Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Bones of Winter Project

I use remodeling as a creative outlet for myself. This year is no different and, like always, there's a back story.

Our house has a wonderful area in the living room for an entertainment center. However, it's never been much of a priority for us. Our son sticks his fingers in his mouth, even right after eating, so pretty much anything and everything he touches goes to crap. That is one of the reasons we still have a tube TV in our living room. The other is, well, a lack of a good mounting arrangement.

You see, that lovely wall niche also houses many of the home's services running up its back wall. Duct work, pipes, power lines - they fill that wall and any stud finder lights up like a Christmas tree on that wall.

One idea was to make a horizontal cabinet. Perhaps mount a board to hold a TV wall mount. Fine ideas, but it doesn't really help pull the room together. It may not be a selling point to its next owners. I've just not been 100% sold on anything.

Except this year I'm done waiting and I don't want to just buy something out of Best Buy.

So I bought some character hickory plywood and some solid 1 x 2 character hickory and I'm going to make a TV table and a matching coffee table.

Here's the idea in a nutshell. Cut the solid hickory to length with mitered ends. Glue and screw to the edges of the plywood. Use I-Semble brackets between these tabletops to build the pieces. That's it. Oh, just using a simple polyurethane coating to the wood. That way, it will match our character hickory floors and, when we leave, they can come with us as a reminder of our first (and only) home.

Like I always tell folks - if you can piece together some particle board crap that comes flat packed in a cardboard box, you can make simple furnishings that cost less, look better, and last longer.

One thing of note is that hickory is heavy. Really, really heavy. I believe it is the densest hardwood native to the US. I had spaghetti arms after lugging just that amount of wood into the basement. I'm just saying that those are going to be some serious pieces of furniture.

For those so inclined to try something similar, the brackets I bought from Rockler (scored a half-price sale - they have them often). The wood I got from Keim Lumber, pre-milled to my specifications. In total less than five hundred dollars, delivered (about four hundred for the lumber and another hundred in hardware). Yes, you read that right. I sent Keim a cut list and sketch on how I wanted the plywood broken down and they cut it for me (something like $5 per cut) and delivered it to my house for free. I don't own a table saw and breaking sheet goods using a circular saw and guides is fine, but getting it cut for you is finer. Again, I'm not doing much more than I would if I were putting something store-bought together.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Birthday Tradition

It seems that my daughter likes when I make her a silly little "cheesecake" pie out of a graham cracker crust and premade cheesecake filling. Granted, I get fancy with doctoring the things up, but they're almost zero effort.

Lime (2014)

Lemon (2015)

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Silly Little Shelf

So my wife wanted a shelf unit with limited dimensions to fit into the corner of her classroom and to hold a specific set of books. I didn't have the right scrap to make it, so I bought some crappy, solid pine from the BORG and got to work.

I have all of $14 invested in this.

I did a couple new things with this. I used my router to cut dados across a couple 1x2s. They're 3/4-in wide and 1/4-in deep. The other thing I did was fill in the pocket holes used on the upper shelf with flush-cut dowels. I bought a 3/8 dowel for a dollar and just glued short lengths of it in the pocket holes and cut them off. An orbital sander made quick work flattening those out as well as cleaning up any minor misalignment.

Since this was for my wife, I added her name to it.

Lower case, so that it takes on the second meaning of aspiration and optimism. 

Anyway, I expect that this will work well in her room. Simple to the point of being rustic.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Denver Business Trip

I am NASA Glenn's representative to the AIAA Space Simulation Working Group. This year, we met in Denver. In addition to a few days of presentations we toured the test facilities of both Lockheed-Martin and Ball Aerospace.

For our outing evening, we went to a train museum and a restaurant in Boulder.

Train Museum

Trip Photos

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Driving Pylons

My daughter just earned her driving permit, so we need to teach her how to drive. To make things easier, I looked at buying a few traffic cones to set up as barriers for her to drive around. But ones that are tall enough are also somewhat expensive - more than $10 apiece for the cheapest. We don't have a long term need for them, so I thought that we'd make some, instead.

This is what we ended up with. Five Below was having a sale on their summer items, including pool noodles for $1 each. Then we went to Lowes and bought four 5-foot lengths of half-inch PVC pipe ($1.33 each), four PVC crosses ($1.26 each) and four PVC tees ($0.54 each).

