The Dining Room Built-In: 173's First Christmas Mantel! (Maybe)

December 31, 2017

Happy New Year!  I hope everyone had as wonderful a Christmas as I did!  With Christmas on a Monday, there was actually time to spend Christmas Eve with my mom, dad and two of my siblings!  I can't remember the last time that happened!  It was so much fun I think there should be a law...let's make Christmas the last Monday of December rather than the 25th!  Whomever makes that happen gets my vote!

Like probably most of us, I love Christmas!  So much so that 2 of my top 5 favorite movies are It's a Wonderful Life, and The Bishop's Wife.  One thing I've always wanted was a fireplace, and a great mantel to go with it, one that could be dressed up for know - another attempt to create an atmosphere that conjures those Christmases of my idyllic youth.  Watching Bing Crosby and Andy Williams Christmas specials, and all those old movies always had a fireplace.  That's part of the reason I was pushing to get as much done with the project as I could before the holidays.  And it worked!

This is quite possibly the first Christmas mantel here at 173!  I say possibly because there is some evidence that there may have been some form of fireplace here in what appears to be the 1940s or '50s:
I'm not sure who is who in that picture, but I'm quite certain one of the boys is the father of my friend Mosher, whose grandparents owned 173, and whose father (one of the above?) grew up here.  The fireplace in the picture certainly was not an actual woodburning fireplace, as there is nothing here at 173 to show that there ever was one, but the interesting thing is, the one in the picture is in the same spot as the one I'm building!  If you look closely at the top left of the Christmas tree, you can even see the pipe that runs up the wall.

So here we are in 2017, and this much I can say with absolute certainty - 173 has my very first Christmas mantel!  A couple days before Christmas, I finished enough of the project to stop and put some things on the mantel.
There was a lighted garland, and just some of our nutcrackers, and it was ok.  Not great, but I loved it!
But I had forgotten that we had other Christmas decorations that haven't been brought out in awhile!
Next year there'll be more time to be more creative, but this is a great start for 173's mantel!  Of course, I had to get a little experimental with the camera and filters, so here's some mood shots:

There you have it - a peek at the Christmas mantel!  Happy New Year everyone!

