In today’s post, we’re talking to one of readers, Matt from Virginia. Matt recently finished his own fireplace built-ins using our Large Built-in Plans and we’re talking to him about his experience. There’s a few nuggets of wisdom here.
Matt ended up taking our free plans and making some modifications to the dimensions to accommodate his living room. Along the way he painted the fireplace, added floating shelves and mounted his flat screen tv.
Here’s what Matt’s living room looked like before the project:
Now here’s the after. Looks killer!
1. You based your cabinets on the Large Built-In cabinet plans. Did you have to make many changes to the design or the dimensions to get them to work in your space? Was that difficult to do?
I had to change the plans to accommodate two different sized cabinets. The left hand cabinet is 48″ with the right hand cabinet being 51″. It was not difficult to change the plans. A little time consuming to verify measurements and check over everything twice, but rather easy. Having the plans actually saved time, because I had something to reference and/or use as a guide.
2. What was the hardest part of the project?
Hardest part of the project was the amount of time it took to finish. The first problem was the plywood was cut to the wrong size at the big box store that I went to, so I had to further modify the plans versus returning the wood to the store. This only set me back and added additional time to the project. Secondly, I cut the face frame short on both cabinets – this proved to be challenging as it made hinge selection difficult. I ended up using 3/8″ hinges and hollowing out the sides of the cabinets to accommodate the hinge. Finally – I have never made inset doors. This for me was by far the hardest part of the project. By nature I am a perfectionist and getting the gap to line up without having a jointer or planer was very difficult. The gaps on the doors to this day are not a perfect 1/8″ all the way around
3. How long did it take you?
It took 8-9 months to finish the project. I worked mostly on weekends or in the mornings before work to get the project done. This was building the cabinets, painting the fireplace, running cables through the wall to mount the TV above the fireplace, installation of floating shelves and repainting the living room.
4. What kind of finishing process did you follow? What primer and paint?
I sprayed the finished using a HomeRight Finish Max Fine HVLP Paint Sprayer – Behr Premium Plus Paint in classic white and Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer. In total, it took two coats of primer and two coats of paint. The process also included tips from your site on painting cabinets. I used 150 girt and 220 grit sand paper initially on an orbital sander to get everything smooth prior to painting, with a light 220 grit sanding between coats of paint and primer. The top was stained with American General Java Gel Stain and finished in Min-Wax Polyurethane – I sprayed this from a can for a satin finish.
5. What are you using the cabinets for?
The cabinets are mostly for housing the cable box and electronics along with my kids puzzles and board games, pull-ups, etc.
6. What are future projects are you planning around your home?
Future projects are bathroom remodels – one which is already complete. I have two more bathrooms to finish out. The two remaining will get new floors, vanities, mirrors, etc.
7. If you had to do the project over again, what would you have done differently?
If I had to do the project over again, I would have used pocket holes to put the carcass of the cabinets together. I ended buying a dado blade set off of Ebay that came in handy, but I already had a pocket hole jig and that may have saved me some time. I would have also opted for overlay doors vs inset, as I think overlay doors would be more forgiving.
Great advice from Matt after his cabinet build. You can see the reflection in his countertops from across the room. Nice! Thanks for sharing your project with us, Matt.
If all goes according to plan, next week I’ll be launching my new ebook. The book is a guide on how to renovate your kitchen intelligently so your remodel goes smoothly and stays on budget. It’s pretty much an organized brain dump of everything I know about kitchens and planning renovations. It’s my best remodeling advice from my decade plus of working on houses. Sound good?
Over the next few weeks, as the book launches, I’m going to reflect back on some of the more important lessons I learned from previous kitchen renovation projects. I wrote the book with the intent of passing on those critical lessons to you so you can avoid my costly mistakes. Don’t get me wrong, for the most part, my kitchen renovation experience has been positive. However, I still think it’s important to discuss my failures, especially if we can learn from them. After all, we often learn much more from our mistakes than our successes.
Before we dive into the post, you can actually listen the audio version of the ebook’s introduction by clicking right here (you can also right click and download the MP3 if you’d like).
Here are my 3 biggest kitchen renovation mistakes from my first home. Do your best to avoid them!!
