Making a Quick and Simple “Stop” for Multiple Cuts

Sometimes a project calls for a lot of boards cut the same length. While it’s easy enough to just measure for each, mark, and cut, you’ll run the chances of making an error. Plus, that’s a lot of measuring. Here’s how to just measure once and then just use a block of wood to cut the rest.

quickstop1Use scrap wood – 2 pieces of 2x material + a piece of 3/4” material (plus whatever needed) to create a support base that is at the same level as the cutoff saw’s base. In this photo a layer of cardboard was used under the 3/4” material to obtain the right level.

quickstop5Check that the base of the saw is at the same level as the support base.

quickstop2Secure the cutoff saw to the worktable. Then square up one end of a board and mark it for your proper length to be cut multiple times, creating your set-up board.

Lay the set-up board so the length mark is directly under the blade. Center the support base under the other end. Fasten both 2x scraps down securely to the work table. Leave the 3/4” scrap loose for now.

quickstop3Nick the set-up board with the blade at the length mark. No need to cut it to length, you might have a use for it elsewhere.

quickstop4Keeping the set-up board held securely, flush edges with the 3/4” scrap. Pencil mark the 2x support base.

quickstop9Fasten the 3/4” scrap to the 2x support base at your pencil mark: the end of this board is your stop length.

quickstop8Use a straight cut scrap to flush the 3/4” stop board edge with the board to be cut. Start cutting!

quickstop6

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check out our suspension bridge book. Here is the link:

Building a Small Cable Suspension Bridge with the Cable Locking System

Images, diagrams, and text copyright 2013-2017 by Marvin Denmark unless otherwise noted. Please do not copy and post my content anywhere without my permission. Thank you.

Floating Mantel Shelf

cherry treesOur house has posts, beams, and siding made from Douglas fir milled on our property. I decided to employ another kind of wood for a fireplace mantel. Bitter cherry, also called Oregon cherry (Prunus emarginata) is a native tree that popped up in our woods when it was replanted in 1988. I wondered what the grain and color would look like when it was milled. It has an interesting bark, that much I knew.

So I picked a tree I liked and thinned the woods by one cherry tree. I parked it in the barn to dry for about five months, then had it milled to about a five foot 5-1/2″x7″ with bark edge on the 7″ width. mantle-sawmill

As control against splitting, I scored slices on one side in varying depths, the deepest being the middle cut over the tree center at about 1-1/2″ deep. Then I primed the sawn sides and left it to dry, standing up, for about 3 more months.

frontgrain-joint
I was hoping to preserve the bark, so cutting and fitting the corners was tricky. I sanded down the precautionary slices (which were on the bottom) and cut the pieces. I sanded, splined and glued it all together, then applied a clear finish. The bark is threatening to peel, but underneath looks pretty cool so I really don’t care.

barkless

de-barked Oregon cherry

I used a bracket system to install the 35+ pound mantel. I hollowed out two slot holes at 9/16″ depth on the backside that corresponded with metal brackets that screwed to the wall studs.
wallbrackets

Metal straps, which were recessed so that the mantel would fit flush with the wall, were screwed across the hole slots. Taping their location on the mantel top,  I could line them up with the marked brackets.

backconnection

finetune
hammer

A bit of hammering with someone else holding on, and the mantel was up.

finish2

I have 3″ metal posts that I had intended to install on either side, not for support just for looks, but for now we’re seeing if we like just having a floating mantel. Eventually there will be a wall sculpture underneath. I’m just waiting for my spousal unit to come up with something…
finish

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check out our bridge book if you’re thinking about a DIY suspension bridge. Here is the link: Building a Small Cable Suspension Bridge with the Cable Locking System

Images, diagrams, and text copyright 2016 by Marvin Denmark unless otherwise noted. Please do not copy and post my content anywhere without my permission. Thank you.

DIY Radiant Floor Heating System

This is about installing radiant floor heating in a slab floor system. While it was done as a new house was being built, in my last house I poured a concrete floor on top of a wood framed floor system and could have put radiant heat in that as well.

