes! I wonder if it would be worth including a note or a drawing or two in one of the drawers or on the bottom of one of the drawers, to give an extra hint or two. Just in case the restorers need hints. I have sent several pieces out into the world with the exhortation “Restore with the next restorer in mind” pencilled in a spot that (I hope) only a restorer will see.

  2. Jim,

    I fielded a similar question a while back, and yes, I plan to put a note in the cabinet somewhere, as I did with one of the 'Square Deal' tables. Thanks for your input all the same!


  3. Hi JT,

    if you are referring to Ms. Suzuki of Suzuki-ya Tools, I don't send my saws to her. I wasn't aware in fact she offered that service, though it is not all that surprising either. She would send the saw to Japan anyhow, I presume.

    I will find a suitable metate-ya in Japan someday soon. The maker of my saw, Miyano, died about 7 or 8 years ago, so no chance to return it to him for sharpening…


  4. I'm sure the front will be another highlight of the cabinet.
    Opened or closed.
    I'm excited to see it all coming together.

  5. Marc,

    me too! It's been a long process and I'm excited to finally turn the corner to the final phase of construction. Just finished off the clips for the second cabinet yesterday. I need to buy yet more bubinga for the door frames…

  6. Brian,

    I think I will start sticking little squares of end grain all over the piece, randomly, to make a statement about through tenons. I'm not sure what the statement is about, mind you ;^)

    Glad you like where things are at following the penultimate construction stage.


  7. Randomly placed existentialist tenons!?! That is to say that those tenons define their own singular existence in their irrational placement on an other rationally designed facade.

Anything to add?

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