How To: Sara’s Light-Up Play Kitchen

Dave typed this up for me a loooong time ago and I’ve dragged my feet about posting it.  Why?  I have no idea!  Maybe because he totally shows me up in the awesome, DIY post department!  Haha! No, really, he AMAZES me.  Anyway, in case any of you out there are handy and itching to undertake a project for your kiddos for Christmas, this post is for you! 

Sara’s 3rd birthday was [6 months ago]. Time sure flies! Last year I built Sara a light-up play kitchen for her 2nd birthday. At the time, I promised Ellen I would write up a post detailing how I put it together. Well, it only took me a year to finish writing it up, but here it is! For those of you that missed it, here’s the final product:

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The Inspiration

It was Ellen’s idea to build a kitchen for Sara in the first place. There are countless blog posts on the Internet about repurposing old cabinets into a play kitchen, but we didn’t have any old cabinets lying around, and I really wanted to build something from scratch.

So we started looking around online for inspiration. Ellen was really taken with this one by Nikole, which is where a lot of the design idea came from. I also drew from this post for construction ideas and appropriate dimensions.

But being a huge nerd, I wanted a kitchen that would light up! Again, I looked around online for what people had done already for light-up kitchens. This one using rope LEDs was pretty cool. So was this one that used Christmas lights. And this one, as the title correctly states, is a masterpiece. The woodwork is stunning, but I didn’t like how the LED neon looks. I ended up figuring out a much better solution using orange side-emitting LED bars I found here.

The Plan

Now that I had figured out what I wanted the kitchen to look like, I set about making plans. I originally sketched this up on paper, but I made a nifty diagram for this post.

colors with

(Here’s the source SVG in case you want to modify it.)

Most of the plan is dictated by the dimensions of lumber I was able to find at our nearby Lowe’s and the approximate size of a 2-year-old. I used four dimensions of lumber, as indicated by the different colors. (A detailed list of materials and tools are at the end of the post.) Since I don’t own a table saw, I tried to minimize the number of cuts to simplify the work.

The primary material is 21/32” x 16” x 8′ furniture boards. It comes is two grades: paint-grade and stain-grade. The paint-grade, as the name implies, is composed of a bunch of small pieces of wood glued together in a way that really makes it only suitable for painting. The stain-grade is made of much larger boards so you can stain it, but it’s more expensive. I opted for the cheaper paint-grade wood, but I regret the decision. It’s fine now that it’s put together, but the boards were just really poor quality. They took a lot of wood filler to fix flaws and the glued joints even came apart a couple times. Nothing a little wood glue couldn’t fix, but it was annoying.

The 21/32” thickness of the furniture boards is a goofy dimension that makes some of the other dimensions seem a little strange. I wouldn’t actually recommend that you try to cut everything to the precise dimensions listed ahead of time. I waited to cut the boards until I needed to and cut multiple boards at once (clamped together) to guarantee they were the right fit.

I also put together a wiring diragram. (SVG here.)
wiring

The orange lines are 2 LED bars (one is cut in half for each burner). The brown lines are 18/2 thermostat wire I found at Lowes. The boxes are 3 LED dimmers I found on Amazon. Make sure you connect the red and black wires exactly as shown in the diagram! The voltage is low so it’s not really dangerous, but you could break the electrical components.

Materials

  • 2 – 21/32” x 16” x 8′ furniture boards – Lowe’s
  • 1/2” x 4′ x 4′ sanded plywood – Lowe’s
  • 1/2” x 4” x 3′ pine board (for shelf) – Lowe’s
  • 1 1/8” x 8” pine board (at least 16” long) – Lowe’s
  • 1” x 3” pine board (at least 4′ long) – Lowe’s
  • 10” x 8” x 0.093” clear plexiglass (for oven window) – Lowe’s
  • Wirenuts (for joining wires) – Lowe’s
  • Magnetic cabinet catch – Lowe’s
  • Painters’ tape – Lowe’s
  • 18/2 thermostat wire – Lowe’s
  • #8 0.625” Black screws (for fixing plexiglass to bottom of oven) – Lowe’s
  • Quart of light green semigloss paint (for back panel) – Lowe’s
  • Quart of dark, dark grey semigloss paint (for inside of oven) – Lowe’s
  • Quart of white semigloss paint (for shelf and outside of cabinet) – Lowe’s
  • Assorted hooks – Lowe’s
  • 12V 4W LED spotlight (for oven light) – Amazon
  • 12V 30W LED power supply – Amazon
  • Gas range knobs – Amazon
  • Rocker switch – Amazon
  • 3 – 12V LED dimmers – Amazon
  • Kreg 1 1/4” fine pocket screws – Amazon
  • 12” continuous hinge – Amazon
  • Bar sink – Amazon
  • 4 qt stainless steel bowl – Amazon
  • 16 1/2” x 12 3/4” baking rack – Amazon
  • 16” tension rod – Amazon
  • 2 – Orange LED light bars – Super Bright LEDs
  • 2 – 1/8″ x 15.875″ x 15.875″ smoked tinted plexiglass (12% transmittance) – eBay. This guy sells lots of sizes. Just browse to find a matching auction. Make sure to request one be cut to 15” x 15.875” and the other to 12” x 14”.
    12 5/8” bar pull (for oven door) – MyKnobs.com
  • Wood glue – Lowe’s
  • 5 minute epoxy – Lowe’s
  • Wood filler – Lowe’s

