Completely new to woodworking - how strong will it be?

seasaltwalnut

New User
Kat
Hi all! Thank you for welcoming me to this forum, I'm excited to learn. As the title states, I'm completely new to woodworking (made the occasional bird feeder and watched a lot of videos, but that's all).

I'd love to build a piece of furniture, but I would really like a sanity check on the strength of the finished piece. It will be a cabinet framed in 1x3 and 1x2 poplar, and then skinned with 1/4" birch plywood. I'll attach some screenshots of my sketchup model. In the frame design, all green pieces are 1x2, and pink are 1x3. The last image is an alternate joint type for the frame, which I think might be stronger? Everything would be glued and screwed.

The most important factors are that it can hold ideally 300lbs, since it will be a stand for my aquarium. I expect the aquarium to weigh more like 200, but I'd really like to have a buffer to feel secure. It's also really important that the top of the stand is very level, since my aquarium is frameless (in a tank with a plastic frame, only the frame needs to be supported, but a frameless tank needs full, even support across the bottom glass).

I really like the look of walnut, and I was hoping to make the top of the cabinet out of 3/4" walnut boards. Would these be able to support that weight? They'd be supported on 4 sides by the poplar frame. Or would it be better to use something like 3/4" plywood or MDF with a veneer or thin walnut boards over the top? I'm also worried about the movement of the wood, if the boards would flex too much over time?

Thank you very much in advance for any help! I have been trying hard to research this, but a little adrift in all the terminology!
 

Attachments

Roy G

Roy
Senior User
Will this be free-standing or up against a wall? You should have some resistance to side force by skinning it with plywood, but mortise and tenon or half-lap joints would be better. How many gallons does the aquarium hold? Martin's sketch shows how it would be done by someone with experience in building cabinets. Matthias Wandel on Youtube always tests his work by jumping up on it. Probably won't happen to your piece, but imagine somebody tripping on something and falling against it. Would it stand the impact? Maybe bad for the fish.

Roy G
 

Jeff

Jeff
Corporate Member
Welcome to NCWW. We'll be glad to help you out with some advice. A few questions to give us more information.

1. Do you have the aquarium tank already? The aquarium will hold about 28 gallons (200 lbs).
2. The stand is about 28" long but what is its width? (missing on your SketchUp drawings)
3. Use all 1 x 3 x 3/4" thick poplar for the frame construction and pocket hole screws on the inside of the frame. You don't need glue with pocket holes but that's your option.
4. A solid walnut wood top is fine. 3/4" thick.
5. No legs or legs?
6. Plywood for the back and sides will add rigidity to the entire cabinet.
 

seasaltwalnut

New User
Kat
Thanks very much for all the responses!

Your stiles (vertical boards) should be the full height of the piece with the rails stretched between them.
Originally I had designed it that way, but looking at other DIY aquarium stands, it seems like people always build the top and bottom frames - I think to distribute weight better on the floor is the reasoning they use? If it's not necessary that's good to know! I have been told they're very overbuilt by that design (using 2x4), but nobody seemed to offer an alternative.


Will this be free-standing or up against a wall? You should have some resistance to side force by skinning it with plywood, but mortise and tenon or half-lap joints would be better. How many gallons does the aquarium hold? Martin's sketch shows how it would be done by someone with experience in building cabinets. Matthias Wandel on Youtube always tests his work by jumping up on it. Probably won't happen to your piece, but imagine somebody tripping on something and falling against it. Would it stand the impact? Maybe bad for the fish.

Roy G
The tank holds 14 gallons, and weighs about 40lbs empty. It will have ~20lbs of sand and ~10-14 lbs rock, I'm not sure how much water exactly will be displaced so I calculated as though none would be to be on the safe side!

It will be up against a wall, and on carpet.

Welcome to NCWW. We'll be glad to help you out with some advice. A few questions to give us more information.

