Thursday, February 12, 2015

Upcycling scrap Parallam into a bench

Well, it's been just about forever since I've done a DIY post on this blog, mainly because the hubster and I have been customizing an RV that I've got showcased on a separate and unrelated blog.  But I'm going to interject a new DIY post now in part because Centerpointe Section 9 turns five years old this week, and this project is a propos of our original construction, which seems like only yesterday.

Being the proud owner of only the third build site that was sold in this 75-home section of the subdivision, I spent almost two years watching every possible construction scenario unfold here.  I was constantly bothered by the degree of waste that was occurring.  A giant heap of construction debris would form unceremoniously in the front yard of each new house as it was going up, and most of it was actually valuable stuff.  I would go around pilfering the piles, documenting my dealings with cell phone pics in case I ever had to prove that I wasn't "stealing" valuable construction supplies.  Because you really couldn't tell the difference, eh?  If I was discovered trotting happily down Arlington Pointe with a wheelbarrow full of Austin Chalk, who's to say I didn't pull it off the new stone pallets instead of from the dump sites?
I mean recycle - I don't mean five-finger discount.  Oh, waitaminute - I actually mean upcycle.
One of my rescues was of a section of Parallam left over from the construction of our very own four-car garage.
It's a great big sucker, as garages go, and there were several Parallam beams supporting the roof load.  You can see two of them here, at right angles to each other.  The piece I rescued from the trash pile was trimmed from one of those.  
Parallam is freakish-looking stuff - this is a view of the end grain of my scrap piece, post-finishing. 
For five long years, I hoarded that unwieldy piece of Parallam...
...and I'm channeling Christopher Walken as I say that...
...until finally I resolved to complete my originally-conceived mission and make a bench out of it.

Trouble was, my house is already chock full of furniture and I didn't need a bench - at least not a conventional 18-inch high sitting bench.  I needed a squat bench, which could be used for several purposes that I will explain in a moment.  Here is how I constructed it.
My squat bench would have low legs so that it could be placed alternatively under a window sill or in front of the fireplace.  The Parallam scrap was bloody heavy - over forty pounds - and so those legs needed to be robust.  I bought a standard piece of four-inch pine post and with the help of my better half, chopped four legs each about six inches high.  After allowing them a few weeks to dry, I primed them and painted them using the same paint as is on our fireplace. 
This is the bracket that I used to attach the legs to the Parallam slab.  About a buck and a half each at Lowes. 
These structural pieces were not intended for finish carpentry, of course, and I had to cut off these tabbed ends to give the piece a finished look. 
A chick and her power tools... it's a beautiful thing.  Dremel, in this case.
So then the deal is that you need to attach the brackets to the legs first.  I used drywall screws here because I'm sick and tired of buying new hardware for every project that comes along.  The drywall screws stick out a bit, but they are not visible on the finished bench.  
In order to prepare the Parallam scrap itself, I sanded it and gave it about ten coats of polyurethane, also sanding between successive coats.  Parallam is rather splintery and was never intended for furniture construction, but that's just a minor annoyance.  It looks so cool that I wanted to finish it.

That's my husband helping me to determine an optimal leg placement.  
View of the underside, two of four legs attached.  There is no bracket portion showing from the front or side of the finished bench.
Et voila - the finished product in situ.  
Allow me to insert this delightful aside:
Almost two years ago, I published a post titled "Modernizing a traditional home design with color, Part 1: Fireplace make-over" in which I described how one could spend less than two hundred dollars on natural slate tile and paint and achieve a fireplace look that was similar to a two thousand dollar all-stone fireplace.  My version is obviously not quite as grand, but it has analogous visual impact and focal-point weight at only one tenth of the typical cost.  Judging from the blog stats, it was a very popular post and I was probably the first person to do this - but others have since followed suit.  And every time I see someone channeling "my" fireplace on HGTV, I pause the program and take a commemorative pic of the fireplaces side by side, as this example shows.  So, yay design coup on this idea.  I appear to have influenced the course of residential design in America.  Many of the others even appear to be using the same shade of paint (Valspar Ocean Storm).

BTW, speaking of the five year anniversary of Centerpointe Section 9, you can tell that our TV is also five years old - the wide outer border is a dead giveaway of its advanced age (the body is also much thicker than current models).  It was cutting edge technology five years ago but it's obsolete today.  That's fine with me because we don't have to worry about anyone stealing it any more - it's no longer worth anything to speak of!
OK, back to my Parallam story.
Here is the close-up.  I've become quite the wimp in my old age, and every time we have one of those horrible damp freezing cold Houston winter days, I pull this bench out a bit and plop myself down in front of the open flame, dreaming of July temperatures.  
But it's not just the fireplace that this bench was designed to serve.
It's also an under-window bench.  This is my second bloom cycle for this orchid, which prefers this exact spot at my home office window. Trouble is, it got too big to sit on the window ledge proper, so it needs something else to sit on.  I can move the bench here in warmer times when I don't need it in front of the fireplace to help the warming of my ancient bones.

You can also see my oft-discussed principle of cross-referencing in this photo (what HGTV designers call "repetition").  The legs of the conference table, squat bench, and cabinet are all three different woods and different finishes, but they are all square, so they still look like they go together.  
Not bad for a $15 investment of brackets, polyurethane, and wood for the legs, wouldn't you say?  My only regret is that I wasn't better five years ago at pilfering other peoples' Parallam scraps, because I really could use one or two more of these little benches. I can see that now that I have finally completed this one after five full years of not quite getting around to it.
Because you have to have stuff to support your orchids.  Life would not be complete without orchids.