• Hangover Eve

    Posted by Steve on Thu, 11/23/2006 - 10:13am

    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 need to build the radiator grill and raised panels under the windows but that's a shop thing. Most of my tools are two flights up so I'm saving these for the end.

    I want to find a deal on the eighty-plus feet of 4"+ red oak crown moulding and 2" cap moulding for the wainscot. Anyone got an reliable online resource I can check out? Dykes will want a quart of blood/linear foot for this stuff. I suppose I can do the cap rail on my router table if necessary.

    I've more or less got this particular trim design down to a formula. However, I ran into a problem with the three bay windows. It turned out that the original framing was waaaaay off, which I would have known if I'd done my measurements before demolishing the old trim. You know how your brain goes on warm standby when you're using a treadmill or a stairmaster? That's me with demolition.

    Because I didn't pay attention the original trim, I took my lead lines off the old studs. This answers the blog comment I made during demolition about finding three-inch thick shims on the old window trim. *bwaaap*... "The answer is: to compensate for a screwup by the framers a hundred years ago."

    It's kinda ironic that I got suckered by something that the original finish carpenters caught back in 1906. Maybe they knew the framers liked their liquid lunches so they always double-checked their work. Whatever, I didn't do that and now there's a three-inch difference in the gaps between the two windows. Worse, the corners aren't centered. So I head-jammed a solution which, while an embarrassing hack, is the best I could do short of ripping everything down.

    There's so much oak in this room that I'm hoping nobody will notice. I know the pic is a little dark but let's see if anybody can spot it.

    Speaking of stairmasters, I've been getting a stair climbing workout with the table saw and jointer in the shop two stories below the renovation floor. I swear, if I ever take on another house renovation project I'm buying a contractor's saw and second router table.

    There was another "Doh!" moment. I was cutting up scraps for spacer blocks on my chop saw and ran my 12" Forrest saw blade through an unseen nail. It didn't break any teeth but it started making some messy cuts. Damn! Forrest blades ain't cheap but I'm completely spoiled by them. They have a good deal on factory resharpening but I couldn't wait for the two week turn-around so I bought another Forrest and had it overnighted. Another $140 bullet point for the budget.

    Anyway, today I'll start wiring up the wainscot bump-out and finish off the concave 8" baseboard. That turned out to be pretty easy. Since the curve is 45 degrees I made six 7-1/2 degree miters and glued the four pieces together.

    Karen and I are having Thanksgiving at our friends' brownstone in Cobble Hill. It's my eleventh year there. John and Judy are professional wine merchants and Judy is a terrific cook so you couldn't ask for a better set-up for a T-day pig out. I met them when I used to have a restaurant and did their wine tasting school.

    This shot was taken at Thanksgiving '96 and, yes, those were all my glasses. John and Judy are on the right. On the left is "Ralph" Hemlepp, an editor at Parade magazine. It's an interesting mix of people and generations, from motorcyclists and advertising folk to sports car collectors and Broadway set designers. There are even a couple of Brits we can crank on. Fortunately, Karen is the designated driver this year because I could really use a drink, or ten.

  • Rule #1: don't kill yourself

    Posted by Steve on Mon, 11/27/2006 - 12:58pm

    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 what he'd said a month ago. Because of the pain in my elbow I'd probably been shifting leverage to my wrist. Now it's injured too. And if I keep it up it will spread to my shoulder and neck. Then he'll put me in a sling.

    Oh, the ravages of age. This, by the way, is apart from the six-inch bloody gash I gave myself on the same arm yesterday, trying to catch a falling piece of plywood.

    Well, maybe I do need some healing time so I'll knock it off for a week and see. I've got other things I need to do, like my job. A bummer indeed but I'll just replay the Ted Talks lecture and synthesize some happiness out of it.

    I'm about three work days away from moving most of my tools back downstairs to the shop where work will commence on the cabinets, drawers, the closet doors and raised panels. Then I move them back up upstairs again for the installation and crown moulding. By the way, I decided to cut my own cap rail for the wainscot on my router table. I found a nice piece of 5/4 oak in my lumber pile, ripped it and cut an ogee profile. The remaining piece of 5/4 became the sill for the window into the hallway.

    I also got the sectional concave baseboard installed. This job was a bitch. It would have been a breeze except for two complications. One is that I had to incorporate an existing electrical outlet in the baseboard. I built most of that baseboard on a jig but due to the tightness of the wiring, the last piece of baseboard had to be installed in place.

