Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Closet Makeover - part 2

 Relative to most weekends I spent a lot of time in the shop. I got in probably six hours on Saturday and another three hours on Sunday. 


Saturday morning I got started early by emptying my closet. It only took me an hour or two to move all the games off the top shelf and pick up the loose stuff off the floor and slide the plastic totes out of the way. It only took minutes to slide the bookshelves out of the closet and into the bedroom; however, that was pretty tense. Both bookshelves tucked into the sides of the closet were relatively heavily loaded and didn't have backs to stiffen them. I was still able to successfully slide them five or six feet without any disasters.

I'm horrible at remembering to get "before" shots

Saturday afternoon was spent moving my materials from the garage down into my shop. All my new plywood was 4 sheets cut down into 2'x4' quarter sheets so I could fit them into my Forrester. I also needed one full sheet of plywood I already had in my garage.

I started with taking one of my 2' x 4' quarter sheets and cutting cleats to hold up the bottom shelf. I somewhat arbitrarily chose 3" for my cleat height. I cut four pieces off one end for the cleats on the closet sides and front walls. I cut two pieces off one of the long edges for the back of the closet. This left me enough wood for one half the bottom divider / middle shelf support. I got the other half out of another one of the quarter sheets. It left a large off-cut but that's fine. Large offcuts eventually get used for something.

The front walls of the closet are only 14" wide and the pieces I'd cut for them were 24". I cut them both down to 13-1/2" so that they wouldn't be obviously visible from outside the closet. I then glued up the over-sized center shelf support / middle divider and put a bunch of clamps and weights on it.

While this was drying I started installing the cleats in the closet. I used my levels to find the high spot in the floors then drew a level line around the closet 13" from the floor using the high spot as my initial point. This will be the line I align all my cleats with when I put them in.

 For example:

I was then able to work my way around the closet putting the cleats in one at a time. I used my stud finder to locate studs, drilled countersunk pilot holes and then used 2-1/2" deck screws to fasten them in place. As you can see in the above photo I have predrilled pocket holes ever 8" or so in the cleats to hold down the bottom shelf.

When I got to the back center where the bottom shelf support / middle divider is going to go I used a temporary block of the right thickness to leave sufficient space. I used one of my deck screw to hold the block in place because I hadn't brought my pocket hole screws up yet.

I measured for the center of the back wall and aligned the temporary block with my marks.

This is definitely one of the cases where close is good enough. I got the block pretty close, then left some wiggle room in between the two cleats.

This work took long enough that I figured I could remove the clamps from my divider. After scraping the glue from the edges I trimmed the edges to be flat and square. From there it just needed to be fitted to the closet. I brought it upstairs and set it in place. I used a pencil set flat on the floor to scribe a line parallel to the floor, then did the same with the back wall. The floor wasn't level but it was flat enough that I decided to not bother cutting to that line. The back wall however needed to be cut. I did that on my table saw using my panel jig and some shims.

With the panel fit to the wall and floor I used a level to draw a level line on the panel from the back wall cleat out towards the door. I again made this cut using my panel cutting sled and some shims. Here's what it looked like after I put it in place. The level was in the shot because I was checking to make sure the front of the divider was level with the cleats on either side of the doorway.

I mean, it should be level but you never know. Those three points I was checking were the end points of the single point I started from - which is about halfway between the side wall and the lower divider / shelf support along the back wall. It is far less expensive to check now rather than to be trying to fit the next piece and have things not working and have to then try and figure out what's wrong.

Speaking of the next piece, that was the lower shelf.

I'd measured the size of this shelf to be 25" deep by 75-1/4" wide. I did the best I could to check for square in the closet but just to give myself a little wiggle room I cut the shelf about 1/4" short in each direction. I did cut the shelf on my table saw and while I appreciate that the rip fence capacity allowed me to make a 26" rip cut, followed by a cleanup cut at 25-1/2" and finally at 24-3/4" to get my final width I was not appreciating how heavy a full sheet of plywood is to cut down. I probably should have used my circular saw and guide to break it down in the garage before bringing the full sheet downstairs.

The sheet pretty much dropped into place. It was a bit awkward to get into the closet and then straightened out over the cleats but once I had the right side pushed into the corner against the cleats I was able to lower the left hand side. I'm really glad I trimmed the board to be a little smaller than the calculated opening because while the back was mostly straight and the corners relatively square, the two short front walls actually angled in a little bit and hung up the board. Some solid thumping with my fist did bring everything flat and didn't seem to damage the walls appreciably.

