salvaged butternut wood for the kitchen shelves

Posted: December 11th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: kitchen, woodworking | Tags: | No Comments »

well-used plans

We’ve done lots of thinking and sketching and brainstorming about the kitchen shelves, and now that the plans are final(?!) we’re building them. We decided to use some butternut wood that I helped my dad salvage from a fallen tree in the the woods across the street from my parents’ house on thanksgiving day of 1990! We hauled the tree home and one of my dad’s friends sawed it into planks with some kind of portable sawmill. They stickered and stacked it in the goat shed to dry out, and it’s been there ever since, waiting for the right project. So (21 years later) Richard offered it to us for our shelves! We had to clear away some clutter to get at it, and brush away a lot of dust, but it still looked pretty good. (Some of the wood stacked in the loft above Richard’s workshop has been in storage maybe 50 years or longer!) Butternut is a little soft but it’s a hardwood and it’s got a nice warm color and distinctive grain that we think will look nice for our shelves.

dog in the woodshop
a whole bunch of wood in the workshop, i think some of it is the butternut we used for the shelves.

building new front steps

Posted: May 1st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: progress, woodworking | No Comments »

house and ell

before: no door, no steps

When we first got here we were using the back door (complete with “no trespassing” sign) as the main entrance; then back in November we finally installed a beautiful new door from the kitchen onto the porch, and we switched over to using the new door all the time despite a lack of steps – we would just leap up from the driveway onto the porch and in through the new door. Winter came and the snow piled up so high it reached the porch and you didn’t miss the steps at all. But come spring thaw, the absence was notable and if you happened to be carrying something big or heavy, you’d have to stop and set it down on the porch in order to hop up; visitors wondered which door to knock on, since the lack of steps was not exactly inviting. So, time to build some steps.

building new front steps

first cuts on the bandsaw

building new front steps

starting to assemble the pieces
building new front steps

screwing the pieces together

building new front steps

this was a fun and quick project! after the demanding challenge of the cabinetry project, it was nice to do something so snappy an easy. here’s the almost-finished steps in situ:

built new front steps

we’re happily using the steps now, but we’re not totally done here, the next stage will be to take the steps out, dig up the ground underneath and pour some proper cement footing, then fill in the area with crushed rock or something, put the steps back in and then paint them white! Maybe someday we could even add a railing.

more about cabinets

Posted: April 30th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: kitchen, woodworking | 1 Comment »

there hasn’t been too much new stuff to post because… we’re STILL working away on the cabinets (here’s the first installment about cabinets). I’m still enjoying it, though it just seems to go on and on and on… Cabinetry demands an insane level of precision, and if anything is off by one thirty-second of an inch, then it’s got to be redone. (that’s 0.03125 inches!) I think Mike is kinda over it, but I’m enjoying the adventure, and I hope Richard is too. Anyway, since we’re spending so much time on this, I thought I’d add more detail about what we’re doing.

cabinet plans cabinet plans

left: cabinet case plans and plywood cut plans for under-sink cabient; right: cabinet face plans for drawers

The cabinet cases are the easiest part. We’re using nice quality birch plywood here, which comes in 4′ x 8′ sheets. We’ve drawn up plans and cut lists so I check the plans and measure out (very carefully) where to make the cuts. Richard got a cool Festool circular saw that runs along a little track, which makes impressively straight, neat, accurate cuts and is very handy and portable. We use about one sheet of plywood per cabinet, depending on dimensions. Richard has built a wonderfully handy “cutting table” just for this purpose; it’s a criss-crossed grid of scrap wood that gets nibbled into by the saw with every cut; it’s big enough to support the 4×8 sheets of plywood but it’s also easily collapsible and can be packed away when we’re done with this project.

cutting table

a grid of scrap wood on top of sawhorses – perfect for cutting up big sheets of plywood. At the far end, our cabinet-making jig is sitting atop the super-flat work surface.

