Bat Habitat

Bat houses!  An all natural way to control insects every evening.

These habitats have two roosting chambers and will hold between 40 and 100 bats.  (One brown bat can eat up to 3000 mosquitoes each night!)

Made of natural cedar with glued (weatherproof glue) and stapled sides and front.  Top is screwed on for occasional cleaning whenever the habitat is moved.

Dimensions are 16 inches wide, 5 & 3/4 inches thick, 22 and 1/2 inches tall.  These do not include mounting hardware – you will want to get hardware that makes sense depending on your mounting location.

Habitats like this do best mounted at least 15 feet high with a south / southeasterly exposure that will get approx. 6 hours of sunlight a day.

These are $60 each – currently 4 are in stock.  Shipping cost varies from $13 – $15, depending on location – these are 11.25 pounds and I ship via Fed Ex Residential Saver.  I do not charge handling for boxing these up and only charge the actual shipping charge to your location.

Click any image for photo gallery.

If you are interested in these, you can either use the quick contact form on the home page or send me an email.

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California Bread box

An email from the contact form came in asking if I could do a “rush job” for a bread box reproduction to ship to California.  The next line contained all the motivation I really needed; this box was for a 5th grade class field trip to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.  The teachers wanted the kids to have to tote their bread goods in an authentic box.  It didn’t take much thought:  “Sure, I’d like to make this happen.”  So after a rush job I got something more important than the payment from Pay Pal… I got actual pictures of my box being used on the other side of the country!  This is the farthest I’ve sent one so far; and might be the best use I’ve seen for one!

This box was close to historically accurate – with two differences.  The bottom – as with all my reproductions – is plywood that is built into the walls instead of simple planking that is nailed on.  (The nailed on bottoms eventually fall off.  In the Civil War they just threw them away or used them for firewood; re-enactors want their gear to last a bit longer!)  The second difference on this box is the wood used for the sides and tops.  it’s biscuit-joined and glued up wood that is milled down from regular framing lumber.  This gives the authentic “rough cut” look and feel and leaves the sides and tops only 5/8″ thick instead of 3/4″ pine planking.  It cuts the weight some without sacrificing any strength – and still looks accurate enough to fool any but the most discerning eye.  The client did a GREAT job of adding their own stenciling for their project!

This box, stained but without any stenciling, was $50 plus actual cost of Fed Ex Ground shipping.  (Shipping to California was $24.50 for this 20 pound box.)

(Click on any image for photo album)

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Custom Signs

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)

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Undercroft

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.

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As big as it gets

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.

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Rotten Railings

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.

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Auxiliary shop air filter

My wood shop is a dusty place.  Even with two dust collectors and a HEPA air filter it still taxes the heat pump air handler when I’m in the middle of a project.  I needed an auxiliary air filter like this one above right – I just didn’t have $350 plus to spend on one.  (Nor do I really have the excess power – my circuit panel is devoted to all my existing tools; there’s nothing left in the power budget for an electrical hog like this.)

So I decided to build my own.  Nothing fancy – it’s not a “full exchange” system nor is it remotely HEPA quality; it’s an auxiliary filter to take some of the load off my HEPA filter and the a/c air exchanger.

Surplus / recycled wood, left over fittings and cord, some plywood, glue and air brads, a few machine screws, washers and nuts… And it works like a charm.  Intentionally designed to use the filters available at any Lowes or Home Depot store, it ended up (without my time) costing me less than half of what a commercial unit would have cost.  Total cost = approx $130 with two commercial duct fan units.

There are ways to save money and still arrive at elegant solutions to most problems.  It just takes some thought and “handiness!”

It works like a dream, by the way; and is the most quiet piece of machinery in the shop!  (Click the pic below to go to the photo album.)

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For Friends… And a Little Bit of Cash

But not enough (cash, that is)…  There’s not enough profit in a job like this to ever make it worthwhile  solely based on monetary terms!

Back up a bit:  It’s the chicken or the egg to call them clients or friends.  Both apply.  So when the call comes in that a rental house has a pretty severe leak in the master bath shower?  You go.  When you get there are find out the house has a 28 inch crawlspace and you’re going to have to crawl about 2o feet, around drain pipes, under air ducts, squeeze into an impossibly small and contorted space, lie on mud and rocks just to get to the drain pipe?  You take a deep breath and change your shoes.

24 hours later, when you’ve made that trip into “crawl space Hell” over a dozen times to finally get the old, mangled-up drain off (A result of it being cross threaded when installed years ago and not fixed immediately) and a new one installed, you realize you didn’t do this particular job for the money.  (Oh, it didn’t hurt, but that – by itself – misses the point!)  You did it because your clients are also your friends.   (And you believe that every client should be treated exactly like you would treat a friend.)  You helped them out – on a moment’s notice – and took one major headache off of their hands… Because you could.  You knew the sub floor was wet, as were floor joists.  But you also knew they weren’t rotten – yet, and this wasn’t as bad as it could have been.  Telling them that was perhaps as important as getting the new drain installed.

