The vanity project was completed earlier this fall, along with the rest of the bathroom remodel. Here are some photos of the completed vanity before and after installation.
Today I cut out the last pieces of the vanity carcase, assembled the carcase, and attached the face frame. It actually came out reasonably square, and I’m pleased so far. Next: build drawers and doors, attach drawer slides, hinges, etc., and finally, the dreaded finishing (my least favorite part of any project). I’m hoping my lovely wife will volunteer to help with that.
As proof that I really am working on this project, and really making progress, albeit little by little, I offer the following photographs:
Since these photos were taken, I’ve also installed a ceiling ventilation fan, and I’ve installed 1/4″ luan underlayment on the floor, which will be the base for vinyl tile. I’ve also moved the location of an electrical box in the ceiling, to relocate where a ceiling light fixture will be, and I’ve done a fair amount of drywall patching associated with that process.
- Finish some initial drywall patching
- Install tub and shower surround
- Build the vanity and install it
- Do additional drywall patching after the tub/shower are installed
- Lay vinyl floor tiles
- Install the toilet
- Install towel racks, shower curtain rod, light fixtures, etc.
I’m hiring a plumber to help with the tub/shower install and the vanity sink plumbing. I’ll probably do the toilet myself.
Little by little, progress is being made. We began this project in the middle of March. My hope is that it’s done before the middle of July.
I’ve been working off and on (more off than on) on remodeling a bathroom. Work and other obligations have caused this project to advance at glacial speed, but I’ve had a couple of good work days in recent weeks, and I’m almost to the point where I need to build the new vanity. My SketchUp vision for this is below:
The countertop/sink has been delivered. I have all of the sheet goods. I have the hardwood for drawer fronts, door frames and face frame. I have offers from friends to help me cut up the sheet goods and help with the project. What I don’t have is a lot of time in which to do it. But I’m optimistic for the prospects of making sawdust on this project within the next couple of weeks.
I’ve got a couple of sheets of 3/4″ birch plywood for the carcase, and I bought river birch for the face frame, door frames and drawer fronts. I’ve got 1/2″ birch plywood for the drawers, and I’ve got 1/4″ birch plywood for the door panels, drawer bottoms and cabinet back. I’ve got knobs and pulls. (Still need hinges.) I’ve borrowed my dad’s Kreg jig for making the face frame. I’ve even got plenty of Kreg pocket-hole screws. Nearly all the pieces of this puzzle are together in one place in my shop–I just gotta pull the trigger. One of these days.
We bought an old upright piano about 15 years ago–it was in questionable condition when we bought it, and although it served us pretty well for a while, while our kids were taking piano lessons, a few years ago it pretty much gave up the ghost, and we finally decided it was just taking up too much space. Tried to sell it–couldn’t find a buyer. Paying someone to haul it off would have cost more than I paid for it in the first place. But I kept thinking that there is reclaimable wood in the thing that shouldn’t go to waste, so I decided to take it apart and salvage what wood I could from it.
I tried a few years back to find information about the piano’s manufacturer (Kloman & Nord) and age, but little information is available. I’m guessing that it was built no later than the mid-1950s, and maybe as early as the late 1930s or 1940s. The carcase appears to be mostly oak, but there are other hardwoods used in certain mechanical pieces (pedal linkages and such), and in the shelf that supported the keyboard. Some of the larger panels on the front appear to be made from lumber-core board, which, I am guessing, would date the instrument a bit later, but I don’t know much about this.
The first step was to remove all of the loose pieces–the top lid, the upper front panel, and the lower front panel all came off easily. The top was made from two long boards, hinged together. The one in the rear was glued to the top of the carcase and the front part of the lid was easily removed by simply removing the hinges. A couple of taps with a dead-blow mallet and the top popped right off. The upper front panel, which has the tray for holding music, was easily to lift out and off of a pair of pins on the sides. The lower panel was removed by compressing a metal spring catch and tilting the panel outward. A few more screws and a long piano hinge were removed from the keyboard cover, and it was easily removed.
At this point, the keys and levers and hammers were all exposed, and by removing a few key screws in the hammer support frame, we were able to remove all of the hammers and levers at once. The individual keys could be lifted from some registration pins in what I’m calling the “keyboard deck,” and I saved all of them. I doubt that there’s real ivory and ebony there, but we’ll see.
There were a few screws holding the keyboard deck to the carcase, and once those were removed, I could lift the deck assembly out. It was a frame-and-panel affair, made with fairly thick hardwood.
Now I had full access to the “harp”–the cast-iron frame that the piano strings (wires) are attached to. The harp was bolted to the rear frame of the piano, which was made from heavy wooden beams. Those beams supported the weight of the harp (a few hundred pounds!) and the harp itself was connected to the soundboard at the top, through thick beam that supported the tuning pins. All of the strings passed over a long, curved bridge that was bolted to the soundboard. The soundboard appears to be made of spruce, but that’s really a guess.
