Achieving a simple yet professional looking finish – Part Two

Part Two: Iron on veneer on MDF cabinets

If a black textured finish is not your style (see part one), keep on reading as we delve into an option that you may have previously considered a desirable but more specialist finish. In part two we show you how to achieve the popular real wood veneer finish. In the accompanying photos, you’ll notice an LSK M3 mini speaker kit being used as an example.

Usually, veneering is a specialist process that requires considerable skill. If you’ve already had some insight into veneering, you may have formed the opinion that it is out of your reach to produce a flawless result. Here we present a more accessible veneer option that offers the novice the potential to achieve a desirable result. The key with our method is to use an iron on veneer where each sheet already contains heat-activated adhesive. With due care, an excellent finish is within reach.

First, we’ve listed below the tools you’ll require to complete the process. Notice that some tools are optional while the necessary tools are easily accessible to everyone (image 1).

Veneer finish blog image 1

Tools required:

  • iron on veneer
  • iron
  • sand paper (120 grit)
  • sanding block
  • orbital sander with 120 grit paper (optional)
  • ear muffs & dust mask (if using sander)
  • masking tape
  • straight edge
  • cutting knife
  • scissors
  • cardboard
  • filler (if required)
  • baking paper
  • rotary cutting tool (optional)

Step 1: sanding and filling
As we mentioned in part one, MDF has a waxy surface coating which should be sanded down prior to painting to ensure adequate adhesion of the veneer. In addition, during the construction process, especially where clamps have not been used, the panels might not line up perfectly. It’s in this first step that this should be resolved by sanding and/or filling.

Gaps in the joins can also be present due to inadequate pressure during the construction process (image 2). Even with veneer covering, it may be worth filling these gaps, even though it is less critical than with a painted surface. If you are sanding uneven edges, don’t be deterred if you are not in possession of an orbital sander such as the one used in the photo (image 3) because a sanding block is also effective.

Veneer finish blog image 2

You can check the surface of your cabinet is flat by using a straight edged object such as a ruler (image 4). In particular, pay attention to the joins because the veneer won’t conform very well to sharp changes at butt joins. If the surface is already adequately flat, then you may simply sand off the waxy surface coating by hand with a block (image 5).

Veneer finish blog image 3

Step 2: choosing your veneering layout

It’s now time to decide how you want to wrap your veneer. If you’re going to use a grille with your speaker, then you may want to run the veneer so that it wraps from the sides across the top. As the grille will cover the front, you will want to pay attention to the visible edges. If there is no grille, then you may still do it the same way, or you may prefer to wrap from the front baffle around to the top. It’s a matter of personal preference. In this guide, we wrap from the sides across the top (image 6).

Veneer finish blog image 4

Step 3: cutting the veneer

Lay out the veneer and mark out the cuts you require from the measurements of your cabinet. Ensure that your measurements allow the veneer to overhang each edge by at least 5mm. The veneer shrinks in the heating process and the sheet will also move slightly, so adequate margin for error and shrinkage is required. Use cardboard to protect your work surface and cut with a sharp blade and straight edge (image 7).

It’s a good idea to use masking tape over where you will make the cuts, especially for those that are across the grain but also for those with the grain. Not only does the masking tape provide a surface you can mark with a pen, it also helps assist you in achieving a neat cut. Be aware that it’s more difficult when cutting perpendicular to the grain as the veneer can split. When cutting with the grain, the veneer may tend to cut at a different angle than desired. Ensure that you cut with multiple passes. Don’t attempt to cut all the way through at first – the first pass is to score the cutting line only (image 8).

Veneer finish blog image 5

Step 4: ironing on the first sheet

First, check that sheets will wrap correctly (image 9). The order you choose to iron on each sheet depends on the wrapping and also the edge treatment. Generally we recommend applying the back first and the front last. Ensure you follow through with Steps 4 and 5 for one sheet before proceeding on to the next.

It’s important to ensure that your work surface is free of dust and the iron is set to the cotton setting. Before beginning the ironing phase, you will need to place baking paper in between the iron and veneer. Position the first sheet carefully before placing the baking paper on top. The paper moderates the heat and avoids burning the veneer. The paper can be left out if you are careful with the application of heat.