Sure, they could have called a plumber.  And this job would have cost them three or four times as much.  If the plumber showed up.  If the job weren’t “sold up.”  If the guy’s buddy didn’t get a bone thrown in for extra “reconstruction” that wasn’t needed.  (And here I hate to be negative but I see it happen far too often.)  They didn’t need all that.  They needed a new drain put in.  They needed it now.

So I helped – and made a little cash.  And washed a load of laundry totally separate from anything that ever leaves the work shop downstairs!  It’s all good.  Even when it’s not.

(By the way – this ended up taking 4 hours instead of 1 & 1/2 because the old drain had to be worked loose enough to get a keyhole saw into it so the cross threaded lock nut could be cut off.)

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Civil War Footlocker

A friend is a Civil War reenactor.  That means he spends his weekends putting on his Sargent’s uniform and going out to march, shoot, camp, and generally be miserable with his unit!  You should check them out HERE. (If perhaps you don’t think these guys like being miserable, think about wearing all that wool for three days straight in 90 degree heat!)

When we were talking back last year when I built some Bread boxes for them, he mentioned that he would love to have a “footlocker.”  We’ve kicked around the idea of “the box” for months since then.

Part of the problem with this is just any old wood box will not do.  These guys are really serious about their “props.”  Muskets really fire, tents really are nothing but canvas, uniforms really are wool, (they look hot, itchy, and tend to smell), and anything around camp has to look “period correct.”

Which means a box like this – during the Civil War, would be pine planks, nailed together, and would weigh a ton without a single item inside!  (Officers and non-coms didn’t worry about weight back then, they just loaded it on the supply wagons.)  But within a year or two, that “box,” schlepped around from battlefield to battlefield, would be splitting, probably rotten, and just thrown away.  Not something reenactors tend to do with their equipment.

So, the challenge was to build a box that looked old – even to the iron hardware and period correct screws – and yet not fall apart after a season or two.  My solution?  A box that looks old on the outside – yet on the inside is engineered.  It’s lighter than solid wood, stronger than solid wood, and framed from treated lumber.  (The same stuff you build your back deck out of.)  It’ll hold more gear, take more abuse, and last longer than the original would have!  (With a company available like Restorers, you can also find all the hardware to make this kind of project work.)

This isn’t a project to make money on.  Frankly, there’s too much time and labor to ever get out of it what you put into it.  But for the pleasure of actually creating something “new” that looks, and will be used as, something “old”… this was worth every minute!

See all the photos HERE.

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Garage Door Surround

Recently I’ve spoken to several folks in a nearby neighborhood, all with a similar problem. Their garage doors were framed and then cladded with aluminum fascia material.  It looks nice, doesn’t need to be painted, and is usually called “maintenance free.”  The problem is, some 10 years later, many of these are completely rotten.  (From walking this whole neighborhood, I estimated that perhaps as many as ten percent of the double garage doors I saw have this problem.)

It’s not that aluminum cladding is a bad idea – I have the exact same thing at home on my garage doors.  The problem is in this picture at the right.  Above the frame, exposed to weather, this aluminum was pieced together, a gap left unsealed, just waiting for water to infiltrate.  The water gets in behind the aluminum cladding and can’t get out.  It only takes a few years for the entire frame to be rotted like this picture on the left.  And eventually, if nothing is done, this rot will spread to the header assembly.  That’s structural – and it’s a HUGE deal.  More than a handyman who works by himself can deal with.  That’s essentially rebuilding your entire garage.  Expensive?  Take a guess.

Here’s a checklist if you are concerned about something like this:

  • First, look in the center of your garage door opening to see if the aluminum is pieced (pic above).  (Use a ladder if you can’t see above the door framing well.)  Especially check the top side in the center of the span, just outside your siding to see if there is a gap open to the weather.  Even a ¼ – ½ inch gap over a few years could mean trouble.
  • Another trouble sign is any discoloration, either on the aluminum cladding or streaking down the garage doors.  Dark stains and oxidation that won’t clean away are a sign of wood rot inside.
  • If you suspect rotting, you can try another simple test.  Squeeze the 1 & ½” board through the aluminum.  If it feels “spongy” at all, the wood underneath is probably rotten.

The good news is, caught early, this is a cosmetic repair and won’t cost a fortune to fix properly.  I usually follow these steps:

  • Remove the aluminum cladding (I don’t save it)
  • Remove all rotten wood and replace with two layers of treated lumber (One I’ve already done in this neighborhood had regular (non-treated)  framing lumber installed in this location!)
  • First I frame the opening with “regular” 2 inch treated framing lumber, routed on the facing edge (for a finish), then I add another layer of 5/4″ treated lumber, also routed on the facing edge for an additional seal on the garage door.
  • Add aluminum drip edge above all for water resistance.
  • I then caulk, paint and replace the PVC garage stop molding.  With vinyl siding I remove the “J” channel as needed, re-install afterward and seal with silicone caulk.
  • A typical estimate sheet (I bill by the hour plus materials) for this type of repair is HERE.

No, this repair is technically not “maintenance free” – but I’d much rather put a coat of paint on this every few years instead of replacing the whole thing again in a decade!  (Or have this show up as the “Deal Breaker” on the inspection report that scares a buyer away from your home.)

(Click any image for photo gallery)

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