Bathroom Shelves

I did­n’t add this on Insta­gram, but it may be worth explain­ing a bit more detail. The birch was left­over from some hard­wood edge band­ing I used else­where in my daugh­ter’s room (more on that once that project is com­plete). The board was far from flat, but this was a pret­ty good way to make use of the less twist­ed sec­tions of the board. I used a bis­cuit join­er for the first time in the pan­el glue-up. I man­aged to come up with some flat shelves after some plan­ing & sand­ing. I made the wall mounts from some of the cut-off scraps, so there end­ed up being very lit­tle waste here. 

The cir­cle cut­ting jig was based on Col­in Knecht’s design (though did a plunge cut on the router table instead of on my table saw; that just looked way too risky). I drilled a hole at the cir­cle cen­ter, since I knew I’d have to have a notch for the dry­wall cor­ner, anyway.

Router Table Cart

Router Table - Concept, Design, and Construction
Router Table — Con­cept, Design, and Construction

I pur­chased a Bosch router table as it had essen­tial­ly every­thing I need out of a router table at a cheap­er price than buy­ing com­po­nents indi­vid­u­al­ly. It’s a “bench­top” mod­el, but when placed on a stan­dard bench the table top then sits at about armpit lev­el, which is prob­a­bly not the safest method to use a router. Also, as I’m col­lect­ing router bits and acces­sories, I find myself need­ing some ded­i­cat­ed stor­age for those items. So I decid­ed to built a cart to sit the table on with some draw­ers. I had plen­ty of extra ply­wood (3/4″, 1/2″, and 1/4″) for the project with­out hav­ing to pur­chase any­thing specif­i­cal­ly for this.

My design just start­ed off as a set of rough mea­sure­ments for the tar­get height and the table width & depth. I then sub­tract­ed out the height for some cast­ers. This gave me the over­all dimen­sions for a cab­i­net car­cass. I fig­ured it was time to try to make some rab­bet joints for this car­cass. A rab­bet is a chan­nel cut along the edge of board to accept a per­pen­dic­u­lar board. You’ve prob­a­bly seen it before even if you did­n’t know what it was called. This allows for two planes of glu­ing sur­face at the joint, which makes the joint remark­ably stronger. I recent­ly got a dado blade set for my table saw and fig­ured this was a per­fect time to try this join­ery method out.1

I cut the 3/4″ x 3/8″ rab­bets along all top and bot­tom pan­els. I then cut a 1/4″ x 3/8″ rab­bet along the back edge of the top, bot­tom, and side pan­els to accept the rear pan­el of the cab­i­net. The oth­er nice thing about this method of join­ery is that it real­ly requires only glue. No mechan­i­cal fas­ten­ers are nec­es­sary. I will say that I was able to get the car­cass most­ly square just by glu­ing up the top, bot­tom, and side pan­els. I real­ly should have glued the back at the same time and that would have ensured the entire box was square, but I just did­n’t have enough large clamps. It’s square-ish and func­tions fine, but I can see the gap around the draw­er faces isn’t consistent.

Pocket Holes for Drawers
Pock­et Holes for Drawers

I built a cou­ple of draw­er box­es out of 1/2″ ply­wood. These were joined with sim­ple pock­et holes. The 1/4″ ply­wood bot­toms were glued and brad nailed into place. I removed one of the draw­er fronts from my drill press cart to trace the hand cutout onto the new draw­er fronts. I quick­ly cut these on the band­saw and then sand­ed them down to a smooth shape. Even though it may let some dust in, I like the sim­plic­i­ty of using these cutouts instead of draw­er pulls.

The draw­ers them­selves are only 4″ deep but the draw­er space for each is about 9″, which allows me to store jigs, router bit box­es, etc. along with my trim router. I got some 2–1/2″ flex­i­ble hose and a split­ter so I can hook up my 4″ dust col­lec­tor quick-con­nect to the router table. I still need to get the quick-con­nect mount­ed to the side of the router table. I should prob­a­bly also do a quick sand­ing and add some fin­ish to the out­side of the cart. But it’s entire­ly func­tion­al and already has helped orga­nize my routers, bits, and accessories.

Sketchup Mod­el of Router Table Cart (cut sheet data includ­ed here as well)

  1. I did actu­al­ly use dados and rab­bets on a small mark­er stor­age box for my daugh­ter sev­er­al years ago, but that was all done with a stan­dard blade rather than a dado stack. []

So Much Storage

We moved to our new home back in late June. The irony of hav­ing so many projects to do at a new house is that there’s not quite as much time to write about them after­wards. And there have been a lot of projects. Most­ly around stor­age and orga­niz­ing. That means a lot of shelves need to be built.

Attic Shelves

We have non-insu­lat­ed attic space off of one of the bed­room clos­ets. While it’s not awe­some hav­ing to car­ry loads and loads through our son’s bed­room, it’s cer­tain­ly a lot more con­ve­nient than the attic over our old sep­a­rate garage space.

