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Oak and Walnut ‘Door with a Secret’: Hugh’s photo diary

22nd April 2012

The ‘Door with a Secret‘ is a project I completed at the end of 2011, and one of my absolute favorites.

The client wanted a divider to separate the living and dining rooms in their home, which would also incorporate some storage. After talking the project through, we decided to combine a solid Oak frame with Black Walnut paneling. The client was keen for contemporary detailing to be used, so the angle of the walnut grain was set at 45 degrees and the ironmongery was brushed stainless steel.

Below is the design drawing that was prepared after the first meeting…


The door is divided into 3 panels and the shelved section creates 8 pockets, with half the shelves accessible from each side. The twist to the design is that one of the shelves won’t appear to be accessible from either side until a panel is slid back to reveal a secret Walnut keep-sake box for hiding important things away.

I started by constructing the door which was traditionally made with grooved recesses for the panels and mortise and tenon joints to connect the rails (horizontal bits) to the stiles (vertical bits). If you would like to see my blog post on making super strong ‘wedged tenons’, click here…

The door for the project was assembled using traditional joinery techniques. The panels were grooved into the frame pieces, and the frame was mortise-and-tenoned together.


Cutting the panels at 45 degrees creates a huge amount of waste. It probably requires around double the quantity of the veneered MDF used here than would normally be needed. It’s a bit of a pain, but I think the look of it when it’s oiled and installed is worth it. I make quite a few smaller items like jewellery boxes and backgammon boards so I have lots of opportunities to use up the odd shaped triangular pieces which were left over.


Clamping the door required extra clamps than usual as each rail piece needed to be compressed until tightly fitting, or the door would have dried with a barreling to the stiles.


Gluing up the door was quite challenging as it was vital that all the panels were sitting in their grooves before clamping or they could have become damaged as compression was applied. As you can see in the photo above this one, I dry-fitted all the joints ahead of assembly to make sure they would go together smoothly. The door was then cleaned-up and sanded to make sure no glue spots remained and the joints were smooth and tight.


The next step was to construct the shelved section. It was a complex process as there were lots of very similar pieces which needed to be grooved in very different places. Marking the pieces up took as long as jointing a grooving. The frame was jointed with loose tenon ‘domino’ dowels which are super fast and really strong and show no trace when assembled.


The Oak shelves and Walnut paneling were assembled and glued in a single (stressful) session. When there are lots of components to assemble all at the same time it’s really important to use a glue which has a longer open time. I usually go for Titebond 1 or 3.


The secret box is hidden behind a panel in the shelves. Here it is prior to oiling and lining with felt.


The box which is hidden in the piece is made from Black Walnut and dovetailed at the corners. The top is set in with the grain running at 45 degrees to match the rest of the paneling, and all the corners are rounded to make it a really tactile box worthy of the important things which might be hidden inside. I also routered finger pulls on each side of the box so it could be removed easily. The picture above was taken just before oiling, so the colour of the wood will darken significantly.


The completed project was tested in the workshop to make sure everything fitted prior to installation.


Prior to installation, all the pieces were assembled and tested to make sure they fitted. In this case, I needed to make sure the door was the right width for the frame and the piece would sit square and straight, so I clamped it to the vertical post in the workshop and did the final checks with a tape measure and spirit level.


Here’s some photos of the finished piece after oiling and installation. The one above shows how the panel slides out to reveal the keep-sake box, and the one below is how it looked form the sitting room side. If you’d like to see more photos of this project, click here…


The Walnut panel slides back to reveal a secret – a felt lined Walnut keep sake box which slides out of its shelf for keeping important things away from curious eyes.




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