Introduction: How to Build an Entertainment Unit

Hello again,

I made the switch from a fat-backed TV to a wider, slimmer plasma and soon followed with an upgrade for my amp and speakers - the plasma looked ridiculous on my old entertainment unit and the new amp didn't fit.

To give you an idea of how big the new unit is, the TV in the picture is 50 inches. It hung over the ends of my old unit (as seen in the coffee table Instructable).

So it was time to make a new entertainment unit. This would be my first serious attempt at wood work. The most I had done before this was to repair or update existing furniture.

It had to fit my new centre speaker, contain storage and ventilation for my amp and I wanted the cords to be (relatively) easy to get to.
With nephews and nieces running around, I also wanted to protect the gear from prying, poky fingers.

After a few hours of thinking and several sketches, I came up with something along the lines of the pictures below - which of course morphed as I worked on it.

Because your design should match your individual needs. I haven't included exact measurements for every little component of the unit I made.

The point is really to illustrate that you can and should make a custom unit to suit your gear and maybe save you some money that you might have otherwise spent on one of those laminated modular units.

You should end up with a piece of kit that will last you for many years to come - and what's more, if you ever dent/scratch/damage it, you will be able to repair it!

I hope it will serve as inspiration for your work and I look forward to seeing your results!

PS> I am Australian. We use metric measurements and spell words like centre, metre and generally use "ise" instead of "ize". So you will see a bit of that.

Here's a site that might help you ye-olde-worlder's measure stuff *cheeky grin*

Step 1: Planning

This step is about working out the size of this thing, getting you thinking about how it is going to look and what you plan to achieve.

Do you want it to take up an entire wall?
Do you want it to be minimalist and small?
What do you need to fit in it?
How much of the room will it take up?
Will it fit through doors?
Can you move/carry it?
How will you run your cables and are you going to keep them hidden?
Is airflow important to you and the life of your AV gear?
Do you need extra drawers?
A secret compartment? >:)
What about security? From thieves or accidental damage?

Write a list of items you need to put on shelves and sketch out some designs if it will help you visualize where you want to store each piece of equipment.

General thoughts about dimensions and things to consider..


Okay, so look at your AV gear and work out how deep the entertainment unit needs to be to accommodate it.

Measure your equipment - include the knobs at the front (so the door won't close on them!) and don't forget the cables at the back. Some of them can be stiff, inflexible and stand out a fair way..
So you'll need to include enough room that they will all fit without rubbing/bending/breaking plugs.

Don't forget to Include the depth of the wood used for the front doors plus their knobs, plus closing clearance so it doesn't hit your gear. Room for cabling at the back and some way of keeping it off the ground.

Remember the overhang from the top ledge, the thickness of your back panel (if you plan to have one) and you may want to factor in skirting boards if you want the unit to sit flush with the wall.

You probably won't want your unit narrower than your TV , as it will look too small and poorly designed (conversely it will make your TV look bigger !).
If you don't need to accommodate a centre speaker, you can make the unit the same width as your TV or a bit wider.

Remember the width of your gear. Give it a little room to breathe and allow for air flow. If you want your gear to slide in/out from the front, remember to make the doors wide enough for it.

Generally, lower units are more contemporary, but it depends on what look you are going for and what you need to fit in.
How high is your couch and coffee table? If you watch a lot of TV laying down, you may want to make the unit slightly higher so that drinks on the table won't block your view.
How many shelves do you want/need to hold all your gear? Are you going to buy a new Xbox/PS3 next month?
Again, leave some room for airflow.

Lastly.. consider what I call trimming (not sure what it is actually called). But I refer to routed/curved/fancy edging that you might dress the edges with to change this thing from a simple box to a piece of furniture.
The structure of your joins and the height of your trimming may be a factor in the height.

My overall measurements
187cm long (top surface that has some overhang)
62cm deep (top surface that has overhang at the front)
60cm high

Step 2: Design

Okay, so here is the basic logic of my design..
Knowing that wood of 5cm x 1.6cm x length  and 7cm x 1.6cm x length are common in hardware stores, I based a lot of the structure around this.

