Sunday, September 2, 2012

I Built My First Piece Of "New" Furniture!

I'm so excited to share this project; even though it doesn't involve junk.   I wanted to share it because it was an opportunity for me to use some of my favorite tools and  also learn some new even includes a small upholstery lesson.  I hope you'll find this information useful in your own projects....and true to form, I couldn't help but include a couple of recycled items....

My son asked me to "help" him build a gear desk; so, of course, I enthusiastically said yes!  But first I would have to find out what a gear desk was.  My son is a sound engineering student in his senior year of college and has turned his apartment bedroom into his workspace.  Apparently, a gear desk holds all the equipment used in sound engineering.

Why not just buy one?

First, they are quite expensive; and second, my son is limited on space and needed his desk to be a custom size to accommodate his current computer system but allow him to grow.

Since I've never done this before, I approached it as I would a sewing project.  Back when I first started working with wood, I realized that building something is very similar to sewing; you're just working with wood instead of fabric.

We started with a very rough sketch including dimensions.  We decided to use oak veneered plywood to keep the cost down.  Since plywood sheets are 4'X8' I simply laid out the pieces as if they were a sewing pattern on fabric to figure out how many plywood sheets we would need for this project.

We figured three sheets of plywood and headed to Lowe's.  While we were there, we picked up a 4' square to help with measuring and laying out the pattern, some oak veneer tape, wood stain and polyurethane.

Tip:  I learned something new....when cutting plywood, use a plywood blade on your circular saw.  It has finer teeth closer together which will help avoid splintering.  Also, cut with the good side down.  Another trick is to place blue painter's tape down, draw your line on the tape, cut through the tape and then just peel it off.

This is what happens when you don't use the blue tape.  The other thing that can happen is that if you have to start and then stop the circular saw, you'll get a bit of unevenness along the edge.  You will need to sand this smooth before applying the veneer; otherwise, you risk the veneer only adhering to the "proud" points in the wood leaving an air pocket.  That's where your veneer will come loose some day...not something you want after all your hard work.

Because I do a lot of sanding, I buy the contractor rolls of sticky back sandpaper.  I just cut off a piece and stick it to a scrap of wood for a sanding block.  Just run it back and forth evenly along the edge until the wood is perfectly smooth to the touch.  I find if you close your eyes or just look away, your hand will tell you when it's ready.

 Once all the pieces are cut, it's time to veneer the edges that will be exposed; a first for me.  It's really easy since the edging is pre-glued.  All you need is the veneer edging which I found at Lowe's in the aisle with all the fine wood trim, the Band-It cutting tool (optional), a pair of scissors, an iron, and a brayer (optional).

Cut the veneer to the approximate length with scissors.  Line up the veneer along one side, and using a hot iron press the tape down onto the cut edge of your board.  If you mess up, just pull if off and start again.  It's very forgiving because the glue is still there, you just have to reheat it.

Then, I used a brayer from my craft tool box to roll along the edge and press the veneer down as the glue cooled.  This is how I found out it was important to sand the edge first.  You can actually feel the unevenness if you did not sand first.

Then, trim the excess at the corner.

After you've veneered the exposed edges, you want to clean them up so that you end up with what looks like a solid piece of wood and not plywood.  While this seems like a lot of work, it's really easy and cost saving on such a big project.

For trimming, I used the Band-It tool which was pretty cool.  It has a blade on both sides and runs flat along the edge of the board trimming away the excess.

As I said, the Band-It tool is optional.  You can skip the trimming and just start with a medium grit sandpaper on a sanding block to clean up the top edge.  I used this even after the trimmer.  It's best to work "into" the board instead of away from the board where you could pull the veneer away.  It's a good idea to keep the iron hot so that as you're sanding, if you do find edges that are a bit loose, you can just reheat them.

 Finish with a fine grit sanding block or I like to use a sanding sponge for this part.  At this point, I sand the whole piece with the fine grit sanding sponge to ready my pieces for staining.

Your finished product should look like a solid piece of oak.

Working with the veneer edge gave me all sorts of ideas for craft projects.  I can't wait to use the leftovers....tune in for my future posts on this topic....

Now to the fun part!

 One of my favorite tools is a Kreg Jig.  This tool comes with simple instructions and a DVD.

The Kreg Jig helps you to drill pocket holes that will allow you to join two pieces of wood with the strongest joint possible and  hide the screws.

The kit includes everything you need.  It comes with a drill bit that has a depth collar adjustment to give you the right pocket hole depth.  Simply line the drill bit up with the line for the thickness of your wood; mine was 3/4".  Then, line the collar up against the jig and tighten the collar with the allen wrench provided.  (The booklet and dvd will have very clear instructions).  There's a drill guide adjustment to ensure your screw is at the center of the workpiece for the strongest joint possible.  Then drill into the appropriate holes, depending on the width of your material.  The instruction guide even tells you what length screw to use depending on the thickness of your material.