The Dining Room Built-In: Coming Along Nicely

December 22, 2017

Just under a week ago I posted that the details had, at long last, begun!  At that time I had the faceframes on the bookcases, and had also made the toppers for the cases.  Then it was time to get on the fireplace.  I think this is the moment for a little mantle anatomy, at least so I'll know what to call the different parts.  This diagram is from Mantel Craft:
The first step was to get the facing legs on.
After those facing legs were on, well, that's when things got tricky - at least for me!  That brings me to another part of the fireplace, but it's not on the diagram above, so here's another, this one taken from This Old House on Pinterest:
You see, I wanted a 3/4" astragal to run horizontally, and protrude by 1/2", that would separate the facing header (or breast in the 2nd diagram) from the facing legs, which would set the facing width, also determining how wide I would need to make the mantel legs.  In addition to this, I wanted the astragal to wrap around the sides for a more finished look.  Here's the astragal after also adding the facing header:
The astragal returns on the sides were tricky.  My first cut I didn't think out very well and made 45 degree cuts.  Yeah, that made it so the returns would stick way out into the front of the neighboring bookcases.  It took me half an hour to realize I needed to cut a piece 3/4"x3/4" and change the angle.  Here's an overhead view:
It's not perfect, but I was pretty pleased with the turnout.  Told you it got tricky!  Once the astragal was in, I did the mantel legs.  I debated for a long time (this has been going through my mind for months) what style mantel legs to put in.  Up 'til the last moment I had planned on using fluted boards, but lost my nerve, thinking it just wasn't anywhere near in keeping with the woodwork here at 173.  So I cut the legs to leave the facing reveal the same as on the width of the facing area beneath the astragal.  But, I also didn't want the mantel legs to be just a board, so I experimented on the router, using up a bunch of scrap pieces in the process.  Here's what I came up with:
Kinda hard to see there, let's try another shot:
Look familiar?  It's the same profile I put on the tops of the front stoop railings this past summer!  Nothing like consistency!  Here they are installed:
And from straight on:
Things really started moving then!  The next step was to build the mantel shelf.  Now, on the first day of the project, when I bought the first boards for the base...I bought the wrong size.  After literally months of planning, on the very first day, I bought four 8 foot 2x8s instead of the 2x10s I needed.
The plan was to return them once the project was finished.  I have this rule, I over-buy, or buy the wrong thing for a project, I don't return it 'til the project's done - hey, you never know!  And that's exactly what happened here.  I wanted the mantel shelf to be 2-by material, so used a 2x8.  Okay, truth be told, I lost an entire 8 foot board to miscalculations and mis-cuts.  Good thing I held onto them. Through a series of bar clamps and pipe clamps, and strategic use of pocket screws,
I put together a pretty hefty shelf:
If you remember, the fireplace itself is electric, and back in November I ran the power supply into the fireplace carcass.  Well, it was time to get the electricity hooked up but I got to thinking - 173, being 90 years old, has a paucity of outlets, so....Why let an opportunity go to waste?  Besides, what if we want to put a light on the mantel, or hook up Christmas lights or something?  So I drilled a hole in the mantel shelf...
Then I put a desk hole grommet in...
Yep!  Already have something plugged in!  One thing I think I want to do though, is recess the grommet so it doesn't sit on top of the shelf.  Anyway, that brings me to the next step, actually hooking up the power.  The receptacle end was no problem whatsoever:
The complicated part was actually supplying power to the outlet.  Pretty obvious huh?  The choice was to find a line somewhere and tap into that, or hook right into the circuit-breaker box.  173 has a solid electrical setup, but the lines are all over the place...there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to what's connected together, therefore I decided on the circuit-breaker box.  
Over the years in this blog, I have bemoaned my dislike of painting.  Well, there is one thing I hate even more than painting, and that's messing around with the circuit-breaker box.
Ugh!  Makes me shiver just thinking about it!  I've put new lines in before, but that was years ago when I put new power in the third floor.  Thankfully, putting the new line in went off without a hitch, but it was nerve-wracking even though the main switch was off, and I used three different electrical testers to make sure!  That said, with the electricity set, and the mantel shelf built, it was time to put the trim on.  
For the trim, I used this, from Lowes:
The idea was that there are some lines, curves and that rope look, all of which will hearken to both the hutch and the dining room table!  That's my hope anyway!  But the thing is, I bought two 8 foot lengths of the trim, and when I made the book case tops, I didn't think through the cuts and ended up without a piece to go the full length of the fireplace.  But I had two pieces that would go more than half way, so I had an idea - a plinth block!  
I've seen plinths on fireplaces in movies (yeah, I pay attention to such things), so I figured I was safe and it wouldn't look horrible (at the same time saving me another $20).  Then it was a matter of inserting the fireplace and seeing how it all comes together!
And there it is!  There's still a lot to do, but I'm done 'til after Christmas, I want to decorate it a little for a couple days!  Then there will be filling nail holes, caulking, priming, painting - not to mention making shelves for the bookcases!  But for now...
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone!

The Dining Room Built-In: Starting the Details

December 15, 2017

A few days ago I posted that the basic structures of the built-in were finally done...
Now it's time to get going on the details!  The first step was to drill the shelf-pin holes.  I gotta say, the Kreg shelf-pin jig was awesome, and as simple to use as advertised!
I tried to get a picture of how the holes all lined up, but unlike my father, I'm not much of a photographer, and the holes look crooked in all the pictures, but I can tell you - they're straight and level as can be!
Once that was done, I got the face frame done.  This part went surprisingly well with very little hassle.  If you know me at all, you know that anything here at 173 that goes up easily is a rarity!  But I took my time, and with the laser on my chop saw, got some pretty precise cuts.  As a matter of fact, this is probably the loosest joint I had!
All-in-all I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out:
Oh!  And there's the fireplace in it's future habitat!  Very satisfying that after all the planning, measuring and assembling, the fireplace fit perfectly with maybe a quarter inch or so play all the way around!  It kinda reminds me of when I was a kid.  Dad tore off the entire front porch of the house and built a front entry-room to make it so the front door faced south instead of west, where the winter winds come from.  I don't think he drew a single plan for that room, but he framed it up perfectly.  So much so that when we put the big picture window in, it practically snapped into place with almost no shimming whatsoever!
See the double window on the right?  That's the one - perfect fit!  Anyway, by comparison, my tiny little electric fireplace fir perfectly!  LOL.  So, the next step back here at 173 was the tops for the bookcases.  Here's a sneak peak:
I got started after work tonight, and finished the front for ONE of the bookcases.  Yeah, a couple hours on just the front of one!  I've never been great at mitering, so I'm really taking my time with this.  Obviously - more to come!

