Thursday, November 5, 2015

Another Day, Another Deck

For the past couple of years, Becky has been really pushing to get a hot tub, but we really have so many other projects, we just kept putting it off. Until we realized that you're never done fixing or renovating or improving - there will always be something. So I set out to get a hot tub in the cheapest way we could without a major headache.

My father-in-law has been fighting with his hot tube for the better part of a year (or more, maybe), with it just not able to regulate the heat. It overheats and then shuts down. He's replaced the board, the heating element, all that stuff and to no long-lasting outcome. Fed up with it, my mother-in-law wanted to gift it to us, which was nice, but honestly if my father-in-law can't fix it, there's no way I'd be up for the challenge. So we politely declined, and set out to find our own.

The first step was to inquire about a concrete pad and electrical. We don't currently have a 220 outlet outside the house, and the deck isn't built to withstand that amount of weight. The electrical came in at $600 and the concrete (8'x8') at $1,400. So that's already $2,000 without the actual hot tub. Staggering.

Looking for alternatives, I read about how to do your own pad, but I don't really want my intro to concrete pouring to be something so substantial, and about click together pads, not really much cheaper, and then I came across this video from a hot tube dealer in Canada, who built an ultra-sturdy wooden standalone deck that sits right on the ground. Pricing it out, it was about $150 in materials - that's where I was sold.

The design was simple enough, and could feasibly be slapped together in an evening. With the encroaching winter, daylight is scarce in Michigan, so I had to work mostly by artificial outdoor light, not the best environment, but I made it work.

The first step was making all my cuts and laying it all out. This is built with all pressure treated 8' 2x4's. Knowing that my outside frame would have to be 8' (since the top deck boards would be 8'), I had to subtract for all the inner pieces. It is also built on a double 2x4 design, so it had to be assembled from the inside out.

For assembly, I used 2-1/2" outdoor screws. Starting with the four inside pieces (two long joists and two short spacers), then the two other joist sections (two long joists and three spacers each), then I screwed those three pieces together, added the end caps and then wrapped the whole thing in another border of 8' 2x4's.

With the frame completed, I had to make sure that my ground was level. The biggest enemy in doing this instead of concrete is twisting - if your deck twists, and the hot tub doesn't sit level, it can create stress cracks in the fiberglass. Between the double construction of this frame and the deck boards that will tie it all together, with fairly level ground this thing should be solid.

I took a scrap 2x4 and ran it along the ground, using the existing deck as a guide. I dug out all the high spots, moving that dirt to the lower areas and tamping it all down. Eventually, I had it so that it was flat, and I threw my frame in place. (Apologies for the Adirondack shadow)

Since the construction of this required the 2x4 border to lap over one another, I added a third 2x4 to the end to cap it so that when you walk out the back door you don't see the end of a 2x4. Just an aesthetic decision and totally not necessary.

From here, I just started throwing the deck boards on, using those same outdoor screws, and two heavy coated sinker nails as spacers for each row. With these being only 8' long, I didn't have as big an issue with the boards not being straight, and got them on in about an hour. I was, however, one board short, just as the last time I built a deck.

I love deck building. Such an immediately gratifying experience. Now to get the hot tub down and the power hooked up!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Pumpkin Spice Entry Door

A couple of great things have happened at our house. After struggling to do anything with two kids and jobs and bands and all that, we finally worked hard at finding  new entry door. Those keeping score will know that we've already replaced the front door once before, but as cool as it looked, it was too narrow, and not thick enough, so we've battled two years of ladybug swarms and snow drifts coming in through the front door.

Let's look back to 2012 when we bought the house:

And 2013 when we replaced the door with a cooler looking but ultimately crappier door:

 Finally, Becky was fed up enough and found this door on Craigslist for $50.

Painted white on one side and the original wood on the other, it seemed perfect. Till we realized it was a right hand inswing instead of left hand, and I'd have to not only get the door to fit, but switch the hinges and handles on the door frame as well.

Becky got to work painting the door a beautiful orange (that we stole from some This Old House article, as well as subconsciously from our friends Adam & Jess' new door.) and I got to reading about how to switch a door frame. Surprisingly, there is very little material on the subject, probably because it sucks to do and you shouldn't ever do it. In hindsight, it wasn't terrible, but if anyone looks closely, they're going to realize what a hack job I did on the hinges.

A couple of days of thin coats and the door was starting to really look sharp. Becky filled in the old handle spot with some wood filler and did about 5 thin coats of the paint to get a nice finish with minimal brush stroke and no drips. When finished, it was time to take the old hinges off.

If you own an old house, please don't paint over the hinges. Or if you must, please at least avoid the screws. I don't have a sharp screwdriver so I used a knife to dig the paint out of the slots, but our good friend Jeremiah (always critiquing and giving us useful tips) reminded us that a sharp screwdriver and a hammer can be your best friend in this situation. A Facebook post rendered many other useful solutions, like using a Dremel to create a Philips from a slotted screw, heat gun and a knife, and if you're saving the hinges, you can put them in a crock pot of water to get the old paint off. Lucas also reminds us you can always burn the door and be left with a pile of hinges - THANKS LUCAS!

