Monday, April 10, 2017

Workshop Upgrades

From J:

Greater than 50% of my free time is now spent in the garage. A has yet to complain. Not sure what to think of that. Anyway...

A few big upgrades recently to the shop. First, I/we decided that a car wasn't going to go in there any longer. This let me add some more permanent/larger equipment, namely...(drumroll)...a SawStop.

I've wanted one since I learned what they were. The table saw, if you aren't aware, can be a fairly dangerous tool, finely engineered to be efficient at cutting wood, a much harder substance than hands. It has a large and exposed blade. Your hands often are somewhat close to this blade. The potential exists for you to be in the market for custom gloves if something goes wrong.

Enter SawStop. Invented by an engineer-turned-patent attorney, loved by those who have them and loathed by those who can't afford them, if the blade of a SawStop saw hits flesh it: 1) detects it, 2) recognizes that it's not cutting wood, 3) fires a brake into the blade that 4) stops the blade and drops the blade below the table top, all within a few milliseconds. Most people who trip the safety brake end up with something that needs a bandaid for a day rather than surgery and an 8 week recovery time.

Over Black Friday, 2016, I found a site that had them on sale...and these things NEVER go on sale. So, I sprung for it. I bought their smallest cabinet saw (the nicest type of saw a hobbyist will ever need), a 1.75HP, 30" rip capacity model - small enough to fit in the garage. It is beautiful. It is heavy. It is a forever tool. I also bought their nicest mobile base, a version that has an integrated hydraulic lift, so that I can easily move the saw around the shop as needed.

New table saw purchased, time to get the rest of the shop ready to work with it. The next upgrade was a new outfeed table. Outfeed tables are used to help support large boards through the entire cut so that cuts are safer and easier. For my table, I also wanted to use it as a place for storage of offcuts and other to-be-determined items. Because my garage floor is far from flat and level and I move the saw around occasionally, I designed a version that had an independently leveling top (with built-in storage drawers and slots) and a base on casters with storage shelves. The leveling mechanism is four feet that are adjustable with a screwdriver through holes in the top; this allows me to adjust the height and slope of the top to match the saw itself, regardless of their positions. The base is solid beech with pocket screw construction, shelves are plywood, and the top torsion box is made from plywood. Frame on the top is also solid beech. The drawers are some scrap plywood and MDF with polyethylene side-mounted runners.

Final upgrade: a new workbench. I've gone through a few workbenches, realizing what I liked and didn't like about each of them. Now, it's time for what I consider to be my first real bench: a solid wood, extremely heavy bench with a vise for workholding.

There are two general schools of thought for this sort of bench. The first school, which I do not proscribe to, says that a bench of this magnitude should be built as a showpiece. Use attractive (and still extremely solid) joinery like through-tenons and dovetails. The materials should be hardwoods and it must be a flawless showpiece of your craftsmanship. The second school of thought is that it's going to ideally get beaten up as you, you know, work on it, so why make it fancy? Use solid and straightforward joinery and use inexpensive materials.

While I respect the students of the first school, I am far too practical to want to drop $1000 on the lumber required for such a bench. I built my workbench out of laminated 2x10s using simple half-lap joints. While it's not as heavy as one made from maple or as pretty as one made from cherry, it only cost me $150 in lumber. Add in a vise that I got on sale, some pop-up casters, and about $20 of glue (it's a lot of laminated boards), my cost is about $250. Not bad.

This bench will serve as my new assembly table and worktable. It's roughly 31" x 66" of solid, 4"-thick pine. The legs are triple-laminated pine and the stretchers (with the exception of a couple of them, by design) are double-laminated. I spent four very hard hours of work flattening the top using my hand planes, a first for me. The top is lag bolted to the frame through the long top stretchers. The total weight is well over 200 pounds. It does not move unless you want to move it.

So, bench finished, my shop is ready for some more work. Up next are a new jewelry box for my loving and patient wife and a new entry table. Looking forward to trying some new things with each build.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sand, Seafood, and Sun

I spent my spring break "thawing out" in Florida. The weather was perfect - so was the food - and the company.

We were lucky enough to have a chance to watch the Blue Angels practice over Pensacola Naval Air Station and Pensacola Beach.

Panoramic view:

Eating as much seafood as possible was a must. Check out the shrimp...

... and more shrimp...

... and more shrimp (in gumbo).

Plus a lunch date for some BBQ (not shrimp, if you can believe it).

Until next time, Florida!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Floorpalooza 2016

From J:

Finally: floors.

