BLM Bookcase

Black Lives Matter Vermont has a storefront in Winooski, where it plans to sell locally made crafts, clothing, and fair trade food products with proceeds funding the organization. I am helping them transform their space through custom carpentry. It’s the perfect opportunity for me to practice my skills while also helping a cause I care about.

Ebony welcomed me into the store and laid out her vision: shopping in the front half of the space, room for relaxation in the rear half. I played with some numbers to translate that vision into several bookcases that would be easy to build and use ¾” plywood as efficiently as possible, minimizing wasted material. Once we had our plan, it was off to the lumber yard to buy the materials I needed.

For a tiny additional charge, Home Depot employees will rip wood products into smaller pieces. I took advantage partly because they make a much straighter cut than I could with my circular saw, and partly because it was the only way to fit the materials in my car. On a nicer day I might have strapped full sheets of plywood to my roof rack, but it was snowing.

To construct the first bookcase, I followed instructions from a This Old House weekend project series. The instructions build the walls two pieces of plywood thick, with the inner piece broken at regular intervals for the shelves. This detail eliminated the need for the tricky dado cuts that some bookcases use for shelving, but it increased the total amount of material I needed. Since the bookcase wouldn’t sit against a wall, I also needed to improvise a back, as the instructions didn’t include one. I used plywood the same thickness as the walls, which turned out to be a dumb choice, adding unnecessary cost and weight. I would have been fine with a piece only ¼” thick. Take that as a learning opportunity.

Once I returned to the store, it took about four hours to cut walls and shelves, assemble the bookcase with wood screws, and attach trim to the front with finish nails to hide the cut edges of plywood. I used ¾” thick poplar trim for the shelves and 1-1/2” thick oak trim for the perimeter, learning that material bills rack up fast when you pay by the linear foot. I made the bookcase the same height as a kitchen cabinet, so Ebony can add a countertop workspace later if she wants.

I’ll be back next week to do some more work. The store holds its Grand Opening on Saturday, February 11, and I’m proud to help make the space functional and beautiful.

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Everything except the shelves and trim. I think Ebony plans to stain it to protect the material while keeping the woodgrain visible.

Shelf Confidence

The walk-in closet nears completion, as we progress into furniture-making. I don’t think we’ll do a whole lot of this, but we did build a simple custom shelving system for the closet’s main wall.

We cut our uprights and our horizontal shelves from two 4-foot-by-8-foot sheets of finish-grade, ¾-inch-thick plywood. It’s not cheap ($80 apiece I think), so Bob schemed up a shelf plan that wastes almost nothing of the two sheets, and Mark and Hans ripped them very carefully down to the shelves’ not-quite-12-inch depth. These we then cut with the chop saw (slowly, to minimize splintering) to yield sixteen 23¾-inch-wide horizontal shelves and four uprights. These uprights vary in length to meet a floor that isn’t level… The Curse Of The Old House strikes again.

Hans installs a quarter-round shelf support.
Hans installs a quarter-round shelf support.

Hans began our layout on the right side, which gets no upright because we can nail directly to the perpendicular wall. One bay at a time, we cut and installed quarter-round trim as shelf supports, then the shelves themselves, then the next upright. To complete the grid we ran our last length of plywood across the top; it doubles of course as yet another shelf.

In progress.
In progress.

Next we considered facing. The exposed layers of plywood and the end grain of any wood look unattractive, so we aimed to cover all our cut edges. But how? Mark, Hans, and I all disagreed on the best material to use. A narrow piece of facing would leave a larger opening for access to the shelves, but it wouldn’t fully cover the quarter-rounds. Finally we did the smart thing: we asked the client. Bob chose a nice compromise, and hours later we had faced the shelves with our rich skinny cedar left over from building the closet walls.

Cedar facing echoes the wall finish (and smells really good).
Cedar facing echoes the wall finish (and smells really good).

Plenty of other happenings this week, including the upstairs bathroom and the dormer ceiling. I’ll write about those next time. But it’s nice to finish something, and Suze for one is awfully excited to have a real functional closet.

Walled In

Bob’s house abounds with walls under construction. Probably the most exciting one is the wall at the top of the stairs. To really drive home the rustic aesthetic, Bob intends to build a sliding barn door for the upstairs bathroom. The door will hang from tracks on a salvaged timber beam which doubles as the header, and which in turn is supported by a salvaged timber column on one end. We aim to expose as much old wood as possible.

Hans built this wall on an angle to maximize floor area in the bathroom (which will house a washer and dryer, in addition to a sink, toilet, and shower) while maintaining adequate turnaround space at the top of the stairs. He installed studs left of the door opening, which Mark and I later clad in plywood.

Inside this bathroom, a host of other walls are in progress. Mark took charge of building a nook for the shower. Hans and I measured and cut plywood for the walls surrounding the sink, adding a few new nailers to enable its proper installation. Similarly, the walk-in closet next door received plywood wall cladding on all sides, after I shimmed out a few studs to make the walls run true.

Why all the plywood? Bob wants to use various styles of barnboard for the finish walls, and the plywood provides a better nailing surface than studs alone for these heavy finishes. As an extra perk, we’ll be able to hang things from the walls – mirrors, cabinets, closet shelves – anywhere we want. No need to compromise to the nearest stud or use those dreaded toggle bolts.

Mark makes lunch.
Mark makes lunch.