Building a Fence

My goal in life right now is to complete one useful task every 4-5 months. I’m right on track with this next project.

I built a fence in my mom’s back yard. The whole thing is only about 15′ long or something. My mom had a waist-high chain link fence and gate, but she didn’t love it. She wanted more privacy, so she asked me to build her a fence. Digging out the old fence posts was easy.

A neighbor lent me a gas-powered auger to dig the holes. I used  it on one of the posts, but the motor kept cutting out on the second one. Luckily the ground is so soft and sandy around here that I had the hole dug in about 5 minutes anyway. I spent more time messing around with the motor than it took to just dig it by hand.

During - fence posts set in concrete.

During – fence posts set in concrete.

I used an 8″ sonotube to set the 4×4 posts. Probably a bit undersized, but i think it will be fine. Here’s the finished product.

After - Fence and gate.

After – Fence and gate.

The thing that surprised me the most is how wet the wood was, and how much it shrank subsequently. I used precut treated fence pickets from the big-box store and I could literally see the moisture oozing out of the wood with each screw I sank into it. Typically it’s a good idea to leave a bit of a gap between each picket, but I didn’t in this case since privacy was the primary reason for the fence and I wanted to limit visibility between the pickets as much as possible. Just a couple weeks after the fence was in place the pickets had shrunk enough that there was now probably a .25″ gap between the pickets. Word to the wise, if you’re using pressure treated lumber like this, plan on it shrinking quite a bit.

There was also a weird little corner of her yard between her garage and her neighbors garage where I built a goofy little fence. In this case, I left the 4′ metal poles from the chain link fence in place and bolted the new wooden fence right onto it. I did this thinking that it would save time by not having to remove those posts or plant new ones, but in the end it was a wash. I spent way too much time dicking around with trying to bolt the new fence onto the old posts that I wish I had just removed it and started fresh.

After - little corner fence.

After – little corner fence.

M.U.S.C.L.E.

M.U.S.C.L.E.

M.U.S.C.L.E.

My childhood is returning.

Painting the Basement Storage Room

Ok, I finally pulled my ass off the couch long enough to do something useful. Or at least long enough to make a mess.

So we’ve got this basement, right? And it’s mostly just a place to store stuff. It hasn’t seen any investment in a long time, so it’s starting to look a little ragged. Previous owners had painted the concrete block walls and some of the interior walls, but it’s all yellowing, dingy, flaking, and pretty unsightly. Also, it’s just not very well organized. There are shelves, but not the right kinds, and not where we want them. Other spaces are undefined and not particularly useful.

Our goal with this project is pretty much just to paint everything, probably build a few new shelves while we’re at it, right? We have too much crap laying around to do the whole basement at once, so we’ll have to do it one room at a time. We’ll start in the storage room. It’s a decent sized room. Almost too big. Big enough that if you don’t have stuff stacked up in the middle of the room you feel like you’re wasting space. When we built our garage, a lot stuff ended up in the basement that should be in the garage, and a lot of it hasn’t made it’s way back out to the garage again yet. First we just had to haul all the stuff out. It’s just stuffed around in other places of our basement, which is now mostly unusable because of crap.

Ok, on to the pictures. Here’s what our basement looks like full of useless stuff.

Basement storage room is full of stuff.

Basement storage room is full of stuff.

One little shelf on that wall is dumb.

One little shelf on that wall is dumb.

Boxes and stacks of stuff next to the laundry chute.

Boxes and stacks of stuff next to the laundry chute.

Stuff stacked under the stairs.

Stuff stacked under the stairs.

Massive set of shelves.

Massive set of shelves. I never loved the doors on these. They’re always awkward.

Flaking paint. Looks like water damage, but dry to the touch.

Flaking paint. Looks like water damage, but dry to the touch.

Flaking Paint.

Flaking Paint.

