We DIY’ed Some Front Porch Railings (Finally!)

June 01, 2011   //  Posted in: Curb Appeal, Deck, DIY, Entryway, Home Safety   //  By: Emily   //  10 responses

Come on over now, Grandma. Between the handrail that I reinstalled on the inside staircase and the brand-spankin’ new front porch with fancy dual-handrails that is about to be revealed, you’re probably less likely to take a fall on my watch.

It hasn’t been too safe around here for the last 7 months. And I’m kind of a safety nazi. I had gotten someone on Craigslist to successfully disassemble and haul away the old front porch last November; that old porch wasn’t pretty. Facts: It was stained reddish. It was an odd, unflattering shape. Its platform extended beyond the overhang every which way. And it was really ragged out. Remember it? Here’s a refresher.

Before: Old Front Porch

The timing of it’s demise corresponded with the new siding project; I had wanted the contracted crew to install a new header board for the porch and side around that board while they were doing the rest of the house. Neither Pete or I wanted to be responsible for hacking into the perfect siding once it had been installed, so this seemed like a pretty good plan. And yes, it ended up working out in our favor just fine.

Except that it was then November. And I live in Rochester. Which means it gets cold, and not many people want to be using power tools outside in icy conditions, myself included. For a few weeks around Christmas I was certain that my house wasn’t going to have any kind of front porch until springtime, but we did luck out right around New Years, finding ourselves home on a weekend when it happened to be a balmy 60 degrees. I went out and bought lots of lumber for the front porch, and we had a platform and adequate steps built just in time to ring in the first substantial snowstorm of the new year. (You can read that whole process right here and here, if you’re interested). The porch has looked just like this for 5 full months now.

Me. And the front porch. Sans railings and even boards up on the landing, but yes. It's strong and solid and exists. Happy!

And that brings me to current day.

Good ol’ Memorial Day weekend is usually a nice time for some yard work (and I’m forever excited about the hardware store deals this time of year, which is part of the reason I started working on the front garden) but we also had ambitious plans of getting the much-needed railings installed on the front porch. After all, like I was hinting at, the entryway has been lacking safety for months now. Both Pete and I had nearly fallen off in moments of imbalance, and I just couldn’t have Grandma or Grandpa being concerned with falling off the porch on their way in. Plus, it looked bad. And I didn’t want to find myself with some fine for an unsafe structure, you know?

I had already bought 4″x4″ boards for the railing posts, and those spent the winter safely nestled in the garage, but I then spent a lot of time trying to figure out how exactly I wanted to do the actual barrier railing pieces. Similar to the pergola railings, I leaned towards a chunky horizontal presentation for the front porch too; and since you can see one of the pergolas from the road, mimicking those railings seemed like it would look consistent and refreshing all around. I leaned to use the same 1″x6″ boards that come in convenient 8′ lengths right at Home Depot.

You might recall from some of the more recent pictures of the front of my house that I left the front porch floor boards un-trimmed to length; this is because they’re pressure treated, and based on my experience with the back deck, I knew that the boards would shrink a little bit in width and length, which they did after having the 5 months to settle into place, so we snapped a chalk line and trimmed the boards to be even; we’re confident that they’ll remain looking this clean-cut for years to come.

And now trimmed evenly. Beautiful!

The posts were the easy part. Wait, did I say that? This ended up being a highly complex project starting with the posts. It made both of us thankful for being reasonably good at the whole trigonometry thing. Angles and measuring and planning was made much easier by our new friend, Mr. Miter Saw, which I rocked out on for hours.

Miter sawing my little heart out.We didn’t actually expect it to be a 7-hour job, but it became that pretty quickly. First thing we realized was that the posts leading down the stairs would need to be angled to accommodate the slanted railing, and that slant needed to be the exact same angle as the stairs, which we deciphered to be about 36-degrees but don’t ask us how we came up with that. Three random techniques from deep within our mathematically-minded brains validated that measure, so we went with it and held our breath. Turns out it worked.

Front porch with new upper hand rails... looking level so far!If I haven’t said it before, I’ll say it again; Pete a level-headed dude and every single board that went up was checked thrice for being level in all directions. This obviously works very well in my favor. I “eyeball” almost everything.

Tricky part numero dos had something to do with realizing that the boards slanting down the stairs needed to be cut at an angle, therefore making the board appear to be 7″ wide instead of 6″. And while it’s still hard for me to grasp exactly what kind of mind games these pressure treated boards were playin’ on me, we had to adjust our game plan a little bit and go with the whole fool-your-eye strategy and cut the slanted boards down to 4-7/8″ wide instead of 6″. Tell me if you can seriously tell that we did some mindful manipulation to the slanted boards when you see the final pictures, OK?

Railings... going in!You can see in these pictures that we modified our install process a little bit from how we installed the railings on the pergolas; this time, each board is affixed to the space in between each post instead of overlapping it and being attached to the exterior of the post. We think this makes for a cleaner overall look. It wasn’t difficult to do either, thanks to Pete’s idea of sistering up some smaller pieces of wood to the posts (perfectly measured to match the railings boards) and letting the rails attach to those. From the outside it looks seamless, and from the inside of the railing it looks like this (not bad at all):

Railing install strategy. Looks sleek from the inside and the outside.

