Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The Mirror in the Bathroom

OK -English Beat reference in the title - how can you (ahem) beat that!

When we bought this house, there was a serviceable, but grossly oversized mirror in the master bathroom. It was so big that you couldn't actually hang it on the wall since it would hit the bathroom light. It sat on the countertop, resting against the wall. Actually, I didn't mind the look of it. it was just waaaaay too big for our tiny bathroom.

Overly huge mirror on ugly vanity.
When Momma took down the mirror to paint the bathroom, we found a hole beneath it where we assume there had previously been a tiny medicine cabinet. I decided it would be a pretty decent little project to try building a mirror for the bathroom. Since the garage is up to 2°C (35°F), I guess its time to get back to woodworking projects.

Ugly hole over ugly vanity
I decided to keep costs low by using some materials already on hand, and keeping the design as simple as possible. I also want to learn some new techniques. In the end we got an Afrornmosia Teak mirror with box joints in the corners of the frame, and some cupholders for Momma's water glass and soap dispenser.

My biggest challenge was finding a mirror on the cheap. In the end, Lowes came through with this gem: $13 Mirror. When I went to Lowes, it was really hard to find the mirror though - it is in the hardware section in the custom cut glass area. Good luck if you are hunting for one!

For a first step, I ripped the teak down to size, and built a jig to make the box joints. Box joints are used to make a quick & easy 90° corner that has a massive gluing surface. The jig for making box joints is pretty simple to make. Steve Ramsey has a great video on making a box joint jig on the Woodworking for Mere Mortals site. Alternatively, a simple photo instructions can be found here, but be warned, this guy builds a whole sled. I was able to use the Mere Mortals jig, and just attach it to my mitre gauge (After checking that the mitre was 90° to the blade).

This pic shows all the parts of the mirror laid out and ready for assembly. The 'fingers' in the corner will all lock together to make a solid corner that you can't see looking at the front of the frame. The bumpy white thing in the middle is the mirror - you are looking at a reflection of the ceiling. (In this project I learned just how hard it is to take pictures of a mirror. The flash really screws things up.) The mirror fits into the 1/4" deep dadoes on each side of the frame.

At the bottom of the table you can see the second jig I had to build for this project. I wanted to make 'cup holders' on the bottom of the mirror to hold a soap dispenser and a water glass. In order to make those, I got a Bowl and Tray router bit. That jig is to guide the router bit.

The bit works by following a template to create a depression in the wood of whatever shape you want. Since routers are the bane of my existence, and since I really didn't want to screw this up, I was really careful about how I did this.

First I used a forstner bit in the drill press to make a circle in a piece of plywood. The circle was sized to match the base of the soap dispenser - and be a little over sized.

With the hole made, I trimmed the sides of the plywood back so that the hole would line up with just the right spot on the mirror frame. Once everything was lined up I attached cleats to the sides of the template to hold it in place on the work piece. The cleats will provide repeatability (so the hole is positioned the same on both ends) and the circle will guide the router.

In order to make the second cup holder, I would flip the template over and slide the cleats back so they came out the back of the template. It all sounded great. I went ahead and clamped the template and the work piece to the table saw, got out the router and set to work.

This was where I learned an important lesson about the bowl and tray bit. Apparently you need a 3/4" thick board for the template. As I nibbled away at the board below, the bit blithely cut into my template. The roller bearing that is supposed to follow the template was just above my plywood cutout. In order to fix the problem, I carefully routed as close to a circle as I could while roughly following what was left of the template. It came out looking not too bad. Its probably out of round by 1/8".

For the second hole, I found a thicker scrap piece of pine, and used it to make a new template by copying the first one. The thicker material was far better for a template, but getting the depth consistent was difficult since I lost all the settings on the router.

With all the components built, it was time to glue up all the pieces. I put some blue painters tape on the mirror to protect it from the glue. I think there must be a better way to do that. After I was done, I couldn't get all the tape off the mirror despite my best efforts with a razor blade and exacto knives.

After leaving the mirror overnight for glue to dry, it was time for finishing. I love the way afrormosia pops when you put clear, high gloss varnish on it. I have a little spar varnish kicking around from boat projects, so I used it. As the teak ages, the dark sections will become deeper coloured, and the light sections will hardly change colour. This stuff has beautiful grain, especially after a few years.

Look at that grain pop!

With the mirror all painted, I hauled it upstairs and got it hung in the bathroom. I'm quite happy with how it turned out. The old mirror was far more ornate, but this is much better suited to the small space and simple style of the room. Now I just need to do something about that vanity!

You can't see the blue tape in real life, but I know its down there. For some reason the camera makes it look worse than it is!

I've already started my next project, but I think its going to take a while. This one has a billion bitty parts that need to come together to make the final product. Can't wait to share it with you - I think it would be great for any teacher or homeschooler's math unit!


  1. ooh, nice! I really like the color of the wood...and I love the way ledge at the bottom looks even without the whole functionality aspect of it. Who buys a mirror too big to hang up and then never bothers to swap it out for one that fits?! Maybe they convinced themselves they liked it better leaning on the counter :)

    1. Thanks Gretchen - I'm pretty happy with it too. I like the shelf, but I should have made the 'shadow box' a little deeper. Nothing wrong with it though - and I am just in love with how the teak looks with a coat of varnish on it!

  2. One of the coolest ideas I have seen so far! I can see the beauty of the bathroom and that lamp fixture. I've been dying to have one exquisite mirror in my cabin, I hope I can make it this month. Classy!

    Sebastian Chuter

    1. Thanks Sebastian - We like it too simple, functional, scaled. It works well!


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