Our oldest son, S1, Andrew Dykstra, built a cabinet in Wood Shop this year at school.  He is sixteen, got his drivers license this year, worked various part time jobs, bought and fixed up more Wheel Horse garden tractors, learned to play the guitar, place third in state with his Odyssey of the Mind team and built this.

Am I bragging on him?  Yes, I am.

He wrote this paper about the building of the cabinet and since these are rare cabinets, I thought I would share for all those interested in wood working.

The Making of a Christian Shivley Inspired China Cabinet

By Andrew Dykstra, Sophomore, Martin

 History of Christian Shivley

Christian Shivley (1770-1836) was an Ohio cabinetmaker. Very little is know about Shivley other than that when he died, there was mention of lumber, cabinet making tools and one of the less than a dozen china cabinets he is revered for making in the time span of approximately 1790-1810.

Why I Chose to Build a China Cabinet

I chose to build a china cabinet for many reasons. I wanted to build something that would top the coffee table I built last year and it had to be a piece that would be something that served a purpose; something that can be used and appreciated for years to come. Also, it had to be unique, something no one else has, build in a non-traditional way compared to modern cabinets.


While trying to explain what I wanted to build and ideas for how hand carving could be incorporated etc, Mr. Williston (our wood shop teacher) thought of this cabinet. His dad had found and done a lot of research on it and it fit what I wanted perfectly. Plans were drawn out by Mr. Williston and the fun began!

How I Built the Cabinet

When beginning a project this large, it first has to be arranged that I would have enough time to complete a project of this magnitude. My school schedule was arranged that I would be in a 90 minute independent study shop class with three other students.

After careful examination of the plan we had, Mr. Williston and I went to Wolverine Hardwoods in Allegan to select the lumber needed which was mostly 5/4 inch (1 ¼) cherry. We were able to pick through a pile of beautiful curly 5/4 cherry lumber. All lumber used went through the same process, wood was rough cut to length +1 inch using the radial arm saw then faced and edged using the jointer and glued if needed. Lumber is then run through the planer to the desired thickness then ripped to width using a table saw, finally wood is cut to the correct length and made to fit for its desired purpose.

Bottom Cabinet

The frame was first built using a rabbet joint so all the weight of the cabinet is not sitting on the screws, then the frame for the drawers was made using 1 inch cherry and motise and tenon joints. The face frame was then added on to the cabinet using screws with a kreg jig and biscuits using a biscuit jointer, the drawer divides were then made to fit between the top face frame. The divider for the bottom cupboards was then made of maple and the basswood shiplapped back was installed along with the trim. Lastly, the drawer fronts were made of one piece of cherry cut into sections across the four drawers for the front. It made a nice continual look I was looking for. The drawers were made from 5/8 inch maple using a dovetail joint to go together.

The Legs

The legs are know as Chippendale legs. They started as a square piece of cherry that was bandsawed taped together and bandsawed again to get both sides shaped correctly. The legs were then carefully hand carved to eliminate all chisel marks and meticulously sanded to eliminate all file scratches and get the desired shape. This took me a couple of weeks.

The Lower Doors

The lower doors are 1 inch raised panel cherry doors using mortise and tenon joints with a 45 degree angle at the corners of the mortise piece. The middle divider was cut perfectly to fit in-between the doors, then cherry dowels were hand carved and fit. The panels were cuto n our 1 ¼” spindle shaper.

Top Cupboard

The top cupboard was first built as a frame. The sides had to be bandsawed, chiseled and sanded like the legs. Then the edge was routed and carefully stopped at the same place to make both uniform, even still filing and sanding required. The sides were attached using a kregs jig and glue, the face frame was then built making sure each piece fit perfectly in-between the sides. The shelves were then built and notched to fit around the vertical doorframe.

Crown Molding

 The molding is made up of several layers of cherry trim to bring it out (designed) like the original cabinet. The base piece of trim was built and carefully mitered at 45 degree angle then screwed onto the top piece of face frame. The top piece of crown molding was also carefully cut to fit and pin nailed in place.

