Thursday, October 10, 2013

Made-in-Michigan for the do it youselfer

Share your favorite Michigan-made products by going to Twitter favorite #Michiganmade

Here are two Made-in-Michigan products worth mentioning.

Kushgaurd Deck Stain, Made in Roseville, Mich.

This is a fantastic product that has brought our almost 20-year-old deck back to life. It’s easy to apply and looks natural. Kushgaurd Deck Stain is made with lots of linseed oil that really soaks into the wood and keeps it healthy. It has a UV barrier and a mildewicide to keep mildew away. Growing up, I had to help paint our wood pool deck each year and it was always a mess. We used that red paint/stain and each year the wood looked worse and worse, cracking and warping. The Kushgaurd Deckseal is a great product and it's reasonably priced.

Michigan Ladder. Made in Ypsilanti, Mich.

OK, I don’t do heights, so the 6-foot and the 2-foot step ladder made by Michigan Ladder are tall enough for me. They're durable, constructed of yellow pine and they’re made right in Ypsilanti. Mich. I like the look of the wood although they make many other ladders using other materials.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Easy molding and wall treatment

We live in an early 20th century home, which has a lot of great architectural details. We have beautiful molding in the dining room and interesting plaster work in other rooms, but our staircase was boring. Bland. Bare.

So, bring on the molding.

All it took was a little patience and an angle finder to create this wall. You are creating the illusion of a paneled wall that appears to look like one elaborate wall treatment.

The key: Getting a balanced design, and paying special attention to how you space out the boxes and molding. Keep it simple and use the angle finder for the miters. Finish it off with wood filler or spackling to get a more precise finish with the miters. And then paint the wall.

Although I was real tempted to leave the wall tan and the molding white as I know I would never be able to paint trim that well.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The 2003 Blackout and the bathroom redo

The finished bathroom in our first house
You know that feeling you get when you’re thisclose to finishing something? The feeling when you’re ready to power down – in this case, power down the power tools – and step back and savor a job well done? Yeah, that was exactly what I was getting ready to do one day in August 2003. I had just broken out all of the tile in my 1940s-style bathroom. The room was covered in dust. I was covered in dust. There was wire mesh bulging from the walls. The last of the broken tiles strewn in boxes and ready to go into the Dumpster.

And then the power went out. 

August 14, 2003. Power was out across much of the Midwest in arguably the most memorable power outage in our lifetime. So there I stood in my bathroom, surrounded by mounds of broken tile and holding a circular saw that just stopped working as I was cutting some replacement wall studs. I thought I had pulled the plug out of the wall when I realized it was the power.
The bathroom project had to be put on hold. We spent time with the neighbors sitting around a campfire and listened to the radio, it was like a block party.
In the end the bathroom got finished. I became more passionate about home improvement. Several other projects followed in that house…until, of course, we moved. And then we started the DIY projects all over again.
And that's what I was doing when the Blackout hit in 2003.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Keep the raccoons away

OK, so it’s bad enough trying to keep up with the honey-do list but add to it going head-to-head with the animal kingdom, and I’m at my limit. The raccoon, feisty and persistent nighttime renegade has to be outsmarted with some good old common sense. We have raccoons in our area that continually look for food and shelter by way of our roof and any food left out.

We’ve had our roof fixed twice in the last three years because of these raccoons who have torn away shingles and dug into the wood, and we are starting to outsmart them.

Here are some preventative measures.

1. Keep trees such as evergreens and bushes that are right next to the house trimmed below the roof line. Yes they can crawl up the wall but it’s not as easy as climbing the tree and it’s an easy fix. (Well, as easy as can be expected with a two-story house.)

 2. Place a light in the location they are trying to use as a pathway or trying to inhabit. (I'm not sure this helps all that much, but something is better than nothing.)

3. Place mothballs in the attic. (In my research online, some people have said the mothballs are too strong a smell and they had to retrieve them one by one in the attic to get rid of the smell.) We put them in a couple large cloth bags with a rope tied to the bag so we could easily retrieve them if the smell was too strong.

4. Check the roof for damage. I couldn’t see the one side of our roof without getting on a ladder and I didn’t have a long enough ladder and, I really don’t like heights. So I attached a small video camera to a tripod and then attached that to an extension poll. (See video below.)

