Entertainment Build & Install Guide
Installing an entertainment unit or filling an existing insert in the wall can be a fun way to enhance the usability of your home. It definitely takes some hard work and effort to accomplish, and there’s a lot of skill in engineering to provide the structural strength to handle your day-to-day activities. Here is a unit I replaced due to the previous work not holding up overtime. I carefully built this to be strong so it could stand the test of time.
STEP 1: The old unit (The Ugly)
This was a failed installation by the previous contractor. Work like this in unacceptable by any means. This installation was done in the home with a completion time of 1 day. The entire unit was built using particle board, which is okay for smaller things like Ikea furniture. But as you can see, It cannot support the current load. Now here’s the scary part, on the left and right side, there was vertical plywood cut out to look like sides of a shelf and these are the load bearing braces. These braces did not have a single screw or nail into a stud. They weren’t even glued to wall with a high strength adhesive. They were attached using simple painters caulk. 1 tap with a hammer and the supports broke loose and I demolished the original unit.
This was a failed installation by the previous contractor. Work like this in unacceptable by any means. It appears like the previous contractor made this to be load bearing on the center beam, however, there were no nails into the stud, it was caulked with simple painters caulk which does not have the proper adhesion needed for this type of installation. A little tap of a hammer and this unit was disassembled.
STEP 2: Drawing Designs and figuring out a shelving layout.
Measurements have already been taken of the existing opening in the home. We are going to build an entertainment shelving to replace the existing unit. My customer made a mockup of what they would want to replace the old installation. They did a great job in relaying their designs to me. They knew the exact measurements because there were some belongings that had to fit and they wanted everything to exact measurements. There were a couple minor adjustments to factor in the 2in face boards, but there were clear instructions to shorten the cabinet at the bottom and keep the openings at 17in and 10in.
STEP 3: Put the designs into the computer to get the exact specs
I then took their drawing and created a mockup using the exact dimensions listed. This ensured the customer would get a perfect visual representation before I started building their new piece of custom furniture. The mockup factored in the 2in fascia boards and adjusted the cabinet door height accordingly. After I received an approval, we were ready to start the project.
STEP 4: Prepare the Materials
This project started out with sheets of plywood and 1″x2″ planks.
The goal of this project was to make this seem like a professional built in shelving unit, something that was structurally capable to support heavy objects, and had smooth finish work to make it look nice. So I cranked out the jitterbug to make a nice uniform block standing.
Notice how you can still see grain at an angle, you can feel it as well. This means that the work needed more sanding.
Step 5: Construction of the Entertainment Unit
This is 14 hours into the project. All the joints have been glued and screwed together, when working with plywood, it’s important to predrill all holes, as it makes it a much cleaner installation. However, the unit still needs to be stood up which is a challenge because it’s not structural until the next step.
This is a picture of the bottom side of the unit, notice how any wood imperfactions are put facing down. You always keep the best side facing up.
This is right after I applied the backing piece of wood for lateral reinforcement. Not this is strong and can be moved without being damaged, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to be careful. Notice how the joints of the face frames are puttied and getting ready for sanding and finishing. The unit requires the backing before it becomes strong, and it’s important that you make sure that the corners are at a 90 degree angle before fixing the backing into place. The backing is glued and nailed almost ready for paint, just have to sand out any imperfections that I might have missed.
Step 6: Painting the Unit
Painting is one of the longest steps and typically takes twice as long as the build, depending on the detail you want. This is after paint has been applied twice. When bare wood is sanded, while it makes it smooth, it’s also invokes a process called raising the grain. They call it that because after you apply your first coat of paint, there will be very fine splinters sticking up everywhere that must then be sanded. Finish sanding with a finer grain sand paper helps alleviate the grain raising, but grain raising is inevitable and the post-paint sanding is crucial to a beautiful finish. Something that is painted to high quality standards is often painted and sanded 3 or 4 times before the optimum finish is achieved.
Step 7: Installing the Unit
I didn’t get a picture of the inside of the unit, but it’s just an empty cubby. I took measurements onsite and built the unit in my own personal workshop where I am well tooled. There is no way you can adequately build a unit like this onsite in a timely fashion. A custom piece of furniture like this can take up to 2 weeks to build and assemble. You can expect an onsite measurement of the area, width, height, and depth, and some room for error as the carpet gets compressed. This particular unit was build 1 inch short on the sides which puts a 1/2in gap on either side, and 3/8in short on the top. These measurements are crucial because the unit has to fit. The unit is then aligned, shimmed and nailed into place. I was not worried about bending and tweaking on this unit because once it was assembled, It could stand and be structural on its own merits. Notice the old trim hasn’t been adjusted yet. That’s next step.
STEP 8: The Finishing Touches
The product is now finished. The structure has been attached at multiple locations to the surrounding stud wall. The cabinet doors are custom made to match the cabinetry in the rest of the house, made with the German style hidden hinges, also known as inset hinges, or hidden hinges. Depending on the type of cabinet doors you have, If you know the dimensions, you can order doors online and have them shipped out in a couple weeks. I used the trim molding from the previous installation because it looked good, and it was economical. The 1/2in gaps on either side were closed off with a beautiful piece of 3in molding that the customer chose, and then caulked to make it look like it’s built into the wall.
Typically when finish carpentry is done, there is room for error because you can caulk the gaps and have the finished product look good. However, when building furniture, you have to have exact measurements, and you cannot spare 1/16in of error. Everything must be exact so that the assembly goes smoothly and you are happy with the end product.
This is what a custom, built-in, shelving unit can look like after approximately 50 hours of hard work from a skilled carpenter. An entertainment unit definitely requires a lot of work if you want it to look good, and there’s a lot of woodworking and painting skills required. If I have never done this type of work, it’s still possible to be able to make one of these units. However, it’s not going to be of the same quality unless you are an extremely fast learner and can get creative when problems arise. I overcame quite a few of them during this build, but that’s just the nature of doing custom work.