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Building Cabinets with copper doors – metal patina

Building Cabinets with copper doors – metal patina

This project was one of the more challenging projects I have done. Not only was it a full wall of cabinets that didn’t fit in my shop. The client wanted the copper to be patinated to add some color to the doors. The floor had a red-ish stain to it, so the standard orange, brown patina’s on copper could clash with the floor’s tones. So I went through a series of experiments on how to get the copper to patina in the direction of the floor color.

The final result is shown in the video.


Affiliate link  The Book I used to create the patina formula

More picture of the project can be found at Custom Cabinets For Home Office

Copper Cabinets

Video Transcript

Today I’m building some Cabinets for an office.  For this project, I am going to patina some copper to inlay into the cabinet doors and top the whole thing off with a live edge slab that has ebony bowties hand inlaid into it

To start this project out, I had all the materials delivered to the shop. The slabs were so large and took up so much room I decided to start building the countertops first.

TO get them to a more manageable size, I bucked them to their basic length with my chain saw.

The slabs were pretty warped, so I set up a router sled to flatten them out and get them to their final thickness.

The slabs weren’t wide enough to cover the full counter depth, so I bought a 2nd slab from the same flitch to be sure the coloration and grain patterns matched up.  Then I laid them side by side to match the grain as best as I could and then cut off the excess to create a seam where the grain blended together with the best.

When Gluing the slabs together, I used glue blocks at the seam to get a good tight fit; with the live edge, I didn’t want to crush the live edge by tightening down those clams too much.

Then I spent some time laying out a bowtie placement and hand Inlayed a few to dress up the slab.

Once I was happy with the tops, I started milling up and ripping to width some walnut for the face frames.  Then I set up a stop on my miter gauge so I could quickly cut all the pieces to the exact same length.

For the longer rails, my miter gauge was too short, so I set up a stop block on my fence that was set back from the blade so the material would clear it before cutting the piece to prevent it from getting pinched between the fence and the blade.

My main joinery method is going to be floating tenons, so I used the domino to make quick work of the mortises.

Now, most cabinets are made where each cabinet is its own box and is screwed together.  For this project, the client wanted to be able to hide some of their office equipment like the printer and paper shredder inside the cabinet.  So with all the things they wanted to hide, that extra thickness from the side of each cabinet took up too much room to fit everything.  So instead of individual boxes, I made 3 larger boxes with dividers.  So that is why this face frame has 3 openings and is so much longer than you would normally see a cabinet.

Now that I have all three face frames glued up, I needed to cut the dados to accept the plywood for the dividers and the sides.

This dado is to accept the tops and bottoms,

The part I hate the most about building cabinets is hefting around the heavy ¾” thick pieces of plywood.

Especially with today’s modern plywood, the veneer is so thin if you scratch it, there is no sanding out the scratch without getting into the core.

There is going to be a few horizontal dividers to accommodate some heavy-duty drawer glides to support some file drawers.  So that is what this dado is for.

Now that I have the case parts roughed out, I set up a stop block on the bandsaw to cut the notch for the toe kick.

A couple of the cabinets are going to have adjustable shelves, so I used my shop made jig with a collar in my router to punch out the holes for the shelf pins.

This is the bottom of one of the cabinets; the vertical dividers are going to sit in stopped dados, so I used my router to create the dados and a chisel to square up the ends.

This is the inner web frame that is going to add some additional stability to the cabinet for the file drawers; I’m creating the joinery with a simple tongue and groove joint and pre-assembled them.

We are going to have drawers hidden behind the doors, so this is an inner face frame that is going to hide the soft-close hardware and give something for the drawers to overlay.  This will create a really nice clean detail once installed with the drawers.

There were a couple of spots where the board was slightly bowed when the dado was cut, so it didn’t cut at full depth.  I used a router plane to clean up these areas so they would not go through the cabinet out of the square.

Now that I had all the smaller sub-assemblies glued up, it was time to assemble the case.   Since this case has multiple dividers that needed to go in at just the right time, I glued it up in sections.

I glued the bottom to the face frame,

Then they added the sides and made sure the case was square.

Then I added the inner face frame and dividers.

Then the other two cabinets went together pretty much the same way.

One of the cabinets is going to sit on a floor vent for the HVAC, so we could just cover it up.   For that cabinet, I created a custom toe kick that was a vent to allow the air to flow through it.

