The Leak, Pt 2

The prevailing sentiment in the household was that I should get off my duff and fix the drywall. I was pretty tired of looking at the hole in my wall. I’m sure Michael liked the state of his bathroom even less. I wasn’t in a big hurry, though, for two reasons. First, I wanted to let it get some airflow for a while before I fixed it. And, second, I’ve never done any drywall work before.

Another concern was logistical: how to get a sheet of drywall home. If it was plywood, I could have it cut at the store. I don’t know if they’ll cut a sheet for me.

I took one of the scraps from Levi’s quack surgery on my wall to be sure to get the right size. I was pleased to find they sell 2×2 sheets of drywall for patches. Great! I bought four. It’s not an ideal situation. I’d rather have two 2’x4′ sheets. Studs are 16″ on center, so a fair amount of waste is guaranteed.

I spent about a hundred bucks at Home Despot for materials, supplies, and tools. I bought a 3-pack of blades for the oscillating saw. I only need one for the repair, so we’ll say $75 for the repair. I bought paint several days later which brings the total back up to a hundred.

When I finally got up my nerve to take the saw to my wall, I headed up to my bathroom. There are two small holes and a few other incisions below them, going lower than the top of the air register. I wanted to cut well above the top of the register. I figured my best bet was to clean the cuts, sand them down, and just cover them with joint compound.

Where the two holes are, I cut back a hole from nearly the shower to the next stud, and about six inches high. I cut a patch and after some trimming got it to fit without any significant gaps. The oscillating saw cut through the drywall like butter. With the patch screwed in, the surface of the wall stood slightly proud of it. I didn’t think it would be an issue once I taped it up.

Michael’s bathroom was a much bigger job. Undamaged, the ceiling is a complicated shape. Not terribly complicated, but not a rectangle. And the damage was irregularly shaped, too. I spent a few minutes deciding how to use my material with the minimum waste and most efficient cuts. Measure twice, cut once how many times?

In the end, I think I did a pretty decent job of putting that puzzle together. It certainly would have been easier with bigger sheets. Given the number of seams I ended up with, I was happy that none had the same issue as my first patch: all my seams were nice and flat.

I sanded all the finished sides of the seams, taped all the seams, hit the few screws that weren’t on the seams with a bit of joint compound. The patch in my bathroom is not good. I slapped quite a bit of joint compound where it wasn’t flat. It’s not pretty. In retrospect, I should have made the patch bigger. I could have made it two inches taller without causing any more scrap.

The last task, the one that I was most skeptical of my ability to do, was adding the texture. I got a sponge pretty wet and buttered it with a thin layer of joint compound. I dabbed the sponge against the wall and applied more compound as required. It doesn’t quite match the original, but it’s not bad. I got a bit better by the time I was done. I also had run out of compound, so I couldn’t improve some of my earlier efforts.

A week or so later, I painted. I used a little 4″ roller and a brush. I thought the 12″ roller would be overkill. The paint isn’t an exact match. It’s the “pure white” semi-gloss from Glidden. The day after I painted, I found an old paint can. It turns out I used Behr before so that accounts for the slight difference.

Overall, I’m not unhappy with the outcome. That’s because I have low standards. The patch in my bathroom looks bad. If it annoys me too much, I suppose I could cut it out and redo it. I don’t think I can make it any worse. On the other hand, this was my first time working with drywall and I learned some things. The next time I find myself needing to do this, I’ll do a better job.

I have one item on the punch list. Before this all started, the valve to the outside hose bib was accessed through a round hole covered by a disk-shaped plate. I want to make the hole a bit bigger and put a better access cover on it.

Finally, the leak did have one more effect. The reader will recall that the leak was behind the range. Perhaps the same day Ralph identified the problem, I noticed that the hardwood flooring in the kitchen is damaged. I have no idea how long it was leaking before we saw water downstairs. I suspect it could have been several days. In that time, water has wicked up the grain as far as about three and a half feet from the wall.

The Leak, Pt 1

It has been six months since I last posted here. A record for inactivity. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy. A lot has happened. Some of it will get recorded here, but not now, and maybe not soon, or in great detail.

One of the things that happened I will tell now.

Thursday, February 9

Water is leaking through the drywall in Michael’s bathroom. I called Legacy Plumbing and Restoration in the morning, but the guy never called back so late in the afternoon I called Arvada Plumbing, LLC. Levi answered the phone. I told him we have a leak and he said he could be here in an hour. I told him it wasn’t an emergency. He said he’d come over at 10 the next day.

Friday, February 10

Ten o’clock came and went with no sign of him. He finally got here a bit after 11:00 and had a look around. He was here for fifteen or twenty minutes and talked the whole time. He tells me he’s a marine, his father does some business with Tony Hawk, and he invented something for his AK-47. After he looked around, he said he needed to get a helper and that it would be a total of 6 or 7 hours – five or six hundred dollars. He asked for “half” up front, saying $250 or $300 would be good. I wrote him a check for $300. He said they’d be back at 2:00.

Two o’clock came and went with no sign of him.

At nearly three they showed up. His helper has face tattoos.

They needed to start cutting holes in the drywall to find the leak. Levi said they’d clean everything up and not to worry about the mess. Directly above the leak, on the main floor, is the wall between the laundry room and the kitchen. There, they pull the washer and dryer away from the wall. There’s already a hole there, with no signs of water. Not satisfied that the leak isn’t here, they cut another hole in the wall. Dry as a bone. They move to the kitchen and check under the sink: dry. They pull the dishwasher out of its place: nada. They go upstairs to my bathroom (directly above the washer and dryer) and cut two holes and generally sliced it up. Dry. That one had me scratching my head. Why’d they look there? If the leak was up there, we’d see it on the main floor.

They go back down to the basement. In Michael’s bathroom, instead of using their saws, they just tore big hunks of the ceiling drywall down, causing a bit more damage than was necessary. There’s a lot of water up there, but nothing is obviously dripping. Levi tells me to aim a fan at it to dry it off and they’ll come back tomorrow at 10 am. They leave the washer and dryer in disarray (dryer vent not together, appliances in the middle of the way to the bathroom). They put the dishwasher back, but Genae says it’s not all the way in. They disposed of the big, damp chunks of drywall but cleaned up nothing else.

They were here for about an hour (approximately 2:45 pm to 3:45 pm).

