Tuesday, September 30, 2008


PEtch Lumber COmpany

I bought these two beauties about a year and half ago. I was walking home from the post office and saw them in an alley about 2 blocks from my house. After a few minutes of negotiation they were mine for $65. They’ve been sitting on the dining room floor ever since.

Well, today it was finally the day to cut them up. I actually only got to one today. I’ll do the other one tomorrow and then hopefully start in on the 85 pound chunk I picked up about 3 months back. All of this will be used for the face-frames of the dining room side of the cabinet.

I've never done anything like this. I felt like one of those guys who cuts large diamonds for a living. I started by cutting a 3.5-inch piece off one side. I want to get one inch wide pieces that I will plane down to ¾ of an inch or so. My circular saw did not make it all the way through so I had to cut the bottom inch by hand. I wasn’t really sure what the inside would look like, but I wasn’t disappointed.

After I split the slab I started to run it through the band saw. It went quickly, but the narrow and flexible band saw blade wanted to follow the grain – which is anything but straight - so some pieces have some odd spots in them. I hope this won't cause problems. Maybe I should have gone for an inch and an eighth. I’ll make it work one way or the other.

Like I said, I was not disappointed with the grain. This was the first piece I cut out and it is wiggley! For those not familiar with curly redwood it is a lot like tiger maple in that the "curlyness" of the grain is largely an optical illusion. That board is mostly flat. Below is what it will look like sanded and oiled.

I ended up 8 good 5+ foot long pieces and then another 3 pieces that have varying lengths of usable wood. I’m very pleased. I think I’ll get the same yield out of the other slab. The big 85 pound chunk is unknown because it is a very odd shape.

If I can get 8 usable 5 footers out of the other slab that should give me more than I need for the long pieces of the face frame. The next step will be to join the edges and then plane them. I got the parts for the planer on Friday only to find out there was more wrong with it.

I replaced the sprocket and got the damn thing back together only to find out the roller that is attached to the sprocket had the post broken off on one end. It was very disappointing. I’m not sure which broke first, the sprocket or the roller, but it seems to have seized up the other and broke it. So now I’m waiting on a $30 part from Sears.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Necessity is the Mother of Obsession

I sort of painted myself in to a corner with my declaration that I will consider the cabinets to be a complete failure if I’m forced to buy one piece of wood to construct them. What I really want to do is use up all of the old redwood I have laying around from the long since dismantled 2 story addition. It is not going anywhere fast, and frankly, I’m a little tired of looking at it. It is a bit of a paradox that I’m a Grade A slob, but at the same time I hate clutter. Seeing all of these piles of old wood lying around really bugs me, but at the same time I treasure it. If I can use it in a constructive manner, all the better.

On top of that, I want to use only the finest burl and curly redwood to construct the dining room side of the cabinets. Well, news-flash, they didn’t exactly use the finest burl and curly redwood in 1920 when they added the addition on to an 1895 Victorian that was being cut up in to apartments. Granted, there was a lot of nice wood in the addition, but anything that was “cabinet grade” was used up a long time ago.

So I scavenged burl and curly redwood here and there over the last few years. I could drive up the coast to one of the tourist-traps and buy some fairly crappy, yet surprisingly over-priced stuff, but I found a long time ago that if you apply yourself you can find the same thing in alley ways and garage sales for a fraction of the cost. The real problem at this point is that none of the stuff I’ve bought is 8-feet long. That is how wide the cabinets will be.

I need at least 4 pieces that will be 8-feet long or I will have unsightly seams in the middle of the face frames at the top and bottom. I want these to look authentic, and in 1895 you couldn’t swing a dead cat in Eureka without hitting an 8-foot long piece of curly redwood.

I know there are some places around – not the tourist traps - that can supply me with 8-foot lengths of the finest curly redwood money can buy. Of course, I would literally be paying through the nose for it because I would most likely see my brains dripping through my nose when they tell me how much they want a board-foot for it. (Boy, the imagery is getting gruesome in this post)

Enter the tile panel I talked about yesterday….

By doing the inset tile panel in the middle of the cabinets this will break up the horizontal lines. This means that the longest, single run of curly redwood I will need for the dining room face frame will be just under 4-feet, and I’ve got that. I’ve got 4-foot runs of curly redwood out the ying-yang. It’s a win-win situation. Below is some ideas of the new look of the cabinets. This is a bird’s-eye view of how it might look.

This is a Victorian 6X18 inch tile panel that will be mounted in the face frame in the inset in the lower section of the cabinets. The uppers would get an etched glass panel.

The real question at this point is, can I pull it off. The jury is still out.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Oh! I Have an Idea!

So ever sense I cut up the burl yesterday for the drawer fronts I’ve been confronted with a problem. The length of the burl pieces is too short. Ideally they would have been about 21-inches long, but they only came out to be a little under 17-inches.

The plan all along has been to band them in a fluted molding of some sort, but I never envisioned that to be more than an inch or so wide. I need to get to about 23.5-inch wide drawers so I could have 4 drawers evenly spaced with 3-inch stiles between them. I could beef them up a little with thicker banding, but because it is proportional, if I went all the way to 23.5-inches I would end up with 9-inch high drawers. I think it would look odd. Along with the top and bottom rail, the drawer area would be approaching a third of the over-all elevation of the bottom part of the cabinet.

I thought about doing 5 drawers, because I have enough burl, but this lead to other problems, not the least of which is the latches I bought. I only have 6. I would need another latch and the odds of me find a matching one are infinitesimal.

So I started to think about ways I could take up space in the middle of the cabinet. I had a lot of ideas but I ended up with a tile panel. The idea is that I would have an inset section in the middle of the cabinets that would have some figural or pastoral scene on a set of majolica tiles. It will raise the complexity of the cabinets, but I think it is a nice solution.

So in keeping with my tendency to rush in to design choices without thinking them through, I raced on to Ebay tonight after work and bought the 3rd antique Victorian tile panel I saw.

This is a circa 1900 tile panel that is 6X18 inches. The listing says they are hydrangeas. They could have told me they were pussy willows and I would have shrugged in agreement. Regardless of what they are, I think its really very nice and it will go nicely with the tile surround on the fire place that sits opposite the yet to be built cabinets.

I’ve always called this lotus flowers with lily pads, but again, what the hell do I know about flowers. It is still a thought in progress, but the plan so far is that the tile panel will be inset on the lowers, and then a matching inset on the uppers would be a stationary etched glass panel with more flowers.

This plan also solves another huge issue that I haven’t talked about yet. I’ll save that problem for a future post.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ground To A Halt

Not me, so much as my planer. And with the planer out of service, there is little I can do at this point in the way of cabinet building. The planer is a 13-inch Craftsman. I’ve had it for about 4 years and twice now I’ve had problems with the same little sprocket. This will be the second time I’ve had to replace it.

It is a crappy little $5 part, but I must dismantle the whole thing to get to it. Lots of hex bolts, gears, bearings, and those damn little retaining rings. I hate this type of work. In the process of getting it apart I broke a small plastic cover and bent a retaining ring. Those parts, along with a new set of blades is going to set me back $50, and they won’t be here for a week.

I did make it over to a friends house today to cut some of the burl slabs. He has a nice Delta band saw with an extension on it so it can split 12-inch wide pieces. There is a lot of waste when you mill one of these burl slabs. They are shaped like an ameba so the first thing you need to do is to cut out a rectangle that can be split on the band saw. Once it is split in to 2 or 3 pieces some of that is waste because it has bad spots in it, or the grain is going in such a way that you really can’t work with it.

I ended up with enough to do the 4 drawer fronts – I hope. I was hoping to get 4 pieces that were 4X22, but ended up with 4, 4X17 pieces and then 4 other pieces shorter than 17-inches long. I may need to get creative to make it work.

It has been kind of a chicken and egg thing going on with trying to figure out what to do first. I can’t make the boxes until I’m sure I have enough curly and burl redwood for the face frame and drawer fronts. So the plan was to make the face frame first and then make the boxes to fit. The face frame is going to be curly redwood and the drawer fronts will be burl. I’m not sure what to do about the doors yet.

I’m pretty sure I have enough curly redwood to do the face frame, and I’m sure I could get more if I ran a little short. The burl for the door fronts was the big question mark. As I said, there is a lot of waste. When I'm standing there looking redwood ameba that is 3-inches thick and one end and 2-inches thick at the other, it is kind of hard to tell just what I’m going to get out of it.

So in order to do the face frame I need to make sure I had enough of the burl for 4 drawers. Once I know what size the drawers will be then I can build the face frame around them. In order to finish the drawers though, I need my planer. This is why the whole thing has ground to a halt. To be honest, I’m not entirely disappointed. This is not really a process I should be rushing.

Here is what I started with

These will look much better when they’ve been planed, sanded, oiled, and shellacked.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Waiting For November

I tried to be unbiased in this poll I created for today’s blog entry. Once again it seems The Bush Administration was asleep at the switch while the country was heading down the tubes. If president Bush didn’t want to run the country then why did he run for office?

Even though I am sick and tired of the Bush Administration, I tried to give everyone a selection on the poll, regardless of how you feel. So please make the appropriate selection below.

How do you feel about President George Bush?
He is the worst President in the history of our country.
He is the worst president in my life time.
He is the worst world leader ever.
I am a brain-dead moron. free polls

Sunday, September 14, 2008

More Scraps

I got the other panels sanded down and oiled up today. There is a really nice variation in grain patterns. I’m trying to think if I can use this motif in other parts of the cabinet.

You need to picture the panels above trimmed out like the one below. For those not following along, this will be for the cabinets I talked about yesterday.

Oh, and the diagram in yesterday’s post is wrong. There should be 4 doors and drawers on the lower cabinets. Speaking of the lower cabinets, I also got the boards cut up to make the boxes. As I suspected there was a lot of waste on the old kitchen flooring I used. Even more than I anticipated. That stuff was in really bad shape. Over the next few days I will pull any remaining nails, plane it down a bit, and then start to glue up panels for the sides.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Shingle Scrap Palace

I think that’ll be the new name for The Petch House: The Shingle Scrap Palace. It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

So, my experiment in high-end cabinet making continues. I’ve had some success working on the center section. That is the 18X18 inch section in the middle in the diagram above. The plan was to use up some of the 800+ redwood shingle scraps I had left over from when I did some exterior repairs a few years ago.

This was one of those things that I really had no idea how it was going to work, so I decided to do it first. I didn’t want to plan on it, only to find out 2 months down the road when I go to assemble the damn things that my hair-brained scheme was nothing more than just that: a hair-brained scheme.

The shingle scraps were about 6-inches square so I squared them up to 5.75-inches. They also have a slight taper to them, as shingles are want to do. I thought about using a bunch of little shims, but that seemed like a lot of work. Instead, I doubled them up by stacking two together to off-set the taper. Picture two wedges opposing each other to create a level surface.

This worked well, but not perfect. There was some sanding to do, but it wasn’t too bad. I would have needed to do almost as much sanding anyway because shingles are rough-sawn. Even if they had laid perfectly flat there still would have been the pronounced saw marks to deal with.

These are front and back views of the back section. The opening in the center is for a door. I built the frame with pocket screws, like you would a face frame, and then 1.25 inch bards to attach the shingle scraps.

These are the 2 sides. After the shingle scraps were nailed on to the face-frame I sanded it all down. It didn’t take too long. The one on the right is the first I did and it is already partially sanded in this picture.

The last part was to add the trim. This is not really assembled. The trim is just sitting there right now. I was just curious how it would look. I bought a pair of opposing router bits which are made for this sort of thing. The rails and stiles in this test are 1.5-inches wide. I may try some different sizes of trim before I settle on a final trim. I think it’s going to work, though.

This was the first section I built and I wish I had been more selective with the shingles. The long back section and the other side section all have nice, tight, straight grain shingles scraps and even some curly redwood. I considered making a new side piece to replace this, but I probably won't.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Old Time

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Meet The Players

I officially started the cabinets today. When finished, they will be roughly 8-feet tall and 8-feet wide, and they will have doors and drawers on both sides, so I think they are really going to take a long time build. As I said the other day, I’m trying to build them with materials on-hand.

The reason to use material on-hand is 2 fold. First, I want to save money. Clear, finish grade lumber is expensive. Prices of clear, heart redwood have gone through the roof over the past decade. Also, most of it is second growth now, which is not nearly as good as the old-growth stuff. Then, when you get in to curly and burl redwood, the prices go up even more. And as we all know, I am One Cheap Bastard.

Second, I just want to use up wood. I still have a lot leftover from the two story addition I dismantled, but there is also other stuff lying around that I’ve either collected, was given, or bought as salvage. Some of it I got specifically for this project, but other stuff I got just because the opportunity arrived. Also, by using all redwood – no plywood or lesser woods for secondary parts of the cabinets – they will look more original to the house. That’s the hope, anyway.

This is the basic design of the dining room side. The uppers will be 2 large cabinets with double, glass front doors. The total size of the uppers is 18-inches deep by 50-inches tall. The middle, open section will be for display/serving. It will be 18-inches deep and 18-inches high. A single door at the back to pass dirty dishes to the butler’s pantry. The lower cabinets are 36-inches tall by 22-inches deep. Based on the witness marks in the paint on the butler’s pantry beadboard, this is the identical size of the original cabinets that once stood here.

This is 17-foot lengths 1X6 T&G redwood flooring that I pulled out of the original kitchen. It is in really bad shape and most of this will be waste. I want to use this for carcasses of the bottom cabinets. I will cut out as many decent 3-foot lengths as I can and then glue up panels. This will be the interior of the lower cabinets, so a few dings here and there won’t be the end of the world. I’ll also use this to make small trim pieces on the router.

These are interesting. They were in a garbage can filled with water in my neighbors backyard. He didn’t remember where he got them or exactly how long they had been in the garbage can. He was going to take them to the dump so I snagged them. They are 2-feet long, 6-inches wide, and only 3/8ths-inch thick. They are T&G and all clear, heart redwood. I’ve seen things like this used for the backs of medicine cabinets, but I’m not sure if that is what they were designed for. They are new material, but old growth lumber. I’m thinking about using them to line the butler’s pantry side of the middle section. Also, maybe use them to line the inside of the lowers if the flooring looks worse than I remember.

This is a random collection of curly and burl redwood I’ve collected of the past few years. This is solely for the face frames and drawer fronts of the dining rooms side. Next weekend I hope to go over to my friends house and use his band saw to start to mill this in to usable lumber. I’ll then run it through my planer and table saw to get it to usable dimensions.

These are drawers that came out of one of the 1920s kitchens in the now dismantled two story addition. There are a few more lying around besides these. I want to cut them down to use as the 3, double-sided drawers. The dining room side will get burl redwood drawer fronts. The butler’s pantry side will be painted, so any clear redwood will do.

These are essentially shingle scraps. I bought about 12 bundles of redwood shingles off my old boss when I had to do the repairs to the exterior when I removed the 2 story addition. These were milled back in the 40s or 50s, when his house was built, and they were still out in the barn. I had to cut the shingles down to make the octagon shingles to match the second story of the house. I was left with more than 800 of these little 6X6 squares of wood.

It seemed a shame to throw them away. I thought maybe they could be used to make little bird houses or something. I considered contacting a boy scout troop to see if they wanted them for a project, but that never happened. I won’t go in to it now, but I will be using these in the middle section. Think coffered ceiling, but smaller, with less detail, and vertical instead of horizontal. The idea may not work at all, so we’ll see.

These are 1X12 boards that I bought as salvage a few years ago. It is just beautiful wood. There are 18 of them that run from about 5-feet long to about 7-feet long. I ended up paying about 75 cents a lineal foot for all of it. (KA-Ching!) These came out of the old Daly’s department store in what is now Old Town. Originally, the department store was high-style on the inside with Greek columns and ornamental plaster work. During the 50s it was Eisenhowered and all of the nice stuff was hidden behind plain, sleek new boxes. These boards were used to box in the original columns. These will be used to make the upper carcasses. I will only need 6 of them for that, so the others are going to be used to replace some base board and other, later projects.

Its going to be a big project and I’m very nervous about it. I have a bad habit of being impatient and rushing things at the end. I really need to take my time with this. These cabinets, on the dining room side, will be the second biggest piece of woodwork in the house after the main staircase. It is basically a show-piece for the house. I can’t do crappy work.

I was just thinking, that when this is all over, I could host my own show on one of those cable channels. I would call it “One Cheap Bastard”. I can hear the announcer now…

Coming up next on “One Cheap Bastard”, watch as Greg tries to make High Victorian cabinets out of shingle scraps…

Friday, September 05, 2008

The New Project

This one could take a while and there is no telling how its going to turn out.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Keepin’ It Real

Yo, Dawg! Whas’up! This here is G-Diddy and I wanna give a shout-out to all my old house hommies….

No, sorry, I can’t sustain that for an entire blog entry. I am keeping it real, however, when it comes to my plaster walls. Today I finished the up the wall area round the soon to be built dining room cabinets. It came out very nice, but it was not without its problems. Actually, make that the singular: Problem. There was only one.

Before I get to the problem though, I wanted to talk about my new hawk (for those who don’t know, the hawk is the mortar board you use to carry the plaster on while it is waiting to be put on the wall). Thank you once again Mick. My old one was a homemade, plywood POS. This new one, with the padding for my hand was a dream to use, although it did take a little getting accustomed to.

First off, my old one was bigger and I guess I had a habit of loading it up, so it was very heavy. The old one was also plywood and had a bunch of caked on plaster so that only compounded the weight issue. The new one is smaller and made of thin metal. It was just so much easier to carry.

The smaller size did make it a little more difficult to get the plaster from hawk to trowel. I was accustomed to having a little more room to maneuver the blob of plaster. Also, because it is metal, initially the plaster would want to move around a little more. Once it started to set up though, it was fine. Those are all very minor issues, and really, I became accustomed to it quickly.

As it turns out I now own two of these metal ones. When I cleaned out the garages after booting out the woman renting them, I found one in there. So I have an emergency back-up. You know, just in case I have one of those late night plaster emergencies where I need a plaster hawk and I can’t find the first one. I can now go to my emergency back-up. I'm going to sleep a littler easier at night now.

As for the problem, it was with the plaster itself. I had about ¾ of a bag of the finish plaster left over from the butler’s pantry. I used most of that in the brown coat yesterday. There was enough left over for 2 small batches when it came time to do the finish coat. The finish coat goes on very thin, and sets up fast, so I make very small batches. It took 3 batches to do the whole wall.

I knew that the ¾ was not going to be enough for the whole wall. Last week I went back to the same brickyard I always go to in order to get more plaster. I pulled in to the second shed and told the guy I wanted 2 StructoLite and 1 Diamond Finish plaster. As he was loading on the StructoLite he told me he didn’t think they carried Diamond Finish Plaster. I had bought it there several times so I looked around and found 3 bags alone on a pallet several yards away.

He was nice about it, but I did get kind of a “Screw you, Mr. Know-it-all” attitude from him. I commented that I was probably the only person who bought it and I asked what happens when they run out. He assured me they would order more.

Anyway, after finishing off the old bag I cut open the new bag. This new stuff seemed to mix up fine, but when I went to apply it is was full of “floaters”. That is what I call them anyway. These are small chunks of dry plaster that didn’t mix up. Occasionally you will get one or two in a batch but this one was full of them. It was unusable. I went back and mixed some more and they didn’t go away. I mixed some more and they still didn't go away. I ran the drill mixer until it was blue in the face and they still didn't go away! I ended up dumping the whole batch.

I thought it might have been loose pieces from the bottom of the mixing pale. You always leave some residue behind that dries to the sides. It has never been a problem before though. Once plaster sticks to something it pretty much takes an act of Congress to get it off. I mixed up another batch and had the same problem only it seemed to be worse. Again I dumped up.

I then realized it was the plaster that was full of small, hard chunks that would not break down during the mix. Initially I thought maybe the plaster had got damp, but the bags have a plastic liner and they are stored indoors. The bag wasn’t ripped either.

I finally decided is was a combination of being old and because the bag was at the bottom of the pallet. Remember there were only 3 bags left on the pallet. I think the main problem was that it had become compacted at the bottom of the stack on the pallet. The partial bag I had left over from the butler’s pantry was the same age and was fine.

I made a third batch only this time I went through the dry plaster with my hands and tried to break up the hard chunks. It didn’t work. I eventually had to go by a flour sifter and sift the plaster before it would mix properly. I had to go to 3 stores to find the damn thing, too. Ninety percent of it would sift through by just shaking the sifter. I could then force most of the remainder though the screen by hand. There were these little bits at the end that just wouldn’t go through, though.

In the end I got it done, but it took a lot longer than it should have. The finish coat is always the quickest and should have taken about an hour. If you include all of the driving around to get the sifter, this was more like 3 hours. Its always something.



Oh, and guess how much sanding I will need to do?