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June 2008
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One Sheet Wonder – 55 Gal. Aquarium Stand

My son needed a stand to get his fish off the floor. The fish  tank is 48 1/2” x 16”, across the bottom. It also weighs around 700 pounds when filled with stuff.
I built the stand in two parts. The cabinet and the base assembly.
This stand is 48 1/2” wide by 16” deep and 16” tall with base.
The cabinet is 48 1/2” wide, 16” deep, and 12” tall. I used 7 ply Arauco AC Sanded plywood as this is going to be painted, and the prep work after assembly is minimal. The base is 48 1/2 ”wide, 12” deep and 4” high.

2 16” wide rips provided the material for the carcase,  2 4” rips made the base pieces.
Off fall from the remainder of the 16” rips provided the brackets for the back of the case and the screw plates for the base.
I build the base unit separately to allow for the base to be attached after the location is made and before the tank is placed. This allows the base to be attached with space at the back for clearing trim while allowing the tank to rest next to the wall. The brackets at the back of the unit allow it to be attached to the wall for extra safety.

I used a number 6 pilot hole drill for my screws, and number 7  1 5/8 Deck screws to hold it together. Deck screws are frightening in their holding power. I used ZAR wood putty to cover the screw heads. Great Stuff.

33 bucks for plywood, 2 bucks for screws and a couple of hours cutting and assembly. A one sheet wonder.

Recycling CFL’s

Charles and Hudson notes that Home Depot is going to Recycle CFL’s,
They also have some great links if you don’t have a Home Depot nearby.

This is good news especially in view of my opinion that they are an environmental disaster.

The Stain from Hell and the Acid Trip

Okay maybe not from hell per se, actually the cat did it. My son is moving out of town, and getting ready for the walk through to try to salvage the security deposit. Red Oak flooring turns black when exposed to cat piss. Cat urine soaks into wood like diesel fuel in carpet. No, nothing so easy as being a small spot in a corner of a room, but a 2 foot square in the middle of the floor. No this is not a spot sand and poly project,but a screaming condemnation of the entire feline race, for those so inclined.

Before most folks ever discovered tile or carpet, floors were made of wood, real tongue and groove wood that you could sand down a dozen times before you ever ran into the nails, let alone the sub floor.

Hardware stores, Lumber Yard and even Drugstores, carried wood bleach. Not any more. The big box stores are stepping over themselves to sell you carpet or tile, or god forbid, engineered flooring with a veneer so thin, that if you wore it as clothing, you would be arrested for indecent exposure. Your flooring should, but that is a different rant.

Here in the southwest, wood flooring is something that is found in the old part of town the developers haven’t gotten their black greasy fingers on and turned into a stucco and tile wonderland of southwest living, as cheaply as possible, but I digress.

Oxalic Acid is the primary product for bleaching wood. It is what is used to bleach pulp for making paper, and why wood match sticks have that light yellow color.
After going into the big box, small lumberyards, hardware stores, (where the folks who have not used grecian formula, remember it), but are sorry that they don’t carry it.

 I stopped into a Walgreens and inquired at the pharmacy, if they had any. The woman told me that they did not have it at the store, but I could get it delivered there around noon the next day. Being a money for stuff sort, I went to the other big pill stores to see if they had it on the shelf. No Joy.

I went back to Walgreens,, and ordered a 454 gram container(a Reaganomics holdover,remember when we were gonna go metric?). She asked me for a phone number, which I couldn’t remember, having a phone to make calls, rather than receive them, so I went to the van, grabbed the phone, couldn’t remember the menu to get the number, had to call a friend to have them read me the number, and raced back to the counter before I forgot. I gave her the number, and flush with victory over cat urine, I arrived back at my van only to discover that I had locked the door, leaving my keys on the seat.

Since my keys were laughing at me, and my cell phone was next to them, precluding making a phone call, I began scouring the parking lot looking for a coat hanger or a stiff piece of wire to jimmy the door. Working in wrecking yards for 9 years, you pick up tricks.

Well the Anti Destination League was working overtime for me. No coat hangers, cups or cigarette butts. You could almost perform surgery, this parking lot was so clean. But being no stranger to dumpster diving, I found a piece of wire, and what was once part of a plastic display. I went back into walgreens and got a small roll of medical tape, (the old school stuff that would rip the hairs and skin off your body when you took it off) taped my finds together, retrieved my keys and went about the rest of the day, with no major problems.