The Upper Doors

The upper doors and middle panel are all 1 inch thick mortise and tenoned jointed with a hand carved cherry dowel inserted to lock it in place. The inside edge and glass dividers were carefully routed to be exactly ¼ of an inch to allow it to fit the tenon into each mortise in the outside frame, the dividers are all perfectly cut at 45 degree angles and dadoed into a half lap that fit and lock perfectly together. Doors have not been commonly built like this in the last 100 years.


Finish was applied with a high volume low pressure (HVLP) gun. Our school does not have a spray booth so finish was applied outside the woodshop door. I used a lacquer with catalyst finish and am very happy with the results considering it was done outside and I have never sprayed finish before.


I loved building this cabinet and seeing each intricate part fit together and make up the massive piece.

This cabinet means a lot to me because it is the last year Mr. George Williston, our wood shop teacher, is going to teach before he retires. This also means it is also probably the last time for a while that our school will compete in competitions so getting the chance to do this was a very great opportunity and as long as it took and the work put in it was 100 percent worth it.

I have learned I have the patience and ability to build something that few others can and have enjoyed every second.

Thank you, Mr. Williston.

May 2016


I cannot read the last part without getting tears in my eyes.

At the point of the school year when Mr. George Williston announced his retirement and we all felt shell shocked by it, the cabinet took on a whole new meaning for Andrew.  Instead of it being a project for him, it became a project to send Mr. Williston off with all kinds of extra accolades.  He wanted this cabinet to do well, yes.  But he wanted it to win the best of the best for his teacher.

Here is what has happened since Andrew wrote this paper and entered his cabinet in for competition.

At the Regional Level, Andrew placed first.  It won the top honor and the judges told us that with this kind of craftsmanship, it should do well if not win the top honor.

andrew and mr. w 16

I can’t lie, we were pretty ecstatic.  We knew we would have tough competition, but the old fashioned craftsmanship Andrew demonstrated in this cabinet was what set this cabinet apart.

Mr. Williston’s dad made plans to come see this cabinet in person.  He was the one who had thought of the idea for them to try something tough like this.  George had drawn it out and had kept his dad updated on the progress.  On the day of the Regional Competition, George’s dad was in the hospital and could not make it.  We were in a mix of “Eeeek!  Awesomeness!” over the cabinet and worry over George’s dad.

That was Saturday.

On Wednesday, we were honored to be of some of the select MITES projects displayed at the Michigan State Capitol.  I don’t know how our school pulled this off, but they did.  My parents drove us there and Andrew, an 8th grade girl named Faith who also has an amazing cabinet and Mr. Williston spent the day at the capitol.

capitol 16

When we arrived at the Capitol, we found that in transport a few of Andrew’s glass panes had broke in transport.  Our hearts sank.

One of our representatives (Mary Whiteford) sent a representative to talk with the kids and take photos and promise to set up a meeting coming up.  Another of our representatives never showed or sent word but one of the representatives from Cadillac was super nice to Andrew and spent some time chatting with him and other students.  We were really blown away by the day and it made a huge impression on Andrew.  My parents, the rest of the boys and I toured the capitol and visited a museum and it will be forever one of our most favorite memories.  What an honor it was to have the cabinet in THE STATE CAPITOL.

We left the cabinet in Lansing to be judged and I cannot tell you how hard it was to leave it behind.

Horton Brasses Inc. was the amazing company who supplied us with our hardware.  This company is AMAZING.  They have contacted me personally, I have talked with them on the phone and have emailed with them.  They have stayed on top of this project and been so helpful to us getting the correct hardware.  I am impressed with them more than words can tell you.  On Friday, they shared Andrew’s photo on their social media and my heart burst just a bit more.  I then shared Horton Brasses Inc’s post to Dreamers and Builders as well as Mike Rowe Works group and it exploded.  That Mike Rowe group?  Amazing folks.  And I am thankful that it gave Horton Brasses more publicity.

