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!

Friday, August 10, 2018

Porch Roof — Part 1

So the idea was that this post was to cover the construction of the whole porch roof, but it was not to be.  I went to Home Depot to order truck delivery of the construction lumber and plywood I would need, but they had discontinued the bargain $20 delivery charge using their small truck (they will still rent you the truck, but that was less attractive because of the logistics and dogs).

So anyway I decided to buy the needed lumber and bring it home in my car in a couple of trips spaced out (I can fit ten-foot long 2x6s or whatever in my Honda CR-V).  I will have to pay $80 for the big delivery truck (with the forklift hanging off the back) when I buy the shingles; I can just add the plywood at the same time.

I need 80 bundles of shingles, but they didn't have that many in stock, so I need to wait (don't want to pay for two deliveries).  So the completion of the porch roof will keep until Part 2.  So be it.  The weather has been abnormally hot in any case, so I really don't mind not having to spend more time on the roof for another week.


The design of the porch roof called for 4x6" columns at the front corners, and I had placed anchor bolts for those when I poured the concrete.  Initially I thought I would tie the supports for the house-side of the roof into the house structure, but there was no good (strong) way to do that except to use another two separate columns for the back two corners.  These columns were fastened to the house with big lag screws.  Since I have documented all my remodeling work with photographs, I went back and found the photos of the exposed (drywall off) inside parts of the house that I would be drilling for screws to ensure I would be screwing into multiple studs.

Then did a test fit and drilled holes.

The existing fascia boards had to be cut away, as well as some other structure at the top of the wall.  I wanted the top of the beams (including added top plates) supporting the porch roof to be at the same level as the top of the house's stud walls.

The porch roof would be supported by a basic structure of four posts, and 2x8" beams between the posts (sides and front).  The strongest way to transfer the load into the columns was to use lap joints.  I cut away a half-inch from both the columns and beams, giving an inch overlap.

To make the columns more attractive, I used a heavy-duty router and a round-nose bit to machine fluting into the column sides, and also routed a bevel along their edges.  You really have to do this before you put that structure up.

Here's what the basic support structure looked like, assembled with three-inch screws.  I also gave them a first coat of solid stain while they were sitting on saw horses. 

The 2x8 beams are strong enough, but I wanted a timber-framed look, so I added spacers to the inside of the beams, and then 2x6s on top of the spacers (2x4s on the front).  This also made the structure even stronger, and much stiffer.

I had decided on a closed-in porch roof, with a front and a ceiling.  The front will be covered with stucco to match the rest of the house walls, and therefore needed plywood.  Installing the plywood now had a couple of advantages.  First, I could layout the proper angles (22˚) on the plywood, which would then provide a guide for the next steps, and second, the plywood could be used to support the ridge beam.

I used precise scale drawings to get the geometry right, and transferred those measurements to the full size construction.  This also told me a ten foot 2x6 would work for the ridge beam.  I set it in place and adjusted it in and out until it was level.  I also installed the joists that would support the ceiling at this time; it would be difficult to fasten the joist hangers if I waited until after the 2x4 top plates were fastened to the beams. 

Now the rafters could go on.  I had used the plywood front wall as a guide to cut out the first rafter (with its angled cut at the top and notch).  That rafter (after a test fit) would be used as a template to cut out the rest of the rafters.

Next were the rafters on the back part of the porch roof.  While the front rafters were cut from 2x6s, the shorter back rafters were cut from 2x4s (all on 16" centers).  The main house roof was framed with trusses spaced on 24" centers — no snow loads here in Southern California, although I still would have use 16" centers.  All the angles for the pieces on the back part of the porch framing were determined by getting up on the roof and using straight edges and magic.

Framing done:

Next step was to apply the 1x8" fascia boards.  These extended above the edge of the framing by the thickness of the plywood I would use, about o.6".  This way the fascia ends up being flush with the top of the plywood, and therefore protects the exposed edge.  It also makes it easy to sit the plywood in place — the fascia boards form a tray for the plywood to sit against.

Oh, did I say I don't have the plywood yet?  Well, I happened to walk by the forms I used for the garage extension concrete foundation, and saw that the plywood was still in good condition, and the correct thickness.  Not enough of it to do the whole roof, but a decent part of it.  Will still need to buy a couple of new sheets.

