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 by.......me). 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.