Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Martha Washington Meet Acreage Adventures

As part of our long term storage solution plan for the second floor we really like the idea of a craft area the whole family could use. It started last year by turning the useless closet at the top of the stairs into a computer nook. We have now moved over to the even stranger space adjoining the computer nook just outside the upstairs bathroom. 
Original space outside the upstairs bathroom before our resurfacing the floor and tearing down the closet for the computer nook

For years Megs has been sewing on the living room coffee table, a cheaper than dirt Ikea desk, and any other place we just so happen to have available. She has wanted a nice sewing table but we both agreed we never had the space for one. Viola… weird room turned sewing craft area!

Last year around her birthday I decided I would surprise her with an Andy custom sewing table. I quickly ran into one of my common design problems… I minimally consulted the customer and blazed forward with my own design of what would be useful. After unveiling the rough skeleton to Megs her tepid reaction quickly made me realize that what I had started to build wasn't anything like she wanted and what I currently had was not savable. On the up side that frame became a great shop work surface for the next 3 projects I built. That birthday she got a purchased gift.

All the summer projects tied me up for another season and I just now got back to the intent of building her dream sewing table… mark 2. This time I asked and received design concepts, a wish list and an overall idea of how this table would be used. She gladly provided me with lots of Meg-ish feedback… “I like this design, but not exactly” and “I would like storage on either side about this much (vaguely moves hands in square pattern)”. Away I went, into the cold, to face The First Farm Fatality.

Normally I would be able to work long happy hours in the shop, but this arctic vortex has really put a cramp in my frozen dead cold side. My working plan was as follows: decide what parts I could cut and mill within a 20-25 min time frame, bundle up, actually go out and do the work until my hands and toes ached with pain, run inside with completed parts while making baby bird sobbing sounds, demand my kids put on their “earmuffs” so daddy could swear uncontrollably, warm up, glue and assemble machined parts, start all over.

From long boards to components
Table leg/ shelf support pieces cut and pre-drilled - ready for assembly

In this fashion I was able to build and assemble all sub components required for the table design in one day. Once I tucked in all the kiddos, Megs included, I turned on Lilly Hammer and assembled all the components together.

Table leg sub-assemblies drying overnight

Table top components and outside legs
Assembled and trimmed table top

One of the bigger design requirements of this table included incorporating a fold-able leaf to the rear side of the table. This store-able leaf gives the sew-stress added space to push material when quilting. The table is 5’ wide, which is a long joint to try and get tightly lined up using multiple hinges so i decided a piano hinge would be best. The local stores didn't have what i needed but I was able to find a 5’ long piano hinge online which would add more than needed joint strength and the hinge would act as its own self aligning jig. I flipped the table over on it’s top, lined up the leaf and screwed in all 50 #6 screws along the axis… it worked out great. 
I moved the clamp along as I installed the screws to make a nice tight joint

I had been going back and forth on how I wanted to support the leaf in its usable state: Table leaf supports or folding legs? I finally settled on using legs. In its current location, access to the extended table leaf will be against the wall. However, if we ever move this table to a new location where we would like to use the leaf for crafts, homework, etc the standard table leaf supports wouldn't provide direct support. The table leaf supports depend on counter balance and strength from the table, whereas this table is mostly stick built and doesn't carry a lot of counter weight.

The next night I was able to install the side storage bottoms and finish machining and installing the fold-able legs for the table leaf. The legs are attached to the table using strap hinges and supported with leg support hardware. I also installed screw style leveling pads because nothing is remotely close to level in this house.I used glue and staples to attach the side storage bottoms to the legs, which is overkill for some storage shelves but it does add a considerable amount of strength to the entire table by doing so. 

The next task I had in front of me had been nagging at me since I began this project... I now had to cut the sewing machine relief hole in the table top. Not only is it the most critically functional part of a sewing table but the most aesthetic as well. Most projects, when you cut out a hole you just throw the blank away, but in this project the blank is also used when the sewing machine calls to be mounted on top of the table and not recessed. I spent near an hour tracing, squaring, measuring, and mentally preparing. 

