Saturday, February 11, 2017

A Tale of Two Benches, Part 1: Library Room Bench

As my shop regained functionality, DW asked- so what's your next project for our house?  I had done everything except chairs in our home's furnishings as I did not feel up to the angles and curves involved. We had talked about getting another sofa as our living room/library seating was sparse, but buying one was not terribly exciting. The affordable options had the "looks good right now but will be ratty in several years" feel to them.  The quality ones were out of our price range especially if its secondary use was to be a feline scratch post.
Our evolving living/library/music room at that time was needing additional seating and bookshelf space. We both prefer to do our leisure reading in a supine position but there was only room for one of us on our sofa. So based on that criteria, we would look for a chaise. But we also needed to have seating for larger gatherings in which case a sofa would be the choice. We looked at the sofas with the recliner options but by and large were big, bulky and homely and we definitely didn't want to rock that look. While looking at storage solutions, there were some benches with storage under the seat but these were not designed for books and the ones I saw seemed low quality.
The best option for us to purchase would be a sofa, but the most aesthetically pleasing were the benches  particularly those in the Shaker/A&C style. The concept of a multifunction bench/sofa began to develop. Next was research on seating ergonomics. When I  floated the idea of making a multipurpose seating solution as the inaugural project for the remodeled shop she enthusiastically approved even as my verbalizing of the concept was inadequate for her to fully visualize it. She noted though, that was often the case and expressed confidence that if I was going to go for it, that she would be happy with the results.
I had already done a large project- my kitchen cabinet with other than 90 degree joints, but this project was my opportunity to move further past "square" furnishings. Curiously, once I get into the construction of a project, I invariably space out on the documenting of the process. Thus not as many photos of the more challenging aspects of making the bench. In particular I can't find any photos of the assembly of the side arms.

One notable event was that my Jet table saw went out while making the back supports. When I came in from the shop disgusted with that development, DW simply said- well, it's time to replace the saw. She is a bit of an enabler with many of my interests and we had talked about the dust collection deficiencies of the Jet saw. Further, she had dragged me to the emergency room 18 years ago when I sliced off a small  portion of my left index fingertip on said table saw. She also remembered the large welt on my groin from a kickback incident and a broken window from another kickback event. The only replacement that would be worth the upgrade were the SawStop or Bosch ReAxx flesh sensing brake equipped machines.
So on a Sunday, I went to look at the portable SawStop model as I liked the idea of being able to easily transport and use in locations other than my home's workshop. But on comparing the stablility and fence quality of the contractors model vs the portability of the jobsite model, I came home with the contractor's model. I had managed to keep my hands out of the Jet saw harms way for 16 years ( I did have a jointer vs fingertip event after the tablesaw ouwee), but it's really nice to have a saw with the latest safety features and improved dust collection features. An added bonus was a better fence and more power. While there were no cuts on this project that required the additional power of the SawStop, it did come in handy on the next project.
Festool products are often maligned as rich guy's toys but they were essential for this project.   These  show the clamping options of the MFT's.

The clamps themselves are useful when used with DIY bench setups

The ability of being able to make loose tenon joints at other than 90 degrees along with being able to direct glue ups.

The track saw allowed for being able to make cuts at angles both lengthwise and at blade orientation other than 90 degrees.
It also is a much safer and convenient way to cut plywood panels as well.
The portion of the project that had to outsourced were the cushions. I initially tried a guy who worked in a small town 20 minutes from my house. I was less than impressed with the degree of entropy in  his shop and home as well as his timeline for completing the project. I also had the feeling that he thought I might be a difficult/demanding customer. Fortunately, I found a much more compatible upholsterer in Portland. I only had to speak with him for a few minutes to be confident of his craftsmanship and proficiency. We had much in common. We both enjoyed bouncing back and forth between English and Spanish. He was from East L.A; we reminisced about our younger days. I grew up in South Central, but did stuff often in East L.A. and spent a summer delivering sewing machines in his neighborhood. He did a great job with the cushions and backrest.
Once his work was completed, the rest of the project was straight forward. Rather than use my old standby Watco, I used a polymerized tung oil finish that was easier to build up coats to achieve a furniture quality hand rubbed finish (DW-can you get our furniture finish to look like the Moser chairs. Grrr). Called it a day after 5 coats. Not quite Moser level, but better than Watco.
Casters were used to make it easy to move to our den/TV room  if additional seating is needed there. The wife was very happy with the end result and, as they say, happy wife, happy life.
Andy spends more time on the bench than we do; cat's happy too.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Workshop furnishings

