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.
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.
We lost a giant among men today. I just watched the documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble a couple of weeks ago. Though his life took him from rural Alabama, Nashville, Atlanta, and the to D.C., he moved the nation forward along his journey. This clip from when he won the National Book Award gives me some sense of the scale of how far he came in his life.
Let’s all remember the debt we owe Congressman Lewis and more importantly, that it isn’t yet paid. Even ‑or, perhaps especially- white folks like me owe him a debt of gratitude. Through his leadership and nonviolent protests, he forced us to see Christ in those that do not look exactly like us. As this country pulls down monuments to those whose deeds betrayed the nation’s ideals, let us consider that statues should instead be erected to those who made the nation greater than the one they were born into.
It doesn’t take itself too seriously but it believes in itself.Taika Waititi
In the round-table discussion slash behind the scenes documentary series, Disney Gallery: The Mandolorian, Taika Waititi discusses directing the season 1 finale. I love this quote as it summaries so well the idea of be true and earnest, without a fear of ridicule or need for validation. Simply the joy of can be validation enough. It really summarizes a lot of Waititi’s work (at least the parts I’m familiar with), like Thor: Ragnarok. But it’s really true of anything worth being passionate about: your joy of the thing is enough.
This is a post that has been a very long time in the making. I started this project back in October of 2018. GuitarPCB had a sale and it looked like their Sabotage Drive would be an interesting challenge. There were six (!) transistors in this circuit. But I wanted to make this a really fun project so I designed some custom artwork as well, all themed around Black Sabbath — the inspiration of this circuit’s sound. This circuit further seems to be inspired by Catalinbread’s Sabbra Cadabra pedal, another pre-amp in a box effects that tries to capture Tony Iommi’s sound of a Dallas Rangemaster treble boost pushing a Laney Supergroup head1. Or, put it another way, the sound of doom metal!
I did some layout in an SVG file for the graphics, which you can see above. This is also largely where I did the drill hole patterns for the enclosure, as those go hand-in-hand. My graphics incorporated some of the Sabbath album covers. I was fairly proud of the design, if not the actual implementation. I then got to soldering the circuit components. Barry Steindel of GuitarPCB did a great job designing this for a relatively complex build, it is a very clean layout.
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I am in the habit of taping out all the components to a parts sheet with labels that correspond to the PCB silk screen labels. This wouldn’t scale up to a large production, but for one-at-a-time builds, it really takes the stress out of trying to find the right component for each step.
Once the components were in place, it was time to finalize the enclosure layout. The relative placement of the pots/knobs are fixed since they are soldered directly to the PCB. But the placement of everything else is dependent on getting it all to fit. I would have loved top-mounted jacks as you can see in the original sketch below, but that wasn’t going to happen with this PCB layout (in the size of enclosure I chose, anyway). I needed to forgo that in order to squeeze everything in place. Regardless, no 9v battery in here! I don’t use ’em anyway.
When it comes to drilling the enclosure, I use a step bit in my drill press. Another thing I’ve probably mentioned: I have a small medicine syringe with machine cutting fluid. That way I can use my center punch to mark the point on my template and the put 1–2 drops of cutting fluid right at that spot.
As you can see below, I actually tested the circuit before I even completed drilling all the layout holes. I drilled the holes for the pots to get those mounted to the PCB in the correct orientation. I think wired up some leads for signal in/out, the 9v power, and ground to hook up to my testing rig.
Then it was time to finish drilling the holes and wiring up the off board switch, jacks, and LED.
It was a bit of a tight fit into the enclosure, but part of that was my desire to place the LED near the top of the pedal I really don’t like LEDs right by the footswitch, where the get covered up by your foot! Sure, they’re a lot easier to put there, but they don’t make it easy to tell you’ve properly engaged the effect.
I tried using our vinyl cutting machine to create painting a painting template from my SVG file. My first mistake was using some cheap vinyl which didn’t stick to the powder-coated surface well.
Then I used acrylic paint which bled under that template. Also, the tiny lettering details were just about beyond the scale was which the Cricut could successfully cut this vinyl. The end result looked about like I’d just hand-painted the whole thing. I wasn’t at all happy with the paint job, but knowing I wasn’t likely to improve on it, I went ahead and sealed it with some spray clear coat.