I drilled a 1 1/8” hole to both use as an access point to start my jig saw cut but also for a finger hole to easily remove the table blank later. 
Not going bald yet! Megs says she see gray!
I used a good side up, clean cut saw blade on the straights and a good side up and down, clean cut tight radius scroll blade for the corners as they were radiused. 
This is my weekend outfit...every weekend; I also have a summer version

I probably could have done the whole shebang with one blade but time taken now would make me less crazy when I saw my work for years to come. Megan would never notice the difference, but I would and I am insane.

Throwing my hands in the air like Rocky, I had completed the cuts and more importantly liked how it came out.  
I used my oscillating tool to finish the last two places over the center table support, then removed the pocket screws from underneath
I then used the blank I just cut out as a template to trace on some ¼” plywood I had out in the shop. I need these pieces in order to support the blank when the sewing machine is out of the table. Once cut and glued into place the last item of work I had to complete was sealing the top.

You can never have enough clamps

Meg’s only request for the top is that it be slick.  In the past she has painted nearly all of my projects, but this one I was determined to keep natural wood, and I am glad I did because the birch plywood I used for the top had great character.Using the handyman’s secret weapon I attached our house vacuum to my random orbital sander, and with a 120grit disk, I set to work. Side note: most tool makers make specific dust vacuums for this kind of work, but it is down on the list for items to buy for the shop even if I had a spare $500.  After wiping down all the sanded surfaces I broke out the water based gloss finish polyurethane and brushed on two coats, sanding with a 220 grit sanding pad between each coat.

No wonder I have poor posture, I am in a constant state of bent over all weekend!
The top is now slick as snot and beautiful to boot.

The absolute last item I need to accomplish on the sewing table is to install the drawer slides on the pull out work surface Megs requested to use as a cutting and storage station. I have the slides and have promised to finish that detail this week. That drawer has caused me more pain than all the other details in the build, simple due to the ever shifting (I swear) size of the Olfa cutting pad Megs owns. I measured it, then it grew so I altered the design, then I measured again and it grew some more! I bought 3 different style drawer slides but finally settled on under drawer style slides which will allow for full support with all the working hidden. Because that damn pad grew the second time it just doesn't quite fit in the space I have I convinced Meg to let me cut off ½” off of it, which I will accomplish by sandwiching it between two boards and running it through my bandsaw. If it grows again I am going to burn it like a White Walker (Thanks Game of Thrones).

Slide out drawer

I also built a book/ storage shelf unit to go along with the sewing table. Two – 2x12x10’ boards make up all the main components plus a 2’x4’ sheet of ¼” plywood for the back complete the entire BOM (Bill Of Material). My customer wanted the shelves to be adjustable so I used my Rockler shelf pin jig on the side components before assembling the unit with my favorite Kreg pocket screws. I’m sure Megs will get her grubby painters hands on this piece of furniture too but for now they make a nice matching set.

Using painters tape makes for a cleaner drilled hole
Bookshelf components ready for assembly in the warm kitchen
Even though this was supposed to be a gift for my beautiful wife, we both agree I will be using this table even more than her. Did you notice above that I converted pair of standard issue BDU pants by altering one of the pockets into a tool carrier and added padded Gore-tex knee reinforcements...I'm taking orders. Just like our musical lives where Megs was trained in classical piano and voice and I in rock and roll and jazz drum set, we also approach sewing the same way. She strictly follows directions and I, for the most part, make it up as I go. This was a great project that we both are going to get years of use from and it really helped us transform our long standing nightmare of disaster-ness we called our upstairs.

Table leaf extended

The finished products!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Closeted Stenciler

I’m just going to clear the air right at the beginning of this post- I stenciled a closet.  What madness produces someone to spend 5 hours working in a space which 90% of people entering your home will never see?  I’ll call it the DIY madness. 

I’ve been dying to stencil or wallpaper something since we moved into this house.  I have never really had an interest in it before but I think since this house is so devoid of character, I felt like adding some great wall art would add some much needed pizzazz to the place.  I’m a little intimidated by wallpaper- the cost, finality and seemingly messiness of the process so I decided to try my hand at stenciling first.  F's closet is a narrow cave closet with a slope.  We plan to open the wall to create a second door or double door in the future, but for now, we are living with it.  Andy first tore out the original shelving.