Up to this stage, the entire disassembly process was accomplished by my wife and me with the use of nothing more than a couple of screwdrivers and a dead-blow hammer. Removing the strings required a pair of side cutters. I can’t imagine how much string tension a piano harp has to bear, but I’m sure it’s hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds. In some cases there was a spark when the wire was cut.
After we removed the strings, I realized that all of the tuning pins had to be removed before we could remove the harp from the piano frame. Each pin was in a hole about two inches deep in the top beam of the frame. There were massive lag screws holding the harp to the frame, but the harp wasn’t going anywhere until those tuning pins were removed. Unfortunately, I don’t own a piano tuning hammer (wrench), and nothing from my socket sets would work as a substitute, so I improvised with a pair of cheap vise-grips. It took several hours to remove all of the pins (three pins per note for about two-thirds of the strings), but when I was done, I removed one last lag screw, and the harp was free.
It took me, my 20-year-old son and my very fit wife to lift the harp out of the carcase. We managed to carry the harp outside to the driveway, where we simply let it fall over, hoping it would shatter into a few smaller, lighter pieces. It clanged to the ground with hardly a scratch, so the next step was to break it up a bit with an eight-pound sledge hammer. In fairly short order, it was reduced to two or three smaller pieces, which only required two people to carry to the curb (trash pickup was the following day). By the time the garbage truck arrived, the cast iron was already gone (scrappers got it, I’m guessing).
My wife and I managed to roll the carcase out to the driveway where I knocked it apart with a dead-blow mallet, a pry bar, and a reciprocating saw (when all else failed). I was disappointed to find out that the large squarish pillars that made up the back frame were not milled from a single board, but rather glued up from several thinner boards. There is still salvageable lumber there, just not the big, thick, future table legs that I had hoped they would be.
I had hoped to salvage the sound board in one piece–it appears to be made from 3/8″ thick spruce, but I haven’t verified that. I was seeing mandolin tops or maybe even a guitar top in it, but unfortunately it was already cracked, and in taking the assembly apart, I broke it up a bit more. There is still usable wood there, but not the large pieces I was hoping for.
Upon closer examination of some of the pieces of the piano it is clear that some components are lower-quality wood that has been veneered on the finished faces. It makes a lot of sense, because those pieces are typically pretty thick, and there’s probably no point in using finer wood that is that thick when only a couple of the faces will be finished and seen.
There is one bit of the piano that I really can’t do anything with–the pin block–it’s a very thick, broad slab made of glued-up solid hardwood and a bit of plywood–I’m guessing it weighs somewhere between 55 and 70 pounds. The uprights from the back frame were sort of through-mortised into this block; I had to cut them off, so the tenons are still there, which means I can’t just plane this slab down and make a fireplace mantel out of it (although it’s big enough for that). It will probably go to my son-in-law (who heats with wood)–a couple of slices with a chain saw, and he’ll have some big chunks for cold winter nights.
Although this piano was clearly not an expensive model, and although there are places where I’ve seen a bit of haste or sloppiness in the construction, one of the things I do appreciate about it is the quality of the hardware they used. Most of the screws are flat-head slotted wood screws, and the quality seems to be very high. Maybe all screws were that way back in the day, but next to most of the hardware I see today, these screws are really quite well-made. And some of them are massive. I’ll try to get some photos together soon.
Just a word of caution, should you ever decide to do something like this yourself: piano strings are under great tension, so exercise caution and common sense when you loosen/cut them. And if you can get your hands on a real tuning hammer, removing the tuning pins will be much easier.
One funny story: when we were taking it apart, we found a lot of little things inside, but the most amusing thing was a packet of cigarette papers. At first we thought they might be old, left by a previous owner, but then we realized that the packet had a UPC barcode on it, and barcodes have only been in wide use since the mid-1970s. Then we began to wonder if perhaps one of our children had hidden them there when they were teenagers (they’re all grown now). After mulling it over a while, we figured it out: my wife had taken up the oboe not long after we got the piano, and she occasionally practiced while sitting in front of the piano; she had bought the papers herself, because cigarette papers were recommended by several oboists as useful materials for cleaning the valves (or some such thing). At least that’s our story, and we’re sticking to it.
It’s been really tough to get much shop time for much of this summer–I worked pretty consistently in the shop until the end of June, but then vacation and work-related travel took me away for the first three weeks of July, and ever since I returned, it’s been beastly hot (and my shop has no A/C). Plus, with all of that travel in July, I’ve had some busy weeks trying to get caught up at work.
But this week the heat finally broke for a while, and triple-digit temperatures have given way to much milder weather (80s and 90s), and I’ve managed to squeeze in some shop time and a couple of small projects here and there.
Even during some of the hot weather in late July I was able to spend a couple hours on a few mornings working with my young friend, Dereck, a high-school senior who attends my church. I’m helping Dereck build an electric bass guitar from scratch. Dereck is a talented musician (he plays the violin and the drums already and is teaching himself to play the bass), but he’s also the sort of kid who is industrious, hard-working, tenacious and creative. What he lacks in practical experience in woodworking, he makes up for with sheer desire to get things done, and he’s accomplished a lot of amazing things with minimal tools and almost no training.
