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Posted by Terry in Hayfork, CA on 11/14/2011

Well, it's finally time to build the entertainment center that we've been designing for quite some time now. The area has been just a clutter of TV's (our daughter had a small TV out to play video games on because I wouldn't let her plug into the big plasma TV), game systems, CD's, DVD's, speakers on top of speakers on top of cinder blocks just to get the height right for listening, etc. It was basically a mess and we didn't even like to sit over there to watch TV because of it. It was time for a change, or should I say, it was time to finish what we'd started.

I designed the entire entertainment center on the computer using AutoCAD software, with all measurements down to the nearest 1/16th of an inch. Creating the materials list was quite a task, since I had never done this before. I had to figure out how many pieces of the cabinet I could get out of a single piece of cherry stock. This was difficult, because you don't know what sizes are available until you get to the lumberyard. Luckily our lumberyard is close by (20 minutes away) so going back for another piece isn't too difficult, but I didn't want to do that - I wanted to get it right the first time. Measure twice, shop once!

After my wife and I spent almost two hrs. at the lumber store figuring out what pieces of the cabinet come out of what pieces of lumber we were on our way back home with a small but fairly expensive load of solid cherry wood and some prefinished maple ply for the drawer boxes. Once home we began by building the drawer boxes, which went pretty smoothly. After that we began on the solid cherry stock, ripping it down to the correct widths for all the various pieces. After that, they got cut into smaller sections on the compound miter saw. From there, I moved onto the router station to put a 45-degree profile on some of the pieces that will make up the drawer fronts. These cabinets were designed to match those that we bought for the kitchen, laundry room, and wet bar.

Building the infill panels was quite a pain. First I had to rip the full 1" thick solid cherry down to 3/8" thickness, then cut to the right length and biscuit-join together to make a solid panel, but being so small it kept wanting to buckle. Additional scrap boards and clamps were required to keep it flat. You know, you can never have too many clamps! It was a bit crazy looking, but I managed to get it all clamped together and flat too. Here's a very important tip: when gluing up the frames, be sure to get as much glue out of all the inside corners as possible, because once the glue hardens it won't take a stain like the real wood does and thus you can see the glue. I used a t-shirt and the tip of a pocket knife to clean out the inside corners. Once everything is dried and hardened, you can unclamp it all and begin the tedious task of sanding. For the face frames I started with 100 gr. sandpaper on my random orbital sander, then I switched to 150 gr. and then finally to 220 gr. Be sure not to round over any edges you don't intend to. It can happen very quickly and can be difficult to fix.

The infill panels were the most difficult. I started with my belt sander and used an 80 gr. to get it all level. Then I switched to a 120 gr. belt. After that I switched to my 150 gr. random orbital followed by the 220 gr. Be sure to get yourself a decent dust mask - your lungs will thank you for it! For the drawer front frame I still had to rout out a small recess for the infill panel to rest in. This was done on the router table in a few quick passes. All that was left was to chisel out the corners by hand. A very sharp chisel will make this easy. Warning! Make sure to keep all of the small chiseled pieces out from under the piece your working on. I missed a few and the pieces made small dents in the face of the drawer fronts! Arghhhh!

At this point I looked at it and thought, hey, I started out with a long stick of lumber and have already turned it into this almost finished cabinet, a little dent can't be that difficult to fix. Although this seems like the worst thing that could happen, it is fairly easy to fix and all you need is a little hot water. First, get a glass and partially fill it with water and put in the microwave (or use a teakettle on the stove) for one minute. Be careful when removing as it will be hot, but hey, it's supposed to be! Using a teaspoon, pour a few drops of water on the dent and let it sit there. The moisture and the heat will get into the fibers of the wood and will cause it to swell, thus restoring the wood to the original condition. You will most likely have to repeat this a few times until the dent has disappeared. Let the wood dry and then sand again.

Well, here it is the week before Thanksgiving and we're trying to build the countertop for the cabinets. I've had the ironwood for a few years now, sitting on the floor in my garage, and at 14' lengths I'm glad to have the space back that it was taking up. Been working a little bit each night in preparation for the glue-up. Ideally I should have built this a month or two ago when the temperatures were warmer and the wood was more stable and the glue would set up better, but when things are busy you take what you can. So, last night Lori and I assembled the boards using #10 biscuits and plenty of Elmer's Wood Glue MAX, which is stainable. This is very important, because any small gaps where the glue may show will absorb the stain and you won't notice it as much. I'll let it dry for 48 hrs before I begin the task of sanding to a smooth finish, a process which I believe will take about two hrs. After that comes the stain and then the finish. Hopefully it will all be done by next week Wednesday so we can take it up to the ranch to install over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Well, the sanding didn't go as planned. First off, I spent about two and a half hrs. sanding the countertop down to where it was nearly finished. I wanted to flip it over and sand the bottom so it would be flat when installing. If any marks got on the underside while sanding it would be okay, since I still had the final 220 gr. sanding to do. However, when I turned it over I realized that I had been sanding the bottom, which would never be seen. Crap! Well, looks like another two hrs. of sanding is called for. Sanding the top went much faster this time, probably because I practiced on the bottom first. Once sanded smooth down to the 220 gr. on my random orbital sander, it was ready for a quick coat of Espresso stain. This is a really dark stain and I still wanted to see the grain of the wood come through, so I only left the stain on for about three minutes.

