Category Archives: Projects

Projects

Raise the Roof!! Or Rather, Lay the Roof.

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Labor Day weekend, the last weekend of summer, and in our area at least, the last weekend before school starts. There is always high expectation the summer will go out with a bang and we will be refreshed enough to last us through until the next holiday. Last year we took a camping trip to Neah Bay, the northwestern most point in the contiguous United States for a camping adventure that included kayaking, scuba diving, spear fishing, and playing on the beach. We went with our friends, another family, and promised to do it again next year. It was all great fun.

This year we were thinking of a more land locked adventure in the Northern Cascades, one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. for our camping trip. We envisioned hikes to alpine lakes, wildlife sightings, and walks along fern strewn grounds through old growth cedar forest. We phoned our friends to make plans and finalize the location and they dropped the bomb. They desperately needed a new roof on their house and had to get it done before the rainy season starts. They couldn't spend a frivolous weekend in the woods when there was work to be done and the arrival of months of gray skies was imminent.

Well, we couldn't go camping when we knew they were home working, and we had promised to spend Labor Day weekend together anyway. So it was decided. We were having a roofing party. Now I don't have a ton of roofing experience, but I have done it in the bitter cold of winter in Utah and don't want to ever do that again! Our friends began some of the prep work during the week, but on Thursday evening a monsoon rolled in, the likes of which is rarely seen in these parts. We hoped it wasn't a precursor for the weekend!

The Thursday storm set things back and Friday after work I went over to help them tear of the two layers of old shingles until dark. We had hoped to be completed and ready to start installing by Saturday morning, but no such luck. We also needed to replace a few soft rotting boards of plywood. We didn't really start laying tar paper and shingles until noon on Saturday. Our prayers for sunshine were answered however. But be careful what you pray for! Just ask my bright red neck and my almost heat exhausted self! The bright hot sun mixed with tar paper and shingles makes for a long day.

 

Sunday was a much needed day of rest and Monday we got right back to it. The completed roof looks so much nicer and changes the appearance of the entire house! It was a great weekend of good old fashioned work. It reminds me of the days of community barn raising where everyone pitched in to help. We had a few other guys helping us out as well, which made a big difference. And an entire family showed up on Monday and took care of picking up all of the old shingles that were just thrown from the roof. That was amazing! I made sure to get my son involved to teach him how to lay a roof, just as my dad did for me. You never know. He may have a weekend vacation on top of a friends' roof someday in his future as well. I hope we set the right example and he too will choose to raise the roof over pitching a tent!

 

What’s a Bay Window Without a Bench?

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Our house has a wide open space flowing from the kitchen to the family room at the back of the house. The formal dining room is actually in the front living room, but we never use it as such because it is carpeted, and no one in their right mind with kids eats over carpet. The kitchen has enough space for a table in a sort of breakfast nook, so we eat there. It has a sliding door to the back patio so it is a little tight, but it works.

The family room is naturally divided into two separate spaces. The middle space is deeper and has a bay window. The far side has the fireplace at the end with shelves on both sides and a large window to the backyard. Since a family room is the less formal space in the house where good friends and family can hang out, lets be honest and admit it revolves around comfortable couches and the tv.

So our first dilemma was where to put the tv. The first option was on a stand in the bay window, but it is never a good idea to backlight the tv with large windows. It would be good spot because we would be able to see the tv while working in the kitchen, but we just couldn't waste a bay window like that.

The second choice was above the fireplace. Our fireplace is up off the ground with a concrete bench, so the tv would be way too high. You would need a recliner just to watch tv without straining your neck. The final option was on the inside wall of the fireplace room. You can't see the tv from the kitchen, but we could live with that. So now the tv is placed, the couches naturally went around the tv. This left the middle area open and empty. The room had no built in lighting apart from one pot light aimed at the fireplace so it was both dark and empty.

Remember, this is a rental, so I can't build anything permanent. With that in mind, one of my first projects in the house was a window bench for the bay window. I did it in one evening with a 2×4 frame and plywood base and seat. I framed it in pine and painted the whole thing. The original idea was to get foam and fabric and make a cushion for the top. Of course, this never happened, so I had an ugly plywood bench. I left the front open, which is great for books and storage, but the top needed some serious help.

