Modular construction and a knockdown TV cabinet allow this home theater to be built even in a small shop.
By Dave Munkittrick
At first glance, a project of this scale may seem impossible for anyone other than a professional with all the tools and plenty of room. But take a closer look. The largest of the five cabinets, the one for the TV, breaks down into seven easy-to-assemble pieces. You’ll be able to get the finished product out of your basement shop with no trouble.
Beaded moldings and pilasters not only dress up the cabinet, but also hide screw holes and seams where the cabinets are joined together (Fig.H).
We’ll show you how to handle the cove molding and introduce a construction technique that simplifies building large casework like this.
You can build this home theater for about $2,000. That’s less than one-third the cost of manufactured cabinets of similar quality!
Even so, this is not a beginner project. A familiarity with building panel doors and drawers as well as installing Euro-style hardware are a must (see For More Information, page 61).
You’ll need a tablesaw, router, miter saw, jigsaw, planer, drill and a brad nailer to build this project. Installing a home theater may require hiring a pro to do the following:
We went all out with this home theater. It’s 12-ft. long with room for a 53-in. projection TV, all the electronic gear a person could wish for and tons of storage space.
The surround-sound system consists of five speakers: left and right channel speakers, a center channel speaker, a sub-woofer and two surround speakers. The speaker cabinets not only hide the speakers, but keep them up off the floor for maximum sound quality. The sub-woofer sits on the floor behind a dummy drawer bank in the storage cabinet.The sound is vented through the side of the cabinet into the lower section of the speaker cabinet.
Too Big for Your Living Room?
You can easily downsize the unit to about 7 ft. 3 in. by dropping the equipment and storage cabinets. Your electronic gear can be kept anywhere as long as it can be wired to the infrared remote sensor in the TV cabinet (Fig.F). A closet, another wall in the room or even a different room are all possibilities. The non-directional sub-woofer can also go anywhere in the room.
A professional builder and installer of home theaters developed the construction technique we used. Each cabinet has an inner box made from less expensive birch plywood and joined with butt joints and screws. Only the inside of the box is visible while the exposed sides are covered by an adjoining cabinet or sheathed with cherry plywood (Fig.G). The box interior is essentially flush with the face frame opening. This gives a clean look to the inside while providing an ideal surface for mounting Euro-style cup hinges and drawer slides. The face frame is wider than the inner box, so it extends beyond the sides by 1-1/16 in.One stile butts up to the side of an adjoining cabinet while the other receives a finished cherry side panel.
All the moldings are shop-made with the exception of the crown and base cap. If you’re planning to make the home theater a built-in, consider ordering enough base and base cap to replace the existing baseboard in the room.
The Equipment and Speaker Cabinets
The basic design is five cabinets strung together and adorned with moldings. The big TV cabinet is built in pieces and assembled in its final location.
Build the Inner Boxes
1. Cut the 3/4-in. sheet stock and hardwood according to the Cutting List, page 61.
2. Assemble the birch inner boxes for the four side cabinets. (Photo 1 and Figs. B,C and D).
3. Rough-cut the sound ports in the left storage and speaker cabinets (Figs. B and C) and the wire access opening in the right equipment cabinet (Fig.C) with a jigsaw. Use the template shown in Photo 6 and a router to smooth the edges.
Add Face Frames and Side Panels
4. Build the face frames and speaker cover frames. The front edges of the speaker frames have a 1/8-in. round-over and are painted flat black before they’re covered with fabric.
5. Machine the beading (Photo 2).
6. Attach face frames to the speaker and equipment boxes and nail on the beading (Photo 3).
7. Cut and rout the sound port in the cherry side panel (E1).
8. Attach spacer strips (G1 and G2) to the side panels (Photo 4).
9. Glue and clamp the front of the side panel to the face frame. Drill and countersink for 1-1/2-in. #8 screws to attach the panel to the inner box at the back (Photo 5).
10. Attach mounting strips (G3 and G4) to the TV side of the assembled boxes (Fig. B, C and D).
11. Cut out the wire chases in the equipment cabinet shelves (Photo 6)
Tip: Use a 1/8-in. round-over bit to ease the edges of the
12. Drill out adjustable shelf-pin holes (Photo 7).
13. Make the drawers and false drawer fronts (Fig.C).
Like the bead molding, pilasters have a dual role. They add visual interest to the monolithic front of the TV cabinet and they cover the seam between the removable face frame and the cabinet side stile (see Photo 8 and Fig. E).
The TV Cabinet
Remember, the TV cabinet breaks down into seven pieces (Fig.H,page 62) so don’t use glue where any of these pieces are joined.
