Monday, April 7, 2014

0 Removing Glass Block / Using OUTSIDE Windows INSIDE

With another show season come & gone (the three months I'm working like crazy on ShowSpan shows), I spent my first two days off overly excited to get back to housework, buying materials for several different projects.

The first was the removal of the glass block from the master bedroom and the installation of updated windows. Becky and I went to Lowe's to replace some curtains that the dog had destroyed in a fit of panic (I mean, she REALLY had to poop), and decided to look at some windows, just to see what was available. Because they're interior, we didn't need anything crazy, just something somewhat sound-proof that could be opened to allow heat from the radiant system downstairs to filter up. We had talked about getting something antique, but with kids, and the windows being as low to the ground as they are, that's just asking for them to shatter at some point.

Here's a photo from when we first moved in, of the other side that I'd removed randomly before we even put the floor in:

We had talked about just adding trim and leaving the block, but it's pretty outdated block. Now, why wouldn't we just wall it in? Two reasons - one, like I mentioned before, there's only heat on the main floor, so as many openings in these as possible, the better, so that the heat can travel up through the atrium and into the rooms (we usually use a fan in the doorway to move the heat in or the cold out). Two, there are no exterior windows in either room, so the glass allows sunlight to filter through and not make you feel like you're in a dungeon.

We found a 48"x48" window with a flange for $150, and I'd spent so much time thinking and searching and trying to get an idea of what to do with these openings, that we just bought them rather than wasting any more time. And with that plan in place, we went right home and got to work removing the other block.

Removing block can be tricky, especially when you're trying to preserve them for some other application. I'd like to be able to use them in the studio, or in a potting shed, or some other project down the road. I managed to remove the other side without breaking a single block, and only ended up breaking one on this removal, so I think that's pretty good.

I started in the corner - the hardest part is the first block on each row. I took a hammer and chisel and just started chipping away at the sides of the mortar on the first block. After a while, it started to loosen. On the other window, I had the rubber mallet from the flooring nailer that I used to rock the block back and forth to get it out. I did not have that this time, and instead used my shoe as a buffer and hit the block with the hammer. I got lucky and didn't break one with this method, but I'm impatient and didn't want to take the time to go get one.

Sorry I didn't make the bed, and sorry that my finger seems to be in all these shots. I'm apparently new at this.

After the first block is removed, the rest of the row is pretty easy. I chipped out the center mortar piece, where four blocks meet, to allow the next block to move both side to side and back and forth, and the first row was done. Becky pointed out that the mortar was hard enough to possibly scratch the floor, and our favorite canvas dropcloth was on the garage floor, soaked from the melting snow infiltrating the garage, so we grabbed sheets and a comforter to act as a dropcloth.

On the third row, I tried to crack the mortar from the top by tapping it with the hammer, so that I'd have a starting point for the chisel, and in doing so, I heard a crack and a hiss and I knew I'd broken one.  I don't recommend this unless you're ready to clean up a lot of chipped glass. They break into shards, and makes it difficult to work around to remove blocks around it.

We traded off chipping away and watching our 8-mo old son, and soon enough we were down to the last two rows. I was tired of being careful and just ready for it to be done, so I braced myself against our bed and kicked the last two rows out.  None of those blocks broke, so it was successful in letting out frustration, as well as not being terribly destructive. I think doing it sooner would have broken a few just as a result of the height they'd fall from.

There's a fingerless shot of the completed removal. It was pretty weird to stand in the master bedroom and be able to see almost the whole upstairs, since the other side had the same opening.

So that was all on Friday, April 4 - on Sunday, I had my father-in-law, Paul, over to problem solve and figure out how to get the frames prepped and the windows in. Since I hadn't actually brought them upstairs to fit them in and see, I was assuming the worst. It was in fact the complete opposite. We put the window in, and the holes in the flange was perfectly lined to the wood frame. I had to add a 48"x4.5" piece to the top of each opening, since there were only three sides that had been framed, but that was easy enough, since I had some 3/4" plywood laying around, I just ripped a couple of pieces on the table saw and brad nailed them into place.

