Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Closet Redo

My kids are ready for their own rooms, having just about out-grown sharing the nursery. Their closets need a little reworking though before I divide up their heap of toys and create "a place for everything" so "everything" can be "in its place." I took measurements of the baskets we use for toy storage. They are almost all 14" cubed and some of them 14 x 14 x 20". My initial plan was to build floor to ceiling 16" cubes to fit the baskets in in a column, but two problems. The kids can't reach the ceiling so they'd only use the bottom three shelves. Plus, materials are getting expensive. Just one side of nice pine, 16" x 8' x 1/2" is pushing $80 in some places. Then there's measuring, cutting assembling - the stuff I usually take pride in. After some shopping around, my pride took a back seat and I bought two of these.
It's the Sterilite 4-Shelf Cabinet and I got them for $90 at The Anderson's. It would have been cheaper to get them online from Target and have them shipped, but I only have so much vacation left before the new year starts and I needed them today, so premium paid, local economy stimulated, off you go.

Putting them together was quite literally a snap. All I needed was a pocket knife to separate a couple of pieces that came bound together with a thin plastic strap. The whole thing feels like it's made from #2 recyclable plastic but it's also fairly sturdy. We haven't fully loaded it with toys as yet but that will come soon enough. I was impressed with how easily it went together and how well designed it seems to be.

One modification was necessary, however. Despite me telling the younglings not to close themselves in to play Narnia, I know they will. So I used my pocket knife to drill two holes in non structural areas in the bottom and two in the top. That way, if they are in there, their body heat will circulate the air through the box and they should have enough to breath till they get bored.

The only real work the closet required was removing the half height bar that was in the way. I'll be relocating that to the other side of the closet with a couple of $3 brackets to provide some shirt hanging area. With this configuration, they'll have all the hanging space as before but also now have additional storage in a neat container. And when one has children as innundated by loving family with small toys of various description as I have... "neat" and "container" can not be underestimated by-words.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

New Windows Part II

I finally put the window bench into the box window today. The final coat of polyurethane went on yesterday and was dry by the time we got home from church this afternoon. I put together a mini collage like last time showing the stages of progress.

And here's the final product, as seen from the living room stairs.

We're really pleased with the final product. We also had my friend Patrick do the painting in the living room and halls. It took him about 55 hours and $600 in materials. We went with some Sherwin Williams high endurance paint, hopefully strong enough to hold up to the kids.

My oldest and I played a game of Meggido sitting on the new window seat to officially Christen it. It's a surprisingly warm and cozy spot on this cold, blustery, overcast November day.

Now, some of the structural details are really worth talking about. The original window used a 2 x 10 header constructed of three 2 x 10 boards spaced with 1/2" plywood, all glued and screwed together. I know because I tore apart the old header after it was removed for salvage. (I incidentally netted a nice hoard of materials post renovation, now waiting out the winter in the garage). The old header was supported by two 2 x 6 studs on either side. Pretty sturdy and appropriate for what was there.

The box window, however, cantilever's out from the wall, creating some extra weight and strain. The new header is three 2 x 12's supported by three 2 x 6 studs on either side. The exterior wall is also now sheathed in OSB plywood instead of the completely non-structural Celotex which was previously used. This provided a bit more strength.

The best part is the box construction itself. My Dad did the design work and used 3/4" OSB plywood as sheer panels, glued and screwed to the king studs, knee wall and header. This provides fantastic strength all around and once completely framed held the combined weight of both Jeff and Shawn, the carpenters who did the work. I even got up in it and jumped on it before the window was installed. ROCK solid. The front of our house is a LOT quieter in wind storms now. Inside the sheer box, regular stud furring was applide for an insulation space on the sides. A ladder was built to bring the height of the knee wall up to just under sitting height, and this was like wise well anchored to the king studs, through the sheer panel and to the knee wall. This space was filled with fiber glass batting. The roof of our home was extended down over the box window for a final finish.

Overall, it looks a little different than originally intended, but I really like the appearance. With the way the economy is going, putting our money into retirement accounts to loose value doesn't seem like such a great idea, so we're putting it into the house, hoping that yields a better return in the long run.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

New Windows

The house we own and live in was built in 1997 by a now (deservedly) defunct home building company that apparently specialized in doing things on the cheap. The fact that our house was on the market for 6 months prior to our purchase should have been some kind of indication I suppose, but I did the building inspection myself so I really have no one to blame but me. In my defense, however, the areas that were skimped on were pretty hard to spot. For example, it didn't become apparent to us till we started losing shingles every time there was a stiff breeze that the roof had been somewhat shoddily installed (they used siding nails instead of roofing nails - huge cost savings I'm sure.) The interior paint also looked fine till the first time we tried to wash a scuff off. Off came the paint with the light scrubbing with a damp rag - yep, water based builder's special.

