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, April 28, 2019

Garage Extension — Part 1

I'm calling this post Part 1 even though I did a substantial amount of work on the six-foot (2 meter) garage extension almost two years ago.  That was the concrete work — putting in footings, stem wall, floor, and recontoured driveway for the extension.  It was months of work, taking up four posts, but labeled "Concrete Work," so this new post will just have to be "Part 1."

There will be several parts that follow, as I expect this project to last through the summer.

But I first need to explain the project.

I bought this house in 2013, without realizing the garage had already been altered.  Without taking any measurements, I assumed it was original.  Not.  On the day I arrived from the East Coast after a four-day drive, I discovered that my relatively short Honda CR-V just barely fit inside, with only an inch to spare.  No way to open the rear hatch, no way to walk around to the other side with the garage door closed.  Inconvenient at best.

I then learned that a prior owner had turned the back half of the originally roomy garage into a fourth bedroom.  I thought, easy enough to reverse that — just tear down the partition wall.  But then I noticed they had also poured another four inches (10 cm) of concrete on top of the garage slab to bring the extra bedroom floor up to the same level as the rest of the house.  Not so easy to just pull up 4" of concrete.

So after three years of working on other parts of the house (and refining garage design sketches), I decided to extend the front of the garage by six feet, to be able to fit a slightly longer (electric) car, and have room to walk around it.  At that time I did the concrete work so as to be ready to do the wood construction at a later date.  That is, now.

I never did like the 16-foot-wide (double) garage door; they seemed more appropriate for people who use their garages for storage and outdoor equipment, and not two cars.

I needed just one car in the garage; I will use the rest of the space for woodworking.  So ditch the 16-foot-wide door and install a single 9-foot-wide door.  Add a nice window on the other side.  That would yield a more usable, efficient space.

This post covers the demolition/conversion of the front of the existing garage so it will mate with the new front extension.

Step one was to remove the old wide door and sell it, and along with that, buy the new insulated 9-foor door (both seven-feet tall).  I would not have bought the new one as soon as I did, but it was on sale.

I could not just cut off the overhanging eves on the front of the garage and be done.  The header for the wide garage door extended down to the top of the garage door, that is, seven feet above the garage floor.  Even if I did not mind having a massive beam intruding into 8.5-foot headroom of the "new" garage, it would now be in the middle of the new ceiling, and would prevent the new garage door from opening.

At the same time, I certainly could not just remove it, because it was holding up half of the garage roof.  The ends of the roof trusses all sat on top of that beam, and would have to be supported.  The solution was to raise the beam up about 18-inches (45 cm), and hang the trusses off the side of the beam, using joist hangers.

First I opened up the ceiling.  I measured eight feet back from the new front of the garage and removed the drywall.  Eight feet is two courses of plywood/drywall.


This close-up shows how the parts of the trusses are joined together — steel plates with lots of teeth pushed into the wood. 


I would have to cut off the trusses on the same plane as the back of the header/beam, and to do that, I had to remove the lower section of shingles and plywood from the roof.


Of course if I just cut off the trusses without adding some support, the roof would promptly cave in — not a good thing.  So I build a temporary wall to support the ends of the trusses. 


The beam itself is twenty feet long, 15 inches tall, and 3.5" thick, and weighed upwards of 200 pounds.  A force to be reckoned with, and not something I wanted to be moving around over my head.  So I built well-secured temporary scaffolding to support that. 


The header beam was topped with a conventional stud wall top plate, consisting of two layers of two-by-four.  I had to cut that away to separate the header from the trusses.  The photo shows it partly cut away. 


At this stage, the beam was free of the trusses, but still connected to the walls at either end, and supported by two 4x4-inch posts at both ends.  Since I needed to raise the header by about 18 inches, so that the bottom of the header would be flush with the ceiling, I would have to replace those old shorter posts.  I decided it would be structurally more sound to keep the outside posts in place (and double them with the new longer posts), and replace the old inner posts with the new ones.


I also needed to cut the upper ends of the raised beam at an angle to clear the new roof.  In the photo above, the cut is at the bottom, because I discovered the beam was sagging, and wanted to flip it over so the crown would be on top. 