When we took all the drywall out of the kitchen, I kept all those screws, being the packrat that I am, so I grabbed that bucket to finally reuse them as I'd intended.  Once they were centered, Paul held them in place while I put the screws in.

They couldn't have been more perfect. I hadn't planned on trimming them out right away, but since the install went so quickly, I figured I might as well. Because they are square, I knew I had to have eight identical pieces of trim, and had recently learned about making and using a stop block for the miter saw when needing to make identical cuts. Once we got the math figured out (the inside of the 45 degree miter needed to be 49", so we had to figure out the outside measurement to use the stop block properly), we made all our cuts.  We placed the first piece above the window, centered it, and nailed it into place with a single nail through the center - this allowed us to pull it out if we screwed it up, as well as allowing the piece to shift up or down if needed. We put in the two sides the same way, and the bottom piece fit perfectly. We finished nailing the pieces in, did the other window, and before long we were done.

The casing is the same as the doorways, and it's just primed, so it'll need to be painted after we fill in a few gaps with some caulk.

The next trick will be to fill all the gaps on the other side and casing that in as well. We also need to decide on how to frost them, or whether we just add roman shades, but for now, it's great to no longer have the glass block!

Monday, November 11, 2013

0 Swapping the Expedit & Mounting a TV for NES

Ever since we bought the first 5x5 IKEA Expedit, I've wanted to either paint it or get a black/brown version of the same shelving unit.  So when a friend of ours was looking for one, and Becky found a black/brown one for them, I jumped at the chance to swap ours.  Lindsey & Clyde were more than happy to swap, since they would rather have the blonde color anyway.  Now, swapping isn't as simple as it sounds.  A fully assembled Expedit is heavy and awkward (5x5 really means 6ft x 6ft), and we essentially moved one four times in one night.  I first had to take apart the shelving I'd added to the side and unbolt it from the wall.  Then Clyde and I loaded it into our trailer, strapped it down and took it to their house and loaded it into their living room.  Then we went to the seller's house and moved it out of her studio and into the trailer again, and brought it back to the house and unloaded it into our house.  Was it worth all the effort?  Absolutely.

Now that it was in place, I had to stain and poly the shelves I'd built for the components, so I spent a couple days doing that, which included me kicking over what little stain I had left, so I barely completed the job, and had a mess on the garage floor to clean up.  Mineral spirits worked well to dilute it before it soaked into the concrete too much, but there's still a light discoloration on our garage floor.  Better that than somewhere indoors!

I recently acquired a pristine original Nintendo Entertainment System.  It came with all three Super Mario Brothers games.  Now, we have a Wii (that we hardly ever play), with SMB3, but it's just not the same - so I was very excited to get the NES set up.  To top it off, my cousin Tony gave me all of his old games and Nintendo systems, so I added a ton of NES cartridges, plus Super Nintendo, N64 and GameCube to the roster, along with already having Sega Genesis and Dreamcast, and Playstation 1 & 2.  The idea was to get an old school arcade going in this room.  Before I built the shelves to the right of the Expedit, I had at least the NES set up briefly, but with the change in that room, there just wasn't a good way to do it.

So this weekend I got creative.

I have some hinges from the entertainment center project, so I thought about how I could utilize those to create a drop-down screen.  My first thought was to have it swing down from above the turntable, but as I thought more about it, I didn't really want it shoved over in the corner.  Then I thought about having it slide out from behind the speaker, or next to the turntable, but that would require purchasing some drawer slides, and I was determined to complete this task without spending any money on it.  Then I thought, why not just mount it in the middle of the Expedit, and use the hinges just to be able to store things behind the screen?

I pulled out the bag of leftover IKEA hardware and started scheming.  The screws that connect kitchen cabinets together were the perfect machine screw size for the back of the TV, so I didn't have to go buy mounting screws, and I had some leftover rackmount rails from some road cases I had. I used those to create the back mount that would attach to the hinges.

