Monday, February 6, 2017

Quick Wins #1: Lighting

I am currently working on updating all of our outdated trim, and it's taking longer than expected. I also want to paint the walls before I reattach said trim, so it may be a while before I have something substantial to post on here.

Also, I've been getting a little disheartened that it is taking me so long to finish this project, and I've been having a tough time staying motivated (which just drags out the timeline more). So I thought there might be some "quick wins" I could attempt that would help keep me motivated. Here is the first one.

Our lights are outdated. And gold. Yup, gold. We have a few dome lights, some mushroom lights, and a globe or two. In the bathrooms we have hollywood lighting.



Needless to say, updating the light fixtures is on our list, though it won't be for a while.

Anyway, I found a tutorial that talked about using metallic spray paint to update your fixtures (take off the glass and light bulbs, put up paper on the ceiling around the light and around the internals, then spray). Since I am already planning on replacing them, and I just happened to have metallic spray paint in my cupboard, I thought, "Why not?" Here are the results of my 15-minute experiment. What do you think?


I like it, but will probably grab a can of "satin nickel" for any other updates (ceiling fans??) instead of the "silver" I used here. I think this is a little bright.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Kitchen Cabinets

This is a follow-up to my last post on the bathroom cabinets. Redoing those gave me courage to refinish our kitchen cabinets. We have a big kitchen. I counted our cabinets, and we have 11 drawers and 27 cabinet doors, so this was a big undertaking.


I had some time off of work coming up, so I planned to get it all done during that time. I almost did it, too. If only the sanding had taken less time. I only planned for one day of sanding, but ended up taking three.

The process was essentially the same as the bathroom cabinets. First I took all the doors and drawer faces off, then the hinges and handles (which ended up taking about two hours just for that). This time I left the slides on, though, because the soft close slides take a lot more effort to take off / put on than the ones we have in the bathroom. Then I sanded.

All the doors and drawer faces off and sanded (along the wall)
I bought a quarter sheet sander, and spent three part days (about 4-6 hours each day was all I could take) sanding the cabinet doors and drawer faces, and then the faces of the cabinets themselves. It was quite an undertaking, and I listened to the cast recording of Hamilton about four times. Kristen helped me wipe them down, then I taped down plastic to the dining room and living room floors where the drawers/doors would be.


My original plan was to do two coats the first day - one first thing in the morning, and then one about 8 hours later. However, the first coat ended up taking me about 5 hours, instead of the expected 2-3, so that was out. I did the second coat on day 2 (took about 3.5 hours that time), then took a break on day 3 and did the third coat on day 4 (about 2 hours). I then finished off with the final coat on day 6 (about 2 hours).

After one coat
Four coats, before I painted the sides of the cabinets
I let them dry for five days before applying the two top coats. I decided to apply the finish on one side and let it dry before flipping it over, instead of using the painter's pyramids to do both sides in one pass. That way, there would be no marring of the finish from handling it (though it added some time). I originally wanted to finish the cabinets before Christmas, but that didn't happen. So then I wanted to be done before we left for Portland on the 29th - also didn't happen. But I did get two coats on the front and one coat on the back before we left. After we got back to Minnesota, I did the final coat and reattached everything.

Shiny topcoat v. no topcoat
Now, I also have laminate portions of the cabinets. Instead of real wood, they put up laminate on the some of the sides. For that, I put on two coats of General Finishes Milk Paint (the Dark Chocolate color matches their Java Gel Stain), then added a couple topcoats of the polyurethane gel (even though the paint says it doesn't need a topcoat). And there we have it - refinished kitchen cabinets! Here are a couple angles.



Saturday, December 31, 2016

Bathroom Cabinets

We have a lot of honey-colored oak in our house. And while real wood is nice...I'm not a huge fan of the color. After a lot of research on the internet for changing wood color, I happened upon General Finishes Java Gel Stain. It is a very, very thick, dark gel stain (like a cross between a stain and a paint). If you've ever looked for a way to make oak look like a darker wood, you might have seen it. There are tons of tutorials (this one was the best I found).


I decided that before we changed our entire kitchen, we would try it out on our bathroom first, since it was smaller and less visible to people. This was actually pretty simple to do. The first step was to take off all the doors and drawer faces, and then remove the drawer slides and the hinges so I could get at the wood. I sanded off the shiny top coat first, which ended up being no small task with the grooves on the doors.