1. I Avoided Using Contractors. This one was a whopper of a mistake. Back in 2008, I hated hiring contractors. I was perfectly capable of doing my own work and simply preferred to have complete control of all my home improvement projects. Unfortunately, I ended up working on a couple different houses at once and my kitchen renovation wasn’t progressing fast enough. I was saving money, but I was spinning my wheels. Towards the end of my kitchen remodel, my wedding was quickly approaching and I was forced to hire contractors for the electrical, plumbing and drywall in order to get the work done on time. It was surprisingly affordable and unbelievably quick. Both the electrician and the plumber were done in a day or two. The drywall crew needed around a week, which allowed me to break away and work on building my kitchen cabinets. All I kept thinking for weeks was, why didn’t I hire these guys sooner?
Key Takeaway: Hiring out contractors isn’t always a bad thing. This advice probably only applies to those folks that like to do EVERYTHING themselves (like me).
2. I Assumed the Wrong Appliance Size. When I designed the layout of my kitchen, I sized my own kitchen cabinets and appliances. I used Ikea’s free kitchen planning tool to figure out the cabinet and appliance locations and then used the results for a cabinet planner program. The cabinet planner software takes your cabinet sizes and spits out a material and cut lists (yep, built my own cabinets). After I bought all my material and appliances, I realized I made a BIG mistake. I had assumed that the width of my new stainless steel refrigerator would be the same as my old one. Whoops. I designed the kitchen layout and the cabinet dimensions around that smaller fridge. As I was building the cabinets, I realized that it wasn’t all going to fit. The cabinet layout needed to be modified and I ended up shrinking a 15″ wide pantry cabinet down to a barely usable 12″ to give the bigger fridge more room. Even with that adjustment, it was TIGHT.
If you’re reading this and thinking that you don’t need to worry about this since you’re going to use a kitchen designer and they’ll figure that out, be warned. If you don’t know the exact size of your appliances (typically just width), then you end up making assumptions. If you make the wrong assumption, you have to live with it. That may mean a smaller fridge or a couple smaller cabinets.
Key Takeaway: Make sure you have your appliance sizes identified OR be prepared to stick with whatever size assumptions you use when you design your kitchen.
3. I Didn’t Work with a Designer. This problem was more of an issue for selecting materials and not so much the kitchen layout. We knew we were going to have white cabinets. That was easy. We really liked a certain slab of granite we saw at a supplier. Great. So far so good. Then it was time to pick a backsplash and we whiffed. It took us months to find something we thought coordinated well with our cabinets, floor tile, room color and countertops and I still don’t love that backsplash (even though we haven’t lived there in five plus years). We could have done better. I don’t want to speak for Lisa, but I’m aesthetically challenged. If you haven’t noticed, this isn’t a decor blog and for good reason. I stink at picking out colors and coordinating multiple pieces. Not my thing. If I could go back and hire someone for a couple hundred bucks to make a tile selection, I would.
Key Takeaway: Consider hiring a kitchen designer to coordinate all of your material selections. In the ebook, I tell you what to look for if you decide to work with a designer.
In my next post, I’ll tell you about my 3 Biggest Successes from My Kitchen Renovation.
Don’t forget, if you have a kitchen renovation coming up and you’d like to get the ebook at a discount, sign-up for our free newsletter. You’ll be the first to know when the book is available. In addition to the ebook, there will also be packages available that include an audio version of the ebook, printables, excel calculators and even one-on-one coaching time with me. It’s going to be fun. Stay tuned.
It’s been a while, but I’ve finally finished the Customizable Table Saw Station Plans.
To get access to these free woodworking plans, you simply need to subscribe to our newsletter. You can sign-up using the opt-in form on our sidebar or the form following this post.
This workstation has made using my table saw considerably easier. Building it was a big priority before we made the built-ins for our home office. If you cut large plywood sheet goods, a large table saw work surface is hugely important.
For the first time since I started blogging I’ve also made the Excel spreadsheet available to accompany the pdf. If you have any problems getting the calculations to work in the pdf, the Excel spreadsheet is a second option.
As I mentioned above, these plans are completely customizable to adapt to whatever sized contractor or hobby table saw you already own. All you need to do is enter the saw’s length, width and height and you’re good to go.
Good luck with it and let me know if you have any questions!
In this video and post, you’ll learn
– How to install chair rail molding
– How to install molding on a stairway
– How to add end caps to your trim work
– How to use two basic tools to figure out what angle to cut your trim pieces to
Happy weekend everybody!