I drew cutting lines on the sides of the trusses flush with the inside of the beam.  I decided to leave the joining steel plates in place, as I knew they were very difficult to remove.  In order to saw off the truss ends, I first made two cuts through the steel plates (on either sides of the lines) with my high-speed grinder fitted with a metal cut-off wheel.  The technique worked well (and saved my wood saw teeth). 


The above photo is a wider view of the trusses ready to be cut off.  The photo below shows the beam on its side, adding working room.


With the ends of the trusses cut off flush with the back of the header, it was time to raise the big beam up and put it on top of the new posts.  To do this (not having a crew of workers on ladders), I used a home-made sky hook, to wit, basically a 1200-pound capacity boat trailer winch mounted on the side of a ten-foot-long 2x4, with a roller attached to the top (actually a little more refined than that).  With the strap attached to the middle of the beam, and a friend guiding the ends, I cranked it up into place.  Nobody was injured during this procedure!  Hooray!  Here it is all fastened in place:


Because of the sag of the beam, when I turned it over (crown up), the trusses ended up a bit lower than the bottom of the beam, so one by one, and a little at a time, I jacked up and shimmed each truss in turn (shims on top of my temporary wall) until they were flush with the bottom of the header (basically raising the whole roof).  To do this, I used my car jack with a 2x4 extending up to each truss.


Once in place, I fastened each truss to the header using substantial joist hangers.  I also had to add some blocking to correct some truss spacing issues (and straighten one that was leaning). 


With all the trusses securely fastened to the header, I removed the temporary wall.  So I now have a flush ceiling, and ready to start building new walls.



Thursday, March 28, 2019

Guest Bathroom - Part 7

Plodding along, I am.

Work on the guest bathroom is now done for the time being, to be continued late this year.  The bathtub is next, when work continues.

This is one of those posts that goes into the details that are important if you're actually planning to do something like this.  If you're looking at this post for general interest, I would advise to just click through the pictures and go back later if you decide you want to know how exactly the process was done.  Just saying.  

In Part 6 I completed work on the woodworking phase of the vanity top construction.  The next step was to apply an epoxy finish to the cherry and rosewood to make them waterproof.   The first coat is always rough, because the epoxy soaks in at different rates depending on the grain of the wood — so high in some spots, low in others.  I applied the epoxy with a roller, and then used a foam brush dragged lightly along the surface to level it out and eliminate the tiny air bubbles.


After the first coat of epoxy, I used a random orbit sander to take down the high areas, and then dry sanded with a large pad to get the surface level.  After the second coat, I wet sanded with 220-grit paper.  After the third coat, I started by wet sanding with 320-grit paper, and continued through 2000-grit paper, and then went on to rubbing compound and finished off with furniture paste wax.

I had applied four coats of epoxy to the kitchen countertop, which sees a lot of use every day.  The guest bathroom countertop will rarely get used, so I judged three coats to be sufficient.  In my remodel/renovation work, I am not aiming for cosmetic perfection, because there is so much work to be done, and I don't want to spend the rest of my life on the house.  So much fun stuff waiting! (and waiting)

So this is what the "finished" vanity top looks like:


Down below the top, there was plumbing to connect.  Although it would be rarely used, the vanity was not intended to be a museum piece.  It needed to be functional, which meant water in and water out.  Down below were the connections for the water supply lines and the drain.  Starting with this:


And ending with this:


Back above, a mirror was needed — bought from my local glass store.  I would frame it with cherry molding — a simple rectangle section with one edge beveled.  The mirror would run from wall to wall, and from the top of the backsplash to the ceiling.  I found the right side was straight and square to the top of the backsplash, so I glued the molding to the drywall behind on those two sides (using plain wood glue).  Gravity clamps worked well.


I did not attempt to attach all four sides of molding first, and then install the mirror, fearing that a slight discrepancy in the left or top wall measurements (they were not precisely straight), would mean the mirror would not fit.  Easier to trim the molding afterwards if it did not fit — before I glued it in place.  Sigh.

The right side molding went up using a single finish nail to hold it in place while the glue dried.  I used mirror mastic (applied with a caulking gun) to attach the mirror against the back wall.  Once the mirror was attached in place, I added the molding on the left and top, and filled the small irregular gaps with caulk.

