Friday, December 30, 2011

Just Call me Michelangelo

Okay, it’s no David, but I’m pretty proud of my frugal DIY carrara marble vanity top. Here’s what I started with.

Found on craigslist for $50 almost a couple years ago, I knew this marble slab which had a former life as a table top would make a beautiful bathroom vanity top …. and then it sat in our basement for nearly two years until just recently.

Countless hours spent googling “how to cut marble slabs” and perusing DIY chat rooms didn’t reveal much about cutting marble (although there seemed to be a wealth of information on how to cut granite or cultured marble). I started to think that maybe this wasn’t a DIY project and called around to local countertop fabrication shops only to find out that what they wanted to cut it was nearly 6X the amount I paid for the marble or that they would only cut stone purchased from them directly - so back to the DIY route I went.

I figured if Michelangelo could carve David out of marble there had to be a way I could employ the modern technology at my disposal to shape my marble slab into a much less intricate vanity top. So here’s the process that worked for me and a few tips for other DIYers looking to take on something similar.

Step 1: Setup and Layout
Our setup consisted of a couple of sawhorses with some sandbags set on top and the marble slab balanced onto of the sandbags. The sandbags are there to absorb the vibrations of the cutting tools and avoid cracking. The layout was done with some basic measuring tools, a permanent marker, and painters tape. I made my cutting marks directly on the painters tape and left it on the marble as we cut it to help avoid chipping the edges.

Step 2: Cut
This was by far the most terrifying part of this project ... breaking out the power tools and cutting out our slab. We purchased diamond blades for the circular saw and angle grinder and a diamond hole saw bit for the drill. The circular saw was used to cut the slab to size (four straight edges), the angle grinder was used to cut the sink cutout, and the drill was used to cut the faucet holes. We made sure to supply a continuous stream of water on the cutting blade as we went from a squirt bottle so we didn't overheat the marble and cause it to crack. To waterproof our electric power tools we covered the end of the power cord/extension cord with a plastic bag so we didn't get zapped and we also made sure to wear our eye and hearing protection during this process - it was noisy and messy.

(Sidenote: for DIYers attempting something like this I suggest a self-rimming or vessel type sink, an undermount sink would require some serious skill to get an smooth crisp edge.)

Step 3: Sand, Seal, and Polish
We used a wood rasp to knock down the saw blade marks on the visable edges and ease the top edge a bit giving it a slight radius and then we went to town sanding the entire thing with wet/dry sand paper starting with the low grit and working our way up to higher grit until we got our desired finish. To seal the marble and prevent staining we used oxalic acid which chemically reacts with the structure of the marble to give it a nice seal on the surface. We found the oxalic acid at a local woodworking supply shop since it's also commonly used to bleach out stains in wood. Lastly we buffed and polished the whole thing with some good old fashioned Turtle Wax to make it nice and shiny.

Ready for some before and after shots of our new vanity?? If you made it through all of that I'm sure you are. Here she is before with the beige cultered marble top:

And here's the after with our real carerra marble top, new vessel sink, and new faucet:

Oh and for those of you who aren't familiar with how our vanity looked before this whole project started check out this post.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Yep, I'm a geek

Want to see what Santa (aka Jens) put in my stocking for Christmas?

Yep, it's exactly what I suggested for a cheapo stocking stuffer and I was thrilled that Santa actually took me seriously. But then again Santa knows how giddy I get picking out new paint color swatches at the home improvement stores. So there you have it ... proof that I'm really that geeky about home improvement stuff.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

40 Hours to a Suck Free Living Room

I found out last week that I have a Metric Ton of vacation to burn before the end of the year.  BAD. ASS. So I figured I would use this time wisely, specifically, finish the built in’s

A) Build and install the remaining 3 drawers and drawer fronts.

B) Install the shoe Molding
C) Mask the toe kick

D) Build and install the four remaining shelves
E) Manufacture and install the remaining applied bead
F) Edge Band the remaining shelves
G) Set Nails (Ick)
Now, I should be able to get this all done.  I also plan on working on destroying my fair share of tasty beerish beverages and lifting as many heavy things as possible.  I also “plan” on documenting this for posterity.  We will see though. Wish me luck. 
In closing  a small giraffe and I  are off to be awesome and do neat shit. I recommend you do the same. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Clap Excitedly Fu%$ers

Clap excitedly fuckers.  There is hope (read progress) on the Project That Never Ends.  Its been a while since we posted (this is Jens by the way, I normally write under Becky's name because logging her out seems to be a lot of work), with life, holidays work and being on the road progress has been slow. However its been happening.  I now have all of the doors done and hung. I will get into how and what later but for now feast your eyes.

These doors have been with out doubt the most cantankerously nit picky serious carpentry I have ever attempted.  I hung the last door tonight, and I've had it made for a month.  If I'm honest putting these things up is terrifying because when you mess them up (note not if, when) right back to the drawing board you go, all the set up has to be re done, all the calculations its all square one.  To get these 6 finished doors I've made and scraped at least that many just trying to get it right.  This has not been an easy process.  However, it has allowed me to mess around in the garage and has made my living room look like this.

and not like this

I'm pretty happy thus far (keep your mouth shut about the mess, in the before no kids, the after, one very seriously happy playful, hence the toys, kid).  Now I just need to install the drawers, fronts and shoe molding, and I'm freaking done.  Glory Glory hallelujah we’re almost done, almost.  Hopefully by the time the second kid is two, we can have this complete.  Its little goals that get you through. 

