j. alexander

Building a Custom Boy's Bedroom

About six months ago, we completed two huge custom bedroom commissions for the same client…one for their son’s room, which we will showcase today, and one for their daughter’s bedroom, which we will look at next. The overall design would incorporate a wall of bookcases and cabinetry on the left, which would transition into a double platform bed. The lower area would have bookcases along the back and right walls and the bed would sit atop a platform with pull-out drawers in the front. Another queen mattress would be on the upper platform, and a rope fence would help keep overly energetic children from tumbling down. Accessing the upper bed area was to accomplished using a rolling ladder, which could be stored in the vertical position when not in use, and pulled out at an angle when the kids want to climb to the top. After a few hours of hauling all the parts and tools up a flight of stairs and down a long hallway, we were finally able to begin the installation. The first step, and quite possibly the easiest of the entire process, was to remove the existing baseboards. The left wall of the bed assembly was made up of two 3″ thick torsion box walls. The torsion boxes were aligned using dominos and screwed to the studs in the wall. We then began adding the bookcases along the back wall. Since code required all the electrical outlets to be accessible, we cut openings which would allow an electrician to access them in the future. These holes would be unseen, since they were below the level of the mattress platform. The back wall of bookcases was also sitting directly above two of the heat registers, so we cut open the bottom of the bookcases to allow access by a HVAC tech, who later added ducting from the registers all the way to the front of the bed.  With the vertical wall and bookcases installed, it was time to bring in the parts for the bed. The front half of the bed was designed as a cabinet, with four large dresser drawers. The bed cabinet would fit snuggly between the torsion box wall on the left and the bookcase on the right. The back half of the bed would be a framework which would hold up two removable panels, allowing access to the HVAC ducting and the electrical outlets. We also added the first of two torsion box ceiling/floor pieces. It was quite difficult getting that back floor in place, since it was just a tad heavy, and because, of course, the wall was narrower at the front than at the back. But, after a little modification to the torsion box and to the wall, we achieved a nice, snug fit.   Here is the bed area completely installed. On the top, we added the front ceiling/floor torsion box, also aligned using dominos. A 4″x4″ column, screwed into the side of the bed cabinet, supports the front right corner of the upper floor. The four railings, lag bolted into the floors framework, and the rope fence, constructed using 3/4″ nylon rope and eyelets, finishes off the upper platform details. On the lower bed area, we added the four drawer boxes to the bed cabinet, a piece of trim to the front of the bed, crown moulding inside the lower bed compartment, and the two removable platform pieces behind the bed cabinet. Originally, the design called for a rope ladder to access the upper platform, but the client decided they did not want to bolt the bottom of the ladder to their floor, so we did a quick redesign and swapped in a library-style ladder instead. With the bed assembly complete, we turned our attention to the bookcases and cabinets to the left of the beds. Compared to the bed, the bookcase installation was a veritable breeze. Begin by leveling the toe kick, add in the base cabinets, drop on the top, bring in the bookcases, nail on the crown moulding, and finish everything up by adding on the doors and hardware. In the end, the bedroom unit turned out absolutely great! I was surprised at how smoothly the entire installation went. We had very few out-of-level floors and out-of-plumb walls, and the issues that did arise were dealt with fairly easily.

Veneered Maple Desk - Version 2.0

 Over the years we have received many inquiries, and several orders for, the veneered maple table, built for a client in 2009. We decided that if we were going to be building these tables on a semi-regular basis, we needed to streamline the construction process and work out some of the design hurdles that we faced with the first table. The first area in the production process that we identified as needing a change was the very foundation of the table itself, the 3″ thick top and legs. The 3″ thickness is achieved by constructing a torsion box, which is a honeycomb-inspired assembly that is lightweight, yet extremely stiff and strong. On the first desk, we built the top and legs as rectangles, and then added the interlocking finger-joint blocking onto the ends of those assemblies in a series of tedious, imperfect, and time consuming glue-ups. Our next area for improvement were the end grain maple caps. In previous iterations, we made the end grain 1″ thick, which was wholly unnecessary, since only the end of the cap is visible. The 1″ thick maple end caps made flush trimming more difficult and more prone to user error. We decided to skinny the end cap to 1/2″ thick, and while this may not sound like much of a difference, the thinner end grain allows for more accurate and easier flush trimming and more yield from the maple block we glued up. Both these issues were resolved by cutting out the torsion box skins on a CNC machine. The CNC machine not only cut dados for our 3/4″ baltic birch framework to sit within, but it also integrated the box joint directly into the initial torsion box assembly. The accuracy of the CNC machine allowed us to construct huge box joints that fit like a glove, with an almost perfect fit right from the start, eliminating the need for hours of tedious sanding and scraping. On the first table we built we used PSA veneer, simply because we were inexperienced, and it was only the second time we ever used veneer on a piece of furniture and were still figuring out how it was normally done. As time progressed, and we researched the standard methods for applying veneer, we quickly purchased a 4×8 vacuum bag from www.veneersupplies.com, which was later replaced with a larger 5×12 bag, also from www.veneersupplies.com. Using Titebonds cold press veneer glue, we now vacuum press all our maple veneer onto the MDF torsion boxes, with wonderful results. Once we have applied and trimmed the end grain caps and veneer to the top and legs, the pieces are ready to be assembled. If every detail comes together perfectly, then the end grain box joint and the veneer surface will line up to create a perfectly flush surface. But we live in the real world, so this almost never happens. Usually, because we want to ensure that the end grain is never shy of the veneer surface, we err on the safe side and make the end grain just a bit proud of the maple veneer. The end grain that is now proud needs to be sanded as flush as possible to the veneer without sanding through the veneer.  Jared's Maple Desks:  Another take on Veneered Maple Desk How To Finish and Lay Maple Veneer On the first table, we taped the border of the end grain with blue painters tape and sanded it flush to the veneer using a small belt sander or 80 grit paper on a random orbit sander. This step was the most difficult one in the construction process, requiring skill, concentration, finesse from the craftsman, and a little bit of luck. We knew that this step was the Achilles heel of the entire construction process. There were dozens of potential areas to sand through the veneer, and sanding through the veneer was near catastrophic. Our solution to this problem was to create a jig that rode on the surface of the surrounding veneer and, using a plunge router and a square bit, trim the top layer of end grain flush with the surface. After a bit of final sanding, an otherwise stressful and treacherous task was made much easier and more consistent. The finishing process has stayed the same from the very beginning. We apply a coat of Sherwin-Williams sanding sealer and two coats of water-white Sherwin-Williams conversion varnish to achieve a bomb-proof finish. In the end, the changes we made saved nearly 5 hours of labor, increased quality, and simplified the construction process exponentially. The material cost did increase over the previous table, since we now pay for 2 hours of design and CNC machine time, but the higher level of quality, and labor savings as a result of the CNC work, more than made up for the machine rental. The table, and it’s box joint fingers, are more accurate, more repeatable, and faster and easier to create than ever before…even these huge 6″ square box joints.