1. Do you have the aquarium tank already? The aquarium will hold about 28 gallons (200 lbs).
2. The stand is about 28" long but what is its width? (missing on your SketchUp drawings)
3. Use all 1 x 3 x 3/4" thick poplar for the frame construction and pocket hole screws on the inside of the frame. You don't need glue with pocket holes but that's your option.
4. A solid walnut wood top is fine. 3/4" thick.
5. No legs or legs?
6. Plywood for the back and sides will add rigidity to the entire cabinet.
1) I do have the tank.
2) Apologies for the missing dimension! It should be 30"L x 11.5"D x 24"H before the plywood skin (add 1/4" on each side). The top surface will be ~30" x 13" with the overhang (will adjust the frame size to get the top to an even 30").
3 + 4) Thanks!
5) No legs, the whole base frame will contact the floor.

Would adding metal right angle brackets around the top and bottom frame help with rigidity?
 

JimD

Jim
Senior User
I would make it out of 3/4 plywood. A solid wood top would be fine. I think legs of only 1 1x3 is quite light. If you want to make it like this, I would make each leg an L shape with a 1x3 and a 1x2 joined together full length. Pocket screws, as has been suggested, are very easy to use and a surprisingly strong joint. I would glue them but if you are joining end grain to long grain it will not add a lot of strength. But the legs would be long grain to long grain and glue will make them much stronger.

If you use 3x4 plywood as I suggest, you can just glue and screw it together. For a cabinet or furniture, I plug the screw holes with 3/8 plugs I cut from scraps of the project wood which are then sanded flush. You can still find them but they don't jump out at you.

The order of strength in materials is hardwood, softwood, plywood, particle board, then MDF. So a 3/4 hardwood top would be quite strong, easily up to the task. Your construction method should be OK if you beef up the legs as I suggest and pocket screw it together but I am a little concerned with the connection method for the skinning plywood, the 1/4. You need that for racking resistance and it may be difficult to get it glued to the frame well. Staples would work well but be quite ugly. Brads or pin nails will work but only if the frame is quite flat on the sides. If a member is a bit twisted it will result in line contact of the 1/4 plywood. But with beefed up legs and good construction, I think your method of construction will be more than adequate.
 

smallboat

smallboat
Corporate Member
plywood shop table

I've adapted this construction to a wide variety of needs and it is very stable and quick to build.

It uses the "L" leg idea that JimD suggests. One benefit of using the plywood is that it is free of knots and twists.
It does require the ability to rip strips from a sheet of plywood so that may lead you to use stick wood instead.
Either way the construction is rock solid and quick to build.

It's not too far from what you suggest.
 

Gotcha6

Dennis
Corporate Member
Ixnay on the solid bottom. Set it on rails or use leg support blocks. Think about servicing the aquarium. Do you ever spill any water? If so, it will wick between the bottom and the floor. If your floor is carpet with particle board underlayment, you can count on a mold and swelling problem (DAMHIKT). If it's anything other than ceramic tile, it will still compromise the floor. 200 lbs. of water and another 100 lbs. for the cabinet, sand, and rock, distributed over 4 or even 6 legs is not problematic with most floors. Think about how much your bed weighs, and it usually rides on no more than 4 supports.
 

seasaltwalnut

New User
Kat
I would make it out of 3/4 plywood. A solid wood top would be fine. I think legs of only 1 1x3 is quite light. If you want to make it like this, I would make each leg an L shape with a 1x3 and a 1x2 joined together full length. Pocket screws, as has been suggested, are very easy to use and a surprisingly strong joint. I would glue them but if you are joining end grain to long grain it will not add a lot of strength. But the legs would be long grain to long grain and glue will make them much stronger.

If you use 3x4 plywood as I suggest, you can just glue and screw it together. For a cabinet or furniture, I plug the screw holes with 3/8 plugs I cut from scraps of the project wood which are then sanded flush. You can still find them but they don't jump out at you.