Now a picture of my dog, more than likely he is cooler than you.

Ok one more that doesn’t look like a sci fi creature.

G’night all, and to all a G’night.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Basment Reclaimation

Things are a foot in the Nestingen household.  Its amazing what a whole month free of travel will do for an avid DIYer's to-do list.  For the sake of brevity, suffice it to say we've been busy.  Our tradition of last minute, ah hell why not projects has been holding true.  For a little background we have two cats (had 'em since we lived in a 450 sq ft. studio in a less than desirable portion of St. Paul) and one very large dog.  The cats have not historically done well with change, when we bought the house they were certain there was a boogey dog around each and every corner and proceeded to mark their territory thus.  Then we rescued said boogey dog from our local shelter (see pic - below he's all brawn and no bite, there are glasses of warm milk with more ire than our dog) and the cats proceeded to lose there furry little minds and bladders all the hell over our basement.

Boogey Dog

Culprit #1
Culprit #2

My upbringing is such that when an animal continues to exhibit poor behavior, that animal has forfeit its breathing rights.  That was my upbringing, my experience is; i like my cats, and ending their furry little existences over some urine would have put undo stress on my marriage, soooooo they had to stay.  The basement carpet on the other hand HAD TO go.  We had been talking about updating the basement for a while, the flooring was a sticking point.

All pet mess aside, carpet in a basement in our neck of the woods is a poor idea, please refer to our post " A little Wetness problem solved."  Our house is damn near 50 yrs old built in a swamp - it will get wet, it's not up for debate. Couple that with a kiddo  (by the way another one on the way in Feb. so, well, we have been, er....cough cough, busy? I digress) and the subsequent messes generated  and carpet was as good a flooring choice as broken glass, that is to say a poor choice.  Becky got wind of a linoleumesque product that was supposed to be all things to all people and hold up to every thing short of a nuclear war.  I was totally against anything linoleum. When i think of that particular flooring, I think of shag carpet, Nascar races, and grits with more cigarette ash in them than actual corn meal. I did not want a plastic floor underneath my bar and pool table.  My hand was forced however when I arrived home one Friday to see Becky acting as if she was intensely interested in my day, how it went, what went on, what I would prefer to do for dinner... I knew this level of interest could only mean one thing.  There was a project underway I was not privy too.

Sorry for the crappy photo, Basement post carpet removal pre refinishing
After a bit of coaxing she admitted that she had in fact started to remove some of the pad from below the carpet in the basement as an exploratory exercise. What she found was encouraging, the carpet came up neatly as did the pad, with the notable exception of the edges (those sucked bad). All in all the removal would be a quick project.  So after a quick discussion off we went on the demo. I had to get up close and personal with the brunt of the ammonia soaked pieces of carpet to get them out of the basement, throughout the entire process, I was mentally beating the hell out of myself for not doing it sooner, it was gross.

Once the carpet was removed we had to revisit the flooring debate. At this point I was worn down, so we went Becky's way.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that Becky's way turned out to be a pretty nice solution. It comes in vinyl planks that are look good as any wood laminate product out there, the install is fastener free, and tool minimal (pencil, tape measure and tin snips, that's it), and to top it off, totally water proof and tough as hell.  If the cats get incontinent, it won't seep in and create a smell, if the kid gets creative with his paint, it won't stain, just wipe it up. Win, win.
Getting Started Putting Down the Flooring, REALLY EASY

The install was a breeze- roughly 6 total hours of work from start to finish, easily the least amount of work to change ratio I've ever been a part of.  We painted the walls prior to putting the floor down, and decided to finish off the look with a prefinished white baseboard that looked sharp against the dark floor and walls.  I am finally able to showcase the guitars that I play (poorly) and the Adam Turman posters that are the chosen art of the basement (I don't like to plug things unless I can really say I support them, Adam Turman does awesome work, he did a great poster of a great beer and great pin up girls, sorry, but I like his stuff) . 

Post Base Board and every thing back in place 

Behind The Bar

WA LA updateed basement. We didnt go too nuts, no wall moving, no real carpentry work, just surfaces, but it makes a huge difference. We love it.  Now we just have to toss a massive party to break it in.

And now for no reason, a kid in a pile of leaves.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fire! Robots! Weekends Well Spent

It’s a wonder what a good night’s sleep, a little jet lag, and some hyper potent 7/11 quasi coffee will do for a guy 3500 miles from home. I’m fresh as a freaking daisy bathed in summers eve feminine wash.

What you may ask does this have to do with home improvements? Stump removal and firepit installation and the like. Nothing, absolutely nothing, I’m just trying to provide a glimpse into my current state of mind. To battle a little homesickness, and meeting burn out I figured I’d pen a blog about my recent foray into firepit installation.

This particular home improvement started as is becoming custom, on a total whim. We have had a pine stump in our back yard since I took the tree down with a bow saw, a tree stand harness and WAY more luck than I deserve (whole new story for another blog) three years ago. I got an email from Becky on a sunny Friday afternoon stating that our neighbor had wrangled a stump grinder from work and would come on over and grind out a stump for us while I was at work.

AWESOME!!! Right?

No, there is no possible freaking way that I was going to let anyone else grind that stump out for two reasons; 1) I’ve been mowing around that lawn pimple for three years occasionally hacking at it with it axe out of frustration. Removing that stump was now disappointingly high on my bucket list and no one was going to take the satisfaction of that particular demolition away from me. 2) Have you seen a stump grinder? Those things are freaking sweet - all gasoline fumes, whirling chains, cutting heads that could dismember an ox. Hell yeah! Put a beer in one hand and the controls for that thing In the other and that’s more fun than shooting carnies at an all night meth bender. (Please see the pic below, I had no idea this particular stump grinder was what my wife meant by “stump grinder”. Paint a pin up girl on one side of it and call it Stumptmuousprime, it was perfect).

