Category Archives: DIY Build

The Long Awaited Sailboat


Scott enjoys hobbies.  I was over the whole “motorcycle” thing, and he had been dreaming of building a small sailboat for a few years.  We compromised and decided if he sold the motorcycle to pay for the kit to build a sailboat, I wouldn’t complain.

He wanted a boat that was large enough to fit the 4 of us, but small enough it didn’t require a full trailer.  Ultimately after a lot of research, he opted to build a Northeastern Dory, and purchased a ‘kit’ from Chesapeake Light Craft.

  • Building a boat is not for the faint of heart.
  • It is not for a novice woodworker (even though you can buy it as a ‘kit.’)
  • Building a boat is not for an impatient person.

Those are my disclaimers.

The end of November 2013, the long awaited kit arrived:

11-26_arrival (6)
Scott immediately got to work gluing (with epoxy) the puzzle piece lengths together:
12-21 (2)

A boat shaped started to take form:
12-28 (14) 1-2 (1)his is a ‘stitch and glue’ build.  Meaning, the wood is a thin plywood, that can bend and you stitch it in place with wire.  While the wires hold the wood together, you then epoxy the wood.  Once the epoxy is dried, you clip the staples / wires and they aren’t visible anymore.
1-2 (7)

The progress wasn’t as ‘visible’ from this point on, until the end.  Lots of meticulous sanding and gluing…  (hence all those clamps!)
1-12-14 (5)_mancaveDSC_6529DSC_6541DSC_6832DSC_9435

Building the seats.  Using a ‘spokeshave’ to get a nice beveled edge on the lip of the seat for added comfort:
DSC_1795 DSC_1798
All complete!  Set sail in May 2014.
Scott worked a little on the boat almost everyday, from January – May.
1948_(8x10) 1905_(5x7) almanor (36) DCIM100SPORT DSC_6968
It really is a lot of fun.  Sailing if there is wind, rowing if it is calm.
We are able to pick the boat up and carry it to the waters edge with 2 people.  I wouldn’t say it is “light” but it is manageable with 2 men.  1 man and 1 woman – it’s pretty heavy.  But, the boys help on my end and we make it work.

LINK:  Chesapeake Light Craft - Northeastern Dory

Wood Countertop

wooden_countertop_mancaveinvadedI salvaged an old dresser from a garage sale.  It had a wood countertop, but the countertop was veneer – meaning I couldn’t sand it down and restain it.  It was trashed, and simply needed replacing.

In the end, we opted to convert the dresser into a bathroom vanity.  The full transformation was a fun project (found here).

As, we went about revamping the vanity, I had intentions to do a marble or granite countertop.  Once I priced out the granite and marble, I just couldn’t justify it.  I paid $15 for the dresser.  I couldn’t dish out $250 for a custom granite slab.   We thought about buying the tools to do the granite ourselves…but in the end we decided to stick with something we know about – wood.  And, I love the result.

If you are wanting to build a wood countertop, we are going to assume you know the basics of woodworking.  It’s not a beginner, whip it out in a day type of project – just giving fair warning.

STEP 1 – wood selection

Choose your wood, preferably a dense wood.
(A link to a good way to select wood for your project HERE)

We opted for hickory for a few reasons.
#1:  It’s a dense wood that’s going to hold up well.
#2:  We have excess of it (making the countertop free).

STEP 2 – prep wood

Be sure your wood is all planed,  and ready to be joined together.  We laid it out to see where the grains looked good together, before actually joining the wood together.

STEP 3 – join wood

The Biscuit Joiner is the perfect tool for connecting wood together.  First, mark the wood across both boards with a pencil, showing where the center of your biscuit joiner cut will be. 280_countertop_biscuit_markings_mancaveinvadedProceed with cutting all your biscuit holes.  Then, place a good ‘coating’ of wood glue on each biscuit as well as the wood ends  that will be connected together.  You’ll want to work quickly as wood glue can dry faster than anticipated, and you want it to adhere really well.278_countertop_biscuits_mancaveinvaded


STEP 4 - glue and clamp
Clamp the countertop together.  The biscuits and wood glue are what are going to hold the countertop together.  There are no screws or nails needed.  This doesn’t mean it’s necessary to drench the pieces in glue.  Be generous, but not excessive.