Sketchup Model of Attic Storage
Sketchup Mod­el of Attic Storage
Bottom View of Shelving Units
Bot­tom View of Shelv­ing Units

Since part of this area has no floor­ing (and those por­tions of the roof truss­es aren’t designed for stor­age loads), I want­ed to add some dry­wall. This would pre­vent us from push­ing any­thing off the back of the shelves and into this space where it could get lost or, worse, fall through the garage ceil­ing onto our vehi­cles! I did a rea­son­able job of hang­ing the dry­wall and mud­ding the joints and screw heads. I did­n’t real­ly do much in the way of sand­ing, as it’s going to all be cov­ered by the shelves (you have to pick your bat­tles, folks). I also replaced the ter­ri­ble light­ing with four LED strip lights, which is more than enough for this 24′ by 6′ space.

Attic Drywall
Dry­wall in the attic — the wet area was a small roof leak that was fixed

The design of the shelves is pret­ty sim­ple and mod­u­lar. The shelves are 15″ deep, sup­port­ed by the truss mem­bers (you can think of these as wall studs real­ly) along the back and then some 2x3 posts in the front. Those are spaced at 4′ on cen­ter. The shelves them­selves con­sist of 2x2 frames and 1/2″ OSB. The 2x2s are ripped down from 2x4s and screwed togeth­er. The OSB was ripped into 4′ long by 15″ wide strips using a track saw.

Breaking Down Sheet Goods
Break­ing down sheet goods with the track­saw on the trail­er. Note the 1 1/2″ foam insu­la­tion boards for support.

I built all the 2x2 frames in my shop and then car­ried them up to the attic space. There I could use the laser lev­el to set the bot­tom shelf height (at 18″ above the floor) and use 3″ screws to secure it to there truss members/studs. I then lev­eled the shelves front-to-back and secured them with the 2x3 front posts. Last­ly, I placed the OSB (smooth side up, which is real­ly upside-down for OSB) down. I screwed it down to the frames every 24″ or so using some 1–1/4″ deck screws.

Attic Storage System
Com­plet­ed attic stor­age sys­tem with full shelves

The mod­u­lar­i­ty of these 2x2 frames made it very easy to vary the lengths to form the “gal­ley” like design I had for this small area.

Last­ly, my dad was vis­it­ing when we were work­ing on some of our stor­age projects. He jumped right in an helped out with some of the attic shelves and it was real­ly great get­ting to do this project with him!

Garage Shelves

Suf­fice it to say, we have a lot of stuff. We’ve gone through and got­ten rid of loads and still have a lot of stuff. So, while the attic shelves were great we knew they’d be no where near enough. So I also had planned on mak­ing some “loft” style shelves for the our garage. We want­ed to have every­thing sup­port­ed from the ceil­ing to max­i­mize floor (aka, car) space. 

While there are some met­al frame kits avail­able, I real­ly liked the method that Jay Bates and John­ny Brooke used for their garages. So I adapt­ed it to our garage. Basi­cal­ly, these are 2x2 ledges along a wall and ceil­ing, with 2x4 hang­ers to sup­port ply­wood shelves. These shelves are about 30″ deep, again with sup­ports (in this case, the hang­ers) every 4′. The hang­ers are glued and screwed in place for added stiff­ness. The shelves them­selves are 1/2″ sand­ed poplar ply­wood from the home center.

These go up rel­a­tive­ly fast once all the dimen­sion­ing is in place. Locat­ing the wall studs and ceil­ing joists is crit­i­cal here, though. Our garage ceil­ing actu­al­ly has a fram­ing change so I had to accom­mo­date for that. Basi­cal­ly, this amount­ed to switch­ing the 2x2 ceil­ing ledge to the oppo­site side of the hang­er. I end­ed up still miss­ing the ceil­ing joist so I swapped it out for a 2x4 to make up the extra inch or so. It’s not very pret­ty, but what is is sol­id. I made the hang­ers and ledge at a height so that I could eas­i­ly stack two large bins. With 32 lin­ear feet of 30″ shelves so far, we have a ton of stor­age out here now. 

Still More to Go

The real­i­ty is that we’re still not done. Most of what we have left to sort through are box­es of books. Some we’ll keep and put on book­shelves inside but a lot of them are out-of-date ref­er­ence books or even tech­ni­cal books from col­lege that we just no longer need. 

I also want to add some of the garage loft stor­age over the shop area garage door. This will be for stor­ing paint­ing, tiling, dry­wall, etc. sup­plies and tools that we need less often. It’s easy to pull them down with a lad­der but there’s just no need for these to take up floor or shelf space in the shop or garage area.

Sliding Mixer Shelf

Some addi­tion­al details on this lit­tle project: the shelf was a piece of scrap 3/4″ maple ply­wood my lit­tle broth­er gave me. I did­n’t want to take the time to edge band the entire thing and I fig­ured a small lip on the front would serve as a pull han­dle. So I cut down some 3/8″ sol­id maple I had. I used my new pin nail­er to attach the hard­wood while the glue dried (yes, that works just as well as every YouTu­ber indi­cates it does!). This isn’t the pre­scribed method for using these under­count draw­er slides, but they work great any­way. Nor­mal­ly, this sort of draw­er should (in addi­tion to being an actu­al draw­er) have sides and a front.

We’re Moving (Pianos!?)

No, not the site. It’s not been updat­ed but just because I’ve been extra busy (and/or lazy). Rather, our fam­i­ly is mov­ing to a new home.

Piano on the go!