I planned to make a wooden frame for the base to provide a little height and some structure (so the bottom shelf wasn't sitting directly on the ground, nor would it sag).

So.. 4 pieces of 5cmx1.6cm wood, running front to back, with two long pieces of 5cmx1.6cm wood joining them. (see picture 1)

From there, I added a panel of wood directly on top with the same depth and width (this became the bottom shelf) - giving me a platform.

At that point, I added my vertical panels.

The end panels attached to the sides of the base - so they need to be longer than the two central panels  (end panel height = central panel height + base height + bottom shelf thickness).

I then created stability by placing a stabilizer piece across the top of the back panels.
(see picture 2 for a sneak peek of construction and to get an idea about what I am talking about).

To strengthen this structure and give it a more solid look, I dressed the face with these 5cm x 1.6cm and 7cm x 1.6cm pieces of wood.

The maths freaks amongst you have been keeping track and already know at this point that I used the table saw to cut the bottom front piece down from 7cm to 6.6cm's so that the front piece was the same height as the existing platform..

Now you have my basic structure.. Give it a bit more thought and see where you can add your own touches to make it more "you".

Step 3: What You Will Need..

At this level of woodcraft, it will be much easier if you have a table saw for nice, square cuts.
If you possess and are good with a hand-held circular saw (I am not!), that will at least keep the angle of your cuts square.

If you think you'll give a hand-held circular saw a go, I recommend clamping both your work and a guide to cut along.

Other items you are likely to need need are;
-Clamps of several different sizes.
-Belt sander, sanding belts, loose sandpaper for finishing
-Biscuit joiner will help to make the door, shelf and drawer construction more fun
-Drill and several different sizes of drill bit, spade bits and one of those door lock kits for bigger holes.
-Screw drivers and or drill driver bits.
-Hammer and several sizes of nails (depending on your construction technique).
-Set Square
-Screws - self drilling and to match your wood (eg: suitable for softwood or hardwood).
They should at least as long as double the length of the thickness of your wood.
-Wood glue

If you got to this stage, you should know how much wood you need (don't forget the shelves - I had to go back and get more wood!).
Of course (murphy's law) your sizing is unlikely to match perfectly with what is available, you may have to compromise or be patient in finding what you need.

Shelves and paneling-

When visiting my local hardware chain it is always a bit of a gamble and they never seem to have what I need when I need it.
I was dreading finding wood and thought I might have to pay extra for panels from a joinery.
I was prepared to use 16mm pine construction ply and add some trim on the edging to hide the fact that it was ply.. However, that wasn't necessary.
My local hardware chain happened to have some decent "hobby panels" on the day I visited.
Pre-glued planks of wood to make decent sized panels.
They were 180cm's long x 60cm deep x 16mm thick. I bought a bunch and they just fit in the hatchback. My unit was about that deep and slightly longer, so I would have to add edges at either end to increase the length.

Many lengths of 5cm x 1.6cm and 7cm x 1.6cm strips of wood to make the structure, create bracing and of course the facia, giving the unit a solid, chunky look.

Dowel for ventilation on doors and sides-
I went with 6mm thick dowel - lots of (don't forget to include the amount you will lose in cutting when estimating how much you will need).

Door furniture-
Door knobs, hinges and drawer handles.
I liked the idea of spring and magnet stoppers so the doors wouldn't slam... of course I couldn't find any in the two months of looking. Nope, I didn't go to IKEA as I cannot stand the place with its mazes of furniture and kids squirming about everywhere.

Stain, lacquer/varnish.
I generally go to the store and see what takes my fancy. Remember to try on scraps first as it doesn't always turn out as it looks on the tin!