Start in one spot and then work from there with the iron (image 10). It’s important to ensure adequate heat is applied. The adhesive on the underside of the sheet is heat activated – without adequate heat it will not reach melting point and a strong bond will not be achieved.

Veneer finish blog image 6

The surface should be hot enough that it is not easy to touch. After the entire surface is flat, check the edges. You should see a little glue oozing which confirms that adhesion has occurred all around the edge. Apply follow up pressure of the entire surface with a block (image 11).

Now check that full adhesion has occurred over the entire sheet. You can check the edges by gently pressing upwards (image 12). Be aware that the initial hold immediately after ironing, as the adhesive cools, is not very strong, so you should wait until the sheet starts to cool. Run your fingers over the surface. If there are points where adhesion has not occurred, you will hear a change in the sound of your fingers running over the veneer. If you find a lack of adhesion at any point, you can simply re-activate the adhesive by applying heat again and repeating the process.

Veneer finish blog image 7

Step 5: trimming the edges

Each time you apply a sheet to one side, the edges should be trimmed shortly after. Allow enough time for the adhesive to cool down first though. Depending on the amount of overlap, you might like to trim it back with scissors or tin snips. Care is needed to avoid lifting the veneer at the edges. Shown in image 13 is an example of how not to cut the veneer.

It might seem harmless enough, but cutting in this way will often pull up the veneer at the edge and result in the need for repair. The correct way to cut a veneer edge places the top scissor blade horizontal, in constant contact with the veneer. Only the bottom scissor blade should rotate. Use the thumb to press the top down to ensure contact is maintained.

Once you get fairly close to the edge, sand paper on a block can be used. It’s important to sand in a direction that will not lift the edges or cause damage (image 14). As shown, sand at an angle but stop short of the corner, where the direction shown would cause the corner of the veneer to splinter away. At the corner, ensure you sand in the opposite direction (image 15).

Paper with a grit of 120 is recommended. A coarser grit will get the job done quicker but at the risk of damage. Another good alternative is 180 grit. However, be aware that a finer grit will take longer. Steps 4 and 5 are to be repeated for each sheet. The order we used in this guide:

  1. Back
  2. Bottom
  3. Side – right
  4. Top
  5. Side – left
  6. Front baffle

Veneer finish blog image 8

Step 6: creating the terminal and driver cut outs

Now we need to cut holes in the veneer where the speaker components will be inserted. With a blade, make a hole in the middle of all driver, port and terminal cut outs (image 16). The terminal cut outs are not so critical as the edge is not seen, however it’s still preferable to do neat work here. After most of the cutting is done, sand paper does the rest (image 17). Greater care is warranted on the driver cut outs that will be seen (image 18).

Veneer finish blog image 9

Aim to get as close as you can to the edges to minimise sanding (image 19). Here you may like to use a blade. Sanding the driver cut out by hand is shown in image 20. You may wish to trim with a rotary cutting tool as these get the job done quicker but be aware that this process is more likely to cause damage, so greater skill and care are required (image 21). The final result is pictured in image 22.

Veneer finish blog image 10

Some extra tips:

  • Stain can be applied as a next step, but often a clear varnish gives a more natural result.
  • The colour of the veneer will change after varnishing.
  • Consider using a grain filler if you want to achieve a smoother finish.
  • A clear satin varnish is the best all round option.
  • High gloss varnishes tend to expose minor flaws.

Shop now for LSK Speakers Kits | Read Part One

“Better value with a DIY project”

Geoff’s DIY Speaker Project – Part I

Audio enthusiast Geoff was looking for the perfect speakers for his listening room. After researching his options, he decided DIY was the most cost-effective and flexible option. Join him on his DIY journey!

DIY AUDIO SECRETS: Tell us about your project and why you chose to DIY…

GEOFF: We have a large listening/living room which is about 16m x 8m with 4m ceilings and L-shaped.  The current stereo setup, with small studio monitors and sub doesn’t really have enough “oomph” to fill the space, although it still sounds good.