I run a fan in there and it looks to be drying out after a while.

Genae ran the dishwasher and it seemed to be taking a long time for the heat-dry cycle to end. She finally stopped it and when she opened it up, it was obvious that no water had ever run. The liquid soap was just dribbled down the inside of the door, and the contents of the machine were at room temperature.

Everything was still dry under the sink, so obviously they’d never turned the supply line back on.

Saturday, February 11

Ten o’clock came and went with no sign of them.

At 10:56, I texted him, asking for an ETA. A bit later, I called him – went to voice mail.

So, he’s taken off with my down payment, ripped my house apart, and doesn’t want to finish the job. I texted him again, saying he needed to call me. About half an hour after that, I put a stop-payment order on the check.

Five minutes later, he calls. He’s sorry. He had an emergency. Somebody’s house was flooding and they didn’t get done until 4 am. When I ask why he didn’t call or text me, he tells me plumbing isn’t a 9-5 job. I ask him if he wants to finish the job. He says he does. I asked him what he did with the check. He told me he’d already cashed it. I told him I’d put a stop payment on it. I asked him again if he was able and willing to do the job. He said yes and told me they’d be there in an hour.

He never showed up and ignored my subsequent text messages.

I don’t know if my stop-payment order will go through in time. On the other hand, he may not have actually taken it to the bank. If the check clears, I’ll take him to small claims court.

We turned on the water supply for the dishwasher and all is now good with that. I reconnected the dryer exhaust line and put the machines back in place.

Sunday, February 12

When Genae ran a load of laundry through the dryer, we discovered that they’d shut off the gas and, like the dishwasher, didn’t turn it back on.

We called another plumber, Ralph, and described the leak to him. He’ll come by Tuesday and fix it.

Days Subsequent

Ralph was a bit flummoxed by this one. He saw a place where a copper supply line was up against a stud. The pipe vibrates when a faucet is opened, and there’s a little wear there. He repaired that section and we set the fan up again.

The next morning, it was just as bad as ever. Ralph came back again, looked around some more, and made another repair. He wasn’t feeling that good about it. I asked him if I had a ten thousand dollar leak. Still no go.

He came by the next day. He told us he couldn’t sleep last night, obsessing about my leak. It finally hit him. He pulled the range away from the wall. The line that supplies water to the fridge is fed through the back of the cabinets. It had a slight kink where the range was pushed in. He shut off the supply to the fridge and the next morning, the ceiling in Michael’s bathroom was clearly drying out.

Ralph installed a major upgrade on the supply line to the fridge and we’re good.

All that remains is a bunch of drywall repair. Something I’ve never done before.

What About That Check?

On the 24th, I received a letter from Money Tree. It was a Notice of Dishonor.

Levi did what he said he did: he cashed the check. At Money Tree. Maybe it’s just me, but I expect somebody running a business would have a bank and wouldn’t need to pay the high fees that check-cashing places charge.

The Notice of Dishonor tells me that even though I stopped payment on the check, I’m still liable because my check was “negotiated with a third party”. That’d be them. They tell me that I (or my attorney) should look at a couple of Colorado Supreme Court decisions. They give me a number I can call to make a payment.

I promptly called them and told them I refuse to pay. I explained that the guy was a crook who cut and tore holes in my walls and never came back. Their agent wasn’t impressed. They have a point: why should they be injured?

Here’s my calculus. It’s $300. For that amount, you go to small claims court. I’d be happy to have them take me to small claims, even knowing I’d lose. But I know that it’ll cost them way more than $300 to take me to court. It’s a losing proposition for them. So they’ll sell the debt for pennies on the dollar and collection companies will hound me. I’m not paying.

My credit score will take a small hit, but it won’t affect me. My credit rating is stellar, and I’m not looking to borrow any money anytime soon.

And I feel no guilt that an innocent third party will be out $270 or whatever they gave Levi for my $300 check. I know full well that Money Tree budgets a non-trivial amount for bad debts like this. It’s built into the system. I don’t knock Money Tree for providing services to the unbanked, but they certainly aid crooks like Levi. Had he taken my check to his bank, he wouldn’t have gotten the money.

When I got the Money Tree letter, I decided I needed to cry into the wilderness: I posted on Nextdoor. It was a long paragraph telling what Levi did (with photos!). That got about forty responses, including a few from other victims. Nextdoor sent me a message that that post had been viewed 9,600 times.

Fence/Gate Repair

At the end of March or early April (I don’t recall exactly), two of the posts holding up the fence on the north side of my garage failed during a windstorm. They just rotted through at ground level until a nice, stiff breeze blew the fence over. By “stiff breeze”, I really mean sustained winds exceeding 40mph with gusts over 50mph. I see we had four days like that between 3/22 and 4/5.

When I did my last fence repair (a section on the south side of the house), I just set the posts in some angular pea-sized gravel rather than concrete. The original builder didn’t use concrete and it wasn’t the posts that failed, so I didn’t see the need to set the posts in concrete. Once you tamp the gravel in, the edges lock together making it quite strong. It has been nine or ten years and none of those posts move.

Here, though, the existing fence was set in concrete. I was disappointed, but not surprised. The post next to the garage wall was your standard 4×4 post. The other post, on which a gate hangs, was a 4×6. I searched the internet but didn’t find anybody who had 4×6 lumber in stock. During my daily walks I checked out a number of fences with RV gates and they all used 4×4 posts. My fence and gate are only 4′ tall, and all the ones I looked at were 6′ fences. The moment exerted on my post by a 4′ tall gate should be considerably less than that of a 6′ tall gate so I figured the 4×4 should be plenty strong.

My plan was to try to dig as small of a hole as necessary to allow me to bust up the old concrete with a sledgehammer. Even so, any such hole would be far too big for me to fill with concrete, so I picked up a couple of those cardboard tubes and use them as forms.

The issue with the one next to the garage was I’d be limited to working from three sides, as the fourth side is right up against the foundation. The gate post wouldn’t be much easier: clearly, the concrete for the post pre-dated the concrete slab. In neither case would it be a straightforward sledgehammer job. One took me an hour and a half, the other just an hour.

I placed the tube forms and backfilled the holes with dirt. For concrete, I used a couple of sacks of the pre-mixed concrete: pour the dry mix into the hole and just add water. I let the concrete set for a day before putting the fence section back into place. Maybe I should have replaced the section, but it’s still in pretty good shape, except for a bit of rot where the slats touched the ground.