Mentioned in tools, but as a reminder for when you are at the store - screws, wood glue, nails, sandpaper etc

Step 4: Ventilation Design

If you want to have ventilation in your side panels, you really want to work on that before you start putting it all together. You might also consider ventilation in your top surface.  I opted against that, figuring I'd be pretty upset if someone spilled a drink and it trickled down into my gear.
However.. that would be the most efficient venting system.

If you don't want ventilation in your side panels you can skip this step.

If you do, here are a few options I considered and what I ended up doing.

Designing or adapting to your limitations....

I started with several ideas..
Fancy grills..
I've seen these in the higher end ducted heating vents or intakes.You know, brass or stainless steel grills with fancy scroll work? (see picture).
Unfortunately I didn't find any on the day I was looking and didn't think they'd be big enough - I also wanted to be able to repeat the design in the front doors. So ducted air vents wouldn't work.

Purpose built grills..
We had some cupboards purpose built for AV gear at work. Brushed aluminum with slots cut into it.
Didn't find any of these.. and the gear at work runs too hot anyway.

Audio mesh..
I had considered hiding the equipment from prying eyes using the same mesh as found on speakers. So some kind of grill with that as a backing. You can buy it by the metre.
Ended up leaving this as a secondary option if the nephews/nieces caused trouble with poky little fingers.

Dowel bars..
Dowel was cheap and readily available... and when I thought about it in my head, "easy" to assemble.
My initial plan for dowel was to cut slots into one strip of wood and mount that against the flat edge of the entertainment unit, creating a little nook I could slip the dowel into.

Yeah... no. The thickness of the strips of wood I wanted to use didn't allow for nice cuts - the speed and power of the saw was too much and would snap the strips before I had made cuts along the full length (was also quite dangerous to cut on the table saw).

In the end, I went with pieces of dowel inserted into holes in two strips of wood to create a jail bar effect.

Step 5: Ventilation Ports

You may decide to skip this altogether - however, I have a Home Theatre PC and a pretty beefy AVR in my unit to so I wanted to make sure there was plenty of airflow.
(It still gets fairly warm in there with the ventilation you see)

To achieve this, I clamped two strips of wood together (the same thickness as the side panels) and then drilled dowel-sized holes right through both pieces, evenly along the entire length.

Once all holes were drilled along the length, I stuck dowel in each hole and pulled the two strips apart - making a little ladder.

1. Work out the width and height of your vent.
The width becomes the length of the strips of wood you will mount the dowel in.
The height becomes the length of the individual down pieces.

2. Cut strips of wood from the same material as your panels (ie: pine in my case),
Make sure they are the same thickness as your panels and the same length as the width of your vent.
They only need to be about 1cm high, to allow a decent amount of the dowel to sit in it.
You will need two strips for every vent.

This is the first piece of wood you are going to mark that is going to be seen in the end result, so remember to be careful about where you mark it. Pick the ugliest side to mark and make sure that is going to be glued to something - making sure the nicest side will be seen in the final product ;)

3. Grab the two strips of of wood that will make one of your end vents and tape them together with some masking tape.
Face the top bits of the strips upwards (bits that won't get seen and that you plan to drill through).

4. Grab the two strips of wood that will make up the vent at other end and tape them together with masking tape. Facing the top of the strips upwards again.

5. Mark a light line down the centre of top of each strip so you know where the centre is for drilling.

6. Place the two sets of strips beside each other so that you can rule the same measurements across both strips.

7. Do the math and work out how far apart your holes need to be apart...

Roughly 4cm from the centre of each dowel to the next is good (this is what I used).

So work out how many dowel pieces you can fit across your vent at roughly 4cm apart.

You may have a slight remainder. You can adjust your spacing until they perfectly fit into your space or you can take that remainder and halve it, putting it at either end
Remember to factor in the dowel thickness when you are halving your remainder.
Check, double check and recheck your results. You will be sad when you put it all together and realize there is a bigger gap at one end.

8. Mark your holes on the centre line of one strip.

9. Take your set square and transpose those marks to the second strip.

Do some measuring to make sure it is all even. Step back, take another look, get a friend to take a look and make sure they are even (okay, don' t go that far, but this is a fair bit of effort if you stuff it up.