1. Assemble the center channel speaker box and TV base.
2. Glue and clamp side panel stiles (T11) to their respective sides (T1) (Fig. F).
3. Cut the access port in the right-hand side panel.
4. Assemble the TV carcass on its back (Photo 9).
5. Build and attach the face frame and beading (Photo 10).
6. Build the pilasters and while you’re at it, build the doors, TV bezel and dummy panel because they’re all made with the same stile-and-rail cutters.
7. Attach the pilasters (Photo 11).
8. Cut and attach crown cap with screws and glue (Photo 12). Note: Take care not to use glue where the joints disassemble (Fig.H).
9. Cut and attach crown molding (see Install the Crown Molding, page 57).
10. Finish trimming the TV cabinet and drill a 1/2-in.hole in the center of the upper rail (Fig. F) for the infrared remote.
11. Disassemble the completed TV cabinet.
12. Join one pair of side cabinets to a trimmed side panel of the TV cabinet (Photo 18).
13. Drill the wire-chase holes with a 2-1/2-in. hole saw.
14. Add the tops to the two cabinets and trim.
15. Disassemble the cabinets and repeat the process on the other side.
16. Disassemble, sand and finish the cabinets. We used Cherry Watco Danish Oil and a top coat of varnish.
Tip: Build a 6-3/4-in. high, 30-in. x 66-in. assembly platform to bridge any unevenness in your floor. Even if you have a level floor, it’s nice to elevate the cabinets for trim work and you’ll use the platform again to get the TV into the finished cabinet (Photo 26).
Install the Crown Molding
Compound miters and tiny returns make crown molding look hard to install. The truth is, with a utility knife and a simple shop-made auxiliary fence on a miter saw, the job is no more difficult than cutting simple miters for a picture frame.
To cut crown, it has to be held upside-down on a miter saw, which is handy because you mark the crown for cutting on the bottom edge. Think of the bed on the miter saw as the cap and the fence as the cabinet side.
For this size crown, the fence has to be taller so the molding can “bridge”between it and the bed.To properly support the crown molding for cutting you’ll need to build the simple auxiliary fence shown in Photo 13. Cut the long crown for the sides and front first. Mark, cut and fit the small pieces around the pilasters (Photo 15).
The returns are too small to nail, so glue them up by hand (Photo 16), then nail up the larger piece (Photo 17).
Tip: After cutting the short returns, hold the saw down until the blade stops turning or the spinning blade may catch the small piece and ruin it.
Join the Boxes
Screw together a side cabinet assembly using the already trimmed side panel of the TV cabinet as a starting point. (The loose bead molding will be used to cover the holes in the face frame after final installation). Trim the cabinets, with the moldings, being sure not to glue the joints where the cabinets break apart.
If your room is carpeted, roll back the carpet and pad so the cabinet can be installed on a solid surface. Remove the baseboard from the wall and reassemble the TV cabinet in the room. Lay out the stud locations and mark where the cabinet is to be centered on the wall (Photo 22). Level and mount the TV cabinet to the wall (Photo 23). (For more on installing cabinets see AW # 78, February ‘00, page 56). Install the remaining cabinets and anchor them to the wall. Reinstall the
OK, now the fun really begins—installing the electronics. You’ll feel like a kid on Christmas morning unpacking all the equipment. Take your time and read the directions! They’ll save you headaches later on.
It’s best to consult your electronics supplier for specifics regarding the wiring of your particular system. But, here are some tips to help prevent wire-management headaches.
1. Start by fishing the loose wires through the cabinet’s wire chases. Leave the wires a little long, you can always trim them later.
2. Use common electric-cable straps and cable ties to support the loose wire bundles that run behind the TV (Photo 25).
3. Label both ends of each wire for easy identification (Photo 24).
Install the speakers and the electronic equipment in their respective places. (Remove the speaker covers that come with the speakers.) Give some consideration to the order in which you stack your electronic equipment:
Man, all that equipment’s in place and ready to be hooked up. Now it’s time to bring in the main attraction; that giant TV! But first, run back to the shop and get that platform you built for assembling the cabinets. Place it in front of the TV cabinet and add a couple of 3/4-in. skids that run from the platform and butt into the front edge of the TV base. Set the TV on the skids but leave enough room to get behind the TV to attach wires. Once the wiring is complete, the TV can be rolled into the cabinet (Photo 26). Put up the speaker covers and snap in the TV frame and dummy drawer panel and you’re ready to go. Now, you just have to figure out how to program that VCR!
Tip: Use cable straps and cable ties to tame the wire jungle.
(Source information may have changed since the original publication date.)
Woodworker’s Hardware, 800-383-0130.
Eagle America, 800-872-2511.
Wall Lumber Company, 800-633-4062.
Rockler Hardware, rockler.com, 800-279-4441.
Hyde Park Lumber, 513-271-1500.
