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. []

Bathroom Update

We’ve been work­ing for the past cou­ple of months to update the bath­rooms in our house. We start­ed with the sim­plest update: replac­ing a pedestal sink with a small IKEA cab­i­net. We also repaint­ed, updat­ed the light­ing, and hung new art & a mirror.

Our updat­ed hall­way bathroom

First of all: we’re real­ly bad at tak­ing “before” pho­tos for some rea­son and it’s not like we had a lot of ran­dom pho­tos of our bath­rooms, any­way. So there’s not much to show for that. This bath­room nev­er had any stor­age and our pre­vi­ous clunky attempts at adding some nev­er real­ly solved that issue. So, the main update was to remove the builder-grade pedestal sink and to replace this with a cabinet. 

The old sink pulled out and donat­ed to our local Habi­tat for Human­i­ty ReStore

We got a small cab­i­net with two draw­ers along with sink & faucet from IKEA. Their Hemnes cab­i­nets have full-depth draw­ers. This is accom­plished by a very shal­low sink and a drain that has a cou­ple of hard 90° bends to go behind the draw­ers. Also, this requires that the shut-off val­ues and drain con­nec­tion extend less than 4″ from the wall. For­tu­nate­ly, we did­n’t have to make any changes to the plumb­ing con­nec­tions for this to fit. We did shift the cen­ter of the sink away from the wall, so as to not crowd the cab­i­net into the cor­ner. This gives it more of a “fur­ni­ture” look, which was the aes­thet­ic we were shoot­ing for (with the Euro-style open base and all). One piece of advice if you choose to do this: give your­self a few inch­es to paint the wall beside the cab­i­net. Oth­er­wise, you’ll have to call on your skin­ny-armed child to come do that and they might not be the best paint­ing labor.

The light­ing also need­ed to move over to be cen­tered on the new­ly placed sink. The wall box for the light­ing was attached to a stud which was right where I need to place the light. So we opt­ed for a light with a larg­er wall cov­er­ing. I sim­ply cut a new hole in the mount­ing plate and wired through that. 

A hole saw allowed me to cen­ter the light bracket

The mir­ror was one we had pre­vi­ous­ly used in anoth­er bath­room but would match the white on gray col­or scheme here. My daugh­ter paint­ed a scene from the movie Spir­it­ed Away and I decid­ed to make a frame for it. I got some poplar 1x2 from the big box hard­ware store. Poplar is a fair­ly fast grow­ing and there­fore cheap hard­wood and would be a lost cost, low risk way to prac­tice mak­ing a frame. I used a “float­ing” frame tech­nique by cut­ting a rab­bet along the inside, which gives the paint­ing the appear­ance of float­ing (well, a bit of a shad­ow line any­way). I also got a frame band clamp to help keep the frame togeth­er. I had to build in an inter­nal frame of scrap ply­wood pieces, as the pain­ing was­n’t on a can­vas but rather a board. I use what­ev­er white rat­tle can spray paints I had to cov­er the frame, which did­n’t turn out so well. But the frame was most­ly square with tight miter joints!

We paint­ing the bath­room a nice gray (which we’ve now used in all our bath­rooms). The whole room feels much larg­er, even with the cab­i­net as there is no longer a tow­er of cub­bies for awk­ward stor­age next to the toi­let. And those draw­ers hold even more! 

The fin­ished hall­way bathroom

New Table Saw

After a cou­ple of years of using a portable table saw, which actu­al­ly belongs to my old­er broth­er (thanks, Steve!), I decid­ed to pur­chase an upgrad­ed table saw for my wood­work­ing projects. I’ll describe a bit of why I decid­ed on this mod­el and what I think of it in this post.

Cut­ting angled dados

The Old Saw

First, about the old table saw. It’s a Ryobi and it real­ly did serve me well on quite a few projects. I cer­tain­ly pushed the lim­it of what this saw is capa­ble of. And for prob­a­bly 90% of the projects, it was up to the task. Seri­ous­ly, for a lot of DIY’ers, this is a per­fect­ly good saw. I put a qual­i­ty blade (a 50 tooth Freud Dia­blo), which dra­mat­i­cal­ly improves the cut of any saw. I built a cross-cut sled that made a lot of cuts feasible. 

Ryobi Job Site Saw
The ‘lil 15-amp champ that I’ve used for about 3 years.

