The Rumored Mini-Gate

May 16, 2012   //  Posted in: Backyard, DIY, Home Safety   //  By: Emily   //  one response

Checking off more backyard to-do’s in rapid succession, I finally got around to curing a little hole in the fence.

The yard is entirely fenced in, which as a dog-owner, is a great thing. I never thought Cody would try and escape through this little hole beneath the kitchen overhang in the backyard, but we have visiting dog friends over routinely enough that I’ve kept these cinder blocks from the previous homeowners in place to plug the gap between the steel frame fence and the house foundation. I suppose it helps to keep out other people’s wandering pets and wandering wild animals too.

Those cinder blocks. Little plug.

Funny thing is, as soon as I removed the cinder blocks in preparation for this project, Pete came outside to find Cody exploring the unfenced front yard. So much for thinking my big dog wouldn’t try to shimmy through that little hole. Curious peanut.

Yes, big enough for a Berner to squeeze through. But barely.

The simple solution that I’ve been planning for some time involved making a little fence, almost like a picket fence, to cover the space subtly, but look more finished than a stack of cement.

After spending Sunday re-familiarizing myself with all of the scrap wood during the springtime garage clean-out, I picked out a few pressure-treated pieces of 5/4 lumber that we had saved from when we built the deck. Measuring only 18″Wx15″H, it was a small space to be building for and wouldn’t require that much wood, so the plentiful amount on hand was more than enough.

We even had a few narrower 1x boards that would serve well as cross braces. And as much as I wanted the new fence to look like the front porch and pergola railings, it made more sense to align the lumber to stand vertically and blend in more with the steel-framed gate over time. With a few quick chop-chops from the chop saw, I had them sized to perfection.

Lumber, nail gun, and reading material to get this project started.

Oh. The Gennifer Choldenko novel? Just something from the shelf that helped me evenly separate the boards while I secured the pieces together with the nail gun. Sometimes I’m really high-tech like that. I haven’t actually read the book yet, but I picked it up from a garage sale because I thought it might be funny. Yay or nay?

Using a book for a board spacer.

Material investments for this project were of minimal expense. Because let’s face it, it’s a tiny gate. I bought:

  • Two 2-3/8″ brace bands used in chain link fence construction. Priced at $1.22 each, they didn’t break the bank.
  • A new set of 1/4″x5″ galvanized bolts, washers, and nuts for $2.50 (those shown in this picture are actually 3/8ths and ended up being just barely too thick to fit in the holes on the brace bands but I had to try them anyways since they were leftovers in the basement. The 1/4″ diameter was perfect.)
  • The lumber was free-zilla since it was pulled from my scrap pile, and the nail gun, 1-3/8″ brads, and air compressor were pulled straight from the basement.
  • Total cost: less than $5.00

Gate hardware. A quick $5 investment.

The brace bands themselves were the perfect find. They clamped right onto the steel bar that the real gate hinges to, and because they grip so well, it takes a lot of force to move them around. This was good, because I didn’t want a doggie-door style gate that could be pushed open.

The braces clamp right onto the existing gate frame.

Side note: See how the band actually wants to splay a little bit? That’s an easy fix with a little tap-tap of the hammer to force the tabs closer together.

By pre-drilling through the assembled fence, I was able to install the carriage bolts easily through the braces and secure them tightly. Buying 5″ bolts was clearly overkill so I had to trim the long ends down a little bit with a hack saw to make them less of a dog-poking hazard.

Oops, those bolts are really long.

The resulting piece is so fresh and clean in the space. Eventually, given time and weather it’ll age to look more like the gate it’s beside.

Finished mini-gate.

And as I’ve said, the braces make it stay really strong in position. Even though it’s not anchored to the house itself, It doesn’t want to twist or swing like a normal gate would, so “fully fenced-in” still holds true.

Finished mini-gate.

With the beautiful weather this week, I was also able to finish two other outdoor projects this week. I’m feelin’ all muscle-y and power-tool-pumped. More to come tomorrow!

Mini-celebration + A Garage Makeover Miracle

May 15, 2012   //  Posted in: Casual Celebrations, DIY, Garage, Organized, Scooter Fun   //  By: Emily   //  5 responses

Today’s my third home-a-versary.

Three years ago this morning I still didn’t know what I’d owe at closing that same day (poor girl, bank-panic, high blood pressure). Three years ago by noon I was scared that the old homeowners would take it back (there were issues all around, and luckily they didn’t). Three years ago at 2PM they told me they lost the house keys (and then found them moments before I went into hysterics). And three years ago by nightfall, I had already removed every last piece of carpet in the living room, on the stairs, and in all three bedrooms (and I love those hardwoods every day). Take a moment to speed through the before + afters page today in celebration.

Not intentionally aligned with the 3rd home-a-versary festivities, Pete and I spent all day Sunday doing something that I’ve been talking about doing since I moved in: Getting the garage seriously organized.

