Dark Chocolate and Sponge Cake (34)

I am astonished to find I have come to the end of the build after a measly 34 posts. Could have easily been double that number of posts. I am so relieved that I was able to complete this piece for the client, and work these past several months without significant setbacks in the project, despite the rather challenging health situation I have been facing for the past couple of years. Whether it is my last project or not remains to be seen.

As I get towards the end of a build I tend to become paranoid about accidents, or moments of impatience, wreaking havoc, possibly of an irreversible kind. Fortunately, nothing bad came to pass in the concluding moments of construction and finishing, and the cabinet was shipped off without hiccup. That is not to say that everything in those final few stages of work was completely smooth sailing, but the challenges which did present proved to be manageable.

There are few pics to share.

Every project for me has certain challenges and risks – I wouldn’t have it any other way really. Some of these risks are technical, and some are artistic in nature, and this cabinet had both aspects.

With this cabinet there was the aspect of working with Cuban mahogany, and I learned much along the way about the material. The short version of that story is that Cuban mahogany has a fabulously rich appearance and character, far more so than most of the Honduran mahogany one comes across, and is a lovely wood to cut and carve. On the flip side, when you compare it to Honduran Mahogany you will find that it isn’t any stronger, yet is much heavier, so on a ‘punching to weight’ reckoning, it actually performs worse. It is a riskier wood to use for joinery due to its short fibers.

One of the things I worked on this past year or so has been a statistical comparison of 88 commonly used commercial wood species upon the basis of how they perform in strength attributes (bending strength/modulus, density, compression perpendicular to grain, etc.) relative to their weight. It’s an interesting way to look at materials and when one comes down to choosing between certain woods which ostensibly seem much alike, say Alaskan Yellow Cedar and Port Orford Cedar, it can be helpful to compare them upon this basis to see how the materials vary from one another and which might, as a result of a unique characteristic, be a more ideal choice for a given application. This sort of analysis only relevant to those of course who are choosing a wood upon some other basis than simply whether it is light or dark, figured or plain, or is what they usually use, etc.

Anyhow, I feel like the two mahoganies were a good pairing in this case, though, given what I know now, if I had wider stock in the Cuban I might well have chosen to reverse the roles and use the Cuban for the panels and the Honduran for the framing.

Those weren’t the only two species to feature in this cabinet – quarter-sawn figured Shedua was used for the drawer fronts:

Shedua was also used on the previous cabinet project for this client, so it is a tie-in between the two pieces as well, even though the two pieces do not reside in the same room it seemed a fun play to make such references. There is some American holly used decoratively on the cabinet as well.

The only finish on the cabinet, save for the drawer fronts, which were given 5 coats of Enduro Var gloss, was wax. While wax offers limited protection to be sure, unlike pretty much any other finish it allows for the wonderful white flecking in the Cuban mahogany to be seen:

The trick of course is getting the surface finish super clean and defect free so that there is no need to ‘massage’ the appearance by way of finishing tricks. It’s stating: here’s what this wood looks like without make-up on.

A couple of detail shots for the drawer bank and framing:

This was the third iteration of this drawer design, and I feel like with the newest version I have improved upon what went before in certain small ways.

A look at the lower front corner, showing the unique beveled interface between door stile and post, along with the custom made nickel silver and brass hinging:

The hardware always seems to present its share of challenges, and for next time, if there is one, I have resolved to spend more time in the design stage considering the hardware in detail, even designing around the hardware requirements, and not leaving it as some sort of ‘easily-solved’ afterthought in a build. Trust me, the hardware can really bite you if you fail to anticipate.

I was originally going with a different style of pull for the doors, however then made a last minute change from face-mounted pulls to edge pulls, a pair of which I machined out of nickel silver on my milling machine:

I don’t think you’ll find edge pulls with dovetails cut into them on the commercial hardware market – something different to do I thought, and a little surprise that comes into view when opening the cabinet for the first time. Otherwise, with the doors closed, the pulls mostly vanish into the background. I like that about them.

Though the doors swing fully 270˚ open, they are not intended to be left in the open position so no provision was made to anchor them in the open position. I had to take care though that the edge pulls were sized and positioned such they they would nest within the lattice at the sides in case the doors swung all the way to the sides:

I like the look of the shadows case by the lattice within the cabinet:

Studio photos with a professional photographer will be taken once the piece is in place at the client’s residence, but for now a few placeholders:

A little bittersweet to see it go at then end as this piece has occupied my thoughts greatly over the past year or so. I feel like the project was a success – we’ll see of course how the client likes it, and I am always a little apprehensive about waiting on such feedback.



