Working with Metal: Building a Water Heater Cabinet.


I'm going to be taking on a new project with a new medium. Until now, nearly everything with which I've worked has been exclusively made of wood. That's about to change with this new project of making a cabinet to encase the water heater in the garage.

Since I do a lot of woodworking, my activities generate a lot of sawdust. With a water heater pilot flame not far from my work area, that's a significant hazard. Airborne fine-grained sawdust can readily accumulate in significant quantities in the air. Just one spark could spread from one floating grain of sawdust to another and create a combustive chain reaction. This type of dispersed-fuel combustion is the same phenomenon by which grain elevator explosions occur.

My garage is well-ventilated for the most part, but I prefer to be as safe as possible. To that end, I am encapsulating the water heater in a fireproof cabinet that will have positive outbound air flow and will be appropriately screened to prevent sawdust from making its way into the interior.

Water heater cabinet design

The interior frame will be constructed entirely of metal and its walls are made from 5/8" fire-rated gypsum drywall. The drywall will be bolted to the metal frame so that it will separate (rather than shatter) in the event of a flash fire. Additionally, there will be independent natural gas detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors mounted in or near the cabinet for further safety. For ventilation, the front door of the cabinet will be louvered, and there will be two 6"x14" vents on each wall of the cabinet to help hot air rise out of the cabinet, drawing fresh air in at the bottom.

This should be a challenging project and I look forward to completing it this weekend.


Why Whistle While You Work?


I live in a play-your-own area when it comes to music offerings on the radio. And since most of my expendable income goes to my projects, buying a new MP3 player for the garage just wasn't in the cards. Fortunately, I had an old (~6 years) Archos Jukebox Recorder 20 doing nothing but gathering dust, so I drafted it into garage service. This is really an optimal solution since the Jukebox Recorder 20 is heavy by today's standards (12.5 ounces) and isn't suitable for use while working out or walking.

Add to the mix that the player's Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries had become corroded and no longer held a charge. Rather than write off the player, I chose to open it up and see what could be salvaged.

First I loosened the screws (shown here circled in red) at the top of the player using the smallest slotted screwdriver I had. None of my small Phillips screwdrivers could fit in the screw head.

Archos MP3 player top

Then I loosened the screws at the bottom of the player (shown here circled in red).

Archos MP3 player bottom

Then I used a Torx T-10 bit to loosen the side screws (shown here with red arrows).

Archos MP3 player side view

Once I'd loosened the screws, I was able to gently lift the battery cover plate without removing the player's faceplate.

Archos MP3 player opened

The second cover came off easily as well. To my happy surprise, the batteries used by the Archos were standard AA batteries and could be easily replaced. I chose to replace the dead batteries (1.2V 1500mAh NiMH) with four Sanyo Eneloop rechargeable AA batteries (1.2V 2000mAh NiMH).

Archos MP3 player with new batteries

Once the batteries were properly inserted, I replaced the covers and re-secured the screws I'd loosened. A test start-up shows that the Jukebox really likes its new power source!

Archos MP3 player test startup

I hooked up the MP3 player to a pair of Sony portable speakers that were also gathering dust and voilà, 20 gigabytes of musical goodness for those long days tooling around the garage!

Archos MP3 player in garage


A Bookshelf for My Son


My wife and I love to read to our son. And because of this, we've acquired a fair number of books that are kept in his room and in our family room. So it only made sense to design a book shelf just for his books. I chose to make this book shelf capable of holding all types of his books, both large and small.

Family room bookshelf design

Because this book shelf is intended to serve our children for years to come, I intentionally crafted it without any metal. Instead, I chose to use tight fittings and wood glue. Just like the shoe rack I made a few weeks back, this book shelf is also made from scrap MDF board left over from the making of my work bench.

Family room bookshelf construct

The morning after constructing the shelf, I gave it a base coat of white semi-gloss latex paint. Later that same day, I painted it Winnie-the-Pooh yellow.

Family room bookshelf painted

With the color chosen, it only made sense to print out a few full-color stickers of E.H. Shepard's illustrations of Pooh and the ubiquitous honeybees that accompanied A.A. Milne's original storybook classic. I hope this bookshelf is something that my kids will enjoy for years to come.

