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Building A Kitchen Island Part 5: Cabinet Doors And Drawer Fronts

By Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief

Tags: kitchen island, diy, wood working, farm,

GRIT Editor Hank Will at the wheel of his 1964 IH pickup.I took advantage of the somewhat warmer temperatures last weekend to spend a bit of time in the barn working on our kitchen island project. I managed to get the door frames and panels put together and hung, and I also managed to mill and install the drawer fronts. All the pieces will need to come apart again for sanding and finishing, but it was motivating to see the progress and to better visualize what the final piece will look like. So far, all the lumber has been a windfall from the farm. Pine, standing dead for several years in our grove, and American black walnut from trees we dozed off a couple of pond dams. We milled the lumber using an Alaskan chainsaw mill and a Hud-Son homestead-sized bandsaw mill. You can read about all of this in the earlier installments here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.

Hank's kitchen island with doors and drawer fronts installed. 

Now that the doors and drawers are more or less completed, I cannot wait to work on the kitchen island's black walnut top.

Hank's kitchen island door framing joint. 

I cut open mortises on the stiles (upright framing members) and tenons on the rails (horizontal framing members) for the kitchen island's cabinet doors. The open mortise and tenon joint also goes by the names: "corner bridle joint" and "slot mortise and tenon." Don't you just love language? I did all of this machining with my table saw and cleaned things up with a 1/4-inch chisel.

Hank's kitchen cabinet door frame corner detail. 

When done well, the open mortise and tenon joint is strong and makes squaring up your door frames a snap. The table saw is a little crude for this kind of work, but in my case, crude is OK, just as long as it is strong. Before I glued the frames, I milled some 1/4-inch stock for the panels. I joined the panels using a floating lap joint -- hopefully this will allow sufficient movement to keep the boards from splitting as they move.

Hank's kitchen island cabinet doors curing in the laundry room. 

I glued the works up with Gorilla's wood glue, which likes to cure at temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. So, I glued and clamped in the little laundry room in the barn where the heat currently comes from the drier, which we run twice a day. I ran it for about 50 minutes during this exercise to be sure there was plenty of heat to cure the glue.

Hank's kitchen island with the doors installed. 

Since this entire project is based on using what you have and spending virtually no cash, I opted to hang the doors using some 1970s vintage cabinet hinges I had removed during a room-demolition project back there. These particular hinges are 3/8-inch surface mount inset hinges, and in order to make them work properly, I needed to chop 3/8-inch deep notches in the kitchen island's legs to accommodate the hinge design. Squint a bit and you can see the notches on the righthand leg pretty well. An added advantage of this is that the hinge pins are recessed and won't try to grab the person working on this, the sink-side of the island. I say that to make it look like I really planned to chop those notches from the beginning -- which I did not.

Drawer front detail.  

For the drawer fronts, I milled out 5/8-inch pine and screwed it to the door boxes. It took a little fussing to locate the fronts -- I used a couple of spacers to get it consistent. These door fronts still have a date with the router or one of my hand planes for final shaping. The drawer box needs some quality time with hand plane and sander as well.

Kank's kitchen cabinet with doors and drawers ajar.  

There you have it. Cool, eh? I spent at least 10 minutes trying the doors and drawers and feeling warm in the 40-degree shop because everything worked as planned and looked decent to boot.

Homegrown, home milled black walnut showing a lovely luster 

As I was admiring my handiwork on the kitchen island, Karen came out to see if I had cut and milled that black walnut for her. She has some projects of her own in mind, and I had promised long ago to grub out the raw material for her. With that gentle reminder, I sawed and planed some of the more interestingly figured pieces of the black walnut I milled with the bandsaw mill. She sanded the dickens out of it and applied a food-safe oil finish to the pieces. I was taken aback by the wood's beauty, which makes me even more motivated to get going on the kitchen island's black walnut top. Stay tuned.

Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

joshua johnson
12/20/2011 12:59:57 AM

Hello Hank. I would like to let your followers know about our DIY wood countertops. They would make a great finishing touch to your island cabinet. Web page is Thanks for letting me comment.

nebraska dave
12/13/2011 7:16:11 PM

Hank, you have done a splendid job on explaining each step and giving details about how you did every joint. I went through a stage in life where I wanted to craft wood as you are doing but that desire is long gone. I admire those that still have that interest and have the equipment to do the cuts for the lumber and hand tools for the finish work. I too like the rustic look of furniture. This piece will be a great asset to the kitchen. I hope you will be able to use it after putting all that work into it. I always had a tendency to want my build projects to be a show piece. Have a great day in the wood working barn.

hank will_2
12/12/2011 12:13:39 PM

Dave -- I don't think I have the skills to do a blind mortise except in very large dimensions. I thought about trying that joint on this project, but Karen likes the through-tenon look ... and the base is likely to be stained with a covering stain or possibly painted. The planer brushes went on Sunday and I think I found replacements online. Meanwhile, I may surface the top with hand planes since I was careful to saw them uniformly thick. I am really pleased with how the grain on that walnut looks. Thanks!

dave larson
12/12/2011 12:04:06 PM

Hank - This is really turning out well. It is literally an exercise in frugal living as well as a demonstration of what can be created with "average guy" tools. It looks great. Looking forward to seeing the finished product. The black walnut is beautiful and I can't wait to see it on the island. Your using full width mortise and tenon makes for some serious strength. We wanted a "hidden" joint so didn't extend the cut the full width of the piece. Sacrificed some strength for Barbara's desire to have a hidden joint. Love following the blog progress of this project. Have a great day in the shop.

chiot's run
12/12/2011 11:17:18 AM

Love the walnut top, simply beautiful! Can't wait to see what it all looks like stained & in the kitchen.