This past week I was able to get some more house work done in the form of chair rail molding. This is the second time we’ve added chair rail to our place. The first time was back a few years ago. You can read about that experience here (photos were pre-DSLR). This time around it went MUCH quicker. Funny how a little bit of experience will do that.
This time around, I snapped a chalk line in the areas where the chair rail was to be installed. I also used my patented* no-tape-measure approach to trim installation, which was more fully explained in my baseboard installation video.
Anyway, why don’t you watch the video and let me know if you have any questions…
(If you don’t see the video, please click here to be redirected to YouTube)
The key takeaways from this video are:
– Use construction adhesive and a chalk line to align your trim
– Use a finish nailer for trim that is thicker than 1/2″ or so. Keep in mind that the nail needs to go through a 1/2″ thick piece of drywall plus the trim. Most brad nailers only shoot nails up to 1-1/4″ long.
– Use a t-bevel and your miter saw to figure out what angle your molding should be cut to.
– If you want an end cap or a “return”, just cut the end of the trim to a 45 degree angle. Then using a piece of scrap trim, cut a 45 degree angle on the opposite side you intend to install it and then just lop it off with a straight cut.
I hope this video helps you with your chair rail installation or any similar type of work.
In this video, you’ll learn:
– How to remove baseboard molding
– How to install new baseboard molding
– How to work without a tape measure
Well, we finally started our latest home improvement project. As we mentioned a few weeks ago, we’re working towards adding some character in our vestibule with taller baseboard molding, additional chair rail trim and shadow boxes.
The first item on this to do list is the baseboard molding. Rather than write a few hundred words on how to rip out short molding and install taller trim, it’s easier and more educational to simply film it and narrate the work.
Here’s a super quick video on how to install baseboard molding. By the way, super quick for me is around 5 minutes!
(If you don’t see the video, you can click this link to be redirected to YouTube)
I hope you find this video helpful. Adding taller trim can give your home a more high end look since shorter trim is very common. The visual effect of the taller baseboards gives the wall a more defined contrast with the wall.
Again, I’d like to emphasize that you don’t always need to work with a tape measure. Sometimes you do, no doubt. However, I find that if I’m able to employ the process I used in this video, I make less mistakes. When I first started out installing molding years ago, I used a tape measure. I can’t tell you how many cuts I messed up. When you use a tape measure, you’re adding potential pitfalls. You measure the wall then you measure the molding. If you make tiny mistakes on each of those steps you can make a noticeable mistake at the miter saw and cut the board too short or too long.
You can see another example of where I was able to avoid using a tape measure when I installed quarter round molding in our family room a couple years ago.
In our next video, I’ll show you how I use a t-bevel to make trim installation on angled walls easier.
Are you in need of new trim in your home? What molding work are you considering?
If you’ve been a regular reader for the past couple of years you know we’ve worked on some pretty sizable home improvement projects since our beginning in 2011. We completely renovated our home office from the ground up this past fall. We spent a few months and upgraded our dining room with raised panel wainscoting a couple of years ago. There were garage projects and major furniture builds along the way too. I even built my shed from scratch. However, I’ve barely mentioned or blogged about my biggest home improvement project to date since I started blogging nearly four years ago.
What was my biggest DIY project ever? For me, it’s an easy question to answer: the kitchen in my first home.
When I bought my first home back in 2003 it needed a lot of work. What was wrong with it? Yes. Plumbing, electrical, drywall, flooring, the windows, the ceiling, the door, the cabinets, the countertops… all of it was wrong.
The house was built back at the turn of the previous century and the kitchen was an addition from the 50s or 60s. I don’t think it was ever updated from it’s original construction. Amazing it lasted as long as it did.
I was so overwhelmed with all of the work I had to do to the house that I punted on the kitchen remodel until years later. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with the kitchen, so I didn’t do anything until 2007. It took me four years to finally get around to gutting it and then building it back from scratch. There are a lot of things I would’ve done differently with that house, but the kitchen isn’t one of them.
From 2003 until 2007, I upgraded the rest of the home with new drywall, all new trim, a new furnace, new electrical and refinished the floors. Most of the work I did myself. Of course, I hired out some of the more critical items to move things along. During those four years I was able to build up a level of home improvement competence that I didn’t have when I first bought the house. I learned what work is best for me to do and which work I can outsource.