All worked well.

Then lighting for the vanity.  An experiment.  I had bought a strip of LEDs that I planned to run around the sides and top of the mirror.  The self-adhesive strip had peal-off paper backing, so I could stick it up anywhere.  But where?  I considered a number of alternatives, and then picked one.  No idea if it was better or worse than the others.  I could have just stuck it to the wall, but I elected to install a triangular section molding a few inches (9 cm) in front of the mirror, and then stick the LED strip to the back of that.


I made the molding from cherry, but it was too prominent, and accentuated by its reflection in the mirror, so I decided to paint it the same off-white as the wall, hoping it would blend in.

The LED strip itself came in a roll and looked like this:


The LEDs needed a nominal 12-volt direct-current power supply.  I searched through my collection of old plug-in power supplies (wall warts), but found no 12-volt DC examples.  I did have a 9-volt one, which I knew would work, although giving less brightness.

Previously, I had wired an electrical receptacle underneath the vanity, controlled by a switch next to the vanity — for the very purpose of operating an LED light strip.  Which is also why I put that pink nylon string through the wall before I closed it up.  Now I taped the output wire from the wall wart and pulled it through to the base of the LED molding.  Then soldered the wires together and applied heat shrink insulation over the bare solder joint.


Underneath, the wall wart (direct-current power supply):


This is what the LED strip looks like up close (the actual strip on the back of the molding, and the reflection in the mirror):


And the whole thing:


Like I said, this lighting treatment was an experiment, and now that it's done, I think I would have done something more conventional if I had it to do over again.  On the other hand, I may decide I like it once I have had a chance to use it.

One thing about the LED strip — I assumed that the adhesive on the back of the strip was applied directly to the strip, so when I pulled off the paper backing, I expected the strip to stick firmly on the molding.  Didn't happen that way.  Actually, there was a thin strip of double-sided tape between the LED strip and the paper backing.  When I pulled the paper backing off, I didn't notice that the sticky tape was sticking to the paper backing (and not the LED strip).  So the LED strip did not stick well to the molding, but the paper backing was very sticky.  I discovered this halfway through the job, and separated the tape from the paper backing.  The second half of the job was good, but I'm having to go back with super-glue to stick the LED strip in place where it's pulling away.  Little things, so aggravating!

So now — putting some plants in the ground, some retaining wall work, some exterior scraping and painting.  And beginning work on the garage extension.  Clean out the garage, sell/give-away the old wide garage door, raise the old garage door header (which supports the garage roof trusses), and then order a big truck-load of wood.

I've started detailed design drawings (to scale), to determine the exact sequence of work, and to prepare a list of every single piece of wood I need to buy.  And just picked up the new garage windows today.  Will keep me busy for awhile.




Sunday, March 3, 2019

Guest Bathroom — Part 6 + The Drawer Factory

So I've been working on two fronts since last post — the guest bathroom vanity top, and the nine more dovetail drawers I mentioned.  The drawers are done, but the vanity continues to be a work in progress.

As I mentioned last time, I was initially looking for an acrylic (like Corian) vanity top with an integral sink.  The sink had to be small.  After discarding the idea of getting another custom Corian countertop for my 18" deep vanity, I looked at other Home Depot stock countertops.  They were all for standard 22" vanities.  I looked for a drop-in sink, that I could use with a plain (plastic laminate, or wood top — not wanting to spend the big bucks for marble, granite, or quartz, since this was for a bathroom that would seldom be used).  No drop-in sinks.  I went on Amazon and searched "small bathroom sinks" and found just one — a nice little ceramic undermount sink (for not too many bucks!).  Bought it.

You may recall that I had trouble procuring a kitchen countertop, and finally ended up laminating one from strips of maple, cherry, and walnut — and using a stainless steel undermount sink.  Applied four coats of epoxy resin to that, successfully, and have been very happy with that.

The guest bathroom vanity top would be a much smaller project — 31" wide by 18" deep, versus the 12.5 foot long by 30" deep kitchen monster.  And instead of using strips for the bathroom counter, I used three 6" wide boards glued edge-to-edge.

