Friday, December 21, 2007

Woodworking beats home improvement - my new cherry nightstands

It’s been a while since I’ve shared any of my experiences repairing and maintaining my old Cape Cod home. It’s not that there haven’t been things to do around the homestead. Far from it. I’ve squeezed in a few tasks over the past couple of months, but my primary focus has been on my hobby of choice: woodworking.

Woodworking beats home improvement any day... one of my two new curly cherry nightstands.That’s right, I’ve finally hidden myself away in the dark recesses of our basement to spend time where I love to most: my woodworking shop. The project? Two new cherry nightstands for our master bedroom, made from curly cherry (shown to the right). Naturally, there’s a story behind why we need new nightstands and of coarse, our charming old home plays a large roll in this story.

You see, ever since we’ve moved into our Cape Cod over five years ago, the nightstand for my wife’s side of the bed has not been next to the bed, but rather tucked away in the dormer adjacent her side of the bed. Turns out, the two cherry nightstands that I had built roughly ten years ago for our then new, modern, and spacious ranch home were WAY too big for our current old house. Who would have guessed that nightstands with 24-inch-side tops would someday become too big? In hindsight, you could land a small aircraft on those nightstands (or accumulate a lot of books or magazines, in my case).

What made me finally tackle a new pair of nightstands? Like most anything else in life, all it took was a little inspiration. That inspiration came from an article in Fine Woodworking magazine. The May/June 2007 issue of Fine Woodworking featured a story on applying a wax finish to furniture. On the issue’s cover was all the inspiration I needed. A modestly-sized nightstand with two drawers for storage... perfect! (See the cover image at

Only one problem with the inspirational photo: the story was about applying a finish to the particular nightstand, not how to build it. That meant I had to draw plans based roughly off the photo in the magazine. While that can be a challenge and certainly adds time to the project, the process of drafting plans helps keep you sharp, makes sure you stay keenly aware of attention to detail, and gives you an enormous sense of pride when the project is complete and you can say you built the nightstands from rough sawn lumber with your own plans.

As you can see from the photo at, the author’s nightstand was made from highly figured curly maple. I chose curly cherry and a natural finish because the rest of the furniture in our bedroom is made from cherry.

So, with this project almost behind me (the second nightstand still needs its finish), I need to focus on the homestead again. Ice dams again.

As for the fate of the old cherry nightstands, they made a perfect Christmas gift for my in-laws.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Unclog a dryer vent clogged with laundry lint

Ever had your clothes dryer turn off well before your clothes are dry? Likewise, have you noticed lint built up on the wall behind your dryer? If either of these are occurring, it’s time to take a look at the lint within your dryer exhaust for possible clogs.

This project is a little different for Old Home Blog because it wasn’t performed on my 1939 Cape Cod. My friend Rob recently asked me what I knew about dryers. He had done some reading online about why his dryer would turn off shortly after starting. Essentially, he feared his dryer exhaust was clogged resulting in his dryer turning off prior to overheating. Lucky for him, his modern dryer has a thermostat which will cut its power if it gets too hot. Imagine if his dryer didn’t have an automatic shut off for overheating and he had thrown a load of laundry in the dryer and left the house for the day. I imagine 15 or 20 years ago his house would be a pile of ashes right now.

Prior to going to Rob’s house, he gave me the following prognosis of the dryer vent:
His laundry room is on the first floor of his ranch home.
The dryer exhaust vent goes into the wall, then up to a vent on his roof.
As if the vertical rise of the dryer vent isn’t bad enough, once the vent goes into the wall, it makes an immediate 90-degree turn to the left before going vertical. This turn to the left made it hard for Rob to maneuver any type of cleaning device into the exhaust duct. Rob had tried a dryer vent cleaning kit that he had purchased from the local Ace Hardware, but he couldn’t get the “brush on a wire rod” to work around the goofy 90-degree corner in his wall.

With all of this in mind, I set off for Rob’s house with only my electrician fish tape and a roll of duct tape. Since the design of the dryer exhaust duct made it difficult to get any traditional dryer duct cleaning device into the space, I figured I might be able to work the fish tape up into the space and see if I could loosen the clog.

To get started, I wrapped some duct tape around the end of the fish tape with the sticky side out in an attempt to loosen any big lint balls clogging the dry duct. The photo on the right shows me working the fish tape up into the dryer exhaust vent. Click on that image to see the larger version and you’ll notice that my plan resulted in some minor success. You’ll also notice the lint on the wall behind the dryer. I assume that since the vent was clogged, any small gap in the dryer exhaust hose (between the dryer and the exhaust hole in the wall) was blowing whatever lint could make it out of the hole into the room. I guess the lint on the all could have been Rob’s first sign of a problem, but in all fairness, when was the last time you looked behind your dryer for signs of a problem?

Since working from the dryer port in the laundry room wasn’t resulting in much success, I decided to take the project to the roof. The photo to the right shows me trying to loosen the dryer clog from the roof. In hindsight, I could ask the same question you might be asking yourself right now: why am I the one on Rob’s roof, and not Rob? Good question.

The fish tape really wasn’t doing anything notable, so Rob and I hatched another plan to loosen his dryer vent clog: forced air. Rob has an electric leaf blower, so we decided to see if using forced air through the dryer exhaust hole would move enough of the lint up and out of the vent on the roof. We worked from the exhaust hole in the laundry room. We put the end of the leaf blower into the dryer vent and I held it in place with an old towel. (The towel would keep the lint from flying back into my face!) I gave Rob a nod and he turned on the power.

Wow, it worked! The photo to the right shows the results up on Rob’s roof. You can see that using the leaf blower not only unclogged the vent, it was powerful enough to blow the lint a good six feet from the vent. The forced air was the best way to clean out the clog dryer vent in Rob’s house. Since the dryer exhaust vent took two turns (the 90-degree turn mentioned above, plus another jog once it got up into the attic) plus had to climb well over 12 feet to the vent on the roof, I have a feeling that cleaning the dryer vent of lint is a task that Rob will need to perform on a regular basis.