The fascia board is 1x8" and went on over the 2x6" structure.  With a 0.6" overlap on top, that left an almost 1.5" overlap on the bottom.  A soffit will be installed to cover the underside of the eves, using T1-11 plywood (19/32"), which has a rough surface and grooves to simulate tongue-and-groove boards.  I will also use the T1-11 for the ceiling.  But back to the fascia overlap, the soffit will therefore be recessed almost an inch below the lower edge of the fascia — as it should be.  Part 2 will reveal photos, no doubt.  But here is the lower overlap.

So this shows my recycled plywood on, the first part anyway.

And this gives an idea of what the grand entrance will look like when finished (need to use your imagination).  Better than just a door in the side of a long wall. :-)

Until next time . . .  and then afterwards, shingle time.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

First Test of Pottery Studio!

I had thought this post would be on the new porch roof, but the weather has been hot, so I spent more time inside working on the first test batch of pots (actually they are all bowls of various descriptions).  As I write this, the kiln is almost cool enough to open to reveal the final product.  It’s always a surprise since I layer glazes, and it’s impossible to predict how they will combine.  The glazes were brushed on, so the thickness is variable, and that has a lot to do how the glazes mature.  And it's a new kiln, so I can't predict how the heat will compare to the results from the commercial firing services I've used in the past.

First of all, this post will describe the steps in making a pot, but will not attempt to offer instruction on how to do it.  There are much more accomplished potters who have lots of youtube videos online.  The best I’ve found are by Tim See in upstate New York.

Tim See's YouTube Channel

He has recently updated a beginner instruction video which is excellent!  18 minutes long and well worth it.  The instructor in my first pottery course taught centering by demonstrating it, without any explanation.  She put her hands over the lump of clay, seemed to hold it there for half a minute, then pulled her hands off the now-centered clay and that was it.  I spent the whole course not being able to center clay.  This is MUCH better:

Beginner Throwing Lesson

So, to begin.  Clay comes in 25-pound bags of clay (two bags to a box):

Start by forming a ball an putting it on the wheel-head, usually on a disc called a “bat.”

It’s been seven years since I last did any serious “throwing” of pots (that is, forming a pot on a pottery wheel), so it took some time to regain my muscle-memory and technique.  So there were a few flops:

I was also reminded that if the wheel spins too fast and you're using a soft clay, the sides will be thrown out into a flying saucer shape 😦  That will go into the recycle bin.  Even though it has dried, as long as it hasn't been fired, it will revert to soft clay if water is added. 

I made ten bowls, using two different types of clay: a very stiff stoneware clay called Moroccan Sand, and a soft porcelain/stoneware mix.   I will feature one of the bowls, step by step.  This is the one — a cereal or soup bowl — with the “throwing” complete.

When that is done, the piece is generally covered loosely with a plastic bag (so it dries more evenly) and left to dry until it is “leather hard.”  At this stage it is ready to be trimmed.

As you can see, the bottom is quite rough (unfinished) and too thick.  The lower part of the pot has to be left a little thick so that it supports the weight of the wet clay without collapsing.  But once it is partially dry, it can be thinned with clay cutting tools as the wheel spins (like a lathe).

This is the bottom of the feature piece trimmed, with a foot/base shaped.  Looks better, huh. 

After trimming, the pots are left to completely dry before they get the first ("bisque") firing.  If they're put in the kiln while still somewhat wet, they will explode as the steam seeks to escape.  Not good.  The bisque firing chemically converts the clay to a ceramic; the clay shrinks and becomes much harder and stronger.

Loaded into the kiln for bisque firing:

The bisque firing took almost 36 hours, from start to maximum temperature, and then the slow cooling.  The temperature ramp (heating and then cooling back to ambient) is slower than the final firing.  I started the firing late afternoon, so by the time the kiln started to throw off a lot of heat, it was night and cooler outside.  I ran the ceiling exhaust fan all night, left a window in the studio open, and closed the door to the rest of the house.

When the pots are out of the kiln, they are ready for the application of glaze (various chemicals in a water solution, that when heated hot enough become glass).  In a commercial studio or school, glaze is in five-gallon buckets and the pots can be dipped.  It's quick and evenly coats the pot with glaze.  In a small private studio, that would not be feasible, so I use pint containers of glaze and apply several coats with a brush.  My glaze wall:

Here's the featured bowl with glaze applied (seen on a heavy metal banding wheel, that you can spin to facilitate applying glaze or underglaze stripes, etc.).  Glazes are not the same color as they will be after firing, which adds to the art.  The glaze companies have photos of what the glaze will look like after firing, but it rarely matches the results of mere mortals, and often looks very different.  Experience required.  Sigh.

