Custom-Built Fireplace Mantle

•August 17, 2008 • 1 Comment

My brother Andrew has built a stunning fireplace mantle. He saw an example he liked and basically made the entire thing with just a photo as a reference. It’s quite large, probably 6′ x 6′. There are layers of trim stacked on top of each other, giving the mantle many depths.

I’ve never built a mantle. Watching him piece it together this summer has given me the confidence that I can do it…and also makes it clear that mantles require a long time to build from scratch.

He chose MDF and poplar for the wood. MDF was a good choice because of how well it takes paint. Poplar gives the mantle added stability and also finishes well.

He made a jig for some of the custom trim (see picture below). The jig allows him to cut exact strips of wood every time without the need of measuring. I’ve seen similar examples of this jig in some of the woodworking magazines, so check there if you want to know how to build one.



This jig is designed to give you exact cuts on the tablesaw every time.



From a Nightmare Space to a Dream Bathroom

•March 22, 2008 • 2 Comments

Paul and I finally finished the basement bathroom. I’m happy with it. Now just one major project left and the house will be fully updated.

The bathroom feels like a spa. The whole design of the area — paint, tile, accessories, came together with striking results. It is difficult trying to picture the old space.

This has been my most challenging project to date. There are at least three reasons it was so challenging. The first and main reason is because neither of us had any previous plumbing experience, let alone knowing anything about the old way of plumbing. We underwent a crash course on drains, water lines, vents, etc. Second, is because we were very limited in places to hide the new piping. And third, we had to allow access to water and sewer the majority of the time since we were living in the house while remodeling it.

We replaced all of the old drain pipes and water lines. It was scary to see how corroded they were. The main advantage I see behind cast iron is that it is heavy and absorbs sound better than ABS. Other than that, I rest better knowing my house is outfitted with PEX and ABS instead of galvanized and cast.

Now that we have conquered this job, I feel confident I can fully plumb a complete house.

We kept the entire project under $2000. Not bad for building a new bathroom and completely replacing out the old plumbing. I can almost hear you asking how we kept the cost so low? Here’s where the money went (approximately):

  • $600 for the sink, toilet, and fixtures.
  • $400 for the new plumbing (including tool rentals)
  • $400 for tile, grout, backerboard, etc.
  • $150 for wood, sheetrock, paint
  • $50 for the window (remnant)
  • $50 for miscellaneous
  • And the rest for Paul’s wages (I’ll let you do the math!) And, uh, thanks again Paul for being willing to help me out for those couple of weeks!

The only drawback to the bathroom is the limited space. It would be absolutely perfect with about 30-40 more square feet. Maybe in the next house.

The following are pre and post pictures of the same space.

Giving New Life to an Ugly, Broken Dresser

•January 3, 2008 • 1 Comment

When we moved back to Idaho, the tenants who were renting our house left a dilapidated dresser. I almost threw it away, but in the end decided to refinish it. It was made out of real wood so I figured there was potential with the piece of furniture.

In preparing to have everyone over for our big New Year’s party, we repainted Rachel’s room, bought some new decorations, and refinished an old dresser and bookshelf. (You’ll recall I made Rachel’s sleigh bed for Christmas, so we had to finish making her room look good for the big event.) It was a busy week with lots of late nights, but the improvements to her room were worth it.

You wouldn’t believe how much the dresser changed. I only wish we had thought to take pictures of it beforehand. So instead of seeing photos, picture in your mind this: worn wood on the drawer fronts, missing knobs, a broken foot, a missing side panel, and a cracked top. If the word “ugly” came to mind, then you pictured our old dresser.

Here’s what I did to refinish the dresser.

  1. I first stripped the old finish off. I used paint stripper for the hard-to-reach areas, namely corners and groves. For everywhere else, the hand-held belt sander did the job. Removing the old finish probably only took about 2 hours.
  2. I cut a new side panel out of stronger material than the flimsy cardboard stuff that had broken. I used a 3/8″ piece of scrap plywood.
  3. I traced a pattern of the good food and then cut out an exact replica. I then glued and nailed the new foot on and hid the gap with spackle.
  4. I filled all other cracks or holes in with spackle.
  5. I painted the dresser white and the side panels pink.
  6. Finally, I attached new knobs.

