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Project 602 - Build Your Own Entertainment Center
 
Project 602
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Build Your Own Entertainment Center
Posted - May 23rd, 2008 11:30am
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I was searching for an entertainment center to home my new Plasma TV.  Unfortunately everything was either to expensive (as in thousands of $) or to small, cramped, ugly, shoddy.  Basically I have better taste and tougher requirements than my wallet can afford.  As is often the case in this situation I decided the only way to get exactly what I wanted was to build it myself.  So thats what I set out to do.  Build a custom entertainment center cabinet to hold all of my stuff complete with built in power, cord management and extra wide shelves for controlers, dvd's and extra cruft that always gets stored along with our electronics.

I'm not Bob Villa though nor do I really have any woodworking tools to speak of so its been an interesting process to say the least.  Luckily I stumbled across these metal brackets usually used for framing that made it possible to keep the design simple and strong at the same time.  Hopefully the steps below and the plans below will make it easier for someone else to build a similar cabinet with little more than a cordless drill and some supplies from the hardware store.  Just make sure to read and re-read everything before you start if your actually going to build one of these suckers.

To begin with you'll need the following:
  • Drill with 1/8 & 3/8 drill bits.
  • Sand Paper (various grades)
  • 2 - 24" bar clamps
  • 2 - 36" bar clamps
  • 30 - L metal brackets (see images)
  • 12 - flat metal brackets (see images)
  • 4 - European hinges
  • 24 - 1/4" hole shelf holders
  • 1 - box #8 2 inch wood screws
  • 1 - box #8 1 1/4 inch wood screws
  • 1 - box #8 3/4 inch wood screws
  • 1 - box finishing nails
  • 2 - 1 qt boxes of epoxy finish(see images)
  • enough semi gloss paint, or stain and varnish to cover the piece
You'll also need the wood to build this sucker but lets talk about cutting wood first.  Basically this is my achille's heel.  I can't cut a straight line to save my life.  Fortunately the Home Depot next to my house will cut any wood you buy there for free.  Its a big ass saw, but if your nice to them they will take their time and make some pretty good cuts.  So take the cut-guides available at the end of this post with you, mark everything up and pray to the wood-working gods.

For wood you'll need: ('==foot, "==inch)
  • 2 - 8' redwood 2x4's
  • 1 - 6' redwood 2x4
  • 1 - 4'x6'x3/4" birch plywood
  • 1 - 4'x6'x1/2" MDF
  • 1 - 1"x6"x2' Poplar
  • 1 - 1"x3"x6' Poplar
  • 2 - 1"x2"x8' Poplar
I choose the redwood 2x4's because they are usually straighter than pine.  Since I painted my cabinet black I supposed I could have used any plywood or trim boards but the Birch had a nice grain and the Poplar was harder than pine but still easier to work with and cheaper than oak.  All in all - the wood is under $100 and as long as you have some of the supplies you can probably come in under $200 total which is shitty Swedish furniture level costs (only this thing should last a lot longer).

Oh and don't freak out if you start measuring and find out that a 2x4 ins't really 2" x 4".  I've accounted for the masochistic jacked up measuring system the hateful wood people created to try and prevent us from building anything.

Anyway, the basic idea here is to build a strong base, attach the upper frame, and then cover up all the ugly stuff with trim boards.  The brackets and screws will make it strong and hopefully straight as well.  So either cut up your wood as described in the plans or have it cut for you, but get all your supplies together and follow these steps:

