Bay window trim (almost) done.

Sheesh. Another “almost” cop out. The issue here isn’t woodworking but thermodynamics. The steam radiator that Richie from Sessa Plumbing installed is something called an “element”. An element works on the convection principle: as hot air rises off the element, it expands and exits through a grill at the top. This creates a low pressure area underneath which pulls in cold air from the floor through a grill at the bottom. An element radiator usually comes in a butt-ugly metal cabinet. It’s what that missing panel under the middle window needs to replicate. I’m gonna give you a private snapshot…
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It depends on what “almost” means…

I’ve been looking forward to this day for months. Almost all the trim, the doors, cabinets, etc are done! What’s “almost”? By “almost” I mean that the center of operations moves downstairs to my shop. The remainder of the trim work — the cabinet doors and drawers, the panels under the bay window, the stained glass window, the overhead closet doors and even the curved baseboard moulding for the closet corner have to be fabricated. I need my stationary power tools for this stuff. “Almost” also means that I need to make a decision about whether or not to incorporate…
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The Somerset (NJ) Woodworking Show – any NYC area bloggers going?

Feb 16-18, 2007 Garden State Exhibit Center 50 Atrium Drive Somerset, NJ (exit 19, Route 287) Sponsored by Wood Magazine This will be like my 8th or 9th visit to this show. It’s like a crack house for woodworking junkies. Every conceivable tool, useful or not, is on display and usually being demonstrated. At least half of my present shop was purchased at one of these shows, including my Delta X Unisaw and Dewalt SCMS. I also load up on all my sandpaper, nitrile gloves and other consumables for the year. The prices are that good. If there’s an answer…
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Your house as seen by…

Yourself… Your buyer… Your lender… Your appraiser… Your tax assessor… Your nosy neighbor… Your historic preservation commission… Your general contractor.
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The Mystery of the Vanishing Paint Brushes

I thought I was suffering from early dementia. Over the several months of this bedroom renovation I’ve lost a bunch of paint brushes. I’d clean them and stick them… hell, I don’t know where. I just couldn’t find them again. At least four reasonably new paint brushes were missing. What was even stranger is that several paint brushes that I thought I’d stored in my basement shop two flights down were also missing. Just the good ones with the soft bristles. I found them today, laying on the floor at the rear of my new closet. I know I didn’t…
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How to blow $300 in three seconds

Six years ago, I was building the bar for our new restaurant in Brooklyn Heights. The bar was four plywood cabinet carcasses with a laminated mahogany top. A friend of mine and I stood freezing in the unheated storefront staring at the chop saw, the bar, and a sixteen foot piece of 8″ rabbeted mahogany cap moulding we were going to use to trim the edge. The object of our fixation was a ninety degree corner. It’s a simple cut except when the moulding costs $18/lf and it’s the last last piece that Dykes has. We only had one chance…
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The Mystery of the Ducts To Nowhere

(Or “Why A Duct?”, with a tip o’ the hat to the Marx Bros) This house has ancient, single-pipe steam heating. From what I’ve been able to determine from digging in these walls over the past seven years is that it’s always had steam heating. Nothing interesting there. What’s baffling is why the house also has ancient metal air ducting buried inside the walls. I discovered this shortly after I moved here when I ripped down the basement ceiling and found three vertical ducts to nowhere. Over the past hundred years, various plumbers and electricians had used them for service…
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I’ve been tagged

Chicago 2-Flat tagged me. For those who don’t know this Houseblogs game, if you’re tagged by another house blogger you’re supposed to reveal five things about yourself that most people don’t know. Then you tag five other house bloggers. Because of something I revealed about myself on this blog, I won This Old House Magazine’s Stupid Human Trick. So I don’t have much of a problem making an idiot of myself for a little attention. The challenge is finding five other house bloggers who haven’t been tagged already. Okay, here goes. I’m an Army brat who was born and partially…
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As if!