For this project, I decided how the desk would be assembled so that I could drill all my holes prior to staining.

I hope I don't lose you here but this is how I decided to assemble my project:  I drilled holes on the inside of all the side pieces along the upper edge to receive all the tops and along the bottom of the side bridge pieces to secure them to the desk top after the bridge is complete.  I drilled holes on the back side of all the ends of the horizontal support pieces (shown) which will screw into the sides.  I also drilled holes on the under side of the desk's two base pieces to screw them to the base sides.

Now, it't time to stain.  I decided to stain everything before I put it together because it's easier to get a nice even finish when working on flat pieces than trying to deal with all the corners.

We chose Rust-oleum's Wood Stain in Kona for a rich warm medium-dark brown finish.  One coat of stain and two coats of Rust-oleum's Ultimate Polyurethane followed by a final rub with 0000 steel wool and I'm ready to assemble.   I'm sooooo excited!

Because I have to drive this monster 3 1/2 hours north and then haul it to a third floor apartment in an elevator, I'll be assembling the bridge in three pieces and the two base sections in my workshop but final assembly will have to wait; fingers crossed.

The first thing I need to do is install the gear desk hardware.  My son purchased and shipped these parts to me.  Apparently, sound engineering equipment is a standard size.  Different components screw into this mounted hardware.  I wanted all the hardware set back a tiny bit from the edge so that I would have room for some panels that will cover the empty space until he has enough equipment to fill the desk.  (Guess I know what will be on his Christmas list!)   I used two scrap pieces of wood to be my "helping hands".

With my large pieces flat on the work table, I used a scrap butted against the edge of the wood.  Then, I used a second scrap the width of my set-back on top of the wood and butted the hardware into that scrap.  This way, I use the same pieces of wood as my guide and all my hardware will be mounted the same distance from the edge; no tape measure, no error.

I got a little anxious and started assembling without taking good pictures.  I will, however, show you one of my other favorites tools; clamps.  They are an absolute necessity when you are trying to join two pieces of wood; they are your second set of hands.

Lay one of the side pieces on the table, take a support piece and brush a little wood glue onto the end.  Position the support piece and clamp the whole thing to the worktable.  This will give you excellent support.  Screw all the supports to one of the side pieces first.  You'll have what looks like a table with three legs.  Lay the other side piece on the worktable; add glue to the ends of all the support pieces, and one at a time, clamp the support piece from the finished side (on the top) to under your work table.  This will give you good support while you're screwing the whole thing together.

Notice from the photo that all the screws are on the back side so they are hidden.

The project was going so well at this point, I thought I would get ambitious and add a drawer on the side that will hold a CPU.  It just seemed like wasted space.  Here's where a recycle comes in... YEAH...

I just happened to have an extra drawer like the one on the left from a kitchen remodel.  Pretty grungy and "almost" the right size.

Confession:  I did have to take this section apart and trim about 3/4" to make the drawer fit.

The Tricky Part:  I had already drilled the pocket holes.

If I took all 3/4" off one side, I'd have to drill new holes otherwise my depth would be all wrong and the screws would pop through the side...not a chance!  So, I split the difference in half and trimmed a little off each side.  Then, I made up the discrepancy by using shorter screws on just that piece.  I'm sharing this with you just to prove that where there's a will, there's a way...just take your time and think it through.  Plans evolve and you just have to learn to adjust and roll with it.

Note:  The scrap pieces along the top is just there to keep everything square for transport until I put the whole thing together.

I've been working so hard on this triple digit my Honey took me on a "date" to the coast to escape the heat and take a "day off".....Ever the junker, I seized the opportunity to hunt some antiques stores for a special knob for the gear desk and a few things I've been keeping my eye out for friends....


Beautiful Sunset...check check!

Back to work on the finishing touches!!!!!  Michael asked for  a couple of specific things.  One, was that he wanted the edge of the desk trimmed in leather with padding because his wrists get sore from the edge of his desk.  I didn't really want to mount something padded to the desk because it would permanently effect the desk and to be honest I wasn't sure I could make it look nice.  My idea was to find something that I could upholster with leather and then just slide in onto the front edge of the desk.  Then it could be removed if he didn't like it.

I was off to Lowe's for a "recon" mission.....oh darn!  I'm sure I've mentioned it before but I love shopping in a hardware store.  I could spend hours.  In fact, this day I did....but it was great!  I found all sorts of things I needed to finish a few projects around the house.  Including just what I needed for this wrist cushion.  