The next day, working on a remodeling project that seemed to have just about everything about it go bad, it was after 2 p.m. when I arrived back at the Walgreens. The woman behind the counter informed me that it had not arrived. She called whoever, only to find out that it could only be dropped shipped, and I would probably have it the middle of next week sometime. Way past it doing me any good. She had no explanation for this ‘policy’, no doubt developed on the spot by some cubicle drone whose idea of a good time was to make their employees look bad and to piss off customers.

 Here is the problem. Oxalic Acid has no use in either drug manfacturer, explosive production, or getting you high if you are stupid enough to introduce into any of your mucus membranes. It does block the absorption of calcium, which is one of those Trivial Pursuit bits of information, but so far beyond wood bleaching, that you wonder just how screwed up some companies are.

Most days I am excited living in modern times. Yesterday wasn’t one of them.

The Circular Saw - Making it Square

As I mentioned in Plumb Square and Level, our goal is to produce the best projects we can. Cutting things square in the beginning is the best way of getting your projects to turn out well.

It’s great watching shows like Extreme Makeover, where they bang up a 6000 square foot house in only 7 days. Makes for great television, but what you don’t see is the months of planning, that goes into getting the plans, permits,  site, materials and appliances and furniture  ready for 400 workers to descend on a jobsite, and get it done in that sort of time frame.

Doing home improvement  projects are made a lot simpler and easier with a few techniques.

If you are going to do it yourself, the Circular Saw is a must have tool. They key to successful projects is to take your time. Take Your time. Take Your Time.

Making a 90 degree or square cut would seem to be as simple as setting your saw at the zero mark. Like Dirty Harry says “Do you feel Lucky?” You might, but in my experience of owning dozens of saws over the years, (production framing and cutting wears them out. dropping them off roofs hurts too), there has always been room for improvement.

This is my corded Skilsaw  I have only had this one about six months. I cut a lot more than you probably ever will.  Most saws come with a cut guide stamped into the front of the ‘shoe’ or baseplate. Your saw probably has similar markings. The bottom of the photo shows the front edge of the saw with a series of stamped marks. The shoe is a piece of steel that is stamped and rolled.  Mass production at work. The 0 mark has a notch, which in a perfect world would allow you to cut perfectly. It is not and you won’t. We will fix that.


The width of the notch indicates the cut line for 90 deg. (degrees) and may have some other use such as being the other side of the saw kerf. Behind the notch on this saw, is a cutout with a couple of teeth which should provide you with good cuts. Don’t count on it. The variety of blades and the thicknesses from various manfacturers make this a vague guide better suited to letting you know which way is the cutline.

Setting your saw up to cut square is easy.

Step 1. UNPLUG IT! Make sure that you can see the end of the plug or the business end of the battery. There are no exceptions to this rule! Unless being called STUMPY is your idea of a good time


To check your saw, turn it upside down. Clamp the blade guard out of the way, adjust the factory guide to 0 degrees which is a 90 deg. cut.

This is my skilsaw set at 0 using the factory guide. The wingnut is the lock for the bevel adjustment.


Using the speed square, with the thick part flat on the shoe, we check our blade along the face between the teeth on the edge.

This is the real set of the blade using that guide. It is off 1-2 deg. Anything that you cut like this will have a bevel. One side will fit tight the other will have a gap. It is not square.

You can fix this.

Step 2.

See Step 1. First

Adjust the saw so the blade is at its maximum extension. This is where the body of the saw is closest to the shoe, or base plate. Turn the saw over. Clamp the saw behind the blade guard so that it is out of your way.

Note: This is the only time you should ever mess with the blade guard.

Clamp the saw behind the blade guard. You do not want to bend it, or break it.

Step 3. Loosen the bevel adjustment. (the knob at the front of your saw) Using your square, gently tap the shoe until the square is flat against the blade. If you cannot adjust the saw like this, Return It!

Tighten the wingnut. You are almost ready to cut. Here is my guide after tuning the saw. Almost the thickness of the stamped line.

Step 5.Release the clamp, letting the blade guard cover the blade, and turn your saw over. You are now ready to cut material. Every so often recheck the blade.

