Building with Secondhand Stuff
Full of smart tips and endless inspiration for repurposing salvaged materials, Chris Peterson’s handy guide, Building with Secondhand Stuff, is a must for any DIYer’s bookshelf. In this excerpt, Chris shares step-by-step instructions for building a decorative cabinet using an old window and some reclaimed wood.
Build a Reclaimed Window Cabinet
There are many uses for reclaimed windows in the home. Although the most obvious is simply to install an antique window into an existing opening, you might want to turn to more creative options. Few uses are as charming and practical as the window cabinet described here. It’s not just the allure of a distressed or obviously older window. Although that can certainly be a draw, the real attraction of this particular design is that it is so adaptable. The construction of the cabinet body is easy enough that anyone with basic woodworking skills and some fundamental tools can put the whole thing together in about a day. You can also use just about any window you find (round windows won’t work) and alter the dimensions to suit the window. A small transom window, for instance, could be used for a bathroom toiletries cabinet. Use two windows to make a dual-compartment cabinet. A long, thin window can be positioned sideways to make a low-slung media center cabinet. And the options don’t stop at your choice of window.
We’ve used reclaimed lumber for this carcass, something you might want to consider if you want to carry through the whole reclaimed ideal—and if you want to create a unique look in the wood carcass that supports the window. Of course, whether the wood is reclaimed or you use some pieces you have lying around the garage, you can choose a finish that suits your tastes and decor. Paint the window frame and box a bright color to fit in with your retro living room, or finish it all natural to serve as a bar cabinet in your contemporary dining room. Between paint, stains, and clear finishes, your options are mind-boggling.
And, don’t forget the accents. For the cabinet shown here, we chose exposed hinges and handles that carry through the antique style. You can select copper, bronze, chrome, iron, or other hardware for just the right finishing touches on your own cabinet.
The number of shelves is up to you as well. Depending on what you intend to store in the cabinet, you may want more shelves, or you may decide to position shelves differently. We’ve placed one right in the middle of the cabinet and cut a slot for the shelf that mirrors the dadoes we cut for the top and bottom of the cabinet. But you could just as easily use any of a number of shelf support systems on the inside of a cabinet carcass. Many of these allow for adjustability, which again, might be your preference. And like the number of shelves, you can decide to build a freestanding cabinet as we have here, or a wall-mounted unit. Although you can clad the back in a simple 1/4" plywood sheet cut to fit the outline, we’ve left the back open. If you leave the back open, you can hang the cabinet by screwing it to top and side cleats that are attached to the wall or, if you add a back, you can screw the back directly to the wall. There are many other ways to hang the cabinet—a trip to the home center will yield many different possibilities. But whether you hang the cabinet or let it stand all by itself, it’s sure to be an exceptional focal point in your home’s design.
1. Check that the window is square. Remove the hardware, clean, and re-putty the window as necessary. Measure the outer dimensions of the window and note them.
2. Mark and cut the planks that will serve as the sides approximately 4" longer than the height of the window. This is to account for the dadoes that will hold the top and bottom, and to create top and bottom lips. If you prefer, you can cut the sides to the height of the window, and butt join the top and bottom pieces to the sides.
3. Cut the top, bottom and shelf for the unit. In this case, they each must be 1" longer than the width of the window. This will allow for 1/2" of each cross piece to rest in the dadoes on each side.
4. Carefully measure and mark each side plank so that the height of the window is centered along the length of the plank. The top and bottom dadoes will be cut just outside these marks. Use a table saw or router to cut 1/2" dadoes on the least attractive faces of the planks.
5. Assemble the cabinet carcass by sliding the top, bottom, and shelf into the side-plank dadoes. Drive finish nails through the outside faces of the sides, into the cross pieces. Use a nailset to sink the nails and putty over them.
Alternative: If the cabinet will need to support heavy weight or will be hung in a high-traffic area, use screws instead of finish nails. Pre-drill countersunk holes and attach the pieces with flathead wood screws. Plug over the screw heads with wood plugs of the same type of wood.
6. Sand and paint or stain the cabinet body and window in whatever finish you’ve chosen. If you’re leaving reclaimed wood in its existing state and finish, seal the puttied nail heads and any bare wood surfaces with clear polyurethane.
7. Attach the hinges to the window, and position the window in place. Mark the hinge holes on the cabinet side and door hand latch on the other. Pre-drill the holes and install the window on the front of the cabinet. Hang the cabinet if desired.
All Photos and text courtesy of Building with Secondhand Stuff by Chris Peterson (2011: Creative Publishing International, 800-328-0590, www.creativepub.com). Find it at your local bookseller or at Amazon.com.