After that, I pulled out the stain. It is SUPER thick. I applied it with an old sock (worn on a gloved hand, so no stained fingers for me), and I put FOUR coats on to get it to the color I wanted. You really only need to let it dry about 24 hours between coats, but because I was doing it in the evenings and we had a new baby, sometimes it was longer. Also, because it is winter, I had to let it dry inside. I set up a table in our half bathroom, but it only fit some of the pieces, which means the whole process took me three times as long as I wanted it to.

Comparison: sanded v. one coat of stain 
In process: first coat
Rare action shot: finishing up coat #1
The fourth coat ended up being more of a painting process than the usual wipe on / wipe off of stain. After the fourth coat, I let the pieces dry for 5 days before applying two top coats of a satin polyurethane gel.

No top coat on left | Top coat on right
Then everything was put back together. I think it turned out really well, and determined I would also do the kitchen cabinets, as well as the upstairs bathroom and the banister. I may also end up doing the kitchen table and chairs too. Those are all way down the line in my priority list, though.

Finished product
(planning to paint the trim white)

Monday, December 26, 2016

Roller Blinds

At the end of 2015, I made a plan - it had a bunch of house projects on it, and they were grouped together into months. The idea was to complete each project in its appropriate month. I even gave some projects multiple months, because I knew I was under-estimating the time it would take to finish them.

Well, I'm done with January's projects (soft-close drawers and cabinets / king bed headboard) and February's projects, which I'm going to tell you about today. But March? April? Nope. May/June? Started on it. July? Half done! August? Not even on my radar anymore. September/October? Maybe one part out of five. November/December? Not likely.

Of course, I got a whole bunch of other side projects done. Like car stuff, the loft bed, picture frames, the sewing table, toilet fixed, kid book shelves...pretty much everything else that I've posted about on here. Oh well.

Anyway, so ever since I saw The Holiday, I have wanted motorized blackout roller blinds. You know, from this part:

Now, I didn't go that far - no motorized blinds (I looked into it, and it'll happen someday). However, I did install custom blackout roller shades. "But Adam, aren't those expensive if you buy them custom?" you ask. They sure are, if you buy them! But I made them! "Wouldn't it have been easier and taken far less time and effort if you bought them, though?" Stop asking silly questions.

Anyway, on to the windows. Kristen and I like it dark when we sleep. It also helps when Kristen gets migraines to be in a super dark area. So what I did was make roller blinds that would fit our bathroom window and our sliding glass door (the two areas that let in light to our room). Then I did the same to our spare room and the girls' bedroom upstairs. I left them off of the office window (fourth bedroom).

To start, I did a ton of research. The key components to a good roller blind are:
1. Tube: preferably aluminum, which is expensive, so I ended up going with PVC) - I bought this at Lowe's
I used PVC pipe for the roller blind - you can use any
diameter you want, as long as it fits your clutch hardware.
2. Roller blind clutch and attachment hardware: this is the part that is inserted into the tube on either end and has the string that lets you pull it up and down - I bought this online from China for less than $2/set
Clutch hardware from China
3. Blackout fabric: not "room darkening" fabric - bought this at JoAnn's with coupons (as it can be pricey)
This is the fabric rolled out using tape to temporarily connect two pieces.
We ended up doing the sliding doors as two separate roller blinds.
4. Channel: this is for the blind to roll down in, to block out light at the edges - I accomplished this with vinyl "J channel" and T channel (used for tile floors), epoxied to the old PVC vertical blinds I took from the sliding glass door area, cut to fit the windows

Channel is the key to a dark room, and is the trickiest part.
I'll spare you most of the details, but I cut the tubing, mounted the hardware, had to jury rig the clutches to fit (dang mm-to-in conversions), experimented with making and mounting the channel, had to drill out a rusted bolt from my sliding glass door so the handle wouldn't obstruct the blinds, be super careful about cutting the fabric, and deal with all kinds of other complications. But...I finally got them up and they work great.

Pre-channel mount in the bedroom
Final blinds with curtains as well
Now, I'm fully aware that my solution isn't perfect - it doesn't completely block out all the light, and it's not nearly as pretty as the professional ones. But it still works pretty good, and I did it for a small fraction of the cost of the custom blinds I will someday have in a future house.

This is the brightest time of day, without the curtains too

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Scarlett's Loft Bed

For some reason, I decided it would be a good idea to build Scarlett a loft bed. Four factors were happening to cause this.
1. Scarlett is getting too big to fit in a toddler bed.
2. We are trying to potty train Felicity, and she never was very good at climbing out of her crib (Scarlett got her out).
3. We have a new baby coming, so we have to get Felicity into the toddler bed, which means Scarlett needs a new one.
4. Scarlett really wanted a bunk bed, but Kristen was worried about ladders combined with darkness combined with kids, so the ones available weren't great. Also, I built our headboard, so how much harder could a whole bed be?

