I’ve always been a fan of pizza and I’ve made pizza at home since I was a teenage (okay, Chef Boyardee kits count, right?). I’ve made my own dough and even tried my hand at my own sauce before. Angela and I upgraded to a pizza stone years ago and they do help a lot. During the pandemic, we started making even more pizza at home and my daughter really upped her baking in general.
So one of the things we all agreed would be really awesome would be to have our very own pizza oven. After seeing just how involved a “real” pizza oven would be, we figured we could scale that back to a “portable” pizza oven. They’re on par with the expense and use of a meat smoker and generally are “countertop” sized; though of course you use them outside as they do produce smoke.
The particular model we got is an Ooni Koda 16. It’s portable in the sense that it’s not bolted down; but at about 75 pounds (34 kg), we’re not likely to take it on many camping trips or anything. It’s a multi-fuel in that it uses a mix of charcoal and hardwood. It’s pretty much the same principal as a Kamado-type grill, in that it uses natural drafting to pull in fresh air over coals to get them really hot. Onto which you then add some hardwood to make flames and get the oven even hotter. Like 700°F (340°C) and more hot. Further, like a Kamado, floor of the oven is ceramic tile which retains that heat. This cooks the dough while the flame licking over the inside roof of the oven cooks the toppings. And it does this in about 90 seconds (this is Neapolitan style; if you have “thicker” crust you reduce the temp some and cook for longer).
I’ve had pizza in New York, Chicago, and yes, even Naples, Italy. Was my very first pizza the best I’ve ever had? No, but it was up there for me. And I got to make it! In my backyard! The pictures here just don’t do the chewy, warm crust justice. Yeah, I was seconds away from burning it but it was still so good. I started with just a simple cheese pizza, and then made a pepperoni pizza and another white pizza (well, pretty much cheese-bread as I didn’t use enough olive oil).
Oh, yeah: recipes: I know that there are purists who spend a lot more time on ingredients than I ever will, but I just use a super-simple dough recipe, my favorite brand of sauce, some store-brand shredded mozzarella, and Italian seasoning. Chefs and cooks can hate on that all they want, but I can make this any time I want now. ;)
Fine woodworking! Well, my woodworking at about the finest I have gotten yet, anyway. My wife and I purchased a painting from a friend of ours in the late Fall. Our whole family had been wanting to buy one of his pieces for some time1. We finally decided on the piece titled “Joy to the Wold”.
We of course hung it up immediately but we knew it needed a frame. First of all, it would just look nice. But also, the canvas stretcher on this particular painting had a small warp in it and hopefully a frame would straighten that out. I decided to use Michael Alm’s approach to a “float” mount frame. This gives the appearance of the artwork floating freely within the frame border. It also has the added benefit of using a “strainer”, which is sort of a frame-within-the-frame. This would hopefully give some added strength in order to remove the warping of the stretcher. Hopefully…
Also, this painting is 40″ x 30″, which is by far the largest frame I’ve ever tried to make. And honestly, I haven’t made very many. But Michael Alm made it seem pretty straight-forward so I figured I’d just jump in. First, I needed some lumber. I found a really nice 4/4 (read as “four quarters”, or an inch thick) piece of walnut at the local Woodcraft that would be plenty of wood. I’ve also never made anything out of walnut before and was anxious to try it.
The first thing I needed to do was to mill down the wood as it was essentially just rough cut (and had a live edge). While I do have a planar now, I don’t have a jointer. So I splurged on a nice sprial cut, flush trim router bit from Bits & Bits. This bit cost more than the lumber! But it should pretty much last a lifetime. I was able to offset one side of the router fence and the bit functioned as a perfect jointer in my router table. After that I used the planar to mill down the wood. Honestly, I should have cut it up some before hand, as probably a solid 1/3 of the wood ended up in my dust collection. But it was very flat, square, and even. I then just ripped it into 2 3/4″ strips on the table saw and the cut it to rough lengths on the miter saw. The walnut did have a few wormholes which I filled with black CA glue.
I decided to make two new jigs for this project, both based on Michael Alm’s method. The first was a 45° cut sled for the table saw. Why use this when I have a miter saw that can cut angles? Well, it’s honestly more precise and repeatable. It’s also far easier to slow approach the final length of each frame side. Lastly, cutting miters on a thin, flat piece is really just a pain on my miter saw. Anyway, the second jig was Michael Alm’s spline jig. I actually went ahead and purchased his plan set, mostly just to pay him back something for all the information I gained from his videos! But it did make adding splines to the corners drop-dead simple.
What’s a spline? Well, when you try to glue up a 1/2″ thick piece of wood at a 45°, it’s not a very strong joint. Especially not strong enough for a frame this size. A spline is a small sliver of wood that is glued into a cut across that joint. A pair of those at each corner greatly increases the strength of the joint. Those slivers of wood were just sanded down pieces of leftover walnut. I know some woodworkers like to use different species of wood to create contrasting colors, but I wanted these to be barely noticeable.
After adding the splines and gluing up the outer frame, I made the stretcher out of some 3/4″ plywood scrap. I also had to make a third jig (though this one really simple) in order to drill some pocket holes to connect the two frames (stretcher inside the outer frame). Pro-tip: if you’re going use this method, make sure to drill those holes before you start assembling the stretcher frame. That was really awkward to hold on my drill press. I used some water-based “onyx” stain from General Finishes for the stretcher. Painting it dark or black basically makes it disappear within the shadow of the art/outer frame.
I used some older Varathane Classic wood stain on the walnut. The color was “special walnut” which was the favorite of several stain samples we tried. I really don’t even recall when I bought that stain, but it worked like a charm and is really a beautiful color. I didn’t do any protective coat or other finishing, as this is a frame and not likely to get handled much.
I have to say, I’m really proud of how this turned out. The frame didn’t fully take out the warp of the artwork, but it is an improvement. But the frame really adds just enough to the piece to really make it feel special, without taking away from the art itself.
Seriously, the kids were discussing pooling their money to buy a smaller piece a couple of years ago! [↩]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 10Â°. 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).
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 10Â°. 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.
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.
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 45Â° 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.
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.
After painting most of the rooms in the house over the past 6 months, we finally decided to tackle painting the halls and stairwell.
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.
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.
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!
Angela & I updating our bathroom with new lights, sinks, faucets, and custom mirrors.
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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!
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.
So that’s our final bathroom update! And making those mirrors was a really great experience.