Friday, September 26, 2014

Shaker Style End Tables

Here's a little bonus for those of you who actually read the blog, and don't just watch the videos.  If you want to see more of these, you might want to subscribe to Creative Minority's Facebook page, so you won't miss them. 

Several years ago I lost my cabinet shop in Oregon and had to fly down to Los Angeles to get a job in commercial construction (long story, but it worked out OK).  I realized that I wasn't doing much woodworking, so I developed this design and made several of them to keep in practice.  The design is based on hazy memories of a table I had seen Norm Abram make a few years previously on the New Yankee Workshop.  The beautiful thing about this design (as adapted by me) is that you can easily make it with nothing but hand tools and a router with a few common bits.  I know, because that's all I had at the time.  I still have two of these in my living room, and I always get positive comments whenever we have a dinner party.  If you are just making the jump from rough job site carpentry to building real furniture, this is an excellent project to start with.

The Basic Design
Obligatory Dovetail Shot

Another nice thing is that, by tweaking the overall width, you can make tables of several different sizes with the same plan.

A Smaller Version Made With The Same Plans

I won't give step-by-step instructions right now.  For one thing, I plan to do a Handyman Kevin episode about these tables in the future.  However, these shop drawings should be plenty accurate enough for you to build your own.  If you have any questions, feel free to post in the comments.

For .pdf files, suitable for hi-res printing, click here.

Or, if you use AutoCad, the original .dwg file is here

Otherwise, here are some pictures of the plans:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Changing a Kitchen Faucet

Hi everyone, and welcome back.  This week we dive into a common household plumbing task:  changing a kitchen faucet.  As we say in the handyman trade, "woodworking is fun, but plumbing pays the bills."

In general, you will want to buy your new faucet before you start this project.  When in doubt, follow the instructions that come with it.  That's right, I actually said to follow the instructions.  Seriously, though, the documentation that comes with plumbing fixtures tends to be pretty good, particularly for the major brands.

Since you will be spending much of this job lying on your back with your head in a cabinet, it pays to lay your tools out next to you where you can reach them easily. You will want to have:  a small flashlight, a pair of channel locks, a Phillips screwdriver, a small scraper or putty knife, a small adjustable wrench, and a scrap of something soft to protect your back.  You will probably also need a basin wrench, which is a specialty tool (available at any hardware store) for undoing the nuts on the bottom of a faucet. A couple of old towels will also come in handy for soaking up excess water.

Tools Needed to Change a Faucet (Not Shown: a Small Flashlight)
Another tool that is nice to have is the Rigid 2006, which is basically a plastic tube with wrenches at each end.  One end fits supply lines and the other fits the nuts that secure a faucet.  I don't actually own one, but I have borrowed them from other people on job sites and found them useful.  For old, nonstandard stuff, however, you will still want the basin wrench, which will grab nearly anything.  The rigid tool costs about $20, so only buy it if you are planning on changing several faucets in the next year. 

The general procedure for most sinks is a follows:

Step 1:  Turn Off the Water Supply


The hot and cold water should come into the cabinet through either the floor or wall as a pair of small brass valves.  Turn the handle all the way clockwise to turn off the water supply.

Step 2: Detach Garbage Disposal (Optional)

If there is a garbage disposal, and it looks like it will be in the way, you might want to temporarily remove it.  To do this, undo the slip nut connecting the disposal to the drain pipe.  Then insert your screwdriver into the quick release ring, and rotate it it until the disposal comes free of the sink.  Be sure to support the disposal as it releases so it doesn't just drop.  If you don't have much upper body strength, you might want to support the bottom of the disposal with a block of wood, toolbox, etc.  Set the disposal aside for now.

Step 3:  Disconnect Supply Lines

If you have enough room, use a small adjustable wrench (aka Crescent wrench) to disconnect the two hoses that supply water to the faucet.  Otherwise, use your basin wrench.  Some water will come out of the lines as you disconnect them, so have a towel handy to mop it up.  

The basin wrench can be a little tricky to use until you get the hang of it.  The main trick is to make sure the wrench end is folded in the right direction.

This is a good time to inspect the supply lines and make sure they are still good.  If they look really sad, this might be a good time to swap them out.  Measure them for length and replace them with braided stainless lines from the hardware store. 

Tuck the lines out of the way as you go on to the next step. 

Step 4:  Disconnect the Faucet

Most faucets are held on with a couple of large plastic nuts, which you can loosen with the basin wrench.  Although they are getting rare these days, you occasionally run into metal nuts.  These are frequently corroded, and can be a real pain to get off.  Try shooting them with some WD-40 and working on them with the basin wrench.  If this doesn't work, you may need to cut them off with a hacksaw blade or cold chisel.  You can also grind them off with a Dremel tool or angle grinder, but this is less than fun since the sparks go right in your face.  Your should definitely wear goggles if you decide to go this route. 