This took way longer than I thought it would, mostly because I used crappy wood (since I was planning to paint it, and wanted to not spend a zillion dollars on it). Said wood had a lot of twists and bends to it. Not having a planer or a jointer, that left me to learn how to use a hand planer I got at a garage sale. Spoiler alert: it isn't super great for furniture. Long story short, it took a while to get the wood how I wanted it (and it's still not quite how I wanted it). Oh, and have I mentioned I hate sanding?

Anyhow, I found some plans online, modified them, and built the bed. For the stairs, I made my own plans based on similar stairs I'd seen. I built it mostly with 2x4's and 2x6's. I also used 2x2's for the cleats, and 1x2's and 1x4's for the slats and railing on the stairs. The railing isn't painted, because it was done really quickly, and I'll probably replace it with 2x2's later (more sturdy).

Let me know what you think!

I originally wanted to make this easier to take apart, so I drilled holes, bought bolts, etc. Because of the twisted nature of my wood, that wasn't happening, so I abandoned the attempt and filled in the holes. This was the first pass - I filled in smooth and no one can tell now.
Partially assembled (upside down). Kristen helped me get the pieces in the right spots
I later realized that some of the pieces were off significantly, so I had to take them apart and re-attach.
All put together
I painted it fully assembled, let it dry, then disassembled for moving up to the girls' room.
Here it is all painted
I cut slats out of 1x2 and 1x4 wood to support the mattress, then screwed them into the cleats.
Here are the stairs with Felicity for reference. I actually painted these before assembling.
The stairs were made to have nice storage areas underneath.
A shot of the stairs (you might see an unpainted spot at the bottom - I messed up and put the
bottom brace on the front instead of the back, so I had to switch it. I'll do touch-up paint later.
Here is the bed fully assembled with stairs
With kids :)

Monday, October 10, 2016

Car Posts

I have purchased four used cars in the past two years. You might say I'm getting to be an expert on it. That's what my cousin thinks when I help her with used car buying, anyway. I look at cars as a vehicle to get from point A to point B, so I don't tend to care how pretty they look (i.e. the golf-ball sized hail dents in my Subaru Impreza Outback). I also tend to be cheap, so I buy older (but relatively reliable) cars. If I can get a car for fairly inexpensive, and only need to do simple maintenance/repairs on it, it more than pays for itself.

For example, I purchased my Malibu Maxx almost two years ago for $2000. The purchase price of that (so far) is $83/month. Aside from standard maintenance (oil changes), I've had to replace the brakes and rotors on it, the headlights, and the struts. I did all of the replacements myself, buying OEM or better quality parts (better than I probably would have gotten at a shop), with a total cost for all three of $538.66. That brings my total cost for the car up to $106/month. Not a bad deal, considering the average cost for a lease or car loan these days.

As I mentioned, with buying older cars, I've started to teach myself how to fix things, using online forums and YouTube videos. I've drained and filled a transmission, replaced brake pads and rotors, changed differential oil, replaced brake light and headlight assemblies, fixed a brake light switch and an in-vehicle entertainment system, fixed a moon roof roller blind, and just this weekend swapped out strut assemblies. As a result of all this knowledge I've tapped into, I wanted to give back a little bit, so with a couple of my recent repairs, I took some time to make some "how-to" videos as well. Hopefully others will benefit from my experience.



2005 Chrysler Town & Country Brake Replacement



2005 Malibu Maxx Strut Assembly Replacement

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Picture Frames: Updated

A few years back, I found a site that occasionally had a really good deal on canvas prints. The only downside was that they were unstretched and just shipped rolled up. To have someone stretch it can cost up to $50-100, so I decided to learn how to do it myself.

Having limited tools and space (living in a two-bedroom apartment with no garage), I bought a miter saw box and through a lot of trial and error, eventually figured out how to build the stretcher bars, stretch the canvas, and even how to make a floating frame that would still show off the image that was wrapped around the side of the stretcher bars (called a gallery wrap).

Over the years, I did about six of these, for our own home and for family. Earlier this year, there was another deal on canvas prints, and I decided to offer my services at cost to family. The deal extended all the way up to very large 20x30 prints (my previous max was 18x24). I ended up ordering six canvases.

Over the course of several weeks, I measured, cut, glued, stretched, stapled, stained, and mounted the canvases.

Frames after the first coat of stain
First stretched canvas
Here are the finished products - please ignore the bathtub in the background - the bathroom has the best light. The last one is the one I did for our family.