I glazed ten bowls (but only was able to fit nine of those in the kiln, due to a shelf issue).  Before this, I numbered all my pots (wrote number on bottom while clay was soft), and recorded all the data for the pot in a notebook (date, weight and type of clay, glazes used and how applied, etc.).  For this test batch, I didn't do that, and wasn't terribly careful about what glazes I used (they had all dried up, and I had to add water and re-hydrate them, so aiming for a final effect was secondary, if even that).

So this is what they looked like with random glazes applied (only nine fit in the kiln):

When the kiln was opened, this is what I saw:

And then out on the counter (including the red one that did not get fired; it would have looked something like the one just to the lower left of it):

So the result?  I was not really happy with any of them.  There is a usable soap dish, and two needed and usable cat dishes, and a usable dog water bowl  (right front), but the soup/cereal bowls were a disappointment.  They shrank more than I remembered pots shrinking.  The glaze on some did not fully develop (should have run the kiln hotter or longer).  The clear glaze tended to craze; I could hear the tinkling after pulling them out of the kiln, perhaps too soon, as the glaze shrank faster than the thicker clay body.

I won't be getting any more of the Moroccan Sand clay, and will likely mix the rest of it with the porcelain blend — see how that works.

And throw the pots BIGGER, so when they shrink, they will end up the desired size.

Sigh.  What makes it so compelling.

For next time, the porch roof.  Work is proceeding (but more hot weather ahead).  So we'll see.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Drawer Factory

I’ve been holding off on the front porch roof, so just drawers this time — ten of them (one from last time that could not be installed due to lack of slides, and nine new ones).  I’ll also update my electric car quest. 

I went down to the hardwood store and spent more than $100 on wood for new drawer boxes, and as it turned out, that gave me just enough for nine drawers (and that’s only for the four sides).  Here’s what it looked like cut to size and with dovetails routed.

You can see $100 doesn’t go far, but to be fair, most of that wood is either cherry or maple, with the rest being poplar.  Add drawer bottoms, fronts, drawer pulls, full-extension drawer slides, glue and finish, and you get an average cost of about $40 per drawer, and that doesn’t include the considerable cost of labor, if you were to pay someone else to do that.  Not surprising that most kitchens scrimp on drawers (and quality).

Here’s a photo of this batch of drawers in process.  I’m getting faster, but it still is a very time consuming effort.

So, three new drawers for the master bathroom vanity, which gets perhaps the most elegant drawers (cherry boxes with striped mahogany fronts).  The new ones are the three on the left.  Still a few to go.

The cherry I used was not all from the same source, and some had both heartwood and sapwood, so there is some visual interest (if you like that — I do).

 I make and install the boxes before installing the fronts, because I like inset drawers, and it would be almost impossible to install the fronts first and expect to get a uniform gap around the front.

Here’s the same drawer with the front attached.  The new one is on the bottom of the stack.

I made that particular drawer very deep, taking advantage of the 30” depth of the cabinet.  Most of the other drawers I made shorter.  But it will be good for holding a lot of things.

The other three new kitchen drawers are on the other side of the kitchen; in this photo, the bottom three are new.

The pottery studio got three new drawers (thirteen done, just three remaining).  The new ones marked with the arrows.

Here’s a shot of one open.  Love those full-extension slides.

Electric car status update (part of my extensive garage remodel)

As I noted in my first report, I put a deposit on a Tesla Model 3 (since April 1, 2016); Tesla says that should mature at the end of this year (for the dual-motor variant), but that’s with the long-range battery option, which I don't want.  I should be able to take delivery of a dual-motor Model 3 with the standard, 220-mile battery early-2019.  Not such a long wait, considering my garage extension will not be ready before then.

But I still have a few reservations with the car, as good as it would be to drive.  Among other things is the glass roof (perhaps too hot for San Diego’s fierce sun), and the lack of a rear hatch (it has a conventional trunk opening, difficult to load big things).

More significantly, the Model 3 uses an app on a smartphone to unlock and operate the car, and since I have no use for a smartphone, that obviously would be a problem.  It does also have an RFID keycard, but that has limited functionality. 

A lot of people want a regular fob — not just me.  The good news is that Elon Musk told the folks at Consumer Reports that he is considering providing a key fob to owners, and one forum report quoted a Tesla service rep as saying a fob is “in the works,” albeit with no time frame provided.  I guess they first have to work through their production issues. 

And for the present, the only interior color option is black, which for me is a non-starter.  A white interior is in the offing, and next year they say red will be offered.  Are they channeling Elvis Presley, or have a fondness for 1960-vintage cars?  No tan!?  I want tan (or sand, beige, cream, light gray), and will wait for that.  What if it takes years for that to appear, or never?

