Adding Kitchen Speakers and Volume Control – Part 1 of whole house wiring

About a year ago I finished my home theatre in the basement. When this happened, I left my wife stranded with an old bookshelf stereo and some ‘lame’ speakers in the kitchen for her to listen to. For her birthday I told her I would make sure she had good music back in the kitchen and living room and make it better than ever! What this meant was getting her good speakers, allow flexibility between rooms and also giving volume control in this added zone.

Years before I had run speakers to the kitchen, but they ran off of the master volume control, not convenient if you got a phone call, or needed to listen to something else.

Project Stats: Kitchen Speaker Run
Time: 3 hours, but I took my time.
Cost: Low (but I had most of the items already)
Difficulty: Hard
Value for cost: High
Tools Needed: Wire Snake, Utility Knife, Torpedo Level, Tape Measure, Volume Controller, Low Voltage Mounting Bracket, High Quality Speaker Wire, Cordless Drill, Stud Sensor, Wire staples

The first step is to understand how all of this works and understand how the signals travel. I’ve made a small flow chart to show how this works.

Untitled drawing

Click for full size.

As you can see this is just like setting up regular speakers, but there is an addition of the volume controller. Check out the gallery for details on how I installed everything!

By working with a wire snake and choosing your runs and drilling points properly you can acheive a professional quality job with little effort. To hire someone to do this would most likely cost you several hundred dollars. Out of pocket for this project was under $30, not counting speakers, or stereo equipment.

Now everything works and the ability to adjust the volume is great! I highly recommend a project like this to enhance your house. Continuing this throughout your entire house is an easy project that can raise the value a lot.

Delta Toilet Install

A few months ago my friends, and The DIY Geek supporters at Delta contacted me about an upcoming expansion of their company, Delta was going into the toilet game. As we have a great relationship they offered to send me one of their units so I could install it and let them know what I thought of their product. I had some free time last weekend and installed it.

Delta provided this unit free of cost. However this is not a paid post and I will give my honest feedback about this product.

To prepare for this upcoming post, I installed a competing companies toilet at my parents house. This gave me the opportunity to see the differences between the two units. Between the two of them the Delta unit was superior in every way.

Project Stats: Delta Toilet
Time: 2 hours alone (1:15 toilet removal, 45 min to install new toilet and clean up)
Cost: Medium
Difficulty: Easy
Value for cost: High
Tools Needed: None*

Project Stats: Competitor Toilet
Time: 3 hours with another person (1:30 toilet removal, 1:30 min to install new toilet and clean up)
Cost: High
Difficulty: Medium
Value for cost: Medium
Tools Needed: Bilge pump, sponge, scraper (for old wax seal) rag, adjustable wrench, pliers, Phillips screwdriver, Flathead screwdriver, bucket for water, level, water supply line

When Delta says on the box that they include everything you need to install a toilet, they are not lying! While doing this install I took this advertisement to heart and brought up no tools. I did bring up some nitrile gloves but found that there was a set already included.

The box had the instructions laid out neatly on top with two bags. One was an uninstall bag for the old toilet and the other was the install bag with all of the small pieces. The uninstall bag had everything I needed ( gloves, rag, super absorbing block, sealable bag for garbage ) the install bag had everything I needed for the installation of the toilet as well as an amazing install tool.

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This multi tool makes the uninstall and install much easier than other toilets.

The hardest part about this entire project was taking the old toilet out. Using the provided tools from Delta I was able to get it out fairly easily. However I did have to bring a tool in to cut a stripped bolt. Take a look at the gallery to see my install notes, I’ll have more after the pictures.

Delta Toilet Install

Between the two installs the Delta fixture was much easier. Delta included everything you need to get this job done. What that means is that any homeowner of any skill level can change a toilet without having to have access to a bunch of extra tools. The other nice thing is that Delta includes top quality components. A thick gauge braided stainless hose with plenty of slack. With the competitor you had to supply your own…which could mean an extra trip to the hardware store.

I will note that the insides of the toilet are beyond what I have ever seen! The flushing mechanism throws out the old components for what looks to be a much more user friendly experience. Adjusting water levels are a breeze and all adjustments are easy to see. I really like how this is laid out.

A few small issues of the install that I did have.

1. They suggest (optionally) that you put caulk around the bottom of the toilet. I know this gives it a nicer look, however it can trap water in there, making you not notice a leak and potentially rotting the floor. I opted not to put the caulk for this reason. Update: Chris,a commenter, suggested caulking around the bowl and leaving the back exposed to check for leaks. I think this is a great idea.