10. Clamp these strips of wood to a scrap piece - that way, when you drill through the wood it won't tear the edges as you breach the other side.

11. Insert your drill bit (after sanding hundreds of bits of dowel "just a bit" I recommend using a drill bit that is 1mm fatter than your dowel)

12. Holding your drill as perfectly vertical as possible (or using a drill press), drill your holes.

Take a breather!

13. Cut your lengths of dowel down to the height of your ventilation hole.
I recommend going 1 or 2mm shorter than your vent height - it will save you some trouble!

14. Insert your bits of dowel into one strip of wood with the holes drilled.
Remove the tape and slide the strips apart (probably best if you leave one strip on the bench and lift the other vertically).

15. Make any adjustments required to the holes or dowel pieces.

16. Cut the holes for the vents in the side panels (cut your side panels to size first if you haven't already) - I drilled a hole and used the jigsaw to cut out the vent hole.

17. Fit your "ladder" into the vent hole and see how it fits.

18. Make any adjustments required - ie: sand the edges of the hole in the panel to ensure it is straight. Nip ends off dowel pieces etc.

19. Remove dowel pieces from the strips of wood, one by one, adding a dob of wood glue at each end and fitting it back in.
Do what works for you, but pushing the two strips together so that the dowel sticks out the top and bottom is probably easiest, then slide the strips back to the edge of the dowel so the glue makes contact.

I was going to glue and nail the "ladder" into the vent hole, but nails turned out to be unnecessary.

20. Place a line of glue along the top and the bottom of your horizontally aligned "ladders" (see image 2) and fit them into the vent holes in your end panels.

21. Clamp them into place and allow to dry (see glue manufacturers instructions)

22. If you are feeling cheeky, you can sand any edges that don't sit flush with the exterior of your panels while it is clamped and not yet dry, using a belt sander or a hand sander. Otherwise wait til it has dried and then sand it (probably the better option).

Your end panels are ready to fit and we can begin assembly now.

Step 6: Construction Begins - Base

We start from the ground up.

Create the base
As noted in the planning stage, I made a wooden frame for the base to provide a little height and some structure (so the bottom shelf wasn't sitting directly on the ground, nor would it sag).

If you plan to use the same layout as me and have four vertical panels, make sure you offset the two centre base pieces to locations other than where you plan to attach your vertical panels (the middle two are attached from the bottom).

I used 4 pieces of 5cm wide x1.6cm thick wood, running front to back, with two long pieces of 5cm wide x1.6cm thick wood joining them. The pieces are laid on their 1.6cm sides to create more height and strength (see picture 1 for basic layout).
These joins were glued and screwed with self-drilling, softwood screws.

From there, I glued and nailed a panel of wood directly on top with the same depth and width (this became the bottom shelf) - giving me a platform.

Step 7: Construction - Adding Vertical Panels

Before adding the vertical panels, I cut a 7cm high x 1.6cm deep nick out of the top, back edge corner of the central two panels.

This would enable me to add a cross beam at the back of the unit later (see picture 1 for an example of the cutout in the vertical panel)

At that point, I laid the base on it's back edge so that I could get to the underneath side.

I added my vertical panels, starting with the end panels.

The end panels attach to the sides of the base - so they need to be longer than the two central panels  (end panel height = central panel height + base height + bottom shelf thickness).
The bottom edge of the end panels and the bottom of the base should be flush.

I clamped, glued and nailed the end panels on.
I planned to cover the nails on the outer bottom edge  with fancy, routed edging later.

I added the central vertical panels, by gluing and screwing from underneath the base.

Step 8: Creating Stability

At this stage, the end panels are fairly secure, they have a good 6.6cm contact at either end of the base, where they are glued and screwed, but the central panels are only attached from underneath the base on their 1.6cm edge.

Well, the central panels need a shelf installed..
Mark off the height, add glue to the shelf panel, slide it in between the two central vertical panels and screw it together from either side.

