The hutch as we know it today has its roots in the homes of early American settlers. It was furniture born of necessity, capable of serving multiple functions in a small home and built with rudimentary techniques. A hutch could be built by the average person, who might not be a consummate craftsman and has only a relatively small selection of hand tools. The form can vary widely, from hutch tables to more modern china hutches and dressers (like the one you see here). Despite this, the broad concept of the hutch is unified by two principles: prioritizing function over form and using simple yet effective joinery.
Written by: Rob Petrie; Project Design: Dillon Baker
Illustrations: Dirk Ver Steeg
While fanciful hutches aren’t hard to find these days, our designer, Dillon Baker, chose to take a more traditional approach. With this project, much of the usual ornamentation has been stripped away, allowing Dillon and Marc, our shop craftsman, to focus on the color and texturing first.
Just as early settlers would select something local and inexpensive, we decided to use yellow pine, which was used predominantly in early hutches across the southeastern United States. A beadboard backing draws the eye upward, toward the arched frame of the upper case, to the molding across the top. This hutch will help you “flex” your fundamentals to create a project that, while simple, is far from elementary.
Building the BASE
In building this hutch, it’s best to begin at the bottom. Namely, the lower case. As you can see above, it’s basic in design. The sides have rabbets and dadoes to accept the top, bottom, and middle divider. The beadboard backing and front face frame spruce up this simple case.
Start by gluing up the panels for the sides, top, bottom, and divider. Once cut to size, take them over to the table saw and get out your dado blade.
RABBETS & DADOES. Rabbets and dadoes need to be made in the side pieces (as in details ‘a’ and ‘c’) to accept the horizontal pieces and the beadboard back. To limit tearout, make the dado cuts for the dividers, then cut the rabbet for the back.
ASSEMBLY & FRAME. With the joinery cut, the case can be glued up. While you’re waiting for the glue to dry, cut the beadboard and frame pieces to size. After the glue has dried, pin nail on the beadboard backing.
As you can see in detail ‘b’ above, the face frame is held together by pocket screws. After drilling the pilot holes, run two pocket screws through either side of the three rails, connecting them to the stiles. Once the frame has been made, attach it to the case with glue and pin nails.
Both shelves in this hutch are held by supports, which fit in brackets pin nailed to the case. After gluing up the lower shelf, cut the other shelf pieces to size. Keep the four lower shelf brackets as two extra-wide blanks for now. Leave an extra kerf’s worth of width so they can be ripped to size after holes have been drilled for the notches (detail ‘d’).
SHELF. The shelf bridges across the supports on either side of the case. To fit over the brackets holding the supports, the shelf needs to be notched in each corner. After cutting the shelf to size, cut out these notches. I did this on the band saw, using the fence to keep the cuts straight and sanding away the blade marks afterward.
SUPPORTS. The shelf supports need to be shaped to fit in the round notches of the brackets. I did this by heading to the router table with a miter gauge. After putting in a roundover bit, I routed the corners on each end, rounding them out to slide into place to accept the shelf.
BRACKETS. Now return to the bracket blanks. Lay out the holes along the centerline of the wide blanks, spacing them as shown in details ‘a’ and ‘d’ on the above. Follow the steps shown in the “Shaping the Shelf Brackets” box.
INSTALLING THE SHELF. Lay out the location of the brackets in the case. Use glue and pin nails to secure the brackets in place. I kept a square nearby to ensure I was pinning them straight.
FEET. There’s one thing left before moving onto the doors, and that’s the feet. The feet we used here were store bought (source on page 66), but if you have a lathe handy, turning out these feet is a simple step.
With the feet in hand, it’s time to put them on. Flip the case onto its top and lay out the positions of the feet as shown in detail ‘b’ above. After drilling out the holes in the case bottom, head over to the drill press and drill a hole in the center of each foot to match. Then use dowels and glue to attach them.
Closing up the CASE
Next on the list for our hutch are a pair of batten doors. Battens were once used to join multiple pieces into one door without glue, but on modern solid-panels doors they also serve to keep the piece from cupping.
DOORS. Begin by gluing up the doors. Aim for a 1/16″ gap around both doors. Once dry, lay out the hinge mortises on each door (as shown in detail ‘b’ above) and head to the table saw. Use a dado stack and a miter gauge to make the cut.
There are eight battens in total, and I cut them all to size now. To chamfer their back edges (shown in the main drawing), take a trip to the router table. Lay out their location on the back of the doors (detail ‘a’), as well as the screws for both. When drilling pilot holes, oversize them to give room for seasonal movement. Then, screw them in.
LATCHES. The last pieces relating to our doors are the latches. Detail ‘c’ shows their profile. I roughly marked the shape and sanded it down on the spindle sander. I cut four so I’d have the two for the upper doors as well.
Mark the latch locations on the case as shown in details ‘c’ and ‘d’ above. Use the drill press to make pilot holes in the latches, then crew them in place, but keep them a tad loose.
The doors will be attached by hinges, and handles will be screwed on the front, but leave those unattached for now. The doors, along with the drawer front, will be textured after the hutch has been painted, but we’ll get more into that at the end.
The drawer (illustrated on the next page) is another example of basic yet effective joinery. The front is held on by half-blind dovetails, the back fits the sides with a rabbet, and the bottom slides into grooves.
JOINERY. Start with the sides, laying out the tails (as in detail ‘b’) using a 14° angle. Follow the box on the next page to cut the dovetails by hand.
Once the hardest part is out of the way, there’s some simpler joinery left to take care of. Head to the table saw to cut the groove in the front and sides to accept the plywood bottom. Rabbet the back ends of the sides to fit the drawer back and glue up the drawer. Attach the stop blocks to the back of the drawer too. Glue them on and use pin nails to hold them in place while they dry.
