The Gated Community

Here is my pergola.  Some assembly required.  I’m not really a pergola guy, and I never envisioned myself making one, but I had an empty space at the end of the deck and some kind of garden structure seemed to be the best fit for it.  The garden area needed something with height, some kind of third dimension, to make it into the kind of outdoor space that we like.

I followed very professional and detailed plans.

And here’s the cedar I’m going to use for the raised beds.  80 cubic feet of wood right there.  As I started carrying them, they didn’t seem all that heavy, and I figured it was nothing I couldn’t handle.  But the pieces on top had been roasting in the sun for a few weeks, and the middle pieces were sopping wet.  Those pieces were easily twice as heavy.  I’m so glad I lift weights.

Biggest nails I could find.

All put together.  The pergola goes very well with the garden space.  It ties into the fence and the gates around it, and (most importantly) keeps the fricking deer out.

Outdoor living space is really important to us.  The pergola and the gates will open up into a small patio area (which is about 1/3 finished right now) and the garden with the raised beds.

It’s all traditional joinery holding this thing together.  I even got to do some wedged tenons, my favorite!

The raised beds make the foundation of a tight little planting area with lots of paths like little streets and avenues.  I might even name them.  Put in a traffic signal, some stop signs, etc.  Most of this area gets full afternoon sun but we have some shaded areas as well, and once we get things planted and growing it should make for a nice place to spend time.  The fence in the back is temporary, I’ll put in a good post and frame fence now that the beds are in place.

It’s still a bit of a war zone.  We probably won’t start planting things until next year.  Need to get gravel, dirt, sand, all sorts of landscaping things.  At least we have rock, as much as we could possibly want.

The view from the deck is nice.  The pergola right now is just a skeleton, a frame of what it’s going to be.  We’ll add pots and plants to it, maybe hang some kind of artwork, put in some patio furniture inside (somewhere to sit and roast marshmallows, maybe).  It’s just going to be another space that we can enjoy.

I’ll probably call it the Garden of Seven Gates when it’s all finished.

NO DEER ALLOWED (no exceptions)

We like to garden.  We like to plant things and watch them grow.  Gardens are not only a fantastic creative outlet, but they are a space of relaxation, meditation and tranquility.  And bees.

We also like wildlife, something fairly abundant here.  Birds, otters, raccoons, wild turkeys, eagles, minks, all sorts of wildlife.  And we have deer.

This is what deer do to your plants.  They defoliate them.  Eat them to the stalks.  Jamie, who loves animals, has been talking about getting a gun to take care of our deer problem.  Yeah, it’s time.  We need to build a deer fence.

This ground is extremely rocky.  You can’t dig 4″ without hitting a rock the size of your head.  I had a rock in one hole that took me two days to excavate.  At another location, I had to move my post over about 16 inches because there was a boulder down there and I didn’t have a stick of dynamite to break it with.  But on the bright side, it’s been raining daily for about a month so the ground was nice and soft.  About eight holes was all I had to dig.

I used pressure treated lumber for posts, which is really awful stuff.  It’s toxic, it’s a skin irritant, possibly carcinogenic, but it’ll last out here without rotting.  That’s kind of what I was going for, fence posts that don’t rot in the first two years.

The shop was open late into the night just getting this done.

These are the 2×2 sticks to frame in the welded wire panels that will go into the fence.  I wanted to saturate them in linseed oil before installation, such that all parts of them are completely protected.  If you treat them after they’re installed, there are bare spots that water will eventually pool up inside and cause them to rot.

And we’re using two kinds of fencing:  traditional wood posts with welded wire (above, left) and deer fence tied to iron T-posts (above, right).  We went with the deer fence over the septic field, not only to save a bit of money but also to not disturb the septic field too much.

The finished portions look great.  We have temporary gates and some temporary fence up right now, just to keep the deer out.

We’re putting raised planter beds in the middle.  This ground digs poorly, very rocky, so we thought raised beds would really help.  Right now, we just get to kill off the grass and get the ground ready for the beds.

The back deck has the biggest improvement so far.  It just looks more finished.  It’s not finished, not by a long shot, but it’s closer to what it’s going to look like

Definitely looking forward to being able to plant things without the risk they’re going to be defoliated by marauding deer in the night.

Strawberry, hens and chicks, sedum, … all deer food.  And it’s all protected now, inside our little compound fence

The Log Conundrum

Is the house finished if we still have these big freaking logs set in the walls as corner posts?  I don’t really feel like it’s my house while these logs are still here, providing living space to more insects than you’d find on the set of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.  But like most islanders, we have to share our space with nature, at least a little bit.

There’s one in the corner in the picture above.  You may not see it, for your eyes are probably drawn to that ridiculous old lamp and whatever gang graffiti was scrawled on its side.  But once you see it, you can’t unsee it.  There are huge logs in the corners of my house.

They roll down stairs, alone or in pairs.  They’re big, they’re heavy, they’re wood.  They’re logs!  (don’t get the reference?  click here…)  And they came with my house.  For better or for worse, I decided to keep them.  Probably more of a pain to rip them out than it would be to just let them stay.  Some people have even said that they like the logs.  I think they’re all just saying that to be nice, though.

Okay, that’s it, that’s really every ‘before’ picture I have of the bedroom.  We had taken the paneling out in the above pic to put in a new electrical box, many years ago.  We did put the paneling back up when we were done.  I don’t know why.  Could have just left it like that.

Now, all the paneling is gone.  New 4×4 beams are in place, partly aesthetic and partly structural – they really help tie this room to the rest of the house which has exposed beams everywhere, and they also help hold up the floor in the loft above.  The logs don’t do a damn thing, except provide housing to wasps nesting for the winter.

To finish this room up, the bed had to come out and get set up in the living room for a few days.  I used our dresser as a work table in the middle of the room.  It’s a pretty solid dresser, made a great work space.

There’s an electric baseboard heater that’s more than a little ugly but puts out good heat, probably because it doesn’t have to be energy star compliant or some crap.  It’s the kind of heater you can cook hot dogs on if you needed to.  I painted it copper, made it a little more passable to look at.

Now we’re all done, logs and all.  New lighting, new paint, new trim, new windowsills, new caulk, new paint, new everything.  Only those logs remain, and at least I slathered them with spar urethane.

I encased the ends of the beams with brackets to conceal the joist hangers.  I think my creativity was kind of running out at this point, but they look okay.  Anyway, best solution I could come up with.

I really like the closet doors on their big barn door hardware.  The space is a little tight and they could still use some adjusting but they look good to me.

The iron weighs more than the doors do.

New copper switchplates, custom made copper finger pulls for the doors.

Drawer No. 2 is obstructed by that big dresser, but you can still access the space through a trap door inside the closet.  I’m hoping that dresser can move to another bedroom someday, if we add on to the house or something.

So, what are you thinking?  “Hey, Joe?  You know those big logs that washed up on the beach?  I think we can use them for corner posts on the next house we build.  Wouldn’t that be great?”  Seriously, how many beers do you need to get to that point?

I guess I’ll call the house finished, logs and all.

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.