Tools

  • Drill with 1/4”, 3/4”, 1”, 1 3/4” drill bits and a countersink bit
  • Saw (I used a handheld circular saw)
  • Jigsaw
  • Router with 1/4” straight bit, 1/2” straight bit, and 3/8” corner round bit
  • Electric sander
  • Soldering iron (or electrical tape)
  • Saw horses
  • Kreg mini pocket screw jig kit – Amazon
  • Clamps for jig
  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Printer (to print templates)
  • Razor blade
  • Carpenter’s square

The Burners

The first thing I built was the top burners. I cut one LED bar in half to use one half for each burner. The LED bar has special cut lines marked where you are able to cut. You can also cut exactly in the middle where you see a soldered spot. The LED bars come with wire leads on each end so you can light them up independently. Be really careful and use a sharp pair of scissors. If you get too close to one of the LEDs on either side, you might break it.

I made a spiral template in Inkscape and printed it out. (Here’s the SVG.) I then cut a 16” length of the 1 1/8” x 1” board. I marked a spot 5” from each end of the board, directly in the middle where each spiral burner will be centered. I poked holes along the pattern and placed it centered on the first spot. I pushed a pencil in the template holes to transfer the pattern. Then I removed the template, connected the dots, and repeated for the other burner. Finally, I laid the LED bar along to pattern and marked the spot where it ended.

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I drilled a 1/4” hole in the very center of each spiral. Then I put a 1/4” straight bit in a fixed base router. (Actually a slightly larger bit would’ve worked better since the LED bar is a bit wider than 1/4” but that’s what I had.) I adjusted the router depth to about 2/3” and followed the spiral from the center carving a channel in the wood. The channel is what will be lit up by the LEDs. I went back along the channel to widen enough for the LED bar, then sanded and blew out dust.

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I threaded the LED bar’s wire leads through the center hole and pressed the LED bar into the channel, starting at the center. Be very careful! The LED connections are very fragile. (I actually broke one bar by being too rough, but Sara really liked the stickers that SuperBrightLEDs sends with each package.)

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Now if you were to just place the black plexiglass on top, it would still just look like a string of LEDs. The trick is to put in a layer of tissue paper to diffuse the light. I used gift bag tissue paper we had lying around.

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The Top

To make the top, I placed one whole furniture board up on saw horses. I marked where the vertical furniture boards would sit underneath. Then I marked the openings for the cooktop and sink.

In the left 16” bay, we’ll put the cook top. Trace a square 13 1/4” wide and 11 1/4” deep, 2” from the front of the board, centered in the 16” bay. At each corner, mark 1/2” in from both sides. Then I drilled a 1” whole at these marks leaving a hole that touches the edge at each corner.

Then I cut out the rest of the rectangle with a jigsaw. (This rectangle is saved for use by the bottom oven element.) I first made a rough cut by cutting from one hole to the next. Then I clamped a board along each line with room for the jigsaw and cut along it. This will give you nice sharp lines.

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I used the router with a 3/8” corner round bit to round the cut edge and give it a nice curve. While I was at it, I rounded the front of the board as well.

I flipped the board over, centered the smaller black plexiglass over the cut out and traced around it with a pencil. Then I removed the plexiglass and carved out the wood at a depth slightly less than the depth of the plexiglass with a 1/2” straight bit.

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Next I did the sink. I centered the bowl in the right bay, upside-down, 2” from the front and traced an outline with a pencil. Then I trace a line about 1/8-1/4” inside of the other line. This inner line is what I cut so the bowl can rest on its lip. Then I made two marks 4” apart, 2 1/4” from the back of the board and 6” from either side of the bay. I drill a 1” whole at each of these marks and another at some point inside sink line. Starting from the hole you I drilled inside the sink line, I used a jigsaw to cut along the entire inner sink line. Then I sanded smooth and tested the fit.