 I used a hacksaw to cut them down to the right height and then screwed them into the back of the TV. I then measured where the hinges would go on the shelving unit. The Expedit is just pressboard, so since I was undermounting the hinges, I didn't want to use wood screws for fear they wouldn't hold the weight of the TV (even though it's a small TV), so I pulled out 4 more kitchen cabinet screws, which are essentially a machine screw with a sleeve instead of a nut, so I drilled a hole the size of the sleeve and threaded the hinges on. I then used some bolts/wingnuts I had to secure the rails to the hinges.

 The result is pretty awesome. Especially for not spending any money on it and still not having it look cobbled together. All the hardware is hidden behind the screen, and the screen lifts up so we can store things behind it. Best of all? I can now add all the video game systems.  But that's for another time!

Monday, October 28, 2013

0 Refinishing an Antique Table

Back in May, we purchased this awesome antique dining table from around 1920 for just $125.

For the past 5 months, it sat in our garage, waiting for its turn.  The top was scratched, the chairs were all worn down, and the seat cushions were a mess, but at $125, it was well worth the work to get it restored.  By July, I'd managed to sand the top, without the leaves.

And again, it sat.  Other things took precedence. Then, while I was working on the stairs this month, Becky had the urge to sand the chairs.  Because they were so worn, it was much easier getting down to the bare wood, which is great since there were 6 chairs and much more detail to hammer through.

Finally, with everything sanded and ready to go, Becky picked out a stain she though would match and got to work staining and polyurethaning it all.  Then she refinished the seats of the chairs with some designer fabric and a staple gun.  The result is incredible.

We put a couple of the leaves in just to see how it matched, and the color is nearly exact, but our version looks way better - the contrast of the grain is more prominent, which makes the table top look spectacular.  I don't look forward to sanding the leaves, but once we do, this will be the most grown-up looking thing we own, and it was only $125!

In other news, our old table is now for sale!  Make us an offer so we can get it out and put something else in its place!

Friday, October 25, 2013

0 Stair Rails 4: THE CHUNKENING

In the last post, I just had the top railings done and the bottom posts wrapped.

There has been much progress since then.  I measured the length of the staircase from post to post, divided it by 13 (the amount of spaces between each baluster) to determine the center point for each dowel screw.  I then measured across each post to determine the center coming down the stairs.  The tricky part of all the measuring is that because the stair nosing hangs over, you have to make your measurements and then subtract how much the overhang is, which is not always consistent.  Each stair is not exactly the same height or depth, so it's important to not assume that you can just use the same measurements on every stair - just like you should never assume walls are square.  After measuring, I drilled my pilot holes and cranked the dowel screws in with a pair of vise grips.

As I learned on the upper railing, I have to put the railing in FIRST, then mark the balusters.  So I did just that for the lower railings. I took a protractor and level and checked the angle of stringer, which would give me the angle that the railing would have to be. I cut the top angle to 38 degrees, brought it back inside, set it up on the top post, making sure my railing was at least 36" off the stairs, as is code. I matched the angle flush with the top post and marked the railing where it would meet the lower post and made my cut. I drilled two pocket holes and put in one 1-1/2" Kreg pocket hole screw at the top and used a fine thread drywall screw on the bottom to secure it to the posts so I could mark my balusters. 

Then I put each 38" baluster up to the center of the dowel screw

And then put the level to the side, pushed it up against the rail, and when I we level vertically, marked the baluster angle with a pencil.

