Thursday, July 21, 2016

Bring Back the Band Garage

Since before we moved in, I've referred to the single stall garage as the "Band Garage". A more accurate title for that space would have been "The Dumping Ground", since very little music has been played in that room. It's more been a harbor for all the random stuff I've accumulated.


With the selling of my beloved Scout II, I opened up half of the main garage that also hasn't been available since we moved in. At Rebecca's suggestion, I decided to move the workshop I'd spent 4 years creating out of the band garage and into that now open stall. So I took down the old kitchen cabinets, laundry room cabinet, hallway shelving, crates, etc. all off the walls and started to lay out the new garage space.


Old medical office cabinet, laundry room cabinet, and my dad's old record crates became a place for all the stuff for our cars. More space than stuff for once!


Our old front door that the glass broke out of became the end cap for some shelving and the 2x6's from the band garage created a header up above (I knew I'd miss having a spot up high for clamps, and it created an overhead spot for really long lumber/trim).


Rough 2x6's from my guitar player and a piece of plywood became the workbench. IKEA vertical drawers from our friend Chris hold rags and other small light items.


And finally, the old entertainment center cabinets became a rolling cabinet with a laminate wood flooring top.

I also took a huge load of stuff to the Habitat ReStore - things I knew I'd never do anything with. It was important that I purge as much as possible so I wasn't just moving the mess around. A huge fire helped burn up a bunch of wood I knew I'd never use as well. It's still a work in progress, but finding a place for everything and keeping it organized will be key going forward.

With some other small projects out of the way as well, like the trim upstairs that I'd put off for 3 years, and beadboard on the other side of the stairs, it was time for a fun project.

Back in January or February, we cleaned out the theater's storage barn to make more room for random stuff ShowSpan buys, and as a result, they got rid of an entire pallet of IMAX-grade fiberglass panels. I got 69 super-dense 2'x2'x2" thick fiberglass panels with a black fabric side. I knew I had to do something cool with them, I just didn't quite know at the time. Now I knew.

I picked up some 1"x3" boards and my Kreg Jig and got to work creating a grid. Since the boards are actually 3/4" x 1-1/2", I set the bit and jig to 3/4"and used 1-1/4" Kreg screws. For those of you unfamiliar with this tool, buy one immediately. I have the Kreg Jig Jr. set and clamp and it works perfectly for the small amount I use it for. Creates perfect, tight joints for creating furniture, and in this case, a simple gridwork.


I started small, with just a 3x4 grid, just to be sure it would work. Sure enough, it worked perfectly.


So I set about making a much larger version:


I used some scrap pieces and L-brackets to keep it 3/4" off the wall and secured. I then wondered if the stuff was easy to cut. Sure enough, unlike the typical pink insulation, this stuff has enough rigidity to be easily cut with a utility knife. So I surrounded the outlets with boxes made from scrap 1x3 and cut the panels accordingly.



Seeing how easy they are to cut, and how many I still have left over, I think I will actually fill in the angled spots.

I'll also be building a wall along the loft all the way to the exterior door, and adding a slider and door to the corners so that the space below the loft becomes a control room for potential recording.

Lots of work still to be done, but the progress has been invigorating.



Tuesday, June 14, 2016

DIY Custom Book Letter

Sometimes I see something that seems so simple to make, I wonder why you would ever buy it from someone else. In this case, it was the Anthropologie "Library Letters" that run about $20 (or Etsy knockoffs that run about $13-15). My boss's daughter is a big reader, and wanted to host her birthday at the library. Being the creative mom she is, she wanted to offer her daughters friends one of these letters, but wanted to see if I could make them instead of buying them online. That way, at least in her daughter's case, she could make sure the book was meaningful to her.

I looked up a few DIY tutorials on this project, and found all of them helpful in their own way, and decided to take a bit from each and (as always) make my own.

Tools:
Scroll Saw (or Band Saw)
Speed Square
Pencil
X-acto or Utility Knife
Different sizes paint cans, flower pots, etc.

Materials:
Old books




There are a lot of tutorials that tell you to print out your letters in the font of your choosing and affixing them to the front of your book as a template. With the different sizes and shapes of the books I was doing, it seemed unnecessary to take that step. I know what letters look like, so surely I could create the letters using simple math.

I didn't take any photos except the one above, so bear with me, sorry. It'll all make sense.

