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. []

Cicero Footstool

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!

Foot­stool built by my grand­fa­ther along with my orig­i­nal notes and sketches

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.

My orig­i­nal Cicero logo sketch

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.

Cut mate­r­i­al for the first footstool

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. 

Jig hold­ing up leg at cor­rect angle and spac­ing for pock­et holes
My daugh­ter help­ing apply fin­ish to the foot­stool for her grandmother
First foot­stool assem­bly — note that I used a lot more round-overs in this build

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!

Assem­bled sec­ond stool before fin­ish applied
Cicero crafted stamp

  1. 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! []

Hard Shop Lesson

I got a hard les­son deliv­ered today while start­ing a project in the garage this after­noon. I’ll lead in with say­ing that I’m ok (and will heal up fine in a week or so); only a bit rat­tled. Let me start with where my head was (and should­n’t have been) that got me here. 

I’ve had on my “To Do” list for 2019 to learn how to make box joints. Well, here we are into Decem­ber and I’ve not even tried it. I had want­ed to spend last Sat­ur­day work­ing on it, but I let the week­end get away with me with Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions (which are fine and I was glad to get the time I had with all my fam­i­ly). This evening, I had a Cub Scout event with my son in which I was respon­si­ble for bring some audio and video equip­ment (i.e., our home AV receiv­er, speak­ers, and disc play­er). That end­ed up tak­ing a lot longer than I had antic­i­pat­ed. But I had an hour to spare so I fig­ured I’d at least get a jump start on my box joint jig, know­ing all day Sun­day (tomor­row) is going to be busy with oth­er things.

And it’s entire­ly worth under­scor­ing here: this is all arbi­trary pres­sure I’ve put on myself. Absolute­ly no one else cares if I fig­ure out how to make box joints ever, let alone today or even this year. But I had con­vinced myself that I need­ed to rush through the hour to get the table saw jig set up.

I picked out my back­ing board and was look­ing for a piece of scrap that approx­i­mate­ly the same thick­ness as my table saw blade kerf (sim­ply put, that’s the width of the cut that the table saw makes and is frac­tion­al­ly wider than the blade itself). My ini­tial plas­tic piece for the jig end­ed up a big loose the back­ing board, so I want­ed to quick­ly try a dif­fer­ent approach. Mind you, the piece I’m try­ing to cut is less than a 1/4″ thick. So I fig­ured, why not start with a thin off cut and just sand it down to the nec­es­sary thickness? 

My pow­er sander is a com­bi­na­tion of a belt sander and 6″ disc sander. The disc of course will put a twist on any object pushed into it, so a firm grip and just being mind­ful of one side lift­ing and the oth­er push­ing down is impor­tant. I grabbed a long thing piece of scrap and tried sand­ing it on the disc, not think­ing about where my hands would go if (when) it slipped out of my grip. I also failed to put on gloves. You cer­tain­ly do not wear gloves with some pow­er tools (any­thing with a cir­cu­lar spin­ning blade), but they are a good idea with a sander.

The same pow­er sander I have. The disc spins counter-clock­wise. I don’t even have any pho­tos of my own of this pow­er tool!

With­in less than a sec­ond of me push­ing the wood into the disc, it knocked it right out of my hand and left me push­ing my fin­gers into the sand­ing disc. Now, in all the pow­er tools I have, if I had to pick one that I was going to injure myself on, it would prob­a­bly be the pow­er sander. Blades, as you can imag­ine, can quick­ly cut into flesh and cause seri­ous injury or death. I can­not imag­ine sus­tain­ing a life-threat­ing injury on a small pow­er sander like mine (though I’m not say­ing it’s impos­si­ble). But at 3600 rpm, 120 grit sand­pa­per can remove skin and nails quite rapid­ly. Cer­tain­ly faster than my reac­tion time. Before I knew it, my unnec­es­sary rush and lack of think­ing about what I was doing caused me to injure my index and mid­dle fin­gers on my left hand. My mid­dle fin­ger got the skin scraped bad­ly but my index nail is about 1/4″ too short now. And boy howdy is that sen­si­tive skin under there!

Again, it’s noth­ing seri­ous. I was able to turn off the machine and imme­di­ate­ly go treat it myself. My fin­gers are sore but the nail should grow back. Hon­est­ly, it’s the les­son I need­ed to learn. Pow­er tools are not any­thing to be in a rush around. Every action with one requires com­plete focus and atten­tion. I need to always think about how the tool could injure me based on the action the tool makes. Giv­en that I was also using my band saw and table saw today (which, I do take less for grant­ed, to be fair to myself), I’m for­tu­nate that this is the injury I end­ed up with. 

