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.

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

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.

(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.)


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.


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?


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