Checking your dryer vent for clogs is a task you should consider doing a couple of times a year. Remember how you see ad campaigns around Daylight Savings Time reminding you to change the batteries in your smoke detector? That bi-annual event would also be a good time to check your dryer exhaust for clogs. If you think about it, the two go hand in hand: Keeping your dyer vent clean will keep your smoke detector from going off.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Home improvement motivation... summer style

It’s been a long, hectic summer filled with distractions that have kept me away from many home improvement projects. Between weekend events to spend time with friends and family and full-fledged vacations, it’s been hard to tackle some of the outstanding projects in my Cape Code rejuvenation quest. (And by outstanding, I mean unresolved, not spectacular.)

One of the biggest feats of the summer has been tackling the roof leaf into the dinning room ceiling. A few weeks ago I went out onto the sunny porch off the bedroom directly above the dinning room and started exploring. To quickly catch you up, as previously mentioned in my Getting started post, I had already cut a hole in the dinning room ceiling in an attempt to pinpoint where the leak was coming from. (And also to keep the sagging plaster from giving way and dropping onto the dinning room table. You can see a photo of the sagging plaster in the link above.) This hole has been there for over a year as I tried to surmise the situation and calculate the best plan of attack. Essentially I unable calculate a great plan of attack, and with my wife’s patience wearing thin due to the hole in her dinning room ceiling, I set off to the sunny porch with hammer and crowbar in hand.

Let’s start by showing you the doorway where the leak is coming from. With the dinning room ceiling opened up, I could tell the leak was coming straight down and not running from another area. The spot right above the leak is the door. It must be pursued. The photo to the right was taken on June 11. (June 11?! See what I mean by summer getting away from me? It seemed like just a couple of weeks ago.) Note the garden hose in the picture. Prior to destruction I pinpointed one last test spray on the right side of the door and confirmed that it was dripping into the dinning room.

Initially I was only going to remove the screen door and the casing board on the right side of the doorway, but later I noticed that the siding was installed in a less-than-desirable manner. You see, the siding butted up against the door casing. After a little research, I discovered that the end of the side (in this case, up against the doorway) SHOULD be capped off with a vertical J channel. (Here’s a great Web site that shows the various siding installation pieces. Click on the house drawing to view their useful animation that shows which side components are used on a home.) With a J channel, any water that works its way along with siding towards the door will be hit the J channel and head down to the rubber roof.

While seeking out a solid filler to use at the base of the right side of the doorway, I discovered Bondo Home Solutions All-Purpose Putty. That’s right sports fans; the same people who brought you the great two-part body filler to bring your cherished rust bucket car back to life also make a similar two-part filler for applications around your home. In my case, I used it at the base of the door casing on either side of the door. On both sides of the door the wood had rotted away and had previously been patch with something that didn’t withstand the test of time. I’m hoping Bondo’s All-Purpose Putty will stand the test of time. However, I’m not just leaving it exposed to the elements. I added flashing at the base of the door casing that should bring rainwater away from the door threshold and out toward the rubber roof.

When I was finished with the right side of the door and ready to move on to green pastures, I started poking around the left side of the door. Frankly, the wood door casing was in even worse shape than the right side. I ultimately removed it, along with the adjacent board that’s alongside the right side of the window. I also removed the two short pieces of aluminum siding below the window.

In the photo to the right you can see that I installed two new boards and filled some of the larger gaps with the Bondo All-Purpose Putty. In this spot, the Bondo will be primed and painted to reduce exposed to Mother Nature.

Below the window, I replaced the old aluminum siding with HardiPlank cement fiber siding. It’s relatively cheap, comes pre-primed, and should withstand the test of time (something I’m certainly looking for in a product for this home improvement project!). The only downfall of using this product is cutting it. Understand how hard this stuff is before cutting it with your best blade on your circular saw or compound miter saw.

At this point the only thing I need to do is prime the boards on the left side of the door. Once I do that (hopefully later today), I can re-hang the screen door and put a lawn sprinkler up on the sum porch to see if my handiwork actually worked. If it the roof leak is fixed, there will be a domino effect around our house: the dining room ceiling will get fix and the hardwood floors throughout most of our first floor will get refinished. We’ve been putting off refinishing our floor because there’s currently a water mark on the hardwood floor in the dining room below the leak. The dinning room floors connect with the hardwood floors in the front foyer and the back hallway, which in turn leads to the first floor bedroom and den. Basically, once you start refinishing the floors there’s no place to stop.

Getting the heavily-worn floors refinished will give our entire first floor a new breath of fresh air. We’ve held off on refinishing the oak floors until the leak was fixed. Hopefully that time is finally upon us!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Custom wooden light soffit installation

With the wooden light soffit built, it’s now time to install it above the bathroom sink. But first, it was primed with Kilz latex primer and painted with one coat of white latex paint.

In my Custom wooden light soffit installation preparation post I mentioned that I’m mounting this light soffit with T nuts along with compatible machine screws so I can lower the entire light soffit assembly should it ever need maintenance (or it I get sick of the look 15 years from now).

The screws needed to work with the 10-24 x 9/32 T nuts were 10-24 x 2 SS machine screws (pan head, slotted). The photo to the right shows the T nut with the compatible machine screw.

With a little help from my wife, we were easily able to hold up the custom light soffit and install the machine screws through the face of the light soffit and into their t-nut.

The photo to the right shows the screws were countersunk into the plywood face. I used a forstner drill bit to create a recess for the screw head and for the 1/2-inch wood button I’ll use in my next post to cover the screw head. The beauty of the forstner drill bit is that it provides a very clean edge and leaves the bottom of the drilled hole flat, not pointed. You see, forstner bits don’t look like traditional drill bits. They’re typically larger sizes (1/4-inch and up) and have a cutting head on the end, as opposed to a spiral cutting shaft like a typical drill bit. The circular cutting head is flat at the leading edge (tip), which is what lets you drill holes that are not only clean around the parameter, but also flat at the base of the drilled hole.

