- Ideas & How-Tos
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Made from a few sheets of plywood and some boards, this entertainment center will get two thumbs up from the family.
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Start by placing two sheets of 3/4" oak plywood on top of each other on a work surface. Align the edges and lay out the parts to be cut (Cutting Diagram). Drive screws to attach the sheets together -- the screws are positioned in waste areas and prevent the pieces from shifting as you cut the blanks to size. Note: All of the rough cuts will be made with a circular saw and later trimmed on the table saw with the exception of cut 3, which is the exact length of the top/bottom A. (These parts are too long to easily cross-cut on the table saw. Make this cut slowly to minimize chipping.) This process of breaking down a sheet can be used for any project -- it's easier and safer to handle smaller pieces on a table saw instead of full sheets. By stacking the parts, you're also getting two parts from each cut and saving time in the process.
Measure the width of the circular saw base from the edge of the base to the edge of the blade and cut two spacers to this length (Photo 1).
Set up a straightedge -- a good 1"x4" or 1"x6" will do the trick. Place the two spacers against the first layout line, bring the straightedge up to the spacers and clamp the straightedge in position (Photo 2). (Using these two equal-length spacers will give you predictable and accurate results every time.)
Remove the spacers and make the cut, running the base of the saw along the straightedge (Photo 3).
Move to the table saw and cut the top/bottom panels A to width, the ends B to width and length, and the center shelves D to width and length (Cutting List). For the remaining plywood parts-the dividers C, the side shelves E, and the panels G and H- trim these parts to width only; you'll trim them to length later.
Plywood is typically thinner than its given dimension -- 3/4"-thick plywood is typically 23/32". This may not seem like much, but when you have two sheets in the same assembly, the difference is 1/16". To cut the dividers C to length, subtract the thickness of two sheets of plywood from the length of the ends B to get the finished length of the divider; cut the divider to size.
Drill pocket holes at the ends of the top/bottom, and the bottom face of the center shelves (Drawing 1). Using a small handheld jig on larger panels makes drilling pocket holes easier than taking these large panels to a jig fixed in position on a bench (Photo 4).
The plywood now needs edging to conceal the layers that make up the material. Apply an iron-on veneer edging to all of the panels as you proceed. Veneer only the front edges you'll see when the entertainment center is complete. Use a household iron on the cotton setting to apply the edging. Allow the iron to warm up, cut the veneer about 1" longer than needed, and apply the edging to the piece. Use light pressure and keep the iron moving (Photo 5). After a few seconds, the veneer will be set and you can trim it with a utility knife. Now sand the panels smooth.
Cut the backs F to size and sand. (Hold off attaching the backs until the finish is applied -- it will be easier to access all of the areas of the case without the back in place.)
The top/bottom A need two grooves for the aluminum door rails (these grooves are on the opposite face from the pocket holes you drilled earlier). Cut the groove 3/8" from the front edge (Drawing 2) using your table saw. Test-fit the aluminum as you proceed. If the fit is too tight, slide the table saw fence over about 1/32" and make another pass. Now repeat for the remaining groove at 1-3/8" from the edge.
When cutting the grooves, make the cut in the top and the bottom with every adjustment to the saw. This reduces set-up time and improves accuracy.
Assemble the center section of the case -- the dividers C and center shelves D -- upside down on your work surface. This allows easy access to the pocket holes on the bottom of the shelves. Cut four 5"-long scraps to use as spacers for assembling the center section (Drawing 1). Place the scraps on your bench, apply glue to the ends of the center shelves D, rest the shelf on the scraps, and drive the pocket screws through the shelf into the dividers (Photo 6). Move the spacers up to the next shelf, position the second shelf, and drive the screws to attach the second center shelf. Align the front edges of these parts as you assemble the center section.
Add the bottom to the center section. The bottom is flush to the back edge of the dividers and centered on the center assembly. Mark the position of the dividers on the bottom. Apply glue to the dividers and rest the bottom in position. Apply clamps, drill countersunk holes, and attach the bottom to the dividers.
Flip the unit over and add the top, again centering it side to side on the center section with the back edges flush.
Position the ends B against the top/bottom and secure the ends to the case assembly using glue and pocket-hole screws (Photo 7). When securing the ends, align the front edges of the top/bottom with the front edges of the ends. The offset at the back of the parts will conceal the plywood edge of the backs F.
Measure the distance from the dividers to the ends (Photo 8) and cut the side shelves E to this actual length. Drill pocket holes in the bottom face of the shelves, add the veneer to the front edges, sand, and install the shelves in the cabinet using pocket-hole screws.