As part of the effort, I decid­ed I should just bite the bul­let and pur­chase a small trail­er. We need to put a lot of items into stor­age for this move, but there was no way we could do it all in a day (thus, mak­ing trail­er rentals extra pricey). So I pur­chased a 4’x8’ fold­ing trail­er, which col­laps­es down (up?) to so it can be stored off to the side of a garage. Prob­a­bly the most pop­u­lar trail­er in the “small fold­ing” cat­e­go­ry is the one at Har­bor Freight. Well, there at least out of stock any­where with­in 100s of miles of me (so I assume very pop­u­lar). So I pur­chased the very sim­i­lar but slight­ly more expen­sive mod­el from North­ern Tool, brand­ed as an Iron­ton trail­er. I’m pret­ty sure it’s most­ly the same as the Har­bor Freight, but I did note a few struc­tur­al dif­fer­ences in the two. Oth­er­wise, this is the black one where the one from HF is red.

The trail­er comes in three box­es, each of which weights in at around 75 lbs. Suf­fice it say, despite being a “light duty” trail­er, this thing is assured­ly made of sol­id steel. The frame is about 1/4″ mate­r­i­al, most­ly chan­nel shapes. It required some larg­er met­ric sock­ets than I had, so I be pre­pared for that as well (It’s a prod­uct made in Chi­na, which should sur­prise no one at this price, so of course it’s all met­ric). I broke down the box­es to give myself a work sur­face for assem­bly. The frame assem­bly itself is rel­a­tive­ly straight-for­ward. The instruc­tions, while not great, are rel­a­tive­ly well writ­ten and illus­trat­ed. I did­n’t find myself putting any parts in back­wards or any­thing as a result.

I had to pur­chase a sheet of 3/4 ply­wood for the deck­ing sur­face, along with the asso­ci­at­ed hard­ware. I’ll be garage stor­ing this trail­er (and by the nature of it being open, only using it in gen­er­al­ly good weath­er, too!). So I just bought some stan­dard pine ply­wood and zinc hard­ware. Still, with the cur­rent price of lum­ber, that set me back about $100. I did have the big-box store cut the ply­wood into two 4’x4’ squares. This is to facil­i­tate the fold­ing action, but also makes it eas­i­er to get home if, well, you don’t have a trail­er. I mea­sured out the holes for the deck­ing as accu­rate­ly as pos­si­ble and then just start­ed bolt­ing the car­riage bolts into place. I want­ed the bolt heads to have a low pro­file; but did­n’t real­ly have any of my tools handy to coun­ter­sink large bolt heads. So car­riage bolts worked well. Hon­est­ly, they’re usu­al­ly my pref­er­ence for bolt­ing lum­ber, any­way. For holes I did­n’t get quite aligned, I just used the frame holes as sort of a drill guide and slot­ted the holes out a bit. The steel is much hard­er than the wood, of course, so this works to eas­i­ly get the mis-aligned holes corrected.

The wiring was pret­ty sim­ple, though I was a bit dis­ap­point­ed that the trail­er kit did­n’t include a con­nec­tion har­ness. It’s a $5 part, at most, and pret­ty stan­dard I think. The last bit of assem­bly I did was to drill for and bolt on four D‑ring style anchor points on the sides of the trail­er. Prob­a­bly anoth­er $20 for the anchors and hard­ware, but pret­ty essen­tial for my planned usage of the trail­er. Anoth­er issue was the cast­ers; or rather attach­ing them. Most of the bolts are nylon lock­ing which is fine in most cas­es. But I could­n’t think of a way to attach the cast­ers with this nut type. So I just bought some more met­ric nuts with split/lock wash­ers. These I were able to tight­en up with the impact dri­ver with­out the cast­er bear­ing just spin­ning in place.

D ring anchor drilled and bolt­ed on

And with that, the trail­er was ready to roll! My broth­ers came over to help me with the first real use of load­ing it up. We took some fur­ni­ture off to the stor­age unit. The real test came next: mov­ing my wife’s upright piano! We all had our own guess­es on how much this thing weighs, but I think we sort of set­tled on around 400 lbs. Now, there is no ramp on this trail­er. So even I backed it up to the curb edge, we still had to lift that piano over a foot off of the dol­ly and on to the deck. We had to call over our friend Adam to lend a hand! But the five of us (Angela was­n’t going to let us move her piano with­out her direct super­vi­sion and assis­tance), we man­aged to do so. We did rough up some of the fin­ish on a low­er pan­el when get­ting it off the trail­er, but it still played great. Stayed in tune, even! And I’d say with a 400 lb piano and five adults on the deck, we were def­i­nite­ly putting the load capac­i­ty of the trail­er to the test.

Fold­ed up and rolled into the cor­ner of the garage

Ulti­mate­ly, this trail­er is going to get used to move sheet goods and lum­ber home from the hard­ware or big box store for projects in our new house. It takes me about 10 min­utes to get it out, bolt­ed secure in the “trail­er” mode, and hitched up. And that’s a lot faster than try­ing to get sheet goods cut down & then loaded into my SUV (even when that is pos­si­ble). So, I’d plan on anoth­er $150 or so in wood, hard­ware, and wiring on top of the price of this trail­er (and that does­n’t include any pick­et rails, which I may make lat­er) if you’re con­sid­er­ing this or the Har­bor Freight option. Oth­er­wise, it’s a great invest­ment and a sol­id trailer.

