Building vs Buying (again)

We recently started to pay more attention to how our house was impacting our life. Well, I did. We had talked about putting feelers out for a move, potentially pretty far away. We were becoming bored with how things were working on a daily basis, and were looking for some sort of change. We got the idea to rearrange some things pretty significantly, so the two child bedrooms were quickly redone and the kids were pretty happy. I then put an idea to my wife that I had been kicking around for awhile, a full blown redo of our master bedroom. I got an okay on the Sketchup design, and it was away we go.

I’m not going to get into many details about my bedroom, but we organized it so I could have a full corner dedicated to my office. In the course of doing so, I found the need and want to replace my dresser. I had long wanted to build my own out of cherry or walnut, but I’m simply not ready at this time. So, I bought one. An Ikea one (at least it is all real wood). I like it. It immediately made me happier. A few days later, as things were getting finalized, I had an immediate need for a bookcase to help clean up the floor. Again, I chose an Ikea product over something I would build. The price was right, I didn’t need anything custom, just something to hold a bunch of books and magazines. It was the wise choice for me. I struggled trying to justify not building it myself, but I found a great resource from the Wood Whisperer called Build or Buy (easily found via Google or his site, I won’t link). The idea is to assign weights to questions to see what you should do. As I needed something stock and fast, and wouldn’t widely be seen, buying turned out to be the right choice.

The bedrooms are basically done, and look great. The master bedroom remodel is better than I ever could have expected, and I love it. The decision to buy was clearly the right one. Now though, I am ready to get the media bookcase started on, and I’m facing the same decision of build or buy. The bookcase certainly doesn’t have to be custom, the Ikea one would work fine with extra shelves. The cost of buying would be basically the same as building, once I factor in all materials and transportation. I feel more guilt about this because it isn’t an immediate need, but a want. The games are already on a bookcase, it’s just the organization isn’t ideal. It is not a factor in keeping that room clean. I want to build something again, but I don’t know if it’s this, and I don’t know if now is the time. It’s ridiculously hot, and while A/C helps with that, it does cost money.

I’ve got my cases ready to be measured again, and now I have a bookcase that I can do some playing around with. We’ll see. Perhaps I’ll think it over through the weekend and make a decision.

Powering up

We moved into this house in late 2008. One of the huge demerits was a lack of outside power outlets on the house. As such, I’ve had to power the shed via an indoor outlet and extension cords through the back door. It’s been like this for a couple years exclusively. For quite a few months, I’ve been running the shop only on this one 12ga cord.

Three months ago, I purchased an outdoor outlet kit, consisting of an in-use cover, GFCI outlet, and hardware. I also bought 14/2 romex. I was very hesitant in punching holes in my siding, so it sat in the back of my car. On Saturday, I got the confidence to tackle this project. I bought a second outlet kit, a 38″ spade bit that would reach through the wall, and decided this had gone on long enough.

NEC says that you can’t run an outdoor outlet on a kitchen, bath, or major appliance circuit. Unfortunately, where I most wanted to put an outlet in, on the dining room wall closest to where the back door is, sits on one of the kitchen circuits. That location was out. Also, almost all of the master bedroom is on a bathroom circuit. I hate the people that redid this house, but I knew that already. An outlet in the play room, an old carport, would work though. This was the same outlet I hooked the smaller gauge extension cord in when I needed two circuits. Until I could buy a longer 12ga cord, I couldn’t fix the door entry, but I could hook back up the 16ga cord on a semi-permanent basis. Except for having to return the romex (to get 12/2) and corresponding wire nuts, the process went very simply. Punched the hole with the drill and fed the wire through the wall. I spliced it in to one side of the indoor outlet and buttoned up things on the inside. The outside portion of it was very simple. I added some outdoor caulk to help seal things up, and it works a treat. I should have done this years ago, and I know I’ll be adding at least two more outlets, with potentially a third on the side of the house farthest from the shop.

So, implications for the shop. I ran the 16ga cord through the same hole in the side of the shop. Having both at the same spot isn’t the best solution, but I’d rather not punch another hole or buy another in-use cover when I wouldn’t be using it on the new shop. Potentially. I did some minor cord management by moving the overhead light/charging strip over above the door to reach. This strip and the A/C are going on the 16ga cord. The A/C only uses about 5A, so it should be a good choice. I still think I won’t use it while I’m running the vac, which is also on this circuit. The miter saw is unfortunately still on the smaller strip, but I hope to rectify this soon. Otherwise, all tools are on the 12ga cord. I very rarely trip the house breaker, and when I do overload a bit it gets overloaded at the extension reel and doesn’t do as much damage to the cord itself. And even then, it was running lights, the vac and the table saw on the same cord. I know, bad juju. It was what it was, but no more.