The sink came with a paper template, so I positioned that on a cardboard template to see where I could eliminate some wood in the middle, then glued the boards together using biscuits to maintain alignment during assembly.


While that dried, I used the cardboard template to mark out the position of the sink, before cutting a hole in the vanity top and then routing a recess to support the sink.  Normal people use vanity cabinets that have no top, and hang the undermount sink with clips from the bottom of the countertop.  Not me.


The sink instructions warned that the template might not be a perfect fit (given the sometimes unpredictable shrinkage of clay during the firing process), so before cutting a hole in the solid cherry vanity top, I used a simple cardboard gauge to mark my cardboard template with a uniform overlap around the periphery of the sink.


With the corrected sink outline marked on the template, and cut, I transferred that outline to the cherry top and then cut the hole close to (and inside) the line.


Then I used my oscillating spindle sander to smooth out the opening.  Because the cardboard template was not real smooth, I sanded to get a smooth curve rather than trying to follow every little irregularity on the line I marked.  In the photo, you can see a couple of the biscuit slots I cut for attaching the front edging.


Then I used a router to round over the edge, with a smaller roundover on the bottom where a bead of silicone caulk will eventually be applied between the top and sink.


Now it was time to attach a bullnose edge to the front of the countertop, and make a backsplash.  As I had run out of cherry at this point (for matching trim), I decided to use a different wood from my inventory for contrasting trim.  In this case, I used rosewood.  With that done, I test fit the countertop.


I now have to apply the four coats of epoxy to the countertop and backsplash, sanding it all smooth for a satin finish.  The cherry on the cabinet front and trim on the shelves has been given a couple of coats of polyurethane, so it looks darker.  Presumably the new bare countertop will darken to match that other cherry once it has its epoxy finish.  We'll see.

I also need to do some work on the cabinet itself to accommodate the drain and supply lines.  Then, make a frame for and install a mirror, along with the LED strip lighting around the sides and top of the mirror.  That work will be the subject of the next post — Part 7.

All of this custom work has pushed the timeline for the guest bathroom down the road a bit, so it's a good thing I didn't order the big bathtub.  After I finish up the vanity/mirror work, it will be time to start detailed design work on the garage extension.  Bathtub, say hello to the fall.

The Drawer Factory

Nine new drawers this time, all with dovetail joints.  Six of these use half-blind dovetail joints, new for me (mostly).

The other three use the more common through-joints, which look like this:


This joint belongs to a new spice drawer for the kitchen, made from maple.  I use through-joints when I plan to use drawer slides.  My cabinets use inset drawers, so the fronts have to fit precisely in the drawer opening, and the drawer fronts have to extend beyond the sides of the drawers to cover the ends of the drawer slides.  The procedure I use is to install the drawer carcass, and then build the front to fit perfectly inside the drawer opening (with small uniform gaps around the periphery), and then position the front exactly before screwing it to the carcass.  As always, pictures help.

Here's a photo of the drawer carcass installed with the slides:


This is a spice drawer, so I have installed partitions to limit the contents sliding about.  Here is another photo with the front attached to the open drawer.


And the drawer closed.  I need to make another two identical drawers below this one (along with about 30-40 others for the kitchen - sigh).


The other two through-joint drawers in this batch include another one for the pottery studio — drawer closed (the shallow top one) and open:



The last of the three through-joint dovetail drawers in this batch is a wide one for the credenza (the other, deeper drawers for the credenza were made from cabinet-grade plywood).


The other six drawers use half-blind dovetail joints.  They just slide in and out of the drawer opening without mechanical drawer slides, and so do not need separate drawer fronts applied after they have been installed.  They do need to fill up the drawer opening (height-wise) so as not to tip when opened.  This type of construction works well when the drawers don't have to carry much weight, and for drawers that don't get much use (although in times past that's how most drawers were built).

