Sunday, November 27, 2011

I'm Moonlighting As A Designer

My brother who lives a few doors down, is having his ensuite bathroom renovated. He's a "sure, whatever" kind of guy, if he were any more laid-back he'd be laying on the ground. When it comes to anything home-related i'm a little bit more opinionated. So he tasked me with being his bathroom designer and project manager, while he was away scuba-diving in Thailand for 2 weeks. Because he's my brother and because i am not a real designer, i've been working for the modest fee of a beer for everytime i need to get off my butt. His only wish was that it ends up "looking good" and be more or less functional when he returns from vacation.

I sourced and purchased all the materials for him, and the contractor started demo on the day his flight left. Due to some unforeseen discoveries (a certainty when renovating old houses), the bathroom was not quite useable for his return, but it is starting to look pretty good.

Unfortunately i didn't take before pics, but here are some progress pic:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Covet Of The Week: Butlers Pantries

I've always wanted a butler's pantry. Of course in reality i don't have a butler, nor does my kitchen have enough space to have a little room devoted to storing the table linens, good silver and china. Come to think of it, i don't even own china, but that doesn't stop me from wanting one.

Gotta love the door that looks like drawers on the bottom and the sliding glass fronted doors above:

image from House Beautiful

Serious bonus covet points for the secret door to this pantry:

image from here

The mother of all butler's pantries:

image from here

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Backyard Makeover

This past summer we had our backyard re-done. Keep in mind when i say backyard i am talking about a tiny downtown Victorian backyard. So maybe i should call it a backinch, since you could easily measure it in inches as opposed to yards.

Anyhow the old yard consisted of a really small deck, a really small patio and some planting beds. Our old deck, barely fit our table for 6 , we had a wire that hung across the deck that i would often walk into and the rotten railroad tie planting bed and pink Unilock patio were just plain ugly.

Here are the befores:

The new yard now consists of a slightly larger deck, a path and some planting beds. Not a big change on paper. But in terms of usability it is like night and day. I wish i could take credit for building the new deck, because it turned out so well, but the truth is it was built by William Turna (416) 457-8121 We had him extend it the full width of the lot and add a few feet to the length. We also had him build a gate and do some finishing work on the covered porch structure. He took care of many of the little details, like making sure the deck was the same height as the stone threshold, so that when we walked out our patio door, it would be a nice flat landing area and he buried the wire to the garage in plastic conduit. After he built the deck, i installed a square cut flagstone pathway and re-planted some of the plants.

And here are the afters:

Yes i know the sconce on the left is crooked. I accidentally knocked it when pulling the BBQ cover off. I've since straightened it back out.

We couldn't be happier with how everything turned out. Next year i plan on staining the deck and prettying up the garage, so stay tuned for Backyard Makeover part 2.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Power Tool Thoughts

I have been a pretty serious DIY-er for well over a decade now. In that time, i've owned or gotten to use a lot of power tools. Seeing as the gift-giving season is around the corner, i thought i'd share some of my thoughts on Power Tools.

So, what tools do you really need? Over the years i've amassed a pretty large collection of tools, but the reality is i don't use them all regularly. In fact some i've used only once or twice. Obviously power tools are expensive and can take up a lot of room, so i am hoping to offer some unbiased insight on which i could or couldn't live without.

My top-3 go-to tools:

1. I find a decent cordless drill/driver indespensible, whether you're building, renovating or just repairing stuff. It's not cookware, so don't get upsold on more pieces. You will most certainly use the drill if you do any kind of DIY-ing. The cordless radio, flashlight, trim saw and recipricating saw...probably not so much.

2. I use the miter saw a lot for casing, baseboards, flooring, decks, mouldings and framing. I'm actually on to my second miter saw now. My first was a basic compound miter saw, which did and probably will still do 98% of the cuts i ever need to make. I've since splurged on a more pro model, which allows bevels on both sides (so you don't have to flip your material to cut an angle in the opposite direction) and which slides, allowing me to cut much larger material. The one thing the new saw excels at is crown moulding.

3. I use my circular saw a lot for doors, decks, fences, framing and ripping sheet material. To me a good circular saw, would have accurate depth and angle adjustments, would be durable and would be light and comfortable. Notice i didn't say powerful. Frankly i think any circular saw on the market is going to be powerful enough for a DIY-er. Whether a saw has 13 amps or 15 amps, is not going to make or break a project. But a saw that is too heavy to hold steady and safely when cutting the tops off of posts or plunging into sheathing, is not worth the money, no matter how powerful it is.

Tools that i own, but don't use much:

1. I've used my reciprocating saw maybe 6 times in the 8 years since i've owned it. When you watch those home improvement shows, this is the tool that they let newbies use to make them feel really macho and empowered. Probably because it is kind of shaped like a rifle, has a trigger and makes your biceps jiggle. The truth is it really isn't a precision tool at all. It's really only good at taking things apart and not so good at putting them back together again. I will say it is very handy for large scale demolition, like when gutting an entire house, or taking down a fence or garage.

2. I actually have two hammer drills (...long story). I haven't used either of them much. And unless you're a cable guy, i suspect you probably won't find much need to drill through brick and concrete either. I will say when you need one, you really do NEED one, because they're really the only tools designed to drill into brick, stone or concrete. I bought my first one for a very specific project, stored it for years, then lent it out, since i wasn't really using it. But of course once it was on loan, i discovered i needed it again ASAP. So off i went to buy another one. Now i have two in storage. Maybe i should start a hammer drill library.

3. I personally don't like rotary tools at all. I find them to be scary as all hell. I've had discs break and had shards fly off while cutting through things. And I also don't like that they get insanely hot. If you decide to give one of these as a gift, please include a pair of goggles or better yet a gift receipt.

What Brand to Get:

There is a HUGE price difference between the various brands. Is it worth it? I obviously haven't tested and compared all the options out there, but i have tried enough tools to make a general assessment. So in a rather unscientific manner i will split the most common brands into 4 categories priced lowest to highest:

1. If you really only need to use it once
- Jobmate
- Pro-Pulse
- Black & Decker

2. DIY-er (occasional user)
- Mastercraft
- Ryobi
- Skil
- Craftsmen

3. Frequent DIY-er or Professional
- DeWalt
- Ridgid
- Makita
- Porter Cable
- Delta
- Bosch
- Hitachi

4. Are you sure it's just about the tool and not about your self-esteem?
- Festool
- Freud
- Milwaukee
- Hilti

From my experience, tools from the category 1 are generally to be avoided, unless like i said you really only plan on using it once, and any additional use is bonus. Tools from category 2 are usually fine from a durability stand-point. However i would avoid the versions of these tools that try to pack a whole bunch of higher end features into lower end price points. I've found in my experience that accuracy and usability suffer when they try to do that. As a guy who uses my tools on a monthly basis, category 3 is where i spend my money. I've never used a tool from category 4, because frankly i can't afford to.

So that's my two cents. Hope this was useful.