Category Archives: Projects

Woodworking: First-ever chairs project (Part 2)

I left off last week with the first part of the project of where I could go one way with one chair and another with the other: extracting the screws pre- or post-sanding.

The first chair was pre-sanding.

I used a scratch awl from a $20 driver set to clear out the slots of many of the screws. This was my realization of just how much paint had been used on the chairs. And it wasn’t just paint. Whoever had done this work had used primer under the paint.

In concept, this is a smart approach.

Whatever was underneath likely was not ready for paint, and the primer helps create a good surface for paint to adhere to. Also the white primer makes it easier to have uniform color by covering the old surface with solid white.

Unfortunately for me, the sheer amount of primer and paint was… a lot. Like, a lot, a lot. That meant that it was possible that the screws were actually stuck in place by the primer and paint. It would be hard enough to try to get a good channel for a flathead driver bit, but even if I did, what were the chances I wouldn’t strip the heads?

It was a good thing that I had my extractor bit set, even though the cheap bits were showing considerable wear after heavy usage.

I used a flathead driver bit with my DeWalt impact driver set on low and with a very light squeeze of the trigger. I needed to encourage the screws to come out while trying to avoid stripping the heads and without slipping off and taking a bite out of the wood.

The slip-out and bite is a huge issue with flathead screws. I had experienced that decades ago and had to patch over that in the last series I wrote about.

My DeWalt impact driver has more than 100x human torque. It was a slow and steady process to get the screws I could out of the chair.

I couldn’t get all of them, though, and that meant trying to drill them out so I could use my extractor set.

To make my work faster and easier, I decided to pick up some DeWalt bits that boasted longer life for use with metal. Almost immediately, one 1/16″ bit snapped. The other didn’t last too much longer.

More on adventures in bit breaking next week!

Woodworking: First-ever chairs project (Part 1)

Toward the end of last year but well before the indefinite stay-at-home orders, I drove across the city to pick up some chairs that were listed in the free stuff section of craigslist. I drive a coupe, and I didn’t realize how hard it would be to get the chairs into my car. I had thought I might be able to disassemble them before taking them home, but wasn’t happening.

The chairs looked to have a lot of potential, and that’s the main draw for me for a project.

Since this is the first time I’m taking on a chairs project, I knew when I set out that there was a real chance I would not be successful. As this is an ongoing project that is not yet complete, this series will have many updates, and there have been numerous challenges along the way. I’ve also learned a lot along the way so far, and there’s more to go.

My plan was to get all the paint off the chair and give them a natural finish. I’d have to figure out how to redo the cushions or just buy new ones that fit.

On first glance, the chairs looked fine structurally. But it’s hard to really get the old finish off and repair damage without taking the item apart. Doable, sure, but this is my first foray into chairs.

Since I had two chairs, I knew I had the flexibility to take different approaches.

When I looked closely at the chairs, I saw that they had been painted thick with the orange paint. It looked like it was a fun project to do. As is appropriate for a final project before discard, there was no mind paid to removing screws or making any adjustment.

Screws were barely visible under the paint. Screws I’d have to remove.

And the screws that kept the chair together are the flat-head screws.

So I had to make a decision: Do I sand the the areas with the screws first and then try to remove the screws, or do I clear out the channel of the flat-head and try to remove them before sanding?

That’s the first bifurcation.

I got to try both ways because I have two chairs.

More next week.

Woodworking: Finally finishing a small table from woodshop class (Part 3)

NOTE: This is the final installment of this project. A new woodworking project series starts next week.

I left off last week with the plans in place to attempt to fix the split, install the new screws, cover gaps with wood filler, sand, and then use take oil.

I had the clamps from the old end table refinishing project, so I hoped that the split would be able to be fixed with glue and pressure. After a solid attempt, there wasn’t much movement, and I’d have to fill the crack with the wood filler.

The effort did leave some marks, but all part of the game. The first sanding step was next and then countersinking the new screws.

I knew I would have to sand after the wood filler, but sanding beforehand gave me a clean surface, a view of what I had to do, and a lot less to fix when the filler dried hard and could be sanded.

I drilled out enough to let the new screws grab hold and be deep enough for the filler to survive.

And the Robertson screws are great. I learned that I do not have a preference between Torx and Robertson. Both are easy to drive and stable. I felt no chance of slippage.