Happy Cutting.

Guest Bath Finish

The Guest Bath is finished. Working with constraints is an opportunity for creativity. The Tub was kept in place. We insulated the entire bathroom to make it a quieter place. We also installed a grab bar for safety.
To add visual interest we tiled the bath walls right up to the ceiling. We moved the shower head higher,The window was clear glass unit that the client used an etching compound from her stained glass bag of tricks, to provide light and privacy.

The toilet is a one piece Kohler unit. One of the neat features is the lid/seat. There has always been a war between the pointers and setters over the position and dispostion of the seat. Pointers leave it up, setters want it down. This seat magically goes down at the lightest touch, as if it was on an electronic control. No electronics, so it must be magic.

One of the toughest things to find was the glass shelf over the toilet. Looked and tried a lot of them before settling on this one. Same thing for the grab bar, towel bar, tp holder, and the faucets. Fixture companies do half the job. You can buy a faucet, but need to go somewhere else to find the various bars and holders that a bathroom uses. There is an astonishing variation over finishes and colors. A Brushed Nickle finish has as many variations as there are companies.

The sink is a two piece Kohler unit with very modern styling. It is such a new product that we are still waiting for a single trim piece. The lights are George Kovac’s units we picked up at a Lamps Plus store. The Medicine cabinet is unit from Home Depot’s EXPO store. EXPO is a high end store for remodeling, or design.

The project was interesting in taking a small space and making it bigger without moving walls. The open towel cabinet, was a nifty feature. A lot more work than stuffing a box in the wall and tacking trim on it, but it was worth it.

Here is a shot through the looking glass.

Cheap Solar soon..

I keep an eye on solar technology, as I live in phoenix, and get a lot of sun. It would be nice to get a check from the power companies.

Those folks at MIT have developed a solar dish that looks to be easy to build.

TypePad Screwup number 99 or so.

TypePad has been a interesting experience in the same way as the chinese curse.”may you have an interesting life. They recently came out with a new version, with all sort of scripty things.

It is not an improvement. Preview is especially bad in Rich Text mode. It gets confused.

TypePad is turning into Microsoft’s Front Page. This is not a good thing.

For those of you that are looking for a blogging tool, look elsewhere. This is not worth the money.

The Circular Saw and the Secrets of the Kerf

Last post I described Square and the Swanson Speed Square. There are other brands made from other materials and you can buy what you want, but the Speed Square is the best bang for your buck. Now that you have your speed square and are familiar with  its operation, how do we cut our  material?

The Circular Saw

For this discussion I am going out on a limb here and believe that you have an electric circular saw, also known as a skill saw, It is also called sidewinder by production carpenters and framers, who use worm drive saws.  No brand recommendations other than ask around and spend wisely.
Here is my latest  saw. Standard size weight and features. I had to replace my old saw I bought 10 years ago, after using it with a masonry blade for saw cutting some concrete. Just flat burned it out.

Saws get priced by Horse Power and Amperage. The more of each you have the better.  For more money, there are
some upgrades to the shoe and case, but these are not as important. This is a right handers saw. They do make left hand saws, but they are hard to find and usually more expensive. You do not need to go
crazy and buy the most expensive saw in the store. The vast majority of
you are remodeling your houses, not making a living as a framing

NOTE: Unplug your saw anytime you adjust the saw, or change blades.

This goes for any
electric tool. The pain in the butt this may represent is a gut
wrenching orgasm compared to the pain, suffering and cost of cutting
one of your fingers off.

If you are lucky
and I use lucky advisedly, you may have made a clean cut, can find the
missing finger, gotten to the hospital, have an Orthopedic surgeon able
to reattach your finger, hopefully reconnecting the nerves and tendons,
which may give you some feeling and movement back. Or you may be known
as ‘stumpy’.

What with costs,
therapy, you will be out around $60,000.00 bucks,(per) No this is not a
deal where you get to bargain a discount for multiple fingers.
You can buy a whole lot of remodeling for that money,

Unplug any electric tool anytime you adjust, or change tools.

When you buy your saw, buy new blades. The blade that comes with the
saw is like the starter cartridges you get when you buy a new printer.
For this discussion, we will focus on carbide blades for cutting wood. 2x
material and various panels like particle board and plywood.