Step 5:  Remove the Faucet, and Clean up Underneath

You should now be able to pull the old faucet out.  If it was equipped with a sprayer, you may find that you need to cut the hose to get it out.  

The space under the faucet is usually pretty disgusting, so take a minute to scrape off any old silicone and corrosion, then clean it with rags or a sponge.

Step 6:  Set the New Faucet

While not absolutely necessary, it is a good idea to shoot a bead of silicone on the bottom of the new faucet.  This helps level any irregularities in the sink surface, keeps water from leaking though, and keeps the faucet assembly from shifting over time.   Butter up the faucet, set it in place, then go underneath and tighten down the nuts.  Hand tight should be enough (if you have strong hands). 

Step 7 :  Reattach the Supply Lines


Screw the supply lines onto the new faucet.  You will probably need the adjustable wrench or basin wrench to tighten them, but do not over-tighten.  There is a little o-ring in the end of the supply line.  You want to tighten the coupling enough that the o-ring squishes and seals, but not enough that it is deformed or damaged. 

Turn on the supply valves.


Step 8:  Reinstall the Garbage Disposal (if you Removed it Before)

When I was younger and stronger I had no trouble holding up a garbage disposal with one hand while I tightened it down with the other.  Nowadays I usually cheat.  I either cut a chunk of scrap 2x4 board to jam under the disposal and hold it or, better yet, go grab the jack out of my pickup to raise the disposal into place.

Whichever technique you choose, make sure that the rubber gasket is securely stuck to the top of the disposal, over the quick-release ring (sometimes it stays with the sink when the disposal comes away).  The idea is to line up the disposal and have it pressed against the sink.  Then, when you turn the ring, it will engage the little tabs and suck the disposal against the strainer assembly.   You can start it by hand, but will want to use a screwdriver to tighten it the last little bit.

Step 9:  Flush the New Faucet and Check for Leaks


Wipe down the sink and surrounding area with paper towels and a cleaning product like Simple Green.   Failure to clean up after yourself is the number one cause of handymen not getting called back.  When that is taken care of, unscrew the little aerator screen from the end of the faucet.  Let it run for about 30 seconds to flush out any dust or flash inside the faucet, the reinstall the aerator.

The very last thing to do is to check for leaks.  Take a dry piece of toilet or facial tissue and run it up and down everything you touch under the sink.  If something is leaking, it will immediately become damp.

Don't panic if you have a leak.  Usually, you just need to tighten the connection another half turn or so.  If you absolutely can't get something to stop leaking, then you may need to disconnect it and wrap the threads with several turns of pipe tape, which will usually fix the problem.

Some Final Notes

Between the video and this blog entry, you shouldn't have any trouble changing a kitchen faucet.  Be aware, though, that when you are under the sink you sometimes find other things that need fixing.  For example, when I changed the faucet in the video, I found that the sink drain had rusted out, and I had to change it before I put the sink back together.  In the past, I've found dry rot, wiring problems, and various kinds of pest infestation that no one had noticed before because they never put their heads under the sink.  I don't say this to scare you off.  Far from it; these kinds of maintenance problems tend to be cheaper to fix the earlier you find them.  That being said, allow yourself plenty of extra time for contingencies.  Also, don't be afraid to ask for help.  This might mean chatting up the guy at the hardware store for advice (many of them are experts on this type of repair), or calling in a specialist if you run into something too complicated.

Bathroom Sinks are very similar to kitchen sinks in terms of the tools you need and the process of changing a faucet.  There are two main differences, though.  First, most bathroom faucets also come with the drain and stopper assembly, which you will want to change at the same time.  I'm sure I will show how to change these in a later episode.  For now, though, you will probably be fine if you follow the instructions.

The other main difference, is that the space inside a bathroom lavatory cabinet is usually much smaller than in a kitchen cabinet.  Likewise, bathrooms themselves tend to be tighter; some half baths are smaller than a coat closet.  Sometimes it can be a real contortionist act just to get to where you can undo the nuts.  Actually, many bathroom lavatories (especially the kind apartment managers like to buy) have the sink and faucet installed in the cabinet shop, with the cabinet upside down on a workbench.  Sometimes, as an act of last resort, I have actually disconnected the supply lines from the wall and removed the entire cabinet so I could get to the faucet.  You do what you have to do but, since the cabinets don't always come out in one piece, you would definitely want to get your client to sign something before setting in with a crowbar.    Voice of experience talking here. 