Filling the holes and then sanding was pretty fun. While I don’t seem to have pictures of the wood filler process, it was simple to apply and then smooth out with an old plastic card. A giftcard to a place Covid put out of business or a gym membership card work nicely.

There are many colors of wood filler available, and some people recommend using sanding dust from the piece of wood you want to fill to make a perfect color match. I have no problem even calling attention to it.

When I stripped the screw head decades ago, the driver bit slipped and dug into the wood. That gouge is now covered by the wood filler, as you can see in the lower of the two on the right side.

Next step: teak oil!

What a change from this:

I really like how this looks. I’m very proud of it, and I think that I would have been just as stoked with it if I’d finished it this way decades ago.

What I find even cooler is that the wood filler is darker on the left side and lighter on the right side.

Except it isn’t. It’s like the optical illusion we’ve all seen in some corporate training seminar:

Trippy, right?

While this project is now complete, I’ll have a new woodworking project next week. I’ve been working on a couple of chairs for a while, and they’re not done yet. I also don’t know if they will end up turning out. This may be my first complete failure project, but these are new territory for me, and I’m learning a lot. Join me in the new year, won’t you?

Woodworking: Finally finishing a small table from woodshop class (Part 2)

I left off last week with the thought that the stripped screw extractor bits I had purchased for the end table would work with this one. Well, I ran into some issues.

The end table had wood screws that were soft. Not a lot of convincing had to be done in order to remove those. It was fun to remove those screws. This had three main things working against my effort:

  1. The screw is made of hard steel. It’s amazing that the screwhead was stripped at all, but because it was, there it stayed for decades.
  2. The screw was there at all to keep pressure for glue that was drying. It was like using loctite.
  3. The screw was a slotted round head. This is massively different from a Phillips flat-head.
Phillips flat head.
Slotted round head.

The Phillips flat head is easier to extract. All you have to do is clear out the drive (i.e. where the screwdriver meets the screw) with a drill bit and use the extractor bit to grab the sides of the cone you’ve drilled out.

But a round head screw needs to be drilled out way more in order to turn the drive into a usable cone.

After significant time trying to drill out the screw with my old Craftsman bits, I started to wonder if it was a better idea just to drill away the head and leave the headless screw where it was. But I kept going because that wasn’t what I’d set out to do. I was going to remove this screw!

That upper screw on the right side was causing me so much pain.

And I kept on going.

Feeling defeated, I decided I’d give it one last go. Out it came. My initial thought of how happy I was to be rid of the screw right before giving up was replaced by the thought that it wasn’t the first last chance I had pledged. That gave way to a feeling of relief that had built up over 20 years.

There was so much work ahead of me. I had intended to countersink the screw heads and fill with wood putty. I also had the split at the top to try to glue back together without tearing apart the entire table. I didn’t see exactly how it was going to happen, but it certainly was worth a try.

I researched wood putty and wood filler. Based on reviews, I ended up buying Minwax Stainable Wood Filler. It comes in a squeeze tube, so application isn’t so cumbersome.

The screws that needed to be countersunk were already in my possession! I had researched screws for the other end table refinish project, and this was my chance to use the Robertson wood screws. It’d be the first time I’d use a square drive screw head.

After all that, I’d have to sand everything down to smooth it out and get rid of the stains that had accumulated over time. Then the teak oil.

More next week.

Woodworking: Finally finishing a small table from woodshop class (Part 1)

I took woodshop in the summers after sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. I made a chessboard the first summer and a small table the second summer. I tried to turn chess pieces the third summer, but that went poorly.

This series is about the small table project from the summer after seventh grade.

The year was 2001. At age 12, I was woodshop veteran heading back to Horace Mann School in Beverly Hills as I had been awaiting eagerly to do. But unlike the prior summer, I was going to be able to figure out what I wanted to build rather than choose from a list.

After a conversation with my folks about it, I think I came up with a stepstool or footstool or the like. My mom came across a picture of a stepstool in like Architectural Digest and asked what I thought. I remember it as being painted green, but that was coming up on 20 years ago, and I’m doing the best I can here. Whatever I made was not going to be painted green.

Equipped with the picture of what was probably only 7″ tall and with a 8″ x 14″ top, I went to the first day of summer school.

