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!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Test Drawers


Drawers for my waterbed base.  I needed five on each side.  I installed the drawer slides during the assembly process for the bed because it would be very difficult to do it after the fact.  So the slides were ready.

Not a very exciting post, this, so unless you're actually thinking about building some drawers and are not too clear about the process, I suggest clicking through the photos and moving on to something more interesting.  (Next post — kitchen countertop — much better.)

I call this a "bonus" project because the work was done ad hoc in bits a pieces while working on other more "substantial" projects.  And not in an organized fashion.  For example, I cut out pieces from plywood remnants that were lying around that happened to be a size that matched what I was making.  So if the drawer fronts were 7" wide and there was a piece of 3/4" plywood sitting there that was 7.5 inches wide, I would rip it to the proper width, and then cut as many drawer fronts as I could make from that one piece.

For the sides, I ended up with enough for all ten drawers.  For another part, enough for three, and others, enough for four, or five.  Rather haphazard.

And the whole assembly process was an experiment, a development process — a test.

And so it came to pass that I ended up with three drawers.  Three imperfect drawers, but nobody will know except me.

So I started with the sides.  22" deep sides (front to back).  Twenty identical pieces, and they sat in a pile for awhile:

After awhile I measured the width of the openings for all ten drawers (five on each side of the bed).  They were not all precisely the same, which is important, because for the drawer slides to work properly (or at all), the drawer width had to be exact.  The width of the drawer had to match the distance between the right and left slides.  A little play allowed.  No wider at all, but perhaps as much as a sixteenth less, so little slop.  Better to be exact.  Drawers slides are a half-inch thick, so the drawer width should be exactly one inch less that the opening.

I measured the openings, and they were very close to nominal (and each other), but slightly different.  So the fronts and backs for the drawer carcass had to be individually measured and cut.  (If you're mass producing drawers, the furniture and drawers are likely machine cut (CNC), and can be made all the same.)

I'm making the drawers for the bed base from 1/2" cabinet-grade plywood, because it's straight and doesn't tend to warp or cup.  It's also affordable compared to solid half-inch thick maple or similar wood, especially for wider widths.  These drawers are 7" high.

I'm also not using dovetail joints for these drawers.  Cutting dovetail joints (with a router) in plywood would not likely be as clean as with solid wood, and for these drawers (holding clothes), the glued tongue and groove/dado joints I use for cabinet building will be plenty strong.  I cover the edges of the plywood with maple trim where they could be seen.  Not on the bottom, though — which shows how the drawers are assembled:

I initially intended to make the bottoms out of quarter-inch plywood, but saw a masonite-type material at Home Depot that was covered on one side by a white acrylic membrane.  It makes for a nice drawer interior finish, and it's strong enough for clothing.  I cut a quarter-inch slot in the sides, front, and back of the drawer to hold the bottom and glued it in place when I assembled the drawer.  You can see the end of the groove in the photo above.

You can also see the part of the drawer slide that is screwed to the drawer.  Three screws.  The slide is positioned using a jig — just a piece of wood ripped to a width that positions the bottom of the drawer just above the bottom of the drawer opening.  Clamp it to the drawer and hold the metal slide against it while screwing it in.  I actually used a awl to mark the holes, then drilled, then screwed.

The drawer box is glued with clamps, making sure it's square.  The bottom helps it keep it square, assuming minimal slop, but it pays to check anyway.  Then I glued maple trim to cover the unsightly plywood edges (also to stiffen the sides).

I like inset drawers (as opposed to drawer where the front overlaps the cabinet edges).  Inset drawer fronts have to be precise, with an even gap around their edges.  This is easier to do if a separate "front" is made and fastened to the drawer after it is installed.  Wait for it.

For the purposes of my bed drawers, I'm making pretty ordinary fronts.  Basically, a piece of painted plywood, with maple edges — to wit:

These are put together with biscuits to keep the edges even with the 3/4" plywood, then glued together.

I like wire pulls, and use mostly the 3" wide variety.

A jig is really required to drill the holes in the front of the drawer to fasten the pulls.  The simple jig ensures that the two holes are exactly 3" apart, and will place the pull in the center of the drawer (right-left), and in this case, the same distance down from the top edge of the front.  If you're doing a lot of drawers, you NEED a jig.

I used 3/4' plywood for the jig, thick enough to ensure the drill bit will be guided perpendicular to the drawer front (I drilled the guide holes in the jig using a drill press).  The centerline of the jig is marked and matched to the center of the drawer (marked in pencil).  You can also just glue on an end-stop instead of measuring the center, but I wanted to use this jig on drawers of different widths.  Clamp the jig to the drawer front.

And drill the two holes in the drawer front using the guide holes in the jig.

Remembering that my drawer openings were not precisely the same width, and that the pieces of plywood for the fronts were measured and cut individually for each drawer opening, it's now time to fasten each drawer front to its matching drawer.  First, position the drawer front in the opening, holding it against the drawer (already installed on its slides).  Then for these inset drawers, shim the front so there is an equal gap all around the edges.  I used pieces of cereal box cardboard for shims.

