by Steve Shanesy
As empty nesters, my wife and I recently said goodbye to the family homestead and downsized to a smaller house. Our generously sized dining room was traded for “dining space” at the new place. Our dining room furniture wasn’t going to fit.
My challenge quickly became apparent – design and build a new table and sideboard. But how to optimize the smaller space took a lot more time to figure out. In fact, my early conclusion was there wasn’t space for a sideboard.
Once I settled on a table, I turned my attention to the sideboard. A small cabinet as narrow as 15″ deep could work, as long as it hung on the wall. It then struck me that a dining server could double as a counter and be perfect for morning coffee or a light lunch.
The shape of the wall-mounted server is taken from the dining table and mimics its super-elliptical form. I had a great piece of walnut for the top, and walnut veneer to face the curved, built-up front. But how to wall-mount the server required a bit of engineering.
Fingers of Steel
Years ago while working in a commercial cabinet shop, I learned a neat trick that appears to magically suspend a piece on the wall: Drill into the wall’s wooden studs to install a few steel rods, then sleeve the shelf on to the rods via built-in, open pockets.
I had a length of 3⁄4″-diameter steel rod on hand, and matching 3⁄4″-thick material for the build-up is easy to find. The strength of this method is remarkable. I wouldn’t hesitate to rest my 175 pounds on the server after it’s fixed in place.
The base that supports the top and houses pockets for the steel fingers is similar to a torsion box, a structurally strong, wooden sandwich of lightweight materials. It is made up of a 3⁄4″-thick build-up
that surrounds the perimeter (except for the back), fit between two layers of 1⁄2″-thick plywood. Additionally, there are five crosspieces that complete the base.
Before the base can be assembled, the top and bottom plywood pieces are cut to the curved shape. I began with a template for the server top (see “Pattern Routing Curved Shapes” on page 44). For the server base, I made a second template to provide the 7⁄8″ setback, and used a jigsaw to carefully cut on the line before smoothing any irregularities. Before moving on, transfer the centerline locations from the top template to the base template.
With the second template complete, I traced the pattern onto the top of a two-plywood stack. I then used my jigsaw to remove most of the waste, and completed the work using a router with a pattern bit to trim to the template.
I used the bottom piece of plywood to position my build-up and crosspieces. To establish the cutlines on the build-up pieces, I held each in place then penciled on the curved design. At the band saw, I cut these pieces slightly outside the marked lines so I could trim everything flush with a router after the parts were assembled.
When positioning your crosspieces, make sure you don’t put one where a steel finger is planned. That, of course, means you must first determine where on the wall the shelf mounts and where the studs are located. For the pockets, I left plenty of space for the steel fingers.
The build-up and plywood top and bottom are glued and fastened using 11⁄4″-long narrow crown staples (though brads could be used). Before fastening all the parts, make sure the centerlines on the top and bottom plywood align.
Along the back edge, your crosspieces should set in a smidge – you don’t want them holding the base away from the wall.
Once the glue sets, use your router and a bit with a top-mounted bearing to trim the build-up flush to the plywood, which acts as the template. (If your bit isn’t long enough to trim to the bottom of the build-up, make one pass, then lower the bit to make a second cut using the trimmed area as your guide.)
Trimming the curved edge this way ensures it is square to the top and bottom. This is important when gluing veneer to a curved edge. If your face isn’t square, the veneer heads off in a direction you can’t control.
Veneer the Curve
The veneer needs to cover the entire front without a seam. I had 1⁄16″-thick veneer on hand, but there’s no reason you can’t use today’s thinner veneer. In fact, it’s easier to use thin veneer around the tighter-radius corner curves.
Allow a 1⁄4″ overhang on each edge; then, even if you’re off a bit as you attach the veneer, you should have enough width to cover the face.
Contact cement makes a good bond and is easy to use. Apply cement to both the back of your veneer and the face of the base then let it dry before sticking the veneer in place.
To stick the veneer, mark the center of the strip so you can easily align it to the center of the base. Because a long strip of veneer can be unwieldy, set a series of short sticks of wood across the glued face of the base and set the veneer, glue-side down, on them. Starting from the center, remove a few sticks at a time as you work your way along the edge. Hold the veneer strip so your fingers allow you to gauge the amount of overhang, which should be equal on both sides. Get one half applied then work the other half.
Once the veneer is cemented in place, you should increase the bond strength by pressing it with a J-roller, or use a mallet to tap a wood block along the surface.
I trimmed the veneer overhang using my router and a straight bit with a bottom-mount bearing.
Make the Top
Mill and size your top to a final thickness. Mine was 7⁄8″. Use your template, router and a pattern bit to shape the top, then round the top and bottom edges using a 3⁄8″-radius roundover bit.
Finish & Install
I like to add color to walnut, so I stained the server with General Finishes “Candlelight” oil-based stain. After letting it dry overnight, I ragged on three coats of oil-based varnish thinned 50 percent with mineral spirits, lightly sanding between coats using #320-grit aluminum oxide sandpaper.
Hang the finished base on the wall before fastening the top. Cut the five steel rods to a length of 111⁄2″. (Deburr the ends of your rods to ease any sharp edges.) Also, drill four 11⁄2″-diameter holes through the base bottom to provide easy access for the screws used to attach the top after it’s positioned. (Make sure you avoid any crosspieces.)
Strike a line on the wall to establish the height of the top edge of the base, then measure down half the base’s total thickness to find the vertical center of the rod holes. Verify the centers of your studs by driving a finish nail along both sides of each stud, then drill your holes at the stud’s center (it’s good to have a friend watch to help you keep your drill at 90° to the wall). The hole depth, including drywall, should be 21⁄2″. Tap the steel rods into the holes.
Sleeve the base onto your rods. The fit should be snug, with no need for additional fastening. The unit can be removed if needed, but there is little chance it will slide about.
Position your top, then fasten it through the access holes using #10 x 1″ screws. And if you like, drill a 11⁄2″ hole through the entire server to accommodate a wire management grommet.
We’ve had the server installed now for a couple of months. It’s been great when guests are over for dinner and we’ve enjoyed a few lunches using it as a counter. It’s a terrific solution for our downsized dining space.
–From the June 2013 issue. Buy it here.