Richard also built a super-flat work surface that we use to do our joinery. The level of precision required for cabinets makes you realize that there is no truly flat surface anywhere in the workshop! The poured concrete floor is wavy, the tables are all slanted, nothing’s truly, entirely flat when you really need it to be perfect! We also made up some right-angle jigs that we use for clamping the cut pieces together at a (hopefully) perfect right angle while we join them. So, once the pieces are neatly cut, we move onto the flat surface and start cutting the biscuit slots with our new biscuit joiner. It’s a nifty little device that cuts little slots into the edges of the plywood, then you use flat little discs of compressed wood fiber to fit the pieces neatly together. It’s a super easy quick joint, though we’ve discovered it’s not the most precise method of joinery, and because it requires wood glue to hold the joint, it’s unfortunately impossible to back up and make adjustments if something doesn’t come out quite perfect. So we only use the biscuit joiner for the rougher work on the cabinet case. We also use pocket screws, in addition to the biscuit joints, which basically act as clamps to hold the joints steady while the glue dries, and just adds additional strength to the joints. For a 31.5″ long joint, we use about four biscuit slots and three pocket screws. This is my only photo (I’ve already posted this one previously, sorry!) showing the assembly of the cabinet cases:

cabinet making

cabinet sides are clamped to a right-angle jig while we glue the biscuit joints and screw in the pocket screws

The most challenging part of the cases is attempting to get everything put together at right angles. It turns out the plywood, while less prone to warping than solid wood (because of the alternating layers of wood with criss-crossed grain direction), still does warp, and that makes it pretty hard to get everything square, when each supposedly flat sheets has its own twisty, warpy, independent will! But we do the best we can.

Once the cabinet case is all done, then comes the face frame. This part requires more precision; for the cabinets with doors it’s got to be quite precise, so that the doors can swing open and shut without jamming or catching; and for the cabinets with drawers it has to be even more exact! We use solid beech wood for the face frames, .75″ thick by 1.5″ wide. Richard found that the 1.5″ stock available at the lumber store was awfully twisted and warpy, so we ended up buying 4″ wide boards (which just happened to be significantly straighter) and slicing every board in half on the band saw, then hand-planing them down to the perfect thickness. I’m learning how to use a plane and I think I’m getting better at it! It’s very easy to make things quite crooked with a hand plane; making them not-crooked is the challenge. We use a coarser plane first, then a finer plane for fine adjustments, a pair of calipers to make sure the thickness is correct (to within a sixteenth of an inch) and a little square to make sure the planed edges are square and flat.

building cabinets

hand-planing the cabinet face stock

Next step is using the mitre saw to cut these pieces to length. This has been problematic; our miter saw is supposed to be able to cut a perfect right-angle but the results have been unpredictable and we’ve struggled a lot to try and get the saw working with the level of precision we need. This weekend Richard just built another new jig that we hope will let us hand-plane the ends of the wood to achieve a perfectly square end.

Here are all the pieces of a cabinet face, some finished and some un-trimmed.

building cabinets

cabinet face under construction

Once the pieces are cut to size, we use a pocket-screw jig to pre-drill the screw holes. It’s a special kind of technique that screws the pieces together at an angle, going in from the backside. As long as your pieces are cut quite square, it’s a very easy joint to make. The result is a beautifully perfect joint without any screw heads or holes visible from the exterior!

building cabinets

pocket screw jig

building cabinets

angled holes for pocket screws

Here’s a finished cabinet face!

building cabinets

Again, we use pocket screws to attach the finished face frame to the cabinet case. Then comes the drawers and drawer slides! So far, Richard has been working on the drawer construction while we work on the other stuff. He’s been using a pinned rabbet joint with beautiful wooden pegs to construct the drawers. Then the drawer slides – I think this is the most difficult part of all! However crooked or out-of-alignment the cabinet construction is, Richard has to make up the difference by custom-fitting each drawer slide to compensate for the irregularity. We could’ve saved a lot of time by using metal hardware for the drawer slides, but we thought it would be a fun challenge, and a beautiful result, to do this with all wood, no hardware.

building cabinets building cabinets

left: screwing the cabinet face onto the case. right: Richard adjusts the fit of a drawer.

building cabinets

all-wood drawer sliders and homemade drawer stop mechanism

It means the sides of the drawers are clean looking, without metal slider tracks down the side, and it also means we maximize the usable drawer space – no storage area is lost to metal runners. It also means the runners have to be totally perfect to ensure the drawers slide smoothly – nothing worse than a drawer that gets stuck half-way open or shut. We apply a special wax on the wooden runners to make them slide nicely, and the finished function is absolutely great, even with a heavy drawer filled with silverware! Once the slides are all set, Richard planes down the drawer faces to fit perfectly. They’re cut slightly oversized to allow us to trim them to compensate for any slight imperfections in the construction of the cabinet face frame. Then, when all the woodworking is finally done, we sand the faces and give them two coats of primer and three coats of green paint, then tidy little wooden knobs. Here’s our finished drawers in use in the kitchen:

beautiful homemade drawers!

beautiful pinned rabbet joints. homemade drawers, hard at work in the kitchen!