Pete earned bonus points by deciding to cap off the post caps too. He’s been telling me it would be easy to do this around the pergola posts too, and now I believe him. Instead of leaving them exposed like this:

Exposed post caps, soon to be covered.

He encased each of the 6 caps with custom cut boxes to conceal the metal uglies. I like the nice chunkiness of the whole thing too.

Encasing blocks for each of the metal caps. From afar, the house is really starting to come together; I know that I’ve said that before but between the updates with the landscaping this weekend, the new doors, the new siding, and the new front porch, it’s really looking much different from when I moved in. New, new, new.

Updated front porch! Whoop.Next up: weather proofing. It’s due for a nice water sealant in the next few weeks to help the wood keep looking so good. I’m considering staining also, but I might leave that for another year and just enjoy the fresh new wood look for awhile longer.

P.S. My neighbor’s big metallic temporary garage has been there for two years, sad face. I wish very much for it to be gone. Just wanted to you to know I have no say in that.


All For My New Best Friend, Myrtle

May 31, 2011   //  Posted in: DIY, Gardening   //  By: Emily   //  12 responses

I didn’t mention last week that when we found that awesome estate sale, I had also convinced the folks hosting the sale to give me a shovel full of Myrtle from the home’s front garden. It was lush, flowering little purple blossoms, and I thought it was the type of shade-loving ground cover that my yard might just soak up. I love me some maintenance-free ground cover. And I love me some free perennials.

And then I found more. At Pete’s parents. And they let me take some home. Clarification: they let us dig up an entire recycling bin’s worth -WHOA, that’s 6-layers thick in the next photo. And truth be told, you can barely tell; the hole in the middle of the garden was immediately consumed by remaining Myrtle. It just grows like that.

A bucket of freshly dug myrtle.Of course this meant I needed a place to plant it, pronto, so Sunday morning bright and early I conjured up a real plan of attack for starting work on that front garden that I had written about here. I’m not going to run out and buy some of the big shrubs I was hoping to splurge on, but having new plants to put in the ground gave me the courage to start something… anything.

First things first, I removed the tulip bulbs and transplanted them into the garden in the backyard; I realize this is a major no-no considering they had just barely finished blooming (and the ones that weren’t finished were trimmed and are sitting nicely on the mantel). Secondly, I weeded my little heart out until the front garden (from the vantage point of the porch) looked like this:

Front garden post-weeding. I left the hydrangea right where it was planted because it’s doing well this year; lots of new growth and shows promise for having blossoms too.

And then I started getting crazy.

All along, I’ve wanted to make the garden wider, but the driveway’s a big obstruction in that. Of course, I also had been wanting to reduce the driveway from 3-cars wide to a more balanced 2-car width, and having all these new plants that needed to get into the ground lit a bit of a fire under my butt to do it the way I wanted to the first time. And that involved ripping up a bit of asphalt.

I’m not sure what Pete was thinking when he came home to me with a sledgehammer and small pile of asphalt; I was sledging myself into a major state of head-achey and arm-achey but the asphalt was so hot and melty from the nice weather that it actually peeled up from the rock base pretty easily, and tore into manageably sized pieces in a way that I can only compare to breaking apart warm brownies. YUM.

After a little while, some ibuprofen and water, we had this:

Extended garden, shortened driveway.Of course, we had a little bit of work to do to get the finished end looking straight, and had to figure out a way to get a couple of posts from the original deck out of the ground, so we kept on working. Pete employed a trusty angle grinder to gouge a straight line into the asphalt; it happily gave us enough of a crack to effectively sledge and have it break right on the line.

Angle grindin'.

In another fun feats-of-strength-esque moment, I caught Pete on camera in a series of poses that only could be compared to something out of Power Rangers or Karate Kid. I think this earns him a black belt.

Black Belt Pete.How about another? Notice the dog through the glass?

And again.

And again? Just for fun. Because I’m impressed with him and my shutter speed.

And again.

Oh, and the posts did successfully make it out of the ground and I’m happy to say that the previous owners had built the original porch correctly with the posts 48″ under the earth completely surrounded by concrete. Read: this removal was not as easy as Pete makes it look.

I won’t get into the ordeal that is removing 40 sq.ft. of rock that lays 6″ deep as a base for the asphalt because that wasn’t easy in the least (and it’s boring, and I still have a headache when I think about shoveling grindy rocks)… but it’s gone, and in its place is 19 bags of sale-priced top soil (that seems mysteriously to be mixed with lots of bark, Home Depot). Thank goodness for Memorial Day Weekend savings at those stores; the whole buy didn’t cost more than $25 thanks to a 10% coupon I had saved.

The Myrtle was successfully transplanted and we’re looking forward to it getting it’s sea legs (or, roots) established so we can see some growth and expansion in the garden space.

Widened garden, freshly transplanted myrtle.

We made another big change to the front of the house yesterday, but the photos aren’t quite uploaded yet. I’ll share them as soon as possible! All I’ll say is… it’s finally looking SO GOOD.