Twenty years of working in the shop prior to the 2015 remodel gave plenty of time to form a list of needs and wants. The prior two posts had to do with the shop itself- addressing realistically working area, lighting, ceiling height, access and dust management.
Work surfaces and tool storage were as important as the space itself. I was also less frugal there as they were not fixed assets. It's commonly accepted that work benches are as important a tool as anything else in the shop. My ideal workbench was stable, movable and height adjustable. The Festool Domino joiner, Kapex saw and track saw and made me a fan of that system of tools. Thus ordered a MFT table and readily appreciated how well it worked with the track saw. I was working with a lot of sheet goods during the shop and shed projects and for a one man shop, this was an efficient and safe way of doing the work. Thus worth it in terms of value and risk management.
So I purchased another table which was less expensive as I did not need another set of accessories.
As purchased, however, they were not stable or height adjustable. Also the swiss cheese table top was irritating when assembling parts. It was love at first sight when I came across a Vintage Industrial table but wrote it off due to weight, shipping difficulties and, most of all, cost.
Hure Crank Base
As the idea for this kind of base persisted and became more of a need than a want, I began to research screw jacks as that was the key component to the design. The rest of the table base could be done with wood rather than metal and pipe clamps could serve as additional support. The American brand screw jacks were out of my budget however. But in researching screw jacks I came across a Chinese supplier- Jacton Industries who were just great to do business with. I knew nothing about the requirements/specifications/nomenclature of the screw jack mechanism. My only communications were by email. Their service rep- Mr. Warren Lee was as they say affable, able and available.  Every time I sent off an e-mail, there was a response within several hours. I provided him with the size of the table, anticipated weight and desired travel range. The only area where I needed to be precise was the center to center distance between the jacks. This was due to the MFT's top design-an aluminum frame holds a replaceable MDF surface. the part of the base supporting the top needed to be fitted to the aluminum frame to securely hold it

He  provided  scaled drawings of the jacks along with a polite recommendation to build the base first. Once that was done, then I would be able to provide a precise center to center distance for the connecting components between the jacks. I could have saved a significant amount by using shipping by sea rather than air with door to door, but chose the latter as there was less opportunity for stuff to go wrong.
The rest was a snap.
Now the two tables really are multifunctional. While the top can be precisely fitted to the base, it easy to remove. If I need a work table outside the workshop the original legs are easy to re-install and I can use a different top and retain much of the base's utility in the shop. Most of the time, the tables are set up as a miter saw station.

I can also place my drill press between the tables or raise one table while leaving the rest of the arrangement alone.

They also come in handy as outfeed tables for table saw, planer, support for unwieldy plank shaping with a bandsaw and as a dovetail jig.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Workshop Remediation Completed

Ugh. Back in January, this tale had been started and left "to be continued". Well, blog posting being relatively low on my task priorities, the tale continues. The shed- topic of the last post- was a major detour. It did help clear the shop area out so the work there could proceed. The ceiling was the first task. I don't like drywall and wanted to maximize ceiling height, thus exposing the joists and using  rigid foam insulation with panels between the joist was the initial plan. Cost of solid foam panels to achieve required R value vs high density roll insulation changed the plan to a lower height of the panels between the joists. A visit to my local salvage yard gave to solution to the panels in some corrugated steel panels that required minimal cutting to fit as needed. The last photos on the 5/22/15 post show that part of the job in progress. Here are the finished ceiling photos. I would have loved 10 foot ceilings, but at least I can stand a sheet of plywood up straight.
The next step was taken care of by Dale, a general contractor who also does as much- or as little- as is requested. I had framed the rough openings for the new windows and gutted enough of the existing interior walls that he could re-wire and place a glue-lam beam to support the portion of the load bearing wall that was being removed to improve the workspace.

Here is the area (studs only) where the glue-lam was installed.

