In the last post I advocated traditional cabinetry by stressing the dovetails. Today’s a different day. Today’s an imminently practical day. Today is the day to break out the one power tool you will need in the whole project. Today is the day for (shudder) pocket screws.
Hear me out…
Start out by marking the boxes we just made on their sides 3″ in from the ends and locate the center. I just line them up and gang mark them with a square for consistency and then use dividers to find the middle.
These are going to be the screw holes that attach the framework to the shutters. If you were considering going the route of board and batten shutters you could really avoid battens altogether and attach your boxes directly to the 3 vertical boards where they would effectively serve as battens. It would make sort of a crate structure that would fit the aesthetic. (note: you would need a third screw hole in the center for that construction)
After you’ve got them marked, go ahead and drill them out now.
There are several routes to attach the top later, but you have to make a decision now. You could make little pockets and catches as you would joining a traditional table top. You could have done the same thing by (carefully) plowing a groove along the top of the uppermost box before you made the dovetails.
This is where the pocket screws come in. If you’re committed to hand tools only pick another solution and cover your eyes. If you’re OK with a Kreg jig once in a while then proceed by drilling two pockets in the front and rear inner faces and one in the middle of either side. This gives you flexibility with the top, and really makes a nice clean look.
A word, however, while we’re on the subject. I recently had a conversation with someone who wanted to build a farmhouse table. They showed me plans for said table from a notable DIY website and the table looked like a traditional design. I immediately took note of the “mortise and tenon” construction, the “joined” top and the “lap” joints and “breadboard” ends.
And no, I’m not overusing quotation marks there because when you flipped that thing upside down each and every one of those constructions were actually held together with glue and cleverly disguised pocket screws – no less than 60 of them. I saw someone selling the same table on the local craigslist for $450.
“But what happens when the wood does what wood does and expands?” “Will those aprons and stretchers hold to the legs over time?” “Why in the heck would you drill and screw 48 pocket screws to join the top?”
All good questions.
The pocket screw has it’s place. Chris Schwarz demonstrates a great one here. There is historical precedent for pocket screw top joinery that stretches all the way back to ancient cultures. I ain’t too proud to say it doesn’t have some allure, and when used in these ways and in conjunction with other solid joinery it makes sense. When it doesn’t make sense (as far as I’m concerned) is when it provides an inferior joint as a way to skirt proper assembly methods. It doesn’t make sense when it’s used to create a table that looks like it’ll last 100 years, but will be out at the curb in 3.
I should have mentioned more in depth this earlier, but here goes. I hide the tails and put the pins forward when I’m putting this together. I do this because when it’s all painted it gives a cleaner look. If you’re looking for whimsy, you might go a different direction. I am almost never looking for whimsy, so here they are.
Why not do finger joints then? Sure, for it. I just feel that the dovetails are a little stronger as far as mechanical joints go. Less chance of shear.
So, now you’re ready to put it all together. Make sure the wood inside the shutter is clear of paint, debris and dust. double check your shelf placement to make sure you have equal spacing from the bottom of the upper box / top of middle and the bottom of middle / top of bottom. Mine was exactly 23 3/4″ which is why I never measure anything. Who wants to do math with that?
I clamp a speed square to the side as a glue-up guide. Spread a fair amount of glue on the shutter under where the frame will sit, line it up and screw it in. The screws hold everything in place while the glue dries. Let that sit a spell, and then flip it over, align it to the other side and go ahead and glue/screw that as well.