We first began talking about building a bass after he showed me a bass he built out of plywood and pine. It worked, but not particularly well, and with the materials he used, I knew that it would only be a matter of time before that instrument broke apart in his hands. So we decided to pursue the construction of a “real” bass guitar, and learn together (I’ve never built a guitar before).
We visited my dad’s shop first–my dad gave us several pieces of wild cherry, left over from a project he had worked on, and we glued them up to create a body blank for the bass, about an inch and a half thick. I had some scraps of hard maple, so I ripped up some pieces and glued up a laminated blank for the neck.
Progress on the bass is going slow, as we’ve only been able to get together to work on it for two or three hours at a time, about once or maybe twice a week. But we’ve enjoyed the process, and we can’t wait to see how it will all turn out. Dereck took the body home while I was away in July and cut it out with his hand-held jigsaw, then spent hours sanding and smoothing the edges. Since then we’ve routed the pickup cavities in the body, cut the peghead from the neck blank and glued it on at the appropriate angle, routed the truss-rod groove in the neck, and cut and milled the fretboard blank (also from hard maple). Last week we took a trip to Kansas City and stopped in at a “real” hardwood supplier (all we have in our town is Home Depot), and found some offcuts of Honduran and Bolivian rosewood to use for the bridge, the headstock veneer, the truss-rod adjustment cavity cover, the controls cavity cover and any other accents we need.
We’ve also done some initial rounding of the edges of the body blank, but there is much more shaping to do on both the body and the neck blank. Then comes the really tricky stuff–the cutting of fret slots, the routing of the neck cavity and fitting of the neck, and the joining of the neck to the body. More on that another time.
One of the coolest things about this project is that it is collaborative and educational, for both of us. We’re sharing the labor–he’s doing a lot of the hand-tool work, and I’m doing a lot of the power-tool work that he’s less comfortable with. But he’s learning, and I’m doing my best to help him learn how to use the equipment safely and properly. We’re both learning a lot about making an electric bass (I’ve got my sights set on making an electric guitar at some point), and frankly, I feel like I’m making an investment in a young man who will accomplish great things somewhere down the road.
Other shop stuff
Through the wonderful magic of Father’s Day and a July birthday, I have acquired some new tools and accessories over the past few weeks–my daughter and son-in-law gave me a set of router guides for my Bosch 1617-series router, which is cool. My lovely wife got me a stacked dado set, and my other daughter gave me a gift certificate to Woodcraft, and since there is a Woodcraft store in Kansas City (less than an hour away), I now am the proud owner of a new Stanley spokeshave, a tool I’ve wanted for a long time, and which will be put to good use in shaping the bass neck over the next few weeks.
My stepmother is retiring this month, so I’m also using some of that scrap cherry to make her a little keepsake box. I actually resawed some of the 3/4-inch thick stock on my table saw, then planed it to a quarter-inch in thickness on my thickness planer. I’m ashamed to admit that I finally figured out that by using the cutter head lock on my planer, I could reduce or eliminate snipe on the stock.
I also may have solved a mystery that has dogged me for months…I had some old drawer fronts that I had salvaged from a broken-down chest of drawers, and I’ve used much of the wood to make small boxes. But I could never tell exactly what kind of wood it was, and it was driving me crazy, because I loved the aroma of that wood as I worked on it. Well, in the hardwood store the other day, with dozens of species of wood all around me, I started sniffing boards to see if I could find that wonderful, sweet familiar scent. I limited my sniffing to boards of the appropriate color, and after smelling about two-thirds of the species in the store, I found it: hickory. Nice. I see some hickory projects in my future.
Stay with me on this…
I started working with page layouts and typography and such back in the ’70s, when, if you were lucky, you had an IBM Selectric with more than one type ball. If I wanted anything fancy, I had to buy Letraset rub-on lettering or break out the Speedball pen nibs and India ink and do it myself. Then in the ’80s and ’90s, desktop publishing technology made it possible for anyone with a computer and a laser printer to use as many different fonts and styles as they wanted. The fact that you could use ten different fonts in a document didn’t necessarily mean that you should, but unfortunately, many people did just that, and as a result, there was a lot of really awful document design out there.
Back to woodworking…it seems to me that everywhere I look these days I’m seeing project after project where the woodworker has used as many different wood species as he could get his hands on, and while I was initially impressed with the variety, any more it feels a little like looking at a document with ten different fonts, some of which don’t really look good together. I’ve seen photographs of a number of projects in which there were three, four, five, even six different wood species used, and often in not very attractive ways. So it begs the question: Do we really need to use so many different species in one project? And if we’re going to use more than one wood species, shouldn’t we at least try to use woods that look reasonably good together?
I’m just saying.