Built-in, or freestanding? - Woodshop News

Built-in, or freestanding?

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Build it permanent, or make movable? Sometimes the answer isn’t clear.

Furniture and cabinetry generally come in one of two flavors: built-in, and freestanding. Most projects, whether for yourself or for a customer, are determined by your goal or the customer’s request. But sometimes, it can go either way. That was the case with a divided storage cabinet I just finished for my wife’s glass studio.

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I find built-ins to be easier to make, as the structure and strength are determined by what’s already there. When making it, you can rely on existing walls and studwork for support, which cuts the amount of time (and, sometimes, materials) you need to get the job done. You also only have to use presentable material surfaces or do extensive finishing on the parts that show. But the big drawback to a built-in is that it can be used only one way, and that’s the way it’s originally constructed. Once installed, it ain’t moving.

Freestanding projects, on the other hand, take more time to build due to joinery and strength considerations. You have to choose materials for presentability from all directions, and finish any visible surfaces – which is all of them. And unlike something built in place, with freestanding you have to move the darned thing around during and after building, which can be difficult for a large item.

I could have gone either way with Sally’s glass cabinet. A built-in would have been a faster and easier project, but I decided on freestanding for a few reasons. Although she specifically wanted it in the left corner, after working with it she might decide it would work better on the other side. As a free unit, moving it would be a snap.

There’s also the possibility that she might at some point might want a bigger cabinet, or maybe no longer want to do glasswork. In either case, I could move this one into my woodshop and use it myself for something else. Likewise, if she ever needs that full work surface for a large project, we could easily move it out of the way.

With those considerations in mind, I made this a freestanding cabinet and am happy with the decision. Sally, of course, is pleased with the finished project which, in turn, pleases me even more.

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