How to: Setting a vanity cabinet

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Here’s the finished vanity securely fastened, level, plumb, and ready to be plumbed.

Setting a vanity is a great skill to have under your belt. Here I will go over my method of laying out the plumbing in the cabinet and cleanly cutting the pipes into the cabinets.

Tools Required

  • Drill and impact driver
  • 48″ level
  • Measuring tape
  • Square
  • Holes saws: 1″ & 2 1/2″
  • Taper drill bit (the size of your mounting screw’s shaft)
  • Paddle bit (the size of your mounting screw’s head)
  • Driver bits (in my case, T15 and T10)
  • Wood plugs that match your paddle bit size and wood grain (I make my own with a plug cutter
  • Wood glue
  • Stud finder magnet
  • Mallet
  • Clamps (I like the ‘quick clamp’ style)

fig 1. Hidden fastening has kept this install looking clean!

So, A word on fasteners. There are many different options on the market, but there is a difference between an economy screw and a premium screw. More on this in a future blog post. For vanity cabinets and all my euro cabinet installations actually, I use 1-1/4″ GRK trim head screws to attach cabinets to cabinets and either these or Spax MDF/Hardwood trim head screws for attaching fillers. There are many reasons for this, but to hit the high points, they can be made to disappear, they’re wicked strong, the torx drive doesn’t torque out (no strippy, strippy), and they’re easy to patch. As an added bonus, some amateur-hour crapenter probably won’t be able to come in behind you and mess with your work.

fig. 2: The wall floor is not level, so I marked a line from the high point in the floor (left) to level, all the way across. I measure down from this level line to find my vertical hole positions.

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fig. 3. Positions marked on the back of the cabinet.

 

Step by Step:

  1. Find the center of the wall. For a three-cabinet vanity like this (master bath), mark the center of the middle cabinet. Line up your marks.
  2. Check your middle cabinet for plumb. If it’s close, mark the sides of the middle cabinet.
  3. Measure from the middle cabinet’s sides out to each pipe’s center. Mark the measurements above each pipe
  4. Find the high point of the floor. To do this, measure your cabinet (here it’s 34 5/8″). Mark that height on both sides and use a level to transfer the mark across the wall. The higher of the two marks represents your high point. Start here and work across the wall. By starting and your high point and establishing a level line, you can shim up your low points to level! (fig 2.)
  5. Measure down from your level line to the vertical positions of your pipes. Always mark centers.
  6. From here, transfer the marks to the backs of your cabinets. Keep the cabinets in their same orientation to keep things easy. Connect your horizontal and vertical positions to form cross marks (figure 3), and circle the intersections
  7. Chuck up your hole saw. Doesn’t matter which. Drill the center of each mark through the backing, but don’t complete the hole!
  8. Now, drill through from the inside to the back of your cabinet with the correct size hole saw. This keeps your holes looking clean with no blow-out.
  9. Now find your stud locations. Lay these out on your top rail. Drill through the backing, back to front, with a taper drill bit to prevent blow-out. Now, use a paddle bit to remove excess material to allow your screw head to seat into the stud and your head to be hidden.
  10. Put the cabinets in place, clamp them together, line up the fronts, and screw them together with trim screws through the drawer slide hardware holes, or in front of the hinge mounting plates. That way, the holes will be hidden. (fig 1.)
  11. Shim, level, and plumb the cabinets, then drive the screws through your pre-drilled holes into studs.
  12. Measure the gaps to the walls on the right and left, top and bottom. Cut fillers to match and screw them into place with trim head screws.
  13. Replace drawers and doors. Adjust to perfect.
The finished product.

The finished product.

Aliexpress Tool Finds: new blog series

I’ve been curious for a time about the quality of tools that are available on import sites like AliExpress. I have a feeling that there are some gems out there to be found, and given the incredible prices on some of these items. In short, I’ve decided to give it a shot. I’ll be posting reviews of small hand tools and multitool blades here to start.

First up, some stop collars for drilling. Stop collars are cool because they allow you to have more control over your drilling depth without using a drill press. They’re good for doing repetitive tasks in the field especially. This set was $2.29 shipped to my door from China.

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Here is how they came. 8 collars and an allen key packed in a poly bag.

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Everything is as described. All the set screws are in place. Decent fit and finish.

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The verdict? Worth every penny! Do any of these look familiar?

Identical sets on Amazon.com

Identical sets on Amazon.com

 

Planning Your Kitchen Cabinets: 10 common mistakes

1. Top cabinet doors do not clear a ceiling light fixture

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Often there are issues when installing cabinets tight to the ceiling with hitting existing light fixtures. Many homeowners and interior designers alike overlook this crucial detail which can add hundreds of dollars to a project. Recessed can lights are a great solution to these situations and they can often be mounted in the same hole as the existing fixture.

2. Appliance doors allow for free movement of adjacent drawers and doors

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Oven doors and dishwashers in corners often pose problems for adjacent cabinet pulls. I have had to shorten drawers for clients who couldn’t open them after installing a new appliance! Apron sinks or “farm sinks” come with their own clearance requirements. Plan ahead!

3. Adequate venting for vent hood or microwave hood combo

There are recirculating options for venting, but nothing is quite as effective as a true vent stack in reducing smoke and grease in a well-used kitchen. There are many venting options, but often the cheapest is to vent directly out of the side of the house on the same story. If you plan for this, the vent could be hidden either on top of the cabinet or hidden within the cabinets for a cleaner look.

4. Valves and traps are already in place on sink plumbing

When the valves are already installed on sink plumbing, your cabinets need to be cut significantly to allow for these services to be connected. You also risk damaging the valves or gathering sediment in the exposed supply lines during your remodel. Ask your plumber to “stub in” your supply lines and drain instead, allowing you to cleanly install plumbing fixtures with minimal damage to your brand-new cabinets. Here’s what not to do:

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5. Dead corners are not utilized

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In a row of kitchen cabinets that turn a corner, at each turn there is the potential to waste space, commonly referred to as a dead corner. By using “lazy susan” fixtures you can reclaim some of that dead space and make it useful. Sometimes, facing the cabinet backwards into an adjoining room can even be a solution. Once, I installed a backwards corner cabinet that the client intended to use as a hidden litter box for their cats!

6. Top cabinet height is set without checking the ceiling and floor for level

You can run into a significant amount of additional expense fixing a wavy floor or ceiling when you’re budgeting for a cabinet install only. Trim carpenters charge a premium for “scribing molding” where they cut away parts of crown molding where it abuts a low point to create a seamless look. Wavy floors can result it abnormal toe-kick appearance or gaps over a long run of toe-kick on top of a sloping floor. Use a laser level to measure points along the run to spot any potential issues while they’re relatively easy to fix!

7. Not allowing clearance for your chosen faucet style

Many faucets are situated in front of windows with casings that may not allow free range of motion for the faucet style to rotate from hot to cold completely.

8. Covering floor registers without redirecting

Build a box that redirects the vent toward the toe kick and cut in a vent.

Build a box that redirects the vent toward the toe kick and cut in a vent.

Redirecting HVAC registers can cut down on your heating and cooling bills while keeping your living space more comfortable. Box around floor registers that are being covered and install registers in your toe kick to keep air flow at it’s peak efficiency.

9. Setting the footprint of the cabinets before addressing flooring issues

You may find that your new cabinets hide defects in your old flooring, or that your new flooring needs to run closer to the wall to not show a gap.

10. Not providing adequate space for appliances.

Built in ovens in particular need an air gap surrounding the appliance that is specified by the manufacturer. It’s important to keep these dimensions. Wood too close to extreme heat never ends well.

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