Batch Production

I made some small tablet/phone stands as Christ­mas gifts for fam­i­ly. Though they’re rel­a­tive­ly sim­ple, mak­ing a dozen of the exact same piece required think­ing ahead.

I used a 7′ (-ish) sec­tion of 1x4 poplar from the Home Depot. This was S4S lum­ber, so it was a good piece to start with. I did­n’t have to do any milling (which is good, because I don’t have any real milling tools). I ini­tial­ly cut a few short sec­tions on the miter saw to make a few pro­to­types. I did a few dif­fer­ent slot angles and widths, final­ly land­ing on a 3/8″ at 10°. The through hole is main­ly to help access the home but­ton (or swipe up ges­ture) when the tablet is upright.

For batch­ing out the remain­ing dozen of stands, I need­ed to think through the process to set up repeat­able actions for each step. While the miter saw is per­fect­ly capa­ble of mak­ing repeat­able length cross cuts, I end­ed up just using the table saw in order to reduce my cleanup time (the dust col­lec­tion on my table saw is much bet­ter and I was already going to use it for the slots). 

Cut­ting Down to Length

I then glued up a cou­ple of pieces of scrap to make a jig for drilling out the through hole. This did­n’t work out as well as I hoped and I end­ed up hav­ing to just man­u­al­ly align the holes. Cut­ting them with a forstner bit was at least fast, though. I’ll def­i­nite­ly re-vis­it that drill press jig if I make more.

Next came cut­ting the angled slot, which is the only real­ly tricky part of this project. I set my table saw blade at 10°. Now, it does­n’t mat­ter what table saw blade I use, because no blade can cut a flat bot­tom when angled like that. So I have to cut about 5–6 pass­es and then have some ridges along the bot­tom of the slot. 

Cut­ting 10° Slot

To set the bounds for the edges of the slots, I added a cou­ple of quick clamps on to my table saw fence gage to act as stops. Then I just need­ed to move the fence over just shy of an 1/8th of an inch for each pass until I hit the far stop. I also used my Micro­Jig Grip­per to help hold the pieces. As you can see, the length of the piece between the blade and the fence is more than the width of the piece par­al­lel to the fence. This is gen­er­al­ly not a safe cut, but with such a small piece, it not being a through cut, and using the Grip­per, I felt com­plete­ly com­fort­able mak­ing these cuts. After mak­ing the cuts, I could use a 1/4″ chis­el to clean up the uneven bot­tom of the slots.

Sand­ing Through Grits

Next came sand­ing. I sand­ed each piece through 120, 220, and 400 grit sand­pa­per. As these are very small pieces, I had to hold the piece in one hand and “air” sand it using the ran­dom orbital sander. To say the least, this was exhaust­ing try­ing to hold vibrat­ing pieces togeth­er! I then used my old neme­sis, the disc sander, to sand a cham­fer onto each edge. I set the table at 45° and made a quick pass along each edge. Keep in mind, each of thee blocks has 12 edges and there were a dozen blocks. That’s a long of sand­ing. At least I got through lis­ten­ing to a major­i­ty of my audio­book doing all this recep­tive cut­ting and sanding.

Cham­fer­ing Edges Using the Disc Sander

It’s dur­ing these sort of repet­i­tive actions that it’s very easy to get com­pla­cent, which can lead to injury with pow­er tools. Hav­ing my minor injury at the end of 2019 and then see­ing very com­pe­tent YouTu­bers get hurt, I was very aware of this fact. Even Adam Sav­age has talked about the risk of injury dur­ing these sort of repet­i­tive actions. So I did my best to keep my wits about me and pay atten­tion to every cut and every pass with the sander.

I fin­ished each of these with a cou­ple of coats of spar ure­thane (after stamp­ing the bot­tom of each). I then gave each a quick knock-down sand­ing with a sheet of 400 grit sand paper. The fin­ish is glass-like and should hold up to kitchens, bath­room coun­ters, cof­fee mugs, etc.

Watching Paint Dry

After paint­ing most of the rooms in the house over the past 6 months, we final­ly decid­ed to tack­le paint­ing the halls and stairwell. 

The fin­ished prod­uct — some­thing we can be proud of

Like a lot of peo­ple around the world, we spent most of 2020 at home. We had planned on a fair­ly big vaca­tion back in May, but that all got can­celled. We were for­tu­nate to not lose a lot out on that. So, we instead start­ed doing a lot of projects around the house. We updat­ed the bath­rooms, tiled a back­splash in the kitchen, worked in the yard, and more. We also had new car­pet installed upstairs, switch­ing to a light gray col­or (from very worn out beige).

We also (final­ly) got around to paint­ing almost every room in the house. Some of which, like our bed­room, had­n’t been paint­ed since we moved in. But no where in the house need­ed paint­ing worse than our halls and stair well. Need­less to say, with all our bed­rooms upstairs, it’s a high traf­fic spot. We actu­al­ly did have it paint­ed about 9 years ago by a pro­fes­sion­al paint­ing com­pa­ny. But between us, two kids going from tod­dlers to mid­dle-school­ers, and three dogs, it just got beat up over time.

