Wednesday, February 26, 2014

It's a girl!

Penney Ann Tarlecki
Born: Friday, February 21st, 2014 at 1:52 pm.
7 lbs, 8 oz
20 in

Moments after birth, at Birth Center

At home a few hours later

She is named after both her grandmothers, and she is awesome. Both mom and baby are happy and healthy.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Vintage Electric

From the flip phone time capsule:

Original receptacle box found in kitchen ceiling
I found this box in the plaster ceiling in my kitchen, when trying to pull some wire to my back bedroom.  I didn't even know what GENUINE BAKELITE was, until I looked up bakelite.  It turns out that it is an old type of plastic, which is non-conductive.  I don't know when this dates this receptacle, but its cool that I wound up ripping out one of its mates [the receptacle itself] from upstairs.  I've since tossed it in the trash.  Some suckerspeople actually think they can make some money on this crap.

Also, one of my favorite errors is the inappropriate use of quotation marks.  Why is the company, Carling, in quotations? Who is being quoted here?

Who cares, I guess. Cool box in perfect condition.  Thought I would share.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Counter: Oil Polyurethane

So, I had a quote from a guy to finish my reclaimed red oak counter top made from a downed barn.  It was like $500 (+ materials) to do some hand scraping, 10 coats of a shellac, some wax, etc.. the whole nine yards.

Since I've gone a little over budget with this renovation, I decided to DIY another aspect of the project: the counter.

Realistically, I already dimensioned them, joined them, scribed to the wall, routed a profile, installed it.  I might as well just finish this thing off since I brought it to 99% on my own.  In my experience, if you want a job done right....

{soul weeps}

The trouble is: I don't know anything about finishing wood.  I think some of my friends think of me as some high-end, specialty woodworker, but I have them all fooled. I don't know anything.  I just like to figure out the math, angles, and how to fit things together.  Sometimes, I do this with wood.  Truth be told: I'm really more of a metal shop guy.  I like the tighter tolerances and precision that comes with metal working.   Woodworking can quickly get into reading grain, growth rings, all kinds of organic crap that I can't control.  The inexactness is annoying to me, and my eyes start to glaze over with boredom when trying to learn about something that is impossible/hard to predict.

Anyway, enough about my take on the trades.  It turns out not many other people know about how to finish wood either.  I think I live in the wrong part of the world.  Here's where I looked:

The internet is like a giant circus.  It like a royal rumble on how Person A's method of finishing oak is better than Person B's.  And, that better method gives Person A the liberty to berate and belittle Person B's inferior method.  I'll read through these long message board posts and instead of learning something I wind up feeling 1) more confused and 2) ashamed that I come from the same species as these angry people.

Local stores
I'm not talking big box stores either, even though that subject could warrant its own series of unflattering posts.  Philadelphia doesn't really have a real woodworker supply place (that I know of), so I went to the local yards and paint suppliers who all have decent sections on finishing wood products.  I didn't get much help. I had a sample off-cut with me and everything.  One thing that everyone seemed to know is that you don't want to use polyurethane on anything that you will eat off of.   I'm glad I had their help.  I wish someone would have warned their parents about the dangers of eating off of polyurethaned counters.

Thus, I had to figure it out on my own.  I had some water-based poly at home, and I also picked up some of the more expensive oil-based poly at the yard.  I tried them both.

Oil poly, from the yard

The wood is beautiful on its own.  Sure, it has some knots and wormholes, but it could really look finished as is with no product application.  Thus, I figure I don't really have to do much in order to really make this thing looking finished.  That means stains are out, and some of the long-curing processes are out as well (due to timing).  I'm not really a big fan of polyurethane, but I can basically brush this stuff on, sand, re-coat, and I'm done.  At this stage of my existence, I like that idea.  Oil turns the wood that yellow/orange warm color as well.  I think that will go over well.  Let's go with oil.

Since I'm completely out of time (and the old lady wants me done---no matter what), let's just slap this crap on and hope it doesn't ruin the counter I've sunk a ton of man-hours, money, vacation time, and sanity into.