But the saw is very light­weight, and some­times push­ing the sled into the blade would actu­al­ly start to tip the entire saw! Also, the fence while actu­al­ly pret­ty accu­rate, isn’t great. So, if you’re just rip­ping medi­um size pieces or mak­ing small cross-cuts, this saw can man­age it. I actu­al­ly even man­aged to rip down bed rails from a full size 4’x8’ sheet of 3/4″ maple ply­wood on this lit­tle thing! One place where this kind of saw just com­plete­ly fails, though, is in dust col­lec­tion. That is, there is none oth­er than grav­i­ty gen­er­al­ly mak­ing a giant pile beneath the saw.

New Saws Out There

I did quite a lot of research on table saws. I did con­sid­er a “job site” saw and putting it on a mobile base (or even re-build­ing my mobile work­bench). These are some pret­ty great saws in the $250-$600 price range. The next jump up in price range is a “hybrid” table saw, which is nom­i­nal­ly portable (if “portable” only means hav­ing cast­ers and weigh­ing under 250 lbs). These have the larg­er table of a cab­i­net saw and typ­i­cal­ly bet­ter fence sys­tems. These tend to be in the $700-$1,200 price range. Of course, there are cab­i­net saws for pro­fes­sion­als which cost far more, typ­i­cal­ly require 220v pow­er, and are far more saw than I could ever jus­ti­fy. And there are Saw Stop saws in all these cat­e­gories and while their flesh-sens­ing sys­tem is amaz­ing, I also can’t jus­ti­fy the cost for those. Real­ly, Saw Stop sort of sit in a class of their own, in my opinion. 

With­in the hybrid saw class, most of the saws are real­ly around $1,000 and up. There are some great saws in that price range. The big box stores have a cou­ple of “entry” lev­el mod­els, though: the Ridgid and a Delta (why Lowes has­n’t label-slapped this as a Kobalt, I don’t real­ly know). Between the two of those, the Delta seemed to typ­i­cal­ly get bet­ter reviews and was a bit cheap­er at $600 at the time I pur­chased it (July 2020). Fur­ther, the Delta just got a new­er ver­sion released with some decent improve­ments. Home Depot actu­al­ly does also car­ry the Delta, but at $300 more.

Same saw at two very dif­fer­ent prices at the big box stores.

The Delta 36–725T2

So what kind of table saw do you get for $600? First of all, a Biese­mey­er fence sys­tem, which can cost over $400 sep­a­rate­ly. The cen­ter of the table is cast iron and the wings are steel. I found that the top may have a slight dip to the mid­dle (that is, I could see a slight bit of light beneath a straight edge laid across it), but is more than flat enough for any­thing I’ll ever want to make. The wings aren’t stamped sheet met­al, but actu­al­ly steel plate, sim­i­lar in thick­ness to the angle rails and square tube used for the front fence. Even the blade that is includ­ed is pret­ty decent. I ripped two 4′ lengths of 3/4″ ply­wood to make some French cleats and it was a clean cut on both. And while the dust col­lec­tion isn’t per­fect, it’s actu­al­ly quite good. Also, the mitre includ­ed has a nice steel bar and heavy plas­tic body.

Dust after rip­ping 8′ of 1/2″ birch plywood

The entire saw took me about 2–1/2 hours to assem­ble, and that includes hav­ing to take apart almost the entire thing to swap the side the swiv­el cast­er was on. Also, I should have paid clos­er atten­tion to the hole pat­terns on the wings, as I had to turn those around and re-lev­el them. If I’d paid clos­er atten­tion, I could have eas­i­ly been done in under two hours with­out rush­ing. My wife did need to help me get the box out of the back of our SUV by low­er­ing one end down to the floor. Oth­er­wise, I was able to put the saw togeth­er by myself, includ­ing tip­ping it up (I used an extra scrap 2x to help tip it easy so I could get my hands under the cast iron top and just squat lift). 

Ful­ly assembled!

The scale on the rail was near­ly spot-on out of the box. Sim­i­lar­ly, the saw was very close to par­al­lel to the mitre slots. How close? Well, I could­n’t actu­al­ly mea­sure the dif­fer­ence with a qual­i­ty slid­ing square, but I could hear a tooth rub­bing the end more at one end than the oth­er. So yeah, pret­ty close. The fence is pret­ty spot on and super easy to adjust. I saw a few review­ers com­ment­ing that the angle gauge was off, but mine was with­in 1–2 tenths of a degree. It’s also easy to adjust (and, hon­est­ly, I have a dig­i­tal angle gauge so I’m more like­ly to rely on that any­way). I haven’t run into any­thing about the saw so far that I could­n’t quick­ly tweak. 