Cut the door panel G and the drawer panels H to size (Cutting List). Cut a groove down the center of the door face and the center of the drawer faces (Drawing 3). Set your table saw with the blade 1/8" above the table. This groove will give the illusion of a pair of doors or drawers.
Drill the two 3/4" holes 3/8" deep for the cup pulls in each of the door and drawer panels. Be sure to reference the top of the doors to drill the holes in the proper location
Cut four aluminum bars measuring 1/8" x 3/4" to length so they fit in the grooves in the top/bottom A between the two ends B -- these will be the door panel runners. Slip the runners into the grooves and temporarily clamp them in position.
Add a featherboard to the table saw and set the blade to 3/8" above the table. Position the fence to cut a groove centered in the thickness of the 3/4" plywood, about 5/16" away from the blade. The featherboard will keep the panels pressed against the fence for firm control as you pass the door across the saw blade (Photo 10). Make a pass along the top edge of the first panel with the inside face against the fence. Turn the panel so the outside face is against the fence and make a second pass -- this will ensure the groove is centered. Repeat for the other two panels.
Lower the blade to 1/8" and groove the bottom edges of the door and drawer panels.
Test the fit of the doors by engaging the top of the door in the upper rail. Swing the bottom of the door in and lower onto the bottom runner (Photo 11). Adjust the grooves as necessary for a smooth slide.
Add the veneer edging to the sides of the doors, and sand the panels smooth. Remove the veneer edging where the grooves have been cut at the top and bottom edges of the panels.
Cut the long rails I and cross rails J to length. Drill pocket holes (Drawing 4) and sand the parts. Assemble the base frame with the cross rails inset from the ends of the long rails by 4" using glue and screws; set the frame aside.
Cut the wide top planks K and narrow top plank L to length. Sand the parts smooth and ease all of the edges with sandpaper. Easing the edges adds nice detail lines to the completed top. It's also easier to make a top this way instead of edge-gluing the boards and trying to make them one perfectly sanded surface.
Cut the aluminum legs M to length (Cutting List), and then cut a 2"x2" piece of oak to 12" in length to create a blank for the feet N. Rip the blank to fit inside the aluminum legs -- rip it once to width and then a second time to thickness. When the blank slips into the legs, cut the blank into four equal-length parts for the feet.
Sand all of the parts one last time and apply a finish. The top, base frame, and feet are all stained a deep ebony color. When the stain has dried, apply two coats of clear finish to all of the parts, including the case and doors. Apply one coat, allow it to dry, and lightly sand with a 320-grit sanding sponge. Apply a second coat to all of the parts. For the top planks, add a third layer of finish for extra protection.
Using a buffing pad, sand the aluminum runners for the door and drawers, and install into the case using 5-minute epoxy. Mix up a small amount of epoxy following the manufacturer's instructions, apply to the edge of the aluminum in 4 or 5 small spots, and fit into the case. Tap the rails with a block of wood to make sure they are seated and clamp the top runners while the epoxy sets.
Drill 1/8" pilot holes through the top A for attaching the top planks K and L (Drawing 4 & 5). Place the top planks with the ends aligned on your work surface with the best face down (place them on a drop cloth or moving blanket to protect the finish). Now flip the case upside down and center it on the top planks.
Mark the location of the holes in the top on the planks. Remove the case, drill 1/2" deep pilot holes at the marked locations, and then attach the top planks to the case using screws (Photo 12).
Position the backs F against the case, predrill for the panhead screws, and secure. The center is open to allow for air circulation and for access to wires for your electronic components. If you need access to the side areas for wiring, drill a 1" hole in the back in the area of the side compartments.
Position the base assembly on the bottom of the cabinet and secure using pocket screws (Photo 13).
Drill 3/16" holes through the legs M for securing to the case (Photo 14, Drawing 6). After drilling the holes, position the legs on the entertainment center; using the 3/16" holes as a guide, drill pilot holes into the case and long rails. Buff the aluminum with a scuffing pad, and then secure to the case. The top holes into the case need 1-1/2"-long screws, and the bottom holes into the long rails need 2"-long screws.
Slip one foot into one of the legs. Use a scrap of the 1-1/2"-thick material to use as a spacer to ensure the feet project the same amount from each leg. Position the foot, drill a pilot hole, and secure with a screw; repeat for the remaining feet and legs. Drill the pilot holes on the back face of the legs to hide the screws from the front of the entertainment center.
Place cup pulls into the holes you drilled in the door panel G and drawer panels H. Tap the pulls into the holes with a hammer and scrap block.
Flip the case upright and install the doors and drawer panels. The drawer panels go onto the back runners and cover the side openings; the door panel goes on the front runner and covers the center opening of the case.
Now load up the electronics, sit back, and watch a movie while you admire your handiwork.