So I finished all this December of 2018. I never posted about it all last year though because I really wasn’t able to get a good sound recording of this. My iPhone demos so far have been pretty lackluster. And this effect didn’t sound as great as I’d liked anyway because it’s really meant to run into a cranked amp. Though I used my pre-amp, passive volume control I couldn’t really push the power amp section of my tube head. Well, in the past couple of months I got a power attenuator and a pretty good mic to record some audio with. My amplifier has a “cab emulation” output, as does the power attenuator but both frankly sound pretty terrible. None of the recordings with those ever had any of the low end that the amp actually produces. But using the attenuator with the head volume cranked and the mic into my recording interface, I’m finally happy with the sound I can get recorded.
So here is the full signal chain:
- My Fender Telecaster with a Lace Sensor Deathbucker pickup in the bridge position2
- This runs through a TC Electronic P0lytune 3 (I mention this because it has a buffer — all other effects are true bypass) and then into the Sabbath Drive pedal.
- The Blackstar HT5 Metal head on the clean channel (cranked to 10) and a TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2 reverb pedal in the effects loop.
- The head runs through the Bugera PS1 power attenuator into the Blackstar 1x12” cabinet with a Celestion G‑12T speaker.
- The cabinet is mic’d with a MXR R144 ribbon mic into the Behringer UMC22 audio interface.
I use some of the EQ setting in garage band for the guitar and the overall mix. This particular recording was used with one of the “auto” drummers in Garage Band. This video is the live recording you’re hearing; just poorly sync’d to the audio. The guitar is a single track.
On the whole, I’m really pleased with the sound of this pedal. The Range and Presence controls give a really wide tonal range. I’ve cranked the distortion here (honestly, not even sure why that knob exists! Just fix it at 10!). The volume is about at noon. I shudder to think just how loud this pedal would be with that cranked.
- For the record, even though the older Sabbath records were recorded using those, it doesn’t appear Tony Iommi uses those any more. He has a signature Laney head that appears to have the treble boost “built in”. Laney also has a similar, signature pedal which claims to box all this up, but apparently Iommi doesn’t use it at all according to his site. [↩]
- Yes, I need to write an entire post on my guitar and the modifications I’ve made to it. [↩]
Sneaking in at the end of the month…
Like most all of America (and the world), I’m staying home these days, hoping to avoid the spread of coronavirus. Of course, I’ve worked from home for over twelve years now, so what’s new? Well, fortunately, my spouse is also able to work from home. We are both gainfully employed for the foreseeable future (which admittedly, isn’t as long as was a month ago). Our kids are old enough to be responsible throughout the day to largely see to themselves. In those ways, we are exceptionally fortunate. May folks are seeing reduced ours, being furloughed, or even laid off of work all together. Many people are weathering this alone. Many more are dealing this while having to care for defendants that need far more attention.
But even for us, it can be tough. So I truly empathize with those who are dealing with far more issues than we are. So to those who read this, do try to take care of yourselves. These are tough times. It’s best to admit that we’re all having to deal with this to some degree. But it’s also good to acknowledge that everyone else is, too. Find somethings to help you keep perspective.
I’ll try to share some photos of some of the highlights of what we’ve been up to soon. I think I should be able to find some time…
It’s the very end of the month (a leap month, no less! I had an extra day!) and I’ve got a couple of projects I want to post about, but they’re still in progress. So, instead of some personal creative or DIY stuff, I wanted to post about something more work-related for me. From the very beginning of my work as a technical writer, I described my approach to how I see my documentation work being used as follows:
- Immediate: tool tip, pop-ups, hover info in your IDE.
- Quick answer: F1 on what a dialog field values are or a function/method
- Long answer: search the docs and poke around until I find my answer
- Learning: Intentional reading, in the order presented, if the documentation
Levels 0 & 1 both start in software or code and end there. This has the least and next-to-least interruption to your work. The answer is immediately when you need it or just a click & scroll away.
Level 2 is often back and forth between docs and software. This inherently can feel tedious. Often, this results in not even finding what you need (unless you were looking for frustration). Unfortunately, this is also where a lot of product help leaves you.
Level 3 is solely in the docs. You’re no longer performing your primary goal or job function. This was not so common for new employees or employees who just got a new tool in the workplace at one time. It feels like a rare luxury today, though. Too many workplaces prioritize keeping productive day-to-day over making their employees productive in the longer term.
So, what’s the point? Level 0 & 1 should be the goals, but they require significant more planning and coordination with product developers and UX designers. And, if we’re being honest, making Level 2 work effectively is going to require some of the same. And if you’re writing manuals like anyone has the time for Level 3, you’re shooting yourself in the foot for all of the other cases.