Once I got home and convinced my neighbor that I was mentally stable enough to operate this beast, I set the tracks in motion (that’s right, tracks, this thing could climb over a Hyundai while it threw death and destruction every possible direction), and in a disappointingly small amount of time I had reduced the offending stump to so much mulch, and created a MASSIVE hole in my lawn. Becky and I had talked jokingly about installing a firepit in lieu of the stump for many years. Now, suddenly we were faced with the reality of having what was either the start of a fire pit, or the beginning of a really crappy piece of lawn. We opted for flames.
Installing a fire pit should be simple and cheap; it’s a hole you plan on burning, regularly. It’s as simple as it gets, line a hole with a steel ring so your hole does not suddenly become, a non hole, tamp some sand in the bottom, and back fill with a little rock for drainage and WaLa let your inner pyro go. Nothing is ever that easy. Within a few moments at our local home improvement box store, we realized that in ground fire pits are not en vogue, unless there gaudy and come with a pergola. We try not to be too terribly gaudy and a pergola in the middle of our lawn for no apparent reason would give our lawn that douche flair we’ve been trying to avoid. We popped into a lawn decoration specialty place and inquired if they had a plain steel ring we could use for a fire pit liner and the man enthusiastically pointed to a perfect example of what we wanted, nice thick steel perfectly round black simple. We decided that was what we had to have, it was perfect. We sauntered back to the now oddly cheery man to inquire about the price and with an absolutely straight face he said $300.00. After the mix of emotions ranging from despair to murderous rage cleared from my head, I realized why he had that wide Cheshire grin cutting the bottom half of his face in two, he was nuts. Totally freaking batshit insane, there was no possible way we were going to pay 300 bucks for hole. We left. Plan B was decided quickly thereafter, we would buy one of the gaudy above ground fire rings (steel not terribly thick but serviceable) and submerge it below grade hiding its hideous leaf motif and working to keep our hole a hole.

Once our plan of action was in place it was relatively simple to finish digging out the hole, and tamp in the sand, place the ring, backfill with gravel, level it off and place some retaining wall bricks around the top and call it done. All in all this was one of the least technically challenging projects we have tackled, and it involved axes, large dangerous gas powered tools and a totally arbitrary reason to burn shit and drink beer. Not every project is this easy, but I try to enjoy them when they are.

Try not to cut off a finger.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Of Glory Holes, Honey Traps and Orifice Beautification

I should really back up a bit and lay some ground work for the above title.

Our house was built in 1967, there are two things relevant about the vintage of my house for the purposes of this particular allegory. 1) In 1967 there were INCREDIBLY different standards pertaining to size, shape and function of certain basic home amenities.  Take for instance a tub drain.  Today there are two sizes of tub drains available, if for what ever reason your tub drain were to fail (however unlikely that may seem, in the history of suburban man a tub drain aka "a HOLE" there have been no recorded instances of said HOLE's complete cessation of function.  Don't worry though well get there)  you could go to "Big Box Store"  and readily purchase any of a wide variety of tub drains. Some are chrome, some are brass finish, some have fancy spring activated built in plugs, some don't.  Rest assured however, they are available.  In abundance.

The second salient point that relates to my houses age is that the people who built it were craftsman.  Real callused hand, camel smoking, hand saw using, freaking craftsman. Due to the high degree of skill used in the initial construction of my house there are many sub systems that have functioned quietly and perfectly for quite a number of years.  Take for example the tubs plumbing.

My beloved spouse, and adorable baby boy were able help me understand both of the above points in detail.

My wife is in the process of remodeling our main bathroom.  Shes been doing it in small chunks here and there.  One of the recent efforts was trying to "dress up" the tub, drain and water mixing valve.  The valve we had, broke, and my wife seized on the opportunity to "improve" the bathroom by purchasing a dress up kit from a Big Box Store, that included a new spigot, mixing valve, plug plate cover, and a new tub drain!

Non of it Fit! Not a single freaking piece!  It WAS ALL WRONG@!

The first of my two points came into very sharp focus at this point.  Its not that it almost fit, it was just a fraction of a size too big or too small.  It was beyond hope outta wack.  Up sewage creek sans paddle.

Keep in mind, to find out these things did not fit, we first had to try to install them.  If your first thought was, "you have to remove the old fixtures before you can try new ones"  you were absolutely correct.  In the case of the spigot, mixing valve and cover, No. Big. Deal.  We simply cleaned up the old pieces and put em back on.  Easy.  The tub drain was an entirely different experience.  For those of you uninitiated in how holes (yeah its a freaking hole.  Period.)  are installed let me give you a bit of a primer.  New drains (read holes) are installed using cross members that quarter the inner diameter of the drain.  Its there fore easy to slip a pair of needle nose pliers into the quadrants and simply tighten or loosen the drain to install it or remove it.  Simple.  Easy.  Straight forward.

