Rout, Rout, Rout it all Out

2014-04-14 16.10.54I accomplished my first routing project.  Part of installing the bar involves putting in this incredibly beefy brackets.  Like, seriously, it was $30 to just ship these things.  Each one must way 25 pounds.  I’m pretty sure the wood is going to collapse before these things will bend.  Anyway, in order to install them, I had to rout a little more than half an inch of wood out of several trough shapes in the pony wall on which the bar will sit.  It was mostly successful.  I used a straight bit and kind of eyeballed the depth rather than measuring and using the fine adjust on the router.  There’s a fair bit I still don’t know about the machine.  I suspect I should have done two shallow passes rather than one full pass.  At one point I got caught on a bit of drywall overhang that caused me to lose control of the router and pinball inside the groove I was cutting.  The final product won’t show it, but man is that thing powerful.  I’m super excited to make picture frames in the far off future where I can set up a workshop in the garage*.


*I do actually fantasize from time to time about my garage workshop.  It’s big enough to fit quite a few machines into and still have room to park.  I now own way more tools than when we started and even more excitingly, I know how to use way more tools than when I started.



When I’m working at the house, I have an ipod plugged into speakers playing music pretty much all day.  I don’t consider myself a music person.  I like music, but I don’t appreciate music, I don’t think.  But I do have a pretty broad range of tastes.  When my mom was in town recently, I built a play list for her based on some emails in which she named her favorite bands.  I didn’t realize how much I like breadth in what I listen to until I was listening to just one type of music.  She likes rock bands from the 50s and 60s and male vocalists mostly.  I’ve occasionally thought that I should use this time to get to know different music, but I just don’t have the time to seek out something new to plug into the ipod.  Mostly, every few months I just grab a new random assortment of things from my itunes and stuff it on the ipod till it throws up.  Here’s a smattering of what I have playing right now.  Some days I’ll listen to particular albums or artists, but mostly I’ll just put 3 or 4 days worth of songs on shuffle and let it go:

Jay Z (specifically the Black Album)


Taylor Swift

Carry Underwood

James Taylor

Counting Crows

Blue October



Britnay Spears

The Soundtrack to Frozen

Alanis Morrisett

John Coltrane


The Soundtrack to Chess

The Soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar (specifically the production from 2000)

Paula Cole

Anna Nalick

The Soundtrack to Wicked

The Sountrack to Five Years Later


Ben Folds Five

The Soundtrack to Spring Awakening

Loreena Mckinnet

Old Dirty Bastard

The Beatles

The Killers

Our Lady Peace

Phil Collins

Real Big Fish

Something Corporate

The Soundtrack to O’Brother Where Art Thou?

The Soundtrack to Kill Bill


Johnny Cash






Sarah McLachlan

10,000 Maniacs

The Soundtrack to The Wedding Singer

Stevie Nicks

Red Hot Chili Peppers


The Avatt Brothers



Day 219: Wiring Conundrium

This week I met a problem that’s beyond my understanding.  I should preface this story.  This is a wiring problem.  Wiring is a series of logical pathways.  Solving wiring problems, assuming you have a decent understanding of the layout of the system, is the same progression no matter what the problem ends up being.  The progression goes something like this:  you methodically isolate each segment of the path to determine where the problem lies.  You then replace or rewire the problematic item or area following a systematic examination of possible permutations.  Wiring is just a logic puzzle.  If something is wrong, you can just eliminate possibilities until you’re left with one remaining answer.  As Mr. Homes is fond of saying, that answer, no matter how unlikely, must be correct.

Yesterday I was finishing up the wiring for the kitchen.  This task involved wiring up the GFCI outlets, some switches, and a light fixture.  Everything worked except for one GFCI series.  It was one of the two appliance circuits (code requires you have 2 circuits dedicated to just powering your countertop outlets).  The confusing part is that my twitter pen (the doda that lights up and beeps if you wave it around a live wire) and my multimeter were showing that the circuit was hot.  When I’d wire up the GFCI, I couldn’t get it to turn on.  I figured I had a bad outlet, so I swapped it for another, same issue.  I tested them on another circuit and they worked fine.  I then swapped in a normal receptacle.  Same problem.  When I tested the wires, they showed I was hot and had 100-120 volts.  When I plugged those wires into something, the load dropped to nothing.  My next test was to direct wire into a light bulb.  I don’t recommend trying this at home as it’s pretty dangerous, but I couldn’t figure out who in this equation was lying to me.  The light wouldn’t light.  Don’t worry, I didn’t not take the next logical step and lick the live wire to find out if it was really hot.  Instead I called Emily for advice.