Here’s the dubious segue to an on-topic post. My local dog run is under political attack from some nasty co-oppers who started a petition this week to close it down because of barking dogs a block away at 8am. Don’t these people have friggin jobs? But I digress. So we’re going to have a summit with the various Owls Head dog run groups: the 7:30-9am “breakfast club” (my dogs’ pack), the 10-12 noon “lazily retired”, etc., elect a spokesmodel and assert ourselves in The System to save our precious dog run and perhaps convince the Parks Dept to spend a…
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Another mini-milestone reached

Just like software development, I like to break big projects down into milestones and mini-milestones. Milestone Mini milestone Wall prep done Structural carpentry done Finish woodworking Wainscot east wall + outlets Window and door trim – large room Complete wainscot – large room Window trim and wainscot – ante room Construct and install dresser and cupboard – ante room Ahhhh… and here we are (check!) My next mini-milestone is the completion of all the woodworking in the hallway, followed by installation of the crown moulding over the windows, doors and this cabinet, followed by hanging of all the doors, followed…
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Bah, humbug

It looks like slow going at BrooklynRowHouse but you’ll have to take my word for it: trim like this takes a lotta time. I probably have 60 hours of woodworking just into this tiny ante room and it’s still far from done. So what’s the hold up? I won’t spend a lot of time talking about my “real world” obligations, but my two oldest clients, Children’s Health Fund and Operative.com, both hit me with a pile of work to complete before the end of the fiscal year, which is 12/31 in both cases. It’s SNAFU for consultants like me this…
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Insteon Rides Again

I thought I’d post an update on my trials and tribulations with the Insteon home automation network here. A couple of months ago I posted an X10 and Insteon home automation primer. At that point I was just getting into upgrading my problematic X10 stuff here with the newer, wireless Insteon hardware from SmartHome and didn’t know how well this stuff would work or what problems I’d find. However I was fed up with X10’s flakiness and Insteon looked like an improvement, at least on paper. I ran into problems with Insteon from the git-go, mostly devices that either didn’t…
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Face Frame 101

There’s a subculture in the carpentry world that one could call “wood nerds”. They passionately argue with each other over arcane topics like fish glue and lumber humidity, armed with canons of really impressive woodworking knowledge. I learn a lot from them but after a while it’s like listening to trekkie geeks debate the relative pulchritudes of Lt. Uhuru versus Seven of Nine. One of these contentious topics is “face frame” versus “32mm frameless” cabinet construction. Most traditional cabinets are face frame while “European style” cabinets are generally frameless, or boxes with full-width doors. Both work. That’s about the extent…
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6 dogs, 600 miles and 6 gallons of chowda’ later…

I’m back from Nantucket, back home in Brooklyn to resume the sawdust saga of the never-ending bedroom reno. Every year, Karen and I make the trek to Nantucket for the annual Christmas Stroll. And I do mean trek. Door to door, with the five hour drive from Brooklyn to Hyannis at 85KNS (Karen Nominal Speed), the 45 minute wait for the ferry and the 2:15 hour sea voyage, you can almost fly to Moscow as quickly. And lemme tell you, traveling in a minivan with six dogs — from a 12 year-old French bulldog up to an 18 month-old Newfoundland…
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As promised: Dyker Heights Extreme Christmas

Forgive two blog posts in one day but I’ll be off the air for a few days and I know that some of you are cursing the knots in your string of outside Christmas lights right about now. Prepare to be overwhelmed. Dyker Heights is next to my beloved Bay Ridge here in Brooklyn. In most respects, it’s pretty much indistinguishable from Bay Ridge except during the Christmas holidays, when you can spot it from the moon. I don’t know what they put it in the water over on 11th Avenue but subtlety ain’t it.
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Rule #1: don’t kill yourself

Work here has come to a halt for a little while. Several weeks ago I was working on our community dog run, shoveling wet wood chips like a teenager on dexadrine. I woke up the next morning with tendonitis in my right elbow. My next door neighbor is a chiropractor and told me to knock off the room renovation for two or three weeks to let it heal. I forged ahead as did my elbow pain. This morning I woke up feeling like I’d fractured the base of my thumb at the wrist. Back to Dr Joe, who reminded me…
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Hangover Eve

I’ve been working at a frantic pace on the master bedroom renovation the past couple of weeks, trying to get as much done before the official start of the holidays. That’s why my blog is so stale. It’s not just that the holidays are distracting but that some of my clients need to burn what’s left of their fiscal budgets before Q1. Somewhere in those precious few weeks I’ll also be on Nantucket to work on Karen’s place. I thought I’d start with the “cute doggy” shot. Anyway, the trim carpentry in the large room is almost done. I still…
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Al Bundy, Home Renovation