The order of strength in materials is hardwood, softwood, plywood, particle board, then MDF. So a 3/4 hardwood top would be quite strong, easily up to the task. Your construction method should be OK if you beef up the legs as I suggest and pocket screw it together but I am a little concerned with the connection method for the skinning plywood, the 1/4. You need that for racking resistance and it may be difficult to get it glued to the frame well. Staples would work well but be quite ugly. Brads or pin nails will work but only if the frame is quite flat on the sides. If a member is a bit twisted it will result in line contact of the 1/4 plywood. But with beefed up legs and good construction, I think your method of construction will be more than adequate.
Thanks, that's a good point about any twists in the frame reducing the contact of the plywood, I hadn't considered that. I planned to screw on the plywood skin, with glue applied as well. The plywood skin will be painted white, with the walnut top and maple stained and sealed for water resistance.

1603143309810.png

Would a modified design like this be good? I like the idea of having part of the L shape between the top and bottom frame so that the weight of it isn't resting just on the screws - the blue is 1x2 and the pink 1x3.

plywood shop table

I've adapted this construction to a wide variety of needs and it is very stable and quick to build.

It uses the "L" leg idea that JimD suggests. One benefit of using the plywood is that it is free of knots and twists.
It does require the ability to rip strips from a sheet of plywood so that may lead you to use stick wood instead.
Either way the construction is rock solid and quick to build.

It's not too far from what you suggest.
Thanks! I love the look of that shop table, very clean and sturdy! Unfortunately I don't have access to a table saw, so creating the strips would be a challenge.
 

smallboat

smallboat
Corporate Member
A few smaller contact points will do better accommodating a less than perfectly flat floor as well.
If you do the style in the video you can place the shelf as low as you like, you could float it just off the floor.
Just don't omit it.
 

Gotcha6

Dennis
Corporate Member
What power tools do you now have access to? You could buy everything in the sketchup above ready dimensioned from a big box store and cut to length. With a little modification, the bottom rails could act as a support for a shelf and the skins could be applied to the inside for a panel effect.
 

seasaltwalnut

New User
Kat
What power tools do you now have access to? You could buy everything in the sketchup above ready dimensioned from a big box store and cut to length. With a little modification, the bottom rails could act as a support for a shelf and the skins could be applied to the inside for a panel effect.
I have a drill, and a pretty rubbish jigsaw, and I could probably manage to get a skill saw. I understand this definitely limits the types of cuts I can make, or at least makes some significantly less time-efficient.

I'm happy to do plenty of sanding (have a handheld power sander) to get things smooth and even, though!
 

Gotcha6

Dennis
Corporate Member
A simple manual miter saw would suffice for cutting the stock you can buy, and the power sander will be a big plus. Use a square and knife and cut a scribe line at your cuts. Practice with the miter saw a bit first. The big box stores will cut sheet goods to size for a nominal fee. Good luck.
 

JohnnyR

John
Corporate Member
While your last sketch is ok, I like the idea of making the L shaped legs go to the floor. These can be glued together without the need for pocket screws, you can save those for attaching the rails. Having only four posts on the floor will make it easier to deal with an uneven floor. It will also allow you to taper the bottom of the legs to give it a little style. Be advised that there's a tackless strip under the edge of the carpet that will tend to tilt it away from the wall. I like the idea of attaching the plywood on the inside of the frame for a panel look, and ideally the styles and rails would be rabbited to fit them rather than 3/4 showing. If you skim the outside you'll end up with ugly edges unless you edge band them which would be difficult with your tools. If you could swing it I'd suggest a skill saw with a track system or build your own Track/edge guide. With a piece of rigid foam insulation you can do most of what a table saw can do.
 

Oka

Casey
Corporate Member
Welcome Kat , the water weight would be more like 230+ lbs but remember, the weight is at the top of the stand, this means the stability will be totally based on how rigid is the stand. Keep that in mand when you are building. Mortise will provide the extra resistance to lateral movement. This is critical in preventing the stand stiff.
 

