Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Building a New Bathroom Vanity

David weighs in on his latest project:

OK, so we wanted to replace our old (came with the house) bathroom vanity cabinet. It was old looking when it was new, but I'm sure it was very inexpensive.

I designed a cabinet to fit our bathroom. The bath is covered in a rather horrible, blue mottled tile. So part of the goal was to cover as much of it as possible and lighten things up. The design was for a corner cabinet with a couple of drawers and doors below. We really like lots of storage, and the previous cabinet had just one big space below the sink, as most vanities seem to do. 
Here's the design I came up with (with Elizabeth's counsel and approval, of course):

I could have had one of the cabinet makers here in Corozal build it, but decided making it myself would keep me from being idle and get what we wanted. 

So off to the lumber yard. I figured I needed about 14 1"x3"x8' boards, some plywood, a 1"x 6" x 6' for drawer fronts, and a fixed piece for the sink area. The lumber yard had both hardwood and softwood. I choose to use hardwood since it warps less in our high-humidity environment. I knew I was going to paint the cabinet, so rather than making it out of mahogany, as the lumber yard was try to promote, I choose some wood called Santa Rita. Good, close grain and not quite as hard as mahogany. All woods available here are very hard, even the "softwoods", so I knew my tools would take a beating. 

The helpful lumber guy took me out to the yard to select the wood I wanted. They don't kiln dry wood here, they just stack it up in the sun and wait for a few years. Hopefully the wood will sufficiently dry to be stable -- not warp. 

After selecting my boards (all true dimensional lumber-- a 1x3 is really 1" by 3"), the yard man took my boards into the shop to plane them down. Four guys ran them through planners and jointers until they we smooth and square. So the boards ended up being 7/8" x 2 3/4".

I then I paid the bill.  $27 BZD (that's 13.50 US) for the lot -- 14 8' 1x3s and 1 6' 1x6, including the 45 minutes of workers smoothing and truing the boards. In the US it would have cost $300-400 easily. 

So I am ready to start the build. There's nothing particularly unique about that process -- just follow the plan -- cut the wood, build the structure. The one necessity with this real hard wood is that all nails and screws need to have pre-drilled holes. Not to eliminate splitting wood (as I would have done in the US), but to just nail the nails in without bending them. I have never bent so many nails on a project before, even with the pre-drilling. 

So the structure is built. Now for drawers and doors. I hate building drawers. They have to be deadly accurate or they won't slide or align properly. Doors aren't so bad to make, they are basically 2 dimensional. With the 3 dimensional drawers, more can go wrong, and it always does. 

Given the choice I always use drawer slides, it just makes some of the drawer building and fitting easier. But in this case, the drawers are only 8" deep, no drawer slides that size. So I have to use the old cut-a-square-notch-in-the-drawer-side and make a tenon to fit. It worked out OK. Not as smooth running as I'd like, but with sanding and soap, they run in and out with little binding.

Elizabeth had picked out some nice Mexican tile for the top. It has Aztec-style figures subtly debossed. When I designed the cabinet, I figured the 8"x8" tiles into the design. When we picked up the tiles I discovered they were just under 7 7/8" square. Guess I should have measured them first. Anyway I can work around this somehow. Unfortunately once I have the 17 tiles laid out on the top, I discovered every single one of them had to be cut. I knew there'd be a lot of cutting, but I was hoping that at least 1 or 2 could be used whole. No such luck. 

When we left the US for Belize one of the tools I decided not to bring was my wet tile saw. Should have. So I contemplated getting one. Shopped around town for one. They only one I found was very expensive for what it was. Looked around online, but with import duties and shipping (rather heavy), decided against the cost for so few cuts. I'd spring for one if I had other tile plans, but none on the horizon. 

I found some grinding wheels for cement that are designed for an angle grinder, which I don't have and would have little need in the future. So I bought a grinding disc anyway. With enough washers I hoped I could get it to work on the mandrels I have. With a large lock washer and some flat washers, I able to clamp the wheel, somewhat centered on a mandrel that would fit my drill. 

So with goggles, a heavy-duty dust mask and ear plugs, a grindin' I did go. Aside from the straight lines I had to cut, there was also the oval hole to drop the new sink into. After six days of grinding through tile and trying to true the edges as much as possible, I was awash in ceramic tile dust and satisfied that my Belizean plan B -- or was it plan 8? -- worked well enough to be a passable solution -- and for only $4.50. As an industrious retiree, I have lots of time, but am rather cheap when it comes to buying a good tool for a single project. 

There was one tricky cut (actually two, the one shown here and its reverse on the other side). I could have done it another way with little triangular bits in the corners, but I thought this was a better design solution. Inside corner cuts (with a grinding wheel no less) on ceramic tile are a challenge, especially without losing the pointed tip at the edge of the tile.

Now a little grouting and the top should be done. Without me thinking much about it previously, I was pleased with the tile my bride had picked out. Unfortunately the surface of the tiles is rather rough texture and the debossed figures made cleaning after grouting a challenge. Between the texture and the figures, I spent three times the time cleaning as I did grouting. Lucky I have all the time in the world for these projects.

So after painting and some trim, it's ready for transport.

Installation was pretty simple. A little plumbing, caulking, leveling (walls and floors are no more square in Belize than in the US), and another project complete. Cheap, functional, looks good, if I do say so myself, and a grand improvement over its previous poor cousin.

Now I get to start on the upper cabinets.


  1. Hey David,

    That's a pretty spiffy looking piece of furniture you did. Very clean lines. I'm impressed.


  2. shower enclosure
    -:very nice information, we are glad to read this news or post,