Introduction: Making a Counter From Plywood Scraps
I'm a huge fan of plywood. As such, I end up with a lot of it floating around my shop ... but often in random sizes that are difficult to make use of. With the recent spike in lumber costs, particularly plywood, I was driven to find ways to make use of the each of those odd scraps I had lying around.
I decided to re-visit a project for which I'd previously made an instructable:
This project was a good way to create a beautiful piece of furniture that featured plywood end-grain -- but my original approach called for 8ft long strips of plywood being glued together. 8ft strips were gonna be a bit too much for my bin of scraps...So I decide to update and improve the process of the build.
So, In this instructable I lay out the general steps I took and how they varied from what I'd done previously. I also outline a few improvements I made that allowed me to simplify and reduce the overall cost of the build. I'll cover the details of the build in the steps to follow, but for you visual learners I've embedded a youtube video I made of the build.
Thanks for taking a look.
3/4" plywood scraps
Step 1: Processing the Plywood Scraps
The counter design is meant to emphasize the end grain pattern of the plywood instead of the veneer. So to do that I decided to cut the plywood scraps into a bunch 1.5" wide strips that would eventually by glued together so that the end-grain is oriented upwards.
I set to work cutting up my scraps into pieces of various lengths (from as little as 4" to lengths up to 30") and collecting them into groups that would go together to form the full desired length of the counter (in my case: 65")
The counter dimensions I made are roughly 18" wide, 65" long, and 1.5" thick -- which required the equivalent of roughly half of a full 4'x8' plywood sheet from my scrap collection. Changes to these dimensions will of course change the amount of plywood needed for the build.
Step 2: Prepping for the Glue-up
Another major deviation from the process I used in my previous plywood counter build, was to create a specialized tool to assist with the glue-up.
The tool itself was simple: a long sheet of Melamine with a side rail and two end caps screwed in place. This tool is actually something I use commonly for large glue-ups and only had to slightly modify to accommodate this one. If you don't have a dedicated glue-up tool like this...it's a worthy addition to the workshop.
I made sure the tool was slightly longer than the desired length of the completed counter (roughly an inch) and near the full desired width. The extra length on the tool allowed a little room to trim up and clean the edges after gluing all the pieces of plywood together.
Some notes on the tool:
1) The rail that runs the length of the tool needs to be perpendicular to the end caps and the end caps need to be perpendicular to the melamine board
2) Depending on the length of clamps you have, there needs to be some blocks screwed to the top of the rail within the maximum length of your clamps ( mine were 24" clamps...so the blocks were placed around 18" from each of the end caps). These blocks will be an anchoring point later on to supply additional axial clamping force between the end caps on the the plywood segments in the counter glue-up
3)The surface of the tool should be waxed prior to glue-up. This is to ensure that you don't end up adhering the plywood to the bonding tool. I used MinWax Paste Finishing Wax for releasing the tool surface.
Step 3: Gluing the Plywood Together
The last time I did this, the glue-up was pretty easy --- just taking turns gluing down full-length strips of plywood until I'd reached the desired width.
This time, however, there was a little more to consider during the glue-up process. I had to be aware of how each of the small pieces of plywood were fitting together and how they interacted with the ones around them. A good way to demonstrate what I mean is to consider the way in which laminate flooring is installed. If you look closely, you can tell that care is taken to keep an organic feel to the board placement. This is achieved by ensuring the boards of similar length are separated from each other and that the places where the boards terminate are staggered. I tried to do the same thing with this glue-up.
I mentioned in a previous step that as I cut the plywood scraps I placed them into groups that could be pieced together to match the length of the bonding tool (end-cap to end-cap). As I glued the counter together I pulled from these groups and trimmed pieces as necessary to ensure a tight fit between the end-caps. Allowing the pieces to fit loosely along the length of the counter will result in gaps opening between the individual pieces and could weaken the structure.
This glue-up process took a few hours to complete. This is well-beyond the working time for most wood glues. That means that it is critical that clamp-up and glue-up happen simultaneously. As I placed each row of plywood pieces, I used clamps to squeeze the pieces together. Then, as I began the next row, I would locally remove one or 2 clamps to make room for the next piece, place it, and clamp it down -- then proceed to the next piece. In this way, the entire glue-up was under compression as I worked, except for immediately around each piece I was placing.