Pex-Plan

I obtained a design for the entire system from Supply House where I bought all the parts. They will provide, free, a layout according to your specs and also give you a list of parts you’ll need for the heating system. You can also download a free program from Uponor and also read more information than I will include here.

I opted for a single pump, single zone system for our 980 square foot little house, but opted to have each room a separate system zone that could be controlled by shutting down the water supply. For larger spaces, they would recommend more than one zone with a pump and thermostat for each.

First step was to install a vapor barrier and then insulate. I used extra (rigid) insulation – R15 – to encourage the heat to go up, not down into the dirt.

Pex4

Next I added 6×6 welded wire fabric (WWF) aka concrete reinforcement wire and used that to tie down the pipe. I bought a 1,000 foot roll of 1/2” pex pipe. You can get smaller rolls, but no way did I want any connections under the concrete floor. The pipe is very unwieldy especially in a coil that long, so I built a big spool for it and added dolly wheels so it could follow me around as I unwound pipe. The same contraption came in handy later when I wired the house.

Pex8

I used zip-ties to tie down the pex pipe. Here are a few photos of the process. We took a lot more photos so we could remember exactly where all those pipes fell. I did not want to be nailing down a plate for a closet and poking a hole in my heating system.

Pex9

Pex5

Then I installed concrete doobies and tied down rebar, just standard practice for a concrete floor.

Pex3

Pex-1

I also tied all the pipes together and pressurized them. I wanted to make sure there were no leaks before that 4 inch thick concrete was poured on top of them.

Pex-2

After the floor was poured, I moved on to building the house. Since I worked pretty much alone and at my own pace, it was a couple of years before it was time to set up the heating system. I built a large utility core with plenty of room for two water heaters as the one designated for the floor would be set low, and space for me to get in and make adjustments. The option for an instant-flow water heater was there, but I didn’t want to spend that kind of money. I just got a standard 40 gallon hot water heater for a couple hundred dollars.

Pex12

 

The heating system consists of a thermostat which is wired into a relay transfer switch. I located the thermostat in the living room, which in our house is a central location. Since I was building the house from scratch, I could easily run the wire in the walls and over to the utility core. The relay tells the system when to start up. A pump kicks on and water runs from the water heater and into the floors. Water from the floors runs back into the water heater. If you can see the numbers on the gauges in the photo, the water going out is about 100 degrees and the water coming back is about 80 degrees.

Pex11

The first issue once everything is connected up is getting the air out. If you troubleshoot a radiant floor system by googling, “air in the lines” comes up as the #1 issue. I futzed with it until the air was gone. The second issue was the size of the pump. I trusted the supply house to provide me with a pump adequate for the system they designed, but that didn’t happen. The pump has to be strong enough to deal with the resistance in over 900 feet of 1/2” pipe. You can determine the needs by calculating the feet of head, which I did and the pump came up short. I ordered two sizes up and the system is now working beautifully. The pump doesn’t kick on very often and the house stays evenly heated, ranging from 69-72. I use a Cen-Tech infrared thermometer to see what’s going on.

Pex13

Meanwhile, the pets have figured out where the supply pipes are and love to lay down on the nice warm floor.

Pex14

With me doing all the work, the total cost including everything involved was about $1,700. We haven’t got an electric bill yet, but considering that the house is so warm and the water heater is well insulated, plus the water going back in is almost as hot as it needs to be anyway, we suspect we’re not using very much energy for this system. It is a wonder that at least in Oregon, there are no Energy Credits for putting in this efficient system. I hope to change their minds about that.

Happy winter!

 

 

Building a Stainless Steel Shower Stall

showerI decided that I wanted a stainless steel shower in our new house. I’d installed enough tile and fiberglass showers over the years to turn me off both applications forever. Stainless steel would be long-lasting, worry-free if you don’t mind water spots, and cool/different. The house has a few industrial touches in it and this seemed like a fit.

