Making Things in 2021

2021 started well in terms of making, building on the momentum I built in 2020. Then the home projects started. It was a year full of very large projects, which transformed a lot of the house.

January

February

March

April

September

October

November

December

For the last three months of 2021 I’ve been on a three month sabbatical from Automattic and I go back to work on the 4th. I’ve joked that I need a vacation now because I’ve been putting a lot of hours in to the kitchen. The last few weeks have been very busy and I’ve accomplished a lot, but the remodel will not be finished. I do have a post coming soon with some major updates.

Once the kitchen is finished I’m looking forward to tinkering with some electronics again and having time to work on much smaller projects.

Black Walnut Live Edge Farmhouse Trestle Dining Table

When I bought my house I eventually got a tall dining table and I’ve hated it for years. It was a bitch to get in and out of the chairs and my legs bumped up against the apron when I sat down. It was definitely getting replaced during the kitchen remodel. After selling the table, we used a card table for a few weeks.

I don’t remember the first time I saw a live edge table, but I’ve wanted one for a long time. I would have loved to build one but as I started working on the kitchen, it was clear time wasn’t going to be on my side. Since the table would be the showcase of the space, I decided to have the top built for me. I found Ron’s Rustic Tables (no web site) on Facebook Marketplace, which showed some awesome work. I give him a call, visited his shop near Wixom Lake, and gave him the job. I love black walnut, especially with some of the sapwood, so that’s what I went with. A few weeks later he delivered this beauty!

It’s 2.5 inches thick, 73 inches long, and averages about 45 inches wide. It’s fucking heavy!

I thought about buying a table base kit online or having one made. We should have this table for a very long time and I wanted some part in it, so I decided to make the base. We’re going for a bit of a farmhouse kitchen vibe, so I went with a trestle base. I took ideas from these free plans as well as some custom tables I found on Etsy and Marketplace and I put my own twist on everything. For chairs we picked up four INGOLF from IKEA.

I still had a stack of the free reclaimed wood I picked up over three years ago and used up most of it for this project. Since there are so many different ways to do a build like this I’m not going to explain everything I did. Here’s a timeline of photos instead.

I bought a biscuit joiner, which I’d been thinking about getting for a couple of years anyway. It was my first time using one and it definitely got broken in. This was a fun project with a lot of challenges, so there were plenty of mistakes, solutions, and learnings. I’m glad I decided to do it myself.

What do you think of the result?

Refreshing Kitchen Counters

We needed to do something with the counters, especially after merging a couple. I had seen some cool videos about covering countertops with epoxy and love the rock face edge that can be done. I put in an order from Stone Coat Counter tops. Got their white Epoxy Undercoat, White Exotic Marble Kit, and Ultimate Top Coat.

I watched a ton of their videos and these were the most helpful for this project:

The FAQ page has a lot of great answers as well.

First I took an angle grinder with a sanding disk and went at the edges. I smoothed that with 40 grit on a random orbital sander. Then I added Bondo High Bond Filler to the edges. After that I used a chisel and sanding to knock down any sharp spots. These pictures show one of the pieces of counter I had in the basement so you can see how the look progresses.

Here are other various pics from the process.

Since the walls were a mess where I tore off the old backsplash I decided to put up a layer of 1/8 hardboard to help prevent any debris from falling in the epoxy. Then I caulked the counter wall edges so the epoxy wouldn’t be able to escape.

I removed the sink and test fit the new one to make sure it fit.

I had kept the cardboard from the new range, so used it to create a wall in the kitchen and keep the cat out. Couldn’t have Ninja jumping on the painted counters or worse, on the freshly poured epoxy!

After cleaning the counters with TSP I applied a coat of Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer and two coats of the epoxy undercoat, along with some light sanding. The white really made it pop and got me excited.

I applied a bit of spray paint to the rock face edges using a chip brush and plastic bag, like they showed in one of their videos.

Then we taped up plastic and masked the edges. Now came the fun part, mixing and pouring the epoxy. We rewatched the exotic marble video again before getting started, but used way too much of the silver metallic power, which overpowered our recipe. It was nothing like we wanted and, though it had some cool areas, it was terrible.

Glad we tried it out on the side counter first. We kept our mixes very light for the large counter and it turned out great!

The paint I had put on the edges looked out of place though, so we painted over those areas. We also painted over the disaster counter so none of it would show through. Then we did another epoxy pour. We wanted it to have a few darker grays than how the big counter turned out and we still ended up going a bit too far, but it turned out so much better than the first attempt.

