Friday, June 13, 2014

Drawer of Drawers

With a running motorcycle, spring weather and time to get back to work I buckled down and started on the drawers for the kitchen. With my methodology of mortise and tenons over dovetails I set to work.

After building all the bottom drawers I installed them only to realize that I'd made a 1mm error and that they were tight on the slides. It was easy enough to space them out and getting them working right but frustrating. Of course I don't know if I should be happy that my 1mm error was consistent throughout or not...

I wanted to make the drawers deep and extremely heavy duty. They're all built with 18mm sides and 12mm bottoms in baltic birch and they can support in excess of 100lbs each with ease.

I've gotten very accurate with my construction and every drawer is bang on square and perfect to the mm. It's encouraging. 

I've also had a little help along the way. Emphasis on the little. :-)

A benefit of living in the house as you're still doing the construction is that you learn where you tend to naturally work and that informs how you build. We always prep to the left of the sink and so it made sense to put the knives there. It also made sense to make a knife block to fit the drawer. 

I also wanted the top drawers to hold all the normal utensils that would sit on the counter in crocks or such and so the drawers needed to be a bit deeper but also have dividers. For instance the knife drawer is deep enough that a cutting board can sit on top of the knives and such and be out of the way. 

At this point I went back to my drawings and adjusted my numbers and started on the second and third level drawers. 

It's been a lot of work but the drawers are turing out fantastically and they only need their coat of poly to get them finished. After that it's just a matter of installing them and I can move on to closets. 

And just because all work and no play would be a drag I made a swing for the kids. 

Mise en Place the Kitchen

Holy cow, so long since I've done an update!

Once we moved in I thought it would be much easier to find time to work on the house and frankly it was the opposite. I am the one who gets the kids ready for school, makes breakfast, packs the lunch and then take the to and from school and also makes dinner. All that takes up a fair bit of my day and by the time I'm finished with it all I don't have the energy to go back into the shop.

Despite that I've made some progress in fits and starts. My highest priority is to get the kitchen functional or perhaps more functional. It works but it's a pain to live without cabinets or drawers and the sort of things you take for granted.

I tested various stains as after the bath was done Judiaann and I both agreed that we wanted something darker for the cabinets so that it didn't just blend in with all the cedar or the maple floor. While there are some nice colors there we went with the lower right as it was the most "neutral" of the bunch and sat well with the other colors in the house.

The next step was to at least get the upper cabinets and range hood done. I used walnut on the ends but birch on the top, bottom, back and drawers to keep it light inside.

The range hood and the 3mm walnut edge banding I got were very frustrating to work with. In the end they turned out fine but I don't know if I'm going to continue with them or not.

Along the way I learned about putting dynamat on the sink to quiet the sound when you put in dishes and I have to say it's a brilliant trick. The sink sounds much more quiet and solid.

Next up was to put the back into the island counter as the kids were dropping a few too many snacks back there. The end was a compound angle that was tricky to get right but it worked out.

I also finally got around to putting the end cap on the counter to complete the waterfall.

With the cabinets and hood in they were immediately filled up. The walnut plywood is difficult to work with so at this point I decided that I needed a brake and took a little time out to fix up one of my bikes so I had a motorcycle to ride in the perfect spring weather.

Next up: drawers.

Monday, March 10, 2014

In like Flynn

So over a year has passed since we bought this house and I started what I honestly thought was going to be a few months of renovation. It's been an enormous strain on my relationship and a greater strain on my finances as I've literally spent every penny I made on this house and then sold off a number of bikes, toys and tools to make up the difference but on Valentines day this year we moved enough of our things over to the house to be able to live there. Judiaann's line in the sand was that we have a working bathroom, stove, refrigerator and counters. It was a little like George Bush with his Mission Accomplished banner. Umm, yeah I got that covered but we're hardly finished. 

For the week before I switched modes from cabinet construction to tying up loose ends - literally loose electrical wires, empty switch plates and the astonishing amount of construction detritus that littered the house. I spent several days cleaning, organizing, agonizing and trying to find the "home" under the house. But I got it clean.

So finally the house was clean(er). Trim was consolidated into the back room, lumber into the "mud" room and the place was swept and cleaned. For the first time, as I took the photos above, the house started to look like a house instead of my personal workshop. It had the empty feel of a real estate house and in that light I was able to look at it and remember the dozens and dozens of houses that I saw when we were searching and, while the place isn't finished, I saw the house that I had been looking for the whole time. It was here but it was buried under ugly paint, cheap cabinets, horrible fixtures and a general lack of respect for what was originally designed. It took a year but I uncovered a very spectacular house. A house I am very proud of. 

Of course the day we moved Portland has it's first blizzard in like 4 years. We dug out boxes we'd packed two years earlier in NYC and it was like a time capsule. Furniture that I'd forgotten the color of, lamps that had been crushed by movers and shards of a former life. 

It was a strange transformation in a way. Imagine if one day you moved into your office and how strange it would be to see your couch and kids there. It was sort of like that. The kids obviously loved the house instantly. With so many circles to run, stairs to climb and small spaces and overlooks it was a dream come true for them. For me it a relief to finally be in. It was hard to reorganize my working spaces but within a week I had reordered my space and found a better way to build. The cottage became the overflow space for all the we-can't-deal-with-that-now stuff. 

