A pile of knives

Our previous methodology of storing our knives was a pile in one of the drawers. In a nod to safety we had a scrap piece of wood in there as a divider to keep them separate from the non-pointy kitchen utensils.
It wasn’t the worst system. It wasn’t the best either. So I made a better one:

This took a few hours a few weeks ago and has made our knives a lot safer and easier to use. Grabbing one now doesn’t feel quite as fraught! I should have made it years ago.

Design Notes

  • The slots for the blades were made with kerf cuts on the table saw. I tried a few different manual saws because I aspire to being one of those philosophical back-to-basics handtool woodworkers. Turned out that the table saw blade was already the right width so I was able to save myself a lot of trouble.
  • Our drawer space is at a premium so having two rows of knives on the right lets save some space, while still making everything accessible.
  • This is highly customized to our random collection of knives. I designed it mostly by measuring the longest knives in each category (short ones in the front on the right, medium in the back on the right, long in their own compartment on the left) and then just going for it. Winging it is fun, but it did result in a lot of back and forth of test fitting.
  • The rows are slightly offset so that handles aren’t covering blades. I mean, of course they are, however, this wasn’t clear to me until I started to lay it out.
  • It’s a friction fit. We can easily remove it if we decide we want something else later on.
  • Made out of scrap pine and sealed with paste wax. I lightly rounded over all the edges with 120 grit sandpaper.

Kitchen Shelves

Our kitchen peninsula was in dire need of some organization. We also had a blank wall directly above it so…shelves!

All of the wood for this project came from Workantile’s storage room: pine slats from someone’s old ikea bed and shelves made from the Baltic birch plywood from an old phone booth project. The screws and edge banding from Home Depot.

I made the shelf supports out of pine based on a google image search for DIY shelf supports. The hardest part was figuring out the order in which to attach everything together to have room to screw things in. For the supports I had to attach the bottom of the angled support to the “L” and rotate it out of the way. Then mount the “L”, then rotate the angled support into place and screw it in that way. There are better ways to do this, but it went pretty quickly.

Finished with shellac and wax. I really like this finishing technique because it looks good and requires minimal drying time.

Installed with much mumbling and annoyance.

Remote Caddy

Made a little caddy for our remotes. The hope is this cuts down on the number of times we have to ask where the Roku remote went.

Mitered the edges and reinforced with splines for rigidity and class.

Pine reclaimed from the Workantile storage room and walnut from Urbanwood. Finished with shellac.

A door, a fix, some lessons

I dislike the doors in our house. I love the knobs though.

The doors, however, have faults. They’re old and hollow, the veneer is peeling, the springs in the deadlatches don’t spring as much as they used to, and the regrettable decision by the previous owner to put carpet over the hardwood floors means that they’ve all be cut too short. However, these are the door we have.

During a lazy sunday afternoon I finally gathered the energy to address a problem with the door to my daughter’s room. This particular door would rub against the jamb whenever swung open or closed. A scratch-screech as the fibers worked their way past each other screaming protests. One of many minor annoyances of a 60s kit house that you quickly learn to live with amongst the deluge of other minor annoyances. Until you think about it and the problem grows roots and becomes The Current Fixation.

I mentally prepared to take the coward’s solution: just sand the thing down. Make a millimeter less door to impede free movement. Of course, as these things go and will always go, upon inspection the problem rested not in the door, but the hinge.

Whomever had hung it had done so half-heartedly. They chiseled enough material to roughly seat it and no more. And compounding the problem on the other side they also stopped short on the strike. It’s probable that decades ago this was enough to get it in just fine. To do it properly would have meant shaving a bit more space for the hinge, a bit more space for the strike, a bit more time and energy when it likely wasn’t needed. But, as we all know, houses flex and relax and shift and breath and smrik at our half-measures.

Once identified, the problem then became a series of small steps: the hinge pins were removed and the door placed gently elsewhere. For all its other faults it wasn’t in trouble today. Then the hinge and strike screws were unscrewed. Then the hinge and strike pried off. Then 20 minutes of inexpert work with a dull chisel and utility knife—both found in their proper place rolling around the bottom of the toolbag. 15 minutes of cleanup work with a toddler helping.

Now the door swings and closes and the only sounds the slight woompf of air pressure and the metal on metal grind of the deadlatch.

