Mtn Dew: Flamin’ Hot

This doesn’t even sound like a good idea and of course I was going to try it. The left side of the label says “Caution: Flamin’ Hot Taste” but there is no such thing. I definitely get a citrus flavor and can tell it’s a Mtn Dew, but there is no kick to it and not even a hint of an aftertaste. It’s actually a decent flavor, but due to falling short on its name I give it a 4/10.

Recap: Kitchen Remodel

During my three month sabbatical from Automattic I started remodeling the kitchen. The first work I did was on October 28th, I didn’t touch the kitchen for over a week when I went back to work on January 4th, and we finished the project on March 23rd. It was a long process and I’m glad it’s over, but it was well worth it. I put together a short video to show the before and after.

Here are the individual pictures.

The area is so much brighter and inviting. The most impactful change was when we moved the fridge and put a new counter there. It made an incredible difference in how we’re able to do our cooking, with Brandi and I both being able to work at the stove together now.

My favorite step was refinishing the counters with epoxy. That was really cool and I could see doing it again for a bathroom. We would definitely do some testing on a small sample first though.

The worst task was sitting on the floor to remove hundreds of staples from old flooring. My back was not happy with me that week. The phase of the project I enjoyed the least was painting the cabinets because there were so many steps to the process. If I was doing it again I wouldn’t waste the 30 hours it took to apply grain filler and sand it down.

If you’re interested in more detail about any parts of the project I wrote about it every step of the way:

I didn’t research what it would run to contract all of the work out and I didn’t keep track of total expenses or hours of work. It’s something I wanted to do myself and it wasn’t about money or time. I made a lot of mistakes, but nothing that couldn’t be corrected, and I learned a lot of new skills and techniques. One of the most enjoyable things about a large project like this is all of the problem solving I have to do.

My dad is a real estate agent, so he’s seen a lot of houses. It felt pretty awesome when he was impressed with my work. He said he knows professionals who wouldn’t do this nice of a job and I should be very proud.

Each morning when I walk in to make a cup of coffee I look around and I do feel an immense sense of pride. We did this!

Kitchen Remodel: DIY Pallet Wood Backsplash

The last big stage of remodeling the kitchen was a new backsplash. Last year we watched John Heisz’s End Grain Backsplash video, since I’m a subscriber, and I think it got the wheels turning in the back of our minds. Sometime after doing a couple of walls in the living room and making a shelf/light out of pallet wood, Brandi suggested we do a wood backsplash. We looked up some examples, I thought about the process, and we decided that would be the plan.

Several months ago my dad brought me another load of pallet wood and it took up space in my shop, waiting for us to get started. In late February I finally started milling the wood. This load was in much worse condition than the larger load I used for the living room walls, though I was able to use some leftovers from the earlier projects. First step was trying to get a flat face and a flat edge on every board, while discarding any pieces that were too twisted. I took a lot of passes at the jointer, cut some boards in two, and trimmed off bad sections.

While working on the rest of the kitchen we kept discussing ideas for the backsplash. Something we kept coming back to was using a shou sugi ban technique to burn the face of the wood and then potentially staining the wood. I cut up some scraps to do some samples. We bought a couple of new gray stains at Menards and tried various combinations.

We didn’t like how dark the burnt wood was turning out and it would have taken so much time to do on all of the pieces. We decided on this gray gel stain.

B offered to help with the rest of the wood processing, which saved a lot of time with so many pieces of wood. I cut everything to a width at the table saw, while she grabbed the pieces coming out of the saw and stacked them up. With so much hard wood in the mix, I ended up overheating another general purpose blade, which I had done while processing everything for the walls. This time I learned though and picked up a cheap ripping blade from Menards, since it was the only one they had in the size I needed. This blade made an incredible difference, allowing me to finish cutting to width. Then I stood each board on it’s flat edge to run through the saw, so I’d get two boards out of each and have much thinner material. This process is even harder on a blade but it went smooth. Here you can see how burnt some of the edges were before I switched blades.

