By Mike McClintock, Special to Tribune Newspapers
May 17, 2010
Before dry cleaning and plastic bags, there were cedar closets. Surrounded by the insect-repelling properties of aromatic red cedar, woolens emerged from summer storage without holes or the pungent odor of moth balls.
Planks vs. pressed sheets
Traditional installations replaced plaster or drywall over studs with 3/4-inch-thick, tongue-and-groove planks. Today, because that lumber is wildly expensive, aromatic cedar comes two ways: as 1/4-inch-thick, tongue-and-groove planks and sheets of pressed cedar particles.
The sheets speed installation. With careful measuring and a sharp circular saw, even novice DIYers can handle the project. Cut panels for the closet surfaces, glue or nail in place and cover the few seams with trim. Panels are the easiest and least expensive option. Planks are more work.
One of the largest suppliers, Giles & Kendall (cedarsafeclosets.com), says you can install their cedar planks in a standard 180-square-foot closet for about $360, or their panels for about $150. Cedar planks come 3 3/4-by-1/4-inch in random lengths. Panels come in 4-by-8 sheets.
First, unpack the cedar and let it acclimate in the work area for at least 24 hours — making the room smell great for a day. Then, install it horizontally with nails into studs or vertically using glue. You can make tight joints or leave 1/4 inch at corners for an easy fit and conceal the gaps with trim. After cutting and nailing, you are finished. Sealing the cedar would defeat its purpose, and the only maintenance is a light sanding every few years to renew the aroma.
I used Giles & Kendall planks on a drywalled closet, inputting dimensions on the company's online planner to compile an order with the right coverage. I prepped the closet by marking studs for nailing and striking a level line on the back and side walls for the first course. That leaves any discrepancy at the floor so the courses of planks run level.
Some boards were mostly clear and pale, while others had dark knots and almost purple streaks of grain. I saved those for the most visible areas, as the planks and trim are so great looking it's a shame to hide them. So, on the floor I laid out a pattern to stagger the joints and mix and match colors. Planning the puzzle makes the installation go smoothly — and you don't build yourself into a corner with boards of the wrong length and color.
Cutting: The material is thin enough to use a trim saw squared up in a miter box. With a circular saw, use a carbide-tipped blade and set the depth of cut so the blade tips just pass through the wood. Make sure the saw shoe is clean so it won't mar the wood.
Nailing: Place the grooved edge down, beginning in a bottom corner. Over drywall, use 1 1/2-inch panel nails to reach through the wood face into studs and 1-inch nails directly over framing. On planks this thin, you can't blind nail into the groove. That means the nail heads will show — pairs of them in rows every 16 inches over the studs. The planks look better nail-free, so I cheated — nailing only the planks that would be hidden by clothes or shelves and gluing the ones that showed.
Gluing: With this option, the company recommends subfloor adhesive, which won't be weakened by natural cedar oil in the planks.
Installing: I worked one course at a time, the back wall first, then butt joints on planks for the side walls. It was helpful to keep cut pieces on the side sorted by length, and use the best match to complete rows, minimizing waste. The ceiling came last — after a break, as even basic carpentry is tougher when you are working over your head in a tight space.