Angle between blade and top at just past the 45° mark

The saw is a bit big­ger than I’d hoped, though (hold on, I’ll explain). I had planned on just rolling it beneath my fixed work bench. Since I could­n’t, I end­ed up hav­ing to re-arrange a lot in my garage. This was my biggest wor­ry, but it end­ed up just fine and frankly, hav­ing to clean up the garage was­n’t the worst thing in the world. For­tu­nate­ly, the cast­ers are pret­ty good and the saw rolls & turns very eas­i­ly despite weigh­ing 220 lbs. I’ve moved it in and out of the “parked” spot sev­er­al times for use now and it’s not been a bother.

Using the Saw

So I’ve used the saw for sev­er­al dif­fer­ent cuts now. As I men­tioned ear­li­er, I did sev­er­al long-ish rips of ply­wood to make some French cleats. I also end­ed up hav­ing to cut down sides and back pan­els of an IKEA wall van­i­ty (pine and hard­board). I used the mitre gage to make the cross cuts on the side pan­els as I haven’t made a new sled for this table saw yet. How­ev­er, the mitre gage worked great for this pur­pose. I cut about half-way through the side piece, flipped it over and repeat­ed. This reduced tear-out on both faces (and by reduced, I mean there was zero). But of course, to do this you have to have the blade dead par­al­lel to the mitre gage and it was (again, right out of the box!).

Set­ting up for some cross cuts using the miter gage

The fence has a small rail that folds out on the right-hand side to make cuts on thin stock, such as the hard board back pan­els. This works per­fect and pre­vents the mate­r­i­al from slid­ing under the fence (which sits about 1/8″ above the table top). I also used the table saw to cut an angled dado into a poplar board, which was used to make a tablet/phone stand. I also used the saw to cut down some 1/4″ under­lay­ment boards for a tiling project. So, not a ton of use, but a pret­ty good vari­ety of types of cuts and every­one has had me even more hap­py with the purchase.

I do wish I’d cleaned and waxed the cast iron top as soon as I got it put togeth­er, though. It took only about 2–3 days for the Ten­nessee sum­mer humid­i­ty to charm some rust out of the cast iron. I’ve since sand­ed, cleaned, and waxed it, but now there are some stains in the cast iron. They don’t in any way affect the saw, but good tools are worth tak­ing good care of.

Last­ly, one fea­ture I did­n’t know that I’d like so much is just how qui­et this saw is. The mag­net­ic start but­ton is great and the saw is so much qui­eter than my shop vac, I can bare­ly hear it! 

Misc

A cou­ple of things I had been curios about before get­ting it, so I’ll answer those here just in case any­one else is interested:

  • The box is 30″ x 24″ x 19″ and includes every­thing, includ­ing the rails (I think the larg­er top ver­sion has a sep­a­rate box).
  • A Lowes employ­ee helped me load the box onto a flat cart and a cou­ple of oth­ers loaded it into my vehi­cle for me, but my wife and I were able to slide it out and down out of the back of the SUV. Beats pay­ing a $60–70 deliv­ery fee!
  • The length of the rear rail is 54 3/8″ and the dis­tance from the spread­er bar to the end of rear rail is 2 1/2″. The front rail is 62″. I think I was able to look up all the oth­er dimen­sions online.
  • The tubu­lar frame is crazy strong (like, I’m a struc­tur­al engi­neer and I’ve seen build­ings with small­er tube mem­bers); though it is rec­tan­gu­lar. That is to say, you can rotate the low­er half so the swiv­el lift cast­er is on the left or right, but not the front or back.
  • The three cast­er wheel occa­sion­al­ly “tips” a bit, but the cor­ner of the frame pre­vents it from tip­ping more than just a few inch­es. So, the saw isn’t going to fall over on you; just occa­sion­al­ly catch if you make some aggres­sive maneu­vers while mov­ing it.

Resistor Storage Box

I made a small, wood­en box using fin­ger joints to store my resis­tors used for elec­tron­ics projects.