There’s more to be sorted out about where things go on strips, but not today. It’s 98° outside, and even with A/C that is entirely too hot. The plug situation will be different in the new shop, but not this summer.

Living room remodel

I talked about my need for a new entertainment center, but in actuality I need a few more pieces than that to make the room what we need. I will be making an entire wall of cabinets and storage along the wall where my TV is, and hanging the TV on the wall. I will be putting shelves in the entry closet and making a new storage unit along the window wall. Eventually, new seating will also be joining the party. This series will probably encompass a year or two of my time, and there will be significant gaps between phases. As such, this will be an ongoing series for awhile.

The picture up top is basically what the living room looks like now, and what it has looked like since we moved in. The TV console and cabinet are part of an Ikea Magiker set we bought nearly ten years ago. It has actually held up really well, although we only moved once, so there wasn’t much jostling and wear. With how deep it is, you can tell it was designed for an era of tube TVs, and unfortunately the shelves in the stand don’t go all the way back. The cabinets have been really good, and store quite a bit. I’ll be keeping those, and using them somewhere else in the house. The front of the house is the window wall, and that’s our front door. The door on the TV wall is the small entry closet. The half walls separate the dining room and hallway from the living room, and the large window at the front of the picture is an opening to our family/bonus room, a former carport. So, our furniture orientation is pretty much limited to how it is.

We have a 42″ flat screen, a receiver, and several game consoles, which I may get into detail later. I have a cheap 5.1 speaker setup, with the subwoofer currently in a far corner from the TV. This fact is important because we will probably be replacing our seating arrangement with a couch that will span the entire wall opposite of the TV. This means the sub has to go somewhere else.

A year ago, I started playing with Sketchup to see what a setup would look like. At first, I just started plugging in different Ikea pieces off of the Warehouse and came up with this.


A simple TV console, a bookcase, three cabinets above the TV, and a new sideboard along the window wall. The subwoofer would go in the left front corner. The sideboard would be for storing remotes and game controllers. I decided I liked the basic idea of it, and went about designing something more custom. This is that effort.


It’s more of a built-in look, with the vertical bookcase sitting on top and set back of the horizontal console. The upper cabinets are the same depth as the bookcase, and are attached to create a bit more seamless look with it the same height. There should be room for a 60″ TV or so to hang on the wall, but I have to go back and verify the measurements I used.

I didn’t bother custom designing the sideboard, as I’m going to take the basic measurements of the sofa table we have and make one to replace it. Our sofa table and coffee table are about the same age and from Target. Surprisingly, these are in much worse shape. The sideboard will be slightly shorter to fit under the window, and will have doors on it to hide the controllers and such. It should be about the same depth, which is about 16 inches or so. There will be lots of shelves, or at least the capability. It will have a hole for a power strip cord to pass through, which will allow for charging capability for all the controllers – nothing worse than wanting to play a game and having to wait.

The console will have enough room for all of the current consoles I wish to hook up to the main TV, plus expansion room for the Playstation 4 – the only one I don’t have at this point. The speaker locations may change, as I’d like to have those a bit more hidden. I think the doors of the console will have speaker grille panels, to allow for IR signals and heat to pass through. If that doesn’t work, I’ll go with some sort of glass or wood panel with holes. The console will be on legs to allow for movement and access, but will be covered by a toekick/trim panel to achieve the built-in look.

This is just the overview of the project, and as I can I’ll add more posts with details. The portion most likely to begin first is the closet media storage, but I think I’ll post more details on the console first, as that requires the most planning.

Grown-up Gaming

I’ve posted before about how a hobby of mine is gaming. I still game a bit, mainly handheld, but I do have a bunch of consoles still. My kids also play a ton of games, when we let them. Something that we are trying to come to grips with is the balance between having lots of cool entertainment options buy trying to keep a neat, adult space.

Like most houses these days, we have a flat screen TV. It sits on a deep cabinet that stores our components, such as a receiver, video game consoles, and a DVD player. We have a cabinet alongside, which has some display shelves and closed doors that hold all our movies and games. I talked about finding a new spot for the movies and games, so now I need to start thinking about how to keep all these components neat and hidden. It would be really nice to have a spot for all the controllers as well.