After lining everything up on edge like this I noticed the widths had too much variance, so I ran everything through the table saw again to get more consistency and cut away those burn marks. I also trimmed/squared the ends on the miter saw at some point. I set up the planer and we ran each piece through twice on each side. With Brandi grabbing boards on the exit side I was able to keep feeding the input side, which cut the work time in half. We ended up with 83 pieces, which would be more than enough, according to my math.

Next up was everyone’s favorite step, sanding. We did it assembly line style with me using 120 grit and B doing using 180. It took us 1-2 hours.

Since the gel stain needs to be wiped off pretty quickly, we used an assembly line for that as well. I applied the stain with a staining pad, B wiped it off and transferred the piece over to the drying rack, which I’m so glad I didn’t break down after painting the cabinets. I had only found out about staining pads while researching gel stains that morning and it worked really well. We knocked out this step in two hours.

Something that stuck with me from Heisz’s project was how he said he’d create panels if he ever did it again. I definitely didn’t want to have to apply poly by hand after putting up the backsplash so panels would allow me to use a sprayer outside and put on a lot of coats to seal things up. I used 1/4″ plywood to cut all of my panel backs.

Then we glued individual boards to the panels row by row, using clamps along the edge and a lot of weights from our garage gym. There was a lot of trial and error through this process.

I had to cut the outlets and a couple of notches for some window trim. Then we did a final fit in the kitchen and trimmed to final lengths. This was really the first time our entire vision of the kitchen came to life. With something as unique as the backsplash, we had no idea if we could pull it off. It turned out better than we visioned and we couldn’t be happier with our color choices! While everything was in place for the test fit, I cut trim from extra boards.

Some of that needed a little edge sanding and stain. We let that dry for a day and then sprayed five coats of water-based polyurethane.

In between coats we fit some of the extra boards inside the open-shelf cupboard I’d made and sprayed those with three coats of poly. It was a beautiful day in the 50s with a slight breeze and clear sky, so the coats were dry within minutes. After the final coat on everything, we went for a walk and then started installing pieces. First up was the cupboard. I had not made a panel here so it was easy to just tack the boards up with a brad nailer.

Since I used hardboard to cover the beat up (due to removing tile) drywall and these panels were about a half inch thick, I used outlet extenders everywhere. I also installed GFCI outlets everywhere within six feet of the sink.

I brad nailed all of the panels up and used pin nails for the trim. I finished other odds and ends like making a new ledge for the big window and adding the white trim around the cupboards and big window.

We are thrilled with how well the backsplash turned out!

That’s a wrap on the kitchen and I’m so glad it’s done. In a couple of days I’ll post a full recap.

Downton Abbey: A New Era

When the film “Downton Abbey” was released in 2019, I went to see it with a few friends, and Brandi was actually one of them. Several of them had never watched the show, so I thought it was odd they even went, because they were completely lost. You really need to form that bond with all of the characters by watching the show; each one has so much important backstory.

Fast forward to the end of October 2021 and I convinced B to watch the series after she’d enjoyed some other British based things. It took us over three and a half months to get through the six seasons on Netflix plus the movie on Amazon Prime. I enjoyed it all even more than my first viewing and can’t wait for the story to continue in the new movie coming out in May.

Riding a Ryobi Snow Blower Rollercoaster

Last month I was messaging my brother, who said he loved his 40V Ryobi snow blower and lawn mower. I’ve had an Ariens 520 two stage snow blower for over a decade, but haven’t used it much the last few years. It used up a lot of space in the garage, took a long time to get started for the winter season, was slow to use, and left me smelling like exhaust. The thought of getting away from gas yard tools was exciting and I have a large collection of Ryobi’s 18V power tools, so they’re a brand I trust.

I jumped on Home Depot and ordered the 40V HP Brushless 21 in. Cordless Single Stage Snow Thrower with (2) 5.0 Ah Batteries since none of the local HDs had it in stock. It was $549.

The only steps involved in assembly were to twist on the chute, secure it with a screw, and tighten the handle. I immediately loved how compact it folded up.

We got snow the next day, so I put it to a test.

The snow blower was easy to start with the push of a button. It was very quiet, light, easy to maneuver, and has a bright LED light. Right away I noticed it didn’t have the power to throw the snow very far as you can see in the video. I would be throwing the snow right in to an upcoming path, so would be moving the same snow 2-3 times! Not a good start.

