Bathroom Cabinet

My wife, Anita, came to me a couple of months ago saying she wanted a new bathroom cabinet. I made one when we remodeled the bathroom nine years ago, but for some reason, I made it rather narrow and too deep. It was only 24″ wide by 18″ deep. The cabinet worked, just not that well. Anita loves going to Ikea so when she came home with a brochure of a cabinet she saw in their showroom, I looked at it. It was a Hemnes cabinet for $329.00. I immediately thought to myself “that’s basically a box with doors. I can make a box with doors for a lot less than $329.00”. That’s the downside of marrying a woodworker. We always want to make a piece of furniture rather than buy it. The good thing, is we usually can make it for a lot less and customize the dimensions to fit our needs.

HEMNES Cabinet with panel/glass door IKEA Solid wood has a natural feel.

I convinced Anita that I could make the cabinet quick enough that she wouldn’t have to wait six months for it to be completed. I also told her I could make it 32″ wide as opposed to 36″ so the cabinet wouldn’t cover up part of our heat register in the bathroom. A few days later, we went to Home Depot and bought a  1/2″ thick of birch plywood for about $50.00. I cut the sheet down for 11 1/4″ wide to be used for all the parts. Once I got the sides cut, I routed a couple of 1/2″ wide dadoes in the sides for the bottom and middle shelf of the cabinet. I then used a jig made from peg board to bore the shelf pin holes on each side.

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I cut the bottom and middle shelf to size and stapled them to the sides with my 1/4″ pneumatic stapler. Because I was going to apply 1/4″ thick x 2″ wide trim around the sides of the cabinet to act as a faux frame and panel, I wasn’t concerned about the driver marks in the wood made from the stapler.

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Next, I glued the 1/4″ x 2″ wood trim to the sides. Because I still needed to put a 3/4″ face frame  on the front, the trim on the front side of the cabinet was only 1 1/4″ wide, not 2″. You can see in the picture how the trim on the right (the back) is wider than the trim on the left (the front).

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Next I glued the 3/4″ face frame to the carcass. I used pocket hole joinery to attach the stiles to the rails. This was a super easy cabinet to build.

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I added glue block to the inside top of the cabinet where I could screw the top to the carcass.

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I wrote a post a few weeks ago where I described how I stretched a board to size after I cut a board too short. You can read it here. This is the board for the top of the cabinet being glued up after it was stretched.

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In the end, we decided not to add doors to the cabinet, but instead use baskets with open shelving. The woven baskets give the piece more character rather than having an entirely white cabinet with doors that would cover up the bottom shelves. We now have more room in the bathroom as the cabinet is only 12″ deep and is a lot more stylish.

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Repairing a Drawer Bottom

Earlier this week, my wife won a chest of drawers from an online auction. Sure enough when we get it home and examine the piece, we discovered there was significant water damage to the chest that the auction company failed to mention (what a surprise!). In fact, one of the drawers was so bad that the bottom plywood was peeling away. She asked me if I could fix it, so I went to Home Depot and bought a piece of 1/4″ X 24″ X 48″ underlayment plywood for about $5.00.

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The first thing I did to the drawer was carefully pop off the glue blocks from the under side with a paring chisel as I was planning on reusing them.

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I then carefully popped off the drawer runner being careful not to damage it. Fortunately, it wasn’t glued to the drawer bottom making it easy to clean up.

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Then with a dead blow hammer, I gently popped off the sides of the drawers hoping not to damage the dovetail joints.

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After cutting the new piece of plywood to size, I saw that the new drawer bottom was a little thicker than the original, so I widened all the grooves to the drawer with my table saw.

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Once all the grooves were widened, I dry fitted the drawer back together making sure everything fitted properly.

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I then glued the drawer back together including the support blocks back on the bottom.

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After about a half an hours worth of work, the drawer was back in business and nicely fitted back in the piece.