Jeff

Jeff
Corporate Member
You could use 2 x 4s for the frame (3.5" x 1.5") instead if L shaped legs at the corners.
You don't have much equipment to use and that complicates things.
 

Oka

Casey
Corporate Member
I made a stand for my brother's 350 gallon tank years ago, what I did was on the back and sides I used Maple plywood stained it (1/2"I think) then scrolled a design in it. The rough cut exposed plywood I super glued to seal , sanded and painted black. Then I did some detail trim work in the front, and moulded the top around on the sides as well.

Just an Idea, simple and makes it way easier to complete.
 

JimD

Jim
Senior User
A skillsaw with a guide is very useful and not expensive. I've been using a battery powered Skil 6.5 inch that does surprisingly well. I don't use a guide other than a speed square with it, however, because I also have a track saw. While I think the little battery skill saw I have is fine, and my bigger Milwaukee is too, I use the track saw a lot more. But you have to spend at least $200 to get a track saw and track (Wen is the cheapest, I think).

For your method of construction, you need to crosscut small pieces and cut thin plywood. By far the easiest way to crosscut the 1x3s and 1x4s is with a miter saw. But they are around $100 and up. You can use a jig saw or a skillsaw. But it will be difficult to get really straight cuts. But covered up with plywood they will probably work. If you get good with a speed square you can get good cross cuts with it and a skilsaw. It can also cut up the plywood but you will probably want to leave it about 1/16th long and sand it to be flush with the piece next to it.
 

seasaltwalnut

New User
Kat
Thank you! You've all definitely given me a lot to think about, I really appreciate all the advice. Using all plywood for the main structure is looking very tempting, with the strength of construction, if I go the route of the skill saw.

You could use 2 x 4s for the frame (3.5" x 1.5") instead if L shaped legs at the corners.
You don't have much equipment to use and that complicates things.
I am thinking 2x4s may be the way to go - I had read a passing comment on the aquarium forums that 1x's would be enough for such a small tank hence using them for the design, but I don't want to be worrying about strength.

A skillsaw with a guide is very useful and not expensive. I've been using a battery powered Skil 6.5 inch that does surprisingly well. I don't use a guide other than a speed square with it, however, because I also have a track saw. While I think the little battery skill saw I have is fine, and my bigger Milwaukee is too, I use the track saw a lot more. But you have to spend at least $200 to get a track saw and track (Wen is the cheapest, I think).

For your method of construction, you need to crosscut small pieces and cut thin plywood. By far the easiest way to crosscut the 1x3s and 1x4s is with a miter saw. But they are around $100 and up. You can use a jig saw or a skillsaw. But it will be difficult to get really straight cuts. But covered up with plywood they will probably work. If you get good with a speed square you can get good cross cuts with it and a skilsaw. It can also cut up the plywood but you will probably want to leave it about 1/16th long and sand it to be flush with the piece next to it.
I am getting very tempted by a skill saw, I hadn't realised quite how versatile they really are! I'm sure I could find plenty of future projects to use it for as well...
I do have a manual mitre saw with mitre box so that should help making square cuts on the dimensional lumber, I believe? The plywood sheeting would probably be the biggest challenge to cut with my hand tools. Thanks for the tip about leaving the plywood long and sanding down!

Welcome Kat , the water weight would be more like 230+ lbs but remember, the weight is at the top of the stand, this means the stability will be totally based on how rigid is the stand. Keep that in mand when you are building. Mortise will provide the extra resistance to lateral movement. This is critical in preventing the stand stiff.
Thanks! The top heaviness is partly why I made the design not too tall, and longer than the tank, in hopes of having a wider base. I always think the little stands that fit tanks exactly look so precarious!
I'm not sure where the 230lb figure is coming from? My tank holds 14 gallons according to the manufacturer, which should be about 120lbs.
 

Oka

Casey
Corporate Member
I mis read I thought you said 30 gal tank....... hearing is the 1st to go... çan't remember the rest
 

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