The Light at the End of the Tunnel May Not be a Train

I’m almost done.  I’m so close that I’m giddy with excitement.

Demolition has been completed.  The old paneling is fully abated.

Insulation has been exposed.  Scratchy, itchy insulation.  At this time, it’s 77% fiberglass and 23% cobwebs.

Beetles were discovered.  Colorful, iridescent beetles, and they labyrinth of tunnels they ate through our framing.  The beetles were killed, and their tunnels filled with caulk – not because it does any good, but because I felt like it.

Closet doors were assembled, and they definitely don’t look store-bought.

They fit perfectly.  Which is really unusual for me.

Wood has been purchased, enough to finish all the trim in the house.  There’s so much wood in my shop now I barely have space for it all.

Each board has been cut, marked and labeled.  Some boards have been labeled more than once, as I mis-cut pieces and had to make corrections changed my mind about what I wanted to do with them.

The windowsills are assembled.  I have a particular style of windowsill that I like, which seems to require a few hours of assembly for each one I do.  I swear, I am the undisputed master of doing things the hard way.

And as usual, cats were no help.

It’s almost a closet again

It’s been a trying few weeks.  All our clothes and shoes have been scattered to the four corners of the house while I’ve been working on the closet.  Our hanging clothes hung from one of the beams in the living room, blocking the television from my favorite chair.  Shoes and boots have been on a towel next to the tv.  Other shoes and boots are in a box out in the garage.  Sweats and sweaters are on a high shelf in the laundry room.  My jeans are on the bookshelf behind me.

It’s the War Zone.  We’re used to it by now, and we know the drill.  It doesn’t last forever, and when things go back where they belong, it’s refreshing to see the house all nice and clean.  It’s like the day you put all the christmas decorations away. They’re nice to have out for a while, but eventually, you want your house back.

The drawer fronts came out great.  Cannot complain.  I just did simple tongue and groove with panels, which got glued and screwed to the drawer box.  They should last the life of the house, or longer.

It’s really nice to be working with oak again.  Hardwoods are hard to come by out here, and expensive.  These are the frames that go on the built in boxes already in the closet.

I rarely do mitered joints (because I’m not very good at them) but the corners on this one came out pretty good.  I cheated.  Before I cut the strips, I cut one end of the board to 45 degrees, so that I had at least one perfectly clean miter without any tear-out or burn marks.

Everything installed pretty smoothly.  A lot of math went into all that, and I guess I did it right this time because I didn’t have a whole lot of problems.

For closet doors, we got these hugely big rails for barn doors.  This thing is very heavy and I had to put in a new header to support it.  The header is bolted in place with these gigantic lag bolts and then reinforced with some additional framing.  I think these are going to be the strongest doors in the house.

The hardware instructions were ridiculous enough, but I ended up modifying the install anyway so they were completely worthless to me.  I ended up drilling holes in the brackets to accommodate another lag bolt to make sure it was secure enough.  This steel was tougher than the cheap packaging would have you think it is.  A hint:  when drilling through thick metal use a little machine oil on your drill bit.  It makes a big difference.

Nice!  I don’t even need doors, I’ll be happy just looking at my open closet.

The drawers work great, very smooth operation.

Using a polished copper hanging rod really helps the clothes slide a little bit.  The old rod was badly worn.  Kind of looked like driftwood found on the beach.

Here’s the rails for the bypass barn doors. The house isn’t level but these needed to be, so they do look a little crooked if you stare at them long enough.  But the last thing I needed were sliding closet doors that rolled out of place when you weren’t looking.

I do love the built-in drawers.  Such a huge difference over the last ones.

Next up, I’ll make the Bam Doors … er, the Barn Doors for the closet.

The Domino Effect

Got a bunch of snow this week, way more than usual.  Kind of a good thing, as it keeps my mind off of wanting to do landscaping and lets me focus on the project at hand.  Let’s get this closet wrapped up.

