Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Custom Shelves Pt2 - The Build

In part 1, I wrote of my plan to build a bespoke shelf unit to fit a specific space in my house, from sustainable material.  The whole design and source process spanned about 3 months (mostly due to lack of spare time after work) but on the 16th of December the wood arrived at my door and the project was ready to proceed.

This post also is a first - finally I manage to write a "promised" follow-up!

Firstly, a lot of thanks to Andrew Juniper at Timboo (though on receipt of the wood I noticed the invoice was from Wabi Sabi Designs who have worked with Channel4s Grand Designs no less.  Turns out I am stylish, after all...).  Andrew was constantly helpful in my quest to keep costs low as possible and gave advice where I needed guidance.

Secondly, WOW! This stuff is heavy and the pallet company drops the pallet in front of your door, takes it no further and then drives off.  Fortunately I was / am enough of a man to move the 3 packages (and the pallet) into the house without assistance.
Ok.  So anyone in the vicinity of my road may have seen me hefting 2 of the packages inside and then failing abysmally on the 3rd but, in my defence, they did weigh in excess of 40kg each with the 3rd being a little heavier than the others.  It's not like I'm built for dead-lifting.

Precursor to Action
I finally managed to actually start doing things when I went on much needed leave over the Christmas period, though not before needing to make additional purchases.
  1. Drill guide - the idea for this was that I didn't want to be bursting out the side of a plank.  Probably a good idea for wall drilling (ie 90 degree, dead-on) but clumsy and cumbersome for end-on drilling.
  2. New ni-cad drill with bulls-eye spirit level - should have just bought this to begin with.  When searching for a drill with one of these on the web, I found a couple of comments  from "seasoned" people stating that such things were just gimmicks.  Would have to say they could not be more wrong - any indication of "square" is invaluable to inexperienced users (such as my-self).  Much like the stereo-types common place in technology circles (I have been fortunate in that I have not encountered it directly very often) even woodwork does not escape the elitist mentalities. 
  3. 200 screws.  The downside is that  I only needed 120.  Damn pack sizes...

The Build
So, as with the design, the build took longer than it could have.  This, again, was mostly due to work commitments (start to finish was 3 weeks)  but also because I didn't want to rush this; with the wood costing £500, mistakes could be expensive.  I also laboured over my choice of screw.
I eventually opted for Goldscrew Plus 5x60mm - being a very dense wood, I was keen to not generate too much stress; the serrations, I hoped, would mean that the thread would grind it's way in rather than simply slicing.

Following guidance from Andrew, I started out by drilling 3.2mm pilot holes for the screws (though as it was later found, 3.5mm would have been better).  It was during this I started to pick up my first lesson for working with timboo - the stuff gets hot!  Not sure if it was the bit I was using (certainly did not feel blunt..) or the presence of the binding material in the boards, but I found the dust had a tendency to fuse into the bit and that in turn would generate huge friction. On more than one occasion the wood / dust combo managed to grip the bit tighter than the drill chuck allowing me to experience the horror of "shi*it.. how do I get the bit out the wood?".

I do all my own stunts

The flip side to the friction was it did mean the house smelt of sandalwood incense with the amount of smoke generated.

The "face" holes (i.e. the larger 5mm holes in the shelves, as opposed to the 3.2mm end-grains) went, for the most part, without issue except for the odd occasion where possibly density varied in the board fibres and it pushed the bit off my mark - I ended up pre-drilling a 3mm guide hole which was slightly more reliable.

Mass carnage: #1 on exit, #2 on entry...
I also had varying success in avoiding bursting through the other side  Initially I was using bit #1 as it made a cleaner initial incision into the the surface of the wood, but generally found by the end that a classic wood bit (#2) cut through the "back" of the hole in a more stable manner.  Oddly this was not always the case on starting the hole - it tended to tear when using the motor; manually twisting the drill to make the initial "cut" did seem to reduce this.

For all these reasons, Debbie suggested storing the dust generated from drilling.  This was a great idea as (again by her suggestion) mixing the dust with wood glue makes a great wood filler that matches the wood colour almost exactly (slightly darker).

The Lift
This simply would not have been possible without family.  With the unit in a "bare lift" state, it was weighing in the region of 12 stone (76 kg).

Harvey, as ever, a cornerstone of stability
It was at this point that I found the first flaw in my design.  The lift simply would not "go" and we found that a combination of an unaccounted for 1cm lip on the underside f the staircase, in conjunction with a 3cm (!) difference between the back of the target location and the opening of the aperture meant the left side just did not fit.  A re-think and a new plan was required....

The Lift, MK-II
That was the one error that I really kicked myself for - I should have known better than to:
  1. Assume the area would be adequately square.
  2. Fail to notice all the elements of the ceiling that I would need to cater for.
Fortunately, the fix for this was not too drastic - a 2 inch chop across the left side and similar off of the relating support mean the lip would be taken into consideration and the lift could be tried once more.
This time things went a lot smoother - up in almost one, with only minor damage to coving as my gap tolerances were a little on the lean side.  All that remained then was to put in the rest of the shelves, pushing the total weight into the region of  17 stone (108 kg)

Shelves always look best when they are empty...

Total Actions
  • 120 end-grain holes drilled
  • 120 "face" holes
  • 120 threads cut (x 5 repeated actions for each thread)
  • 120 face hole countersinks sunk
  • 120 screws screwed home
  • 10 battery charge cycles
  • 8 bruises gained (I found that it didn't really move if I stood up when not 100% out of the way)

Lessons Learnt: Summary (in no particular order)
  1. Never trust your target area - if there is a dimension you can measure, measure it.
  2. Cater for diagonals
  3. Store your wood dust
  4. Wood glue is your friend
  5. The second the drill starts to twist in your hand, pull the bit out of the wood. 
  6. Key-less chucks are not always better
  7. 1cm lips do make a difference

With the unit now in place and slowly being filled with my "stuff", I can't help but see other potential projects waiting to be realised.  While I don't know when I will get the opportunity to build them, I know what I will be using and who to go to.  It is also fair to say that some of the methods I used in this build may not "the best" but, in the absence of known alternates, I am very happy with the result - it would seem that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man (and his tea) really is king.
Yes, untidy, but I'm still "moving in"...