Deck Building: Updating a 3-level entryway using composite decking

 

 

 

 

Front entrance front entrance dimensioned

This was replacing an original deck built which was likely original to the home, built in 1974.

Before

There was a scissor jack holding up the top tier!

There was a scissor jack holding up the top tier!

There was severe sagging due to rot of critical structural members

There was severe sagging due to rot of critical structural members

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After

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How to Make an Outdoor Coffee Table / Ice Chest

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My wife came up with this brilliant idea of combining an ice chest and coffee table to make our back patio party ready. I really loved the idea, so we put our heads together and made this project. It turned out great, so I wanted to provide a set of plans for those of you who would like to make one of their own. One caveat though, this was built around a galvanized trough that we had lying around, so it will require some adaptation to fit whatever bin you choose to use for the ice chest, but I’ve provided enough detail that I think you should be able to modify these plans to fit nearly any table application. To demonstrate this, I drafted up a farm table variant that showcases how this style of building can be adapted to other applications.

Materials

I chose to use rough cedar lumber such as is used for fences. I like working with it for a variety reasons. First of all, it’s naturally weather-resistant so I won’t have to worry about bringing it in out of the weather. Next, it’s very straight-grained, so cutting joinery is easy. You can even take some short cuts with cedar joinery, such as in cutting the shoulders of the rabbet joints, because they snap of straight with just a chisel and some leverage if the perpendicular face is cut. This is also an inexpensive and widely available wood that any of my readers can get ahold of without difficulty.

Bill of Materials (qty – length x width x height) :

  • 1 – 4″x4″x8′ Cedar Fence Post
  • 6 – 2″x4″x8′ Cedar Boards
  • 8 – 3 3/8″ wood screw lags (ledgerlok or similar)
  • 20 – 2 1/2″ coated deck screws*

Tools: 

  • Drill with countersink bit and driver for deck screws
  • Circular saw
  • Miter saw or 45 degree fence for circular saw
  • Table saw or router with edge guide

Process:

  1. Legs
    1. Cut 4×4 down to 1′ 6 1/2″ (4)
    2. Cross-cut 3 1/2″ from one end, 2 1/2″ depth
    3. Use a sharp, wide chisel and mallet to remove the cheek, starting 1″ in slicing through the endgrain toward your cut.
    4. Drill two holes diagonal from one another. Spacing is not critical, but should be >3/4″ from shoulder of the joint, edge of the leg, and top of the endgrain. Drill hole the width and height of the head of your lag, then drill a center hole slightly smaller than the shaft (not including the threads) of the lag.
  2. Rails
    1. Cut two pieces of 2×4 at 4’3″ and drill two holes at the ends of the boards, spaced 3/4″ in from the ends, equally spaced apart. I used a #8 countersink so that my countersinking screw heads would be flush with the face.
    2. Cut two pieces of 2×4 at 1′ 1 1/4″
    3. Screw the long rails into the short rails to make a box
    4. Drive the lag bolts into the rail assembly
  3. H-Stretcher
    1. Cut two pieces of 2×4 at 9 1/4″ and one at 4′
    2. Drill two equally spaced holes in the center of both 9 1/4″ pieces
    3. Screw the short pieces into the endgrain of the 4′ piece to form an “H” or “I” shape
    4. Toe screw the H-stretcher assembly into the legs, making sure that they are spaced equally in:
      1. height from the bottom of leg
      2. distance from the sides of the legs
    5. Make certain that all faces are parallel the adjoining faces. A bar clamp or pipe clamp can help hold the stretcher in place while you make find adjustments with a mallet.
  4. Top Frame
    1. Set up your table saw:
      1. blade height at 3/4″
      2. fence to the right of the blade at 1″ from the left side of the blade
    2. Run two 2x4x8’s through this set up to cut the shoulder of your rabbets
    3. While the saw is set up, run your top slats through on both ends and two pieces on 3 sides.
    4. Set up your table saw for the next cut:
      1. blade height at 1″
      2. fence to the right of the blade at 3/4″ from the left side of the blade
    5. Cut the perpendicular face of your first cuts. The waste may ride against the blade. Clear it with a long scrap. Don’t touch the blade. Keep your fingers; you’ll need them.
    6. Cut the miters on your top frame assembly. Remember that the short points of your miters face the rabbets.
    7. Pin nail the slats into place
    8. Optional: if you want the top to be removable, add a 3/4″ cleat to the underside of the lid. To permanently mount it, add a larger cleat and screw it to both faces.
Slats that make up the top have the reverse rabbet of the frame so that they sit flush and move independently of the frame to account for expansion and contraction. I just pin nailed these in.

