2013 Not Resolutions


  1. Restart GTD Hipster Pocket Book
  2. Cook for leftovers
  3. Workout
  4. Go to bed < 12:30
  5. Dog healing and crisp response to known commands
  6. Bookkeeping up-to-date
  7. Track work activities
  8. Balance volunteer commitments— no laurel resting, skating
  9. Post to DIYnot weekly
  10. Send photos and interesting things to grandparents
  11. Write letters to entities that need to improve something
  12. Take a class
  13. Backup digital information


Matt has been busy

My hubby designed and built us a new bed in one day!  Well, the design took a few weeks off and on and went through several iterations, but the building was completed in one day.  

He primed and painted a bedroom!  (I patched some drywall beforehand and Matt matched the perlite texture.)

He created built-in (ish) wardrobes in that bedroom with an overhead storage shelf!

He replaced most of the baseboard in that bedroom and some in the living room!

Sometimes the blogging doesn’t keep up with all the great work that Matt does.  Sometimes I go ahead and share what he’s done, but I’m going to let him tell you about these himself.  Maybe soon.  Hint, hint.


Tags: DIY Matt Kelly

The Wood Whisperer

Recently I was exploring our Tivo’s perk of offering podcast-like content.  The quality is excellent and this show, The Wood Whisperer, was a real find.  I have at least two friends who I consider to be fine wood workers, one professionally, the other as a hobbyist; I don’t at all consider myself to be even near to having such a level of skill.  I’m more of the “see nail, pound it” ilk but as I delve deeper into our projects I’m seeing that one day I’m might step into the light.  Until then, this show (and of course, Tom Silva and Norm Abram of This Old House), are drawing me closer.

Trimming out our windows and building the mantle were baby steps for me.  Sometimes I feel like I’m speaking first year spanish when it comes to woodworking/carpentry terminology so tonight I decided to solidify a few vocab words.  Here’s the back of one of my GTD hipster pocketbook notecard drawings that I filled in the blanks on:

And here is the Anatomy of Window Trim drawing (from This Old House) that taught me what words I was actually looking for:

Anatomy of Window Trim, source: This Old House


My carpenter

This was the scene I came home to one evening last week.  When I called home from work toward the end of that day, Matt told me “you don’t need to rush home anytime soon.”  I responded with a sarcastic thanks.  Of course it wasn’t because he didn’t want to see me, it was because all this was going on.  Please note that there are FOUR nail guns on the living room floor.  It was no problem for me to stay away longer because 1) I had plenty of food at work, 2) I had plenty of work to do, and 3) I needed to stop by Lowe’s on the way home to buy paint for the bathroom and one of the bedrooms.  Colors to be revealed when we get the painting done, which should be within the next week or two.  When I walked in the front door, Matt was literally holding up the TV trying (and failing) to get it clipped on to the wall mount bracket.  My timing was lucky; it’s a two person job.  But just look how proud he was:

And I’m proud too.  I love it that my hubby does things like this.  See Matt’s posts about how he did it and his SketchUp drawing of how it will look once the last bits of trim are added.


Mantel Photos

Starting at the end and working backward.  I finished building the majority of our mantel the other day.  I used Google’s free application, SketchUp, to crystallize the final design.  The original mantel looked like this:

Kelly came up with the idea to replace our old oil furnace with a highly efficient Mantis gas fireplace.  When we decided it was the right thing to do, we also rearranged the whole living room.

