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. 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. 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, I've made six pickup truckload visits to the local waste disposal sites thus far. 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.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Tijuana Termites

Recycling and reclaimed are a couple of terms I've seen when referring to the practice of using not-new materials in home construction. Nowadays, or certainly post 2007, it has a very positive connotation and will be a noteworthy feature if used in a project. If done in a higher end project, the re-used material will be obtained from a Deconstructionist  (as DFW would say- those who refer to themselves as such understand themselves as capitalized).
This preamble is used to give context to the post's title.  The term originated with West Los Angeles construction crews  in the late 70's. It was noted that stuff was disappearing from tear-down sites of perfectly good structures before being hauled off by the disposal crews. It became known that the perpetrators were Hispanic and the construction materials and appliances were being used to build houses in Mexico. Thus came the label.  It most assuredly was not a complimentary description but it was also not regarded as illegal; the material was of no value to anyone in WLA and was destined for landfill. Being a Spanish ESL guy and from a modest SE background, I found the practice downright admirable even then. Which is why I remember it 35 years later; I tried researching the term in the LA Times to no avail.

DW's office and the guest bedroom needed new carpets in a bad way (cats...). But we had just finished a partial kitchen remodel, so I did not feel up to another significant cash outlay. I had been looking at Craigslist in the hope of finding flooring at a less than retail price for a few months. Don't ask why I was doing this while at the same time looking forward to a break from home improvement.
I found what I had been searching for and at lower price than I had hoped for, but packaged in an unanticipated way. Which is when Tijuana Termites came out of hard disk storage.
 
 
Not Deconstructionist condition, but not at Deconstructionist prices either. After a further price adjustment and the seller's son helping us bring the material to our home, I set to pulling nails. I had done hardwood floors before but with new material. Thus, there was concern about how well boards with less than pristine tongue and grooves would fit together and how significant the variation in thickness would be. The project developed into an economics exercise with the variables being cost, time and risk. Risk was the most worrisome aspect of the project as there was the possibility that end result would not be acceptable. I installed the guest bedroom floor first and was relieved that the boards had a tight fit in 95% of the floor surface. I had been hoping that the depth variation would allow me to use the boards in a "poor man's prefinished" fashion, but there was indeed too much of a thickness variation to allow for this (not to mention DW's veto).
 
The next risky part was sanding and finishing. I had successfully used an orbital sander previously along with a polyurethane finish. The polyurethane was DIY friendly but not very durable and gave the floor an undesirable yellowish tint with aging. We had decided on Rubio Monocoat as it has a flat finish and is nontoxic.  This would spare the need for a week of lodging expense for two adults and two cats. The supplier for the Rubio strongly recommended using a belt sander along with a buffer to apply the product. I had heard horror stories about novice screw-ups using belt sanders, so risk re-entered the project. As I was considering my options, one of my patients came in with prepatellar bursitis. I knew he was a carpet installer, When I asked him if he knew anybody who did hardwood floors, my floor finishing dilemma was solved (with the stipulation that I didn't want to see him on his knees).
The next leg of the project was over Labor Day weekend. It was warm and sunny and missing out on lazy mornings, bike rides and parties reminded me of another cost in doing projects- missed alternatives.


 
Installing the floor in DW's office was faster as she measured and cut the ends while I was nailing them down and the following day Don (my floor installer patient) and his friend Mark set to work on sanding the floors. We finished that leg early Labor Day morning. My plan was to use the buffer and apply the finish. Don asked- have you used a buffer before?- with my reply being no. He noted that there was a learning curve to using one and suggested that I begin in the middle of the room in case it got away from me. He probably would have been more forceful in his admonition if he had known that a step prior to applying the finish was to use a sanding pad with the buffer.
This was the end result after an hour playing mechanical bull with the (expletive) buffer. Or as the Germans say- no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.
 

So I called Don and his friend Mark who are doing what sensible people do on a holiday- hanging out with their family and drinking beer- to ask for their help. When I pick them up, Mark mirthfully says, "normally this would call for triple time, but we like working with you". The cavalry was here; unfortunately, Don also had a learning curve with Mr. buffer with a sanding pad attached.

 
Thankfully, Mark got the hang of how to use the buffer and, between the three of us, were able to apply the finish in a couple of hours. Even though there was monetary compensation involved, it felt more like working with friends and colleagues.
The trim was a bit of an adventure as well. I looked at my usual places for stock door and floor moulding with the retail options being either expensive or boring and cheap (in every sense of the word). So I went to a local salvage place that has a nice balance between the Deconstruction approach and the complete "as is" condition. The Saab that I drive used to be my DW's and she continues to be dismayed by how it's used at times:
 
Here are the finished rooms after DW painted and I sanded, stained and installed the trim. I lost track of the hours we spent on the project, but the monetary output didn't strain our finances and the risks were successfully managed. And we have a story to tell.
 