Ide­al­ly, I would have got­ten to paint­ing all this before the new car­pet. Paint­ing the bed­rooms before then was great, because we did­n’t care at all about the occa­sion­al drip of paint on the old car­pet, know­ing it was about to be dis­card­ed. But I cer­tain­ly used a cou­ple of drop-cloths upstairs. Hon­est­ly, I’d just been putting off paint­ing these halls because I was­n’t at all sure how I’d paint the high walls in the stair­well. At its high­est point, the ceil­ing is about 16′ high over the low­er stairs. But I invest­ed in a this 18′ mul­ti-posi­tion lad­der which tack­led most of the issue of height. How­ev­er, posi­tion­ing it on the stairs is the trick. I saw a cou­ple of YouTube videos in which painters had built their own stair-step plat­form for posi­tion­ing lad­ders. After strug­gling I real­ized that I absolute­ly need­ed to build some­thing like that. 

This style of lad­der eas­i­ly adapts to stairs

So I grabbed some scrap ply­wood and 2x4s and mea­sured the need­ed cuts right on the steps. That is, I lit­er­al­ly nev­er wrote down a sin­gle num­ber; just got the top lev­el and made a mark on one of the 2x4s. I pre-drilled the ply­wood pieces just to keep the screws straight. I screwed the ply­wood to the 2x4s using some 2″ deck screws — 2 screws for each end of a 2x4. I was wor­ried that it might be a bit wob­bly with only those screws in end grain, but 32 screws appar­ent­ly was suf­fi­cient because it was rock sol­id. I added block of scrap 2x4 to space the top over the base­board trim and to pro­vide a place for the lad­der foot to brace. I can’t say this is the finest piece of wood­work­ing crafts­man ship I’ve ever done, my mom recent­ly told me that her father had been a house painter in his first career. So, I decid­ed in that case, this was wor­thy of putting his name on my build after all.

I was able to place this step plat­form on the top step, paint the top trim and high wall. I then moved it down a cou­ple of steps to get to the next sec­tion. After that, I could reach every­thing else from just stand­ing on an 20″ painters plat­form, which is anoth­er invest­ment we made for paint­ing rooms in the house. I had used some­thing sim­i­lar paint­ing hous­es with Habi­tat for Human­i­ty and they’re just tall enough to eas­i­ly paint ceil­ing trim work. A cou­ple of oth­er handy paint­ing tools that we use:

  • Sure-Line Extend­able Pole — we pur­chased one of these about 17 years ago and still use it to this day. It’s the sin­gle most use­ful paint­ing sup­ply we’ve ever pur­chased. With the paint­ing plat­form and this medi­um (up to 5′) pole, I could get to my top edge with a roller no prob­lem on a 14′ ceil­ing at our stair landing.
  • Woost­er Short­cut - this is the best brush for detailed edge work. It’s got nice bris­tles and the com­fort­able, short han­dle is great for fine con­trol. When you’re 14–16′ feet up on a lad­der, you want to make sure you don’t have to come back to clean up a bad edge, trust me.
  • Sure-Line Edger — this is most­ly use­ful for around door or win­dow cas­ing. You do need to be care­ful in not get­ting a paint bead on the out­er edge (we went back over that with a small 4″ roller imme­di­ate­ly to avoid it). The wheels are too far away from the paint pad to help much with ceil­ing or floor mold­ing, though. This has threads for a pole attach­ment, but I found it to be use­less when I was­n’t hold­ing it.

Last­ly, it’s worth not­ing that we bought good qual­i­ty rollers, both 12″ and 4″. More impor­tant­ly, though, is that we bought high qual­i­ty paint. The paint is Behr Mar­quee (from. Home Depot) and I hon­est­ly can­not rec­om­mend this stuff enough. It’s got amaz­ing cov­er­age even with 1 coat in most of our appli­ca­tions (if over an old­er flat fin­ish, it required two coats with a roller). It dries to the touch in about 30 min­utes but keeps a good wet edge just long enough to pre­vent lines. We like the satin fin­ish for most of our rooms, but did go with an eggshell for the bath­rooms, I think. At $45 a gal­lon, it’s far from cheap but is mon­ey well spent. For ref­er­ence, we just paint­ed two hall­ways and the stairs using only a sin­gle gal­lon, with some left­over for touch-ups down the road.

Tak­ing down the tools while the last of the paint dries

I’ll leave you with this one final thought. As we close the final hours on what has been, at best, an inter­est­ing (and at worst, a dis­mal) year, it’s fit­ting that I’m writ­ing about wrap­ping up a project I had dread­ed for so long. When I men­tioned to my dad a cou­ple of days ago I was tak­ing some time off work this week to do this, he sug­gest­ed this be my next blog post. I was­n’t sure there’d me much to talk about for just paint­ing walls, but I real­ized I’d learned a lot about paint­ing this year and have got­ten pret­ty good at it. Fur­ther, I real­ized putting off this project was more than my typ­i­cal pro­cras­ti­na­tion. I was nat­u­ral­ly con­cerned about safe­ty but also just about get­ting it done right. We tack­led a lot of projects while home this year and I man­aged to turn that into some real know-how and con­fi­dence to do more and more, with final­ly being ready to paint that bill­board-sized wall in our stairs! Know­ing that there’s no inte­ri­or paint job I can’t tack­le is a great feel­ing and a nice way for me to close out anoth­er year of DIY projects.

