Arthur strives to balance aesthetics, functionality, and quality with costs when planning DIY projects in the home and garden.
My wife asked me to make her a cabinet to keep her sewing machine safe from our cats playing with the thread when it’s not in use. She asked for it to have shallow drawers to keep all her cotton reels and sewing accessories organised, and for it to be on wheels so that she can move the sewing cabinet around the conservatory when she’s using it.
Objectives for Making the Sewing Cabinet
I appraised her request and consulted with a close friend, who’s good at DIY, for additional ideas and suggestion. I then added my own objectives to my wife’s mission statement, which I ran past her (as the customer) for approval, before setting the definitive list of objectives.
- Within the space available, to make the sewing cabinet as big as is reasonable, to maximize storage space.
- Sewing cabinet to be the same height as the sewing table that it will butt against.
- Top to be hinged to enable it to be lifted, for easy access to the sewing machine.
- Drawers to be as shallow as possible, so as to incorporate as many drawers as will fit within the given space.
- Lots of removable dividers in the drawers, to allow for adjustments to suit different storage requirements.
- Wheels on the base of the cabinet.
- Shelving behind the sewing machine for additional storage space, adjustable and removable for maximum flexibility of use.
- Make the cabinet to a high standard, using quality wood, with a good wood finish, rather than making something rustic from scrap or recycled wood.
- Add a little style to the design and make it aesthetically pleasing.
Using the objectives set, I measured the available space where we wanted to put the sewing machine cabinet and drew up detailed sketch plans with measurements.
The width between the sewing table and the full-length conservatory window was just over 600mm (2 feet), and the height of the sewing table was 750mm (just under 30 inches). The cabinet only needed to be 450mm (18 inches) to house the sewing machine, but my wife wanted it to be 600mm (2 feet) deep, for additional storage space.
Having made the sketch plans, I was then able to calculate the materials needed, and to set the target parameters for time, cost and quality.
Setting Time, Cost and Quality for the Project
The three cornerstones of project management are time, cost and quality. Setting these from the outset, and getting them right, is a good way of helping to ensure a successful outcome of the project.
When setting these parameters they need to be realistic and achievable, and contingency needs to be built-in because projects always take longer than planned and usually cost more.
Here are the parameters I set for this project:
To make the cabinet as a Christmas present, giving me several months to source the material, make the cabinet, and finish it to a high standard. The contingency I built in was to optionally make it for my wife’s birthday present; which would give me an extra month, if I needed the time, to ensure I didn’t compromise on quality by rushing to finish it on time.
Knowing from experience how costly wood can be, including delivery charges, I set myself a budget of £200 ($260), with the intention to source the wood within budget.
The intention is to make the cabinet to a high standard, taking particular care on quality at each stage of the build. The overall quality would also be partly dependent on the type of wood I bought within budget, not rushing to finishing on time, and getting the design right.
Sourcing the Wood
The main material for this project is the wood.
- Quality wood for the body, top and main shelf of the cabinet, and for the drawers’ sides, front and back.
- Plywood for the back and base of the cabinet and the drawer bases.
- Scrap wood for drawer supports and dividers, etc.
My preferred choice for quality wood is oak, but that is extremely expensive and would have taken me well over my budget. My other options, keeping me within my budget, included plywood, planks of wood, floorboards and salvaged wood.
My choice of local suppliers are:
- DIY chain stores
- Timber merchants
- Salvage yards
Plywood and delivery costs from the local DIY stores these days isn’t cheap. So this option would have taken me to my budget limit. Also their planks of softwood (pine or spruce) tend to be quite narrow, and with delivery costs, not much different in price to using plywood.
Their prices and delivery costs are competitive, so it’s one source to consider.
The local sawmills are also timber merchants, but additionally offer the service of cutting wood to bespoke sizes, on demand, for a minimal fee.
These are always worth a visit. There’s no guarantee you’ll find what you want, but there is always a chance they’ll have something suitable, such as a pile of old floorboards salvaged from a demolition job; and their delivery costs tend to be very modest.
Making an Informed Decision
Having sourced wood locally in Bristol, I was wavering between buying plywood from a DIY store or engineered oak floorboards from the local sawmill. Engineered oak floorboards being plywood with oak as the top layer.
Then a close friend from Portsmouth (120 miles from where I live) informed me that one of the local sawmills in his area sold timber significantly cheaper than market prices. He could buy oak planks in Portsmouth for about the same price that I could get plywood delivered in Bristol.
I was planning to make him a visit soon (to help him with one of his DIY projects), and his car is big enough to transport quite long lengths of planks, so this option was very appealing.
Therefore, I decided to buy the wood from Portsmouth, which delayed the project by over a month and made it a tight schedule for completing the cabinet before Christmas. However, it was worth the wait for the benefit of getting good quality hardwood for a very reasonable price.
Making the Purchase
When I visited my Portsmouth friend we made a visit to his local sawmill to buy the wood, but when we got there we were disappointed to find their stock of oak planks low, and what was left was all badly warped. However, they had plenty of other hardwood in stock, and in looking at what was available, I eventually opted for meranti.
Having chosen a cheaper hardwood, from a supplier selling the wood quite cheaply, the actual cost of the wood was well below budget; only £120 ($160). So I was well chuffed.
We got the planks back to his place in his car, and then cut them to convenient lengths to fit into our car for the return journey back to Bristol.