For the first year I lived here, I didn’t have much and only opened the garage door in order to move the garbage can in and out. One year later, Pete and I were dating and became the proud owners of a pair of scooters which lived in the garage for most of the year. We also rebuilt the deck, a task which left us with a garage full of tools and materials. Last spring, he moved in and the garage became home to more stuff. Car stuff. Motorcycle stuff. Heavy-duty home repair stuff.

And as recently as Saturday, it looked like this:

What a messy, mess-mess. Time for a garage clean-out.

Our first order of business was to clear the entire space out and sweep it clean. I can’t even explain how it ends up getting so dirty when it’s closed 99% of the time and trafficked mostly by foot, it’s like a magical forcefield for dirt and pinecones.

Quickly cleaned out and swept, it looked good. We need to keep it looking this good. I was downright close to repainting the walls while we had it emptied, but I left it for another time.

Insta-improvement. I like being able to see the floor in the garage. Can I maintain this?

The contents, on the other hand, filled the driveway. And part of the neighbor’s driveway. And the backyard.

Huh? Oh, yeah. The contents of the garage while we swept.

Oh. The backyard was filled too. Right.

Pete’s big goal was to install shelving into the cinder block frame, a task I hadn’t bothered tackling myself because it seemed more intimidating than installing shelves into common wall studs.

We had a set of three white shelves with brackets still attached the day three years ago when I moved in and removed them from the inset cove in the dining room that’s now home to my built-in shelves. Living in the basement ever since, it was nice to have decent shelving on hand that we could reinstall in a pinch. Fo’ free. Well, almost free.

Our only splurge for this endeavor was a set of heavy-duty wall anchors. This kit at Home Depot only cost $11 yet gave us more than 10x the amount that we actually needed for the job. Always nice to have some extra anchors on hand, right? And these are “for all materials” cinder block included, so it’ll be nice to have for the basement whenever we get around to reorganizing that space.

Good ol' anchors. Right on the box it advises that they're good for cinderblock, so I think we're in luck.

Installing anything securely into something as robust as cinder block is something I’ve been curious about, but it went really smoothly. We predrilled each hole with a masonry bit, and then easily tapped the anchor into position. (the $25 set that Pete has actually has a whole selection of these heavy-duty-toothy bits, score, and our set of anchors came with one too, double-score).

Pre-drilling holes with the masonry bit.

Tap-tap. The hinges attach cleanly to the wall with the screws that fit into the anchors.

It’s times like this when we’re cement-drilling and pounding and shop-vac’ing that I wonder why the dog can be so calm and sleepy, when anytime he’s in the same room as the Dyson, even when it’s not running, he’s looks like he’s about to pass out cold from fear.

We worked, the dog napped. Whatever.

This particular bracket that he was installing above has to do with a little wood storage area we built in the back of the garage. By anchoring two brackets opposite each other, we were able to run a 9’4″ 2×4 across them to create a little barrier. Just before the barrier was installed, we hauled a bunch of flat cement blocks from the back storage shed built onto the garage and lined the floor with them, partially to help keep the scrap wood from sitting directly on the sometimes-wet cement floor, but also to get them out of the back room and let them serve some purpose until we actually need them. We’re wood hoarders and cement block hoarders over here. (Side note: The latter, I have to attribute to always having to buy cinder blocks to hoist my dorm bed during college, which was a total waste of money and a pain in the you-know-what. Are you with me?)

Lining the back wall of the garage with flat cement blocks.

While Pete worked on installing the white shelves on the left wall of the garage, I reloaded and organized our scrap lumber into the back 18″ of the garage. The scraps consist of reclaimed barnwood and trim pieces, a bit of common lumber (some pressure-treated, some not), a bin of short-pieces that still big enough to be considered useful for something, and plywood pieces. And the dog still slept.

So clean-clean. Good lumber organization, yo.

The shelves that Pete hung on the left side of the garage are the ones I mentioned being repurposed from the dining room. In solid condition, they’re deep, and since the anchors can allegedly each support 51-lbs. and six are supporting the horizontal weight of each shelf, they should be able to hold quite a bit once we get them loaded.

For now, it’s just a nice place to hold our bike helmets and riding gloves.

Scoot-scoot. Love my scooter, and love my old-new garage shelves.

We did purposefully hang them at our own eye-level (about 5’5″ off the ground) so that it would be:
1) easy to see so you don’t whack your eyeball into them,
2) high enough to not disrupt the average car that’s pulling into the driveway (we don’t use it for our cars, but you know, someday maybe),
3) we could still see on top of them without a step stool

The third shelf was added in the back beyond the window and is already packed with “stuff we need but don’t need often” like Pete’s bike cover and back support for the Harley, and an extra couple of chargers. We also saved Julia’s 3-wheeler and all of our yard sale signs for future play. The wine bottles on the floor in the corner? Don’t point fingers at me, I pulled them from the curb of a restaurant (odd, I know) and have been planning to do something with them. You know, someday.

More stuff in our organized garage.

Stepping back, the room as a whole looks pretty charming.

What do I like most of all? How Pete lined our bikes up in a very showroom-esque way. It’ll be so easy to get them in and out of there now if we keep the other half of the garage cleared.

