Airlight Telephone Booth Cabinet

For those under 25, please ask your parents to translate this.

My son has just completed his second year of architecture school. That means lots of models piling up. We needed a big display cabinet in the basement that would fit in with the retro-americana theme of the basement.

AT&T's Airlight KS-14611 telephone booth, now an American icon, tells us so much about who we were and where we are headed. For me, it reminds me of Superman, Maxwell Smart, road trips and calling Mom to pick me up because my bike had a flat tire. It seems strange that the isolation provided by the phone booth really harkens back to a time when people communicated more in person.

The design was created using SketchUp. Once I figure it out, I'll try to get a copy in the SketchUp warehouse.

It is basic frame and panel construction made of 3/4" poplar. I am still without a table saw, so I used a hybrid approach.

For the tenons on the rails, a table saw would have made quicker work. The 54 mortise and tenon joints were made with a router jig.

The offset shoulder of each rail was made with a Stanley 358 miter box with the depth gauge.

The rabbets for all the stiles and rails were made with the Stanley 55 plane. The dual fences on this plane helped to provide machine-like accuracy.

Rabbets with the Stanley 55. Lots of shavings, little dust.

One of a few projects where assembly wasn't happening in my tiny workshop.

The bottom rail just barely fit in my Stanley 358 to cut the offset shoulder.

I was thinking of gluing and nailing the corners when my wife said, "How are you going to get that out the door to paint it?". That was when I got some 1/4" knockdown furniture bolts to hold the panels together.  The shelves are 3/4" plywood cut with a circular saw. The top shelf was revised with 1/2" plexiglass added to allow light to pass.

Rabbets to hold the panels and plexiglass.

Zinsser 123 Primer undercoat. I tried 4 different metallic paints. First, I used Rustoleum 7715 oil based paint from a can with an HVLP sprayer. More gray than metallic. I also tried Rustoleum and Design Masters silver metallic spray paints. The color was nowhere near the cap color. I called the Krylon rep and she told me to use Krylon Foil Metallic Silver (available at Michaels and Hobby Lobby), and it looked just like metal. Unfortunately, the paint is not so durable even after curing for 10 days. So, I top coated at the expense of losing some of the metallic lustre.

Duro brand 4" vinyl letters were sprayed on front side of letters with Easy-Tack removable adhesive, then applied to the plexiglass, and sprayed with red paint. The letters were then removed and the plexiglass was spray painted with white paint.

I found some 1/2" thick plexiglass panels (my mom had gotten cutoffs 25 years ago from a factory for her plexiglass sculptures) for the top shelf to allow light to pass through. The paper adhesive was stuck despite using Goo-gone, soap and water, and WD-40. A power washer got off the paper, but not the adhesive. I gave up on the clear look and took an orbital sander starting at 220 grit finishing with 1000 to give it a frosted appearance. I like it better than the clear. A 3/4" plywood panel rests between the two plexiglass panels.

The 1/4" thick 24" wide window panels were obtained used from a thrift store. The plexiglass total cost for me was under $50. The new price could have been 5-10 times that price.  I used a circular saw to cut the plexiglass but first tried messing around with a plexiglass blade for a jigsaw as well as the Rotozip. A circular saw or table saw gives cleaner and straighter cuts.

The light is an LED ceiling fixture.

The bottom red panels were made with 1/4" MDF. I fiddled with a bifold door, but I couldn't seem to locate hardware made for 3/4" thick cabinets.

An AT&T Airlight Telephone Booth
(Photo courtesy N9LXI, Wikipedia)


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