Every place I've ever lived has been designed for that "average American family," with lots of bedrooms, living room, dining room, family room, etc. The problem was that I was a single person, not an average family. I needed space, but for hobbies, not people. And because I'm over 6'2", bending over to use sinks designed for children was a constant frustration. Over the years, I collected a list of things I would change if I could have my dream house. As I approached retirement, I realized time was running out for that house; it was now or never.


Dreams are not always perfect, however. I could never afford my dream house, a spacious Southern California home overlooking the Pacific Ocean. But I could afford a modest ranch house, with a 20-mile drive to the beach. It was a very long way from perfect, but it had potential.


This blog documents the process of turning that small average house into something that matches my lifestyle. It will be as close to my dream house as I can make it. I'm doing all the work myself to stretch my resources. By not hiring contractors, I can afford high quality materials, and I'll know the job is always done right. The remodeling will be my primary avocation for a few years, even as I try to fit in my writing and other hobbies.


It promises to be an interesting journey, and a challenging one!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Waterbed Base — Part 2

This thing is BIG!

I built the three drawer sections of the base separately in the garage, and then used a hand truck to move them through the front door into the house, down the hall, and then carefully into the master bedroom.  This photo shows one of the sections pausing in the foyer.


Once all three sections were lined up in the bedroom, it was time to build the sub-base (which would raise the drawer units 2" off the floor).  The sub-base was made from 2x4s ripped to two-inch width, and then assembled into a grid using lap-joints at the corners and biscuit joints for the inner cross pieces.  This is how the two joints were made (then glued and screwed together):



Although it was unlikely that I would need to move the base after its initial positioning (and would not be able to do so after the assembly had proceeded very far — very heavy even without the 1500 pounds of water), I decided to glue quarter-inch thick felt to the bottom of the sub-base.  This would facilitate any needed sliding, and minimize scratching the bamboo floor. 


I then moved the three drawer sections aside and flipped the sub-base over onto the floor, then screwed all of that together.  Sometime around then, I started working on the ten drawers, doing some design work and then cutting out 20 drawer sides:


A piece of furniture this big and complex cannot just be built ad hoc; here is a photo of two pages out of at least a half-dozen design drawings.  It's of course not necessary to make these pretty and to scale if you're just doing them for yourself, but all the parts need to be there in their proper location, and the dimensions need to be correct and consistent.


Waterbeds are filled with hot water, maintained at a constant temperature with a heating pad that sits underneath the mattress and controlled with a thermostat.  If the water was room temperature, you would freeze, as the 70˚ Fahrenheit water would suck the heat out of your body.  So hot water (85˚ or whatever you choose) in the mattress.  But you don't want to heat the whole house, especially in the summer; you want the heat in the water to stay there, which means insulation.

On the top of the mattress, you can use a comforter or something like that.  On the bottom, I am installing one-inch thick rigid foam insulation.  The foam will go between several sleepers/stringers, installed on top of the three drawer sections:


Once the foam goes in, another layer of 3/4" plywood goes on top of the foam, which will then support the waterbed mattress.  Before that is installed, the outer sides were installed.  The plywood sides sit on maple trim pieces installed first — glued, nailed, with aligning biscuits.  The outer plywood sides are glued and screwed on.


The maple trim supporting the plywood looks like this:


The plywood sides were supported vertical by temporary brackets until the glue dried:


So I end this post at this stage, with the outer sides in place:


Next the rigid foam will be installed, with 3/4" plywood going in on top of that.  The lower drawer sections will get trim that will add another 3/4" to the outside of that lower layer.  The upper sides (which will contain the mattress) will ultimately be three inches thick; there will be another 3/4" plywood inner side added, separated by 1.5" spacers.  The sides will be capped by 3.5" wide maple, a reasonable width to sit on (hopefully that will work out).

And then of course I need to build the ten side drawers, and the long one on the end.  Always the drawers . . .