Soon the daily annoyance will evaporate into the ether replaced with a memory more and more infrequently recalled. Time will proceed as follows: its absence will be savored, then unnoticed, and finally a new annoyance to take its place.

Repeat and repeat and repeat.

Refinishing Our Floors, a DIY Sanding Adventure

The past few days have been spent staring at the floor. Prepping them with the help of a friend (thanks, M!) and then so much sanding with another friend (thanks, K!).

Here’s a portion of the floors before we did anything:

What we started with

What followed was a lot of prep. The previous owners had carpet everywhere which meant staples and nails (they also had pets they didn’t take care of, but that’s a whole other issue). Even with no furniture in the house this took forever. Every time I thought we were done there’d be something else I’d overlooked (“got all the doors off, check. Oh, right, closet doors too…”).

Friday was supposed to be the first big day of sanding. The plan was to use a large orbital sander instead of a drum sander. Slower, but easier to handle for someone who didn’t know what they were doing. I got the sander got home and realized that I wasn’t nearly as ready as I thought. More prep and moving things ensued. By the time I was actually ready to start the sander it was 4 hours later than expected. Managed to do one pass just to prove I could and then left for the night.

On Saturday K came over and we clocked a twelve hour day of sanding, vacuuming, and running to the hardware store. If he hadn’t come I don’t think I would have finished this. Three cheers for K! We did stop for lunch, dinner, and ice cream. I’d rented a fancy powerful edger which proved to be more trouble than it was worth (YMMV). We returned it and bought a hand-held orbital sander that took longer, but gave more even results.

It took four solid passes with different grits to get to the finish we were looking for (36, 60, 80, 100 for future reference). In retrospect we probably didn’t go deep enough since there are still some scratches here and there. Oh well!

We wrapped up after 11pm and left exhausted. Here’s the only progress picture I have because it was a frantic day. This was my view the entire time:

Progress Sander

Here’s a few sanded pictures:

Sanded segment

Sanded

My wife helped vacuum out the place on Sunday and then I put some polyurethane in a discrete location for testing. It looked not great. Here’s the test spot:

Gross. Unstained with Poly

This is admittedly the worst spot in the house, but still was deflating. If we were doing this “right” we’d be replacing the bad planks throughout the house–each room has a handful. Our goal isn’t perfect though (for a lot of reasons, but mainly cost and also because we’re trying to not be too precious about these things). We talked it over and decided to try staining.

Stains all have great names. It’s like paint colors but aimed at dudes. There was one called “Gunstock”, which is just like…come on. Here’s a few test strips. The left is Minwax’s “Early American” and the right is “Provincial” (the far right is the unstained poly test):

Stain Options

We opted for Early American with the thought that it’d blend all the wood we had in the house together well. Fingers crossed I went and bought a gallon and a quart of it.

That lead to another grueling late night of staining. Hands and knees wiping it on and wiping off the excess with cloth rags. Again finished after 11pm and just managed to shower before collapsing into bed. The result though exceeded expectations:

Just the stain

Then on Monday I put the first coat of poly down (we went with Varathane’s water-based floor finish) and it started to shine (I mean, yes, that is sort of the point of poly, but you know).

Here it is right after application:

One Coat of Poly

And here’s the second coat drying:

Two Coats of Poly

Tuesday morning I put the final coat on and now we wait for 48 hours before we can walk on it:

Three Coats of Poly

And here’s the worst corner and what it looked like with 2 coats of poly on it. It’s night and day from what it looked like when we started:

The corner stained and with a few coats of poly

Update on the thursday after: here’s a few more pictures after drying for a few days. It’s a lot glossier than I thought it’d be. Some bubbles and small bits of things here and there. We’ll sand out the egregious ones or just live with them:

Dry and Up Close

Dry in the entry room

Would I ever do this again?

Maybe.

If you’d asked me right after the sanding I would have said absolutely not. Now that we’re seeing the results I am appreciating the “why” behind each of the subsequent steps more.

If we were to do it again I’d be more aggressive with sanding from the start. We started with too high a grit and had to go back to a lower one which added hours to the project. I’d also split up the sanding to 2-3 days rather than trying to cram it into a short a time as possible. I’d also probably have someone show me how to use a drum sander and use it well. The orbital sanders were good enough for this project. I don’t know if I’d have the patience to use them again though.

Lessons learned!