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
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
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":
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.
As you can probably tell, your post brought back some fond memories.