Once we improved the living room layout, part of which involved purchasing a flat screen, I proceeded to build a structure around the old brick chimney/fireplace. I didn’t mention it when I posted about building the structure how I tied into the wall framing and the mantle top.  I basically screwed 2x4 legs into the wall framing.  The legs each incorporated two 2x4s tied together in an L-shape with some 1/2” plywood to give me enough room to run 2x4 horizontals across the front of the chimney.  Then I built a couple of rectangles out of 2x2s so that any plywood facade could be tied into framing.  Here’s what I started with the other day:

Next, I used 18 gauge 1” nails (as I recall) to attach bead board and some finish grade plywood to the sides and top center of the mantle.  I had a good supply of bead board I had purchased during the summer for prototyping the exterior soffit (but then abandoned using bead board thus leaving me with a surplus of 1 1/2 4x8’ sheets) so I decided it would help distinguish the columns I was envisioning on the right and left.  Here are some links to the soffit project (my post; Kelly’s post) and looking back I see that we need to post the final caulked and painted photos because the finished version looks really good.

Taking down the mounted TV was a definitely a 2-3 person task but I managed to not throw out my back or make a $900 mistake when I brought it back down off the wall.  Ever since I had mounted the TV I had been a bit nervous about it not crashing off the wall so getting it down and knowing I was going to build a much stronger backing was a real motivation for getting this project underway.  Once the TV was down there was no going back because God knows we couldn’t survive another day without watching The Closer :-).

Here I have the 3/4” cabinet grade plywood fastened to the wall with screws and 12 gauge nails.  I’ve started nailing in the MDF 1x6” across the top of the mantle and on the base, 1x4” and 1x3” legs on the left column.

Before I attached the legs, I had to build out from the 2x2 and 2x4 structure at the edges around the fireplace flange so that I would have a single plane to attach the MDF.  When I previously fastened the plywood, I left a buffer of about 1/2” so that I wouldn’t have to cut the plywood perfectly so that it would be flush with the outside of the mantle and the inside (near the flange).  I ripped down (using my table saw setup) some MDF 3/8” strips to get me close to the plane I wanted.  This helped me get flush in three dimensions (with the plywood and into the fireplace opening with the plane of the 2x2s).  It’s hard to see but when your strips are very small, MDF splits pretty easy when you hit it with a nail so I switched over to staples.  One split I had to rip out and put in a small piece (Robert had a name for this practice/piece but I can’t remember it at the moment).  While my work wasn’t perfect, I decided it was good enough and pushed on.

Before remounting the TV I put 1/4” bead board across the breadth of the plywood backer.  I needed to cut one sheet into two 42” tall sections so that the beads would line up vertically and so that I could use the lap edging that adorns the long sides of bead board (the lap edging allows you to butt the long side of the sheets together so that the joint just looks like another bead).

If you made it this far… thanks!  Now go back to the beginning and hopefully you’ll appreciate the final (almost) product.  After I re-attached the TV mount, Kelly helped me get the TV back on the mounting arm.  Fortunately for me, she came home at the perfect time—all of the construction was done and I was starting to sweat bullets that I couldn’t get the weighty TV back on the the mount by myself.

To finish the project I need to run some more MDF vertically toward the ceiling from the top of the mantel.  In my mind this will carry the outside lines of the two columns up toward the ceiling and emphasize the chimney.  We also need to finalize how these legs will someday tie into crown molding: so there is a horizontal detail at the very top of the bead board (where it meets the ceiling) that still needs to be worked out.

Thanks for reading!


Mantel SketchUp Drawing.  Today I threw myself into actually building it.  There&#8217;s a few more details yet to be added (in real life) but it&#8217;s 75% done.  I need someone to be my 25% person so I can start painting the small bedroom.  Kelly pushed me to hand draw a few versions, I lost the best drawing during my &#8220;Home Depot closing in 10 minutes frenzied state&#8221; a week ago, and I finally decided I should really cut my teeth on SketchUp to really get it right.  A lot of fun creating the drawings and even more fun finally building it.  More details and pictures soon.

Mantel SketchUp Drawing.  Today I threw myself into actually building it.  There’s a few more details yet to be added (in real life) but it’s 75% done.  I need someone to be my 25% person so I can start painting the small bedroom.  Kelly pushed me to hand draw a few versions, I lost the best drawing during my “Home Depot closing in 10 minutes frenzied state” a week ago, and I finally decided I should really cut my teeth on SketchUp to really get it right.  A lot of fun creating the drawings and even more fun finally building it.  More details and pictures soon.


