Wednesday, January 29, 2014


If you're looking for the story-within-a-story in this gun-cabinet-to-china-cabinet process, it's got to be the glass door I bought for the upper cabinet. It took a long time and lots of salvage-store trips to find; it fits the rest of the cabinet suspiciously well; it makes the difference between a shelf and a cabinet. If you couldn't tell already, I'm a big fan of this door.

Since October, the door has been sitting in my parents' garage, leaned up against the work bench right in the middle of the action, where my mom has been warning somebody not to break the glass at least once per weekend day. Note: This will be important later.

Last weekend, it finally came time to hang the door. Before we broke out the drill and hinges, I decided to prep it for eventual painting: take the old hinges off, rough up the finish with the electric sander, and make a hole for the new door pull. Best to take care of the prep work before it's attached to anything, right?

I've spent a lot of quality time with the electric sander over the last six months, and made basically-invisible changes to a lot of boards. (Is it square now? Now? What about now? This was not that kind of sanding. The finish on the door came off with satisfying ease, and it looked different. I started with the flat surfaces, then started getting into the corners and molding around the small panes. Visions of taping and painting danced in my head. And then:


Here is the secret to safely sanding around a pane of glass with an electric sander: use the corners of the sandpaper. Don't use the sides--there are just too many points of contact and too much vibration. (Also, humility. Don't get cocky, kid.) I know this because I was sanding away, and the sander shuddered against the glass, and the upper-left small pane broke from corner to corner.

To me, this looks like the end of the world. How do I fix broken glass? Are there elves involved? Do I need magic jewelry to make this happen? Surely there's no store for this kind of thing. There you have it: after a long search and a semi-miraculous moment of door acquisition and months of skirting around it, I had somehow done the irreparable. With the sander, too. I always thought it would be my uneasy ally, the table saw!

To my dad, thankfully, this does not look like the end of the world. We pried off the wooden frame and took the rest of the pane out, and Dad saved one of the broken pieces as a sample for the guy at the glass store (...that apparently exists). Then he remembered that he had this kind of glass stashed away somewhere, waiting for a rainy day, or for someone to make a careless move with the electric sander. Mom says he's already cut it to fit. 

As I write this, that pane of glass is still missing. I'm nervous about nailing the frame back into place (yes, let's swing hammers near the new glass, shall we?), but Dad swears it'll be easy. In any case, we kept going. The door is up. We're getting closer.  

More later!

Monday, January 13, 2014

When God Closes a Door, Sometimes It Shifts and Stays Closed Forever

Let's talk about doors.

Here's the thing about doors: if you want them, you're going to have to hang them. Gravity is not going to help you.

Originally, the gun cabinet had drawers on the bottom. They were big, and deep, and mostly impractical for storing fragile objects, and would have ended up a mess every time I went looking for the fancy salt and pepper shakers. When Dad and I broke out the graph paper, the drawers were the first to go.

We cut new cabinet doors out of poplar, and I have to tell you: two rectangular pieces of wood can look the same, and have the same measurements, and they can be as twinsy as you think they're going to get, down to the thirty-second of a single inch, and you can line them up and find that they are TOTALLY DIFFERENT. We swapped them, spun them around, and flipped them over, lather, rinse, repeat. With time and the eventual use of cleverly deployed pencil marks ("left" "right" "front" "back" "top" "bottom," like a bunch of geniuses), and also some quality time with the electric sander, we found a configuration that seemed to work: two doors that matched in length and cleared the frame we'd built for them, and didn't scrape on each other when they closed. Before anything could shift, we placed the hinges and screwed them in. 

It worked!

For awhile. 

Here's a life lesson: the doors you have hung, which swing so freely in their frame, may be less graceful when they're bearing the stresses and pressures of a plywood rifle cabinet of undetermined age. The new doors worked when we attached them to the cabinet, but when we came back the next week, they'd warped--or, more accurately, the frame around them had shifted. We counter-stressed the rest of the cabinet with a brace and a small bucket of wood glue, but no luck. They catch and creak. 

We'll have to fix them, probably using the sander to smooth out any high spots. For now, though, we're leaving them as they are--there's no use fixing them before we're done with the rest of the cabinet, when any false move might throw them out of alignment again. 

But let's end with a happy story, shall we?

Back in July, as soon as the $25 for the cabinet was out of my hands, I started hunting for a vintage glass door to enclose the top half. This led me to cabinetry lesson #5,297: most glass cabinet doors are already attached to cabinets. 

I spent an entire weekend in September looking, browsing the architectural salvage and furniture-resale shops of the East Bay, then trolling Etsy, then giving up and going to eBay. I had people hunting for me, stopping into garage sales and thift stores. I found a merchant in Ohio that specialized in glass doors and stained-glass windows, and gave myself a $100 budget (not including shipping!) for something we might be able to repurpose. I spent weeks waiting for their inventory to change.

One day, I was errand-hopping my way across the East Bay, racing the clock before dinner reservations with my parents. I had stopped in to Ohmega Salvage--both sides--without luck, and was running out of time. I decided to call it quits and head to dinner.

Instead, I found myself at Urban Ore, running to the cabinet-door aisle just in case. I'd been there before, armed with gloves and a tape measure, and rifled through the ranks of abandoned pressboard and broken glass, and found nothing. By this time, I was getting late for dinner, and thinking I should have just headed off to meet my parents--but there I was. And there, sitting out in the middle of the aisle, was exactly one glass cabinet door with exactly the right dimensions and more or less the style I wanted. No broken panes, real wood, solid construction, not an obvious tetanus risk. Twenty-one dollars, including tax, and no need for shipping from Ohio.

I had it home before the appetizer course.

Now that it's home, the door is cooling its heels: it'll be the last big piece of the cabinet and the last thing that might throw the other doors out of whack, after we install the upper shelves. It's a good one, though. I'm glad I was late for dinner.