I managed to have the foresight to cut the post to the correct height on the gate side, but had the section up before I noticed I neglected to cut the garage side one. I never seem to do things the easy way.

The next trick was hanging the gate. The gate has never operated freely. It has always sagged a bit. To open it, you had to lift the end of it to get it to open. I had the feeling that the sag had increased over time. I decided part of the problem is that there’s insufficient structure to keep it square. I decided to add a couple of sheets of scrap and screw them to the slats to stiffen it.

And, finally, was the issue of the carriage bolts. They go through the 4×4 and a 2×4 and a slat. So they’re pretty long. Longer, in fact, than are available at Home Depot, Lowes, or Ace Hardware. So I had to re-use the old bolts. They bent a bit when I took them out, so I straightened them with the vice. And I didn’t have a drill bit long enough to go through all that material, so I had to measure very carefully and drill the hole from each end.

The side of the gate I rehung on the new post works beautifully. It swings freely. So I did the stiffening thing with the small sheets on the other half of the gate. This had no effect at all. I still cannot open the gate fully and have to struggle to open it halfway. I haven’t verified, but I’m guessing this post is no longer plumb. But I’m not willing to replace this post just to get the gate to work better. The two posts, tubes, concrete, and fasteners for the repairs I did amounted to about $130 and involved several hours of hard labor. Maybe next summer I’ll tackle the other side.

Finally, there was a small gravel patch next to the garage where a sort of utility shed stood. The previous owner of the house did woodworking in the garage and this shed housed, I believe, a shop vac (to evacuate the sawdust) and maybe an air compressor. There was a sizeable hole through the wall. I had the hole fixed when the garage was resided as part of my giant house painting project last year.

This gravel patch is a bit of an eyesore, so I dug a trench to extend an existing sprinkler line so I can add another head to the irrigation system. With the new head covering that area, I added a bit of topsoil and spread some grass seed. We’ll see how well this works as the area is in shade almost all the time.

Exterior Paint

Under the category “Spending Money Like We’re Rich” sub-category “Joys of Home Ownership”: having the house painted.

I called three painters, one never returned my call, the other two gave me proposals. I asked for three prices: painting the house and shed and all carpentry repairs; sanding and staining the deck; and redoing the epoxy paint on the garage floor. One repair I specifically called out was to the front door, where the closer for the steel door attaches to the side jamb. The first guy doesn’t do garage floors and wouldn’t do the door repair. I went with the first guy. He was several hundred dollars cheaper and I liked that he gave me a very detailed proposal. The second guy’s price for the garage floor was more than it’s worth to me, so even had I gone with him, I’d have passed.

To do the door repair, I needed to buy a new tool. I had the good fortune (?) to put my foot through a rotted plank on the rear deck, so that gave me an opportunity to practice with the tool where I could more afford a mistake.

Before, during, ready for the painters

On the deck, I replaced three planks and decided a few more were required. But I needed 12′ boards, which I can’t carry. The painter said he’d pick them up for me so I went and picked out the boards, paid for them, and left them at the store. He got them at the end of the day, but he somehow got the wrong lumber. He picked up the correct lumber the next morning. I told him I’d make the remaining repairs, but he offered to do it for me at no additional cost.

Rotted plank, repair ready for painters

On his walk-through before writing up the proposal, he pointed out the damage to the siding on the north side of the second story. This area was painted when my roof was replaced because of hail damage. Although they repaired some trim pieces, they made no repairs to the siding. I wondered if it was something that was missed, but it would have been missed by both the contractor and the insurance adjuster. No failure to repair, just entropy at work.

Wavy siding and water damage on the bottom couple courses

They ended up replacing quite a bit more of the siding than he originally thought. These days, each board is about thirty bucks. I didn’t count the boards, but there were several boxes.

After this photo, three more boards were removed from the garage wall. Window trim repairs, too.

I have a number of additional photos that simply illustrate how long overdue this project is. I won’t belabor the point.

It was a crew of four guys for six days, but it wasn’t always the same four guys. Sometimes there was one radio station blasting in the front yard and a different station in the back. The boss, Daniel, is a big man with a big voice, which he used often. And with the saws, sanders, and grinders, it was a noisy time.

I was somewhat annoyed that they borrowed a lot of my tools – blower, the saw I bought for the door repair, my drill, a small pry bar, an extension cord. And I had to go with him to rent the big sander for the deck, Daniel says, because he doesn’t have a credit card. Oh, and Genae busted one of the guys washing his car. She said he looked embarrassed.

After they left one afternoon, I saw that one of the garage doors was open a foot or so. When I closed it, it kept trying to close after it hit the floor so it reversed. Somehow, the adjustment got out of whack. I couldn’t figure out how to fix it, but Michael spotted the screws where you make the adjustment. I asked Daniel about it the next day. He had tried to open the door and thinks the weatherstrip was stuck to the paint. Must have caused the drive belt to slip a notch.

The careful observer will note that we went with a slightly different shade of green. I’m happy with it.

The only real mishap of the project was when we lost our internet. Until last year, we had DirecTV. Over the years they had to come out to either upgrade the dish or run new lines. I joked that the house was held together by all the coax cables. I wanted all the cables gone from the outside of the house. Genae and I followed the internet cable into the phone box where it came out of the back of the garage. I told Daniel they should take every cable off that wasn’t connected to the box. Well, they cut one too many wires and we were without internet for 24 hours. It was a calculated risk.

Overall, I think the guys did a good job.

Garage Cabinets 4

Construction is done, so we’ll call this the last episode. No need to prolong an already tedious account with details of putting all my junk away.

In this episode, we address the workbench and some shelves for the “tool corner”.

For the workbench, I was pretty much constrained to the same size I had in the old cabinets. The utility of that “bench” was compromised somewhat by the drawers getting in the way. Not that I really used the workbench to do any work. As previously stated, it’s pretty much been used as a table more than a workbench.

Being that it would get light duty, I considered making it out of a double-layer OSB with a 2×4 frame. The more I thought about it, the less I liked that plan. I ended up using six 2×6 planks screwed and glued to 2×4’s at each end, then a single sheet of OSB for the work surface. This bench would be attached to a cleat on the wall and to the two neighboring cabinets.

