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Figuring out how to build a cabinet. Please advise.

FrankR

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C24 will come from colder regions like Scandinavia where the wood grows slow and dense. C16 can come from anywhere, but in recent years the quality has gone downhill a bit. Non-structural timber is probably alright for smaller stands, but I have seen poor quality timber split badly from places like Homebase. All timber merchants will import into shipyards and from there it makes it's way into merchants. At this point the timber is usually kept dry and laid flat in warehouses so it is very straight and in great condition. There are then three kinds of retailers: Builder's merchants like Travis Perkins and Huws Grey will usually transfer the timber directly to their outlets. It is often laid on rack systems, sometimes the wrong side up as people fumble through it, and usually is exposed to weather. In those conditions it often has a tendency to warp and you can travel from outlet to outlet trying to find good pieces. It's not such a problem for 8" joists, but get progressively worse when you scale down. They will have plane cut and sometimes rough cut joists. You rarely get either of these structural timbers smooth planed, but they will do non-structural indoors (untreated) joists with this smooth finish and in good quality, which costs a few pennies more. The untreated structural timber they will usually put outside because it will not rot. You just turn up, cut it down, fill your car and you go and pay. The second type of retailer is a DIY outlet like B and Q or Homebase. They transport the wood from the merchants warehouses to distribution warehouses and then on to shops, so there is an additional leap, and I imagine they don't pay much attention to transporting it because it is often chipped or scratched. In all of my experience they rarely ever have structural timber, and most of their timber is usually extremely poor quality and badly warped due to being stored vertically on a slight angle. The quality is awful sometimes because it is not properly pressure treated or aged (lots of sap) and they really are at the bottom of the food chain. The big difference with much of their timber is that when you drill into it it will hit knots and fragments will come away or it will split down to the cut when you pre-drill; and that what they sell is really very expensive for what it actually is. Even their floorboards can contain metal fragments which blunt drill bits. It's a pot luck situation but is usually not worth the visit; saying all that, I have had some very nice smooth timber from these places on odd occasions. Wickes probably fit into this category although they also do mail order, the jury is very much out on the quality of what turns up at your door: far better build quality and cheaper but sometimes warped or damaged. The third kind of retailer is a UK-wide mail-order "specialist" supplier. They will transport the timber from the importers (merchants) warehouse to their own warehouse where they will store it flat and dry, sometimes without props to keep it very flat and straight. The quality of these joists can be superb and usually these retailers will show a photograph of the batch to highlight the excellent storage conditions. It is not uncommon for them to use air conditioning and to pick-out sub-standard timbers because they value their reputation, and they will often pick the best timbers for carpentry from each batch if you ask them. They charge a bit for delivery unless you have one locally, which you should because most timber arrives from ships to ports on the east coast. They are usually cheaper than the other two kinds of retailers, and you can often pick up special dimensions or particular planed joists like smooth planed C24 or bevelled edge timber because they are often linked to reputable sawmills with surplus bespoke stock. They also have access to some of the nicer coniferous species like certain pines. Often too they advertise on Ebay, which is handy if you want buyer protection. The fourth option is a timber yard (sawmill) where they either import and saw timber or specialise in UK grown lumber, which can be sawn to your specification. I do not really rate most UK softwoods, but they often have a broader selection of hardwoods, and I have even managed to get 10 year-old air-dried UK native Elm which is now virtually extinct. The problem is that sometimes they do not cure the timber properly and it is not always certified as structural, which doesn't matter that much for a small cabinet, but if it does start to warp as it air dries, then you are treading on ice. They are however a great place to pick up English oak and Scottish pine and you can usually walk around to see how they produce the timber. They are sustainable and support the local economy but can charge a premium and aren't very common in your region unless you want hardwood, but they can cut to size if you want a flashy top piece or solid-piece doors with natural staining patterns.

For what you are making it probably doesn't matter that much which you choose because the weight is not a major factor, structural or non-structural (not that relevant if you have 6 legs), treated or untreated, but I do think aesthetics are a major factor. All timbers have a certain look and this is especially true with different softwood species. I do like the design you linked to. For something like that, I would choose a variety of different woods for different sections, that could mean using something like maple plyboard for the doors, oak trims and mouldings and hickory legs. Saying that, spruce looks great when it is unfinished and it is really cheap. Some woods costs is a bit more, but not that outrageous if you look on Ebay. Luckily, oak trim is now very common and you can get a wide variety of prefabricated doors or plyboards with different woods, but both cost a bit more. Alternatively, I would be tempted to go with glass doors and a reinforced glass top. If you are working with solid boards then note that some hardwoods can be very difficult to cut at home, like English Elm, which cuts well along the grain, but is really hard across it. The design you are looking at is a lot more difficult because you need those 45 degree pocket holes for the screws, also, personally I would not choose to cut the horizontal spans, but it's up to you. I find it hard to get the perfect angle with 45 degree pocket screws and I don't trust them as being as strong, there can be splits as you tighten down, and they take more time than self-drilling wood screws. I'm sure it would be plenty strong enough anyway if you chose them. The problem with getting certain standard trims and mouldings is that they can look very generic and a bit boring, which is why I would shop online. I also prefer hidden hinges or brass fittings. I would go for some nice mother of pearl knobs or possibly marble ones. I think that you might as well design it for a slightly larger aquarium. That could fit two 40 cm cubes, also a 80 cm tank with a nice ledge, but it's up to you. I like enough room for a cup of tea by the side. Overall, nice design you have chosen. I wouldn't feel too pressured to buy from any particular timber seller because there is an awful lot of choice, but equally you can make something quite standard if you like the style.
I went to my local B&Q the other day and most, if not all, of the joists were either warped, damaged or full of knots. I found a timber supplier in my area, not far from my home and I'll pay them a visit. Could you recommend a UK-wide mail-order supplier?
 