At this point you might be wondering how I was able to get the screws to align perfectly with the t-nuts hidden behind the wooden soffit. I did use a little trick. Prior to mounting the t-nuts to the two-by-four mounting boards (as mentioned in my Custom wooden light soffit installation preparation post), I held the light soffit (with holes for the mounting screws already in place) up into position. Then I had my wife take each screw and push it through its hole. Each screw had paint applied on its tip, so when the screw went through its mounting hole and hit the two-by-four, it left the exact location of where the t-nut needed to be installed. We used a paint pen to apply a small amount of paint to the tip of the screw, but you could also use finger nail polish. Whatever paint you use, don’t use too much or it will smudge against the two-by-four and won’t give a good reference point for drilling the hole for the t-nut.

With the light soffit mounted, we now need a couple of coats of paint before the final trim and screw buttons are installed. More on that next time.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Custom wooden light soffit installation preparation

With the custom wooden light soffit for above the upstairs bathroom sink assembled, it was time to determine my plan for installation. The weight of the soffit box isn’t too much of an issue, but the wiring for the individual bullet light cans is a little concerning. The wiring starts at one end and works its way down the line to all five cans, then onto the power source.

I’m not certain this soffit is a long term solution for the bathroom, and since I don’t have an abundance of faith in the $11 halogen light cans (purchased from Lowes), I wanted to make the entire soffit removable. Therefore, the line running from the last can to the power supply was left longer than normal so I can bring the entire soffit down in the future. To accomplish this, special hardware was used to allow me to screw the soffit into place, yet give me the flexibility to bring it down at any point without marring the soffit or the adjacent walls. More on that in a little bit.

Since the light cans stick up beyond the height of the new light soffit, I had to make room in the existing plaster soffit. The photo to the right shows the recess created for the new soffit lights. To the right is the rectangular opening for the original light fixture. That opening provided space for three of the five halogen light cans. To the left are the two holes I had to cut in the plaster to make room for the other two lights.

Cutting ceiling plaster is a true joy. It’s hard as a rock, it kicks up all sorts of dust, and the dust drops down directly into whatever tool you’re using to make the cuts. I have a Dremel rotary tool that will never sound the same again after using it to cut holes into the ceiling of our kitchen a few years back. Don’t think you can do this job with any type of hand saw; plaster eats hand saws. The photo to the right shows the thickness of the plaster I removed for reference.

To cut through my plaster I used my brand new Black & Decker Fire Storm reciprocating saw, shown to the right. Looks like I’ve owned it for years, doesn’t it? Actually, that saw was brand spanking new before those two holes were cut! That’s how much dust I’m talking about. With a carbide-tipped bit in place, the reciprocating saw made short work of the plaster. I’m really impressed with the performance of that Fire Storm saw. It’s apparent Black & Decker put a lot of thought into its design because it’s extremely easy to switch blades or adjusted the cutting depth. For around $65 (on clearance at Lowes after the holidays), it was a great buy, especially since I had a $50 Lowes gift card! Maybe someday soon I’ll show how I also use my reciprocating saw to prune trees (a tip from my dear old dad), but for now, back to the soffit.

With the holes cut, I had to figure out how to mount the soffit unit in place so it could be removed in the future. To accomplish this, I used T nuts (tee nuts) along with compatible screws, shown to the right. If you look at the photo of the holes cut for the light soffit again, you’ll notice that I mounted a short piece of two-by-four on either end of the soffit area. Each two-by-four was affixed to the framing for the original plaster soffit with countersunk screws. In turn, each two-by-four also holds two T nuts. Each T nut is affixed to the two-by-four by drilling a hole large enough to hold the barrel end of the 10-24 x 9/32 T nut used. With the hole drilled, the barrel end is inserted into the hole and the T nut is secured into place using brad nails through the three holes in the circular face plate of the T nut.

With the T nuts secured to the two-by-four, I can now use the compatible screws to go through holes in light soffit face and into the thread barrel of the T nut. The beauty of this is that I can remove the soffit as many times as I want without the fear of marring the face of the soffit or the surface of the underlying two-by-four (think of the damage done by a wood screw after you’ve driven a screw, removed it, and re-driven it). With the T nuts, I can carefully send the screws through the plywood face of the light soffit and into the T nuts, adjoining the plywood to the rigid surface of the two-by-fours. I’ll show the final install in my new post.

PLEASE NOTE: In my next post, Custom wooden light soffit installation, I share how I determined the location of the t-nuts on the two-by-fours to assure the machine screws would align with the t-nuts.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Custom wooden light soffit construction

To build the custom light soffit that will hang above my upstairs bathroom sink, I’m using architectural trimwork from my local Home Depot. The box will be constructed out of pine rabbetted stool, that’s typically used for a window stool. Once the box is build, I’ll attach a piece of trim to the two front edges to add some visual appeal to the box (the left and back sides of the box will be flush against walls).

For more on the two pieces of moulding I’m using, read my Custom wooden light soffit post.

While the rabbetted stool is designed to be laid flat when used as a window stool, I’m standing it up on edge and using it as the sides of my soffit box. The box is simply made my cutting the four sides with bevels on each end. The photo to the right shows one of the sides with the bevel cut on a compound miter saw.

Once the four sides were cut to length, I used my router table to cut a channel -- or “dado” -- in the inside bottom edge of the rabbetted stool. This dado with hold the 1/8" plywood that will serve as the bottom of the box, and the light fixtures will be installed in the plywood. The photo to the right shows the rabbetted stool. The red arrow shows where the dado was cut.

Cutting the dado on my router table was tricky because the inside of the rabbetted stool isn’t flat. If you enlarge the image above you’ll notice there’s a bevel that moves inward from the top edge down to the area by the red arrow. When I laid that side of the rabbetted stool face down on my router table, it wouldn’t lay flat.