This method of drain (read hole) construction was not used widely in 1967.  In fact I'm sure when they built my house Billy Bad Ass plumbing god finished plumbing the tub drain, holstered his wrench, sparked up an unfiltered cigarette, wiped his oakum stained hands on his flannel shirt and said "that fuckers perfect, it ain't ever coming out".  I'm sure at NO POINT during the construction of this bathroom did any one ever question the aesthetic characteristics of the hole that lets the water leave the bath tub.  Ever, not even once, id bet a kidney on it.
Then my wife showed up.
Billy bad ass and his crew of plumbers used chrome plated brass fittings that were intended to be installed, and removed only if the commies were coming and these items could be used as weapons.  As such removing the old drain plug (read Glory Hole)  required a hammer, a large flat head screwdriver, and two cut digits.  Once removed, and the new improved drain (read hole) proved to be one of the new standard sizes and as such no where near the size used in 1967.  I had to reinstall the old tub drain.

Reinstalling the tub drain, was not fun, easy, straight forward, or something that was completed in what even Job would have considered a reasonable amount of time.  I got it tough, I got it reinstalled.  It was NEVER COMING OUT AGAIN! I had a leak free tub drain (read hole).  I was in the clear.

My son disagreed.

The previously installed plug did not make it through the reinstall.  No biggie though, one of my sons squishy bath toy balls fit perfectly into the mouth of the drain (read hole).  I simply installed the ball the duration of bath time and removed it when we were done.  Simple. Easy. Straight Forward. I would even say it was fail proof.  It was in fact fail less until last night.  When my son shoved the ball down the drain well past the point of no return.  All the way down, no coat hanger drain snake was going to fish this bad boy out.  We were balled er....ah... hosed.  The squishy ball had made it to the honey trap.

sawzall, wedged in between floor joists with out slipping and absolutely FUBARing .5" water supply lines is a nerve wracking experience i need not repeat) .

With the trap replaced, and a good non big box plumbing retailer located it was a simple matter to buy a bushing and install an Orifice beautification kit, with built in drain.  Hot dog.  That and about 9 beers makes the mental rehab possible after a project like this.

I hate plumbing.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Odds and Ends

Aggghhh…. Whatever happened to the month of May? Oh yeah that’s right… I had a HUGE project to do at work with an INSANE deadline so I tried to be productive with my time and unfortunately that meant no blogging. Some recent highlights to what we’ve been up to throughout May are …
  • Removing the glass shower door on our bathtub and installing a new shower curtain rod. The removal part was pretty satisfying for me – I HATED cleaning the glass doors and it seemed no matter how often I cleaned they perpetually had hard water spots on them making them look pretty hazy and gross up close. After scraping all the adhesive and caulk grossness off of the tub and tile I installed a new “hotel style” shower curtain rod and it’s such a drastic improvement in my eyes.
Unfortunately the first time we installed the new rod the location didn’t seem right and it just jutted out too far into the bathroom, but the second time around we nailed the position. A lil’ patching to cover the screw holes and touch up paint and you’d never know we had to do it twice (except that I’m telling you). Now I just need to find/DIY a shower curtain to replace the clear PVC one we have up temporarily.
  • Replacing shower fixtures. This began because our five decade old shower handle finally decided to bite the dust one evening during Ivan’s bath time. It was well on it’s way out for awhile so I was glad to finally replace it. While replacing the broken plastic handle with a shiny new metal lever I figured I’d update the drain, spout, and tub overflow plate so it would all be shiny and pretty. However, when it comes to plumbing or electrical in our home nothing seems to go as planned.

    The overflow plate was a pretty basic replacement but we ended up returning two spouts that didn’t work before giving up and sticking with the original as well as two different drains. During one such attempt at a drain switch that didn’t work, we ended up with what Jens likes to refer to as “mini-Katrina” in our basement due to inadequate amounts of plumbers putty when putting back in to original drain (I’ll take the blame even though Jens told me to use a nickel size amount).

    Luckily, Jens was in the basement while I was giving Ivan a bath and could hear the water leak so we discovered it right away or it could have been much worse. We ended up with a few acoustic ceiling tiles that need to be replaced and lots of vacuuming up wet carpet (again…that seems to be a theme with us this spring).  Needless to say we couldn’t get the standard size drains to fit and after some googling we discovered that there is a rare third size that was used commonly in the late sixty’s – go figure! So that’s going to require a trip to a specialty plumbing wholesale store to replace … someday we might get around to it but for now we are living with a old, yet functioning tub drain.
  • Patching the hole in our basement drywall from our little foundation repair job. Still needs to be primed and then eventually I’ll get around to painting the whole room since we picked out a paint color. That by the way was a very scientific process which involved slapping a bunch of sample swatches up, deciding that none of them were quite right, and adjusting the one that we liked the best with some white primer to lighten it up a little bit. Once we got the custom tint that we liked I put a swatch on a paint stick that I can take into the paint store and get a color match to. For right now though … that project is pretty low on my priority list.
  • Making cabinet doors for the built-ins! Jens finished our first maple cabinet door for the built-ins early this week. It looks awesome!


    I can’t wait to get all the doors completed and hung bring us one step closer to finishing the project that never ends. We plan on using BLUM concealed hinges which are pretty reputable for their high quality – I plan on ordering them from amazon very soon since that’s the cheapest place I can find them. I like that they are self-closing and offer three-way door adjustment so we can fine tune the reveal all the way around our inset doors as well as make sure they are flush with the face frames. Once we Jens is done with all the construction, I get to start on the tedious job of sanding, staining, and finishing the whole shebang. I’m looking forward to it, but I’m honestly always a little bit nervous about staining wood although I shouldn’t be because I did about a dozen sample pieces to decide which stain/toner/finish combo to use.
  • Restoring our original wood windows. Our exterior trim work needs repainting badly, especially on the southern exposure of the house. The paint is really starting to chip and flake off in some areas. While scraping off some of the flaking paint I also came across some areas in the exterior sill and frame where the wood felt soft and was starting to rot. So I went a little crazy and started chunking out all of the areas of rot to get down to solid wood until my windows look like this.