After looking at various retail store options, I decided that (1) I don’t like black and (2) the store solutions were very expensive, i.e. over $2,000 to get something that sounds good. I then looked up ‘DIY speakers’ and found that you can get much better value with a DIY project, if you aren’t too ambitious and use a proven design.

I visited LSK (The Loudspeaker Kit) with some favourite CDs for an audition and decided that I prefer paper drivers to aluminium (not used in LSK kits but there was an all-aluminium speaker on demo). At the time of the visit LSK did not have a kit which would have been suitable for our space, although the new F6 Floorstanding Speaker Kit would have been an option*.

DIY AUDIO SECRETS: So where did your design come from?

GEOFF: After much ‘Googling’ I ended up at a well known US mail order website and asked the designer of one of its speaker kits if it would work in our room. He has been extremely helpful and suggested I look at one of his new designs which feature a “Mass Loaded Transmission Line” cabinet with an MTM configuration.

The drivers [used in my project] are high quality Dayton Audio RS180P-8 paper/fibre mid-woofers and Morel CAT378 soft dome tweeters. Drivers, crossover parts, vent tubes, speaker feet, grille kit, binding posts and wire were all from LSK: taking postage, exchange rate and, most importantly, local support into account this was by far the best purchase option.

DIY AUDIO SECRETS: What about listening to the speakers before you buy?

GEOFF: No Hi-Fi stores have a listening room like ours and in any case would not let you buy ‘on approval’. I was happy to take advice from the designer and we had many friendly email discussions. 

DIY AUDIO SECRETS: So how is the project coming together?

GEOFF: My local electronics shop assembled the crossovers for me and the cabinets are being made for us by a family contact from veneered and stained 18mm MDF. Drivers are recessed.

NB: if you’re looking to make MDF cabinets instead of buying a kit, I found only two firms in Melbourne which would cut to size due to OH&S concerns. Also, there are only one or two firms who will make speaker cabinets; not one kitchen/office/home cabinet maker would touch them.

 Stay tuned for part II and project images!

Do you have a DIY audio experience to share? Have you found similar barriers to having your own cabinets made, and what did you do to overcome them? Tell us your story by emailing sarah@theloudspeakerkit.com!

*LSK’s F6 Floorstanding Speaker Kit is now available.

DIY TIP: Round your edges!

DIY AUDIO TIP

Here’s another tip for all the DIY audio enthusiasts out there!

For the best possible frequency response, we recommend rounding the edges of your speaker cabinets when finishing, especially the front baffle. Sharp edges, particularly at the front of your cabinet, will create irregularities and interference in the frequency response.

Rounded edges

DIY TIP: A small build up of excess glue is a good thing

Are you looking forward to the next time you can get back to your DIY project? Hopefully it’s not a long wait! In the meantime, here’s a tip for all the DIY audio enthusiasts out there:

A small build up of excess glue is a good thing!

If your cabinet building process requires gluing MDF panels together, avoid the temptation to be too tidy when wiping excess glue from the inside of your cabinets. A small build up or fillet on the joins will ensure everything is airtight and will create a stronger join. Make sure you use a high quality adhesive like Titebond to minimise the risk of panels moving over time.

Gluing mdf speaker kit cabinetsLSK C6 centre channel speaker kit brace 2

Achieving a simple yet professional looking finish – Part One

Part One: Textured black for MDF cabinets

With any DIY speaker project, you’ll hit that important point in the process where you have to make a decision about the finish. Some know what to do and how to do it while their cabinets are just plans on a page or pre-cut panels in a kit whereas others may’ve left their built speakers sporting a raw MDF style for several weeks. The latter is not uncommon, especially if you’re new to DIY audio. Many of us put this step off thinking it’s going to be beyond our abilities to produce a professional looking finish. In this article, and the next, we’ll introduce you to two simple yet exceptional looking finishing methods you’ll be proud to display. Don’t put those finishing touches off any longer!

In part one we show you how to achieve a textured black finish using DuraTex which can be applied direct to raw MDF without priming. DuraTex is very popular in pro audio where it is often applied in a very heavy texture. Here we’ll show you how it can also be effectively used in home audio where a finer texture works well. In the accompanying photos, you’ll notice an LSK M4 MkII mini monitor kit is being used as an example.