Slats that make up the top have the reverse rabbet of the frame so that they sit flush and move independently of the frame to account for expansion and contraction. I just pin nailed these in.

Top frame components dimensioned

Top frame components dimensioned

Leg and rail parts labeled and dimensioned

Leg and rail parts labeled and dimensioned

Leg and rail assembly parts, labeled

Leg and rail assembly parts, labeled

Dimensioned isometric view

Dimensioned isometric view

Exploded view of all the table components.

Exploded view of all the table components.

Closed table in perspective

Closed table in perspective

The cooler / coffee table with the lid raised. If you just want to use this as a coffee table, you can stop here and call it done.

The cooler / coffee table with the lid raised. If you just want to use this as a coffee table, you can stop here and call it done.

Farm Table variant, drawn to scale but not dimensioned. Included in the sketchup file

Farm Table variant, drawn to scale but not dimensioned. Included in the sketchup file

Download the SketchUp File Here: cooler.skp

IKEA Cabinets: Mounting a Peninsula Like a Pro

 

 

Coming out of this corner, we are installing a dead-corner cabinet with a pull-out shelving system followed by a dishwasher on the end. Here’s a slick way to anchor in a cover panel to hide your seams while still creating a strong panel. These are all stock L-brackets from IKEA repurposed.

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And here’s a love note to the countertop gorillas to remind them to leave consistent spacing. 2016-04-20 16.29.34

Ikea Lighting part 1: Install Ansulta Puck Lights Like a Pro

 

 

Ikea’s kitchen lighting systems are a fantastic value, and can be a perfect solution to your cabinet lighting needs if you can install them easily and in a way that maintains the warranty and produces a really clean finished product. This is the Ansulta lighting system puck light that is commonly used in glass-front cabinets. It can look pretty slick if you go the extra mile and hide all the wiring.

 

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Notice the big extension cord thing on the right side. This is stock, but it can be plugged in or hard wired into a junction box above the cabinet for a much cleaner look. The electrician is still working on this project, so this is just for testing purposes to demonstrate that the lighting works.

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Here is the cabinet fully lit. There is still trim and a base cabinet to install. Note that the lights are centered on the doors, not the interior dimension of the cabinet. This is key. Since the thickness of the side panels is 3/4″, your interior dimension will be 3/4″ off.

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Your spacing from the back wall here is set by the length of your wire channel. It’s something like 3 3/8″ from the front of the cabinet. Note that there’s a 1/16″ reveal from the side panels to the bottom and top to account for.

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Once you hide the wiring in holes drilled through the top of the cabinet, it’s like they’re floating in the panel. No visible wires!

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Here we measure the cabinet first, 30″ total from end of door to end of door, 15″ from the edge, centered on the depth of the cabinet. Cross hairs will help you line up the bracket. It takes a fairly large hole to fit the wire and harness through the panel. 2016-04-20 12.23.52 2016-04-20 12.23.41

 

Deck Building: Tips for Pouring Footings in Winter

If you’re like me and live in a place where winter temperatures regularly dip below freezing, keeping the decking trade going through the off season can be challenging to say the least! To get a jump on the competition, here are a few tricks that will get your footings set before the first day of Spring!