The railings have a valley that the baluster sits in, so when I went to cut it on the miter saw (at 38 degrees, to match the railing angle), I had to add 3/8" so that it would be long enough to sit in the valley. Once all the balusters were cut, I put them in the garage for Becky to stain. Once the stain was dry, I took the railing off and we turned the balusters onto each dowel screw. We used a pair of needle nose vise grips to make sure the screw was turning into the baluster and not just further into the floor, until it got close to the floor, and then turned the rest of the way in. I then reattached the railing, secured the balusters to the railing with 1-1/4" brad nails through the top, and all was great. Then I moved onto the other side. As I was cutting the balusters, my stupid hipster glasses didn't do a good enough job of keeping the scraps out of my eyes, so I ended up with a tiny piece of oak under my left eyelid. Becky called the after-hours nurse a the hospital, and they recommended I see someone in the next four hours. We called grandma to watch little Ollie, and tried to get to an Urgent Care, but they were closed. Off the the ER we went. The doctor there was nice enough, and sort of knew what to look for, but was not helpful - he claimed there was nothing there, and that the pain I was experiencing was simply a scratched cornea. We went home to sleep it off. The next day I was in an equal amount of pain, despite having eye drops for pain and an antibiotic, so I called my Optometrist to try to get an appointment. After calling a few times, there was finally a cancellation, so I got in at 4pm that day. While I was waiting to go, Becky did a great job filling in, marking and cutting the remaining balusters so she could get them stained and installed. 

 Once I got in, the Optometrist found a tiny spec of oak under my eyelid that had been scraping the front of my eye every time I blinked. Removing it was the greatest relief. I felt like I got my life back - almost 24 hours of not being able to open my eye for more than 30 seconds at a time, and suddenly I was pain-free. It was amazing. Returning home, I jumped right back into working.  

I wasn't quite sure how to attach this 90 degree turn I'd created, so I decided to just go straight in with a couple fine thread drywall screws.  I drilled two pilot holes, and then drilled a very shallow hole the size of the screw head so it could sink in and we could cover it with wood putty, obviously offsetting the screw holes so the screws wouldn't run into each other. I applied wood glue between the pieces and screwed it together. It worked perfectly. Then I turned to adding the other railing. Again, perfect.

Then all I had to do was determine what to top the things with, and finish the wrapping.  Because the bottom of the lowest posts didn't meet the front of the stair or the stair nosing, I decided to add another chunk to the bottom. I took some 1"x2" whitewood and cut a couple spacers to make sure my 1/2" plywood made it out to the edge of the stair nosing and glued/nailed those to create a frame for the plywood to secure to. While that was drying, I cut my toppers. I went with a 1" thick poplar board, and cut a 6.5" piece and a 4.5" piece, so that the topper would overhang by an inch on all sides, and then the other piece would match the width of the wrapped post.

Once applied, I decided that the 1/2" ply that I used for the middle part of the post would no longer cut it.  I got out the dremel (since they're secured below the layer of plywood above them) and cut them all out.  I took that same poplar board and cut 4 mitered pieces to wrap around the second level of the base. 

I did the same for the bottom portion - only just on three sides, since the stair creates the fourth.  I also had to cut the top post shorter, so again, Dremel tool to the rescue.

With all posts topped, the middles replaced, and the bottom posts with a new chunk, we were finally finished with the big stuff.

Now I just have to add all the spacers in the valleys between the balusters, and Becky has to finish filling in all the gaps and sanding, and we'll be set to stain or paint - that part we haven't decided yet.  It's a tough call. Because we used two different kinds of wood, and a decent amount of filler, I'm not sure the stain would look that great, but we can at least try it and see.  If it doesn't work, we can always paint over it!

Total Project Cost: $832.60, plus all the labor that went into it.  That just includes the rails, balusters, 1/2" plywood, and 1" poplar board.  Add a little bit with wood glue, wood filler, stain, pocket hole screws and brad nails. Still well under $1,000.

Next time:  The finished dining room table!

Monday, October 21, 2013

0 Angle Anger

It's always a disappointing moment when you go to assemble pieces you spent hours measuring and cutting, only to realize they're all wrong, and you just made it way more complicated than it needed to be.  Such was the case yesterday with the upper section of stairs, and my first attempt at baluster angles.

I didn't take a whole lot of photos, on account of my anger and frustration, but let's just say the end result is excellent.

I started the day with a concept, thinking I had to work on this project baluster-by-baluster, installing them as I went. So I used the top step as a baseline, 38 degrees as my protractor setting, and a level to make sure my marks were right.  About 4 hours later I had them all installed and ready to top with a railing.  Except that when I went to put it on, it was all wrong.