Next was removing the vinyl coated tile (VCT). The floor covering was there  when I purchased the property, so I was not sure if it was made/installed in the post-asbestos era. A Home Depot purchased asbestos testing kit confirmed that the tiles and glue were not a health hazard to remove. It was a chore to remove with some portions of the floor much more adherent than others. A concrete floor refinisher had given a reasonable quote on prepping and placing a epoxy finish on the old concrete. That was accomplished with an adventure component (he had to come back and re-apply the finish), but in time for Dale to do his work as scheduled.

I had taken some vacation time to finish the ceiling, and do the interior walls in the late summer. Vacation times can be difficult to re-schedule at my clinic, so there was some anxiety around the floor and interior structural work timing. I was able to install drywall and the wood wainscoting during the time I had scheduled to be off work.
Having tables and machines on rollers and being able to vary the height on my two modified festool tables made the next part of the task much more manageable
Here is drywall stage.

Once the interior was sufficient far along that I could start moving stuff back in, I could address storage. In my younger days, I would have built the cabinets but sometimes bought rather than built is the way to go. I wanted this time to store shop stuff in as portable and space-efficient manner as practically possible and metal tool chests with their thin metal drawers, caster wheels and large load bearing capacity could do a better job than anything I could make. Lowe's had roller cabinets on special, but by the time I had returned to buy them, they were back at regular prices and reading reviews dissuaded me from buying at that price.  As I still had plenty of work to do, I decided to monitor Craigslist for used SnapOn boxes as, other than price, that seemed to be the toolbox of choice. After 3 wks of searching, I found a box at a good price and not too far. Great box, except for weighing 400+ lbs, but that's why it's sturdy.

SnapOn would have been overkill for the remainder of our storage needs, but Gladiator cabinets were a good value on special when purchased.

Harbor Freight boxes are a mixed bag. Their glossy red stuff is well-built if the color is tolerable, but their black boxes were purchases I would not do again.

The last of the boxes was a Kennedy, which I found on Craigslist and is a good value if purchased used.

It seems that most woodworking shops have tools on the walls rather than in cabinets. I went with the latter approach as it is easier to keep clean. Drawers still need to be labeled and organization completed. As of the time I'm getting around to this post, still a work in progress.

Once the shop was functional, It was time to build stuff for the house again. The first project in the new and improved shop was a combination bench that could serve both as a reading reclined couch and a sitting bench as well as provide more book storage. Next post or else I'll fall hopelessly behind in keeping up with this blog.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Storage Shed

Much has happened since the last post. As with all home improvement projects, the battle plan does not survive encounter with the task itself and this years work turned into a conflict with two fronts; military buffs know how that usually goes. This was in addition to deciding I wanted to read 50 books in 2015. Thus blog writing ceased for the remainder of the year. At the time of the last post, we were figuring out where to store the contents of the gutted space. Our TV room  and an adjunt storage space were able to accommodate some of the displaced stuff. There was still a great deal of construction material which needed storage. This brings us to a major change in the original plan.
The property as purchased came with a small shed which was used mostly to store leftovers from previous projects, yard stuff and other basically detritus. Walls were concrete brick but only 4 feet high and the roof was a simple low angle gable 7 feet at the peak.

While it remained watertight, the plywood door and plexiglass window made it at times a shelter for various neighborhood critters. As I was clearing junk out to make room, it became very clear that the storage shed needed major work; much more than my workshop needed additional space.
Thus the plan for bumping out the east wall by 6 feet was abandoned in favor of rehabbing the shed.
One thing that had been stored there that was both valuable and useful was about 200 linear feet of treated 2x6's. They were put to use as wall framing and trusses so the shed could have 8 feet high walls and a more PNW appropriate roof pitch. I preformed the wall portions and cut the angles for the trusses over a three day weekend. I thought I could tear the old roof down and get the structure to frame and roof stage over the following week. The battle plan went drastically awry when removing the old roof showed one wall about ready to fall over and another wall needing work as well.
The last time I had done any masonry work was 16 years ago. A wall that needed replacement and a proper foundation together with a slab and another wall that needed repairs as well were well beyond my minimal masonry level and free time. Fortunately Dale came to the rescue. He's the contractor who was going to do the shop extension. While he is a licensed general contractor, he mostly works on one man jobs and is sort of a neighborhood treasure as he does not advertise and relies solely on word of mouth for projects. He came the day after receiving my frantic call, looked at it and agreed to squeeze the job in that week. As it turns out, while he does masonry and concrete infrequently, he's pretty good at it.
So I was back in business. Dale helped me put in the roof beam and trusses and plywood sheathing and even helped me finish off that part of the task on the fourth of July. Like I said, he's a gem; the photo below is us working on 7/4.  As we were putting up the roof, I got nostalgic. One of my favorite photos is of our sunroom at frame stage. It was taken with B&W film.