Choose the right concrete mix
Quikcrete has a number of blends designed for specific applications. In the deck building industry, we use structural concrete blends such as:

  • Concrete Mix (No. 1101)
    Fast-Setting Concrete (No. 1004-50)
    FastSet™ Concrete Mix (No. 1004-51)
    FastSet™ DOT Mix (No. 1244-56, 1244-81-extended)
    Green Concrete Mix (No. 1101-63)
    QUIKRETE® 5000 High Early Strength Concrete Mix (No. 1007)
    Crack Resistant Concrete Mix (No. 1006-80)
    Fiber-Reinforced Deck Mix (No. 1251-80), Polymer Modified Fiber-Reinforced Deck Mix (No.1251-81)

But which of these set up in cold temperatures?
Concrete Selection Guide

 

Our options here are basically FastSet and 5000 if you’re looking for something that is appropriate for footings and sets in cold weather. The standard mix “concrete mix” is used for most applications in decking, and you’ll see from the data above that it sets to 4,000 PSI at 28 days, while 5000 mix sets to 5000 PSI. That’s a 20% improvement. Next, you’ll see that it reaches 1500 PSI 3x faster than standard mix. This is a huge advantage when you’re working in cold weather which can shorten cure times. In effect, you’ll have very little difference in how your footings set in winter if you simply change blends.

Add Heat and Insulation

Try concrete blankets, straw, or other heating solutions. The genius innovator Dr. Decks up in Washington uses upside down 5 gallon buckets with drop lights suspended in them to add heat to the top of the footings while they cure! There are also ICF forms that provide some insulating value, but I haven’t tried them.

 

10 Things I Wish I Had Known About Owning a Home

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1. Hot water heaters are often ruined if they’re submerged, such as in flooding.

Newer hot water heaters contain warnings on the side cautioning that the are essentially garbage after having been submerged. There are control electronics on the sides of these units that are sensitive and not repairable. You would be well-served to elevate your hot water heater off the ground some distance to prevent these kinds of issues in the event of flooding.

There are a few things to take into consideration when elevating your tank:

  • Make sure that your vent systems still drafts. The pitch of the vent pipe is angled such as it is to ensure that vapors draft up the pipe. If the vented gases hit a 90 degree angle (no pitch) at the top of the vent, they will face less resistance to vent elsewhere! There’s an updraft effect created when warm vapors travel through a pipe that draws a current. Check this by snuffing out a lit match and seeing if the smoke follows the vent line. The smoke should be pulled into the system.
  • Your supply lines may need to be swapped. There are a few types of water supply lines, and some of them are more resilient than others. Corrugated copper lines, for instance, are a great choice for installations, but they are prone to kinking and then leaking, making them useless and in need of replacement. I like using braided hoses for their flexibility and durability, but they don’t take and retain a shape in tight spaces quite as well as corrugated copper.
  • Hot water heaters are heavy! It’s no simple task to raise these, even a strong adult can struggle with a hot water heater with retained water. Sometimes it’s difficult to drain all the water from their tanks from the bottom spigot. With a drill pump and some hose, you can drain more from the supply line holes, but it takes some extra effort.
  • There are pre-fab platforms designed to hold water heaters. This is a great choice, but not the only choice. In our mud-floored basement, I laid down gravel, cinder blocks (hole side up), sand, then plywood. The sand and gravel allowed for better leveling on an uneven surface, and the blocks added a ton of stability.

2. Blow out your sprinkler system before the first frost.

Sprinkler systems are very expensive and are easily ruined if you forego yearly maintenance! Consider how your sprinklers might be effected before…

  • Aerating your lawn. If aerators penetrate deeper than the soil level above your sprinkler plumbing, they can do a ton of damage in a matter of minutes!
  • Tilling your soil. Basically, never use a tiller on soil with a buried sprinkler line. The system will likely be destroyed in the process.

It’s also vital that you blow out the system yearly to prevent freezing and cracking below the ground.

3. Tree service can be very expensive!

If you purchase a property with poorly-maintained, unhealthy, older trees, you may love the shade when you move in, but they can quickly become a hazard. Ice storms can put enough weight on limbs to cause massive branches to fall on your roof or vehicles. If your trees are in need of maintenance, it’s wise to hire a licensed arborist (yes there’s a license for this) to do the work in case of any liability issues. If an unlicensed arborist causes damages to surrounding properties, you could, and likely will, be held liable for repairs!