First I have to identify how many compartments I need. I have a receiver, an Xbox 360, a PS3, a Wii U and an Xbox One. These are all the core components that are an absolute requirement. I’m also going to leave expansion room for a PS4. Our current TV viewing is mostly streaming, as we canceled our satellite service probably a couple of years ago. We get free basic cable service as a component of our internet subscription, so we have a small set-top box (an outmoded term these days) that gives us a few live channels. We do most of our viewing via a Roku 3, and we also make use of a Chromecast for educational needs. The Chromecast can hook straight up to the TV, and the Roku and set-top are so small I don’t have to concern myself too much with finding homes for them. There are ways to hook the Roku to the back of a TV, and I may mount the set-top to the wall, depending on final design. That being said, it would make a lot of sense for me to make sure there’s room for a standard size cable/satellite receiver to fit if one day we decide to go back to those services. Perhaps the Roku and set-top can sit on this shelf. It would be nice to have room for a standalone Blu ray player to reduce wear on the consoles, however now the PS3, PS4 and Xbox One are all also Blu ray players. Seeing as how I’m already up to six shelves already without counting the older consoles I’d also like to hook up (Saturn, Dreamcast) and front speakers, we’ll see. I only have so much room on this wall.

The depth of the cabinet only needs to be as deep as the deepest component, plus a couple of inches, since the TV will be mounted on the wall. The front I think will be doors, either pull out or pull down, made of frame and panel, with the panel being a speaker mesh. This should help hide everything yet allow the IR signals to pass through. If not, then I’ll be doing some frosted glass or perhaps a wood design with cutouts. It will be up in the air a bit depending on the design. I’m hoping the design and build will be really organic, and I won’t fret too much about it. The back will need as much planning, to determine how well the cords will be hidden and as much air flow as possible. I think as much as I like designs that have exposed legs and space underneath, with the external power bricks needed by the Xboxes not needing to be alongside the consoles. With a toe kick, or similar, it would help allow those breathe a bit and stay hidden. It might be interesting to do a built-in look with quarter round or some sort of trim on the front.

I can’t do anything that reduces the amount of display space for the wife. Pictures, breakables, that sort of thing. I did some preliminary Sketchup designs last year, and came up with a way to store all the components at the floor, then display space up the left side of the wall then over the TV. The trick will be leaving enough room for an awesome TV upgrade from the 42″ plasma we have now.

This entire project isn’t a high priority right now, but it is something I would like to take care of soon. The closet storage projects are the priority, as is the minor amount of work to finish up the sideboard bookcase.

Living Room Design – Progress

The shape that the living room ‘remodel’ project is becoming clearer by the day. Life is all about compromises, and it turns out I may not be building the Morris chair project after all. Or if I do, it may find a home other than that room.

After moving our current seating arrangements around, we discovered that we want a little bit different seating than I had planned for. The current route right now is to still make the furniture in an Arts & Crafts style, but modify the seating a bit. I would make a large modular couch with chaise lounges on either side. Basically, one wall of our room would be seating. The chairs/sofa would be on legs, so there would be storage space underneath. The regular sofa bit would have roll-out ottomans, and the chaises would have bins for blankets or other gear. If I’m honest it’s not what I particularly want to do, but it really does work best for the space. There may be a coffee table in the middle, or there may just be room for my Morris and a small side table.

The bookcase I was going to build isn’t going to happen, at least not in the form I thought it would. Instead I am going to go the built-in route where the TV is and make that wall all storage. There will be a bench-height cabinet running along the bottom that would store all the A/V gear and other items, these behind closed doors. There would be a thin bookcase along the left side for collectible stuff that my wife likes to display. The TV section will be big enough to hold a 60-70″ TV, something that should suit us for as long as we live here. I found inspiration in a picture of a setup online, and I will try to get started rendering it in Sketchup. I will be taking detailed measurements of my space this weekend and working on that, seeing as how my kids all have Strep and we can’t do anything else.

It seems like a really good plan, but we will have to see if it will fit what we need it to. For that reason I am certainly not calling this layout final.

The unplanned gift

I presented my dining room table to my wife over a year ago and we’ve been enjoying it ever since. However, it had started to become a collection of things. Namely homeschool things. I needed more shelves in the area. We have an old bookshelf that has seen better days, through floods and moves. It is also full. So my plan was to replace it twice over with two sets of bookshelves from IKEA. Unfortunately they seem to have a stock problem with the kind we wanted…for several months. Plus chipboard furniture really is kind of lame as a present. So, very early in the morning the day before the gift was due I came up with a mental sketch of what I wanted to do.

I was going to build what amounts to a sideboard, a low long cabinet. To maximize cost effectiveness, I put it at four feet long and 15″ wide. I was able to build the cabinet out of one sheet of ply. The legs are soft maple to match the dining table. I was on a very compressed schedule but it came out great. Some screw holes to fill, some trim and doors plus stain and it will be complete. There is a shelf on each side, adjustable to eight positions. The cabinet sits about six inches off the floor. The legs were made via a stopped rabbet and wrapped around the corners. I suppose the top also needs to be done as well. I am just needing the trim wood for it.