Step 1) Build The Base
I was working on carpet so I put down some boards on each end to keep it all flat. Start out by screwing the side 2x4's together.  The sides should be vertically oriented as opposed to the front and back which will be flat or horizontally oriented to give a nice gap above the floor.  I put the screws towards the middle because you'll be screwing all kinds of stuff on the ends soon.  Next using some L brackets on both the top and the inside screw the sides onto the front and back 2x4's.  You'll want to do all of this upside down on a flat surface so that the base MDF board will go on nice and flat.  Once your all done turn the base right side up and test for straightness and stability - you really want this to be solid as its the foundation of the piece so redrill and rescrew it all together if necessary.
Step 2) Drill Shelf Holes
Carefully measure these and use a straight edge if you have one.  If these are uneven across boards then your equipment won't sit straight. Mark all of the holes for the shelves on the vertical sides as well as center supports.  Then drill out those marks using a 1/4" bit.  You'll only want to drill about 3/4's of the way through on the sides (unless you want holes facing outward) but you'll want to drill all of the way through in the center pieces.  The mini drill-press gizmo was very handy for this as you could set the depth of cut/drill.
Step 3) Attach Sides to Base
I had to do a little light bending to make everything straight here. Place the bottom MDF board which forms the floor of the piece down on the base.  Then using L brackets, screw the sides onto the base pinning the base MDF board between the bracket and the base 2x4.  You'll want to make sure the brackets are a little way from the front or you'll hit other screws you've drilled in.  Then using more brackets screw the 2 center vertical pieces in place.  Don't use any brackets on the front inside of the center pieces though or they will show when the piece is done.  Once all of those are in I used 2 of the long 2" screws to screw the sides right into the base 2x4.  This helped the stability but you'll need to countersink them and fill the holes later.
Step 4) Attach The Top
Makes a nice workbench when its all screwed together. Use your last 12 L brackets and screw the top on using the short 3/4" screws.  You want to make sure the top is perfectly centered with the back of the top even with the backside of the piece.  The front will overhange a few inches but thats a good thing! My top board was a little warped so I actually had to sit/lay on the top while I screwed it on to keep it down - hopefully you will be luckier in your choice of wood and hopefully the thing will be nice and square once you have it all together.
Step 5) Add The Facing Boards
Nothing fit perfectly here for me and I had to make some minor tweaks using harsh sandpaper. Start here by screwing upper facing board snugly below the top.  I used the longer clamps to hold it in place while I screwed it into the center of the vertical boards.  You could use finishing nails and glue if you don't want to fill the bigger holes instead - the choice is yours.  Next follow the same procedure for the 2 square pieces on the bottom(I used the finishing nail/glue system on these).  Lastly do the same for the bottom board and the 2 vertical boards.  Hopefully everything will fit snugly and honestly if you wanted to you could add 2 finishing boards to the sides and jump to step 6 if you don't want the cabinets.
Step 6) Build Cabinet Doors
The notch on the inside edge here is only needed if you want to try to inset your backing (not worth it if you ask me). Take all 4 pieces from the left or right cabinet and clamp them all together nice and straight like.  Next, place the 1/4" plywood backing down in the center of the rectangle you just created.  Place a flat bracket on each corner on top of the plywood and use the 3/4" screws to fasten them down.  This will both pin the plywood between bracket and the cabinet face and keep boards together that make the frame.  If this structure isn't strong enough you can also add some glue between all the joints and pieces.  I did this and it definitely helped but you'll want to keep the clamps on there till its all dry(6hrs).  Rinse, lather, repeat for the other cabinet.
Step 7) Hooray For Hinges!
Its a tad ugly if you don't paint it, but no one will really see it open like that. Once the glue on the cabinets is dry, bust out the big drill bit you bought just for this step.  Measure out where you want the hinges to sit on the cabinets, making sure they won't hit the metal brackets used to screw this thing together.  Drill out the hole till the top of the bit sits flat on the board and that should be plenty deep enough for the hinge to sit.  Screw that piece down and then fit it in the cabinet and mark where the other side of the hinges need to be attached.  Hopefully they will fit with a perfect 1/16 gap all around but you'll likely have to use the adjustments on the hinges to get it square (or in my case somewhat close to square).  Again, rinse, lather, repeat for the other 3 hinges.
I should mention here that I did't build my cabinets quite this way and instead used a router to cut out a lip on the inside of each cabinet front where the plywood could sit.  In the end though it didn't seem to look much better and was really time consuming so while your welcome to do the same I'd try it like I've described it above as it will save you a lot of grief and look almost as nice.