When Saturday arrived, we were all kinds of nerves.  Jake prayed before we left for calm nerves and safe travels.  When we arrived at the Lansing Center, we beelined for Andrew’s cabinet and there was a cool looking Michigan flag on it.  We weren’t sure what it meant, but we knew it meant good things.  I love this photo from when we first arrived.

andrew winner 16


And while this post is all about Andrew because it IS his cabinet, I want to take a moment to just rave about our school.  EVERY SINGLE PIECE we sent placed.  We had two first places (Andrew and Faith) but we had other high placing pieces as well.  Our administration has done the tough things to make sure this program stays at the school.  Some of these kids were then given opportunity to find a talent they did not know they possessed and we have had a teacher in Mr. Williston that I cannot imagine could ever be replaced.  This man bleeds teaching.  When I look over all the amazing, truly amazing, projects all these kids have done this year and are competing with, it brings tears to my eyes.  This talent!  The hours spent on these projects!  The amazing work!


This year there was much less to judge then the year before.  It breaks my heart.

Our superintendent showed up to see how his students had placed.  He congratulated them and took their photos and I could have hugged him but I was trying to be all professional and not make a scene to embarrass my son for all eternity.

andrew and harnish 16


I would like to tell you that then the judges came over and told us that the flag and first place winner and best of all show went to Andrew.  That Mr. Williston had his amazing going away honor.  That we cried and hugged and it was beautiful.

But that didn’t happen.

The amazing talent in that room!

We lost to a bed.  An amazing bed, but we will forever feel our piece was better.  Isn’t that what you always think when the project is yours?  In that room there were a lot of students and parents thinking their project was the very best in there.  Forever they will have these projects as their own, to remind them that they can do it!  To have as family heirlooms.

Andrew and Faith won first place in the State in their divisions.  Their grins are as huge as they should be.

mr williston and the first place winners 16

The cabinets of Andrew and Faith as well as all the other winning projects are at the school displayed in our media center.  We hope that faculty and press will stop to admire their hard work and talent.  Before we went off to Regionals, our superintendent had all the projects up for display and not a single person arrived to see their hard work displayed.  We hope now that we have the FIRST IN THE STATE cabinets as well as so many high placing pieces that it will drum up more support for a class that so many schools are dismissing.

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8 Responses to The Making of a Christian Shively Inspired China Cabinet

  1. Beautiful craftsmanship!
    Great job Andrew!!!
    I’m glad the entire family was able to join in the memory making process.

  2. Pete boyd says:

    Great job Andrew, Faith and all the kids. You deserve every award you got and haves de your school round. George, you know how I feel about you and the pittance of your class! I am happy for your retirement but selfishly sad for myself and our school! God bless you!

  3. Pete boyd says:

    Congratulations Andrew, Faith and all the kids! You deserve every award you got and have made your school proud. George, you know how I feel about you and the importance of your class! While I am happy for your retirement I am selfishly sad for myself and our school. God bless you my friend!

  4. George Williston says:

    What a nice group of pictures Denise, great job on your blog.

  5. Dan Strout says:

    Wow!…a truly spectacular piece of craftsmanship, and an inspiring story! Congratulations, Andrew, Faith, and Mr. Williston. Andrew, you have a natural and wonderful talent for woodworking. Keep up the great work and keep learning. Woodworking is a life-long passion (whether as a professional or an amateur) that takes hold and never lets go. Faith…congratulation to you as well. You caught the woodworking bug early..good for you! Mr. Williston..congratulations to you as well for such a fine shop program. Getting kids interested in woodworking is a great thing. Have a happy retirement.

    • life4boys says:


      Thank you so much for reading and commenting! I have sent your message on to everyone. Thank you!

  6. […] began May with two weekend competitions for Andrew’s woodworking project, a Christian Shively inspired cabinet.  He placed first in his age group at the competitions and won a prize for being the best of all […]

  7. Karen K says:

    Hello – Wonderful workmanship – The name is Christian Shively Jr. by the way – I am related to him. Here is a link to one of his original cabinets: Wall cupboard attributed to Christian Shively, Jr., c. 1810-20, cherry, walnut and maple, Dayton Art Institute

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