One thing for me that was essential, mandatory even, was to get the fireplace working. The previous week I was checking the flu and discovered, tied in a knot inside the chimney, the original flu chains that held the original "O" and "C" for open and close. It was a very nice find. Still, we didn't have a screen of any kind since I'd ripped out the cheap brass and glass door contraptions and tossed them in the trash. Luckily I'd saved the screens and so set about using my machine shop in the garage to make a simple hanging system. 

I'm a person who thinks constantly, frets details and works hard to make my vision a reality but I'm also a person who can take a step back and appreciate just how very far I've come. Lighting a fire and seeing the kids stare in wonder as they watched the flames dance was truly everything I'd been hoping for. To finally relax at night, in my own home, the first I've ever had and the one that I practically rebuild from the studs out was more rewarding than I'd imagined it could be. Probably even worth all the stress and anxiety that it's put me through this past year. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

I'm Sinking, I'm Sinking!

You know I feel bad about that title but then a part of me doesn't feel bad. Bad puns are rich part of our family history and I shouldn't feel bad about maintaining a tradition. 

So, as you might have guessed this is a post about ovens. No, kidding, it's about sinks. You knew that right? Well, actually it's about kitchens and the things we do to make them happen. Like calling in any and all favors because you want desperately, more than anything, to live in your very first house that you've spent over a year working on. Judiaann said that we could finally move in when we had a working bathroom (check!) and kitchen counters and sink (check please).

So I called in my friend Ben, who happens to be our architect but is also a former cabinet maker, to help kick my ass in gear and get the basic boxes for the kitchen together. 

So we're using prefinished maple for the box construction. It won't be seen unless you open the drawers, which will be baltic birch (see previous post) so it made sense to speed the process by going with pre fin. 

This is the "coffee station" which is also the prep area and will have a second sink. Since the original kitchen was the traditional small space we are working to gain as much as we can within the footprint. By opening the wall to the main room we give the kitchen a much larger feel and by building a pantry into the laundry room and adding this second sink and prep area we're almost getting a kitchen and a half. 

This is the cabinet next to the stove and I'm using a laser to set the counters to the same height throughout the kitchen. The floor may not always be perfectly level but the cabinets will be. 

Another thing that has been confounding me is wanting the back side of the peninsula to be a seating area for the kids to watch Judiaann (and me!) cook. When I was a kid we had a similar counter and I really loved to sit and draw and hang out while my mom cooked. I want the same thing for my kids. 

But the space for the peninsula is limited to the existing kitchen foot print. While you could extend the counter outward, into the main room, it would look horrible and ruin all the work we've done to open the space and keep the clean lines. Then it hit me. The boxes of the peninsula were oversized and we were already using the largest drawer slides but there was still space at the back for the plumbing and electric but they were only at the bottom.  The only space you need room on a counter is for your knees and luckily my knees, and the rest of my families knees are all located much higher. 

If I kicked the top of the back side of the cabinet bases I could have plenty of knee room and the counter could stay within the "space" of the kitchen. 

Here I'm testing the counter height, knee kick and what I imagine will be the stool height. Once I'm in the house and am caught up on the pressing construction I'll build some nice stools for the counter but it's way down on my list right now. Ikea will do for the time being. 

One of the main reasons for wanting to go with laminate is that it's very flexible and easy to work with and it's also sort of period correct. That is low on my list of reasons but it's nice. Besides, I really like the stuff and am sort of tired of all the Corian and marble. The other reason is because I found these amazing sinks from Karran. They are designed to be set flush with the laminate with a zero inset and it's a very cool look. It is the perfect sink for formica but it's a chore to install. 

You place the sink on the underside of the counter and trace a slightly oversize opening which you cut out with a jigsaw. 

Then you bury the edge in your build up which is part of what supports the sink. 

When the top is just proud of the surface of the counter and there's a small gap all around the sink you mix up some bondo (auto body filler) and force it into the gap to capture the sink and seal it to the counter. 

Once the bondo has hardened (about 15-30 min) you then use a belt sander to flush the bondo and sink edge to the countertop. 

Then you laminate the counter as you normally would with contact adhesive but the only difference is that a special adhesive is used around the lip of the sink. 

Once the laminate is down and the epoxy has had time to cure (about an hour) you rout out the sink area with tapered bit with oversize bearing. 

Unlike their video of the installation my sink didn't route out smoothly due to squeezed out adhesive. It didn't stick to the stainless but it was time consuming to chip out. 

Once cleaned though the router made a very smooth path around the since and cleaned up the edge nicely. 

And this was the whole goal - a very nice clean white counter that appears to have a sink carved out of it's stainless inner core. It's a very cool look and and takes full advantage of laminate. 

After the sink and counters were done I spent time addressing the plumbing under the sink working to keep the lines and drains as compact and reward as possible to allow for the greatest amount of space inside the drawers. 

I'm very happy with the layout of the counter, sink and plumbing. I feel like I'm packing the ingenuity of a VW camper into a full size house and getting out twice the usable space while maintaining the big open feel of the period. 

And more than anything I'm thrilled to finally have a move in date - in two weeks. Lots of stuff still go but at least there's light at the end of the tunnel.