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.

DIY Wall Sconce/Light

I’ve started to remodel the kitchen and we’re getting all new lights. This one almost never gets used and is in a weird spot, but it had to go.

We determined something like this is generally called a sconce, so naturally went searching for a replacement on Amazon. We found this farmhouse steampunk light we really liked.

I knew I could very easily make something similar. I picked up 3/4″ pipe pieces and a lamp socket from Menards, along with some metallic hammered spray paint.

I used some sandpaper on the end of the light socket (bite for the bonding), wired it up, screwed the pipe pieces together, and attached the light socket to the pipe with epoxy. Then I did several coats of spray paint. I also did some matte clear coat, which I think was after this picture was taken; I wanted to knock down the shine.

We picked out a piece of pallet wood, of course.

After we picked out our new kitchen faucet, which has some bronzed edges, I ended up grabbing some bronze metal paint, which I used on some of the edges, though it’s subtle and hard to see here.

I reused the bolt from the previous light, and put it all in place to figure out where to cut the board.

Then I drilled holes for screws and the mounting bolt. I had to route out some of the back side to make room for the circuit box and brackets sticking out of the wall. I guess I forgot to take a picture. I painted the screw heads and bolt and touched the edges with bronze.

I love how it turned out and can’t wait to see what it looks like after the walls get painted though.

Pallet Wood Art/Shelf With a Hidden Dimmable LED Light

When I first had the idea to do pallet wood walls in the living room, I wanted to create some type of art piece for the wall opposite the TV. I stumbled across this shelf on Etsy when searching for pallet wood art.

After getting rid of my old recliner and lamp (as part of the living room updates) I quickly realized a light was needed for the new loveseat. I thought it would be cool to integrate a light in to my shelf and as a bonus it would be hidden. It would be a fun challenge to work on. Here are the last models I had mocked up in SketchUp before starting on the build.

Some of the inspiration for the light came after watching someone create a reading lamp by using quad row LED strips. I ordered a roll of the LEDs (quite expensive), a power supply, and a board to use as a dimmer. After doing some testing and reading more of the specs, I ended up getting a much beefier board to handle 10 Amps. I was also melting some of the insulation on cheap electronics wires, so I also grabbed a spool of 18 gauge wire.

This initial testing was done using a very simple limit switch, but those are only rated for very low currents and would quickly burn up with the requirements of the LEDs. It took some searching, but I finally found a limit switch that said it could handle 10 Amps of DC. The big controller board for the dimmer and this much bigger limit switch introduced some new challenges to my build.

We picked through the wood leftover from the walls to find an assortment of pieces to use for the backer.

I played around with the arrangement, shortened the length of some boards, and ran everything through the planer to get an even thickness. Then I stained five of the boards and glued the pieces together in several steps.

To make the pull-out part of the shelf I started with a piece of plywood. I cut up scrap sheet metal I’d saved from the drop ceiling light fixtures I removed from my shop several years ago. This would be used behind the LEDs so any excessive heat they produced wouldn’t burn in to the plywood or create a fire hazard. I screwed the metal to the plywood and used some white spray paint on it.

I cut scraps of wood for sides and a divider. Then I cut some slots through them, using the table saw, where the light covers would slide in. I also made a face for this piece, leaving it oversized for now. I attached the sides and front face with glue and pocket hole screws from what will be the top side.

I bought two 10-inch full extension drawer slides and attached them to the top. I filled the pocket holes with plugs and wood filler. Sanding would be done later.

Perhaps the most nerve-wracking step of the project was cutting and positioning a scrap piece of 2×4 to the backer boards. This will hold everything together and allow me to attach the surrounding pieces of the shelf. Thankfully I remembered to cut one end short before glueing and screwing (from both sides) it in place. This is where the dimmer knob and board went. I cut a scrap piece of wood (later replaced with thinner plywood) to prop it up a bit so the knob would be easier to handle.

I put a straight bit in my trim router and cut a channel down the back of the longest backer board. This will be where the power cable runs down and behind the loveseat. It’ll never be seen, so I wasn’t concerned with how it looks.

Next I milled up some boards and glued them to make the top and bottom of the shelf. I tinted clear epoxy with black paint and filled in some holes. I also milled and cut a couple of pieces for the sides of the shelf.

I trimmed all of those to the sizes I’d need. Then I cut rabbets in the sides so the edges of the top and bottom wouldn’t be seen and there would be more support. To fit properly around the dimmer switch I had to notch out some areas and drill a hole for the knob shaft.

I was able to do a dry fit and then had to make a bunch of adjustments to make everything fit better. After a shitload of sanding I stained one coat of Red Mahogany.

The next morning I was able to glue and pin nail the bottom and left side to the backer. The top and right will be screwed in place in case I need to take things apart to troubleshoot or replace the electronics.

After giving the stain several days I masked off the dimmer board and used my paint sprayer to apply four coats of water-based poly.

The next day I put in the LEDs and switch, wiring everything up. I had to make one more piece of wood that would trigger the switch when the “drawer” was pulled out.

I painted the wires white. A bit of hot glue was used to keep them in place and provide strain relief. I also used hot glue down the back side to hold the wire in the groove.

The final step was to figure out where to cut in keyhole slots.

This turned out to be a bad idea. The shelf was just too heavy. So I drilled all the way through the cross beam and drove two long lag screws through and in to the studs.

We picked up some cool pieces at the Freeland Antique Mall for decor.

Here’s a night comparison which shows how bright the LEDs can be.

This video shows everything in action.

This project ended up being a lot more work than I expected. I’m really happy with the results though and we now have a one-of-a-kind piece in our living room.