A few days ago, Jeannie from House In Progress referred a woman from a new ABC reality show to me. From the email it sounded like she was looking for folks who had gone way over their heads on a home improvement project and needed 911 from the professionals to bail them out. I told her that this was my fourth major construction project in 25 years and that I wasn’t (*harumph*) a rookie at this stuff. I politely declined. But the next day I wondered if I wasn’t exactly the sort of Al Bundy cartoon character she wanted. After…
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My shop is a war zone!

I’ve completed boxing in the bay windows. I had to deal with these windows downstairs during the living room renovation so I knew this wasn’t going to be a cake walk. The original builders pretty much winged the framing so the angles aren’t consistent. The trim was essentially supported by a trash can full of shims… some of them three inches thick. So here’s where I’m at now. As here, I usually use hardwood plywood for box framing like this unless it’s going to support the weight of a door. Cost isn’t the only consideration, although using red oak plywood…
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Happy Halloween

The neighborhood was a mob scene of power rangers and fairy princesses tonight. Our state senator had the brilliant idea of turning the park down the block into “Haunted Halloween” with a disco, a haunted walk, hay rides, a food court and kiddy amusements as a safer alternative to trick-or-treating. As a result, half the kids in Brooklyn were there. Then they assaulted my neighborhood for their sugar rush. Next year I want a government subsidy on my candy supply. Halloween is a kids’ thing and since I don’t have kids it’s not exactly my thing. But I endure it…
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Wall Prep Tips

I’ve got a lunch meeting with a prospective client today so I’ll dive into the first priming of the master bedroom project this evening. This gives me an opportunity for some virtual renovation this morning: reading the Houseblogs sites and posting to my own. Bill over at Enon Hall posted a cool Top Ten list. There are some good tips there. Ya’ll should check it out (although my lumberyard likes to see double-spaced, typed materials lists with product codes and a letterhead, preferably faxed in advance). Since I’m in “wall prep mode” I thought I’d post my own Top Ten…
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When Robots Attack

Being the gadget freak I am, I’m of course a big fan of home automation. 90% of my house is under X10 control and the command of a FreeBSD server running some perl scripts I hacked together. I’ve already written some articles about X10 and my trials and tribs with it so I won’t repeat them here. I love having my house turn its own lights on/off. I like setting up whole-house lighting schemes, available at the touch of a button. But truthfully, X10 is a lot like owning a 1970s-vintage Triumph motorcycle. You run it for a while, then…
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Forging ahead…

At last, some visible progress on the master bedroom renovation. For most of last week and the weekend I repaired plaster, which isn’t very exciting photography. If you can see something it means you didn’t do a very good job of it. Four years ago, I replaced a termite-ridden center support beam in the basement with a steel I-beam. As careful as we were, there was enough settling that the upstairs plaster took a minor beating. Because these were stress fractures that went all the way through the brown coat, I had to dig out each crack with an old…
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Where’s the progress?

You DIYers know what I’m talking about. A friend comes by to check out your latest completed project and goes “ooh! ahh!” over the paint color and asks where you got your terrific door knobs. You modestly thank him for the compliment. But, deep inside, you feel like Michelangelo after hearing, “Hey, nice paint colors. Where’d you get the cool frame?” You shed blood on this room for… what?… three months and that’s all he can see? Paint color and door knobs?! Is he blind or just clueless? He doesn’t see the five hundred feet of mesh tape you skillfully…
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DIY Stained Glass

I’ve only got ho-hum jobs on my plate this weekend: insulation, plaster fixes, running BX… nothing worth blogging about. But I was thinking forward to what I’m going to need to finish off this bedroom renovation (in about three months). Since the renovation involved merging two bedrooms, I now have two entrances into it. The problem is that the doorway I want to get rid of gives the upstairs hallway much of its summer light and is also needed for cross ventilation. After mulling it over, I decided to replace it with a knee wall topped by a pair of…
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A hundred pounds of plaster later…