    The second complication was that there was nothing to nail it to! Behind it is a piece of mangled and very flexible corrugated tin, which served as plaster lathe around an unused forced air duct. There was no way to stiffen it up. Even plaster wasn't an option because of the large hole cut by the old electricians.

    It was time to open my hacker bag of tricks. I positioned the board as carefully as I could then sealed around it with construction adhesive. The next morning the board was still flopping around a bit, which was a problem because there's an electrical outlet on it. Once again, spray foam insulation to the rescue! I emptied half a can behind the baseboard where the urethane could expand and cling to the metal lathe and to the baseboard. Now it's a rock. A little sanding, a little shoe moulding and a little plaster and it should look acceptable. The downside is that my entertainment rack will be in front of it. I'll have to pull it out occasionally to remember the blood that went into this job.

    What I probably should have done is construct a built-in cabinet for the TV, DVD, Tivo and sat receiver. That could have saved me a lot of heartache. But I also didn't want to lock the room into one furniture/bed layout either.

  • Face Frame 101

    Posted by Steve on Thu, 12/07/2006 - 4:02pm

    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 of my interest.

    Today I built a face frame. It will be for a 44", built-in dresser for my bedroom reno. Because the dresser will be installed in an alcove, all you'll see of it are the drawers and the face frame. It will have a cupboard mounted on it so it doesn't need a nice top. I can even save a few bucks by using A/C plywood for the carcass. Easy-breezy. But this is about the face frame.

    The frame is red oak. Most of it is leftovers from the bedroom renovation. There's a 1x6 top rail, a 1x3 bottom rail, 1x3 stiles and 1x2 stretchers (the spacers between the drawers). I debated whether to make this a three or four drawer dresser. I settled on three deep drawers because it means one less messy drawer.

    When cutting face frame components I slightly overcut each piece, then edge joint them to remove any bows and run them through the planer so everything fits flush. It's surprising the differences you can find in 1-by lumber, even with lumber from the same yard. I've seen it vary by as much +-1/16".

    Then I remeasure, clamp the sibling pieces together and cut them to finish size together. Besides guaranteeing exactly matching lengths it reduces tear-out.

    The next step is dryfitting them to make sure everything plays well together.

    Using a jig I drilled pocket holes on the back side of the stiles and stretchers. These hold recessed, galvanized screws. I resisted pocket hole construction for years as a cheap production shop shortcut but I got over it. It virtually eliminates clamping time and makes for a much stronger frame, which is another positive because a face frame cabinet gets most of its strength from the frame.

    It leaves you with holes like this. A little glue and a 1-1/4" galvanized screw and the joint is stronger than the wood around it. The hole can be plugged with a dowel but I usually don't bother with something like this, which you can only see by pulling out the drawers and sticking your head inside.

    I wanted this cabinet to have some decoration so I decided to incorporate a carving on the top rail that's sort of become the logo for this renovation. I even have one over my garage door.

    I had to darken this photo in Photoshop because the wax on the tablesaw extension was too reflective.

    Because I absolutely suck at wood carving, I used technology. I did it with a plunge router and a template system. It took less than fifteen minutes to finish the "carving". In fact, I know exactly how long it took. I started with "Born In The USA", then Metallica's "Wherever I May Roam" and finished the job on the closing chorus of Weather Report's "Birdland".

    Finally, I assembled the face frame. I don't have room for a real assembly table in my shop yet so I used the table saw extension and a rafting square. A little glue and some pocket screws aaaand... done.

    Then I loaded a stacked dado head in my table saw and cut 3/4" dados for the cabinet sides. This increases the glue surface and makes for a much stronger joint. The trick is to make the dado shallow enough that it doesn't hit those pocket screws or I'd be out a $90 Freud dado set. I've already trashed a saw blade on this project so I'm at my limit.

    Finally, a little sanding through the grits (100/150/220) and it's ready for the carcass. Total time to completion: two+ hours.

  • Bah, humbug

    Posted by Steve on Thu, 12/21/2006 - 10:51pm

    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 time of year. I'm used to squeezing in Christmas during a cigarette break.

    By the way, these are technically some of the worst pics I've ever taken but I liked the dogs in this shot.

    First, I'm making most of the mouldings on my router table in the basement, which is also where my table saw, jointer and planer are, not to mention my lumber supply. I haven't actually counted the number of round trips I make from the second floor to the basement every day but it's got to be at least forty. That's like climbing the stairs of an 80 story building and back every day. For perspective, the Empire State Building has 86 floors. And I wonder why my legs hurt the most at the end of the day.