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Work Resumes — Waterbed Base

I've now been recuperating from my eye surgery for a bit more than six weeks, and no relapse, no new retinal detachment, although I have an appointment with my surgeon next month to look at a "tab" connecting the vitreous gel to the retina (a potential risk).  There have continued to be flashes, which indicate retinal traction (vitreous gel pulling on the retina), but so far the retina has stayed put in both eyes. 

My eye pressure is too high now, though, likely due to all the procedures, meaning a risk of developing glaucoma.  The intra-ocular pressure was not so high to pose a high risk, but I nevertheless have an appointment next month with a glaucoma specialist to see what's going on.  Sigh.

Last post I mentioned there was a bubble of gas in my eye, part of the treatment to press the retina against the underlying tissue to enable it to heal, and it did that during the first week.  The bubble remained in my eye, however, for a full six weeks, growing smaller and smaller over that time until it disappeared.  While it was in there, always rising to the top of the eye, I could see over it, as long as I was looking straight forward.  When I looked down, however, the bubble floated to the back of my eye, and so right in the middle of my field of view.  So no clear view of anything through my right eye when I looked down, and that meant — no clear view if I tried to work on anything (measurements, working with tools, etc.).  If I closed my right eye, I could see with my left eye clearly, but without any depth perception.

So six weeks of enforced idleness.

And now back to work!  Back to work on the base for my waterbed mattress.  I mentioned that the base will be built up from a number of assemblies.  What I'm working on first are the two drawer sections that will support the 1500-pound mattress.  The plywood pieces have all been cut out, and I've been getting the first one ready for assembly, but today discovered I'm out of the required 1 5/8" drywall screws.  Since it's been so long without a post, I decided to report on progress now. 

Since the drawer bases will support so much weight, I'm building them from 3/4" plywood, and doubling that for the vertical support drawer dividers (so 1.5" thick).  Since drawers will only slide in and out smoothly if the dividers are all parallel and vertical, it is important that they be positioned accurately.  To do that, I carefully marked out the locations, and then used biscuits to lock them in position while gluing and screwing the cabinet together.  Like this:


For the ten drawers to move smoothly, the metal drawer slides also have to be located precisely.  That means a jig, to position them consistently the same distance from and parallel to the bottom of the cabinet.


First I screwed the jig to the bottom of the drawer dividers while those were lying on their sides, then held the slide against the jig and drilled holes (starting them with an awl), and screwed the slides to the plywood.  You can see one of the screws, not yet driven in all the way.


A pair of drawer slides in position, waiting for its drawer:


Here's the one drawer cabinet assembled, but not yet glued and screwed together.  Waiting to buy more drywall screws tomorrow.  So what's important is that I installed the drawer slides before assembling the cabinet.  The openings for the drawers are pretty small, sized for just one drawer, and deep.  Trying to position the slides, precisely drilling the holes for the screws, and screwing them in, would be impossibly awkward if I had to do it after the fact through the small opening (especially the back screw!).  I can attest to that from past frustrating experience :-(.


So tomorrow buy more screws and glue it up.  Then do the matching drawer unit for the other side of the bed (oh wait, I just ordered the next five pairs of slides, so I'll have to wait on that — so I'll build the center section next).  Back in a couple of weeks . . .

Ten-year-old Sophie:


Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Eyes Have It — Work Halts

Another detached retina — my second.  The first one (from a couple of years ago) was a complication to cataract surgery.  Recently, I developed a common complication to cataract surgery: a clouding of the capsule that holds the eye's lens in place (posterior capsule opacification).  This apparently happens to about half of all cataract surgery patients, although they don't tell you that before you get the cataract surgery.  The simple procedure to fix the clouding problem takes about two minutes; they use a laser to burn a hole through the clouded capsule membrane — this procedure is called YAG laser capsulotomy.  It also has as a "rare" complication — wait for it — a detached retina.