287_countertop_glue_MessNotice the glue squeezing out of the joints as it’s clamped tightly?  This is fine.  It’s not coming out in extreme amounts.  I personally do not like cleaning glue off once it is dried.  It takes a lot of work to sand it down.  Once the piece is all clamped and secure, we take a  a putty knife and gently scrape up the glue, and then wipe clean with a damp rag.

STEP 5 – be patient

Let it stay clamped overnight.

STEP 6 – cut to size / shape

Cut it to size!  Our vanity had a rounded front.  Therefore, we needed to cut a rounded front edge on our countertop.  We used the band saw to cut our traced pattern.



STEP 7 - add trim (optional)
We also wanted a decorative trim around the countertop.  Although it isn’t necessary, it sure is a nice finishing touch.  You don’t want the end joints exposed.  It’s not going to sand as well, or absorb the stain the same.  The quality way (in my opinion) was to add a decorative trim.

In that Scott is building a wooden sailboat, we had some extra mahogany laying around.  Mahogany is very dense wood.  Since it is so dense, it is difficult to just ‘bend’ into shape – even this slight curve.  Scott rigged up a little steamer, and was able to get the wood moist enough, allowing it to bend into shape a little more easily.  Once it was steamed, he bent it to shape and left it there overnight.

The next day, he didn’t use biscuits or screws/nails to attach the trim.  Instead, he used an epoxy.  Epoxy is really fast drying, therefore, he had to work and clamp quickly (not pictured)

(epoxy is discussed later in the post)

312_countertop_edge314_countertop_edge2 321_countertop_edge3

We let that front piece dry clamped overnight.  The next afternoon we added the side trim pieces using the same epoxy method.  No bending necessary for those.

STEP 8 - smooth edges

Using a router, he gave the edges a nice rounded edge on top.

STEP 9 – cut sink hole

At this point it was starting to really look good!  Next up was using the template provided with the sink, to cut out the sink hole.

As you can see in the picture, drilling a hole first is necessary to allow a spot for the jig saw blade to get access to your cut line.



STEP 10 – fixing gaps
Finishing touches before the stain can be applied are critical in achieving an overall end product you’ll be proud of.  Sometimes, no matter how meticulous you are, there are going to be slight gaps in wood joints.  The countertop didn’t have any gaps, but in one corners joint of the trim we had a slight crack:348_countertop_crack

This is quite simple to solve.  And makes such a difference!

First, you need some matching wood shavings.  Using a saw, just create some wood dust (in our case we used a Japanese hand saw and the mahogany)
343_countertop_crack_dustNext, get a dollop of wood glue and mix the wood shavings and glue creating a paste.
350_countertop_crack_fixThen, proceed to fill the crack, deep down, really mush it in there good!
357_countertop_crack_fix2Once the gap is filled, don’t be in a hurry to sand.  Let the glue and sawdust paste really set…like overnight…again…

Now that blemish is all fixed we can move on…

STEP 11 – sand countertop
Sanding the countertop.  The surface was sanded using the orbital sander with a 120, then 220 grit sandpaper.  Then quickly  hand sanded with a 400 grit over the entire surface.  It didn’t need much sanding.

STEP 12 -  get the right color
This was the part we were a little nervous about.  We knew the piece would eventually be finished off with an epoxy and a lacquer.  Both of which he had used for his boat, but I didn’t want it the natural hickory color.  I was hoping for a stain on the wood first…  He wasn’t sure the epoxy would adhere to a stained wood.  After some attempts on scrap wood, Scott declared it ‘should’ work.

We stained (technically, oiled) the wood with this:
- Walnut Oil
Trick here is to let is DRY DRY DRY.  If you attempt to do the next step (epoxy) on top of stain or oil that isn’t dry, no chance it’ll work.  Believe me, one of our samples was garbage because we (I) tried to rush the process.  Let it dry for a few days.

STEP 13 – epoxy finish
Finishing with epoxy.  In that this is a countertop, with a sink, in a bathroom, it can’t simply be finished with a lacquer.  It wouldn’t last the way we want it to.