The solution to this problem was tapping one of my steel rulers down to my router table, parallel to the router bit. As the photo to the right shows, the ruler lifted the beveled side of the rabbetted stool and meant I could safely cut the dado.

I used a straight router bit that matched the thickness of my plywood to cut the dado in the rabbetted stool. Next, I cut the plywood to fit the box and then determined where I wanted the light fixture “cans” to be placed within the plywood. Once the position of the cans were marked (using a template provided with the lights), I cut the holes in the plywood with my jig saw.

Now the box is ready for assembly. Assembling a box with four sides and a bottom can be tricky. Since I wasn’t in a big hurry, I glued the front of the box to the two sides and let it dry over night. By doing so, I only had to worry about two joints (where the back of the box met the two sides) and the plywood bottom during final glue-up. It also meant I didn’t have to use long pipe clamps to hold the box along its length. I used small, and much more manageable, hand clamps during the initial glue-up to hold the corners together with a 90-degree square while the glue dried.

To finish assembly of the soffit box, I slid the plywood into the dados on the sides of the box and in to the dado in the box’s front, then applied glue to the bevels of the box’s back piece. I secured the back of the box to the sides with a couple of brad nails. To drive those nails, I used my Porter-Cable BN200A Brad Nailer, a great tool to own for situations like this where you want to quickly secure something into place.

Next time I’ll show how I installed this wooden light soffit into place above my sink.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Back on track

I can’t believe it’s been almost two weeks since I’ve posted an update. The primary reason for my absence has been tax preparation. Oh how I enjoy that process.

Another thing that kept me away was the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. It’s not the highest level of play on earth (am I the only one who expects an athlete to make a wide open 15-foot shot, i.e. a free throw?), but it is the most exciting sporting event of the year.

There were also a couple of days away from the house for some rest and relaxation, and spell of warm weather that sent me outside to enjoy life outside the bounds of this Cape Cod and its issues.

On the organization front, I acquired a copy of Adobe’s new Photoshop Lightroom, a powerful software package that helps you manage your digital images with keywords and metadata. In addition to help you get organized, Photoshop Lightroom also has some advanced image editing tools similar to that of Adobe Photoshop. The problem I face is that I have a few years worth of photos that need to have keywords and metadata applied. Once I installed Lightroom, I got hooked on getting organized. Still a long way to go, but so far Lightroom has completely won my respect and is probably ranking up there with some of the best software I’ve ever purchased. If you need a tool that will help you keep your images organized while also offering editing tools, I’d highly recommend Adobe Lightroom. You can learn more about it at

On the home improvement front, I helped a friend clean out his clogged dryer vent a couple of days ago. And when I say clogged, I mean clogged. That was a collection of other peoples’ lint the size and magnitude of which I hope never see again. He’s lucky the dryer knew when to shut off or it could have overheated and destroyed the entire house. I actually took the camera with on that little expedition and will be sharing our process for unclogging his dryer vent sometime very soon.

I also need to get you up to speed on the upstairs bathroom project. With the new wooden light soffit in place, I need to share how I accomplished that. Hopefully I’ll have that for you in a couple of days.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Custom beadboard ceiling, reprise

Earlier this week I shared the progress of my new custom beadboard ceiling with a friend of mine, Ed Blysard. Ed is a fellow woodworker and turns some amazing custom pens (see his Renaissance Writing Instruments Web site). After reading my post about the new beadboard ceiling Ed pointed out that I should consider priming the back sides of the panels. After all, if there’s moisture in the air, it will find its way behind those wood panels. Considering the humid conditions of a bathroom, I think he’s right. Who knows what could happen to the boards and beadboard plywood if the back sides are left un-primed or un-painted.

Come on, Ed, I thought I was almost done with this project!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Custom beadboard ceiling, part 2

Building this beadboard ceiling meant I got a chance to do some work in my basement workshop. For the past couple of months this bathroom project has meant a lot tasks that are not all too enjoyable; primarily applying joint compound and then sanding it. Since I made the beadboard ceiling from a 4' x 8' sheet of beadboard plywood and 1" x 4" "clear" pine (that is, no knots) boards, I had the opportunity to use a variety of my woodworking tools. This was a good thing.

Again, the frame of the ceiling was made with 1" x 4" clear pine boards that had a rabbetted lip along one edge to hold the plywood in place. The sketch I mentioned in my Custom beadboard ceiling, part 1 post was invaluable when it came the time to start milling the boards. The photo to the right shows my router table set up with a 3/4" straight-cutting bit to create the lip. The board shown is one of the middle support sections.

Before I move on, I want to mention how invaluable of a tool a good router can be. With the right bit, and there are literally hundreds to choose from you can take a common board and turn it into a unique piece. To see what I mean, check out the router bit selection at; 9,033 bits to choose from at the writing of this piece! My router is a Bosch 1613EVS plunge router. I’ve had it about four years and consider it to be one of my favorite power tools. Every time I use it I walk away with a great sense of satisfaction. See the more modern Bosch 1617EVSPK Plunge Router kit at

OK, back to the project at hand. Once I had the four outside boards of the frame and the one middle divider milled, it was time for assembly. If my router is my favorite power tool, the next item I’m going to mention is easily the favorite jig I own.

The photo to the right shows the assembled frame in my workshop (notice the pile of dust on the floor under my router table from milling the frame’s boards). It only took me about 15 minutes to take the milled boards from individual boards to assemble, ready-for-use frame. How was I able to do it so quickly? The Kreg R2 Rocket Pockethole System.

Pocket holes have long been used by cabinet makers as a way to build strong joints with screws, yet conceals the screw heads below the surface of the board. Kreg Tool Co. makes a variety of pocket hole kits; mine is the Kreg R2 Rocket Pockethole System.

Here’s how the process works...
Clamp the Kreg jig to the board that will receive the screws and use the provided drill bit to drill the holes. The depth collar on the drill bit (seen on the right side of the photo) is positioned based on the thickness of your board (to assure you don’t drill through the face of your board.

