Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Setting up shop part Deux

I am well aware that basic measuring tools are not what most people would consider sexy tools, rest assured that there the most important tools youll use. The rest of your woodshop is useless without the basics, Measuring tape, speed square and pencil. With that topic sufficiently beaten to death we can move now to the realm of the giggle inducing testosterone boosting potentially dismembering tools. Power tools that is.


Not “scotty beam me up space” but the physically defined area necessary for most power tools. Until we purchased our first house I had the basic power tools, drill (indespensible, you cannot do any thing with out it, its kinda like a pocket knife if you don’t have one already find a chalk board and write “I am a home improvement failure” 100 times and then go buy one.) Once we had the house a realization hit me like a sock filled with nickels, a two car garage is GREAT for parking two cars. It Is not however 400 square foot of shop space, in fact in the winter Im lucky if its 100 sq ft of slime covered frigid concrete. My wife has developed this annoying proclivity of parking her CAR in the garage (sheesh spoiled right) as such, I have to ensure that there is the requisite space for her little red Yaris to hole up, thus severely limiting the amount of space I have at my disposal (in the interest of full disclosure I too park my car in the garage during long Minnesota winters, call it soft, I dare you, seriously ill staple your eyelids shut, seriously, ill do it, scraping windows sucks).

As noted I have to keep in mind my space constraints when I shop for power tools. My list of have to haves Is as follows:

-Circular Saw: I use mine for a lot of projects, lately most as a panel saw. Its nothing fancy just your basic circular saw. You can find an inexpensive one that will do a good job for you. Splurging on this is just not necessary

-8’ clamp on Fence (technically not a power tool, but cutting 4’x8’ sheets of plywood free hand is just not my cup o tea)

-Compound Miter saw: I hate my compound miter saw, I really do, it’s a massive pile of crap. The blade wobbles, it has an entirely useless laser (more on that later). Its handy, but I resist the urge to chuck it across the garge and attack it with an oxy acetelne torch almost every time I use it. This is one of those tools that requires some fore thought prior to purchase, or you could just say screw it and buy a compound sliding miter saw from a reputable manufacturer. This is not a tool to scrimp on if youre buying it and you cheap out it will piss you off, BAD. (on a related note, I hate watching ham fisted morons use these tools, slamming them back and forth from measurement to measurement, these are fine woodworking tools. Fine angle adjustments require fine hand movements, not bashing and smashing something into place. If that concept is forgein too you for the sake of your projects, and your fingers, stop, now.)

-Router and Router table: I hate to say it but this is another tool that will require a financial investment up front. A cheap router may be the most dangerous tool known to man. Think about it, a razor sharp bit up to ¾” of an inch wide spinning at 23,000rpms. Do you want to have any doubt about that tool going exactly where you want it to when you want it to? No, no you don’t. A good router will have at least a good fixed base that is capable of accommodating bits with a ½” shank (1/2” collet). This is an incredibly handy tool, that you probably don’t need unless you plan on doing a lot of finnish carpentry around the house. If you don’t plan on doing anything like making your own mill work, doors, face frames, picture frames skip it.

-Portable Table saw (This is NOT a “contractor/bench top saw there is a distinct difference i.e. contractor/bench top saws are by and large cheap pieces of garbage unfit for even the most mundane birdhousing projects) A table saw is another "wood working" power tool, as such it may not be a neccessity in every garage. It is defiently a neccesity in ours. There are alot of cheap table saws out there, and they are at best needlessly complex finger removal tools. Cheap table saws have cheap beds and fences. Cheap beds and fences don't facilitate smooth accurate material movement over the blade, making the work peice and by proxy the saw junk.

-Air compressor (huh huh huh, buy one youll never run out of uses for one of these, seriously you wont). This will help you out either by blowing crap out of your shop vac to powering your air nailer. I NEVER would have bought one, my buddy matt worked pretty hard on me to pick one up and it gets used more than almost anything else. I bought a larger stand up model, i tend to over buy when i buy tools, meaning i set my bare minimum standard then purchase something roughly 3 steps higher. With an air compressor that was the right choice.