We got a blackout top down bottom up shade made from SelectBlinds for the window, which came in over the weekend. They’re really easy to install. Now the living room is complete and I can focus on the kitchen remodel.

We bought an old milk can at an antique mall for the corner of the room too.

Living Room Updates

Last week I was finally able to finish the living room project, before going to Puerto Rico last week. My three month sabbatical started, which gave me a lot of time to work on it. This was the final big phase of a living room remodel. Here are the before and after pictures.

Before
After

Actually that’s not a true before picture because there used to be an old A/C unit built in to the wall. Below is the only picture I could find, which shows the cover that was over it.

Last July or August my Dad and I removed the unit and patched up the wall. Then I had three Mitsubishi mini-splits installed around the house. In April, my Dad and brother came down for a weekend. We took out the sliding glass doors, removed the sunroom, and installed a 5×6’ window.

I had a gas fireplace insert installed a month earlier actually. I put black painted plywood up on two walls, and I installed Select Surfaces Barnwood Spill Defense Laminate Flooring from Sam’s Club. It’s really nice flooring and easy to install.

Bought a new loveseat, the Sonos Arc soundbar and Sonos Sub, and two IKEA bookshelf speakers (Sonos compatible). I’ve put several other speakers throughout the house as well and am really enjoying the Sonos system.

I found an awesome mirror on Facebook Marketplace, which had been in an old farmhouse for over 40 years. It’s in really good condition. The room was really starting to come together.

It was several months before I could spend more time finishing the room though, because I had to fix up the outside wall of the house and build the outdoor gym area. During the peaks of the pandemic last year, my Dad collected and processed a lot of awesome pallet wood, which he gave to me.

I sorted through it all to take out the really twisty stuff and to organize it in to wide and narrow boards. Then I jointed an edge of everything, cut the ends square, ripped to two common widths, and did a rough surface sanding. I wanted to bring out more of the wood’s character, while keeping it rough.

Brandi helped me pick out some stains and we stained about a third to a half of the wood.

After seeing how long it took to stain this stuff I bought the HomeRight Super Finish Max HVLP Paint Sprayer. I laid plastic out on the driveway and gave all of the wood three coats of water-based polyurethane on the face. It only took about 10 minutes per coat, which saved hours of time.

The next day I started at the top of a wall and tried to create a random-ish pattern as I used an 18 gauge nail gun to tack boards to the plywood walls.

I continued the process for the second wall. Then I was able to finish the light switch and outlets. I bought a 65″ Sony A80CJ Series 4K OLED TV from Costco and hung it on the wall with a full-motion mount from Harbor Freight. The mount was easy to use and will allow us to keep the TV pointed directly at the loveseat, where we normally watch TV, or rotate it towards the couch when we have company over. The soundbar hangs under the TV with the Sanus WSSATM1-B2 extendable soundbar TV mount, which was also easy to use.

Now I was able to finish off the floor trim behind the loveseat. I also picked up some rustic looking quarter round for the pallet walls, which blends in well.

To frame in the window, I processed some old 5″ wide oak flooring and gave it three coats of the same water-based poly. For the trim, I used some of the leftover narrow pallet wood.

I really love how the room turned out!

One other little touch was building a shelf/cubby/table next to the loveseat. I wanted a place to put the left channel speaker, store laptops, and set drinks or snacks. My original idea was to have a couple of horizontal slots for the laptops. I was discussing the space limitations of the area with Brandi and she had the idea to make vertical slots instead, which worked out really well. Here’s the SketchUp model.

For the top I processed more pallet wood, glued it together, sanded smooth, applied stain, and did three coats of wipe-on poly. For the cubby unit I used whatever scrap plywood I could make work and painted it black. I didn’t care much about the base since nobody will ever see it unless they’re really going up to inspect it.

I’m so glad to have this project finished and we’re loving the way it turned out. I do have one more thing I’m working on for the wall above the loveseat (done now!) and hope to finish this week or next. Then I’ll be spending the rest of my sabbatical to remodel the kitchen and dining room area.

Converting a Sunroom into an Outdoor Gym Area

I had a sunroom that was over 20 years old, leaked, and it’s foundation had been shifting for several years. I never used it, so it was time to go. This project started in April and though we’ve been using the area for weeks, we finished up last night by moving rocks back in place.

The first step was removing the sliding glass door and putting in a big window.

I hired a company to come in with a Bobcat and hydraulic breaker to remove the 7+ inch concrete slab and posts.

After that was out, I was able to fix up the roof line and put siding on the house.

They did do some damage to my gutter drains, so I made a repair there.

Still had to remove a bunch of sand from the area, so I rented a small dumpster and we hauled a lot of buckets.

My inspiration for the project was this setup I saw online. I mapped out my own layout.

I did a rough sloping job and then we dug three holes four feet deep.

Ordered some materials from Menards, and ended up having to get another 10 bags of cement.

My buddy Kevin was a huge help, getting the two 16 foot 6×6 posts installed. Each one weighed about 190 pounds!

Then Brandi and I were able to install the 12 footer on our own. Between the 3 posts we used 1,500 pounds of concrete!

I painted the posts and leveled the ground as best I could.

Put up the bars, top caps, and painted wall ball targets.

Some of the early plans were to get thick rubber playground flooring tiles, but we eventually decided it wasn’t worth the cost. Used pavers instead.

Turned out great and we’ve been using the outdoor space for one or two workouts a week. It looks good and is a much better use of the space, which wasn’t getting used at all before and had become an eyesore. Now I can finish the inside wall of the house!

Hand Truck

Last winter I picked up this hand truck for $5 on Facebook Marketplace.

This weekend I cleaned it up, painted it, and replaced some parts. Looks and works great now! Just in time to move a couple sets of washers and dryers.

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