Coastin’ Through Summertime Condensation

June 19, 2012   //  Posted in: DIY   //  By: Emily   //  Leave a comment

I’ve never really been much of a girl who mandates herself and her houseguests to use coasters on the tables. How often are we drinking in a condensation-inducing environment? Rarely. Plus, coasters are usually weird looking and always in the way. At least in my experience. The coaster exception has to be made this time of the year, when even my can of root beer can go from chilled to matching the air temperature in <5 minutes. Much of the furniture we use right now is accepting of the water rings left behind, but working at home in the summer months has made us witness to a few pieces that don’t bode as well.

And so, I sucked it up and made some coasters. Portland cement coasters, to be exacting. That’s right, skim past the ceramic tiles, pour past the cork squares, forget about the collection of cardboard circles I could have easily borrowed (indefinately) from the bar. Instead of all that, I wanted to try and make some rough little cement coasters for, specfically, the laminate dining room table and the painted sunroom table.

How to make portland cement coasters.

I followed through on this project in a cheap-o way. I had the portland cement (from when I made the cement pots last summer and the heart doorstop in February), but in order to create round coasters, I needed a good mold. I considered using the inside of a masking tape roll, but the rolls I had were a little too small. Cookie cutters, too irregularly shaped. Everything else, too nice to ruin with cement. Instead of something obvious, I turned to a different department (on our basement supply shelf) and pulled out this half-package of vinyl foam weatherseal, a 3/8″ wide and 3/16″ thick strip of tape that’s used to help insulate doors.

Voila, using weatherseal to create a mold for round coasters!

With a manufactured tendency to want to coil perfectly, the weatherseal seemed like an obvious answer. It was strong enough to stand upright, and it would be flexible enough to be easily removed from the dried coaster. To lock the weatherseal in place, I overlapped and wrapped the ends with a pinch of masking tape.

I wrapped the weatherseal with a piece of masking tape to keep it locked in shape.

I retrofitted the flattest and smoothest surface I could find, that being a few pieces of marble that was scrap from the bathroom shower shelves, and wrapped each piece with Saran Wrap. How domestic. The portland cement itself is smoother than a lot of rockier/grittier formulas, and therefore it’s more prone to pick up every last nick and bump in whatever surface it dries against, so the marble really was a perfect solution for ensuring that at least one of the sides of the coaster was really smooth, not wonky and bumpy.

Preparing the coaster molds on a smooth marble surface.

With the cement mixed (in a old dirty piece of tupperware), I began spooning it into the forms gently, letting it flow however it wished and level out a little bit before adding the next scoop.

Spooning portland cement into the coaster molds.

The cement wasn’t very runny, kind of like the consistency of thick relish. Nothing else comes to mind, we picnicked all weekend. The best resulting coasters were from the molds that I filled to the brim. You’ll notice when you’re working with cement at home that within just a few minutes, the heavier mixture sinks to the bottom of the mold and the moisture levels out the top. You can already see it happening in this next picture even as I continue to scoop in more cement.

Spooning portland cement into the coaster molds.

For the most part, the molds held in all the moisture really well. The one on the right in this next picture was a gem. The one on the left was a little leakier, but not detrimentally, and probably only because it wasn’t assembled to sit as flush as its counterpart.

Letting the portland cement coasters cure.

I did a few batches of three over the course of a few days. I found that the coasters were best left untouched for at least 12-hours, and then left sans mold in the sunlight to finish curing throughout for another day or so. A few batches were thick, a few batches I experimented with thinner coasters in which the cement only filled about half of the 3/8″ height of the mold.

Little cement coaster vs. thicker cement coaster.

And the thin ones were all well and cute, kind of like the crispy “snow cookies” we feed Cody after heavy snowfall, but their fragility was very apparent. First it was one.

Little cement coaster vs. thicker cement coaster. Thin ones cracked.

And then, once I got sanding them lightly and gently, two more joined.

More broken thin coasters.

*Note: Breathing in cement powder isn’t good for the lungs. Work in a well-ventilated area and wear a mask and goggles. I am, it’s just not shown because the moisture-inducing-behind-the-goggles combo makes me look ridic.

You’ll find that sanding them down doesn’t take much muscle. Any bumps and divots are leveled out pretty easily, eliminating any irregularities and making a nice smooth surface for your bevvy to sit upon.

We tested them out while we worked in the sunroom yesterday. Verdict? Excellente. And easy on the eyes too. The coasters. And Pete too, I mean.

Finished coasters.

Side note: New tumblers. From Target. Happy dancing.

Overall, I had 5 coaster fatalities 4 survival stories. All three of the thick coasters made it through wonderfully and would probably only break if I slammed it against the edge of the table. The thin one that survived is a little fragile, but seems fine in use.

As evidenced by the number of water marks on the living room coffee table/trunk, I think the new coasters will get a lot of wear.

Simple portland cement coasters.

