My First Built-in

My First Built-in

Posted by Bill McBeth on

2017 I decided that i was going start building custom furniture for people outside of my circles.  I posted an ad in several online social media sites, nothing extravagant just a text ad letting people know that I build furniture and can do custom built-ins. 

At this point I have never done a truly built-in  project and all the items I have built I've had full control of how it was built, how square it was and I could transport the 100% finished project to the customer.  

Long story short, I received an email and we began the design process and got the deposits squared away.  I did disclose that this was my first built-in and gave the customer the timeline.  


I threw together a design based on their requirements and this is what we came up with and the design was approved.  The office was quite small so I had to build the cabinet into two pieces or i would not have been able to get it in the room and on the wall.  


I sourced all the materials and began the build process.  Fairly basic build, two cases out of birch plywood and joined with glue and pocket screws.  This went fairly well and got it done fairly quick.  The best part was they were absolutely square and matched perfectly next to each other.  I put on the first few coats of paint.  Final coats would need to be completed onsite as well as the trim.  

Table Top: 

The top of the desk is a combination of cherry and maple and was joined with strictly glue.  The construction was nothing out of my wheelhouse, pretty much a giant cutting board. I milled all the lumber to the dimensions and width and joined together using Titebond II glue.  Sanded the top to 220 grit and finished with watco danish oil and a Minwax Wipe on Polyurethane. 



So far the build has been going as expected, I was behind on the due date, but I have been in contact with the customers and was waiting for decent days to put the stain on, winters in the Midwest can be brutal and -20 degrees Fahrenheit makes it a bit difficult to to apply finish and work in a cold shop.   

Finally got the install underway, installed bracing for the desk on the wall and a french cleat on the wall for the cabinet.  Installation of the cabinet went smoothly and man the fit was perfect in the room, had about 1/2 inch on each side of the cabinet. 

I was pretty slow at this point didn't want to make mistakes and i was learning on the job.  The hardest part was getting the desktop to fit in the room, i must have taken at least 2 dozen trips back to the shop to trim the desk down and go back to make the fit.  This was my first time having to install something between to points that were not square.  I tried to scribe lines, doing measurements and nothing seemed to click.  So i continued slowly and finally got it to fit.  There was a gap on each side but I was adding some trim around the desk anyway because i didn't secure the desk to supports to allow for wood movement.  

Desk top is done and the cabinet is looking terrible.  I had issues with the first round of trim and ended up having to take it all off and start over (I didn't know paint would melt into clumps when sanding it off).  Starting over ended up being the best idea, got the new trim in, it was all flush and I got it primed and painted.  Several trips back and forth to do more painting and we were finally able to call the project completed.  



Lessons Learned: 

This was my first built-in and I can tell you I was quite discouraged after this job.  I had a customer who wasn't 100% satisfied and we reduced the final payment to help make up for it.  They were great customers and very understanding.  Will they call me again for any future projects?  I hope so, I hope that I made the mistakes up with good customer service and honesty.  

The first lesson I learned is I a not sure if I will ever paint wood again, it is not my favorite thing to do.  However, I did purchase a HVLP turbine system and will give spraying a shot. 

Second lesson, do as much as you can in the shop.  After I walked away I realized that doing the trim in the shop would have been just as easy and made a lot less painful.  

Overall this was a good experience and I don't think i am alone.  The key is to bounce back and learn from those mistakes.  Hope this story inspired someone to keep on the path no matter how discouraged they feel and I hope a potential customer reads it and says I like this person honesty. 

Thank you all for reading 

Here is the Video of the build. 







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