The photo above also shows one of the drawer carcasses (on the right) installed on its slides.  You can see the maple edging—thin on the top of the front and the back, and a thicker wrap-over piece for the top of the sides — looks nice and makes the half-inch sides a lot stiffer.

I had initially intended to use hot glue to temporarily fasten the front to its drawer until screws could be put in, but tried a quicker method that worked for me.  Once shimmed, I held the front against the drawer and then drilled into the drawer through the holes in the drawer front (holes sized for the screws for the pulls).  I then removed the front and opened the drawer, and inserted the screws for the pull through the holes on the inside of the drawer, and screwed them into the pull, held on the outside of the drawer front.  Then I rechecked to make sure the gaps were good.  Then I drilled and fastened four screws from the inside of the drawer into the drawer front.  From the inside:

One drawer partly open (these have 22" full-extension drawer slides):

And the three test drawers.  Done. 

Now just another seven side drawers to go, and a long one for the foot of the bed.  And drawers for the kitchen, laundry room, pottery studio, workshop, two bathrooms, . . .  Another 150 drawers, more or less.  Some of them basic, and many of them fancy with dovetail joints, solid sides, and very nice fronts (spalted maple, mahogany, birdseye maple, cherry).

Planning to build drawers this winter.  Lots.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Tile on Front Porch

The concrete slab for the new front porch was functional, but looked unfinished.  I always intended to cover it with surplus quartzite stone tile donated by my brother, however, and that's what I've been doing.  I took stock of that tile when ready to start the job — I had large foot-square tile and small rectangular tile.  My initial thought was to do a border of large tile, then an accent strip using the small mosaic tile (three or four tiles wide), and then have a center field with large tile put down in a diamond pattern. 

That plan changed when I discovered I did not have enough of the large squares (but had lots of the mosaic tile).  So I experimented, putting down tile in different patterns dry.

I would try to put down as much of the tile as possible without cutting, but needed to cut the large squares to cover the front and sides of the slab.  I used my wet, sliding-table tile saw to do that (and later, to cut the small tile when I reached the front of the house).  The basic process was to mortar the border and let that dry, and then fill in the field with the small mosaic tile, which came in foot square sheets (bonded to a flexible mesh backing).  There was some slight variation in the sheets, and spacing of individual tiles; the trick was to try to even them out as much as possible.

I used a notched trowel to spread the thinset mortar.  For the large tile, I also skim-coated the back of the tile, since none of them were really flat (this being a "natural" stone product.

The edge of the porch tile was sharp, so I beveled the hard corner with a diamond grinder.  Perhaps not pretty, but nobody is going to inspect too closely. 

Here is a photo of the tile all down.  Because of the "drift" of the sheets across the width of the porch, and my inability to adjust the spacing of the tile within individual sheets, the gaps ended up being too big as I closed in on the other side.  So I then pulled the individual small mosaic tiles off the backing, and placed them one at a time, which gave me more control of the spacing.  Probably should have done that sooner, but then again, normal people aren't going to get down and inspect the tile spacing (unless obsessive/compulsive).

When the mortar was sufficiently cured, it was time to grout.  The question was then — what color?  I thought a medium gray — something that matched the average color of the tile.  I had half a bag of "new taupe," and the little color label looked like a medium gray, maybe with a little earth tone.  At that stage, I thought I would seal the stone tile, which will bring out its deep earthy colors, so I thought the "new taupe" would do. 

The basic procedure for grouting is to mix the grout with water, wait ten minutes, mix the stiffened mixture some more (which makes it more compliant and smooth), then spread it and force it into the gaps with a grout float held at a 45˚ angle, more or less:

When that is done, scrape off the excess with the float held closer to 90˚ to the surface.  With regular smooth ceramic tile, that removes almost all the excess grout, but because the surface of this natural stone was rough, there was more grout left on the surface that needed cleaning off.

Cleaning the grout off the surface is done with buckets of water and special small-pore grout sponges.  Submerge the sponge in the water, squeeze almost all the water out (you don't want water running into the grout that's in the gaps), and wipe over the surface.  Clean the sponge in the bucket and repeat, again and again, until the surface is pretty clean.  Then do the same thing with a bucket of clean water until there's no grout on the surface of the tile.

The grout tends to lighten as it dries out, over a period of days.  Had I to do it over, I would have used a lighter, gray grout, but it looks fine, and the look will be different after sealing.  In the meantime, this is it:

The empty square in the middle is for a decorative tile that I will make after my pottery studio becomes operational (a future post).

Concurrently with this work, I have been laboring diligently on the new kitchen countertop, but that's going to take another couple of weeks to complete (although good progress so far, just lots of steps).  The next post, however, will be about my little bonus project — three test drawers for my platform bed (out of eleven).