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designing and building with wood channels my creativity and challenges my mind.
This blog is a record of my life in my studio.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In the Design Phase: My "Wrap 270" Aquarium Cabinet

designed in the free version of Google Sketchup

It's only fitting that so many of my custom furniture commissions are aquarium cabinets.  I'm an aquarist myself: as a young teen I volunteered at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History's coral reef exhibit, a leading light in reef-keeping technology and methodology, which were poorly developed at the time.   In high school, my friends and I founded an official Aquarium Club,  and I bred South American Convict and Oscar Cichlids.  Today, I'm caretaker to a 55-gallon reef with a pair of clown fish and a pair of watchman gobies, both of which spawn once a month or so.

Most aquarium people find the cabinet stand a source of annoyance, sticker shock, and even disaster.  The stand is the LAST thing an aquarist wants to spend money on.  They're usually finished in black, to make them as invisible as possible.  In fact, if there were a way to eliminate the cabinet stand altogether, I think most aquarists would rejoice.  

And yet, the bane of the aquarist must be of high quality, and of sufficient internal volume, and be finished to a level equal to that of the other furniture in the viewing room.  The whole reason people come to me for cabinet stands is because when you've got fifteen-hundred pounds of water suspended above your living room floor, you really can't skimp on quality.

Seven-foot cabinet stand success!

In my previous post, I discussed a project for a friend: a seven-foot-long cabinet stand for his 250-gallon glass terrarium, which is home to two tortoises.  Now that the project is completed, I thought I'd post some pictures of the stand in use.
The cabinet has a 1" lip to hold the tank, with 1/8" gap

This particular project was special because my friend Kris helped me.  Kris is an experienced carpenter but - like me - new to furniture making.  We both learned a lot on this project.  I think I can speak for Kris when I say that one thing he learned (and I continue to marvel about) is how much better it is to use traditional cabinet making techniques when making a cabinet, as opposed to making a box as a contractor might build a temporary work bench.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Another frame-and-panel cabinet stand...

First coat: cherry stain on the birch case
Seems like my journey into woodworking is leading me through a series of aquarium/terrarium cabinet stands!  Stands to reason, I guess, my being an aquarium aficionado.  Cabinet stands also allow me to practice frame-and-panel case-making using tongue-and-groove joinery.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Laminated scrap table project

The Wine on Deck shop creates very little scrap these days.  But this wasn't always true, and so there was a box full of laminated off-cuts in the corner of the shop for months.  I decided to make some table tops out of the scraps.  i got three tops out of the scraps, and decided to tackle each on individually, in order to learn as much as I could about apron & leg design while making three different tables. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

FedEx is great!

I bemoaned UPS in a recent post.  Just to show I'm not a bad customer, I'd like to take the time to praise FedEx for their service.  Easy to do online, easy to have picked up, easy to pay.  Packages are getting to clients without trouble.  I'm in love.  Thanks, FedEx.

When it absoutely, positively, has to be black...

I was recently asked to make some custom aquarium cabinet stands.  Apart from having to support over 1,000 pounds, my customer also wanted one of the stands in black.  Needless to say, I was more concerned about the weight-bearing capability of my cabinet design than I was about the finish.  Turns out, getting a good black on wood is more difficult than it seemed at first.  After a few failures and a lot of experimenting, I have a few methods for getting a deep, rich black.  I also have a few general tips on finishing in black in general. 

Aquarium Stands: Cabinetmaking under Pressure!

I was recently asked by my to build some custom aquarium stands for people with unusually large or odd-shaped aquariums.  Since I'm a long-time fish enthusiast and owner of a 55-gallon reef aquarium, I loved the idea of building the "ultimate" cabinet stand.  A good tank stand, by the way, is hard to come by.  Manufacturers of these stands use the cheapest possible materials.  Who can blame them?  Most customers, myself included, are already reeling from the unexpectedly high cost of setting up a large aquarium.  When it comes to stands, it's a race to the bottom.

Experienced aquarists, however, know the value of a well-made stand that won't turn to mush if soaked with water for a day or two.  Advanced aquarists, such as my potential customers, require custom dimensions and other features to allow them to use sophisticated sump systems. 

Building the first of these stands was a great chance for me to hone my custom cabinetry skills - under the pressure, literally, of hundreds of gallons of water.
the front frame of a 90-gallon stand

My first commission was a frame-and-panel cabinet stand for a 90-gallon tank.  That's about 1,400 pounds of water and rocks.  As it turns out, the standard frame-and-panel design seen in almost all cabinets is perfectly capable of holding this weight.  The key to ensuring this load-bearing capacity over long periods of time is preventing racking of the case.