This Week in the Shop: The Fossil Cabinet

The Fossil CabinetThis Week in the Shop we build small cabinet. Cabinet making epitomizes fine woodworking, as it rewards accuracy, consistency, and attention to detail. Cabinets can be found in the workshop, in the kitchen, as furniture, as built-ins. Great cabinets add value to the home and definitely have the wow factor.

While cabinet making may seem like a inscrutable dark art, basic cabinets are a breeze to put together if you have a few select tools. This cabinet build relies on the table saw and the router and showcases the versatility of shellac as a finish.

This particular cabinet will hold my son’s growing fossil & gem collection. Shallow shelves with scoops hold common tool boxes. This would also be a great workshop project and the skills are transferable to other pieces.


The Fossil Cabinet

Difficulty: Intermediate

Time: 1 to 2 weekends.


  • 4’ x 4’ of ¾” plywood
  • 4’ x 4’ of ½” plywood
  • 2’ x 4’ of ¼” plywood
  • 80-grit & 120-grit sandpaper
  • Shellac, chip brushes & rags


  • Table saw with cross-cut sled
  • Bandsaw
  • Plunge, trim and table routers with round-over or chamfer bits.
  • Brad nailer with 18 ga. 1 ¼” brad nails, Air compressor & hose.
  • Clamps & clamp squares
  • Random Orbital Sander with 80-grit and 120-grit sandpaper

Cut List:

  • Top: 15”D x 17W out of ¾” Plywood
  • Sides: 2 pieces at 15”D x 24”H x ¾” Plywood
  • Shelves: 5 pieces at 15D x 17”W out of ½” Plywood
  • Bracing: 1 piece at 1 ¼” W x 17”L out of ½” Plywood
  • Back: 1 piece at 17 ¾”W x 24”T out of ¼” Plywood

The Fossil Cabinet (1).png

Download this model here!

Milling the Carcass:

  1. At the table saw, rip the 4’x4’ ¾ plywood to 15” width.Still Shots Video_1.5.1
  2. Next, use a crosscut sled to cut the ripped sections to length. You should cut 2 workpieces at 24 inches long (the sides) and one workpiece at 17 inches long (the top). Do not use a rip fence with a crosscut sled, miter gauge or vice versa.Still Shots Video_1.7.1
  3. Use router with ¾” straight bit and guide to rout ½” deep dados on the top edge of both sides.
  4. Mark the locations of the shelves as indicated in the CAD model.The Fossil Cabinet - Dadoes Marked
  5. Use a router with ½” straight bit and guide to run a ½” inch deep dadoes at shelf locations.Still Shots Video_1.22.1

Milling the Shelves & Aprons:

  1. At the table saw rip the ½” inch plywood sheet to 17” wide strips.
  2. Next, use the cross cut sled to cut the sections to length. you should cut 5 sections at 14 in long.
  3. Rip the scrap ½” plywood strip to 1 ¼” inch wide.Still Shots Video_1.8.1
  4. Crosscut the 1 ¼” wide strip to 17” length at the miter saw.Still Shots Video_1.9.1

Completing the Shelves:

  1. Mark the handle scoops with a combo square, compass, and pencil as marked in the illustration below.The Fossil Cabinet - Cut Out Marked
  2. Cut out the handle scoops at the bandsaw using a thin blade with a high tooth count for a fine finish.Still Shots Video_1.16.1
  3. Sand the interior curves at oscillating spindle sander.Still Shots Video_1.17.1
  4. Next, round over the front edge of each shelf with a table router fitted with a roundover bit.Still Shots Video_1.18.1

Dry Assembly of Sides and Shelves:

  1. Dry assemble the Fossil Cabinet to test for fit. Adjust fit as necessary with hand tools.Still Shots Video_1.24.2

Milling the Back:

  1. With your carcass still dry assembled, measure the completed height and width.
  2. Transfer these measurements to the quarter inch sheet of plywood.
  3. At the table saw rip the plywood to width.
  4. Using a crosscut sled on your table saw to crosscut the plywood back to length.

Sand & Pre-Finish:

  1. Sand and pre-finish all interior surfaces.Still Shots Video_1.27.1


  1. Assemble the cabinets with clamps and clamp square.Still Shots Video_1.29.2
  2. Use the brad nailer to pin and glue the shelves top in place with 18 ga. pin nails.

Final Fit:

  1. Use a trim router fitted with a chamfer bit to ease the edges of the cabinet.Still Shots Video_1.40.1

Sand & Finish:

Sand and finish as desired.

To get this look I sanded the high-quality plywood to 120 grit with a random orbital sander. Then, I brushed on shellac, waited for it to dry, hand-sanded to 320 grit with the grain. DSC_8005I applied another coat and sand it again. Lastly, I wiped on a thinned coat of shellac with a rag. Shellac can be thinned by denatured alcohol available at your local home center. I use a 1:1 ratio for this last coat.

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