Hap­py New Year and may 2021 bring us all some joy and many more new, great projects!

Updating Our Bathroom

Angela & I updat­ing our bath­room with new lights, sinks, faucets, and cus­tom mirrors.

Our fin­ished bath­room update

After hav­ing com­plet­ed some updates to the oth­er two bath­rooms in our house, I have to con­fess I was some­what dis­ap­point­ed every time I stepped into our “own­er’s” bath, as it was the same old builder-grade stuff. We did­n’t want to break the bank in updat­ing it, so we set out with a bud­get-friend­ly set of updates we could accom­plish ourselves.

You’ll notice that a lot of the images here are out of order, as the work isn’t real­ly done one trade at a time. But I broke this up into the sec­tions of work to bet­ter high­light the parts of each.

Lighting

The over­all light­ing lev­el in the bath­room was­n’t ter­ri­ble, but I real­ly did­n’t care for the look of the sin­gle light above the large mir­ror. I real­ly want­ed to put in some wall sconces. In order to do so, we first had to take out the old light. This was most­ly a straight-for­ward process. I would­n’t be using the exist­ing loca­tion (like I did in the oth­er two bath­rooms, more-or-less), so I cut out the wall box and then patched over the open­ing. I end­ed up hav­ing to cut the wiring, as it was (cor­rect­ly, per code) sealed into the top plate with some fire­proof­ing foam.

Dig­ging through blown insu­la­tion to drill in the wiring was­n’t too fun.

As a result, I had to install a junc­tion box in our attic. I would have to drill lat­er­al­ly through too many studs to use the approach I used to add a sec­ond light over the kids’ van­i­ty, so I instead drilled two addi­tion­al holes in the top plate (I re-used the old, cen­ter hole once I freed the cut wiring). I then ran “U” shaped sec­tions of wire to set up the three lights in series from the junc­tion box, which con­nect­ed back to the wall switch. I put in the old-work box­es and had the lights up in no time. Last­ly, I used some expand­ing fire-proof­ing foam on the holes in the top plate (no one is ever gonna check, but we’ll know it would pass a code inspection!).

Old-work box­es and wiring for lights.

I had ordered some nice-look­ing wall sconces from Home Depot and used some “Edi­son” style LED bulbs that I already had. They put out a very “warm” light, but as they’re just above eye lev­el, any­thing brighter would be too much.

These LED Edi­son style bulbs are sur­pris­ing­ly warm in color.

Plumbing

The good news was that since this was already a dou­ble van­i­ty, there was no changes need­ed to the water or drain lines. The bad news was that since this was a dou­ble van­i­ty, get­ting a new top with square bowls was the sin­gle most expen­sive item (by far) of the entire project. Even though it raised the final counter height a bit, we real­ly want­ed a slight­ly thick­er top. We found a pret­ty good deal on an acrylic Ver­sa­S­tone top with inte­grat­ed sink bowls at Home Depot (it’s out of stock at the time I’m writ­ing this, but Ama­zon car­ries a small­er size). Oth­er than the sheer weight of pulling off the old top and then putting the new top in place, this was prob­a­bly the eas­i­est part of the whole project. The cab­i­net is a “stan­dard” size, so it fit perfectly.

We also man­aged to get Moen Gen­ta faucets on sale at the Home Depot, too. They were very straight-for­ward to install except that I had to cut-down the rod con­nect­ing the sink stop­per to the pull lever, as it jammed in the drain! I did also have to get some water line exten­sions (why do plumbers install the water lines so low!). So that was a con­sid­er­able amount of mon­ey (near­ly $50) for 2″ of line. But the faucets look great with the lines of the van­i­ty top.

Our faucets installed and working!

Angela also put in a short back­splash with some mar­ble tiles. We end­ed up hav­ing to cut just a few, and I was able to use a grind­stone to bev­el the edge of a half-piece so it fit in the end. I think Angela has def­i­nite­ly decid­ed that tiling is her DIY job of choice!

Detail of mar­ble tiling, includ­ing the beveled edge I ground on a cut piece.

Mirror

If you’ve nev­er lived in a spec-built home, let me explain some­thing to you: the mir­rors are glued to the wall with con­struc­tion adhe­sive or mas­tic. It’s fast and easy to do them this way, but it is a huge pain to remove them. We lucked out in get­ting the small­er ones off the walls years ago. But the mir­ror in our bath­room was 6 feet by 3–1/2 feet. We knew it had to go, but we were more-or-less ter­ri­fied about split­ting it into a mil­lion pieces all over our bath­room. I watched a num­ber of YouTube videos about the process and it seemed that pry­ing it off all along the top by dri­ving in wood­en shims was con­sid­ered the best approach. So, I got a very large pack of 14″ shims and then pro­ceed­ed to tape up the mir­ror. You may think this was overkill for the tape, but I seri­ous­ly con­sid­ered just cov­er­ing the entire thing! Angela was there for sup­port, both fig­u­ra­tive­ly and lit­er­al­ly (do not try some­thing like this on your own!). We went through the entire pack of shims, even going so far as to re-using some that fell down and we could reach. In the end, we had them stacked about four thick. But with a final, sat­is­fy­ing pop, the mir­ror came free in one piece. It weighed 70 lbs (I did the math), which isn’t a lot for the two of us to car­ry, but when it’s that large and frag­ile, it’s pret­ty scary.

