A friend has a log cabin with a wood stove flue that has a wooden surround. It apparently never occurred to the builder that one day the flue would need to be cleaned. (With the steep roof line on this place, the extra charge from a chimney sweep would almost make someone consider not using the wood stove anymore.)
I took a day to drive up with him, throwing tools, some surplus lumber, and miscellaneous hardware and fasteners in the back of the truck for an overnight outing. The wood had been lying in my shop surplus pile for several months. The day before I had spent an hour or so ripping and milling down some clear western cedar to use as trim pieces; If materials are “left-overs” I usually mark them on an invoice as “SS – shop surplus: N/C.” I consider using every piece of wood as efficiently as possible one of my contributions to sustainability as well as extra customer service.
It wasn’t difficult – removing the existing trim, cutting the siding for an opening, installing some bracing, using the cut siding pieces for the new door material, then cutting and installing the left-over cedar as trim. A surplus stainless steel piano hinge, two galvanized slide-lock latches (it gets really windy on that ridge and I wanted to make sure the door wouldn’t blow open when the cabin was unoccupied) and this project was done except for eventual finishing to match the rest of the cabin. To my thinking? Kind of a no-brainer thing to do on a fall afternoon.
My friend had been puttering around doing some odds and ends and came out to see it as I was cleaning up. He stopped and stared for a minute or two, then said, “Dude… How on earth did you do that? It literally seemed beyond him. The only answer I had for him was “Man… this is my thing. I simply looked at it for a while until I ‘saw’ the new door and then just made it happen.” It does remind me that what seems simple for some isn’t anything like that for others. Funny old world, huh?
A client decided she’d had enough of her condo looking “plain.” Her plan entailed essentially redoing the entire interior: new flooring, paint, vanities, counter-tops, custom shelving in an open wine closet, and doing something with the boring kitchen light.
Custom light fixtures and light boxes are available online if you search for them. Essentially they are just a wooden box that surrounds a fluorescent light fixture with either a plastic or acrylic panel instead of the stock diffuser. They are also fabulously expensive. Some with stained glass panels can cost well over a thousand dollars.
I built this one for her from cabinet grade pine along with rope-detailed crown and casing molding. It was designed to slide around the existing two-bulb fixture and mount to the ceiling joists. I designed it with just a bit of flex so that when screwed into the ceiling it would tighten up to the sheet rock: The ceiling isn’t level – something quite common in large developments where units are built as quickly as possible. This meant the finished product would fit snugly even with imperfections in the mounting surface.
The panel looks like stained glass: It’s actually an acrylic panel from this company. Lightweight, attractive and (relatively) inexpensive.The client decided on a painted finish but using stain grade molding and cabinet grade pine would have allowed for a stained finish as well.
It’s not a cheap light fixture – the total was over $300 – but it was a lot cheaper than the alternatives she had been exploring. (Click any image for the photo gallery. The photos aren’t great quality but do detail the design and workmanship.)
A house with steps becomes a hazard for elderly folks, especially following things like hip replacement surgery or chronic medical conditions involving difficulties walking. The logical answer is to build a ramp where the steps once were. (We see a bunch of these on homes in the general area where I live.)
But the key to something like this is realizing that there are clear regulations for such a ramp. The ADA has regulations on maximum slope for both residential and commercial ramps. (It’s surprising how often I’ll see a ramp appear at a house with such a steep slope that it’s not only anything but an improvement; it’s actually dangerous. And don’t even get me started about one I saw a month or so ago made out of cdx plywood! I personally would be afraid to walk up that ramp in the rain!)
This ramp is wider than required. That’s simply because it was built while the original steps were still being used. The steps were not removed until half of the ramp was completed and a temporary rail and one step down could be temporarily installed so as not to block off access to this entrance to the house. (The other entrance has twelve steps and these folks never use it.) The treated joists were placed into the ground and anchored to posts set in concrete footings in such a way that the last deck board at the driveway could be chamfered (cut at an angle) so the bump up is as slight as possible in case of wheelchair use in the future.