The whole project has been kind of huge and exciting – it would have been a lot easier to buy ready-made cabinets, but I think we’ve saved some real money by doing it ourselves, and the result is SO beautiful, I am so totally delighted with the results and overflowing with pride every time I stop to take a good look at our cabinets! I feel like they really look so special and so much nicer than the average, and so perfect for us and our kitchen! So, how much more do we have left to go? We’ve got four cabinets completed and installed in the kitchen, two with doors and two with drawers. We’ve got another cabinet box and face complete on the workbench but lacking the drawers. Once we finish that one, we’ll need to do two more cabinets and that’s it! Then we can start working on the upper shelves, which Richard promises will be much easier! Here’s hoping it’s true! I can’t wait…

new ventilation system in the workshop

Posted: April 20th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: woodworking | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

a new ventilation system richard's workshop

the new dust-collection contraption

We’ve been spending so much time in Richard’s workshop in Gorham, building the cabinets, sawing and sanding away and generating great clouds of sawdust; Mike’s asthma seems to bother him out in the workshop and Richard’s gotten a cough out there too. So Rich decided it was past time to start installing a big ventilation system for the workshop. His plans for his beautiful workshop have always included installing a full-shop ventilation system with vent pipes running under the floor; the ultimate plan is to build a wood floor above the (current) poured-concrete floor and have the pipes running under the wooden floorboards and attaching to every stationary machine in the shop to gather up all the dust they generate. So his first step was to pick out a ventilation system, buy it and put it together! Richard spent all the cash and did all the work, we just hung around working on cabinets and occasionally helped him fit some of the tubing together. Eventually there will be a box built around the dust-collector, to reduce the noise. Anyway, all this is only tangentially relevant to our house renovation, but it is related since we do all of our woodworking in Richard’s workshop, with his help! Hopefully we’ll get to help out with building up the new floor in the shop, whenever that stage comes.

kitchen progress

Posted: March 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: kitchen, photos, progress, woodworking | No Comments »

here are some newer photos of the kitchen becoming more kitcheny and inhabited.

kitchen progress

feels like things have been moving slowly here, but we have been plugging away on the cabinets, bit by bit. Actually Richard is putting in a lot of hours on the cabinets – he’s building the drawers and we’re supposed to be doing the cabinet cases but we’ve fallen behind a bit. Tomorrow I will hopefully put in some good long hours in the workshop and get caught up!

cabinet on the workbench cabinet plans

working on cabinets

for the first set of drawers, Richard experimented with different construction techniques, each of these drawers is a bit different! We weren’t sure whether it would work to use wooden runners and forego the metal hardware. The benefit of runners is that they make your drawers move smoothly and easily (even if the drawer construction is a bit imprecise or imperfect); the drawbacks are that they’re kind of ugly, they’re kind of expensive and they reduce the size of the drawer. We talked it over and we really just love the simplicity and integrity of all-wood construction, without the ugly modern metal hardware, and since we’ve got Richard’s expert skills and we’re not mass-producing this stuff, we can attempt to make all of our drawers so tidy and perfect that they will slide easily on wooden runners without wheels. You can put a bit of special wax on the wooden runners to help the drawers slide more easily.

two new cabinets!

Judy and Paprika celebrating our new cabinets!

Here’s the first set of drawers, installed next to the beautiful sink cabinet! We did load up those drawers with heavy silverware and dishes and they still slide quite nicely. In this picture we had mis-matching drawer knobs on the drawers; we’ve since changed them all to the smaller size which looks much better! I ought to post a more recent photo here but the kitchen is a total mess at the moment so it’ll have to wait. Now that we’ve got the stove and sink installed and everything, I am so absolutely chuffed that I can finally COOK again, for real! It’s been almost a year since I had my own kitchen to cook in!! So I’ve been baking a bit, and really obsessed with making fruit smoothies every morning (I know that doesn’t sound like cooking, but when you have no countertops to cut on or sink to rinse fruits and clean up, it’s just not that easy to chop up fruits every morning!), and on a total pizza-making kick. We got a bread machine at a yardsale last year and I finally dusted it off and tried it out, it makes up some delicious pizza dough for me to play with. In general I feel like I’m just wildly appreciative of some really basic kitchen pleasures and amenities that one would ordinarily take for granted.

