Sep 132008

We’ve been spending time on and off over the last several years trying to transform our front room into something nice. It’s an awkward little space with traffic flow problems, lack of natural light, odd architectural relationships, etc. Over the last several weeks we’ve really been trying hard to nail down some decisions, and we’ve done pretty well. We’ve chosen some furniture: the chair and ottamans are visible in the picture, the new couch has been ordered, and wall color is final (the patch closest to the leather chair – 50% tint of Miller Devine Filbert). Color selection has been particularly painful due to the lack of natural light, the very red floors, and our limited choices for couch fabric and area rug colors. After several iterations, it’s been finalized and we’re just waiting for things to arrive. In the meantime, we have some work still to do. But today I installed some can lights (got them from for a great price). The can lights rank up there along with the 180 degree bi-fold door hardware for highest bang-for-our-buck. Now that it’s evening, I can see they are definitely going to need a dimmer! Installation wasn’t bad, about 5 hours total, including prep and cleanup. Total cost… under $100.

Jul 152008

Corey Barnes has been hard at work for the last couple weeks painting the exterior of the house. He saved the rear deck area for last, and it was pretty complex with all the columns and the railings. This gave me time to build the final 16 foot tall column wrap, which really helps complete the space. Once painted, I was able to cut and install my cap rails, which really help break up all the white, and ties the railing in with the deck. I had to include a picture of the front porch as it is still one of my favorites spots of the house, it has a lot of the key design elements all in one place: the cedar ceiling, the wrapped column, the window trim and the window muntins, the lights, the door with dentil rail, the raised deck… etc. Enjoy the pics.

Apr 212008

[Photo Gallery]To finish off the traditional trim-work in the house, we wanted to dress up the windows with more than the builder standard drywall wrap. Our design includes a horned stool, apron, side casings, and header that stands just a little proud of the sides.

PARR Lumber delivered all my Radiata Pine (Windsor 1) casing stock and MDF trim in 16 foot lengths, so rather than let it sit on the garage floor to be kicked around and dinged, we cut it up into rough lengths and packaged all the pieces for each window together. Now I can just unwrap one window’s worth of material at a time and get to work.

The casings are pocket screwed together and then shimmed and nailed in place. The trim boards follow to finish off the unit. The largest window is 8’x6′ – but the jam-extension box seemed much larger as I was maneuvering it through my house! The stool was 101.5 inches long! Over that long of a span my 1974 ranch’s less than planar walls became all to evident. Some cosmetic wall surgery and creative scribing was required to get a nice snug fit of all the trim pieces.

I have a total of 7 interior casings to complete, and completed the 3 public-space windows this weekend. 4 to go…

Feb 242008

Aaron and his crew from Homes New and Old completed the rear deck framing about a year ago, and I finished the decking a few months after that. I hired Aaron back to install the cedar ceiling, the only things left were the column wraps and the railing. With spring fast approaching, we were eager to get the deck in usable shape so we didn’t miss out on another summer of outdoor entertaining. I called my Dad and he was willing to join me for a solid four day weekend of work, while Mary Lou and Devon flew off to Nevada to visit her family. Before Dad arrived, I spent several hours preparing detailed drawings and step-by-step instructions for preparing the material and assembling the wraps and railing. The railing system consists of both wrapped and unwrapped posts, the wraps cover all the pressure-treated (PT) 6×6 posts, and the 4×4 posts serve as intermediate posts ensure a rigid railing. The design for the columns borrow several elements from the early 1900’s Craftsman homes of Portland [Column Gallery] The railing itself is a more traditional style, mostly following the construction described by Scott Schuttner in Building a Deck. A few pictures are featured in the text below, but there are many more that capture some of the details in the [Columns and Railing Gallery]. [More…]

The first project was the column wraps. They’re constructed of of 5/4 finger-jointed pre-primed cedar to match nicely with the siding of a similar material and the tight-knot cedar decking and ceiling. The box is constructed of 4 identical sides, glued, biscuited, and screwed together. Once the screws are installed, the clamps can be removed. This allowed us to assemble 3 sides of all the wraps in the garage on the assembly table, which is much less awkward than working with them vertically over the finished deck. The taller wraps had to be relieved in order for the bolts on the brackets to clear. The 2×4 crown is self-aligning via the biscuit slots at the top of the taller wraps. A simple chamfer on the corners adds a nice simple detail (be sure to chamfer the sides before you start assembly, or you’ll be risking hitting the screw heads with your router bit).