    Yikes, huh!? I’m glad Jens didn’t freak out when he got home and saw what I had done. Well thankfully there’s a product in existence know as wood epoxy for exactly this type of a situation. The epoxy is now cured and next on my priority list is getting around to sanding and painting it. I’ll be back with some before and after pics as well as more detail on the process.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Stool Sample

Yeah yeah yeah, I know, a title like stool sample is well, gross, and I apologize for what ever images that may be conjured up when you read those two words. However, as the picture below details, its appropriate.


We picked up these four bar stools at an Estate sale for 16 dollars, (this was our first Estate Sale experience, and frankly the deals were really good, the thrifty part of these really out weighs the fact that you're more than likely rifling through a dead persons stuff. Lets not dwell on that. Ok? Great.) I've been looking for some unique bar stools for a while, two years in fact. I've found that A) there are not that many "unique" bar stools out there and B) Unique or not finding four decent ones is never even a little cheap. We settled on these due to the price and with a little luck, and a little paint, they could turn out to be decent clean looking simple bar stools. I try to be a big supporter of local items the local beer in Minnesota is really good it has a lot of historical significance for the area, and some neat logos. I would like to do a leather upholstery on the top of the stools, with either an embossed or branded local beer logo. I will keep you updated and lets face it, there is no possible way these could get worse looking.


Now a good looking dog, to offset the terrible stools. DSC_0655

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Little Wetness Problem Solved

No, I’m not talking about incontinence or my underarms (thank goodness!) but rather an area in our finished basement which has been a reoccurring problem after heavy rainfalls last fall and this spring as I described in this post. I had finally had enough of the wet weather giving me this headache to deal with in our basement so we decided to bite the bullet and try to resolve the issue. Our first step was to pick up some hydraulic cement from the big box store. This stuff is used to patch foundation cracks which is what we anticipated we were dealing with given that the wetness kept occurring in the same localized spot.

Once home and the kiddo went down for a nap Jens and I got to work ripping out a section of drywall. I let Jens have his fun doing the demo part since I was a bit nervous about what we’d find behind it the drywall. However, to our amazement, things weren't nearly as horrid as we were both imagining. First off the basement appeared to be finished correctly meaning there was actually wood furring strips, styrofoam insulation, and a plastic vapor barrier behind the drywall. Score! Secondly, our ‘foundation crack’ where we were expecting a large gapping expanse the size of the Grand Canyon going all the way up the foundation wall happened to be a small crack the size of a pen tip about 6 inches from the floor.


Although the crack wasn’t much it was weeping water at a steady rate, thus the huge wet area in our basement carpet cap which was acting like a sponge. The carpet tack strips were also rotted from the wetness where it appeared that the strips were acting like a water dam until they pretty much rotten through so a few carpet tack strips will need replacement. But now for the magic …. how we patched our crack.


The process was pretty simple: mix cement cover crack and hold there with a trowel for 3-5 minutes until it firmed up enough, and smooth out the patch with the trowel. Yep, like I said it was like magic.


It still doesn’t look very pretty in our basement but things seem to be drying out and our patch appears to be doing its job. Wohooo!

Once the patch is fully cured we’ll start patching the wall back up and putting the carpet and trim back down to return it all back to normal. But for now I’m just relieved that our wetness problem seems to be taken care of and Jens and I are both kicking ourselves for taking so long to get this done since it was so simple. It seriously took us less than 40 minutes. Now we know, but hopefully there won’t be a next time since we plan on putting gutters on the house to make sure we don’t have water running down along our foundation walls. I guess we live and learn, right?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

April Showers….

…bring wet basements. Yes, I know they are supposed to bring May flowers, but this spring the frequent rainy weather we’ve been experiencing and the prior melting of a record amount of snow has lead to a reoccurring wet spot in our basement whenever we get heavy rains. And guess what … so far it has rained about everyday this week, and Jens is gone so that leaves me here to try to deal with it by my lonesome.

Nobody likes a wet basement, but it’s even worse when it occurs in a finished part of the basement which is carpeted and dry-walled. The first it occurred we thought it was due to our sump pump not operating correctly, but we’ve now replaced it and it’s operating just fine and water is freely flowing into the sump from our drain tile.

It appears to be a localized issue as only one spot continues to get wet when it rains and it appears wettest next to the exterior wall. So now we are back to diagnosing the issue which unfortunately will likely mean tearing out some drywall to investigate our block foundation for a crack. Honey if you’re reading this, now might be a good time to buy me a dremel multitool for Mother’s Day (hint, hint). Hopefully what we uncover is not too ugly!

Oh and as for the May flowers, the daffodil bulbs I planted last fall have finally started blooming this week so although it’s not technically May I’ll take them over the April showers anytime.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Magical Mythical Spinny Thing

To start I got a new tool.  Specifically a very complicated tool holding device.  This specific tool holder will allow us to do a wide variety of here to for unaccomplishable projects with a modicum of success rivaling people who do this for a living! (applause breaks out, angels sing, light shines from the heavens).  Lay-mans terms; We built a router table.

A table, yep, a table.  You have to understand the significance behind what a router table represents.  I can now pass different and various species of wood over, next too, around, near and at specific set distances from 1/2" shank razor sharp shaping bits that spin at 16,000rpms. Excuse me while I breathe lecherously into a paper bag.  Im that excited. 

