carpentry

Building stairs the EZ way

Posted by Steve on Sun, 03/15/2009 - 6:36pm


Shortly after I took possession of my house, I was cleaning up the cellar one afternoon when I noticed my cat, Chopper, engrossed with something halfway up the old cellar stairs. I checked to see if he might have a moth and instead saw a pile of paint chips and wood fibers below the stringer he was pawing at. With the paint removed, I saw hundreds of white wormy looking things. Termites!

How did this happen? I'd closed on the house nine months earlier. My inspector found some evidence of an old termite infestation and, to be safe, my lawyer made the closing contingent upon an exterminator's report. The report was so terse that the inspector could have Twittered it: "Found/killed two termite colonies. No evidence of internal infestation."

Evidently this bonehead's inspection was as thorough as his report because the termites had dug a tunnel from the far foundation wall, across the ceiling through a 3" floor joist, and down the stairs. It cost me $1500 to have a licensed, BBB-certified exterminator exterminate the house. There's more to that story, but I'll digress on that some other time. What matters is that I had to replace that staircase. I was very lucky it didn't collapse on me.

My Personal Top Eight Shop Tips (learned the hard way)

Posted by Steve on Tue, 12/23/2008 - 11:47pm


We've all heard Norm's boilerplate at the beginning of every episode of New Yankee Workshop: "read.. know.. safety glasses", etc. They're common sense "givens". I won't belabor them by repeating them here.

But every shop owner has acquired his own set of lessons from "life experience" and I thought I'd share some of mine. Some are safety tips but some are productivity ideas.

New Stained Glass Projects

Posted by Steve on Tue, 12/11/2007 - 10:09pm


I have several stained glass tasks in the queue here. Some, like the upper cabinet doors in the living room media cabinet, have been on hold since 2003. Others, like the funky stairway skylight, I've wanted to replace since the day I first saw the place.

While stained glass construction is fairly mechanical and basically just woodworking joinery using glass and lead came, the design, templating and piecing out can be very time consuming. Most of the glass I've done here is fairly simple and angular to match the existing stained glass. But I wanted something a bit more ornamental for these new projects.

The delay is mostly because I suck at drawing. I can muddle my way through Photoshop if I have to and I've even built a few nice web page banners using "creative appropriation" of assets conceived by others. Change a few lines, overlay a mask or two, morph a few elements and, poof, it's mine. Derivative art.

A Prodigal Door Returns

Posted by Steve on Fri, 09/28/2007 - 10:21pm


Okay, it's a lightweight job and it's not even for my house. But after several months of heads-down work on a software task for my client, The Children's Health Fund, I've got another DIY project. Maybe it will kick me back into gear to finish the cabinet doors and stained glass projects that have been dogging me all summmer. Well, some of it for a lot longer than that.

The job is stripping an old interior door and replacing its center panel with some sort of a screen. Karen is a licensed wildlife rescuer and needs this door so her animal room has adequate ventilation. She wanted to install an aluminum screen door but my relentless bleating about what a hideous scar that would leave on her old house succeeded. I suggested that she instead do some dumpster diving for a 30" door and we'd modify it so it would at least have some architectural integrity with her old federal style house. She agreed.

More importantly, I figured that would keep her busy until sometime next year, when she might forget all about it.



My toughest cabinet

Posted by Steve on Wed, 08/29/2007 - 1:22am


My dogs are killing my floors! They're large and energetic pups who like to use the floor as a skating rink. I decided to look in my photo archives to see what they look like now as opposed to five years ago.

Thankfully, it wasn't as bad as I thought but I'll probably get the floors lightly sanded and refinished when I'm done with the construction here and the dogs are a little older and more sedate. One of the reasons I don't stain floors is so I have the option to screen them if they need refinishing rather than having to do a thorough sanding.

While looking for those old photos I got sidetracked by a few pix of the nearly completed media cabinet I had built for the living room. This project started as an afterthought. Because the living room isn't huge, I had originally planned to stash most of my media hardware in a basement locker. It was a poorly conceived idea.