The triggers on the handle that need to be held in order to keep it running were awkward to use and I accidentally let go multiple times. Then after less than 10 minutes of use, I let go and the motor wouldn’t start again. Both batteries had about 75% charge left and the LED headlight was coming on without a problem. I could hear a bit of a clicking sound from the motor.

I loaded it in my car and returned it to Home Depot the next morning.

I was extremely disappointed in the machine and due to my positive experience with other Ryobi products, I felt the need to leave an online review, which I almost never do. To my surprise, I got a response the next day.

I also received the following email.

My name is Christian, and I am the Product Development Coordinator for RYOBI Snow Blowers.

We received your online review on the RYOBI 40V HP 21” Snow Blower. We understand you have had an issue with your RYOBI Snow Blower. It is our policy to make absolutely sure that 100% of our customers are pleased with their experience with RYOBI. Could you please call me at 864-642-8094? I would like to investigate this issue with you and make sure that your experience with our products moving forward is a positive experience and that you walk away understanding that our customer service is unmatched.

If you prefer you can reply to this email, and we can discuss your experience to find a solution that meets your needs.

I emailed back…

I returned it to Home Depot two days after it was delivered (the night after trying it). We had less than 2 inches of light snow and the unit was pretty terrible. It barely threw the snow 5-6 feet, so I would end up going over the same snow multiple times to do the driveway. Then after maybe 10 minutes of use, the auger wouldn’t start again. The LED light was on and both batteries had 3/4 charge. Maybe there was something wrong with the motor on this unit, but it seemed very under powered and I wasn’t confident it would be able to handle any real storm.
It was quite disappointing because I have a lot of Ryobi hand tools and they all work great. I was hoping to replace my gas snow blower and lawn mower with Ryobi units for ease of use, space saving, and not having to deal with gas, but I’ll be sticking with them now.

Their next reply…

This issue your snow blower experienced has become know and we have since corrected the issue with our units in inventory!

I would like to offer to upgrade you to our brand new RYOBI 40V HP 21″ Whisper Series Snow Blower as I see you were not impressed with the previous models performance. This kit has an upgraded controller and 2x 7.5Ah batteries for increased power and runtime.

Would this be something you are interested in? I want to make sure you are taken care of.

I look forward to hearing from you!

I was shocked. The 40V HP BRUSHLESS 21″ WHISPER SERIES SNOW BLOWER WITH (2) 7.5AH BATTERIES AND CHARGER is $699 and they sent me one for free!

The unit had some damage to the knob used to adjust the auger speed so I asked if they could send me a replacement part and I would fix it myself.

Apparently it’s not an easy fix, so they sent me another snow blower. FREE! Same model, fully complete with the batteries and charger. I was floored!

This new model is better in every way.

  • Build quality of the machine feels much sturdier.
  • Larger batteries provide more power and runtime.
  • The handle folds away in one step instead of two.
  • Triggers to keep it running were replaced with the more traditional bar you find on lawn mowers.

I’ve had the chance to use this snow blower during a few different sized Michigan snow storms and it did a great job. It throws the snow much better than the other model and it didn’t miss a beat. The machine maneuvers so much better than a heavy gas snow blower and is actually fun to use. There’s no worry about it starting up, so I can just throw in the batteries, push start, and be good to go.

I quickly sold my Ariens gas snow blower, gave the “broken” Ryobi to my brother, and am enjoying the extra space in the garage. Isaac had an older Ryobi model and said this one is awesome.

One minor negative is the snow blower doesn’t come with any kind of shovel tool to clear snow out of the chute or auger. I came up with my own solution though.

Before I purchase a lawn mower I’m waiting to see if Ryobi releases one in their Whisper series before spring. If they don’t, I’ll buy one of their current models. The mowers fold up better to save even more space, which will be great.

This whole experience with Ryobi’s customer service makes me happy I switched to Ryobi a few years ago. It even pushed me to buy their cordless nail guns to replace my pneumatic ones last week. One of my shop projects after the kitchen is finished will be to build a system to better organize and store all of my cordless tools, so I’ll share my Ryobi collection then.

