“Doing All Right”
It has now been a bit more than a month since I finally finished the Home Theater I’ve mentioned so many times over the years in these blogs, but I am just now writing about it. Part of that is because I spent a fair amount of that month basking in the afterglow. Part of it is because I have already set to work on the next project, drawing up plans, purchasing the requisite wood and hardware and actually making some sawdust this last week. But, really, I suppose the biggest reason I’m just now sitting down at the keyboard is because the shock has only now worn off. But not the afterglow! Christine and I still cannot watch a football game in that room without commenting on what a terrific room it turned out to be. And for all of the frustrations that have transpired over the years I do have to say that it has exceeded my expectations. But even so, it is just damned near impossible to sit at this keyboard and write about a ten-year project that has final ended.
I did not work on it for all of those years, far from it, in fact. I would work on it for a few weeks or months, then something would come up and I would not be able to work on it for a year or more. And even when I was working on it, the progress was never very spectacular. Mostly, I think, it was because I had to figure out so many things in order to get the work to progress.
The entire project is made of solid (not plywood) Honduras Mahogany, also known as Genuine Mahogany. African Mahogany is not mahogany at all, just a species that looks like it a little and is cheaper. I paid more for the real thing. It machines better and to mind looks much better. I did use plywood on the coffee table and end table, as that wood was captured (solid wood must be free to expand and contract with the seasons). I had a local person lay up some Honduras Mahogany Veneer on MDF for me, so I could match the look of what I had.
I have included a picture of me standing in front of the TV surround as I was still working on it. This was the first time I’d assembled it. The TV surround portion is assembled with threaded inserts, as it was too big to get into the house as an assembled unit. I also included a picture of most of the TV surround in pieces, excepting the sides which are solid Honduras Mahogany and the lattice portion which had not been made at that time. That whole frame around the TV was also affixed with tons of threaded inserts the idea being that I can remove the frame entirely and replace it with a larger TV on a ledgered shelf if the current one dies on us. Seeing the completed project, though, my fondest hope is that it goes forever. I like it just the way it is. Altogether, I used 112 threaded inserts.
There are a total of twenty-nine drawers in the project, all of which are flush drawers. The latticework was a unifying theme and is on every element of the finished project. Altogether, I made that latticework sixteen times. The TV has a surround sound system. The center speaker is on the shelf above the TV. The other five speakers are behind the doors with the blue cloth inserts.
The room is seventeen feet wide and twenty-four feet long. The finished TV side is a bit more than eleven feet long and seven feet high. The wall on that side is eight feet high. This room has a cathedral ceiling, and the wall on the couch side is ten feet high. The two towers on either end of the couch are eight-and-a-half feet high.
It is a little tight for passage on the end of the coffee table nearest the wall, which I knew would be the way of it when I designed it. I firmly believe that people with children should be sitting down to dinner every night. If we’d had children I would NOT have made this coffee table. But we don’t, and I did, because that is how we actually live.
We have a light dinner five nights a week and watch “Wheel of Fortune” together to razz each other when we get the puzzle first—she almost always beats me! We also love the movies and the NFL. In recent years Christine has become a huge fan. During the season she plans meals we can eat in front of the TV while we’re watching the game, either breakfast or dinner. That’s the beauty of the west coast. The games are 10:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., and 5:00 p.m. On Sundays during the season that’s what we do.
We do actually use the dining room table from time to time, but the bulk of our meals are consumed at the coffee table, always have been. That’s the reason for all those drawers in it—four on either end. We have a small drawer for napkins and one of the large drawers for placemats. Another small drawer is for her glasses (she only needs them for TV) and the two small drawers on my end are for the remote controls.
When we sit down to eat, we often make a full meal of it, and we love having a coffee table that is 60” long. When I designed it, I knew that 42” would be the better length because of the space constraints at that end of the room, but I figured I could squeeze by (I can) or, failing that, enter on her end. I’ve not had to do that and won’t, but I would if that were the price of a coffee table this size. The top lifts up to dining height, and every time we load that baby up, I know I made the right decision on the size.
Thinking back on it, I’m not sure how I ever got through all of it. A lot of those ten years were just times when the project sat, but when I did work on it, it often took me a very long time to get things done. The latticework is very much a case in point and especially so for the speaker doors.
I knew that it would utilize lap joints I would make with a dado blade, but I also knew that those elements all had to line up perfectly. I ended up planing larger boards down to ¼”. I then cut them to the desired length and cut the dadoes. Now all the dadoes lined up correctly when I cut the strips for the individual pieces of the latticework. I then cut the shorter ones to length with a dovetail saw, as I would afraid they would chip on a miter saw.
I attached the latticework to the door frames with more lap joints. When I cut the dadoes for them, I cut one more on the reverse side, which I subsequently cut in half with the dovetail saw. The doors have the same lip I would have used, had I installed glass. I then cut tiny rabbets into the inner side of the lip.
Getting the towers in place was another big challenge. All four of them sit on the base cabinet, but to keep them from sliding around I had to use drift pins. Drill a hole, put in a steel pin, and you’re done, right? Well, not exactly because to make it work, you have to have holes in the bottoms of the towers, and those holes have to line up exactly or it won’t work. I ended up turning the towers upside down and drilling the holes in the bottom of them first. Then I put in dowel centers, got a template and arranged it exactly. I tapped it with a mallet, then drilled holes in the template. I then turned the template right side up (same as it would be if it were the tower bottom), lined it up on the base cabinet, and used transfer punches to mark the hole locations. This was one of the times I worked with a lot of scrap first to make sure my idea would work. When I finally finished out on the first one, seated the tower, and knew that I had actually pulled it off, I damned near bawled from the relief of it!
The other huge challenge was that TV surround. One of the things that really helped was that I had already made a Margarita Bar which is assembled with threaded inserts. It was a method that worked well, so I used it again. The biggest challenge with the TV surround was just the sheer size of it. I actually made two assembly tables on casters for this. Whenever I needed to assemble the TV surround to work on it for a while, I put the two assembly tables together and assembled it there. I only had it upright on the garage floor once before I installed it, as the thing was so heavy I couldn’t get it upright without help.
Finally, I should point out that all of these are permanent installations except the coffee table and end table. I put bases on those to make them look like they’re installed, but they’re not. The rest of this stuff is here forevermore!
I’m very proud of the finished result (you may have noticed!), but I can never brag about it because I’m too aware of what’s out there. I personally know three people in San Diego who make me look like a boy scout, and there are a number of others around the country that I’ve written blogs on. But for an old guy who didn’t really get into it until I was almost fifty years old, I think I do all right.
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