As my kids join me in the shop more, I’ve had to teach them lessons about safe­ty. I’ve even had to warn my son about touch­ing that very sand­ing disc until it comes to a com­plete stop (he thought he should stop it spin­ning one day after I’d killed the pow­er). I even recent­ly watched James Hamil­ton’s (aka, Stumpy Nubs) video on injur­ing him­self with an angle grinder and remarked on the need to pay atten­tion when I’m work­ing. I firm­ly believe that the num­ber one most impor­tant piece of safe­ty equip­ment is your brain. Too bad I failed to put that and my gloves on this after­noon. I’ll do my best to take that les­son to heart from now on.

Guitar Pedal Board

I real­ly make a point to try to learn some­thing new with each mak­er project I do. Whether it’s a wood­work­ing project, a gui­tar effect, or some oth­er hob­by project, I want to add in at least some­thing new to each one. First, it just keeps things from feel­ing redun­dant. But also it helps to expand my skills.

Steel and ply­wood ped­al board

I’ve need­ed to make a gui­tar ped­al board for a cou­ple of years now. Most­ly just to clean up the cor­ner of my office where my amp and effects sit. It’s not like I’m ever going on tour or any­thing. I fig­ured the met­al frame I made in my intro to met­al­work­ing class would be fun to use as a basis for a ped­al board. Up until now, it’s just been sit­ting in our garage; lean­ing against a wall. Of course, the more I start­ed plan­ning, I quick­ly real­ized it was real­ly just a dec­o­ra­tion around an oth­er­wise wood­en stool (albeit a short and slant­ed stool; that’s real­ly all this is). I had want­ed to put a shal­low rab­bet around the edge of the board so the top of the steel frame would be flush with the wood. I tried using both a router bit and my table saw and both were pret­ty much com­plete fail­ures. Odd­ly enough, the sam­ple board I tried on the router worked fine, but that was with the veneer grain run­ning along the direc­tion of the rab­bet. When I tried using par­al­lel grain on the “real” board, it just shred­ded the veneer. The table saw gave a clean­er cut but was just far less accu­rate (and was­n’t much clean­er than the router).1

Cheap router bit and slop­py wood­work­ing don’t result in clean rab­bets, I guess

So, I basi­cal­ly just build my ped­al board out of 3/4″ ply­wood to dimen­sions that I could slide the met­al frame over it. The ped­als don’t sit entire­ly flat, but they work fine for my needs still. I still need to get some more Vel­cro tape to attach them (which would just main­ly help allow me to up the pow­er cords under­neath). It’s prob­a­bly a bit too tall to be very prac­ti­cal and I’ll almost cer­tain­ly replace it at some point. Whether or not I try to include the met­al frame is anoth­er matter…

So it does­n’t real­ly begin to hold all my gui­tar ped­als (note those sit­ting on top of the speak­er cabinet)
  1. I ful­ly attribute both of these fail­ures to my own inex­pe­ri­ence. It does­n’t help that I have some very basic setups and things like feath­er­boards, zero clear­ance inserts, etc. would also help actu­al­ly accom­plish what I had in mind. []

Drill Press Cart

I almost made through August with­out post­ing about a project. Then again, I almost made it through­out August with­out actu­al­ly com­plet­ing a project, as well.

Drill press cart completed

I decid­ed to get around to a project I’d been want­i­ng to do for a few years now: a cart for my drill press. This is part of the big­ger project to revamp my garage shop and, even­tu­al­ly, clean up the garage as a whole. I start­ed by tear­ing our an old work­bench and putting my band­saw and pow­er sander on a cart. That bench was also where my drill press resided since I first got it and it had been moved to my main bench (along with all the oth­er junk in my garage it seems). So the idea would be to make a rel­a­tive­ly small cart with some draw­ers and stor­age for “drill” relat­ed items. I’m pret­ty pleased with how every­thing turned out, espe­cial­ly since there were a few new skills on this one.

First, I decid­ed I’d mod­el the project in CAD so I could make sure every­thing fit. I would be mak­ing draw­ers on slides for the first time, so I fig­ured it was impor­tant to get the mea­sure­ments right. I end­ed up using SketchUp since they have a free ver­sion for mak­ers (that runs on the Mac). It’s a pret­ty nice pro­gram and I fig­ured out to mod­el my project as well as gen­er­ate a cut sheet.