I discussed some other alternatives to the Model 3 last time, but now the primary one is the upcoming Volkswagen I.D. AEROe. 

The VW I.D. AEROe is supposed to be a premium sports sedan that could be released in the U.S. between 2020 and 2022, with a smaller sporty hatch five-seat derivative following in 2023.  While the small first-to-be-released I.D. Neo hatch will have just one motor, the I.D. Crozz Tiguan-sized crossover will have two motors, as will the I.D. Buzz passenger van.  I expect the AEROe and smaller derivative will also have two motors for all-wheel-drive, a must-have for me (for four-wheel magnetic braking).  There have been no leaks about what the AEROe will look like, but a concept version may be revealed at the Paris Auto Show early-October this year.  At least one German publication thinks the I.D. Vizzion concept car will be the basis for the AEROe:

Right now, my interest is in the smaller, sporty hatch five-seat AEROe derivative, which unfortunately looks to be five years away, but who knows? 

In the meantime, Volkswagen has built an electric Pikes Peak race car — the I.D. R.  VW says the design was intended to bear a family resemblance to its I.D. line of electric road cars.  That would be nice, but a real stretch, considering:

The Pike’s Peak Hill Climb takes place on June 24, about a week from now.  Here’s a preview of the car on the mountain.  Fast!

UPDATE: The VW I.D. R won the race, by a large margin, and also set a new course record — the first car to ever break eight minutes!  Video report:

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Pottery Wheel Side Table

The pottery wheel side table turned out to be a byproduct of my lack of wood for building the desk credenza and/or more drawers.  By that I mean it jumped to the top of the list, because it could be made from what I had around — bits of maple and cherry and even a little mahogany, plus some small pieces of plywood.  And since it is a functional piece for the pottery studio, I took some whimsical license in its design.  It certainly doesn’t look like a living room piece. 

Some of the cherry came from my stash of old rough milled wood, from a half-dead tree cut down many years ago.  Pieces cupped, twisted, split . . . but when put through jointer, table saw, heavy-duty band saw, and thickness planer — very nice indeed.  Still had the bark on it!

The function of the pottery wheel side table is to hold clay and pottery tools while working the clay on the wheel.  So it needed to be about the height of the wheel and relatively small — about 18” square.  There had to be enough space underneath to mop the floor (need to keep the silica dust under control).  There would be enough space under the top for storage; I elected to make a pull-out tray (a variation on a drawer) for that space. 

The legs are basically 1.5” square, made up of four separate 3/4” square pieces of wood glued together.  The outside and inside of these pieces run from the floor all the way to the top.  The other two pieces are half-length.  It’s a strong design, but a bit complex, almost a puzzle.  All in all, about 50 pieces of wood went into this table, all glued together without screws or other fastenings. 

This is how it went together:

The top was built concurrently.  It was laminated with five pieces of wood (cherry and maple), and then a beveled raised frame was glued on the outside.  (the center maple section was actually a leftover from my kitchen countertop, a piece of laminated side splash I decided not to use)

As with the kitchen countertop, I applied an epoxy surface to the top, then dry sanded, wet sanded, and waxed.  Pottery is a wet hobby, and the top had to be completely waterproof. 

This is the table without any finish (top is just sitting there, not fastened yet).

This is a side view.  The living room credenza (when I get to that) will be made of cherry (trim, drawers, and top), with the plywood panels painted the same blue.

Here it is with the drawer-tray open.

I used a half-blind dovetail joint for this drawer; it doesn’t have a separate front.  First time with this joint for me, and it didn’t proceed without incident.  It might have had something to do with the front being made of 3/4” stock and the sides from ½”.  Not sure what it was, but I will be making more of these half-blind joints in the future, so will have to get it all figured out.

This photo shows where the little table fits in.  The tools placed on the table were staged; I will be doing a post showing a bowl being made — from lump of clay to finished glazed piece.  The important role of the table will then be fully revealed.

The Drawer Factory

I did manage to find enough suitable cherry from my stash of old wood to make the drawer for the pottery table, and another drawer for the bathroom vanity (and its front), but then discovered I had run out of 18” drawers slides (more now ordered).  I’m planning to make a run down to the hardwood store this week to stock up on drawer wood, and the new slides should be here in a week or so, so more new drawers on the way. 

Still need to move on the credenza, and have now started the design for the porch roof.  So as always, something will happen.