That's better, but it all still needs some extra support.

I then created further stability by placing a stabilizer piece across the top of the back panels.
The stabilizer piece runs the length of the unit and is inserted into the 7cmx1.6cm cutouts in the central panels, glued and screwed into the central panels from the back.
The end panels are glued and screwed to the stabilizer piece from the outside edges.

Careful how low down you go with these screws in the top edge of the end panels. My fancy, routed edging that would cover these nasties was only about 6.5 cm deep, so I couldn't leave screws visible more than 6.5cm from the top edge.

At this point, I was actually surprised at how strong the unit was, however, I had one more piece to add to the structure at this point.

Not so much for stability, but to add extra support to the top deck and ensure that the 50+ kgs of the TV would hold. It will also serve the purpose of a lip for the top lid to close onto.

I cut additional nicks out of the centre panels using the jigsaw, slotted in another piece of 7cm x 1.6cm wood across the centre of the top and glued/screwed it into place (see the image below - unfortunately the first picture I actually took).

Step 9: Adding the Facing

Okay, at this point I added facing, giving the unit more strength and more bulk.

I clamped, glued and screwed a couple of pieces of scrap wood to the top of each end panel (4cm x 4cm) that would enable me to join the top beam across the front and provide extra stability.

I then glued and nailed 5cmx 1.6cm pieces down the front edges of the end panels.

I then glued and nailed a piece of 6.6cm x 1.6cm wood across the bottom at the front

I then glued and nailed 5cm x 1.6cm pieces to the front edge of the centre panels, placing the edge flush with the inside of the central panels so that the excess wood was on the cupboard sides, not inwards for the drawer.

I glued and nailed a 5cm x 1.6cm piece to the bottom of the central shelf, allowing the excess to hang downwards into the drawer cavity.

Last, I added the beam across the front at the top, gluing and nailing as I went. The ends are attached to the scrap wood I mounted first.

Step 10: Making the Doors

Okay, to make the doors, I used a biscuit joiner and pieces of 5cm x 1.6cm wood.

Simple pattern:
Two vertical pieces - one either end - and three horizontal pieces joining them.

Here's where you have the advantage over me.
When making these, I didn't even consider putting the dowels directly into the doors (for some reason!?).
If you are smart and careful, you can adapt the ventilation steps and instead of adding bars to the doors afterward - like I did - you can drill holes directly into your horizontal pieces and fit your dowel as you construct the doors.

Measure the space in your cupboards where the door will go and make it 2-5mm smaller around every edge.
Make sure both doors are identical (so it doesn't look wonky).
Consider your internal shelf height - set the centre beam in your door to match/cover the shelf.
I recommend making the space at the top and bottom the same, so you can easily fit your dowel bars without too much hassle.

Construction steps:
-Mark off the placement for the biscuits,
-Set the biscuit joiner to the right height,
-TEST on some scrap wood,
-Screw some scrap wood to the bench to form a jig that you can rest the wood against while cutting biscuit holes,
-Cut the biscuit holes,
-Glue and tap the biscuits into place,
-Glue and join all bits of wood,
-Clamp and allow the glue to dry.

Adding the bars:
Okay, if you didn't take advantage of my hindsight note above, you will now have to go back and revisit Step 5 again, to make 4 little ladders to go into each door.
Follow the same technique used earlier of lining the strips of wood up and measuring across both sets to ensure the bars will be consistent in the top and bottom of your doors.
Glue and clamp the bars into place as shown in picture 2 below.

Once the doors are completed and dried, check your sizing to make sure they will fit and have enough clearance to work.

Don't attach them yet, they will only get in the way (and you need to paint/seal them first!).

Step 11: Adding Shelves

Okay, so I decided I wanted my shelves to be on rails, enabling me to slide out my gear and get to cables if necessary.

I bought some cheap/simple/basic kitchen drawer sliders rated to the right weight to hold my gear (the kind with powder coated paint and wheels).