Assembled and painted bench top

I tried to be very careful with the width of it. I didn’t want it loose; I wanted a pretty snug fit between the cabinets. At one point, I was beginning to think I’d made it too snug. I managed to wrestle the back of it onto the cleat and get it more or less level and propped up. I needed to shift it about an inch toward the wall, and no amount of pushing on it was generating any progress. I tried a hammer on a block, but no joy. Finally, I tried the sledgehammer. A few relatively light taps later and all was good.

After securing the bench top, I went about mounting my vice. I haven’t had a vice in my garage in my adult lifetime. When I was a kid, I made regular use of a vice. I can’t believe I’ve gone so long without one. I wanted to be sure to mount it so that the back jaw of the vice was proud of the table’s edge, so that I could deal with material that hung down below the table top. I’d have liked to have been able to mount it far enough to the side so that I had that same luxury when I rotate the vice 90 degrees, but it wasn’t possible with this vice.

I have a vice!

The last bit of work was making a couple of shelves for tools. I searched the web for ideas and found a few photos of things I might be able to do. I wanted someplace for the chargers and batteries and I needed a way to accommodate drills/drivers and saws.

Wall mounted chargers and mocked-up shelves.

Where I’ve mounted the chargers, their cords make it to the nearest outlet, so I don’t need to use an extension cord. I may find a better place later. It should be easy enough to move, just four screws into the studs. I didn’t want to paint it the same gray as the cabinets. It’ll probably be white.

I’m happy I did a mock-up of the shelves first. I cut the shelves themselves to the proper dimensions. When I was figuring out how long to cut the cleats, I found myself looking for my pencil and a scrap of paper to do some calculations. Duh! I don’t need pencil and paper! I have chalkboards!

With the shelves sized and cut, using some scraps I propped them at heights I thought would be good. After a couple of slight changes, I found what I liked.

Finished tool shelves

The garage floor is still covered with the stuff that needs to either go into the cabinets, go to the recycler, to the landfill, or to be given away. I bought a bunch of plastic bins of three sizes, and they’ll do most of the work. I still need a few more, including something like a parts bin for all the fasteners and other little bits. But I like how the bins are fitting into the cabinets.

In the left cabinet, where the shelves are farther apart, I can stack a large, shallow container on top of a large, deep container. Or, two small deep ones on a large, shallow one. On the right side, everything fits, but with less stacking.

I’m sure that when I get whatever additional containers I require, the finished product will look just as neat and tidy as it is in these photos. And pigs will fly.

Before I started, I guessed I might be able to pull this off with 32 hours of labor, not including demolition. I was off by a bit. Demolition was 4.5 hours and the rest was 69, for a total of 73.5. I didn’t have a budget for materials. I just figured I could do it for less than I paid for the originals, even if I had to purchase some tools. At that point, I hadn’t even considered getting any storage containers. My total cost was just over $1100, but if you take out the tools and containers, we’re under $800. (All costs listed include tax.)

The unexpected value in this whole project was the sheet of insulation. I’d never have been able to make all those big OSB rips without it. When I was working on the tool shelves, at one point I had some of the shelf material hanging off the edge of the insulation, which caused the sawblade to bind. I can only imagine the difficulties I’d have had if I’d done this any other way.

Garage Shelves materials

Lumber11/10/202x2x8’ Furring Strip67.18
Lumber11/10/202x6x8’ #2 Douglas Fir81.61
Supplies11/10/20Formular 250 2” 4x836.38
Lumber11/10/204x8 OSB 19/32262.20
Tools11/10/20Kreg Rip Cut Aluminum Circular Saw Guide37.89
Delivery11/10/20Delivery Charge96.43
Paint11/10/20Killz 2 Primer (1 gallon)18.02
Tools11/10/20Ryobi 18volt 7-1/4” Brushless Circular Saw105.09
Supplies11/13/20Screws 8x1-1/2” T-Star20.59
Supplies11/13/20Screws 10x3” T-Star10.29
Supplies11/13/20Titebond Wood Glue4.30
Supplies11/13/20Paint Tray Liner (3-pack)3.23
Tools11/13/20Safety Glasses8.09
Tools11/13/207-1/4” 40 tooth saw blade16.22
Paint11/17/20Grey paint (1 gallon)35.46
Paint11/25/20Killz 2 Primer (1 gallon)19.21
Supplies11/25/20Paint Tray Liner (3-pack)3.23
Paint11/25/20Grey paint (1 gallon)35.46
Supplies11/25/20Screws 10x3” T-Star10.29
Supplies11/25/20Scotch Blue tape4.30
Tools12/06/20Ryobi 18volt drill/drive kit69.34
Supplies12/06/203M sandpaper 120 grit5.38
Supplies12/06/203M sandpaper 60 grit5.38
Supplies12/06/20Diablo 6pt jigsaw blade 5pk7.55
Supplies12/06/20Wood putty3.99
Supplies12/08/20Paint Tray Liner (3-pack)3.23
Paint12/08/20Chalkboard paint12.28
Containers12/10/2056 Quart container w/lid29.22
Containers12/10/2032 Quart box w/lid25.97
Lumber12/11/202x6x4’ Pre-Cut Lumber32.83
Lumber12/11/202x4x4’ Pre-Cut Lumber11.64
Containers12/14/2032 Quart Utility tub w/lid17.25
Supplies12/22/20Hex bolts ½ x 3 ½5.37
Supplies12/22/20Washers, ½”1.86