When buying your books remember that thinner is easier, and don't use anything thicker than 2". Even 2" was pushing it - I broke a blade my first time through a thick dictionary (shame, it was a cool book). The thicker you have, the harder it is to keep it square as you're cutting. Also, get some extras to start so that you have something to practice on. Especially if you're new to the scroll saw like I was, practice straight cuts, curves, diagonals, and most importantly, inside angles.

For the "M" seen above, I started by measuring the book and finding the center points, marking them lightly with a pencil mark. Then I decided how thick I wanted the legs of the M and drew those. Then I used the Speed Square to create the 45 degree angles that intersect at that center point. In this case, I also wanted to make sure the Mockingjay was intact, so I made sure the top part of the M was thicker than the legs. Plus, the chunkier the letter, the more stable it is, obviously.

Once I'd penciled the letter, I took it over to the scroll saw. I started with the two straight cuts on the bottom. Then I cut the angle on the top. To do the inside angles, I cut into the bottom right side, curving until I met the first angle on the left. Then I did the same thing to the other side. Because you're not working with wood, sanding is not an option afterward, so take it slow and steady.

For letters like "C" and "G", I used a gallon paint can for the top and bottom curves and a quart paint can for the inside curves. For the inside, you don't want to make a circle, so decide how thick you want the letter, and then draw the top curve and bottom curve and connect the two with a straight line down the left side.

For letters with a cutout, like "A" or "B", I've seen some that appear to have used a hole saw to drill it out, but that doesn't look right to me. I would rather (though I didn't have to, luckily) take the time to use an X-acto or Utility Knife to hand-cut the middle piece. For something larger, like a "D", you could drill a hole, disconnect the scroll saw blade, thread it through the hole, and reconnect it to the saw.

To finish, you could also use a brushed glue on the outside of the pages, 3-4 coats, to create a more rigid piece.


Monday, May 9, 2016

Live Edge Bench

I was really at a loss last week as to what to get my mom for Mother's Day. But luckily, my wife is a problem solver when it comes to gift giving, and she suggested I make a bench for her garden or yard. We poured over Pinterest posts and Ana White tutorials, trying to find something not so permanent, so it could be used in multiple locations. Ultimately, I gleaned a little from each and just decided to create my own design.



Then when contemplating what the top would look like, Becky came through again, pointing to a stack of live edge boards I'd purchased from RepoCast last year and had no plan for. I sorted through them and found the best looking one, where the bark was still pretty intact and had some interesting pattern.

It was an 8' slab, but not all of it looked great, and a 6' bench is much easier to manage, so I started planning my base purchase.

I went with Cedar for the base instead of pressure treated, both because it would look more natural and because it would be much lighter. Pressure treated wood is so heavy and has that ugly green/grey look to it, so despite the added expense, I thought Cedar would be best.

Materials:
(1) 8' 4x4 Cedar Post
(3) 8' 2x4 Cedar Boards
2" and 3" outdoor wood screws
(1) quart Outdoor Spar Varnish
(4) 2" foam brushes

Since the slab was only 12" at it's narrowest, near the center, I decided instead of wrapping the outside of the 4x4 posts, I'd put the supports down the center. I also wanted to screw the slab on from the bottom, which required a sort of different base design.

I started by cutting the 4x4 down to 4 equal 18" posts. Then I cut the 2x4's down to 6' and created two base pieces using the 3" screws.


Then, I secured those together by putting the last 2x4 down the center. Though, instead of using the scrap from the first two cuts for the ends, I cut the ends out of the third 2x4, so it ended up shorter than 6'. This was an unfortunate oversight, but because it was on the underside, it didn't really matter.

Using the 3" screws, I first added the center 2x4. Then I added the end caps. So to do the math, the center runner ended up being just 6.5" (1.5"x2 plus the 3.5" center board). the depth at the posts was 13.5" (adding 3.5" per post), which was perfect since at its widest, the slab was just shy of 14".



Then it was time to attach the top. I put the slab on the concrete, turned the base over and stood on it while I drove 2" screws down the center. I used a total of 10 screws, in pairs of two in five places down the center 2x4.



I then trimmed the end of the slab off, since it ran long on one side (where some bark was falling off and it wasn't so pretty), using a circular saw and a steady hand. I also had to reattach a small piece of bark that was starting to come off. I threw some wood glue under it and clamped it down.