Twenty years later, the color and digital version

The rest was pretty straight forward but time consuming and at times physically demanding. It was a fun little project; kinda like making a tiny house- minus the plumbing and electricity. I was able to incorporate a couple of old colored glass windows that were previously in the shop area and would not work in the revised shop area.
The shed once completed was able to store much of the materials to be used in the shop remodel. Once those materials were installed and detritus removed, DW would have plenty of space for a potting area. As the project progressed it became clear that rehabbing the shed was a better use of time and money than adding on to the workshop.

The interior now

Now it's back to the shop area.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Workshop Remedial

Le Corbusier, is famous for proclaiming "the house is a machine for living in".  Our ranch home has certainly influenced my life. As I addressed it's shortcomings, the house helped me develop values, learn skills and even played a role in finding my spouse.  How all this took place would not have been possible without a space that I could use as a workshop. Thing is, though, that while it led to a home that we're very happy with and which provides a great setting to pursue our interests and loves, the shop itself has been a bit of an ugly duckling. I hate low ceilings, lack of good ambient light and particle board all of which my shop possessed in abundance. This is the space back in 1995 when it was in escrow.

The shop/storage area is under a second story addition. It is 24 x 24 and divided into 4 sections. The photo shows the main section; two doors allow access to 8x12 ft and an 10x12 rooms. The first was used as a small work area and the other as storage (below)

 The main initially was a man-cave sort of area; the owners from whom I purchased the property used it as storage. The main area had two small windows. There is an additional area 6 x12 which was used as a garden shed. That purpose makes sense as it opens directly to the back yard. However, it wastes it's exposure to sunlight.

The floors had vinyl tile floors, particle board paneling, dropped acoustic ceilings, aluminum windows and particle board cabinets. Ouch.
The initial remedial interventions were to get rid of the acoustic ceiling in the main area and replace the aluminum windows with vinyl windows. The window on the long wall was covered over with a pair of stained glass wood windows as (my idea of a) window treatment and for insulation. It and the adjacent 8x12 area served as my shop for the next 18 years or so. The other two areas served to accumulate stuff, some needed, most eventually categorized as junk, during this time.

DW being a PNW native noticed a small wet spot on the upstairs south wall three years ago. I foolishly ignored it as it was not increasing in size. The reason it was not increasing was that it was traveling further down and eventually created a leaky shop ceiling. Good news: led to replacing a noisy and leaky skylight upstairs with one twice as large which made for much better headroom with a much larger ceiling opening. 

Getting back to the shop project; the above space is relevant because the shop's drywall ceiling had significant water damage. While getting rid of the acoustic ceiling in the mid 90's improved the shop ceiling height, I recurrently ideated ways of improving this further and rather than repair the drywall, going to an exposed joist beam would improve the "lacking headroom" issue.  As most of the shop area is under a second story, options are pretty limited. There is a 5ft area that has a flat roof only facing East that I thought about, but was dissuaded from consultants as practically implausible due to joist orientation. I settled in tearing down the drywall which I installed 16 years ago. That would let me put recessed LED 1x4 panels between the joists and raised the ceiling areas b/w the joists.  For insulation my initial plan to use solid panel insulation was changed to fiberglass rolls after learning the price difference. I was going to use plywood sheets between the joists, but found some steel panels at my local salvage that I used instead- no painting, sealing or dealing with seams. The price was reasonable as well.
DW had developed an interest in my shop after I began to share the area with our latest addition to the cat census. Like our prior addition, this was a cat squatter.

DW agreed that, given the known belligerence of our # One Son (Ernie) and the new kid, it was best for Andy to stay out of the house.  The cat still needed shelter from bad weather and other meaner, bigger critters, thus I have a new shopmate. DW also  developed an interest in dust management (see 4/18/14 post) and the general livability of the space. Given my hatred of particle board, it was ironic that it covered the walls of the shop and the cabinetry was made of the stuff. 

