Introduction: From Hymnal Racks to Plant Stands - an Exercise in Repurposing Architectural Wood Findings

About: Vietnam era veteran (USAF), former air traffic controller, former entrepreneur, former clergy, former chauffeur. Currently retired and busier than ever. Devoted husband to an extremely talented wife and fathe…

A short while ago the pastor of the church across the street from us was retiring. As he and his wife prepared to move out of the church parsonage that had been their home for the past thirty years he faced the problem of what to do with the eclectic collection of, well, stuff that had accumulated over the years. Several years before, the church had replaced all the pews during a remodeling of the sanctuary and he had saved the hymnal racks from the backs of the pews, figuring he would come up with some way of using them some day.

As the day neared for their departure, he found that he still had stacks of these hymnal racks piled up in his workshop. Since he knew I'm a bit of an amateur woodworker he asked if I'd be interested in them. Silly question! They were nicely finished oak (I think) and while a bit dusty, the finish was still in wonderful condition (Figure 1). So we made the transition from his workshop to mine.

The racks now sat in my basement shop, growing more dust. But they looked so nice and I really thought there should be something I could do with them. Now, while my motto has long been that one can never have too many friends, flashlights or clamps, my wife agrees with the friends part, but insists that the other two items should be shoes and plant stands (actually, her list is quite a bit longer than that). And one day, while examining my stash of hymnal racks, I realized that two of them joined together would make a nice looking wooden column, which would make a nice looking - wait for it - plant stand! Not only did I find a use for all those racks, but it would be a use that would make my wife happy...and is there any greater accomplishment than putting your rather modest skills to work and - in so doing - producing something that pleases your spouse? I didn't think so either. Off to the workshop.

Now I realize that very few people have stacks of hymnal racks sitting in their workshop, and I almost didn't enter this project in the Reclaimed Wood contest because as I looked the entries over, a vast majority are made from salvaged pallet wood, barn wood or raw wood pieces - in other words, basically free wood used to make something worthwhile. This is a great idea, but my project is quite a bit different in that this was wood that was very nice in the first place but no longer able to serve its original purpose. I didn't want to sand it all down and start from scratch - I wanted to preserve not only the wood, but the finish and lines as well. And since it's a very specific modification of one thing into something completely different, I wasn't sure how well it would fit the contest. But then it came to me that the idea isn't limited to hymnal-racks-to-plant-stands, but could be adapted to projects using all sorts of architectural woodwork: window frames and sills, door frames, baseboards, cove molding - pretty much any nicely formed and finished wood no longer serving its original purpose. So I figured this is every bit as much a project about reclaiming as one that turns pallet wood into something. The idea is the thing - and I hope this project gives you some ideas of your own.

Step 1: Trimming the Racks

I found that by placing two racks together I could come up with a design that was fluted on one side of the column and flat on the other three sides, which I thought was pretty neat. The racks would form three sides of the column and I could either cut another rack up for the fourth side or use a piece of plywood to make the fourth side. Now that I had actually thought of something I could make with the racks, I wanted to stretch their usefulness as far as possible, so I opted to make the fourth column side from plywood, saving the additional racks to become the basis of even more plant stands. It would have been great if I had some salvaged baseboard in a similar finish, because I could have miter cut four pieces of baseboard at 45 degrees and joined them together to make the top and base of the columns. But I didn't have that, so I used some leftovers from previous projects to make the top and base, routing the edges into a nice pattern.

The first plant stand I made was a tall one - as tall as I could make it without a horizontal joint somewhere in the column. I use two hymnal racks for that plant stand. For this Instructable, I wanted to make a stand half as high as the original, which would only use one hymnal rack, cut in half. So the first step was to cut the ends off a hymnal rack, leaving as much of the rack as possible (Figure 2). A couple of swipes with the table saw was all it took. Then another cut at the midway point (Figure 3) and Step 1 was completed.