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Building Counter Tops

Hello and welcome to the first ever episode of the Handyman Kevin Channel!  This week, we look at how to build your own counter tops.  In the video, I covered a particle board workbench with tempered hard board (Masonite).  You could use a similar technique with plastic laminate (Formica) to build custom counters for your kitchen or store.  Or substitute fiber reinforced plastic (FRP) panels--the kind you see on the walls of commercial restrooms, and create a nearly indestructible counter.  

Pre-laminated counter top slabs in boring colors and standard widths are sold in many home centers.  However, once you can make your own from scratch you become free to make curves, odd angles, and multilevel counters.  Plus, any sheet material that you can cut with a router becomes fair game for the surface.  The Formica catalog alone has hundreds of laminates in different patterns, textures, and thicknesses.  Then add in all of the different types of hardboard and plastic sheet, and the combinations are nearly infinite. 

Back when I worked at Golden West, the ability to quickly make fancy custom laminate desks, tub surrounds, and shelves was one of the weapons that allowed us to dominate the manufactured home shows more years than not.  True, we also did tile and granite counters, but laminate was always the most popular.

The project in our video isn't nearly that ambitions; just a flat, durable workbench top that will last for years and be easy to replace when it finally gets chewed up.

Step 1:  Build your counter slabs.


I don't show this part in the video, but obviously you need a substrate to which you can glue the top.  By far the best choice is particle board underlayment.  For something like a shelf or a bathroom counter you can get away with a single thickness of 3/4" particle board.  For a work surface like a workbench or a kitchen counter, however, you want to use a double thickness with plenty of glue between.

When using a single thickness, you will usually want to build up the lip on the edge with a 3/4" x 1" wooden cleat.

Or, for a fancier and more durable edge, you could apply a hardwood molding or a tile edge.

Step 2:  Square Up the Slab


If your slab isn't square, the counter never will be.  The normal tool used for this job is a portable belt sander.  It takes practice to learn how to keep the sander square to the counter and not let it dig in.  This is a good reason to build a workbench first, and wait on those custom kitchen counters until you've mastered the technique.

If you don't have a belt sander you could try an orbital sander with a course disk.  It will take longer and require more care than a belt sander, however.  If you are limited to hand tools you can make an effective sanding block by buying an 80 grit sanding belt and stretching it over a scrap of board with rounded ends.

 Step 3:  Glue the Front Edging


Cut strips of edging a little wider than the edge of your counter.  Always dry fit your pieces before you put glue on them, especially if you have corners or butt joint seams.  Apply contact cement to both the edge of the slab and the back of your edging.  Let the glue dry until it is no longer liquid and just the barest bit tacky to the touch.  Press the edging against the edge of your counter and it should immediately stick.  Apply enough pressure (somewhere around 20 psi) to really activate the bond.   On edging, this is almost always done either with a rubber mallet or with a claw hammer and a scrap of wood (it's hard to use a roller effectively on the edge of the counter).

A Few Words About Contact Cement

Contact cement comes in two main styles:  brush-on and spray-on.  The brush on stuff is slightly cheaper and seems to hold better.  You slop it on with a paintbrush and spread it with a notched trowel (check the can for what size trowel you need).  The whole process gets very sticky, very fast.  Spray-on contact cement is applied from either an aerosol can or some type of spray gun.  The best spray-on contact cement ever is Sta'-Put, but it seems nearly impossible to find in regular home centers or hardware stores.  Try online or at RV stores.  Other brands work adequately as long as you apply them evenly and use plenty of pressure.   Production counter shops use a two-part adhesive system that is catalyzed as it is used and can be applied with an HVLP spray system by either humans or robots.  The system works great, but is totally overkill for a do-it-yourself-er or small cabinet shop. 

Crosscutting and Seaming Edging

With thicker materials like Masonite or plastic sheet, you will want to cut them to length with a miter saw or table saw and a fine tooth blade.  These tools leave nice square edges that will match up nicely, either on a scarf (straight seam) or a corner.  You can also cut it with a hand saw and square the edges with a sanding block.  Occasionally (if you messed up on  Step 1) corner joints aren't quite at right angles.  In that case you can adjust the ends of the edging with a belt sander.

Laminate is thinner and can be cut with tin snips.  You can often spot the counter top guy in a cabinet shop because he has a pair of tin snips struck through the hammer loop on his tool belt.  With practice and a sharp pair of snips, you can cut it quite square, to where it only needs a few swipes of the file to make it perfect.

Step 4:  Flush Rout the Front Edging

Chuck a flush trim bit in a router that is small enough to hold and control easily.  Rout all the way around the edge to trim off the excess, being sure to move in a counter-clockwise direction. 

Step 5:  Sand the Top (Laminate Only)

Flush trim router bits are not perfect, especially if you use a cheap brand or have had them resharpened a few times.  Often, the very top of the edge will be slightly proud of the particle board, causing a bad glue joint later.  For this reason, most people take a belt sander at this point and flush the top.  Make sure that the sanding belt is always pulling the edging against the slab.  If you sand the other direction it will pull the edging right off and you will need to go back two steps and start over.