 
 
 
 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Back to School

As our kitchen update neared completion to the extent that the space could be used again, DW began to anticipate returning to work for the new school year. She had been looking at teacher easels and asked me if I could fix the remnant of an old easel that had been used by her mom


Once I saw what she wanted to use it with- a Walmart 2x3ft dry erase magnet board, it was apparent that the little easel would not be up to the task no matter how much I re-habilitated it.

I was tired of working on the house and had been thinking that it would be fun to make an artist's easel and this would be a good training exercise. I had enough leftover material from the kitchen update that no trips to the hardwood suppliers were needed. I was all set for the easel to be ready for her birthday as well as the first day of school.


DW then thought it would be great if it could hold chart paper as well. We looked for the loops at the local office supply places; the needed hardware was only available online. Thus ordered and the project placed on hold. Shortly after, I came across what would occupy both of us for the next 4 weeks and what will be the topic for the next post. I had been looking in Craigslist for hardwood flooring as the carpet in two rooms was waay overdue for removal. There it was in Woodburn in packaging and condition a little different than retail.
That project was finally completed last weekend which is why I'm on the keyboard now  In the meantime, last week the rings came in and today the easel is ready to go to school.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Plumb and Square

The last photo on the prior post showed the partially completed sink cabinet in rough placement so we could continue to use the sink and dishwasher while waiting for the granite countertops to be done and installed.
Being one's own GC does save a good chunk of change, but at the price of having to coordinate a herd of cats, one of them being the cabinet/finish carpenter (me).
I had made the frames for the cabinets that were going to be on either side of the range once the range arrived as I wanted 1/16" tolerance for the final fitting and that could not be assured until the range was in place.
I had a granite shop that was trying to fit my small order in a rather narrow window between my being able to finish the cabinets and being out of town for 10 days for CME (continuing medical education) along with visiting my family in Los Angeles.
The cabinets thankfully only needed minimal adjustment to be plumb and square in their final location. Getting the drawers to fit appropriately into a face frame construction (there is a reason why that style is the most expensive option in cabinetry) was a predictably painful chore which was made less difficult by not having the countertops in place. As I was leaving town on Saturday, the granite guys agreed to install on Monday afternoon-ish. Which was fine until I received a call on Monday morning that they needed to come in 4 hours earlier than I expected them.
I wanted a functional kitchen for DW before leaving for 10 days, so I said OK and proceeded to remove the kitchen sink plumbing and garbage disposal hookup and electrical wiring as the outlets were at least 40 years old (want to predict what happens when an electrical Fred does this in a hurry?).
The granite guys were able to do their work in a couple of hours and we were happy with how the granite sat on the cabinets. They had been concerned that any bulges or valleys on the long cabinet would lead to crack and would require correcting prior to the stone being installed.
I was fortunate in being able to have a plumber come out in two hours and hook up the sink, faucets, hot water dispenser and garbage disposal. Everything was great until he told me the wiring on the GD was faulty. Ugh. DW thankfully said no biggie as she had everything else functional while I would be away.
I was able to get the rest of the cabinets finished before I left, although getting the remaining drawers plumb and square would have been much easier had I had access from above instead of the countertops being in place.
While I was in LA, I received a call that the tiles we had ordered for the backsplash had arrived. DW and I had decided that we wanted 1/16" spacing for the grout (detect a glutton for punishment trend here). So while plumb is not a concern with this job, substitute uniform thickness to go along with square. Luckily for me, DW has a fair amount of experience with tile installation. I was placed in charge of cutting and she did most of the setting. It turned out to be a 3 day project

As we had booked a weeklong vacation way in advance, as GC's we had a conflict with ourselves as tradespeople- the workers need a vacation and the manager wants the job completed. We left it so that with a couple of more days when we return we can have the painter (DW) get to work. Vacation also provided the chance to post an update to this tale and give us time to think about the next step. As a minor detail is we're not sure of the color. Need a color that goes well with cool gray tile, walnut and cherry and a blue range.