Now, had this been a regular railing, I would have come to the conclusion sooner that temporarily installing the rail first, and then marking the balusters, was the way to go.  But because I had to create a straight piece with a 90 degree turn to hit the next post, I sort of felt like I had a chicken-or-egg thing going on. The good thing about this process is that it allowed me to discover that my last baluster was 38" tall, exactly the size I'd ordered, so it didn't need to be cut down, and provided a stable bottom point for me to use to re-cut the balusters.  The other good thing is that each stair has a tall and short baluster, so in the end, I only wasted 4 balusters, since the tall ones could be cut down to replace the short ones.

I had also purchased some of this same railing with a bigger valley to use as test pieces, so I was able to make a prototype of this rail before assembling the actual version.  I used a protractor and level to the angle underneath the stairs to determine the angle I'd cut the railing and all the balusters.  I cut the top of the railing at 38 degrees, and then to create the level piece at the bottom I cut those two pieces at 19 degrees each (half of 38).  Then the turn was easy, just cutting both pieces at 45 degrees each.  I attached the top rail to the post using two 1-1/2" pocket hole screws, and the bottom piece by drilling two pilot holes and attaching using two wood screws.

When it came to aligning the railing and the balusters the second time, I really thought it was screwed up again, which I thought could not be possible.  Luckily, it was just a matter of lining the balusters all up so that they were level and it popped right into place.

I was also able to cut one of the rails for the bottom section of stairs, so that I could cut those balusters tonight, and send to the stain shop (Becky) for a coat or two.

I also realized as I got the bottom posts completed, that cutting the stair nosing and flooring for that bottom step was going to be a pain - how was I going to leave an inch on the front of the stair nose to go around the front of the posts?

I decided to add one more chunk on the bottom of the posts, just on the two outsides, so that I could just cut the flooring straight across and not worry about wrapping it.  That'll be coming this week as well.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

0 Chair Tactics

We're finally hitting our stride in this having a baby thing.  The first two months of being a new parent are tough, cause you really have no clue what to expect - so all the projects went on hold.  Now we're figuring out how to trade off our time to spend on different projects.  I'm focused on the stairs, and Becky's been focused on getting the last pieces of furniture in the garage refinished so we can have that space back for the winter.

The first of those being the dining room table. Back in May, we found this amazing solid wood table for only $125 at a local greenhouse.  I worked a little on sanding the top, but hadn't touched the 6 chairs quite yet.  The set takes up quite a bit of room in the garage, so Becky got to work this past weekend on sanding and staining all the chairs.

The varnish is actually not too bad on the chairs - they're pretty worn in for the most part.  But the dust is pretty wicked, so a mask is definitely required.  We're not sure of the type of wood, but it's got a nice rich tone to it, which makes the stain have a little red tone to it.

Always with refinishing solid woods, we like to do one light coat and see how it looks.  Generally, letting the wood grain come through, making it look a little worn, is preferred.

While I hung out with my brother-in-law watching the Tigers blow game two of their playoffs series against the Red Sox, Becky was able to get the rest of the chairs sanded, and then last night was able to get two more of them stained.  As always, Bella was helpful.  

Once they're all stained, we'll go through with a brush and some polyurethane to seal them up, then we'll stain the table.  THEN there are 4 leaves to do as well.  If the stain matches decently we might just leave those alone, since they're in good shape, but chances are they'll need to be done to match the stain.

We also had a dresser out in the garage that I'd primed but then never did anything with.  It was supposed to be part of the master closet reno, but since that's so far in the future, Becky took it for the closet in the spare room.  She wandered around Lowe's trying to find the perfect turquoise to match the squash-y yellow in there, and I think she made a great decision.

The original plan was to do Chevron on the sides, so I helped draw out the angles.  Ultimately, the process was too involved, and really didn't matter since it would be in a closet and you wouldn't see the sides anyway.  After drawing these out, she realized she could probably make a stencil and use that.  We saw one made from cardboard, but I have to assume that would be really difficult to use, and you'd probably have to do a lot of touch up, since the paint would certainly get on the underside of that or bleed through and you'd end up with splotches.  Anyone else have great ideas on easy ways to do Chevron?  HANSEL IS SO HOT RIGHT NOW.