Half-blind dovetail joints are easy to make — once the dovetail jig has been set up — because you can cut both pins and tails (fronts and sides) in one pass.  Through-joints need two passes for each joint (cutting only one piece of wood at a time).  This is what the router cut looks like (in this case the dark wood is the front and the light poplar is the drawer side):


The three master bathroom drawers I was making are fairly tall, and they just slide into the drawer opening (with no wood or metal slides used).  The drawer sides had to be as tall as the opening.  My half-inch thick cherry boards were not wide enough, so I needed to glue two pieces together to get the required width.  Again, I didn't have enough cherry (and the wood store is a three-hour round trip), so I used poplar to gain the needed width.  A simple butt joint.


Part of making a nice looking dovetail joint involves sanding the dovetails smooth.  They don't just come out nice and pretty after gluing (at least mine don't).  Before and after:



I made three small half-blind dovetail drawers for the master bathroom vanity, and another three drawers for the new TV console.  These are the three for the master bathroom, open and closed:



That leaves the large (lower left) towel drawer to build (plywood), and the large door for the opening under the sink (that one will be complicated — wait for it).

The last three drawers in this batch were for the TV console (the center shallow drawer open; there is another shallow drawer to its right).


I really need to make more drawers for the kitchen as a priority, but there are also other priorities (the garage, the outside of the house, and on and on).  The only certain thing is that I will be building drawers for years.  😧

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Guest Bathroom — Part 5

Part 5?  When was there a Part 4?  Long time ago: June 2016.  Since then, I've been using the gutted guest bathroom for storage, and have had to find other places to put all that stuff in order to continue bathroom work.   The link for Part 4 — is here.

This is the photo showing the state of the guest bathroom at the end of Part 4:


The open shelf unit in the photo is just sitting there, not fastened to the wall.  I removed it to paint it, then returned it and screwed it to the wall and base.  The wires dangling down at the left of the shelf unit are for light switches and electrical receptacles.  Obviously they needed to be enclosed, so I added a piece of half-inch plywood flush with the right side of the vanity cabinet.

Also in the photo below, I've added cherry edging to the front edges of the vanity, covering the plywood.


There are two receptacles: 1) one on the right side of the vanity for plugging in all those small appliances people use at the sink, and 2) another one inside the lower vanity, behind the future doors, which will be used for a plug-in power supply (wall wart) for low-voltage electricity for the LED light strip that will run around the future mirror.  Power to that receptacle is controlled by a switch just above the vanity receptacle (which of course will then simply turn on the mirror lighting).  There is one more light switch on the front of that electrical channel for the overhead light; that switch is a motion-sensing and dimming switch, so when you walk into the bathroom, the light comes on, and when you leave the light goes off.  If you're in the bathroom and stay very still, the light shuts off, leaving you in the dark.

Moving right along.  In the photo below, I've added cherry to the edges of the open shelving, as well as as a wide piece on the front of the electrical channel.  Before putting the cherry on that, I reinforced the channel by screwing in blocks of wood between the plywood on either side of the electrical channel.


Here's a closer look at the electrical switches and vanity receptacle.  The pink nylon string running into the hole is so I can pull the wall wart wire up from the inside of the vanity. 


Next, I need to find a white acrylic vanity top with an integral sink.  I can get a Corian brand one online for something in excess of $600 that may only rarely see use.  Hmm, no thanks.  Home Depot used to sell generic vanity tops to spec; not apparent that they still do, but that's something I need to check.  Then hook up the plumbing.  Then buy and mount a mirror and install the LED strip lighting.  Then of course there are the four tiny drawers and the two doors for the front of the vanity, but considering I still haven't built the door for the front of the master bathroom vanity . . .

I can order the bathtub and drain any time, but by now I've figured out I shouldn't do that until I'm ready to install it.  That could be Part 7.  😮

I've started building a set of nine more drawers — all solid wood dovetail drawers, including six of the half-blind variety.  Might these be the subject of my next post?  Hard to say.

There are other things I need to do on the house and yard.  I mean, not things worthy of a post.  Painting stucco.  Scraping and painting trim.  Extending my retaining wall (after five years of procrastination 🙂 ).  Yard work, including transplanting palm and banana trees.  I often feel reluctant to do this sort of work because it causes big gaps in blog posting.  But so be it.  I may throw in a photo.  I may do a blog on making a key lime cheesecake.  Who knows?  Not me. 

And I need to adopt another dog.