 
 
 
 
The end of the electrical snafu was another 90 minute waste of time trying to fix the wiring relying on YouTube. Called an electrician who came in and fixed it in 20 minutes.
While on vacation, even though a purpose for said vacation is to get away from the project we are also thinking about a border for the sink area backsplash. We're vacillating between wood and tile. We found a tile border option and also this alternative use for ceramic tiles.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Five yards and a cloud of dust (not)


Five yards is the linear amount of cabinets I'm making for our kitchen update.
Three years ago our latest (and hopefully last squatter) took up residence in my shop. Since then my shop routine has been complicated by DW's having different criteria between what is an adequate work environment for me and living quarter standards for Andy. Before continuing Andy is the shop cat formerly known as Annie- our gender mistake was clarified in her first vet visit.
Aside from puncture wounds, lacerations and amputations, dust is the most significant health hazard in woodworking/carpentry. I've always worn a substantial dust mask and limited my exposure to dust by limiting the time I spend on project to weekends and the occasional week long project. When involved in projects, the shop can positively look like a war zone.

Prior to Andy I didn't take the time to clean up at the end of each day as my spare time was and is limited. All that changed when I acquired a shopmate. DW, knowing that it would be hard to get me to clean the place up to her specifications, began to clean up after me.  I felt guilty about that as her spare time is limited as well.
 The previously mentioned Festool joiner was my first major tool  purchase in more than a decade. Aside from being exceedingly useful, it introduced me to that company's attention to dust management which is on a higher level than the other major players in the field.  My chopsaw and sander are particularly unruly dust producers and were the first candidates for upgrading. The sander was my next Festool purchase after the joiner and was rapidly followed by a compound sliding saw once I saw both the improvements in performance and dust removal. The latter allowed me to safely and precisely saw a 24"x 96" plywood sheet into smaller pieces for cabinet work. Previously I used my worm drive saw for a rough cut, followed by more precise cutting to final size with the table saw. Festool's dust management is so good that I'm able to work inside the house which makes for less time spent going back and forth between the house and the shop. Thus I no longer have to deal with a cloud of dust. Happy wife, happy cat, happy life.
The upgrade in tools has also resulted in improved productivity. We've been able to  demo a wall, buy and learn to use the new tools, build 2/3rds of the new cabinetry, build up the floor to provide level hardwood flooring for the new appliances and cabinetry and provide workable sinks/plumbing while awaiting new countertops. I've used only 3 days of my vacation time and about a month overall since we began the project. As can be seen there's lots to do but we do have a functional kitchen for now.
 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Pewter trim vs Festool Domino

Pewter trim is an option on the Bluestar range we ordered after much hem/hawing last weekend.  The Festool Domino is a joiner (woodworking tool for those not into that sort of thing). What they have in common is that they cost about the same- both expensive.
I had considered buying the Festool in 2009 when undergoing round 2 of working on the kitchen. At that time, that seemed to be money better spent on other things (food and wine fridges ). Also, the carpentry involved in that project could readily be done with the tools I had, albeit more laboriously than with the Festool joiner.
2014 finds me 5 years older and needing to think realistically about my remaining time frame for activities I now enjoy. Kinda like a NYT article where the guy is contemplating that he won't outlive his present staple supply. Even worse, he would not be able to read all the books in his home library that he had yet read (Yeah-1st world problems).
My present woodworking tools still work well after 15-20 years of use. The main deficits are dust management and safety compared to the newer models. Will I still be a woodworker/carpenter 20 years from now? The most expensive machine to replace, and the most dangerous one as well, is my table saw.  Since I replaced the motor 2 years ago on the table saw, I'll keep using it, with the upmost respect and caution.
The Festool does not really replace any of the tools I have but it can do some of the work I now use my mortiser for. It also has a very good dust management system. When faced with a similarly expensive but completely functionally irrelevant choice in a kitchen appliance (pewter trim adding 17% to an already way expensive appliance) versus a decidedly useful tool, I decided this time to buy the Festool.  Most importantly, the little joiner was an essentially unique solution to how to make a cabinet with drawer that have a 45 degree angle portion.
The reason for such a Rube Goldberg thing-  and my wife is having adjustment difficulties with cabinets and countertops with a 45 degree portion chopped off at one end-  is that it's the only way to maximize cabinet space in a small (by US standards) kitchen and solve our bottleneck to the passage way between the kitchen and the breakfast room.  I could make the cabinets square, but that would take away 20% of our linear counter space (small kitchen by US standards). My present mortise cannot make 45 degree mortises.
So, I purchased the joiner. And what a great device it is. Here is the frame of the first of 3 new cabinets showing the angle in question.
To close to quote Mike in a Fine Woodworking post

Make sure that your next project is beyond your skill and requires tools you don't have. You won't regret it.

PS: being in a hurry I forgot to but in the photo of the frame, by the time I looked at the blog again, the cabinet was further along.

It also shows why DW is on my case about dust management. Which will bring us to the the next post.