Family room bookshelf with Pooh stickers

First Phase of a Much Larger Project


This woodwork is a simple one, but it's just the first step in a much larger project.

Our toddler is going through his teething phase and loves to gnaw on all sorts of things. Unfortunately, one of them is the plain plaster windowsills of our house. After doing about a half-dozen spackling repairs, I figured it was time to look into making the window sills much more durable and resilient. The design is simple enough, but requires a fair degree of finesse to have it fit in as an integral part of the window frame.

Window sill design

For this task, I chose Red Oak as the principal lumber. It's not as hard as Ash, but it's hard enough and it matches our hardwood floors.

Window sill corner

The Red Oak board I purchased cost $3.00 per linear foot, but it was well worth it. The board was easy to run on the router table to round the edges, and it held up nicely as I cut a half-inch dado into the bottom edge to fit it into the existing sill. I used a jig saw to cut out the rounded sections and used an electric drill sanding drum to do the precision sanding on the curved areas.

Window sill corner

This board has an exquisite grain that really took well to the Golden Oak stain I used on it. The wood is pretty enough that I didn't bear a grudge against it after I had a 3/8" splinter jammed under my fingernail when I was doing some detail chisel work on the underside. (After having the splinter extracted, I now know why the Chinese developed it as a means of torture.)

Window sill wood grain

All nastiness aside, the oak fit in rather nicely and was secured to the original window sill using Liquid Nails.

Window sill installed

This window sill is just the first of several that I will be designing, woodworking, staining and installing throughout our home.

Window sill edge

Ultimately, every picture window in the house will be fitted with these red oak sills; six in all.

Window sill edge

Laundry Room Family Shoe Rack


Now that I've got my work bench nearly finished, it's time to do my first home project of a shoe rack for the laundry room. Using some scrap MDF board and pine wood left over from the construction of the work bench, I've drawn up a three-level shoe rack that will accommodate the outdoor shoes for every member of the family. I constructed this to be very sturdy since it will inevitably take a lot of abuse with shoes & boots being tossed in it and so on.

Shoe rack design

The construction part went so quickly that I forgot to take photos until I'd already put a coat of white latex semi-gloss on the thing.

Shoe rack main body

Each of the individual shelves are also painted and can be readily removed for easy clean-up.

Shoe rack shelves

And here we have the finished product ready to go. It'll fit in quite nicely next to the washing machine and should provide years of solid use.

Completed shoe rack

Functional Additions to the Work Bench


Got the pre-treated moulding for the sink this week, whipped out the mitre box, and cut out the framing for the sink edge. The edges were sealed with bathtub/shower caulk and everything set up just fine.

Work area sink

It's a rare treat when things come together so quickly, so I marched on and installed my new vise on my work bench. This vise has a 270° rotating base, so I bolted it in using 2" 5/16" hex bolts with 1/2" washers on top and 1" washers on the under side. The vise is set so it can pivot 135° either way.

Wood and metal vise

Some folks prefer peg boards to hang their hand tools. I personally prefer using solid board and hand drawing the hand tool silhouettes on the board. This just works better for me since I like knowing what tools are missing without having to stop to think which ones I've used lately. So I spent the rest of the morning painting in the tool outlines.

Tool board

Once I was reasonably happy with the hand tool board, I hammered in the nails by which the tools will hang. Then I affixed the board to the in-wall studs with four wood screws. I have the board elevated 3" above the work surface.

Tool board hung

Then I loaded up the board with almost all of my hand tools. Works well for me!

Tool board loaded with hand tools

Making My Workshop Clock


Today I took the inexpensive circular saw blade I mentioned in a previous post and made my workshop clock. The design is exceedingly simple and uses an equally inexpensive, battery-powered clock movement. These can be purchased at most craft stores for about $5.00 or less. I got the movement for this clock from an old, busted up mantel clock I'd salvaged years ago.

Mounting the movement may require a few additional washers to pad the space between the movement and the saw blade, but that's about as difficult as it gets. This exploded view shows everything that does into the project.