The kitchen renovation started with a demolition party in the spring of 2007 and wasn’t finished until the homemade kitchen cabinets were painted after they were installed well over a year later. The results of that years worth of work was worth the effort. We eventually sold the home in two days and the remodeled kitchen was a big reason for that quick sale.
Sometime in the next few weeks I’m going to be releasing my first product for purchase: a book on how to renovate your kitchen. Instead of focusing on specific DIY techniques like a lot of our blog posts, I’m concentrating mainly on the planning and exectution of your next kitchen remodel. For me, the planning was the hardest part of that kitchen remodel. It took me a few years to get started and I couldn’t do a thing to the space until the planning was done. If you plan your kitchen renovation well, you’re much more likely to have a successful project.
The book will focus on the steps you need to take before you start the project and will help guide you through making all of the big decisions that you are bound to run into along the way. I want to prepare you as best I can for those challenges.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be taking some time to to talk about kitchen renovations prior to the book launch. If you have any questions about your upcoming kitchen project, now is the perfect time to ask.
I’m also hoping to get my next set of woodworking plans completed soon. The table saw station plans are taking slightly longer than I’d like.
Have a great week!
The last couple months have been super busy. In case you couldn’t tell by my complete lack of posting, I haven’t done a whole lot of home improvement work lately. Life with three little kids is much more time consuming than it was with two and my free time is just about gone nowadays. I have maybe two hours every evening after work to either blog, do house projects or other online projects that I’ve started. It’s a challenge to say the least.
I’m expecting to get back in the swing of things this week with our latest home improvement adventure: shadow boxes.
We’re going to dress up our vestibule with some simple trim work to give the home some more character. Over the years, I’ve installed a lot of trim, but this will be my first crack at shadow boxes and I’m looking forward to the challenge. We’ll also be taking the opportunity to upgrade the baseboard trim.
Here’s a shot from our vestibule now.
You can see in the photo that we have chair rail molding already in place. We installed that back in 2011. Here’s a link to that tutorial. The baseboard molding looks pretty puny, so we’re going to pop that off and install the taller stuff. When we built the house, we were under the impression that the baseboards would be the taller variety. It was one of the few minor disappointments we had during our walk-thru.
When we renovated our home office, we took advantage of the opportunity and installed the bigger baseboards in there first. The goal is to have the bigger molding throughout the first floor. We’ll continue that work with the vestibule and then maybe the living room at a later point. It’s unlikely that we’ll change the baseboards upstairs.
Here’s a reminder of what those taller baseboards look like.
Pretty nice if you ask me. Definitely worth the effort to rip out the short stuff.
Now that you know what we’re up to, here’s what you can expect to see and learn during this small project. I’ll film and explain the essential parts of the work like the sizing, cutting and installation of both the shadow boxes and the baseboard molding. Even if you aren’t planning on performing this same kind of project in your home, understanding the process should be helpful.
Make sure you stop by later this week. I’ll be releasing my next set of free woodworking plans. This time it will be the table saw station.
Have a great week!
Most of the home improvement projects I’ve done around our home are one-time savings events. I’m doing the work once and saving money over hiring a contractor one time. There are a few projects, however, that continue to save me money even though I finished them years ago. In this post, I’ll share with you three DIY projects that still save me money well after the work has been finished.
1. Reverse Osmosis System. Lisa and I installed a reverse osmosis system under our kitchen sink back in 2012 and since then it’s saved us hundreds of dollars. Instead of purchasing bottled water or using a Brita, the reverse osmosis system has a dedicated tap that we use for drinking water, coffee, tea and even cooking pasta. How much money it saves depends on how much bottled water you’d normally go through, but here’s an example. If the average adult drinks 8 servings of 8 oz. of water per day and you have two adults in the house, that’s something like 120+ cases of bottled water in a year. If a case of Dasani costs $4, then that’s $485 per year in bottled water. The Whirlpool reverse osmosis system we installed cost $146 and will cost anywhere from roughly $99 to $133 per year to maintain (replacement filter costs). That represents a savings of approximately $339 the first year and $350 to $385 each additional year. Those numbers don’t even include water used for tea, coffee or cooking. That’s just drinking water.