So anyway, yeah, the turquoise was perfect.  She finished it off with spray painting the handles with a glossy silver (a nice change from the dull brass), and we got it upstairs and in place.

Some of the handles are a little bent, but overall it's pretty great!

Monday, October 14, 2013

0 Home Repair presents Stair Rails: The Continuing

It's October, so all these post titles are going to be like bad horror film sequels.

I've been given a deadline of next Saturday to get the stair rails done.  I'm pretty confident that if the materials come in, I can get it done.  I got the original pieces from West Michigan Wholesale Mouldings, who you should go to if you're in the West Michigan area and need baseboards, trimwork or any of that.  It's like 1/3 the cost of big box stores.  Anyway, enough with the plugs, he only had a couple of railings, and only enough balusters to do the upstairs hallway and the landing, so the rest had to be ordered.  Now, once you do that, you're paying catalog prices.  He keeps everything so cheap because what he has is leftover from jobsites, overstocks, things like that.  That being said, it's still cheaper than if I custom ordered it myself.  And big box stores don't even apply here, since they don't have the square railings and balusters I want anyway.

Onto the progress - I had thought about doing some measuring on Saturday, but instead I got the itch to fix something that had been bothering me.  Our upstairs sink stopper wasn't going all the way down, so I couldn't shave up there. Very annoying. Now, keep in mind, it's never worked with the little pull rod - when we bought the house, the pull rod was not attached to anything, so we've just reached under to pop it back up.  I decided that was enough, so I started taking it apart.  Big mistake.

I'll save you the gory details, and certainly didn't photograph it, but just imagine the amount of garbage in the trap and pop up when it's never been cleaned out.  It smelled like a trip to the water treatment plant.  I went to Ace to get a new pop up assembly, got it back, hooked it all up, and it was leaking.  But I couldn't figure out where.  Then I discovered that the two pieces that were welded together must not have been welded very well.  It was leaking out of a place that was supposed to be sealed at the factory.  So I had to take the whole thing apart again, and tried to take it back.  Except they close at 5 on Saturdays. So, hours later, I still didn't get to shave.  Who needs a drink?

SUNDAY.  I didn't want to start with plumbing, so I jumped right into the stairs again.

I wanted to get the railing along the landing done in one day, like I did the upstairs railing.  Having done that one, I was confident I could finish.  I decided that the posts on the landing would not have the full base like the upstairs post does.  The posts at the bottom of the stairs certainly will, but because these are just on the landing, I didn't want to take up 3 extra inches on each side just for a transition post.  Because the post was below a wall, I had to cut off 2" off the top of the post in order to get it over the dowel screw to twist it on.

The other side, I had a lot of decisions to make.  Because there is this stupid gap between the two stairways, it makes the railing awkward.  I was going to do two posts, then maybe one post in the middle and attach the handrails to the sides, then settled on one post matching the first set of stairs, and somehow turning the second set handrail to meet this post.  It seemed like the most logical (and symmetrical) way to do it - this way the posts on the landing were evenly spaced.

Just as I had on the upstairs railing, I snapped a chalk line, with the balusters 3" apart, drilled pilot holes, screwed the balusters on (this time, though, Becky stained them BEFORE we attached them - much easier), and then added the handrail.  I then cut 3" spacers out of 3/8" plywood to hold the balusters in place on the handrails.  I put two long screws in the underside of the handrail to attach it to the wall, then added a spacer between each baluster using wood glue and brad nails.

On the upstairs railing, I added 2" brad nails through the top of the handrail into each baluster, for some extra support.

Here's what it looked like at the end of the day.  Still have to wrap those downstairs posts in 1/2" plywood, and then when the rest of the materials come in, I can start on the actual stair hand rails.

Next up, what Becky's doing with our new old dining room table & chairs:


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