I pride myself on having some aesthetic sense (I am a musician), but it never occurred to me that the admittedly ugly air conditioner unit on our back patio needed to be concealed from the world. To my wife, it was obvious the first moment she saw it. And a solution needed to be in place before a planned backyard party was to occur. If you or your partner have the heightened aesthetic sense my wife has, or you want to pretend you do, this project may be of interest to you.
It will cost you less than $200 and I found everything I needed at my local Home Depot. I recommend you have a hand-held circular saw, a mitre saw (chop saw)--just a simple one, no need for a compound one or a laser--and a hack saw. And you will need a hammer. Oh, and make sure the lattice cap pieces are straight.
2 8'x4' framed redwood lattices (made of redwood, not vinyl), about $50 each
2 8' redwood lattice caps, about $10 each
2 quarts of clear-coat for exterior use
paintbrushes to put on the clear-coat
2" finish nails
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Step 1: Paint and Slice
Paint the lattices and caps with a clear-coat. I used a water-based Urethane and it worked well. I got some "brushes" that are designed to paint decks and fences, and they helped the process to go faster. You will want to paint both sides, as this will make your project last much longer. It's easier to paint before you build than after.
After the pieces are dry, cut each of the lattices in half to produce two 4' x 4' pieces. Measure and mark carefully. I used a circular saw to make the cut. Also, cut each of the 8' lattice cap pieces in half, to produce two 4' pieces. On these, be very careful to measure and mark perfectly, and to cut perfectly. I used a mitre saw with a 90-degree angle to cut them.
Step 2: Mitre the Corners
Use the mitre saw to cut each side frame piece of each panel at a 45-degree angle, with the cut angling inward. Make sure the cut goes through the outer corner. The length of the outside piece should be no shorter than before you made the cut.
Next use the mitre saw to cut each end of each lattice cap piece. Again, the angle should be 45 degrees, and the cut should be toward the side with the channel cut out of it. Again, make sure the cut goes through the outer corner so the overall length of the piece is unchanged. Be very careful to make sure the angles go in the right direction in the cuts.
Step 3: Cut the Excess Lattice
The lattice needs to be cut back to allow the lattice cap to fit onto the open side. I've tried a variety of approaches, and what worked best was my decrepit old hacksaw. A hand-held jigsaw just vibrates the lattice without cutting it. In any case, cut right at the point where the pieces cross as is shown in the photo. With a good blade on the hacksaw, the work went quickly. Do this for all four panels.
Step 4: Add the Cap
First, start a nail through each end of the cap piece. It is much easier if you've got about 1/4" coming out the other side. Remember that the piece you will be nailing into has a channel cut into it for the lattice, so stay closer to the end than you would without the channel. You want the nail to find wood, not empty space.
Once you have the nails in place, put the cap on the end and, while tightly holding it in place, hammer the nail all the way in. Do this for all four panels.
Step 5: Assemble the Hutch or Cage or Whatever
The four pieces you have are not quite square; they are a little longer in one dimension than the other. I chose to have the long dimension up and down, with the short dimension side-to-side. Whichever way you decide, you need to have the panels all oriented the same way.
Place the panels and nail them together, leaving the top for last. That's all there is to it!