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…

-Matt

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.

-Matt

I have yet to catch Matt actually grunting and saying “more power!”, but I’m pretty sure this is how he feels inside about power tools.  -Kelly

I have yet to catch Matt actually grunting and saying “more power!”, but I’m pretty sure this is how he feels inside about power tools.  -Kelly

(Source: monsterssoutside)

The glory of compost and a 3-prong long handled cultivator

I spent about an hour weeding in the yard this past evening.  Seldom, if ever, have I felt exhilarated by weeding.  But today was the day where I was enthralled by it.

I’m slowly reclaiming my front yard from the blandness of green grass.  Actually, my grass is not that green nor does it consist solely of grass… plenty of moss and other typically unwelcome volunteers adorn it (like lipstick on a pig—because the grass isn’t all that green or endearing in its current state).  So over the last month and a half, as the soil has dried with the onset of spring-ish weather and the accompanying occasional ray of sunlight, I’ve been pecking away at keeping the grass from reclaiming what I’ve reclaimed. 

A little perspective:  I’ve dug up patches of grass, covered some grass with compost, converted other parts to raised beds and garden beds.  I wouldn’t say any of it is polished but I think I’m starting to see some sparkle with my diy-landscaper's eye.

Last year I split 8 or 10 yards of compost with my neighbor.  I think I probably ended up with 70% of the pile.  I spread much of this in beds (for landscaping and for veggie growing) in my front yard: some along the planter strip (adjacent to the street), part in front of the foundation of my house, and another part in the front lawn proper (in raised and un-raised beds). Where I placed compost I generally applied it to about 3-5 inches depth.

Today I really started to appreciate the benefits of using compost as mulch.  In addition to my plantings starting to mature (which took some time because many of them preceeded the mulch by a year), I’ve found that the grass that has grown through or seeded in the compost is surprisingly easy to remove.  Not like it comes out as easily as a hot knife through butter, but with my hands and with the assistance of a 3-prong long handled cultivator, the pests are being controlled much more easily than I anticipated.

No pictures downloaded yet, but take my word, mulching with compost produces healthy plants, and combined with a cultivator, it produces a very happy gardener.  One of the great things about the long handle cultivator is that with it, the gardener can be standing and tear out stubborn weeds/grass with efficiency; or crouching and reach a distant but distracting “needs to be pulled” weed without having to raise up or even move much more than their arm; or while planning their next move, thinking about which weed should go next, simply continue to do right by their landscape by doing a little bit of cultivating (breaking the crusty soil surface apart).

I can’t wait to continue the battle tomorrow and to get some more compost delivered soon!  I’m looking forward to this summer when I’ll be able to reap the benefits of my mulching efforts, benefits which include the compost mulch helping the soil retain its moisture which equates to me saving time/money by having to irrigate less.

—Matt

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Dog Door

For four years, we lived in rentals with a dog.  Having the freedom to install a dog door was honestly one of my most frequently thought-of reasons for owning a home.  Sometimes dogs have to pee early in the morning when I like to sleep in.  Sometimes they get sick and want to go outside in a hurry, and it’s much more pleasant for them and for people if they can get outside quickly.  And old Wilbur’s greatest joy in life is being inside the house, so I didn’t want to relegate him to the yard for long periods of time.  Soon after Wilbur came home with us, we installed the dog door.  It was a pretty straightforward process, though it did take some time.  Here’s how it went:

1. Complete 6 foot fence around back yard.

2. Get dog.

3. Realize the antique screen door will have to go.

4. Do a bunch of research and choose a type of door.  I considered the ones that unlock or even open magically when a pet wearing the magnetic or electronic “key” collar approaches, and while I liked the enhanced security aspect, I decided the simplicity of the traditional flap made more sense for us.  I then proceeded to choose pretty much the most expensive flap door possible: the Endura Flap.  But with a solid frame construction, effective seals to keep cold air from constantly leaking in, and a 10 year warranty on the flaps, it might be worth it, especially if when we replace the back door and have to uninstall and reinstall the dog door one or more times.

5. Check for proper door sizing using dog, treats, and a piece of cardboard.

6. Order door.  Receive door. 

7. Trace included template on door.  Check for level.

8. Take door off hinges.

9. Use jigsaw to cut hole.

10. Cut some 2x4s [Edit: whoops, I meant 1x4s] to attach to the ridiculously thin panel of the door so that the double-flap (more energy efficient) model will fit.

11. Get rid of the routed edge around the panel using the Fein multimaster and a chisel.

12. Drill, countersink and screw the 2x4s to the door.

13. Put the door back on its hinges.

14. Follow directions to install the dog door frame, including make sure it’s level.

15. Attempt to use wood filler to cover the screws and joints between pieces of wood.  Fail “Buy some experience,” as Matt’s grandpa says.  Figure out why technique was no good and led to ugly cracks.

16. Use birthday gift of blade/carving set to remove wood filler and redo the job better.  Decide that wood filler is ok on the screws but caulk is better for the joints between pieces of wood - at least on the exterior side.  Yes, Matt really got this for me for my b-day, and yes, I do appreciate gifts like this.

17. Caulk the interior joint between the two sides of the frame so the cut part of the door won’t be exposed to water.

18. Teach dog to use his door by throwing treats through while holding the flap open. Rejoice when he starts using it on his own after only one day.

19. Procrastinate on painting the door, figuring it will be more efficient to do it when we’re already painting siding and trim in the not too distant future.

20. Enjoy happy dog.  Sleep in.  Start next project.

-Kelly

Edit: The dog door came with a panel that locks it from the inside, so if Wilbur isn’t home to guard the house, we can still keep intruders out.

Fence Project (ancillary benefits)

A great thing about this project, building the fence, is that in the process of tearing down the the old one and clearing some of the landscape for the new one, resources that I need for caring for the yard (mulch) and building raised beds/chicken coop/kennel (old fence slats and 2x4s) have been generated in spades.  Best thing, I didn’t have to pay anything for reusing these materials.

Before I could get going with the fence, I had some clearing to do.  Some trees and their branches were totally in the way of the the planned fenceline.  Others needed some serious pruning to the point that topping seemed to be the only economic and easy solution to getting them back into shape.  But holding off until after the fence was built would have made the job trickier—the fence would have been at great risk of getting smashed up by falling branches.

The most challenging branch, actually the trunk.

My neighbor lent me his electric chainsaw.  Nice and light, surprisingly tough, and small enough to work in small places.

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Springtime resurgence

[the entrance to the crawl space]

Matt spent many hours in the crawl space under our house last summer and well into the fall.  He drilled holes and fished wires up into the walls, cut galvanized steel pipes and soldered copper ones.  Fortunately, there’s pretty good clearance under there so that you can squat or bring something to kneel or sit on.  Some crawl spaces really are only crawlable.  Even so, I’m thankful to Matt for doing most of the work under the house.  I ventured into the crawl space several times, and it actually wasn’t that bad, but it was still nice to be the above ground half of the team.  It’s not something I ever thought about before we started working on the house, but having a taller crawl space has made a huge difference in our ability to run wiring and work on plumbing.

[Matt decked out in PPE (personal protective equipment) - safety first!]

We’ve been on somewhat of a hiatus from major home improvement projects since December.  (Though Matt has been very active in the yard and I’ve been working on some small projects.)  Now that it’s spring, it’s time to get going again on some of the big things.  We have oh so many projects lined up.  And recent visits to friends’ houses are helping me imagine how nice it will be.  I just have to keep picturing that, because it’s going to be a while.

-Kelly