I wanted to get the built-ins fully assembled this weekend but needed to get a bunch of things done first.  That’s how these things go sometimes.  I couldn’t get the final measurement on the front of the built ins until I finished the drywall, so I’d know exactly how wide it would be.  So I figured I’d just do the two walls adjacent to the closet.

But that’s where the Thermo Stadt is, and I needed to relocate it so the new closet doors wouldn’t hit it.  And it’s kind of a special one, it’s not just a little wire that can be moved easily.  It’s 220 volt electrical wire.  So I had to move the electrical box, move a couple of studs, re-frame the corner.  No big deal, just added two hours to the project that I wasn’t planning on.

Oh, and did I mention the light switch at that corner extends out from the wall by about 3/4 inch?  It’s always been that way, but now that I’m opening this wall up I may as well fix it.  This will be my only opportunity.

And may as well keep putting up drywall.  I had to dig those sheets out from underneath about 200 board feet of scrap.  Now that I got them out may as well cover what I can.

So, yeah, I didn’t get a whole lot done on the built-ins.  I got most of the frame cut out and dry fit into place.  Still need to sand, join, glue, clamp, stain, poly, poly 2, poly 3, etc.

Everything fits nice and snug, though.  This should be a strong built-in.

And if I decide I don’t want that Thermo Stadt anymore, I’ll have these industrial looking hooks I can hang a bathrobe from.


Last Look at the Old Closet

Closets get beat up over time, and because they’re usually full of things no one ever really sees the damage, and so they tend to get neglected and fall into disrepair.  Our bedroom closet probably hasn’t been touched in 40 years, and it showed.

Here’s the last look at the old closet, just minutes before being smashed to pieces.

The closet rod was so old that we’d get wood dust on our clothes, scraped off by the hangers whenever they got moved.  I don’t know where they found that old bracket in the middle, but the faded price tag on it said $1.49.  That might have been a lot of money at the time.

They went really overkill on the nails, using those huge hot galvanized bastards that just weld themselves to the stud they’re nailed into.  Steel was so hard you couldn’t even lop the heads off easily.  Lots of swearing during this phase.

The wood is actually good old douglas fir.  Well, knotty, warped, splintery, submerged in shellac, and someone rubbed wood putty into the holes with their thumb.  Other than that, it’s good wood, and I was able to salvage about 20 board feet of it for a future project.  I’m thinking of using it to make a big outdoor fire, but we’ll see.

While pulling those planks up, I found the Tomb of Lost Shoes!

This just annoys me – random, crooked coat hooks installed with bad screws into bad drywall.  I like having lots of robe hooks, but neatly arranged and correctly installed.  I’m funny that way, I guess.

After a few coats of Killz and latex paint, it’s looking and smelling much cleaner.  This house has taught me to love the smell of fresh paint.

There we go.  Nice wooden bracket, Lots of hooks in the back for belts and what not, an attractive copper rod  to hang clothes from, and a nice flat melamine shelf to rest clothes on.

I like using copper pipe for closet rods.  I reinforce them with a wooden dowel along the inside so they’re a little stronger and won’t bend so easy.

And the new drawers are fantastic.  I still need to make the top and the face frame and drawer fronts.  I’m doing everything out of red oak, though I need to use plywood for the lid.  Yeah, I know that drawer #2 can’t open because a dresser is in the way, but I have a plan for that.

It really did snow this time.


I need to remember to take some pics of the existing drawers when I smash them to pieces while cackling like a maniac do the demolition work.  I just want the world to see how special they are.  Well, the internet.  Okay, the ten or twenty people who visit this blog.  The existing drawers are just hideous.  Maybe that’s why I’m putting so much time and care into the drawers that will replace them.

The new drawers are coming along wonderfully.  I’ve only screwed up like four or five things so far, all easily fixed, so I’m going pretty good by my standards.  I didn’t have much time this weekend, though, as I was up on the hill behind my house clearing brush with a machete.

