The Cupola

A year ago, I had the idea of adding a cupola to the garage, the least attractive  building on the property. Adding a cupola, punctuated by a wind vane, would significantly improve its appearance.
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Barn Cabinets Installed

After all four cabinets were completely assembled, there was enough lumber remaining to build a fifth.  So building one more unit gave me a chance to time a complete iteration of the entire process – start-to-finish .

All the cutting, gluing and clamping required 5.25 hours.  Then the unit had to dry overnight.   These first steps should have been a little faster, but I had to take measurements for several detail steps from a completed cabinet.  Those measurements were not captured in my plan – evidence for the importance of good documentation.  Rough-sanding, finish-sanding and attaching doors required about three more hours.  So about eight hours were required to build one cabinet, not including the coating.

Applying the finishing coats had to be done outside, and as it turned out, several weeks of drought conditions were no guarantee the weather would cooperate.  Rain arrived between coats, but it was very much needed, so I couldn’t complain.

Finished Barn Cabinets
Arranging cabinets along the barn walls

A minimum of 12 hours was required for each coat to dry before applying the next, and each cabinet received 3 coats of polyurethane.  I added pigment to the polyurethane, and the red-brown color made the pine cabinets look like cedar.

Prior to installing the cabinets, the barn aisle had to be cleaned.

  1. Everything was removed
  2. The aisle was pressured washed, floor-to-ceiling
  3. A coat of water-seal was applied to the walls

The first step of actually installing the cabinets was to place them along the walls where they would be attached.  The cabinets were to be mounted about nine inches above the floor, so I used a paint can and a wood shim to elevate each unit into position.  Then I used heavy-duty screws to fasten them to the wall.  

Elevated Cabinet
Elevating a cabinet into position before attaching to the wall

After all the cabinets were up – elevated and immobilized – it was easier to install the inside hardware.  Then, of course, each cabinet could be filled with tack and miscellaneous equipment.

Filled Cabinet
Filled Cabinet

There was not enough wall space to arrange the cabinets evenly, one-per-stall along the aisle, even after moving other aisle accessories around.   Still, once installed and filled, the cabinets accomplished the goal.  The aisle is more organized than ever.

Completed Cabinets
Installed Cabinets

There are a few touch-ups needed and some corner protectors to add, but the job is essentially done.

Barn Cabinets Assembled

The third phase of this project has been the most time consuming.  Parts had to be glued, clamped and allowed to dry – several hours minimum. A bottle neck resulted from an acute shortage of clamps.  I only have two.  Ideally, each 41-inch door would be held together with three clamps each.  But with the application of a little ingenuity, it is possible to do it with just one.

Pine boards from the local home improvement store are almost never perfectly straight, especially the thinner stock.  So a I looked for the curvature in the thinnest of the two door planks, glued them together so they touch on the ends but not the middle.  Then I applied the clamp to the middle and tightened, pulling the pieces together until the gap in the middle disappeared.

picture single clamp solution
Single Clamp Solution

It is important to have pressure along the entire length of the join while the glue dries, to keep the door from falling apart later.  Oh, a pair of 45 pound plates from the free-weight set also helped hold the door planks flat while the glue dried.  If I did this again, I would use the table router to cut tongue-in-groove joints on each of the door planks.  If the doors DO fall apart, that’s what I’ll do.

In case it isn’t already apparent, this is not fine cabinetry and Elle Decor will never feature any of my furniture in a photo spread.  However, these boxes will serve creditably for storing tack in the barn.

Picture of Doors with Clamps Applied
Doors with Clamps Applied

While the clamped parts were drying, I cut the parts for the next step and rough sanded the other cabinet shells.  As usual, the first cabinet in this phase took a long time – more than two days.  But I soon developed a rhythm – only one day to complete the same steps for the next cabinet, and to get the third one glued and clamped.

Picture of cutting next parts
Cutting door planks for the next cabinet

Steps completed so far:

Phase 1

  1. Cut sides, top and bottom
  2. Use router & saw to cut grooves for joining
  3. Cut the back
  4. Assemble the shell

Phase 2

  1. Cut and install back bars (planks on the inside through which the screws attach the cabinet to the wall)
  2. Cut and install center divider wall
  3. Cut and install shelves

Phase 3

  1. Cut and attach the fascia
  2. Cut and assemble the doors
  3. Rough sand the entire assembly
  4. Attach doors
Picture of cabinets in various stages
Cabinets in various stages of assembly: plain shell (bottom-center), all parts cut & glued (top-left), cabinet assembled (top-center), and with hardware on the inside (top-right).

The remaining steps have to do with finishing.  The top of a cabinet is the perfect place to perch one’s drink while tacking up a horse, but I don’t want drink rings.  So once all the cabinets are assembled, they will receive a final sanding and a few generous coats of polyurethane.  Hmm. Those lavish barns with polished brass, chandeliers and high gloss wood work – do their owners leave drink coasters lying around the aisle to protect wood surfaces?

Steps remaining on this project:

  1. Final sanding of the assembly (doors temporarily removed)
  2. Apply the finishing coats (sealer, stain, polyurethane or whatever)
  3. Install all hardware
  4. Hang the cabinets in the barn

I’m hoping to wrap up in a couple of days.