2. A Whole House Surge Protector. How does a surge protector save you money? If you ever get a power surge or a power outage, your electronics can be damaged if they are not properly protected. The year we moved into our current home, we had three or four power outages. Before the power went out, the lights would flicker on and off for a few seconds. When that power is flickering, it could be going above and below the amount your electronics can safely handle and cause it to fail. One option to protect your equipment is to connect your computer to an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS), which can usually filter out those power spikes as well as provide a backup power source to give you time to safety turn off your computer. An UPS is a smart idea for computers, but for the rest of your home a whole house surge protector can be a smart idea to help prevent damage to flat screen televisions and other electronics and appliances. It gets installed directly to your circuit breaker box and will filter out those power surges from affecting your home. It’s much cheaper to purchase and install a surge protector then to replace all of your electronics.
3. Outdoor Lighting Timer and LED Bulbs. By now, if you aren’t using LED or compact flourescent light (CFL) bulbs then you know that you are spending more for your lighting costs than you should. Despite the fact that we were using LED bulbs for our exterior garage lights, we were still wasting energy by having them on all day. We would try to turn them off in the morning and off again in the evening, but it’s an easy chore to forget. The longer the lights are on, the quicker they’ll burn out and there’s no reason for them to be on during the day. To correct this issue, we installed a lighting timer to automatically turn the lights on and off for us. It was fairly simple to wire up and now we don’t have to worry about it. The lights will last longer and we get the added security of a well lit house at night. Boom. Time and money saved.
How are your home improvement projects saving you money?
In this post, you’ll learn:
– How to build a medicine cabinet
Well I wanted to show you this medicine cabinet completely finished and painted, but I think it may be a little while longer before it gets warm enough to spray paint it. Maybe I’ll just brush paint it with a few coats instead. We’ll see. In any case, I was able to capture the build process for an instructional video.
This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.
In this post you’ll learn:
– How to keep your furniture from tipping
– About other child safety devices for your home
As a Philadelphia Eagles fan (womp womp), I’m usually not rooting for a team actually playing in the Super Bowl. I’m more a fan of the spectacle and of course the commercials. This year was sort of a downer in terms of the tone of the commercials, especially the Nationwide Insurance spot with the dead kid. Yikes. Where’s Paul Harvey when you need him?
Years ago, before I had kids, those sorts of messages never resonated with me. I never thought they were depressing. At. All. Wouldn’t of bothered me one bit. After I had my first daughter (I now have three), something inside me flipped like a switch and now that stuff will stick with me for days on end. My wife and I are pretty careful parents, so we take extra measures to make sure our kids are safe in our house. However, no matter how safe I think our home is, seeing images of overturned clothes dressers or flat screen televisions on the floor is pretty disturbing.
The next day or so, I added some more safety devices around our place and I want to show you what we did in hopes of gently reminding you to add your own gear if you have little kids in your house.
The first is the flat screen TV in our family room. It’s not mounted to the wall and even though it’s got a pretty wide base making it hard to tip over, we figured better safe than sorry. We installed these two anti-tipping straps to the back. The get secured to the top of the TV stand. Here’s an Amazon link to the straps if you need them. (affiliate)
If you look closely, you’ll also notice a bracket on the wall. There’s a matching bracket on the stand and between them is a plastic zip tie that keeps the base from tipping over as well. If I ever need to move the stand away from the wall, I just need to take a pair of scissors and cut the zip tie. No big deal. We also used the same bracket setup for all of our girls’ dressers.
Here’s a picture of one installed on the back of a Hemnes:
You need to make sure it gets screwed into the thick part of dresser structure and not just the thin back plane. From the front you can see the thicker wooden strip.
Other than those pieces, we have the standard compliment of baby/toddler proofing devices throughout the home. You can read about that stuff in an earlier post here.
Here’s the basic rundown of the rest of our kid-proofing gear:
1. Cabinet Locks (multiple kinds)
2. Door Knob Covers (great for bathrooms, bedrooms and pantry doors)
3. Gate at the top of the stairs. Gates near the bottom
Our setup has evolved somewhat as they’ve gotten older and it’s still a challenge. It’s just something we need to stay on top of.
If you have any small children in your home, I hope you’re using the necessary safety hardware.
That’s all I have for this week. This weekend I’m going to get started on the medicine cabinet! Thanks!
Hey! Thanks for stopping by. We're Lisa and John and this is our DIY and Home Improvement blog. Feel free to browse our DIY project gallery or our latest posts. You can read more here.
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