I have a friend who bought an older home and they had to redo some of the hardwood floor. He let me take all of the solid oak pieces that they tore out. It was all sitting in a pile in my garage and I decided the oak would look great on my bench.

After many hours of pulling nails and sanding, I had a pile large enough to cover the top of the bench. But just covering it in oak isn't enough for me. Oh no. I wanted the bench to be a unique reading nook, so with that in mind I decided to incorporate hard bound books into the top. I went to the thrift store and found hard bound books with interesting covers.

I also couldn't just put plain old oak down either. I wanted it to be multicolored without having to buy a bunch of stain, so I made my own vinegar based stains. I'll talk more about that process in a later post. With the boards stained and prepped, I began the installation. There was a lot of mixing and matching and cutting, but in the end it came together great. Three coats of varnish later, the top was done.

Now for the face. I couldn't just leave it white. To get the books to fit on the top I had to take out extra pages until they were the right thickness. So I decided to use the extra pages and decoupage glue to cover the face of the bench. I think the hardest part was to avoid getting glue on the carpet!

In the end, I had a great looking bay window bench that is completely removable from the room. Will I take it with me? I don't know. Maybe I'll ask the next tenants if they want it, maybe I'll take it. It will be hard to let it go, but when will I ever live in a house with a bay window of the same dimensions? In the meantime, we will enjoy it. Finally, that middle room has an identity. Let me know what you think in the comments.

 

What Did We Plant There Again?

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If you are like me, you are gung-ho every spring to plant your garden. You go and pick up seeds for all of the good things you want to grow and grab potting soil and starts. You watch the forecast for warmer days and get all set to go. You till the earth and pull weeds making everything just perfect. Planting day finally arrives and you get your kids or spouse to come outside and help you out. You have your early plants like peas, radishes, and lettuce that you plant outside and the rest you plant in pots which you will nurture indoors or, if you are lucky, your greenhouse. This year I got a little pop-up greenhouse which has been awesome.

If you are really organized, you have Popsicle sticks or little plastic markers that you label and stick in the ground or pots to help you remember what you planted. You are feeling really good about your efforts and can't wait till they start to grow. You check everyday and take pictures when you finally see green poking out of the soil. It's still spring, so the weather changes and there are nights you are worried it will be too cold. It rains and may even snow. But finally all of your loving effort pays off and the plants start to really take hold.

It's been a few weeks now, so you are starting to forget what you planted where and in which pot. No worries, you made labels. You go to read the labels and find them blank. But you used a permanent marker! What happened? Outside happened that's what. The writing faded or washed off and now you have no idea what is where. Some plants are easy, but others not so much. If only you had done something a little more permanent! If only you had read this article first!

Go to the thrift store and buy all of the interesting looking old silverware: knives, spoons, forks, it doesn't matter. Next find an engraver. If you don't have one, which I didn't, ask around. Maybe there is one sitting on the back shelf at your office long forgotten, that you could borrow. You will be surprised. There is someone in your group of friends who has or knows someone with an engraver. If not, you can always use a Dremel or other rotary tool. What self respecting DIYer doesn't have one of those?

Using whatever script you choose, label each piece with the name of a vegetable in your garden and use it to mark your seeds. It's permanent and Is unique. The biggest drawback is the lack of contrast between the silverware and the engraving. I tried spray painting the item and then engraving. It turned out pretty cool and was a great option.

Mystery plant problem solved! What are you waiting for? Run out to your local thrift stir and get started. Check out the video below for more details and let me know what you think in the comments.

 

Hey, Do We Have Any Basil? Why Yes, We Do!

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A mediocre meal becomes a masterpiece with the right balance of herbs and spices. Every herb has certain properties and flavor that when used properly, really makes the dish. Of course, on the flip side, you can't just throw in herbs willy nilly and hope they work. You can ruin a meal that way. I know lemon isn't a spice, but it used for flavoring, so I'm going to use it to make my point. Our kids were cooking spaghetti and were trying to follow our example of adding some flavoring to the canned sauce. Instead of peppers (which they don't like), onions and some select herbs, they decided to add lemon juice. They've seen me add lemon to flavor other dishes and figured, what the heck!? Commence vomiting! It was nasty!!