I may do a proper write-up on this again when it is completely done. As you can see, though, it is already being put to good use.


Knowing when to give in

I think one of the things I’ve been fairly good at since I started the shop is knowing when it’s the better course to make a purchase, versus trying to make something. Most often this means jigs, helpers, fences, etc. However, for what I think is for the first time, a project I had been looking forward to do was shelved entirely.

-No woodworking involved with this post. I’ll have project talk coming along in a few days.-

My job, my real job, is working at home on a computer. Because it’s my money-maker, I’ve put some money into it: Self-built PC, dual screens, decent chair, nice little 2.1 speaker setup and a bunch of different cables and cords for all my gadgets. The thing it wasn’t was organized, or big enough. Any drinks I had needed to be at the edge of the desk as to not block my view. The one drawer I had in the desk was stuffed and not efficient. One of my speakers was hidden behind a monitor and effectively muted. I could list other problems real or imagined for a couple of paragraphs, but the picture should be sufficient.

What I needed was a different desk. I had always thought that I would be making it one day, but it turned out I needed it sooner than my schedule would allow something from the shop. The plan was to make this grandiose desk in a Craftsman style with lots and lots of cable management and storage space. There were three problems with this in the end: it would take forever to make, it would cost a couple thousand to buy, and either way it wouldn’t fit with the room. While I wish I had this nice dark library/study that I work in, the reality is that I take up a corner of my master bedroom, the only place in our house that I both have the room to use and it quiet enough with kids. Our master is twice the size of comparable houses in our neighborhood, thanks to an addition put on the house about a decade ago by the former owners. Without that addition, we never would have bought the house.

My plan of a Craftsman desk squashed, I looked at alternatives. All the desks I saw at stores were either flimsy, overpriced, or both. The obvious answer then was to look at Ikea. The current desk is an Ikea Mikael that we have had for many years, probably about eight or so. Ikea has a reputation for being flimsy and overpriced, but I can’t really agree, at least not all the time. The Ikea furniture we have (mostly from our beginning years, when we wanted stylish and on a budget) has held up spectacularly. Our entertainment center and bookcases and this desk were the extent of our major purchases, and are rock solid. Some of that helps by putting it together properly and not moving it around a lot. The other thing that helps is the furniture that is essentially a box with bracing, as is the case with almost everything. The bookcases are decently designed, but the desk is an absolute rock. The cable management is just a piece of particle board to hide the wires from the front, but it ties the whole desk together. Really well done, and I wish I had taken a bit better care of the top so that I could get some money out of it now. Veneer and moisture don’t mix well.

I took a couple of trips to the Atlanta Ikea to see if there was anything I would like. My criteria was a bigger desk, and that was about it. After the trips, and a lot of looking on Flickr at various setups, I chose the Galant desk with A-legs in white. The white contrasts nicely with my grey walls, and the desk is huge. I probably could have come up with something similar for cheaper, but it wouldn’t have been as easy or as quick. The desk’s frame and legs are metal, which means I could replace the top at any time with just about anything. I like that my tower is now well ventilated, and off the floor. I added a shelf to raise the monitors up to a more comfortable level and have some storage underneath for my laptops. I was going to go with a six-inch rise to accommodate my speakers, but it was too much. Right now it is sitting on four pairs of soft play blocks, to get a good height without having to constantly be cutting things. I’ll replace those at some point with real legs, but they work great for now. I have loads of room for all my toys, and the real thing I have to sort out is junk storage. Paper boxes are doing the trick right now. When I make the real legs for the monitor stand, I’m going to make them tall enough where I can cram an Xbox under for some game playing when my workload is light. It’s certainly not right now.

I did make another change, and that was location. Having the screens in front of my window was putting my eyes through hell, especially in the afternoon. The sun beats down on that window the second part of the day and it was making me very tired. I shifted the desk over to a wall, with a different window just off to the side, and the original window at a perpendicular angle, which is recommended. Today is the first day I’m working a full day with this setup. I also added some bias lighting in the form of two small desk lamps, positioned behind each monitor. I’ve worked with this late over the weekend, and it’s a great addition. Highly recommended. I went with lamps so I can pull them out from behind the monitor for room lighting when not working.