How I Made A Driftwood Lamp

May 30, 2011   //  Posted in: Beach, Decor, DIY, Lighting   //  By: Emily   //  7 responses

Let me backtrack a few weeks. The first legimitately warm day last month, Pete and I took Cody down for an evening walk on the beach. It was so nice, and didn’t at all resemble the beach I showed you at the beginning of March (which was still frozen, like you can see in the photo).

Beach meltdown. The sand cracks under your feet like ice, if you can imagine that.

One big difference is that the ice had melted and left behind lots, lots, and lots of driftwood. Not a lot of beach glass yet, but a whole lot of driftwood.

This time of year, the homeowners on the lake gather those pieces on their property and stack them into a series of teepees on the sand; tradition is to light them ablaze on the 4th of July (a pretty spectacular series of campfires). Have I mentioned enough how much I love living at the lake?

Sunset, April 2011. See all the driftwood?Before it was all claimed for celebratory teepees, we grabbed a few well-weathered branches and this honker:

Huge block of wood.That’s right. There was a huge, solid chunk of wood, well weathered from being in Lake Ontario for however long (6 months? A year? Longer?).

Ooh, and the wood gets even better.Whatever this once was is pretty cool. It’s about 8″ x 8″ and about 18″ tall. I’m eyeballing that. And two sides of it are adorned with thick, mostly-rusted nails that are unevenly emerging from the surface of the wood. Either the lake does powerful things, or someone was bad with a hammer?

Anyways, it’s amazing. It was going to be perfect for something. It was still pretty water logged and weighed about 30 pounds, so we let it dry out on the deck for a few weeks. On occasion I brought it inside if there was so much as a threatening cloud in the sky even though Pete so kindly reminded me that it, you know, lived in the lake for a year so rain wasn’t going to destroy it… it’s in the oldest box ever because I was trying to contain the sand particles that were ever loosening from the cracks… and I had just hoarded some cool stuff from my grandma’s attic and all she had up there were these really old boxes.

Trying to keep the driftwood dry.

OK, that brings me to… now.

A lamp. It was going to be a lamp.

It was the most authentically reclaimed/worn down/level soon-to-be-lamp-base that I’ve ever seen washed up on a beach shore. The main plan of attack was going to include drilling a hole almost all the way through the block lengthwise, and then meeting up with that hole by drilling perpendicularly in through the backside of the block. Convincing myself that would yield a nice, finished look, I proceeded. I used a 1/2″ bit, the longest one that Pete owns.

Longest drill bit that Pete owns. The drill worked well; at first I tried a battery-powered handheld, but only got 6″ deep (and during that time burned through two rechargeable battery packs) so I upgraded to that pretty yellow DeWalt you see in these photos. DeWalt zipped right through the wood like a champ in a matter of minutes. Like I mentioned, I didn’t want the bit to break on through to the other side, but knew that if I drilled this one as long as the bit would allow me, I’d be within about 2″ of the end of the wood. Perfecto. Wow my grass is getting long again.

Drill wouldn't go any farther.

I had done a little investigation into the lamp kits that they sell for $10 at Home Depot and Lowes, but I went even more reclaimed by salvaging a lamp from a garage sale (for $2) and using those lamp parts that were in fine working order for this project. Old lamp, meet new lamp.

Old lamp, meet new lamp. Of course in a fit of lamp fury, I decided to hammer the old lamp to release the cord from it’s ceramic grasp.

The old lamp was ceramic, and the cord was locked in place. Success. But who knew shattered ceramic was so sharp?

Cut. Crap.

Bandaged up, I employed the a straightened metal hanger; this time, I needed to make a little hook on the tip so that I could use it to snatch the electrical cord and help it around the 90-degree difficult angle I had made for myself in the depths of the wood. This was fricken hard. Not so much because I couldn’t hook the wire, but the wire just didn’t want to be pulled through that sharp and narrow of a turn. Eventually, after lots of experimentation with tape hooks and bread ties, I finally got it through.

Hooked the wire to the hanger. Success.

Once upon a time I had disassembled another lamp (without having to shatter it) and I still had some random lamp pieces laying around, so I started putting them together on the driftwood lamp to test out how the whole system might work (experimenting with how high the light bulb could sit from the base, and how far it seemed like it should sit from the base).

Temporarily wired to test it out. And, by the way, it worked!

The lamp worked!Now, I’ve only taken one good stab so far at finding a shade; I was so optimistic that this large drum shade from Target would have been a decent fit, but I think it looks too small. And too white. Where is Liberty of London for Target THIS summer?

Shade's a no-go.

I’m still shopping around for larger drums (maybe make one, probably not). Although, what if I chopped the large block into two smaller blocks (think: squattier)? In that case, the shade like the one I just tried might work out better. And I’d be left with two smaller lamps. Ooh, options.

P.S. We spent some time at the beach last night. The city had sequestered driftwood logs to one area in the park. They were also sectioned up into smaller pieces that (dare I say) might actually fit right in your car.

Beach logs. And no horizon.

Also, the horizon was gone. I love when that happens.