The next step was to install intermediate railing posts (the existing ones were also supporting the deck structure and the roof, and continued down to the footings). We had to install 2 6x6s, 4 4x4s, and 2 half-4x4s that we recessed into the siding against the house in order to add some real rigidity to the railing. We carefully located the columns according to the plans and the existing structure (which happened to be mostly in agreement with each other – not always the case). Once we located the positions, we carefully marked them on the deck and carefully removed the decking with jigsaw, making the final adjustments to the opening with a chisel and a file. We scribed each opening to the particular post to be used at that location. We found that scoring the outside of the pencil line on the cross grain helped reduce tear-out with the jigsaw. Before the final installation, we applied a coat of stain to the newly cut wood to help prevent decay. Marking the deck level on the posts, we used a bar clamp to hold the post at the right height while we adjusted the post and beam in order to get the post plum. In a couple cases this involved chiseling a relief into the bowed 4×12 pressure treated rim beams (tedious, awkward, and time consuming). Once satisfied with the final fit, we bored two holes about 7 inches apart with a counter bore for the bolt heads in the rim beams. We used 1/2″ hex bolts for the 4x4s and 3/4″ hex bolts for the 6x6s. Once cranked down, those posts were every bit as sturdy as the existing massive 6×6 continuous posts.

One the posts were all installed, it was time to install the column wraps. This was a bit daunting, but it actually went pretty smoothly. We cut 3/16″ shims from scrap cedar, and used a finish nailer to quickly tack them to the posts at specific locations so we could be sure to drive the nails through the shims. With the shims in place, we maneuvered each 3-sided wrap into place, and drove in 3 8d hot-dipped-galvanized (HDG) finish nails into two sides, leaving the wrap a little flexible in order to facilitate installing the 4th side. Vernon showed up on the fourth day, just in time to help with the rather complicated glue-up of the 4th sides. With 12 biscuits and about 16 screws a piece, working with the taller wraps was much easier with a third person. Pulling the joints tight with the parallel clamps, we secured them with screws and moved on to the next wrap. Lastly, we installed the 4th side of the crown, and then glued up the bases. The bases were a bit tricky, as they were 10 3/4″ tall, and fit with biscuited miter joints. If you don’t plane your material yourself, you are likely to run into some difficulty with the miters – as we did. Some of the 5/4 stock had cupped slightly, causing the miters not to line up exactly. With some judicious use of clamps and screws, we were able to pull them in for a pretty snug fit. If I were to do this again, I would definitely plane the stock to be used for the mitered pieces first. To ease assembly, we glued up pairs of boards, and then assembled the two halves after the glue had dried. We tacked them together with a finish nailer while the glue dried, and secured them to the wraps with 4 8d HDG finish nails on the 2 sides where the railings would attach, the other two sides “floated”.

With the columns wrapped and the bases installed, we could move on to installing the primary rails. We (and by we I mean Vernon) very carefully measured each section (near the base) and cut the 2×4 rails to length. We cut 3 7/8″ spacers to position the lower rail, and a balustrade length spacer to place the upper rail flush with the tops of the intermediate posts (some the intermediate posts were a tad too long, I later trimmed them flush with a flush-cutting saw and a block plane). The rails were attached to the posts with #8 3″ coated ACQ rated exterior screws: 2 in the top from the top, 3 in the bottom, 1 from the top (to be covered with the balustrade) and two in the sides (to be bunged). Ideally you would install the bottom rail from below, but with an inboard railing, there just wasn’t space to get the drills under the rail. Scott Schuttner recommends a 1/2″ dado in your posts to receive the lower rails, but in our case, most of the lower rails terminated at the bases of the wrapped posts, making a dado impossible. If you can’t use a dado, Scott recommend using more fasteners, so we used 3 instead of two. This was as far as we got before Dad and Vernon had to return to their day jobs.