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The Bottom

I placed the other furniture board on the saw horses and marked off where the center board will go (16” from the end of the board). I centered this template (SVG here), and transferred with pencil just like the burners. I place the 2nd light bar on the pencil line starting at the center and marked the ends. I drilled a 1/4” at one end and used the 1/4” router bit to carve out a channel. This time, however, the channel was carved all the way through the wood. After I made sure the LEDs fit easily, I glued and screwed the rectangle from the cook top underneath the channel. I drilled a 1/4” hole at one end for the wire to pass through, and I clipped the wires off the other end of the LED bar since they aren’t needed.

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Front Knobs

The LED dimmers function as the knobs for the burners and the oven element. I used razor blade to cut off the white pointer on the top of the knob so the surface was flat. Then I glued the range knobs on top with epoxy. (My knobs had a metal ring with labels on top. I removed it. It also included a black spacer which I needed.)

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I cut a 16” length of the 1” x 3” board and drilled 3 – 3/4” holes at 4” intervals where the burner knobs. I also drilled a 3/4” hole at 1 1/2” from the left side for the oven switch. Unfortunately, the board was too thick for the space between the dimmer and the knob. So I used a 1/2” straight bit in my router to thin the back of the board where the dimmers would sit by about 1/4”.

Cutting and Assembling

I laid the top and bottom furniture boards on top of each other, used two scraps of the furniture board to offset the edge of the bottom, clamped together, and cut. That guaranteed they will be a good fit. Out of the remainders, I cut the 2 side boards, the center board, the over door and the board that fits underneath the burners. In this last board I drilled a 1 3/4” hole in the center for the overhead light. Finally, I cut a 1” x 3” board to fit the bottom front of the cabinet.

To make the oven door, I cut a 7 3/8” x 9 3/8” rectangle out of the door piece using the same rounded corner trick from the stove top. I did not round the edges with my router, but I did smooth the edges with a sander. I centered the 8” x 10” clear plexiglass on the back side of the door and traced with a pencil. I used my router with a straight bit to carve out the traced line so the plexiglass would be recessed.

I used the Kreg pocket screw jig to drill holes underneath the bottom and top boards to join the wood. Then I screwed everything together (except the door), using a carpenter’s square.

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After it was put together I used my router to carve a channel both sides of the oven for rack to slide in from the back. I didn’t go all the way to the front so the rack is not removable once the back is in place.

For the back panel, I wanted a curved top. I took a length of string from the center of the bottom to 34” on one side. Then keeping it at the same length, I used it to trace an arc from one side of the board to the other with a pencil. I cut along this line with a jigsaw and rounded it with my router. Since the plywood edges were rough, I filled them with wood filler and sanded smooth.

Next I made the shelf. I cut the 1/2” x 4” to an inch shorter than the back panel. I used the string again to trace a quarter circle on either side and cut with a jigsaw. I rounded the top outside edge with my router.

Now came painting. First I removed the bottom stove panel. Using painter’s tape, I painted the inside of the oven dark gray and the outside white. I painted the bottom stove panel and over door to match. I painted the shelf white. I painted the back panel green at the top, black behind the over and white behind the sink cabinet. I used two coats of paint on everything.

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Once the paint dried, I flipped the cabinet over. I wired lengths of wire to each dimmer and screwed in place with some drywall screws that happened to be the right size. I drilled holes in the four corners of each piece of plexiglass just wider than the width of the screws then screwed in place with clear silicone caulk. The larger black piece is just wide enough to fit on top of the oven element and leaves enough room in the front for the door hinge. Then I screwed the burner board in place.

Next, I put everything together except the panel underneath the stove top. To attach the back panel I used wood screws buried with a countersink bit. I drilled a small hole in the back of the top cabinet to pass wire though to the underside of the cabinet and wired everything together with wire nuts. The power supply screwed to the bottom of cabinet. The overhead light I bought wasn’t really meant to be wired up this way. I used a soldering iron to attach wires to the leads. I pressed the bulb into the hole I cut, wired it in, and screwed the panel in place.

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I installed the sink and screwed in a bunch of hooks under the shelf and on the side. I attached the oven door with a hinge, added the handle, and screwed in the magnetic catch.

As a finishing touch, Ellen sewed a curtain from some strawberry patterned fabric. I hung it with a tension rod in the space under the sink. And that’s that!

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