But, the home has its good points. The electrical work was excellent in many respects. Everything was to code, well labeled, and neatly wired - a fact I greatly appreciated when it was my turn to wire a new room. One of the biggest problems, though, aside from the roof ($4400 to redo) was the windows. Aluminum clad wood windows with steel spacers and double panes. They looked very nice when we moved in, but 7 years on (making them 10 years old) it became apparent the windows were of poor quality. The seal on three of them went, leaving condensation between the panes. Cold air blows through them vigorously - when closed. And to top it off, the finishing carpenter was old school. Instead of polyurethane, he varnished them with that nice " flakes when perturbed " finish. Ah yes, and they were also begining to show signs of ROT! So, we decided this year to invest in replacement windows.

After talking to a couple of vendors and looking at many demonstration units, we settled on Vinyl. For a while, I really wanted to go fiber glass, but they are pretty expensive and hard to find in the Ohio market. Additionally, their benefits over vinyl are minor. I had wanted them for their ability to take paint and their supposed superior durability and insulative potential. With little available data, however, there seemed to be a weak case for pressing for them.

We chose an Ohio based manufacturer / installer, Thermalguard. Part of the decision was based on the product and part on the cost. The product is really nice. We chose triple pained and quadruple e-glazed almond colored double hungs. The price was good enough that we even opted to expand a couple of windows while we were at it. The cheap-o builder here had used the same size everywhere (except the front of the house) and had gone a bit lean on letting in some exterior light. Presently, all but 6 windows are installed and the dining room went from one to two (giving an much improve view of our trees.) A progressive montage appears below. This operation took an entire day as there was a bit of exploration and thinking needed to avoid a surprise load bearing pivot point in the wall.

After carefully extracting the window, the crew took pains to remove the exterior siding, remove the old header, fabricate and install a new one, relocate an electrical outlet and prep the interior for finishing trim. As yet, the inside is incomplete because one of the other major selling points was the above and beyond modification they were willing to do for our front window.

The front did consist of three double hung units, 6 ft tall, creating a nice picture window. Part of a future renovation plan we have been working on for a couple years with my Dad includes a box bay window in place of these three.

Replacing this window will be a 6ft wide, 7 ft tall box bay which will protrude 16" and tie in with our existing roof. The construction is elaborate by Ohio standards and the window company retained the services of an able framer and his assistant to tackle the job. They worked 4 of 5 days last week (shortened due to weather) and have the thing entirely roughed in. Next week, weather allowing, they will shingle it and side it, complete some exterior framing, and install the window. Hopefully by Friday they'll get to drywalling the inside. Inside, there will be a 6' - 5 1/2" x 19" window seat. I'm presently gluing up three 7', 1/2" thick Red Oak planks to comprise the seat. This will make for a durable, solid feeling bench with an amazing view of our weeping cherry and front yard.

Next time I post, I hope to have the full installation of the box bay unit chronicaled in montage format as well as share some of the more ingenious structural detail my Dad put into it.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Basement Trim Finished

Skirting, as my friend Jake calls it (no doubt the proper English), has been completed in the basement. The birch veneer didn't work out as well as I had hoped it would. Seems trying to make a lining for the inside of a box that is in no way really true, plumb or square is much harder than if you were working around the outside of said box. So, instead, I opted to stain and polyurethane (heavily) the 1/4" ply that was already making the structure of the box. That had been the original plan anyway.

Here are some beauty shots.

This is the overall finished product of the most detailed section. This wall started as a 2x6 stud wall around the walk out basement corner. I built the inside wall flush, being 1" off the concrete wall that is further down left (no longer visible). This allowed me to take advantage of the offset in the two walls thicknesses to build this bench seat, built in shelf space and under bench storage. It took me a long time to settle on the color for the storage and oak bench and shelf. It's a bit warmer than pictured. The little round patch in the middle of the shelf is the mat from an earlier project last year.

Also, in the above picture, you'll note a diamond cell blind. This was reclaimed from one that my kids nearly destroyed. The original had a broken draw string and was 2 1/2" too wide for the window box. Using a long box cutting blade, with the blind compressed in a C clamp, I cut the paper portion to size (having loosened and slid aside the aluminum ends.) Then I took a metal cutting blade in my skill saw to it to bring the aluminum rails within size. After rethreading the replaced draw string with a piece of 14 gauge copper wire as a make-do fish tape, reassembling and replacing the plastic end caps, it's a perfect 36" fit inside the window box. Total cost: $1.40 for the replacement draw string.

This is a close up of some detail I ran into. The baseboards were about 1/4" higher when installed than the bottom inside panel of the storage area. I had planned 3/4" corner molding to go all the way around the opening. Where the baseboard interferes, I had to use a razor to cut out a strip the width of the bottom corner molding. Then I ripped the corner piece on the table saw to make it a flat insert that only went inside the box and not along the edge where the baseboard is. The sides of each corner molding are beveled at 45 degrees to produce mitered corners. Where the side pieces join the bottom ripped piece, pictured here, the needed a modification. The inner edge is beveled at 45, but the outer edge has a butt joint to meet flush with the top of the baseboard. All told, there are 5 individual final cuts which probably took 6 or 7 actual fitting cuts to get just right. The final result looks pretty clean.

So, with these final details in place, I can begin moving my office. Just as soon as I clean up from construction (started tonight after fixing and hanging the blind) and get some other items cleared out of the way - like some bookshelf kits that have been waiting for oh... 4 years to be assembled.

