Thursday, 3 February 2011

Getting Er' Done One Piece At A Time...

I now have both sides and one shelf pretty much completed on my wife’s plant shelving unit. An expanded course load is keeping me busier than usual this term writing a lot of new curriculum. I am trying to take a few hours out every other day to get this project done, though.

As I work in a next-to-nothing area, it requires some out-of–the-box thinking. Because this particular project is so large, being able to build, assemble and finish it in my shop is out of the question. My shop is my office when it is not being used as a shop and vise versa. Having a project as large as this sitting in the middle of it would kill both uses of the room. I could assemble it and finish it in the diningroom, but I tend to shy away from actions that cause my wife to come down on me heavily, figuratively speaking, of course. I had a friend once whose wife came home to discover he had piled all her furniture at one end of the diningroom and was using the space to build a new dingy. Now that I think of it, I haven’t seen him since they divorced.

With this project, I plan to build and finish each part of it as I go, each piece getting stained and given a few coats of clearcoat before moving on to the next. When everything is ready for the final assembly, I’ll sand each piece down so once it is assembled, it will be ready for more finish coats. This shelf is the first to be completed using this new system.

It is a rather strange looking thing, isn’t it? There is a reason for this design, however. The wide frame below the shelf is there for three reasons. This shelving unit is to hold a bunch of potted plants and nothing weighs more, I think, than a bunch of large bowls of dirt with green things sticking out of them. The tall frame should support the weight. Each shelf gets its own grow light; a 4’ Fluorescent tube. The light’s fixture is mounted on the back of each shelf’s face-frame and hopefully it is wide enough to hide the ugly buggers. Finally, to get as much light as possible on the plants, only the enclosed storage cupboards, which is 18” high at the bottom of the unit, will get a solid back. This means there is a chance the whole thing will rack, so I am hoping these wide shelf frames will limit that. So there is a method to my madness.

The frames are dovetailed together, getting all that long grain to mesh with more long grain for a strong joint. The shelf flat is only glued to its frame rails in the centre 2’ of the width. I drilled three pocket holes, elongating them fore to aft, 10” in from the ends and one in the centre, using brass screws to do the deed. I hope this will not only be enough to hold the shelf in place, but accommodate wood movement when the thing shrinks and swells during the seasons, or my wife spills water on it. Hopefully, it won’t pull itself apart.

I am not a big fan of oak and one of my greater dislikes of it is the fact that the soft grain areas shrink so they are always lower than the hard grain. I researched a way to deal with this and came up with a flooring product, believe it or not. The stuff is called “TimberMate”, and I found it better than any grain filler I have used before. It comes quite thick, almost hard actually, but you can thin it up with water. You can thin it enough to apply with a rag or spread it on with a plastic or stainless steel trowel or paint scraper. Regular metal will cause this stuff to oxidize and turn black, but if it does, the black soon disappears when you sand. It comes toned to match a number of popular woods and you can even tint it if required. It has turned out to be just the ticket.

I started out using it to go after only the really noticeable areas. It dried in short order but I gave it 24 hours each time. It sands very easily, making dust that is very similar to baby powder. As the wood is red oak, I used their matching product and was quite uneasy with it the first go-round as it looked like it is going to stand out like no-body’s business. Once I sanded it, though, I quickly realized that the product is removed from the high points, which is the hard grain, and left in the low, which is the soft grain, and it is a perfect match in colour to those areas. Because I couldn’t tell which parts were filled and which weren’t, I went crazy with it. At 20 bucks an 8-ounce bottle, I think I’ll use it more sparingly on the next one.

Once sanded and cleaned, I taped off some of areas. I covered the ends with masking tape to ensure that no stain or clearcoat ended up on them to compromise the strength of the glue when the piece is assembled. Because of the lights inside it, I wanted to coat the bottom of the shelves with a highly reflective coating so I covered the inside horizontal surface as well for that same reason.

Once set, I gave it a coat of stain, brushed on, ragged off. I used “Old Masters” Gel Stain for this, mixing their Red Mahogany and Provincial colours together 50/50. It is the first time I used this thicker gel stain and I really liked it. It was much easier to apply and clean off than the old, runny style of yore.

I gave it 24 hours to dry and then gave it two coats of Clear Varathane with another 24 hours between those coats. This clearcoat is much shinier than I want, but I like the sheen I get by using higher gloss finishes, then fine steel wooling their shine away and polishing it back with finishing wax. I seem to get a deeper finish starting with higher gloss then I do with satin finishes.

After another 24 hours, I applied the reflective coating to the underside of the shelf, thinking it would be far easier to do as it laid flat on the table rather than wrestling with it from the bottom up once it was assembled. Chroma a PlastiColor Company makes this material and I found it in an automotive supply store. It is decal material used to add chrome rocker panel accents to car bodies so I thought it would probably withstand any moisture issues as well as being fade resistant. It shines nice too.

I don’t think the final result looks too bad. The dovetail joints came out all right without any gapping holes to fill. I do like the design with the double bead on the shelf edge and the single at the bottom of the face. I think they will do nicely at breaking up the mass of this overall design, because massive it is.

I have created a post dealing with the dovetails, or at least my humble way of dealing with them. If you have the time, please have a look and give me your feedback.



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