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.

Friday, June 17, 2016


Since Allie is almost 28 (in dog years) and is still mooching off of us, we decided it was time for her to put in an honest day's work.

She has been periodically serving as my assistant. This involves sniffing everything in the building, napping under my desk, watching out the window, and being mesmerized by the copier.

As you can see, she's done an excellent job thus far.

She's also learning that a power nap after a long day of work is often exactly what you need!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Pantry Update: Finished

From J:

The pantry is finished! Let's go back in time and see how this build evolved...I originally made sketchup plans for a desk. Our two big furniture needs were a desk/file storage and a new pantry. I decided to build the desk, since that's a very classic "I'm a woodworker now" project. We went to the lumberyard, bought about 40 board feet of hard maple, and I got to work on making a few pieces. While we were out shopping for a new pantry (build one/buy one was our strategy), we found a very inexpensive Amish desk at our local furniture distributor and bought that, instead, along with a large lateral file cabinet; those two pieces combined cost much less than buying a pantry of the dimensions that we wanted. I was now committed, time to build a pantry instead!

First, I made a few scribbles on some paper to work out my dimensions. I searched around online to look for design ideas and found a wonderful pie safe from Fine Woodworking that A liked. I copied the style but declined to include the punched tin panels in the doors; maple plywood is just fine for me. Next up, sawdust.

I had already glued up the top for the desk, so I went about dicing that back apart to make the pantry top and many of the carcase pieces. For the vertical posts, I originally diced up a board of 8/4 maple into 1.75"x1.75"x60" pieces. Unfortunately, the residual stress in the wood twisted and bowed them overnight. I was grumpy about this, because 8/4 maple isn't cheap. With those now unusable for this project (they'll make some lovely cutting boards), I laminated some 4/4 boards instead and milled those to 1.5" square posts and, thankfully, these stayed true enough to work with.

For construction, I used inset plywood panels along the sides and pocket screwed horizontal rails. The plywood was rabbeted 1/2" along all four sides and corresponding slots were cut into the rails (at the table saw) and into the vertical posts (at the router table, thanks for the sweet 1/4" spiral upcut bit, Dad!). I killed my old Skil router doing this and got to upgrade to a new, much higher quality Bosch model to finish the job. I cleaned up everything with chisels prior to assembly.

In the Ikea adaptation of this project, this is what would come in a flat cardboard box.
Test assembly: Allie approves. Forgot to cut two plywood panels, oops.
Carcase assembly started with the sides. Starting at the top, I made absolutely certain that the top rail was flush with the post, clamped everything, and got a screw in to hold it. Then, I worked my way down the rail setting in the plywood panels and screwing in the rails. Once the first rail was complete, I set the other rail on top and persuaded it into place with a mallet, then used a similar top down clamp-and-screw approach to finish the side. Repeat for the other side. The back pieces went in with A's assistance. I used my 40" parallel clamps to hold things flush and square so I could get some screws in. A huge positive to pocket screws: once they're in and tight, that's it. No more clamp time needed.

Making good use of my new assembly bench. Wouldn't have been able to do this without having the extra large work surface.
Wife for scale.
I cut the top to size with my circular saw and installed it using z-clips from the underside. It's wonderfully flush and clean all the way across the piece; the attention to detail during assembly really paid off at this step.

The z-clips sit in a single-sawblade kerf cut 3/8" from the top. Don't forget to cut this before assembly or you're hosed.
For the drawer, I milled up some more maple and used pinned rabbets with a plywood bottom. To make the pinned rabbets, the piece is glued up like a regular rabbet, then I go back after the glue is dry and drill holes for dowels through the joint. Add glue, hammer dowels, then flush cut after it's all dry. This adds extra strength to the joint and will help it stay together over the years as it get tugged on. I built a dovetailed drawer slide out of scraps and pocket screwed that into the bottom rails. Drawer dimensions turned out perfect for the space; sliding action is decent.

I love the endgrain dowels.
Up next: doors. Shaker-style assembly, with a twist. I kept the same panel-and-rail lines flowing around the piece, which makes things a bit more complex than a regular door. To allow for a proper gap at the top and bottom and keep the alignment with the side paneling, the top- and bottom-most rails are cut 1/8" smaller than the middle ones. Otherwise, it's regular shaker-style construction with slot-and-tenon joinery on the rails and stiles and rabbeted plywood panels. My expanded clamp collection came in handy on these glueups. The doors are installed with fancy soft-close hinges, which I've used on other projects. In this case, the carcase posts aren't deep enough to accept the hinge mounting plates so I added little maple blocks to install them. When these were installed and aligned, A can vouch that I was so happy with the result I had to sit down in the garage for a minute. I was nervous about the fit on these since I had a very small margin for error, they were large and complex pieces, and they had to match with everything else. Such relief.

Clamp count: 9.
My entire mounting and aligning method was much improved for this door installation compared to previous projects.
I was so happy at this point. It's not kindling!
The last parts are the shelves. Solid maple, naturally. I milled up yet another batch of boards (really giving that planer a workout), diced them up, and did some quick panel glue ups. Amazingly, I had enough clamps to glue up all three shelves at the same time. In the past, this would have taken two or three glueup sessions. The shelf mounts are maple strips with slots cut in them for z-clips. I notched the corners of the shelves with the jigsaw to fit around the posts. Getting them sized just right to get them into position required a bit of finessing, but they sit nicely in the end and are solid.
The shelf mounting strips hide the pocket screws in the most visible portions of the interior. That's not by coincidence.
Details: I mounted a stop-block (maple scrap) to set the closed depth for the doors. Cleaned up some glue squeeze out in places that nobody will ever see. Sanded everything to 220 grit (this took about 6 hours - it's a big piece of furniture).

At this point in a project, I feel like a big weight leaves my shoulders. The hard work paid off, things turned out pretty well and the toughest parts are behind me.
Disassembled and getting ready for finish. Glad I built more workbench space.
Finish: like I used on the Groland redo, first coat is shellac, then three coats of Arm-R-Seal satin polyurethane. The shellac cuts down on blotching and makes the Arm-R-Seal go down incredibly smooth. Knobs match Groland's.

Shelves after shellac and poly. This is the kind of thing that I love so much about making furniture - when I bought this lumber, the figure didn't show at all in the rough state. Once it was milled, the tiger figure emerged and I got to choose where I would feature it. You don't get that on store-bought furniture.
After finish.
The look can completely change after finish - some of the boards come to life with figure that wasn't visible before, and different boards will darken differently. It's exciting to see it evolve during the process.
Each coat of finish took 2-3 hours of work. It's a big piece of furniture!
Project stats: finished lumber content: about 35 board feet of hard maple and around one 8'x4' sheet of 1/2" maple plywood. Total lumber purchased was closer to 50 board feet. Total cost was about $200 in hard maple, $100 in plywood, $30 in hinges, $20 in other assembly hardware and consumables, and about $25 in finishing supplies (I used an entire quart of shellac on the first coat - this thing is big). Add it up, about $375 in material cost. The closest piece to this that we found commercially was about $1800. Guesstimating that I spent about 100 hours on this build, I'm paying myself about $14 an hour to make furniture. Hobby: justified.

Up next: home improvement projects.