4. Know what’s in your sewer drain.

There are a number of services in most major real estate markets that will snake a video camera down your sewer drain to see if things are in good order. Over time, clay drain pipes can collapse or be damaged by roots underground. This can lead to one of the most expensive repairs a homeowner can have to make: a new sewer line. The going rate is in the thousands of dollars range.

5. Don’t assume your house is in great shape just because it passed inspection!

Not even a week after our home inspection and closing, we discovered that the fools that lived in our house before us had tiled our shower surround directly onto common drywall! The tiles began falling off like porcelain base jumpers and crashing down into the tub. Behind the tiles was a thin carpet of black mold! Don’t think that just because your home passed inspection that it’s in tip-top shape; the inspection is really for the bank, to make sure that they can still get their money back if you default.

6. Rusty pipes can ruin your fixtures.

If your home still has galvanized steel pipe, it can still remain in service for quite a while if it’s in good shape, but will eventually need to be replaced. If you bump one of these pipes or shut your water off and bleed the line, this can disturb rust deposits in the pipes that will run upstream and potentially ruin your faucets. With PEX being so cheap and easy to install, you may as well upgrade.

7. Just because a plumber is licensed, doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing!

There’s a way of doing things by the code that is smart and in compliance, or in compliance and dumb. Just because it’s done to code, doesn’t make it “right.” There’s a whole spectrum of right and wrong in the trades. If something a tradesman is doing to your home doesn’t make any sense, and they can’t explain, that should be a big red flag. Trust your gut.

8. Duct tape is not for rigid metal ducting.

These vents can get hot, I mean really hot, like 500 degrees max. Self-tapping screws are the way to go.

9. Most modern appliances have flashing lights for diagnostics.

Your HVAC repairman affectionately calls them “idiot lights” because they have idiot-proofed most diagnostics. Count the flashes, read the label, and proceed.

10. Early vinyl tile contains asbestos!

What we know know as VCT, vinyl composite tile, used to contain asbestos. It’s not a problem if it’s contained and/or not cut, but the dust can be hazardous to your health and has been linked to lung cancer. Pry it up, cover it, but don’t sand or grind it!

Must-have tools that aren’t in most homeowners’ tool boxes:

Plumbing:

  • Pipe cutters for PVC, Copper, PEX
  • Hacksaw
  • various sizes of boots, splices, ball-valves, tees. Sharkbite fittings are great!
  • short lengths of PEX, PVC, Copper, ABS pipe
  • PVC glue
  • propane torch, flux, solder, emery cloth
  • Heat isolating blanket (for brazing it tight spaces)
  • teflon tape
  • monkey wrench
  • basic wrench
  • water key
  • strap wrench
  • channel locks (2)
  • vise grips
  • coveralls and a head lamp (you’ll thank me later)

Electrical

  • Outlet tester
  • voltage tester
  • wire nuts of various sizes
  • some standard shielded wire
  • Spare fuses (if you use them)
  • Wire cutters/strippers

Roofing

  • Some HEET roof patch
  • Putty knife, caulk gun
  • tarp
  • spare shingles
  • ladder

HVAC

  • self-tapping screws
  • hose clamps
  • duct tape
  • the manual for your AC / furnace / water heater
  • a carbon monoxide detector

Or at very least, a good handyman’s phone number. Mine is 720 315 8591

Line Cook Tricks: part 1

You’ll get the finer points from other resources. Here are a few things that I see people screwing up on a regular basis that pros do all the time.

Your blender (probably) sucks.

Basically, consumer grade appliances are terrible. They are under-powered and over-priced garbage. If you do nothing else we discuss here, save you hard-earned cash for professional-grade tools if you do anything other than holiday cooking. The work of maintaining a scratch kitchen these days equates to professional usage in the age of microwave dinners and fast food.

Transfer:

If you’re to mix, such as with a whisk, double the size of the vessel relative to the contents.

Mixing utensils in order of the thickness of the liquid: whisk, paddles, hooks. The thicker the solution, the smaller the vessel it will tolerate for mixing.

Mix the oil on top of your peanut butter with a dough hook and a hand mixer.