Saw clock design

I used the off-center hole of the saw blade as the 12 o'clock mark and made no other changes to the blade. Works just fine for me, though some folks may prefer to mark off the 3, 6, 9 and 12 positions for their clock.

Saw clock

Almost done with the Work Bench


Almost done! The work bench surface is now covered in ½" MDF board which is similarly priced as plywood and more durable than particle board.

Work Bench

I've secured each of the MDF sections to the pine frame using wood screws and washers. This will allow for easy replacement of any MDF section in the event that it gets worn out or damaged.

Work Bench

The area around the sink is looking good. I'll be getting a piece of treated moulding for the area around the sink edges so that any water splashes will drain back into the sink. I'll also be installing a backsplash and treating the surrounding area with water sealer to assure longevity of that section of the workbench.

As an aside, the circular saw blade seen in this photo is actually not an intended tool, but an inexpensive ($4.00) face for a clock I'm going to make for my work space. Most circular saw clocks I've seen were going for $20 or more. That's kind of steep when one can be readily made for less than $10.

Work Bench

And there's the work bench! Ready to receive hand tools and power tools alike and have items stored beneath it.

Work Bench

Building My Work Bench


First things first. In order to build the stuff I'd like, I first had to build the means by which I could build stuff. Since I plan on doing big things, I set my sights on a big work bench: a 14' long, 30" deep and 34" tall work bench to be precise.

The work bench was constructed of 2x4 pine boards built as two separate boxes: one 8' and one 6', each reinfored with right angle braces at each corner.

As can be seen on the wall in the photo below, I mounted two lengths of 2x4 pine to directly to the wall using 4" lag bolts to secure it to the studs within the wall. This helps make the bench installation easier since I won't have to worry about the bench components not lining up with the in-wall studs.

Work Bench

These boxes were mated together with two 5/16" 4" hex bolts. The right angle braces can be seen toward the back.

Work Bench

For additional reinforcement, I added a 1½" metal L-brace to where the boxes joined. This may have been overkill, but I think it will help keep the boxes mated and prevent separation from heavy use. Also incorporated are 45° diagonal supports to hold up the workbench frame. These diagonal supports are joined to the work bench frame with 5/16" 4" hex bolts.

These diagonal supports not only offer more storage space under the work bench, but are structurally stronger than using straight leg supports since they utilize the geometry of the triangle, which is the strongest architectural element since one side cannot be altered without altering all sides.

The length of the diagonal board is determined by using the Pythagorean Theorem. In this case, sides a & b are 24", so a² + b² results in the value of c² being 1152". The square root of 1152 is rounded to 33.94 or 33 & 15/16".

Work Bench

I opted to incorporate a sink into the bench for ease of clean-up of paint brushes and so on. I've sealed in the sink area with water-resistant bathtub/shower caulking and added a backsplash. I also put an exterior outlet plate on the wall outlet to prevent accidental water exposure to the electrical component. I will be coating the wood around the area with polyurethane sealer as well.

Work Bench

The 45° diagonal supports terminate into a joist support which is mounted to a 2x6 pine board. The connecting point is not fastened, however. I chose to have gravity alone hold the diagonal supports in place. An added benefit of this approach is that the bench will rise up, instead of buckling, if anyone overshoots parking in the garage and taps it with the nose of the car.

Work Bench

Here's the completed bench framing. Not bad for a day's work. Tomorrow I'll put the bench top on. Now it's time for some pizza!

Work Bench

Work Bench Design


Like Dirty Harry says, "A man's gotta know his limitations." And a draftsman and architect I ain't. The design documents on display here are drawn up only so I can keep clear the basic elements of what I intend to build. I usually stick with the top view, front view and side view to give a good idea of how the objects should be crafted and bolted on. Other than that, everything I do during construction is largely improvisational and governed primarily by my tools, materials and the skills I bring to the table that day.

With that in mind, here's the design for my garage work bench. It may not be pretty, but it's going to be my work space for the next 15 years, or until I come up with a superior design. Whichever comes first.

Work Bench design