Sawblades come in a  wide variety. For the purpose of  this  discussion  I will focus on  carbide blades for wood. They cut better, last longer, are quieter, and will give you the most value.

Secrets of the Kerf

This is the side view of a typical carbide blade. It has a number of teeth made out of carbide that act a chippers as the blade rotates. The more teeth, the smoother the cut. This is more important for cutting plywood, than cutting 2x material.

Looking at the business edge, note that the teeth are beveled and the bevels are angled. This is a double bevel blade. Every other tooth has the same bevel. This allows the blade to cut the material smoothly. Also notice that the teeth are wider than the body of the blade.

This is the kerf. This dictates how much material gets removed when you make your cuts.

This also creates a gap between the teeth and the body of the blade.
This is important because the blade heats up, and so does  the wood as
it cuts, causing the wood to expand. The kerf allows the blade to cut
without binding, Binding causes the saw to work harder, shortening its
life, and causing kickbacks, where the blade will kick the saw out of
your cuts, and may destroy your material and hurt you.

Plumb, Square, and Level - 3-4-5 Right Triangle and the Swanson Speed Square

In our previous episodes in Plumb, Square and Level, I defined the terms, and then discussed Levels. Square is next up. I probably should have discussed Square first, as without square, plumb and level won’t help you a whole lot. This is remodeling  and you are already used to having things backwards.

moving on…

Almost everything that goes into houses from foundation, to trim relies on square in some form. Floors, walls, cabinets, windows, depend on square for proper fit, finish and operation. Raw materials such as plywoods, particle boards, sheetrock, paneling of all sorts, and lumber are manufactured square.

The first encounter with square was in ancient times with the discovery of the 3 4 5 right triangle.  If the short leg has 3 units, the long  leg 4 units, the line connecting the two end points will be 5 units. And you thought you would never have to use geometry. The good news is that for the purposes of remodeling, this is about all you will need.

This is how folks build square foundations, walls and rooms.  Inches, feet, meters, miles, it’s the same. This is how you check floors, and walls before you nail them down.

The hands down must have tool for making square is the Swanson Speed Square.

This is the latest model. The inner triangle opening has notches and lines for measuring.They also put the inch lines on both sides. The two inner scales are for establishing cutlines for rafters if you decide to stick build your own roof. It also has a 45 degree angle on the back side. On that angle is a degree scale for other things.

Here is a side view of my old one. The t shape is what you place against the wood for establishing your lines. The small notch on the bottom is the pivot for marking angles if you are doing stick built roofing, which with trusses, is becoming a lost art.

You can also use it inside cabinets, door and window frames to check for square corners.

This is probably the second tool you buy after a hammer and before the circular saw.

Guest Bath 6

The Guest Bath Project is down to seeds and stems. Let’s review. The bathroom had no storage to speak of, an  awkward counter, and shower tile that was ‘dated’.

The counter and base cabinet closed in the room despite the white color scheme. The ‘banjo’ counter over the toilet made working on the toilet a major project. 
The shower tile was added on at some point, with the application of concrete board on top of the drywall, which is why it has such a thick appearance.  Plus the shower head was placed  so that only short people could use it comfortably.

After the demo, and moving the plumbing, and thinking about some storage, we opened up the wall, split the hall closet and installed a towel shelf. We also re framed the wet wall to install a sunken medicine cabinet.

The fixtures are Kohler, chosen for their looks and color. Yes they are  white. I managed to get the client to consider dark gray as a contrast wall for the fixtures. They pop!
One of the early decisions we made was to insulate the bathroom. Bathrooms are one of the noisiest rooms in a house, and builders never insulate them, Nothing but hard surfaces, and in most houses, you can hear what is happening throughout the house. Not this bathroom. You can have screamer auditions for horror movies in here and still sleep in the next room.

The shower presented a few challenges with the offset window, the original tub installation, and the original shower  head location.  We moved the shower  head  up, tiled the walls to the ceiling, and did it with daltile  Kohler White tile. Yes they make tiles that are the same colors as most fixtures. Surprised me.

What surprised us even more was how hard it was to get it. The big box stores that carry daltile, cannot sell certain styles. Stores that can sell it want to install it, or charge you enough so that you seriously think about buying a kiln and firing your own.