This is no-man’s-land.  We get these vine-like bushes that sprawl like weeds, and overtake everything on the hillside.  They’ve already devoured a spruce tree near the driveway.  I needed to clear a bunch of them that were threatening the shed behind the house, and ideally on a warm, dry day before spring.  Once spring comes along, they’re heavy with new growth, full of bees, swarming with wasps, and covered with new, sharp thorns.  Got my opportunity on Saturday, a nice dry day here, so I was up hacking way at them.

It’s rocky, it’s overgrown, there is no good footing, and thorny plants and vines are everywhere.  But it’s remarkable how peaceful it all is.  One of these days I need to forge some kind of a trail or a path up there.  Maybe make a hidden Buddha shrine or two.

So after a few hours of grueling labor it was back to the shop.  I decided to cover the end grain of the plywood with oak strips.  I wasn’t going to do it initially, it’s kind of a pain and takes a bit of time and care to do correctly, and all the other drawers in this house have exposed plywood end grain.  But I wanted these to look nice.

Nicer, anyway.

The drawer glides are these big beefy 24″ steel contraptions that are several orders of magnitude stronger than the drawers themselves.  They’re a little finicky to install but when it’s all done the drawers open and shut beautifully.

Looking pretty is nice, but at the end of the day, they just need to open and shut.

Drawer fronts and framing will all be out of red oak.  I need to install this base first, though, before I can make the exact measurements of where everything is supposed to be.  It’ll be fun getting this into the closet.

All that hard work this weekend.  I need to go down to the beach again soon!

The Last Undone Room In The House

One room left in the house that I need to finish:  the bedroom.  It’s a tough one because there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, and it needs to be done quickly.  I want to minimize the length of time that the bed is out in the living room in front of the TV.  Though that could be kind of fun.  Anyway, I’ll tackle the bedroom in phases, and the first is the closet.

Look at that lovely sea of birch paneling and fir trim.  Waking up to all that orange is like waking up in a can of orange soda, only it smells like old shellac.

These drawers never opened or shut right.  I replaced the pulls with some nice bronze antique-y pulls I’ve had for a while, and they’re still hideous.

I like the idea of built in drawers, though, but I don’t think there’s anything I can do with the existing drawers to make them better.  Plus, we’re going to do barn doors for the closet doors, which will extend them out a bit and make our closet bigger.  So I’m rebuilding the drawers from scratch.  May as well; I’ve rebuilt the whole damn house from scratch so why do something different now?

There’s the frame.  These drawers are going to be HUGE!

Two full sheets of plywood are going into this, and I think I need one more sheet to do the top.  Seriously, I need a plywood tree.

You could hide a dead body in this drawer.  It’s absolutely massive.  I’m starting to wonder how I’m going to get it in the closet.  That’s as far as I got this weekend, and as usual, a project I thought would take me a couple weekends or so will probably take me two months.

The Triangle of Doom

We have this gable wall over our kitchen and dining area that I’ve been procrastinating for quite some time.  It is the Triangle of Doom.

triangle-of-doom I always thought I would drywall it, in my quest to rid this house of cheap paneling, but putting drywall up there invited its own problems.  For starters, I don’t think it was framed very well (no other wall in the house was) so putting drywall on studs that aren’t particularly flat is problematic.  Fixing framing problems on the ground floor is lousy enough, but 8 feet off the ground makes it a real pain.  Getting up there is not easy, unless you build custom scaffolding to get around those beams and cabinets, and fit into the tight spaces in the kitchen.


I could get up there with ladders well enough, but didn’t want to haul up drywall sheets and mount them while on a ladder.  So I just decided to just paint it.  A nice dark color would hide its imperfections pretty well.


Let’s go with Epic Adventure!


Damn, that’s blue.  Doom Blue!


I lightly sanded the entire Triangle (of Doom) with a sanding pad on a long pole.  That was fun.  The primer went on very well.  The first coat takes the longest, and every other coat goes on quicker and quicker.


