Some projects don't take a lot of time. Other projects are massive undertakings that require a ridiculous amount of planning and work.
And then there are projects that sort of take on a life of their own.
Like the reclaimed wood laundry room island I just finished up for a client in Kirkwood; I worked on this thing, off and on, for almost 3 months.
I've written some blogs, or at least shared some pics here (and instagram) of various parts of the project along the way, but for anybody that wasn't following along I'll go ahead and start from the beginning and give the abridged introduction.
A while back, through the magic of instagram and hashtags, I crossed paths with some people in Kirkwood that were in the midst of a huge house renovation and addition project. They had purchased a house (I typed out the word "house" but I really meant "mansion") that had been built in 1858 and was in mostly original condition. Maybe not immacuately maintained over the years, but original nonetheless. I can't really put into words - I make the sawdust, I'm not a wordsmith - just how rad the place is, but it's listed on the National Register of Historic Places, so that ought to tell you a little something. And here's what the front door looks like from inside the house:
See? Rad. You throw an arched transom on just about anything, and it's rad by default.
Anyways...part of the homeowners' project included a pretty substantial addition, which meant tearing into part of the original house, or at the very least, what had been a two story addition to the original house sometime during the 19th century. Apparently the addition had been the kitchen at some point, with servants' quarters above it. Being the awesome people that they are, the homeowners had their GC deconstruct the portion of the house/addition where some new work was going to be taking place, and all the framing/sheathing lumber was saved and stored off site.
I was given the privilege and responsibility of using that lumber, whatever I needed, to build what would become a fairly large island for the homeowners' laundry room.
The clients gave me some ballpark parameters to start with for the design: 6' long, 3' wide, 3' tall. Additionally, one side needed to accomodate six conventionally sized laundry baskets via some open shelving or cubbies, while the other side needed to have four bins, with glass fronts, that opened for access. After a few convesations and design iterations, I came up with this:
Everybody was on board with the design, so I went ahead and pretty much built that exact thing.
Except it wasn't all that easy; size and weight considerations meant building the piece in three separate chunks: the top, the narrow bin side, and the not-so-narrow cubby side. One side not mirroring the other further convoluted the process; I had to build this thing in such a way that the two completely different sides could be built as standalone pieces, put together to look like one solid piece, disassembled for delivery purposes, and then reassembled on site without having anything fall apart beforehand. It was a challenging build to say the least.
I won't walk you through the construction step by step, because for the most part it was a lot of the same thing over and over and over and over again: make 19th century reclaimed wood nail free-ish, flat-ish, straight-ish and square-ish, then make a bunch of cuts, then glue things together, then assemble, then wash, rinse, repeat. Or something like that.
But what I will do is show you some pics of the work that took place along the way.
The first chunk I built was the landry basket cubby side, which was about 6' long, 2' deep and 3' tall...and ate up a LOT of lumber:
Then I built the side that would get the four operable bins, which was an easier build than the cubby side in that it was a slightly different version of the thing I just built (and smaller!), but it took a minute to come up with a way to tie the two sides together so as to appear to be one solid piece, yet still be 100% separable for the purposes of transportation (and hauling this stuff up a LOT of stairs):
While building the bin frame was easy enough, the bins themselves...LOTS of joinery. Using glass front panels, instead of wood, took some joinery methods out of play and forced me to really think through the bin design before cutting up any of the reclaimed wood. Another challenge was that by using solid wood for every single piece, I had to factor in seasonal expansion and contraction, meaning I had to make sure that when Mother Nature decided things would grow or shrink, I provided enough room for them to do so. Long story short, the face frame of the bins is held together with bridal joints and glue. The face frame is attached to the bins themselves by way of sliding dovetails that nobody will ever ever ever ever see or know are even there, so you'll have to trust me, but sliding dovetails were used. The bin sides are joined together via rabbets (that's not a typo), glue and a couple strategically placed screws, while the bottoms of the bins sit in a dado (a little channel) that's cut around the perimeter of the bins. No problem, right?!
And then...there was the top. The tops - tabletops, countertops, any top - are always a lot of fun to build, especially after dealing with the mental side of trying to come up with a decent way to overcome the design and logistical obstacles of the more complex furniture piece components. Tops are (sort of) easy...get everything flat and square, throw down some glue, clamp everything together, and then a little detail work and she's done. I didn't have to use the bench (hand) plane too much on this one, which was nice for a change. Conversely, once it was all assembled and I realized one of the boards had a pretty healthy split right down the middle of it, I added five dutchmen to hold the split together, and every last bit of those had to be hand cut with a chisel.
Once I had all the components pretty well knocked out, I went through everything to check for any ways to improve what I'd built, or fix any little mistakes I might have made (I make 'em). One of the things that didn't sit well with me were a few holes that had been made by nails (where I attached the face frames to the cubby structure and the bin structure) and screws (I had to fabricate 4x4s for the corner posts since none of the reclaimed lumber existed in those dimensions, and I had to drive a few trim screws to hold things tight until the glue dried). I got to thinking...how can I make those holes go away? I happened to save all the square cut nails I pulled out of all the lumber before working with it, so I ended up using almost all the nails I pulled out...clipped the heads + another 1/8" or so off each one...and then drove them into the screw holes. I basically renailed the reclaimed wood after I denailed the reclaimed wood. In short, I used the original nail heads to cover the screws and give the piece an extra feel of having been made by hand. Another round of poly on everything, and those nail heads were sealed in pretty well.
At this point, all that was left was delivery and assembly. 17 separate pieces got transported to the clients' house in Kirkwood, along with a wide variety of tools, and I spent probably 8 hours getting the thing assembled, level and fully functional. Good times.
But really, it was a lot of fun. Maybe not the actual labor involved in carrying things to trucks and then from trucks into houses and up stairs, but everything else...it's pretty cool to see something you built - but never fully assembled in the shop - come together on site. And I still get geeked out a little bit thinking about how old that lumber is; there were a few boards in the stack that were crazy wide, like 15"-16", and counting the growth rings on one of those boards...it was like 9" from the outer ring on the board to the pith (center of the tree), and @ 20 rings per inch and 1 ring per year of growth, that means the lumber - that board anyhow - had been a tree for at least 180 years prior to getting cut down. Even if the original house's addition (where the reclaimed wood came from) was built in 1900 - and the National Register people say it was built no later than that - that means some, if not all of that lumber started growing as trees back in the 18th, maybe even the 17th century. It absolutely boggles my mind that I just built a silly rock solid piece of furniture out of material that's been around in one form or fashion for 300+ years.
Regardless, she turned out pretty well.