Step 7) Sand and Paint
If your a sadist and want to spray paint like I did, then by one of these little handle deals.  Your finger will thank you. This part is easy but time consuming and the more time you spend here the nicer it will look.  I sanded the ugly bits once roughly using a 100grit sponge block and then the whole piece with a 320 pad.  Then I took off the hinges and the shelving brackets, painted everything once, re-sanded and painted it all again.  I used spray-paint on my cabinet, but it was a real pain in the ass.  I would suggest clear varnish or a brush paint instead - it will be much cheaper too.
Step 7) Epoxy Top (optional)
The epoxy comes in a big 2 pack like this My TV weighs a ton and the Birch isn't the hardest wood so I decided to give the top a nice hard epoxy finish.  This looks nice but is kind of a pain in the butt so only bother if you really want to go the extra mile.  Anyway, move the piece to a room thats as calm and dust free as possible(I used my spare bedroom).  Put down a dropcloth and tape off the piece leaving only the top board exposed.  Put on disposable gloves and mix a box and a half of the epoxy in a disposable tub then spread 90% of it evenly across the top allowing some to drip over the edges.  I then used my gloved hand to just smear and smooth the remaining epoxy around the edges and the underside lip of th edge.  Lastly use a hair-dryer on hot to blow out bubbles on the surface. This is all a tricky operation so I'd suggest practicing on a sample piece or two to get your technique down.
You'll want to give the piece a few days to a week to really dry and cure hard before putting stuff in there.  During that time you can screw some power strips to the back and add cord management stuff.  I also created a screen for the top center shelf area to hide my speaker (makes it look buit in).


NOTES:
  1. Download, read through everything, and know what your doing before you start. The hardest part of this project was coming up with the plans while I was doing it all.
  2. There is a lot that I've left out above which mostly consisted of I screwed up X so I did Y - if things don't go perfectly don't panic, improvise!
  3. Some of my cuts didn't end up perfectly straight but the piece turned out fine in the end - as long as your close the design allows for quite a bit of fudge room.
  4. Sandpaper and/or a Dremel is your friend if anything doesn't quite fit.
  5. If you are going to stain instead of paint it make sure all of your wood grains go in the direction you want them to.  I didn't even think about this till I was done and it would have looked strange in anything but black.
  6. If you paint it consider brush-paint instead of spraypaint.  It would have saved me some $$ and not sure if it would have looked any different.
  7. Lastly - have fun and remember its the journey not the destination that matters.  This isn't the easiest project but it was very rewarding for me and took only about a week or so to do.
If anyone builds one of these and sends me a photo I'll happily post your result.  Also please post any tips and/or hints in the comments section to make life better for everyone.
The post-it note that started it all :) After you buy all the wood and have it cut up you should start with a pile like this. Here are all of the screws and some of the metal brackets you'll need for this sucker. These bar clamps are pretty cheap and really really useful. I also purchased this cheapo($15) mobile drill press deal because I can't drill straight either.  Was very handy but not entirely necessary. Flush, European Style Hinges.   Very cool and very stable. The 35mm drill bit you'll need for the hinges as well as the type of finishing nails I bought. The 1/4 inch brackets to hold up the shelves. Sanding pads are great and don't skimp on the tack cloths Some optional chord management stuff I picked up. A little hard to work with but you can get a really cool finish with this stuff. The end result of the base building. A closeup of the brackets used on the base to keep everything together and 90 degree(ish). I added this extra bracing to the bottom in my build but it turned to be more than steady enough without it so I wouldn't bother. I would suggest drilling the holes for the shelf holders before you put the vertical pieces on but I forgot so its possible to do either way. Once the base piece of MDF is mounted and all of the vertical pieces are screwed on it should look like this. A closeup of the side screwed into the base This is one of the center vertical pieces.  I only used 1 bracket on the inside towards the back on each side otherwise you would see them in the end.  It was plent stable this way. I also suggest screwing the sides right into the base at the bottom to improve the stability though you will need to coutnersink fill these holes later. What it should look like after you get the top up and but before you put all the facing wood on.... and yes, I did all this in my living room. The trim/face boards make it look like real hardwood furniture The cabinet frame all clamped together ready for the backside plywood. A closeup of the cabinets doors attached to the frame All put together and ready to be sanded With everything closed up its pretty nice looking given the rough construction job. The almost-finished product just waiting to finish drying. Even the bracks look decent once painted over. A close up of the glossy top. I choose some simple hardware as its just my style but theres tons to choose from. The speaker cover I added to hide the center channel I mounted some powerstrips on the sides so that the unit can just be plugged in as a whole. The back of the unit with using all of the cord-management I could muster. The classic  - before - picture (man thats ugly) The - after - picture (much better) Finally a place for all of my things.
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