After we had all the stuff moved out, we heavily debated what to do about the massive shelves. They are as sturdy as 200 elephants, but the wall behind them was in pretty rough shape. We wouldn’t be able to do a great job painting the wall with them in place, so we decided they needed to come out. We salvaged a lot of the lumber to use elsewhere. Anyway, the basic tasks here were as follows:

  • Use a wire brush attachment on a power drill to power scrape all the loose paint off
  • Use a hand wire brush as necessary in problem areas
  • Vacuum the walls
  • Scrub the walls
  • Use quick-setting hydraulic cement to patch some of the holes
  • Place three coats of DryLok paint on the masonry walls
  • One coat of primer on the interior wood framed walls

Here are some before-and-afters. More accurately, these are still in-progress shots since we don’t have the final coat of paint on any of it yet. The “before” shots are also after we’ve already brushed, vacuumed, and scrubbed the walls.

View 1 - Before

View 1 – Before

View 1 - After

View 1 – After

View 2 - Before

View 2 – Before

View 2 - After

View 2 – After

View 3 - Before

View 3 – Before

View 3 - After

View 3 – After

Really brightens up the space, huh? Even after three coats of the heavy paint, the walls are still yellowing a bit. Maybe we shouldn’t have gone with white paint?  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Next steps are to finish painting the walls, scrub the floor, paint the floor, then build some new shelving in here. Stay tuned.

Basement Bathrom Mini-Project, Part 2

Ok, last time I wrote about the basement bathroom mini-project, I said I was going to have this project all wrapped up by Christmas. HAHAHA. That is hilarious. Now that it is February, we are just about done. As a recap, I wanted to spruce up our crazy scary toilet-in-the-corner-of-the-basement bathroom, but I didn’t want to spend any money on it, and I didn’t want to do things correctly either.

The biggest challenge we were facing in this room was that the toilet constantly rocked on the floor because the floor is one of the most unlevel floors I’ve ever seen. This room is about 5×8 and there’s probably 3 inches of slope throughout. So how to go about setting the toilet on the unlevel concrete floor without going through the effort of actually leveling the floor?

Here’s a couple pics of the toilet to give you a sense of how unlevel the floor is:

Toilet on unlevel concrete floor.

Toilet on unlevel concrete floor.

Turns out, when I leveled the toilet, I needed exactly one carpenter’s pencil jammed in on it’s side as a shim in the front corner. Actually, when I got to this point, I almost said “well, let’s just leave that pencil right where it is then and call it a day.” But I am not a savage. Plus, I wanted the pencil back. I decided to try and use some quick-dry concrete underneath the toilet base to fill the gap.

Toilet is level. Shims would need to be over 1/2" on one corner.

Toilet is level. Shims would need to be over 1/2″ on one corner.

So with the toilet in place, I used the pencil to draw the outline of the toilet base on the floor.

Outline of toilet on floor.

Outline of toilet on floor.

Then I flipped the toilet over, and spread cling wrap loosely across the bottom of the toilet base (stay with me here…).

Underside of toilet.

Underside of toilet.

Next, I mixed up some quick-drying concrete, and slopped it on the floor about 1.5 inches deep on top of the toilet base outline on the floor.

Slop a bunch of quick seting concrete on floor in the shape of the toilet base.

Slop a bunch of quick seting concrete on floor in the shape of the toilet base.

Quickly thereafter, I smashed the cling-wrapped toilet base into the wet concrete, keeping it level as I pressed it down (do not use a wax ring for this step).

Smash the toilet down into it, but keep the toilet level.

Smash the toilet down into it, but keep the toilet level.

I let it dry for 15 minutes, then used a knife blade to cut off the excess concrete. I made a vertical cut as close to the toilet base as possible, leaving only the concrete that was actually under the toilet base.

Use a utility knife to cut off excess concrete.

Use a utility knife to cut off excess concrete.

Use a utility knife to cut off excess concrete.

Use a utility knife to cut off excess concrete.

Come back a day later, and pull the toilet off. The cling wrap will keep the concrete from sticking to the ceramic toilet. Discard the cling wrap. This is what you’re left with – it’s a perfect mold of the underside of the toilet base, and a level base to install the toilet.

Hardened Concrete Toilet Pan

Hardened Concrete Toilet Pan

Reinstall the toilet as usual, this time using the wax ring. The toilet will set on the mold of itself that you just created. Bolt it down to the flange as usual. Finally, I just painted the concrete to match the floor.