Fig. A: Exploded View
Fig. B: Left Speaker Cabinet
Fig. C: Left Storage Cabinet
Fig. D: Right Equipment Cabinet
Fig. E: Pilaster
Fig. F: TV Cabinet
Fig. G: Plan View of Side Cabinet Assembly
Fig. H: Exploded View
Fig. J: Plywood Cutting Diagrams
This story originally appeared in American Woodworker December 2000, issue #84.
Click on any image to see a larger version.
1. Use a 6-in. x 16-3/4-in. scrap board to set the fixed shelves in the four side cabinets. Set the bottom shelf with the jig, then turn the jig lengthwise to set the middle shelf.
2. Rip the beading off a wide board. Run the bead on two edges of a wide board with a router and a 3/16-in. bead cutter. Rip the bead a little thick. Run the sawn edge of the bead through a planer to the desired thickness.
The beading is a dual-purpose detail that runs inside all the face frame openings. It makes the cabinets look great while hiding the screw holes where one cabinet is joined to another (Photo 18 and Fig. H).
3. Nail on beading after clamping the face frame onto the inner box. Leave the beading loose on the stiles where the cabinet is screwed to the adjoining cabinet (Fig. H).
4. Fasten spacer strips on the inside face of the side panel.The spacer strips shim out the side panel so it can be glued flush to the face frame.
5. Drive screws (from inside the inner box) into the spacer strip after the finish panel is glued and clamped onto the face frame.
6. Use a template and a flush pattern bit to put a smooth edge on the cutouts (wire chases) on the adjustable shelves in the right equipment cabinet (Fig. D) as well as the access and sound ports in the cabinet sides.
7. Use a template to drill holes for shelf pins. Shelf pin spacing should be 3/4 in. to minimize wasted space between components. Add notches where the shelf rests on the pin to keep them from being inadvertently pulled out.
8. Rip the pilaster stiles down to their finished width of 3/4 in. after assembly.The extra width makes machining the stiles safer and easier.
9. Screw the side panels to the TV base box. Make sure the bottom edges are flush. Keep the screws back 5-in. from the front of the cabinet where the base molding will be attached. Screw the center channel speaker box to the sides from inside the box. Scraps of 1/2-in. plywood hold the interior boxes in position. Use #8 by 1-1/4-in. screws.
10. Set the face frame in the cabinet opening. Drive screws through the cleats on the center channel speaker box into the two upper rails to attach the top of the face frame and through the TV base box into the lower rail.
11. Attach the pilasters with screws from the back side of the face frames (see Detail: Pilaster, page 54) . A 3/4-in. spacer stick helps locate the pilaster on the stiles.
12. Attach crown cap with screws and glue. Don’t glue the mitered returns on the pilasters. They need to be removable for cabinet knockdown.
13. A shop-made auxiliary fence and bed simplifies cutting crown molding. Make the fence and bed from 1/2-in. plywood and attach it to your saw’s fence. Place the molding upside-down in the saw. Check to see that the two flats on the back of the cove are tight against the base and fence. Add a 1/4-in. stop on the miter saw’s bed to automatically position the crown and hold it securely in place for cutting.
14. Nail the crown bottom, into the cabinet side, and the top into the crown cap.
15. Mark your cuts with a utility knife. To safely cut the short returns around the pilasters, cut an inside miter on long stock and hold it in position on the cabinet for marking. Then, cut the short return off the long stock.
16. Hand pressure and a little glue are all that’s needed to make a strong, tight-fitting joint where the pieces are too small to nail.
17. Position the glued-up pilaster crown and nail it to the pilaster and cap. Remember to leave the glue out of these two miters so the pilaster can be removed for knockdown.
18. Screw together a side cabinet assembly using the already trimmed side panel of the TV cabinet as a starting point. (The loose bead molding will be used to cover the holes in the face frame after final installation). Trim the cabinets, with the moldings, being sure not to glue the joints where the cabinets break apart.
19. Screw the finished sides onto the two inner boxes to reassemble the TV cabinet.
20. Drop the face frame into place and secure with screws.
21. Add the pilasters and you’re done!
22. Use masking tape to mark the stud locations on your wall. (Use an electronic stud finder to locate the studs.) Mark the tape where you want the cabinets centered (red tape).
23. Level the TV cabinet with shims and fasten to the wall through the 3/4-in. back.
24. Tie down the loose-wire jungle at the back of the TV cabinet with cable straps and ties.
25. Label both ends of each wire with tags available from home centers and electronics retailers.
26. Roll the TV home. Here’s where your construction platform earns its keep a second time. The 3/4-in. skids bridge your platform to the TV base so you can roll the behemoth into the cabinet without damaging the cabinet, the TV or yourself!