I think that’s about coat no. 3.  I went with five coats of paint, really wanted to get this thing covered.


I feel like painting it was the easy part, now I had to install the trim.  The apex of the Triangle (of Doom!) is about 16 feet off the ground.  I had to make a trim piece that would wrap around that beam up there, get it finished and ready to install, carry it up there and fasten it into place with some trim screws.


I had everything stained and sealed before install.  Holes pre-drilled for trim screws.  It’s so dark and so high that you don’t really notice the holes for the screws.


All finished.  For about 1/5th the effort of putting drywall up there, the end result looks pretty similar to what it would have ended up looking like.  And if we ever add on to the house, that’s the direction we’ll probably go, so that triangle may be Doomed anyway!

So, just one more room to go and the interior of the house will be entirely finished.  I’ve saved the bedroom for last.  Before I start it, I have some stuff to do out in the shop (that work is never done) and I want to do as much prep work for the bedroom as I can.  When I’m all ready, I’m going to move the bed into the living room for a week while I gut the entire room down to the studs, and re-do it from scratch.  I’ll keep it simple but it’s going to be a big job no matter how I cut it.

Been here 4 1/2 years.  Hoping to have the house done in five.

Finished Stairs (well, almost…)


We’ve had a few stormy days up here.  It wasn’t as bad as they predicted, thankfully, but we had some very high winds and tons of rain.  This is how bad it was:  usually when we look out to sea we’ll see at least a boat or two out there, even in bad weather the big tankers will go out and the tugs will take barges across the strait.  But for a few days, we didn’t see one damn boat out there.  No one wanted to sail in these waters.


Well, despite the looming possibility of the power going out for a few days, I was able to get in the shop and finish up my stair project.  Above is the jig I made to keep my drill holes at the correct angle for the iron balusters.  That’s a 2″ thick piece of rock maple, and it held the angle great over all 19 holes I had to bore.


It took a little patience but I cut a wide groove in the bottom of the jig to keep is straight on the handrail.  Worked well for me!  Again, we are firmly in the realm of “I don’t know how it should be done, or how it’s supposed to be done, or how everyone else does it, I just know how I do it.”


It looks a hundred times better than it used to.


The risers have a nice, coppery color to them.  That’s T-111 paneling, so it’s rough cut cedar plywood, sanded a little smooth and drowned in about a pint of spar urethane.  It still retains some of its rough texture, yet is smooth enough to be cleaned by a damp cloth if necessary, and hard enough to withstand scuffs and scratches.


The finish trim was the trickiest part.  It’s just a crooked house, and it wasn’t exactly framed for drywall or nice stairs.  It was The House That Was Not Allowed To Have Nice Things.  Indeed, the finished stairs look so nice that they don’t seem to belong in this house.


The cabinets came out … okay.  I guess.  (I love those brass handles!)  I used trim hemlock, and it took the stain a little blotchy.  But that’s okay.  I’m thankful for the storage space.  That big door on the left is where we put the vacuum.  Yes, I built a vacuum chamber!  Ha ha ha.  Get it?  Vacuum chamber… because it has a vacuum in it… ha ha ha, ha…. ah, bugger.


I stained the stair treads dark ebony, and the resulting color is beautiful, rich and varied.  There are bands of orange and chocolate and even a little green and yellow in them.  The grain was very tight and detailed.  They were a real pain to restore but I’m glad I made the effort.


I did say almost finished, because when I ordered the stair balusters I was short one angled shoe.  So I can’t finish the handrail install until I get that shoe, and then I have to take the handrail off, put the shoe on the baluster, put epoxy into the nineteen holes in the handrail, carefully reinstall the handrail and bolt it to the posts, and re-tighten all the shoes and fill the holes to conceal the bolts and re-sand and re-stain and drink copious amounts of beer and touch up polyurethane and spar urethane and drink more beer and touch up paint and put some clear caulk in a few joints and tighten the shims that got loosened with use and drink more beer.  And then, maybe, this project will be done.