Shimmage (Shims the easy way)

Installing the trim is way easier if I staple the shims into place before hand.  In the picture, the shims don’t support the window (there are ones that do this but are mostly cut off), they just create a plane that will keep the sill and casings flat/vertical (or at least nearly so).

When I first started shimming the trim I just used a razor blade to cut the shims to the length I wanted.  But this proved to be a pain because I not only needed to combine multiple shims together but they all had to be less than several inches long.  By clamping a block to my miter saw fence 2.5” away from the blade I made 20 large shims into 100 or so 2.5” shims — with very little effort.

Just before I place the shims in the window opening, I grab a handful and arrange them from thin to thick.  That way I can quickly grab several different thicknesses to create a combination that is the total thickness that I want.

Another gem I found along the journey…


PS.  I would love to model this post after an infomercial— if only there was enough time in the day.  At first, black and white.  You see me attempting to cut a shim with a razor blade and making one of several embarrassing or dangerous cutting slips: nearly stabbing myself as I try to cut the shim on my leg; gouging the wall accidentally; Gintzuing off the bottom of the curtains.  Then you would see a close-up of me cutting the shim and it falling to pieces (POOF and I’m left with a handful of toothpicks).  Or maybe I successfully incised the shim but then it won’t break off— I’m left toiling, trying and trying to break the shim along my cut but to no avail; surrendering with my head shaking and hands raised in frustration.  Then, POOF #2: from a cloud of glittery smoke my blog post appears in technicolor, light shining upon it, and you totally understand that how you used to use shims is like proto-man pushing a cart with square wheels!  All of a sudden I want to work for a marketing firm or start a comic strip ;-)

Here is my table saw setup.  I’ve been busy trying to put the lid on the window/siding/insulation project that’s been under construction for the last year and a half.  The siding/insulation part that we set out to accomplish is totally done.  All that remains is finishing the trim on the inside of the windows.  This is my first real shot, ever really, of doing finish carpentry and I have to say, I like it.  But what I’m really jazzed about at the moment is the journey so I’ll save showing the actual install until later and start with showing you my old, cheap, nearly given away table saw. 

First lesson I learned along the journey is that I needed my table saw to do a good job.  I bought my saw off a guy for about $10.  At first I was a little worried it might kill me, then I was worried I couldn’t cut a straight line for my life, and now I’m in that special place where it just works (though it still might kill me but it hasn’t yet so I’m not too worried about it).  

Most trim used for finish carpentry comes in 8’-16’ pieces.  Often one has to rip a piece down to size (make a cut lengthwise which produces a skinny and a fat piece).  Sometimes you need to rip a piece of plywood to get two 2x8’ pieces.  The actual table on the table saw is nowhere big enough to support the cutting process in either of these situations.  And as far as I can tell, just a stand to hold up ones table saw costs about $70 (but doesn’t help support materials so really doesn’t buy you much).  What most carpenters do in their shop (at least my buddy Rob does this), is build the table saw permanently set into a bigger table that is wide and long enough to support materials throughout the cutting process.  On the job site, I gather, they have a setup like my pictures show.  The criteria for creating the setup were: (1) it has to be collapsible (or at least storable, and by that I mean not take too much space), (2) it has to create a plane that is in the plane of the table saw table’s plane, and (3), it needed to be cheap and preferably use materials I had lying around. 