Still, I was eager to get the balustrades up, and so was Mary Lou. She watched Devon while I plugged away at the balustrades, and she pitched to cut balusters and prime end-cuts while he napped. Scott’s balustrade system is great. Using the spacers we made to separate the upper and lower columns, I created a jig on the assembly table to properly space the secondary rails to receive the balusters. The one gotcha here, is that not all 1-by cedar is created equal, and none of it is a full 3/4″. It’s a good idea to cut each set of balusters specific to the gap left after installing your upper and lower secondary rails in the jig. In my case I had to rip a custom extra thick upper secondary rail to compensate for a couple sticks of extra thin 1-by stock. To locate the balusters, I mark the center line, and then use 3 7/8″ spacers and scrap baluster material to determine if I should center a gap or a baluster on the rails – I used whichever yielded the largest gap under 3 7/8″ on each end. I used 3 7/8″ (and not 4″) to allow for any expansion/contraction in the material and be absolutely sure the balustrades would pass code. Starting with the center-most balusters, I drove a #8 3″ coated exterior screw into each end, and then used the spacer blocks to locate the remaining balusters. With the screws in, I then checked for any twists, straightening them as needed, and drove a 6d HDG finish nail in each end of each baluster to prevent any future twisting. To my initial surprise, not a single rail or baluster split as a drove in the fasteners without pre-drilling. To install the balustrades, I created a simple spacer to center them on the primary rails, then pre-drilled the ends of the secondary rails to ensure against splitting, and countersunk all the lower screw location to allow for bungs to hide the fasteners. I placed a #8 2″ coated exterior screw in every other opening. Again, ideally the lower secondary rail would have been fastened from below, but there wasn’t room for the tools.

That’s it for Part 1, in Part 2 I’ll cover the finishing details: the bunging, the clear cedar cap rail, the base cap and minor crown, the short column caps, and the final prep for paint.

Feb 052008

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[Photo Gallery] Despite some extra help from dvh3 and an 8-32 screw, I managed to finish applying the poly to the drawer fronts. The last of the hardware arrived today. We spent the last couple of nights attaching the drawer fronts and installing the last bits of hardware. It’s finally done! It’s been over a year since we started tearing the old bathroom out to carve out the laundry closet, but it’s been worth it. Both the laundry room and the bathroom have exceeded my initial expectations. There are of course a couple things I would do differently, as is the case with every project, but we are very happy with the results.

Feb 032008

After toying with various basic kitchen layouts in my 2D CAD tool (QCAD), I decided I really needed something kitchen specific, that had 3D renderings. I found a simple winderz program called Kitchendraw 5.0, and am running that in a KVM image. It comes with 30 hours of free use, and is pay-as-you-go after that. This is a pretty good model for me, since I’ll not likely to create more than just a handful of kitches, at around four hours a piece.

Key Changes in this design:

  • Eliminated bump out into garage (reduces width by 2 feet)
  • Range moved from corner to garage wall
  • Changed pantry cabinets to bases and uppers with a counter (right of fridge)

I’ve included a couple renderings of the latest kitchen design, one with cherry and one with painted cabinets (the island is white in both). A couple of points left for discussion include:

  • Range placement along the garage wall (all the way to the right, or right in the middle)
  • Counter space or full pantry to the right of the refrigerator
  • Corner cabinet configuration

Feel free to leave a comment and let us know what you think.

Jan 272008

We finally picked up two of the final bits of hardware for the master bathroom remodel: the towel rods and the paper holder. I also finally finished the four doors of the cabinetry and have moved on to finishing the drawer fronts. More cabinet pics. The weather turned wet and very cold, so I could no longer do the finishing in the garage – which turned out alright as the garage isn’t well suited for finishing anyway (it’s very dusty). Mary Lou has been very tolerant of me turning the master bedroom into my finishing booth – so long as I get the last coat of the day done early enough that she doesn’t have to inhale solvents all night long :-) I definitely learned a lesson in the experience – let SprayKote do the finishing. They’re equipped for it and they do great work – it just takes me too long to get an hour here and hour there so I can apply each of the six total coats required, not to mention the 5 sandings and various buffings in between! So the drawer fronts are finish sanded, cleaned, and have one side and the edges stained. I hope to be able to install the drawer faces by the end of next weekend – marking the completion of the master bath! More bath pics Wish me luck.