2. I did not see in the instructions to level the tank, which I felt was important. I did bring a level up for this.

3. I don’t like the handle, it has grown on me, but I would have preferred a nice matching white.
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Overall if you are in the market for a toilet, I would seriously suggest going for a Delta Toilet. Their commitment to innovation and quality has continued into this new realm and I know it will last!

Corrente C43904-WH

Delta Toilets are exclusively available at The Home Depot

 

 

New backyard steps

 

Below are the steps that used to be on the back of my garage. A garish pinkish tan that matched nothing else (house is white with blue shutters) They were never pretty steps, but they served a purpose when I needed them, which was not often.

With the new screened canopy setup behind my garage I had found myself using them more and more. They always squeaked and moved a little bit, but I rarely used them.

Project Stats: Installing concrete pad and steps
Time: 6 hours (over two days)
Cost: Low
Difficulty: Medium-High
Value for cost: High
Tools Needed: Concrete, wood, nails (galvanized), deck screws, stringers, joist hangers, tape measure, levels

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As you can see the canopy is setup right next to the stairs and it needed to be tethered down so it would not fly away. For the other three corners I used ShelterLogic 30in. Auger Anchors. For this corner that was close I decided to attach an eye bolt into the stairs as they should be secure…right?

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After taking some of the steps off I noticed that the stringers were held on with L-Brackets…not too safe.

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There was also nothing supporting the steps from below. Overall I’m surprised that this passed inspection, actually I am surprised I was able to walk on these without falling!

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There were a lot of shortcuts taken here too, there was about 2in of contact to the ledger with 3 1.5in nails. At least they were galvanized.

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I quite literally started to take them apart and the whole thing collapsed.

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I started by taking down the old ledger (3 nails into the footer of the garage frame)

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As you can see the old ledger just snapped when I pried it off.

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As they were 3 steps before I went with 3 again. I did not make my own stringers as it is not really worth the time (IMHO)

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I went with steps that were 40in wide, slightly larger than the door. I had a cutout in the siding that was 36 in already, so I decided that I would plan my stringers with that. Taking two stringers at the end and a placement ledger I cut a 2X4 to 33 inches so I could find out where my concrete pad would need to go.

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33in + 3in for the two stringers = 36in

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I used some deck screws to attach them together.

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I then tacked another 2X4 to the sill plate to act as a ledger.

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Marked a level line for where I wanted the first stair to be located.

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Now I knew where the concrete pad needed to be exactly. Having worked with concrete before I knew that this could only be done once. I used stakes that had markings and locations to know where I would need to put my frame.

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My frame was a hair wider than 36in to catch the stringers, with very little left over so there would not be a blob of concrete on the sides. I framed the pad with scrap 2X4′s and attached them to the marked stakes to make sure they were level.

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This quite honestly took the longest part of the whole project, making sure the pad was level and in the exact right place!

To prep the pad I took some gravel (had some in the back yard) and made a 4in base of it, making sure to pack it down well so it would not shift in the future.

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I took one bag of QUIKRETE COMPANIES 80 LB Concrete Mix and mixed it up well. I usually add extra water as I find mixing it with a shovel makes it more difficult. For this bag I added a little more than 2 gallons.

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Sorry, no pictures during the pour. I just took my shovel and scooped it into the frame. Making sure to push into the mix to eliminate any air bubbles and to mix the concrete into the gravel base.

After the concrete was to the top of the frame I screed it with a 2X4 and then used an edging tool to help round the corners. I was not too concerned with the looks as it would be covered with the actual steps.

I let the mix sit for almost 24 hours. After it had solidified I sprayed it with water and covered it with some 6mil plastic to help it cure.

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Once the concrete set for a while it was time to install the ledger and stringer. I put a 2X8 PT ledger in place of the notched one.I fastened it with a combination of Tapcon Concrete Screws and deck screws. Normally I would suggest using nails as screws shear, but I’ve heard that the Tapcons have the correct strength for this application.

Once it was seated and in place I took a level and measured again where my top step would sit. Instead of toe-nailing I decided to use stringer hangers. This was the most expensive part of the entire purchase, but well worth it. Make sure to use galvanized nails as regular nails will corrode with the pressure treated wood!

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This hanger will never come down!

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I took a lot of time making sure that everything was level, left to right as well as front to back. In the end I decided to slope the steps slightly away from the house to help if there was water.

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As all wood, especially new wood, expands and shrinks I used a deck screw as a spacer.