After patching and sanding the walls, he painted the floors with a coat of floor paint (oil based and glossy and the painted he used on the upstairs hallway floors) and the walls with two coats of wall white.

Once I saw that nice, gleaming fresh white, clean space, I went into my mind to the place where amazing-cutesee people do things like decorate closets (thank you Pinterest for putting that thought into my brain).  I couldn't help myself and felt like ultimately the small space was a perfect place to experiment with stenciling my first time.

To make my madness complete, I decided to make my own stencil.  I had seen a wallpaper sample I loved a while ago and decided to recreate it in stencil form.  I enlarged the picture I wanted and printed it out.  

Using a black felt tip marker, I traced the picture onto stencil sheeting (just picked up at Hobby Lobby).  

After I had my design, I used a very sharp craft knife to cut the stencil out.  I put the stencil on my quilting mat while I was cutting.  It worked best to keep the knife in the stencil and move the stencil as I was cutting to keep the cuts clean.  I was surprised that it only took an hour or so to cut it all out.

Once I was ready to work in the closet, I sprayed my stencil with a special stencil adhesive on the wrong side.  I let the adhesive dry (5-10 minutes) before positioning the stencil on the wall.  
My tools- Styrofoam bowls with the paint, foam brushes and stencil adhesive
I decided to start with the far wall and baseboard trim as my stencil guide.  Since I was using 2 colors for each row and the bird was pretty detailed, I decided to use a foam stippling brush instead of a small roller to apply the paint.  For the first row, I alternated with a dark grey and light grey for each bird (all the colors were from left-over samples I had in the basement).  Using my stippling brush, I dabbed into each paint color and then dabbed off excess (so the paint doesn’t bleed behind the stencil).  

I dabbed the paint on the stencil- using more pressure than paint.  Once I had all my birds painted on the sheet, I carefully peeled the sheet from the wall and positioned it above the birds using the last bird as a guide.  
This is toward the end of the project, but you can see how I used the last bird (in blue) as a guide and then painted the tan and next blue bird on top
The paint dries fast enough that I didn't smear the bird I was using as a guide.  I used the line where the ceiling curves as my ending point guide. 

Since I was using two colors for each row and alternating between rows (even rows with light and dark grey; odd rows with beige and blue) I decided to do all the even rows first, leaving space to go back to do the odd rows in different colors.  This way I wouldn't have to clean my stencil or wait for it to dry after every row.  To get my guide where I placed the next even stencil, I marked the edge of the stencil at the top and bottom on the wall with a pencil. I then placed my stencil on these marks and made another mark at the top and bottom on the other side.  Thankfully, Andy had a laser level so I used it to create a line from the top and bottom marks (otherwise you could use a straight edge and draw a line).  This actually took the longest of the whole process- just making sure the line was straight.  
You can see the laser line a bit on the floor here and see the space I am leaving between the rows
Now that I had a space in between and a straight line, I started the process over of putting paint on the stencil.  The stencil began to be less sticky, so I reapplied the stencil adhesive about halfway through.  The even rows took me 3 hours to complete (almost 4 episodes of the “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” marathon I have been watching lately while painting) and I washed the paint off my stencil once I was done.  Really the hardest part of the process was having to kneel most of the time which I initially relieved by putting diapers on my knees (always on hand in the Peterson household).  Once Andy caught wind of my brilliance and ingenuity (or ridiculousness as he called it), he brought me a foam pad to kneel one.

The second night I went back to do the odd rows.  I choose beige and blue colors for these rows (really I just chose colors similar to the original picture I liked).  These rows went faster since I already had my pencil guide lines to line the laser level up with.

I am seriously giddy at the result.  

It is actually a little sad how excited I got every time I walked into the room to see those silly pigeons in the closet.  I makes me think of warm summer days in Chicago, eating a hotdog on a bench with pigeons begging for scraps.  A little bit Chi-town in the country. 