It worked! It took four days, three fifty pound bags of plaster, a makeshift profiling knife and a couple of finish coats but the radiused closet corner is done. There was only one mishap. Jack the Dog, my Newfoundland, was standing at the base of the ladder looking up at me when about 8 ounces of wet plaster fell off my palette and landed squarely on his head and muzzle. Against his black fur it looked like he’d been smacked in the face with a custard pie. So there was a quick diversion to the back yard for a bath…
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You don’t know until you try

The guys at Kamco were right. Quarter-inch drywall can curve to a minimum five-foot radius, dry. Wetting/scoring it can reduce that to as little as three feet “if you’re really good!” The problem is, the radius of this corner is about ten inches. That’s even too shallow for High Flex, which I could only get by special order and only in palette quantities anyway. The story of this closet starts here. I could have saved myself a lot of problems if I’d just built a square corner on that closet. But I really wanted a radius here to match two…
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The Borg

Shortly after I moved to Brooklyn, one of the largest local independent home improvement centers closed, Mars Lumber. It’s now an Outback Steak House. The attitude at Mars was gruff and impatient but there were always professional trades people hanging around to give good advice. Mars fell victim to NYC’s first Home Depot store on Hamilton Avenue. Home Depot was bright, clean, well stocked and the people were friendly. Good riddance to Mars. But then a funny thing happened. The Hamilton Avenue Home Depot took an abrupt nose dive. The quality of the help was the first casualty. The bright,…
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DIY War Story

There was a recent forum post on Houseblogs.net asking for DIY disaster stories. I’ve had more than my share of them. But I’m such a long-winded writer that I didn’t think I could reduce any of them to a sound bite paragraph. Here’s one of my more verbose ones: My previous renovation was a downtown Broadway loft in Manhattan, where I converted a 5000sf paper bag factory to a residence and a commercial audio recording studio. This was a very early progress picture. The place was a mess when I took it. The floor was wired only for DC electricity.…
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The Most Painful Free Drywall In the World

Yesterday, I got the framing completed in the new closet so it was time to fetch the free drywall my friend, John, around the corner had offered to me. John is another home renovation tyromaniac. In fact, I wouldn’t have found this place if not for him. He was the former NYC City Register so I had a complete history on this place a few hours after its former owner had mentioned to John that he was thinking of selling. John knew I was looking for a cheap fixer-upper with a garage for my bikes. He called me, I rushed…
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Plague Walls

With great reluctance, I pulled myself out of my sick bed to get back to the master bedroom renovation, which means more demolition. Lovely. A couple of hours later Karen called to see how her patient was doing. Karen’s an anesthesiologist who had to leave medicine because of a severe latex allergy. So she takes things like breathing both personally and professionally. When I told her I was ripping down old woodwork and plaster I thought her hands were going to zoom through the phone and strangle me, Bugs Bunny style. “Are you <bleeping> nuts, you stupid <bleep>?! Do you…
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Into the closet

I’ve been fighting a sore throat and sniffles all day, but I’m tired of my belly aching. That’s why I’m so behind bloody schedule here. Yesterday, I got the rough framing done for the new closet in the master bedroom. Well, almost done. I thought I had the 4″ lags and shields I needed for the upper cabinet’s deck support. Because these houses don’t have attics, I need to build one for dead storage. There will be two levels in this closet, with cabinet doors on top. I want a profiled corner on the closet, not a square edge. This…
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Phase 7: Plan A, Step One

Here’s what I have planned for next week’s start of the master bedroom renovation. Tomorrow evening, I have to move myself into the guest room. I also need to take an updated picture of that room. It just occurred to me that a lot of things in that room were gifts: the sofa bed (Karen), the macrame curtains (Betsy), the side table and the large, mirrored O’Connell-Flynn whiskey sign too. I even have a couple of wall hangings given to me by magician, Doug Henning, back when we worked together on The Magic Show. Anyway, I really hope that sofabed…
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Phase 7: The Wrath of Details

Today officially begins the scheduled start of the next major phase of the renovation at Brooklyn Row House: the rebuilding of the master bedroom and upstairs hallway. It started like most of my scheduled projects. In other words, it didn’t. Dykes Lumber, which was given instructions to call me before delivery, arrived yesterday when I must have been out walking the grovelers. Granted, it’s a contractor size order but, sheesh, even GC crews take lunch breaks, guys. They didn’t call to confirm that they were even delivering yesterday so I could at least hang a note. For that matter, I…
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Homeland Security