Something seemed to be off with my right eye vision a few days ago (a Friday), so I began looking for the symptoms of a retinal detachment.  Found it after lunch: a very small dark semicircular area (with wavy distortions) intruding from the edge of my field of view.  I drove down to the university eye center where my first retinal detachment was fixed, but they were closed for a Caesar Chavez holiday (?).  I drove home and finally ended up that evening (8:30 p.m.) at the main university hospital, with my detachment ominously larger.  An on-call ophthalmologist confirmed the detachment.  She called the on-call eye surgeon and we relocated to the eye center (15 minute drive).  The decidedly unpleasant but necessary procedure was finished just before midnight.  I drove home with my right eye patched. 

The pneumatic cryopexy procedure uses a extremely cold probe to seal up the small tears and holes in the detached retina, which also tacks the retina to the underlying tissue.  When that part is done, a special gas is injected into the eye.  The resulting bubbles float to the top of the eyeball, and the patient (me) orients himself so that the detached retina is at the top of the eye.  The floating gas bubble then holds the retina to the inside of the eye until it bonds together. 

My detachment was at the upper right of the eyeball, so that means I have to continuously keep my head upright (front to back), and tilted to the left, for pretty much a week.  That includes sleep time, propped up on my sofa with my head appropriately positioned.  Not something you would want to do forever, but sure beats blindness.  (If left untreated, a detached retina can lead to blindness within a couple of days.  The more promptly treated, the better the chances for a good outcome.  Nasty business.)  Still blurry at this writing.

Which brings me to the point of this post, and its relevance to my house remodel/renovation.  Hard to get any work done if you can't freely move your head around.  Certainly I can move my head out of position for brief moments, but carpentry is out of the question.  There is also the matter that lifting heavy weights is forbidden — your core stiffens and blood pressure spikes, which can do damage to delicate blood vessels in a healing eye. 

But before this disaster, I did make some remodel progress.  The first was the decision to build the water bed platform next.  The base I designed consists of three main parts: 1) a simple 2" base constructed from ripped 2x4s to raise the platform off the floor, 2) a 10" high cabinet section that will contain drawers, and 3) the section that contains the 8" deep water bed mattress. 

The plan is to build the center drawer section first.  It will be constructed of three sub-sections: two identical drawer sections on each side of the bed, and a third section in between.   I had one sheet of 3/4" cabinet-grade plywood on hand, which would be enough for the top and bottom of one of the side sections.  I would use the same tongue and dado slot technique that I use for all my cabinets to join the corners.  Normally I cut the slots with a dado blade in my table saw, but in this case the dados would have to be made in the ends of a 7.5-foot long piece of plywood.  In other words, sideways, and too cumbersome to do on the saw.  The slots would be 3/8" wide, and look like this:


I cut these using a router with a template guide and a 1/4" carbide spiral straight bit:


And built a jig with a half-inch wide slot to guide the router.  That gives a 3/8" dado.  The jig has a piece of plywood with a stop screwed to the bottom, that when pushed up against the end of the plywood, positions the slot correctly.


Worked great!  Needed to cut eight slots with it: top and bottom pieces for the two drawer cabinet sections.  At this point, I needed lots more plywood.  I ordered from Home Depot for delivery, and it arrived Friday morning:


That's enough for the bed and most of the pottery studio cabinets, and also the laundry room table.  Alas, an hour later I discovered my new detached retina (a recurring nightmare), so the plywood sits.

I also made a decision about my long-awaited kitchen countertop, which had been planned to be solid surface acrylic, ordered from a contractor.  I was ready to make a fourth attempt going the contractor route when I decided to epoxy-laminate my own from maple strips (with a couple of walnut stripes down the middle).  I will use low-viscosity West System epoxy (generally used for boat building); it soaks into the wood, stabilizing and water-proofing.  I would finally roll on a couple of coats of epoxy on the surface and sand to a nice satin finish.  We'll see how that goes . . .

But first, need my vision back.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Hall Bamboo Floor — Part 2

My goodness!  I just discovered that my last post was over a month ago; I like to post twice a month, but the hallway has been a bear.