This job took so much out of me that I haven't blogged for four months. This job took so much out of me that I still haven't finished painting the closet. This job took so much out of me that I even stopped enjoying woodworking for a bit. But just for a bit.

Rewind, circa 2012 when we bought the house: "Hey, this carpet is pretty cheap, we'll need to replace it."

Rewind, circa 2013 after we'd had the dog for a few months: "Hey, this carpet is pretty cheap and is starting to look worn in a few places. Also, dog hair is a pain to clean out of it."

Rewind, circa 2014: "We should replace this carpet."

Rewind, circa 2015: "Honestly, we really need to replace this carpet. It's starting to pull up in places. Let's look at floor samples."

Rewind, circa 2016: "Dang it, it's actually time to replace the carpet."

Being the stubborn fool that I am, I decided to do this job myself. "It's not that tough," I said in my hubris. "I can build furniture, this won't be that hard," I naively convinced myself. I was both correct and incorrect at the same time. I was correct in the aspect that laying flooring isn't complicated. Flat subfloor, cut things tight but leave expansion gaps, make sure the boards are seated. Simple. I was incorrect in that this is backbreaking work and doing it while you're still living in the house with all of your furniture just sucks. But it all turned out gorgeous in the end.

Selecting the flooring: we agonized over this choice. As a bit of background, our house is on a slab. Under the carpet and on top of the slab, as I discovered some time ago, are tiles that contain asbestos. Removing those tiles was pretty much out of the question, so the floor needed to just float on top of them. This starts to put some hard limits on what types of floors are suitable. Solid hardwood is right out. That leaves engineered woods, Pergo/laminates, and bamboo.

Engineered wood: Looks pretty good, not too expensive, but tends to be thin and would have a weaker, hollower feel underfoot. Can't be refinished.

Pergo: Cheap, quite durable, looks good, but has a bit of an odd sheen and feels plasticky to the touch. Can't be easily cosmetically repaired when scratched, so it's basically a disposable floor.

Bamboo: can range from cheap/crappy to expensive/high end. Whole range of colors available.

We went with a very nice bamboo from Cali Bamboo. I took advantage of a sale and bought it almost on impulse to get the good price. We ended up paying about $4.50/sqft with free shipping. The underlayment (cork, the good stuff) was another ~$0.70/sqft, and we had an additional vapor barrier that was around $0.10/sqft.

The whole project got off to an auspicious start when the delivery driver didn't have the proper pallet jack to handle the 6ft long pallet and he got it stuck on the liftgate. I sacrificed one of my 3/4" pipe clamps to use as a j-bar to lift one end while the driver and my neighbor pushed. In the end, we got it into the garage. From there, we cut the boxes open and sticker-stacked the boards so they could acclimate. Starting from this point, our house was in disarray for the next 4 months.

This is about 600 sqft of flooring. It's amazing how much material is takes to cover the floor of a house.

Here's the basic workflow for doing floors:

  • Pull up the carpet. Cut it into ~4ft wide strips with a blade and then rip it up and roll it (and the underlayment). Let your wife take it to the dump while you start on the next step.
  • Pop up the tack strips around the perimeter. Our had several different vintages of tack strips, dating probably back to the 70s and all the way up to just before we bought the place. Because the tack strips are going through the asbestos tile/mastic, I ran a HEPA vac next to my tool while I was popping these out. This step sucked.
  • Pop off baseboards. Optional, I didn't do this in every space, but I did do it in most spaces.
  • Clean up all the dust and debris in the room, preparing it for...
  • Leveling. God, the leveling. I knew going in to this that I would have to do some leveling. I was prepared for some leveling. I was not prepared for the amount of leveling I would have to do - our floor had dips in excess of 1/2" over wide areas. This might not sound like a lot, but trust me - it is, and filling these gaps to get thing suitable takes both a lot of material and a lot of time. I leveled using two methods: self leveling and concrete patch. Generally, I would take up most of the dips with self level and then finish with the patch. One complicating factor is that self leveling is fast, but it works with gravity to make things level. What's most important for flooring is that the subfloor is flat, which is not quite the same as level. So in some spaces I had to rely on patch alone because self-leveling compound was impractical. Patch takes a lot of time to both apply and cure. 

8ft level, a pretty sweet purchase. Also seen, my Festool HEPA vac that I bought to deal with asbestos while I popped the tack strips. 