On all these fronts my design has been a success: I used scrap wood and some 2x4’s, screws, clamps, and my saw horses.  Here’s some details I couldn’t include in the captions above:

I do use a chair to support long bendy pieces during the first phase of cutting them (i.e. while I still have greater than 2/3 of a cut to make the piece will bend down to the ground if not supported and the back of the chair keeps the bending to just a few inches so that the piece is flat on the table and not arching up and across the table).  I also cut some angles into my drop-in supports so that when the already cut end of pieces bends down a little it doesn’t butt into the support but rides up and over it as if climbing a ramp.  The rests are just little blocks that support the long 2x4 extensions until I clamp them to the main frame; they’re positioned so the top of the extensions are in the same plane as the top of the saw’s table.  The drop-ins rest on rails, just long narrow strips of plywood I had in my scrap pile and screwed onto the extensions.  I have three drop-ins and one cross piece that I actually screw onto the extensions so that the clamps and the attached piece make the whole setup rigid.  Everything just rests on the horses and while I haven’t had any stability problems you have to be careful not to tip the setup over if you’re ripping a heavy-ish piece of lumber.

Not only did I need a table to support the materials I need to cut, I also needed to make straight cuts.  For this I created a feather guide which a quick Google search revealed is a common accessory that carpenters make to facilitate making straight cuts.  I had a piece of 1x4 stock lying around and using my miter saw I cut a 45 degree on the end of the 2’+ long piece and then using the table saw I cut 10 or so 3” cuts along the length of the piece on the 45 degree end.  When clamped down these fins help keep the piece from pulling away from the table saw fence (the fence is basically an adjustable guide that clamps onto the table saw so that you can make a cut of some width ranging from less than an inch to 15” inches or so).  The feather guide has me making great cuts and it also helps resist kickback (some added safety) because the fins help resist forces that would accelerate the piece back towards me (like a projectile).

Table saws are seriously dangerous so do some homework before you ever get started with one.  When I was in high school I saw about an inch of thumb on the woodshop floor because a classmate ran his intact thumb across the blade.  Make sure to have a push stick (the handled one I fashioned is pretty good) and I hear that you should keep the blade guard on too.  Buy a good blade.  And like in so many situations where safety is tantamount, keep serious track of where you’re at: hands/fingers away from the blade, head not directly behind the blade, trip hazards, etc.


In between projects

Haven’t wrote about programming/development work I’m doing in a long time.  I’ll spare you the details but want to share a thought about the “in-between limbo.”  When you work on a project for say 8 months, it’s hard to finish it and it’s hard to move on.  This is especially true when it is R&D (but house projects, community projects, and others share much in common too).  For me, R&D generally means I’m presented with a problem, usually having to do with understanding how water moves on the planet, and then I must solve it, usually through scientific computing (programming). 

In the past, it was water and things in the ocean.  Nowadays, it’s water falling on, accumulating on, and moving over the land.  What makes it so hard is that there is always more that could be done.  And as you do more, especially things you didn’t envision doing when you started, the complexity and expansiveness of the project grows.  And then you have to write about it.  Fortunately I have a draft paper that I’ve polished several times. But it’s not finished.  Really, it can’t be: there are countless things I could do more of, better, and more thoroughly.

So now I’m moving on.  I have to.  My hope is that by diving into something new, I gain new momentum on the next thing I have to do.  At the same time, I think standing back from the old project will allow me to return to it with fresh eyes and the fortitude to call it “good enough.”  It would be great if the old project was done and I could never think about it again— but I don’t really see that as my job description and when I really think about projects having finite boundaries it kind of bores me.  All this helps me rationalize that I’m OK with imperfect completion and that productivity demands that I’m OK with it.

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Temple Grandin

It’s been days since Kelly and I watched the movie named after her.  It was so excellent that even now I’m still jazzed with the feeling of getting to look behind the curtain.  Awesome that someone with such a difficult condition, autism, has done so much to help others deal with it; and through it, has helped human beings better understand their furry friends and deal with them more humanely. 





Note from Kelly: About a year ago I read one of Temple Grandin’s books, Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals, and loved it.  Her insights into how animals perceive things are amazing and so useful in any interaction with the animals in our lives.  Another book of hers, Animals in Translation, has been on my reading list for a while, and now I’m requesting it from the library.

(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)