Nov 262007

It took only a few hours, but it was spread out over nearly two weeks – but the cabinet face frames and drawers are finally “finished”. The drawers got two coats of a thin shellac (marketed as a sanding sealer) and the face frames got one coat of the Java gel stain, two coats of the shellac (this time used as a sanding sealer), and three coats of oil based polyurethane. I sanded or scoured lightly between each coat, and wiped it down with a tack cloth, and the extra care paid off, the finish is very smooth, and there is no dust or grit anywhere. The java stain was tricky as it dried quite quickly, I didn’t remove it quite fast enough on my first attempt – so I had to go back and wipe some off with a rag dampened with mineral spirits. The shellac dried extremely quickly (sandable in only 45 minutes) so I had to work quickly with that. The poly though was a dream to work with. I had plenty of working time, and it went on smooth and quickly leveled itself out – nice product. Thanks to the guys at my local Rockler for the tips, as well as Bob Flexner, author of Understanding Wood Finishing. More pics when the doors and drawer fronts are ready…

Sep 242007

I picked up 34 board feet of cabinet grade alder from Emerson Hardwood and got started on the bathroom cabinetry (the vanity and linen cabinets).

Step 1: Plane the material to a uniform thickness. My neighbor was kind enough to lend me his planer – again. We put brand new blades in it and it did a fine job taking everything down to 3/4″. Rough lumber can be tricky to rip to width for a couple reasons. First, it doesn’t have a straight edge to start with, and most of us don’t have jointers with 8 foot beds. Second, the full width boards still have some pretty powerful internal stresses that like to come out as you’re ripping them into narrower pieces. To address the first issue, I simply ran each board through the tablesaw with its concave side sistered up to an 8 foot long straight piece of cedar I had lying around, with a little stop at the leading edge to help make sure they pushed through together. For the second issue… well… there isn’t a lot you can do except rip things a little wide and hope you can take out any new twists with the planer.

Once ripped to a 1/16″ oversize, I ran all my stock on edge through the thickness planer a couple times. This removed all the saw marks (which I think are inevitable on rough lumber) and made all the like pieces exactly the same width. I then took a moment to make sure my miter saw was setup at an exact 90 degrees, and started the process of cutting the pieces for the face frame to length, starting with the longest ones, and finishing up with the short ones.

I decided to follow the advice I have heard so often and assemble the face frames with pocket screws and no glue. I figure worst case I can add the glue later. Having planed everything myself, made using pocket screws a lot easier than trying to use pre-planed lumber (which isn’t always all the same thickness). The vice grips held the pieces tight, and it went together pretty quickly. The end result was square and nearly perfectly flush on all joints. Unfortunately, I didn’t account for quite enough waste, and will have to rip 6 more feet of 2″ stock for the face frame of the linen cabinet. The vanity face frame however, is done!

Sep 152007

Scientific America featured an article a few years back titled “The Burden of Choice”. It discussed the pros and cons (mostly cons) of the many choices we have available to us on everything from socks to what to order at dinner to houses and how those choices affect different personality types, specifically the satisfizers and the maximizers (I fall squarely into the latter category if there was any doubt). After reading said article, I have made numerous changes in my life to reduce the amount of stress I experience due to the numerous decisions I have to make. I now try and reserve my obsessive compulsion to research the bloody-hell out of every purchase to things that I truly care about: power tools (not dish brushes), cameras (not printer paper), and yes, toilets! Let’s face it, after 3 years of plunging that hateful late 90’s 1.6 GPF POFS (if you don’t know, you probably don’t want to) I was determined to get a toilet that did its job without needing me to hold its nasty little hand through the tough parts. Amazingly, good quality toilets range in price from about $200 to an obscene $1200 – and I’m sure you _could_ spend more if you really wanted to. The interesting bit: I haven’t found anything functional that warrants the higher price tags on the spendier models – it appears to be designer line markup. Following the sage advice of my local George Morlan we picked up a simple bare-bones regular height (for the many children queued up to use it) elongated bowl (for the one male child queued up to use it) Toto toilet. It took me much longer than planned to install due to my rather … sub-optimal … existing closet ring, but I got it done (and done right). It’s survived its first day, here’s to wishing my $5 plunger (a non-critical purchase) a pleasant behind-the-utility-sink-dust-covered retirement.