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Prairie Style inspired Entertainment Center

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Project by Will Stokes posted 07-16-2010 04:06 PM 5755 views 24 times favorited 37 comments Add to Favorites Watch

At last I’ve completed a cherry entertainment center for our living room. This piece was designed to match the prairie style coffee table I made earlier. I actually designed the entertainment center in SketchUp first, then decided to make a coffee table as a practice piece before returning to the entertainment center. I’m glad I did since I learned a few things and improved the design of this piece before cutting any wood.

Like the coffee table, this piece has strong prairie style/Frank Lloyd Wright influences.

First, I strived to produce a piece that wasn’t to tall and felt wide with a thin overhanging top. The top, like that on the coffee table, is actually 3/4” thick, but with a bevel it doesn’t feel nearly as heavy/thick and tapers down to 3/8” at the very edge.

Next I wanted to incorporate a pattern like those you often see in stained glass in many Frank Lloyd Wright homes. Wright used horizontal, vertical, and diagonal lines to create basic geometric shapes and using these would draw an abstract form of the type of plant life you might see growing out on the prairie. I’ve gone for the same effect. Hopefully you can make out the form of a flower or the tassel from an ear of corn (we sure have a lot of the latter growing around us this year!). So I guess you could say I’m taking an abstract approach to the “grasses blowing in the wind” summer 2010 contest using rigid straight lines to hint at curves and movement you’d actually find in nature.

Like on the coffee table the pattern on the doors was built using 1/2” wide pieces of wood. This time I half-lapped all horizontal/vertical piece overlaps. I removed the waste using my sled on the table saw using a pair of stop blocks. This allowed me to quickly make perfectly symmetrical half-laps since after one I just rotated the piece 180 and made the second. I tried to dial up the pattern a notch as compared to the coffee table by having the long diagonal pieces push through the vertical pieces on the sides, as well as adding a third narrow row of diagonal pieces at the bottom. The goal was to make a piece that resembled the coffee table but has it’s own unique qualities and I think that worked well. Also, the design is in part of obscure all the annoying blinking lights that will eventually be inside the case once a DVD player, Wii, and various other electronics are installed.

With every project I embark on I try to experiment with new techniques…

This was my first attempt at corner bridal joints. There’s 20 of them, each door has 4 and the dividers between the three cabinets have four as well). I really enjoined making these using an attachment clamped to my table saw sled. I feel like I got pretty proficient at making tight symmetrical joints. Once I had things all dialed in I could crank out as many as I would need.

This was my first attempt at using glass. I’m fairly happy with the shelves. By using glass the shelves are less noticeable so your focus remains on the pattern on the doors. I used a jig from Rockler and then installed metal sleeves to dress up the holes a bit more. I’m not entirely thrilled with how the glass in the doors is secured. I cut and had ready strips of wood to hold the glass in but found they were too small to install with brads. I then tried to hot glue them in and found the hot glue kicked them out something terrible. I ultimately decided to run a bead around each of the corners with hot glue and call it a day. The glass is secure. I think if I were to do it again I give myself more space so I could use brads with slightly larger strips of wood to provide a cleaner appearance on the inside edge.

This was my first attempt as floating panels. I made solid panels for the left and right side and used cherry ply for the back and cabinet dividers.

This was also my first attempt as using hinges. In terms of the contest, if you’re looking for literal movement I guess the doors do open and close, although I’m really banking on the pattern on the doors to make this project applicable. :-) I used some low profile butt hinges I found on Woodcraft, carefully mortised by hand into the doors and case using a sharp chisel and lots of patience. The doors swing beautifully so I’m very happy with how this aspect of the project turned out. Small low profile magnets at the top left corner secure each door in the closed position. Two of the doors were a bit louder when they closed and required more force then I’d like to open so I simply placed a piece of black eletrical tape over the black piece of metal screwed to the top left corner of the door. You’ll never notice it and it makes the doors a bit easier to open and much quieter when closing.

I originally intended to use some mission style knobs I also purchased from Woodcraft. In the final hour I decided they were too big and the dark color would distract from the doors and piece in general, so I made some knobs from scraps of cherry again using my table saw sled. Have I mentioned how much I love my table saw sled? :-)

Like before the top is secured with 14 “buttons” that allow for wood movement. I got so excited gluing up the case that I forgot to first dado a grove for the buttons to go into. Biscuit cutter to the rescue! I plunged in the proper place with my biscuit cutter, then raised the fence 1/16” before plunging at each spot a second time. This worked really well (although clamping a support piece of wood for each one was a bit of a pain). Ultimately my aprons are probably stronger than if I had dadoed a grove along the entire edge.

The aprons and side rails are mortise and tenoned into the corner posts, although once again I chickened out and faked the thru tenon appearance. This time I made caps and attached these using dowels. As a result the pins on the doors actually do pin the bridal joint, just with a dowel. Those already super strong joints (lots of face grain glue surface on those bridal joints) will now never come apart, even if the glue does fail some day.

I’ve included a photo of how not to glue up the case. I should have taken this slower and done fewer things at once since the right cavity ended up off by 1/16” at the top, but you can’t really tell. I’ve also included of photo of some of the techniques of how I glue up the pattern on the doors. Paper clips work well for holding the small pieces together. Spacers make measuring and marking additional glue ups unnecessary. You can also make out the half lap joints toward the bottom.

So all in all I’m very happy with how this piece turned out. Aside from cherry ply used on the back and for the cabinet dividers the rest of the piece is solid cherry. The finish is three coats of Tried and True varnish oil, warmed to 120 F in a slow cooker, then rubbed on using cotton rags, followed up by a coat of paste wax.