As I placed the final row, I was careful not to crank down the clamps directly onto the plywood pieces. Up to this point, this extra care hadn't been necessary as the clamps were acting on the rail of the bonding tool and on plywood pieces that would be embedded within the counter. However, on this last layer, I ran the risk of leaving visible clamping marks or depressions on the plywood. For that reason I used small scraps of wood between the plywood and the clamp jaw before cranking down on the clamps. Additionally, I used the blocks attached to the bonding tool's rail to add additional axial clamping force between the end-caps of the bonding tool.
I then left the glue to dry overnight.
Step 4: Smoothing the Surface
Once the glue had hardened I had some work to do smoothing the surface.
The first thing to do was to remove the clamps and separate the plywood counter from the bonding tool. If the tool was properly waxed, this requires no more than a little prying around the edges with a chisel.
What came next was a lot of time spent carefully sanding and smoothing both main surfaces of the counter. I carefully worked through several grits, beginning with 80 grit and finishing with 220.
Step 5: Trimming the Ends
With the counter smoothed; I brought out the circular saw to trim up the edges of the counter. I clamped down a 2x4 as a cut guide (ensuring it was square to the edges of the counter) and trimmed the counter to length.
Step 6: Touch-up Work and Preparations for Mounting
In this step I start preparing the counter for mounting.
Last time I made a plywood counter, I used forged steel brackets to support and mount the counter in place. This time around, I wanted to save a little money and make use of the last remaining plywood scraps. For this reason, I elected to design and build all-plywood mounting brackets.
Before creating the brackets, however, I needed to prep the counter so that later I could attach the brackets to it. This was done by cutting 3 grooves -- 3/4" thick, 3/4" deep, and 15" long -- into the bottom of the plywood. I placed one groove at the center pf the counter and then spaced the other two so they were 24" away from the center groove (on either side).
In order to cut these grooves, I used a router and a metal cut guide that I clamped in place after ensuring it was truly perpendicular to the back edge of the counter. This was an important step, as the groove being cut would eventually be used to align and mount the brackets to the counter. Therefore, any misalignment with this groove will be directly translated to the mounting brackets.
Additionally, I used my router to cut a radius on all the edges of the counter. This is an aesthetics choice, I prefer a radiused edge rather than a sharp corner or fillet.
In the image I've included of the radius cut on the counter, you can see the fully built brackets... so I guess let's discuss those.
Step 7: Making the Mounting Brackets
The design of the brackets was meant to be simple and strong. It used a basic L-shape with a 60deg angle brace between the horizontal and vertical legs of the bracket.
I began by cutting out a 14" x 1.5" strip of 3/4" plywood. Next I cut out a 6" x 1.5" piece (same thickness).
I aligned the two pieces so they were perpendicular and they butted together such that the vertical member touched the bottom of the 14" horizontal piece. To secure the two pieces to each other, I cut 2 strap pieces -- 5" long with a 60deg angle on one end. The straps were placed on either side of the vertical leg of the bracket so that they overlapped by 3/4" onto the horizontal leg. I used wood screws to secure these two straps in place. (see images)
Finally, I created the angle brace of the bracket by cutting a piece of plywood that was 12 3/8" long with a 30 and 60 degree cut on either end (see cad images). I then placed the angle brace so that it went from the end of the vertical bracket leg (and mated with the straps that had been previously screwed in place) and spanned to the horizontal bracket leg.
It is important that the strap and angle brace pieces terminate on the same line on the horizontal bracket leg. Ideally they terminate with 3/4" of width on the horizontal leg left (and colinear with each other) as this 3/4" will be what is inserted into the grooves that were previously cut into the bottom of the plywood counter.
There is only one horizontal and vertical leg per mounting bracket, there are 2 straps and 2 angle braces...each placed on either side of the bracket legs in order to establish symmetry. All together, the total thickness of the bracket comes to 2.25".