She asked an electrical engineer she works with who suggested that the breaker was probably bad and the hot reading was really just leakage from the line and not a real load.  Okay, sounds reasonable.  So first we tested the existing breaker using a different multimeter that we knew not only worked, but was way nicer than the one I had previously been using.  It showed the breaker worked fine.  I went ahead and replaced it anyways.  Same problem.  The next step was to wind through the circuit path trying to find the geographic area of concern.  We attacked this from both ends.  I went junction box by junction box doing the same series of tests at each point where the circuit path was spliced.  The good news is that each iteration of tests showed the previous area was fine.  If it fails in the basement before it gets to the kitchen, then the problem can’t be in the kitchen.  I also went back to the breaker box and directly wired an outlet into the breaker in question.  It worked.  So my problem was definitely in between the box and the last junction headed up into the kitchen.  A few hours of testing more and I found the box the problem must be in.  We replaced connectors and rewired everything in that box.  Turned it on, and the light bulb lit up.  I quickly wired it back together and I had power in the kitchen.

I’m still not convinced the problem is solved.  It’s possible that we just switched circuit paths in one of the boxes.  I didn’t have time today to turn everything on and verify that everything is working properly.  And I still have a few boxes in the basement with all their guts hanging out.  But I still don’t know what the cause of the problem was/is.  Why would a wire read hot and then immediately drop to no load when something was plugged into it?  And not just some random thing that would break the circuit.  I was wiring it into a 60 incandescent light bulb.  It wouldn’t light at all.



I really do like the logic involved in wiring.  In a funny way, I feel more comfortable and less afraid of electricity than I do of plumbing.  Sure, things can go wrong and you can die or burn your house down, but most of the time, if you’re meticulous and analytical, you’ll do a good job and be able to solve your problems.

Day 214: Buying a router

Up until not terribly long ago, I had no idea what a Router did.  Well, to be specific, I know what a computer router does.  I have no idea what a wood router did or why you’d want one.  Then we took a trip out to Burton, OH.  Burton is about an hour and a half southeast of Cleveland in Amish country.  We went out there specifically to find a place that makes butcherblock countertops.  We were directed to some saw mill called Molding One. Here’s their website, it’s pretty nice.  As it turns out, Molding One is one of their new business imprints.  They’re seriously just a saw mill with a few Amish crafts men making stuff.  Their countertops are pretty amazing.  A butcher block counter is a series of boards set on end.  They’re usually fastened and glued together like a big sandwich.  Then the whole package is cut to size and passed through a sheet sander (a neat machine that runs wood against a piece of sand paper the size of a blanket).  What you end up with is a very sturdy wooden countertop.  Butchers preferred these to cut on as you can fabricate them to basically any size and they wouldn’t harm your knife as you hacked apart an entire animal on one.  I’ll post more about it when our order shows up.

Anyways, we opted for an unfinished counter.  Specifically, the counter shows up untreated.  You have to finish sanding and cutting it yourself (i.e. cut outs for the sink and stove).  You can pay extra to have them put a decorative edging on it if you’d like.  We figured, since we have to cut it ourselves anyways, we might as well do the edging too.  Here’s where the router comes in.  A router, is a motor that spins a bit with some number of cutting blades in various positions depending on the purpose of the bit.  If you’ve ever used a drumel tool or a spiral saw, that’s the idea.  It’s used in wood working for a ton of different effects and chores, all of which would fall roughly under the heading of making precise cuts in wood.  For example, if you wanted to cut a groove or round a corner, you’d use a router.  All of your furniture that has nice decorative edges or curvy legs probably had a router involved in their production.

To be fair, I actually have a few chores I need to do that require a router’s help.  The old fashion way of doing things is to use a combination of planers and chisels to painstakingly carve wood.  Nuts to that.  I’m going to use two and half horses and some carbide bits as sharp as the devil himself.  One of the best parts of this project is that I’ve been amassing tools and knowledge and subjects I’ve never thought about before.  I’m looking forward to the day I can set up a nice little wood shop in the garage and do some fine wood working.  I have a few projects in mind already and more keep cropping up.  All my life I’ve always been frustrated with buying furniture.  It’s hard for me to find things that I both like and fit my proportions.  Similarly, the stock items in a big box store are always so terribly made.  Those particle board book shelves don’t really last more than a few years.  I love the idea of being able to make my own bookshelves for the cost of the wood.

