Cabinetry in Extremis: “handyman special” edition

This pack of sandpaper has been in my mother's collection since the 1980s, when such items were still being manufactured in England

This pack of sandpaper has been in my mother’s collection since the 1980s, when such items were still being manufactured in England

My mother and sister decided to do something about the space-hogging, impossible-to-keep-tidy storage shelves in my sister’s tiny bathroom when I was visiting them last weekend. I’d often wished that I could build a shallow cabinet for that bathroom–something more interesting, durable, and practical than they were likely to find at Target, Lowe’s, or IKEA–but living so far away and visiting by plane, not by truck, made it impractical.

As we discussed possibilities for the space I found myself increasingly determined to build something rather than have them buy it. There was just one small catch: they’d waited until the eleventh hour to get going on this project. I had a plane to catch the next day. So we dutifully checked the stores. They offered various ensembles in medium density fiberboard. All would have eaten up more floor space than necessary, and in every case the price was steep for something that would be a practical and aesthetic compromise.

Family friend and carpenter David Heeren had given my mother a pair of old doors he’d found at a garage sale. They were in great condition, the older-growth softwood aged to a lovely patina, rusty shadows of long-gone hinges adding character. If I planned a cabinet around them all we’d need would be a few 1-by-6 boards.

By now it was late afternoon. We were going for it.

Professional drawing and materials list

Professional drawing and materials list

Fortunately my mother’s welding studio located next to my sister’s cottage had many of the tools I needed.

Florida in March 2015 and work pics 028

Sawhorses in the grass made for a workable bench

It wasn’t quite as simple as hanging a couple of old doors on the crudest of cabinet structures, a box. The cabinet sides had to be notched for the chair rail and baseboard (thanks for the use of your jigsaw, John Freeland), and the braces on the backs of the doors had to be trimmed. Limited time and less than ideal working conditions called for <choke> creative treatment in hanging the doors. I trimmed them to fit the available space, then notched the braces so  the doors could be hung full-overlay style* using steel butt hinges from the hardware store, screwed (shh) straight onto the cabinet parts without mortising. Dave generously let me rip an astragal molding of sorts on his table saw.

Florida in March 2015 and work pics 029

Brace marked for trimming

Since my mother's chisels were nowhere to be found, a bit of screwdriver improv was called for

Since my mother’s chisels were nowhere to be found, a bit of screwdriver improv was called for

Florida in March 2015 and work pics 031

One benefit of using old stuff: precious signs of earlier makers. This carpenter’s elegant script still indicates that this brace goes “Top.”

When all eight adjustable shelves are in place they’ll hold a lot. The 5-1/2-inch depth is perfect for bathroom stuff; the minimal protrusion makes the room feel twice as big as it did before.

Florida in March 2015 and work pics 035

We decided to leave the area under the bottom open for additional storage.

Fine cabinetry it’s certainly not. But it’s a solid piece of built-in storage furniture that will last decades–assuming that the next person in the house doesn’t consider it junk and replace it with the aforementioned store-bought fare. It has the kind of character that comes with using old stuff. Most important, my sister and mother love it.

*covering the face edges of the carcase

One response to “Cabinetry in Extremis: “handyman special” edition

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s