Custom Wood Counter

Our friends over at Valley Discount Tire think we're woodworkers and commissioned us to design & build a custom wood counter for their store. Apparently they also think we're miracle workers.

They wanted something basic, yet elegant. Huh? Yeah, something tall, about four feet high, something that will block the wind, with a nice curve to it. About four feet on one side and three on the other. "See if you can match our new Snap-On tool box," I was told.

Should you ever decide to accept the role of woodworker, be prepared for this. Of course, we don't know any better and took the job.

Basic plywood cabinet construction is straightforward. Cut some sides, a top, bottom, and shelves to spec, then screw them together. With a bit of planning, you can efficiently narrow a sheet of plywood down to nothing. Count yourself a non-beginner when that happens. Good for you. I ain't there yet.

We decided early on that plain sides would not work on this wood counter. We added some 1x3 pine boards around the outside exposed sides to add visual texture.

Paint-grade plywood is really good and strong. We used 3/4-inch birch, because it's easy to get at the local home center.

Butt joints were used throughout. Yes, routing the end rabbets would make for a tighter piece. So what? As beginning woodworkers, we already knew we were going to overbuild. But for future reference, squaring up a wood cabinet with rabbeted ends is much simpler and looks better.

All shelves are made of 3/4 plywood with a 1-inch poplar front edge to add strength. Miss this step and your shelves will sag yesterday. These were set with predetermined spacing according to book binder height, desk height, and envisioned ultimate use.

The two pieces were bolted together with angle irons. The two-piece top will also help keep the pieces together, but we thought this added insurance was a good move.

To cover our exposed plywood ends on the front shelf curves, we soaked solid 1/2-inch pine overnight in water then clamped it to the curved pieces. Damned if it didn't work! We later added some screws and glue to hold it in place (after the wood dried of course).

We used duct tape to block off the ends of a length of old gutter pipe to create tub long enough to accommodate the straight (pre-curve) pieces. It was actually my daughter who came up with this idea. Coolness.

Clamp the wood while yet and let it dry overnight before trying to apply it to the edge. This while process takes two days. One to get it wet, one to bend and dry. It comes up close, so still expect to clamp it while gluing.

This wood counter was built in four pieces. We had each side and a two-part top. This sucker is heavy. But the Great Spirit was with us and we survived.

It still took two trucks and several guys. Wiggling and pushing each piece into place went easy because we had already practiced this at our shop. Ok—it was in the garage—which doubles a shop until the weather gets cold and the wife insists on parking her car in there again.

Just the same, we put the kids to work painting some final trim pieces and touch-up, then we set the computer and other items into place.

The guys wanted to match colors with their red and black Snap-On toolbox. Their lift is also painted red and black. We bolted the black trim on to give an extra industrial feel. It works really well without adding much cost of trouble. The top was simply coated several times with urethane, breaking up the strong colors while giving the top some durability.

Before long, the tire store counter came to life. The finished piece measures just over six feet along one side and four feet along the other. There are four curved shelves in the front and multiple shelves inside. We installed a pull-out desk consisting of a plywood shelf attached with drawers pulls.

The dropped-top allows for the computer screen to be below the top level, out of the wind and dusty elements. Our color scheme and use of carriage bolts make this wood counter stand out. We keep thinking we're lucky. Maybe we're just good at this sort of thing.

Whether or not it helps to sell more tires is another story.

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