If there’s a chance of wasting in a smooth-sided vessel, use a rubber spatula.

Liquids follows what interrupts their path. A chopstick on the rim of a bowl when pouring is a tool for aiming your pour.

Chopsticks are not just for eating sushi. They are immensely valuable in plating anything that benefits from precision. You can find long chopsticks designed for cooking as is common practice in many parts of Southeast Asia.

Silpat mats are indispensible! No more cooking spray on your sheet trays. Use them to make fruit leathers. Throw over-ripe bananas cut in half and skinned onto a silpat. They cook down into a delicious sugary caramel and chewy dried fruit. Clean-up only takes 1 minute with the silpat.

Nothing looks dumber than using a normal spatula on a griddle. Use the long, flat, wide kind, or try a 6″ taping knife. And be brave and shove it under the food with gusto like you’re shoving a table cloth under a place setting.

KNIVES:

Dimples are cute, but your knife doesn’t need them. Hands up, tips down (perpendicular to the table) if you want to minimize drag (by minimizing surface area). Hands parallel to the cutting board, tips facing forward if you want something to cling to your blade.

Harder to dull = harder to sharpen. Easier to dull = easier to sharpen. How much maintenance can you live with? Now, go buy a knife. Past what feels good and what you can afford, that’s the decision you need to make.

You can hone a knife on anything. I use the spine of another knife in a pinch or the rough underside of a porcelain plate.

You’d have to be high to cut high-acid foods with a high-carbon knife.

Nobody needs a tournee knife. You should probably get an oyster knife, because not having one and needing one is just dangerous.

HEAT:

Using wooden skewers? Soak your skewers. Only a fool puts wood in fire and expects something other than ashes.

If you intend to sear, you must get HOT. A warm surface sticks. A HOT surface cauterizes and then sears. Carbon is a lubricant; create carbon if you wish for your protein to release.

Furthermore, the protein must be DRY. Pat the meat dry, rub in salt, set it down, walk away. This especially goes for scallops, but keep an eye on them. They’re sneaky little bastards.

You only cook as hot as your conductor. Water boils at 212. Oils retain quite a bit more heat. We sear with oil.

Use dry towels for hot things. Steam burns suck. Ask your barista.

Add a splash of water and cover the pan to heat quickly and evenly.

EGGS:

Want eggs to cook faster? Cook them from room temp. More importantly, a “6 minute egg” is 6 mins from room temp, not from your frigidaire.

Add yolk to, hell, nearly anything. Throw one into your pasta. Whisk some into any cream-based sauce.

Clarify stock with your left over whites. They even make a tasty snack after straining if you dare.

MEAT:

Buy turkeys when they’re cheap. 

I thaw the birds and debone them, then they freeze in one flat layer like a meat blanket. Slice down the back, cut shoulder joints, peel the back meat and breasts down like taking off a meat sweater. Dislocate and cut hip joints, and scrape the meat off the bones and cut around joints. Remove breast fillets. Use a dry towel to grab ligaments and scrape them away from the meat with a knife. Takes about 2-3 minutes per bird with some practice. Then brown the bones and start your stock.

Save the fat.

Chill your stock. Skim the fat off the top of your chilled stock. Heat the skimmed fat and when it stops bubbling, filter it through a coffee filter. Waste not, want not. If you are cooking stock or another fat-generating dish without rendering your fat, I feel bad for you. This is one of frugal living’s great pleasures.

Low & Slow

Throw meat in a crock pot with any kind of marinade and it will probably be good. This trick never gets old. It saved mom’s behind more than a few times when you were a kid, and you never knew the difference.

London Broil

If sirloin is the poor man’s filet, and the filet is the poor man’s waygu, then the London broil is the poor man’s “hey, it’s steak.” This cut is always dirt cheap compared to the rest of the beef, the cuts are massive, and if you take your steak medium rare, you’ll love it! If you’re running a crematorium, you’ll end up with a shoe, but then that’s probably what you deserve, peasant.

Other: 

No, you are probably not a chef. Calling yourself a home chef is about as lame as forming a single-member LLC and calling yourself the CEO. Just stop.

