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The TARDIS Pantry

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This is the project that started me off with woodworking (as well as providing the germination of an idea that led to this site) and it started out very simply - my sister decided she needed a new pantry but wanted something a little bit different. Since she, like me, is a Whovian and the basic dimensions of a pantry are quite close to the basic dimensions of a 50's era British police box the overall theme was pretty easy to agree on. And really, how hard could it be? It's not like we were trying to make an exact duplicate, just something that gave the overall feel of a TARDIS would be enough.

Basic Reconstruction

We started with a second hand cupboard (about $AU 20) that had been slightly water damaged in the recent floods in Brisbane (recent at the time we acquired the cupboard at least). The cupboard was a standard melamine (also known as Formica) covered chipboard, the water damage was limited to the base and didn't extend a far up as the lowest shelf so it was recoverable.

Our first step was to remove the water damaged parts. Being new at woodworking we borrowed a friends circular saw and trimmed the damaged bottom part. Luckily, we didn't destroy the rest of the cupboard. In hindsight we would have been better off using a tool with a little more fine grained control (or at least made some practice cuts on scrap wood beforehand). In the end we got what we wanted.

After a little clean up work, we attached two pieces of 2x4 to the base to restore the height. The wood we used was for outdoor frame construction and had been weather treated. This was actually cheaper than using pine - although it's less visually appealing it will help protect the cupboard from future water damage at the base. Sanding off the rough edges and adding a coat of paint hides any blemishes and the native wood doesn't show at all (for large knots or dents some filling putty helps to create a smoother surface). We replaced the backing (originally MDF) with a sheet of similar MDF.

The next step was to paint the rest of the cupboard, in this case we needed a lightish blue. When buying paint (and trying to save money) and you don't have a specific color requirement it makes sense to look at the rejects and returns table present in most hardware shops - this has paint cans that have been tinted to a particular color that have been returned or didn't tint correctly for sale at a significantly reduced price. If your color requirement isn't specific (to match an existing color for example) this is probably the cheapest way to get paint.

In our case we were lucky to find they were having a sale on sample pots (500ml cans of base paint) that were still eligable for free tinting. This allowed us to get enough of a darker blue paint for the highlights as well as the lighter blue for the main body (it also let us build up a collection of different colours for future projects - many of which you will see on these pages).

Painting melamin (Formica) is generally not recommended as the paint does not bond with the surface. In this case the surfaces are not going to be subject to a lot of use so simply applying a coarse sandpaper to it prior to painting provides a more concrete bond that will be sufficient for minor usage.

Once the we had the main body of the cupboard prepared we needed to work on the doors - the detail of which would make the difference between a blue pantry and a TARDIS. Each door needed to be divided into four panels, the top one representing a window. Creating doors from scratch is well beyond our capabilities at this point so we needed to add decorations to the existing doors to simulate the effect. Using nails to attach things to chipboard doesn't last very long (the chipboard is not really capable of holding the nail firmly enough) so we knew we had to depend on glue to attach the decorations.

Preparing the Doors

We settled on using strips of pine for the decorations - 1cm deep by 3cm wide for the vertical sections and 1cm deep by 4cm wide for the horizontal sections. We used normal hobby glue to attach the wood to the door. Glue on melamin is similar to paint on melamin - it usually doesn't bond well. Once again scouring the surface with a rough sandpaper provided a better bonding surface. When painting the doors we taped off the areas that needed to have the glue applied so the glue would bond directly with the door surface rather than being attached to a painted surface.

Adding the Decorations

The window-like panel required some additional work. Each window panel needed to be further divided into six (2 x 3) sub-panels with a thin piece of wood defining the sub-panels. In this case we used salvaged from some older furniture that was 1cm by 1cm.

Each of the decorative wood pieces was cut to length using a handsaw which resulted in some rather ragged ends. In retrospect I should have at least used a mitre box to ensure a straighter cut. We also made the mistake to attaching the decorations to the main door before painting them, making for a more complex painting job in the future - we should have painted them prior to attachment.

The result so far was moved into place (by this stage we had spent seven months of weekends working on the damn thing - to be fair, we were learning how to do all this stuff for the first time). It was certainly different by this stage but not yet what we were aiming for. It was another few months before we made the final modifications to it:

Final Bling Added

  1. The top door text. We used letters acquired from a scrapbooking supplier to add the 'Police Box' text. The 'Public Call' text was printed out on a Brother label maker (using white text on clear tape).
  2. The instruction sheet. A quick Google search found the appropriate text as found on the actual TARDIS prop, an edit in a word processor with some similar fonts and some clipart to simulate screw points left us with a single page that was printed out on cardboard (as opposed to normal A4 printer paper) so gluing would not distort the paper. This was glued into the appropriate place (once again with hobby glue) and the entire panel coated with varnish which, as well as helping bind it to the surface, adds an ageing effect to the paper.
  3. The blinky light on top (which was an accidental find at Jaycar). This wasn't planned for but seemed like the perfect accessory.

    Of course no project is ever completely finished so there are a few things I'd like to add (which are purely cosmetic). The blinky light is manually controlled at the moment which is useful when we are showing the end result off to friends but useless for most of the time. I'd like to trigger the light from the door operation (close the door and the light blinks for a specific amount of time). While I'm at it it would be nice to play the classic TARDIS sound at the same time.

    Overall this project consumed nearly a years worth of my time (weekends only though) and resulted in the purchase of nearly $AU 400 worth of tools. I count this as a positive though because it ignited my interest in woodwork as well as proving to me that persistance pays off when it comes to projects. The tools have been reused in many other projects (most of which are - or will be - documented on this site). The persistance becomes worth it every time I look at the pantry, the satisfaction in knowing that it is the end result of a lot of work I performed as well as being a unique item that no one else would have.