|Project by riverguy||posted 04-28-2013 11:39 PM||2507 views||2 times favorited||2 comments|
Faux Beam Design, Construction and Installation
Our living room has been this big, cavernous, sterile place ever since we bought this house two years ago. All white, all textured drywall, all boring. So it finally dawned on me that what with the nine-foot ceilings, a faux beam treatment would visually bring the ceiling down, and it would compliment the bookshelves and mantle that I had already built in.
My apologies for not having complete photos along the way of this project, but until it was done and I saw what a dramatic difference it made to the room, I hadn’t even thought of posting the project. So for what’s lacking in photos, I’ll try to give a description of the process. If anybody needs any further info, just ask!
I priced ready-made faux beams and then decided that if this was going to happen, I’d have to get creative. After a lot of thought on how to build the beams and install them, here’s what I came up with. Each beam is fabricated from two full-length 1×6’s of select tight-knot cedar. I chose cedar because I knew that stained with dark walnut stain, it would give me the color and dramatic grain I wanted. But the best part about cedar is that each 16’ beam weighs less than 10 pounds, so needs very little in the way of support.
The beams are fabricated as shown in the photos. I resawed one of the two 1×6’s into two 5/16” thick pieces. I did this on my tablesaw with a sharp, thin-kerf 80-tooth blade on a careful setup, sawing from both edges. There was little or no kerf where the two cuts met in the middle of the board.
The 1×6’s I bought were resawn from 2×6’s at the mill. (That’s the way they make all their cedar 1×6.) This meant that one side of each 1×6 was planed and the other had the resawn finish. When I fabricated my beams, I used the planed sides out, and on one of the sides I had to use my own resawn side out since it was nearly as smooth as the planed sides.
I could have just used full 1×6’s for the sides, but I really wanted to keep these beam as lightweight as possible.
It is important to find any crown on your side pieces and assemble them all with the crown facing up. That way, just securing the beam to the end blocks will already hold it snug against the ceiling. Measure the length of the space for each beam separately and cut the beam 1/2 inch shorter than this measurement to allow easy installation. That gap will be hidden later by the wall moldings.
The “bottom” of the beam is a 1×6, rabbetted along both edges to receive the side pieces. I used a dado on the table saw to make the rabbetts. To fabricate these long beams, I made a makeshift 16’ long table out of a long 2×6 on saw horses, shimming as needed to make sure the “table” was flat. I placed the “bottom” 1×6, planed side down, on the table, clamped it at each end so it would stay put. Then I ran glue into the length of the rabbett and carefully placed the side into the glue, planed side out. I held the side firmly into the rabbett and went along the whole length of the side and with a brad nailer, set 18 ga. brads at about 24” intervals to hold it in place. When that side was done, I installed the other side in the same manner.
Now, while the glue is still wet, I turned the beam over and examined the length for any gaps where the side didn’t fit securely into the rabbett, and at any such spot, I placed a clamp. Next step: an overnight dry of the glue.
The next day, I installed the spacers/blocking inside as shown in the photos, these went in at about 24” spacing. When they were dry, I layed the beam on it side and with a disc sander, trimmed any overhang of the “bottom” past the side so it was flush to the side. Then I used a trim router with a 45-degree bit and ball-bearing guide to trim the corners as in the photos. I set the cut depth so the 45-degree cut went just a bit past the seam between the two pieces. (See photo.) On the finished beams, the joints are invisible. Note: I routed only to within 1 1/2” from the end of each beam, as I wanted a 90-degree corner where the beam gets trimmed to the wall molding.
Finishing: With random-orbit sander, I started with 100 gr on any rough areas, then to 180 and a light finish with 220. I softened the 45-degree corners with the last pass of 220 grit.
Next came a wipe of dark walnut stain, and then I used waterbased Minwax Polycrylic satin varnish for the finish, and it looks exquisite. I applied one coat, let it dry, another, let it dry, and then sanded lightly with 220 on a R/O sander (very light touch on this!) to remove raised grain and dust nibs. Two more coats and the job is done, and with water based varnish, the whole job takes two hours including dry time.
To hang the beams, I cut blocks from 2×6 stock. Two blocks to fit into the ends of the beams, and two more for the ceiling. Each block is chamfered a bit on the edges where the beam will have to slide over, to make installation easier. I marked the placement of the wall blocks (for the ends of the beams), screwed them through the drywall into the top plate of the wall (no need to find studs that way), and then lifted each beam up, slipped it over the end blocks and temporarily propped it in place. Then I marked the ceiling for the two ceiling blocks, spaced evenly along the length of the beam.. I did it this way in case the beam was not absolutely straight, so there would be no stress on the beam trying to fit it over the blocks. (Make sure to number your beams and note which end goes where.) I got lucky and had joists into which to secure the ceiling blocks. These beams are so light, however, that you could use 1/4” toggle bolts, two for each block, if you’re securing to drywall. When the ceiling blocks are up, again lift the beam onto the blocks, use three finish nails on each side of each end and two into each side of the ceiling blocks. Be sure to push the beam tightly to the ceiling in each location before nailing.
Note: I was using a nail gun. If you’re using a hammer, best not nail into blocks secured to the ceiling with toggle bolts. Instead, use small-head screws and fill the holes.
I was planning on using small trim moldings to cover the long joints between the beams and the ceiling, but the fit is so good that they turned out to be unnecessary.
The wall mouldings are the same height as the beams and are cut to length after all the beams are installed. Done right, the ends of these moldings will cover the nails that are securing the beams to their wall blocks. I stained and finished enough material to make all the moldings before cutting them to length. To easily get very accurate measurements for these moldings, I used two sticks, each a bit shorter than the space between the beams, spread them apart so they were the perfect fit between the beams, and snapped on a spring clamp to hold them that way until I could measure the length.
The finishing touch was small cap moldings I cut to cover the bottoms of the beams at the wall. They show in the photos.
Regarding the lights and ceiling fan, this would of course be different for each situation, but we had a ceiling light in an awkward place in the living room. I did my beam layout so that one of the beams covered that electrical box location. I removed the box and pulled the Romex cable out long enough to extend into a new box installed in the side of the beam. From there, I wired in the two spot lights shown in the photos. The little box that shows in the middle of the beam is a remote-control receiver for those lights. Then I cut a new hole for a new box for the ceiling fan that got installed between the beams, placing it in the middle of the room. I fished a length of Romex from the new box in the beam to a new box secured to a joist (for the fan.) The fan is also remote controlled, so the old ceiling light switch just stays on all the time now.
The new faux beam ceiling has totally changed the character of this room. I wish I had thought of doing a photo-article, and then I’d have some better pictures, plus some of the shop process. It really was an easy job that could be handled by anyone familiar with basic woodworking techniques. The total cost of materials, including the varnish, was under $400.
-- Skip, Forestville, CA, http://www.retro-industrial-chic.com