Garage Shelves time

11/08/201.50Demo old cabinets: right side
11/09/201.50Demo old cabinets: left side
11/10/201.50Demo old cabinets: corner cabinet and workbench
11/14/203.00Fabricate left and right bases; assemble rip guide; rip 2 OSB sheets
11/15/202.00Finish cutting lumber for left and right cabinets. Size for doors.
11/16/203.50Prime coat on all left and right cabinet pieces
11/17/203.25Paint on all left and right cabinet pieces
11/18/202.75Assemble 1 side wall. We learn Dave can’t count.
11/19/203.50Assemble 2nd side wall, 3rd except for hinges. Cut/painted short pieces I was short (8 of them)
11/21/202.50Mount left side cabinet side walls to base, mount cleats to wall, attach walls to cleats. Cut shelves.
11/22/202.50Assemble 4th side wall, mount hinges on 3rd, 4th side walls, mount right side cleats, attach right cabinet side walls to cleats
11/23/202.00Cut shelves for right side cabinet, attach walls to base. Need paint, 3” screws.
11/25/202.25Fit drawer carcass into place, cut base for it. Cut most of the lumber for upper center and upper above drawers.
11/26/200.75Cut shelves for upper center and upper left half-cabinet.
11/28/204.25Prime coat on all shelves, upper center and left half-cabinet
11/30/203.75Paint on Saturday’s primered pieces
12/01/203.00Assemble/mount upper center (except for hinges)[many measurement errors, new cutting/painting required); secured 4 shelves.
12/02/201.25Secure remaining shelves, mount upper center doors
12/03/202.75Cut correct lengths of pieces for upper left half-cabinet, painted pieces, mounted cabinet (except for hinges)
12/04/203.25Mounted all doors, sanded/primed door for upper left half-cabinet as test, ripped 4 of 6 upper doors to size
12/05/202.25Ripped last two small doors, all large doors to size; drilled new holes for hardware; sanded small doors. Doors that were haning straight no longer do.
12/06/201.00Sanded large doors; applied wood putty where necessary
12/07/203.75Sand drawers, carcass; prime coat on doors, drawers, drawer base
12/08/201.50Gray paint on small doors, drawers, drawer base, edges of large doors
12/09/204.50Mount/secure drawer carcass; chalk paint on large doors; some touch-up paint; mount doors
12/15/201.00Measure cuts for workbench
12/16/201.50Cut lumber for workbench; assemble main bench part
12/20/201.25Sand, paint workbench
12/22/203.75Install workbench, mount vice on bench, mock up tool shelves, mount chargers on wall
12/24/202.25Measure and cut shelf cleats; cut slots; paint pieces; assemble and mount shelves

Garage Cabinets 3

In the previous installment, I said that cutting all the wood to the proper size and painting it before putting it together “assumes some skills that I may not actually possess”. This was not so much a prophetic statement as an acknowledgment of my own limitations. As I learned, the two skills that turned out to be in short supply are counting and measuring. In the work done to the point of my last installment, I was able to lay everything out on the floor or on my giant piece of rigid insulation. But once I had the biggest part of the structure built and fixed in place, my shortcomings came to the fore.

But I’m jumping ahead a bit. Last time, I had the carcasses of the two main cabinets built and fixed in place. I also had the shelves cut to size. I considered leaving them unpainted, but that consideration lasted about six minutes once I had them put in place. They definitely needed paint. I did all of the painting on the floor of the garage. For the shelves, I painted one side of the shelf and half the edges, so that I could pick them up when they were still wet and take them outside to dry. So each shelf got painted and moved four times: twice for primer and twice for paint. The photo doesn’t show it very well, but each piece is sitting on little pieces of scrap wood to keep them off the deck.

Once the paint coat was dry, or dry enough, I moved them all back inside and was able to stand them up, with little scrap pieces in between to keep the painted surfaces from touching each other. This meant the Lotus didn’t have to spend the night outside.

The clever observer will have noticed that I’m attaching the door hinges onto the 2×6 pieces. So each door needs one of those. I’m putting two doors in the center above the workbench and another one in the corner. Said observer will note that there are only two 2×6 pieces cut and painted. What’s not possible to see here is that nearly every stick of 2×2 is the wrong length. Most commonly, they were either an inch and a half too long or too short. The long ones aren’t a big problem, as I can cut them. But, as I can’t find my board stretcher, I had to cut new pieces to rectify the short ones.

Here’s the center cabinet in place. Attaching the vertical pieces wasn’t an issue: they got screwed to the other cabinets. The cleats that went on the wall were also trivial: they got screwed to the studs in the wall. The interesting ones were the horizontal pieces in front, particularly the bottom one. I got them all in, but that last one wasn’t pretty.

Here we have the drawer carcass offered up (but not secured, as it and its base still need paint) and the half-size upper in the corner. I managed to cut the shelf pieces correctly but got every other cut wrong. For a while there, I was thinking I’d bought too many 2×2’s. Turns out, I had just the right number after all!

Once I had all the carcasses built, I needed to work on the doors. As you’ll recall, I made everything slightly narrower than the original cabinets. I needed to rip two inches off each of the large doors and the small doors above them. In the center, I only needed to take off about half an inch. That door in the corner (that has already been primed) was the only one that didn’t need to be resized.

It took me a little while to get the doors properly mounted. Most of the hinges were correctly located, but a couple needed a bit of adjustment. Then, with the doors hung, I needed to figure out how to manipulate the hinge adjustments to make the doors hang square. Looking at the mounted door, imagine an X and Y-axis. A set screw is used to move the door closer or farther from the hinge on the X-axis. Between the two (or three) hinges, you can rotate the door a bit to make it hang square. After a fair bit of monkeying around, I managed to get all the doors square. Now it was time to start cutting.

The rip cut guide came in handy again. It took me a couple of tries to get the best technique, which was a bit stressful, as I’d only get one shot at each door. For my first try, I made a few minor errors. First, I thought I’d be better off using a finish blade on the saw as I was concerned about chipping the laminate and I was hoping to get a smoother cut. Second, I had the saw two inches from the guide rather than twenty-two inches from the guide. Third, I cut from the back of the door rather than the front.

With the finish blade, cutting was much slower and after only two cuts I’d drained the battery. With the slow cut and the short distance between the guide and the blade, I somehow managed not to get a straight cut. And, of course, the hinges got in the way of my guide. Once I corrected those errors (and waited for the battery to recharge), I was back in business.

As I cut each door, I rehung it. Pretty quickly I saw that none of them were square any longer. After more monkeying with the set screws, I had them all square again.

Having cut two inches off the doors, I needed to drill new holes for the handles. The simple solution was to use the scrap that I cut off as a jig for the drill. This gave me the perfect position, both in from the edge and up from bottom (or down from the top, if you prefer). It also ensured that my drill would be perpendicular.

Then it was back to painting. Because I was painting over the laminate, I wanted to hit the doors with the sander to rough up the surface, hoping to get the primer to stick. The inside of the door is a white laminate, and I’m happy to keep that as is. So I masked around the edges. Then it was back to the “paint on the garage floor, dry on the back deck” dance. I did two coats of primer on the faces of the big doors.