We used some of the excess and drips to rub on the newly painted areas of the large counter and in a few fixed spots. A day later we did a clear flood coat on that counter. I had to order another gallon of the art epoxy for the clear coat on the smaller counter plus doing the island. After letting the clear coats dry we applied the ultimate top coat, which added a bit of texture, got rid of the high gloss, and hid most of the imperfections. We love this look much better than the extremely reflective gloss.

Here’s a look at some of the rock face edges.

After letting the epoxy cure for a few days I installed a new sink, faucet, and garbage disposal. We were more than ready to have running water and the dishwasher available again after using the bathroom sink for a week.

The island still needs to be done so I’ll remove the butcher block top and install some scrap wood as a temporary counter. This way I can work on it in the basement and we can keep a work surface in the kitchen while we baby the counters.

We also installed the final of the lights, over the kitchen sink, which really brightens it up.

Homemade Christmas Ornament – 2021

Brandi and I are starting a yearly tradition to make an ornament based on something from our year. 2021 was filled with a lot of home remodeling (to her house which is up for sale and our house still being worked on), so I thought it would be neat to make a mini pallet wood wall. It was a team effort and turned out pretty cool.

Cabinet and Counter Changes

After moving the fridge, the corner space was ready for a makeover

I removed the rest of the backsplash tiles around the room. Luckily I didn’t have to be too careful with that process because the walls will all be covered up there.

Then I built an open shelf cabinet.

I’m repurposing the counter and drawer cabinet from the desk, so I put them out to get a feel for the spacing.

I made a bunch of measurements and got to chopping up the countertops. Then I removed several layers of old flooring across the area. I placed some new counter supports along the wall where the fridge had been, and adjusted the one on the right wall, which was pretty far out of level.

Next I worked on modifying the cabinet. I added extra support under the cabinet, removed three of the drawer slides, cut out the cross members, and added pieces to hold up a cover that’ll go over the remaining drawer. I also cut new pieces to extend the face frame higher since this cabinet is too short.

I measured a wine bottle and cut hardboard to box in an area that’ll be a wine rack.

Then I cut a bunch of 1/4″ thick by 3/4″ wide strips. It took some thinking to figure out how to get going, but making a 3-1/2″ square block to act as my spacer was the key, because that’s how large I wanted the lattice openings. I used glue and pin nails for assembly and then made a second lattice.

I cut strips for face frames and used a 45° to help with placement, making sure to maximize the number of full diamonds available while keeping things centered. This will give us space for nine bottles, which is more than sufficient. I made sure it would work with both lattices since they needed to match.

Then I was able to trim the lattice and attach the frame with glue and pin nails again. I used some of the off cuts around the edges so I could attach the frame to the back strips of the lattice as well.

At this point I had to make sure it was going to work. The width was a great fit!

I spray painted these pieces since it would be much harder to paint them when everything was put together. Everything needed several coats.

The cupboard is going right in front of the new outlet I installed, so I cut access holes.

I cut pieces to extend the face frame higher and made a new left side, since it’ll be somewhat visible next to the beverage fridge. I started securing all the different pieces in place. Then I used wood filler on gaps and nail heads.

After sanding I hauled the unit upstairs and had make a few minor mods to get it to fit. Then I installed the two cabinets and the two counter pieces. I guess I didn’t have the drawer in when I took this picture.

I’m so glad I was able to use the counter and cabinet from the desk. This was a lot of work, but it’s a huge improvement to the usability of our kitchen.

Kitchen Appliance Upgrades

Remodeling a kitchen almost always means new appliances and it was no different for us. I still had the original range from when I bought the house and had replaced the dishwasher once before. Both appliances were white and needed to be replaced with stainless steel.

The dishwasher was fine and so was the oven, but the stove top on this Jenn-Air was terrible. The entire middle was taken up by the vent for the downdraft and the burner inserts (you could swap different attachments in and out) had lips around the edges, so large pans wouldn’t sit flush on the actual burner.

We ordered a new dishwasher and range from Home Depot, waited a little over a month due to a backorder, and I installed them over the course of two days.

They’re awesome and already transformed the look of the kitchen. Look how close the refrigerator and range were there, creating a traffic jam area; this has been a problem for forever. The oven door (old one pictured below) barely cleared the fridge.

The fridge door smacked in to the oven, so it wouldn’t open all the way.

You had to squeeze in between the two appliances to grab something from the cupboard next to the fridge, it was awkward accessing the lazy Susan in the lower cabinet, and it felt crammed while cooking. So I got the idea to move the fridge to the left side of the pantry cabinet, where they was a small unused desk. We’d have to deal with losing our “junk drawers,” but I remedied that by freeing up two drawers in the island.

I emptied the desk and removed it.

Then I cut away some flooring, since it’ll all be removed eventually. I also had to take down the cabinet and trim some of it’s height for the fridge to squeeze in. There was an old under cabinet light which I removed, so I installed a new circuit box in the wall for the wiring and will use a blank cover on it.

