The Temple of Whollyness

Building a built-in with reclaimed wood

The almighty AFTER pic.

Wendi and I both had fantasies about our dream house. It was an old Victorian with loads of character and details, and we would spend our evenings and weekends repairing it to its original charm.

The reality of the home buying scene in Portland is those houses are either out of our price range or are in terrible condition. Instead, we ended up with a lovely new house that's ridiculously functional but somewhat lacking in the 'character' department.

The dreaded BEFORE pic

This is the before pic. Ugh.

This post is about bringing nostalgic character to a new home.

Step 1

Building the frame

To build the lower cabinet, which would contain six drawers, I assembed a simple box and used a dado blade to cut slots for the drawer supports. Because I mirrored each cut from one side to another on the table saw, the dados will always be perfectly aligned (assuming the base is level). However, I didn't want any plywood edges showing, so ended up cutting the plywood a 1/4" shorter than the face of the drawers would be so I could later put on a face - basically a 1/4" thick veneer.

Closeup of the drawer assembly.

Step 2

Mounting the reclaimed wood

We sourced all our reclaimed wood flooring from Salvage Works, a fantastic shop that had everything we were looking for. I can't wait to see what we'll find on our next trip!

Building a reclaimed wood wall like this was deceptively difficult. First, you have attach boards to a stud, and the reclaimed wood will be nailed to these boards. Second, we mitered all our wood so it has that substantial, thick wood feeling that we were after.

Many edge pieces, all mitred to perfection.
Notice the vertical boards running up the walls.

This process took me a while, partially because mitering cuts that line up perfectly is really quite difficult. Being off even a 1/16th of an inch makes for a poor fit. The other part was that I rewired an electrical box incorrectly when I moved it, meaning I had to take down all the reclaimed wood to get at the original box when I was about halfway up the wall. Note to self - next time don't just test the outlet I'm moving, test all the outlets.

Step 3

Assembling the drawers

I've never built drawers before and found this to be the most intimidating part of the build. Fortunately, I had enough time to measure everything three times before cutting. The few times I only measured twice are the times I managed to measure incorrectly twice in a row, resulting in drawers that were 2" too narrow, or 1" too deep, or some combination thereof.

The only thing I'm unhappy with is the drawer slides I chose. There's a giant price desert between $5 and $20, and I just wasn't willing to throw $120 dollars on drawer slides. This turned out to be a big mistake. The $5 slides feel cheap, were a pain to install, and will one day be retired to my shop where the luxury of smooth movements isn't as necessary.

Notice the vertical boards running up.

My favorite part of the cabinet is the drawer faces. Wendi spotted a 16' long piece of wood that was severly worm-hole ridden. The organic nature of the shapes the holes create gives the piece a lot of visual interest and character.

Faced drawers with fancy handles.
Fancy drawers with less fancy handles.

Step 4

Finishing details - hanging the window, installing lights, and painting

I purchased some gas-powered struts, similar to what you'll find holding your trunk open in your car. I mounted these to the inside of the upper cabinet. Wendi had been busy replacing a broken piece of glass in a window we found, which included dremmeling the original glaze, cutting stained glass to a perfect fit, and reglazing it. It turned out beautifully!

We also installed some LED lights, mounted the flush-face veneer strips I made, and finally painted the cabinets. All that's left is planing a 3" thick slab of red cedar, which I'm building a router jig to help me with. But first the wood has to stop leaking delicious syrup.

What did I learn?

I learnt a lot. I now know that:

  • I can build drawers (don't forget to measure and validate continuously)
  • It's best to install kreg pocket hole joinery on the outside of drawers so you don't see the holes when you open the drawer
  • Circular saw are much safer to use on large stock than trying to balance something on a table saw
  • Expensive drawer slides are worth it
  • Salvage Works is one of my favorite places to go for inspiration
  • My wife is a master glass cutter
  • Most importantly I learnt that I can enrich my house with the combined imagination of my wife and my two hands
The almighty AFTER pic.