In hindsight, I could have made these with eight tees because we didn't use the fourth leg of the crosses. I'm not running back to exchange them.

To make these, cut two of the 5-foot lengths in half and attach them to the middle of the tees. Using the other lengths of pipe, cut four 2-inch segments and twelve 6-inch pieces. Use the 2-inch pieces to connect the crosses to the tees. The 6-inch pieces form three legs, two from each cross and one from the other end of the every tee.

The pool noodles slide onto to vertical, 2-1/2 foot length of pipe.

The final cost was $16.54 plus tax.

Another benefit is that everything is merely press fit together, so the pool noodles and PVC fittings can be used later.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

California Dreamin'

I'm in the process of plowing through the thousands of photographs we took on this vacation to winnow the collection down to the very best ones that tell the story of our adventure. So I'm going to wimp out on all that here and just post a link to the Story that Google concocted using my pictures.

Not the best photos, but nothing too embarrassing, either.

So have fun with that while I tell you how things felt during our trip.

The flights out were a bit delayed and Alamo suffered a national computer outage which, apparently, is common on Saturdays. That's silly. But we eventually got to our hotel, very late, with a car and our luggage with me half-dreading the following day at Disneyland.

Disneyland on five hours of sleep. Almost made it to the fireworks, but bailed right before them because we were done. By the end of that day I was limping with a huge blister on the bottom of one of my toes.

The drive to San Diego was nice. We had a quiet hotel on Point Loma near the marina. It was convenient to grocery stores and restaurants. Cabrillo was very nice. The San Diego Zoo was, well, it's just a zoo. We have one almost as good in Cleveland that doesn't cost a family of four $200 to visit. We found the panda display to be inferior to the one at the (free) National Zoo in D.C. Because we had heard all the hype, though, we went to the zoo instead of visit the rest of Balboa Park. In retrospect, that was a mistake.

Dinner was in La Jolla. I found that place to be a bit snooty and pretentious. It just didn't feel welcoming. Our destination was the Whisknladle, but we ended up at Puesto and had one of the best meals of the trip there.

I left the next day "open" on our itinerary so we went on a Seal Tour, similar to the Duck tours we had gone on in Seattle and Boston. The experience fell somewhere between those other two amphibious tours. Before leaving San Diego we wandered about Balboa Park a bit.

The next stop was Palm Springs. Desert. Since we had gone to Vegas in the winter, this was the first time our children got to experience desert heat. Our daughter didn't much care for it. The rest of us enjoyed the street fair that is put on every Thursday evening. The next day, we went to the top of San Jacinto. There, it was much cooler but I had to drag my son across a mile of rocky terrain on the short loop hike we took to five overlooks.

It is very Californian that there was a sign warning that pets were not allowed on the mountain tram. In other parts of the country there would be no such sign because, duh, pets stay home. Not so in California. Dogs are out everywhere with their owners, often unleashed. Not just at the appropriately named Dog Beach in San Diego, but on restaurant porches. Being dog people we weren't upset but it is different.

We were swimming at Ocean Beach, next to Dog Beach, when a golden got away from his owner and came to us. Evidently, he doesn't like leaving, so when his owner called for him he decided to find another human to play with. I snagged him and brought him to his owner who didn't seem like she was willing to wade into the surf to get her dog.

Another major difference is traffic. It's little different than what you'd find in NYC, except roads in and around LA are more likely to be curvy and hilly. An eight mile drive on a freeway doesn't take ten minutes. It takes twenty-five or thirty-five. You go zero to eighty to zero. You don't leave two seconds between your car and the next. You have a car length. Which means more accidents which means more stop and go-like-hell traffic. Driving around LA is technical and exhausting.

I like the bicycle lanes, though. And I detest the motorcycle lane-splitting. Yes, I know it's legal and some claim that it's safer, but I keep my mirrors adjusted to see the adjacent lanes for cars. I don't have them pointed along the side of my vehicle, creating blind spots, just to see lane splitters.

I also noticed that lanes are a bit narrower in California. I guess that's what you get when you create more of them on a right-of-way, but it didn't feel comfortable.