On the big doors, I was doing two colors: the edges would get the same gray as everything else while the face would get black chalkboard paint. So once the edges of the big doors were dry, they got masked off. I got about two-thirds of the way done with this masking job when I ran out of tape. A wise person would go to the store and get another roll of tape. I, however, just peeled the tape off the backs of the small doors and used that, hoping it wasn’t a mistake. I got lucky: it worked.

The chalkboard paint was interesting. It comes in black or green or a version you can tint any color you like. When I was in school, all the chalkboards were green and most people called them chalkboards except the older teachers, who still called them blackboards. In one school I attended, they had a variety of colors, including blue and pink. I figured black would be best. I’m not at all disappointed.

The texture of the wet paint was different than any paint I’ve used before. And, even though the final color is a nice deep black, when it was going on it was more like navy blue. The label on the can said it would cover 110 square feet. I have more like 35-40 square feet of door, so two coats would be 70-80 square feet. I barely had enough. I wasn’t applying it that thickly, either. The first coat was thin enough I wasn’t sure that two coats would suffice.

So this is where we stand now. All the cabinets are done and finished. The big doors are chalkboards I can use for scribbling drawings or to-do lists or parts lists or whatever. (Or, they will be in a few days. I still need to “prep” the chalkboard surface.)

But this is the project that never ends. I’m just short of 60 hours into it and still need to build the workbench. It took me a while to decide exactly how to build the workbench, but I wrestled that problem to the floor today and bought the lumber. And, of course, there’s a change order. I did some searching on the web and saw some ideas on how to store various power tools and their associated chargers. That will result in a couple of shelves in the corner above the drawers. And lastly, I’ll need to sort through all the junk that was in the cabinets to start with. Some of it will get sent to the recycling center, some will get landfilled, and most will get organized and put away in my nice, new cabinets.

Garage Cabinets 2

In the first installment, I made the simple statement “I bought some lumber.” That is true, but, of course, it’s never that simple. I ordered everything online from Home Depot but never saw any place to say that I want it delivered. I have no vehicle in which I can carry 4×8 sheets of OSB. In the end, I was asked for a shipping address, so I supplied it. It turns out that the two smallest items on my order (the only things I could fit in the Lotus) would be shipped to me, but not the rest.

I called the store to say that I need my order delivered. I got a bit of a run-around. Eventually, they said that when I got a text message saying my order was ready for pick-up, I should call and tell them I want it delivered instead. I got an email, not a text message. And it said my order was only partially ready. I called them anyway.

After some more run-around, the solution was that a clerk there in the store would delete my order and re-enter it, specifying that it’s for delivery. I’d have guessed it would be much easier for them to simply add a line-item for the delivery charge and be done with it, but what makes me think anything should be simple?

They told me to expect delivery on Friday (the 13th). I asked if they could give me an approximate time. “Give us a call on Friday morning and we’ll let you know.” So I called promptly at their opening time. I was told that it might arrive sometime around 12:30. At about nine I see a forklift dropping my lumber in my driveway. I ran out and talked to the guy, hoping there was a way to get it into the back yard. No deal on that. And when I told him the store said he’d be here at 12:30 he just laughed. “They have no idea when I’m going to deliver anything.” Why should I expect anything different?

I managed to get it all moved to the back yard by myself. It was a bit of a struggle with the big sheets of OSB, but I managed.

Here is my lumber, mostly out of the weather on the back deck, along with the carcass of the drawer section of the old workbench. I’ve covered the lumber with a tarp for when it snows, but the tarp is slightly too small and has a few holes in it. So it goes. I’m sure everything will survive.

The critical part of these new cabinets, I think, is the base. The weak base was certainly the Achilles heel of the old cabinets. The challenge here is dealing with the uneven floor. I figured out how to scribe the shape onto the lumber so I could make a reasonable stab at cutting them. I guess I finally get some real-world benefit from watching all those This Old House episodes!

The next issue I had to deal with was how to cut up my OSB. The biggest challenge is to rip two 4×8 sheets into four 2×8 sheets for the walls. Then, for the shelves, I’d need a bunch of sheets two feet by not quite four feet. I’m lucky to cut a 2×4 straight. I decided the way to go was to get the Kreg rip cut guide. Run it along the milled edge and even I can get a nice, straight cut.

I don’t have any sawhorses, and even if I did, I’m not sure I’m capable of doing an eight-foot long rip on them, so I figured the way to go was to get a big sheet of solid foam insulation and do all the cuts on my deck. I can kneel on it, I can walk on it, and it’s two inches thick so there’s no way I’ll accidentally cut all the way through it. This combination worked like a charm. You’ll spot that sheet of foam lurking in many of my pictures.

Rather than putting the cabinets together and then painting them, I figured it would be better to cut all the wood to the proper size and paint it before putting it together. This assumes some skills that I may not actually possess. The good thing is, I’m building garage cabinets instead of kitchen cabinets. Nobody wants me to build kitchen cabinets! If I’m a bit off on my cuts, my mistakes should be well hidden by all the junk I’ll be storing.

The color coat went on easier than the primer, for two reasons. First, I learned from my mistakes on the primer coat. The big pieces of OSB were no problem, but the sticks of 2×2 demanded a proper procedure. By the time I was done with priming those, I came up with what I think is the most efficient methodology. Second, the color coat dried a lot faster than the primer.

Here I am holding up the first assembled side wall. It’s pretty much square, plumb, and level. And I’m reasonably certain I have the hinges in the correct places. The challenge was in getting it secured. It’s not lined up with a stud, so I can’t just screw it to the wall. I need to mount the cleats for the top, bottom, and shelves first, then fasten the wall to the cleats. With Michael’s help, I managed to get the left side cabinet walls put up. And, because everything is easier the second time, I was able to get the right side done on my own when Michael was at work.

Here we are with some shelves in, to make sure everything is still square. In order to get the shelves in, I needed to take off one of the hinge mounts on each cabinet. And, yes, they have a different number of shelves on purpose. This mimics how I had the prior ones set up. Those shelves were adjustable, but I had them set up like this and never moved them in twelve years.

The clever observer will note that the doors are too wide. And they’re not gray, like everything else. It took me a while, but I figured out how to adjust the hinges to get the doors to hang straight. They’re too wide because the cabinets are about an inch narrower than the old ones, and the walls are thicker by an inch and a half. So the hinges are about four inches closer together than they were before. The plan is to rip the doors to size, then sand the faux wood grain laminate finish enough to take paint.

