I was sure that we’d be further along on my niece’s room by now, but I haven’t even started on the built-ins yet. In fact, we didn’t even head to Home Depot to buy all of the supplies until yesterday afternoon, and I always forget what a time-consuming process that is. But we finally have all of the supplies purchased, and all of our MDF and plywood cut to size, so I’m ready to start building today.
Anyway, I thought the whole planning process might be interesting to some of you (although this is the nitty gritty technical stuff that might bore some of you to tears 😀 )
When I do built-ins, the very first step I take is to make a very basic drawing of the design. And when I say “basic,” I mean very basic. The main purpose for the drawing is to figure the number of pieces of MDF, and get the basic measurements for all of the pieces, down on paper. I don’t draw anything to scale, and I don’t draw anything in 3-D perspective. I just do a simple, very basic 2-D line drawing. I always do this on paper with a pen or pencil, but since my scanner isn’t working right now and I can’t show you my actual drawings, I whipped something up really quickly with my photo editing software. So my drawing might look something like this…
From that drawing, and with my overall finished measurements written down, I then begin to think through the entire building process, making my cut list and supply list as I go.
For example, for these built-ins (and most built-ins like this), I would start by building a base made of something like 2 x 4’s. This gives support to the bottom, and raises the bottom shelf up so that I can add baseboards around the bottom without blocking the bottom shelf. In other words, you never want a bottom shelf sitting right on the floor. So I figure the number of 2 x 4’s I need to make a very basic base, which will include an outside frame and two inside supports. (If you’re unsure about what I’m talking about, it’ll all make sense once I start building and show you pictures of the process.) So I figure that each base will take one-and-a-half 2 x 4’s, so those go on my list. To put the base together, I’ll also need wood glue and 2.5″ wood screws, so those go on my list.
The next step in the process will be to build the main shell of the bookcase, which is basically a big five-sided, open-faced box made of MDF. It sits on top of the base, and tucks in behind the top face piece. In other words, it doesn’t need to go all the way to the ceiling. That big box is represented by the bold lines here…
To build that box, I need a top piece, a bottom piece, two side pieces, and a back. It’s very simple construction, but I really have to think through the dimensions. The top and the bottom will be cut to the finished width and depth of the bookcase, which is 15.5″ x 28.5″. And I need two of those for each bookcase, for a total of four, and I like them to be really thick and sturdy, so I’ll do those out of 3/4″ MDF. So those dimensions, including the quantity and MDF thickness, go on my cut list.
Then I like to do my back piece sandwiched in between the side pieces. But I also like to do 1/2″ MDF on any sides that are against walls (since it’s cheaper, and since the wall lends support, there’s no need to use the thicker, more expensive stuff). So each bookcase has one side and a back against a wall. I determine my height and depth for the side, and that goes on my cut list, along with the quantity and MDF thickness. For the other side (the side not against a wall), I use 3/4″ MDF. So I determine the height and depth, and that goes on my cut list.
For the back, I have to keep in mind that it’ll be sandwiched between the side pieces of MDF. That means that if I want my finished width to be 28.5 inches, I have to take that finished width, subtract the 1/2-inch (from the side MDF on the wall), and subtract the 3/4-inch (from the non-wall side piece of MDF) to arrive at the actual width that the back piece needs to be cut. So then that measurement, along with quantity and MDF thickness for that piece, goes on my cut list.
Then I think through the supplies needed to make that box — wood glue (already on the list), 16-gauge 2-inch nails for my nail gun.
So I basically continue visualizing the whole process, from beginning to end, in my mind. When I’m finished, I have two lists — a cut list (MDF and plywood), and a supply list. My cut list for this project looked like this:
- 84″ x 15.5″ (2) (wall sides of bookcases)
- 84″ x 27.25″ (2) (back sides of bookcases)
- 96″ x 15.5″ (2) (non-wall sides of bookcases)
- 15.5″ x 28.5″ (4) (tops and bottoms of main bookcase shells)
- 15″ x 27.25″ (12) (shelves)
- 26.75″ x 40 (4) (for decorative “wings” forming bed frame)
- 16″ x 76.5″ (1) (for facade on trundle bed)
- 43″ x 77″ (for bed platform)
And then my supply list looked like this:
- wood glue
- 16 gauge 2-inch nails
- 18 gauge 1-inch nails
- 2.5″ wood screws
- Kreg Jig screws
- wood filler
- paint conditioner
- shoe moulding (I use this as supports for the shelves)
- 1″ x 2″ x 8′ lumber – 8 pieces (face pieces for the bookcases)
- 1″ x 8″ x 8′ lumber – 1 piece (top face piece for the bookcases)
- 2″ x 4″ x 8′ lumber – 8 pieces (support frame for the bookcases and bed)
So after thinking through the whole process, visualizing it from beginning to end, and making notes along the way, I end up with a cut list and a supply list. But I don’t stop there. If I were to take that cut list to Home Depot and hand it to an employee, they would look at me like I was crazy. And then it would take about four hours for them to figure everything out, and to get everything cut. And with a list this long, they would undoubtedly use more MDF than necessary, costing me more money.
So I don’t EVER go to Home Depot to get MDF and plywood cut for a project like this with just a list of measurements. I take the time to first draw out exactly what pieces will fit on each piece of MDF, and how they need to be cut. I always do this quickly and draw them by hand, but I make sure that each piece has the measurements on it, and I make sure that I know the order in which everything needs to be cut. Here’s what some of my cut diagrams looked like for this project:
That’s not all of them, but you get the idea. I don’t ever go without these cut diagrams!! And I make a diagram for every single piece of MDF that I’ll need cut, even if I have two or three that are identical. That way, as each piece is cut, I can cross them off of both the written list and the diagrams, and I never get confused as to whether or not a piece has been cut, or how many more sheets of MDF with the same configuration I still need to be cut.
And here’s the key, and what really speeds up the process. I don’t ever just hand these diagrams to the employee to figure the out while I stand on the sidelines and check my Facebook page. Nope, I basically direct every single step. I literally tell the employee, “If you’ll just make each cut as I tell you, this will go much faster.” And I do just that. We’ll get the first piece loaded, and I’ll say, “First, let’s rip a piece that’s 15.5″ wide.” After he does that, I’ll say, “Next, let’s rip a piece that’s 28.5″ wide.” After he does that, I’ll say, “Now I need that piece cut into four pieces that are each 15.5″ wide.” And on, and on, and on, until everything on my list is cut.
I have never even once had an experience with an employee that seemed frustrated or insulted by my micro-managing of their cutting process. In fact, it’s always much the opposite. I think they actually really appreciate people coming in fully prepared so that they don’t have to waste their time trying to figure out how to fit the 50+ cut pieces onto sheets of MDF. And if you do your own cut diagrams before even heading there, you’ll know that you’re spending as little money as possible, and not wasting money on inefficiently placed pieces that are taking way more MDF than needed.
So that’s the planning and buying process! Seems easy enough, right? It’s not difficult, but that part always takes way longer than I think it should. The whole process yesterday, from planning, list-making, diagram-drawing, purchasing, MDF-cutting, truck-loading, and truck-unloading, took us about three hours.
But now it’s all done, and I’m ready to get started today. Hope to have some good progress to share with you on Monday!