By all means call a professional if they keep coming back or if they are getting into the house. Keep in mind they can be dangerous, so don't go out and confront them. Good luck and I will keep you posted on our progress with the critters.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Basement Playroom

The sofa is gone. The coffee table is, too. The basement is coming along well, and we were able to keep most of our books on our bookshelf. The solution: an Ikea bookshelf that matches the one we have on the other wall in the basement. Everything now has a place, and each bin is marked accordingly -- blocks, art supplies, dress-up, trucks...

Even in our tight basement, we were able to make the most of limited space and create a play area that is perfect for our two sons.

Friday, July 26, 2013

S&W Hardware closes up shop after 60 years

At the end of August, Fred and Warren Smith will dim the lights and turn the key one last time. S&W Pro Hardware in Plymouth, Mich., will close after 60 years of service. It’s time for a well-deserved retirement for the keepers of this shop.

I was lucky enough to have worked at two family-owned hardware stores when I was in my early 20s. S&W was one of the stores.

A typical day involved stocking shelves, cutting glass, threading pipe and, most importantly, helping the customer.

At times you would stop the customer from buying a $50 faucet and sell them a 50-cent washer. You might spend a half-hour with a customer removing a broken bolt in order to sell them a replacement for 35 cents.

You would shoot the breeze with former employees who would regularly visit the store. It was not uncommon for them to help out a customer or two while visiting.

You would learn from co-workers and from the customers and you would pass it along.

The commitment to service at this store was remarkable.

Thanks to the crew at S&W Hardware for all the years of service. Be sure to stop by the store before they close. The store is located at 875 Ann Arbor Road in Plymouth, in western Wayne County.

Shop at your local hardware store!

Take a look at the workshop, stock room and some of the equipment used for many years at the store.

Thanks to Gary Slater for sharing his photos taken a couple weeks ago at S&W Hardware. Gary was the true master of the fastener aisle.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Kitchen Project: Take Nine -- And We're DONE!

After more than a month of living among dust and destruction, ripped-out cabinets and uncertainty over what to do with the floor, we've finally finished the kitchen project.

The cabinets are in. The floor is finished. The moldings are completed. The backsplash is filled in. We even got a new spice rack. 

Here's how it turned out. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Kitchen Project -- Take Eight: a.k.a. Making Progress

Things are coming along slowly but surely for our kitchen.

The cabinets have been installed. The molding is almost finished. The countertops are in. The electrical is done. The sink is hooked up and the dishwasher is, too. We even have a working microwave again.

Still to do: finish the backsplash, add bottom molding, find window treatments...

We've come a long way from the demolition days that started about a month ago. We lived with boxes of kitchen utensils in the dining room. We ate off paper plates and made far too many drive-thru stops. We washed baby bottles in the bath tub.

It wasn't easy, but it was kind of fun. Here's a peek at the progress:

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Why do it yourself?

Success and failure in the area of home improvement.

 "You can fix that, right? It's not that hard." My wife's often saying things like that, but I'm always thinking it, too. So I'm also to blame for many of the projects/ideas we get ourselves into around the house.

I think:

"I could save lots of money and then amass an arsenal of tools while making countless trips to the home goods store."

"I could make that bookshelf. Why should I pay an arm and a leg for a train table made of particleboard that most likely will fall apart faster than the time it takes my crackers and milk to go soggy?"

"Busting up that floor? No problem."

It's also just what you do, right? Try to fix things, even when they're not really broken. My 3-year-old son caught that bug -- the one that gets you thinking you need to redo, fix or modify something, anything or just take it apart. All valid ways to spend time.

The good thing is that with the exception of personal safely while using power tools, sharp knives and working with electrical and some plumbing, there's no harm done. It's a house or a table, it’s OK if it’s not perfect. Tearing up a bathroom can be a bit scary but the worst thing to happen is you have to call in a contractor. Even I know my limits -- I don't do structural changes to the house without help.

So, then, why do it yourself? The answer for me is because I enjoy doing the work, working with the tools and materials. And when the project is done I get that sense of accomplishment. I also couldn't afford to get some of the work done and we own an old house that need lots of care and upkeep. We also really enjoy the design aspect of upgrading the house, imagining and planning are a big part of the fun. And now that we have it the way we like it, we'll never move. (Fingers crossed!)

What I have learned is that if the only goal was to save money by doing the work myself, it might not be worth it in some cases. Professionals offer speed and quality gained from experience. I always have to know my limits and skill level. Some projects take a lot of time -- time away from family. It works best when I want to do it for the experience and what I can learn and sometimes, yes, save money.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Kitchen Project -- Take Seven: We're Making Progress!