{Forgive the flip phone quality photos, I'm down to nothing here}

OK- this was a good idea

Another view after first coat

Rare photo of me in action, 2nd coat.  Photo cred: my sister
Photo highlights
1) Soul-stealing, demon-seed cat behind me.  Waiting to walk in my poly.
2) Newly painted wall in background
3) Embarrassing Jesus sandals
4) Finished floors
5) New couch
6) Yes, I still ride the same bike

There is lots more to write.  The house has gone through some major transformations since the last post.  Its amazing what you can achieve when you just stop sleeping. I apologize for the excessively sarcastic post, I think I'm just cranky.

The house looks really good.  Lots of loose ends still, but no more then we are used to here at the site.

Final cost of finishing the counter?


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Custom Finned Tube Baseboard Cabinets

Some of the hardest parts of carpentry is making ugly stuff disappear.

The bracket I put to hold up my 2nd floor: perfect example.  I spent a full day trying to build a fake newel post and work that into the overall crown design downstairs.  Its almost impossible for me to compose a weblog post about this.  It was the single most difficult carpentry task I ever had to face in my life.

What else do I hate about this house? (do you have a few spare hours?)  The baseboard radiators.

They are hideous.

Heat transfer-wise, it doesn't work either.  You can't add copper finned tube when the rest of the house is on cast iron.  They require different flow rates to be effective.  I'm so annoyed about it that I'll just stop right there.  Why don't I just shut and and get to posting the pictures?

Bare wall

With wainscot, radiator still haunting me.  One of my packing boards for behind the baseboard is my saw guide for when cutting the crown (left of picture)

The waintscot was a real success story. I got through it in about 1.5 hours after work.  Now, it wasn't exactly 100% that night (because of this damn baseboard finned tube) but it was like 90%.  Good enough to post a picture I guess. The walls were wavy so I put construction adhesive on the backs of every board.  Some of them need a real bend to stick on the wall.  Since the wall is plaster-on-brick, anything that helps it adhere would be beneficial.  18ga trim nails tend to curl over.   16ga will too if they are too long.  I've found that 16 ga. 2" nails will do the trick until the adhesive sets.

Now, I want an even reveal with every board.  The boards are you classic pre primed finger jointed stock straight out the yard.  Layout included 3'-11 7/8" verticals... that way i could get four (4) verticals out of a single $8 board (including the saw kerf). Like the cabinet birch ply (ripped to 11 7/8" on the long side), I was able to get four final pieces out of stock lumber.. with only saw dust for waste.  I live for these moments.

To get that even reveal, I need to plan way ahead. I want the tops and bottoms to *appear* as 3 1/2" on the flat, just like the adjacent verticals.  That means the baseboard trim, base cap, and finned tube rad cabs all need to be laid out in advance.  Similarly, the top piece of rake and top cap all need to be factored in.   I found a standard 2" piece of rake in the millwork catalog so I just thew that on top of a 1x6 (5.5 - 2 = 3.5 reveal).  Done.  At the bottom the situation is more complex.  Base+Cap wants to be around 8" on average. But I want to sneak this baseboard cabinet under my base cap.  My base cap is fancy.  I don't mess around on this type of stuff.  Sure, investing too much money in ornate baseboard trim is probably like flushing money down a toilet.  I don't care.  My base has to look primo. Damn the torpedoes.

Oh boy, I better get out my shine box. Polishing this turd is going to take a miracle of sorts

Let's just get to work. Pack out to the front of wainscot plane with some spare scraps.  

Oh yeah. Better run some romex up into this base.  We're gonna need an outlet somewhere on this wall.

*** fast forward a few hours ***

Radiator box in
Am I crazy? (don't answer that question)

View from a far
I really just needed to tie this all together somehow.  Those metal cabinets that were issued in the 70s just aren't an option. They almost embarrass me out of my own home on a daily basis. And I have little-to-no-shame.

I did rip off the front piece of the metal cabinet and stuffed it behind the finned tube as a bit of a "heat shield" to reflect it away from the wall.  I had to tapcon it to the brick, and it was a son of a b.  Its funny how stupid things like that wind up being the bulk of the project.

Night view through my vampire eyes.  I may not be able to see my own reflection in the mirror, but at least I can see this.  It probably looks a whole lot better too.

Just look at those shadow lines.  Am I the only one who is into this?

Another angle. Because three pictures just isn't enough.