Router tables, good free standing shop equipment router tables, not  "bench top" models (typically suited for doll houses , bird houses, and other such dwellings that people, real people are not ever supposed to inhabit) can easily put you back 500+ dollars, easy.  Well, we needed a router table and at that price point i damn near choked on mouth full of my favorite premium beverage (Premium, really that's what its called, and its well, premium, sorry for the side bar, but its awesome).  Becky and I began scouring Craigslist in an effort to upgrade my previously purchased bench top router table (craigslist).  What we found was not encouraging everything was either hyper expensive or simply under-suited to what we needed.  We did eventually find a brand new BenchDog router table top for 100 bucks, GREAT DEAL, had the insert every thing we needed, except for the table, the dust collection, the fence etc. etc.  We had work to do.

It started with the concept.  I took my design cues for the table from things id seen on the internet and quite frankly pics of ocean going oil drilling platforms.

Once we had the 4x4's in place and secured by the 2x4 frame, we could put the skirt/actual table support on.  Now building the router table from scratch was no easy feat, we had to lay out, mark and precisely drill all of the holes for the T-nuts with a hand held drill and speed square. This was not fun nor was it quick but, we took our time and i was pretty happy with result.

Once the base was built, the skirt and router table were connected It was relatively simple to join the two parts.  WA-LA Router table, and i was freaking pumped (YEAH BABY) .  We weren't done yet, there was still the issue of the fence and the dust collection system. 

The fence was, well, I'm a bit ashamed to admit this, the fence is from IKEA.  Thats right, on my wife's birthday after a 4 dollar meal of Swedish meatballs we hit up the reject station at IKEA and found what would eventually turn into a bad ass router table fence. 

There it is in all its $8.00 baby blue glory.  It was a pretty simple matter to cut the parallel tracks for the
Router table tracks and insert some pre-made extruded aluminum tracking and screw downs after i made the fence and sled.  I included a port on the back that works really really well to attach my shop vac and, i had it.  The table we built has the features of an 800.00 table at any store that would sell them, were into this table maybe 150.00 total. Its great it really is. 

Next ill show you what we did with it once we built it. 

And now a picture of my Dog.  For No Reason At All. 

Our Revamped Bathroom Vanity

March definitely hasn’t been a good month for blogging but it’s been productive. I finally finished revamping our bathroom vanity which I began writing about in this post back in January. And without further ado, here are the before and after shots.
It’s not perfect, but it’s a drastic improvement from the dated ugly box we started with. And believe it or not it’s still the same vanity that’s been upgraded with some base board , bead molding, paint, new hardware, and new doors constructed by my handy hubby.
Here are the steps we took to get from point A to B:
Step One is obvious - Remove the old doors and hardware. I also removed some 40 year old (probably original) contact paper from the inside and primed the whole inside of the cabinet.

Ste Two - Cut and install base board around the bottom of the cabinet. I used some big box store pre-primed base board. I cut miters for the corners with our compound miter saw, cut the other edges and curved radiuses with a coping saw, and then Jens saved me some time and cut the straight portion between the two “feet” with a straight cut bit in his router. I installed it with finish nails using a pneumatic nailer/stapler (aka nail gun).

Step Three - Become impatient with lack of progress on bead molding (see step 4), and decide to prime/paint the outside of the cabinet. I used gray latex primer and Gildden’s Onyx Black latex paint in a High Gloss. In an attempt to achieve less visible brush marks I also mixed in some Floetrol latex paint additive. It may have helped a little but there are still more brush marks than I’d like. If I had a do-over, I’d probably use an oil-based paint and go for an eggshell or semi-gloss finish - it flows a little better and shows fewer brush strokes . The high gloss finish tends to show every single brush stroke. To get the luxe glossy look I’d then use a clear vanish over the oil-based paint to protect it and give it some more shine.

Step Four – Cut and install bead molding. Using 3” width poplar from the big box store Jens used his router to put a bead profile on each edge of the poplar. He then cut the bead off (leaving a shoulder on the bead) by running the beaded boards through his table saw. This was good practice for our built-in cabinets we’re constructing around our fireplace which will be done in hard maple. Our take away lesson here is to make sure we are using wood stock that is the same thickness as the cabinet face frame to cut the bead molding from.  If you use different thickness’ the back edges don’t sit flush which can lead to hardware installation issues later. The other thing we’ll do different with our other cabinets is leave a smaller shoulder on the bead molding, just an aesthetic preference.

After Jens cut the bead molding on his table saw, I cut it to down to the correct length using the compound miter saw for a mitered joint in the corners. Admittedly, I wasn’t as precise here as I should have been since I knew I could caulk the gaps in the miters and the paint would hide any sloppy miter joints. It’s a good thing I now have some practice because this’ll have to be perfect on our stain grade maple cabinets. The bead was installed with some finish nails using the air gun. I LOVE the air gun! I get giddy when I get to use it so I forgot to sand the bead molding before installing so the wood was a little fuzzy but the two coats of paint I put over it helped hide it a bit.  

Step Five – Build the new doors. Using the leftover from the 3” poplar board that we cut the bead profile away from, Jens made cabinet door rails and stiles using his brand spanking new router table and a rail and stile router bit set. I’m not going to go into all the details, I’ll let Jens explain that complicated part in his own post some day for those of you who are into the hard-core woodworking stuff. For the panels of the door we used ¼” thick MDF. I then got the fun job of sanding the assembled doors and priming/painting them (See step 3).