Overall, stenciling was pretty easy and enjoyable- I would definitely do it again and try in a bigger space.  Based on my experience, here are a few pointers:
1.       Use stencil adhesive (as opposed to taping the stencil) but wait for it to dry completely- I jumped the gun at one point and it was pretty messy
2.      The key is little paint, lots of pressure.  Based on the demos I saw for using a roller, this seemed to be the case as well.

3.      Go for it- a year ago I never would have imagined having pigeons on my wall but now I am ready to pigeon the whole house!

Stay tuned for lots more updates this week with the final closet layout, finished quilting table and organized craft area.  We were busy bees  pigeons this weekend!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Our First Farm Casualty

Last Saturday started off just like it always does, me getting loaded up in the truck to head over to the lumber yard, to start yet another project. The project in question was going to be Meg’s new sewing table and storage.  What I thought was going to be about an hour worth of running errands turned into about 4 hours of breakdowns, calling in favors, and being towed to my buddies farm.

Since we were in the midst of the arctic vortex I was well bundled in all of my glorious layers as I headed out in our beloved farm truck. The truck was acting rather sluggish even after being warmed up but it was -19 degrees outside so I figured it just needed a little babying, as most of us do when it is that cold outside. I stopped at the gas station to fill up before my journey and could not get the truck started again. It was acting just like 6 months before when I had to swap out the Engine Control Unit, it would crank and crank but not start up. So I called my buddy AA who much to his chagrin is my go to for all engine driven technology. “Pump the throttle once, hold it down to the floor and try starting it” I was told and as ALWAYS boom it fired right up. I had learned yet another lesson in the art of carbureted engines.

Off to the lumber yard with nothing to stop me, I thought optimistically… The further I drove the worse the truck acted, making noises and losing a lot of power. A quick glance down to the oil pressure gauge showed 20psi, which was slightly concerning as it usually runs about 40psi. I decided to pull over and look under the hood. The engine looked good but glancing under the truck I noticed a decently steady oil drip, so I once again called up the wiz kid because, he has nothing better to do than help me right? “Is it pissing out?” After considering my standard urination technique, I answer “not really, just dripping”.

“Well”, AA answered, “when you make it to Cresco, throw oil in it and we can then get it to my house to check it out”. Little did my expert know he was matching wits with a 3rd grader, and was making assumptions based off less than stellar information. My blind optimism forged on until for the first time in my life both a sound, smell and feel all merged into one sense… this bad boy is done! I quickly reached down and turned the key back towards me to shut the beast down, however in my zeal to end it’s pain I turned the key too far and had locked the steering column! Coasting about 45mph down a winterized road with no steering, forget no power steering, and un powered brakes gave me the instant feeling of dread that radiated out from MY undercarriage. I quickly realized my mistake and turned the key enough to get some steering back. I settled in to a nice slow stop at the side of the road, and laughed out loud.

Ring, ring… “Hey buddy…yea… this thing is done-zo, there isn't a drop of oil left and the gauge reads zero pressure.” After we establish a plan and hang up I can’t help but think how much I am testing this friendship. The only other call that friends dread hearing other than the airport pick up and car trouble is needing help moving house, so luckily this problem was down on the list. I was plenty bundled up so waiting around for help wasn't an issue… at first. However what continues to become clear to me about where we now live is that everyone and their brother will stop to check you are ok. It is simultaneously unbelievably considerate and embarrassing . Luckily my societal shame was short-lived and AA arrived with a shit eating grin on his face. After adding oil, AA wanted me to start her up and try. I was able to then witness the same facial expression on his face that I’m sure was on mine when the groin-al sensation struck at the sound of this dying truck. It was amazing.

To add insult to injury I was facing the “wrong direction” from the way we had to go on a very narrow road right after a blind corner, so the 1000pt turn while getting towed and pushed back and forth was out of the question. So we did what any problem solver would do and he towed me BACKWARDS down the road until we got to a gravel turnout and were able to maneuver more safely. 