If you recall, tearing up the tile in the hallway left a lot of tenacious areas of mortar stuck to the concrete floor.  And at the far end, which had originally been part of the garage, I discovered that the concrete slab was especially torn up (like a little mountain range, much of it a half-inch too low, along with some peaks too high).

At the end of the last post, I had erected a plastic "tent" to contain the clouds of dust produced by my diamond grinder, with the hopes of sending the dust down the hall to the air handler to be filtered.


Didn't work,  so I found a shroud on amazon that clamped around the grinding cup and connected to my shop vacuum.  Had to wait a week or so before that came.  In the interim, I went up and down the hall attacking small bits of the excess mortar with a cold chisel and hammer.  Did that a number of times over the weeks.  The shroud came and looked like this from the top and from the bottom:



It initially did not fit my grinder (had to use a hack saw and file), and vacuum hose did not fit either (used duct tape and small wood splints).  The rubber hose adapter also would pull out as I moved the grinder around (with predictable consequences), so I held the grinder with one hand and held the hose in place with the other.  I would not want to use it that way regularly, but for this one job, it was manageable, and it did substantially reduce the amount of dust escaping into the house.

I went down the hall and ground off the offending blobs of mortar, and then went back with a straight edge checking for flatness.  The slab was mostly flat, but there were a couple of areas with high areas.  I marked those places with a Sharpie, and then went back over those with my grinder.


Then repeated this process again (and again).  Not a lot of fun, and the weather was great outside, so on one grocery store run, I made a small detour to the dog beach.  (the big perk of living in Southern California — 82˚ that early March day at my house, upper 60s at the beach).


And then back to the grind (literally).

For the low rough area at the end of the hallway, I mixed some floor leveler.  I didn't measure the amount, and just added water until the viscosity seemed right (I had used it in the laundry room), and poured the bucket of leveler into the low area.  Pretty reckless of me.  Then used a 24" float to spread it out, and it leveled itself, and amazingly, it almost exactly came up to the right level.  There was just one part (under the 2x4, where I did not "help" it to level) that ended up slightly high.  I ground that down.  Pure luck it didn't turn out to be a disaster.


I made one last check of the floor's flatness, using my fingers to feel for bumps and the cold chisel and hammer to remove any small bumps.  Then came the underlayment — a 2 millimeter thick insulation/cushion/moisture barrier.  The work of fitting the bamboo planks along the edge of the hallway was very fussy and time consuming.  That was not too critical along the walls where the edge would be covered by baseboard, but it took time to match the edge of the bamboo with the tile areas (foyer, kitchen, and laundry room).  I used a clear silicone to secure the bamboo to the aluminum tile edging.


The planks in the whole middle area of the hallway went down very quickly.  At the doorway to the bedroom, which already had bamboo installed, I used a special bamboo transition piece, here shown upside down:


The piece installed:


The next photo shows what the installation looks like at the kitchen entrance.  The baseboard has been installed but not caulked yet, and nail holes not yet filled, nor paint touched up.  (Need to move on to something else for awhile before coming back to the final details.)


The last photo looking down the completed hallway:


Thinking about the waterbed base or the kitchen countertop next, or maybe some work outside . . .

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Hall Bamboo Floor — Part 1

The bamboo floor in the master bedroom went down very quickly, but not so with the hall.  Just carpet in the bedroom, but tile in the hall.  I knew it would be unpleasant, ripping up all the ceramic tile with my trusty electric jack hammer, but it has been exceptionally so, and I have responded accordingly.  That is, to procrastinate. 

Another incentive to go slow was a further complication from my cataract eye surgery a couple of years ago.  My right eye vision has become blurry due to "posterior capsule opacification."  Or, the back of the membrane supporting my replacement lens has thickened and become cloudy — it's a complication that close to half of cataract surgery patients experience.  I go in for the minor laser surgical procedure to correct it on Monday, but while waiting for an appointment to confirm that diagnosis, I was somewhat distracted.  Sigh.