Update: Due to popular demand I’ve uploaded my SketchUp design to Google’s 3D Warehouse. Enjoy!





37 comments so far

View RexMcKinnon's profile

RexMcKinnon

2593 posts in 1941 days


#1 posted 07-16-2010 04:16 PM

Ver nice, this is the first time I have seen “paper clips” used as clamps. Great idea.

-- If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail!

View Will Stokes's profile

Will Stokes

264 posts in 2100 days


#2 posted 07-16-2010 04:25 PM

I used to use “clamps” like these a lot back in the day when building bridges and towers for Science Olympiad competitions. For those projects I usually used an even smaller variety. :-)

View levan's profile

levan

427 posts in 1725 days


#3 posted 07-16-2010 04:30 PM

Nice job Will. Love all the details. Looks like a lot of thought and time went into this, and worth every minute.
Very nice piece.

-- "If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right". Henry Ford

View Ken90712's profile

Ken90712

15304 posts in 1934 days


#4 posted 07-16-2010 04:35 PM

What a great job on this project. Some of the best representation of Cherry I have looked at in a long time. The joints and doors look great. This is something to be proud of for sure!

-- Ken, "Everyday above ground is a good day!"

View Triumph1's profile

Triumph1

841 posts in 1825 days


#5 posted 07-16-2010 05:01 PM

Very, very nice. Always been a big fan of the prairie style and you did an amazing job.

-- Jeff , Illinois Please...can I stay in the basement a little longer, please!

View AaronK's profile

AaronK

1399 posts in 2210 days


#6 posted 07-16-2010 05:25 PM

excellent work. thanks for the very descriptive details too.

That top looks thicker than 3/4” but I guess it’s hard to tell the scale of the pics. So what dimensions are the corner posts/legs? the bevel on the underside of the top is a nice touch.

also i never thought of using binder clips as mini clamps. great idea!

View SPalm's profile

SPalm

4930 posts in 2627 days


#7 posted 07-16-2010 05:28 PM

A really great job on this. I really like it.

Drool,
Steve

-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View a1Jim's profile

a1Jim

112828 posts in 2323 days


#8 posted 07-16-2010 05:28 PM

Outstanding entertainment center fantastic design and build.

-- http://artisticwoodstudio.com Custom furniture

View Will Stokes's profile

Will Stokes

264 posts in 2100 days


#9 posted 07-16-2010 05:33 PM

Thanks everyone. :-)

-The posts are 1.5” x 1.5” x 22.5”.
-The top is ~64 1/8×19 1/2×3/4” tapered down to 3/8” at the edges. I say approximately since that’s from the SketchUp file and I think I made the top very slightly bigger, maybe 1/2 to 3/4 in real life.
-The aprons are 2 1/4” (lower) and 1 1/2” (upper) by 3/4”.
-I used 1/8” glass in the doors, 1/4” for the shelves, neither is tempered (I had a heart attack when I saw the price for getting it all tempered).

View emtwoodworker's profile

emtwoodworker

51 posts in 2241 days


#10 posted 07-16-2010 05:56 PM

Great looking entertainment center. On one of my projects I used a clear bead of silicone to secure the glass into the door. It was suggested to me by the lady at the glass store . It worked great and looks pretty good too. The door wasn’t that big though so I’m not sure if that approach would work with larger doors.

View Will Stokes's profile

Will Stokes

264 posts in 2100 days


#11 posted 07-16-2010 06:05 PM

I only used a small amount of hot glue so I might go over it with a bead of silicone, I bet that would look great. Thanks.

View Jonathan's profile

Jonathan

2605 posts in 1796 days


#12 posted 07-16-2010 06:42 PM

Will,

This is a fantastic piece… absolutely fantastic!

Thank you for providing all the details of the project, including your trials and tribulations along the way. It brings the human aspect into the project and gives it more life. I wish more people did this, rather than just saying, “This is a cherry entertainment center I built 3-months ago.”

I also like that you tried new things here, learning along the way. I agree with this philosophy wholeheartedly. You might make a mistake or two along the way, but you’re growing your skills at the same time, something I feel ultimately trumps any momentary frustrations or setbacks.

Again, this is beautiful. I love the door detail and the beveled top makes it appear lighter, plus adds the extra detail to go along with the particular style you were shooting for (Prairie).

You’ve gotten me to thinking… I wonder how this would look if the door motif and caps and handles were done in a complementary wood to lend a touch of contrast and depth? Maybe it’d be too much for the eye, or take away from the cohesive nature of it? Please don’t think I’m taking away from your design here as that’s not my intent. You simply got my brain to thinking, that’s all.

Thanks for posting this… it’s definitely a piece to be proud of!

-- Jonathan, Denver, CO "Constructive criticism is welcome and valued as it gives me new perspectives and helps me to advance as a woodworker."

View CharlieM1958's profile

CharlieM1958

15786 posts in 2964 days


#13 posted 07-16-2010 06:50 PM

Spectacular piece, Will. This is the kind of project that should be handed down for many generations.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 3045 days


#14 posted 07-16-2010 06:53 PM

A beautiful heirloom!

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN. http://www.woodcarvingillustrated.com/gallery/member.php?uid=3627&protype=1

View Will Stokes's profile

Will Stokes

264 posts in 2100 days


#15 posted 07-16-2010 06:53 PM

Thanks Jonathan. I was very tempted to use some walnut to contrast the cherry for the details but ended up not doing it because I wanted this piece to match the coffee table since they will be in the same room. That said, the living is only one room in our house. I’m hoping to use contrasting colors in future projects for other rooms. :-)

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