IMNHO: Every good piece of furniture is a balance between form and function. It solves a problem.
At work we recognize a principle called "Parkinson's Law." The concept is simple: Work expands to fill the time allotted. If you give 2 hourly people the same task and give 1 2hrs to finish it and 1 4hrs to finish, they will both take up all of the time.
It is with that in mind that I propose "Children's Law." Toys expand to fit the space allotted. It is with this principle that I have tested and this shelving unit is further evidence of those test. We put 2 leaves in our dining table and instructed our boys to keep all of their lego on the table. They obliged. We then added 4 more leaves and executed the same test. The results were the same. They filled the table with their projects. They followed the rules and kept their items organized for a whole month (including Christmas break and regular school weeks). Mind you, my boys are 5 and 7 years old. They have at least 3 dozen large lego sets that they like to play with. Their sister, nearly 2 years old, also likes to be involved.
So we have our problem. 2 boys want to play with lego in a designated space and they need to hold their sister accountable to not influencing their creations.
We realized that a previous book shelf I had made them was only about 50% effective in utilizing it's footprint. A redesign of the book shelf to include a play area seemed to be a logical solution.
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Step 1: Step 1: Design Your Storage Unit
tl;dr: Sketch it out. Figure out how best to use the wood you buy. Measure twice, cut once.
I usually do this on paper and sketch out a few units that I think would look nice. I think start to play with measurements to try to maximize the use of plywood. Side note: the interesting thing about plywood is that you pay for the whole sheet no matter how much you use. So whether you're decreasing your carbon footprint, being a good steward of your resources or just plain being frugal - it's a good idea to minimize waste.
I have the experience of having made 3 bookshelves previously and I have found that I often make the shelving area too small (8-12 inches). On a recent work trip I visited my in-laws and helped my father-in-law restructure his Ikea cabinet. (mind you the nearest ikea is 3 hrs away from my house.) I decided to ride on the shoulders of giants and use Ikea's dimensions for the cubbies. This way we could buy or make totes to fill the space if books didn't take the space.
The design uses long horizontal pieces and short load bearing vertical pieces. With my new Kreg Pocket Hole Jig, I could easily stack boards vertically with out dowels or biscuits.
As I was sketching it out, I realized that I could use another horizontal piece and seal the top of the unit off with a lock. I could also put a few hinges, some clasps and some chains to make it a flip down table. The catch? The table has to be empty to close it up. (this was an added bonus.) You can see in my PDF that I X'd out 2 vertical supports and reduced the count from x15 to x13.
After play testing this unit, I have discovered that the kids would greatly benefit from the table section being cut in ½ to divide the two sections. Then allow each kid his own set of chains and clasps to keep his separate unit closed. We're not big on our kids being selfish or posessive, but we did see our 5 year old applying "Children's Law" while big brother was at school. Also, it would be a bummer if one of them left the door open and sissy came in to get creative on the other persons stuff.
Step 2: Step 2: Buy Your Wood (make Your Cuts)
tl;dr: bring your drawings and measurements to home depot and have them do your cuts.
My table saw was at work, so I asked Home Depot to make my 14.5" cuts for me. I chose to cut with the grain of the veneer. I selected ½" veneered plywood, after the project at my father-in-law's turned out so nice. This was listed as birch, but really looked like Red Oak. I also purchased ⅛" masonite for the backer cut to the unit's size. I purchased 2 sets of hinges (4 total hinges), 2 locking clasps and 2ft of chain. Lastly, I purchased a roll of red oak veneer to iron on when Im satisfied with the structure. (previously I stated that I am going to adjust the table part to be 2 separate tables)
the cutting guide is on the PDF of the previous page. Here's a picture of my stash.
You also need to cut your boards. I highly recommend having Home Depot cut them, even if you have to pay. Though if they're cross cutting your plywood and rush it, they will rip up the veneer. So make sure they go slow, tape it or use a different saw than they use for ripping sheets. Our Home Depot has a radial saw. I elected to use my skill saw at home, but I regret not having them do it. The results would have been the same and saved me some time.
Step 3: Step 3: Drill Your Pocket Holes
tl;dr: Kreg Pocket Hole Jig. Get one. Learn how to use it. Don't let your screws collide.
First, if you dont have a Kreg Pocket Hole Jig. Get one. There's 3 models. I reccomend the middle model for $40. It even comes with a clamp. Then pick up an assortment of screws. It comes with some sample packs. I used a box of 100 1in screws. The kreg screws have a drill on the end to keep the wood from splitting. for $5 dont skimp on these. I've also heard great things about their wood dowels to fill the holes.
Second, if you've never used one. Read the manual, watch a youtube video and then make a few joints.
Third, plan your pocket holes. I used the edge of the jig to drill my holes. Since my jig had 2 holes. I could drill the top row of vertical supports using one method and the bottom row using another method. This way the screws didnt collide. (see above picture)
You should have enough extra scrap pieces to test a pattern that you're happy with. I went with 4 on the top and 3 on the bottom.
Step 4: Step 4: Put Your Frame Together
tl;dr: First the frame. Then the backer for squareness. Then the inserts. DeWalt makes a tool that will make your life good.
Ok, I did this wrong and my shelf was a bit out of square. If I had it to do over, I would do it as I describe below.
Measure and mark where all of the shelves/dividers/vertical supports are going to go. (Remember, you only have to mark the bottom of the top piece and the top of the bottom piece.) Doing this before you screw pieces together will make your life easier. I used a square and a pencil.
Put only the edge pieces and the horizontal pieces together. Do not put the middle pieces in. (feel free to use wood glue, just be careful, as it could affect your finishing. I didn't because I wasn't sure if this would be it's final configuration. I have no regrets. The pocket holes are strong.
Once you've got a wobbly frame - affix your back to make it square. (see picture above)
Also, if you dont have the DeWalt 90˚ drill attachment ($17) - get one. This will make the shelf assembly that much easier. (picture above)
Now that you have a square box, begin to put the shelves/dividers/supports in. Line them up and screw in 1 corner at a time. for me, I started with the lower front (Picture above), then lower back, then I put my square against the shelf to confirm it was square before putting the top front and top back screws in respectively. After that, I put the rest of the screws in.
(I will repeat 1 more time. I only put a middle divider in the top. No regrets.
Step 5: Step 5: Put on the Front for Fitting
tl;dr: Google how to do this. I am not good at it.
Im not writing this part up because I know there is a better way. I made some notes on the picture. short version: I attached the clasps. Then I marked the hinges locations with pencil. Then I affixed the chains (1 at a time. Arbitrarily placed the first chain at a 45˚ while my wife held the table at 90˚. Then measured those locations for chain #2. Then I put in the final hinges in the middle (and split the wood putting them in with the supplied screws. Pre-drill your hinge holes!!!)
Step 6: Step 6: Finish the Wood and Iron on the Veneer
tl;dr: Finish it off nice!
I haven't finished my unit because I am still play testing it and making changes. But once you get it all setup how you like. Take off the front door/table and the backer and iron on your veneer. Then trim the excess w/ a blade at 90˚ (practice somewhere else, this takes a few tries to figure out.) Then sand, clean, stain and lacquer to your hearts desire.
...or as we often do. Prime it and paint it white.
We're contemplating way to incorporate the lego boxes into the finish to show some of the cool sets they own with the awesome art from lego.
If you like this, please vote for me in the plywood contest.
If you make this, please post a link.
This is my first able. Be nice. :-D