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, August 6, 2017

Update . . .

Work on the new concrete foundation for the garage extension has been slow, so I'm doing an update, rather than wait for what could be months (or years) until the project is done.  First, it took some time to get a company here to remove the part of the old concrete driveway directly in front of the garage.  Second, the ground underneath was something like asphalt in hardness, so digging has been slow (and in discovering a way to blast through it, I did a bad thing to my usually robust lower back — which halted digging for almost a week).  And third, it's been hot here, and unusually humid, so I've limited my daily excavating work.

Here's how the concrete removal went.  First, sawing up the concrete with a big diamond saw:


And then, breaking up the concrete with a monster jack hammer mounted on a Bobcat:


Which produced a lot of rubble that was loaded into a big dump truck:


And by lunchtime, it was all gone!


I then mounted a big tarp over the work area to provide some shade for my digs:


Meanwhile, I designed the foundation, the stud wall that will go on top (details of which were needed to locate the anchor bolts in the foundation wall), then I designed the forms to be used to pour the concrete.  The footings, foundation wall, and form design dictated the depth and size of the trench required.  I bought a laser level to make sure the depth was accurate all around the future wall, and then after laying out the dimensions on the ground with string, proceeded to dig (or tried to dig).

I started with a mattock (a type of pick with a flat blade), but that mostly just bounced off the rock-like soil.  Then attacked it with my 20-pound electric demolition hammer, using a three-inch wide bit.  That cut through the petrified dirt.  Here is a photo of my digs:


And a better photo of the trench.  The deeper narrower trench (16" wide, and 8+" deep) is for the footings.  This lower trench will contain the concrete without the need for separate wooden forms, possible because of the hard ground.


The wooden forms will sit on top of the deeper trench, supported by the wide shelf of the upper trench.  The foundation wall will be 24" high and 8" thick.  The concrete for both footings and foundation wall will be poured on the same day, with a break to pour the new front porch slab.  That will give the footings time to start firming up before filling the foundation wall forms to the top.

So now more digging to do, and forms to build.

Because the heat makes digging difficult, I have started on the less taxing kitchen countertop fabrication project, working on both projects every day.  That works well because I can't put my car in the garage until the concrete work is done, and the countertop project fills the garage.  The countertop is, again, going to be an epoxy lamination of maple strips.  The countertop is 12.5 feet long, and 30" deep.  I've just finished building the form on which the gluing will be done (lots of clamps will be required).  It's 13 feet long, and needed to be precisely level and flat, so the countertop will emerge from gluing perfectly flat and straight, and therefore fit without issues on the kitchen cabinet.  The jig/form looks like this:


So next post will likely feature these two projects.

Sasha, most recently rescued stray:


Saturday, July 1, 2017

Waterbed Base — Part 3

First, a bit of history — waterbed history.

It was a big revelation when I learned that waterbeds were invented in the 19th century by a Scottish doctor to treat bedsore patients.  Bedsores (also called compression sores) are no joke.  They can quickly develop into open wounds that go down to the bone.  They can lead to very serious consequences if not treated properly, and even when treated diligently, they take a very long time to heal (often because the patients are elderly and infirm, with weak immune systems). 

Waterbeds were useful in treating bedsores because they distribute support for the body evenly.  I took care of my parents during the last few years of their lives.  My father had Parkinson's disease, was confined to a wheelchair, and when he was in bed, was unable to shift positions.  He developed a bedsore at a point where his spine impinged on a too-hard bed.  Although we caught it quickly, and treated it by keeping him rolled to the side when he slept, and applying special gel bandages, it took a year to heal.

I wanted to get him a waterbed to resolve any future pressure sore issues, but he was of a generation that associated waterbeds with hippies, so he steadfastly refused.  Got him a cushy pillowtop mattress instead.

Anyway, the modern waterbed was developed and commercialized by three San Francisco State University students over a period of several years, circa 1970.  By 1987, 22% of all beds sold were waterbeds.  Today, with advances in more conventional mattresses (memory foam, "sleep number," etc.), waterbeds make up less than 5% of beds.

Early waterbeds had simple mattress-shaped vinyl bladders contained by a wood frame.  When you moved, you made waves.  I had one of those starting in the mid-1970s, and used it for about five years.  That type of waterbed came to be called "hardside."

Hardside waterbeds are now available with varying amounts of fiberfill batting inside the mattress, which dampens the movement of water, reducing the waves.  You can buy one with as much or as little damping as you like.  That is the kind I now have; it has a medium amount of damping — just enough movement of the water to know you're on a waterbed, but no waves.

Hardside waterbeds do not come in "standard" bed sizes.  The widths are the same, but the lengths are all 84".  Twins, Queens, and Kings are all 84" long, and all prefixed by "California."  So if you're tall and have a twin-size waterbed, your feet don't hang over the end, like they would with a regular twin bed.  My Queen-sized waterbed size is called "California Queen" — it's 60" wide by 84" long.

There are now more modern waterbeds called "softside."  Instead of hard wood sides, their water bladders are surrounded by firm foam (although certainly a lot softer than wood).  The water bladder and foam edges are held together in a big fabric envelope or case.  These softside waterbeds come in standard sizes, sit on platforms, and use standard fitted sheets.  They're also damped, so no waves.  More like a regular bed, except with more even support.

The more even support is not only great for preventing bedsores, but it also eliminates cutoff circulation (pressure on a blood vessel), so no tingling or numbness.

And the water in waterbeds is heated.  That improves circulation, and any healing that may be needed.  And best of all, on those cold winter nights, no sticking your legs down between cold sheets!

But back to the construction of my waterbed base.

In Part 2, the lower (drawer) part of the base was complete, and the outer sides of upper section were attached.  The next step was to screw sleepers (or stringers) to the top of the drawers sections to allow for the installation of 1" of rigid foam insulation (to keep the heat in).


Next, another layer of 3/4" plywood was added.  This would support the waterbed mattress.


Corner braces were added to connect the outer sides to each other, and lower spacers installed to add strength and separate the outer sides from the inner sides.


Then the upper spacers were glued to the outer sides.


There are outer and inner sides because a single piece of plywood would not be strong enough to stay rigid, and getting in and out of a waterbed requires sitting on the edge  — and the edge of a piece of plywood would be nasty!  Also, the space between the inner and outer sides is perfect for more foam insulation.


And then the inner sides go on, screwed and glued at the bottom and just glued at the top.


And while I could have left this detail out, I added a wood fillet for a more accommodating edge for the waterbed mattress (doesn't have to squeeze into a sharp corner).


At this stage, I coating all the interior surfaces with epoxy to make it waterproof, even though there is a waterproof liner that goes outside the mattress.  And then the 3.5" wide maple tops are attached to the top of the sides.  This trim is what I will be sitting on, getting in and out of bed.


Before the liner and the mattress go in, the 300-watt heating pad is positioned, as is the temperature sensor (thermocouple), which both connect to the heater control (thermostat).


Then the liner and mattress go in and a garden hose used to fill the mattress with about 1500 pounds of water (using a special adapter).


And of course, I still have to build the drawers, and attach some maple trim to the far side.  I still need a suitable mattress pad and California Queen size sheets before it goes operational, but for now I need to move on to other things.

Other things being — concrete work for the six-foot garage extension and for the new covered front porch.  One of my neighbors does beautiful concrete work, and he will be between jobs in a few weeks so I need to do all the prep work for that:  hiring someone to cut and remove part of driveway, then digging for footings, and building foundation wall forms, etc.

The kitchen countertop and pottery studio cabinets will have to wait.  Sigh.


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 . . .