The recent Houseblogs posts on the burglary and the fires made me want to say something about whole-house security systems. BTW, to the Restoration on 7th home owners, maybe check with your local board of estimate and/or buildings department to see if some sleazy entity might be trying to get your neighborhood rezoned. We had a lot of these fires in Back Bay, Boston when I was in college. They traced back to the mob, which was trying to open up the avenue to high rise development. Planning commissions are more friendly to these efforts if there are a lot…
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Labor Day Snoozer

This was the first Labor Day weekend since I got this place that I wasn’t knee deep in some h/i project. Last year I was in the middle of the guest room renovation. Now, I’m waiting for lumber estimates so I can start on the master bedroom rehab. I took the opportunity to hack on my Drupal software but, man, does it need a coherent manual. We got some of Ernesto on Friday/Saturday. The wind down here on NY Harbor was pretty fierce so there was clean up to do, which is about as clumsy a segue as I can…
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Electrical Gremlins

Just when I think I’ve got this electrical stuff all figured out, something tosses me in the weeds. This morning I noticed that the clock on my four-year old Frigidaire stove wasn’t working. Neither were the buttons. Great, the computer’s shot. Of course, it’s got an electronic starter that depends on the computer so the oven’s not working either. Well, I guess it’s about time. The Frigidaire microwave I bought at the same time had to be replaced last fall. Nice quality control, guys. I remember when companies like Frigidaire and Maytag had good reputations for durability. But that wasn’t…
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Skim Coat (almost) Like a Pro

Most people seem to like the flat, clean effect of drywall. Drywall is cheap, goes up easily and doesn’t take much acquired skill to learn how to tape, mud and finish the joints. Even drywall repairs are relatively painless. So what’s not to like? Maybe I’m just weird (well, there’s probably no contesting that) but I like plaster. I like the way side lights create shadows and textures over the natural unevenness of a plaster wall, giving it density and bulk. The problem is that I absolutely suck at plastering. My plaster work usually looks more like adobe, with half…
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Compound Casings (or What To Do With Scrap Lumber)

One question I used to get asked on the old blog was, “where did you buy your window and door casings?” As any old houseophile knows, in the olden days trimwork wasn’t something you picked up at The Borg. Even in modest turn-of-the-century homes those mouldings were often designed by the home’s architect. Constructing them was the job of a master carpenter. Elaborate trimwork is one of the major details of an old home as well as one of its greatest attractions today. People with old homes go to great lengths to carefully strip and rehabilitate old baseboards and casings.…
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The Plan

So I psyched myself up and put down the plastic for the next and final major renovation project here: the master bedroom and hallway. The way I figured it, if I had a pile of lumber in the shop I’d want to do something with it. I didn’t spare much expense in this project although I’m not completely irresponsible with my money. For instance, I’ll be using red oak plywood in much of the window and doorway trim rather than solid oak. That alone will save me several hundred bucks. And while an engineered floor is actually more expensive to…
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“I’ve always wanted to own an old house!”

The popularity of home improvement shows demonstrates that people are fascinated by the idea of taking something old and beat up and making it new again. But as anyone who has undertaken a large scale home renovation knows, the reality of doing it yourself lives on another planet from the romantic, everything-works-the-first-time impression that these shows portray. For one, you won’t have a professional contractor standing out of the shot, ready to yell “Stop! Stop!!” before you slice through a BX cable with your demolition saw. Nor will you have a bunch of off-camera laborers to unload the truck, clean…
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Last Lap Crash

Most people will experience a major home renovation only once in their lives. This is my third one and I think I’ve discovered a thus far unreported affliction which I call Home Stretch Complacency. Let’s give it an acronym so it sounds official: HSC. HSC doesn’t appear to be a unique defect in my genetic makeup. I know several tyromaniacs like me who have suffered and are suffering from this dibilitating condition. The symptoms of HSC are, after spending years on a difficult and time-consuming renovation project, crashing on the last lap. That final room doesn’t get done, the trim…
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