Whether you rent or own your home, you probably have a particular something in common with the rest of us: an ugly medicine cabinet. In fact, if you were to run a survey of new construction, you might become convinced that there's no reasonably priced alternative to the stamped-steel, refrigerator-white box.
Enter MOTHER's woodworkers. Our contribution to the war against inch hospital decor inch is a DIY bathroom cabinet design made from oak that has enough storage space to cache a lifetime supply of pills, blades, and toiletries. The two outer mirrors hinge on the inside, so they can be swung inward for proper primping. And — unlike some three-mirror models we've seen — the center door is also hinged to allow access to the compartment behind. (See the diagram of the bathroom cabinet design in the image gallery)
Though we chose to mount our medicine cabinet on the surface of the wall, the 44 inch width makes it comparatively easy to recess the unit into a conventional 2 by 4 stud wall. One or two studs must be cut, and headers have to be installed above and below the cabinet. (To meet your local code, you may need to double-frame the jambs and headers in load-bearing walls.) Then the gap on each side of the cabinet will allow shimming to correct for out-of-plumb studs. (If you don't get the cabinet plumb, the doors will swing open to remind you.) Although the 3-7/8 inch stock width on the cabinet frame may seem a little odd at first, it will allow the main frame to recess into a standard 3-1/2 inch wall with 3/8 inch drywall so that the rear of the cabinet is flush with the adjoining wall. However, if you are recessing the cabinet into a wall with a thicker drywall or into a plumbing wall (which has thicker studs), you'll want to back the cabinet with 1/8 inch lauan or Masonite, instead of installing the cleat shown in the illustration. (Otherwise, your Contact may be swallowed up by your stud wall.)
There are several possible approaches to cutting the joints for the cabinet, but a table saw with an adjustable dado really makes the work go quickly. You'd set the dado for a 3/4 inch width to cut the frame grooves, 5/8 inch for the shelf track grooves, and 1/2 inch for the mirror recesses and the mortises and tenons at the door corners. Don't let the door joints intimidate you; they're much easier to make than they seem to be at first glance. One hint, though: If you use softwood, make the ripped mirror recesses after doing the crosscutting, because there's a greater likelihood of tearout when crosscutting.
Also, if you decide to surface — mount the medicine chest, check the wall to see if it's flat before you hang the cabinet. Many a drywall has bows or waves that are hard to see until something flat is set against it. If your wall does turn out to have this problem, try installing a second cleat at the bottom of the cabinet between the frame members for the center compartment will be sufficient — so that you can pull the bottom and the top of the frame firmly against the wall. Locate the studs, and anchor the cabinet to them with No. 12 by 2 1/4 inch screws.
We had a tough time settling on a material to make the shelves. Many commercial cabinets have beveled, double-strength glass shelves, but we were too nervous about prying little hands to use anything that might shatter. What we really wanted was tempered glass. Unfortunately, our area glass distributor wanted $8.00 for each cut (the glass is actually cut and then tempered), bringing the total hardware bill to well over a hundred bucks. We cut the cost of materials, excluding lumber, to $63.79 by using clear 1/4 inch acrylic glazing (often known by the brand name Plexiglas). The plastic will scratch in time, but it's safe.
The humid environment of a bathroom can produce dramatic expansion problems in woodwork. With this in mind, we set aside our favored oil finish and applied polyurethane varnish to our medicine cabinet.
Minwax natural stain helped accentuate the grain of the oak, and three thorough coats of the plastic finish were applied on top of that. The goal of finishing, in this case, is to seal the wood as much as possible, so that changing humidity won't alter the wood's moisture content and loosen joints from the continual expansion and shrinkage encountered in the ever-changing bathroom environment.
For many of us, the first few minutes of a new day aren't the easiest. If you're a member of the morning fog clan, perhaps it will help to contemplate a fine example of your own handiwork when you reach for your toothbrush.
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