    Second, nothing in this room is square, plumb, level or straight. No surprises there; after all, it's a hundred year-old house. But paneling isn't like plaster. It's got to be joined, ideally seamlessly. That means a lot of scoring, compass work, shims and 88-1/2 degree cuts.

    Everyone's heard the old carpenter's rule: "measure twice, cut once". But because I tossed the original drawings and decided to jam this job I've had to prefix that rule with: think three times. It's sooooo easy to dig a hole for yourself with layered woodworking like this, like cutting the window seat without planning how the adjoining stile will integrate with it and whether that stile will blow the reveal with the cap moulding. Ask me how I know.

    Third, because of all the crevices and corners in this paneling, I pre-sand each piece down to 220 grit before installing it.

    Lastly, everything is glued. I've used very few nails on the finish trim and most of them were brads to hold a piece in place till the glue cures. So far, there's a half-gallon of Titebond holding this room together.

    That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it (so to speak).

    As you can see, the dresser cabinet carcass was completed and installed. This weekend's project will be constructing the upper cupboard, which has to be installed before I can finish the right side window trim. I've got some leftover oak detail pieces I can throw into that. I'll do the drawers and doors last, and I just got a PC dovetail jig for an early Christmas present from the pooches. The credit card companies are marketing to anything with a pulse these days, I guess.

    Because I've fallen so far behind schedule, I decided to ditch the idea of building the closet doors myself and ordered a prehung, oak double door from InteriorDoors.com. That should be here in about four or five weeks. I've bought several doors from them over the past three years. Nice people, good prices and excellent quality.

    Digressing: while I respect the ethic... and believe me, I'm as relentless a dumpster diver as the next cheapskate... I've never much understood the compulsion of some homeowner/restorers to spend a weekend pawing through a stack of funky old doors at an architectural salvage yard only to pay $900 for a rather plain door which needs to be stripped and, often, repaired.

    If you're looking for a real special door, like for an entryway, I can understand the desire to find something unique. But for a closet? No. Way. Interiordoors.com is delivering me a pair of prehung, mortise-and-tenoned solid oak doors for $500, complete with antique hardware and ball catches, sized to order. I can't argue with that.

  • Another mini-milestone reached

    Posted by Steve on Thu, 12/28/2006 - 8:31pm

    Just like software development, I like to break big projects down into milestones and mini-milestones.

    MilestoneMini milestone
    Wall prep (done)
    Structural carpentry (done)
    Finish woodworking Wainscott east wall + outlets
    Window and door trim - large room
    Complete wainscott - large room
    Window trim and wainscott - ante room
    Construct and install dresser and cupboard - ante room

    Ahhhh... here were 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 by construction of the raised and louvered panels under the bay windows, followed by.... man, there's still a lot to do before I can get to sanding, staining and finishing all this stuff. Despite all reasonable precautions, there's dust everywhere in my house. I just want it to be o v e r!

    I replicated the dresser carving on the cupboard, which you can see a bit better in this shot. Crown moulding will be attached to that upper cleat.

    There was one screw up, which you can see from these photos. The cupboard isn't centered in the opening! When I built the dresser I measured it to fit the alcove without accounting for the thickness of the window casing and wainscotting I would install later. That casing pushed the window wall out about 1-5/8". As a result, it left me with a 1-5/8" gap on the right (which is what I wanted) and no gap on the left. I realized this after I built the dresser but there was nothing I could do about it except to toss it out and rebuild a new dresser 2" narrower. If Norm Abrams was gonna feature my bedroom renovation on his web site I might have done it too!

    And there was a technical screw up. My plunge router has a plunger lock. Or rather, a plunger UN-lock. You have to hold down the lever to get it to either plunge or retract. I don't know why Hitachi does this ass backwards from most of the router world but I'm used to plunge routers working the other way: e.g. flicking the lever locks the plunger in place.

    What happened is that I had a brief bit of brain fade while doing these router carvings and lifted the router out of the template without depressing the plunger unlock. As a result, the bit was still extended and I gouged a big chunk out of the template. That delayed me for a day while I patched the template with epoxy fill. Dammit.

    I've decided that the cupboard cabinet doors will be stained glass to match the interior window into the hallway, although something translucent because I'm not all that interested in highlighting the contents of my usually messy clothes cabinet. So that makes a total of five stained glass project on my plate when I'm done with this room. And five more blog entries to come in the spring.