Is there anything better than organized scooters?

On the other wall, Pete hung two brackets to support the extension ladder (it was previously just on the floor, so it’s nice to get it up and out of the way since it isn’t used all that often). He also screwed some cement screws into the wall on which we could hang the sawhorses. The plywood along the wall is something we’re about to take away, Pete has big plans for it in his parent’s kitchen. More to come on that at

Serious garage progress. Needs some paint still, but how great is it to be organized for once?

And if you’re wondering, celebrated with my Mom on Saturday, which is why our whole Sunday was free to tackle crazy things like this. There was no Mom-neglect. And Mom thought the garage was damn messy anyways. How was your weekend?

Stepping It Up

May 14, 2012   //  Posted in: Bathroom, DIY   //  By: Emily   //  one response

We were really quick to remove the old bathroom vanity and replace with the new IKEA model during our bathroom renovation. The new sink and vanity were pretty much love at first sight, perfect for us and our 5’9″-ish frames, much more comfortable than average height vanities. While it’s been easy livin’ so far for us, one thing became very apparent: tall vanities for adults are yay, and tall for kids are nay. And let’s be real, kids need to be able to wash their hands easily.

The easy solution was to design and build a little step stool, mostly with Pete’s daughter Julia in mind, but really to service any kids that were needing to use a bathroom sink. (FYI, ours shown in the pictures is by IKEA, but there are lots of others to consider, like sinks and vanities by Kohler Bathroom Sinks).  I built it easily in an afternoon and am really thrilled with it as a utilitarian piece, but also love how it turned out as a whole. Best of all? It was f-r-e-e using scrap wood, and extra screws and bolts.

I started with a single piece of leftover 2x10x4′ pine board, from which I planned to make a chunky wooden model that would be small enough to tuck aside in the bathroom, but tall and sturdy enough to do what it was intended to do, hoist kids closer to the faucet. I got to work.

A single scrap piece of 2x10 board is about to become a new stepstool.

Side note: We used this scrap back in the bathroom tiling days as a place to set our mortar bucket and  tools. Consequently, it still had lots of mortar stuck to it, but it all sanded right off.

Picking measurements for this step stool, I went based on what “felt right” for my bathroom. I ended up with a top surface measuring 15″ in length, two legs measuring 6″ in height, and two center support pieces measuring 10″x3″.

Cutting pieces of wood for the step stool out of a single 4' 2x10 board.

Loosely assembled (upside down), this is how it was designed to come together:

Upside down, dry fit step stool just for show.

I even took an extra step to cut a series of 1-3/4″ circles in the top to serve two purposes: 1) they give adults something quick to grab to pick up and move the step stool out of the way and 2) give the kids feet something to grip to, lessening the chance of accidental slips. No, the holes aren’t big enough for a kid’s foot to accidentally fall through.

Planning for circles to be cut into the top of the step stool.

With the placement of all four circles marked in pencil (evenly spaced apart horizontally and along the same plane vertically) I used a common drill bit to pre-drill through the board itself, and followed up with the hole saw drill bit to create my 1-3/4″ holes.

Pre-drilling isn’t always necessary with the hole saw bit, but these 2x boards are thicker than the hole saw bit is, meaning that I had to cut part way through on the board one way, and then flip it and drill through from the other side. The predrilled hole keeps everything aligned really nicely, so there was no mis-drilling on any of the four holes.

Drilling holes out of the top of the step stool for decoration and purpose.

With the top step of the stool done, I moved on to the base and assembled the frame using 2.5″ wood screws and several sized drill bits to create a counter-sunken effect. We don’t own a Kreg jig, but by pre-drilling with a small bit and then following up by drilling about 1/4″-1/2″ with a bit larger than the head of the screw, you can achieve the same finished effect by sinking the screws out of sight but still at the necessary angle.

Countersinking the screws into the base of the step stool.

Getting the base fully assembled was an effort, because the drill itself is only so tiny to get into the small area between each reinforcements. I wanted all eight screws hidden within the frame, not visible from the outside, so I made do by using Pete’s impact driver which is a bit shorter and narrower than the rest of our cordless and corded drills. Still a tighter fit than if the entire stool was 18″ long instead of 15″, but it worked well.

Assembled step stool base. Radically secure thanks to eight 2.5" wood screws.

By attaching the step stool top to the frame from beneath using four 4″ lag bolts, I was able to achieve a finished look that was clean-lined without protruding bolts and screws, and really, really sturdy.

Installing the lag bolts into the bottom of the step stool to attach the top.

The finished piece is sanded smooth but still raw wood and heavy; I’m planning on eventually giving it a coat of stain to finish it off although I’m kind of digging how nice the light wood looks beside the IKEA veneer. It’s a charming little addition to the bathroom.

Finished step stool for the bathroom.

It fits perfectly beside the sink and is easily accessed, but is completely out of the line of traffic when you’re walking into and out of the bathroom. Easy enough to slide out of the way with your foot, and thanks to the holes in the top, it’s a pinch to pick up as well.

Finished step stool for the bathroom.

Make anything handy this weekend?