While I'm complaining about the driving let me just say the prohibition of having items attached to the windshield is dumbass. Having your phone's map at or near eye level is a lot safer than having it on the console between the seats. Windshield mounts don't cause problems in the forty-nine other states. In an area like LA, where the most aggressive drivers are the Prius owners (Napoleon complex applied to cars, evidently), it's dangerous to have to flit your eyes towards to floor to see which direction you need to turn next.

LA drivers never seem to "thank" one another for letting them in. They sort of expect it, which seems odd given how aggressive they drive. Much the same in NYC. It's probably a factor of having just too many people.

Where Palm Springs was hot, Santa Barbara was cool. The Pacific is cold in California. That makes the temperature universally pleasant on land, but limits the fun of swimming.

The fireworks in Santa Barbara were fantastic, but at the expense of crowds. People came from hours away just to see the display. Food choices there were limited and overpriced. The best food we had on this trip was at Puestos in La Jolla, Big Dean's in Santa Monica, and Grandview Palace in Pasadena. Those were also the least expensive meals we enjoyed.

In Hollywood we had plans to visit the Hollywood Bowl, tour Warner Brothers Studio, and walk around Hollywood Boulevard. We hit a snag, though. At the Bowl I mentioned that we were only going to visit for a while, but we got stacked parked so we had to stay for the whole rehearsal. That was bad because we'd miss our tour time (and that was another $200). I called Warner Brothers and postponed our tour for the afternoon, so everything got shifted a little later. That shift meant that our son would be a bit whinier than I had planned during the tour and the walking, but we dealt with it. As always, Hollywood was crowded with tourists and those whose living is made entertaining them.


On the last day of our vacation we went somewhere that my wife and I had heard about our entire lives - the LaBrea Tar Pits. No, nobody calls them the Wilshire Asphalt Seeps even if that would be a better description. But it was both fun and educational. My wife also got to see Slimmons; Richard Simmons' exercise studio. At least, we got to see the front door. We also drove down Rodeo Drive, Santa Monica Boulevard, and the Sunset Strip before calling it a vacation.

The flight home was a bit eventful, too. Our son is still learning the fine arts of toileting and an airplane can be a challenge for anybody. It was too much for him and he soiled himself. We had a brief layover in Baltimore, but we were flying through and were not supposed to deplane. We didn't even have boarding passes for the BWI to CLE leg of the journey. But a flight attendant got in touch with ground ops for us and we were able to clean up our son in the airport family restroom rather than attempt it in an airplane lavatory. Kudos to Southwest for that.

Rhubarb and Blueberry

We just returned from our family vacation. This year, we spent a couple weeks touring southern California. I will get to those posts soon.

In the meantime, I've spent this weekend trying to readjust, with limited success. While it's very nice to drive on uncrowded roads and shop in familiar markets, I'm still jet lagged.

As a therapy, I made a rhubarb sauce.

We bought a fistful of rhubarb stalks. I took a half cup each of water and white sugar in a sauce pan and brought that to a boil while stirring. Meanwhile, I cut the rhubarb into half-inch pieces. Once the simple syrup was boiling, I reduced it to a simmer and added the rhubarb pieces. This was to simmer for ten minutes.

Halfway through that process, I decided to take a handful of blueberries that we had left over, smash them with a fork, and add them to the mixture. The result was a tarty, berry-like sauce that will go well over vanilla ice cream or velvety pound cake.

Tomorrow, I will return to work. I am a little apprehensive not knowing what to expect, since I disabled my work email on my phone for the duration of my vacation. I believed that my family deserved my attention, undivided. I'm not sure that was any better than quietly monitoring the progress of my projects, but what is done is done.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Basement Remodel

To recover from last year's basement flooding we removed all the carpeting and damaged items and put everything else into a pile.

With the floor covering gone, I repainted the room.

About halfway around I noticed that the far section of drywall covering the knee wall was in poor shape. So I covered that area with a bar top and shelves.

Once that was done, I finished my painting and installed a random-lot carpet tile floor. These carpet tiles just lift up, so they can be dried out if we experience more flooding down there.

My wife needed a few more shelves for her remaining books, especially the larger ones. So I made several shelf boxes with the left overs from the earlier shelves.

And that's pretty much it.

I did make one more item, though. My first big home improvement job that I did on my own was our master bathroom. I had a piece of solid cherry with a large, live edge knot in it left over from that project. I, also, had some granite remnants from it. So I cut a strip of granite, routed a corresponding dado across the board, and inset the granite flush with the surface of the board. I chamfered top and bottom and installed a bottle opener and catch bin to the board. This is now mounted in my basement.