As it turned out, we don’t see many stainless steel showers in the U.S. other than in jails and vintage travel trailers. The price for a standard size stainless steel stall made in the U.S. is about $8,000. Choke. Meanwhile the option for anything standard was out since I made the space extra wide and tall and the drain slightly off-center for reasons I won’t go into here. The price would be even higher!

So I drew up a plan and took it to a local metal fabricator: Mid Valley Metals in Eugene, Oregon. After all, it’s just three walls and a base, and metal isn’t that expensive.

They would manufacture the walls and base from 16-gauge stainless steel with a mill (factory) finish. The wall tops would extend to the 9-foot ceiling and the base edge would be flush with the tile floor. Trim for the top and sides would also be provided. Mid Valley would plasma cut holes for the fixtures and suggested they also cut holes for the screws so that I wouldn’t be wearing out drill bits on that hard stainless steel. The extra cost was nominal and saved me a lot of time and frustration. As it turned out, the price would be $1,600. That was less expensive than a good quality fiberglass unit, plus it would be my custom-sized stainless steel shower!

They sent out a guy to verify the measurements, which agreed with mine but it didn’t hurt to double-check. I indicated where the fixtures would be and ordered an extra face plate for the shower handle, as the one it came with was cheesy looking.

To note, we found the fixtures on Amazon and eBay from reputable sellers who charged about 1/3 of retail. Fixtures, including light and plumbing, seem to be some of the most overpriced items you’ll contend with for a house project. I encourage you to shop around, even look for used stuff. It can take patience, but if you have a tight budget and the extra time (or a spousal unit who loves bargains), you can save a lot of money.

While Mid Valley Metals built the parts, I did the prep work. My shower space is 42 x 36 inches, the insulated walls are 2×6 framing with a vapor barrier and 1/2 inch sheetrock. The floor is concrete slab. I installed a layer of 1/2 inch thick cement board and a 1/4 inch thick fiber cement board. Both were preventative measures in case water gets behind the sheet metal, which is unlikely, plus they provided a firm base for the wall panels to bond to.

The building code requires a 1/4 inch-per-foot drop for a shower base, which was accomplished in the manufacturing process by creasing the metal in the base from corners to drain.

BasePhotosMy walls weren’t perfectly plumb, so the metal would not lay as flat as it should. I made a fairly elaborate shimming system using felt paper, 30 and 15 pound, that was bonded using a super flexible sealant. By the time I was done, the walls were plumb in the corners and for the most part had a flat surface on all three sides for the metal to rest on. I used leveler to bring up the floor a bit and make sure it was level. Then I used more shims to account for the drop.

Now it was time to put it all together. The base went in first. I had Mid Valley Metals make 4 inch walls for the surround edges. That’s more than needed, since the step out of the shower is just 1 inch, but it’s what I did. Note the drain is dimpled. This was because the only shower drains I could find, locally and online, were for tile application. They set up higher than necessary for sheet metal. The dimple made it so the drain would set down low enough not to puddle.

panelsMy neighbor helped install the back and walls. First I applied the glue, then we fit the metal into place. I bought some heavy duty locking suction cups that worked great for the chore. But beware, they can fail sometimes, so don’t have a foot under the metal while depending on them to hold it up!

We installed the back wall first (which was the heaviest) and used pressure sticks to hold it in place, allowing the glue to dry overnight. Then we installed the two walls and applied pressure sticks between them, as shown. The sticks had foam on each end to keep from scratching the metal and to create a snug fit. Finally, I put in the screws and trim pieces, then installed the fixtures.

detail

I hope this article will assist you in building your own stainless steel shower. I didn’t find much information out there so this was pretty much done on the fly. I’m pleased with the results and all the money we saved!

showerThanks for stopping by! Be sure to check out our bridge book. It includes some cool ideas that apply to other projects, like how to put a really tall post into a deep hole when you aren’t that tall. Here is the link: Building a Small Cable Suspension Bridge with the Cable Locking System

Images, diagrams, and text copyright 2015 by Marvin Denmark unless otherwise noted. Please do not copy and post my content anywhere without my permission. Thank you.