Coming Soon Part 2: Veg, Tofu, Rice, and other assorted hippie chow.

Fast shelf brackets for maximum strength

My wife’s sewing room is running out of storage space, so it’s time to go vertical. Looking around the garage, I can’t seem to find any shelf brackets, so I’m opting to make my own. In designing these, I think I may have inadvertently found a very efficient way of manufacturing them. With this design, the brackets can be made from inexpensive food and still be quite strong. Additionally, they can be glued up in long sections and cut into pieces. For instance, it would not be unreasonable to glue up 6’x7″ lumber with the 45 degree panel dadoed in, then cut them apart with a crosscut sled on the table saw.

The joinery is designed to maximize glue surface and minimize time. The dadoes for the angled slots triple surface area for glue, and the rabbet at the 90 degree joint doubles glue surface and allows for a mechanical fastener through the back that’s hidden and not just going into endgrain for extra strength. angle bracket iso

HTML instruments!

We no longer need a VCR, camera, camcorder, voice recorder, or typewriter anymore; that’s a given. Did you know that there are several instruments that you can use right now inside of your web browser? Here are a few of the coolest ones I’ve found.

HTML 909 

HTML 909 

Web Modular

Web Modular

HTML5 Drum Machine

HTML5 Drum Machine

True Grid

True Grid

Pattern Sketch

Pattern Sketch

Sympathetic Synthesizer System Mk 1

Sympathetic Synthesizer System Mk 1

Audiotool

Audiotool

Web Sid

Web Sid

Smarter Business: Vetting Contractors

In the skilled trades, we often accept work from people we know little to nothing about, often with some form of contract, but especially for small jobs this can be a simple as a verbal agreement. When collecting payment, we’re often taking these people at their word. With communities become more populous and alienated, the social pressures that once existed to enforce these contracts have all but vanished. There are luckily a few things that a tradesman can check before doing business to minimize risk. Granted, this is not a fail-proof approach; I’ve been burned by people I’ve vetted this way. However, you can at least minimize the risks.

Business Filings

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Check that their trade name is registered and in good standing. The state secretary’s office manages this records and most states’ records are online now. Try searching for “your state”, SOS. This will provide several valuable pieces of information.

  • How long they’ve been in business
    • Do you see numerous DBA changes? Has the business owner told you they’ve been in business for decades, but is working under a new trade name?
  • Their business address or registered agent
    • Many legitimate businesses use registered agents for a number of reasons, but it could be an attempt to obscure the primary stakeholder’s identity.
  • Legal name
    • Does their legal name match the name they’ve given you?
    • Are there other businesses filed by the same person?
  • Filing status
    • If they haven’t kept up with their tax filings, they will be in delinquent status. If they don’t pay the state promptly, will they pay you?

If their address listed is a home address, check the property records. Do they own their home? While there’s nothing wrong with renting, it’s not exactly normal for a successful contractor to still be renting, especially when they have the tools and income to buy an affordable home and remodel. Do they have poor credit? Is it their real address? I wouldn’t necessarily rule out doing business someone based on this alone, but it is the beginning of a trend.

Residential Records

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These records are held by the respective county in which the person resides. Many property assessors records are now online and searchable by multiple criteria.

  • Chain of Title
    • Has the home in foreclosure?
    • Is the contractor still the current owner?
    • Is the property owned by a landlord or other party?
  • Spouse
    • Another name to vet for business entities
  • Former HUD
    • There are very specific criteria that must be met to qualify for a HUD home, most of which would disqualify a successful businessman.

Contractors Licensing Office

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Many cities are beginning to make their contractor databases publicly searchable. Is this licensed contractor active for the county and building classification you’re supposed to be working on?

Google

Check permutations of the contractor’s full legal name, nicknames, maiden names, etc. Have they had businesses in other states recently? Are they still active? In good standing? How is their rating with the Better Business Bureau? Are they members? Check contractor review and lead generation sites for their names and trade names. What are customers saying? Are there any reviews from former employees or subcontractors? Tip: Use quotation marks to tell google exactly what you want.