Super beginner woodworking project: build a mid-century inspired cabinet to hide an in-wall air conditioner (Part 1)

DIY Mid Century Inspired Air Conditioner Cover

 

DIY Mid Century Inspired Air Conditioner Cover

Oh my god these fucking air conditioners. They are the worst. I was mysteriously sick for the entire first year I lived in this apartment, until the second summer when I went to clean out the filters in the ACs and discovered that mine was absolutely teeming with loads of slimy black mold. So not only are they visually offensive, one of them actively tried to kill me. They’re just stuck into holes in the side of the building which means that they can’t really be removed in the winter–they came with these horrible silver industrial tarp/bag things to cover them with but those were promptly thrown in the trash because I live in an apartment, not an auto parts warehouse. The first winter we did nothing to weatherproof them because I’m dumb and didn’t know you had to, and our heating bills were approximately eleven billion dollars. Last winter I rigged up some string-and-blankets contraptions that were pretty effective and pretty janky-looking (still better than the tarp/bag things though.) This winter I am going to officially Get My Shit Together and weatherproof them with actual, like, foam or something. They sell kits for that right?

Anyway, I assume that whatever I use is going to be pretty ugly. I considered sewing fitted covers for all the units, but the living room AC is a little bit of a special situation. It’s smack dab in the middle of the longest wall and it sticks out SEVENTEEN INCHES into the room. SEVENTEEN INCHES YOU GUYS. For my European readers, that’s like a meter. With the way I have the furniture arranged, it’s taking up space that could be much better used by a side table. Since people already set their drinks on it, I figured I could kill two birds with one stone and build a cover for it that was also a semi-functional piece of furniture.

This isn’t a complicated build. If you don’t have access to a table saw, or have one but are currently using it to store shoes on because you’re really scared of it, it’s a little obnoxious.  Tapering the legs with a circular saw will make you want to set yourself on fire but it’s important to suffer for your art.

Supplies

  • Plywood- birch preferably, 1/2″ or 3/4″. I used 1/2″ on this because I couldn’t get the sheet of 3/4″ off the shelf at Home Depot by myself. How big of a piece you need depends on how big your cover is going to be.
  • 1×2 board- pay the extra $2 for the “select” pine, and get the whole 8′ length so you can make a guide for your saw
  • A piece of 1/4″ MDF or plywood at least as long as the longest side of your finished piece
  • Circular saw- this is the one I have. My boyfriend bought it for me one day after watching me nearly lose my mind with frustration over trying to use a cordless Ryobi that would die after cutting through two feet of plywood. Cordless Ryobi tools are really popular in blogland for whatever reason but if you take anything away from this blog, please let it be that CORDLESS POWER TOOLS ARE GARBAGE. DO NOT BUY THEM.
  • 12″ speed square
  • Angle clamps– these are kind of optional but they’re really handy and will help a LOT if you’re going to be assembling this by yourself.
  • Bar clamps– you’ll need at least three to clamp down your board and saw guide
  • Wood glue
  • Corner brackets
  • Screws and anchors to attach the corner brackets to the wall
  • Hinges– holy shit I could write an entire post about finding hinges for inset doors. I once drove three hours to find hinges for a cabinet I built. The hinge industry has a lot to answer for, let me tell you.
  • Ratchet strap– you just need one but nobody sells just one apparently.
  • Kreg Jr. pocket hole jig– yes, it seems like a lot of money for a piece of plastic, but it’s insanely useful. Woodworking snobs hate pocket holes, but it’s not like we’re building an heirloom air conditioner cover here.
  • Wood conditioner– seriously, do not skip this. Your stain will be blotchy and you will hate yourself.
  • Wood stain– this one (Varathane American Walnut) is currently my favorite. I always add in a little light grey stain and purple wood dye in an attempt to make it more of a true walnut color, which doesn’t work but makes me feel better.
  • Birch edge banding– this covers the exposed edge of the plywood. If you don’t mind the plywood edge, you can skip this. (If you’re using 3/4″ plywood, you’ll need to buy 2″ wide edge banding because of the pythagorean theorem or something.)
  • Super badass woodshopDIY Mid Century Inspired Air Conditioner Cover

 

Process

First, I measured the AC, then added two inches on each side to account for insulation and the width of the angle brackets, then added another inch on each side to account for fuckups. Since I am terrible at visualizing things, I made an overcomplicated model in Sketch Up.