Moving the fridge gave us a new space to be creative with. We bought a beverage center from Costco a couple of months ago because our fridge was being overrun with pop, beer, sports drinks, and energy drinks. It had been sitting on the desk, but this will be it’s home. I ran a new outlet for it.

I had already removed the lazy Susan and counter that was to the right since it made it easier to install the range and I need to make some modifications for the makeover coming to this area. Stay tuned!

Simple Kitchen Storage Improvements

I needed a few easy things to tackle over the weekend and since we’ll be losing a little bit of storage space (though gaining some new space) as part of the kitchen remodel, I wanted to make better use of wasted space in some areas.

First up was a small cabinet between the range and dishwasher where we store our baking sheets, cutting boards, and other similar size items. The top 1/3 or so of it was dead space, so I added a couple of shelves made from scrap wood.

Now we have a spot for aluminum foil, wax paper, plastic wrap, parchment paper, and ziplock bags. This freed up two entire drawers in the island.

The second task has been on my ideas list for at least six months. The pantry cabinet in our kitchen had three large drawers, spaced way too far apart. There simply are not that many tall food items, at least not the stuff we buy.

With the cabinet being so tall it’s hard to get a feel for the space in this picture, but you can see the top drawer, with our tallest items, had quite a bit of wasted space above it. I decided to leave it where it was for flexibility and because it’s already hard to see what’s in there. I moved the second drawer up 2-1/4 inches and the third drawer up 7-1/8 inches.

This gave me plenty of space to add a fourth drawer. I still had this one with slides sitting in the basement after taking apart a tower of drawers four years ago.

Unfortunately it was too wide, so I had to take it apart and make it narrower. I decided to make it shorter as well to match the others. By chance it was already the same depth.

Something I wasn’t thinking about when I moved the drawers was the areas meant to be handles were now really close to the bottom of the drawer above, begging for smashed fingers and an F-bomb.

I always thought it was an odd design for a drawer pull to be honest. I made a template for the drawer fronts and cut the other drawers to match. I also used a roundover bit on those front edges.

I measured out the placement, installed the drawer slides, and slid in the “new” drawer. Who doesn’t love more storage space? Especially for food!

I’ll paint the drawer fronts when all of the cupboards get painted. A third bonus improvement was a quick fix for this utensils drawer, which has been busted for years. I’m surprised it hadn’t fallen apart completely.

I cut a piece of wood for the corner, added glue and brad nails, and called it good.

All fairly quick and easy projects that improved our kitchen organization.

DIY Square Ceiling Medallion

After making a custom wall sconce for the kitchen, it was time to tackle the ceiling. When I removed the light above the island I learned the hole and circuit box wasn’t centered and there were a lot of screw holes to patch. Nothing is ever easy is it?

I thought I’d build some type of box attached to the stud to cover everything up. Then the light fixture’s mount would attach to the box. It turns out this is actually a thing, called a ceiling medallion.

At its most basic, a ceiling medallion is a decorative element that dresses-up and enhances the area around the ceiling canopy, where the wiring for a chandelier or other fixture enters the ceiling junction box.

Lamps Plus

A quick Google image search shows some examples.

I didn’t have time to wait for an online order to arrive, so I came up with a plan to make my own. It’s purpose would be functional, but I’d add a bit of design. It would be square to cover the holes in my ceiling and match the shape of my light fixture’s mount.

I cut two pieces of plywood. Then I made a bunch of layout marks for the stud, center of the light, section overlaps, etc. I also cut out areas for wiring. Next I drilled holes for lag screws to mount to the ceiling (and recesses in the back of the smaller piece for the heads of those lag screws and washers) and for screws to attach the two pieces together. I also determined where the mounting bracket would go.

After that I cut a bunch of strips of scrap wood for the outside trim with mitred corners and then glued and pin nailed the pieces to the plywood layers. I used wood filler on any holes and caulked the seams.

Then I did a rough sanding, applied a coat of primer, and attached to the ceiling. With four lag screws and washers holding it to the ceiling and 8 screws attaching the two layers, this thing won’t be coming down!

I caulked the seams at the ceiling and between the two layers. I also used wood filler on the four screw holes that would be seen. Some light sanding, another coat of primer, and then I painted when I did the ceiling. The final step was installing the new light.

We also replaced the dining table light and have a replacement of the same style for above the sink, but I need to fix the lower ceiling area there and paint first. The 60 watt bulbs that came with these lights were not bright enough and had too much of an amber tint (original bulbs in the picture above). I bought 100W equivalent LED bulbs, which are much better. Note that the walls will be getting painted.

For comparison here are the old lights.

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