As mentioned earlier, Scott’s been building a wooden boat.  We decided to finish the countertop the same way the boat is finished – water tight and impenetrable, with epoxy and varnish.

First up was coating it in epoxy.  The epoxy is extremely fast drying, so you have to work quickly.  It comes in 2 containers, you mix equal parts of resin and hardener 1:1 and stir it up before application.  These are really big containers as we had it for the boat, you can purchase it in smaller quantities…

983_countertop_epoxyYou’ll want to use a disposable brush, one you can just chuck after application.

When the epoxy is applied, it’s not going to have a smooth surface.  I tried my best to get a picture showing the uneven surface and bumps.

Let this dry for a few days.  That’s right – multiple days.

STEP 14 – sanding the epoxy

Start with a 120 grit, and lightly sand.  If you start to sand and the epoxy seems ‘gummy’ STOP.  You didn’t wait long enough, the epoxy hasn’t cured completely.  This might be due to the weather, or impatience.  Regardless, just wait longer.  :)

If your sanding is successful, it’s time to apply another layer of epoxy.  You need two coats, minimum.  This second coat is going to get in the “valleys” and divits left from the first application.  You should see a smoother finish after this second coat.

Again, let dry – for days.  Patience, patience, patience.  Once dry, sand again.  NOTE:  When you sand the epoxy, it’s going to look milky.  You haven’t ruined it.  This is normal (below).  This was between a first and second coat.  You can really see the divits accentuated.  This is why 2 coats are needed, to fill in all these low spots.


STEP 15 – varnish (or lacquer) finish
Once the second coat of epoxy has been sanded, it’s time to apply the varnish (or lacquer).  We had varnish left over that was marine grade, and had a UV protectant in it.  I don’t think this is necessary for a countertop.  But, it’s what we had, so it’s what we used.  I think a normal lacquer would suffice.

Depending on the finish you want, carefully select your lacquer.  It comes in gloss, semi-gloss, and satin finishes.  The Schooner brand varnish that we used says “High Gloss” but in my opinion, it compares to the “satin” finish of the Deft brand lacquer.
979_countertop_lacquer Left – what we used, it’s really expensive – unnecessary for a countertop.
Right – lacquer found at big box stores, which would be totally fine.

(Below)  This is what it should look like after you’ve sanded the epoxy, prior to the lacquer finish.  Has an interesting texture and looks really dull…don’t worry!

Applying the lacquer.  Look at that beautiful wood grain shine through!  Gorgeous!
638_countertop_lacquerLet it dry…again…
Wood projects take patience.  I am not patient…
Lightly sand with 220 grit.
Repeat the lacquer application.  Let dry overnight.
Lightly sand with steel wool.

STEP 16 – installation
Now it’s ready for installation!
Secure the countertop to the vanity from the underside.
Mount the sink using caulk.
269_countertop_sinkMarked to be sure it gets centered just right…
271_countertop_caulkYou’ll want to use a tub and tile / kitchen and bath type caulk – clear.

STEP 17 - celebrate

Admire your handiwork!  It’s beautiful.  It’s got just the right amount of ‘sheen’ to it.  It doesn’t look plastic and fake.  Yet, it’s smooth and easily wipes clean.


A knowledge of wood working – not a “beginner” project.
Hard wood (for countertop)
Biscuit Joiner
- Biscuits
Wood Glue
Orbital Sander
- 120 / 220 grit sandpaper
Steel Wool
Disposable Paint Brush
Varnish (or Lacquer)
Caulk Gun and Caulk
Band Saw (optional if need a slight curve)



File Cabinet Bench


I was in need of a file cabinet system in my office.  I am also in constant need of places to sit in the office.  I wanted the cabinet to double as a bench.

I found this old wooden crate at Goodwill.  It was $3.  It was only worth $3 as it was full of spider webs and didn’t have a lid and had obviously been used to hold soccer balls in the garage.

The thing it did have going for it was
a) it was solid wood
b) it was a great width and depth for a file cabinet.


