Plates on Parade

We're serving up a plate rack that offers efficient storage with a dash of decorative flair. It's easy and inexpensive to build – at a cost of less than $50. A painted finish allowed us to build it out of poplar and birch plywood with a medium-density fiberboard (MDF) core. For a natural-wood look, you can use another material of your choice.

Designed to fit between existing cabinets, this unit measures 12 in. deep x 25 in. high x 33 in. wide. To accommodate a different width, you can simply adjust the lengths of parts B, D, E, F, G, H and I. (See the printable PDF version of the entire story, which includes an illustration and cutting list.)

With a few minor design changes, the rack could become a freestanding cabinet. (In this case you'll need to counterbore and plug all exposed screws. You can also add a band of trim or crown molding around the top.) Once you've finalized the design of your plate rack, cut the parts accordingly.

Cabinet sides
To shape the side panels, start by cutting the profiles on the lower ends. You can replicate the profiles shown or create a design to match your decor. Trace the pattern on the two panels. Using a jigsaw, cut close to the pattern lines; then sand the edges to the lines. Bore pilot holes in the sides at the screw locations (see photo 5 and the illustration).

Mark the locations of the mortises that will capture the bottom rails in the sides. Rout the mortises 3/8 in. deep x 3/4 in. wide x 1-1/2 in. high. We used a 1/4-in. straight bit and a mortising jig (photo 1).

The mortises are located 2 in. from the front and the back edges of the sides (A), leaving 6-1/4 in. between them. The bottom edges of the mortises are 15 in. from the top of the plate rack. A jig ensures uniform cuts.

To make the jig, measure from the edge of your router's baseplate to the outside edge of the router bit in all four directions. Add the width and height of the mortise and attach 3/4-in. guide strips to a piece of 1/4-in. plywood. Rout the mortise hole in the plywood. On the workpiece, align the jig with the marked mortise lines. Clamp the jig in place and rout (photo 2).

By routing the mortise shape in plywood to create this jig, you can preview the fit of the bottom rails (B) and make any necessary adjustments before you put a hole in your workpiece. If you're using a jig, remember that you'll need to set the bit depth to 5/8 in. to compensate for the 1/4-in. plywood.

Bottom rails
Rout a 1/8-in. roundover on the long edges of the bottom rails (B) for a perfect fit into the mortises. Starting at the midpoint of the board, mark the dowels' center locations at 2 in. OC along the narrow edge of the rail. (Our first and 15th marks are located 2-1/8 in. from the ends.) Bore 3/8-in.-deep holes. A drill press equipped with a temporary fence and an index mark ensures accurate and uniform dowel holes (photo 3).

A drill press and a temporary fence efficiently produce accurate and perfectly perpendicular holes with uniform depths. Use a 3/8-in. spiral bit or one that is slightly wider than the diameter of your dowels.

Cabinet top and shelf
Referring to dimensions in the illustration detail (Underside of Top) bore the corresponding dowel holes in the top (D) 3/8 in. deep and 2 in. apart OC. Note that the row of holes along the front is 1-5/8 in. from the front edge, and the row toward the rear is 2-3/8 in. from the back edge. (The two sets of marks at the ends are located 1-3/4 in. from the side edges.) Use the temporary fence on the drill press, but clamp it in new locations to create the correct spacing from the front and back edges (photo 4).

Accuracy in the locations and spacing of the holes is essential for creating parallel posts. Note that the distance from the front edge is less than the distance from the back: Once the top trim is added, the rows of dowels will be evenly spaced front-to-back.

To prepare the shelf (E), rout a 1/4 x 1/4-in. rabbet along the top back edge. This rabbet will conceal the edge of the plywood back panel. (Because our cabinet is installed between other cabinets, we did not need to conceal the side edges of the panel. If you are building a freestanding unit, you may want to add 1/4 in. to the width of the sides (A) and top (D) so you can create rabbet edges there as well.)

This is the fun, Tinker Toy-like portion of the project. With the top (D) positioned upside down on your work surface, insert dowels in all of the holes. Set the two bottom rails (B) on top of the dowels, aligning the dowels in the holes (without glue), and tap with a mallet to sink the dowels into the rails.

Apply wood glue along the ends of the top piece and the ends of the rail pieces. Attach the sides (A) to the top and drive 1-5/8-in. screws, being sure that the bottom rails are inserted into the mortises. Fit, then glue and screw the shelf (E) to the sides.

Use glue and 1-5/8-in. screws to fasten the cleats between the sides. With the assembly on its back, add the trim boards (G and H) to the top and the shelf using glue and brads. Finally, drive screws through the sides to secure the rails to the mortises (photo 5).

Although it's not structurally necessary to drive screws into the mortise joinery, doing so will help to ensure that the rails won't rattle when you remove or replace the dishes.

Finishing details
Before the glue dries, square up the cabinet and attach the back panel (I) using 1-in. screws. (For a "country" look, you can use a bead board panel instead of smooth plywood.) Do not apply glue; that way you can remove the back panel to paint it and to finish the dowels.

Once you've applied the finish, be sure to mount the cabinet securely to the wall's framing. Use a stud finder to locate two studs within the width of the cabinet. Mark the cleats (F) in these locations and drill two pilot holes through each cleat. Hang the cabinet on the wall, using No. 10 x 2-1/4- or 2-1/2-in. flathead wood screws.