Handrails are 2 X 6 boards set upright to have a 1 & 1/2 inch maximum width for handholds. (This is also a code requirement – too many decks are built with railings on the steps that are far too wide to comfortably and safely hold on to.) The mid and foot posts are capped and then accented with solar lighting and the entrance has custom designed grab rails that were laminated with treated lumber in 3 layers with a cross-grain layout (VERY strong!).
The clients are more than pleased: Now leaving the house isn’t a stressful experience where both have to worry if one or the other will possibly fall on steps and end up down on the concrete hurt.
The clients purchased their own lumber for this project. My labor was 11.5 hours and the invoice amount was $402.50.
(Click any image for photo album.)
It seems like a broken record some days… whatever it is, it’s rotten. The original crawlspace door was hanging by one hinge; all wood was deteriorated and rotten, and this door assembly was infested by earwigs to boot. (Earwigs love moist cracks and crevices – an earlier, temporary repair of putting a piece of plywood over the original wood door gave them a perfect home.)
One nice thing about my work: I NEVER throw surplus lumber out. Anything leftover from any job comes to the shop to be stored until there’s a use for it. This new door required two hinges, a latch, one tube of caulk… and some leftover cedar, plywood, and treated 2 X 4 lumber. I really enjoy sending an invoice to a client that lists under “materials – lumber: No Charge, SS.” (That’s my invoice code for “shop surplus”.)
This wasn’t a very large project – it required 5.25 hours total, including my shop time spent ripping and milling the cedar trim down from larger, left over cedar boards. Total cost: $193.59.
Click any image for photo album
When do you know your deck is in trouble? When your insurance agent calls you and tells you your policy will not be renewed without some “repairs.” Clearly the decking was deteriorated, the railing beyond repair, and the supporting posts questionable. The question remains: Is this a “repair?” or a “rebuild?” Answer? Both, actually.
The deck structure, while old, was solid, except for the joist ends that were cracked and broken. While one lag bolt to the house structure had pulled away, the junction of deck to house was solid. The underlying posts, while not rotten, were only attached to another piece of treated lumber underground. (Known as a “stiff knee,” this does not conform to building code and will eventually rot allowing the entire structure to sag and eventually fail.)
The “fix” was to re-support the existing structure with concrete footings, cut six inches off the width to clean the joists up, re-deck the structure and build a new railing. (Sounds simple, right?)
It actually is fairly straightforward; just pretty involved. The joists were originally set to 24 inch centers, which only allows for full 2″ X 6″ size decking material. Changing those joists to 16 inch centers allows for 5/4″ decking – a substantial cost savings but costing more labor in the tear-down phase. The “fix” here was to add an additional 7 joists, bringing the structure to a beefy 12″ on center layout. (It’s bomb-proof now.) New outer plates, new, standard stair stringers, 8′ staggered joint decking (another cost versus look decision), new railings and balusters and the “same” deck is good for another 25 years or so.
A big job – in hours required as well as materials and labor. (Total cost, materials and labor: approximately $1,700. Actually, not a bad price for a 11 and 1/2 foot by 14 foot deck.)
Click any photo to go to the photo album.
Wood rots. (Inferior, non-wood materials that some builders use rot even worse.) Especially with hot and humid summers. (You would be surprised at how much rot removal and repair I get calls on.) Unfortunately, sometimes folks don’t notice the rot until they can see it. By that time, it’s a mess. There’s no other way to describe it. You can’t just cover it up; you have to cut it out. When someone calls me with the question, “Do you work on rotten… anything?” I usually know that surgery is coming up on the agenda.
The key is to do it right, do it well (and safely, if ANYTHING structural is ever involved), and make it look as good as new. It’s not easy, nor is it a lot of fun. But there’s not quite anything like the feeling I get when I finally load up all the tools and take a final look at a home that looks as good as it ever did!
This was about a 20 hour job – Removing gutters, cutting out all rotten siding and wood, shoring up all structural elements, re-installing newer and longer lasting materials, and finally, trimming and painting it all so it looks like it was designed that way!
Click any image for the photo gallery.
The client desperately wanted to replace these signs. (one look at the image on the left will tell you why!) The challenge – how to create signs that are reasonably weather resistant but also require a minimum of maintenance.