After bringing it home, I cleaned it all off, and sanded it just a little bit.  It was never finished off properly, and was dried out wood begging for a coating.  After a light sanding, I primed with kilz and then went with a semi-gloss white that I had left over from my stair project earlier.

I then had Scott help me engineer how to go about making a hanging file system inside.  The tabs on the hanging folder are a bit tricky, and require something not too wide, or too round.  At Home Depot we were easily able to find a piece of steel that worked for our needs.  We made a few braces, and notches for the steel to fit into.

I don’t have picture of the process to make the top, as Scott gave me the top as a gift.  But, it is made from hickory.  The pieces were put together using a biscuit joiner.

The lid was then attached with a simple ‘piano hinge’.  These are a nice option because they come in a variety of lengths, and if you can’t find the right size, it can easily be trimmed down to a custom width for your project.


I love that this mostly looks like a hope chest / bench.
That all my bills and files are hidden away in a not so obvious place.


Update your floor vents


Brass isn’t my favorite.  Our house unfortunately has a lot of it.  It clashes with the wood floor in my opinion.  I decided a mini makeover might do wonders.  I started looking online and was surprised to find that floor vents are quite expensive!  If you want something other than the ordinary metal slats kind.  I like the style of mine, just not the brass finish.

Therefore, I opted for the fast spray paint method.

This was such a fast and easy revamp of the floor vents!  And, it makes such a difference!  They now are a nice contrast to my wood floor rather than a clashing contrast.

1.  Remove floor vents.

2.  Clean them of all dust and crumbs and hair and gross stuff.

3.  Lightly sand the surface.  This will help prepare the surface to better accept the paint, and not scratch off as easily later.  I used 120 grit sandpaper, and then a metal wire brush after the sandpaper.sanding_vents

4.  Wash and dry the vent.  You want to remove all dust to get a nice smooth finish.

5.  I put paper inside my vents so the vents_paperoverspray wouldn’t go down into the rest of the vent as mine open and close and I didn’t want the paint to interfere with that.

6.  Apply the spray paint.  Follow the direction on the can.  It says multiple light coats a few minutes apart is better than one heavy coat, so that’s what I did.  Spray, come inside and fold a load of laundry.  Spray.  Empty the dishwasher.  Spray, check my email…

7.  Dries to the touch in 30 minutes – 1 hour.

finish_vents8.  Replace vent cover and admire your handiwork!  The pictures might not show it very well, but the oil rubbed bronze (metallic) finish is really cool.  Has just a few flecks of the bronze in there when the light hits it right.  It’s not just a matte black.  Which, I didn’t want.


really like the color and the overall finish of this spray paint.


I was able to complete 8 floor vents with one can of spray paint that cost me $7.00.  Not bad!

Floor vents
Sandpaper (120 grit)
Wire Brush (or 000 Steel wool)
Rustoleum metallic paint & primer in one – OIL RUBBED BRONZE
Rag to clean off dust
Soap / Water to wash vents
Paper (optional)


Thread & Bobbin Holder


I realize you can buy these at the big retail stores. But, I wanted to make one to fit a specific space by my sewing desk. I also didn’t want a nail to hold the bobbin like I’ve seen a lot of.  And, it’s fun to build stuff!

I will post my sizes, but obviously you could use the same techniques and make it custom for your specific space.
My finished size is 93/4” x 25 1/2″

Poplar Wood (3) 4′ lengths of 3/4″ x 1.5″ poplar.
*  (1) 4′ length 3/16″ (bobbin holders)
*  (1) 4′ length 1/2″ (to cover screws)
Screws (8) self tapping counter sink screws

band saw (optional, could use a hand saw, or Japanese saw)
chop saw
drill press
tape measurer / ruler square
wood glue
drill bits
* (3/16″ brad point precision bit)
* (1/2″ countersink bit)
inside squaring / clamping tool (free pattern here)

1. Cut your poplar
(2) at 9.75″
(4) at 24″

Click for our tips on MEASURING and CUTTING



2. Measure where bobbin pegs will be located.
Here I ran into problems.
A ruler is not my strongest area of expertise.
I get the 1/4″, 1/2″ markings,  but mention 5/16″ and I get overwhelmed.  My first idea was to simply start at 3/4″, and measure every 1.75″ from there. That did not turn out well, as the peg marks ended close to the edge of the wood, not centered.
(Ruler breakdown found here.)