So my project here is done. My wife is quickly taking the pile of her things and storing it properly, so we can more fully enjoy our basement area.

Monday, May 18, 2015

More Basement Shelves

After completing the basement shelf and bar, I had some scraps and cut-offs. The shelves under the bar are well-suited for most books, but not big enough, generally, for binders and large format books. So I decided to make more shelves with the remaining material.

Since the walls were all light French gray, I decided that the room needed a splash of color. So, instead of staining these shelf boxes, I decided to paint them blue with white frames and interiors. Since they were made from leftovers, they would each have different dimensions and designs, so a consistent color scheme would pull them together.

Their horizontal spacing is consistent, too, but not their vertical. Overall, they're not only super functional, but also add some visual interest to the room.

Drilling pocket screw holes

Assembling the first carcass

The first wall cabinet ready for installation

First shelf box installed

First shelf box
So I built the first shelf box and installed it. There would be no use making the rest of them if my wife didn't like them. At it turned out, she really liked the extra shelf room and the look wasn't displeasing, so I started making three more.

Piecing together more shelf boxes

My workbench covered and ready for painting

Laying pieces out for painting

Painting the parts

The second one was the big one

Assembling the face frame

Face frame

That's a really big frame

Second box done

This will hold a lot of binders
Another win. This was the hardest one to make due to its size. The long shelf is supported on the back edge with a nail board and in front by the frame. That should keep the shelf from sagging. The bottom rests on a square cleat (which helped me install this beast) that is painted the wall color, so it doesn't show.

Once this was made and installed, the other boxes came together quickly.

All shelf boxes installed

Lots of room for binders and large format books

Basement Carpet Tiles

We decided to refloor our basement with carpet tiles. That way, if we ever had another water problem we could possibly save the flooring ourselves. Also, using random carpet squares was very cost effective at a dollar a square foot and dead easy to install without any surface preparation other than a good vacuum.

Our basement stuff, unfortunately, was simply piled up and that pile had to move about while the floor was being laid. In the end, most of that material ended up in one location, ready to be either stored or dispositioned.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Basement Shelves

Another DIY post.

I'm in the process of remodeling our basement following last summer's flood. I got about half the basement painted when inspiration struck. My wife's bookcases are trashed, and this knee wall at the end of the room just looks sad. So why not cover it up with a built-in bookcase?

2x4 toe kick, painted black to visually disappear.
Using a toe kick keeps the shelves off the floor and keeps things from rolling underneath. The 2x4s are sealed with polyurethane.

Cabinet bottoms for the two outside cabinets.

Making the cabinet sides, drilled for 1/4-in shelf pins.
The cabinet bottoms and sides are made from plywood ripped to 11-1/2 inch width. Traditional cherry stain to match the rest of the house, which is real cherry. Drilled for 1/4-in shelf pins, since the shelves will carry a lot of weight.

Face frame for one of the outer cabinets.
Made the face frames from 1x3 poplar. The inside stiles overhang enough to be the stiles for the center box, which will be match built once the end boxes are installed.

Assembling a carcass.

Finished carcass.

Outer cabinets done. Time to make a center one to fit.
Assembling the outer cabinets goes quickly. The toe kick gets obscured so the cabinets seem to float a couple inches off the ground.

Need to trim the table top sheets to fit the space.
The table top needs to be trimmed precisely to fit the area where it will be installed. I can't get away without a seam, but it's only the basement.

Finishing a table top segment

Pocket holes along the front edge of the tabletop.

Splicing the table segments together

Boxes and top done. Time to make shelves.
The table top went better than expected. Using steel plates and a rail that spans the joint kept the top from breaking at the butt joint.

Test fit of the shelves.

Edge band, stain, seal.
The shelves are made from the same plywood, ripped to 11-1/4 wide. That way, they fit comfortably in the cabinets. I used matching edge banding to clean them up. It's pre-glued, so you iron it on, trim, sand the whole thing and you're ready to finish.

Shelves installed, ready for books.

It's not perfect by any means, but it'll hold a lot of books. It also covers up a ratty-looking wall that I'd otherwise need to demo and rebuild. Back to painting, I guess.