Step 2: Gluing the Racks

The finish on the racks was still very nice and I wanted to preserve that as much as possible, which meant that I didn't want to use nails or screws to assemble this and have holes to fill and finish, so the column section needed to be glued together. Carpenter's glue and proper clamping would produce a strong bond, but the surfaces where the two rack sections would join needed to have the finish sanded off in order to produce a strong glue bond. Also, to ensure that the result would be ninety degrees at all corners of the column, I cut a couple of spacers to fit into the fourth side of the column while the racks were drying to keep the dimensions straight.

Step 3: Making the Base and Top

A plant stand needs a reasonably wide base and top, the base for balance and the top for the plant it will hold. I had some 8 inch (7 1/4 inch actual) poplar in my scrap pile and cut four squares, two 7 1/4 inch squares and two 6 1/4 inch squares (Figure 4). I routed a 45 degree angle around the smaller squares and a Roman ogee around the larger ones.

It was time to match finishes, so I experimented with various stains and discovered that an Early American stain matched the finish on the racks nicely. I stained the pieces for the top and bottom and the piece of eighth inch plywood that would make the fourth side of the column before going any further. Staining now would allow me to get all edges and corners cleanly stained before I assembled the pieces, and since I wasn't planning on using any nails or screws on exterior areas, it wouldn't pose a problem with filling, sanding and staining holes later on.

The hymnal racks happened to have card holders at each end, which gave me good surface area to work with at both ends of the column when I made one out of two racks. But since the smaller column is made with only one rack cut in half, the wood from the card holders is joined together at just one end of the column (Figure 5). This meant I needed to glue a 4 inch square flush with the opposite end of the column to have something I could secure the top to. I also cut another 4 inch square to glue into the column interior about a third of the way up from the bottom (Figure 6). I screwed the 6 1/4 inch squares with the bevel to the top and bottom of the column (Figure 7) and then glued 7 1/4 inch squares to the 6 1/4 inch squares, hiding the screws and producing a bit more elaborate edging for the top and base.

Step 4: A Question of Balance

The taller a plant stand is, the more it needs to be weighted at the bottom in order to keep it from easily being knocked over. I can't stress the importance of this step enough - the bottom needs to be weighted or you will one day very much regret it. To do this, I glued a stopper block about a third of the way up from the bottom of the column, then filled the lower part of the column with gravel (Figure 8). This gives the column a much lower center of gravity and greatly reduces the possibility of accidentally knocking it over. With the shorter stand, I also placed the end with the card holders at the base end of the column so that the bulk of the wood - as well as the gravel - would be at the lower end of the column.

Step 5: The Fourth Side

When joined together, the two pieces of hymnal rack produced a column with a 4" x 4" interior dimension. The areas where the card holders had been had a 1/8" lip, so the interior dimension to that lip was actually 4" x 3 7/8". This was great on the card holder end, because it meant I could use a 1/8" piece of plywood to make the fourth side of the column. But I needed places at the top and middle of the column to glue the plywood in place. For that reason, both of the 4 x 4 inch pieces I had cut for the top anchoring block and the middle divider actually became 4" x 3 7/8" pieces so they would recess 1/8 of an inch on the fourth side, allowing both room to insert the plywood panel and places to which I could glue the panel. With the gravel in place and the plywood piece already stained, I was now able to glue the plywood for the fourth side at the top, center and bottom of the column (Figure 9).

Step 6: Finishing

I used a couple of coats of 3X semi-gloss polycrylic finish on the fourth side and the top and bottom, adding a single coat on the already finished sides to refresh the finish a bit, and the plant stand was complete (Figure 10).

Even if you don't have stuff hanging around your workshop to recycle, I hope I've brought up a few ideas you may be able to use if you stumble across some architectural wood that is nice enough to deserve a second chance at life...or just want to make a nice plant stand.. Thank you for visiting my Instructable, and...


Radical Geezer

Reclaimed Wood Contest 2016

Participated in the
Reclaimed Wood Contest 2016