Scott’s showed me his method once he saw my troubles.
(I realize it’s probably just me that didn’t know how to do this.)
I knew I wanted my first peg to begin 3/4″ from both ends.
So, mark the 3/4″ from both ends:

bobbin_placement_mancaveinvadedThen, take your ruler and find the middle of these 2 lines. (which ends up as 11 1/4″ from the end of the board)

Keep proceeding this way.
Measure from the 3/4″ and the 11.25″ and find the center of that. etc.measuring_thread_mancaveinvaded

View my tips for measuring for the middle between 2 lines HERE

Soon you will have a board with nice, evenly placed marks!
(FYI – the marks ended up being 1 & 14/16″ apart.  I am not a math whiz, and never could’ve figured that out with a calculator…)

3. Mark bobbin peg location for the drill.
I knew I wanted the bobbins in the middle of the 3/4″ height board.

Create a + using the tick mark’s you’ve measured, plus the center line of the board, thus making no guess work for where to drill.



4. Drill the peg holes.
I do have a drill press (or rather, the mancave has one) so I used that. If you only have a drill, it’s no problem. My suggestion is this though. Use a “brad point” precision drill bit. (What is that?! I will explain because I had no clue either) Notice the difference between these 2 drill bits?

drill_bits_mancaveinvaded_LThe little point on the brad point bit ensures it enters right where you want it to. It doesn’t ‘dance’ around on the wood, creating a hole wherever it catches first. (which is often my problem!)

If you don’t have a drill press and can’t set your ‘depth’ then simply measure on your drill bit to 1/4″.  Place a piece of tape around the bit here.  That way you’ll get consistent depth for your pegs later!

Holes drilled:


5. Cut 3/16″ bobbin pegs
I also have access to a band saw in the mancave.  This could just as easily been done with a hand saw.  Set up the ‘fence’ or guide at 3/4″ so all you have to do is cut the pieces. You will use the 3/16″ dowel, and cut 52 of them.

6. Glue pegs in place
Again, if Scott hadn’t shown me, I would’ve made a big gluey mess. I was about to dip the pegs in glue and mash them into the holes… They don’t need that much glue as it’s a snug fit. Use a toothpick or similar. Dip it in the glue and use this to get the glue into the hole. Then simply twist your peg in.

glue_mancaveinvadedPegs in!


7. Assemble the pieces
This is always the hardest part for me. I always feel like I am not strong enough, or I need another hand. Scott made me an inside ‘clamping square’ that really made my job easier. You can make one too! Template HERE

First, measure where you will be drilling the 2 holes.
Second, set your countersink bit to the right depth:


Get your first corner ready for drilling:

Drill out your holes. Learn from my hesitancy. I was nervous to pull the drill trigger all the way. If you go too slowly, the wood will chip out, as shown.

Add your wood glue, and put the countersink screws in.

Pieces attached together!
Continue this with all your corners.

8. Assemble the shelves
I then simply used the nail gun (and glue) to attach the shelves. Thread hardly weighs anything, I felt the corners needed strength to hold it’s shape, but the shelves were fine with a nail…

You COULD be done at this point.
OR, you could go one more fun step further and really finish off your new thread holder. Make it something to be proud of.
This is where the 1/2″ dowel comes into play.
We are going to cover up the screw heads.

Squeeze some glue into the hole.
Twist the 1/2″ dowel into hole, spreading around the glue.
Cut off the peg.



No exposed screw heads.
It looks like you really know what you’re doing now!


Now finish it off any way you want!

I added some wood filler to fill in my chips that were due to my hesitancy. I sanded it down with 220 grit sandpaper.
I ended up painting it white to match my room.





Staircase Revamp


The first thing you see when you walk in our house is the staircase.  The hickory wood floors are beautiful, but the oak railing?  Not so much.  When we bought the home, I knew it needed a revamp, but I was a little worried about how to go about it.