The ironwood is so dense that the stain doesn't penetrate very fast, giving you time to wipe it off before it dries. When applying the stain with a  sponge brush, once I got to the end I immediately started over by wiping off as much of the stain as I could. I let the stain dry for 24 hrs and then did a very light sanding with a 300 gr. sanding sponge and then used some tack cloth to remove any dust before applying the finish. Let each coat dry for 24 hrs, sand with 300 gr., wipe off with tack cloth, apply another coat of finish. Repeat this process until you have the desired finish you are trying to achieve. I will be putting on four coats of finish for my final product.

Well, it seems that nothing always goes as planned. The outside temps of 50 degrees aren't great for applying finish. It took 48 hrs. for the first coat to dry. The second coat just never really seemed to dry at home and I was running out of time, so I wrapped the countertop up and took it up to the other house to finish. We got a little rain on the way, so I was happy that I'd wrapped it in blankets and two separate tarps. It was nice and dry when we arrived at 7 pm. We set the countertop up on the dining table, using Rockler's Bench Cookies (basically 1" thick rubber spacers to hold your project off the work surface) - Those have been one of the best little things I've bought in a long time, as they do exactly what they are intended to do and there's no slipping at all. We built a nice fire and warmed up the house, hoping this will dry the second coat of finish so I can apply the third coat.

The next day the finish was hard, so I figured it was dry enough to apply the third coat. I did a light sanding and applied the finish. The house was nice and warm at 76 degrees. Two hrs. later I came in to check on the countertop and found a large area full of dried, hardened bubbles in the finish! I tried a light sanding, but the finish was so hard that the 320 gr. sanding sponge didn't even touch it. I tried my random orbital sander with some 220 gr. on it. That was working until it burned right through the finish and the stain. Now I had some bare wood showing. Well, that was all I needed to see before I decided to sand it all the way down to the bare wood and start all over. Talk about being disappointed. So, only being there for the weekend I knew I couldn't finish it there. I decided to fit it to the space instead and would take it home to do the final finish work. Lori helped me take it in and out of the house about six different times while I was scribing it to the walls. At 9 feet long and about 100 lbs., its a two-person job.

Back at home we brought it inside the house to finish this time, instead of trying to do it in the cold garage. I stained it again and let dry for 24 hrs., then applied a coat of finish. Let dry for 24 hrs., sand, wipe, apply second coat. I also contacted General Finishes, the manufacturer of the stain and finish, and told them about the bubbles in the finish. The lady who was helping me said it could have been an old can of finish, so she sent me a new can at no charge. Now that's customer service!

Once it was all done, I had to wrap it up and take it back to the other house again. At least this time it knew it would fit perfectly. All that was left to do was drill a small 1/4" hole for the speaker wires to come up through behind each speaker. I think that all in all it came out pretty good, for a rookie. I made a few mistakes along the way, but I learned too, so the next time will be that much easier.


Raw lumber: 4/4 solid cherry, varying widths and lengths
Ripping the boards into the correct widths.
Routing an edge profile.
Drawer fronts all cut and routed.
Building the drawer boxes.
Prefinished maple ply. Gluing up and nailing.
Assembly of the face frames and drawer fronts.
Use plenty of glue, just be sure to clean off the excess after assembly before it sets up.
Drawer Front Frame - there will be a solid cherry infill panel in the center.
Test Fit
Installing the drawer boxes.
Yep, they still fit... duh! Just slid into position for a different look.
Furring out the wall to beef it up for a thicker look before it gets covered with slate. It was a little too skinny before.
Turns out the wall was skewed from top to bottom. Had to shave off a good portion of the bottom and then shim the entire front face out to get it all square.
What a difference!
The slate on the wing wall will match that of the stair risers and the wet bar and wood stove hearths.
Countertop. Biscuits at 8" o.c. and plenty of glue. Here the glue is dried and ready to sand.
The 36 gr. really takes it down fast. Sand across at 45 degrees to the grain and then switch to the opposite 45 degrees. Repeat when switching sanding belts to lesser grit until you're almost ready for the random orbital sander.
Final sanding with belt sander (120 gr.) goes with the grain.
Final sanding with 220 gr. on random orbital sander. Love the tight grain of this wood.
Applying the stain.
Rubber gloves will help keep your hands clean at this point.
I knew I added those outlets for a reason - lighted Christmas Village
So, this is Phase One of the Entertainment Center, complete. Phase Two is the cabinets and shelves for the equipment side, behind the wall that gets the slate. Coming soon!

Posted by RogerC in Phoenix, AZ on 11/17/2011

RogerC's Forum Posts: 53
Interview Answers: 3

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Outstanding work! Looks great... we'd like to see a photo once the slate is in.

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