I sometimes skip this step when working with thick materials like Masonite, since the glue joint problem doesn't seem as critical.

Step 6:  Protect the Edging With Tape

The front edge might not be perfectly square, causing your router to dig in too deep.  Or the bearing on the flush trim bit might seize up, scorching your edging.  For these reasons, smart counter top builders pause long enough to put a strip of tape along the edging for the router bit to ride against.  Duct tape works best because of its thickness, but a layer or two of masking tape will do in a pinch.

Step 7:  Glue Sheets to the Top

If you will be seaming any pieces, make sure to dry fit them before you apply any glue.  Try to match factory edges against each other, because they are usually straighter than those you cut yourself.  When there is a strong pattern printed on laminate, try to match up the pattern on the two pieces.  In a seam you will often need to adjust the pieces for a good fit, using a file and/or a block plane.  This takes patience and a good eye, but is absolutely necessary for a quality counter top.  Many people lay out the seams so they are partially hidden by the lip of a kitchen sink or other feature.  Also, it is a good idea, structurally, not to line up the laminate seams with the seams in the particle board.

If you need to cut laminate, you can use a table saw with a fine tooth blade set all the way up.  This will minimize chipping.  Or you could score it with a straight-edge and a laminate cutter then break it over the edge of a table.  The table saw method is faster and less likely to wreck your laminate.

Laminate Cutter

Pros will often lay several smaller counters next to each other so they can cover them all with a single 5'x10' piece of laminate, without having to measure and cut each piece.  Just make sure they are all on a level surface and that you leave enough space between to get a router bit through.

Once you have everything fitting nice, put some bits of masking tape on the pieces with notes about what goes where and which end is which.  It only takes a minute, and saves having to think about it while you are holding a big, sticky sheet of material.

Spray the tops of the counters and the undersides of your sheets with cement and give it time to dry.  Don't let anyone in the shop stir up dust while this is happening, because it will get caught in your glue.  Once the glue is dry you can put the sheets on the counters.  This is the trickiest part of the whole operation.  As soon as the glue on the sheet touches the glue on the particle board it will stick, and you won't be able to adjust it.  A second pair of hands can be invaluable here.  You can also stick scraps of 1"x stock between the counter and the sheet while you position it, then pull them out one at a time as you smooth it down. 

Once all the sheets are in place, you need to pressure them down.  Most people use a laminate roller (available in any specialty woodworking shop) for this.  Personally, I prefer a linoleum roller, which is a heavier, two handed tool that lets you apply more pressure to a wider area.  You can rent these, but they don't cost much more to buy outright (between $30-$50).  If you don't have a roller, you can get adequate results with a mallet or hammer and block.  Be especially careful to pressure around the edges, where the sheet is most likely to hook on something and peel off. 


Step 8:  Flush Rout the Top

Using your flush trim bit, run the router counter-clockwise around the counter to trim off the extra material.  Take care at corners to avoid snagging your edging.  If you have sink cutouts or other holes in the middle, you can (carefully) punch a hole in the middle with a hammer to give your router a starting point.  

Strip off the protective tape from the edge when you're done.


Step 9:  Bevel The Leading Edge (Laminate Only)

With laminate counters you normally do a second pass with a special, slightly beveled bit.  This breaks the corner just a bit so it isn't as sharp, and so you don't need to do as much filing later.  If you don't have this bit you can use a small round-over bit, adjusted so only about 1/64" or less of cutting edge is exposed. 

Set of Router Bits for Laminate Work. 

Flush Trim and 7 Degree Bevel are the Most Important

Step 10:  File the Edge

Edge filing rounds finish corners ever-so-slightly so they won't cut people or catch on things and allow the top to break off.  Go slowly until you get the knack.  Use long strokes parallel to the edge.  You want to take off just enough, without over-filing and wrecking the counter.  The ideal file to use is a new, sharp, flat bastard-cut, about 12" long.   

Hopefully, between these notes and the video, you will now be ready to go out and make your own counters.  As always, feel free to post your comments and requests for clarification.  In the meantime, I'm headed out to use my new workbench.  See you next week.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Not Long to Wait!

There is exactly one week to go before the season premier of Handyman Kevin.  Although I doubt anyone is as excited as I am, I hope you are all excited.

In our first season we cover everything from common plumbing repairs to custom cabinetry, with several detours along the way and, I hope, lots of solid advice and lucid explanation of the things which mystify handy-newbies. 

Check back here in one week for our premier episode, in which I explicate the hidden mysteries of counter top construction.

See you then!