Introduction: Entertainment Center to Awesome Kitchen Play Set
For Christmas 2015 I wanted to make use of my creative skills to whip up a really awesome present for my young nieces and nephews. My family has always had a passion for cooking and the youngsters seem primed to share this passion as they love to be in the kitchen, helping to stir pots, grabbing a spatula to mix cookie batter, or just helping to set the place settings for dinner. So in the interest of strengthening their interest in cooking I decided to build them the ultimate kitchen play set complete with all the different appliances and tools that they might need to mix up some imaginary culinary awesomeness.
This project was a big undertaking with many steps and parts but I had a big head-start because I based my design on an old entertainment center that I found on Craigslist which gave me an already assembled framework to build my kitchen play set onto. I did have to modify the entertainment center a bit to fit my needs, but I'll discuss that more in-depth in the steps to follow.
This instructable will take you through the process of building an awesome kids kitchen play set from an entertainment center. It will cover everything from tracking down an entertainment center, to making the appliances, to decorating the kitchen set, and will even discuss adding things like cookware and lighting.
*Small side note: As I built this project I jumped from step to step while I was waiting for things like paint to dry or because I needed a part and didn't want to make a special trip to the hardware store. Because of this, you might notice that some of the pictures show steps in the background that might not have been discussed yet, i.e. in a step where I talk about installing the sink you might see the range top coming together in the background despite the fact that I haven't mentioned building the range top yet. If you notice that just understand that I will cover building that part in it's own dedicated step within the instructable. One of the great things about this project is that it's essentially 6 or 7 mini projects all grouped into one kitchen set so you have the freedom jump around and work on one part for a little while and then move on to something else, which is exactly what I did.
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Step 1: Tools and Materials
The tools and materials that you will need for this project will vary greatly depending on what you have at your disposal and what you want your kitchen set to have and look like. As far as tools go, you're going to need basic wood working tools, so drills and drivers, routers/bits, and at the very least something like a jig saw. If you have access to other saws like mitre and table saws then you'll really be in great shape but you can survive without them if need be. Below I've included the complete list of tools and materials that I used for this build. The materials list is broken down into categories based on what part of the kitchen set each material was used for. I've also included a few simple descriptions to help you know how each tool/material was used.
- Mitre Saw (Chop Saw)
- Jig Saw
- Table Saw
- Router & Flush Trim Bit / Decorative Bit
- Kreg Jig (This was one of my most used and most useful tools during this project. Anywhere I needed to join two boards together I used my Kreg jig to pocket hole the boards together which was super easy to do and created a really strong connection. I've touted how much I love my kreg jig in previous projects but this little tool really shines for projects like this. If you haven't tried one or if you've been thinking of getting one I say go for it because you will use the heck out of it.)
- General Hand Tools - Pliers, Hammers, and Screw Drivers.
- Drill Press
- Tri Square
- Tape Measure
- Paint Brushes and Critter Spray Gun
- Used Entertainment Center
- Wood Glue
- Wood Filler
- 6' X 6" X 3/4" Pine Boards
- 10' X 12" X 3/4" Pine Boards
- 1/2" Plywood
- 1/8" MDF
- 1 1/4" Kreg Screws
- Large Diameter Metal Bowl
- 1/8" plywood circles (various diameters)
- 1/2" Plywood
- 1/4" dowel rods
- 1" x 3/4" x 12" pine boards
- Small section of 2x4
- Oven Knobs
- Black and Silver Spray Paint
- Repurposed entertainment center door, hinges, and magnetic latch
- Tap Light
- Pine Strips
- Cookie rack
- Black Paint
- Silver Paint
- Tap Light
- 1/2" Plywood
- Pine Boards
- Cabinet Hinges
- Chalkboard Paint
- Motion Light
Fold Down Table
- 1/2" Plywood
- Door Latch
- 4 Hinges
- Pine Boards
- Acrylic Paints
- Picture Hangers
- Curtain Rods
Step 2: Finding an Entertainment Center
The first step to this project is to track down a used entertainment center that is in good condition and hopefully not to expensive. Lucky for you (and for me) a lot of people are transitioning away from entertainment centers in favour of wall mounted flat screen TVs so if you're lucky you might be able to snag one on the cheap. Definitely check out Craigslist, and keep an eye out for any auctions or moving sales that might be coming up in your area. It seems that a lot of people are just happy to have someone come and haul away their old entertainment centers, so if you look hard enough you can easily find them for under 20 dollars and in many cases for FREE. The entertainment center I used for this project was a Craigslist find that I paid a grand total of 1 dollar for, and the person selling it was only a 30 minutes from where I live so I was able to pick it up and have it home and ready to work on within a few hours.
