Painting Frame

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”.

Joy to the World - Framed
Joy to the World — Framed

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. 

Milling Rough Walnut Board
Milling Rough Wal­nut Board

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.

Frame Pieces of Miter Sled
Frame Pieces of Miter Sled

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. 

Frame Fit Test
Mak­ing sure that the frame fits before glu­ing it up.

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.

Staining the Strainer
Stain­ing the Strainer

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.

Staining the Walnut Frame
Stain­ing the Wal­nut Frame — those miters and splines were just about perfect

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.

Painting, Strainer, and Frame
Paint­ing, Strain­er, and Frame

  1. Seri­ous­ly, the kids were dis­cussing pool­ing their mon­ey to buy a small­er piece a cou­ple of years ago! []

Router Table Cart

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

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

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

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

Pocket Holes for Drawers
Pock­et Holes for Drawers

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

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

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

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

So Much Storage

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

Attic Shelves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attic Storage System
Com­plet­ed attic stor­age sys­tem with full shelves

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

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

Garage Shelves

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

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

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

Still More to Go

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

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

Batch Production

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

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

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

Cut­ting Down to Length

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

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

Cut­ting 10° Slot

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

Sand­ing Through Grits

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

Cham­fer­ing Edges Using the Disc Sander

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

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

Watching Paint Dry

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

The fin­ished prod­uct — some­thing we can be proud of

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

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

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

This style of lad­der eas­i­ly adapts to stairs

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

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

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

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

Tak­ing down the tools while the last of the paint dries

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

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

Updating Our Bathroom

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

Our fin­ished bath­room update

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

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

Lighting

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

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

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

Old-work box­es and wiring for lights.

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

These LED Edi­son style bulbs are sur­pris­ing­ly warm in color.

Plumbing

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

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

Our faucets installed and working!

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

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

Mirror

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not all smoke and mirrors.

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

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.

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. 

First Box Joint Test

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.

Some loose and chipped fingers

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.

You can see some of the over­lap here

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.

Noth­ing a bit of wood filler and fin­ish could­n’t make look nice

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!

  1. 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. []