So, if you happened to read my post last month on injuring myself, you’ll recall I did so because I was hoping to make a box joint jig. A box joint, or as it also known: a finger joint, is a series of overlapping “fingers” along a joint. This style of joinery gives lots of glue surface area as well as shear strength to a corner joint. It’s commonly used for the corners of a box, thus the name.
Well, I did manage to make a first attempt at a jig and made a single joint test. I was hoping to use my standard table saw blade with my sled in lieu of purchasing a dado stack1. The jig is a bit too loose in the cuts and it’s possible my table saw sled is a bit too loose in the miter slots, as well. This combined with some cheaper birch plywood (there are lots of voids and a very thin veneer) resulted in the fingers looking more like a boxer who’d just fought Mike Tyson.
Also, the depth of the cuts were a bit too deep (which is easy to adjust, at least). But gluing up the loose joints was a mess.
I had sort of given up on the experiment as a failure, but I did recently go back and sand the fingers down; this time on purpose (yeah, I get the humor after last month’s incident). The joint still doesn’t look great but it wasn’t as “gap‑y” as it seemed before cleanup. What’s more, I can attest that even as poor as this one looks, it is incredibly strong. It’s not especially pretty, but for some utility boxes, it would definitely serve it’s purpose.
So, this wasn’t a total failure and I did learn a lot from the exercise, including the injury. Which, my fingers have completely healed back, nails and all. As a result of “babying” the left index finger, I did develop tendonitis in my left elbow (which is really the forearm muscles and tendon connection). So, that little incident continues to remind me to be safe!
- A dado stack is a pair of blades, often with intermediate spacer/chippers in between which cut out a wider section of material in each pass on a table saw. [↩]
A few years ago when I was considering getting into more “fine” woodworking, there was one project that came to mind: recreating the footstools my grandfather, Cicero, used to make. He was a handy woodworker and built a lot of useful projects1 I know we had two or three of these footstools around the house growing up. I assume my aunts and cousins may have had some, as well. They’re perhaps not a master craftsman project, but let’s not over-estimate my abilities. As my mom put it, though, after about a half century, they’re still in use!
So in 2016 I sat down to carefully draw out the pieces. His were all made from 1″ thick solid pine, but I figured I’d use 3/4″ plywood instead. The legs and sides have a roughly 10° slant such that the base tapers up to give a slight lip all around the top footrest. I also decided to add a handhold to the top of mine (some others of his may have this, but the one that sits in our kitchen does not). On my notes and sketches, I also doodled out a logo that read “Cicero Hand Made Crafts. Est. 2016”. I figured he was the “maker” in my family so I’d honor that by labeling made items with his name.
It took me about a year-and-a-half until I actually got around to making my first footstool. I batched out the pieces on the table saw for two footstools from a 2’x4’ project board of 3/4″ maple plywood. Some of the angle cuts using my cut pattern resulted in a color mis-match in the wood, but this could probably be resolved by buying higher quality plywood in the future. The bandsaw was used for all curves, including cutting the arches in the legs at 10° (so they’re actually level when assembled). I used the drill press and a 1 5/8″ forstner bit to hog out material for the handle (which I then cleaned up with a series of rasps, files, and sandpaper). The disc and belt sander were used to clean up all the edges (with care not to remove any more finger nails). My super-simple router table was used to add a 1/4″ round-over to edges. I then used the random orbital sander to clean everything up.
I used made an assembly jig for the first piece and used pocket holes to attach the legs to the top (something my grandfather didn’t have but he seemed like a practical enough person, he’d have used them if he could have). I attached the side runners to the legs with some counter-sunk wood screws (black). I used a light color wood filler for any ply gaps (or other blemishes). Finally, a generous coat of wipe-on polyurethane was applied for a finish.
I assembled the first footstool as a Christmas gift for my older brother last year and then completed the second footstool as a Christmas gift for my mom this year. The process for building both pieces was a learning curve, so I didn’t really take great photos of either build. These are a mix of both projects (which is why the tops look different). I already have planned out making some additional templates to use with a trim router to help improve the process for future builds. This project is so great because it ends up using almost every power tool I have. But just like every project I try, there is always something new to learn even when I’ve already built the same thing before!
- One of which was a long shelf for my dad’s hi-fi system; a gift to his new son-in-law. This later became the platform which our G.I.Joe USS Flag aircraft carrier play set lived! [↩]