My client emailed me last night to let me know that the cabinet was in his home safe and sound. This is what he said:

“Hi Chris,

Just wanted to let you know that the futon cabinet made its way across the country safe and sound.  It is beautiful!  My Japanese carpenter came by today and knew right away that the lattice work was special.  He pointed out some fine details of the lattice, including treatment of the back of the lattice as compared to the front facing part.

I have not yet gotten the room situated (need to move lots of stuff out but need to find time to do that), but have already put the cabinet to practical use.  The futon fits perfectly top and bottom.  Putting the cabinet to its best aesthetic use comes next.

The floor is about 1/8” off level from left to right but doors work just fine pending a shim under the right side.   Attached are a couple of pictures.

I am honored to be the temporary guardian of your extraordinary work of art!”

I’m relieved that the cabinet made it to LA just fine and that he is happy with it. I’m glad the Japanese carpenter understood the uniqueness of the lattice and was able to point that out to the client, though I had written him and explained about that prior.

Here is one of the pictures he shared showing the cabinet with its new contents:


My client has indicated an interest in a next project, so we’ll see what eventuates.

I hope the build thread has been of interest to readers who have hung in there to see how things unfolded. A video of the cabinet’s assembly will be coming out soon enough.

Thanks for visiting the Carpentry Way.

19 Replies to “Dark Chocolate and Sponge Cake (34)”

    1. Thanks John!

      I’m not going to recommend a wax finish generally speaking, but it made sense for this piece, as the cost of requiring more frequent maintenance of the finish. I know for sure that the material itself will oxidize and age to very a very rich look over time, regardless of what finish is used (assuming we’re not including paint, say).

  1. Most excellent. I’ve been so looking forward to the final pix. By the way, where is the holly? And is that a magnetic catch I see? (the round dot under the pull)

    1. Gary,

      thanks for the comment. The holly is there, left and right, but only a glimpse is presented in the third photo from the bottom. It will be clear to see in the video I am working on though.

      And no, not a magnetic catch. I used bullet catches top and bottom, and the felt pads on the inside of the doors were to slightly soften the closing sound where the door stile meets the cabinet frame members.

  2. Beautiful.

    I think the arrangement of mahogany species in the panels and frame works. Dark panels in lighter frames don’t usually look good to me.

    It would be so easy to omit a detail knowing how few people there are that would know. I think it’s great that the client’s carpenter knew what to look at and saw what he was expecting. Well done.

    1. Interesting point about the look of a piece with dark panels and light frame. I’m not sure how I feel about it, but I do know that finding such wide quarter-sawn material in Honduran mahogany was a miraculous thing, and just forget about it as far as finding anything remotely the same dimension in Cuban mahogany.

      The thing that the Japanese carpenter noticed and remarked to the client upon is something that is part and parcel of the most defining visual aspect of the cabinet I think, yet, unless you have considered certain issues in terms of how framed wooden things are made and put together it would likely escape your notice completely. It has escaped the notice, for that matter, of plenty folks who do put things together from wood it would seem, and that has been slightly surprising to me. I was pleased that at last someone – the Japanese carpenter – noticed it.

      That’s the interesting thing about certain constructional or wood treatment details – most of the audience may not notice them at all, so in that case, which I dare say is by far the most common these days, for whom are those details?

  3. It is so awesome to see this together in its final state. Congratulations on the meticulous craftsmanship and final piece!

  4. Beautiful job Chris.
    You have got me quite curious about the lattice work. I will ponder this for some time.
    A huge undertaking to build a piece such as this, even without the hardships that you have had to go through during the construction. Hats off to you! Respect for your client also; it is nice to hear that there are people that respect and support such craftsmanship.
    We may not notice the details, until they are pointed out, but they are the pixels that make up the image that fills us with awe.

    1. The alternative of having them smack into the lattice by accident was the reason I went the custom edge pull route.

  5. Superb piece! It was extremely interesting for me to follow the progress of this cabinet build. As a carpenter gradually switching to furniture making for the past 4 years, seing the quality of your craftsmanship is inspiring. Thank you for sharing with others what you do. Very cool to see a picture of the cabinet at the clients place doing what it was designed for. Your planning of the placement of the pulls so they don’t hit the sides, but pass through the lattice, you get a top grade on that!

    1. Pascal,

      I thank you greatly for your comment and kind words! I’m intending to get some professional photos taken of the pieces at my client’s place in the near future, and once that is done will post up here.

  6. I wanted to add that I am shamelessly borrowing (stealing?) a few of your design elements for a tool cabinet I’m building for myself.

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