I just used a 3/8" round over bit on the top to make a bullnose of sorts. It looks good.  It also might be hard to see but I made the pilasters (vertical) more pronounced than the rails.  Small detail that probably took too much time, but I wound up doing exactly what I wanted to do.  So it may have been worth it.  I don't know.  I mean, I am the one who has to live in this place, right?

The next area takes the woodworking skills to the next level.  Wrap around finned tube that goes under the built in. Brutal.  What was I thinking?  I guess that I didn't want to seal in 60% of the heat output in the living room.  I don't care how much cheap natural gas we get from fracking.  Waste is waste.

Existing finned tube in front of house.  As you can see, I already ran the base and top cap around the mechanicals 
Zoomed in.  Floor is not level. New base cap is level.  You know that means: custom layout for covers.

Installed. See how it wraps onto the built in?  Pure genius or true idiocracy.. only time will tell.

Zoom out.  Lower shelves cut to fit and faced framed as well.

A couple more photos from ye olde flip phone.

Dining room

Living room

And that my friends, is the final woodworking project in these two rooms.

Trim = 100%.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Bank Reconciliation

Since I haven't opened any of my mail in about six (6) months, I decided to login to my credit card and just see how this months statement is looking.  Really, I'm just making sure my payments are going through. I would have no idea if they weren't.

I thought this was pretty funny; my most recent statement

So, this is why I feel like I work all the time.

I'm beyond running on fumes today.  There's no gas and no fumes.  I think I'm just coasting.  Maybe inertia?  Major rally this weekend.  The stuff mentioned in the previous post is complete. I didn't know caulking and puttying nail holes was going to take thirteen (13) hours last night.  You would think with all the classes I've taken in my life that I would have come across a project management course at some point, right?   Nope.  Well, yeah, it shows.

Mon-Wed: Paint
Thurs: Floors (final coat)
Fri: Cleaners
Sat: One piece of furniture being delivered
[Next] Mon: Due date

Not a lot of wiggle room here. I am an idiot.  Next life will be different, I will remain a renter or squatter forever.  Tenants have rights.  Homeowners have liabilities.

Thanks for sticking with me, loyal reader.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Front Window Stool

In grad school, a guidance counselor asked me what I thought my greatest skill was. I replied "I can balance myself on my bike indefinitely when not moving." I don't really think it was the answer he was looking for, but I meant it.

My second greatest skill (the track stand is still reigning champ) might be scribing complex shapes. I'm not sure how I do it, but I guess its a combo of good 3D visualization, a steady hand, and patience.

The stool for the front window is a decent example. Retrofitting a window with a new stool is a bit of an art form when trying fit your piece with existing jambs, sashes, etc. Throw in a wall that is not co-planar with the window and you get a very complex polygon that you need to shape out of an ordrinary 5/4 board.

Observe bizarre shape below:

the cut

the fit
Nailed it.  Water tight.

One step closer.

Need some sleep. This weekend has been fruitful but extremely hard. Running on fumes.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Built in: Cabinet Assembly

A post of pictures

The shop. AKA: the living room and dining room

Test fit

Lowers labeled and ready to go

Actual fit needs a little wall modification

Lowers 1, 2, and 3 in place.  The chimney is about 2 inches out of plumb which messed up the design.  I wasn't expecting it to be so out.

Dust storm

Modified to allow for heat release.

Leveled and installed.  That took longer than expected.

Fortunately, television superstar "Kit" from Knight Rider showed up to help me out.
Clamping together for begin of install


After planing, red oak boards on top.

Time to inspect for which boards go where

Lookin good

Thursday, February 6, 2014


mir·a·cle  (mĭr′ə-kəl)
1.  An event that can happen when a person does not sleep and works like a lunatic

Shelves: in and face framed

I'm changing my tune from yesterday's whining:  I think I can get this house 100%.  Maybe I'm just on the upside of a bipolar episode, but last night I was able to scribe all the shelves in (future post) in a couple hours.  Had the laser out, shot some lines, made a template, set up a stop block and drilled holes.. and... shelves are in.  Record speed.

I really didn't want to do these this way (like so much that it hurts), but one of my co-workers told  me that "done is better than perfect", in regards to something he had completed at work.  He's right.  Perfectionism is a savant-like syndrome, but is also simultaneously a bit of a cancer.  I suffer from it.

I came home from work and repeated that mantra in my head 

"Done is better than perfect."

It helped me turn off my brain and work from the neck down.  

