Monday, August 26, 2013

Building a low-profile media center with trolley wheels and reclaimed wide plank pine top

It's been a busy month, and I haven't posted as much as usual, because the weekends have been fine and full of work. We are now working on six, count 'em, SIX house projects at once (not counting gardening)! This post describes the only finished one (well, nearly) -- a media cart that Capel designed and built for our living room. 

As you can see, the cart is narrow and low, to fit neatly in the corner. It's long enough to fit the TV and a laptop next to it for streaming, with the cable box and speakers on a shelf below. It has a convenient, hidden tray in back to keep the cords neatly out of sight. And the top is made of reclaimed wide plank pine we took up when we renovated the bathroom. So it has a special connection to the house, as well.

It's a beautiful, useful piece and took Capel only a few weekends to build. It's described below in detail with lots of photos. 

Meanwhile I have been working on much less sexy work: painting and painting and painting endless screen frames ...

Oh, wait, two more!

But enough about that. Here is the design and build of the cart.

The idea started because we now watch so much TV streamed from our laptop. But our old 60's style TV table had no room for the laptop, which routinely sat on the floor. Very awkward for working with. I'd had my eye on some beautiful media carts/entertainment centers at places like Pottery Barn, built with old trolley wheels and in various farmhouse-type styles made of heavy wood. They're not cheap, though, and when I showed Capel my idea, he said, 'Oh, I can build that.' Turns out, he could.

We started by hunting for wheels. Then I had the idea of using the wide plank pine flooring we'd taken up from the bathroom for the top. And that started the ball rolling, in terms of design. He fooled around with several options, and we settled on the one you see above. Here are the final two drawings:

After we'd decided on a design, Capel spent some time at a couple of lumber places to find wood to match the pine. He came up with cherry, which here you see together with the pine, which has aged to a beautiful patina. We finished a tiny bit of the cherry with a test finish of tung oil, which brings out the cherry color much more clearly, and makes it even closer in finish to our pine. But I still haven't tested a finish on the leftover pine, so that is yet to come ...

We decided to use the back of the pine (the side that was laid down on the joists), rather than the face that had been up, because in the 100 years or so that it was essentially serving as the subfloor for the bath, after having spent nearly 100 years as a bedroom floor, it got pretty beat up and is a dingy grey color. The backside, on the other hand, is an amazingly beautiful natural aged reddish brown, pretty much exactly like the floor of our living room, where the finished piece will live. Capel glued two of the tongue and groove pieces together to form a plank wide enough for the top. We fitted it together so that the paler marks of the joists match up -- to us that is more aesthetically pleasing.

I am not going to sand it, because it would destroy the patina and color, so I'll just brush it with a steel brush lightly and probably apply some sort of tung oil or beeswax finish. I've done some initial research online, but still have testing to do on the leftover pieces.

In any case, once that was sorted out, and the wheels were ordered, Capel started putting the base together. Here are the main pieces, cut and assembled:

He used pocket holes on the inside of the frame, to make the joins. Pocket holes are a quick, easy way to create solid joins, and because of the design, the pocket holes are completely hidden from view and didn't even need to be filled. Here you see them being made. There are lots of detailed instructions for using this method on YouTube.

And here is the basic box of the base assembled, with an inner frame on the bottom to accommodate two wider planks of the same cherry to make a lower shelf. The notches in the top of the back top rail are for cords, and just back of that will be a little "tray" made of the same cherry wood, large enough to hold a power stick and all the leftover power cords and cables.

And here is a shot that shows the lower shelf laid in. The lower shelf is for the cable box, speakers, etc.

And, here it is fully assembled and in place this morning. Here's a side shot, showing the wheels and how the tray works, in the back. Also, you can see it was designed to sit just below the windowsill, and narrow enough for us to move around easily.

A shot of the tray, with the power stick and cords in it.

The wheels ... we were thrilled to see that it really does roll, effortlessly!

And, the top, every bit as beautiful as we imagined it.

And, in situ, again. 

I still have to finish it with some sort of oil, but I want to do some tests first and we couldn't wait to bring it up and start using it, the minute it was all together! 

This turned out better than we both imagined.  One thing I really like about the design is the way the faces of the cherry on the front and side really minimize all the equipment loaded into the bottom shelf. It's there and easily accessible. The sound is great. But you really just see the cart, not all the unsightly electronics equipment.

So there you have it. Capel's media cart.

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