This long post just to say I got a new desk? Sort of. I do think it’s important to look at projects and be honest with ourselves. If it’s something where it isn’t worth our time to build, we shouldn’t be ashamed to purchase it. I’ve made do with a lot of shop made items, and in certain instances I still would rather go spend the money to get a product. Perhaps it’s due to my construction of it, perhaps it’s due to how it looks or functions. I have a shop bandsaw fence, but I still want the Kreg version. If you’re short on time, don’t waste more of it building a jig when you can buy one for about the same price. If you’ve got the time, then it’s a different story.

There will come a day where I have my own office space in my home (or an adjacent building), and I will want to have something custom. For now, however, a trip to the land of chipboard and meatballs took care of my needs nicely, fairly inexpensively, and most importantly fast. Stylish was a bit of a factor as well. Buying the desk and a few other storage items at a store can buy you some time until you want to sink some serious time and money into a project of this scope, like it has for me. I will post pictures once everything finds a home, both before and after.

Junior loft

My son wanted a big-boy bed, as his converted crib was basically falling apart. We were going to make a clone of some other loft beds we had, however the supply cost was prohibitively expensive. Shame, it would have been an easy build. My wife saw plans on ana-white which I looked at and agreed to build with some structure modifications, notably doubling up on the leg girth.

The plans called for long pocket screws to hold everything together, but I wasn’t buying what they were selling. I opted for 5″ lag bolts at the major intersections, and 3″ screws elsewhere (where I wasn’t going through the long end of the 2x4s. Everything else was pretty by the book. I used a ton of 1x4s to support the mattress, and it’ll support a good 300lbs up there (combined weight plus mattress). I initially made the short ladder at 45º, but corrected it to 60º when I felt I needed either an additional step or to change the angle.

A very rewarding project, about eight hours in total spent on it. About $130 in materials, simple 2x4s, 2x6s and 1x4s, lag bolts and screws.

Modding a Lysol Healthy Touch soap refill

This is a simple little project to help you save a few bucks on soap refills, especially if you have little kids that are enthralled by it. The refills I suppose are fairly priced, at around $3-$4. However, compared to the huge jugs you can get places for a buck or two, they are overpriced.

What you’ll need:

– a 5/8″ neoprene rubber grommet

– a 5/8″ plastic locking hole plug

– an empty soap container

– more soap

– a 7/8″ spade bit attached to a drill (or powered screwdriver)

– exacto knife (or similar)

The first two items are found at Home Depot in the hardware aisle, in the drawers that are marked specialty hardware. The total price of these two was around $1.75 w/ tax. These weren’t what I had in mind when I went shopping, so if I find a better alternative I will modify this post.

A spade bit is preferred because of the long center part that allows it to center on the little nub at the top of the container. You want to drill here so that when the hole is finished, you have an even surface – the bit will obliterate the entire indention.

Center the bit on the nub and press in. This will keep the point from walking when you start drilling. The spade bit will heat the plastic as it goes, leaving slag all around the opening. Trim all the slag off the top and underside of the hole and then remove all the large bits of plastic that have fallen in the container. Rinse thoroughly with hot water. You’ll never get all the old soap out, and that’s okay. Insert the grommet carefully – if it falls in you will hate life. If the hole inside the now-installed grommet is uneven, it should be okay to a certain extent. As long as the plug can friction-fit in the opening, and can be removed with your fingers, you’re done. Fill the container with the new soap, install and activate the sensor a few times to clear the old soap out of the base.

You’re done. Enjoy your cheaper soap with the convenience of the sensor.



(note that the 13/16″ bit was too small, and I had to enlarge it with a 7/8″ bit)



An unexpected delay – reprise

On Friday I took the opportunity to do some work to the door to get it ready for the upcoming rain that I knew was heading our way. I created the door out of regular plywood and SYP, so I new if I didn’t treat it the door would warp in a hurry.

I took a slightly different approach and used caulk to get into all the little nooks and crannies. This gave the added benefit of smoothing down some transitions, and filling the gaps in the grooves at the ends of the boards. I know this might present a problem down the road, but I’ll keep an eye on it for the time being. Once I let all the caulk dry, I scraped down the excess and applied two coats of primer to the entire door. Once that was dry, I applied two coats of what I found to be the original trim paint color from when the house was remodeled. Doesn’t match the siding the way I expected it to (when I thought it was the siding color), but it complements it nicely. I only painted the exterior here. I found a couple of spots where I need to touch up, but I’ll take care of that after the hurricane passes. That’s why the primer is there, too.

I added a third hinge and a handle to make it look a little more professional. I’ll be adding some weatherstripping in the fall to keep the somewhat-conditioned air down here from getting out. I will also add a couple layers of rigid foam insulation to the back of the door. The combined effort should really help in the winter keep the house a bit warmer.

At some point I will have to replace the frame in the opening, as it is slowly disintegrating. This will be a simple direct replacement.