Wednesday, July 31, 2013

My First Build: Map Case Top

So--now that I've blogged about the bunk beds for the little girls, I thought I'd go back to the beginning.  The first piece of furniture I ever built: 

After having been introduced to, the first thing I wanted to build was a dining table.  Knowing that I am prone to make mistakes and learn from them, we decided I would use the plans for a tabletop and make a top for this great old map case that we had picked up years ago at Savers for about $5 (which, conveniently lacked a top).

After excavating the map case from the garage, this is what we started with.  A dusty, half painted map case:
The map case with all the drawers stacked on top

The first step was selecting the correct wood.  This was simple, we had some old 2x6's from the underside of a piece of deck that we had torn down.  I had stacked them aside, knowing someday I wanted to do something with them (aged wood is just amazing).  Next, I procured a pocket hole jig to join the pieces together with.  After some web-based research, I bought the first Kreg Jig the guy at Home Depot showed me.

Working with pocket hole joinery is awesome!  I had a lot of fun piecing the top together.  I also made a few mistakes, just as predicted.  Nellie was very understanding, seeing as I did the majority of the construction on top of our existing kitchen table between the hours of 10 pm and midnight (gotta get it done when you can!)

Once I had the top put together, I added some breadboards on both sides to mimic the future kitchen table.  I was most surprised by how heavy it was!  For a top that measured about 48"x32" it weighed about a ton (give or take 1960 lbs).

My next tool to purchase was a belt sander.  I tried working with our little finish sander that we had and realized that it was going to take me more time than I had to do everything with that.  After some sanding to smooth the surface, it was time for some stain!

We used Minwax Classic Gray (which coincidentally is marked on the can as "NEW!"--pretty impressive, brand new but already a classic), and wiped it off pretty quickly then to warm it up we added a quick layer of Minwax Dark Walnut, wiped, and applied a few coats of lacquer when it was all dry.
Top is finished--still needs some painting and finishing up

It was Nellie's idea to paint the handles red and distress them a little, an idea I resisted at first, but ultimately really liked.  Life lesson learned yet again.  Most of what Janelle thinks would look awesome, does indeed look awesome.  I hope no one tries to take that logic a step further, it would be a mistake.

After finishing up the case, the biggest dilemma was what to do with it.  It was a little tall to use as a coffee table (our original thought), so we promptly rearranged the whole front room.  It's not for everyone, but we love it.  I look at it and see how I might do it differently if we did it again, but it's got great character, and I love it.  

The finishing touch was a great set of casters that my mom found for us.  They had originally been on something which had been spray painted red and there was overspray on them.  We were not sad--think it was a fit.  
If I had it to do over again:  I would have tried to get my boards closer together, there are some gaps that are a bit larger than I would have liked--they're still charming.  

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Most Amazing Bunk Beds I Have Ever Built

One Sunday evening early in 2013, Nellie handed me her iPad with a website pulled up on it.  The site was written/edited/published by a lady in Alaska who is an amazing DIY guru.  Her site: has all kinds of great plans about how to make fantastic furniture out of materials as common as dimensional lumber (I was dismayed to learn that Nellie had discovered Ana as a result of Pinterest as I have often told her there was nothing of value on Pinterest--but I digress).  As I looked through her FREE plans I got more and more excited.  It seemed that people without a lot of skills or tools were building some great looking furniture.

If you know me, then you know we were in trouble from that moment on.  My first project was to create a tabletop for an old map case that we kept stashed in the garage due to it's lack of a top.  It turned out okay--so I next built a table for our kitchen modeled off of one I love from Restoration Hardware and I liked the results.  With my newfound confidence I decided it was time to tackle a bigger project: Bunk beds!

When I told people I was busy building bunk beds for Yaya and Lulu, most of them shrugged and probably thought, what's the big deal?  What they didn't realize is these were the greatest bunk bed plans I had ever seen!  The designer and builder of the Sweet Pea Bunk Beds is Jenny from Birds and Soap and after following her meticulous plans she is one of my heroes as well.