A small ply­wood box using box joints

I’ve been hop­ing to prac­tice using box joints for quite a while. My sand­ing acci­dent back at the end of 2019 was in try­ing to make a box joint jig for the table saw sled. When I final­ly did make that, the results weren’t great. So I decid­ed to pur­chase a com­mer­cial box joint jig for a router table from Rock­ler. After a quick test, I also pur­chased some longer, straight cut bits. 

Yes, I even make plans for a small box. 

The first step was to use my (new!) table saw to cut the 1/2” ply­wood pieces. I also cut the slot in each side to accom­mo­date the 1/4” ply­wood bot­tom. I’m not sure this last step wasn’t a mis­take in my order of oper­a­tions, though. I end­ed up get­ting some real­ly bad treat out from the router on that lit­tle strip of wood on two of the sides. I do think now that a spi­ral down-cut bit may also help with this. 

This is why you cut the slot after the fin­ger joints. 

So, this box joint jig is intend­ed for a router table. A router table, in brief is used to mount a router upside down below. This then allows you to bring the work­piece to the tool, rather than tak­ing the router to the piece. This is essen­tial in small­er pieces and for many jigs. Now, my router “table” is just a piece of 3/4” MDF scrap I clamp to my work­bench. I can then clamp the jig to that. I used a few more scrap pieces to clamp the shop vac hose as dust extrac­tion. I did sev­er­al test cuts on some scrap to “dial in” the fin­ger width to get a good fit. 

My router table is a 3/4” scrap of MDF clamped to my workbench

After the pieces were cut, I had some repair to do. While ply­wood is a great mate­r­i­al, it’s not the best choice for this par­tic­u­lar method of cut­ting box joints. There was a lot of tear-out. I was able to use some glue & saw­dust to fix some of these before fly­ing up the box. Glue up for box joints isn’t hard, but I could see if being dif­fi­cult on a large piece with all those fin­gers. But it’s at least easy to keep things square. 

This was the eas­i­est part.

Once the glue cured, it was time to sand down the fin­gers flush to the box faces. Here again, ply­wood isn’t very for­giv­ing. The thin face veneer sands away quick­ly on the disc sander. Next it was time for wood filler. Those slots left 1/4” holes in each cor­ner. And the ply­wood tear out had numer­ous gaps. So I went a lit­tle crazy with the wood filler. This then left me with anoth­er round of sand­ing. By this point, the birch veneer was com­plete­ly gone in some spots around the fingers. 

Last­ly, I used the Cri­cut to cre­ate some vinyl sten­cils for the large omega (the sym­bol used in elec­tri­cal engi­neer­ing for resis­tance). The sten­cil worked great, but the adhe­sive back end­ed up pulling off some small veneer fibers. So yet anoth­er draw­back of ply­wood here. The final step was to use some wipe-on gel polyurethane fin­ish. I think maybe doing the sten­cil between two lay­ers of fin­ish would have helped pre­vent the fibers lifting. 

One of the rea­sons to make this is that it’s not a show piece. This is just some­thing to replace the card­board box I had used for a cou­ple of years to store resis­tors. That way I can learn and prac­tice with no pres­sure. I def­i­nite­ly did learn a lot and I’m not even dis­ap­point­ed in the final result, despite the flaws. 

Pilot Towing Update

Last year, I added a tow­ing hitch to our Hon­da Pilot in order to haul bikes. How­ev­er, it only made sense to go ahead and add the nec­es­sary wiring for pulling a trail­er (brake lights, turn sig­nals, etc.). So I ordered the OEM kit from HondaPartsGuys.com (great site for Hon­da and Acu­ra own­ers!). Again, it warns that this is not a DIY kind of job in the instruc­tions, but it real­ly is very easy to do. The worst part was that I had to remove the hitch, bolt on the wiring sock­et, and then re-install the hitch. Oth­er­wise, it went off with­out a hitch (no, wait, that’s not right).

I got a 7‑pin to 4‑pin adapter (most U‑Haul or oth­er small trail­ers use the 4‑pin as they don’t have brakes and reverse lights). It also has a handy-dandy light tester in it, so I could ver­i­fy the brakes and turn sig­nals both work. A lot of tight spaces to work in, but kudos to Hon­da for design­ing a very easy to install sys­tem here.