So, before we could even think about what then new was going to look like, emptying the shop and storage area and gutting the interior needed to take place. Storage space is valuable and necessary, but it also the case that it's a coffin for stuff. Between drywall removed from the ceiling, removing everything that's particle board (bears repeating that I despise particle board), and applying the rule that if something has not been used in more than a year, it needs to go,  Below is a pile waiting to go to the dump- multiply by six - and counting.

The exception to this is wood left over from prior projects; most woodworkers seems to need to keep a varying amount of supply on hand. 
Another challenge is that the shop still needs to be functional in order to do the work needed to rehab it. When moving tools and supplies, keeping things organized and accessible is proving to be a challenge. Fortunately, yet another small accessory area has come in handy. By getting rid of 3/4 of what was being stored, re-using some of the shelving and cabinets from gutting the shop area, I was able to make a temporary home for materials and tools.
Once gutted, DW was able to see what I could not adequately verbalize. Lack of good ambient light was my workspace's most significant problem. The space where my mitre saw and band saw were previously stationed could not be used without artificial light. It also served as a kitty litter area and bike storage (see above). The main area needed artificial light except if it was a sunny day and even then only from morning to mid-afternoon. I thought that by opening the previously closed off garden tool shed area to the shop and adding windows to the East wall would solve the lack of daylight problem. DW further suggested to bump out the East portion to add to the area that has the most sun exposure. Once the area was gutted, it was evident that it was quite spacious. So, why add square footage? Well, the low ceiling height would limit the height of the windows I could use and it would likely still be hard to get in daylight. This is the South view presently with morning ambient lighting-still kinda dark. I also had begun looking at internet sites for ideas for layout and found that most of the shops seemed to have even more workspace area than mine.

The hope is that by bumping out the South wall 6 feet and raising the ceiling height in that addition, we'll be able to, by taller windows and possibly skylights, introduce more light into the workshop area. The other areas below will be storage, bike garage and kitty bathroom and feeding areas as there are no windows there.  Here are before photos of the two rooms

And at the present stage

To be continued...

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Home Office Declutter

Most projects I read about or see are before, after and done. My office area often seems, like many areas in our home, a perpetual work in progress. We recently put in hardwood floors in DW's office, which provided the opportunity to unclog her chronically overloaded office and closet (yes, it's a nontraditional ranch house but mostly works for us). We were both really pleased with how her office looked and functioned afterwards.
Now that I couldn't get on her case about her office, imagine my consternation when looking at my space and realizing- Damn, that's cluttered. Perception is a funny thing- one thinks one can see, but it's often a funhouse mirror when looking at ourselves. I do find taking photos to be helpful with the vision thing.

In my own defense, I'll present what I started with. The house as purchased did have a dedicated office space. As a work area I wanted to keep it separate from other parts of the house.

It was also an alcove in a very large room (the good part) that needed a lot of work (the bad part). The alcove is behind the partition in the center of the photo.

Digital technology progressed in a Moore's way such that this room evolved into a great space for digital printing and for matting and framing photos. Thus I was back to my previous MO of requiring two desk areas (another story). Once married, I made room for DW's family heirlooms, one of them being a small secretary desk which I modified to fit where the original desk stood (I had removed it to make room for my desk) but kept the built-in bookshelf.  My need for storage expanded with digital printing. Thus along with wanting a standing work area for working on prints (vestige from chemical darkroom days) led to the standing desk area and the configuration shown above. Oh- and the wallwart heater and cord cover happened when we changed from baseboard electric heaters to heat pump. This location was the least obnoxious place for the heater- a necessary eyesore.
Of course to use the chemistry analogy of going over reaction hill to get to happy products valley, there was going to be some entropy and work involved in cleaning up this mess.

A new desktop and drawers made up for some of the storage area lost in simplifying the area, but making said items prolonged the task. The effort was worth it though as it cleaned up the area visually and provided the needed storage for the needed accoutrements for what the space was used for.

The final result (for now) a place for everything and everything in it's place. The wall-wart was minimized to the best of my ability

Here's the evolution from picture#3

PS- DW little desk from her GM dad's side was refinished, reassembled and has a new location in our spare bedroom.