DIY Mid Century Inspired Air Conditioner Cover

Sketch Up is great because you can tweak stuff until you like it (like the angle of the legs) and you can make yourself a cut diagram that will be  very useful when you’re at the store trying to figure out how you’re going to fit a sheet of plywood into an Uber.

DIY Mid Century Inspired Air Conditioner Cover

Wood! If you get cuts made at the store, just be aware that the dudes operating the panel saw DO NOT GIVE A FUCK and are not at all concerned if they do things a few inches off.

Oh hey, quick note:

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BE SAFE. THIS IS SUPER SERIOUS.

Last week Katie Bower posted these pictures with some silly “safety first, y’all!” caption.

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OH MY GOD EYE PROTECTION IS NOT A JOKE. YOU CANNOT JUST DRAW GLASSES ON YOURSELF. Like, okay, you don’t have to wear safety glasses to use a miter saw, but a ROUTER? WHAT ARE YOU DOING, KATIE BOWER?

The respirator might seem like overkill, but when your “shop” is an apartment, the sawdust situation gets intense. Yes, even if you have a state of the art “two box fan” dust management system like me. I had some serious lung issues after my last project because I  was dumb and breathed in too much sawdust. (Here are links to my respirator and safety glasses. They are very cheap and very worth it.)

Okay, now that we’re protecting our eyeballs and lungs, let’s saw some stuff.

First, make a guide for your circular saw. This is the only way you will ever be able to cut straight lines. This is a good site that explains the principle. Most tutorials I found WAY over-complicate the “how to build one” part–mine is just the edge of a piece of plywood glued to a piece of MDF. When you make yours, use one side for 90 degree cuts and the other side for 45 degree cuts. (The one in my picture uses one side for 90º cuts on my main saw and the other side for 90º cuts with the terrible Ryobi.)DIY Mid Century Inspired Air Conditioner Cover

Use your fancy new guide along with your framing square to start making cuts! If the hardware store didn’t cut your plywood PERFECTLY square, you need to pick one edge to act as the reference edge, and use your framing square to make sure all your cuts are aligned properly with that edge.

Each rectangle will have three cuts done with your blade at 45º, and the fourth edge (the back edge of your piece) will be with the blade at 90º.

DIY Mid Century Inspired Air Conditioner CoverWhen you’ve cut out two matching pieces (top+bottom or side+side) stack them and make sure all the edges match up perfectly. If they don’t, figure out which one is out of square and trim accordingly. It might take a few tries, but that’s why you built all that extra room into your measurements. Making square, identical cuts with a circular saw is HARD. I’m very proud of myself that I only cried once while I was doing this.

DIY Mid Century Inspired Air Conditioner Cover

All your pieces are square and the same size now? Sweet, time for edge banding! If you don’t hate the look of plywood edges, then you can totally not do this part. Just be aware that if you’re planning on painting your piece, the edges will take the paint all weird and look pretty awful without a lot of wood filler and work.

Edge banding is a little time consuming but super easy. Just iron it on and make sure that it’s aligned correctly with the outside edge. If the banding is wider than the edge on your plywood, just fold it over and iron it onto the flat part of your board too. Trim the ends with a utility knife.

DIY Mid Century Inspired Air Conditioner Cover

So nice! I think the edge banding I’m using is red oak, not birch, but this is an air conditioner cover and not a jewelry box for a sultan so who cares.

Time to glue it together!

DIY Mid Century Inspired Air Conditioner Cover

Use tape to protect the boards from glue, and figure out a clamping/ratchet strap situation that works for you. Use your speed square to make sure everything is square! (If you cut everything perfectly, it should be easy. If you didn’t, that’s fine too because this is ART and it is YOURS and you are WONDERFUL.)

DIY Mid Century Inspired Air Conditioner Cover

If you’re using a ratchet strap, make sure to protect your piece from the metal part with a piece of scrap wood!

DIY Mid Century Inspired Air Conditioner Cover

Once your glue has pretty much dried, it’s time to reinforce the bottom joints a little. Just glue some of your cut-off strips into the corners and clamp them for a bit–it’s not going to make your joints SUPER strong, but it’s not like you’re going to sit on the thing. (Definitely do not sit on this.)

DIY Mid Century Inspired Air Conditioner Cover

Hey check it out, you built a box!

DIY Mid Century Inspired Air Conditioner Cover

In part 2, I’m going to go over doors, legs, finishing, and hanging. (Spoiler alert: I fucked up nearly all these things.)

 

 

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