I then took an orbital sander and some 220 grit sandpaper to the top, wiped off the excess sawdust and debris and got to work with the poly. I did 3 coats, and it took some work. Getting in all those cracks and crevasses in the bark takes some care and attention.


All in all, a pretty quick and easy project, and my mom loved it!

Monday, May 2, 2016

DIY Giant 2x4 Wooden Block Stacking Game

In the 6 months since our last post, we've done very little. Little kids keep you pretty busy, and with my annual winter-spring work season, there's not much time (or motivation) to get things done. Especially when the things I want to do involve power tools, and therefore can't rightly begin at 8pm when the kids are in bed. At least not until we build some gigantic pole barn.

So when the opportunity to do a small project presented itself, I jumped on it. Partly to kick start my motivation, and partly because I knew I could use some skills I'd learned along the way to create it in very little time.


A couple of the folks at our sister company, Celebration! Cinema, had seen a giant version of the game Jenga at one of our shows, but couldn't remember which. After some investigation into who could have displayed the game, I chimed in with the fact that I could just make one for pretty cheap, so they wouldn't have to find the exhibitor and contact them and all that. With some quick research, I found a few DIY tutorials, including this one from A Beautiful Mess and this one from The Home Depot, which were helpful, but I made my own tweaks to them that I think will be easier and faster for you to create.

Materials & Tools List:

(8) 2x4x8 studs
(The Home Depot recommended 16' boards, but I had a hard time thinking how I was going to get those home without strapping them to the hood of the truck)

Miter Saw
(a circular saw will work, but man a miter saw makes it so much faster and more accurate)

Orbital Sander & pack of (15) 220 grit sanding discs
(again, you could do this by hand, but it would take forever.)

Instructions:

What you will be creating is 72 blocks that are 10.5" long. This is because for every level of the stack, there are three blocks. A 2x4 is actually 1.5" x 3.5", so 3 blocks x 3.5" is 10.5", and you'll get a perfect square. You could go with the number that Jenga actually is, which is 54 blocks, but I wanted this one to stand taller than your average game, so I made 6 more levels to reach 3' tall.

I also spent a decent amount of time picking the straightest boards I could find. Make sure you pick through the studs so you get 8 boards that have no cupping, twisting or bowing.

Start by setting up your miter saw with a stop block. This makes it easy to get the same cut every time. I used some scrap 3/4" plywood and a scrap piece of 2x4. Taking a drywall screw, I secured the 2x4 to a piece of plywood. I then clamped a piece of plywood to one side of the fence (as a shim to match the other side and get a straight cut), and the piece of plywood with the 2x4 to the other side. The inside edge of the scrap 2x4 will be 10.5" from the side of the blade.


Ignore my clamp placement - I adjusted the right side to be further to the right since the saw motor would run into it and prevent it from fully going through the 2x4. Set up a sawhorse or table or something to support your 2x4 on the left, slide the first 2x4 into place, butting it up against the stop block, and make the first cut. Measure your first block to make sure you aren't short, mark that with a pencil as your guide, and set it aside - that way you as you keep going, you can use that to make sure your clamp hasn't slipped and you're suddenly cutting long.

Then just keep cutting! Your last block on each board may have a little left on the end, so trim that off. When you finish, you'll have a stack of 72 blocks. Should take you about an hour from set up to last cut.

If you're using a circular saw, you'll have to measure after each cut. Don't mark them all at once, since your blade will cut out some of the wood and each block will get shorter after the first one.


Now comes the boring part. This will take you about 3 hours, so maybe break it up into a couple sessions. Strap on your first 220 grit disc to the orbital sander and start sanding. You want to make sure you round the corners and edges on each end, get any splintering sanded out, and do a quick run on all sides just to make sure they slide nice when you're done. I found that each disc would last about 6 blocks.



And that's it! Stack em up and start playing. I chose not to stain or poly this set, for fear they might not slide right. But if you wanted to experiment, you certainly could make some extras and do some testing. Another thing I've seen is painting the ends - since you don't need the ends to slide, you could paint them all different colors, or stencil something with some spray paint, etc.

I'd also recommend making sure you store it indoors, away from moisture, since they're not finished. And if you plan on bringing it places, you'd be smart to get a rolling 27-gallon tote, since it weighs quite a bit, and carrying it any distance would suck all the fun out of it. Keep a 220 grit sanding block in the tote too, just in case you get some splintering or stubborn blocks that don't want to slide out.

Enjoy!




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!
 

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