Now onto the switching of the door frame. I spent a lot of time trial-and-erroring on this one, because of many factors. One, the door is thicker than the old one, so cutting out mortises to match the old ones and setting the hinges at the same depth would not work - had to reset them a little further out to get the door to close properly. Two, we discovered that the door was a little warped, so it touched the frame on three sides, but the bottom right corner would not catch, requiring me to modify the latch side of the frame with my Dremel Multimax, cutting the jamb on a bit of an angle so that the top right corner could go in a little further, allowing the bottom right to close to the weather stripping.

These frustrations and others caused me to not take a lot of photos, so I'll summarize a little bit. Below is the one photo I did take - it shows where I took a piece of scrap to fill in where the old strike plates were so we could attach a hinge in that place.

I then had to determine how much I had to trim the door. I had to get 1/8" off the latch side and another 1/2" or so off the bottom. Whoever installed the door before me really freehanded the bottom of the door, so I made sure to do it properly. As learned from Jeremiah, I marked my cut lines, then measured 1-1/2" in from those marks and clamped on my metal straightedge. The inch and a half is the distance from the edge of the plate to the blade on my circular saw, so I can use the straightedge as a guide all the way down.

Once I got the door cut down and attached, I put in the deadbolt, which was easy because it lined up perfectly with the old deadbolt, and the new handle, which had to have the hole modified. The old hole was only 1" wide, and offset, so I had to drill a 2 1/8" hole for the new door handle. Using a hole saw and cordless drill on an existing hole doesn't really work as is, so I had to take a piece of scrap wood, attach it to the door with clamps, mark my center and drill through the door. I had to stop halfway to clear out the piece of wood in the hole saw, but in the end it worked perfectly.

To drill the new holes for the strike plates, I put a little mustard on the deadbolt and handle latch and closed the door with both of the retracted. Releasing the handle and setting the deadbolt left a mustard impression on the frame which I could then mark with pencil to drill my holes.

After two days of fighting, and half the tools I own, it was finally in and done.

The full length glass is great for the light in that room and for the kids to see out of. The handle and deadbolt are also much better than the janky one we had on the old door. It also looks GREAT from the inside with our old cafe lights. Too bad the iPhone can't capture the lines in the lights, but you get the idea. (I really need to use my Nikon more often.)

I know I said this last time, but we really do need to get tempered glass in those side lights, get rid of the peep window, and get rid of the intercom to nowhere.

What's next?

Monday, June 29, 2015

DIY Outdoor Sink for the Garden

When searching for a faucet and sink for the Master Bath renovation, I found the perfect faucet on a boring sink, and a great sink with a boring faucet. Pitsch Salvage doesn't let you split the items or swap things, so I had to buy both. After some serious work, I was able to swap the faucets, threw away the bad one (destroyed by corrosion and my attempts to remove it), and ended up with an extra sink.

Becky had suggested we use it for a bird bath, or maybe an outdoor wash station for the garden. I thought long and hard about how I could pull off the sink idea. Her birthday was last week, so it was the perfect time to complete the project.

I started with the base. I had a bunch of leftover treated 2x6 pieces from the deck project, and thought they'd work perfectly as a cube base.  I started by using my Kreg Jig to attach two boards together with pocket hole screws. 

Then I attached one side, then the other side, with pocket hole screws again.

For the bottom, I just used outdoor screws faced in. It's probably not as strong a hold as the pocket holes, but easier, and with how many screws are holding this thing together, it'll be fine.

The days following were so busy, I wasn't able to complete the project before Becky's birthday, and the day after I had to scramble to complete it so I didn't feel so bad about missing out. As a result, photos were not taken, unfortunately, but I'll walk you through it anyway - it was super easy.

The thing I was having trouble with the most was what the top would look like. Originally, I just thought the sink would sit on top of the two cubes, but I just couldn't come up with a solution of how the sink would actually stay put, since it was bigger than the actual base. Then it clicked. I had grabbed a pallet from one of the Home & Garden Shows that had no space between the slats, and was going to use it as some sort of wall hanging, but this was the perfect scenario for it. I also had a leftover treated 4x4 post that I could sink in the ground as an anchor, and decided to pick up some paver stones for the base to sit on. 

I measured the bowl of the sink, drew a rough sketch on the pallet, drilled a pilot hole and then took my jigsaw around the rough drawing. A few drop-the-sink-in-and-cut-some-more and I had it.

Next I put the pavers down (just regular concrete pavers from the big box, $1.68 apiece or something like that), put the cube base down, put the pallet on top and measured where the post should go.  I dug the post hole, putting it all back together to see how level I was each time, and finally got it to the right depth. I filled the hole around the post back in with dirt - I saw no reason to sink it with cement. 

Because it's not a treated pallet, I used a spray polyurethane on the top, just a couple of coats. I figure if we see serious wear I'll step up and do something a little more heavy duty.

I dropped the sink in, caulked around it, and added the faucet, which was our old kitchen faucet, semi-ruined by calcium deposits before our softener was installed, but still operational for this application.