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The End of an Era

Today was the end of an era for my truck. My 2003 Ford Ranger was getting old and tired like an old dog. So much so, the past few weeks I was starting to get afraid to drive it far away from home. I work as a sales rep for Oldcastle selling patio block to Home Depot and Lowes and have been given some new stores to call on in Indianapolis and surrounding cities. I didn’t feel confident anymore that my truck could stand all the extra miles without breaking down. The last thing I wanted was to be in West Lafayette, Indiana and have to call my wife to come pick me up three and a half hours away because my truck broke down.

My truck starting falling apart a few years ago when quirky little things would break, like the interior lights or a remote door opener that wouldn’t open the doors all the time. I lived with the quirks because they weren’t a big deal to me. As much as I hate buying new vehicles I prolonged the pain for as long as I could.

As time progressed, bigger and bigger things would go wrong. My gas gauge would no longer work and I had to count the trip miles so I knew when I needed to buy gas. The radiator leaked antifreeze so I had to add it every once in awhile. The door molding that contained the door handle and power window buttons broke off and I had to close the door by grabbing it up by the window. Then the truck bed started to rust through, the rear gate wouldn’t open and my CD player stopped working.

I never fixed anything because every time I got a quote it was nearly a $800 to repair. Plus, at the time, I really didn’t feel like spending that much money on a truck with nearly 200k miles on it. Then about a week ago, I noticed that one of my struts was poking through my truck bed. I asked a co-worker about it and he told me that if it broke while I was driving, the bed would fall down onto the tire causing me to wreck which would be bad news. Everyday I checked the strut poking through my bed and noticed it was getting worse. In the back of my mind, I knew I didn’t have much more time.

My driveway doesn’t slope to the left. My bed was leaning that much because of the strut popping through.

I ended up getting 263,700 miles from my Ranger. When I originally bought it back in 2003 it had 23k miles on it. My goal was to drive it to 200k miles and accomplished that goal nearly two years ago. Once I achieved that goal, my new goal was 250k miles. Then last fall when I passed 250k miles, I was praying it would last another 50k miles, but knew that probably wouldn’t happen. I’m satisfied how long it lasted although it was tough to see it go today. My 2003 Ranger was a good truck that didn’t give me too much trouble. The engine ran good and the transmission was still smooth after all those miles.

My new vehicle is a 2011 Ford Edge with 25k miles on it. This SUV is nearly loaded with all the bells and whistles. It has power everything, a dual sun roof, navigation, tow package and built in satellite radio. I plan on buying a trailer so I can buy plywood and my wife can take her furniture to shows. I’m also going to tint the windows and buy better speakers for my radio. I always wanted to upgrade my stereo system in my Ranger, but never did. So a better sound system is my new goal for the Edge. Oh, and 200k miles.

Using a Vacuum Press

Every once in a while I pull out a tool that I haven’t used in long time. I bought this vacuum press about ten years ago figuring I would use it all the time making custom plywoods out of exotic veneer but that’s never been the case. I think originally I saw David Marks use one on Woodworks and thought to myself that I had to have one. Even though I’ve only used this vacuum press about four times since I bought it, I’m still glad I did because now I need it.

I make thick wooden letters for my wife Anita. She paints them different colors and sells them in her booth. I usually make EAT which women display on their kitchen tables. The letters are made from 1 1/4″ MDF however, I can’t find a local supplier for 1 1/4″ thick MDF so I buy 1/2″ and 3/4″ MDF and laminated them together. Next month Anita is going to have a booth at a local Shabby Chic design show called Over The Moon in Lawrenceburg, IN. I figured I’d help her out and make more EATs and a few NOELs for Christmas. She sells them for $5 – $6 a letter which isn’t much but they are super easy and quick to make. Plus everyone she sells will help pay for the cost of the booth.

In order to laminate the two boards of MDF, I need the ability to properly clamp the boards together so that they press against each other equally. That’s where my vacuum press comes in handy. In order to maximize the torque of my vacuum press I built a clamping box for it. The box is nothing more than two 3/4″ MDF boards with grids cut on one side and glossy laminate on the other with the bottom board wrapped in a frame. The grids on the top help with air flow as the vacuum is working, and the laminate helps any glue squeeze out from sticking to the inside of the box.