Step Six  – Install doors and hardware. Besides picking out the correct hinges for an inset door, there’s not much to explain here. We used a more traditional looking hinge and pull in a modern brushed nickel finish to echo the new traditional form and modern finish of the cabinet. We also used some magnetic door catches for inset doors to help the doors stay closed. I installed the hinges on the cabinet first and then attached them to the doors, no mortising or trickery required just pre-drilling pilot holes once I got the positioning correct and securing everything with the provided screws. It was more art than science  attempting to even out the reveal around the doors and make sure everything was hanging approximately even. (I used playing cards as shims to help get the right spacing around the perimeter)

It’s far from perfect but I’m happy with it and since I’m happy with it Jens is happy with it. The wood, paint and hardware were relatively cheap in comparison to a new vanity and we got a lot of practice in cutting beading and making cabinet doors for the built-in cabinet project. Now we just need to wait for some warmer weather to tackle cutting and polishing the carrera marble for the top that I scored for $50 off of craigslist well over a year ago.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Oh Happy Hell.

Crown Molding.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, look it up, you will find notation after notation detailing the frustrated results of broken crafts people resigning to a life of baking pre-mixed brownies vowing to never again touch a power tool in an effort to quell the ache of failed projects that rages inside their soul.

To those that have completed these projects with some modicum of success, I salute you, and I hope you can find solace in the bottom of your favorite bottle, and the arms of your nearest loved one, hopefully simultaneously.

In an effort to describe the sheer magnitude of this project I will detail the scope of what I was faced with.

6 cuts, a total of roughly 22 ft of crown molding.

If I'm honest this has been the most terrifying portion of a project I’ve done. Ever. Period.
I would rather install central HVAC, and high speed Internet lines in the Taj Mahal with a butter knife and a copy of "Pride and Prejudice" for reference than tackle crown molding. My reasons are as follows:

1) I'm going to be looking at this freaking trim every day, for as long as we own this house (hopefully a long long time - I like the house what can is say).

2) Due to the location of the trim, I will see EVERY SINGLE MISTAKE, there is NO hiding even the slightest Fu%k up. No way, wood putty would look stupid. Sloppy joints make even the most well crafted project look terrible.

3) Compound Angles. Perfect Miters are a total pain with POS equipment. A simple picture frame can come undone with a saw that has a hard time keeping tolerance. Take a crap saw, a neophyte carpenter and add not one but two angles PER cut, and that my friends is a recipe for having a project sit undone for years on end.

To catalog the project I will start with the material. We decided on a nice simple solid maple cove crown molding. It’s really nice, seriously, it adds the perfect cap to The Project That Never Ends. The only problem we had was that we picked it up from the local reuse center. Great right? Yeah, if you're sure you won’t scrap any. I knew I would scrap some, and there was not enough in the bundle to give me the margins I wanted. The scant margin of error coupled with my total lack of experience with crown molding made this project loom very large in my lexicon of terrifying tasks.

Once the material had been selected, I had to educate myself on cutting the abominable medium. I began by looking up all the things I could on my handy Internet machine, trying to discern the best possible way to complete this project. Every link, blog, tutorial, video, showed some sort of jig that my inner cheapskate/obstinate DIYer mentality forbade me from shelling out the coin for. I decided that I could do this with no additional tool purchase (moron).

Keep in mind that this crown molding would be covering up, a 40 year old square suspect wall (built by others) behind framing (built by me), behind dry wall (installed by me), and behind cement (applied There is a term in manufacturing called "built up machine tolerance", apropos to machining precise machine parts that may all be within spec, but due to them all being at either the Min/Max of tolerance the end result is no longer within spec. This project showed a "built up moron builder tolerance", meaning that all those times I had checked for square and level amounted to, umm well, nothing. I was going to install this crown on a surface that was at best, square......ish. With a saw that could on its best day cut a 45......ish miter. Not fun.

It took me 5 hrs to make and install the three pieces of crown necessary to cover the top of the fire place. I am well aware of the fact that there are skilled crafts people (I am not one of those people - I know skill when I see it, and cannot replicate it on my best day) that could do this in a fraction of the time. It took me 5 hrs. Eat me.

The end result needs some tweaks. I think I can live with the result. If I can pass on any advice, if you ever contemplate doing solid maple crown molding in your project, and your next immediate thought isn’t "lets hire a pro", seek counseling. (Now that I’ve done it, I can say with no reservation, it sucked and it kicked my butt.) Happy cutting.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Houston, we have a problem

I usually enjoy a DIY challenge but in one area in particular it’ll send both Jens and I running for the hills. Any guesses?? No. You’re just going to give up like that so quickly… okay I’ll tell you anyways. I hate plumbing! Especially when it involves trying to fix a plumbing problem (i.e. clogged drains, leaky pipes) because we rarely find ourselves successful on the first attempt and it’s frustrating and costly to call in the pros.

