Introduction: Built-in Console Cabinet With a Secret Hidden Compartment
Grand Prize in the
Hiding Places Contest 2017
No matter how simple the project is, I will find a way to make it overly complicated.
My niece and her husband recently purchased their first house. They commented that they would like some low, built-in cabinets to span the back wall of their living room and asked if I would be interested in building some for them. "How hard could that be?" I thought to myself. I accepted the challenge and did my best to document the design and construction process.
Tools used in this project:
Safety glasses, circular saw, miter saw, drill/driver, router and router table, Kreg jig, air compressor and nailer, my home-made cutting table, and patience.
3/4 inch maple plywood, 1/4 inch plywood, 1x2 and 1x4 poplar, 3/4 cove molding, 1 1/2x1/2 inch door stop molding, screws, nails, and glue.
Step 1: The Design. What You Like Vs What I Am Capable Of.
My nieces's husband sketched out a rendering of what they would like the built-in to look like. I'm not sure of the program he used but was impressed by by his skills. I need to learn how to do that!
So, using the limited skills I do have, I drew out some simple designs (using pencil and paper). The room is 184 inches wide. They wanted the cabinets to be about 32 inches tall and about 22 inches deep. I decided to divide the width of the wall into 8 boxes each 23 inches wide. The reasoning behind this decision was that the doors would be too large to open if they were larger than 2 feet.
Step 2: It Was My Understanding That There Would Be No Math
One of the many challenges that I underestimated on this project was that I would be building it at my house first and then delivering/installing it at their house. Woodworking is my hobby. I have a full time job and would be working on this project on my own time during nights and weekends. Their house is about 25 miles from mine so I wouldn't have time to build it on site. Another challenge was that the cabinet would be 184 inches wide. I do not have a wall that wide in my house to mock up the cabinet. Also, there us no way I could transport a cabinet that large. The only way to make if work was to break it up into smaller, more manageable pieces. I decided to build 3 cabinets each about 46 inches wide. One cabinet would be for the center and the other two would be for the ends. I could then connect the three on site with 23 inch spacers to complete the built-in. These spacers also gave me some wiggle room in case the walls were not straight and true. Because the width of the stiles for each cabinet was 3 1/2 inches, the actual length of the rails was 20 3/16 inches. I hate fractions. Remember back in the mid '70s when we were going to switch to the metric system?
Step 3: It's All About That Bass
I started this project by building the base that it would sit on. This lifted the built-in off the floor and also gave me a surface to attach the baseboard molding to. I divided the room in half and built 2 equal size bases out of 3/4 inch plywood that I ripped into 4 inch wide boards. I did this on my board cutting table with a circular saw as I do not own a table saw. (see my Instructable on making the cutting table at the following link).
Each base was 92 inches wide by 22 inches deep. I added supports about every 20 inches (to line up with the sides/dividers of the cabinets) using more of the plywood strips. I left the right end of one base and the left end of the other a little short in case the walls were not square.
Before installing the two bases I removed the baseboard trim from the back wall of the living room. I also removed a section of the baseboard from the sidewalls the same length as the depth of the base.
Step 4: Build Some Boxes
Using my trusty kreg jig and some glue I built 3 boxes out of 3/4 inch maple cabinet grade plywood. Technically they are just the bottom and sides of boxes with some 3 inch wide strips of plywood at the top to keep them square. I added a center divider in the two outer boxes. The face frames were made from 1x3 poplar omitting the lower rail. The lower rail would be added during the door construction phase.
I liked the look of the long, narrow shelves for the middle section that was on my niece's sketchUp. Therefore, I didn't add a center divider in the center box. Instead, I cut dados on the sides to hold the two fixed shelves. Some 2 inch strips of plywood were added at the back of the shelves to give them more support as they were 42 inches wide. In addition, I left the shelves a little short at the rear so there wold be room to run wires and access outlets if needed. The front edge of the shelves were screwed into the stiles of the face frame using pocket holes.
Step 5: I Hope This Fits
Using the space I have at my house I mocked up the console to see if it would fit and if I measured properly. The pictures show the left side base with the left and center cabinets.
Oh, by the way, my math was wrong. The rail to connect the 2 cabinets wound up being 20 5/16 inches.
Step 6: Why Did I Decide It Needed Sliding Doors?
The doors for the outer cabinets were quite large and would take up a lot of space to open. "Why not make sliding doors?" (or why not make it more complicated?) I thought. Not only would this require no space for the doors to open, but would also give options on which cabinets would have the doors. If I measured and built the console properly, the doors could slide and cover each of the sections individually.
I have never made sliding doors before. In fact, I haven't made that many doors period. I'm sure there are easier ways to build them but this is the design I came up with. I would add bearings to the bottom rail of the door frame that would then ride in a groove cut into a rail that would span the bottom of the console. I would also cut a slot at the top rail of the door that would accept a rabbet cut into a rail that would span the top of the console.
