Sunday, June 16, 2013

Dining Room Built-In Cabinet

The 1895 Victorian house I purchased 4 years ago had been abandoned for about a decade, and the infrastructure of the back 1/3 of the house was destroyed from wood rot. The first 2 years was primarily tearing out walls and floors, then rebuilding what I could. The third year was one of the biggest projects (compared to other big projects, like tearing out and rebuilding 3 entire exterior walls, from the bottom to the top), which was replacing one of the center beams that held up the back of the house.
I had already built 2 new support walls in the basement to help carry the load. The center beam, and everything above it on the first floor was covered with a terrifying, dense network of wood rot. For example, there was a beautiful hardwood pantry and cabinet that was overgrown with the mold, as seen here in picture one. In addition to the pantry, in the dining room there was a built-in with a pass-through, as seen in picture two. While this built-in looks salvageable, once you opened the doors, it was covered in wood rot. It was very sad, but it all had to be excavated and thrown out. Nothing could be saved. In this photo, the entry to the pantry is just to the right of the built-in.

Picture 3 is the space where the wall and pantry used to be, all the way back to the rear wall. As you can see, the floors were also rotten and had to be removed. For the first 3 years I lived with no floor in the back 1/3 of the house, just an open hole into the basement that I had to hope the dogs never fell into.

Several times I fell over the course of working in that area, fortunately only resulting in a couple of broken ribs and a broken toe. Things could have been worse.

After the original pantry and built-in were torn out, along with everything else for about 15 feet behind it to the rear wall of the house, the process of slowly reconstructing new walls was the next task. The space in the farthest corner, which used to be a tiny downstairs bathroom, is becoming a small breakfast nook, and the space where the pantry used to be is now the laundry room. I will save those stories for later. This post is about the dining-room built-in cabinet. In the above picture of the original built-in, it is on the left of the wall with the doorway to the pantry to the right. I have put the new built-in on the right. Right behind it is the laundry room.

It took several weeks of planning to get the measurements for the space itself. I already knew how to put up interior walls, but in this case, I wasn't putting up a wall as such, with drywall, but was used 3/4" oak plywood to make the walls, floor and ceiling of the built-in cabinet. I used the same to make the shelves. The difficulty here was in the planning of measurements, getting the wood into the tight spaces, and cutting heavy 8x4 sheets of plywood with my little table saw.

The next difficult task for the shelving, were similar--learning the precision to get the measurements exactly right, doing the precise cutting, and getting the shelving into the tight spaces. It was also challenging affixing the shelves in place, since I only had access to the other side of one of the walls--i.e., the other side of the left side of the cabinet is what will become the new pantry, and I was able to screw the shelves into place on that one wall. However, the other two sides I couldn't access, so the shelving is partly held into place by the tightness of the fit, and partly by small trim pieces nailed to the back of the cabinet wall on the underside of the shelving. I thought I was 75% finished at this point. Wow, was I mistaken. That was last summer (2012).

Then last fall I tackled the main side trim, which I mostly used from reclaimed trim from the excavated doors in the house. In this picture you can see that I've framed the sides and top with these pieces. Part of this process was buying a router, and learning how to make the decorative grooves in the top horizontal piece. This matches the pattern from the rest of the house, but I didn't have another piece long enough for the top of the built-in. The plinth blocks, the blocks of wood at the bottom sides, as well as the vertical pieces, and the top corner blocks were all reclaimed from other areas of the house, cut to size, sanded and re-stained. This was all reasonably easy, just tedious, and it took about a week.

This summer I tackled the drawers, the trim, and the cabinet doors, which I thought would be quick and easy. I hand-wrung for several months over the pattern of the drawers and cabinet door. Finally I realized that I should just use the existing pattern of the interior doors of the house, which were a reasonably simple raised panel design. The router I had was a cheap one I got from Craigslist, and after several practice attempts, I realized this was insufficient for cabinet work. I had to invest in good equipment--higher quality table saw, router, router table, and specialized bits that made the cabinet doors. Learning how to do this was a several week process. Far longer and more expensive than I expected. I also didn't realize that all of the pieces had to be solid oak. If I were using a flat panel I could have used the cheaper oak plywood. However, when you cut out the raised portion, it exposes all of the inside of the boards, so it has to be solid oak. I was shocked how expensive oak is. I had to practice quite a lot before I was brave enough to carve out the actual oak pieces for the final panels. The door has several rails and stiles, as well as the raised panels themselves. Despite triple-checking measurements, after I put the pieces together, the door was still 1/4" too big! I had to recut a couple of pieces. After I glued them all together, it was still 1/8" too big, and both the door and the cabinet opening were out of square, so I had to use my plane and a belt sander to get everything to the right size. The drawer faces were far easier, since I basically just cut them like a door panel, but didn't put the stiles/rails on them. All of this took about a week.

Another big challenge was what I call the "inside trim," distinguishing the solid oak pieces that line the inside opening of the cabinet, from the reclaimed exterior framing trim I put up the previous year. This was also far more complicated than I expected, partly because I didn't even think about These pieces. Since I used plywood shelving, I had to put up a decorative molding on the exposed side. That was reasonably simple. But all around the rest of the cabinet I put a 1.5x3/4" trim. I also had to make the base of the cabinet, which were several 3x3/4" boards making small boxes on the floor. All of this took about a week. Staining wasn't as time-consuming. I resanded the entire finished piece, used a wood-conditioner product, and my own color mixture using oil-based stain, all of which took about a day. Installing the cabinet door was a pain, and eventually the door will have to be remade. The euro-style flush hinges were larger than the stile, so when I bore out the hole for the hinge, I went all the way through the thin area of the raised panel.

There wasn't extensive damage, so I was able to use wood fill and restain it. Unless you look close, you can't tell, but it's certainly an area of structural weakness for the door, which I'm sure is already unstable and weak since it's my first effort. But it seems fairly sturdy when I carried it around. Here is the final book case, about 2 months worth of work extended over about a year.

Right now this room is basically my tool storage room. The family who bought the house in the 1970s made this room into their kitchen. Originally, the room was the dining room. I am in the process of making it back into a dining room. It still looks mostly like my tool storage room, but finally, after 4 years, it's slowly starting to look like the beginnings of a dining room. Over the last several years I have received fancy kitchen display items from my family for Christmas, but I have had no place to put them, so they have all been put in a box. Now I finally have a place to put them.

No comments:

Post a Comment