super spicy ginger valentine cookies morning smoothies, part 1

homemade pizza!

hooray for cooking again


Posted: January 21st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: kitchen, progress, woodworking | 4 Comments »

We had a tough time deciding what to do for cabinets. Thought about rescuing/restoring the old ones we found in one of the ruined apartments in our ell, but those were in bad shape, and kind of cheap and depressing to begin with. I did a bit of shopping around to mass-market cabinet places, home depot etc, and found absolutely all of the new cabinets to be really ugly and way too expensive. So, because we’re crazy, we decided to BUILD OUR OWN CABINETS instead! As if we didn’t have enough projects to work on.

building kitchen cabinets

starting the kitchen cabinets in my dad’s workshop

My dad is a very handy carpenter and has a nicely fitted-out woodworking shop that is just perfect for such a project. We set to reading all kinds of books and articles about cabinetry. Richard has a very organized collection of woodworking magazines that have advice and project directions and everything, and Mike got us some exhaustively detailed DIY cabinetry books. It was all kind of dizzying and overwhelming to me, but Richard is really in his element here, and he managed to sort out all the options and explain most of it to us. We now know the difference between dadoes and rabbets, pocket screws and biscuit joints, plywood and laminates, shaker style cabinets, colonial, modern, european, etc etc! Richard got to buy some fun new tools for his shop, and jumped right in to experimenting with different materials and joinery. We figured out what seemed like the easiest and most attractive construction, a super-simple shaker style cabinet with pocket screws and biscuit joints.

cabinet making

Richard and Mike at work on the first cabinet

It took us about a full weekend’s worth of work to get the first one, the under-sink cabinet put together. A lot of setting up workstations and jigs, drawing plans, spatial thinking and painstaking carefulness. I never could attain this degree of carefulness on my own, but that’s where Richard is helpful, he’s absoultely meticulous, as a carpenter should be.

cabinet plans cabinet making

cabinet plans, clamping everything

This project has honestly been one of the funnest parts of the whole house so far, it’s really exciting so far and it’s been so great to spend time in the shop with Richard, learning new stuff and making this amazingly beautiful and tidy thing. Hopefully it will be just as fun to finish the cabinets – we’ve only just begun, lots more work to go!

cabinet building!

mike drills in pocket screws for our first cabinet! This is the under sink cabinet on the workbench in my dad’s woodshop.

Downstairs bathroom

Posted: January 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: bathroom, plumbing, slow progress, woodworking | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Around November we decided to focus on the downstairs bathroom and try to hurry up and get it working asap. We brought in Laura (wallboard and plaster) and Lynn (carpentry) and Nate (plumbing) to look at the situation. We thought we’d finished the demolition phase, but they all said we still needed to do more demolition work before they could get started! So we laid down cardboard and plastic sheets to protect our beautiful new white oak floors, and dragged in garbage cans and crowbars and set to ripping out all the rest of the old plaster and lath. Tearing down old plaster is getting really old, it’s so dusty and gritty and icky. Also, of course (as we have now learned to expect), behind every old wall in our house is a huge stinky rats nest or squirrel nest or something, matted wads of urine-stinking filthy batting and shreds of old clothes and candy wrappers and cascades of turds and birdseed that all comes crumbling down among the plaster chunks, raining upon your face when you take out an old wall. I’ve learned to put on a hooded sweatshirt, dust mask, goggles, gloves, and cinch the hood all around my face when I’m doing this work, but I still come away picking plaster crumbs out of my clothes and birdseed out of my ears and feeling like I need a shower. Anyway, we got it all out of the bathroom now!

demolition for the new downstairs bathroom


ripping out plaster and lath


demolition for the new bathroom

after (all done with demolition, ready to start rebuilding!)

giant rat nest :(

close up on giant rat nest :(

Then Lynn set to work furring out some walls to get them ready for hanging wallboard, framing out some areas to run the pipes through. The thing about old houses is that they were never intended to have plumbing in them, so it can be hard to find (or make) a place to run the pipes through. It was kind of a big consensus decision to figure that out, with input from plumber, carpenter, myself, mike, Judy and Richard. Got it all worked out and drafted some plans and directions for the workers to refer to. I started working in Google Sketchup to try and imagine how best to fit all the pieces together.
Then Nate (plumber) came in with his trusty assistant and set to work ripping out all our old plumbing (including the beautiful plumbing work I did myself over the summer, this was heartbreaking!) and laying in fresh, tidy pex in its place.

downstairs bathroom downstairs bathroom

tidy lines of pex (heating pipes, hot and cold water and drain pipe to upstairs bathroom) and washer/dryer hookup

plumbers also did a bunch of work in the basement, had to replace the entire waste line as it was archaic and rusty cast-iron, quite difficult to join drains into it, and too narrow for modern codes. And they hooked up an old radiator in the basement, we were getting worried about the cold weather and frozen pipes in the basement so we had them hook that up to the furnace to keep the basement above freezing temperature.