Fortunately, while I was looking in the lattice section for something to help my wayward climbing jasmine, I spotted this wood trim that was labelled 3/4" (the size of my plywood).  It's a trim piece for when you want to build your own lattice panels using prefab lattice.  Although it's labeled 3/4" I need to have enough room for my leather to wrap around to the inside and still fit over my plywood.  So I took a piece of this trim over to the plywood aisle and tried it out on my plywood.  Sure enough it fit with just enough room for my leather.  

I want to have enough cushion to make this wrist pad useful so I'm going to use one layer of Dacron and then a layer of cotton batting.  

I use Cam Tack, a spray adhesive used by automotive and furniture upholsterers to attach my Dacron and batting.

First, I cut a piece of Dacron not quite to edge of the wood because I don't want a lot of bulking up at the edge.

Next, I cut a piece of cotton batting to the edge of the wood and then once glued on, I trimmed it just to the edge.

Michael requested leather for the wrist cushion so I showed him this piece of red leather left over from a job back when I was decorating....I knew I hung onto this for a good reason!  He thought it was great but we both decided it was probably a little bright.

I decided to do a little test using the Kona stain from the desk to darken and warm up the red.  I figured if it dried okay, using the same stain would make it more complimentary to the wood.  It worked fine so I just went for it.

As scary as it seems, just brush the stain on and let it set a minute or two then wipe it off.  I ran out of Cam Tack and didn't want to drive the hour round trip to get more so I decided to use rubber cement to glue down the leather...happy accident.  It was much easier to just rub off the rubber cement if I got any on the leather....the Cam Tack would have been a permanent mess.

Just brush the rubber cement on both pieces (the leather and the inside of the wood) and let it set a few seconds before putting them together.  I used clothes pins to hold it in place while the glue dried.

 This is where patience comes in handy....Just like when upholstering, take the time to cut away any excess material that will cause bulking.  Fold and glue the sides down first; using the clothes pins to keep everything in place while the glue dries.

When I went to fold in the end piece, I realized it was going to be a pretty tight fit on the desk so I decided to use a piece of scrap from the plywood to hold everything together while the glue dried.  That way I would be sure it fit in the end.

The last detail Michael asked for were some blanks to cover the areas where he doesn't have equipment (this is a desk to grow into).  He had sent me one metal blank that you can buy but he wanted me to build some for him.  I used 1/4" MDF and sanded and rounded the edges.  The metal blanks have a textured finish so I found a multicolor textured spray paint.

After the paint, the panels were a little too sandy of a texture and too gray.  I sanded the panels with a sanding sponge and then gave them a coat of Fiddes Supreme Wax in Rugger Brown.   Just brush it on with a chip brush and wipe away all the excess.

After a final buffing and wiping, my MDF panels look pretty close to the metal blanks.

One last tip:  If you don't seal your wax can completely, it will dry out over a long period of time.  I keep an old blow dryer in my workshop and use it to melt the wax in the groove of the can.  Then I just wipe it clean with an old t-shirt and replace the lid.

Tah Dah!!! Finally!!!!  This project was more than I expected when I said, "Sure, I'll help.  It'll be a fun family project!"  But I'm so glad we did it.  Michael designed it and together we drew up a plan.  The three of us shopped together to pick everything out, Ray and I cut the pieces, I drilled, veneered, sanded, stained and assembled.  Then Ray and I spent a wonderful few days delivering the finished product.  

Everything went together and fit perfectly.
Even Biggy, the cat, approved.  Notice the small disk on the left of the desk?  I found Michael a coaster in an antique store that looked like a vinyl says "Whatever It Takes"...because his mother would not be happy to see a ring on the desk :)

I'm sure Michael will enjoy this desk for many years to come... and I'll enjoy knowing that there's a little part of me there with him


  1. I do accept as true with all the concepts you've presented to your post. They're really convincing and can certainly work.
    Still, the posts are very brief for starters.
    May just you please lengthen them a little from next time?
    Thanks for the post.
    my web site :: you gotta read this blog

    1. Thank you for your comment. I did check out your website and am curious how you found my blog?

      I'm new to this and appreciate your feedback. My goal is to share the things I am learning as I tackle new projects and at the same time keep them brief enough to interest the reader.

      If you have a specific question about a technique that you would like me to elaborate on, I would be happy to do so.

  2. That’s a great project, Sherri! You gave nice tips for DIY furniture makers out there. More importantly, your son’s desk is durable, functional, and pleasing to the eyes. These are the things people are looking for in quality furniture. Wonderful job!

    1. Thank you Gerry for your nice comment. I really appreciate the feedback and the chance to see that someone actually reads it!



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