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Before I put the last stringer in I dry fit everything in case of any problems. I used a 2X4 spacer to make sure that everything was square and was set in the right spot.

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The finished product!

Now the stairs are secure, look great and will last a lifetime!

Shelter logic canopy setup

 

With the nice weather here I love to spend time outside whenever I can. If I am not working, relaxing in a nice chair reading a book (or Kindle now) is great.

Living in New England the weather often changes daily, or hourly, and sudden storms can spring up. We also have mosquitoes like you would not believe! After hemming and hawing for a few years about building a deck and always changing my mind about the size, location and scope of it I decided that this year I would do something simple. Put up a screen room!

A few years ago my parents got a canopy and they have loved it. It keeps them dry when it rains and it also protects their older deck from the elements. The rage lately has been the 10 X 10 canopies that you buy at a big box store for under $100. I never liked these because they were too small for a get together and they are built to wear out after a few months of use.

I decided to go with the ShelterLogic 10 x 20-Feet Canopy 2- Inch 4-Rib Frame, White Cover as the canopy of choice. This was an upgrade from the 1in frame that was slightly cheaper. My thought was that if it was built bigger it would last longer. To keep the bugs at bay I also purchased the Screen Kit

I purchased them from Amazon (click through to help support the blog) and they were shipped directly from the factory. Within 5 days I had the canopy, screen kit and augers to hold them down.

Project Stats: Installing canopy and screen kit
Time: 2 hours
Cost: Medium
Difficulty: Easy
Value for cost: Medium
Tools Needed: Rubber Mallet, screwdriver

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The box arrived, pretty beat up. Luckily no major parts were damaged or anything missing. One thing that was disappointing was the lack of instructions in everything I received. I contacted customer service and they sent me the wrong instructions (1in canopy instead of 2in)

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A lot of the welds were also sloppy, and not complete. This seemed to me that they look to cut corners wherever possible to reduce cost and time. Luckily all of the parts are stamped with numbers on them to assist with layout and assembly.

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First thing I did was take stock of all the parts to make sure they were there and laid them out where the canopy was to be assembled. If you noticed the lawnmower I did cut the grass very low so I could work and setup after.

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The roof frame went up easily with just a few parts put together. I’m surprised that there were no bolts to hold it together, just friction at the connections hold it together. Overall it seems sturdy enough…

The next step was to put the legs on, this step is tricky to do alone, so I would suggest getting a helper for 5 minutes as you have to lift one side up then the other while attaching legs.

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While I had Mrs. Geek help my with the legs I did tackle the cover myself. This got a little tricky, but not impossible. Patience was the best help with this. Moving slowly and not pulling too much. If I did it again I would put the cover on before the legs, but I wanted to follow the instructions to the letter.

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The cover laid out next to the frame.

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I started by feeding a little bit at a time until it would stay unassisted. Then I started to pull the cover a few feet towards the other side and move over a few feet. Before long I was on the other side and done!

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The system to attach the cover to the frame is easy, just a few bungees that wrap around the frame. Go around and that is about it!

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Simple simple

Putting the screen kit on was also very straight forward. This is simply deciding where you want the door and attaching 50 more bungees…

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I was not very impressed with the screen kit. It came with a grommet not installed and a rip in the screen. We will see how good the customer service on this is…

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Another factor is that due to the design there are quite a few areas where the screen sags and needs to be tightened daily.

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Overall I love having a screened canopy in the back yard. It really adds the functions of a outdoor room without the permanence of building a screen room onto your house. With our situation, and a deck in the next few years, this was a great investment.  I have already run power and speakers out to the room. I actually just wrote this post in the room as well!

Score: 7 out of 10 I have some concerns about the construction quality and durability. If I had to do it again I would put up a canopy, but most likely get another brand.

 

 

Half-Bath Demo

Time to take everything apart!

Demo Day. With so many people watching HGTV, the DIY Network and reading so many DIY blogs (see my friends page) Demo has become the “FUN” time of a project.  And let me tell you it is fun, but you also need to be careful.

If you are not careful you can have a broken water or sewer pipe. Worse yet you could electrocute yourself if you are working with any sort of power.  Make sure to look before you break and take the proper safety precautions.

The first thing I did was take down the old vanity. I started by uninstalling my faucet, and then taking out the old vanity.

Faucet laid out, no missing pieces!

Make sure to empty the trap before you take it out!

Not much room, what to do?

The water lines fit through, what about the drain line?

I cut out around the drain pipe with my multi-tool.

