Display Case Issues

The project I have on my plate is a small display case for a model. I'm looking to build a rectangular cube, with wood (pref. mahogany) for the frame and glass in all but the bottom side. The model'd rest on the base, and I'd be able to lift the glass to reach the model. (Something like this--
http://www.laurelauction.com/0203f%20Walnut%20Store%20Display%20Case.JPG
-- but smaller.) I have a couple of questions about joinery, proportions, and finishing.
The basic idea is that the top and bottom rectangle frames would have mitered corners, reinforced with splines. The vertical pieces would be joined to these with dowels. So, all of these pieces will require dadoes on two adjacent faces to accommodate the glass. So my first question is whether there's a better way of doing the joinery, and if there are any decent plans online for this kind of project. (I have other questions, but maybe a decent plan'd clear those up.)
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Hello, Brian.
Building a display case isn't brain surgery, but it is harder than many think. I would think my decision to build or buy would be based on the size and exactly what I was displaying.
I have built a few display cases, but the ones I was most proud of were the ones I built for the model ship guys. Some of them do astonishingly precise work.
I had no plan and couldn't find one for a simple case. No matter. I measured the ship and allowed the clearance the client liked on all corners. I mocked it up with cardboard so he could get an idea.
I edged some black walnut, and glued up some panels that were the proper size (about 30" long and 14" in depth) and used the walnut for he top and bottom. I used some walnut 1X2 for the uprights. The 1X2 had a 1/8" dadoes cut into it as a receiver for the glass. The base and top had stop dadoes cut into them corresponding in location to the uprights.
All edges received a small roundover. However, on the base I cut it a bit larger, and used a table maker's edging bit to give a larger/ flatter profile on the edge. This helped give the piece "dimension".
On the back, I cut a rabbet into the upright instead of a groove to allow a piece of glass to be attached and then removed as needed by using a mechanical fastener. These fasteners are available as little clamps from a cabinet supply house as the keepers on cabinets doors that use glass panels.
The rear piece of glass was cut 1" short to allow for ventilation and breathing.
To assemble, I clamped it together and put one single (#10 ?) screw through the upgrights with a tiny bit of glue on them. I flipped it over, put in the glass, then screwed on the bottom. The screws on the bottom were covered by small turned bun feet (1 1/2" or so) painted flat black so they would hide in the shadow underneath the case and make it look like it was suspended/floating. I screwed the bun feet down next to the upright screw holes so the top of the foot would cover the large screw heads used on the upright.
The glass is installed loose like a cabinet door to allow for expansion and contraction. I purchased some small, clear rubbery buttons and put them out of sight to keep the glass from rattling.
Bottom, sides and the underneath side of the top received 5 coats of lacquer before assembly. The top of the case received two. After assembly, IIRC, this is the case I turned plug dowels on the lathe to match the screw holes using the same black walnut stock. The walnut is mounted with the grain aligned in a perpendicular fashion to the ways to allow the plug's grain to match the case grain orientation.
After installing the plugs and a light sand, I taped off everything below the top of the case and applied three more coats of Old Master's lacquer. I was surprised at the wood as it was the blackest black walnut I had ever seen. It actually looked quite exotic when finished. Best of all, it got me a couple more cases to build after the "guild" saw it.
At the end of it all, I was sad to see that one particular case go. The guy that I made it for was really surprised at the case and how great his boat looked in it. He was selling the boat (it was a commission as well) for $12 K (which is cheap for those guys), with an additional $800 with the case.
I still get to see the boat and case, though. My client's buyer backed out due to some unforeseen problems so he kept the down payment and the boat as well. He owns his own financial company and it sits in the middle of his office.
I would like a couple more of those commissions right about now. They are fun, and you can be finished with them in a week.
You can get some inspiration here:
(Amazon.com product link shortened)
Go to this site, and search with the word "display":
http://www.modelexpo-online.com
The cases they make are painfully dull, but you can see they are available in kits as well if that's what you are after. Use some imagination and you can come up with a unique design all your own.
Good luck.
As you can probably tell, your post brought back some fond memories.
Robert
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wrote:

That suits me perfectly; the model in question is the Nautilus from Disney's _20,000 Leagues_.

Hm. Sounds as though your case had a solid wood top. I'm hoping to have a glass top. But overall, your description has given me a _lot_ of really good information.

I may look into this because somethig just occurred to me. If I cut two dadoes into an upright, they'd be on adjacent faces, with a strip of wood running on the inside corner. If I sliced this off at a 45- degree angle, I could use that offcut and some brads to anchor the glass in. Maybe those clamps you're describing could work. Or, I might just stick with rabbets and the clamps.
Thanks!
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Cool! Wood, resin or both?

Easy enough to modify the design. Use 1x? to make a frame with all the appropriate rabbets, dadoes, etc., in it and you can set the glass directly in the top, or dado the top from the other side and suspend the glass from the back side with some of these:
http://www.woodcraft.com/family.aspx?familyid=1078
The first little metal "c" clamp looking things are the keepers I used on the back of the case. The cases I built were not open on the top as the display stand kept them up pretty high. I was going to cut a "skylight" in the top of one, but the client liked the wood and finish enough that in the end I think he put in some battery powered LEDs that he turned off and on as desired.

Really pleased to hear that. It's always nice to help someone.

The clamps I linked to come in different colors, and you should be able to find something to fit your color scheme. On the chance the glass was broken by someone or some thing, I didn't secure it anywhere where it couldn't be accessed by removing some screws.
Keep posting and let us know how it's going.
Robert
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