These are the basics for us, and they take up A LOT of space. More than youd really be prepared to admit, so its critically important that you take into account how much space you have before you begin outfitting your shop, theres nothing worse than getting ready to go to work on a long over due project only to find that you don’t have the space to properly use a tool.

What to Look for in tools

There are a whole bunch of tool manufactures out there. There are cheap tools, there are expensive tools. My rules when buying tools are:

1) Be paitent youd be shocked what you can find on sale or used if you take your time and shop around its crazy.

2) Stay away from cheap tools. DON’T DO IT you will get what you pay for. Cheap tools are great if you don’t care about accuracy reliability and safety (in that order, I think there are a lot of lawyer driven safety features on tools that make them harder to use, less accurate, and more expensive, that’s a whole nother topic)

3) Fads are temporary. Lasers, fiber optics, super duper special hyper neat features, are all just really good ways for you to blow a budget on something that’s irritating. For example, laser beams on Radial arm/Compound miter saws they get in the way of my freaking pencil line I cant just bring the blade down once to check where it will land, I have to look around/under/next to a freaking LASER BEAM. Seriously? A freaking Laser? That’s moronic unless you're severely myopic, you have tunnel vision, or you just prefer to guess where you'll be cutting. If you're honest if you're any of the above listed, should you really be operating a large saw? No. You shouldn’t be.

4) Keep things simple, make sure tools have the power necessary to get the job done and the adjustments points on the tool are capable of holding the positions you put them in. Then keep your fingers out of the way and have fun

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Just Coping With It

(Yeah, that's right, another really bad pun title. I'll work on improving that - promise.) So why am I coping you may ask ... well I'm not "managing a taxing circumstance", rather I'm "shaping the end of a moulding component to fit the contours of an abutting member". (Ahhh-ha now it makes more sense doesn't it.)

Last night my handy hubby helped me rip a piece of baseboard moulding down to the desired height so I could begin another little project in the main bathroom - our vanity update. Here's a picture of the ugly beast in it's current state.

I'd love to replace this with something that had more of a 'furniture' look and feel to it but unfortunately this suckers not moving. Ya see, it's original to the house and when the tile and mortar bed where installed in the bathroom, it was all done after the vanity was installed so there's no mortar or tile below it. That basically means that replacing this could require more tile work than I want to do in this bathroom currently (especially since I just re-did the floor tile grout as shown here). So that leaves me with the option to make do with what I've got and give it a little makeover and it's nicer to the ol' pocket book.

The plan is to give this a new marble top and sink, replace the doors and hardware, paint it a nice glossy black, and add some moulding around side and toe kick to give it more architectural interest for that 'furniture' feel. So I've started with the moulding which took a little more thought than I originally imagined since the ends of the moulding will be abut against the tile wall trim which isn't exactly flat. The solution to this was a coping saw and an empty box of Mini-Wheats cereal - the cardboard served as a nice template to match the curve of the tile which was transferred onto the moulding and cut out with the coping saw.

The little cardboard template trick was also used to trace a radius onto the front moulding piece on each end so each side will have a symmetrical cut out. So far I've got one side cut (again using the coping saw) and will cut the remaining side some evening between Ivan's bed time and my bed time (a.k.a. mommy's project time). Here's the look I'm trying to achieve with the moulding. Wish me luck!

Image source: unknown

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Setting Up Shop

After the initial "Yeah, Lets Do This!" DIY euphoria wears off the next logical thought is "Sh$t, do we have all the tools/space we need to get this done?" Most of the time the answer is no, most people yours truly included have had to pick up different and varying tools as we've gone along. With those tool purchases have come two rock hard truths:

1) Tools (good tools no crappy 19.99 one use knuckle busting crap boxes) are expensive.

