I wanted a simple and sturdy entertainment unit to house my TV, Hi-Fi, speakers and games consoles. Instead of buying one and trying to fit everything neatly into it, I decided to build a unit around my ideal setup.
This instructable contains 2 variations - I started out building a unit that would sit at the foot of my bed. After moving house I wanted the entertainment unit in my living room, and reduced its height for comfortable couch viewing.
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Step 1: Planning
For me, one of the most enjoyable parts of this project was in planning the layout. I got into it wayyyyy too much, which culminated in me mapping it out in Photoshop - complete with scale images of each of my devices. While I will never fully regain my girlfriend's respect, it did help me work out the best layout for my requirements and visualise the end result.
All you really need for this part though is a pencil and paper and a bit of forward planning. My entertainment unit's dimensions were dictated by the layout and sizes of all of my devices, but other factors also influenced the final design:
I left enough room either side of my TV to swivel it easily, and enough height over my Nintendo64 for removing the game cartridge. I decided I didn't need my DVDs and books to be on constant show, so these could be hidden away out of view. I made sure any devices with remote control sensors would be in view from my sitting position.
I tried to leave adequate space for future hardware changes, one day I may want to replace my speakers or upgrade my TV. You perhaps may have devices you only attach temporarily (e.g. a laptop docking station/ipod cradle) and want to design a section to accommodate that.
Everything just hangs out the back on mine. If thats not enough you could always drill some well placed holes or screw in some hooks, or even box in the wire.
My micro hi-fi is covered in vents so I thought it best to respect that and not box it in too tightly. I allowed a few inches either side for airflow.
Not only about supporting the weight of my devices, but also how heavy the unit would end up if I ever needed to move it. The thickness, amount and type of wood are all a factor.
Height and stability
The depth of my unit was 300mm, I'm glad I didn't go any less than that, if the footprint was any narrower it would probably be prone to wobbling. I also required the speakers and TV to be at a comfortable height to watch/listen from my seating position.
Step 2: Building
Tools and materials needed:
Drill and drill bits
Lots of screws
Curtains/curtain rail/tenant saw (optional)
Iron-on fabric hemming/sewing machine (optional)
I chose to work with MDF for this project, as it is usually perfectly flat, and has no surface grain or knots. It is also very dense, which gives the furniture with a nice weight. The sawdust created from MDF is very hazardous - you should definitely wear a facemask and goggles, and work in a well ventilated area. You may prefer to spend a bit more and use real planks of wood that will produce a nicer, friendlier sawdust. To minimise my exposure to it I worked out all of the required lengths of wood beforehand, and cut them all in one go.
I used 15mm MDF, I think they were originally in 2400x1200 sheets, or maybe slightly larger, but I asked for them to be cut down to 2400x300 strips.
For speed and simplicity I screwed each MDF board straight to each other, which was a bit naughty as you shouldn't really drill straight into the ends of MDF, but I got away with it due to the sheer quantity of screws involved. I believe a better way would have been to create a wooden frame first and then screw each mdf panel to that frame. You could then use thinner MDF panels and still achieve a similar strength. With each screw I put in I drilled a pilot hole and then a countersink - MDF has very little give, and if you try to let the screw burrow its way in it will split the wood. I also regularly checked how square each part was relative to each other as I was assembling it.
Step 3: Surface Preparation
I filled in all of the screw holes with wood filler, allowed 24hrs to dry and then sanded them all down to create a smooth surface
Untreated edges of MDF have a tendency to 'suck up' paint - and it will take many, many layers of paint to match the main surface. To prevent this, I mixed four parts of water to one part of PVA/wood glue in a jar. Then I worked the mix into all of the exposed edges of the MDF, allowed a couple of hours for it to dry,and then rubbed down all of the edges of the mdf with fine sandpaper.
The next stage was a single coat of MDF primer, paying particular attention to the edges again, and then one layer of white undercoat in preparation for painting.
Step 4: Painting
I used a paint roller and this stage went on really fast. I used a hand brush for the corners and edges but one of those corner rollers would have made it even quicker. The hardest part here was avoiding the temptation to do it all in one coat - it'll end up going on too thick, never fully dry, and always have a sticky, tacky feel. I covered everything with a thin coat (it was still a little bit patchy), gave it a full 24 hours to dry, and then applied a second coat and gave it another 24 hours.
Step 5: Completely Change the Design Midway (optional)
The original design was based on everything sitting at the foot of my bed as the ultimate shrine to couch potato-ness. It had the added benefit of keeping my bookshelf speakers away from the wall, apparently making them sound better. It was perfect for my bedroom at the time, but a few months later I moved into a new flat and wanted it against a wall in my living room.
To cut it down, I basically removed the base panel, chopped the same length off each of the 3 vertical walls, then reattached the base. I'm hoping that anyone else following this instructable won't need to use this step!
Step 6: Extra Bits
I secured the speakers to the top of the unit with blue-tack, which holds them on surprisingly tight and isolates any vibrations.
I bought a cheap plastic curtain rail from B&Q that could be cut to length easily with a tenant saw. I kept an eye out for suitable curtains on eBay and eventually bought some that were far too large, but it was easy to trim them down and use iron-on hemming tape to hide the frayed edges.
Lastly, I hung a Wilkos branded light onto the back of my tv via two of the mount screws and some picture wire for a nice backlit glow:
Step 7: The End Result
If I was building it again I'd definitely put a bit more thought into the curtain rails, if the vertical piece of MDF in the centre was set back a couple of inches I could have run a single curtain rail all the way along so it would have looked cleaner. I may still do this at some point! Also, if I was being picky I'd say it needs some fancy edging to hide the bare edges of the MDF.
Overall though I'm really happy with the unit - it's very solid and stable. I like its simplicity, and the fact that I can continue to add little modifications as and when I think of them.