As your searching for your entertainment center keep these things in mind:
- Water Damage is a deal breaker - Most entertainment centers are made out of particle board which is basically a heavily compressed mixture of sawdust and glue. when particle board gets wet the glue bond weakens and the board swells and starts to droop. There really isn't any fix for this so pass by any entertainment center with heavy water damage as fixing the issues will be more trouble than it's worth.
- Don't worry about broken fasteners or hardware - most entertainment centers are held together with the cheapest pot metal "fasteners" ever invented. these fasteners are designed for people who apparently don't know how tools function which means that you with your awesome array of tools will have no trouble replacing these broken fasteners with far more resilient joinery solutions.
- Consider the design of your kitchen set - Pick an entertainment center that is going to give you enough room for all the different things you want your kitchen set to have. The one I picked was a bit smaller than I originally wanted, but for 1 I was willing to downgrade my design to fit the space, and it's small size was a fun challenge for me as it made me think carefully about how best to use the available space.
- Flimsy can be fixed - Entertainment centers, and by extension most cheap/particle board furniture are inherently flimsy. This is in part due to the cheap fasteners that I mentioned earlier, and in part due to fact that these pieces of furniture forgo supports and/or braces that would make them more sturdy in favour of cheap cardboard panels that nail to the back of the furniture to keep it from falling apart. by adding sturdy supports using pine boards and pocket holes you can turn a cheap flimsy entertainment center into a rock solid piece of furniture in no time flat. And as part of this project the flimsy cardboard back panels will be replaced by stronger 1/4" material which will also aid in firming up any flimsiness that you might experience.
Step 3: What to Do Once You've Found Your Entertainment Center
Once you've found an entertainment center that will work for your new kitchen set you may have a bit of work to do to get it ready for the playful and destructive hands of small children. The first thing to figure out is what you're going to have to move around to make your design work. For me this meant moving the dividing wall between the area where the TV is suppose to go and the area where you put things like DVD players and Playstations. I had to move this wall over about 6 inches so that it aligned with the right most divider on the bottom of the entertainment center to create the area where the refrigerator would go. This also provided me with a bit of extra space for the area where I wanted to put the sink. During this step I also removed all the drawers, doors, and hardware from the entertainment center to make the next steps a bit easier.
Next I reinforced the cabinet to make sure that it didn't wobble and rack side to side, and to make sure that it was square so that it'd be easier to measure and cut parts for the various appliances. To do this I added pine support boards to the backs of the top and middle shelves of the entertainment center as shown in the pictures above. These boards were screwed to the undersides of the shelves and also to the sides of the cabinet to add rigidity and to correct some issues with bowing caused by years of the shelves having to hold a heavy television and other electronics. I also removed any of the broken or damaged fasteners and replaced them with wood screws and pocket holes where it made sense to do so. All of this work turned the once flimsy and saggy entertainment center into a rock solid piece of furniture ready to be turned into an awesome kitchen set.
Step 4: Getting Started, Building the Sink.
Alright, with the entertainment center rearranged and reinforced, the next step was to jump right into adding the sink. The sink for the play kitchen consists of a large metal mixing bowl and an old faucet, both of which I was able to pick up for 3 dollars at my local construction salvage store. I decided to install the sink in the middle of the kitchen set as it made the most sense with the available space, your mileage may vary. To install the sink I measured and marked the center of the area where I wanted to install it and then used a makeshift compass (pipe cleaner + screw + sharpie) to scribe a circle just big enough to fit the bowl but smaller than the total diameter of the bowl as I wanted the rim of the bowl to rest on the counter top so that the bowl wouldn't fall through the opening. Next I used a jig saw to carefully cut along the circle until I had created the hole for the metal sink bowl. A quick test fit and the sink dropped into place perfectly.
Once the sink was in place I continued on to installing the faucet which worked exactly the same as if you were installing a faucet into a real sink, with the only difference being that there was no plumbing to be bothered with.