I still have quite a bit of work left to do. The drawers will fit between the left cabinet and the wall and I’ll put a small cabinet above them. And above the pegboard in the center will be a shallower cabinet, sixteen inches rather than twenty-four. Finally, I’ll build a workbench in the center. It’ll be a bit deeper than the one I’m replacing, and stout enough to handle a nice vice.

Before I began, I guessed that I would be able to complete this project in 32 hours, not counting the demolition. Up to the point in that last photograph, I’ve logged 25 hours and I’m maybe halfway done. It should be no surprise that I’m not much better at estimating carpentry projects than software projects.

Garage Cabinets 1

When we bought this house I made the decision almost immediately to do some upgrades in the garage. Like most Americans, I have a bunch of junk and I decided that one way to deal with that junk was to store it out of sight in some cabinets in the garage. I also thought it would be a nice upgrade to get some sort of epoxy paint on the garage floor as it would look somewhat nicer and be easier to keep clean.

It has been twelve years since all this work was done. Over the last few years it became clear that there was a problem with the cabinets, as the doors didn’t line up any longer and the door in the corner wouldn’t open. (I managed to take that door off before things got locked in forever.) More recently, it was obvious that the whole thing was coming separated from the wall. And in the last weeks, I was concerned that the center cabinet over the workbench was about to fall off completely. Something needed to be done.

But first, let’s take a look at how we got here.

This is what it looked like when we bought the place. My neighbors tell me that the previous owner did a lot of woodworking in the garage. He certainly didn’t put much effort into shelves or workbench. This stuff is all particle board. Not enough shelving and not very deep. Certainly insufficient to deal with the amount of junk I have.

Here’s the machine they used to prepare my garage floor for the epoxy. It doesn’t have anything to do with the cabinets, but what the heck. They ground a thin layer off the floor to make it smoother and provide a better surface for the paint. Note the cracks the previous owner filled up with … something. I’d forgotten these cracks are there.

This is the best picture I have of the finished product. It’s not quite done: there is no hardware in the doors and they haven’t installed the pegboard above the “workbench”. I’m putting that in quotes now, because it didn’t take me long to realize that it’s not so much a bench for doing work as a tabletop for stacking more junk on.

All this work set me back $2,500. That’s all the cabinets in this photo, the grinding and coating of the garage floor, a somewhat upgraded step into the house, and a set of shelves in the pantry. The previous owner’s pantry shelves were very similar to the shelves in the garage. What we ended up with was a big improvement. I may have a detailed invoice in the archives, but I’m not curious enough to go looking for it. I’ll just guess that the garage cabinets were $1800 and it was $700 for the floor, pantry shelves, and sales tax.

As I said, it has been twelve years. That’s almost to the day between the last picture above and when I started taking them down. So figure the cabinets cost me $150 a year or twelve and a half bucks a month.

I recall being somewhat concerned that I was spending a bunch of money on this project, and I knew it was being built out of particle board and fastened with staples. But I was assured they’d be robust. When it all started coming down, I was sure that it was because of the materials, even though none of the shelves showed any sagging. Not even the ones holding the heavy stuff.

This picture shows most of the issues. Note that the doors on the left cabinet neither line up nor stay closed. The cabinet above the “workbench” is looking quite precarious and if you look closely you will note that the left cabinet has developed a big gap from the wall. The clock is hanging on the pegboard and the face of the trim piece around the pegboard is not quite two inches from the wall, so there’s quite a gap there. The cleat that was holding the top of the center cabinet not only came apart from the cabinet, but about six inches of it broke off each end.

The plan is to have an improved workbench in the middle, under the pegboard. It won’t have any drawers and will be six inches deeper. I have a nice vice that I’ll mount on it. If I’m ambitious, it’ll have a steel top. On each side of that, I’ll have cabinets that are essentially the same size as the ones I took down. I’ll also replace the shallower center cabinet above the bench. I won’t do a cabinet in the corner. Maybe I’ll do a small top cabinet. I salvaged the carcass that held the drawers. That might fit in the corner. This means I’ll be losing 15-20% of my storage space. I’ll have to get rid of some junk. (The cabinets on the side walls will stay.)

I spent an hour and a half each day for three days emptying the cabinets and disassembling them. I now know why the cabinets failed. It wasn’t because they were made from particle board fastened by staples. All the wood stacks up nicely; only a couple of the shelves are slightly bowed. The problem was the foundation.

The garage floor is sort of pan shaped. A careful look at the above picture shows the issue. The foundation that the walls sit on is level. The garage floor is higher in the corner on the left and right than in the center. And it’s higher in the back of the garage than at the doors. This is well done. It’s a garage and there will be water that comes off the cars, and a well-laid floor will allow the water to flow out.

The kickboards on the cabinets aren’t structural. They’re just for show. What’s actually holding the cabinets up (other than the wholly inadequate cleats) are a couple of little 4″x4″ pieces of particle board stapled to the base of the cabinet sides. A couple of these are laying on the floor next to the “workbench” in the picture of the partly assembled cabinets.

I couldn’t know this was the problem until I had everything taken apart, and even if I had known, I don’t think I’m capable of rectifying the problem. I think things were too far gone.

Now that I’ve demolished the old cabinets and all my junk is stacked up on the floor of the garage, there’s no turning back. I made some plans. I bought some lumber and some new tools. I’m about to find out if I can build a better set of garage cabinets.


It was somehow important to me to have a big yard. I do enjoy it, even though it’s quite a bit more work than a small yard. Another downside of the big yard is the corresponding big water consumption.

My irrigation system is seven zones. Zone seven is the triangular area north of my driveway. Not long after I bought the Elise we shut that zone down, capped all the sprinkler heads. I park the Chrysler there now. Shortly after that, I quit trying to plant anything in the vegetable garden, so we wanted to shut that off, too. Turned out we were able to cap all the heads but one. Still, between the two zones we cut our irrigation by about a quarter.

We have low water pressure as well. Because of the layout, this affects zone two more than the others. There’s one sprinkler that just keeps an arc of grass green. I had to run my crawler sprinkler to keep the grass green in August. So I need to do something.