With the jig removed you can see the clean holes that the Kreg Pockethole System produces.

Use the same clamp (which is provided with the kit) to hold the two boards together and drive the screws into their holes. I add a little dab of glue for added strength. Viola; you’re done. The trickiest part for a large project like this was finding a way to keep all the boards supported during assembly.

With the frame built, I cut the beadboard plywood down to size and installed the panels into position. To secure the plywood panels to the frame, I added wood glue to the lip of the frames and then drove 5/8" brad nails through the plywood and into the frame. To drive those nails, I used my Porter-Cable BN200A Brad Nailer. This might seem like a frivolous toy, and frankly, when I purchased it I thought I was being a little irresponsible. However, I’ve got so much mileage out of the brad nailer that I’d recommend it to any woodworker or home improvement junkie. It makes hanging trim or assembling special projects like this beadboard ceiling quick, neat, and solid.

As a write this it’s becoming clear why I enjoyed this project. Not only did the beadboard ceiling panels help us solve the ceiling’s problems; and not only did I get a chance to spend some quality time in my workshop; I also got a chance to use three of my favorite woodworking tools: my router, my Kreg pocket hole jig, and my Porter-Cable brad nailer. Finally; fun returned to a project!

Once the beadboard panels were painted, I secured them to the plaster ceiling with spring-loaded wall anchors. If you take on a project like this, you’ll have to determine what type of fastener works best for you.

With the ceiling complete, I can now go back to work on the light box I was supposed to be working on. For a recap of where that project stands, read my Custom wooden light soffit post.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Custom beadboard ceiling, part 1

As I mentioned in my last post, the problems with the primer and joint compound on the ceiling meant I had to come up with a new solution for the ceiling. My wife and I agreed on a beadboard ceiling, but the layout of the ceiling is such that this project, like most projects, meant a custom solution was needed.

To see what I mean about the layout of the room, read my Upstairs bathroom primer post and enlarge the photo of the bathroom’s blueprint. From the blueprints you can see that the primary portion of the bathroom – basically from the bathroom door to the far side of the closet door – is standard ceiling height and essentially a rectangle.

The ceiling near the window, while called “Arched Lower Ceiling” on the blueprints, is actually a flat ceiling that’s about a foot lower than the other side of the bathroom. The tricky part about this portion of the bathroom is that the area isn’t a rectangle or square. If you look at the blueprint, you’ll notice on the left side that the wall "jogs" in almost two inches as you move from the shower nook toward the window. (I assume it’s like this because the window area is one of the dormers on the front of the house.) That little jog meant I had to build the frame for my beadboard ceiling to fill that odd little area.

Once I had the dimensions from the bathroom written down, I took the time to create rudimentary drawings to help me with the construction of the two frames. This took a little time, but it was immensely helpful in the end because it helped me with the following particulars:
  • How long to cut the 1 x 4" clear pine boards that served as the sides of the frame.

  • How deep and wide to make the rabbetted lip on the 1 x 4" boards to support the plywood.

  • Where any oddities in the room where, like the placement of the bathroom fan in the primary portion of the bathroom as well as the notch for the wall jog in the window portion.

VERY IMPORTANT>>> If you make a drawing for your beadboard ceiling framework, just remember that your finished piece will be hung upside down. Keep in mind that your drawing will most likely be created looking down upon the paper, while the finished ceiling will be hung from the underside of the paper. Make sense? That’s why you’ll notice on my drawings that I included North, South, East, and West to help keep the framework’s orientation correct (I also did the same thing on the actual boards themselves). Plus, you’ll notice that my drawing goes North, West, South, East, opposite of the traditional map style of North, East, South, West. That way, then I went into the room to get an idea of how the drawing compared to the actual room, I flipped the drawing over my head and look at it as though it were the frame’s finished side. If I hadn’t done this, the opening for the bathroom fan may have wound up on the East side of the room, instead of the West. I hope all of this makes sense.

My custom beadboard ceiling is made from beadboard plywood (shown to the right). To support the beadboard plywood, I built a custom frame that would not only hold the 3/8” beadboard plywood in place, but would also give me a rigid structure to fasten the framework to the ceiling.

Since the plywood would sag in the middle if I were to only use a frame around the outside, I also included a board down the middle of the frame. This was also necessary because of the bathroom fan in the primary portion of the room. I’ll jump ahead a little bit and show you the finished frames so you can get an idea of what I’m talking about. If you enlarge the image to the right, you’ll notice the framework on the left is a rectangle (for the primary portion of the bathroom), while the framework on the right has a notch protruding from the lower left side. This is the frame for the window section of the bathroom, and that notch will fill the notch area mentioned above. You’ll also notice in the photo that the frame for the window section doesn’t have a support board on the top side. This was intentionally left off because the beadboard on that side of the frame will snug against the window trim and I didn’t want a support board to cover the window’s trim.

Next time I’ll cover how I milled the lumber, assembled the pieces, and hung the finished ceiling.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Hiatus / failure resurgence

Actually, I’m not sure I’d call it a hiatus, because I was hardly taking a break from the home remodeling. To the contrary, over the past week I’ve done little in my free time except for work on the house. I guess it was just a hiatus from updating the site. Let me bring you up to speed...

In my last post, The light at the end of the tunnel, I mentioned I had finished my portion of the upstairs bathroom project. Talk about jinxing myself! The final phase of the joint compound work was to repair the flaking ceiling paint on the short ceiling (shown to the right). It was a week ago Saturday when I finished the joint compound work in the bathroom and turned the project over to my wife so she could start painting.

That night she put a coat of primer on the walls and ceiling in the bathroom. The following morning we notice the primer had some adverse reaction to the joint compound in a couple of places on the ceiling. Enlarge the photo to the right to see the result. The primer had bubbled up in a couple of small areas. I’m not certain how it happened, so I’m not even going to speculate. All joint compound repairs on the walls were fine, so I think it was a problem in areas where a very thin coat of joint compound went over the old paint on the ceiling. Once the primer went on the thin areas of joint compound, I think the paint primer didn’t adhere for some reason. Again, I am just speculating.