I saw some tutorials online, but being married to a purist, I knew he’d never go for a ‘paint it all’ scenario.  And, I didn’t want a paint.  I wanted a dark stain.  I was excited to do the project myself, but worried because the banister and spindles are OAK.

Oak is known for its dark prominent grain.  When certain stains are applied to oak, it can often absorb the stain unevenly.  I didn’t want to create a mess.  I wanted a dark even stain that would still show the wood grain.

And, I wanted the spindles white to match the rest of the house.

PREP – STRIP:stairs_before_mancave
To begin, my railing and spindles were very warn.  As in – there was hardly any varnish on them.  There are sky lights above the stairs and I assume the constant sunshine had just worn away whatever coating was on there during previous ownership.  This being the case, I didn’t even have to use a stripper first.  If your stairs have a glossy finish – I would highly recommend using citristrip first.

I went straight to sandpaper.
In that I didn’t want to change the shape of the railing or spindles, I was very careful to use a 220 grit sandpaper and lightly sand all the surfaces, by hand.  This took a few hours.  If you take a power sander to it, be ever so careful.  You’ll easily change the shape of your handrail by accident…

I opted to stain the areas first, and then paint the white.  I taped off all the spindles where white would meet stain.  The color of stain was a tad tricky.  I tested a few samples of stain on oak and wasn’t pleased with any of them.  Therefore, I ended up combining Dark Walnut and Ebony OIL based stain (both minwax).  The Ebony alone was too black for me – no warmth.  I normally like Dark Walnut, but the oak just wasn’t accepting it the way an alder does, and it just wasn’t dark enough.  Once I had the two combined, it was just right.  1 can of each.

**TIP – mix the stain in the can, scraping the bottom every 5 minutes or so while you are applying it!  It settles.  You’ll get uneven color otherwise.

I used a soft rag and applied one coat of stain – rubbing in circles, yet leaving the stain a bit ‘wet’.  Once the entire railing was stained (perhaps 30-45 minutes), I came back and wiped up any excess stain that hadn’t been absorbed.  THIS IS CRITICAL.  If you don’t get the excess off, when you come back for coat #2 – it will strip off down to the bare wood.  Leave this coat overnight before attempting a second coat.  After my first coat, it wasn’t as dark as I was hoping.  Don’t get discouraged.  DON’T attempt another coat yet.  Give it time.  Let it soak in.

After it had time to dry overnight, I did another coat of this same stain.  After 2 coats it was an even stain across the handrail.  Just the color I wanted, and still showing the wood grain.  It didn’t look like I had ‘painted’ the handrail like I saw in most of the tutorials.

First, tape off the opposite as before – so the white doesn’t get on any newly stained sections.  It’s wise to let the stain dry overnight or even for a few days before attempting the painting portion.

For sure – you have to use a primer first before painting.  My railing has been complete for almost 2 years.  I attribute the no chipping and peeling to using a primer.  After priming, I used a good ol’ fashioned brush to apply the white paint.  I went with a semi-gloss as that’s what the rest of my house’s molding is done with.  This was tedious.  In that you can see the underside of my stairs from down a level, I had t be really meticulous about my spindles and where they met up with the stain.

Once the paint and stain were both dry (this was a week long project), it was time to apply a varnish, or top coat.  I know lots of people opt for a rub on polyurethane.  I just didn’t feel that was strong enough for my family’s use and abuse.  Again, I did the old fashioned brush on method.  I ended up using a satin finish lacquer.  I did one coat.  Let it dry.  Sanded very very lightly with 400 grit sand paper, then applied another coat of lacquer.  After this coat was dry I did a light sand with 0000 steel wool.



I really like that I can still see the wood grain of the oak.  It was such a dramatic change to our front entry.  Well worth the time and effort.


It’s been abused the last few years.  It’s held up well.

Clamping Corners


I have a hard time holding all the pieces plus the drill when putting my corner pieces together.  Scott quickly whipped up this clamping jig for me.  Holds all the pieces nice and secure with some clamps so I can use my arm strength for the drill.
Yes, you can buy something similar, or you could make it.
Simply print this out.
Trace it onto your wood.
Notch out the triangles with a saw.