The solution began with backboards of oak plywood that were chemically stained, sealed (3 coats of sanding sealer) then sealed again with 4 coats of polyurethane spar varnish. Not weather “proof” but awfully close. The trim was custom milled from grade “A” clear western cedar (expensive but long lasting and wonderfully textured) that was painted (3 coats) with oil-based enamel custom mixed to match the client’s color scheme.
The lettering is 1/4″ acrylic lettering from a GREAT company to work with. (Again, not cheap but virtually indestructible yet attractive.) Each letter is individually mounted with a minimum of two threaded studs through the backing material, then all metal to wood areas caulked with clear silicone.
Treated lumber was used to back the oak plywood for an air space in the brick cavity, stainless steel mounting screws were used and the trim wood was custom mounted to hide all mounting hardware.
All said and done, the difference in drive by “curb appeal” is astonishing! (Which is verified by the improved traffic to the client’s website from passers by who see the name and then Google it.)
These signs are not completely maintenance free – they need to be clear coated (with spar varnish or something similar) once a year or so. Given yearly maintenance they should last at least 20 – 25 years.
Cost, including all materials and labor: $600 per sign. (Two signs in this project.)
UPDATE: The Manufacturer has posted my work on their company website HERE.
(Click any image for photo gallery)
The client wanted to tastefully hide a storage area under the front porch – one where the builder didn’t quite have enough granite stone to completely cover all the foundation area. The solution was simple: match the lattice that was attached to the archways on the front side of the house with a latice wall and custom door.
Framed completely with treated lumber (this area tends to be damp with rain runoff) and mounted both on the corner of the house framing and the existing granite pillar. Mounting to field stone or granite isn’t simple: you need a solid (and plumb) frame to attach the lattice but you are working off of rough angles in the existing stone.
Once finished the undercroft entrance looks like it was part of the original design of the home. The treated lumber used to fabricate the door blends nicely with the white of the plastic lattice (more expensive than treated wood lattice but it lasts forever), and the parts of the foundation that weren’t finished now are tucked in behind a decorative wall.
Total cost, including materials and labor: less than $700.
Click any image for photo gallery.
There’s a limit to what I do; I’m a handyman, not a contractor. Some jobs I can’t do; I’m not licensed for some work. Other jobs I just won’t do. For many that I could do I would have to hire at least one assistant – and the honest truth is I’m just not interested in “management” at this point in my life.
But when asked by a client (who is also a friend) if I could install a dishwasher I didn’t hesitate: “Sure, I’ve done it quite a few times over the years. It’s not a big deal.” Except…
Except when that dishwasher is going to be installed in a corner of an upstairs kitchen that used to contain the washing machine. Luckily, the plumbing was already there from a previous laundry room building project. (It was a bit of a mess but that’s another story altogether!) There were electrical outlets already in the area also – but a cursory check indicated that the existing circuit would not support an additional appliance. That’s usually when I bow out as a handyman and refer the client to an electrician. After The Electrician (who does superb work, by the way!) finished installing a new circuit for the appliance, then I went to work getting the space ready for new cabinets, repairing part of the old cabinets to accept a new range (also with work performed by the electrician to safely and properly change the outlet), installing a new sink, THEN installing the dishwasher!
Not exactly a simple installation job – but after all was said and done, the new dishwasher is tucked into its new home, the upper cabinets are installed and the home owner is ready to begin the painting. This job is just about the “upper limit” of my upper limits – worth it in the end but one where anyone will have the extra expense of at least electrical work (and often plumbing as well – that just wasn’t the case here).
Click any image for the photo gallery.
Any wood, no matter how well painted or stained, will eventually rot when exposed to weather. Untreated lumber, used for decorative porch railings, rots within a few years. (Why some builders use regular, non-treated lumber in exterior settings is beyond me.)
These railings on a home going on the market needed to be completely torn out and replaced – not an easy job when you have to match the existing railings in more protected areas under the roof. Treated lumber was milled to match the existing railings, treated stringers were cut to match as well, and all were installed with custom-made jigs to match the existing offset of stiles. A very unusual angle and joint on the back railing had to be duplicated as well.
End result? Brand new railings that should, with proper care, last 3 or 4 times as long as the originals. Total job cost – front at back, including materials and labor – less than $600.
Click any image for photo gallery.