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.