Final toilet set on concrete toilet pan.

Final toilet set on concrete toilet pan.

Final toillet set on concrete toilet pan.

Final toillet set on concrete toilet pan.

From a couple feet away, you can’t even tell the concrete is there. The toilet is solid and level. I’m calling this a success. I realize this is a little bit of an unorthodox method of installing a toilet, but whatever. It’s working. I don’t think the bond between the original floor and the mold is that strong, so if this ends up failing, I expect a few hits with a hammer and this will all come right off and I’ll be right back where I started. Let’s call this an experiment. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Anyway, with that finished, I put a final coat of paint on the floor and completed a finishing touch or two. A little spray foam in the joist bays, and ripping out the old wires for the defunct alarm system & it’s looking pretty good. I love this open-joist look!

I am loving the open joist look.

I am loving the open joist look.

Nobody would suspect this was rigged by a half-wit.

Nobody would suspect this was rigged by a half-wit.

This is what a bathroom looks like.

This is what a bathroom looks like.

Next up, paint these folding doors.

Next up, paint these folding doors.

Anyway, I’m calling this project dunzo. Someday I might get around to painting these terrible folding doors, but probably not. More than likely I’ll just sit on my ass.

Frozen Minnehaha Falls (again)

Back in January of 2011, I posted a picture of my wife and me standing back behind the frozen Minnehaha Falls. I think I’ve been back nearly every year, but I haven’t always taken pictures. Since the purpose of this blog is pretty much just to prove to everyone (but mostly myself) that my ass does actually leave the couch once in a while, I figured an update was in order.

The falls weren’t as spectacular as they’ve been in years past, but the trademark glowing blue ice forms didn’t disappoint.

Frozen Minnehaha Falls

Frozen Minnehaha Falls, January 2014

Behind frozen Minnehaha Falls

Behind frozen Minnehaha Falls

If you’ve never been to Minnehaha Falls in the winter, you should definitely check it out.

Basement Bathroom Mini-Project, Part 1

Our house has a crummy little bathroom in a corner of the basement. We decided to try and spruce it up a bit. We didn’t want to spend significant time or money on this, so we consider this mostly just a band-aid project.

The bathroom is not original to the house, it was added sometime later, the key giveaway being that you can see where the original concrete basement floor was busted up to run the new drain pipes under the slab. It was patched particularly poorly. The completely uneven floors are very problematic, and are the primary reason we pursued a band-aid, rather than something we could really be proud of.

I wrote about this bathroom once before. When we bought the house in 2011, the electrical panel was located in the bathroom, and we were required to relocate it. We had to mess around with the electrical a bit more that one time we built a garage. When we started this project in mid-November, this is what the bathroom looked like:

This spacious bathroom features both a toilet and a sink.

This spacious bathroom features both a toilet and a sink.

The walls were an unlovely sky blue, with shit (literally?) splattered all over them. There were no base mouldings anywhere in the room. There used to be a drop ceiling, and I despise drop ceilings, so it came out and revealed a lot of unsightly stuff, including the tops of the drywall which were poorly finished and uneven.

Top of drywall is an ungodly mess. And wires everywhere.

Top of drywall is an ungodly mess. And wires everywhere.

Here is a hole in the drywall where the electric panel used to be.

drywall needs patching.

drywall needs patching.

The first order of business was to patch this hole in the drywall, and install a jamb extension on the door to remove a weird jog in the wall and to allow mouldings to cover gaps around the doorway. We also threw a coat of primer on all the walls.

Patched Drywall

Patched Drywall. Primed walls.

Door jamb extension, 0" reveal.

Door jamb extension, 0″ reveal.

Full door jamb extension.

Full door jamb extension.

Lots of wires. This wall has some lovely paneling.

Lots of wires. This wall has some lovely paneling.

I talked my wife into giving the open joist look a shot, which means we won’t be putting a new ceiling in here, we’re just going to expose all the ugliness, clean it up as best we can, and go with it. I mentioned more about this strategy when I wrote about painting the other room in our basement. But I did really want to install base and crown moulding to finish off the walls nicely.