2) Depending on the project they can take up A LOT of space.

At ease though before you go hiring some one for $150.00/hr to come and do a job that can be done by you (impresses' the wife unless you're like me, and showed her you can do this kind of stuff early on, then you're hosed, its expected, but i digress) . I have developed a list of the must have tools for your home improvement and maintenance projects.

Tape Measure, If you don't have a good Tape Measure, you've already lost. There is no replacement for a solid tape, before you go out and buy just any old plastic 2 dollar tape measure with all the handy markings, labeling each increment in cute font with the measurments called out above each hash i.e. 32nd's 16th's 8th's Quarters and halves, HAVE SOME SELF RESPECT. Take some time to learn how to read a tape, its not difficult and if you can't figure it out, should you really be doing home improvements in the first place?

A good tape is one that is robust enough to hold up to occasional use, measures up to 25' ( I stay away from plastic case tapes, personal thing, plastic tools=crap. Its just me. ) I prefer a steel case tape measure. Don't fall for the "Hyper Fat Super Duper Neato Measure to the Moon" tape, that's Hype, and its stupid, if you have to measure over 25ft, you have; A) an enormous house and B) A retractable tape measure is the wrong freaking tool (on this note the tapes that can be extended for miles suspended in the air before crashing to the ground are awesome for the guy "huh, look how far it stretches" factor and almost totally useless other wise).

Number 2:
Speed Square/Pencil Combo

If you dint know what a speed square is, well your proverbially up a creek and almost past salvation. If you don't know what a pencil is, please email me quickly and tell me how you managed to by a house and what your thought process was after buying said house that made you think that you could handle a few quick home improvements.

If in fact you've taken some time to google a speed square and found an image that looks a lot like a triangle with funny markings on it. Bingo, you've discovered a speed square. The reason a speed square is indispensable is, it helps you draw a straight line, find and recreate angles, gives you quick and easy measurements, and lets face it, they look cool (also you and I both know you can't draw a straight line and this handy tool will eliminate you pulling out a ruler and looking like a dufous in front of said domestic partner, seriously rulers are for first graders. Speed squares are for MEN.)

This may seem an insipid part a project but until you attempted to run a bic disposable mechanical pencil down the 3.5" of a 2x4, you don't under stand.
A wide carpenters pencil has its merits; wont break, easy to sharpen, looks bad ass as you use your pocket knife to get the point usable (if you don't have a pocket knife, buy one. Now. I wont even go into the usefulness of it, just go purchase a blade you can keep in your pocket) You will also need a good fine point pencil. For all of the merits of a good wide carpenters pencil there are times when a well sharpened number two 2nd grade pencil works really well, think fine carpentry, long lines that you want to make disappear with a saw blade etc. etc. etc.

Becky and I have gone round and round she likes her mechanical engineering pencils. I think they are dainty and out of place anywhere actual work is taking place. With that said, have two good pencils at all times one nice wide carpenters pencils. One nice sharp Number two 2nd grade pencil.

Never, ever thought I would go this long on those two tools (three kinda, but come on 1's a freaking pencil) but for any measure of success these are absolutely necessary if you cannot measure twice you have no business cutting once.

Next installment of Setting up shop coming soon...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Walk the line

...the grout line that is. Har har (sorry for the cheesyness, I couldn't resist). Our bathroom floor tile got a little grout makeover this past weekend, but I must first preface this post with a little story.

Every time I clean the bathroom Jens makes fun of me for my OCD tendencies and reminds me that no one is going to be performing open heart surgery in there so it doesn't need to be a perfectly sterile environment. I admit that I have a weird standard for cleanliness in a bathroom. I blame him and my experience once upon a time cleaning the bathroom in his college apartment he shared with three other guys on move out day so someone could get their security deposit back. Lets just say I coulda woulda shoulda rented a hazmat suit for that one. Ever since then, I have absolutely no tolerance for a filthy bathroom.