After completing a bumper car style turn event we were on our way to his house. Being towed by another truck is super fun and scary at the same time. One, I have no power steering or brakes. Two, I was only about 10 feet behind his truck so the margin of error was narrow. Three, just as we were clipping along a HUGE snowplow decided at that time it would be a good idea to share the same bit of icy road with us.

After parking the truck at his place I piled into his working truck and we headed off to run the errands intended before this fiasco occurred. We are guessing it was the rear main seal that gave way pumping more than 4 quarts of oil out of his own beating heart to the pavement in less than 10 miles. We both agreed that neither of us is in a hurry to crawl in, on, under the truck until it gets a little warmer. I also learned from this event that in cases like this it will be cheaper just to buy and swap out a whole new engine vs trying to take the thing apart and fix what is broken along the way, like exploratory surgery. One of the main reasons we bought this truck is because we were bugging AA so much to borrow his time and resources. I guess that is what we get for being considerate of others. J

Stay tuned for my first engine swap. I’m a little more than excited.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

An Acreage Couple's Guide to Surviving the Arctic Vortex

As the past few days have been littered with school cancellations and dire weather warnings, we thought we would do a first for our blog and write a post together.  Yes- this is both Megan and Andy!  The weather in our new home in Iowa is generally the same as our previous home in Illinois, minus lake effect snow.  However, wind speeds get very crazy and we have noticed it is often up to 10 degrees cooler out in the country then in town.  In addition to this, our lives in the winter don't just include walking from the house to the car; from the car to work and back again but consist of doing chores around the acreage and getting in and out of the house with no shoveled side walks or driveways.

Andy: We also have to think about what happens if our car breaks down and are stuck out in the middle of nowhere for any length of time. Which... happened to me recently... stay tuned.

Megan: Before moving here, our typical winter attire was jeans, sweatshirt, basic boots, coat, gloves and scarf:

Megan:  I had a nice down coat from a department store that had a useless hood which would flop over my eyes constantly...

Andy: Including while driving!

Megan: Eh. My boots were from Title Nine and while they held up fine for walks on shoveled side walks were not insulated and left my toes cold.  Notice, I was anti-hat in my previous life.

Andy: I was fairly stylish in my 2.5 mile drive door to door to and from work and could bear wearing a t-shirt for that amount of time.

Megan: So, now we are getting smarter.  This was not just spurned on by the recent drop in temps (we saw -50 here the past few days) but has been a process we started last winter when we realized our "city" clothes wouldn't cut it.  So, follow along with us on our daily journey of getting dressed to go anywhere.

Feel free to collect, share and trade all Peterson winter attire action figure poses with your friends and family.

Layer 1:  The Core

Megan:  I am modeling the Smart Wool line of under gear.  Seriously, you will realized by the end of this post that I am in love with Smart Wool...

Andy: Thanks to ME!

Megan: (Stop interrupting!) and should consider attending Smart Wool Anonymous.  But this stuff is great!  I have Smart Wood socks, striped Smart Wool leggings and a teal Smart Wool top.  Andy purchased these leggings for me a few weeks ago and I was doubtful (not just by the $100 price tag, OUCH!).  I worried they would make me hot when I was inside and they would not sit right under my pants which are generally pretty tight as is the currently style.  Well, rest assured ladies, these bad boys are fantastic!  I can even get them comfortably on under my jeggings.  It was so drafty in the house yesterday that I actually wore them under my yoga pants all day and they were super comfortable.

Andy: I like to spend most of my money on my beautiful wife... I am rocking some tactical cold gear Under Armor that I have had for years now. I, like Megs, am in a loving somewhat stalker-ish relationship with both Smart Wool and UA. Add some moisture wicking silk sock liners and heavy wool boot socks and you have a good base to build on. A good base layer makes all the difference.

Megan:  Makes all the difference in showing your skinny chicken legs.

Andy: Jealousy is a stinky cologne...

Layer 2:  Lightweight Wear

Megan:  Here I am sporting my everyday jeans (leggings under them) and a henley from Eddie Bauer.  I purchased 3 of these in November...

Andy: Again you are welcome...

Megan:  and have been rotating them daily since.

