The usefulness of veneered and melamine-faced chipboard has been revolutionised by the wide range of fittings available for joining it together and for making furniture, such as fitted cupboards and wardrobes.
All the fittings described on this article are sold separately in do-it-yourself shops and by mail order, but the fittings supplied with bought furniture (particularly kitchen units) are identical. Many of the fittings are known as KD (knockdown) because they have the characteristic (unlike conventional woodworking joints) that the furniture can be taken apart once it has been assembled.
Chipboard screws and plugs
Ordinary woodscrews do not take well in chipboard, and special chipboard screws have been developed. Looking more like self-tapping screws than woodscrews. chipboard screws are usually threaded all the way to the head and often have a double thread, which means the screw goes in faster. The screw bites into the chipboard as it is put in to give a good grip. Some larger chipboard screws come with a special drilling jig to make sure the holes to receive them are drilled in the correct place. To cover the normal chipboard screws, special plastic covering plugs are available in white, magnolia or brown, depending on the type of chipboard being used. These cither push into the Pozidriv head of the screw or into a counterbored hole in which the screw is recessed.
To get a stronger connection, a chipboard plug can be used. Some of these work on the same principle as solid-wall fixing (expanding as the screw is driven in) while others are glued into the chipboard; both allow ordinary woodscrews to be used. A hole (typically 8mm in diameter) is drilled in the edge of the chipboard which will receive the screw and the screw is driven into the plug to give a secure fixing. Again, a dowelling or other jig will keep the hole square.
Where the countersunk head of a screw could damage a thin surface, surface or recessed screw cups can be used.
These plastic blocks are used for joining two pieces of chipboard at right-angles.
The simplest type the mini-block – has a dowel to locate in one piece and a single screw to secure to the other. This makes for an unobtrusive joint, but not a very strong one.
A better connection is given by the one-piece block joint which is fitted into an internal corner and is simply screwed to the two pieces of chipboard. A neater result is given by a rigid triangular corner joint.
Better still is the two-part (or ‘knockdown’) block joint where one part is screwed to each piece of chipboard and the two joined together by a slotted-head machine screw. This joint has the advantage that it can easily be taken apart but, like the one-piece joint, takes up room inside the cupboard. Block joints generally come in a choice of white or brown colours.
A cam joint is more complicated than a block joint, but is completely unobtrusive once fitted. A nylon dowel is inserted in the edge of one board and is locked by driving a steel pin into it. A large plug is fitted in the other board in a hole drilled by an end mill. The dowel fits into the plug and a cam screw is then turned to lock it in place. Although neat, this type of joint is more difficult to make than other types and is not always very rigid.
There are two special connectors you can use for joining panels end to end or back to back.
For joining panels end to end (two adjacent lengths of worktop, for example), a panel butt joint connector is used. This fits into a pair of holes drilled in the surface of the two boards to be joined (again using an end mill) and a slot is cut to join the two holes. The connector is positioned and tightened with a spanner, drawing the two boards together.
For joining panels back to back (connecting together two adjacent kitchen cupboards, for example), a cabinet connecting screw is used. This simply fits into a hole drilled through the walls of both cupboards and tightening it will bring them together.
There is a wide selection of other types of hinge available for making your own furniture.
For kitchen cupboards, the most useful type of hinge is probably the adjustable concealed hinge which is fitted into two large holes drilled in the back face of the door and the side of the cupboard. This hole (typically 35mm) has to be made with a special drill bit called an end mill, which drills a flat-bottomed hole. For control on the depth to which it is drilled (which is crucial), the end mill is best used in an electric drill fitted to a vertical drill stand equipped with a depth stop.
When it comes to fitting cupboards in place, there are several different types of fittings which can help.
First there is a variety of catches, including magnetic catches, magnetic touch catches (push to open; push again to close), roller catches and ball catches. If certain types of hinge have been used (and the door is hung properly), no catch is needed at all the hinge will hold il closed.
Hanging wall cupboards can often be a problem if the securing holes (for wall plugs) in the wall have not been made in exactly the correct place. Cabinet suspension fittings and cabinet hanging brackets both allow a degree of adjustment once lilted; the hanging bracket provides the more secure fixing.
An angle plate can also be used for holding cupboards to the wall, but is more commonly used for securing worktops to the sides of base unit kitchen cupboards.
For lightweight cupboards (or wall shelving units), glass plates can be used: these are simply screwed to the back of the cupboard and the surface of the wall, which means the cupboard stands out from the surface of the wall by the thickness of the plate.
At the bottom of kitchen base unit cup¬boards, some kind of foot is necessary to keep the chipboard sides off the floor -particularly important if the chipboard is left unsealed when any water on the floor could damage it. Feet may also be needed to deal with uneven floors, though many kitchen fitters will simply pack the cup¬boards out with slips of hardboard. The simplest type is the metal foot, which is banged into the bottom of the cupboard sides. More sophisticated are the cabinet leveller, the base levelling screw and the adjustable foot, all of which allow for adjustments to be made to allow for discrepancies in the floor surface. As well as feet, there is a range of castors which can be used if the cupboard is to be movable.
Making drawers in the traditional way can be very satisfying, but is hard work and, for a kitchen cupboard, may not be the best solution as all-timber drawers can be difficult to keep clean.
There are various drawer-making kits on the market, which use plastic slotted sections for the two sides and back of the drawer: you add your own front (sometimes attached to a fourth plastic section) and base (typically melamine-faced hard-board, positioned melamine face up).
Making your own drawer like this is fairly simple and involves only cutting the profiles to length, screwing pieces on to the back of the drawer front and slotting the whole thing together. You must double-check that everything is correct before you assemble the drawers (for example, the base is the right way up), because, once assembled, these drawers cannot readily be taken apart.