  • Once you've gotten things flat within spec (spec was ~3/16" over 10 ft, I aimed for better than 1/8" over 8 ft and often got about 1/16" over 8ft), scrape the patch to take off sharp spots and vacuum the floor again. Wait a few days for the patch to fully cure.
  • Underlayment! First underlayment is a vapor barrier, just black plastic. Tape the seams with underlayment (metallized) tape. Then, roll the actual underlayment out and tape the seams. This part was pretty easy.
I was so full of enthusiasm at this point, just starting out. Now I'm wiser. Oh, past J, you were so innocent.
  • Now, finally - flooring. Our stuff was click-lock, which is supposedly the most DIY friendly version. It both is and isn't. Pro: if you aren't happy with how it's going, just unclick it and change things up. I did this a lot. Con: if the boards aren't perfectly parallel or there's some defect in the click mechanism, they just won't click together. This led to a ton of trial-and-error to find boards that fit together perfectly. I cannot express how frustrated I was at times because of this. It's also crucial to stagger joints appropriately to strengthen the floor, so some planning was important. Typically things would be very slow to start as I had to find the happiest set of planks to start the floor (ensuring that all of the click-locks in the first few rows mated perfectly), then things were able to speed up because the floor becomes easier to add to as it has more mass and stability. I was able to do a bedroom in about a day, but I was pretty much busted afterwards - this is hard work.

It's happening!

Dog toys mandatory.
  • After the space is done, put in quarter round to hide your expansion gap (1/2" per the manufacturer spec).
  • Move the furniture back in and enjoy that room before you head to the next one.
  • Repeat...
This is fine. Everything is fine.

Oh, wait, it really is fine.
  • Repeat...
I wonder who could have left paw prints in the wet patch...guess I didn't do a good enough job of blocking it off.

Getting there. 
  • Your woodworking skills will come in handy when you get to tricky spots and have to transition into closets.

Wood tetris. I bought a new jigsaw for this job, and it's awesome. Crucial purchase.

  • Repeat...
New rug, picked out by wifey. Love it.

After the bedrooms were finished, I had to take a break for a few weeks. Our main room was a big undertaking and I was getting pretty burnt out at this point with the constant disarray in the house and pressure to finish.

Okay, the main room: this room is about 525 sqft. We didn't have enough space in the rest of the house to accommodate all of the furniture that was in this room, so we had to rent a storage container that was parked on the driveway for a couple of weeks. This expense was well worth it. Level it...

There were three huge dips, up to about 3/4", throughout this room. It took 3 bags of self-leveler and about 8 pails of concrete patch. It's a big room.
And then start with the flooring. I did this room in roughly two days. Afterwards, my legs hurt. This was incredibly frustrating - so many full length planks were needed that the slight errors in fit that I'd come to expect multiply, requiring an absurd amount of time trying different planks to get a good fit. But in the end, I got it done.

Seriously, it's a big room.

I really wanted to cry at this point, I was so relieved to be done.

The last little things that had to be taken care of were transitions. I used transitions from Cali for most of the spaces, but around the front door I had to make my own out of some spare planks because the slopes and offsets involved were just too strange to make me want to spend $100 on transitions that I would have to modify anyway. It worked out fine.

This 30" piece is like $25. Pretty pricey.

You can't tell from the picture, but the tile has a different slope compared to the wood floor. This required cutting a sloped rabbet into the bottom of the transition piece, which was pretty tricky.
And so, after around four months of disarray and work, the floors were done. The extra effort spent leveling and flattening the subfloor was absolutely worth it, as the floors feel great underfoot and are feeling better all the time as they settle in. Sure, there are some areas where I can see flaws, but I think that the end floor will last a lifetime. Which is good, because I sure as heck don't want to do this job again. But despite all the work and frustration, the end result looks great. On to other things!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Ingrown ToeJam and Earl

So, allow me to share with you a public service announcement about feet.

Ever since my childhood tennis days of stopping quickly on the court and having my big toenails jammed into my shoes, I've had pain. Cumulative trauma to toenails (and losing them after really bad traumas on the tennis court) can lead to ingrown toenails. And folks, I've had them.

I've tried everything. Cutting them back, growing them long, putting chunks of cotton under the corners, cutting back the corners, etc, etc, etc. I might get temporary relief, but in the end my toenails would just hurt.

I've bought shoes with big toe boxes that don't put any pressure on my big toenail. I've avoided jumping on my toes in yoga or at the gym because I couldn't stand the pain. I've had nights when I've had to stick my feet out from underneath the covers because the sheets put too much pressure on my toenail and caused pain.

I've avoided pedicures because I didn't want anyone else touching (and potentially causing pain) to my big toenails.