On a side note, I love my multi-tool! I purchased mine here.

Now that I was not worried about any water issues, I was free to remove the vanity. I started by cutting off the old caulking from the wall.

Carefully cut away from the wall, do not cut into the wall and damage it.

Next you have to remove the screws that hold it into the wall.

Sometimes they can hide on you!

Slowly move it away from the wall, making sure nothing is caught.

Make sure to be careful when taking it away from the wall.  If you have a screw, adhesive, or pipe that is caught you can have a mess on your hand!

Free and clear!

It really opens up the room!

If you do not install a new sink right away, be careful.  The trap that I removed kept the gasses from coming into the house.

Geek Tip - make sure to contain the sewer gases. I use a plastic bag and an elastic.

Next on the demo list is the radiator cover.  From years of being in a bathroom it had started to rust.  Instead of buying a new cover, I wanted to refinish it. As my house is less than 10 years old I had not worry of lead paint.  Always be careful when dealing with paint.

Rust buildup from years of exposure

All laid out ready for some TLC, or a sander!

As you can see the washer and dryer look nice, but do not line up.

Next up, moving the washer and dryer.

Too much flexible hose!

One of the things I wanted to eliminate in this project was excess dryer hose. As it crinkled and the edges caught lint.

I really do not like these shelves, at least they are easy to move.

The shelving was easy to remove, just lift out of the brackets, remove the wall anchors and done!

Lift up the shelf

Remove the hanging clips

 

I like to use needle nose pliers to take out the anchors

Now that everything is out of the wall, time to sand down the holes.  As I did not have too many bumps I used my handy drywall sander to reduce the ridges.

I sand down the holes before i fill them in to reduce the ridges.

I also had a few issues with drywall screws bulging out of the wall.  As the house settles some of the screws budged out, making small circles that I could see.  As this was the time to fix them I did.

Here is how:

  1. Find the bump, and with a screwdriver push in the center of the hole. This will crack the plaster covering.
  2. Take a small flat head screwdriver and clean out the slots. This will give you something to grab into.
  3. Take your Phillips head driver and hand tighten to the proper depth. Like all drywall, do not break the paper.
  4. Plaster over it like a normal patch.

 

A pesky little bugger that I took care of!

Then I went around and patched the rest of the walls. To do a good job I did two coats of Spackle, sanding after each coat.

One of the bigger holes to fill. Multiple coats help make it disappear

Now that everything is out. I’m done with my demo day.  It might not look like a lot, but it was tiring!

There is still a lot more to do, so stay tuned for the next article.

Half-Bath Remodel

It all started with a simple promise…

Years ago I surprised my wife with a showing of affection. While she was away at a business trip I covered our house from top to bottom with little sticky notes of all the reasons I love her.  These ranged from the big to the small. One in particular has always stayed up as a constant reminder.

"Because you will live with this for now" This was my inspiration.

Of all the notes I left that day, this one was more than a reason; it was a promise to her that I would make her a room she would love!

When we moved into our house there were wallpaper borders in EVERY ROOM! Some rooms had borders over paint, over borders. I took them all down with a steamer and painted over everyone of them, except for our half-bath. Well, actually I did paint over it with the wrong shade of blue… It was not my fault! Well, yah it was. But the color was close and it worked for a little while.

It looks ok, but look closely at the top...

Looks nice, right? Yah, but the vanity is huge and it has an older look to it.

This side is a different story! Big Mess

On the other side of the room is our laundry. With one wire shelf as our storage area it is quite a mess trying to keep cleaning cloths and misc items out of the way. I wanted something more for this room, something nice and clean.

After about a week of work I was able to transform the space quite nicely with very little expense. Over the next few posts I will break down how I did everything and what exactly was involved.

The new look

Neat storage options that look great

All and all a well put together room

Stay tuned as I update the project step by step of how everything was done.

Update #1: Demo

Ear Peace product review

Every once in a while I’m approached to do a product review. Sometimes I am interested, other times I am not.  I like to spend my time using or writing about things I like, and I would rather not waste my time reviewing something I will just end up throwing out.