Kitchen Remodel: All the “Small” Things

Six weeks ago I said progress would be slow going since I was back to work. I wasn’t wrong, but we’ve been knocking out odds and ends, mostly on weekends. Small changes can make a big difference and always seem to take two to three times as long as you’d expect.

I put in a bullnose on the stairs to the basement, we painted trim and the door, and rehung the door. Of course the door no longer fit after all the paint, so that turned in to a 2+ hour headache!

We painted the sides of the island to match the walls. Then painted trim and quarter round for the base and nailed it up. Our inspector Ninja had to approve the work.

I installed a banana hook under the cupboard, which folds up out of sight when not being used. The island got an IKEA towel rack and I replaced the outlet with a white one.

We did the trim around the sliding door, put in the floor transition pieces, and mounted a curtain rod.

We put a couple of floating shelves from Menards in the corner. I love the old recipe box Brandi found at an estate sale!

We patched up the old floor trim, cut new toe kicks under the cupboards, did all new quarter round, painted everything, and installed it around the entire room. The brown really is different; I call it “chocolate milk.”

There were ugly gaps around most of the cabinets, which really stood out with the new colors. We found some simple trim at Lowes, which was only $3.06 for eight foot lengths. Since the white is a close match there was no need for paint. It took me a bit to figure out how to deal with the odd face frame corners, but it turned out really nice and made a huge improvement. There are still a couple of pieces to install after the backsplash is done.

The trim around the big window had a similar problem at the edges. We decided to use the same stuff there. It really adds a decorative element with the triple color combination. This is all that could be done until the backsplash is finished.

It didn’t feel like we were making any progress at all over the last six weeks, but as I selected pictures for this post and started typing it really was a lot of small projects that add up. Now it’s time to work on the backsplash; the final step of the project and one we’ve been talking about since it all started. This weekend I’ll be mocking up test pieces and we’ll hopefully decide on the direction we’re going. Stay tuned!

DIY Snow Blower Brush & Clean-Out Tool

My new Ryobi snow blower didn’t come with any kind of tool for clearing out the chute, so I came up with my own solution. I also wanted a brush to clean off the snow before storing the machine in the garage, so I grabbed a clearance car brush/scraper from Meijer for just about $4.

I took it to the band saw to remove some of the scraper. I might cut more after using it.

I picked up a couple of 1/2″ PVC couplers from Menards for 29¢/each, so I’d have a backup in case my first idea didn’t work.

I cut out about 1/4 of the PVC, drilled some holes, spray painted it black, and grabbed a couple of zip ties.

It was quick work to figure out where to attach it to the snow blower handle so the brush wouldn’t interfere with it folding open or closed.

Works great! Here’s a quick video showing how it snaps in and pops out.

Update

The foam grip on the brush handle was useless; out in the cold all it did was twist in your hand. I removed it, giving me more surface area to use a second clip, which makes it snap in more securely.

Building The Child in LEGO

I’ve had the itch to do a LEGO set for awhile and had been eyeing up this set for months at Costco. I finally jumped on it.

I can’t remember the last time I put together a set of LEGO, but it’s probably been over 20 years. Things have come a long way.

Reusing Kitchen Flooring

We’re taking a break this week from the kitchen remodeling, but made time for a small project in the basement. I removed some old linoleum at the bottom of the basement stairs, which was under the door jambs so probably original from 1979. Then I trimmed a couple of sections I had cut out when removing the newest layer of kitchen flooring to fit the area.

Kitchen Remodel: Paint and Floor

It’s been a few weeks since my last update on the kitchen and it’s because I’ve been putting in a lot of hours.

One of the first things we talked about before starting the remodel was colors. We wanted to go for an old farmhouse look. This photo we found on Google was a look we liked.

We browsed some color palettes and really liked this one.

After some trips to the hardware stores we had a pile of paint samples.

We decided to go with more of a green and collected even more samples. Here’s where we ended up, from left to right the colors would be used for trim, walls, and cabinets.