With that paint problem at hand, we needed a solution, and fast because we were having a family party at our house six days later (this past Saturday). Here were our choices:
  • Try to fix the bubbled-up paint: No way. I had already put a lot of time into that ceiling, both skim-coating the small area of the ceiling in the one part of the room, and repairing cracks in the area over by the bathroom fan (read my post Upstairs Bathroom Primer to see the layout of the room). Once the primer was on the ceiling, I had little faith that I could repair the problem spots and then have the subsequent coats of primer not bubble up like the first coat did. In other words, I wasn’t going to put more time in only to wind up in the same spot a day or two later. We were under the gun to get this fixed, for good.

  • Alternative ceiling: Yes. What could we use as a ceiling surface in a Cape Cod home that wouldn’t look like we were trying to hide a blemish, but rather add more charm to the room? Hmmm... we stood there and stared and stared at that damn ceiling. Then it hit us: beadboard! Yes; we’ll go with a beadboard ceiling! We’ll give the bathroom a nice cottage feeling. Why didn’t we think of this a month ago?

With the idea in place, I had to think of a way to install a beadboard ceiling in our bathroom and make it look like it was meant to be from the beginning. I also had to figure out a way to attach it to our rock-hard plaster ceilings with some type of anchors.

In the next few days I’ll share how I did it. For now, I’ll share a photo of the completed ceiling, just to prove that it all worked out.

It all worked out, but it meant we had to stay up past midnight every single night last week to finish the project. The family party went without a hitch and everyone loved the bathroom’s new look. (See the Upstairs Bathroom Primer link above for a before photo, including the nasty old metallic wallpaper.)

Now we just need to finish off the last few little projects that didn’t get wrapped up, including the wooden light box above the sink. More on that and the steps involved with building the new bead board ceiling coming soon.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The light at the end of the tunnel

What a weekend. Thursday night I stayed up past midnight working on the plaster repairs in the upstairs bathroom. Friday, I took a vacation day from work and spent over eight hours working on the bathroom. Needless to say, I slept well Friday night.

With all the plaster cracks repaired, I’ve moved on to short ceiling by the window on Saturday. This portion of the room is only 4- by 5-feet and is a little over 7-feet off the floor. The great news is I can reach it without the use of a stool or ladder. The bad news is that I’m working above my head all day. That means all joint compound dust falls down in my direction, making a quality respirator a necessity. It also makes for one sore neck and shoulders at the end of a long day. (To get a better sense of the room, read my Upstairs Bathroom Primer post .)

Yesterday I put on three skim coats of joint compound onto that short ceiling. I’m doing this because the paint in that area was crazed and cracked (see my post, Crazed ceiling paint). Before applying the skim coat, I removed any loose paint with a stiff putty knife, then used my random orbit sander to quickly sand the entire ceiling with 120 grit sandpaper. When finished sanding, I vacuumed the ceiling to remove the dust.

With skim coats, you apply a very thin layer of joint compound with the understanding that there will be another coat coming after the first (and most likely after the second as well). Apply the thin coat neatly so you won’t have a lot of sanding to do between coats, if any. You can use either a 10- or 12-inch taping knife to apply the joint compound (see my Drywall and plaster joint compound tools post).

While the coats of joint compound were drying, I swapped out the older bathroom fan for a more powerful model. This meant some quality time up in the attic removing the old fan, enlarging the hole for the new fan, and mounting the new fan. All in all, it wasn’t too bad. A little over two hours worth of work and the results are every encouraging. Once the power was back on I tested the new fan and it’s much quieter than the old fan. Once the ceiling is painted, I’ll add the bathroom fan’s grille.

Today I finished sanding the joint compound and officially turned the plaster walls and ceiling over to the painter (my wife). Now I’ll have time to finish the new wooden light soffit for above the sink. When I’m finished with that, this project may actually be finished... unless I decide to be a hero and address the storage problems in the bathroom’s deep (over three-feet!) closet. We’ll have to see how motivated I can remain; at this point my motivation tank is damn-near empty.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Where home improvement and woodworking meet

Last night I went hunting for hardware to attach my forthcoming wooden light soffit to the plaster soffit that’s already in place. I spent over a half hour scouring the hardware aisle (screws, fasteners, etc.) at my local Lowes and I must admit, for a big box store they have an impressive selection of fasteners. From shelf supports to decorative hardware for mirrors and glass doors, they have much more than you’d expect.

The issue I’m facing with my wooden light box is that it’s going to be completely enclosed with four sides and a plywood bottom (which will hold the new light cans). Therefore, I need some type of fastener that I can drive vertically through the plywood bottom and into the plaster soffit. There are three challenges with this plan.

First, simply driving some type of screw is out of the question because the plaster is like concrete and not accommodating to fasteners.

Second, I’d like to be able to remove the wood soffit in the future, just in case. If I didn’t want to remove, I could simply leave the plywood bottom and right side of the box off and attach the box to the soffit with L brackets. Then, with the box attached, I could slide the plywood into the box and nail the right side in place to enclose the box. This would be a nice option because all mounting hardware would be hidden. The shortfall is that if the wood soffit ever needed to come down, I’d have to remove the right side and then the plywood, certainly damaging the paint.

And finally, since I’m using 1/8” plywood for the bottom of the wood soffit, I’ll need to reinforce the plywood from inside the box to assure the hardware used to attach it to the plaster soffit won’t damage the thin plywood. (I’m using 1/8” plywood simply because it was available in my workshop, leftover from a previous project. If I were buying plywood specifically for this project, I would recommend going with at least 1/4" plywood for the rigidity.)