For those who are curious, we ordered this router kit.  I don’t have a use for a plunge router just yet, but this kit was rated really highly and I figure the versatility will be helpful down the line.  I’ve always found fine woodworking to be befuddling.  I think it’s because there’s a vocabularly that I don’t know and a way of thinking about things that I don’t comprehend yet.  It also feels antiquated.  I can remember trying to read books that would have these terrible line drawings of how things are supposed to work together.  It never made sense to me.  Thankfully, in the age of youtube, pretty much any project or question I might need answered will have a video of someone showing me how to do that thing.  I’m really looking forward to this particular tool.


My work uniform all winter has consisted of the following:

Thermal top and t-shirt

Carhart work pants – An upgrade from the jeans I started with thanks to a hot tip from Steve.

Hoodie – The one Em gave me last year.  Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure I’ll need a new hoodie at the end of this project.

Headwear – When it’s warm out, I prefer bandana head wraps (it’s what I wore for most of my time working in kitchens).  When it’s cold, I go with the wool skullcap.

Shoes – when there’s snow, it’s heavy boots.  I don’t particularly like them.  They’re cumbersome and hurt my feet.  When there’s not snow, I wear my converse walking shoes.  I only own like 3 pairs of shoes.  Like the hoodie, I’ll need new shoes at the end of this thing.


In addition to my uniform, I carry with me a cell phone, wallet, keys, wedding ring, tablet computer, and portable hotspot.  All this stuff gets deposited on the high, out of the way shelf when I get to work each morning.  The tablet is what I’ve taken all of the pictures on that appear in this blog.  The hotspot is so I can talk to the internet occasionally using the tablet.  This has come in handy when I’ve needed to look up specs or a process for whatever job I’m in the middle of each day.  I don’t use it often, but when I do, I’m happy to have it.

Day 188: Grinding

We had decided early on that we were going to try to refinish many of the original wood floors in the house.  The entirety of the main house was constructed out of yellow pine and the floor boards have this really neat knotty quality to them.  In the 19th century, yellow pine was the timber of choice for basically all construction from wooden ships to houses to tables.  It was abundant, which made it cheap, and it’s reasonably hard.

Raw Yellow Pine

Raw Yellow Pine

A floor finish is basically a combination of coloring and a weather sealer.  In most cases this means a stain or paint plus polyurethane.  If your floor is just scuffed or scratched, then you can usually save yourself a lot of trouble by just refinishing the protective layer.  If you want to change the color or if your floor is more deeply scratched or damaged, then you have to remove enough wood to take out the stain and poly.  Most hardwood floors are 3/4″ thick tongue and grove boards.  They’re assembled by tapping one board into the next and then driving nails into the tongue section.  The rule of thumb is that you can sand floors until you reveal the nail head.  That’s about as far as the floor can go.  Unless your particularly agressive with your sanding, this means you should get quite a few iterations of refinishing the floors before their worn out and should be replaced.

Once we stripped off everything that was on top of the floors we wanted, the next step was the patch holes.  It’s interesting how people appreciate things over time.  We really care about these floors and are working to make them usable again.  At some point, people got tired of these floors and covered them up.  It’s clear that as the mechanical technology of a house increased over time, new installers disregarded the floors in order to get the latest and greatest in pipes, ducts, and wires from point A to point B.  As a result, there are a number of places where the floor was patched prior to us and a few places where we needed to patch it ourselves.  This job pretty much sucked.  For several of the small areas, we were able to use some reclaimed floor boards from upstairs.  For others, I had to use a contemporary floor board.  Unfortunately for my sanity, “three quarters inch” today means something different than it did a hundred years ago.  A quick aside about structural wood, we use nominal measurement references like “2×4″ to suggest 2 inches wide by 4 inches long”  However, this measurement refers to the rough hew of the board when it’s cut down at the mill.  After that point, it’s sanded and cured, which reduces the size of the board.  As the technology at the lumber mill changes, the actual measurements of it’s end product changes.  This is one of the reasons why it’s tough to fix old framing with new boards.

