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My Next Project

Posted by joeabbott on November 7, 2009

I’m finding that building out the shoe niche I mentioned in last week’s post is a bit more involved than I’d thought. At first I was just going to have the contractors stub out a hole in the wall and I’d slap in a melamine box. Alrighty, let’s go with that and see how far we get.

As you can see from this picture, melamine is made up of small woodchips pressed together with a binder and then surfaced with a hard, often brittle, laminate. While the edges are protected the panel provides adequate strength and rigidity to be used in a number of applications and hold up very nicely.

As a side note, the melamine we had chosen is surfaced with a slick white layer. This would match the cabinets in the laundry room where we’re putting it and have the benefit of reflecting a good quantity of light, keeping the recess visible when we’re looking for the odd shoe, sandal, or whatever we end up storing in the niche.

But, back to the engineering.

My intention was to use 3/4″ panels and butt join the sides and top\bottom sections, then using a air-driven stapler gun, tag on a thin, melamine backing. I’d carefully haul this section up to the hole, pop it in, and “find some way” to secure it. At the time I was dreaming this up, I did’t know how I’d do it but if I was pressed, I thought I could counterbore the sides, top, and bottom and drive screws into the framing studs.

This “plan” (and the quotes are intentional and appropriate here) has a couple serious flaws.

First, butt joining the sides to the top\bottom means that one of the panels will take a screw directly into the core. And, as the core is a pressing of wood bits, that’s just a stupid plan for anything that will take load. No, correction, that’s a stupid plan for anything. So, I’d countered this idea with using barrel nuts.

Here are a couple of pictures of barrel nuts, both loose and in a wood application:


 As you can see, you would drill two holes to place the barrel nut: the first one captures the nut, and the second allows a screw to come through the wood at a right angle and engage in the threaded hole in the nut. Brilliant! Suddenly you have the load being taken up in bearing, rather than relying on screw threads in the melamine chip core.

 This would be adequate but from an overall perspective, still not great. I was additionally considering cutting groves and lips in the sides\bottom\top and creating a box joint to ensure a rigid connection. It would work but would also be a lot of work.

Then I considered the box hanging out of the hole. And this is where my ideas fell apart.

The structure of a melamine box just wouldn’t hold up long, if at all. I could image sagging and flexing of the parts. Anyhow, I graduated to thinking about placing a 3/4″ plywood bottom on the whole thing to act as a large shelf for the box. I even got as far as making triangular “gusset-like” sides to pull the load into the vertical studs. As I continued thinking I realized I was just getting fancy and half-assing a project that would become part of my house.

 Enter my newest idea: just fill the hole with structure like you’d find anywhere else in the house, sheetrock the outside, add insulation, and then pop in the melamine to the box. That oughta work. More later when I have a model and plans scraped together. Not sure why it took this long but it’s fun to do a little engineering … even if it’s just constructing a melamine box!


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