Total refinish time was probably about 4 hours.

It really turned out cute. It looks just as good as what you see in expensive stores such as Pottery Barn. So without spending more than $5, I gave Rachel a new dresser that looks like it’s worth a couple hundred dollars.

If you ever see a dresser while garage sale shopping, first check to see if it’s made of wood. If it is, it might be an ideal candidate for a furniture restoration project. (If it’s constructed out of that junky composite stuff, just politely walk away.)

Sleigh Bed Plans

•December 27, 2007 • 1 Comment

You’ve asked for them, and I keep warning you that my plans aren’t anything to be proud of. As usual, they are quite rough and crude. They work for me, but they certainly wouldn’t win any awards. I usually jot the plans down on scratch paper, so you’ll need to pardon the text that is bleeding through.

Sleigh Bed Plans


Cabinet and Carcase Squaring Blocks

•December 27, 2007 • 1 Comment

Once in a while you stumble across a really smart solution. Here is a fool-proof way to square up boxes, cabinets, or carcases. I tried it and loved it. These squaring blocks are easy to make. Even easier to use. And they cost you nothing.

In fact, I’ve lost the original ones I made, but that doesn’t bother me. I’ll make more the next time I need them.

It seems like I originally found this tip on another website. If that was the case, then the site has since been discontinued. Luckily I have since found the idea on WoodZone’s site, so you can check it out there. I’m also posting the tip on my blog as a backup in the event WoodZone decides to remove that page.

Have you have ever built a box or cabinet? Then you know how difficult it can be to square it up, and keep it that way while the glue dries. These blocks are simbblocks1ple to make and worth their weight in gold!

Step 1
Cut an 8″or 10″ square from scrap 3/4″ plywood.

Step 2
Use a dado blade or router to cut a 1/2″ deep groove 3/4″ wide down the center of the block.

Step 3
Cut or rout another groove perpendicular to the first.

Step 4
Use a hole saw or large spade bit to drill a 1-1/2″ – 2″ hole in the middle of the board, at the intersection of the two grooves. This hole will aid in alignment and help remove excess glue.

A coat of polyurethane or varnish will help to keep glue from sticking to the blocks during setup.bblock

Easy-to-Build Sleigh Bed

•December 27, 2007 • 1 Comment


Rachel turned 3 this fall, and as much as I hate to admit it, has outgrown her crib. (She probably outgrew it a year earlier, but we couldn’t live without her naps just yet. Without a crib, we worried she wouldn’t stay in bed for very long. I digress, sorry.) So for Christmas, I made her a sleigh bed.

The hardest part was deciding upon a design. I scoured the internet looking for ideas. I found a lot of examples, and in the end, created my own. Once I conceptualized the design, the next most difficult process was figuring out the measurements.

The building of the bed was fairly easy.

Here’s the material list:

  • 2″x6″x8′ (2)
  • 1″x”6″x8′ (3)
  • 1″x2″x8′ (4)
  • 1 sheet of 4×8 birch plywood
  • 5″ bolts, with nuts (8 each)

To put the material list into perspective, I spent double for the mattress than I did for the rest of the bed!

Building the Sleigh Bed

Disclaimer: I should first warn you that the directions here are purposefully sparse. If I were writing this professionally, then I would spend a lot more time detailing out all of the steps properly. Since I am maintaining Woodplay as a hobby, I cannot afford to spend that amount of time and still get everything else done. Instead, I try to give a basic overview with hopes it will be enough to figure out the rest by yourself, which I usually prefer when woodworking anyway. Good luck!

I started by cutting out the posts. I drew a pattern on construction paper. To draw the curves, I grabbed a mixing bowl and traced parts of it. Once satisfied the design looked right, I transferred it onto the 2×6 posts and then cut each out. The same pattern worked for both sizes of posts since the taller posts just have about 6 more inches of straight edge. The posts required some sanding with an oscillating sander to straighten out the cuts.

