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Mobile Cafe Cart

 

I was asked to build a rolling cart for the cafe area at our church. The cafe is a new renovation in the ground floor of our 135(+) year old church. (HERE IS A VIDEO TOUR of the attic and sanctuary of the church.)

As part of the renovation, they are converting this window into a serving window. When the window is open, serving staff need to be able to get right up against the window, in order to be able to serve from the window. But when the window is not in use, then they'd like to have a continuous stretch of counter in that gap. Hence, they wanted a rolling cart.

I took a bunch of measurements from each side of the opening, for while the cafe is brand new, the building is NOT. Being a 135 year old building, the floor is ... not flat. I checked all four corners to guide me in what the maximum height should be for my cart, and then subtracted a bit from that, as a safety margin.

They gave me this photo for an inspiration -- they wanted something that looked sort of like this.

They also gave me this chunk of counter top to us. This will help unify the look of the cart with the rest of the cafe. This makes my job easier, since I don't have to make a top for the cart.

This also makes my job more difficult, since I have to work with this counter top. Laminate countertop is made of particle board, and there is not a lot of structural strength in that, so I need to make sure that my design includes proper support under the top.

So, not surprising, I first went into sketchup and started drawing. I doodled some ideas, got approval from the "client", and then refined the idea into some plans that I could build from. The overall max height was the most important constraint that I had to work with, and the second one was that piece of countertop. I took careful measurements of the top, and replicated it in sketchup. In particular, the countertop section has a recessed underside, so I needed to make sure that my plan would fit within it. I first designed a ladder-like support structure for the top, then added the X-shaped leg assemblies, and then drew in a large crosspiece joining the two sides. There is no lower shelf in the design so I'm a bit worred about racking. We'll see how that goes during the build and I can change it along the way if needed.

Now before I was anywhere close to finalizig the cart plans, I ordered some casters for it. These are nice double-locking casters; which I obtained from Lee Valley Tools. They are rated at 100kg each, which should be plenty strong for this cart.

I ordered the wheels first, as I needed to be 100% sure of the height of the wheels as that affected the cart plans. For instance, the catalog said that these were 4x5" wheels, however the actual measured height was a 5-1/4", which is important if you are trying to work to precise tolerances. Of course the polyurethane "tires" on the caster will give a bit under load so 1/4" is really not that much of an issue. But I still wanted to be certain, hence the need to order these early. As well, I ordered a set of bed bolts, for attaching the long cross member to the leg assemblies.

I started with ripping up some Oak (or possibly it is Ash) into 3" wide strips for the understructure of the top. I don't actually know if it is Oak or Ash as this wood came out of some salvaged church pews that a friend gave me some time ago. Adding to the humour, these pews came from a different church. I do think it is funny to use salvaged church wood to build a church project.

I added a small curved cutaway to the ends of the long pieces that would make up the top support. I did not want the legs to be right at the ends of the top, so this cutaway lightens the look of the overhang a bit.

The top support structure was build using pocket hole screws. It's quick, simple, and plenty strong for this purpose.

For the leg assemblies I needed to come up with the correct angles for the X-part, as well as figure out how and where to cut the massive half-lap joints.

I laid out a large piece of white paper and drew the top and bottom pieces of the leg assembly on the paper at 100% scale. Then I simply laid on the paper one of the pieces for the X-shaped part, and traced that on the paper. I checked that with a protractor and was surpised, and delighted, to see that the angle was almost a perfect 60-degree angle.

I could therefore set my miter saw to make 60 degree cuts and I cut a test piece. After confirming that it would fit on the paper pattern, I then cut the three other pieces.

I used the pattern to mark out where the X-shaped pieces crossed each other, to figure out where the half-lap cut would be made. I then cut out the half lap on the table saw.

I first screwed some scrap pieces onto a cutoff jig, matching the angle of the half-lap joint. This would give me a hard fence against which I could hold the piece. I made some test cuts to confirm the depth and the angle and then proceeded with the cut...

... which turned out great. I tested it by laying it back on the pattern over top of one of the other pieces. I then marked the matching half-lap on that piece, and proceeded to cut it out as well. I marked these two pieces to identify them as a matching set, and then did the same thing with the other two pieces for the other leg assembly.

It was a nice joint, but not perfectly smooth. So I chose to use epoxy to glue the joint closed. It is strong, and has some gap-filling ability, which I thought would help.

However, there will also be bolts through this joint into the long crosspiece, so there is really no risk to the joint coming apart anyway.

I attached the top and bottoms to the leg assemblies with 3/8" dowels. I tried two different methods: First I applied glue and clamped the top/bottom in place. Then I drilled into the ends to make dowel holes. This worked but was a bit fiddly.

For the second leg assembly, I applied glue and placed the top/bottom in position and then tacked them in place with a 2" nail from my nail gun. I then could drill two holes into each leg of the X-shaped bit and insert some dowels.

I can't fit the long crossmember on the drillpress, but I can fit the two leg assemblies there. So I drilled two holes through the middle of the leg assemblies on the drill press. Then I clamped the crossmember into place and use the holes in the leg assemblies to guide the drill as I drilled holes into the ends of the crossmember to receive the bed bolts.

Here is a view of the cart with the leg assemblies in place, and the crossmember bolted into place. The casters are just placed there with no screws.

This is a very exciting part of a build, as I finally get to see in reality what I have been envisioning in my head and in the plans. It's a very satisfying step, but also an important step. At this point I could review the project and verify that everything is working from a design perspective. As well I verified tha the structure was very solid and that there was no worry at all about racking.

The next step was to take it apart, do final sanding, and then apply the stain and finish. I had to make it a very dark stain, to match the cabinets in the cafe, so I used an "Espresso" gel stain. I've never worked with Gel Stain before, it was the only kind in that colour available in the store. It really is like jam/jelly in consistency. It is nice in that it does not run, but it is challenging to spread something with that consistency.

After staining, I applied several coats of polyurethane.

I then took the parts to the cafe and assembled it all there, and attached the counter top. It was attached with pocket hole screws. There is no glue attaching the various assemblies together (legs, crosspiece, understructure, top) so it can all be disassembled if it needs to be repaired or moved, or if they decide to change the counter top.

And here are a few more photos, including one showing how I jumped onto the cart. This is something that Matthias Wandel, of the woodgears.ca website and youtube channel, is known for doing on occasion, to demonstrate the strength of a project. I know someone (ie: some kid) will climb up on this thing sooner or later, so I thought I'd prove to myself that it is strong enough to take the hit.

Some of the Tools/Supplies Used In This Project: (Affiliate Links)

 

Thanks for reading!

See Also:


Office Side Table


Writing Desk in a Weekend


Lazy Susan