Step 5: Range Top
With the sink in place I turned my attention to the range top and burners. I cut the range top from a sheet of 1/2" birch plywood and I measured it so that the edge of the range would line up with the edge of the cabinet underneath it, the reason being that I wanted to create the illusion that the range top and oven (cabinet) were all one unit. Once I had the range top correctly sized to fit the space, (17" X 15") I used a router to slightly round the edges of the plywood to give the range top a more realistic look. Next I ripped a length of 2" X 4" to act as the range top's display panel. Then I chucked a fly cutter in my drill press and cut four 6" diameter circles from 1/8" plywood to act as the burner caps. Lastly I made the raised grill/grate that sits over top of the range and burners. This was the most involved process and involved drilling perfectly placed 1/4" holes set 1" apart into two 14" long pine strips. Once the holes were drilled I glued in 1/4" dowels as shown above and then sanded and painted the grate to give it the appearance of metal. I also sanded and painted the range top and burners and then assembled everything as shown.
Step 6: Oven
Making the oven is one of the most gratifying parts of this build because you get to re-purpose most of the materials you need from things already on the entertainment center. I used the existing door from the cabinet, and the existing hinges and magnetic latch. To make the oven door I started by using a jig saw to cut away the center panel of the door leaving at least a 1/2" boarder all around as shown in the pictures above. Next I used a router equipped with a flush cut bit to refine the 1/2" edge in preparation for adding a plexiglass window to the door so that the little cooks could peer in to see their baked goods baking. I fixed the plexiglass in place using Liquid Nails and sat a weight on top of the door to hold the plexiglass in place while the adhesive dried.
With the door done I moved on to the inside of the oven, I added a bracket made from pine to each side of the inside of the cabinet to support a wire cookie rack which served as the oven shelf. In a later step I also painted the inside of the oven black so that it would more realistic. Next, (after all the painting was complete) I used the original hinges from the door to install the oven door, moving the hinges so that the door would swing down like an oven door instead of sideways like it did originally. Lastly I added a handle to the oven door and then installed a touch light on the top of the oven compartment so that the kids could click on the light to simulate the oven being on and hot.
Step 7: The Refrigerator
To make the refrigerator I started by adding a 2" wide pine board to the entertainment center frame to create one side of the front of the refrigerator. This board gave me a good true edge to reference when building the rest of the fridge parts. Next I took measurements for the refrigerator door and found that it needed to be 32" X 18", (obviously the measurement for your door will vary depending on the entertainment center you use.) I cut the door from 1/2" birch plywood and then sanded and painted the door using spray chalkboard paint. the chalk board refrigerator door will give the kids a great area to draw pictures, make grocery lists, or just mess around. With door painted and drying I ripped down some more 1/2 plywood to frame out the refrigerator door as shown in the picture above. These boards add a bit of thickness to the refrigerator door making it look and feel more substantial and they add a nice aesthetic touch. I painted the trim boards white and attached them to the refrigerator door using a pneumatic nailer.
With the refrigerator door complete, turned my attention to the insider of the refrigerator. using 1" wide pine strips I added shelf supports to the inside of the refrigerator and then cut shelves from the same 1/2 plywood that I used to make the door. The shelves rest on the supports but can be removed or moved up/down as needed to make the space inside the fridge as useful as possible.
At this point the fridge is all but done, the only thing left to do was to attach the door and add a magnetic latch to hold it closed. I waited until after I had painted the kitchen set to attach these components to make things simpler.
Step 8: Adding Some Height
After building most of the appliances for the kitchen set I came to the realization that it was a bit too short for my 4 year old nephew and way to short for his 8 year old brother. To fix this, I built a C shaped frame of 12" wide pine boards and attached it to the bottom of the entertainment center as shown. The 12" pine boards overlapped the existing bottom by 3 inches which gave me a strong mounting surface to attach the boards via screws and pocket holes. This allowed me to raise the entire kitchen set by about 9 inches bringing the height of the counter top to about 22" which was a much better height for the young chefs.
Step 9: Sanding and Painting
With the kitchen set basically finished the next step as to disassemble it in preparation for sanding and painting. Anything that I didn't want painted had to be removed at this point, i.e. the faucet, the sink bowl, the range top, etc. With the entertainment center stripped down, I went to work with sand paper roughing up any flat surface to create a nice surface for the paint to bond with. If you happen to be refurbishing a particle board or plywood entertainment center take care not to sand to deep as you can sand right through the veneer into the underlying substrate.