Here is our progress so far. All the mouldings have been installed and have one coat of paint. The crown mouldings we’re using are really just identical to our base mouldings but upside down.

Crown Mouldings and Open Joists

Crown Mouldings and Open Joists

Crown Moulding.

Crown Moulding.

Toilet Removed. Base Moulding Installed. Goofy Pipe Remains.

Toilet Removed. Base Moulding Installed. Goofy Pipe Remains.

Door & Crown Mouldings

Door & Crown Mouldings

Door & Crown Mouldings

Door & Crown Mouldings

It took a lot of messing around to get the mouldings on, with the floors so wonky, and with goofy things like the pipe sticking out of the corner in the middle of the base moulding. Still left to do is to finish painting, clean up the wires (many of which will just be removed), paint the floor, & reinstall the toilet. Hopefully we’ll wrap this project up before Christmas.

Why are you so awesome?

Huzzah! Another question in the inbox! This one was asked anonymously. In June.

I do not pride myself on my prompt responses.

Here’s the question:

You guys seem to do such cool things. Do you just not write about the ones that go badly? Where do you recommend NOT taking kids?

Good question. How did I get to be so cool? My wife asks me that every day. I still don’t know the answer.

Just kidding! Rule number one of family blogging is that you only write about the good things. We do terrible things all the time, I just don’t write about it because I want everyone to think my life is perfect. Sometimes something really unfortunate happens, like a trip to the Mall of America, but a search of this blog will find you only one recorded instance of visiting this level of hell. Same with IKEA. My secrets are secret.

And don’t ever take kids to malls unless you’re just going to let them play on the little indoor playground things while you sleep or something.

******

Now, an important announcement.

This Ask Me Anything!!! thing has been fun. The ask me anything tag has 93 posts attached to it (including this one), and some of those posts had more than one question. It’s been a good time, but this will be the last ask me anything post. Sorry to break this to you on a weekend…

I just really need to focus on my art right now.

 

Minnesota River Valley: Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Part III

Encyclopedic readers will recall that back in April 2012 I announced that My wife and I were on a quest to explore the labyrinth of soft-surface trails within the Minnesota River Valley. The valley has always intrigued me because it’s a mile-wide swath of undeveloped space full of wetlands, the river, lakes, and power plants. Pretty much every branch of the government at all levels that has anything to do with parks, trails, or wildlife has their fingers in this valley in one form or another. You can read about our other attempts to explore the valley here.

Here’s where we walked:

View Larger Map
I learned from the internet that the specific trail we walked is called the Bluff Trail. We started at the Old Cedar Avenue trailhead and walked west for about 1.5 miles and back for a 3 mile round trip.

OK, now for some pics. It was a grey (yes I spell it with an “e” because it looks greyer) day, and I loved the views out across Long Meadow Lake of the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge and the Black Dog Power Plant.

Old Cedar Avenue Bridge

Old Cedar Avenue Bridge

Black Dog Power Plant

Black Dog Power Plant

The trail was pretty cool. It’s marked NO BIKING ON TRAIL, but clearly people are biking on it. I was wondering if we would encounter any bikes down there, and if so, if it was ok for people to walk down there as well or if the mountain bikers were a bit territorial about the space. We encountered one bike. He did not show much interest in slowing down as he passed me and my children on the narrow trail corridor, but he also did not punch me in the gut or anything like that.

NO BIKES ALLOWED

NO BIKES ALLOWED

Anyway, here’s a bunch of pictures of me and my kids and the trail.

Cool boardwalk out into the lake.

Cool boardwalk out into the lake.

Some dumb trail.

Some dumb trail.

Co-Captain and Chief Lieutenant Scribe.

Co-Captain and Chief Lieutenant Scribe.

I love crunching through leaves on the ground.

I love crunching through leaves on the ground.

Me and my co-pilot.

Me and my co-pilot.

This is a weird bridge or boardwalk thing.

This is a weird bridge or boardwalk thing.

This boardwalk thing is awesome.

This boardwalk thing is awesome.

Well, we only made it out into the valley once in 2013. Maybe we’ll try again next year.