A few weeks (months) ago Katherine from Ear Peace contacted me about a review:

As an expert in home renovation, you are often exposed to loud noises. Whether you are driling, hammering or stapling, it is crucial to protect your hearing during the process.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders states that about 15 percent (26 million) of Americans between the ages of 20-69 have high frequency loss due to loud sound exposure, work-related noise and leisure activities.  In fact, one in three adults and about 20 percent of teens suffer from hearing loss; these are some serious stats.
So what can we do to protect our hearing that’s easy, cost-effective and discreet?  Get your peace of mind with EarPeace:http://www.earpeace.com/
Here are some key EarPeace highlights:

  • Clear Hearing: EarPeace simultaneously protects hearing and provides high-quality sound. When used properly, EarPeace reduces sound pressure by 75 percent while maintaining sound fidelity.  Hearing isn’t muffled.
  • Comfortable and Safe: EarPeace is comfortable and made out of safe, strong, reusable hypoallergenic silicone.
  • Discreet: EarPeace is a lifestyle brand, so it comes in three different skin tones.
  • Convenient: EarPeace comes in a sleek stylish aluminum case you can conveniently carry on your keychain, purse, etc.
  • Proven: EarPeace was tested by Michael & Associates, the leading independent lab in the country for measuring hearing protection performance.
  • Affordable: EarPeace has an MSRP of $12.95 and offers a money back guarantee.

EarPeace is the first company to release a hearing protection product that matches superior sound experience with an appealing aesthetic. Users are able to clearly and comfortably enjoy the loud events they attend, talk to people around them, and leave without their ears ringing.  People can enjoy life while protecting their hearing at the same time.
If you’re interested, we can send you EarPeace product for review.
Thank you,
Katherine 

I responded with a quick and straightforward email:
Katherine,

I would be happy to review your product for you, after looking at your site they sound really interesting, affordable and practical.
If you wanted me to do a review, I would have to require that it be objective. If your product is good, you have nothing to worry about :) I would also let you know ahead of time and issues I saw with your product and offer suggestions to improve them.
As a former sound engineer I know hearing protection is very important and a lot of people do not like bulky hearing protection. From what I see this looks to be a great product.
Let me know what information you require from me and I would be happy to get this process going.
Mike

I value my hearing a lot.  I love music and quality sound. The stereo in my first car was worth more than the car! During college I was a sound engineer and became accustomed to quality. As I age (not really) I pay attention to all the stresses on my ears. I wear ear protection when I mow, snowblow, weedwack, use powertools and any other loud noises.  The one problem I always found was that headphones get in the way.  So how did EarPeace stack up?

  • Clear Hearing: I had to say I am really impressed with how clear I could hear with these in.  I was able to have conversations with my wife and still have good protection when using my 40 year old snowblower. (8/10)
  • Comfortable and Safe: The product was more comfortable than expected. Once I figured out how to put them in properly it worked well and they did not bother me at all! (10/10)
  • Discreet: Honestly I do not care about this.  My normal hearing protection is a set of big black headphones! But they do blend in and would be perfect for a concert! (8/10)
  • Convenient: I was really impressed with the quality of the case.  It is solid aluminum, nicely made and solid. I love that it fits perfectly in a compartment or can actually be put on your keychain. (10/10)
  • Proven: They worked great for me and I am going to use them as long as they last. (10/10)
  • Affordable: For under $20 these are pretty awesome. (10/10)
On top of that they give you an extra ear peace in case you lose one.  One suggestion I have is that they find a way to connect the two together so they are harder to lose.  I did lose one for a while and then it appeared, luckily I had the extra and I keep all three in the container now.
Cleaning is probably the hardest part, and I like to keep my plugs clean.  A nice damp cloth and a little attention will go a long way.
Overall I was really impressed with these.  If mine ever wear out I will buy my own set and use them all the time.
Company Note: After publishing this article EarPeace wanted to state that although they do provide hearing protection it is not rated for industrial applications (construction, standing near an airplane, etc…) Be safe with your hearing :)
To note: I was not paid for this review. I was sent one test unit to write about with no restrictions.

Self Centering Drywall Circle Jig

I’m going to start off by saying that I think I came up with this on my own. However it is a pretty simple idea, and may have been thought of before.

When I was finishing my basement I wanted to have recessed lighting. What I did not want to do is spend a fortune to cut a few circles into drywall. Looking at the hardware store every circle cutting tool was at least $25, I’m way too cheap to spend that much on a tool I will use only a few times… So I looked at some things in my shop. I had shims, rope, tape, glue, etc…

The traditional method is to use string, however finding the center point is a pain, and if it twists the circle is off.  I wanted something fool proof that while spending a long day hanging drywall would allow me to keep up the pace of my helper/drywall trainer (thanks Hank!)

What I came up with is extremely simple, and practically has zero costs. It will cut perfect circles as long as you follow some simple steps.