  • Undesirable 1/16" reveal where you don't want it? who cares.
  • Can't get two shelves within a c-hair of level? split the difference.
  • That cope isn't water tight? caulk-n-paint.

And you know what? It looks pretty professional.  Like, real professional.  The only trouble is that I'm so tired that I don't know how I'm going to get through this weekend.  The final rally.  Walls and ceilings are getting primed today.  Fri/Sat/Sun will be used to build a stool for the big front window [lots of scribing to fit into existing jamb(s)], finish out stairwell, baseboard [4 piece], and build custom little cabinets for the crappy little finned tube copper base heat.

I'll have to wash all that down with a healthy dose of joint compound, caulking, nail hole putty, etc. for all the slop in this house.  Those of you with 100 year old plaster walls can sympathize.  

The only thing that won't get done is finishing up the reclaimed oak I used for the counter of the built in.  Largely because I don't know what I'm doing and I'm over budget for paying someone to finish it out.  I don't build furniture (or built ins?) so I have no window into the worlds of shellac, varnish, boiled linseed oil, etc.  Nor do I really care. At all.  I just want this job done.  Give me a suggestion if you have one.  Its old growth red oak from an downed barn. Its not clear (somewhat knotty, with worm holes) but I bench top planed it already, and hand planed out any trouble spots.  

I'm on a steady diet of miracles from here on out.  Will need some miracle juice.  Aka: coffee.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Downstairs crown, revisited

Crown is complete.

3 piece in living room.
4 piece in dining room.

I made my own 4th piece.  For those of you who know me: yes, I'm probably a bit obsessed with crown. But, the 4th piece is my attempt to hide the LVL I put in to strengthen up the center of the house.  I actually didn't want to do a 4th piece, but design-wise, I had to do something.  Classic no-win occupy situation.

Trouble spot. Future post, perhaps from my next life.  The single most challenging building problem I've ever had to face.

Built in

Return into stairwell, still need to install some ornamentation on top of the two stairwell rips.

outer corners are tight.  they were hard.  big mistake doing 4 1/4" cove.  The back-cuts for the cops are like at 89 degrees. I'm not kidding.

I like this picture.

Painter comes tomorrow.  And though there have been many successes in the project, the renovation has been a major failure.  Its not ready to paint. There is an enormous punch list to complete.  Its a job site with a baby arriving any time now.

Notwithstanding, I'm going to learn to let go.  Maybe another 3 years or living in a construction site won't be that bad.  #sarcasm #tellitlikeitreallyis #wtf

What have I learned? This house consistently devours four (4) things
1. Time
2. Money
3. Energy
4. Happiness

In no particular order.  Its sort of like a buffet, and this house keeps coming back for seconds.

Ah well, let's get a coat of paint on this thing and just deal with it.  I gave it my best shot. Chances are I won't really miss the sleep that I gave up over the last 4 months anyway.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Because the response from my loyal reader(s) was so overwhelming, I went with seven (7).

started from scratch this evening after work. set up the laser, and a saw stop, and brought my math sheets.

Seven must be my lucky number.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Downstairs crown

work in progress.

Wednesday night I had bit of meltdown: I realized this project was just not going to get done.  I reached out to my closest friends for some support.  It worked.  I got the energy I needed to push on.

Thursday morning I admitted to myself that I had failed. I was going to bail on the crown, wainscot, and almost everything downstairs.  (I was really thinking about abandoning the project altogether).

Well, maybe it was just sleep deprivation or temporary  insanity {ha, temporary}. I got my groove back this weekend. Tackled the tricky spot with the metal bracket (future post) and got started with the crown and framing out around some of the sistered LVLs I put in to help hold this hellhole house up.

First course of crown installed today. Including the special area around the stairs.  Had to run a lot of bizarre 3D scenarios in my head starting at 8am to try to figure out how I could set the proper planes for all these details to pull together nicely

Sorry. I'm a bit delirious. After the bzillionth 20+ hour day in a row, I'm having trouble cobbling together a properly composed sentence in plain english.

First course of crown installed. One of the hardest courses: the ceiling piece. Nothing is worse then trying to work upside down while simultaneously trying to establish layout for the entire downstairs.

Another epic day.  Will this ever end?


No commentary. Too tired. Thanks for reading/support.