After getting the bottom shelf in place all that remained was shimmying underneath with my Makita Impact Driver and drive the pocket hole screws into place. And by shimmying I mean lots of grunting, twisting and trying to drive screws at angles my shoulders and arms didn't like. I am a little claustrophobic but being focused on the task and only being partially underneath the shelf didn't bother me at all.

That was Saturday... It doesn't seem like all that much but like a house foundation this step was critical to get right as the rest of the cabinets will be built in my shop and will not have much adjustability once they start to go in.


My primary goal for Sunday was getting my shelf box parts cut, joined, and glued. Then I could let them sit overnight to let the glue dry, add shelves, insert them into the closet, then reload the closet with all my games and books.

I won't keep you in suspense...  I didn't get all that accomplished.

Fundamentally my shelf boxes are going to be super simple. The sides, tops, bottoms, and shelves are all going to be 11-3/4" wide. My rough-cut quarter-sheets from Lowes are approximately 2' x 4'. So step one was ripping them all down to two pieces each, 11-3/4" wide.

I don't normally let boards just fall of the outfeed table onto the floor. However, after starting the saw, ripping one board, stopping the saw, walking around the saw to get the board and stack it on my New Yankee workbench then repeat just a few times, I realized it was going to take forever. Since all the boards were going to be cut down eventually, I started just shoving them through and letting them fall. Any banged up corners will be trimmed later in the next step.

That's a lot of boards. 26? 32? I don't have the count right in front of me; however, it was a lot. After ripping them all to width I made sure they were all square by trimming both ends using my crosscut sled. Cutting them to length was a little more dicey. I don't have a super wide crosscut sled as I don't normally need to do this and I am running out of space for sleds and jigs. Instead I used the table saw fence and a miter gauge to crosscut them all to the appropriate length. At least all the case pieces. I'm going to leave the shelves for after the cases are constructed so I can be more exact with the shelf lengths.

Yes, I know this isn't the safest way to make this cut; however, my table saw surface is slick so the boards didn't get that much friction. My saw blade is new enough that it cuts cleanly without a lot of force needed. I went very slow to make sure I didn't get binding. I also had an auxiliary fence on my miter gauge to help make sure I didn't twist the boards and get binding.

The next step was cutting the joinery on the case pieces. I'm using a 3/8" tongue and dado for my joints.  I started by installing a 3/8" dado blade in my table saw and set it to make a 3/8" deep dado. Close was good enough as I am leaving 1" of extra space on the side of the shelves. If I am off by 1/64" it won't affect the fit of the cases in the closet. I then cut dados on the top and bottom of all the sides to my four cases. I then added a sacrificial fence and cut tongues on the tops and bottoms of all the cases. I had lots of off cuts to dial in the rabbet for the tongue but it only took me one or two tries to get a tight fit.

I got the case pieces fitted tuning the tongues where necessary with my shoulder plane. I really like this tool. I know I could do the same with a block and some sandpaper but the shoulder plane can take a bigger bite and leaves a nice surface. 

With the cases fitted I cut my plywood for the backs. I've mentioned my mistakes in lumber purchases for this project in a prior post; however, I was able to make the quarter sheets for the 3/4" plywood work out just fine. However, I don't want to have seems in my backs and unfortunately I'd had the 1/4" luan cut down into quarter sheets as well and they just weren't going to fit. I ran out to Lowes Sunday morning to get two more sheets, this time cross cut to 48" then ripped to 40" which is the maximum width my Forrester can take in the back.

Then, I ran out of time in the afternoon. I had to make dinner and feeding me and my wife takes priority over woodworking...  usually...

Next Steps

I was hoping to get into the workshop Monday evening unfortunately I hadn't slept well the night before so I figured keeping fingers was more important than potential progress. I've got my case pieces ready for assembly so that's my next step. I'm going to glue the sides to the tops and bottoms. I've got good joints but I'm probably going to shoot some brad nails into them to "clamp" them while the glue dries. I have enough clamps to glue up all four cases at once but the sides aren't going to be visible. I may as well save myself the dozen trips from my clamp storage in the auxiliary workshop and just use my 18 gauge nailer.

I've got my backs cut out to slightly undersized (about 1/8") and I'll glue and staple them to the case with 18 gauge staples using the same nailer/stapler. This will help me square the case and will "clamp" it square while the glue is drying.

After the cases are assembled it will just be a matter of cutting the shelves to the right length, drilling pocket hole screws into the shelves then installing them. Then dropping the cases into place in the closet and reloading it.

Side Note

I don't use my extended table and fence on my table saw all that much; however, when I need to it is very nice. This last weekend I make dozens of cuts using the greater than 36" capacity of my extended table and fence. I think 39-3/4" was the widest cut I made.