When I was a kid, my attitude was rotten, my work ethics were rotten and I had the rotten school marks to prove it. Somewhere along the way things changed for me. From that rotten little kid whose idea of reading was to look at the pictures in hot rod magazines, I now spend 75% of my waking hours studying everything I can on every subject imaginable; from architecture to zoology, and given that my so-called part-time job is that of a college instructor, I spend the rest of my time teaching.
So what does this confession have to do with woodworking? Everything.
This post is about the rebuilding of our kitchen. When I first started to consider this project I made the commitment that I would do it with hand tools. I felt that fabricating on this scale would advance my hand tool skills a thousand fold and take years off of my learning curve. Staying consistent with the rest of my life, I’d like to share what I learned with those of you that are considering doing a similar project…
Buy a damned table saw!
There was nothing major here. It was more to give the kitchen a face-lift, rather than reinvent the wheel. We kept the costs down mainly because we do not have any preconceived notions as to how long we are going to live here. I like the place well enough, I just hate the location; half way between living central and living in the country. Too far away from downtown for quick and easy commutes, but too much urbanization be worth the aggravation of commuting.
The place is a condominium built in the late 70’s when land and materials were cheap and labour was far less than today's standards. Because of that, by large urban-center standards, it is a huge three bedroom, two bathroom box. As is usual with these types of places, the kitchen is far too small, the fixtures far to cheap and the design far too ugly. Half the ceiling in the kitchen was covered with plastic panels in a cheap representation of those “Florida ceilings” that were so popular back in the late 70’s. The original floor had been replaced with the ugliest brown speckled terra cotta tiles ever made.
When my shor…er...petite wife started to constantly complain that the upper cabinets were too high, I started to look at what we could do.
I set out to:
- Lower the uppers a few inches, the amount lowered determined by the coffee maker
- Replace the junk original doors with 3/4” particleboard
- Reduce the space the original installment left for the fridge and stove
- Add a 16” upper and lower to the right end of the wall
- Replace the box above the fridge with a lower one, mounting it flush with the face of the fridge
- Add a divider between the fridge and cabinets to enclose it
- Reconfigure the original bulkhead to follow the new cabinet configuration
- To cover the fact that I was building this with the cheapest of materials, finish the new and existing with a better than average finish
- Rewire and add new lighting
- Replace existing floor
Here is what I started with. Actually, I had already lowered this side, added the lights, crown molding and took a door off when my son reminded me that I hadn’t taken a before picture…
Here is what it looks like now…Because I was using 3/4" particleboard for the slab doors (pre-primed birch ply for the boxes), I wanted to give it a better than usual finish, one that would replicate the old milk paint used until it became known lead would kill you. To get this I gave everything one coat of regular primer, sanded, then two coats of high-build primer. This is great stuff as it expands as it dries and makes it easy to get a smooth, flat surface. I then sanded that to death, then laid on three coats of the green oil paint, giving it sands in between each coat with 220 grit. After that I laid on three more coats of satin finish varathane, again sanding between each coat, this time with 320 grit. I still have one more coat of varathane to put on, but I going to give everything a month or so to cure completely before going at it again. After that last coat is hardened, I'll rub everything down with steel wool and give it all a coat of wax. I did this to one end piece and the finish is as smooth as glass, but has a very unique sheen to it, and does replicate that old milk paint of yore.
The biggest hassle was deciding what to do with the space left between the tops of the upper cabinets and the bulkheads. It was too narrow to be of any use and too much of a hassle to enclose, besides, if the next owner's wife is, dare I say, of a normal height, they will probably want to put them higher again. All I did was added a filler piece to the top edge of each box and applied crown molding along them. The filler gave me a larger gluing surface and brought the molding out so it was flush with the faces of the doors. The molding is actually chair rail as I thought the crown molding would be too much for this little kitchen and would attract too much attention to the space. Behind the molding I installed rope lights all the way along to use as night lights. Here is what I am greeted with when I fridge-dive at midnight...