The Stair Tread Conundrum


For some reason, some stupid, hair-brained, ill-conceived reason, I decided to use my existing stair treads instead of buying new ones.  I could have bought nice, perfect, new stair treads  But noooOOOooo.  I had to use the crap that came with the house.  It’s actually really good wood – old growth douglas fir, very tight grain, and it has a few knots and fissures but they are otherwise brick solid.  A little twisted here and cupped there, but they’re old enough that they’re probably done moving.  Something to be said for that.

Still, this is old, worn wood.  It’s not like using old reclaimed barn-wood, nothing so romantic.  These are more like some old pallet boards found beneath a dumpster behind an Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips.  Seriously, I’ve seen driftwood on the beach in better shape than this crap.

To lend a little perspective, here’s a Before Picture:


There’s the stairs as we first saw them.  Please note the ancient wood spindles, the bio-hazard carpet, the splintery old paneling, the wobbly handrail.  I won’t tell you what it smelled like.


We’ve renovated a lot of the house since that time but for some reason I saved the stairs until last.  Even though it’s a centerpiece of the house, even though we stare at it constantly, even though I climb up and down those god-awful things ten times a day.  And I’ve had a lot of time to think of how I want the stairs done, which is why it’s such a mystery to me that I couldn’t come up with a better idea for stair treads.



I do like the wood grain on these.  Lots of natural detail, and they polished up pretty well despite all the repairs I had to make to them.  I had to do everything:  wood putty, epoxy, dowels, wine bottle corks.  Sadly, I had to sand a lot of the natural patina off of it, but there wasn’t much getting around that.


They did take the stain well.  I have all next week to slather on polyurethane before I install them, so they should be well sealed.


I’ve dry-fit the posts and a few of the iron balusters in place and they’re looking great.  It all looks so different.  When these stairs are done, it’s going to be so nice that it looks out of place in this house.


The cut trim pieces look like serrated jaws.  Just in time for Halloween!

How I Make Posts

(Formerly titled “How Posts Are Made” but I have no Earthly idea what that is.  I don’t know how professional postmakers make their posts, and I don’t know what the correct postmaking techniques are or what the appropriate post-making tools are.  All I know is how I make posts.)


The only stock I had available was all milled to 3/4, so I had to join a bunch together to make that middle part.  See, I don’t even know what post parts are called.  Whatever that middle part is called, that’s what I made.  Oh, and I made some strips on the router, and they’ll go around the, um, the other post parts.  Whatever they’re called.


Laying out the joinery took some very careful planning.


This kind of joint is a lot stronger than just doing a simple mitered joint, and it fits together very squarely.  In fact, it’s hard to make it not square.  These will be for those things at the top and the bottom of the post.


Everything’s going together very nicely.


Just because there were a lot of pieces being glued, I used tape to hold them all together, then clamped them.  And then I remembered what happened the last time I left clamps on tape overnight (the glue from the tape pressed into the wood and made areas that didn’t take stain very well) so I had to remove all the clamps and take off the tape and put the clamps back on.  Live and learn, and forget, and re-learn.


It’s a clamp bonanza!  Not to mention a tripping hazard.


The top part thing (maybe it’s called the cap?) was a little more difficult than I wanted it to be.  Took a few tries to get it correct.  Plus, that wood’s just a bit too big for the saw, and there were cuts where the saw couldn’t cut all the way through.  The end result looks good, though.


In the end it all came together.  These are going on my stairs and they’ll support the handrail at the top and bottom.

secret compartment

There’s one block I didn’t glue on, and that’s so I could bolt it into place and affix it with a couple of pocket screws.  I’ve done this a couple times before on other projects, and it can get a little tricky to get them standing perfectly straight and tightly fitted to the floor.  I’ll have to be ready for anything.


Here’s our newest toy, something to keep us toasty warm when it gets cold out.  A pity I can’t use it in my shop, it would be lovely to have that kind of heat in there, but it’s an outdoor toy.