Four weeks ago, I was done with it all. Well, actually, one of my toes was done with it all. It got to the point where I woke up at night with pain. And the next day I went to the podiatrist. And had ingrown toenail surgery.

The surgery isn't fun. Neither is the recovery. But a month later, I'm so incredibly glad I had it done. So glad, in fact, I scheduled surgery on my other toe for next week.

I'll spare you the horrific photo of what was removed from under the skin during surgery, but I will show you before and after surgery photos.

Before: the reason why pressure was so painful.

After: not pretty, but pain-free and functional!
And that, my friends, is why ingrown toenail surgery is so worth it.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Entryway Closet

From J:

Enough with the furniture posts for a time: now we talk about DIY house upgrades.

Problem: our house has no entryway closet.

Temporary solution: I added a closet bar to our old entertainment center and repurposed it as a wardrobe. This was a decent temporary solution, in all honesty.

Real solution: danggit, just build a new entryway closet, J, and stop being such a lazy bum.

The real solution was forced on us by our recent acquisition of ~1200 square feet of new bamboo flooring (but that's another post). Order of operations forces me to rip out old carpet, build a closet, then install floors, rather than install floors, rip out new floors where the closet will go, build a closet, then install new floors again. Though, if I was billing by the hour, I'd want to do the latter.

Before we started: just look at this wall, with its lack of entry closet. Pitiful. We debated whether the closet should go on this wall or the wall with our entryway furniture on it and decided this one made more sense. For dimensions, we wanted it as wide as possible and deep enough to accommodate our largest coats (which our bedroom closets weren't quite able to do). Internal rough dimensions: 71 inches wide (six feet less drywall), 2 feet deep.

First run for supplies: studs and doors. Doors are for a 60 inch opening and we went with solid wood, because I insist on solid wood whenever possible. Insert obligatory comment about having an SUV here.

First, I cut away the old carpet and removed the baseboards. Then it was time for the rough framing, which I had done in about 6 hours. The side walls are secured with concrete anchors through the footers into the slab, screwed into the trusses through the header, and anchored into the back wall. Since the door's dimensions are so huge relative to the front area (and that's not a bad thing), the front wall construction is almost entirely solid wood by the time the various king, jack, and header studs are put in place. I learned a lot about what different framing things are called researching for this build. While the bare studs were up I rerouted the hall light switch from what was now the back of the closet to the hallway.

We got some drywall and installed it. Man, drywall is messy and I hate it. Greenboard because the boards cost an insignificant amount more and they're water resistant, so why not? Door casing was installed in about 30 minutes, and then I mounted the doors for a test fit. Aw yiss, it's basically a closet at this point. This concluded the first weekend of the project.

Next was more drywall work. I got to try my hand at taping and mudding corners (both interior and exterior). This entire process is messy, frustrating, and tedious. Coats were alternated on the horizontal and vertical seams because that gives the cleanest results in the end. Three coats on each seam, using progressively wider feathering and thinner mud each time. Sand between coats. The professionals use hot-set mud that they mix from powder for the first and maybe second coat, since it speeds things up dramatically, but as I'm not a pro I used all purpose compound and waited 24 hours between each coat. This whole process took about 2 weeks to complete, but in the end things looked pretty good. For an amateur, that is. I would not want to work with drywall for a full time job.

Things start looking real finished real fast now. Primed and painted in a day. Flat white on the interior and Edgecombe Gray on the exterior to match the rest of the living room and hallway. Shelf and closet bar added. Trim work around the door. Paint and caulk all the trim. Paint the doors. And just like that, a finished closet!

Project cost: $400
Project time: Three busy weekends with lots of drywall work during the weeks.

Up next: floorpalooza 2016.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Woodworking - 18 month retrospective

From J:

I started woodworking in earnest about 18 months ago. After I completed my latest project, I wanted to take a look back at where it started and what I've learned along the way.

First project: a new workbench/saw station/rolling monstrosity. For a first project, it was decent. Very solid construction (glued and bradded rabbets). It was never quite level and the workflow on it tended to all focus on the left hand worktop, with the right side being completely neglected. Still, I have a special place in my heart for this thing.


Shop cabinets: Pretty happy with the casework, and while I love the pegboard doors, the miters are pretty ugly. I used the 45 degree presets on my miter saw which, I now know, are not perfectly 45 degrees. Live and learn. Pegboard doors are awesome.


