Kitchen Island

I wanted to make a rolling island to match the pot rack I hung on the kitchen wall last month. Last weekend, I finally got up the courage (and the cash) to give it another try. This was the design:
This might look like an easy build, but the finish work and attention to detail made it quite difficult.

The building materials set me back about $300. To put this in context, I could have made this thing for about $150 if I used knotty pine, and maybe $200 if I used select pine.


This was relatively expensive because it’s all red oak and aspen. But in the end, I’ll have a matching pot rack and island that will (hopefully) stay in the family for generations. That’s a small price to pay for an heirloom set.

The island is somewhat adapted from my original coffee table design. To minimize the use of screw holes and wood filler, I had to rely on glue to hold the sides together:


The glue is effective because I routed out channels for the oak plywood. The plywood gives the frame strength and stability, and it also keeps everything square:


This is the most precision job I’ve ever attempted. My amateurism showed through in a couple of instances. I got so frustrated with it last Sunday that I quit halfway through just to clear my head. After work on Monday, my wife helped me fasten the cross beams and glue the backboard into place:


It was at this point that I realized I had made an error. I somehow forgot to subtract the height of the wheels in my design even though I seemingly accounted for them. (See the 34 1/4″ body height in the design. It should have been 30 1/4″) As a result, the island was shaping up to sit about 40″ high, instead of the commonly-accepted 36″ counter height. After resisting the overwhelming urge to take a sledge hammer to the piece, I figured out how to rework the base to get it closer to counter height. It’ll still be higher than 36″, but just by a little bit.

I didn’t get a chance to work on it again until Wednesday. Over the next few evenings, I assembled the cabinet doors, finished the framing and installed the shelving:


I ended up working on this thing all day Saturday as well. In order to give the table-top depth, I added a 1″ x 3″ frame beneath the Aspen butcher board. They didn’t fit exactly right, so I had to sand them until my wrist almost fell off. Eventually, I got the seam smooth and even. My wife suggested that we add another shelf inside the island to hold smaller pots and pans, so I made one out of some scrap oak plywood.

Once the body of the piece was largely assembled, I dry-fitted everything. I must admit I wasn’t completely surprised that my doors didn’t nest very well. I’ve never been good at making doors. In the past, this would have been disastrous, as I undoubtedly would have messed up the edges even worse by trying to trim everything freehand with a circular saw. But now that I have my table saw, I can just adjust the blade to shave 1/8″ off the sides and bottoms. I also decided that I wanted towel racks on either side of the piece to make it more functional. The idea was to cut the dowel mounts out of red oak and use aspen for the rod, thereby maintaining the two-tone effect. It took me a long time, but I eventually cut out four mounting pieces with perfectly round edges:


Here’s what it looked like with the aspen dowel inserted:


Sadly, I had to scrap this idea. Literally. Since I don’t have a drill press, I can’t get the holes exactly plum. That means the rod isn’t square, and the piece won’t sit right against the island. So I put the towel racks in the kindling pile for when winter rolls around.

I wanted to get some stain on it so it could dry overnight. I stained the inside first, and then worked my way to the outside. While the body of the island was drying, I stained the faux butcher block piece. I hung the cabinet doors and used a box fan to speed up the drying process: (pardon the mess)


Late Saturday night, I installed 2″ wheels so we can roll the island around the kitchen. I remembered to brand it:


I got out to the garage really early on Sunday to finish the kitchen island. I was also smoking a pork shoulder, so I had to get the grill fired up anyway. I used liquid nails to glue the table-top to the island body, and I cut out and spray-painted the sheet metal that will decorate the cabinet doors:


Once the paint dried, I weighed them down in the routed channel and used clear-drying caulk to set them in place. While the caulk dried, I put a clear coat on the entire island. I only used one coat on the body, since I didn’t want it to shine too much, but I put about seven thin coats on the table-top. To get the right texture and protective properties, you have to apply a clear coat, let it dry, gently sand it with 220 grit (or higher) sandpaper, wipe off the dust, and repeat the process over and over again.

I ordered some oil-rubbed bronze hinges online and installed a flip-down down door to hide our cast iron pans (the original non-stick cookware) that are too heavy to hang from the pot rack. It holds all of our large and small pots, as well as the blender and mixer. That freed up a lot of cabinet space.

It looks great with the pot rack, doesn’t it? As you can see, it’s only 1/2″ higher than the rest of the counter tops:

You can’t even tell it’s on wheels. This might be my favorite piece of furniture so far. Except for my bar, of course.

Kitchen Island
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