Friday, June 13, 2008

More Reuse - Cedar Rails as Posts

The basement is still coming along. I'll have some more to share on that in the coming weeks as I'm getting ready to apply some veneer to the interior of my built-in cabinets. Lately though I've been doing a little work around the house ,with the help of my good friend Patrick Lynn, and have one up coming project to build a fence around my vegetable garden to keep the rabbits, deer and raccoons out.

The property we bought has a cedar rail fence on it that has been slowly degrading over the years. I'm not really attached to the fence, so I haven't been replacing the posts as they rot. But, I have been keeping the rails as I've thought I might make a trellis or other landscapy thing with them. Some of the rails, I decided, are going to become posts for my extra high garden fence.
Here you can see I'm applying some basement water seal to the bottom 2 ft of the rails which will be stuck in some holes in the ground. Cedar is pretty weather resistant, but this will be in direct contact with the ground and from what I've seen of the fence, that only lasts so long.

Once the rails become posts, I'll paint the uppers as well with a good oil based exterior stain to keep water from wicking in through the top and pooling inside the wood behind the sealant. If I can find some discarded aluminum siding I'll make some top caps to keep water from sitting on the top end, which may compromise the stain over time.

For the fencing itself, I'm looking at a number of options, from buying new wire to collecting discarded queen size matress spring frames and painting them for rust resistance. It would be cool to do the later as I can probably get the materials for free (except the paint) and it would be less scrap in ye old land fill. I'm not uber eco, just conservation minded and that seems like a good use for mattresses I know are getting thrown out every day. The trick will be finding someone who has many to dispose of. There's always the junk yard....

Saturday, May 3, 2008


Spent the better part of the day working on trim in the basement. I got the cellar door trimmed out, and this really complicated bit here.

This little run of trim took most of the afternoon. A support column is built out where the trim jogs. I made some 39.5 degree angles for that part. Complicating the matter, the floor is uneven under the carpet here (poured pad for the column), so I had a lot of 2 degree adjustments on the pieces that make up the wrap around jog.

The girls are on spring break from home school, so they were running amok and watching Adventures in Odyssey while my wife encouraged me as I worked in the basement. Not bad for a Saturday afternoon.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Compound Miter Saw Cuts Time

Several weekends back I became the proud, and happy, owner of a Task Force compound miter saw with laser guide with 10" blade for the affordable cost of $78. I had planned to do the trim in the basement with the manual miter saw my dad inherited from a long dead business partner, but I needed this saw for an upcoming paver cutting field day, so I dropped the money on it now to use it for the tender trim boards before I give it a real thrashing cutting bricks.

And, as requested by friends, coworkers and family, here are a couple of shots of the trim boards actually nailed and puttied in place. First we have some base board detail...

I'm using a dark brown putty pencil to fill the nail holes and cover the seams where needed. In some extreme cases (poor workmanship) I've taken some of the top coat polyurethane on a rag and rubbed it into the areas that needed some more color. So far I've only had to do that once on the door to the right in this image of the Shop door. You can't see where - the point really - but only because the affected are is so small.

The above somewhat shows the color scheme - though it's a bit over exposed. Camera phones are only just so good... and not much better. But the red theme is carried over to the window sash and sliding door as well. Each will be trimmed with the same deep reddish brown stained wood.

I took a sample to work to show a friend where it was pronounced gorgeous. I am really pleased with the color choices I made with my wife's help. When it's all done... probably a year from now... it will be a really nice office and library.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Basement Update

I had hoped that with winter firmly in place, I would have plenty of time to work on the basement. Unfortunately, what I really need right now is a day warm enough to open the windows for some cross ventilation while I finish painting the doors, door jambs and stain the inside of my built-in cabinets. Absent moderate temperatures, things are largely idle. But, we did get the carpet installed back in November and it looks terrific with the base boards and edging paint I chose.

Here you can see the high gloss interior latex, "Cherrywood", I chose for the stair case as the wood wasn't pretty enough for traditional stain. It's a good match for the stain process I've been showing.

And here's one of those stained base boards, just set in place for now.I'll need to get the painting done as that is a task dependency for the door trim, which in turn is a task dependencie for these base boards before they can be nailed in place. I can at least imagine what it will look like when complete. :-)

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Reuse Old Stickies

I was talking on the phone today while fidgeting with a used up sticky note. Staring at my keyboard during this stimulating conversation (it had to do with project accounting... that always makes for riveting discussion), I noticed the layer of dust on the sides of my keys. Between the rows, between the keys, along the edges... my keyboard was filthy!

So, like any 4 year old could probably point out, sticky things (like say food dropped on the floor) attract fuzz. I think it was the events of the weekend which saw me use the better portion of a bottle of fabric cleaner on the carpet to remove previously fuzzed food that made me realize what a perfect dust attractor the sticky side of a post-it (oop - sticky) makes.

So, here's my reuse tip for sticky notes that are headed for the bin. Put some dust on them first and do a little cleaning in the process.

One used up sticky had enough stickiness to clean most of my keyboard. A hastily scribbled note provided the raw materials for the remainder of the needed cleaning. :-)