Some of the wall color has been shown in previous posts because we actually painted them before Thanksgiving, when Mom visited for a couple of days to help. We were worried about covering the red-ish walls, but after a coat of  Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer we were confident two coats of paint would do the job and it did. Mom was really impressed with the Dutch Boy® Dura Clean® Kitchen & Bath paint I bought from Menards. The room was much brighter and looked bigger already.

Fast-forward several weeks, after doing the counters and the table, it was time to tackle the cabinets. I made a small piece to fill a gap between the lazy Susan and the range.

We removed all of the cabinet doors and drawer faces, numbering everything (including each hinge) with a sharpie and blue painter’s tape I numbered everything, so it could go back exactly where it came from. Then with TSP and help from chisels we cleaned everything real good. In order to paint them all I needed a storage solution. So I grabbed a bunch of scraps from my lumber racks and about 90 minutes later I had a simple drying rack. It turned out to be the exact size I needed.

Then I used Klean-Strip Liquid Sander Deglosser on all of the pieces as well as the cabinet frames. Since my cabinets were oak, which has a deep grain, I applied two coats of Aqua Coat White Cabinet Wood Grain Filler. You really want to use white instead of clear for something like this so you can see where you’ve applied it. I didn’t bother with grain filler on the backs or on the frames. The next step was sanding off the excess grain filler, which took me almost nine hours and brought the total time for the grain filling process to almost 20 hours! It did make a big difference, but you can still see quite a bit of the grain after painting. I’m not sure it was worth it.

It was finally time for primer and paint! I hung plastic sheeting from the ceiling to make an L and covered my work table. Then I built up a base with some scraps and put a swivel stand on top of that. Overspray got everywhere in the shop, but at least it was basically paint dust because the small particles were dry by the time they landed.

I sprayed primer on both sides of the doors and drawer faces and then 2 coats of paint on the backs and 3 coats on the fronts, using the green tips in my HomeRight Super Finish Max HVLP Paint Sprayer. I did thin out the primer and paint a little bit with some water. I did primer and 3 coats on the cabinet frames by hand with a 1.5″ brush and a 4″ foam roller.

The original plan was to spray paint the cabinet hinges black, but after cleaning them we decided to keep them as they were. It would add a bit to our rustic farmhouse style. Before we put the doors and faces back on, I let them sit on the rack for about four days to give the paint time to cure more. I did spray paint the two shelves in the lazy Susan (aka “snack Susan”) cabinet black. By the way, reinstalling that think was a huge pain in the ass.

Next up was flooring. The first layer to deal with was a floating floor Dad helped me install in May of 2013. I cut out a large section to reuse at the bottom of our basement steps, where Ninja has his litter box, food, and water. Then it was quick work to pull up the rest and haul it away; it was barely an hour of work to get rid of that entire layer. Under that floor was old linoleum that peeled up pretty well. The third layer of floor was luan, which was held down by 10 times more staples than necessary. Then a 4th layer to come up was even older linoleum. I filled up an entire Powerade bottle with staples and about 20 large nails. Those bottom 3 layers of flooring took two days!

Dad called and asked if I wanted some help, so he came down on Saturday morning and we installed the same Select Surfaces Barnwood Spill Defense Laminate Flooring from Sam’s Club I had put in the living room. After helping my brother install some in his house, this was my third time working with the product, so it only took us about 6 hours to do the entire room. We were able to continue it from the living room because I made sure to stop with full width pieces there. He ran up and down the stairs all day making cuts while I measured everything and installed each piece. It was a huge help to have him here.

On Sunday Brandi and I reinstalled all of the cabinet pieces after putting on new felt pads. Then I hung a new paper towel holder and installed a couple of LED under cabinet lights where old ones had been.

The weekend of work completely transformed the look of the kitchen. Our vision has finally become a reality and I feel extremely proud of everything we’ve done. Check out these before and after looks!

We’ll attach the island counter next weekend after the epoxy has fully cured, since we use it so much. I still need to do a backsplash, paint three sides of the island and the door to the basement, and do all of the trim work. Today is my first day back to work after a three month sabbatical, so progress on the remaining items will be slower.

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