Why the sudden rant about plumbing? Last night while attempting to start a load of laundry I stumbled upon our utility sink full of nasty, greasy water. I closed my eyes, clicked my heels together three times and then reopened my eyes hoping I was just hallucinating. (Okay not really but it makes for a better story). So I pulled up my big girl pants and reached my ungloved hand into the nasty cesspool to check the sink drain for an obstruction but unfortunately there wasn’t one and this was going to be a bigger fix than that so I called in the big guns which went something like this …. “ummm, Jens I think we have a problem with the drain on the utility sink”

A trip to Ace Hardware for a drain snake, plunger , and Drano later and Jens got to work doing one of the most dreaded home maintenance jobs ever…. snaking a clogged drain. Needless to say, he didn’t have much success but after a couple hours he did manage to completely get himself covered in nastiness and destroyed a couple old towels mopping up the mess on the concrete floor. So we cut bait and called in the pros… Roto-Rooter should be visiting our casa between the hours of 6-8pm this evening to hopefully resolve our plumbing issue. Our wallets may be feeling a little lighter after tonight, but hopefully so will our pile of laundry.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Installing Stone Veneer

Alright, as promised - some more recent (Fall 2010) photos of the project that never ends and a quick little how-to on installing the stone veneer around our fireplace.

Here are the pictures showing the stone about 80% complete (we thought we’d have enough stone but didn’t so had to order some more and finished it the following weekend). Please ignore the chaos going on in the ‘cabinets’ – they became our temporary tool storage area, but now Ivan’s mobile and getting into everything so we’ve put most of the tools away in their proper home in the garage.



The whole process wasn’t too difficult – if you’ve installed tile, you can probably handle stone veneer. The first step was to prepare the surface for the stone which involved a layer of roofing felt (free from my father-in-law), wire lath (from local stone supplier), and a scratch coat. The roofing felt went onto the drywall easily with the staple gun making sure to overlap the seams. The wire lath was then installed - again using the staple gun and trying to make sure it goes on flat and tight around the corners. We used tin snips to cut it to size and I would recommend leather gloves because the edges are pretty sharp.

The most difficult part was then installing the scratch coat (mortar mix) over the wire lath but once we got the mortar mix to correct consistency my handy hubby was able to muscle it into and over the wire lath with a flat trowel. Oh and I almost forgot, as you can see in the pictures we covered up and taped off the flooring and the fireplace really well before we started with the mortar which I highly recommend because it can turn into a messy job. Once the mortar had set up a little bit we just lightly brushed it with a bristled brush to give it some texture – hence the name scratch coat.

Once all the prep work was done then came the fun part – actually installing the stone. We did a dry layout of a couple courses of stone so we could kinda get familiar with the pattern and what looked good. Then we cut the stone down to size where required with a tile cutter (borrowed from our awesome neighbors). We also had Jens’ cousin helping us out during this part – he was the designated mortar mixer. I was placing the laying out, buttering the back of, and placing the stone, and Jens was cutting the stone. With our three person system the actual stone installation went pretty quick and the pattern is groutless so once the stone was installed we were done (if only we had gotten enough stone to finish it that day…opps)

Next post I’ll update on how our cabinets are coming along which is what we’ve been working on most recently this Jan/Feb (thanks to another awesome neighbor who has borrowed us a heater for our woodshop a.k.a. two car garage).

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Project That Never Ends

In December 2009, Jens and I began a project and ……… it’s not done yet.
In our defense, it is a BIG project and it was interrupted in March 2010 by an important life changing event – the birth of our son, Ivan.


But, the now we are back at it full steam ahead and we are determined to complete the project in early 2011. Here’s the background story:

It all started one evening when Jens and I got the itch to start another project while that we had been discussing since buying the house, so before we knew it we had the hammers and crow bars out and we began to tear down the awful faux wood paneling along a big wall in our family room. Here’s what it looked like before that night.


And here’s the wall once we were done tearing out the paneling. Ahhhh . Goodbye faux wood paneling!


In case you’re curious, the room used to house a freestanding gas fireplace which vented out the ceiling through the roof which explains the odd looking placement of tile in the middle of the room and the vent cover in the ceiling. When we purchased the house in May 2008 as a foreclosure, all of the appliances, including the fireplace, had been removed but it was otherwise intact. Unfortunately, our family room was freezing during the winter months due to inadequate venting to this room which was a later addition to the house, so we desperately needed another heat source to make this room habitable during a Minnesota winter. Enter a new high efficiency Kozy Heat® Fireplace!

The gas line was already there, but it required a little upgrading since both the dryer and the fireplace came from the same manifold pipe and we needed some additional shut off valves to get things up to code. Once that was complete we framed out a ‘bump-out’ to install the fireplace in according to the clearance dimensions required on the manufacturer’s installation drawings. We also planned on mounting our TV above the fireplace so we ran some electrical boxes with the help of an electrician friend. Here it is all framed out.


Then came the drywalling, taping, mudding, sanding, more mudding/sanding, and then finally painting. It was starting to come together-but there was a long way to go yet! After the holiday’s we got to work again and made plans for the built-in cabinets which were to flank each side of the fireplace. We used ¾” thick birch veneer plywood to build the carcasses of the cabinets, which Jens was able to whip together using rabbet and dado construction.

...And then in Spring 2010 Ivan was born so everything went on pause for awhile.

We picked the project back up for a little while this past fall and covered the fireplace surround with stone veneer from Boulder Creek. We used a pattern called Western Ledgestak in Appoloosa which I was able to find from Craigslist! (Does anybody else do a little happy dance when they find cheap construction materials on craigslist? I'll be the first to fess up.) It was almost enough for our entire project for just $50 ($300 if we ordered it from our local supplier). We ended up needing to order one additional box, but we still came out way ahead cost wise. And we are really happy with the way it looks and how forgiving it was to work with (i.e. little mistakes aren't noticable due to the natural irregularity of the "stone")

So now we are nearing Ivan's first birthday and it's time to officially get this project completed (especially since he's mobile now and we should probably get our tools out of the family room). Some current status and progress pictures to come shortly.....