Project: Self Centering Drywall Circle Jig
Cost: None
Materials: Shim, Awl, Pencil
Difficulty: Easy (to make) Medium (to measure and cut)
Awesomeness: Really Awesome

 

I start by measuring the cover that I will see. This gives me a little wiggle room.

 

Measure into the middle of the rim, in this case 6.5in

In order to make this a simple, cheap tool I used shims. They are easy to come by and are made of soft wood. As I use an awl for part of this it ensures I can drive the awl through the wood and have it stay in place.

Take half of your measurement, in this case 3.25in. Make marks in the shim at this distance.

I use a rubber mallet to drive an awl through. Yes I know this is a nail set…

I then drill a small hole for the pencil. Making it just big enough for the lead to poke through. 5/16 is way too big!

This is all that is required to make the jig, I told you it was simple!

Now the hard part, and this is up to you. Make sure to measure if you are not certain… What you need to do is establish four “corners so you can draw a square.  Use whatever edges you feel comfortable with. Just make sure you are really close as there is only a little room for mistake.

Make sure to measure where you need the hole to be. This is up to you!

Establish the four points. For me this was a 6.5in square, same as the circle I wanted to cut.

 

Make sure to mark the center of the lines around the square. This is where you will punch the awl.

All the points are marked out. Let’s draw some circular lines!

Punch the awl through the mark so the shim is firm, and draw the line with the pencil. Repeat for each of the 4 marks.

When you are done you will have something that looks pretty like this!

Once you have all of the circles drawn, you will have a center point. Now just put the awl where all the points meet and draw a full circle.

Make sure to go all the way around. It might be so much fun to go around a few times :)

Almost like Da Vinci drew this!

WOW, THAT WAS EASY! Now you know where you light should go.

To remove the drywall I do the following:
Gently trace around the circle, cutting the paper and some of the rock.
Cut lines across the 4 points and between those points (like a pizza)
Gently hit with a mallet to remove the front.
Cut out the back paper.

After cutting some lines I use a mallet gently to knock the drywall out for easier cutting.

After a gentle tap with the mallet.

After a few taps all you will have is some of the back paper you can trim with a knife.

All cut out. It is a lot nicer than it looks, I promise :)

Look at that, the cover fits perfectly!

And that is it, a simple way to cut circles in drywall. Hopefully this helps!

Making a ‘Harry Potter Style’ wand

A few months ago I made a magic wand for one of my friends son. He is very young and loves Harry Potter.  Having made countless walking sticks over the years I figured that making a wand would be a great gift that he would cherish for years, and would be much nicer than a plastic one made in another country. When I found out a colleague of mine had a son that loved HP I knew I had to make another one!

Project: Magic Wand
Cost: Practically none
Skill Level: Easy
Time: 4 hours (spread out over several days)

Overall this is a very easy project that almost anyone can do.  I started making walking sticks when I was 10 years old and this is about the same level of difficulty.  Making a comfortable handle and rounding out the edges is a bit more complex as this will be waved around more than a walking stick.

I started by finding an extra branch on a maple tree. I have over an acre of woods in my back yard so finding a branch that could use pruning was easy.  Look for a branch that has a straight run with only a few knots, this will make it easier to carve and prepare overall. The thickness should be slightly bigger than is comfortable as you will be trimming it down. If you want more character find a piece with more knots and curves.  This piece was straight with some knots.

Once you prune the branch, cut it to at least double the size. This will allow you to experiment with how it will end up. Sometimes you go in with one plan and find the wood takes on a different idea.

Right off of the tree, with items to scale

Nice, clean cut. The bark will come off easily

You could use an angle like this for the handle

I start all projects like this by skinning the bark off within minutes.  This allows me to easily remove all of the bark with just a little bit of effort. Having a good knife is key to a smooth end product. I have a lot of expensive knives, but one of my favorites for these is my classic Buck 112 Ranger, Lockback Folding Knife

My trusty Buck Knife - got it for my 12th birthday

 

Skinning right away makes this a breeze

With practice you can skin a strip the entire way down the stick, this makes for easy work later in the finishing stages. You will not be able to get knots in these passes however, those will require a little more attention.

Knots and edges require a little more attention

Make sure to skin the bark around the knots and burrs carefully. You do not want to dig down and make dips in the wood. Use the knife to get right under the bark and peel it off.

All skinned, it looks nice. That is all for the first day.

After you are done skinning it, put it away for at least a day.  You want the wood to dry. All of those little “hairs” sticking out are too moist to sand now. Come back in a few days and there will be more work to do!