I attached some 4cm x 4cm scrap pine at about the right height for the shelf on the insides of the cupboard and mounted the rails onto that.

I then worked out how the rails operated (yeah, simply, but the size in particular) and cut shelving to the right width. I put a 5cmx1.6cm facing piece on the front to give them a solid look (and hide the rails).

To be honest, I had a lot of trouble with these shelves, due to the slight dampness in my garage (I was working in winter at the time). The shelves would warp, causing them to change shape slightly and the rails to jam. if your shop is warm and dry you are likely to be spared that issue!

I didn't take many early photos of the shelves. The first photo shows them in place. The second photo is from a later stage when the top was already on (note the tarpaulin over the top in an attempt to keep it warm/er and dry?)

Step 12: Adding the Top

Before we can add the top, we need to add the fancy edging.

I got the routed wood you see in picture 1, used the triton workbench;
clamped and cut the edges allowing me to form a miter join and nailed/glued it on to the top edge.
I used the belt sander to ensure that the fancy edging, the facing and the top of the panels were all smooth and level.

Of course a simple miter box should do the job for the miter joins as well

Next, the top panel..
I glued and nailed some offcuts to either end of the large panel to extend its length a little.

To explain the next bit; I wanted the top panel to have a split fold, allowing easier access to the cabling at the rear.

So, I went and took a measurement of my TV's base. I knew roughly how it was, but wanted to make a cut in the panel that would leave about 1cm around the edge of it.

I marked off where the TV would sit and ruled lines from there to the outer edges, then added a curve so that the line would flow smoothly.

I made the cut with a jigsaw and then cut out a hole for cables using a lock kit drill bit.

I then glued and nailed the front panel down and proceeded to attach the hinges for the rear split fold.

Picture 1 illustrates the fancy edging attached.
Picture 2 illustrates the cut has been made to the panel and the cable hole drilled.
Pictures 3 and 4 illustrate how the folding lid works.

Step 13: Making the Drawer

Okay, the drawer consists of a face piece and a box behind it.

I worked out the measurements and cut each piece of wood.

the face plate runs the width of the drawer, the sides go the length and the back piece fits between the sides. (see picture 1)

For the base of the drawer..
I then set my Triton work bench saw to a height of about 4mm and set the fence 1cm away from the blade

I ran each piece of wood over the blade, creating a 4mm groove 1cm from the bottom of each piece.
Allowing me to slot in a 3mm piece of ply into the groove
I joined all sides of the drawer with biscuits and glue and clamped it.

Finished by sanding off any rough edges.

Picture 2 - drawer in place.

Step 14: Cables

Okay, so I left a bit of room at the back for cables.

The picture illustrates the holes I cut in the vertical panels that enable cables to be run between each section.

I placed the power board behind the centre speaker (where the power tool is in the picture).

I had a follow up idea of using a stable gun to line the holes with velcro - however that proved unnecessary.

Step 15: Wheels

It's going to be too heavy to move once it has gear on it, so I added wheels.

I did this by gluing/nailing some scrap wood to the base and attaching the wheels to that.

This provided extra strength and placed the wheels at the right height.

I believe I aimed for a 5mm clearance.. which was promptly swallowed up by our thick carpet.

Well, if we ever move it will roll like a champ on wooden boards! ;)

Step 16: Painting/Sealing

So, you've used matching wood filler for any little nicks in the wood and all the nail holes, sanded it all down and are ready to paint..

Go to the store, pick a product and follow the instructions on the tin ;)

I had some left over from the coffee table, so went and bought the same so that both pieces of furniture would match.

I did an extra layer of satin finish on the top surface to give it a little extra protection.

The dowel bars were a bit of a pain to paint. I ended up using little bits of sponge to work it into gaps.

Step 17: Final Assembly

Okay, so here is where you take it inside with a big grin on your face because you are nearly done.

Attach the doors, knobs and drawer handle.
work out your placement,
run your cords,
fill it with your gear

Admire your work and enjoy!