Meanwhile Lynn got the bathroom all squared-away and ready for hanging wallboard! Strapping and studs on walls and ceiling. We’re going to have exposed beams on the bathroom ceiling too, as the beams in there are really gorgeous and huge, like 12″ square and very handsome.

downstairs bathroom

carpentry all finished, ready to hang wallboard!

Meanwhile, Laura (the plasterer) was working away on the kitchen. In the end, it turned out that after tallying up the cost of all this work we really don’t have enough cash to have Laura do wallboard and plaster in the bathroom, as we had initially planned! So the question is: do we hang blueboard ourselves, and then have Laura do the plaster over it? Do we hang greenboard ourselves, and skip the plaster? (this would be the cheaper choice.) Do we just go ahead and install and connect the toilet, sink, bathtub and all the appliances in the bathroom now, without having any proper walls, and then at a later date remove the appliances, do the walls, and replace the appliances? Or do we put the bathroom on hold for the moment, until we’ve got a working kitchen, and then return to the bathroom, do the walls, and then install the toilet and everything once the walls are finished?
We ended up going with the last choice. We had originally thought we’d be closing off the 2nd floor for the winter and moving our bed into the diningroom or something. But we just never really got so cold that it seemed worth the bother. So it turns out it’s fine having our only bathroom on the 2nd floor. It would be great to have a downstairs bathroom too, but it doesn’t seem as urgent anymore. And now we’re excited about working on the kitchen instead, so… for the moment the downstairs bathroom has moved to the back burner. I think we’ll hang greenboard in there eventually, we’ll do it ourselves and then get the appliances in, and it will be fantastic whenever it happens.

spiffy new door

Posted: November 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: excitement, woodworking | No Comments »

Judy and Richard

photo by Lisa, thank you!

Our newest door is up! Richard and Judy both collaborated on this beautifully restored door, it’s dusty/bright orange on the outside and periwinkle blue/violet on the inside. This spot had clearly once been a doorway but had more recently been boarded up and painted over, the entryway had been converted into a closet or something. Judy and Richard found this beautiful solid wood victorian-era door stored up in our attic and thought it would be perfect for this spot. The door had at some point been sawed off messily and lopsidedly, to fit into a too-small doorway, so Richard brought it into his workshop and grafted on new wood to seamlessly replace the sawed-off portions. Then Judy stripped off the lead paint and refinished all the wood, had beveled-glass windows custom made for the coffin windows, set in and glazed the glass herself. They found original Victorian doorknobs and hardware at an architectural salvage store. Then we had to rip out the boards covering the old doorway, had to rip out most of the old doorway and molding and stuff and put in a new floor in the entryway so that Richard could put in a new threshold and build a new doorway to hang the door!

It occurs to me how much easier it would’ve been if we were just building a new house and hanging a new door… but then we wouldn’t have so many stories to tell!

before: boarded up doorway

before: boarded up doorway

the door

found door: stripping off old paint

the door in the workshop

in the workshop!

Mortar and cement board

have to lay down cement board on the floor before we can put in the new threshold

Richard hung up our new door!

hanging the new door

Richard hung up our new door! New door hardware


Richard hung up our new door!

refinishing the front door

Posted: July 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: progress, woodworking | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Judy working on the front door front door in progress

Judy sanding down the front door

Judy’s been working away at the front door! Every day she takes it off the hinges and lays it out to work… first she stripped off most of the lead paint using a soy based stripper (supposedly less toxic ) and then she started sanding away the remaining bits, stopping to vacuum up the lead dust every few minutes. The wood underneath is so beautiful! We think we’ll keep the grain exposed on the inside of the door, and paint the outside of the door Portsmouth Spice (a dusty pumpkiny kind of color) to match the beautiful side door (which she also refinished over the winter!) Every day at the end of work, we have to re-hang the front door on its hinges, it looks nicer already!

old front door front door

door before … door in progress




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