Dining Room Farmhouse Table

Hey guys check out this thing I made. It’s a table:

This is a farmhouse table I built with my own two hands.

This is a farmhouse table I built with my own two hands.

It is a “Farmhouse Table” as named by Ana White. Ana first posted the plan set for her Farmhouse Table back in 2009. It caught my eye back then as something I could easily do myself (especially with the help of her cut sheet), but I never got around to it and then forgot about it. Then Ana posted the updated version of the plan in 2012, which brought it back to the front of my mind. Well… that, and the fact that every single house blogger I follow via RSS is also building their own farmhouse table.

Seriously, everyone is doing it. Go ahead and check. Google “Farmhouse Table” and see what comes up. I’ll wait.

See what I’m saying? I had to jump on the bandwagon. This table is more or less Ana White’s design, but with a few minor changes.

Wood is made from trees.

Wood is made from trees.

Right now some of you are thinking “Damn, Reuben! You built yourself a fine ass table. I bet it was way cheaper than buying one and yours will probably last way longer, too.” You are wrong. You do not know how many poor decisions I can make throughout the course of a project like this.

The table is entirely cedar, which means at least two things:

  1. Cedar is not cheap.
  2. Cedar is soft.

Cedar is a great, but for something like this, we probably could have gotten more or less the same look and feel using pine and paid a lot less for the lumber. This table is definitely sturdy. If there is an earthquake, I’m huddling all of my family under this table. But cedar is soft. It’s gonna take my toddler about 6 months to completely bash the top of the table. Once she figures out that slamming the end of her fork on the table top will leave “fun little holes”, this thing is doomed.

This table is shiny.

This table is shiny.

Other than that, I’m pretty happy with it and proud of my handiwork. There are a few flaws that seasoned woodworkers will notice immediately, but most people won’t notice. It’s comically oversized for our house and our chairs, but that is typical of things I build.

Farmhouse Table legs.

Farmhouse Table legs.

Well, that’s what I’ve been up to recently. How about you?

Regrading the Yard

Last weekend, some of you may have seen that I posted the following photo on Twitter:

12 cubic yards of top soil

This is what 12 cubic yards of top soil looks like.

This is 12 cubic yards of top soil, dumped on my front yard, waiting to be spread across the yard to fill in all the low spots and to make sure that water would drain away from the foundation rather than towards it. KP had a blast nibbling away at it.

KP eating dirt

KP discovers 12 cubic yards of top soil, eats it.

My wife and I worked all Friday afternoon and evening, and most of the day Saturday, but we finished it up.

Here’s what the yard looks like now:

Backyard. This dirt is like 8"-12" deep.

Backyard. This dirt is like 8″-12″ deep.

Drainage towards garage valley gutter.

Drainage towards garage valley gutter.

Old tree stump hump.

Old tree stump hump.

Draining away from foundation.

Draining away from foundation.

Backfilling around walkway.

Backfilling around walkway.

Our lot is so flat, that most of the positive drainage away from the foundation is subtle at best, but we just don’t have any other options. It will have to do.

Here’s a nice before and after that demonstrates our progress pretty well. Back in 2012, I posted about doing some work on the flower beds  in front of the house. I posted the following picture – notice how much of the stone pavers are showing. At least 6″ – Maybe 8″.

little wall

little wall

Then a couple weeks ago I posted some photos of the new concrete walkways, and pointed out how high the new walkway was poured compared to the ground and the pavers. Notice that the pavers are just totally eclipsed by the walkway, and the front edge of the concrete is completely visible.

New sidewalk. Notice how high it is compared to the ground.

New sidewalk. Notice how high it is compared to the ground.

Now here’s a similar angle after spreading all the new top soil around. Notice we removed the pavers (and stacked them up next to the house since they weren’t doing much anymore now anyway. Also notice that we’ve completely backfilled around the walkway.

Final grading.

Final grading.

Again, the drainage is subtle, but it’s all we can do without either raising the house up, or lowering the street elevation, neither of which is going to happen.

Oh yea, I also pulled a muscle and can barely move my arm now, lol.