An Easier Fit: Cutting and Installing a Visqueen Vapor Barrier

I am still plugging along on my DIY house construction project in western Oregon. I’m just about ready for drywall at last. Meanwhile, Oregon code requires that there be a vapor barrier. This requirement could be accomplished also with a paint barrier applied later in the construction process. But since I have always used visqueen as the vapor barrier, I was going to continue with what I knew. By the way, this is how you spell visqueen – it’s not visquine.

Visqueen presents some real problems in installation. It doesn’t always lay flat, it tends to “squirm” about when trying to attach it, and it doesn’t cut easily (in the 6 mil). Cutting for openings usually results in a much larger opening than is necessary and too large to seal successfully.

This prompted me to come up with a simple gasket that could be cut tightly around a light or receptacle box or ceiling fan housing. I cut the gaskets from roof covering material originally meant for my carport – glad that I found a use for that stuff, as it was an epic fail as a roof covering material. The gaskets could be rapidly cut out using standard size sheets and an electric receptacle box sized piece of wood to cut out the “opening.” This gasket could be quickly placed over each box. After the visqueen had been placed on the walls and stapled adequately (not excessively), the openings could be cut out with a little less care. The gasket and visqueen were then bonded together with Flex-Seal into a well sealed opening in the vapor barrier.

VaporBarrier3Blog
You can see the roofing material behind the boxes in this photo.

VaporBarrierBlog
My cut out for the receptacle box on the right was a little off, but saved by the background layer of roofing material which was easily cut tight to the box.

What it’s all about
Vapor diffusion is the movement of moisture in the vapor state through a material. It is a result of a vapor pressure difference (concentration gradient) or a temperature difference (thermal gradient). Vapor barriers, these days more accurately referred to as vapor diffusion retarders, are installed to reduce how much water vapor can get inside a building. Vapor diffusion retarders are installed throughout the structure and sealed up.

Vapor retarders are measured in “perms” for permeability. Class I vapor retarders, with 0.1 perms or less, are glass, sheet metal, rubber membrane, and polyethylene sheeting. Class II vapor retarders have between 0.1 and 1.0 perms. They are unfaced expanded or extruded polystyrene, 30 pound asphalt coated paper, plywood, and bitumen coated craft paper. Finally Class III vapor retarders, with greater than 1.0 and less than or equal to 10 perms: gypsum board, unfaced fiberglass or cellulose insulation, board lumber, concrete block, brick, 15-pound asphalt coasted paper, and house wrap.

The type of construction and location of the building factor into if vapor diffusion retarders are needed and if so, how much. In milder climates, painted gypsum wallboard with a plaster coating may be all that is needed to prevent moisture from diffusing the building. Higher-per vapor diffusion retarders are needed in more extreme climates. They also do the best job if installed on the warm side of the structural assembly – which means close to the interior in cold climates and close to the exterior in hot/wet climates.

In southern climates a combination of an air barrier and vapor diffusion retarder can help keep the humid outdoor air from entering the building cavities. The material is usually installed around the perimeter of the building just under the exterior finish material. Sometimes the air barrier/vapor diffusion retarder IS the exterior finish.

If an existing building has moisture issues because of a lack of proper vapor diffusion retarders, numerous layers of “vapor barrier” paint can be a way to improve the situation.

In any case, vapor diffusion retarders or air barrier/ vapor diffusion retarders won’t do a good job unless they are installed and inspected carefully and all leaks are sealed. The more extreme the climate, the more crucial it is to provide a perfect installation job.

If you want to read more about all of this, check out this article from the Building Science Corporation by Joseph Lstiburek, Ph.D., P.Eng.

Be sure to check out my book about building a bridge. It includes some cool ideas that apply to other projects, like how to put a really tall post into a deep hole when you aren’t that tall. Here is the link:

Building a Small Cable Suspension Bridge with the Cable Locking System

Images, diagrams, and text copyright 2014 by Marvin Denmark unless otherwise noted. Please do not copy and post my content anywhere without my permission. Thank you.