The full cart mod­eled in SketchUp Make 2017 — col­or-cod­ed by mate­r­i­al thickness

This morn­ing I got to actu­al­ly cut­ting and assem­bling. The cab­i­net for the cart isn’t espe­cial­ly large, but almost every­thing was larg­er than I could actu­al­ly cut on my table saw. So I had to break down most of the pieces using my cir­cu­lar saw and my home­made track. It’s a more tedious set­up and it has the draw­back of not being able to make repeat cuts. I man­aged to make a pass­ably square cab­i­net car­cass. My assem­bly jigs came in handy get­ting the car­cass togeth­er, too. I used pock­et holes and glue. 

Break­ing down 3/4″ maple plywood
Cof­fee and pock­et holes

I also fol­lowed April Wilk­er­son­’s advice and glued up a dou­ble-thick top (1.5″ total of ply­wood as the entire cab­i­net is 3/4″ maple ply­wood) as the drill press is heavy and will cause long-term sag­ging if not well sup­port­ed. I dif­fered from her cart as a inten­tion­al­ly had the sides butt onto the top and bot­tom such that the pock­et hole / glue joint isn’t in direct shear from the load. It exposed the pock­et holes in the low­er cab­i­net open­ing, but no one in the garage is going to com­plain. This also allowed me to place the cas­tor at the very cor­ners of the bot­tom shelf with­out con­cern of the lag screws split­ting the sides.

Assem­bly of the cab­i­net carcass

I had an exist­ing piece of 1/4″ birch ply­wood that I used for the back pan­el. Before attach­ing it, I added in the divider which is hid­den by the bot­tom draw­er. This goes to add a bit of sta­bil­i­ty to the cart and also helped in installed the draw­ers. I used a trim router bit to clean up the 1/4″ back as it was just slight­ly wider than my 16″ width. The car­cass was just a bit off square, but I was able to nudge it just a bit when screw­ing on the back such that it trued up. That’s where tak­ing some time with the main butt / pock­et hole joints paid off.

Using my cross-cut sled to batch out the draw­er sides

While the wipe-on poly was cur­ing on the main cab­i­net, I got to work on the draw­ers. I used Brad Rodriguez’ gen­er­al design for the draw­ers. Once I broke down the 1/2″ birch ply­wood into two pieces, I could final­ly batch out the draw­er pieces on the table saw. I set up the fence to rip the false fronts and the moved the fence again to rip the 4″ draw­er sides. I made sure to place the draw­er slides and sides into the cab­i­net open­ing to mea­sure for the width. I could then use my cross-cut sled to get my final pieces. Of course for the 1/4″ ply­wood draw­er bot­toms, I still need­ed to use the cir­cu­lar saw. I assem­bled the draw­ers with pock­et holes (laid out such that they’ll be hid­den once in place. You may notice that I did­n’t use draw­er pulls but went with just notched han­dles (again, some­what inspired by April Wilk­er­son here along with some of our IKEA draw­ers). This coin­ci­den­tal­ly allowed me to eas­i­ly clamp on the false fronts while get­ting them attached. I used the band saw to cut out the notch­es and then the pow­er sander just to clean things up and get right up to my lines (and I should add that hav­ing those on a cart is also great!).

Draw­er pieces ready for assembly

Get­ting the draw­er slides installed was pret­ty straight for­ward, although I man­aged to get the spac­ing off some. Noth­ing crit­i­cal, just that the slides are at dif­fer­ent depths on the top ver­sus bot­tom draw­er. As of right now, the draw­ers are only held togeth­er with the pock­et holes and 5/8″ screws for the bot­toms. I did this to “dry fit” them as I was­n’t 100% sure they’d fit in the slides (it’s tight to be for sure). If they don’t bind up as I use them, I’ll prob­a­bly take them back apart and glue them togeth­er. I prob­a­bly would have done so today, but this “small” project end­ed up tak­ing me over 8 hours so I just swept up the garage and called it a day. The good news is that I had some addi­tion­al stor­age to put things away when clean­ing up that I did­n’t have this morning!

Cart draw­ers in action

Here are the Sketchup files for the 3D assem­bly (shown above) as well as my cut sheets. Bear in mind the cut sheet was done for the spe­cif­ic pieces of ply­wood I had on hand, and won’t nec­es­sar­i­ly be the most effi­cient if you have full sheets (or sheets of any oth­er size).

Last­ly, these are the soft-close draw­er slides I used (Ama­zon affil­i­ate link). If you use any dif­fer­ent slides, you’ll need to take into account the width of those when cut­ting the draw­er pieces. These are exact­ly 1/2″ on each side, which makes for easy math. I used 18″ length, which allows me to ful­ly extend the drawers.