Anyway, the hall is three feet wide and thirty-six feet long.  Unlike the tile I removed elsewhere in the house, that was put down over vinyl sheet flooring (and therefore popped right off), this tile was mortared directly onto the concrete slab.  It resisted

I started at the foyer end, intending to work straight through to the garage end, but the spray of tiny tile and mortar bits, plus lots of dust, covered the foyer, living room and kitchen, so I abandoned that and jumped down further along the hall to a point where there were walls on both sides. 

Here's a photo showing where I started, and I put a piece of bamboo next to the foyer tile:


I took the photo after building a plastic-covered frame intended to confine the masonry bits as much as possible.  Here's a view down the hall, showing where I resumed ripping the tile up (and happily, the tile down there came up easier, often in big pieces).


I turned on the air-handler fan in the laundry room so it would tend to suck the dust down the hall and into a filter.  The system instructions warned against running the air handler while there was construction going on because the cement dust is corrosive and would damage the heat exchanger and also the metal electrostatic elements in the air cleaner.  I therefore placed a regular pleated paper filter temporarily over the air handler intake to catch the objectionable dust.


All went relatively smoothly until I neared the far end of the hall, and encountered tile that would not come off in big pieces, and barely in very small pieces.  As I blasted tile and mortar off a small section, I was reminded that I had made it to the part of the house that was originally the back half of the garage.  The new slab they poured to raise that part of the garage floor was not quite level with the house slab.  When I did the new laundry room, I had to pour floor leveler to raise the level even with the house side.  But out in the hall, the underlying concrete is rough, uneven.  In some places it is higher than the rest of the hall and close by it is lower.  When they put down the old tile, they compensated by making the mortar thinner or thicker.  Can't do that with the bamboo.


Nasty!  I'll either have to grind down the concrete (huge clouds of thick dust), or chip away at the slab with my jack hammer (ugh!).  And then make everything level with some sort of thin mortar.   So I made the command decision to ignore it and go back to ripping up the tile near the kitchen and living room that I had passed over.  That's when I built the plastic covered frame to contain the debris and dust.  (And that's where I am now.)

Going forward, I think I'll get the floor prepared for the first thirty feet or so and put down the bamboo that far, then move the plastic tent over the difficult last section and mount a new attack.  Last night, when my 8-month-old puppy decided to chew my jack hammer cord in two, I decided this project should be broken into two blog posts.  (Fortunately the cord wasn't plugged in when he sunk his teeth into it!)


Part 2 may end up being delayed until after the water bed frame is done.  Or it may end up becoming a three-parter.  Never can tell about these things.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Stucco Goes Up

That is, over the scar where the chimney had been.  It's been awhile since my last post because of all the rain.  Seems strange, that, since we've been in a severe drought for the last five years, but this year is an exception.  Nine inches of rain in January.  The historical average for January here in northern San Diego county is three inches.  And for the last few years we've gotten only about five inches total per year!  So far this year (fall through spring is our "rain" year — spring through fall we get nothing) we've had about fifteen inches (ten inches per year is the historical average).

Anyway, the rain has kept the plastic over the wall where the chimney was, so I've been doing design work, and no stucco, but the rain ended and since then we've had our usual sunny mild weather.  So back to the physical stuff.

First, there was the matter of the gaping hole where the fireplace foundation had been.  I filled that with five bags of hand-mixed concrete.


Then I started on the prep work needed before the stucco could go up:

1) cut off the metal flashing that was around the chimney, using a metal cutting disc on my 4.5" angle grinder,

2) ground a bevel on the old stucco that surrounded the chimney, so the new stucco could bond and blend in with the old (I again used my angle grinder, but with a diamond masonry grinding wheel),

3) applied two layers of roofing felt over the plywood,

4) fastened a metal channel to the bottom of the wall, to define the bottom of the stucco and enable drainage of any water that happened to get behind the stucco, and

5) applied two layers of wire mesh to hold the stucco to the wall (using furring nails and staples).