Andy: You are now looking at my weekend wear, and I mean every weekend.

Megan:  ALL weekend.

Andy: I do sleep in this outfit as well, much to Megs dismay, sans boots, I'm not an animal. My custom sewed (by me) combat trousers with reinforced fleece/ Gore-Tex knees, and one of my many 1/4 zip tops. My unwashed bed head increases in awesomeness throughout the weekend and I feel keeps me warmer by some form of mystical magic. I bought these Wetland series Muck Boots a few years ago and I would never trade them in. They truly are waterproof and manage to stay on and in comfortable fashion all day through miles of walking even though they are slip on boots. On the coldest of days I stick on some chemical toe warmers and they work great.

Layer 3:  Heavy-duty Wear

Megan:  I have added my First Ascent fleece from Eddie Bauer (another favorite) and a pair of Smart Wool gloves.  These gloves work fine for my everyday activities of carrying kids to and from the car but when I am outside for a long time I put on a more serious pair of gloves.  Finally, I am now wearing my new Columbia Minx Mid Snow Boot.  These boots are fantastic and probably my favorite purchase this year (though the leggings are a close second).  The laces loosen and tighten really easily so I can get them on and off quickly and there is enough calf room to get my pants tucked in very easily.  The soles have serious grippys on them so I feel confident in icy conditions and the boots themselves feel like warm sleeping bags on my feet.  I would highly recommend these boots!  My old pair wouldn't have lasted a day with this winter but these have kept my toes toasty even on the coldest days.  I purchased them for $100 on Amazon which I thought compared to other options- Teva and Sorel- were really reasonable.  (Bummer- they are now listed at $118 but I think they are still worth it)

Andy: Wells brand polar work bibs are where it is at. Megs makes a big stink about how nerdy they are but I hear her lick her lips every time I turn around.

Megan:  No.  These things are ridiculous.

Andy: Denial... it's not just a river in Egypt is it? On days where my viking-ly large nose doesn't freeze in under a minute I combine my beloved bibs with a heavy Irish wool sweater or Eddie Bauer shag pile fleece top that you see here and call it a day. Recently though, I have had to step it up a notch. I also mostly wear my Manzella glove liners for all season activities and UA silk lined skull cap, a must have.

Layer 4:  Coats

Megan:  My final layer is a coat, neck gaiter and hat.  The coat is a Canada Goose Down coat Andy picked up off the black market on his last trip to China.  Not really, but that is what I like to imagine.  In Shanghai, there are several knockoff markets that Andy has gone to during his travels.  He says the negotiating is crazy.  This coat is a knockoff but in China, the authentic merchandise is generally manufactured in a plant adjacent to the knockoff plant.  He was able to get this coat for $70 (~550 RMB)- it sells for $700 in the US.  It is a fantastic coat and feels like the best hug in the world.  My neck gaiter and hat are from Smart Wool.  While the hat still makes my head itchy, I have gotten over my initial aversion due to necessity (and realizing my hair still looks ok when I take it off- a deal breaker otherwise).

Andy: My similar jacket comes from the same outstanding 4 foot 1 inch Chinese lady and her even more slight daughter. I even snapped a group selfie the last time I was in the country and plan to visit them on my next trip. These coats are not only like being hugged but hugged by your favorite sleeping bag that is slipping you happy pills. Everyone has a collection of something... shoes, trains, plates, purses... handbags, sorry ladies; well mine is gloves. I have searched the globe for the BEST pair of gloves that provide latex type dexterity with Mt. Everest warmth. I still haven't found them, but I wont quit, I am not a quitter! Anyone in the market for like 10 pairs of semi-used gloves? Anyways, my current favorites are full deer leather insulated work gloves and Gore-Tex line fleece jobbers. I top it all off with my camo bomber hat. Awesome-sauce!

 In Conclusion...

Andy: I work with a guy who once uttered the phase, "It's avoidable". He was talking about eating some undesirable food dish in China, but I took that saying to heart and now use it regularly. There is no reason to be cold when you can be comfortable... it's avoidable.

Megan: Suck it arctic vortex...we laugh in your face!!!