We had to patch up the walls where the adhe­sive pulled off the out­er lay­er of dry­wall paper. I’ve learned the hard way that this stuff is near­ly impos­si­ble to patch right, even with dry­wall com­pound because the inner, brown paper isn’t water proof. It just sucks up the mois­ture and then bub­bles up when paint­ed. Using a repair primer first seals off that paper. We used Zinss­er Gardz, because it’s avail­able in a quart (how­ev­er, I under­stand Roman Rx-35 Pro-999 is just as good; it just only comes in a gal­lon and this stuff goes a long way). Just make sure you cut back to sound out­er paper and paint it on with a foam brush (it’s like milk). Then you can patch up the dry­wall with com­pound, sand, and paint. 

I used some min­er­al spir­its to soft­en up the adhe­sive on the back of the mir­ror once I got it out to the garage floor on some card­board. A rub­ber head­ed ham­mer and a wide put­ty knife made short work of scrap­ing it off. I then used a cheap‑o glass cut­ter and a dry­wall square to score the front sur­face along the first cut. I was plan­ning to low­er it back over a broom han­dle as a piv­ot, but it end­ed up just split­ting as I low­ered it! One quick change over under­pants lat­er, I repeat­ed to split the small­er side into two final sections. 

I ordered a cou­ple of 6′ long, maple 1x4’s to mill up into some frames. I want­ed a nar­row, yet deep frame for each. So they were essen­tial­ly cut into 1x2’s, framed in the “skin­ny” direc­tion. The boards were pret­ty rough, with lots of chat­ter marks and snip­ing. I don’t have a pla­nar, but I was able to smooth them down with my belt sander. Rip­ping the pieces into nar­row boards cer­tain­ly relieved a lot of strain, to the point I was con­cerned I would­n’t have enough straight sec­tions to make decent frames! But the hock­ey stick end aside, I was able to mea­sure and miter each board to fit the mir­rors. I cut the dados on the table saw. The glue-up for the frames was pret­ty easy, though hav­ing only one band clamp and lim­it­ed work space meant I had to make one at a time.

I tried using some plain spar ure­thane at first on a sam­ple piece to try to match the cab­i­netry, which while also maple is now over 12 years old. It was­n’t near­ly a dark enough match, but my son helped me pick out a close col­or of get stain at Wood­craft to match one of the false draw­er fronts. So, Amer­i­can Oak col­or wiped on very thin and then fin­ished with spar ure­thane spray does a very good job of match­ing old­er maple, if you ever find your­self need­ing to do such a thing. Just be sure to do a bet­ter job clean­ing up your glue and wood filler than I did first.

I used an 18gage nail­er to rein­force the miter joints from the bot­tom and top, none of which are vis­i­ble when hang­ing. I used some thin foam sheets to pad the mir­ror and then cov­ered the back with a 1/4″ sheet of ply­wood. I used a cou­ple of sim­ple met­al clips to hold it in place. The nar­row frame means that the hang­ing hooks are vis­i­ble from the side, but oth­er­wise it’s a very clean and min­i­mal look.

It’s not all smoke and mirrors.

So that’s our final bath­room update! And mak­ing those mir­rors was a real­ly great experience. 

Kids Bathroom Renovation

As our kids have got­ten old­er, they have out­grown their shared hall­way bath­room. So we decid­ed to give them two sinks and some more stor­age space.

Wall cab­i­net in place and bath hard­ware mounted

In all fair­ness, “ren­o­va­tion” is prob­a­bly not the best word for this project. We did­n’t exact­ly tear down the room to bare studs or any­thing. How­ev­er, it did touch on just about every DIY skillset I have! And we agreed that if we were going to do this project our­selves and not hire any­one, we were still going to make sure every aspect was done right. 

Begin­ning demo — the clos­est thing to a “before” picture

We used a sim­i­lar IKEA cab­i­net with draw­ers to the one we installed in our down­stairs bath update. This is the IKEA Hemnes van­i­ty and wall cab­i­net, along with the match Odensvik sink. We also used a pair of the Ensen faucets from IKEA. These cab­i­nets are great for stor­age but be pre­pared to do some mod­i­fi­ca­tions to your plumb­ing lines as they almost cer­tain­ly will have to be cut shorter!

How­ev­er, where that had a pedestal sink, this bath­room had a full cab­i­net with a closed base. The new cab­i­net was short­er in depth and also had an open cab­i­net. Upon pulling out the old cab­i­net, we imme­di­ate­ly real­ized that the tile was place after the cab­i­net and there­fore did­n’t con­tin­ue beneath it. Angela was able to locate some match­ing tile used in the bath­room. We had to remove some of the tiles that had been cut around the cab­i­net foot­print. A grout removal blade on a cord­less oscil­lat­ing mul­ti­tool made this an easy job (I start­ed off try­ing to remove the grout by hand and it was near­ly impos­si­ble with the epoxy grout). My son helped out plac­ing some under­lay­ment. The com­pos­ite vinyl tile used floor adhe­sive and sil­i­con grout (which is hon­est­ly way worse to place than nor­mal tile grout). We were able to most­ly match up the grout, though.