After a few days we are ready to continue

See, I told you it would look different in a few days.  By now the wood is dried out and we can work on it without gouging it. At this step I take a chisel and hammer and start taking the big knots out. Taking pictures here was tough, but make sure to be careful!

This small branch was not part of my plan!

After you take off all of the strap parts I go over the branch again to give it some character. For this wand I wanted to have it look pure and good, so I stripped down all of the brown.  If you play with your patterns and how you carve you can make some great patterns and effects.

I go around the wand evenly to make it as uniform as possible.

After I have the wand to the correct look that I want I then go over it with sandpaper. Depending on the look that I want I can use a variety of different ones.  For this wand I wanted a clean look and used 80-100-120-200-220

Sanding is key to make it feel warm and inviting when holding it.

in succession.  Another wand I did I used 40 grit combined with some dark stain to start to give it an aged, experienced look.

At this point I have the general feel of how the wand should come out. It is still twice as long as it needs to be, so now is the time to cut it to size.  Remember, measure twice cut once!

Make sure it is the right size, I don't know the spell to put it back together!

After cutting it to size you will have a sharp edge.  I have come up with the technique of rounding the edges. I start with a knife and cut notches all around and then follow up by sanding with the grain to prevent rough spots.

One notch at a time, be careful!

Then I use my Sonicrafter to help round out the edges. I really like this tool for the precision work it can do (although it is loud)

Make sure to go with the grain!

After you get nice rounded edges you are almost done.  To finish I use Tung Oil as it does not smell and is much more natural than a polyurethane. I also feel good handling this.  After two coats I use a cheese cloth to burnish it and make sure there are no rough spots. Sorry, there are no pictures of me coating it as my hands were too dirty to take pictures.

After all that we have an awesome ‘Harry Potter style’ wand!

Looks great!

Nice rounded edge, comfortable at every angle.

Nice to hold, for any age

 

Lamson & Goodnow: A factory tour

One of the things about being a geek is wanting to know how things are made, how they work and why they are designed in a particular way. When I was in school I always loved field trips and learning how and why people did things.  With this blog, I feel that I have the opportunity to take “geek trips” when the opportunity presents itself. A few weeks ago when I was on vacation I decided to see if this was a possibility.

To digress a moment. I love eggs for breakfast! When I am home I make eggs every day. Making eggs in a pan has always been a battle for me as I like to make over easy in a small pan. The hardest part about this was using a spatula to flip the eggs over, I would always mess something up, or the spatula would be too big, etc… It was never my fault, always the tool!

For my birthday this year, I received 2 spatulas from my mother. (I am still accepting gifts) She told me that she found them and was impressed with the quality and how well they worked. “Yeah, I’ll really like a spatula for my birthday…this is the adult equivalent of a sweater.” I will just say that these are used nearly every day now! I have been so impressed with these spatulas that I had to see the company behind it. Luckily this company is only an hour drive away from my house, so I figured I would use my big time blogging clout to get a VIP tour. Here is how it went down.

L&G: Hello, Lamson Goodnow, this is (redacted) how may I help you?
Me:
 Hi…um….I’m a blogger, and I like your spatulas…
L&G: Okay, how can I help?
Me: I’d like to take a tour of your factory and write about your company and products.
L&G: Hmmm….Let me see if I can help. Please hold.
Really good hold music!
L&G: Hi, I’m going to connect you to Jeff in sales.
Me: Awesome!
Connecting
Jeff: Hi, this is Jeff.
Me: Hi…um….I’m a blogger, and I like your spatulas…and I’d like to take a tour of your factory and write about your company and products.
Jeff: Well normally we don’t allow people here, but if you want to come on by sometime!
Me: Ok, I’ll be there Monday at 2pm!
(Thinking in my head, “how the heck did this just happen”

Seriously, they were that easy to work with. I got a feeling right away that this was going to be a great adventure!

The History of Lamson & Goodnow
This is taken directly from their website (http://www.lamsonsharp.com/store/pg/10-Our-History.html)

  • Silas Lamson invented the curved scythe snath
  • In 1834, he started Lamson & Goodnow in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts to produce his curved scythe snath.
  • In 1837, his two sons, together with partner Abel Goodnow became interested in making knives and started the business that has retained the names of Lamson & Goodnow from that time to the present.
  • During the Civil War, the company became one of the largest United States cutlery manufacturers
  • In 1869, the workmen of Lamson & Goodnow produced a dinner set of 62 pieces for President Ulysses S. Grant. (Part of this set is at their factory)
  • Today, Lamson & Goodnow cutlery is still handcrafted in Shelburne Falls by American workers.
Silverware presented to Ulysses S. Grant in 1869

That last bullet point sets the tone of what I found Lamson to stand for. They want to make the best products and they will not fall short of their high standards. I started the tour with Jeff on that rainy afternoon.  We had just left his office when he gave me a quick quiz to see how much I knew about cutlery. Lets just say I was a novice.