Shower stand: we really needed a new one, so I built one. I used "mortise and tenon" construction, but in retrospect there were better ways to do this. This was my first lesson in doing proper cleanup of glue squeezeout. After I renovated our shower and we no longer needed a stand, this was handed off to my parents where it currently houses a collection of decorative stone birds in their guest bathroom.


Plant stand: I had leftover cedar and A wanted a plant stand. I just kinda built this one without much planning. It's always been a little wobbly, but it still stands and serves its purpose.


End grain cutting boards, v. 1.0: Merry Christmas, everybody. Project highs: everybody loved their cutting boards! Project lows: I hadn't figured out how to actually flatten anything at this point, so it took me hours and hours of sanding to get these things "flat."


Entryway coat rack/key rack: I consider this to be my first foray into "fine" furniture. The coat rack is gorgeous, despite some sloppy tenon work. I also had a couple of goofs that I recovered from nicely and A hasn't found. I don't even notice them any longer. In retrospect, the finish on this was quite rough (literally) compared to what I do now - this is the area where I've made my most significant improvement, I think. Still, we'll probably use these pieces for decades. I love them.

Workbench upgrades: Added a router table (AKA a sheet of plywood with holes cut in it) and some drawers to the workbench. First drawer turned out great. Second drawer glued up out of square and always looked wonky. Third drawer was cut incorrectly, I couldn't get it to fit, and I ended up smashing it. My first true failure, glad it was just pine.

Storage tower: this was a big build. Most of it was done concurrently with my shower renovation, so my shop time was very divided. This was a really ambitious project: expensive wood investment, lots of new techniques (drawers and doors, shelves, panel glueups), just a really complex project overall. It has some definite highlights: first of all, I built the thing and it looks pretty good. It's level and doesn't wobble. But, as I've reflected on this, I gained an appreciation for the attention to detail that's required to make something look perfect in the end. The joints on this are a little gappy, the doors are a little wonky, and the finish is rough. All things that I've improved on going forward.

Vanity cabinet: I feel a bit like this project was me entering the big leagues. The joinery was much tighter. It's square. I changed my finishing technique and got vastly better smoothness. We use this multiple times a day and it works great. I learned some lessons about door fitting. But in the end, just look at this thing. It's gorgeous. Little errors don't matter when the end product looks this good.

Block cutting boards: Goodness, I've made a LOT of these. Lots of people got these for gifts, and I sold something like 20 of them. I built a jig to help with glueups, a jig to help with flattening, and just churned these things out. It was fun, but by the end I was getting burnt out on cutting boards. It started to feel like a second job.

Shoe rack: I realize now that I never blogged about this one. Our old shoe racks were the kind made out of little expandable metal poles. Our shoes always fell off of them and they were frustrating. So, I made this. It fits into the closet like a built-in. All of our shoes fit on it and the front sections have exciting swinging and sliding action.

Keepsake boxes: For my nephews. One in cherry, one in walnut. My first time working on something this small and delicate. A very enjoyable project. Finish was decent. I liked doing two of these in tandem, it made it much more efficient. Fitting the lids was a challenge. Lessons were learned.

Clothes rack: Mmm, that tiger maple. Currently mounted behind the master bedroom door. Compared to the first time I did mitered joints (on my workshop cabinets) these are much, much improved.

Christmas season 2015: my workshop looked like this for about 3 months straight.

Workshop redo: While building the vanity cabinet, it became clear to me that my workbench situation was lacking and my workflow could be improved. I broke down my old workbench and used its scraps (along with some construction lumber) to build a new long workbench, a new standalone saw stand with a flip-up extension wing, and a new router table. I added a new assembly table made out of a door on sawhorses. I built flip-top carts to hold my new drill press and planer. Amazingly, I only had to buy a two sheets of plywood, some galvanized pipe and fittings, and some construction lumber to build all of these. I was able to reuse almost all the old workbench. This new arrangement has worked out much better. And, technically, we can still fit a car in the garage.

Groland upgrade: this one was fun, I reworked an Ikea cabinet as part of our kitchen makeover. Given that I had the constraints of working from an existing framework, this turned out great. The finish is top notch.

Pantry: And now we come to the present day. I look at the pantry and see how my previous projects have impacted this, especially the storage cabinet. I paid extra attention to getting tight and gapless joints. I sweated little details about getting things aligned as closely as I could. The finish is glass smooth compared to what I was putting down a year ago. My biggest challenges with this project involved working with rough lumber - I milled everything myself rather than buying it surfaced from the hardwood supplier. There are always improvements that I have to make, but I think I'm on the right track! Looking forward to seeing what the next 18 months hold.