I ripped a bunch of thin strips to act as the vertical dividers, then cut half laps in them  with the dado blade.

For the horizontal dividers, I got a little smarter and cut all the dado first, then ripped them to width after the fact; that saved a bunch of work.

This cut is kind of mesmerizing.

Then I just took my time gluing up all those pieces; during assembly, I made sure I kept the horizontal dividers in order, so the grain flowed from one piece to the other.   I realize that few people are going to be laying on the floor to notice this detail, but it still makes me happy that it is there.

Now that the cabinet cases are together, it was time to start on the doors.

Since I am going to be gluing some copper to the door fronts, I want to minimize wood movement, So I’m resawing some veneer to glue to a plywood substrate to make up the door panels.

I then set up my vacuum bag to press the veneer down to the door fronts.

For the Door frames, I milled up some walnut stock set up a dado stack to cut the grooves to accept the panels.  Each piece got two passes; by cutting one pass, then flipping it around to cut a second pass, insures that the dado will be centered on the workpiece.

I set up a stop on my miter gauge and trimmed them all to length.

I set up the dado blade to cut the tongue in the rails to join the frame together.  This first piece is a scrap piece that I milled at the same time, so I could do a test cut to set up the dado blade to the correct height and not risk screwing up the actual workpieces.

Once I was satisfied with the fit, I cut the rest.

Then cut the panels to their final length and width.

The dado is sized to the thickness of the panels, but in certain areas, I want it to overlap the copper as well.  So I marked those areas out and set up an offset at the router table to widen the dadoes in the areas where the copper is going to go.

Then when I assembled the door frame and panels, in the areas where the copper is going to go, I slide some wedges in place to be sure any glue that squeezed out in the dado didn’t glue the panel in an unfortunate location to where I couldn’t get the copper in later.

Now it was time to cut and patina the copper pieces for the grid in the doors.

I started out cutting long strips with my track saw, and this worked out fine; however, when it came time to cut the smaller pieces, I felt they were a bit too small to safely hold onto, so I ended up scoring them with a utility knife and snapping them off.

Copper Panel Cabinet Door

To patina, the copper was a bit of a science experiment to get the colors I wanted.

I first sandblasted each piece.  I don’t have room in my shop for a sandblasting cabinet, so I used a handheld blaster in a large garbage bag to contain the mess.  This worked out really well, even though it was probably a bit slower.

I want to point out that before I started, I thoroughly researched the chemicals I used to fully understand what safety precautions I needed to take, and I took all those precautions.

Next, I mixed up some potash to etch the copper, I used a mesh to create a pattern, and randomly dabbed each piece.  I did both sides, so when it came time to use them, I could pick the side I liked best.

I ground up some  Cupric Sulfate and mix them up with some distilled water.

Then this sludge I weigh out I made a week prior, it is a Japanese Rusty salt is my best guess on the translation.  Basically, you mix up the solution and let it sit for a week. The stuff that falls out of the solution is the Japanese rusty salt, and I decanted the rest of the solution and set it aside for another potentially dangerous project.

I put it on a decommissioned BBQ, no longer food-safe, and heated it up.

Then Boiled the copper for a few minutes and quenched it in a bucket of water.

I milled down some material for my mullions and routed out a shallow rabbet to lap over the edge of my copper.

Then I assembled the grid on the door gluing down the copper and mullions.  To be sure I had good contact, I used the vacuum bag to apply pressure across the door panel.  I covered each piece of copper with some hardboard to be sure the mesh from the vacuum bag would not leave an imprint in the copper finish.

Next up was building the drawer boxes. I did a little routing for the dovetails,

Cut a few dados for the bottoms,

Measured and cut to length

On the drawers for the filing cabinet, I cut notches for the file folder hangers,

Then to prevent the file folders from spreading out when the drawer is not full, I cut a ladder to drop a stop in.

This stop is glued to the inside of the file drawers along the top edge.

I assembled all the drawers.

To hold the file folders, I marked the steel bar and cut to fit.

Then on my baby CNC, I cut out a file folder backstop and rounded it over at the router table.

I installed some soft close hardware for smooth operation.

Custom Cabinets


I’m the owner of Benham Design Concepts, a mixed media art studio where I design and build custom furniture and other works of art using wood, glass, stone, and various metals.
In this blog, I talk about the art I create, my journey, and the things I learn along the way.