The cabinets are in, although the finishing work and countertops will take at least another week. And we decided on a floor. We went with a simple hardwood that matches the hardwood in the rest of our house.

We're making progress. I stayed up until 3:30 a.m. installing as much as I could -- at a certain point, I put away the power tools and opted for a handsaw and hammer so I wouldn't disturb the neighbors. There's still some work to be done, and I still need to finish the backsplash this week before the counters are installed, but I'm happy with the way the kitchen is coming together.

Here's the latest look:

A professional-grade staple gun gets it done.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Kitchen Project -- Take Six: a.k.a. Not All Ideas Are Good Ones

For our new cabinets, the refrigerator will be pushed in about a four inches. No big deal, except that meant I would have to fill in that space with new tile. So I pushed it back and noticed the wood planking underneath. My wife and I started talking and...well, you know how it goes. The next thing you know, I'm tearing out porcelain tile with the idea that we would refinish the planking.

Which wasn't a half bad idea, only:

1. It's pine, meaning it's soft. (Not great for a busy kitchen like ours.)
2. It had gobs of glue on it. (Messy. Dusty. Been there before.)
3. The nails were visible on top.


With the new cabinets arriving in a few days, we're scrambling to figure out what we'll do for flooring. Hardwood, like we have in the rest of the house? Tile, again? (Not a fan of tile right now.) Cork, perhaps?

We will see. In the meantime, here's a photo showing what we're dealing with.

What a mess.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Kitchen Project -- Take Five: Removing the Cabinets

Taking out the cabinets isn't an easy job, but doing the demo ourselves is saving us a little bit of money.

The upper cabinets came out surprisingly well. It was just a matter of unscrewing them and carrying them out. 

But, as you can see, the job is far from over. We have a lot to finish in the next several days. 

My building assistant and me

Friday, May 24, 2013

That hardware store smell

You know what I’m talking about. It’s that special smell that greets you every time you walk into a hardware store. I’ll just list the ingredients along with the recipe. Blend slowly and let your nose go wild. 

Hardware smell (six servings)

A pinch of mulch
A few pounds grass seed
Dash of fertilizer
Handful of pipe shavings with oil (from the pipe threader)
Squirt or two of WD-40
Half a dozen rolls of solder (lead-free!)
A spoonful of Quikrete
A pinch of fresh paint vapor
A variety of nails (by the pound)
Shingles (best when hot)

Half a pot of coffee (No flavored or decaf)
Several over-enthusiastic problem solvers
PVC and rubber hose to taste
Copper, galvanized and black pipe

At least one pocket protector

Mix all ingredients, then add in over-enthusiastic problem solvers slowly. Let stand in a cool place for 20 minutes. Make a pass through the tool aisle and it should be ready.

Note: Some like more mulch and less paint vapor; you also can substitute the shingles with some tar cement crack filler.

Friday, May 17, 2013

If I had a hammer

“I want my red hammer, Dad, and please put Mr. Flintstone on the computer.”

OK, why my 3-year-old has to indicate the “red hammer” is because, yes, he has multiple hammers -- made of plastic, of course. And why not? One must have multiple versions of such a tool that’s a cornerstone of any good tool box.

Hammers come in many types and sizes: the tack, ball-peen, sledge, framing and claw. Stone hammers date back to 2,600,000 B.C.

Today, the make or brand is just as important as the style, size and -- yes -- the color. I should mention that “Bob the Builder has a “red hammer.”

Now you have Estwing, Vaughan Mfg., , Hardcore Hammers, S-K Handtool , Snap-on Tools and Craftsman, just a few brands made in the U.S.A. The type of work you need to do will determine what kind of hammer to buy. Most utility or catch-all work can be done with the claw hammer. The claw hammer is the most commonly used hammer, and it's what I use most. I bought mine at a secondhand store and replaced the handle. Buying used tools is great because they are cheap and many times made in the U.S.A. because they're older -- and the money often goes to a good cause.

For rough carpentry or light to medium demo work a framing hammer is great, for big demo work, yes the sledge hammer is needed. The ball-peen is for shaping metal and the tack is for small projects.

The other thing to consider is the type of handle. You’ve got wood, fiberglass and metal with a rubber or leather grip. Yes, like coffee, too many choices.

Find one that feels comfortable in your hand and that is the right weight for you. A hammer is like a ball glove: You can’t buy one without putting it on or picking it up to see how it feels. And remember you can always add to the collection.