As for painting the kitchen set, I used a Critter Spray gun to make quick work of the tedious job. If you haven't heard of the Critter spray gun I suggest you give it a Google. It's an ingenious little HVLP (high pressure low volume) spray gun that runs off compressed air. The thing that I love so much about the Critter is how simple it is to use and clean, basically just pour some paint in a mason jar, (it uses standard mason jars for the paint hopper, how smart is that?) and you're good to go. Clean up is equally easy, just remove the paint filled mason jar, wipe off as much paint from the gun as possible, and then screw on another mason jar full of water and run the gun until it sprays clean and clear and you're all done. No messy clean up, easy to use, readily available paint hoppers, and it's only $40 bucks, give one a try you'll like it. (By the way, I'm not sponsored by Critter spray guns, I just really like their products and I think you guys would like them too, and isn't that the point of Instructables, to share the tips and tricks that make making stuff even more fun?)
There are a bunch of tricks to applying a nice sprayed finish and I am by no means an expert, but here are some of the basics that seems to help me:
- Test your spray pattern on cardboard first - you might have to adjust your pressure or nozzle settings. testing on cardboard means you wont make mistakes on your final project while trying to get things dialed in.
- Don't try to do everything in one coat - you'll get runs if you try to spray to much at once.
- Horizontal surfaces are easier to paint - you're less likely to get runs. while painting I'd occasionally tip the kitchen set onto it's back so that I could paint various parts in the horizontal position.
- Thin your paint - if your gun is spitting and spuddering (or not working at all) you might have to thin your paint. I used water based paint for this project so I just had to add some water and mix well, if you use other types of paint, or finishes you'll need to use the associated thinners and solvents.
Step 10: Decorating
With everything painted and all of the large building projects complete, the next step is to re-assemble the kitchen set and add the little touches that give the kitchen set it's character. For me this meant doing things like putting the sink back together, reinstalling the oven and fridge doors, adding a window behind the sink, installing lights, and adding decals to give the kitchen set a bit of charm. It also meant a bit of sewing to create things like table cloths, curtains, etc. What you choose to do to for decoration will largely be based on your personally tastes and preferences and the sky is really the limit in regards to what is possible, but just know that this is the stuff that adds the wow factor to the kitchen set and really enhances the hard work you've already done building the kitchen set and filling it with appliances.
Step 11: Sourcing Cookware
The last step of this project is to add the stuff that every good kitchen needs, the cookware and food. I considers buying a dedicated kids cookware set online, but for the amount you spend you don't really get a lot, and what you do get is kind of small and dinky. So instead, I hit the local thrift shop and lucked it to an awesome set of pots and pans for $5 that were the perfect size for the kitchen set. While I was there I also found some great utensils and was even able to pick up another tap light for the refrigerator and some decorative items.
When you're stocking your kitchen set try to find things that will be fun for the kids to mess around with. Things like spatulas, garlic presses and cheese graters can pull double duty as kitchen tools but can also be used with Play-doh giving them a lot of utility and making them great additions to your kitchen set equipment.
Additionally, your little chefs tools to work with that will prepare them for helping out with real kitchen tasks. One thing that I wanted my nieces and nephews to become skilled at is using a knife to safely chop vegetables, (something they've asked to help with before but I was always hesitant to let them do because of the danger.) To this end, I picked up an old chefs knife and cutting board for the kitchen set and used my belt sander to dull the cutting edge and tip of the knife to make it safe for little hands. Now the kids can practice safely using a knife to chop up things like Play doh which will allow them to practice and refine their technique so that they'll be prepared to use a proper (sharp) knife in the future.
As for food, you have a few options. You can buy fake food or play food, or you can stock your kitchen set with shelf stable real foods. Things like rice and pastas won't go bad for years and they give the kids a chance to practice measuring. For my kitchen set I decided to mix and match, giving the kids some real foods and some fake foods so they they can decide how they want to play.
Step 12: Done
Thanks for taking the time to check out my Instructable on how to build a kids kitchen play set from an entertainment center. I hope you enjoyed the project and found the information to be useful and fun to read. This is a really fun project that can be built very inexpensively and is something that will be used and enjoyed for years to come. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to post them in the comments section and I will get back to you as soon as possible.
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Thanks and happy building!
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