A note here is that I looked forward to a repeat of Mr. Bartkoski’s first day explanations of safety measures and how you can know how good a shop teacher is by how many fingers he has. “But don’t worry–I’ve got all of mine!” he announced with a huge grin as he displayed his hands to the whole class. I remembered gasping in horror along with the rest of the newcomers the prior summer because Mr. Bartkoski had expertly shown us the backs of his hands but curled his fingers in so nothing past the first knuckle of each finger was exposed. I was eager to hear the setup and enjoy the reactions to the punchline. And when it happened, it was wonderful. There’s really nothing like scaring the shit out of a roomful of boys and girls who are 10-12 years old.

When I showed Mr. Bartkoski the picture of what I wanted to make, he said that something taller and bigger would be more versatile.

There was some wood available as part of the class, but anybody who wanted to make something out of better wood was required to provide it.

It was off to House of Hardwood to get some birch. Of course I didn’t go alone. My mom took me there. I was 12, remember?

I cut, glued, clamped, planed, sanded, and routed my way through assembly of the table over the course of that summer. Per the advice of Mr. Bartkoski, I used screws to keep the leg panels in place while the glue was drying. The idea was to remove the screws afterward and fill the holes with wood putty so I could finish it.

And that’s what happened. Except that I stripped the head of one of the eight screws. So it was seven screws out and one in.

That’s how it stayed for about two decades.

Over time I used it for things like holding speakers to listen to music while I was in bed.

Later I used it under the CRT TV/VCR combo my sister used in college so I could play PS2 in my bedroom.

After a long while of the PS4 blowing hot air on and surrounding where I’d glued the top together, a crack developed along that seam.

So I had an unfinished table with a stubborn screw and new split. Eventually I’d be able to take care of it, I’d hoped. Maybe I’d get to sand off he head of the screw and go from there. But I took no action.

It stayed as an unfinished bedside table for years. And it’s not very good for a bedside table. There are no drawers. There’s no lower shelf. But it does keep things off the ground and closer to bed level, so it qualified.

This year changed everything, as 2020 has tended to do.

I had to purchase stripped screw extractor bits for the redo of the end table. It worked well for that project, and I figured there was a good chance it would work on this one.

More next week.

Woodworking: End table refinishing project (part 7)

Note: This is the final part of this end table refinishing project series, but the Tuesday woodworking series will continue.

I left off the prior post in this series with buying a couple blocks of wood from House of Hardwood to make room for the hanger bolts installed in the legs.

I mapped out the holes for the mounts and the holes to attach the blocks to the table.

My first attempt turned out to be a little janky, but I sorted it out the second time around.

Before I attached the mounts for the legs, I checked them against the legs themselves. The last thing I needed was to put on new mounts and have those not work.

I don’t even want to think about the guaranteed misery of finding this out too late.

I had a thought that I could turn it into a three-legged table by moving one mount in the front to the middle. It would be like the Reliant Robin of tables. I think it would have looked pretty cool and totally in mid century modern style.

I think it would have been stable, but Calah advised that it was best to wait for a mount that was manufactured properly.

So wait I did. And finally the fourth mount came.

I rebuilt the entire table and placed it over my subwoofer because it fits nicely under that table.

Look at that!

It’s a far cry from what I started with.

I may be biased, but I think it’s a major improvement, and I’m happy to announce that it’s now where my remotes live. No more losing them in the couch. No more wondering where they are.

The next series is about a piece of furniture I built from scratch. I started it in woodshop class and finally completed it.

Woodworking: Side table side project

As I await the arrival of what I hope will be the last piece I need for the end table project, here’s a standalone post about a side table project.

I found a listing for an end table on the free stuff section of craigslist, which you know by now is where I go almost exclusively for things to refinish. Of course not everything worth redoing is limited to the free stuff section (more on that in a future post), but that’s the page that receives most of my focus.

Salvageable for sure!

The person who listed the table set it outside for me to pick up at night, and about 50 minutes later, I was home with it. But with everything these days, outside it stayed at first.

Daylight gave me comfort this table with its solid wood top just had water damage that could be sanded off easily. The white paint was in pretty good shape, and I figured that the paint was thick enough that light sanding would be the way to make it bright again.

I cannot overstate the benefits of getting solid wood furniture.

As expected, the more I took off, the more the water damage went away. It was shaping up very nicely.