The main body of the head and foot boards were next. I cut the plywood at 37″ wide by 36″ tall for the headboard and 37″ wide by 30 1/4″ tall for the footboard. I then drew a new pattern on construction paper and used it as a guide to cut out the decorative bottoms. Most examples I saw of sleigh beds used a separate board for the decorative detail on the bottom of the headboard and footboard. To me, that seemed problematic and prone to break away, especially when one takes into account an energetic kid jumping on the bed. My design is more solid, but the detail can look nice too.

For the next step, I cut 2 pieces at 1x6x37″ for the cross rails, and beveled one edge of each at 30ยบ. This edge gives the bed the “sleigh” look. I secured the cross rails to the plywood using biscuits and glue.

I attached the main body of the head and foot boards to their corresponding posts by drilling holes into the posts and then driving screws into the plywood and cross rails. To hide the holes, I drove plugs into the cavities.

I cut the side rails at 75″. I then nailed a 1×2 along the inside bottom edge of each, which I then used to brace the three slats that would hold up the mattress. The slats were made out of the same 1×2 and cut to 39″ each. I drilled pilot holes into the posts and then attached the side rails to the posts using the 5″ bolts. (To make room for the nuts, I drilled 1″ diameter holes into the inside of the rails.) By using bolts, I can then disassemble and reassemble the bed whenever needed.

To add further stability, I grabbed a leftover sheet of OSB and cut it to 75×35 inches. The OSB rests on top of the slates and under the mattress.

The Charm Is In the Details

There are several nice details to this bed. The posts have small toe kicks notched out of the bottoms and a small indent opposite of the main curves. The headboard and footboard have a pretty design carved into them. The crowning detail is the antique painting effect Sarah and Elsa did. Nice job, girls.

Not Without Its Challenges

A major accomplishment for me was that I built this bed using a limited supply of tools. I couldn’t build it in my shop, er garage, because I didn’t want Rachel to see and spoil the surprise, so the next best option was my dad’s basement. That meant I couldn’t use any of the big tools like a bandsaw or tablesaw. Instead, I relied upon a circular saw and jigsaw for the majority of the work. And if you are wondering, yes, the jigsaw chocked trying to cut 2x material…yet somehow it managed.


To view my crude plans of the bed, click here.

How to Dry Lumber

•July 29, 2007 • 4 Comments

I recently explained how I saved a couple thousand dollars buying lumber. When we moved from Georgia back to Idaho, it became necessary to figure out how to dry all this stuff.

Ultimately, there are several ways to dry lumber – air, kiln, solar, and even by boiling.

I opted to air dry mine, partly because of how large the boards are (10-11 ft long) and partly because I am now quite limited in yard space. Air drying is also one of the better options here in the West where the climate is quite dry already. If we stayed in the South, air drying takes much longer and is probably not as effective in removing enough water content as the other methods.

Air Drying Basics

1. Ensure the Base Is Level

The most important aspect when drying lumber, regardless of the method, is to make sure the wood is stacked flat. To do this, I laid down 6 large boards/ties (4x6x48″) and made sure each was level. This became my base on which to stack all of the lumber.

The base also serves another important purpose, and that is to keep the lumber off of the ground. If you skip this step, then you can count on at least the bottom layer of lumber being ruined by rot, insects, mold, etc.

2. Clean the Lumber Before Stacking

I learned this the hard way. When reading about drying wood, all of the places I read failed to mention you should clean the wood of sawdust before you stack. My wood, like most freshly sawed rough lumber, was packed with sawdust. So in other words, I ended up having to unstack and then re-stack the entire pile. And in case you were wondering, moving a 1,000 bf of green hardwood by hand is a lot of work. (Thanks again John for helping out…both the first time and then the second time.)

Why is it important to clean the lumber of sawdust? If you don’t, the sawdust could start molding, which will then stain the wood. The stains can seep deeply into the wood and ruin an entire stack of wood. Or, depending on how you look at it, morph your precious lumber into a pile of cheap dimensional firewood.

To remove my sawdust, I used a broom and a metal brush. It worked pretty good. Doing it over again, I probably would have started with a pressure washer. I tried a hose, but it lacked the pressure to remove the sawdust caked into the thousands of splinters on each of the boards. If you use water, just be sure to wait a few hours for all of the excess water to dry off before you stack the boards. If you don’t, then mold will grow on the top and bottom of each sticker, resulting in streak marks/stains on the lumber every couple of feet.