IKEA Truck and Trailer
Our Hon­da Pilot tow­ing a trail­er for the first time… to IKEA!

Update 2020-07-18: We rent­ed a trail­er for our trip to IKEA to get some bath­room cab­i­nets & counters. 

Rolling Workbench Update

I built the “Basic Mobile Work­bench” fol­low­ing Steve Ram­sey’s design about two years ago. Hav­ing a work­bench on wheels ‑along with the a roll-up exten­sion cord in the mid­dle of the garage- real­ly changed the entire way I make any­thing in the garage shop. But I put some pret­ty tiny lit­tle cast­ers on it, and though it rolled ok, I’d always want­ed to improve it. How­ev­er, since I built it at the height of the table saw, there was not way I could raise. Well, with a new table saw (more to come on that soon), I decid­ed now was a good time to put on some big­ger rollers.

I cut off the legs below the cross mem­bers using my late father-in-law’s old rec­i­p­ro­cat­ing saw. That old Crafts­man is crazy pow­er­ful and made short work of it. I also cut some sup­port bases out of 3/4″ con­struc­tion ply­wood to lev­el out those cuts and give the lag screws some­thing meaty to attach to. The over­all effect was to raise the top sur­face about an inch and it rolls bet­ter than ever.

Shop Vac Dust Collection

I built an out-board roller sup­port for my dust col­lec­tion for use with my shop vac. For a cheap project made from scraps, I’m very hap­py with the results.

Rigid shop vac with dust collection
My roller board attached to the shop vac

I’ve used the same Ridgid shop vac for dust col­lec­tion for about 16 years. It con­tin­ues to serve me well, but last year I pur­chased a Dustop­per from Home Depot to use with a 5 gal­lon buck­et in order to col­lect saw dust and oth­er debris. This saves on the fil­ter, as most of the dust gets deposit­ed in the buck­et before it actu­al­ly gets to the shop vac. This also makes emp­ty­ing out the waste a lot easier. 

Well, in the­o­ry, any­way. First of all, there are oth­er cyclonic dust col­lec­tors that are for use with shop vacs that no doubt work a bit bet­ter. This was a cheap (around $25) option and it was low­er pro­file (more on that fur­ther down). But it was a huge pain to drag the entire set­up around the garage! The hoses kept com­ing undone. The buck­et han­dle at one point pulled off the buck­et. I tried zip ties and ratch­et straps, but it just wob­bled around and tipped over on me.

A cou­ple of weeks ago I sketched out a rough idea of sup­port­ing the buck­et dust col­lec­tion with anoth­er cast­er. A lot of oth­er DIY’ers solve this prob­lem by mak­ing a ver­ti­cal­ly stack­ing cart, with the dust col­lec­tion on top. How­ev­er, I store my shop vac under my work bench and I need­ed a low pro­file solu­tion. Also, I felt like I could build a min­i­mal sys­tem here and only need to pur­chase a cast­er. I also pur­chased one of those “cut to your own size” shop vac pow­er tool attach­ments, but it end­ed up not being near­ly rigid enough to make a sol­id connection. 

I used some scrap 3/4″ pine ply­wood (like con­struc­tion grade stuff). I mea­sured out the curve of the shop vac body as well as the buck­et and cut that to fit the profile.

Plywood cut to fit bucket
I used a jig saw to cut out the plywood

I propped it up on some oth­er scraps to check the fit, trim­ming a bit more to fit the curve of the body. I also mea­sured the height from the floor to the bot­tom of the ply­wood (about 4 1/4″).

Sizing up the fit and height
Siz­ing up the fit and height

I cut out some scrap MDF pieces to make a ris­er for the cast­er. The cast­er mea­sures 2 1/4″ tall, so I need­ed about 2″ total. This was two 3/4″ and one 1/2″ thick pieces of MDF, cut down to about 3″ by 3 1/2″. I glued them up and then sand­ed the edges to clean every­thing up a bit. I also sand­ed all the edges of the ply­wood plat­form, think­ing that will reduce shin splin­ters in the future.

I then attached the ris­er to the ply­wood using 1–5/8″ deck­ing screws. I counter-sunk the screw heads on top, just to keep the sur­face flat for the bucket.