And the satisfaction of knowing that you can keep going without issue to make it perfect is such a comfort!

As I kept going, I got to see how the tabletop was looking so much nicer than I had expected.

Hang on. I miscalculated.

I was marveling at how the top was made with a single, wide piece of wood and with no knots. How did I come across such a gem? And then I realized my mistake. The top wasn’t one solid piece of wood like I’d thought. Rather, a wood veneer had been applied to some other hardwood underneath it. That’s why the grain didn’t line up where it should have.

That grain should be consistent the whole way!

It seemed like I couldn’t go much further without running out of veneer, so even though there were parts that showed discoloration, it was time to stop.

In my first woodworking post I mentioned that I had decided against refinishing the coffee table with teak oil because it had that weird yellow river, and I was concerned that it would stand out without stain. Faced with a similar situation, I decided to go for it. I’d learn a lot from it. And what kind of guest (remember guests?) is going to be looking at my bedside table?

Hey! That’s no so bad!

I found I had not stopped sanding too soon. The teak oil make it obvious where I’d gone through the veneer. But the discoloration of the veneer itself seemed to be hidden well.

While this isn’t normally my style of furniture, it fit well physically in the room and was a very quick turnaround.

As happy as the current owner is, I expect the next one to be at least as pleased.

I learned a lot from this project.

  1. Wood veneers can look very good but require much more caution for a flawless refinishing.
  2. Teak oil doesn’t absolutely require a surface that is free of all discolorations for the result to look good.
  3. It’s kinda nice to have some projects that don’t take forever.

Last night’s dinner: This week’s attempt

Last Friday night I made pigs in blankets with homemade puff pastry. Last night I did the same but made the wrapping shorter.

But I also used dinner franks instead of hotdogs. While I think they’re the same ingredients, dinner franks are thicker. So shorter wraps and thicker dogs made it kinda sketchy.

Certainly wrapped thinner
Can’t forget the sesame seeds!
They look fine.
Maybe a little dark, but that’s how it goes!

It seems like 19 minutes in the oven at 425 was too much. They certainly were not done at 10 minutes when I flipped them around,

Woodworking: End table refinishing project (part 6)

I had expected that this would be the final installment of the end table refinishing project and that the next woodworking project’s first installment would be next week, but it turns out that we get at least one more post about this table beyond this one. How great is that?

Last week I told you about the 18″ ash legs I’d ordered. I was looking forward to those legs. I got the shipping confirmation. I was tracking their progress from Illinois to Los Angeles and their expected delivery date. But there was no progress. I called South Carolina, and South Carolina said that it was shipped from Illinois, and maybe there was a different tracking number used. I called Illinois, and ultimately it looked like the the package had been lost by UPS.

When I heard that, I immediately felt for Tucker Carlson. But the loss of this package seemed to be real instead of the fake-lost fake Hunter Biden documents.

The seller’s customer service was very nice and offered a replacement. And since they didn’t have ash legs available immediately, they asked if I would be OK with white oak legs instead. I didn’t mind darker legs, and it wasn’t like the rest of the table was consistently one type of wood and that this would throw off the coloration of the piece.

I tracked the legs all the way from Illinois to LA, and then it was time to get to work.

I sanded them down and got them ready for the teak oil. But I had to figure out how to let them dry without a problem.

Then I realized that the mounts I had ordered on amazon came with like a T-nut for hanger bolts. This kit came with hanger bolts, too, so all you really needed were legs that were drilled out in the center. Pretty convenient. But I could install these nuts into the top of a cardboard box.

I drilled out the holes first.
Ready to go!

So I started the process, and I was on my way.

Look at how this perspective makes the leg look like a dowel without taper.

So far so good! Table is so close to being finished! Hooray! No problems here!


I checked the legs against the table, and there was definitely not enough space for the hanger bolts to be screwed in all the way. I had to come up with solutions!

hey, it could work!

I decided to see if the nut would work as a spacer. It fit, sure, but it was all kinds of sketchy.

Well, there ARE legs on it!

It actually looked pretty nice, I think! I was happy that I chose straight leg mounts over angled leg mounts. Right?

But I had to figure out a solution that could actually not be super sketchy. Which this setup absolutely was.

So I got some washers that I decided to use as spacers. Just for the time being. You know, unless they worked great. Then forever.

