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Built in Basics

Built in Basics

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Published by jindi

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Published by: jindi on Mar 07, 2007
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07/05/2013

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62
FINE WOODWORKING
Photos: Michael Pekovich
hen designing and building themore utilitarian pieces for yourhome—entertainment centers, book-cases, corner hutches—you’ll inevitablyconsider the question: Should I make itfreestanding or built-in? The answer in- volves both aesthetics (which will lookbetter?) and economics (do you want tospend all of that time and effort on a pro-ject you’ll have to leave behind if youmove?). Sooner or later, you’re likely totackle a built-in.Over the last few years I’ve earned an in-creasing portion of my income from wood-
Level bases, modular construction,and scribing to walls are keys to success
BY TONY O’MALLEY 
Built-In Basics
 W
 
 working, and the majority of it has beenfrom built-in projects. Built-ins are popular with homeowners for two important rea-sons: First, they add value, becoming a per-manent, hand-crafted part of a home.Second, you can buy a piece of furniture ata store, but you can’t buy a built-in.Built-ins are a unique form of wood- working, sharing elements of furniture,cabinetry, and finish carpentry. Becausethe built-in is permanently attached to oneor more of the walls, the floor, or the ceil-ing of a room, the design goal must be tomake the built-in appear as an integralpart of the room. That means matchingand integrating the room’s features, espe-cially moldings, into the design. But abuilt-in also can stand out as a bold coun-terpoint to the design features of a room.Either way, a successful built-in requirescareful planning for its installation. Ideally,all of the finishing is done prior to installa-tion. That, in turn, leads to a number of construction techniques specific to built-ins, including modular cases, scribededges, and reveals or V-grooves to concealseams and joints where the cases or faceframes come together.
For this home office, separate cabinets, made of hardwood plywood, were screwed together on a level base. Then solid face-framepieces were nailed to the cases with the two outside stiles scribed to fit the walls. Crest and base moldings went on next. Shelves (onadjustable pins) and doors (on cup hinges) were installed, and last, the thick desktop slab was slid into place.
Outsidecases are off-set from thewall 1 in. toaccommodatean out-of-plumb wall.Cleats, 1 in. by1 in., support the centercabinet anddesktop.Desktop,1
1
 ⁄ 
2
in. thickCenter cabinet hasoverlay doors; caseedges are hiddenwith iron-on veneer tape.Fixed shelvesadd strengthand separatecabinetspaces.Built-in is left1 ft. short of  the ceiling,leaving oneless surface to scribe to.Casesarescrewed to each other.Cases arescrewed towall studs through their tops andbacks (below the fixedshelves).Leveling feetscrewed toinside of baseBack of the base is
1
 ⁄ 
2
in. short to keepit away from theedge of the floor.Lights go here toilluminate ceiling and recessedshelves.Tall cabinetshave insetdoors, flushwith faceframes.Outside stilesare scribed to the walls.Cases arescrewed to the bases.Base,
3
 ⁄ 
4
-in.-thickplywood, is
1
 ⁄ 
2
in.shorter than the target height toallow for shimming and leveling.Face frame,
3
 ⁄ 
4
-in.-thickcherry,splined tocaseCase,
3
 ⁄ 
4
-in.-thickcherry plywood, joined with biscuitsand screwsBack,
1
 ⁄ 
4
-in.-thickcherry plywood,screwed intorabbet in caseHardboardspline,
1
 ⁄ 
8
in.by
5
 ⁄ 
8
in.Extra layer of plywoodreduces the overhang behind the face frame.
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2003
63
Drawings: Bob La Pointe
ANATOMY OF A TYPICAL BUILT-IN
 
64
FINE WOODWORKING
This article follows the making of a built-in wall unit for a home office and includesmany of the typical challenges that built-ins present, especially those that involvebookcases and cabinets.
Start with the room
No two rooms are exactly alike, so no twobuilt-ins are alike either. It’s rare to findroom surfaces that are dead straight, letalone level and plumb. Yet a built-in muststand level and plumb if it’s to look rightand if the doors and drawers on the unitare to work properly.Every built-in starts with a careful assess-ment of the room conditions, in addition tothe obvious measuring of the space it willbe built into. The key to success is to scribeparts accurately where they meet the walls,floor, or ceiling, which requires cuttingthose parts oversize.
 Then work out the design
Built-ins run the stylistic gamut from tradi-tional to modern. A painted built-in gener-ally is less expensive than a natural orstained-wood version. In my painted built-ins, I use birch plywood for most case con-struction and solid poplar for the trim.Painted built-ins are more forgiving becausethe joints can be caulked and painted over.The built-in here was planned for in thehome’s original design and construction. Itfills the entire length of a 14-ft. wall butstops a foot short of the 8-ft. ceiling. It alsocalls for lights on top of the cabinets be-hind the crown molding and inside the topof each bookcase.The design is contemporary and straight-forward but with some subtle refinements worth mentioning. The wood is cherry,straight-grained in the face and doorframes. For contrast, the door panels areplainsawn with custom walnut pulls. Thefour tall cabinets are in the same plane at16 in. deep, with the upper shelves set back
BASES AND CASES
 START WITH LEVEL BASES
 Shim one base level.
Check it along its length and width. While leveling it,raise it to the target base height.
Use small squares of plywood 
as lev- eling feet.
 Screw these to the
base,which will remain level even when shift- ed slightly during later stages.
Raise and level the second base.
Use a level and a tight mason’s cord tobring the second base up to the samelevel as the first one.
Place two cases on each level base.
These cases should be sanded and finished beforeinstallation.
1

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