For light­ing, I added a sec­ond light mount in series with the orig­i­nal. The builders of this home used pos­si­bly the worst light mount box­es, so I end­ed up replac­ing the orig­i­nal with an old work box. I drilled through a cou­ple of studs to run the wire, which was dif­fi­cult at best1. The oth­er elec­tric work con­sist­ed of mov­ing an out­let a few inch­es out of the cor­ner so that it would­n’t be blocked by the wall cab­i­net. I used my mul­ti­tool again here to quick­ly cut out the old box and then cut in a space for an old work box about 5″ to the left. Seems like a lot of effort for not much dis­tance, but it makes the out­let much eas­i­er to get to.

With the elec­tri­cal out of the way, it was time to patch up the walls. I’ve learned a bit about dry­wall repair and I can say from expe­ri­ence that dry­wall com­pound is far bet­ter to work with than spack­le for any­thing larg­er than a nail hole. For cov­er­ing larg­er open­ings, also use a met­al mesh patch. The one down­side to dry­wall com­pound is that it’s a ton of sand­ing and there­fore a huge, dusty mess. But the results are worth it. My wife and daugh­ter paint­ed the room a blue-gray once all the sand­ing was complete.

Ains­ley and Angela paint­ing trim

Next, it was time for plumb­ing. Unlike our down­stairs bath, the sup­ply lines and drains in the wall stuck out too far for the IKEA cab­i­nets. In order to cut back sup­ply lines, we had to shut off the main water sup­ply to the house. We had for­tu­nate­ly nev­er had to do that before so locat­ing it was a headache. In our defense, it’s upstairs in a hall clos­et where our water heater tank is locat­ed and does­n’t look like any oth­er water shut-off valve I could find on the inter­net! Once we got the water shut off and the pipe pres­sure relieved by open­ing a tub faucet down­stairs, I could cut the lines. Actu­al­ly, Angela end­ed up cut­ting the sec­ond and putting a new shut-off valve on since I had to run to the store to get some more com­pres­sion rings (the old ones weren’t com­ing off and I only had one for some rea­son). The drain was easy to cut back using the mul­ti­tool again (it’s a great demo tool!). I installed the line split­ters and fit up all the drain lines for the two sinks after that.

The open cab­i­net meant that I need­ed to place floor trim all along the wall where the old cab­i­net pre­vi­ous­ly was. I was able to pur­chase some match­ing MDF floor mold­ing and shoe mold­ing. I cut it to size, sneak­ing up so it would make a nice, tight miter in the cor­ner. Of course, the walls were not real­ly straight at all. The one new tool major tool I pur­chased for this project was a bat­tery pow­ered trim nail­er and it made installing the mold­ing a breeze. With that in place, we could hang the cab­i­net and set the van­i­ty top.

Cab­i­netry being mount­ed using three lag screws

The last thing to do was to hang the wall cab­i­net with the mir­rors. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, both Angela and I had­n’t real­ly thought through all the dis­tances. There was enough space for the full cab­i­net between the top of the faucets and the bot­tom of the light fix­tures, but just bare­ly. That is, you would­n’t actu­al­ly be able to put your hand on the faucet and turn it on! We even tried turn­ing the lights to point up (keen eyes may have not­ed that in the first pho­to), but it still was­n’t going to be enough space for the wall cabinet.

I had a plan, though. I took the wall cab­i­net apart and did some a lot of mea­sur­ing. I then took the sides and back pan­els out to the garage work­shop. I was going to sim­ply remove the bot­tom shelf and there­by short­en the cab­i­net 6–1/2″. The sides were actu­al stained pine, so I did­n’t have to wor­ry about a veneer tear­ing too much. I made the cuts to length using the miter gage. I then cut about the final inch off of those off-cuts. This would give me a drill tem­plate for the dow­el and screw holes in the “new” bot­toms. I then cut the back pan­els down by the same amount. The cab­i­net went back togeth­er per­fect­ly. There was even a con­sis­tent gap all around the mir­ror doors!

The last major piece to install was a new toi­let. The old toi­let was a short height, round bowl (i.e., a “kid­dy” size toi­let — this pho­to does not do the size dif­fer­ence jus­tice). We opt­ed for a rea­son­ably priced Delta toi­let. I was a bit ner­vous about the removal and instal­la­tion, but it went pret­ty eas­i­ly and was far less unpleas­ant than I expect­ed. That being said, the Delta toi­let is pret­ty lousy and I would­n’t rec­om­mend it to anyone. 

New toi­let installed and old toi­let ready for the dump (pun intended)

We hung up some match­ing hand tow­el and robe hooks for the kids to fin­ish off the room. So there you have it: demo, tiling, elec­tri­cal, plumb­ing, dry­wall, paint­ing, and car­pen­try all in one small bath­room ren­o­va­tion! But it real­ly has inspired our con­fi­dence to tack­le even more projects. I’m pleased with how every­thing turned out and that I know every­thing’s done cor­rect­ly, too. 

  1. In fact, I near­ly drilled right into a live 110v line to an out­let using a spade bit. For­tu­nate­ly, I was going fair­ly slow­ly. How­ev­er, that could have eas­i­ly gone very bad­ly for me. []