Which reminds me. I should mention that some sources, even the professional ones, claim you should water/sprinkle the lumber if you live in arid climates. The idea is that since it is so dry in some places, like SE Idaho, the moisture evaporates too quickly out of the wood causing it to crack and warp. Sounded reasonable. Unfortunately, it created an ideal laboratory for mold to grow at each sticker. Thankfully, I spotted the problem soon enough, and, sigh, had to break the pile down, fix the problem, and re-stack.

Oh, and thanks John for helping me again. (If you haven’t been counting, that was the third time John and I stacked the wood.)

Did I mention moving 1,000 bf of wet hardwood by hand is a lot of work?

3. Create Air Flow Between Layers

The next most important step is to stack the boards so that there is adequate air flow between each layer of wood. To do this, use stickers. Stickers are basically thin sticks, often in the size of 1x1x48″. Some people use fence lathe, which also works well. I decided against lathe, however, because I worried there was not enough of a gap. For my stickers, I went to the Do-It center and asked them for their scrap stickers (which come with every stack of lumber they buy). They happily obliged since it helped them clean up some of their lumber mess. The stickers were all 2x material, but that was not a big deal for me. What is important is ensuring all of the stickers are the same thickness.

The experts say you should stack the stickers anywhere from 2-3 ft apart. Doing it over again, I would go for about every 1 1/2 feet. I had few layers that sagged a little because the gap between stickers was too wide. It’s also important to keep the stickers lined up. In other words, the stickers on row 8 should be in line with the stickers in rows 7, 6, and so forth.

Again, it is crucial each layers of wood is stacked level or you will have bowed wood. If there is a sticker that is thicker than the rest, all board layers above will warp and not dry flat.

4. Paint the Ends

Painting the ends of the lumber helps slow down the drying process at the end (end grain) of the boards, which prevents checking (cracks or splitting). You will still see some checking, even having painted the ends, but not nearly as much as you would leaving the end grain bare. For a point of reference, my boards only had about 2-3 inches of checking on each end. For paint, I just used leftover latex. There are commercial waxes you can buy that supposedly work well. I found latex paint did a pretty good job.

Some sources also suggest painting the edges. That might have helped prevent a couple of my boards from buckling. Hard to know. For me, the extra work and paint just wasn’t worth it. I doubt painting the edges makes that much of a difference and may in fact hamper the drying process since there is less exposed grain to allow water evaporation. Hmm, that’s an interesting thought.

5. Waterproof the Pile

If you are stacking your lumber out in the open, you need to keep rain and snow from falling onto the pile. I placed a tarp over mine. Just make sure that you still allow for air flow. Don’t wrap the pile so tight that no wind or air can pass through the layers of wood. Some water still found its way into my pile. I was worried it stained the wood. Thankfully, the water stains were not too deep and all came off when I planed the wood.

6. Weigh It Down

Make sure the top layers have enough weight to keep the boards lying flat. I threw on some logs and also was careful to use my least valuable wood on the top layers. I wanted my most valuable wood near the middle and bottom to ensure there was enough weight above to hold the wood flat as it dried.

That’s it. By the end of the summer, my 1″ thick lumber was dry enough to use. Note: in humid climates, it may take you up to a year per inch of thickness to dry. The lumber turned out great. A few boards were twisted and became firewood. Overall, though, I had very positive results.

Update to Post [Dec ’08]: I had to re-stack the pile a fourth time. Once the wood dried, I pulled out the stickers and stacked the boards directly on top of each other. This is an important step to help further encourage the boards to stay level. At least the 1,000 bf of wood was not quite as heavy this time since it was dry. Thanks for the help, Carl! (John, I understand your desire to avoid my calls.)

A Mouse in the House

As an item of interest, a mouse decided the wood pile was an ideal place for his home. The little rodent made a nest in one of my layers…and then proceeded to crap throughout all other levels of the pile. At least the mouse wasn’t a poop-machine like a cow or something. That would have really made a mess out of my wood, which would have really stunk. Ha! Okay, pardon the pun and the dry humor today.

A Free Drying Guide

If you would like a more in-depth guide or want to learn other methods of drying, check out this free guide created by the USDA.