For the hose hookup, because the spigot is on the house, about 20 feet away and across the yard, every time we have to mow we have to wind the hose back up, being careful not to break the spray nozzle end. I thought instead it would be nice to use a quick release attached to a hose already on the base. So I bought a quick release attachment (so there's no screwing the thing on every time), a coiled hose with a rack, a 3-way connector (to split the feed to both the hose and the faucet), and some adapters to hook the faucet up with.

The only criticism is that the coil hose is sort of annoying when going around the garden, since it can catch on the plants, so I might scrap that and get just a regular hose. But other than that, it works great and Becky loves it!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Children Under the Stairs - Creating a Playroom Pt. 2

The playroom has been a huge success in creating a comfortable and organized place on our main floor for all the toys, but it hadn't yet met the demand for storage. Some of that is our inability (lack of time) to separate all the toys for what needs to be downstairs and what should be in storage for now.

To alleviate some of that pressure, and because I still have quite a bit of flooring left, I created some extra shelving.

Some time ago, I purchased a small cube storage unit with fabric boxes from Y.E.S.S. Thrift (probably my favorite and most frequented second hand/estate sale overflow shop in GR) for just $18. With no clear purpose at the time, my hoarding was once again justified in this application.

I'll warn you right now, this is a largely text-based post, since I was trying really hard to get this done and didn't take the time to snap a lot of shots.

In the playroom, on one side, there is a border of 1x2's around the ceiling just on two sides, so I had to add that same thing on the third side. I also had to add a 1x2 along where the joist is so the shelf had something to grab to when I screwed it in. You can see both of those in the pic below.

Since the shelves I'd be making out of flooring planks didn't have to hold a lot of weight, I just cut scraps and spaced them to the width of a plank, and secured them to the side of the cube storage. The top two were 5" and the bottom one was 6". Since most of the vehicles I was looking to store on these shelves are only 5" tall, I was able to get three shelves within the space.

I then did the same thing on the other side, using a flooring plank situated vertically, and with the same size scraps spaced exactly the same way. They're secured with caulk (what I had laying around) and 1-1/8" brad nails.

When put all in place, the shelf planks just slid right into the gaps. I then secured them from the sides with brad nails. The bottom shelf I actually made the full length of the wall and nailed it to the bottom of the cube unit.

Strangely enough, I purchased the fabric boxes with the cube storage separate from Becky purchasing the big fabric storage cubes - so it's completely coincidental that they match.  I thought at first that the cubes in the unit would be too small to really hold a lot, but when you're talking about little animals, wood blocks, small cars, etc. they actually worked out perfectly.

We're not quite done, but if I stopped now, it's already pretty sweet, so I feel pretty great about it. Next I'll be wrapping more flooring around where the light switch is, and maybe adding more shelving to the other side.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Turning a Vintage Sideboard into a Sink Base

People are always asking if we're done with the house yet, to which I reply "are you ever really done?" But in all honesty, although most of the big stuff - kitchen, flooring upstairs, kids rooms - is done, there are still huge things we have put off and are either ignoring or just dealing with.

What happens with those big things is we get so fed up with talking about them, or imagining things to do with them, that we finally just pull the trigger on one of the million things we were hoping to do within that one project and everything falls in to place from there.

One of those things is our master bath, and one of those things-within-a-thing is using a sideboard, buffet or dresser as a sink base.

The pulling of the trigger started with a sink search. I wanted a vintage sink, so I started with Pitsch Salvage, as most of my searches do. I found the perfect sink and faucet, but unfortunately they were separated, and Pitsch doesn't allow you to swap things. The black faucet is awesome, but the sink it was attached to had enamel chipping, so I found an equally cool wall-mount sink with integrated backsplash.  I picked up both for just $50.

Once I got them home, and went to swap the hardware, I found them a lot more difficult to work with than I'd hoped. The black faucet came off without much of a fight, but the silver faucet took some serious ingenuity and tool swapping to find the right combination. Ultimately, I had to cut the top flanges with my Dremil Multimax.

Next was finding the sink base. My staple location for furniture pieces is Y.E.S.S. Thrift, an estate sale resale shop - it just takes time to wait for the right estate pieces to come in. And one day it showed up on their Facebook page:

The perfect width. Almost the perfect depth (just an inch shy of the sink). Great coloring to where we don't even need to really refinish it. Solid wood. And best of all? $145. I rushed over to pick it up.

Once home, I set out to cut the hole in the top for the sink to rest in. I know it's a wall mount sink, but the water lines and drain in our bathroom go into the floor, not into the wall, so the combination of this sink and the base are perfect. It just sits right on top of the cabinet.

I made some measurements, drew it right onto the top, drilled holes in all the corners for the jigsaw and got to cutting.

With the top drawer removed, I tried the fit.

It was perfect. I removed the sink again to start finishing the top. Because this is nice wood, I went with a spar varnish - an oil based heavy duty sealant that will be perfect for protecting the wood base. The first coat went on smooth and shiny.

Three more coats and we'll be in great shape. I look forward to tearing out the rest of the bathroom and getting this thing in place. Stay tuned for more!

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