I built the door frames from 1x2 poplar using the kreg jig to connect the rails to the stiles. I get my dimensional wood from a local millwork. Their 1x2s are actually 3/4 inch x 1 3/4 inch. I know there are better/stronger ways to make doors but this is where my equipment and skill level was at the time. I cut a pocket in the lower rail using my router (and then a drill and chisel to get them deep enough) to accept the bearings. The bearings were salvaged from an old/broken scooter I had. I drilled a hole through the inside of the rail (taking care not to drill all the way through the front) to accept a wooden dowel that would become the axle for the bearing.
I cut a rabbet on the inside of the door frame to hold the door panel. The reason I did a rabbet instead of a groove was because I thought I might put glass in the doors. I went with 1/4 inch plywood instead and held the panels in with glazing push points.
Like most projects, you learn by building the first few. By the fourth door you are almost an expert (or at least figure out all the things you did wrong on the first three).
Step 7: Try to Keep It on Track
The lower door track was made by cutting a shallow groove on the face of two 8 foot long 1x2s that would be inserted at the bottom of the cabinets sandwiched between the base and the stiles. This groove would provide a place for scooter bearings to ride in. Keeping these rails long ensured that the doors would roll freely on the left and right sides of the console. The rails would be secured after the cabinets were permanently installed.
I cut a slot in the top rails of the doors with my router that would match up with a rabbet cut into a piece of trim that would span the top of console. Using my router I cut the rabbet from two 8 foot pieces of 1 1/2 x 1/2 inch door stop molding. This piece was attached across the top rails of the console after they were permanently installed. The slot at the top of the doors and also the rabbet at the trim were cut a little deeper to allow the doors to be lifted up above the lower groove for installation.
Step 8: Can You Keep a Secret?
I'm a big fan of hidden compartments. Check out my first Instructable at the following link.
One of the advantages of building your own furniture is that it's easier to add custom, unique features that you wouldn't get with store bought pieces. One the the things I knew I wanted to build into this project was a secret compartment.
A false floor is an easy way to disguise a secret compartment. False floors are not new and have been done many times before. So, I had to come up with a way to make it overly complicated.
I started by framing a box in the base at the section between the outside cabinet and the center cabinet. I added an additional cross piece in the base. I also nailed/glued in some 1/4 inch plywood for the floor.
The mechanism to open the false floor is just some simple levers and push rods (see my crude drawing/concept). I started by adding some scraps of 1/2 inch poplar to the left outside of the left side cabinet. This would provide a space for me to hide the push-rod that would connect the upper and lower levers. The blocks you see near the center of the side panel are there so I would have a solid surface to drill the shelf pins. The panel was then covered with a piece of 1/4 inch plywood to hide the push-rod. The top lever is made from a piece of 1x2 inch poplar that was attached behind the top rail that connects the left side cabinet with the center cabinet. The lower lever was cut from a piece of 3/4 inch plywood and attached to the front of the base/compartment. The false floor was cut from a piece of 3/4 inch plywood. I beveled the front and rear edges of the floor to prevent it from binding when opening.
Step 9: And to Top It Off...
The top is made up of 3 separate pieces. One large piece for the middle and 2 smaller pieces for the sides. It is constructed from the same 3/4 inch maple plywood that I used to make the boxes. I wrapped the front edges and the sides of the plywood with 1x2 inch poplar. Sorry but I couldn't find a good picture of the top.
Six shelves were made for the three openings on either side of the center cabinet out of 3/4 inch plywood. I screwed a 1x2 inch piece of poplar to the front edge of the shelves using pocket holes from the Kreg jig.
I added some 3/4 inch cove molding between the front edge of the top and the door stop/top rail for the sliding doors. The final step was to reattach the baseboard that I had removed from the back wall of the living room to the front of the console base.
Step 10: The Finished Project
Thankfully my niece and her husband sanded, primed, and painted all of the parts of the console. I took some pictures with the sliding doors in different positions to show how the console offers different looks to suit your style.
Congratulations if you made it through my long winded Instructible. As excessively wordy as it is, I'm sure I left some things out. If you have questions I will do my best to try and answer them.
How much wood did your use? A lot. I think I used 6 sheets of 4x8 maple plywood, 1 sheet of 1/4 inch plywood, 40 feet of 1x3, 80 feet of 1x2,16 feet of cove molding, 16 feet of door stop...
How long did it take? A long time. I enjoy projects like this but am too slow to make a living at it.
Do you have plans/blueprints for this project? Sorry, no. I kind of made it up as I was building it.
How much did it cost? I think I had about $700 in materials.
How come I can't download the plans? Because there aren't any.
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