Using the press is quite simple. I spread glue all over ope of the pieces I want to laminate making sure I get a 100% coverage. I get better results only spreading glue over one of the pieces and not both. When both pieces have glue on them, they tend to slide around when I put them in the box.  Once both pieces are stuck together, I place the top half of the box on top of them to act as the press when the air is removed.

I slide the entire box into the an industrial plastic bag with a nozzle on top and use a couple of wooden cauls to close the end of the bag. I then use as many clamps as needed to seal the bag so that it’s air tight.

I then hook up my vacuum press and turn it on for a few minutes to suck out all the air like a gigantic Food Saver machine.

 

You can see how tight the bag becomes once the vacuum starts working. After I’m satisfied with the pressure, I leave the boards to cook for a couple of hours. It’s important to turn off the vacuum and listen carefully for any air leaks that may be present. Notice the orange Jorgensen clamp at the bottom where I had to fold the plastic on top of itself in order to stop a leak. 

After a couple of hours, the boards come out perfectly laminated together. If you’re interested in learning more about vacuum presses, go to www.joewoodworker.com. It’s where I bought my vacuum and all the necessary accessories.

Empire Dresser

My wife won this Empire style dresser this week at an online estate auction site for a mere $50.00. When we went to pick it up the guy who ran the auction was telling us it was probably built around the early 1800’s and was a cross between Empire and Federal styles. The dresser was beautiful with its carved columns, mahogany veneer and old brass hardware.

The dresser was in pretty good shape with the only major damage being the bottom drawer was broken off. Fixing the veneer and making it match with the rest of the piece would be a challenge so my wife and I are thinking of taking out all three bottom drawers and turning the dresser into a wine bar with storage for wine glasses and bottles.

While taking the drawers out I was looking for a makers mark just in case this is some rare piece made by famous cabinetmaker. The last thing I want to do is to retrofit some dresser that if left alone and restored could be worth $20,000. Unfortunately I found no makers mark but I did notice that the piece was made by hand.

The drawers were made with hand cut dovetails and the bottoms were chamfered into grooves in the drawers side. No plywood was used which gave me a clue that the dresser was pretty old. Plywood wasn’t being used in furniture until around the 1920’s.

I also noticed that not that much care was taken in cutting the drawer bottoms. One of the bottom’s edge was wavy and looked like it was cut with a bow saw. Why the cabinetmaker didn’t use a hand saw to rip down the bottom is baffling. Maybe he was in a hurry or didn’t have a hand saw around at the time but, it looks like crap and wouldn’t be considered top-notch craftsmanship by todays standards. However, it was perfectly acceptable back then. Maybe there wasn’t as much scrutiny about how things were built as there is today. If I did something like that, all my woodworking friends would call me a hack.

  

I also could see where the cabinetmaker reused boards that he first cut dovetails for as the drawers backs. The back and the sides are simply nailed together with some finish nails. It’s possible he was planing on dovetailing the back of the drawers but changed his mind for some reason. But nevertheless, apparently back then if the part was not being shown and was hidden from the customers view, then nobody cared what it looked like inside.

The back of the piece gave me another clue as to its age. There were two pockets drilled to accept screws to hold down the top. As I unscrewed one of them, I saw that the screw had a point at the tip. Due to increased machinery technology, manufacturers didn’t start making screws with points until the 1840’s. Before that they were simply blunt and craftsmen would have to pre-drill the hole.

So my guess is this piece was probably built between 1840-1920 by a local cabinet shop who didn’t bother signing their pieces. With no makers mark, there is no way for me to determine who actually built it. I searched the internet for “Empire dresser” in Images to see if a similar dresser appeared with no luck. So in the end, with its major damage to the bottom drawer, I think it’s safe to retrofit this into something new.