Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Office build along, pt. 8

When I last updated my office project in November, I'd routered down all the upright 2x12 boards along the far wall so that they'd fit in the space that was almost exactly 2 inches shorter than it needed to be. That was certainly a pain, but the real tedium had yet to commence.

To accommodate the horizontal shelving, I needed to cut notches in each of those uprights at a suitable height. The most effective way of doing so was to router a 3/4" wide slot 1/2-1/4" deep. Which is all well and good, except the shelving slots on one board need to match up with those of the adjacent uprights, otherwise the shelves turn out crookeder than a Trump cabinet appointee.

Easier said than done. For the life of me, I could not remember how I managed this trick a decade ago, so I got clever. First time out, I used tie-down straps to push two boards together in parallel (see below). Then I measured the shelf distance out and cut across both at the same time. This should make for perfectly matching slots, right? Wrong. I got anywhere from a half inch to a quarter inch variance. Ugh. Then I tried doing single boards, but measuring the next slot from the previous one. Even worse decision. One slight cutting error got magnified with each subsequent cut. Finally, I ended up doing what I probably did a decade ago, which is mark all the shelves along the board from the start, and cut from there.

I also ran into another problem. The ceiling in my new office is a foot higher than in my old one, so I naturally assumed I could fit in an extra row of shelves at the top. I began cutting the lower shelves, and about halfway up the board got that itchy feeling one gets when one sees a plan is about to go off the rails. It didn't look like I had enough room left. I measured, and sure enough, the upper two shelves would have to be about 9" tall each to fit. Which was a tight fit that could accept most books but not all. And it'd look weird. Double checking my numbers on the scratch pad, I realized I hadn't allowed enough room for the thickness of the actual shelves. Curses. Live and learn. Adjustments were made, so now you know why my bookshelves will have interesting spacing.

In the photo above, you'll see an adjustable rip fence/guide spanning the two boards. This turned out to be a major contributor to my early cutting errors. It was simply too long and unwieldy. It was great for cutting large boards, but not shorter cuts. I ended up picking one up that was about a third the size, and that eliminated most of the problems I was having. Other problems were self-inflicted. My decade-old 3/4" router bit had begun to dull, and left feathered shavings of wood along the top of the cuts. Not knowing how to re-sharpen router bits, I picked up a new one to finish the job. Well, when I replaced it, I didn't properly tighten it in place. The end result is that it loosened as I used it, and the groove I cut gradually increased to about a full inch deep on one of the boards. Fortunately, I was able to salvage the 2x12. But I made sure that damn router bit was tight for the remainder of the cuts! I had to cut the shelving notches into each side of each board--save the two on either end--and between family, holiday and other obligations, I was able to cut about one side per night. Not terribly fast progress, I'll admit, and it was slowed even more by the cold fronts we had in December and January because really, who wants to work outside in that kind of weather? But eventually I finished all the router work, just in time for the true Texas winter to set in, with highs in the low 80s.

Next up was the sanding of the boards. The lumber is all fairly coarse, so to be suitable for indoors, it needed several rounds of sanding. I used my Grandpa Fritz's old 30-plus-year-old sander (mine newer one crapped out last year) with 80 or 100 grit paper (I can't recall which, and am too lazy to go look). I went over all the boards with this, and took off a good deal of surface wood. This isn't a subtle grip of sandpaper. It smoothed out the rough edged and made quick work of those router "feathers" I mentioned upstream. It also created a hell of a lot of sawdust.

One thing that I learned from my self-building from a decade ago is that those stamped ink labels look like they wouldn't be visible once stained and varnished, but if anything, they stand out even more. I would cringe every time I saw those stencil marks at the old house. This time, I would not repeat the same mistake. So I applied the belt sander liberally, and eventually was rewarded with bare, virgin wood (that ink soaks in deeper than entirely convenient).

Unfortunately, belt sanders are not well-suited for finer work. Higher grades of sandpaper--in this case, 220 grit--require a lighter touch, so I broke out the old sanding block and applied some elbow grease. I ended up going through a sheet and a half of paper, slicing them into quarters to fit onto the sanding block. It doesn't take much effort at this stage. Lightly rubbing back and forth with only moderate pressure yields good results, and the board quickly smoothed out. Even so, working both sides of 10 boards is time-consuming, and it took me several days to complete the sanding.

Here they are, all lined up. From this angle, my myriad screw-ups, errors and outright errors aren't so terribly visible.

After wiping down all the boards with a damp cloth to remove residual sawdust, and allowing dry time, I'd reached the staining stage. Opening a new can of Minwax's "Special Walnut" (I'd learned my lesson after the paneling touch-up fiasco) I set to work. It took me about 7 minutes to coat one side of one board, so once I finished coating a pair of boards, it was time to wipe off any excess. I stained, then wiped, going through a bunch of rags and paper towels. I was able to stain one side one day, then after drying overnight, get the second side completed. It was a race against time, however, as the weather started turning against me. Intermittent rain and dropping temperatures were a looming threat.

The picnic table proved to be an excellent drying rack as long as it wasn't raining. Cold and damp hindered my work for the following week, but eventually the threat of rain passed and it sort of warmed up enough to do the next layer of stain. The upper 50s/lower 60s are not idea temperatures to do stain work, and certainly not with Minwax's "Dark Walnut." It's a thicker, darker stain than "Special Walnut" under the best of conditions, but with the chill, it was like painting with molasses. It went on thick, but wiping off? Hoo-boy. That stuff was stubborn. Gummy. Gloopy. Sticky. Clingy. I probably went through twice as many rags to wipe up this stuff than I did with "Special Walnut," and even had to make an extra run to Lowes for more rags. But in the end I completed the challenge, and while the 2x12 pine boards aren't a pretty as the oak cabinets, I stand by my earlier assessment than dual-layer stain just takes the look to the next level.

Next up: Polyurethane! Now Playing: Gene Rains Far Away Lands
Chicken Ranch Central

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