Em runs the drum sander

Em runs the drum sander

Back to the floors, once patched, we started sanding.  The main part of the floors were ground down with a drum sander.  A drum sander is a really cool machine.  It’s basically just a motor with a belt that turns a small drum.  The drum has rubber fins.  You slip a sand paper tube over the drum.  When you turn the machine on, it spins the drum.  The centrifugal force, tightens the tube via the rubber fins and away you go.  It has a leaver that you use to raise and lower the drum to make contact with your floor.  I read a lot about sanding floors and watched several videos in preparation for the project.  To tell you the truth, they actually had me concerned about my ability to do this.  The biggest fear that everything I saw instilled is that you can grind a hole in your floor.  Specifically, if you drop the drum and hold the machine in place, the sand paper will dig straight down.  You always have to keep the machine in motion while the drum is down to prevent damaging your floor.  The analogy that I think makes the most sense is it’s kind of like working a manual transmission.  You have to move forward slowly and drop the drum fluidly to start sanding.  Then move slowly across the floor, pulling the drum up in the same motion.  What the videos don’t explain is that when you drop the drum, the machine is going to drag you forward.  It actually makes it very difficult to burn a hole in your floor.  The knack is much more in leaning back and moving at a steady pace to get a consistent sanding pattern.

2014-04-01 13.24.57The drum sanding process uses three levels of grit.  The first on gouges the wood through the finish and stain and right down to the raw wood.  The middle grit smooths out the deep gouges and the finishing grit brings the floor back to a nice, but stainable finish.  For our project we used 32, 60, and 120 grits.  For one section, I even had to go down to a 26.  After sanding the main part of the room, you’ll have about a 4 to 6 inch band around the outside that needs to be edge sanded.  You can rent an edging machine (we rented the drum sander from Home Depot) or use a random orbital sander.  An edge sander is basically just a more powerful orbital.  At this point in the project, my time was a bit spotty, so I used my 5″ orbital over the course of several days of sanding work.  The toughest part was finding course enough pads for the machine.  Home Depot doesn’t stock anything courser than 60 grit.  Lowe’s stocks a 40 grit.

2014-04-02 10.28.38The last step in sanding floors is to screening.  Screening involves using a buffing machine and a screen (literally, like what you have in your windows).  The rough metal sands down your floor.  Screening serves a few purposes.  It helps even and sand your floors.  It blends the two sanding strokes you’ve been using so far (circular from your edger and straight from your drum).  And it opens the grain of the wood to allow the stain to penetrate.  I’ve never run a buffing machine before.  I’m not sure I’d recommend running one with a sanding disk as a first time out.  The first couple of times I turned the machine on, it shot across the room and crashed into the wall.  It was equal parts comical and frustrating.  I’d get it set up, turn it on, it would shoot across the room uncontrollably.  What was particularly frustrating was that the machine isn’t that complicated.  It just has an on/off switch and a handle.  That’s it.  After a handful of tries, I gave up and called Em for advice.  We read the internet until we came up a rough description of how to run a buffing machine.  In case you ever have to run one, here’s what I learned:

2014-04-02 16.07.15A buffing machine is just a motor on a stick.  The stick can be adjusted.  It has a trigger and a safety to turn the motor on.  There’s not really a way to adjust the motor speed.  The best way to think about it is to imagine you’re controlling a top.  The top is spinning clockwise.  If you push the top away from you, it’ll go right.  If you pull it towards you, it’ll go left.  With a buffing machine, this analogy is in terms of pushing down or pulling up.  Set the handle somewhere between your navel and your groin so that you can use your core muscles as leverage.  Ideally, you want to balance the machine in the middle of this up/down spectrum.  At that point, it’ll stay in place when you turn it on.  Then you can ease it on direction or another and push or pull it in the direction you desire.  What you want to try to avoid is wildly swinging back and forth from between up and down.  This will cause the machine to swing back and forth like a cartoon janitor waxing the floors.  You want a controlled movement so that you can cover the floor evenly.

After screening, we stained and sealed the dining room and living room floors.  The upstairs bedrooms still have yet to be done.  The downstairs got a dark coffee stain and 4 coats of poly.  They came out looking fantastic.

…What you sow…

2014-04-10 10.31.41Emily planted these bulbs shortly after we bought the house.  The weather in Cleveland finally broke.  It snowed about a week ago, but today it reached mid-60s.  All this week it’s been above freezing.  I think it’s a nice little metaphor for the project as a whole.  I just hope our work turns out a nice as Em’s flowers.