Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Vanity cabinet

From J:

Shower complete, it was on to the rest of the bathroom. One issue: we have no storage. Okay, we can store bigger things in the vanity itself and we added a small shelf from Ikea, but on the whole we're severely lacking in this department. Our vanity top gets very crowded very quickly. Solution: build more storage. I designed a little vanity cabinet/medicine cabinet piece that will add some much-needed hidden storage behind a mirror and give us some open storage that will hold our everyday items and keep them from cluttering the vanity top.

  • Buy some walnut. I've wanted to work with walnut for some time now, here's my chance! Rustic (knotty) walnut was on sale at my supplier, so that's what I bought.

    Mmmm, that grain. Delicious.
  • Extensive planning. I even used a ruler!

    Putting that engineering degree to work.
  • Dimension everything up using the crosscut sled and table saw. Use my fancy new box joint jig to add the joinery at the corners. This went fast! Had all of this done in a couple of hours. This is the payoff for spending time to build jigs.

    Can't ask for much better than that.
  • Drill for dowels to join up the interior dividing pieces. First time working with dowels, it was so-so. This would have been much easier if I had a larger workbench, as the piece was too large to be fully supported on my current bench.

    They look fancy when they're flush trimmed at the end.
  • Add shelf pin holes using a jig for the outermost sections, since they will be too narrow to get a drill into after glueup.

    120 pins.
  • Build a frame for the mirror. I used half-lap joints, which are very strong. I routed a half-inch rabbet in the interior of the frame to hold the mirror and chamfered the interior edge to give a floating effect when you look at the mirror from the front.
  • Fill in knots with epoxy. First time doing this, too. I used some five-minute epoxy and dyed it to a walnut color using sanding dust. Just mix, add to the holes, let it cure, and then plane/sand smooth. Worked pretty well, looks pretty good.

    After the epoxy sets, a little elbow grease with the block plane makes it nice and flat.
  • Glue it all up! Used epoxy (not the five-minute kind) to get a longer working time and because it won't swell the joints. The box joint corners were a TIGHT fit. Everything turns out pretty darn square when there's only one way it will all fit together, another plus.

    Not pictured: the clamps that I wished I had in addition to the ones I already own.
  • Flush-trim the dowels using a flushcut saw (a new tool!). Sand everything. Very happy with how the joinery turned out on this project.
  • Add the rest of the shelf pin holes, for the interior cabinet section.
  • Plywood time: I bought a half sheet of 1/4" walnut plywood at my local supplier. Cut out two sections, one for the back of the cabinet and one to back the mirror. 
  • Use a router to cut a 1/4" deep slot in the back of the cabinet, square up the corners with a chisel. Add plywood. Ta-da, it's a cabinet!

    First time using the rabbeting bit on the router, it was fun.
  • Hinge time: we picked out some very nice cabinet hinges for this. Soft close and everything. They BARELY fit into the frame. About 1 mm to spare on each side of the cup. Luckily, I am a boss with my Forstner bits. Installed these and admired.

    Hey...that's a cabinet.
  • Made some little retainer clips out of walnut. Used these to secure the mirror and plywood backer in the door frame.
  • Added a little stop to set the closed position of the door.
  • Cut shelves from walnut. Fill in more knots with epoxy. Sand the shelves. I took A's excellent suggestion and added some notches on the undersides of the shelves for the shelf pins so they stay firmly in place. Props for this idea, A!
  • Finish it! GF Arm-R-Seal semi-gloss on everything. I really stepped my finished game up for this project. I used an old t-shirt to apply the finish and 400 grit sandpaper between coats to knock down the dust bumps instead of my old method of Home Depot rag and steel wool. This all made an immense difference; the finish is like glass and compares very favorably to our high-end Gat Creek bedroom furniture.
  • Finally, hang it. A combination of keyhole hangers and figure-8s keep it all secure. As designed, it fills the space above the vanity completely, while still leaving enough room underneath for a bit of recessed storage and easy access to the faucet.

    If I may be so bold: gorgeous. Still in the process of finishing some of the shelves.
Project cost: about $250. I ended up have to use one more walnut board than I originally planned since one board had some gnarly cracking in its end grain after cutting and wasn't suitable to make the frame. I ended up using some of that board for the shelving, so it wasn't entirely wasted. My overall cost compares favorably to what a commercial cabinet of this size might cost, like this example from Ikea at $230, which is a few inches larger in each dimension but is made out of inferior materials using inferior construction. This math only works if your time is free, which mine is. For this, at least. If I had used a less expensive wood, like soft maple, I could probably get the cost down to ~$175 or so, but I would sacrifice the gorgeous color and grain of the walnut.

Project thoughts: this all went amazingly smoothly. I was a bit lazy with the finishing touches, but even with taking several days off and dragging my feet on a few steps it was only three weeks from start to finish. Total time invested was 30 hours, give or take. I was able to work like a well-oiled machine during the initial rough cutting and fitting - I had an efficient workflow and my time investments in making jigs and setting up my workbench and tools properly paid off. Once I reached assembly I began to struggle, as the piece was a bit too big for my workbench to hold comfortably and the garage is a mess right now with spillover from several smaller house projects. I'm thrilled with the finish, though - small changes to my technique resulted in something that I'm proud of!

Up next: a new shoe rack for the master closet. A has been looking forward to this one for a long time!

1 comment: