Into the Mouth of Hell


OK – the headline is perhaps a bit hyperbolic – but that’s how I feel every time I have to descend to the stygian depths of my basement to use my table saw and chop saw (or do laundry, for that matter).

During lunch yesterday, I glued up the shelves for my upper cabinets (plywood with a 1″ strip of maple on the front), but I miscalculated the clearance for the shelf supports by about 1/16″. Ugh. That meant a trip below (I didn’t want to plane down by hand a) plywood and b) 10 shelves).

No natural light (that door is a bitch to get open, and it’s at the bottom of a steep stairwell that seems to act as a black hole), a damp floor and walls with even the threat of rain (so I wipe with oil the blades and other metal bits of my power tools every few days), few outlets (so lots of extension cords over which to trip) and a dank, earthy smell. (The cast iron bathtub is a nice touch, eh?).

This – more so than my hand tools sharing a room on the second floor with my computer – is a major impetus for wanting a new home with room for a proper shop.


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More Cabinets: Yes or No?


Still life with coffee…or how to get sawdust in your coffee. (The miter box and saw were kindly loaned to me by Christopher Schwarz.)

Oh…my aching bones.

On Saturday, I spent most of the day painting the face frames I installed weeks ago, and making, fitting and painting the face frame for the sink and adjacent cabinet – and that one was quite the puzzle.

The sink wraps around the front of the cabinets and there’s a rail across the front to hide the metal sink support; the far edge of that run is against the wall. So there was simply no way to assemble the entire frame ahead of time and slide it into place. So I had to…horror of horrors…nail some of the pieces together. I realize that had I used loose tenons I might have had an easier time with that particular assembly – but I decided on pocket screws, which for most of what I need to make has been an expeditious choice. (Go ahead and mock me; I can take it.)

UppersoncounterAnd after that little adventure, instead of watching the paint dry, I got to work assembling the upper cabinets for the interior wall. ‘Round about midnight, I opted to sleep instead of trying to hang them (an easy decision, because I didn’t have any long enough screws on hand. Oh yeah – and I was exhausted).

So this morning, after a pot of coffee and a handful of ibuprofen, I wandered around my house looking for something – anything – that was 18″ tall and stable enough to serve as a platform while I hung the cabinets (hard to find good help on Easter Sunday…and anyway, I’m awfully stubborn about asking).

FirstInThe closest I could find was a 17″-wide drawer box (no idea what it’s from, why I have it or how long it’s been gathering dust on my third floor), so I rummaged around under my workbench and came up with some 1″-thick scrap (with poorly cut mortises in them…no idea why I kept those). Then, after a quick trip to the hardware store for 4″ screws (no that’s not overkill – 7/8″ through the cabinet support and back, then through 1″-thick plasterboard before getting to the studs), I took a few more gulps of coffee and a deep breath, checked the top and sides for level, and secured the first box in place.

Then slowly…very slowly…I removed my ersatz support, fully expecting the cabinet to come crashing down on my head. It did not.

5InSo I screwed the remaining three cabinets in that run to the wall, then to each other. Plus, I hung one wider box next to the refrigerator (that will be a fun mitered frame to make at the corner, and no, that is not sarcasm).

I have one more 42″-tall cabinet to make that goes next to the refrigerator –  but at only 13″ wide (so that it matches the base cabinet, of course), it missed hitting a stud. So that’s another trip to the hardware store for a couple toggle bolts. Plus, there will be a cabinet over the refrigerator.

Already, with the cabinets I’ve already installed, I have about 20 percent more storage space than in the old kitchen (plus there’s still the two cabinets to make and install on the interior walls). So this brings me to my conundrum: Should I even bother to make cabinets for over the sink? I quite like how airy and open it feels without them, and it makes the room seem a good deal larger. There’s also the consideration of not having to deal with attaching them to a masonry wall…but there’s a masonry wall to repair if I’m going to leave it exposed; I count it as a wash.

So I guess while I decide, I’ll get started on what scares me most about this entire project: installing the drawer slides.



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I Need 7″ of Wood


I’ll start by saying this was not a measuring error. When I bought two 97-7/8″ countertops from Ikea, I knew I’d be about 7″ shy of the total countertop length I needed. It did not, however, seem worth it to pay $129 for a mere 7″ (cue the ribald comments).

So I’ve no countertop for the cabinet to the left of the stove. And there must be a cabinet to the left of the stove. In the former kitchen configuration, having one side of the stove abutting a doorway was a daily annoyance.

I’m considering two options: White marble with grey veining to pick up on both the sink and the appliances (with the justification that serious bakers use marble on which to roll dough); or stainless steel that picks up on the appliance color, and on which one can set hot pans with impunity.

I suppose I could make the length of butcherblock I need, but I’d never get it to match perfectly – those zig-zaggy end-to-end joints are beyond me. Soapstone would work well  – but I love soapstone and want “my” kitchen to have that surface for all the counters. I’m afraid if I use it here – in what I hope will soon be someone else’s kitchen – I’ll become prematurely disenchanted.

What say ye?

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Does This Mean I’m an Adult?


For the first time in my entire life, all my appliances match. I guess this means I have to start acting like a grown-up…which should probably include cleaning up this unholy mess.

But last weekend, we had Lie-Nielsen in town for a Hand Tool Event at Popular Woodworking (lots of fun…but I’m exhausted), and this weekend, I’ll be in Vaughan, Ontario, at the new Lee Valley Tools store (I’m sure it will be lots of fun…and exhausting).

I have my drawer slides in my cubicle at work, though, and clean dishes. Progress!



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A Rough but Productive Weekend

8 a.m. Friday.

At 7 a.m. Friday, I ran the old dishwasher one last time.

I’ve been working on my kitchen almost non-stop during my waking hours (which feels like most of them in the last 72) since 7:30 a.m. on Friday. My friend and neighbor, Jason, was off from his day job as a chef on Friday, but before he went back into restaurant and catering world, he was employed by a general contractor. So Jason can do just about anything that needs doing – and he can lift heavy stuff (countertops) and – perhaps most important – he’s a genial guy and easy to work with. (And did I mention he can lift heavy stuff?)

That wall has more hills than central Kentucky.

That wall has more hills than central Kentucky.

As I drank my coffee (for which I used the old sink to fill the pot for the last time), I began tearing out the old cabinets around the dishwasher and pulling up the last of the tile and hardboard underlayment – then pulled 200 more staples from the floor. (I still can’t recommend fencing pliers heartily enough!)

Jason showed up while I was unloading the dishwasher (into the living room, as one does). We disconnected the old machine and sink, and moved them aside (OK…I threw the sink in the backyard for now; the dishwasher went to another neighbor). Then out came the hammer drill and there went the cats. Jason cut channels for conduit and GFCI plugs in the plaster-0ver-brick wall; I went shopping.

No, not for yet another pair of black boots; I needed a faucet, because the old one wouldn’t work in the new sink. Fastest sale ever. I walked in to Keidel’s, looked around for three minutes and said, “I’ll take that one in brushed nickel and a new strainer and baffle for my disposal.” (Really, it was defensive shopping – I’d scoped out online what I wanted…and knew I had to run a gauntlet past Aga cookers and Thermadors to get it. So pretty! So exorbitant! So never going to be able to afford! So, not worth salivating over.)

As soon as I returned, I got busy on the cabinet bases. After a fair amount of struggling in vain and an enormous number of expletives, in the end I had to settle for damn-near level instead of level. There’s only so much a girl can do when floors and walls exist not in the usual three but in an apparent five dimensions. (No really – I am wholly convinced there is some electromagnetic force interacting with gravity and pulling things into configurations that were once but theoretically possible. I concede that force may exist only in my kitchen; I should charge extra for it.)



Then we ran into a little bit of trouble. Game over for the day; there would be no new sink on Friday (poor me; I had to go up to the kitchen sink on the third floor – which used to be a separate apartment – to fill the tea kettle).

So then Jason went shopping (for PVC, purple primer and PVC glue – which is not nearly as exciting as shopping for shiny faucets).

Saturday, bless him, Jason actually came back. With his help, I got the butcher block onto sawbenches so I could cut it to size (damn is that thing heavy) then notch out the corners for the sink’s apron. With the counter and sink installed, Jason hooked up the water lines and opened the valves, I grabbed the handle and…Yay!

Note the, er, saw stops. (Good thing I never actually eat the canned goods I buy.)

Note the, er, saw stops. (Good thing I never actually eat the canned goods I buy.)

I’ve never before been so delighted to see running water. Silly, I know, because there remains an immense amount of work to be done (and almost all of it from this point on by me…not least of all because Jason has probably blocked my number), including (but not limited to, I’m sure) the upper cabinets (though all the pieces are cut and stacked up on my bench), face frames, doors, drawers, hinges, drawer slide installation, hardware, the cork floor…

But a stream of water out of a new faucet into a new sink feels like real progress. I actually once again have something that looks and functions vaguely like a kitchen – and already, it looks a damn sight better than the old one.

Today, Jason finished up the electric for the most part (but for a broken fuse; thanks Home Depot – 10 minutes work later this week whenever) with new junction boxes and cutoff switches for the to-be-installed Tuesday dishwasher and the once again working disposal.

As he worked in the basement, I applied the first of many coats of mineral oil on the countertop, which will be eventually be followed by wax…and here come the “you should have used X” comments; please be gentle, I’m exhausted.


Viola-approved (though it’s possible she’s just looking for her peripatetic food bowl).

Oh right – I made a little more progress on this wall, too.

Oh right – I made a little more progress on this wall, too.

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$450 is a Lot of Money*


Perhaps I should have been a plumber (despite the fact that I hate working on plumbing).

My lunch break today, such as it is, involves meeting a plumber who is moving the gas line for my stove from one wall to the opposite wall in the kitchen.

See the back of the stove in the picture above? It’s pulled out about 3′ from its current and soon-to-be-former location. See the plug on the opposite wall, and the piece of tape just above the baseboard denoting the position of the new pipe? That’s where the stove is going. And all pipes, valves, etc. are easily accessible from the basement.

After assessing the work, said plumber has determined it will take around 18′-20′ of flexible piping, 8″ of iron pipe and a shutoff valve.

It will cost between $450 and $500, and take about an hour and a half.

When I bought this place 13 years ago, it had an electric range, and I prefer cooking with gas. So I had to have a line installed (off the existing service for the furnace and water heater). It cost $75. I still have the receipt. Unfortunately, that fellow retired so I was forced to find a new plumber.

I realize it’s been more than a decade…but $450+ seems like a lot of money. Is this local and respectable (according to Angie’s List) business overcharging me? Did the cost of flexible piping skyrocket? Are valves now at a premium?

I know I should send this guy on his way and get a second (and maybe a third) estimate… but I dearly want to be able to finish installing the cabinets on the wall from which the stove is about to move, and need the old gas pipe out of the way to do it. I also want to be able to make a proper pot of Earl Grey when I get (back) home from work this evening. But a $450+ check for the privilege will likely see my crying into my cider instead…which will preclude installing anything.

— Megan Fitzpatrick

* With apologies to Wilbur Pan

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A (now Un)Hole-y Mess

test-fitI’ve been mum here as of late – too much plaster and joint compound crusted on my fingertips to type.

The base cabinets for the sink wall are finished, and after hauling them home two weeks ago (which took three trips in my Subaru), the first thing I did was give them a test-fit of sorts. Yup; ‘em’ll work. (They will, I’m hoping, look much better once the face frames are on.) They’ve been relegated to my dining room ever since.

Instead, I moved on to the cabinet tear-out on what I thought was the less problematic wall – an interior one with no plumbing with which to deal. And I thought the interior wall was drywall, so it would be relatively easy to run a new 12-gauge wire to my electric panel and install a few pigtailed receptacles (after being taught how to do so properly and to code by my kind electrician neighbor, Jason). And yes, it is drywall…of sorts. It’s that old 3/4″-thick stuff with the really hard 1/8″-thick shiny layer on top that crumbles with an alarming spiderweb of cracks in all directions, no matter how sharp one’s razor knife or one’s new drywall knife.


I mean really. Who leaves holes like that?!

Also, the last person to install cabinets (in the late 80s, I think?) left some large holes that mice seem to have found handy; to avoid contracting hantavirus, I had to wear a proper respirator whilst cleaning up decades-old droppings. (There were, as far as I could tell, no fresh droppings. Good kitties.)

So most of my recent kitchen rehab time has been a mix between trying not to electrocute myself and trying to patch old walls perfectly with thinner, modern materials. I had to screw braces across the interior of the holes to give the new drywall and shims something to which to attach (rather than cutting back to the studs), so I cleaned out my scrap bin of a lovely assortment of cherry, walnut and white oak offcuts. Whomever gets inside that wall in the future will be wondering what the hell was wrong with the last person…just as am I.

With the exception of a skim coat, the holes are patched. There are three new electric receptacles installed, and new plugs in the old ones (grounded outlets seemed like a good idea).

Bplasterrepairut things are now dire because I can no longer make a cuppa; I’ve turned off the gas to the stove and moved the range out of the way so I can install the subfloor on that half of the room. Tomorrow, I pick up my cork from the store, then finish the base cabinets for the run on that side. While the cork acclimates (two days at least, I’m told…but I fear mine will acclimate for far longer), I’ll get those base cabinets installed. (My countertops are acclimating right now in my hall…even though they needn’t.)

Then comes the scary part: the sink wall. It’s an exterior wall, with plaster over lathe on brick. I’ll be hiring my neighbor to help with the electric on that side, and a plumber to deal with the sink and dishwasher. I can only take this DIY-thing so far and keep what’s left of my sanity. With help, hope and a checkbook, the goal is to have the old out and the new in on that wall within a day (it’s also where the stove will end up…must not forget to tell the plumber to run the new gas line).

I can’t wait to get to the part where this is fun. That’s coming, right? No? Oh dear…I need a cuppa.

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