Very special guest post today – from my boyfriend, Adam! Yay!
Some of you may recognize me from several other of Molly’s posts, like the East Coast Gem, Mineral and Fossil Expo 2012 or our training as Future Olympic Gold Medalists. Well, after our success with the shelf, I wanted to move on to bigger and better projects and Molly provided me with the perfect opportunity.
I’ve always had an innate need to make things. You see, I grew up as an avid consumer of PBS as a child and this included both This Old House and New Yankee Workshop (what 7 year old doesn’t want to be Norm Abram??). Not to mention all the LEGOs. I live in Allston, which means all I have for space is a 12×16’ bedroom and a hallway in which to do anything. I’ve gotten really good at making the best use of my space. So this will hopefully become a series of posts that will let me live out my dream while also showing you how to move up from building IKEA furniture to real furniture regardless of how little space you may have to work with.
In the process of making this shelf I’ve learned that like cooking, where all you really need to start is one good saucepan and one good skillet, here all you need is a router and a miter or table saw. There are obviously all your other implements, drills, hammers, screwdrivers, but these are the big guys that really add the professional finish. So, after a significant bit of research, I bought the only one that I knew would fit. Sorry table saw… I did really want you too. At $90 in-store at Sears or $77 online it is a very affordable option for someone starting out considering that comes with both a ¼” and ½” collet and a plunge base. I have yet to regret the purchase. In place of a miter saw or table saw, a pull saw will work perfectly well too, especially when paired with a miter box. The last bit of gear you’ll probably need to get is the safety gear. I’m pretty sure we all enjoy our sight, hearing and lungs, and a router is loud. Really loud. It also generates quite a bit of sawdust and flying wood chips as my poor canister vacuum can attest to. You’ll want to get safety glasses, ear plugs and dust masks. At this point I highly suggest drawing out plans for your project. It’s all too easy to forget exactly what you’re doing once the tools start spinning. Paper and pencil works great, but for those of you who are students like myself, you can get a free copy of AutoCAD from the AutoDesk website. Considering that this is normally a $900 piece of software, it’s a pretty good deal. You just have to put up with an “Educational Product” watermark on all your printed layouts. This shelf in particular has been designed to accommodate three fabric drawers that Molly has in a cheap shelf she’d like to replace. However you choose to do it, make sure you label dimensions, as accurate measurements will make the difference between a piece looking professional or coming out shoddy. With the design in hand, it’s time to go shopping for wood. The simplest choice is to go with pine. It’s cheap and reasonably soft, so it’s easy to work with. However, since it’s soft, it damages and splinters easily. At about twice the cost, you can move up to the hardwoods like poplar, oak, and maple. With these woods you get what you pay for. Not only are they more attractive than pine, they are very resilient. This does, of course, come at the cost of ease of use. For this project, since it was a first attempt, I wanted to use pine. Though, through a mistake in reading the pricing, I walked out with $80 in poplar 1x12s. Considering that a new, unfinished, solid pine bookshelf of similar size will typically cost about $120, we’re still doing pretty well.
At Home Depot, in particular, I know they will cut the boards down to size for you. The first cut or two is usually free, and after that it’s is $0.50 a cut. That, however, is one less fun thing for me to do, so I just opted to cut them myself. To do this, get a measuring tape and a t-square. Put a mark with a pencil where you need to make the cut and use the t-square to draw the cut line across the board. You’ll then want to use a guide to ensure that you’re making a straight cut. I recommend using the edge of a scrap piece of wood. Just align it with the line, and clamp it in place. With the guide attached, use the pull saw to make the cut while trying to keep the side of the blade flush against the guide. Once all the boards have been cut to size, it’s time to bring out the router. In order to reinforce the shelves (and to hide any wonky cuts), I milled ¼” deep grooves into the sideboards where each shelf will sit. Before doing so, it’s necessary to measure the distance from the edge of the routing bit to the flat edge of the router base. This distance is where you’ll draw the guide line for each groove. Alternatively, you can do a practice cut on a scrap piece of wood, and measure the distance from your guide line to the cut itself. Once you have done this and marked all the cuts, we can put metal to wood. After several passes, the first side was completed. Using that side and all its pre-measured lines, the second side can was replicated much quicker. Now that the sides have been prepared, we can begin assembly. Normally, I would say to use wood glue on each joint, but since the cuts for the shelves were especially uneven, I omitted it to ensure that I could constantly adjust the position of each shelf as I assembled it. If you had the boards cut at the hardware store or have a table saw, you’ll have a much stronger joint if you use the glue. As the shelves were added, they were secured in place by #8 wood screws. To do so, 1/8” tap holes were first drilled through the sides of the bookshelf, into each shelf. The holes on the sides were opened up with a 3/16” drill bit so that the screw would pass freely through, and then a ¼” bit was used to recess the screw caps. The screws were then screwed in. Once all the shelves have been attached, the bookshelf should look like this: To make the top of the bookshelf, you’ll need to cut a piece of wood long enough to span the sides. Unlike the shelves that were attached inside the groves, the top will be attached with rabbets. A rabbet is basically a groove that goes to the end of the board, and only has one side. By doing this, it is easy to make the seam smooth by going along the edge of the rabbet with a flush trim router bit after it is attached. Again, the top was attached by pre-drilling screw holes and then screwing it into place. With that attached, flip over the bookshelf and glue and screw the base plate into place. Now it’s time to put on the back panel. Before we did this, Molly wanted this to pop with a bit of color, so we took a ¼” sheet of birch plywood and painted one side the color of her choice (Behr’s Shoreline Green – you can get a small sample jar of paint for $3 which was more than enough for this project.) A bead of glue was applied along the entire back face of the shelf and the painted board was placed on top. While weighing down the panel with books, the back was anchored with nails. Since the plywood came in a 2×4’ length, it was cut roughly down to size, and then cleaned up with the same flush trim router bit.
Prior to finishing, the screw holes were all filled with plastic wood and sanded down. The rest of the piece was cleaned up with sandpaper and the edges were beveled using a rounding over router bit.
I always feel that if you’re going to do a project like this, you want everyone to know that this is solid wood and to finish it with just some stain and polyurethane. Besides, the wood grain is too pretty to cover up as it is! We wanted to keep the color of the wood as light as possible so we omitted the stain all together and went straight to the polyurethane. Polyurethane usually comes in a variety of textures ranging from matte to high gloss. When you go to buy it, they should have samples of each posted to help you decide what is best for you. We went with satin.
After several coats of this, it was time for the moment of truth. We brought the bookshelf to Molly’s apartment, and it turns out the measurements were slightly off and the fabric drawers didn’t fit. Regardless, there we have it: the finished project.
To be honest, writing this up it made it seem like there was more work involved than it felt like while doing it. From start to finish, this project took about two weeks, working a couple hours each night after work. It was about a week and a half’s worth of construction, and 3 days of finishing. It was surprisingly quick. As for the cost, it was about $85 in lumber, $5 in screws and nails, $3 of paint, and $7 for the polyurethane. So at $100, if you have or are looking to invest in the tools, you can make your own furniture at a fraction of the cost no matter what space you’ve got to work with!
I hope I’ve inspired you to go out and try building something of your own! Remember, too, if you’re unsure as to how to make something, all the techniques are standard. Inspect your furniture, try to figure out how it was assembled and learn from observation!
I’ll see you guys in a couple weeks as I take a foray into upholstery and attempt to make an ottoman for my black chair whose arm makes a cameo in a couple of the pictures. Happy crafting!