Unsightly much?

Not only did this approach not look good, but the play that was the result of the imperfect fit made the table noticeably wobbly. I hadn’t put weeks into this to have the threads stripped and the table fall down.

So it was back to all kinds of research. I needed not only to get the enough space between the mount plates and the table but also the proper mounts.

And this gave me the opportunity to reconsider my choice of using straight mounts over angled mounts.

So I talked to the seller in South Carolina about the mounts they sell–the ones that are made with the legs in mind–about if there’s enough clearance to accommodate for the 3/4″-long hanger bolts without having to add a buffer between the mount and the table. Ultimately, the answer was yes.

This time I decided to go with angled mounts.

As they were on their way, I did some calculations so I could be ready with what I needed to finish up this project and be happy with it.

I knew the leg mounts were made with an 11-degree mount angle.

The table is 14″ wide. The legs are 18″ tall. How big does the piece of wood need to be to affix to the underside of the table so the legs can hit the floor where I want them to?

OK so I have a right triangle. Makes it a little easier.

The hypotenuse of the right triangle is 18″ because the legs are at an angle, and the angle is 11 degrees. So if I want the legs hit the floor at about the corners of the table, I have to figure out where the offset should be.

I can do that simply by sin(11 degrees) and multiply that by 18. I get a little more than 3.43″. So you take away about 7″ overall from the 14″.

But that’s from the center of the leg. I need to know how long a block of wood has to be to accommodate the mounts.

The mount is a square 2-3/8″ on a side. So I need to add half of 2-3/8″ because only half the mount would extend beyond the center of the leg.

Except that I want the mount to be at a 45-degree angle so the legs point to the corners.

But we’re lucky. A square is made of two isosceles right triangles. To find the hypotenuse, we just add the squares of each side and take the square root of that. So sqrt( 2 x 2.375^2). That gives about 3.36″.

The actual design of the mounts cuts off the corners to make an octagonal shape, and the screw holes also are recessed from the edge. It seems like I can get rid of about half an inch overall. I’d have to add about 1.5″ to either side of the piece of wood. So I have 14″ wide – 7″ for the sweep of the leg + 3″ to account for the size of the mount. I’ll need a block of wood 10″ long. Also the width of that block of wood needs to be somewhere in the 2.75″-3″ range. As for thickness, I’d need 1/2″ to 3/4″.

Equipped with that information, I went to House of Hardwood where I hadn’t shopped in about two decades. But as you’ll see in my next woodworking project series, I knew that was the place to go.

I found some hardwood in the scrap area. I got two pieces. They cut them to 10″ long. Back in the car, I was on my way home with the blocks of wood I needed and the California shutdown looming.

With any luck, next week’s post will be the last of this project’s series. And then I can begin the next one.

Last night’s dinner

I used to make rugelach, and I know I will again. I found a recipe online, modified it, modified it again, and then finally crossed it with a puff pastry dough recipe.

Since I had hotdogs in the freezer, I decided that Friday night would be the perfect time for pigs in a blanket. I swear this was not the result of Trump’s chants of “pigs in a blanket: fry ’em like bacon!” But also yum.

Yesterday I started the puff pastry dough. I used margarine instead of butter because hotdogs, but I trusted the recipe from Serious Eats before and felt it wouldn’t let me down.

It’s a long process. Most of the time is waiting, but there are so many times of rolling it out before it’s finally ready to use. I knew I wanted to let it rest in the fridge till today, and that gave time for the hotdogs to thaw, too.

I pulled this out of the fridge, and it’s solid, so that’s a good sign. But I hadn’t yet cut it to see if the layers were what they were supposed to be.

Look at those layers!

Well, the layers look pretty good. Encouraging sign.

I was really hoping it would be cold enough today to roll this out with out any problem. I decided to use the cutting board to roll it out and cut it.

I decided to use the pastry cutter that I use for rugelach to crinkle cut the edges before rolling them up.

I do this with rugelach, too. But this going to wrap meat rather than chocolate spread.

There they go!

Put these in the fridge to cool for a little bit.

Egg wash! Almost time to put it in the oven.

Ready to go in the oven! Hope this turns out!

Oh maaaaan. Halfway done!

And done! Will make this again for sure. Some modifications, sure, but overall looks pretty good.