Looked like this:


Here's a photo of the scratch (first) coat of stucco, and there's a section that has the second coat on.  They call it the scratch coat because it's "scratched" to enhance the physical bond with the second coat.  There is a special tool to create rectangular grooves in the wet stucco (wait too long and you get pretty much no depression at all). 


And here's the photo of the stucco up (still wet), with my signature "rustic" texture.  Typically, a third thin, colored finish coat would go on next, but I opt instead to apply two coats of a special elastomeric (flexible) stucco paint that bridges any cracks that may develop, and provides enhanced waterproofing.  It makes getting a uniform color easy, especially since the stucco has been going on piecemeal over a period of years.  That special paint can't go on until the stucco has cured for at least 30 days. 


I was going to build the waterbed base next, but the bamboo flooring for the hallway is stored in the bedroom, so I may tear up the ceramic tile off the hall floor, and put the bamboo down next.  But that's a very dusty proposition.  We shall see.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Chimney Comes Down

Actually, I tore out the fireplace and the top of the chimney almost ten months ago, rebuilt the roof, and then covered over the scar with plastic.  So technically speaking, the title should be The Rest of the Chimney Comes Down.  I'm just now getting back to that work, removing the substantial lower part of the chimney. 

I thought this post would include covering the wall where the chimney had been with stucco, as the weather forecasters were promising a long string of sunny days.  But all we got were a few, and then four days of much needed on-and-off rain.  The 2.25" we got was very much needed, but that interrupted the chimney work (that and other diversions), and now, after three days of warm sunny weather (80˚ today), we're getting even more rain.  So the stucco will have to wait, but this post will not.

In this first photo, you can see how much of the upper chimney I demolished almost a year ago; it's marked by the plywood that has covered the guts of the house, and the plastic sheeting that has been keeping the weather out.  The new demolition resumed just below that.


The major part of the chimney remaining can be seen from ground level — it's a lot of brick and mortar!


Midway through now.  I usually loosen some brick with the electric demolition hammer, and then use a full-size crowbar to pry the brick apart (not as exhausting and dusty).  I spread this work out over a number of days to let my body recover; it's hard work.


Getting down near the bottom, it wasn't clear exactly what sort of foundation there was.  It could be a real challenge, or relatively straightforward — I was hoping for the latter. 


I had to cut off the rebar as I went down to the base (always threatening to impale me), which was finally revealed as a poured layer of concrete over a row of the large bricks laid on their sides.


When I got those bricks out, I was surprised to find an empty chamber of sorts, with some cross supports.  Rather than hauling the pieces of brick and rubble that I was still pulling out, I started dumping them in the hole.


With the demolition finished, I built the partial rear stud wall needed to fill in where the fireplace opening had been (remembering that I doubled the thickness of the surrounding part of the living room wall).  I used a pressure-treated 2 x 4 for the base of that new section of wall.


After adding insulation to the new wall, the 1/2" sheathing went on.  Again remembering that the house as originally built had no plywood covering the studs, just wire, roofing felt and stucco!  Building standards?


Since I need to buy more roofing felt to cover the plywood (before stucco wire and stucco), and because it's supposed to rain tomorrow, I temporarily covered the plywood with plastic (hopefully not going to be there for another ten months :-).  I also need to buy a metal-cutting blade for my angle grinder in order to cut away the steel flashing that was installed around the chimney (nasty stuff):


The new stucco can then be blended in with the old.  I also will need to pour new concrete to cover the hole where the chimney had been, level with the patio slab.  And there's the matter of disposing of the old brick and mortar :-(


So what's next?  After the stucco, or perhaps intertwined?  Still working on the master bedroom baseboard, and there's the waterbed base, and the pottery studio cabinets and countertop.  And the pottery kiln installation (although when the pottery studio becomes operational, remodeling work could just possibly become intermittent. 

And drawers!  I'm planning to start building the more than hundred needed drawers this winter!  Which will make life so much better.