First, we’ve listed below the tools you’ll require to complete the process. Notice that some tools are optional while the necessary tools are easily accessible to everyone.

Tools and supplies (image 1):

  • DuraTex textured paint
  • 100mm roller
  • MDF cut-off (or similar) to rest cabinet on
  • spackle type filler and application tool
  • sandpaper (120 grit)
  • orbital sander with 120 grit paper (optional)
  • ear muffs and dust mask (if using sander)
  • damp rag

Finishing blog post image 1

Step 1: sanding and filling
MDF has a waxy surface coating which should be sanded down prior to painting to ensure adequate adhesion of the textured paint. In addition, during the construction process, especially where clamps have not been used, the panels might not line up perfectly. It’s in this first step that this should be resolved by sanding and/or filling with a spackle filler.

As you can see in the photo, gaps in the joins can also be present due to inadequate pressure during the construction process (image 2). These should also be filled using a spackle filler. Please note that many fillers are not suitable for use with DuraTex. Be sure to use a spackle type filler (such as in image 3). Make sure you also observe the drying times on the filler you are using before proceeding. If you are sanding uneven edges, don’t be deterred if you are not in possession of an orbital sander such as the one used in the photo because a sanding block is also effective (image 4).

On completion of this step, you should now have removed the waxy surface coating from the MDF. Also, any gaps should have now been filled and uneven edges either filled or sanded flat.

Finishing blog post image 2

Step 2: round overs (optional)
This next step is optional but we’ve included it because round edges, particularly the corners on the front of your cabinet, improve the frequency response. Irregularities and interferences occur when you have sharp edges on your speaker cabinets. In speaking building, this is known as diffraction.

In addition, rounding the edges of your cabinet will conceal butt joins that have a tendency to emerge as an unsightly crack in paint finishes. These are extremely difficult to avoid in any paint finish but this step helps to minimise the risk. However, to perform this task you will need a router with round over bits and, ideally, a router table.

In the pictured example, we used a 13mm round over bit on the edges between top/bottom and sides and a 6mm round over bit on front and back edges. If you have a router table, this is the best method. The box is moved cross the bit and hands are kept well away. If you only have a router, the box must be fixed in place and the router moves over the edges. This is quite difficult and requires some care to avoid slips.

This option should not be attempted by those who are not experienced in using power tools. It must also be noted that the round overs require sanding, as the result will never be perfect. Ensure the sandpaper conforms to the shape of the curve (images 4 and 5).

If you are completing this optional step, you will also need to do another round of filling (image 7). The rounding process will take off a lot of the original filler and will sometimes expose voids where the filler wasn’t pushed down far enough in the first step.

Don’t be disheartened if you have to skip this step. You will still end up with great looking speaker cabinets with exceptional quality sound (well, we should add that we can really only guarantee the sound quality if you’ve purchased quality, compatible components or a kit from LSK of course)!

Finishing blog post image 3

Step 3: applying the first coat
DuraTex can be applied with many types of rollers but we recommend a 100mm roller to keep things simple. A small roller means that no tray is required as it can be dipped right into the paint tin, making clean up a whole lot easier. Here we’ve used a disposable foam roller (image 8) which provides a fine texture. Dedicated texture rollers can also be used for a heavier texture.

The best way to proceed is to elevate the box with a small MDF off cut or similar item. This means the base requires painting in a later application but it will make the whole process easier overall. Alternatively, you can hang the box so the entire box can be coated in one application but this is a more difficult method.

Be careful in applying the coat to the front baffle (image 8). This coat should be quite thin, otherwise the paint will get into the driver recesses which potentially means the drivers won’t fit. As an example only of thick application, here the back receives a thick coat (image 9). Thicker application can mean less coats are required but this also leads to a heavier texture and is not ideal near recesses, particularly on the front baffle.

Step 4: further coats
Unlike other paints, further coats of DuraTex can be applied before the paint has dried completely. However, when it comes to placing a recently painted side of your speaker cabinet onto the block under the box, it’s a good idea to wait around an hour. DuraTex dries fast, but takes much longer to fully harden.