After the quick quiz we toured the entire facility.  The land and buildings are all more or less the original structures that were built many years ago. This gave the entire town a quaint feel of how the old factory days must have been like.

Classic buildings making cutting edge cutlery

Inside one of the buildings was a cutting edge laser cutter. I’m not allowed to talk much about it, or take any pictures. BUT IT WAS REALLY COOL! Seriously, lasers and knives…yah, think about it. This is where they made a lot of their stamped cutlery.

Stamped VS Forged – What is right for you?
There is a big difference between the two. I’m not going to get into that here. It would take an entire blog post to go over them. Lets just say that both can be high quality, if they are made right.  It all depends on your need and budget. Jeff talked about the differences and told me that both can be made very well.

A forged blade handle. The tang goes through all the way.

Let’s just say that when I buy some knives they are going to be Forged, and most likely from Lamson. (I’d even be willing to review a set or two :)

From what I learned Lamson keeps the traditions of an old American company alive.  They make all of their work in house, employing local union people who all have a skill in what they do.  Like all companies Lamson has been hit hard by the recent times, however they are not compromising quality for profits. One of the things Jeff told me was that they would never be a company that you would find in Walmart. They cannot make a product that meets their standards for the price that they had to meet. This made me feel good about traveling to visit them. A company that operates to this level will have my support!

The tour was a great experience. Jeff brought me around through the entire factory, and I met with a lot of great workers. All of them were busy working, and taking pictures was difficult as they moved so fast. Please pardon blurry shots in the gallery as it was hard to get action shots.

Yes, he was moving that fast!

One of the first stops was in the oldest building that was on the Lamson property. An interesting fact, the entire factory receives power pre grid through water turbines. When the factory was built they built it through a river and harnessed the water power. As the years went on the turbines were upgraded and now power an area of Shelburne Falls. This is using natural resources to create green power!

This is where the old turbines were. They are now much more modern.
This river powers Lamson Goodnow and the surrounding area.

Walking through the buildings I saw a lot of craftsmanship. Every worker there was skilled in at least one part of the process. Most workers had decades of experience making knives. During one of the stops we saw a man cutting serrated grooves into bread knives! It was explained that all of the spacing was done by hand and if he slipped he would ruin the blade…

Grinding serrated grooves into a knife
A lot of concentration goes into this process

From what I learned there is a lot of hard work that goes into making one of these high end pieces of cutlery. From form to finish takes a lot of steps. From the polishing, to grinding, to putting the handles on is a labor intensive process that takes skill. One of their knives has over two dozen steps for putting the handle on! I take less steps in building some things (kidding) but it is that attention to detail that impressed me.

Rough form and polished form.

Just one of the polishing tanks, see the knife form?

Everything there was very organized and everything had its place.  I could see that in full production mode that there would be people running around everywhere working in place. This was classic American workers in action. Everyone was efficient, working and knowledgeable of what needed to be done. This made me think of those old times when factory work was done in every town in the country.

Wooden handles ready to be grooved

Not surprisingly Jeff told me that a lot of their machinery was custom built by locals. The workers would finish the day and talk about what they needed. Usually in a few weeks they would have a “new” machine that was made/fabricated for their tasks.

Handles going through a custom made perpetual router

As a person with simple taste I like classic looks. When I was looking in their factory store I was happy to see that their designs are simple.  Wood handles with metal. They stay with this look and have only recently introduced their new Fire Line.  For me, I like the classic look.

Nice classic look for a knife
“Fire” does look pretty cool too!

To summarize, the people at Lamson know knives. There is no questioning it.  Their commitment to quality is great to hear in a company that is based in the USA. I own some of their spatulas and I will be buying some knives from Lamson in the future. If you want to buy some knives and support this blog you can Buy Lamson Sharp Knives here.

As a note I was not sponsored in any way by Lamson. This project was my own initiative and I just wanted to learn about the company more.  I was pulled in by my morning eggs and found a great American company in my backyard!

The evolution of cutlery

Stag horn handle