So here’s my plan... I’ll attach two wood boards perpendicularly to the bottom of the existing plaster soffit, one near each end. Fastened to the bottom face of those two boards will be two 10-24 x 9/32 tee nuts, one near the front and one near the back. (If you don’t know what tee nuts are, stay tuned over the next few days... they’re a fastener you need to know about.) I will then drive 10-24 machine screws up through the plywood bottom, through the support board inside the box, and into the tee nut held by the board attached to the plaster soffit. Since the machine screws can easily go in and out of the tee nut, I’ll be able to lower the wooden soffit should a situation ever arise.

To conceal the screw heads on the bottom of the wood light soffit, I’ll use plastic, hinged screw covers.

I realize that without photos or a diagram that this game plan is hard to follow. Please stay tuned over the next few days to see this plan unfold.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Removing old bathroom light box

Before I start building the wooden light soffit for above the bathroom sink, I need to remove the light box that’s currently in place.

Before doing any work around any electrical device, be sure to turn off the power and test the fixture to assure it’s safe to proceed.

The photo to the right will give you an idea of how deep the existing light box is. With the frosted glass removed, you can see the box is over nine inches deep. Since the bulbs are set at the very top of the box, you can understand why the light produced by the box didn’t do a very good job of spreading light throughout the bathroom. Even though the bathroom is only 5’ x 11’ (see my Upstairs bathroom primer post), much of the light’s effectiveness was blocked by the inside walls of the light box. If the light bulbs were down closer to the rim, the light would have been cast at a much greater angle.

With the chrome trim removed, I discovered that the light box had actually been plastered into place. Lovely. With a stiff putty knife, I removed the skim-coat of plaster from the lip around the edge of the light box. The plaster was only about 1/16” deep. I had to be careful to make sure I didn’t accidentally drive the putty knife into the huge mirror above the sink.

Before the box could be removed, there were four nails driven through the inside of the box and into the wood framing for the existing plaster soffit. The last step before removing the box is disconnecting the electrical from the box. Once these two steps were complete, the box was ready to slide out.

Before pulling the light box out of the plaster soffit, I taped an old cardboard box to the mirror so the box wouldn’t accidentally scratch the mirror during removal. Once the cardboard was in place, I put one of the screws from the chrome trim back in its hole and gently pulled down on the screw with the claw of my hammer. It didn’t take much effort to loosen the box from the plaster.

With the light box removed, I was able to see inside the plaster soffit. Before removing the light, I wasn’t sure if there was any horizontal wood framing to the left of the light box. (Unfortunately, an electronic stud finder isn’t powerful enough to scan through the thick plaster.) The great news is that there is no framing that will get in the way of the new light canisters I’m planning to install. If there had been wood framing in the way, it could have impacted the placement of the new lights. It’s great to know that won’t be an issue.

With no framing to worry about, I can simply cut holes in the plaster so the tall light canisters can extend from the bottom of the short wood light soffit (less than 3” tall) up into the plaster soffit.

Now I can get to work on the wood soffit in the old workshop. It’ll be nice to create wood dust instead of joint compound dust!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Custom wooden light soffit

Yippee! Looks like Bergie’s going to have a chance to get reacquainted with his workshop! If you didn’t know better by reading this blog, you’d think I enjoyed home improvement over woodworking. Oh, to the contrary!

At this point in the upstairs bathroom project, I’m about 85% finished with the plaster crack repairs. I’m taking a little break from the plaster repair to mock up the light box that I’d like to add to the bottom side of the soffit above the sink.

The image to the right shows the current lighting in the bathroom. That light fixture on the bottom of the plaster soffit houses three bulbs behind the frosted glass; certainly not enough by today’s primping standards (so I’ve been informed).

To improve the lighting in the bathroom, I’d like to add four halogen lights within a shallow, trim-enhanced, wood soffit which would be attached to the bottom of the plaster soffit shown above. Those four lights should provide much better light to the sink area, and the moulding around the visible edges of the wood soffit (the front and right side) should add some nice lines to otherwise “flat” area.

To the right is a photo of the mock-up that I just got approved by the commissioner (my lovely wife). I’m using two pieces of moulding intended for other household trim applications, but I think by combining the two I can achieve a great-looking home for the new lights. I’ll create four sides with the vertical moulding to form a box but leave the smaller moulding off the left and back sides so I can butt those sides right up to the left wall and mirror. I’ll also rabbet the inside of the bottom edge of all four sides so I can add a piece of wood (most likely plywood or MDF (medium-density fiberboard)) to form the bottom of the box, where the holes for the lights will be cut. Below is a recap of the wood moulding I’m planning on using.

Rabbetted stool
The vertical sides of the wood soffit box are rabbetted stool moulding which is intended for use when trimming a window. A “window stool” is the flat horizontal shelf at the bottom of a window. I like the rabbetted stool for this light box for a couple of reasons. First, the 2-3/4” height will ample for the soffit box I want to build. Also, the rounded over edge will make for a nice detail for the bottom of the light box.

Base cap
The base cap moulding has great detail that will add some intriguing depth to the front and right side of the box. This base cap is intended for use as moulding along the top of flat base moulding along a floor. Let’s say you’re using 1” x 4” wood for base moulding at the base of your walls. The base cap – with the fattest part of the moulding on the bottom – adds some nice detail to the flat base moulding. For my box, I’m flipping the base cap around so the fattest part of the moulding will be along the top edge.

Both of the mouldings above are offered by Georgia Pacific and sold at Home Depot (at least in the Midwest).

Here’s some more information about the mouldings:
- Rabbetted stool: item number WM 1194, 11/16” x 2-3/4” pine
- Base cap: item number WM 163, 11/16” x 1-3/8” pine

Since the housing of the lights I’m using are taller than the wooden soffit I intent to build, I’ll still be facing with cutting holes into the plaster soffit that’s currently above the sink. However, that should not be a big issue, because before I thought of this wood soffit idea I thought I was going to have to cut holes for the four lights in the plaster soffit anyway. Now, since the holes in the plaster will be hidden by the wood soffit, I don’t have to worry about how clean the cuts are into the rock-hard plaster. (Previous attempts to cut into the plaster around my house have left rather rough edges.)