A set of counter-sink bits is a good purchase

As I men­tioned, I used one of those rub­ber, cut-to-fit hose attach­ments. The idea here was that I would nest this into the shop vac attach­ment stor­age slot on one of its cast­ers. Then I could screw the attach­ment to the ply­wood. I real­ly should­n’t have both­ered. The soft rub­ber just did­n’t give me any con­fi­dence that the con­nec­tion was sol­id. And the whole plat­form could wob­ble too much side to side. So, I grabbed a cou­ple of gal­va­nized met­al build­ing clips (basi­cal­ly, a small angle with some pre-drilled holes). I mount­ed those on the under­side of the ply­wood and screwed a 5/8″ screw on each side into the shop vac body. This may result in some lost suc­tion, but I can always go back and seal off those screw holes with some sil­i­con if so. So far, though, I can’t tell any difference.

Plat­form attach­ment to shop vac

Last­ly, I took a sec­ond buck­et and just screwed it down to the ply­wood. The dust col­lec­tion buck­et can then nest inside this one. It makes for a very sol­id con­nec­tion that I can pull on, but also allows the dust col­lec­tion buck­et to swiv­el. And, the final test: the entire thing eas­i­ly rolls up under my work bench.

Shop vac with attached dust col­lec­tion fits under my work bench

Of course, I prompt­ly pulled the vac­u­um back out to clean up the garage! It works great. And all for the cost of a 2″ swiv­el cast­er. I did blow about $10 dol­lars on that vac­u­um con­nec­tion piece. I may get a more rigid flange con­nec­tion to replace it, though (Wood­craft has one for about $5). I’m con­sid­er­ing also paint­ing the wood pieces gray and black to match the shop vac, which would be an excuse to take it apart and make that con­nec­tion better. 

Raised Bed for Gardening

We’ve been doing a lot of spruc­ing up in our yard in the past few weeks. Angela has want­ed a raised gar­den bed for a long time and Bob of I Like to Make Stuff has a real­ly great, sim­ple design which he recent­ly built that I liked a lot. I will con­fess that I might have bought a kit if one had been avail­able. The price of the mate­ri­als end­ed up being about the same and it was a fun project.

The raised gar­den bed with some veg­eta­bles planted

The mate­ri­als for this were four 8′ deck­ing boards, a 4′ sec­tion of 2“x2” alu­minum angle, and some deck­ing screws (which I already had). I cut the deck­ing boards into 4′ lengths, two for each side.

Deck­ing boards and alu­minum angle from the big-box hard­ware store

Alu­minum is soft enough to cut with most wood­work­ing blades, so I cut the angle into four 1′ lengths1. I then used the band­saw to cut 1–1/2″ angles to one end of each length. These will act as spikes to hold the bed in place. I used a sim­pler cut than Bob’s, fig­ur­ing it would still stick in the ground well enough. I also used the band­saw and disk sander to round off the cor­ners. I left an inch gap at the top, as well so that the cor­ners would­n’t scrape any knees or shins. 

The band­saw eas­i­ly cut through 1/2″ of aluminum

I worked out a screw pat­tern to attach the cor­ners to the boards. The deck­ing boards had a cou­ple of thin­ner chan­nels on the under­side, so I tried to put the screws into the “meati­er” sec­tions. The cor­ners are over­lap joints, so the screw pat­tern isn’t sym­met­ric on either side of the cor­ner. Once I worked out the pat­tern and “dry” fit a cor­ner sec­tion, I used the drill press to drill a set of holes. I messed up a cou­ple of hole loca­tions but anoth­er dry fit had the pat­tern final­ized. I drilled and coun­ter­sunk 32 holes into the aluminum.

A cou­ple of pieces of wood in the drill press clamp held the angle for drilling

Then it was time for assem­bly, which meant pre-drilling all those holes into the deck­ing. I prob­a­bly did­n’t have to pre-drill them, but as the holes were very close to the board ends, I want­ed to make sure they did­n’t tear out. 

A view of the screw pat­tern and the angled steak end

Angela helped me car­ry the assem­bly into the gar­den where it was time to load up with soil and plants. Ains­ley helped her plant some veg­eta­bles. Some of these were seeds, so it looks more emp­ty than it is.

Ains­ley water­ing down the soil before planting
  1. Bob’s design has longer cor­ner pieces, but he also appar­ent­ly had more alu­minum on hand than I could get. These alu­minum pieces aren’t espe­cial­ly cheap, either. []