You can buy whatever herbs you want in expensive little bottles. The herbs are decent, but not great. It seems the bottled herbs lose a lot of flavor in the processing and packaging. If you really want to wow the dining table, you've gotta use fresh herbs. There is no comparison. You don't have enough room in your yard for a garden you say? You don't know how to manage soil ph levels, compost, bugs, watering, and fertilizer. Lame. That's right, lame. Stop being a whiner and build yourself this hanging herb planter.

I used some more of my grandpas's barn wood and some of the other materials I talked about in my barn wood mason jar wall sconce post to include the large hose clamps and mason jars. With your board hanging vertical decide how far apart you want the mason jars to hang. Nail the hose clamps on and start to prep your mason jars. Use potting soil you can get ready mixed in a bag and pick the herbs you use most. I decided to grow basil, cilantro, and chives. Plant the seeds in your jars and then secure the jars in the clamps. Figure out a way to hang your little herb garden. I used an eye bolt as you can see in the video below. Turn your jars at an angle toward the sun and all you have to do is water when it gets dry.

One note about using mason jars has to do with the watering. There is no drainage, so if you overwater or don't have a good sunny spot, you may start to get some moss and/or mold growth in the jar. You have to keep an eye on the dampness of the soil. But if your garden is hanging on your front porch anyway, you'll see it every time you walk into your house. That's so much easier than trying to remember to go into the backyard to water!

When your plants start to get too big for their britches, no problem. Go ahead and trim your plants and prep a spot in your kitchen to hang them upside down to dry. Home dried herbs can be saved and used during the cold winter months when nothing is growing, making your garden a year round affair. And home dried herbs retain much more flavor than those store bought bottled ones. As an added bonus, hanging drying herbs looks cool in your kitchen.

So check out the how to video below and make your own mason jar herb garden. Don't worry if you don't have barn wood. You can find a cool piece of driftwood at the beach or just use a nice looking board. No excuses!

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

 

Lazy Summer Days on the Porch

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The front porch, a place to sit with a glass of lemonade, talk to the neighbors, and watch the kids zoom up and down the street on their bikes. It's a perfect place to watch a summer lightning storm or read a good book. If you are lucky, you have a large wrap around porch complete with a porch swing. If you have spent a little time creating the perfect porch, maybe you have a cooler and some speakers to blast summer hits from the Beach Boys.

Shift scenes to a city park. You have all seen the iconic pictures of old men playing checkers or chess in the park right? Ringers sit and wait for unsuspecting challengers. Old men while away the hours until their wives call them home to supper, talking about the good ole days and swapping stories and jokes. People walking their dogs stop to watch the action and say hello to the regulars. Runners wave as they pass and skateboarders zoom by with headphones blasting deep bass beats.

How about combining the scene at the park with the relaxing atmosphere of the front porch? Create an outdoor checkerboard the perfect size for your front porch and discover the secrets of lazy days shouting “King me!” and scoring multiple jumps. For this checkerboard, all you need are pieces of scrap wood, preferably a 4×4, some paint, and some patience. Don't worry about your board being perfectly level or smooth. You are going for the outdoor homemade look. You want something that would sell for big bucks at a folk art store and would be the upscale envy of any Cracker Barrel customer. A steady hand and some paint complete the board.

So what, pray tell, would you use for pieces? You could always steal pieces from your game closet, but what fun is that? Instead, collect some bottle caps of your favorite beverages. We went with the epic battle of cola vs root beer. You could do Coke vs Pepsi or even use caps from something a little stronger. The best thing about it? Someone just has to drink the sodas so you can use the caps. Tough life eh?

Check out my how to video below and then fire up the saw. Summer's half gone!!

 

 

 

Vinyl Record Wall

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Old vinyl records are the best. Growing up I had a bright orange hard cased record player. It had a handle like a suitcase and could travel with me from room to room. I had the adapter for 45s or could play full size records. We had read along books where it would ding when it was time to turn the page, just like the old film or slide projectors. One of my favorites was Davy Crockett, to go along with the greatest Disney adventure movie ever! Records would scratch or melt in the sun and cassette tapes slowly took their place before cd's, digital downloads, and streaming music came along.