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Most of what I’ve seen on here looks like it requires either diagonal bracing or at least a sheet of some good plywood to prevent wracking. I’ve built several work benches and always brace or use plywood and I’ve not had any movement.
 

FrankR

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Most of what I’ve seen on here looks like it requires either diagonal bracing or at least a sheet of some good plywood to prevent wracking. I’ve built several work benches and always brace or use plywood and I’ve not had any movement.
Yes, my design sucks! But what about this one?
 

Simon Cole

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Buckingham
Could you recommend a UK-wide mail-order supplier?
My preferred supplier ceased trading just a few months ago. There will be others, but I cannot recommend them if I haven't used them before.

Sadly the UK is firmly in the grips of a timber supply crisis. After Brexit many people felt that the situation was becoming perilous because fewer shipments were arriving and there was a trucking shortage, but it was only really a supply and demand issue at the time. Wholesale prices quickly rose to 21% in one year. Then the pandemic hit, there was a global surge in inflation, fuel prices increased, the Suez canal got blocked, and last summer Swedish softwood stocks hit a twenty-year low, prompting a 20% price jump in one month. Fast forwards to today and there is a trade war with Russia and it's allies, who were major suppliers (namely Belarus), war in Ukraine, and this supply issue is seriously affecting the EU. The UK is more also affected by the recent global shipping crisis. Overall it's created a storm in a teacup. The quality of timber reaching the UK consumer is becoming increasingly unpredictable. This shouldn't be a problem if it is properly graded, but this relies upon certification bodies identifying non-conforming timber and isolating it from the supply chain, which means their clients lose money and may choose to switch to a more relaxed certifying organisation. I have no doubt in my mind that merchant importers are aware of the situation but do not want to press for batch quality verification because it means that they would sell less timber. So the whole graded timber industry is going a bit downhill right now. It's a similar situation with flammable cladding where regulation is hopelessly poor. The type used on Grenfell was tested before the accident, it was described as "catastrophic" the results were "shocking", but the report was simply labelled as “may require further consideration” and over the next 9 years the results were completely "forgotten" and not adequately highlighted, and the product was awarded the highest possible rating. I think the similar quality and regulation issues also affect the timber industry.

I honestly think that placed like B and Q don't care that much because they have been aware of the warping issue for years and nobody has lifted a finger to fix the issue or inform customers. That shows you exactly how much responsibility and liability they have. Certainly builders merchants will have stamped timber and it is more important now than it has ever been to check the quality of what you are getting before you purchase. I planned ahead and ordered enough timber to make either a new living room floor or a fish tank rack. Cabinets are not such a problem if they have 6 legs. Overall, prices are going up and quality is going down. That is why C24 makes sense right now. You get a reasonable guarantee of quality, even if you don't need the structural strength, it will have fewer knots and sap, smaller knots, and is less prone to being warped when you collect it. I would say it is more advantageous if you are going for 45 degree pocket screws, but have a chat with some locals and see what they would recommend.
 
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ahe61

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I don't recommend this type of Ikea cabinet as it has hardly any sheering support. The doors are doors, and the backside is flimsy. This cabinet needs to have additional reinforcement (internal frame) that are best glued, rather than screwed. So 2x2'' in all corners (glue, and a wooden cross in the back. That should do for a 30l =30kg tank.
If you go to a larger tank (say, 60x40x40, 96l or 80x40x40, 120ltr) you are probably best off starting from scratch. For such a tank you need support in the center of the cabinet, etc. You could use Ikea kitchen cupboards for that, but you will still need the extra cross bars in the back to prevent sheering. If you use an external filter you should check that the filter fits in!! Some filters are very high, and some are just very wide (I passed on the FX6 for exactly that reason; the Oase 850 did fit in)

My project ended by just buying the cabinet + tank: it was cheaper by some 200€! The advantage is that such a cabinet is designed for the tank, and does have sheering support. I bought a Juwel amazon 350 package with cover, lamps and internal filter for 750; there's no way you beat that with a DiY project (an advantage of a package is also the warrantee; if it the cabinet comes crashing down in 3 years you get everything new ;)

The other solutions presented before are also useful, and you may want to check how the king of DiY makes the frames (I did not like those, there massive)
Whatever you decide have fun

Andreas
 

kayjo

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3 Nov 2021
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Yes, my design sucks! But what about this one?
One thing to notice in this design compared to yours is the vertical pieces. This is a much more secure way to construct it.