In addition, the flower gardens are getting out of control. I’m not a gardener. The previous owner did a great job of planting perennials throughout the property. There’s a great mix of color and the blooms show up at different times. I was able to keep most of the weeds out for several years, with the exception of the morning glory. I never stood a chance against that stuff. The purple bee balm are very nice, until the morning glory tears it down. So I need to do something.

Last spring we lost the three mature arbor vitae we had along the back fence. A heavy snow peeled them like bananas. They were nice screening from the neighbors and I miss them. I need to plant some replacements. Also, while the raspberries in the northeast corner are doing great, the ones I planted later near the shed haven’t done anything. I know what I did wrong, and it can be fixed.

So here’s the plan. First, convert zone two to a drip system. Cap off all the heads but one, and run a line along the east and south fences. Tear out the overgrown weedy flower beds, replace a good section of lawn with stone. Cut some “windows” in the stone around the raspberries by the shed. Plant three small arbor vitae, a bit closer together than the old ones, but slightly better located. And run stone along the back fence to the big raspberry patch.

First, then, the easy part: have Ben come out and do the sprinkler work. He and a helper capped all the heads off, put a pressure reducer on the one working head, and run the hose. They also placed the weed barrier fabric over the lawn. They were done in about two hours.

I had paced out the proposed contour and decided I have plenty of blocks; I wouldn’t have to buy any more, just rearrange them. But once we had the fabric laid down, it became obvious I needed a slight change in plan. I should put a ring around the locust tree, not as big as the existing one, but proportional to it’s space. After laying out this change, I was ten blocks short.

The shopping list then is something like this:

  • 3 arbor vitae (5 gal)
  • 10 blocks
  • 2 more rolls of weed barrier
  • 6 perennials
  • 3 bags of topsoil
  • 4 bags of red mulch
  • 18 tons 1-1½ inch local river rock

The big expense on this project is the stone, obviously. That’s true in dollar terms and the amount of time and physical effort involved. I’ve done this a few times before. I put seven and a half tons of stone in the side yard when I replaced the fence I share with Jeff. And another eleven and a half tons when I took the grass out next to the driveway. In Gilbert I did both front and back yards, two different kinds of stone. I want to say twenty tons of one and fifteen of the other, but that’s probably wrong.

The driver who brought the stone told me he couldn’t bring more than fifteen tons at a time, so it took two trips. First he dropped twelve tons and an hour later the remaining six, right on top of the first load. I asked him what the conversion was between volume and weight. I knew rock this size would be more than a ton per cubic yard. He told me a ton was about two and a half feet cubed. I asked how many wheelbarrows he thought would make the ton; he said six or seven. I told him it would be more than ten for me. Making the prediction pretty much meant I’d have to count.

While I was spreading this rock it was inevitable I’d have a number of stray thoughts.


What’s the definition of work? Force times distance. That was too much work for me to figure out. I knew mass and distance, but force was beyond me. How can I verify the truck driver’s estimate of the volume? The pile is roughly cone-shaped, about fifteen feet in diameter and five feet high. But it’s a bit elongated, and bulges a bit. What’s the formula for the volume of a cone?

I was unable to do the math in my head as I was working. And I had the wrong formula for the volume. With the correct formula and a calculator, we find that at 2.5 feet cubed per ton works out to 281.3 cubic feet while the cone is 294.5. So my eyeball guesstimate of the size of the pile wasn’t too bad.


It took me three weekends (and a few days in between) to move it all. I hauled 211 wheelbarrows full of stone an average of about 180 feet. It turns out I could have done with only fifteen tons. My neighbor took seven wheelbarrows and I spread about 30 loads where I already had good coverage. So that’s a total of 218 wheelbarrows which makes it a tad over 12 loads per ton.

Somebody told me it should take forty-five minutes to move each ton, but they didn’t ask how far I was moving it, so it could take more or less. I was taking a short break every five loads. With breaks, I averaged about five minutes per load. So that’s an hour a ton. Chad and Tim pitched in the last two days, so the last four and a half tons went a bit faster.

I’m hoping this is the last pile of stone I’ll ever have to deal with.

I didn’t do a very good job of taking “before” pictures, and I didn’t make great notes on how long it took to do the other tasks.

It was about an hour to rearrange the blocks and another hour to move several wheelbarrows of soil from the vegetable garden to the new ring around the locust tree. Each window for the raspberries by the shed took an hour, and routing the drip line under the brick path was another hour or so. Two hours to plant the new plants. Roughly four hours to dig up the overgrown flower gardens and two more hours removing shrub and rose stumps. Another couple hours laying down the weed fabric.

So eighteen hours to move the stone and fifteen for everything else. Thirty three spread over about three weeks elapsed time.


I got the flowers planted just in time for a big hail storm, which was followed by a wet, heavy snow a week later. Being under the tree, they weren’t too shredded by the hail and I used the 5 gallon containers the arbor vitae came in to cover them when it snowed. They survived, and appear to be thriving.

The transplanted irises may be a different story. I know it’s not a good time to replant irises, but I figured I’d try to save some. If they die, they die, what do I have to lose? I only moved a few. They’re looking limp and are changing color. But they’re not totally dead. Yet.

This Old House: Shower Tile

And now for something completely different – it’s not about hiking or cars!

I’ve been wanting to have the tile redone in my shower for quite a while. I finally pulled the trigger.


The house was built in 1973 and I’m pretty sure this shower is original. The valve is shot and there’s been a constant slow drip for several weeks now, making it impossible to keep clean.


Two guys did the demolition. They laid out a giant strip of adhesive tape up the stairs, through the bedroom, into the water closet. Pretty clever stuff, except that it prevented me from closing the bedroom door. At night, I had to pull it back, lay it sticky side up and be careful not to step on it. Then lay it back down in the morning.

It’s impossible to get a decent photo, the room is so small. During the demolition it pretty much looked like a bomb went off. Even though they tented everything off, dust was everywhere.

Demo complete

They poked a hole through the drywall into the other bathroom, and the plaster popped off of some nail heads on the opposite wall, so they had to do some drywall repairs and texturing.

Making the new pan

The pan was laid in three layers, with curing time between. Then he laid the floor tiles (sliced stones on a square foot of mesh) and that had to cure before he could stand on it to do the walls.

Floor done


The walls are tile – a weathered wood look that’s made with an ink-jet process. Each piece is unique. There are even knots. I think it looks good with the pebble floor.

Now I have some painting to do.