The location of the cabinet was dictated by the layout of the room. It was going to have to be a corner cabinet. But I piled on a few more requirements. It had to hide all my audio and video gear as well as my favorite 300 or so CDs. Even though I didn't own one yet, it had to support a 38" wide HD monitor. There would be no visible wiring and there would be a hardwired Ethernet connection. It had to blend into the finish trim style of the room, which meant that it had to be a built-in.

More and more sawdust

Posted by Steve on Sat, 06/09/2007 - 9:28pm


With a challenging software project winding up, the top floor reno winding down and my tools reunited with their friends in the basement, it was time to turn my attention to the crime scene that used to be my shop. This cleaning has to last several months because it will probably be that long before I'll be using the tools again.

I don't mind working in a messy environment but I can't start a new project unless everything is neat and tidy, with every tool in its proper place, the table saw waxed, stationary tools aligned, blades sharpened, etc. This is my operating room, after all, and you don't open up a new patient with the last one's blood still on the walls.



Today was the marathon cleanup of the past nine months of mayhem. It actually began last night because I needed to catch this morning's garbage pickup. Did I mention how much the Sanitation guys love me? They even autographed one of my garbage cans a few years ago, scrawling "Balls!" on it with black magic marker.

Engineered Flooring HOWTO v2.0

Posted by Steve on Sun, 04/15/2007 - 1:04am


I don't like drywall. I like plaster. I don't like composite mouldings. I like hardwood. I don't even like prefab mouldings. I like to cut my own. So why would I like something as new-fangled and artificial as engineered flooring?

Actually, I don't. Even though I went through bloody hell to lay those herringbone floors in the living room, solid hardwood is still my first choice. But there were reasons why engineered flooring was the better option for the second floor in my house. One is that I didn't want to add an extra 1.25" to the height of the top stair. That's what would have been required if I'd gone with 3/4" hardwood. I can't count the number of times I've tripped because of uneven stair heights, on one occasion fracturing a shoulder. Also, an engineered floor has a finish at least twice as hard as that of any job-site applied finish. With two big dogs tearing up my hardwood floors downstairs that's not a small selling point for me. However, there's a big "but" with this stuff which I'll get into later.

My cute l'il attic

Posted by Steve on Mon, 03/12/2007 - 1:09pm


I built and installed the doors for the "attic" over my new closet. This being a row house and all, it's the closest it will ever come to actually having an attic.

These doors were another scrounge job. It's leftover lumber and red oak plywood from the wainscotting and earlier projects. I'm on a kick now to reduce my lumber scrap bin.

I think I did a pretty fair job of matching the pre-fab closet doors below. But I'm really undecided about whether to leave them like this or if it needs some additional trim element to finish them off. I'm undecided.

Aaaand... done!

Posted by Steve on Sun, 03/04/2007 - 11:23pm


I completed all the woodwork on the bay window unit today. I won't play conquering hero either. With the weird angles and different depths of the windows, the embedded convection steam radiator, and more than a couple of measure-once goofs, I was very lucky to get through this without a major screwup.

This weekend, I completed and installed that removable grill in the center of the windows. This was also a bit of work. There are seven boards and two store-bought but modified red oak grills in that face panel, all of them biscuited together with waterproof glue. I wanted no chance that heat and steam from a leaky air valve would cause problems with that lamination, as it did in the dining room cabinet. I was going to do some router scroll work between the grills. I caught myself just in time. It would have exposed those embedded biscuits.

Maybe a roof rack?

Posted by Steve on Sun, 02/25/2007 - 9:59pm


Not counting the 12 year-old Pontiac wreck I owned for all of four months and on which I managed to put maybe 400 miles before I donated it in disgust to a charity, my 2001 VW Golf is the first car I've owned. I've been a motorcyclist since I was 18. When I lived in Manhattan, it was all I needed, or wanted. But when I moved to a 'burban house with a garage, I had to get four wheels, if only for lumber runs. That's pretty much all I use it for too. I've had the car for six years and it just broke 14k miles on the odometer. I put more miles than that on my last Harley in the first year I owned it.

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