Try them for yourself!

Geometric Planter: Part Deux

June 18, 2012   //  Posted in: Being Thrifty, Decor, Sunroom   //  By: Emily   //  4 responses

Another Monday, another new hanging planter for the sunroom.

Who’d have thunk that I’d find the twinsie to my mini-hexagon planter at a rummage sale right around the corner from our little house?

?! That's almost exactly like the planter I just made.

The green sticker meant 50-cents, and the planter as a whole was in good condition. Solid hardwood, decent construction, no rot or weakening from years of wear or weather. Bingo, home it came with me, tucked between my feet on the scooter.

It’s not completely identical to the planter that I made using the scrap hexagons from the bedroom headboard:

  • It’s bigger. 12″ diameter and 6.5″ height, whereas the little one is just 6.5″W x 5″H.
  • And it’s octagonal.
  • It’s construction is a little more organized. No random placements, the rotation of each octagon is more aligned than my little hexagon assembly.
  • It’s stained red, with a bit of existing water damage that makes the base look darker/blackened.

Handmade planter vs. garage sale'd planter!

It didn’t require much work to make it usable immediately, and I had the perfect space in which to hang it (because I decided it was strong enough to be hung). I blasted away some dirt from the nooks and crannies with the hose sprayer, and then restained over the existing stain with the same Rust-Oleum English Chestnut stain that I used when I refinished the mid-century buffet. I didn’t bother trying to sand off or roughen the existing stain because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do it evenly by hand or with a power sander (too many tight spaces) so I just applied the stain with a foam brush and wiped off excess with a rag. It ended up being just enough to gently tint the finish and tone down the reds. No make-up, messy hair warning.

Staining the old new planter.

I planned to hang the newbie in the same exact fashion that I had hung the smaller planter in the sunroom: right over the new buffet. And I even had the perfect plant, a portulaca that my dad recently added to my collection.

Because I really wanted no water dribbles down onto the new buffet, I doubled up on the moisture barrier, using a new plastic planter with a built-in tray and a plastic 80-cent tray that I picked up The Home Depot. The bottom to this planter is solid with two drainage holes, so the likelihood of anything falling through all barriers seems minimal.

Planting the portulaca.

The pot itself, I had to trim down a little since the height of the wooden planter was considerably squattier than the height of the walls of the pot. I had to do this same thing with the dining room planter and outdoor planters this spring, so I already knew that hacking it down with a utility knife was a fair option to retrofit what I already had.

Just trim down the top lip of the pot to make it fit more flush into the planter.

Any unevenness of the upper lip of the pot is completely disguised by the portulaca which is young, but mature enough to overflow the edges in a really nice way. Thanks Dad! 

Planting the portulaca.

To hang the planter, I used a trio of 1/4″ x 3-3/4″ eye hook lag screws (they were just 50-cents a pop at the hardware store), and importantly, 3-3/4″ meant they were long enough to go through more than layer of octagon for added reinforcement. I was reluctant to use the smaller eye hooks in such a heavy planter even though it feels pretty well-constructed; seemed like there was no point in trusting all of the weight on that top piece of the construction if I could find some screws that would extend through at least two layers of wood.

Eye hook lag screws used to reinforce the hanging planter.

Even with pre-drilled holes, these things were rough to get in place. Quick tip: Save your finger muscles and use a screw driver as a lever and twist it around to make this step really easy.

Eye hook lag screws used to reinforce the hanging planter.

I still had an extra ceiling hook from a package I bought for the first hanging planter, so I installed it in the ceiling directly next to where the smaller plant hangs. I’m crossing all 10 fingers hoping that the hook that promises to hold up to 100-lbs isn’t a lame marketing ploy that the marketing manager made up, and that all three strands of twine will be strong enough to keep the basket hung securely. It’ll probably be upgraded to chain when I find some that I like but for now seems to be secure.

Set of new planters.

It looks pretty charming in the sunroom now. Much different from what we were living with last fall thanks to the the refinished buffet, table, chairs, beach glass and assorted plants.

Set of new hanging planters.

Come across any great finds over the weekend?

Because Who Doesn’t Like A Good Knob Story

June 15, 2012   //  Posted in: DIY, Entryway, Living Room, Sunroom   //  By: Emily   //  16 responses

File this under “things that are broken but I manage to ignore until someone smart points out a fix to me”… because if I admitted to it more often, there would be a category. Also, the title of this post. Knob story? Seriously.

Today’s admission has to do with the doorknob to the sunroom, a vintage glass knob (so I believed) that I transplanted from an upstairs closet door when I installed the paned glass door between the living room and the sunroom in 2009. Yeah, could you imagine if this room still had the heavy steel door along the eastern wall? Pardon me using a photo from my first house tour with the seller’s belongings (lightly blurred):

Aw yeah, I love that new door. It's perfect.

