Wednesday, 4 May 2011

In Which I Build a Faceplate

Building a faceplate doesn't sound like an especially difficult thing to do. I mean all you need is a flat board that you can attach a bunch of stuff to. How hard is that? Well, let me take you back a few years, and maybe it will start to make sense.

In about 1986 I took woodshop in school. Each person in the class chose a project, chose their lumber and set to work building a small piece of furniture. I chose a table with a chessboard for its top. My teacher, using his kindest words, asked if I thought the design was a little simple considering the equipment at hand. I really liked the looks of the table though, so I stuck to my guns. Its a good thing I did.

Once this table/chessboard was complete, it wobbled on two legs, the crossbars were out of square, and the chessboard itself was the only thing worth mentioning. My final step was to sand down and apply a finish to the piece. I ran the board through a variety of sanding machines, and finally was done. In some places the chessboard was a full inch thick. In others it was barely 1/4". There were hills and valleys, and in general ugliness. I think it was eventually burned or thrown out, or used for a dog toy. The teacher suggested he would pass me if I promised not to take his class again.

For years I stayed clear of woodworking, until in a fit of stupid, I decided to build my own canoe paddle. I researched woods and discovered that basswood was the wood of choice for its light weight and springiness. It could be laminated with harder strips to give it strength and make sure it wasn't too springy. I laminated up a blank with cherry, ash and basswood. Then shaped the paddle with a hand plane. When I was done, the paddle had some oddities, but felt nice in the hand. I went for a canoe trip. The paddle, all three pieces of it, are sitting at the bottom of a rapid in Northern Ontario.

A few other experiences like these, and I pretty much agreed with that teacher. anything beyond basic screwing together of boards to make boxes should be avoided. The liquor cabinet has been on the to-do list for 2 years now. No coincidence.

But now I need to get this switch panel in place. I need to install the stereo. I need to get it done, and good weather is here and I should be out sailing, not fixing. In haste I rummaged around in the basement and found a piece of 3/4" exterior plywood. Maybe I would make a template and test the water.

I ran the plywood through the saw and cut it to size, then took it to the boat and traced the cutouts for the stereo and switchpanel onto it. Some quick work with a jigsaw and the holes were cut to size. A test fit, and the panel and stereo fit through the plywood and into place nicely. Now its time to work with teak.

A few years back, I bought the smallest piece of afromosia I could find to make a holder for my clock, barometer, and hygrometer in the cabin. The holder consisted of a hunk of wood with three holes drilled through and the dials pressed into place. That was woodworking at my level. What was left of the afromosia wasn't big enough for what I had to build. The price of teak caused heart failure, I could afford to screw up with the afrormosia, it was much more affordable. I cooked up a plan.

I set the table saw to 1/4" and cut long strips from the piece of afromosia. Then I cut down the plywood blank by 1/4" in on each side. Cutting the afromosia strips to length, I made a frame around the outside of the test piece of plywood, epoxied the frame to the ply, and waited overnight.

The next day I test fit the plywood piece again to be sure everything still lined up. It did, and everything felt pretty solid. Small happy dance.

Now I laminated more strips of afromosia to the face of the plywood. I made it a two step process so that my spring clamps could hold the board securely to the face of the plywood, and my bar clamps could hold the strips to each other. After the second day, I had a pretty good looking setup. The afromosia was all holding to the plywood and itself, and everything was solid. I ran the piece through the saw to clean up the edges, and apart from a little glue squeezeout, everything was looking great.

My next step was to clean up the epoxy squeezeout on the face of the panel. This had me very nervous. Using a power hand plane that SWMBO gave to me as a gift, I gently cleaned up the face of the plate, trying my best not to allow the plane to dig in or grab at the wood. I have destroyed many things with this tool. Being so careful paid off. The wood was mostly fine, with just one or two little gouges that would sand out.

Things were now getting nervous as I approached the stages where things normally head downhill. SWMBO's grandfather had given us a router table when he moved out of his house. I set it up with a 1/4-round bit, and ran the faceplate through it to radius the corners. Replacing the bit with a straight bit I cutout the spots where the radio and switch panel would go. Everything still looked great.

For my next step, I attached some heavy grit sandpaper to a 1X6 and used it to sand the faceplate smooth. The gouges came out. I switched to a finer grit and continued until things looked good. Ever mindful of my chessboard experience, I was careful not to dig in with sandpaper, and went easy.

Finally it was time to think about varnish. Up in the garage the faceplate joined the cupboards and got a coat of spar varnish cut with paint thinner. Then a number of coats of straight spar varnish until it started to shine, each coat with a light sanding in between.

With all the varnishing complete the plate has a nice slick look to it. It is all glossy and pretty. A quick test fit and it still fits the spot, and holds the radio and switches. Just one problem, the guys on the Catalina forum managed to convince me that some 12 Volt outlets would be a good idea to have near the panel. There is space for them. Maybe tomorrow I can alter the panel and mount them in it.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please take a minute to share your thoughts!