Finally, a baseplate was created from a 5.5" x 6.75" rectangle. I used a router to cut out a central groove that would be an alignment guide for the rest of the bracket. I cut the groove to be 1/8" deep and equivalent in width to the bracket I'd just constructed. Again, the alignment of the groove is critical when being cut as it will help determine the final alignment of the bracket. I'll discuss more how to join the mounting bracket and baseplate in the next step...but first to answer the critical question: Is this bracket going to be strong enough? Well check out this video of me testing it out to see... ;)
Step 8: Attaching the Brackets to the Baseplates and to the Counter
This step will make or break the entire project -- It's time to attach the brackets to the counter.
The basic process is simple:
1) Apply a healthy dose of wood glue into each of the pre-cut grooves in the counter
2) Place the brackets into the grooves and dry-fit the baseplate in place on the brackets
3) Position the brackets in the groove so that they are seated as deep as possible in the grooves and are slid forward to where the baseplate comes flush with the back edge of the counter
4) Clamp the brackets and screw the Baseplates into place
While the process is straight-forward, there are several ways in which the installation can be messed up and the effectiveness of the brackets compromised as a result ... let's discuss:
First, the glue application should be all over the insides and bottom of the grooves. You want a consistent bond line as, in the end, this glue will be ONLY thing directly attaching the brackets to the counter
Second, great care should be taken to ensure that the vertical leg of the brackets are, indeed, perpendicular to the counter surface. Failure to ensure perpendicularity will result in the baseplate of the bracket failing to make consistent contact with the wall when the counter is installed. Any gaps between wall and bracket will be turned into points of failure as localized bending and deflections are maximized. Not to mention, the counter will be unable to be levelled on the wall if the bracket itself isn't true. For that matter, extra care should be taken to ensure that the baseplate sits flush with the back edge of the counter as well. Again, any gaps or twisting on the baseplate will create failure points in the brackets and prevent the counter from sitting level and flush on the wall.
Once I had the brackets and baseplates in place, I used clamps to hold everything together as the glue dried. Meanwhile, I pre-drilled 7 holes in the baseplate using a staggered pattern (as shown in the attached images) and then proceeded to fasten the baseplates to each of the brackets.
Be sure to clean up any excess glue that got squeezed out during clamping and then leave everything to dry overnight.
Step 9: Finishing Details
We're approaching the final stages now!
For the finish treatment I selected Danish Oil to begin the process. I applied the oil to all the surfaces of the wood as I love the way the oil brings out the contrast in the plywood. Once the oil had cured I applied polyurethane for added protection.
1) Before applying polyurethane over the top of an oil you need to give ample time for the oil to cure. I waited 3 days to ensure the oil had been fully cured.
2) It is important not to mix types of finishes. For the polyurethane to adhere well to the wood, you should use an oil-based polyurethane.
3) Oil-based polyurethane takes time to cure, so you need to apply in thin coats and give plenty of time to let it cure (24 hours). You typically need 3 layers to have enough thickness built up for proper protection.
4) The application of polyurethane is greatly simplified by using rub-on polyurethane. While using this type of poly finish requires additional layers as it isn't possible to buildup thickness very quickly with the finish -- it also degreases the complexity of application and lowers the risk of leaving behind brush marks or other blemishes in the finish.
Step 10: Installation
With the brackets already attached to the counter, installation is actually pretty simple -- it's mostly just a matter of getting the counter on the wall where you want it and making sure it is level.
I started out by using a long level and marking (lightly) on the wall where the bottom of the counter would go. Then I enlisted some extra hands to hold the counter steady while I put in a few screws through the bracket baseplates. Prior to screwing anything into the wall, I pre-drilled holes in the bracket baseplates. By pre-drilling holes slightly larger than the screws I'd be using, I ensured that the screws could pull the brackets tightly up against the wall. You can see the placement of the screws in the brackets by looking at the included images.
It is essential that the brackets are securely mounted into studs behind the dry wall. I had planned the placement of the brackets and counter ahead of time to ensure this happened... however, it will be important for you to adjust the bracket placement on the counter as necessary to account for the stud locations in the wall where you will be placing the counter. A reliable stud finder will make that much simpler
Once the brackets were mounted, the project was officially done. Time to put it to good use! I decided to make the counter the new home for my digital piano. ;)
Step 11: Enjoy Your Creation!
The project is done!
Thanks for taking the time to read through the instructable.
As reward, enjoy this video of me show-casing my SWEET piano skills ;)
Second Prize in the
Home Decor Challenge