If the first coat is sufficiently thick, it may not be necessary to use more than one coat. However, it’s best to use two or three thin coats. On the front baffle, a single thick coat would likely cause problems as mentioned previously. Also, it will be very hard to achieve an even texture if you try to shorten the process by applying a single thick coat on the sides while doing two or three thin coats on the front.

Hints and tips:

  • As we mentioned above, although it dries fast, DuraTex takes much longer to fully harden. If you place one DuraTex box on top of another too soon after application they may stick together.
  • Rolling DuraTex is not like rolling wall paint. Wall paint is best applied with a wet edge. With DuraTex, it is often a good idea to go over an area as the paint starts to dry, without adding any paint to the roller.
  • We also recommend experimenting with application techniques. There are many variations that can provide a different result.

If this method hasn’t caught your attention, or even if it has, stay tuned for part two!

Why DIY? 5 reasons to build your own speakers!

In this impatient, fast-paced world, everything seems mass produced, poorly made and on-demand. Quality sound can’t be defined by these contemporary boundaries but high-end costs make this dream seem out of reach for many. It doesn’t have to be this way. DIY is your answer.

1. Achieve high fidelity sound at a more affordable rate
Hi-fi products typically come with a luxury price tag. The DIY trend enables you to bypass commercial assembly and finishing, saving on manufacturing and production costs. Of course, in theory you can spend as much or as little as you want on your build project but your focus should be on obtaining quality components, in particular speaker drivers and crossover components. This way your sound quality will be kept high while the main cost of construction and finishing will be your spare time.

2. Build and sound quality is up to you
There’s nothing more frustrating than buying a complete product and hauling it home only to find it doesn’t deliver what it promised on the box or it has a manufacturing abnormality or defect. With a DIY audio project, the quality of your finished product relies on your discretion with selecting premium, compatible components from reputable suppliers and also on the care you take with your workmanship. Depending on your budget, you may wish to hire someone to design and construct your speaker cabinets, but you need to be mindful that it can be tough and expensive to find knowledgeable and willing professionals. However, if you have the right tools, this is completely unnecessary given the online support, advice and templates available. Then again, even if you don’t have these tools available, you can make use of the many quality speaker kits which can be purchased with pre-cut MDF and all the compatible internal components you’ll need.

3. Create a unique end product 
Whether the complete design or just the finishing is up to you, you have the potential to create something personal and individual that breaks the mass-produced mould. Of course, you may choose a gloss feel to replicate high-end tastes, or go wild with new crazes like sticker or photo bombing. Then again, there’s endless finishing options available to satisfy your style and budget, including but not limited to painting, staining or veneer. When it comes to the final steps, you can achieve a well executed finish for an affordable price or go for a deluxe veneer for a premium price. How much or how little you spend is entirely up to you, but we’re sure you’ll be surprised at how much cheaper it is to DIY when you look at the cost of comparable finished products.

4. The satisfaction of building something yourself
At the end of the day, there’s something grand about being able to say, “I made that.” You can bask in silent satisfaction or let it be a brag point at your next home movie night or party where you’ll no doubt hear from your audience a resounding, “That sound is amazing – where did you get those speakers?” The satisfaction that comes from building a quality product with your own two hands is hard to surpass. The added bonus is that you can secretly smirk over the fact that achieving hi-fi sound didn’t break the bank. You can think about your next audio project while you count the savings in your pocket.

5. It’s easier than you might think
With DIY becoming increasingly popular you won’t find yourself short of helpful advice and support. One of the best online sources for audio and, in particular, audio DIY is StereoNET. No doubt most people will have had some experience with flat-pack furniture or kitchens (IKEA anyone?) so if you’re considering starting your first project, why not look into purchasing a loudspeaker kit? Kits from LSK provide you with all the quality components you’ll need to build a loudspeaker (minus the veneer/finishing materials and tools) as well as written guides and video tutorials to support you along the way. Whether you’re looking to kickstart your DIY audio hobby or you’re an expert in the field, there are plenty of options out there for you to challenge yourself with. What’s more, most of the DIY audio enthusiasts out there are more than willing to share their tips and advice with you to help you along the way, and all they’ll ask in return is for you to share your build experience with them. Documenting your progress and sharing your project photos are a must!

So, what are you waiting for? Try DIY.