The Dining Room Built-In: Structure Complete

December 10, 2017

The basic structures of the built-in are complete and in place, so the next steps are about details, lots of details.  Therefore, the posts will probably slow down to more of a trickle over the coming days.  When last we met, the first bookcase was up at long last.

Yesterday, the second one was assembled.  I had already cut all the pieces, including the parts to box in the pipe that runs up the corner.  I used my original, mis-cut base platform... make the parts to surround the pipe in the corner (odd how they've always been exposed).  To cut that big board down, I had to make a couple feather boards to keep thinks tight to the table saw top:
I know it sounds silly, but this is really the first time I've really needed to use feather boards - after all these years.  Like said, I cut the pieces to box in the pipe, then came the complicated parts - assembling them.
That part was not fun - at all!  But it worked out just fine, and once I put the caps on the bookcases, very little of the pipe will show.  Here's a closeup, so you can see what's behind there, and why the case is built the way it is.
Here's what it looks like now:
And a shot looking in from the living room:
No, they're not crooked, I'm just not a very good photographer.  I think the next step is to drill the shelf holes.  Maybe I'll do a short post about that!?

The Dining Room Built-In: First Bookcase Up!

December 8, 2017

It's Christmastime!  I know, I know - the stores have had Christmas stuff out since before Halloween, Christmas movies have been on TV since before Thanksgiving, and the radio stations have been playing Christmas music since sometime in between.  But, I'm running late.  I love the Christmas season, and I usually get my porch tree up right after Thanksgiving, but not this year.  Not yet.  Seems every spare moment I've been working on the built-in, a built-in I was sure I'd complete in time for the holiday.  But, as I've bemoaned so many times in this blog - I am terrible about estimating how long a project will take me (although I really think the problem is I overestimate my talent!), even as far back as 2012!
But today I made visible progress!  The first bookcase is up!  Almost a week ago I cut the parts for the case - almost a week ago!  Well, I had a little time today, and it was a little tricky putting it together alone, but I had a great idea...I used a series of clamps and jigs (for lack of a better word):
Starting at the top of the picture, you see c-clamps, one of my bar-clamps, a right-angle clamp, and a scrap-wood and nail jig I thought up.  Here's a closer look:
 I had all these little scraps of 1x4 from when I was trying to find the right color of wood stain (I failed), so I put them to use by putting a couple nails in a bunch of them to lend a little support while I was driving pocket screws.  Here's a better shot...
So simple, but effective.  There was no way I was going to be able to get the bookcase up from the basement fully assembled, so I put it together in the kitchen,  Here's a full-length shot:
Ha!  There's Linus' bed, just pushed aside and holding some bar-clamps.  Poor pooch!  Anyway, I also put a stretcher across the backside of the top to be able to affix the case to the wall.  I figured with a bunch of books, and the height of the case, I better give it some support...maybe I overdid it with the pocket screws!
So, when I first built the base, the platform portion came up a little short length-wise.  The problem is, I drive a Jeep and can fit an 8 foot board inside perfectly, and I coulda gotten a 10 footer, but I hate hauling on top of the Jeep, so I had to scab together a piece, which turned out ok...
Yep, and there's the pipe I have to box in...nothing's simple here at 173!  The 1x12s for the sides of the case had a bit of bow in them, but through strategic use of a bar-clamp and pocket screws, I got the fixed center shelf installed perfectly level in both planes!
And finally, here's the case in place...
And one last picture looking from the kitchen:
Getting there!  But there's a long way to go - never get it done by Christmas, but that just has to be okay.  Next is the bookcase for the other side of the fireplace!

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