As for the red hammer, it’s a plastic claw or it might be a framing hammer, not sure, but it's made some good dents in our wood banister. We can’t seem to find it anywhere. (Hmmm.) As for Mr. Flintstone, I think he uses a stone hammer?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Kitchen Project -- Take Four: The Backsplash (part 2)

In a few weeks, our kitchen will be installed. In the meantime, we've been contemplating what to do with our existing backsplash. Do we tear it out? Do we install something else? And if we do, what should it be? We like our backsplash, and it will look nice with our new granite. So, we're going to try to salvage it -- and fill it in.

Our new cabinets will have a slightly different layout than our existing cabinets. So there will be a few places where we will need to fill in the backsplash.

The good news is that they still manufacture our tile. The lot number, of course, is different -- it's been something like five years since we first installed it -- so the colors might be off ever-so-slightly. But I don't think the difference will be too obvious, especially when the new (much darker) cabinets are installed and cast a hue on the tile itself.

So here we go...

I started filling in the first section, and will have to do a few other areas after I remove some of the cabinets. Here's a first glimpse of my handy work:

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Hippo of a Good Time

In 2009, my wife and I traveled to Portland, Ore. I had been to the area once before, long before she and I were dating, when I went to visit my uncle, who lived in Portland at the time.

One thing I remember from my earlier trip was my visit to Hippo Hardware. Perhaps "hardware" isn't the best word for it, but the store actually was a large collection of old pieces from homes. Old moldings, old register covers, old bath tubs, old light fixtures. A truly amazing collection.

So when Michelle and I went to visit Portland almost four years ago, we made sure to stop in there. The place was as fascinating as it was 15 years earlier. And, no, I didn't buy anything major -- but I did pick up an old skeleton key. It's a wonderful reminder of what perhaps was the best vacation of my life.

Check out their website. It's a great place to get ideas. Like these register covers, below. You just can't find this stuff in your ordinary home improvement store. These covers have character and history. They have a story. And they're able to tell that story in somebody's home.

The register cover selection at Hippo Hardware

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Kid-friendly DIY

Being a DIYer isn’t just about making updates to the house. It’s also about creating furniture – in this case, a kid’s train and activity table.

All it required was about $50 in wood, some stain and the right tools. The train track top was about $15 from a local toy store. The table itself matches the Pottery Barn Kids furniture in my son's room, but the table -- although it looks very similar to one that Pottery Barn Kids sells -- is a small fraction of the cost.

The perfect table for trains, blocks and activities

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

It Becomes a Habit

I talked about how easy it was to create the molding effect along my staircase. We loved the look so much that we took it a step further in our family room. Creating a mission-style design was the key to balancing the more traditional details in our home with the more contemporary design in our living room. Still, the look blends in with the rest of the house while giving each area of the house a look of its own.

They say it’s a question of what comes first – the chicken or the egg – and in this case, it’s a question of whether we started the molding project or the built-in shelves first. They both happened at the same time. Regardless of what inspired which, we absolutely love our family room and the blend of practicality and design it offers.

Kitchen Project -- Take Three: The Cabinets

I don’t think we’ll ever fully be satisfied with our kitchen until we change the cabinets, so we are doing that. It will be a custom job, and we can’t wait. But we are leaving the installation to the pros. We are going to save a little on costs, however, by taking out the cabinets ourselves. We’ll then donate them to a worthy organization that can use them.

I had to take out the pantry so the cabinet company could measure the size for our new pantry (which will extend much further back than our current one), and it was interesting to see what was behind that cabinet door. 

A chimney runs through it.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Au Revoir, Mardi Gras Bathroom

Sadly, I had to redo the bathroom in the basement recently because of a massive drain issue. (We had to have the floor dug out under the bathroom and in the surrounding area.) It’s a still a work in progress, but the bathroom went from the dark red “Mardi Gras” style to a more subdued look. My wife and son say they prefer the new look, even though neither one ever uses the bathroom in the basement. Regardless, I'm just glad to have a working toilet down there again. Let the good times flush, er...roll. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Celebrating Cedar

"I have an idea," my wife said one morning. 

Uh oh. This is how it begins. I knew what was coming next.

"How about we create a cedar closet?"

The next thing I know, we’re at the home store purchasing cedar planks.

In all fairness, it was a relatively simple project that paid dividends. The room smelled wonderful for months afterward. My wife was happy to have such a sweet-smelling place to store her clothes. And now that my older son has taken over that room, I’m sure he’ll someday appreciate the aromatic planking that lies behind his closet doors. His toys never will be the same.

A nail gun got the job done.

Got to get behind everything.