The knob itself doesn’t serve the highest function; the door locks using a mortise lock and a deadbolt, so the knob is merely the pull-point for when we’re entering our wonderful, greenhouse-y 3-season room. And is otherwise just a pretty little thing to look at during the cold months of the year.

Most of the time, usually only when I’m turning it, the knob pops off right in my hand like this:

Right. This glass knob sucks.

I should mention that I can get into the sunroom sans knob, but it’s also probably the reason that my fingernails are so broken and short, so I won’t promote that tip.

The glass knobs themselves weren’t immediately thought to be the issue. The spindle, the piece that acts like the doorknob axel and locks the two glass knobs together, was noticibly stripped. Both ends of the spindle should be threaded to screw right into the glass knobs, but in this case of natural doorknob wear and tear, one end had worn down and no longer held onto the threads of the knob. Whompity, whomp whomp.

Right, and then in true “live with it because it only pops out in my hand once a day and that’s not so bad” form, I dealt with it. For two years? Yeah, about two years.

Worn down morise knob spindle.

The fix itself was a two-part learning process:

Part 1: There was a day earlier this week when I was headed down to one of my favorite small town hardware stores in the area (Black’s Hardware on East Ridge Rd., locals), Pete suggested I check and see if they sold cool knobs or replacement spindles, and that they did.

I actually brought the whole knob with me to the store. They were nicely able to fit me with a new spindle that they thought fix the issue and allow me to keep my cute “vintage” knob for just $1.99, but they were also kind enough to point out that some of the threads inside one of the knobs itself was stripped, so it might not be a long-lasting cure. Depending on the thickness of the door, the spindle can be screwed deeply or shallowly into each knob, but it needs to be able to certainly grip to some of the threads on either knob to be able to work, and if some of the shallow threads were compromised, I’d need to have the spindle spun really deep into that damaged knob.

The replacement itself was a standard steel spindle measuring 3.5″ in length and just 9/32 in diameter. Like most standard varieties, it has 20 threads per inch, and that’s what my doorknob called for.

Plan #1: Replace the old spindle with a shiny new, unstripped spindle and use the same "vintage" knobs.

The problem they suggested, that if I couldn’t screw the spindle deep within one of the knobs while still allowing enough spindle to stick through the mortise lock so I could screw on the other knob, was accurate. Are you following me? Feel free to ask Q’s. This is where I thought seriously about using Gorilla Glue and calling it a day. What, that’d probably work better than nothing, right?

I kept the $1.99 spindle. May has well have it on hand for a future doorknob project, I did pay for it with loose change in my wallet and it hardly feels worth returning it for that. Onward.

Part 2: The spindle itself wasn’t the fix, so it was time to choose a brand new un-stripped doorknob to play the part.

Did you know that my “vintage” knob was totally not vintage? Dude, they sell these things everywhere, and they only cost $8. <slaps hand on head> They come with a new spindle and everything. It’s a reproduction. And a really mass manufactured reproduction at that. If you’re looking for something historic and authentic, you won’t find it at The Home Depot which is where I found this one:

New mass manufactured glass knob reproduction.

I wasn’t so much concerned with the finish of the knob trim when I picked out the shiny gold; the old one itself shown in the earlier photos of this post had been shiny gold, but was so worn down that it was no longer startling the way the shiny gold in the right forum can sometimes be.

There was a fix for that, and it involved wrapping the exposed glass in blue tape and bringing some leftover spray paint into play.

Prepping the new knobs for a little "aging".

The leftover paint from my recent patio furniture overhaul really fit the bill. Oil-rubbed bronze, it had a nice shimmer to it, and it masked the shiny gold after three very light spray downs in the backyard.

Knob spray down with some Oil-rubbed Bronze Rustoleum Spraypaint.

Dried (overnight), it was install time.

The trick to installing a door knob in a mortise lockset is to attach the spindle securely to one of the knobs first. Be sure to loosen the set screws in the neck of each knob (just unscrew a little bit so they aren’t obstructing the path of the spindle… it won’t need to be all the way removed); these screws help to anchor the knob to the spindle itself.

Remember to loosen the set screw before you attach the spindle to the knob.

With the knob and spindle securely together, you just have to feed it through the lockset and screw the other knob to the exposed end of the spindle. How much is exposed will depend on how deeply you’ve threaded the first knob. Once you screw it on, you’ll find that it’s pretty secure but don’t forget to tighten down the other set screw too to keep your new set from stripping. This whole install, if you’re not spray painting, should take you all of 3 minutes.

Thread the second knob onto the exposed spindle tip.

Remember to tighten the second screw set before you use the knob.

The oil-rubbed bronze finish looks really nice with the existing (maybe vintage) plate, and should any of the spray paint wear off over time, it’ll probably end up looking just like the one I replaced.

And then step back and thank your lucky stars that the knob won't be falling off in your hand tomorrow morning.

Anyone else have an adventurous knob (or sob) story this week?