I've installed Ikea kitchens for customers, and I would never use Ikea for anything heavy or moist, especially if it's free standing.. Obviously others disagree.
 

alnitak

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9 Feb 2022
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Hello, there is a huge difference between the pine cabinet and besta structures: the bottom and the top assembly. On Besta cabinets, the top is "on the top" of the lateral pieces. This means that the weight is supported by the lateral pieces. For example, on the first cabinet of this topic (the wooden one), the top is supported.. by screws only. And that's bad. It means that the weight is transfered to these poor screws resulting in a very high stress on the screws, and it is quite dangerous. On Besta cabinets, the tops weight is distributed on the lateral pieces, with no stress on screws or anythings. The only thing to do is to put a piece of wood on the back (or simply a cross made of two aluminium frames screwed on the lateral pieces), just for bracing.
For a 30lt tank, no problem at all :)
 

FrankR

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Thank you all for your replies!

Initially, buying an IKEA cabinet seemed a good idea. But after reading the replies by the good people of this forum (and some thought) it didn't make sense to me to buy the IVAR, or any IKEA cabinet (IVAR is £80 with shipping), and then spend another £50-60 to reinforce it. That's around £140 in total. Especially when, like I said, the next tank is going to be about 3 times heavier. That's why I've decided to spend that amount on some good quality hardwood timber and build a piece of furniture that I really like. 10 meters of planed all round European Beech (44x95mm) costs £170. I'm not saying it's going to cost me the same as modifying an IKEA piece. I'll probably spend around £200 including the plywood sheet, varnish, etc. But it'll be a bespoke piece of furniture.
 

alnitak

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+ the priceless pleasure of DIY :)
Made mine for 90x45x45 out of waterproof 19mm MDF, still holding the tank after two months :) So far so good :)
 

MarcusA

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I built my own stand, starting with zero knowledge of woodworking. Great experience, but, my god, the expense. Had to buy all the tools and set up a workshop in the garage. Had to buy a shop vac and tarps and all sorts of stuff that I would have never thought of in the beginning. Dear god, the expense! Ended up costing at least 3x the professional stand that I based it on, the very one that I didn't want to buy because it would cost too much! lol. I don't say anything of this to discourage you, though. I'm 100% glad I did it.
 

FrankR

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+ the priceless pleasure of DIY :)
Exactly! :)
I built my own stand, starting with zero knowledge of woodworking. Great experience, but, my god, the expense. Had to buy all the tools and set up a workshop in the garage. Had to buy a shop vac and tarps and all sorts of stuff that I would have never thought of in the beginning. Dear god, the expense! Ended up costing at least 3x the professional stand that I based it on, the very one that I didn't want to buy because it would cost too much! lol. I don't say anything of this to discourage you, though. I'm 100% glad I did it.
Now you can build your own furniture and sell them online ;)
The only tools I have is a hacksaw and a drill. Luckily for me, a neighbour has a shed full of carpentry tools and has offered to help.
 

Dogtemple

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Exactly! :)

Now you can build your own furniture and sell them online ;)
The only tools I have is a hacksaw and a drill. Luckily for me, a neighbour has a shed full of carpentry tools and has offered to help.

On the other side of this, I built a stand and it cost less than £50 using a saw, set square, screws and a drill. You can easily buy lots of unnecessary stuff. In reality all you would really need to do it easily would be a mitre saw instead of a hand saw and some good straight timber.
 

FrankR

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On the other side of this, I built a stand and it cost less than £50 using a saw, set square, screws and a drill. You can easily buy lots of unnecessary stuff. In reality all you would really need to do it easily would be a mitre saw instead of a hand saw and some good straight timber.
Tried to build a cabinet a couple of years ago, using the exact same tools you mentioned. Turned out as stable as a drunk penguin.
Thankfully, some suppliers offer a pre-cut service.
 

alnitak

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some suppliers offer a pre-cut service.
Yes, and OK you pay a lilltle bit more, but this is an insurance. For my cabinet (90x45 and 1m hight), I spent about 170€, for waterproff 19mm MDF. But cut with 1/10mm precision... And when you start building the cabinet, you can easily enjoy the benefit of proper cutting job :)

For the stability, you need feet. No option. I used these swedish feet, absolutly perfect, cheap.
 
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