Our bathroom wasn't filthy, but the dingy dirty looking grout between our white tile floor really bugged me. (Especially in the spots where I had scrubbed it so hard with abrasive cleaner to get it clean that it revealed the dark gray mortar underneath - oops!). So it was time to redo the grout to bring it up to my odd bathroom cleanliness standards.

Here's the play by play:

Step 1. Remove old grout. For this painstakingly tedious task I borrowed my Dad's Sonicrafter tool. It worked, although not nearly as smoothly as I was first imagining. It could have been part user error, but I wasn't overly impressed with the quality of the grout removal attachments. After completing approximately the first third of the grout lines, the attachment was worn down to a little nub (sorry Dad - I'll replace it). In order to finish the job I needed to get a couple new attachments, which of course I couldn't find anywhere locally, so I had to buy two more online which with shipping where nearly about as expensive as buying a new Sonicrafter kit. It felt kinda like buying new print cartridges for a printer.

 Step 2. Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum. Removing the old grout got grout dust everywhere in the bathroom!

Step 3. Reset tiles that accidentally came loose. There weren't a large quantity of tiles, but I got a little grout removal happy in a few instances and went a little bit to far through to the mortar holding the tile in place, so about a dozen tiny tiles came loose. I wasn't about to go out and buy a whole bag of mortar for about 10 square inches of tiles, so I just mixed up a little batch of old white grout that we had stored in the basement from our master bathroom project we completed about a year and a half ago. I just back buttered the tiles and popped them back into place, making sure i didn't goop up the grout spaces too much.

Step 4. Time to grout. After the huge undertaking that the grout removal process was, I wasn't about to just put any old run of the mill grout back in place only to have to repeat the process later down the road when that grout eventually become gross colored. So I searched the internet for recommendations on stain resistant grout and decided on spending a little extra moolah on Laticrete SpectraLOCK Pro epoxy grout (which is also low VOC GREENGUARD certified). I was able to get by with one mini size for regrouting my entire bathroom floor. Epoxy grouts are notoriously harder to work with than cement grout, but Laticrete claims SpectraLOCK is similar in workability to cement grout.Well it was... at first, but I obviously didn't work fast enough. It started drying out and by the end of installing the grout I was seriously sweating and grunting trying to get the grout packed into the grout lines with my epoxy grout  float. I even have some nice size blisters on my palm from all my effort.

Step 5. Follow cleaning instructions. Post grout installation required two cleanings of the tile to remove the excess grout that remained on the tiles and the grout haze. This process was pretty similar to what I had experienced with cement grout and was pretty easy peasy.

Here's a picture of the finished results. Time will now tell how 'stain resistant' it actually is, but I'm satisfied with the immediate results.

Psst - one additional nice thing about the epoxy grout I used is that it doesn't need to be sealed. Woohoo for getting to forego that additional step! 

Monday, January 3, 2011

The first post....

It's the start of a new year and as a little new year's resolution for myself I decided to start a blog. It's not meant to be one of those ranty this is my life story play by play of our personal life blogs, but rather a place to publish some of our family's accomplishments (some big and others small) as it relates to our home projects and household related stuff. Hopefully, I"ll be able to get my husband, Jens, on board with writing some post because he's the witty and entertaining one in the relationship. But for now all of my readers out there (currently, all whoping zero of you out there) will have to put up with me and my lack of skillz when it comes to writing and our overall lame blog design until I figure out this whole blog template deal.

Currently, our family resides in a 60's ranch located in a Twin Cities suburb that Jens and I refer to as paradise. Other family members include, Ivan, our nearly year old adorable (yes I may be bias) baby boy, our massive American Akita, Kayden, and our two kitties, Sampson and Oleo. We love our home and after over two years of living in our first house we've tackled a few DIY projects in the past, but have a loooong list of future DIY projects for the house we'd like to document along the way .... and that's where this blog comes in.