As with the doors, the drawer front is textured as well. Leave the knobs off until the hutch is painted and textured.
DRAWER RUNNERS. The drawer rides on two simple softwood runner assemblies. These assemblies are made of a runner and cleat. The cleat is glued into a groove in the runner, then both are glued in the case (as shown in detail ‘d’).
COUNTERTOP. The countertop serves as a second top to the lower case as well as a general use surface. Once the panel is glued up, clamp it onto the lower case, then drive screws up from underneath to seat it properly, as in detail ‘d’ above.
Topping off the HUTCH
The upper case of the hutch is a little simpler than its counterpart below. There is no drawer or bottom, as it fits directly onto the countertop, held in place by dowels. These dowels allow the upper case to be taken off if the hutch needs to be moved.
JOINERY. With the pieces ready, it’s time to get to work on some joinery. Again, I rabbeted the top of the case sides and cut the dadoes to accept the horizontal pieces first. Then I rabbeted the back of both the sides, making room for the beadboard back panel to be pinned on.
DOWELS & GLUEUP. To fit the dowels in the bottom of the case sides, drill out holes for them as shown in details ‘a’ and ‘b’ above. All that’s left for the case at this point is the glueup. When the glue dries and the clamps come off, finish it up by pinning on the beadboard back.
FRAMING. The framing on the top of the hutch is much the same as the bottom. The only difference to pay particular attention to here is the arch on the middle face frame rail.
To scribe this arc, start by marking either end, as well as its apex at the center. Put clamps at at the base of the arc on both sides and get a yardstick (or a thin strip of wood). Use the clamps as resistance while you flex the middle of the yardstick toward the arc’s apex, then scribe along the yardstick. Now cut it on the band saw.
With the pieces cut to size, they can now be pocket screwed together, then the frame can be glued and pin nailed to the case.
MOUNTING. There’s one thing left to do on the body of the case before proceeding to the shelf: mounting it on the lower case.
Insert the dowels into the upper case sides and sit it on top of the lower case, as shown in the box to the right.
After the upper case has been situated, scribe the location of the dowels on to the counter-top. Remove the upper case and drill out the holes for the dowels. Don’t use any glue when attaching the upper and lower case together — the dowels and gravity together are enough to hold it in place.
The upper case is done, and it’s time to fill it in. The shelf above is slightly larger than the lower case shelf, but other than that you’ll find it’s the same process.
When cutting the pieces to size again, keep the brackets as two extra-wide pieces and follow the steps on page 43. Head back to the drill press and use that same Forstner bit to bore out the holes that will hold the supports. Use a band saw (along with the fence to keep you straight on course) to rip these two blanks into your four brackets.
Going back to the supports, round over the ends as you did before, allowing them to sit between the brackets while they hold the shelf. As for the shelf, notch out its corners to accomodate the brackets. All the shelf assembly parts have been made, so it’s time to install them.
Mark the bracket placement in the upper case, then glue and pin nail them in. Now get ready for the last leg of the journey, in which we’ll be putting on another set of doors, as well as molding, edging, and texturing.
Another Set of DOORS
As with the lower case, a pair of board-and-batten doors close off the upper portion of the hutch. You’ll find the doors are slightly longer, but otherwise the same as the lower doors. Once they’re glued up and cut to size, the only thing that needs to be done is to cut the mortises for the hinges.
If you didn’t cut all the latches and battens earlier, do so now. Cut them to size, chamfer the back edges of the battens, and shape the latches. The battens can be screwed to the doors using oversized pilot holes.
For the latches, follow the same steps as before to attach them. Mark their location on the hutch, drill out the pilot holes, and screw them in lightly.
Last come the handles and hinges. I recommend predrilling the holes for the hardware, but setting the door aside until after texturing and painting.
CROWNING THE HUTCH
The hutch is almost done. Both cases are built, the doors and drawer are complete, and the only thing left before painting is the molding and edging. Take a look on the next page to see how these pieces fit together.
MOLDING. I began with the molding. The three pieces are rabbeted along the back edge to fit over the top of the hutch, then mitered to fit together. I started with the rabbets, as that would determine the length I’d need to miter these to. Once that was done, I tested how they fit on the case to determine where to cut the miters.
To attach the molding, I used glue and pin nails. After applying glue to the rabbets, I seated them on top of the hutch and pin nailed them in place to dry.
EDGING. The edging is even simpler than the molding, as it’s simply screwed on top. Once cut to size, miter the corresponding ends as shown on the next page. Use some clamps to keep the edging in place while you drill the pilot holes and sink in the screws.
PAINT & TEXTURE. At this point, all parts of the hutch are built, but it’s still missing a finish. Our designer chose to create the textures you see on pages 40 and 41, inspired by textures created from crude tool work.
He chose to focus on the doors as well as the drawer front, making the texture an accent to the piece rather than the highlight of it. The texturing was accomplished by furrowing the face of the doors and the drawer front with an angle grinder, aiming for an organic pattern. Then the whole project was painted. As more layers of paint were applied, the textured faces were sanded back to reveal bits of bare wood beneath. You can find more on this process at woodsmiths.com/262, and you can find the source for our paints on page 66.
Textured or untextured, this hutch shows off the effectiveness of simple techniques. Whether practiced today or centuries ago, these quality practices will always have a place in the shop.
MOUNTING THE UPPER CASE
Scribe & Drill. To ensure the upper case is aligned, scribe the dowel locations directly onto the case surface, then drill them out with a Forstner bit.