When I commenced on this BB journey, one of my goals was to try to make it as affordable as possible.  I figured if I could show others how to make it more affordably than the $500 plus that others were spending to make one, that I could somehow inspire someone else.
Our jointer "Butch"
In order to cut costs, I got on KSL classified to find some pallets that I could buy for cheap, break down and resurface, then piece together for the facade of the BB.  To smooth my pallet boards I was using our jointer Butch.  This classic machine, manufactured the year my father was born had been a huge help while working on the table.  After some bonding time I was really starting to enjoy working with Butch, but things can change in a hurry.  Turns out, the best laid plans are ruined when you don't do things the safe way... Warning: gross content coming up:

One night I was finishing up a batch of wood around 10:30, when I decided to surface the face of one more board, as I guided the board along, the blades hit a knot hole and sent the board flying.  My right hand, which had been applying gentle downward pressure to the board flew forward and landed right on the blades.  After cleaning up the gore, this is the damage:
A Few Weeks Later

I actually felt very blessed almost immediately.  I knew (and Google confirmed) that it could have been much, much worse.  Even though I felt like an idiot for having hurt myself, I was grateful it wasn't a worse injury.

Note: the safe way to operate a jointer is to use paddles or push sticks to move boards along.  Also, you should only operate a jointer that has a safety guard in place.  I have learned my lesson the hard way and will not touch Butch without proper safety equipment.

It took over a month for my hand to heal and I doubted at times whether I would ever finish the BBs.  Fortunately for me, I had my cheerleaders.  Yaya asked me on a daily basis when I was going to work on her BB.  Lulu even got in on the act on occasion, and the beds were never too far from my mind.

After returning from some summer adventures I figured if I didn't get the BBs done soon, I may have to give them to Yaya  for a wedding gift and that seemed a little ridiculous.  After all, who would want to sleep on a lower bunk as an adult?  That would be no way to promote marital harmony.  I was not going to drive a wedge between Yaya and the future Mr. Right.  So, I promptly got to work.

I decided to use some paneling that we had leftover in the garage from another project to create the beds facade.  I also modified the plan to include rectangular windows that looked more like a craftsman home.  I love the look of craftsman homes and since I am not currently living in one, I could create a pseudo one in our home.

When I had finished the front and back sides of the BBs it was time to make the stairs.  Miraculously, the stairs came from one sheet of 3/4 plywood.  They are awesome and have storage in the sides.  Doing the railing was a challenge for me, but I really like how it turned out.

Next, after completing some trim work, it was time to prime the whole thing.  We put the pieces together in the back yard and I spent some time with the paint sprayer turning everything white.  After the primer dried it was time for it to go inside!  Each piece was fairly heavy, but the front facade was hernia inducing!  Nellie was a trooper and helped me to navigate it up the stairs late on a Saturday night.

Once it was put together it was time to make it beautiful.  First we needed a roof:

Then it was time to paint.  We took a trip to our neighborhood Walmart with the kids to pick out the colors.  We chose Kermit Green, Miss Piggy Pink, and Purple.  We also picked up some really cool sparkly paint that is a clear coat with glitter mixed in.

After a few nights of painting it was ready for some lights and pennants.  We also bought some drawers from Ikea, put them on casters and made drawer fronts for them.  Nellie found some cute little rugs for the stairs, and for good measure we added a light fixture on the front and a working light switch!  Since I couldn't find a light fixture that was the right size that I liked, I ended up making one instead.  Yaya loves to turn it on and off ad nauseam.

Overall, I would say it has been the most satisfying of my projects so far.  The girls love it and it makes me feel like a good father whenever they talk about it.  When we got home from a Disney trip last week, the first thing the girls did was run upstairs to their beds.  They cheered when they saw them again, like they'd been worried they had been a dream.

If I had it to do over again: I probably wouldn't have tried to go the cheapest route possible because it ended up being a pain.  Total cost to do everything, including paint was probably around 350-400.  (Partially because I chose not to do a full back wall.)

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