Once the wooden soffit is built, I’ll attach it to the bottom of the plaster soffit with L brackets.

Off to Home Depot for the rest of the moulding! Yippee!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Progress tonight, 20% off paint tomorrow

Tonight I put in another three hours of quality time into the upstairs bathroom project. I’m happy to report that the ceiling in the shower nook is almost completely repaired and ready for primer. More on that in the near future.

Tomorrow there’s a bag sale at Ace Hardware. Anything you can fit into a paper bag is 20% off. While we’re not ready for paint, we’re going to take advantage of the savings opportunity and buy our latex paint for the bathroom walls and ceiling. We’ll also probably stock up on Kilz latex primer, since we’ll put that down on the plaster (and joint compound repairs) prior to putting down the final paint color.

Now, it’s time to start flipping through the paint chip samples that we’ve be accruing over the past couple months. Seems like every time we’ve gone to Ace Hardware, Home Depot, or Lowes recently, that we come home with another three or four shades of gray (the color we're painting the walls).

Let the official shade of gray debate begin!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Who do you love?

A great Bo Diddley blues song went a little something like this...

I walk 47 miles of barbed wire,
I use a cobra-snake for a necktie,
I got a brand new house on the roadside,
Made from rattlesnake hide,
I got a brand new chimney made on top,
Made out of a human skull,
Now come on take a walk with me, Arlene,
And tell me, who do you love?

Who do you love?...

Not exactly the most romantic of Valentine’s Day songs, but it does have a nice little home improvement twist to it. Or not.

On this day, I hope you’re well aware of who you love. If you’re lucky, you’re blessed enough to not only know who you love, but what you love. For me, it’s my wife and our classic Cape Cod home. As much as I shake my head and swear under my breath at this home, I love it more than any other dwelling I’ve ever known.

So, on this Valentine’s Day, what do you love?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Preparing plaster cracks for joint compound

Since I’ve already discussed joint compound and the tools used to apply it, I’m now going to cover how I prepared the cracks in the plaster walls prior to applying joint compound.

If the cracks are large and contain small pieces of loose plaster, you’ll need to remove the old chunks of plaster prior to applying the new joint compound. When I say chunks, I’m merely referring to small pieces about the size of a grain of rice or a single piece of Rice Krispies cereal.

To clean out the plaster crack use the sharp end of a can opener. Since the pointed end is made to withstand opening a tin can, it’s durable enough to dig into plaster. Simply drag the point along the crack to loosen the old plaster and enlarge the crack slightly for the new joint compound. Inevitably you’ll come across cracks where the old plaster chunks, or any loose plaster dust, will not want to come out of the crack. For the new joint compound to work well, you need to remove the loose material. To do so, I use a plastic drinking straw to blow air directly into the crack. Now, keep in mind that when you blow into the crack that there’s a great chance of the debris coming right back into your face... or better yet, your eyes. Consider yourself warned.

Once you have the cracks cleaned you need to determine if you should use any type of drywall joint tape, wall repair fabric, or corner bead to strengthen the repaired crack. Below I cover the three that I used to repair my upstairs bathroom plaster cracks: joint tape, self-adhesive joint fabric, and paper-faced metal corner bead.

Before diving into the explanations below, you may want to read my Drywall and plaster joint compound tools post for a primer on the tools involved with applying joint compound.

Paper joint tape
This is the old standard for covering drywall joints. Simply put down a thin layer of joint compound over the seam with a 4-inch joint knife, place the paper joint tape over the length of the seam, then drag the joint knife over the entire length of the tape to remove any bubbles. After the first coat has dried (which will depend on which type of joint compound you choose), apply another layer of joint compound over the tape with a six-inch taping knife to taper the compound out over the edge of the first coat. When the second coat is dry, gently sand the area smooth. Wipe the dust away and then add another thin coat of joint compound with a 10-inch taping knife.

Best case scenario: you’re finished and ready for priming and painting.

Worst case scenario: more sanding and another layer of joint compound. Just remember, the more joint compound you put on the more sanding you can look forward to. Thin coats work best, and make sure to keep the blade clean of dried pieces of joint compound when applying the second and third layers of mud or you’ll leave scratches in the wet joint compound as you draw the knife along the seam.

Self-adhesive joint fabric
As the name implies, this drywall mesh is easy to apply to the wall because its backing is sticky. Simply cut to length, apply to the wall over the seam (or crack in my case), then add a layer of joint compound with a 4-inch joint knife. Follow the instructions above for the second and third coat. Since this type of joint tape is a little thicker than the paper joint tape, you’ll need to decide when and where to use it. I used it to patch plaster cracks only in areas where there’s no concern over the thickness of the joint (this isn’t a concern when applying to new drywall, because drywall edges are tapered to accept tape and mud). If a crack is mid-wall, I’d recommend the thinner paper joint tape, if any at all. Remember, your repair will need to be discreet so when the wall is painted it won’t stand out.

Paper faced metal corner bead
To add joint compound to corners (both inside and outside corners), drywallers have traditionally used metal corner bead. It’s thin, easy to cut to length, is pre-bent at a 90-degree angle to fit perfectly into corners, and features a slight recess molded into the corner to accept extra joint compound (to assure the metal won’t show through the joint compound in the corner).

More modern alternatives include plastic corner bead, which is easier to cut and isn’t as prone to cutting your hands as its metal counterpart. Another modern alternative, and the choice I went with, is a corner bead that’s a hybrid of paper joint tape and metal corner bead (see the photos to the right). This product is beneficial because the paper is super thin, yet the metal corner is very durable. I used this product to patch cracks in the corners of my plaster walls and at the point where the walls meet the ceiling.
Now that I’ve covered the tools, joint compound, and crack preparation, next time I’ll show you some of the variety of cracks I repaired in my plaster walls.