I am also from a very musical family and love all types of music. There was always some sort of music playing the house, be it instrumental, vocal, or store bought. Music filled the home. I believe music is very powerful and can be used to great effect. There is a time and place for classical, spiritual, country, rock, alternative, folk, bluegrass, broadway, and maybe even rap.

Our current home has a huge front room with vaulted ceilings. We decided to make the front section of that room our music corner. The piano is there and a violin and banjo hang opposite along with a print of a violin painting I first saw in the Smithsonian. But the wall above the piano was empty. It was too tall for a painting or picture.

So I decided to create a vinyl record wall. Using old records I got from the thrift store, and after much thought on how to execute, I used black nylon webbing straps. I bought a roll on Amazon, measured it to length and burned holes using a soldering iron. I attached the records with paper fasteners. I attached the bands to a strip of molding and mounting the molding to the wall. You can see the complete how to video on my YouTube channel.

It has been great fun to have people come over and look at the records. I have all genres and there are always a few that bring back a memory or two. Let me know what you think in the comments.

How to Make a Vinyl Record Wall

 

The Magic Floating Book Shelf

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I love books. I love reading. I love bookstores and libraries and covet homes with big floor to ceiling book shelves with a rolling ladder. One of the first things I do when I move to a new place is to sign up for a library card. I especially love old books. I love the smell of books and the feel of books. But books are heavy and books take up a lot of space. Books are hard to move around from place to place, especially if they are not being read regularly.

Then came e-readers. E-readers like the Kindle and Nook are awesome. You can fit thousands of books on a single device and the battery lasts forever. You can use a tablet, but the e-ink on an e-reader is easy on the eyes and can be read in bright sunlight just like a real book. I used to have the problem when I traveled for work of loading down my suitcase with books. If I was going to be away for a week I would have to pack four or five books in my suitcase. I couldn't afford to just buy new books, especially when there is a library full of free books at home. Now I can pack one device, smaller than the average paperback, and carry more books than I'll ever read on one trip. You lose the feel, smell, and experience of holding and reading a real book, but I can live with the trade off in convenience and size. I can check out e-books from the library even easier than going and checking out real books.

I'm also a big fan of the audiobook. Download a book from the library on your phone or MP3 player via the Overdrive app and you can make your commute enjoyable and educational. I'll get to the end of a long road trip and want to keep going because the book isn't done yet!

So how do I incorporate books into my home design and decorations? There are a certain number of antique books that I will never get rid of. Some were passed down from my parents or grandparents. Others are just cool books I have found at garage sales or thrift stores. They need to be displayed for others to see and enjoy. I can't keep good books hidden away on a shelf or in a closet. I also had some books that I knew I would never read again in paper format. If I do decide to revisit them, I'll load them onto my e-reader. Instead of throwing them away or recycling them, I decided to use them to build shelves. This design uses a hard back book and an “L” bracket to create a floating shelf. When other books are stacked on top, it creates the illusion that the books are floating on the wall. It is a great effect and has been a huge talking point for friends and neighbors visiting the house. It is a simple project requiring only the purchase of the bracket, a book, some glue, and some screws and can be made for well under $5.

 

Mason Jar Lamp Shade

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I have talked about my paternal grandparents, but haven't included anything about the maternal side. That shall change starting now. My maternal grandpa was a Naval Aviator towards the end of WWII and a flight instructor during Korea. My mom was born at the Pensacola Naval Hospital while he was stationed there. He was the epitome of a Western man. He loved everything Navy, aviation, or cowboy, and he could back it up. He had a ranch, owned a service station, and fished everyday of his retired life. Unfortunately, all of his memorabilia was kept in the basement of his mountain home in Utah. One particularly wet season, the river rose to historic heights and flooded the entire basement, ruining all of his military and historic stuff. I'm talking his original WWII era bomber jacket. Gone! Ai Ai Ai!!! I was too young at the time to really appreciate the loss, although I knew at some level it was bad.

He told lots of stories when I was a kid and one involved the bomber jacket. He claimed the Navy, after the war, had everyone turn in their issued gear. OK, that makes sense. It belongs to the government after all and should be returned when you no longer work for the government. But here's the kicker: he said the Navy had no use for all of those jackets. It was peacetime after all and they were used. The Navy's numbers went down tremendously. So what did they do with all of those surplus jackets? Tossed them overboard. That's what he said. They were just thrown to the sharks, forever lost to the deep. That makes the flood so much more tragic. He didn't turn it in when he was supposed to, but it was still ruined by water in the end.

My point in telling this story is that there wasn't much left of the stuff he saved from the good old days. After he died, my mom went through some of his stuff with grandma and found a small stamp collection. They were all of the same stamp in either red or green and were all used. It wasn't a serious collection of unused originals preserved behind acid free plastic, but a stack of stamps he thought were cool and decided to keep. They were aviation stamps, which showed his love for flying. As a side note, he rarely flew anywhere after he stopped flying. If he wasn't the pilot, he wasn't interested in sitting as a passenger. I just find that interesting. My mom sent the stamps to me and for a long time they sat in a baggy in a drawer. I thought about it and decided there was no point keeping them in a drawer. I needed to use them and put them somewhere I could appreciate them.

Then came the need and the solution. The mason jar wall sconce I described in a previous post, was extremely bright. The light was amplified going through the mason jar and was way too bright for the space. Why not use the stamps to refract and diffuse the light? Indeed, why not? So that it was what I did.

The wall sconce now serves as a reminder of grandparents on both sides of the family and still cost nothing! I had all of the materials at home. Here's the video explaining the process.

 

Barn Wood Mason Jar Wall Sconce

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It's time to post my first project. I talked a lot about woodworking and building amazing things in my introductory post, but that is not all this blog is about. It's about building complicated things and simple things. Sometimes a simple design element can change the look of a room or feel of a house. I'm not a professional designer and many people won't agree with my design choices, but that's the point isn't it? If it is supposed to be unique to me and my home, then who cares if it's not for everyone!

Currently, we are on a vintage folksy kick in one room. We have bookshelves made from old apple crates and an antique radio. So I needed to keep with the theme. I mentioned my grandpa's barn in my first post. After he died, my dad was put in charge of preparing his land to sell. The proceeds would go to the kids and grandkids as an inheritance. His house would ultimately be passed down to his oldest son when grandma moved to a home, and developers could turn the alfalfa fields, gardens, and barnyard to homes. My dad and brother were in charge or taking down the barn. OK, so really they were the only two in town who could be trusted to do the work, but this is not a post about family dynamics. They were smart enough to save a bunch of the old barnwood. Barnwood is very popular now, but this was 12 years or so ago before it was a fad. They had a few wise souls drive up and ask if they could take the wood, and luckily they said no. I got a share of the wood and have used it on different projects over the years. I never had enough to build anything big because I move around a lot and can't take a pallet of wood with me whenever I move.

I also had bunch of mason jars sitting around the house. One of my favorite things when I went over to grandma's house, was to go down into the fruit cellar (different than the root cellar) and get a bottle of canned raspberries. Canned raspberries in a bowl with milk is AMAZING, I mean life altering! So a mason jar is meaningful to me because of the memories. What can I do with barn wood and a mason jar? I looked around and saw some different uses, and liked the lamps I saw. The bay window in our family room has been designated as a reading area. I built a bench, which will be covered in a later post, but the lighting was horrible at night and during the winter. It hit me!

I had a large hose clamp and an old lamp laying around, so I put the materials together and created a barn wood mason jar wall sconce. This was at about the time I decided to start recording my projects and uploading them to YouTube at the recommendation of friends and family. This was my first “how-to” video, so the sound quality and editing is not great, but it is a very cool project. Here is the video:

It was a pain to reach up to turn the lamp on and off so I decided to install a switch on the cord:

I also built another one with the barn wood going side to side instead of up and down with two lamp shades. They turned out great and provided much needed light in the room. I'll show that one in a future post because it has additional details. And the best part about the first wall sconce? It was free! I already had all of the materials.