Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Master Closet: Part 2

Ok....let's get down to business.  While I won't discuss any actual work in today's post, we will discuss a very important part of the planning process:  Cut Lists and Layouts.

So, you have a design.  You have tools.  You have motivation (can I borrow some of that?).  You're ready to buy some wood and start building.....but wait.....not so fast.  The cut list might be one of the most important parts of any project.  Without one, you don't know exactly how much material you're going to need.  Knowing how much material to buy can save you a ton of money in the form of fuel, and time spent running back to the lumber yard/home improvement store.

First, you need to know the individual measurements for each piece in your project.

My cabinets are going to be made of 3/4" birch plywood with 1x2 maple faces.  Keep in mind that dimensional lumber measurements do not actually correspond with their actual measurements.  Usually, this means you need to subtract 1/2" from each measurement (except on 1" widths) to get the actual size.  This means that a piece of 1x2 lumber is actually 3/4"x1-1/2".  A 2x4 (commonly used for framing walls, is actually 1-1/2"x3-1/2".  Confusing....I know.  My cabinet faces are all going to be 72" tall.  I wanted the top closet shelf that extends from front to rear of the closet to also act as the top of each of my side cabinets.  Since my material is 3/4" birch plywood, I subtracted 3/4" from my overall cabinet height, so that the face frames will cover the edge of those top shelves.  This means that while my cabinet faces will indeed be 72" tall, the sides of the cabinets will only be 71-1/4" tall.  I did the same thing with the shelf that runs across the top of the back cabinet.  If you look at the design picture below, I think you'll see what I'm talking about:

So this means my front cabinet sides are going to be (I'm going to switch to decimals here instead of fractions....hope you can follow along) 71.25" tall by 19.25" deep.  The bottoms of the cabinets are  14.5" wide by 19.25" deep and the five shelves per cabinet are going to be 14.375" wide by 19.125 deep.  I cut these 1/8" smaller on the width and depth because the shelves will be adjustable and cannot fit tight to the insides of the cabinets. There are also two cleats per cabinet (in the back) used to fasten them to the wall.  These cleats are 3"x14.5".

My rear cabinet is 22" wide and 12" deep, overall.  remember that the 3/4" thickness of the cabinet faces are part of this overall measurement so my sides are going to be 71.25" tall by 11.25 deep.  The bottom and center shelf for this cabinet are both fixed, and therefore will be 20.5" wide by 11.25" deep.  The five adjustable shelves up top will be 20.375" wide by 11.125" deep.  This cabinet also uses two cleats at the rear to fasten it to the wall of the closet.  These cleats are 3" wide by 20.5" long.

The two front to back top shelves will be 52" long by 19.25" deep while the center top shelf above the back cabinet will be 36.5" wide by 11.25" deep.

The front cabinet faces are made using 1x2 maple.  I need two pieces 72" long (styles) and two more pieces 13" long (rails).  You need two sets of styles and rails, one for each cabinet.  The rear cabinet has a center rail that covers the front of the center shelf, so you need two styles 72" long, and three rails 19" long.

Knowing those measurements, we can write down each set, and the quantity of each.  This is our cut list.

Once you know your cut list, you need to know how to lay the pieces out on your material to make the best use of space and reduce waste.  If you're good with math and can envision shapes and measurements easily, you can probably jot everything down on a piece of paper.  You can also draw out your measurements on some graph paper and see how everything will fit on a single piece of material.  One of the easiest ways to make a layout sheet is with one of many free programs designed to do just that.  I did a quick Google search and stumbled upon a free program called MaxCut that looked like it would do exactly what I needed.  Now...there are ways to accomplish this using SketchUp (the program I used for designing the closet, and mentioned in Part 1 of this series), but it's a bit more complicated.  Until you're really familiar with SketchUp and how to make components, using a stand alone program like MaxCut is a bit easier.

After downloading MaxCut, you will be asked a few set-up questions involving your preferred language, measurement system and blade kerf (thickness).  Once setup completes, you can get to work.  Since the material I'm using for this project doesn't yet exist in the program, I have to create a new material.  Click the Tools menu, Materials, then click Sheet.

Now you need to click the "Add New Sheet" button, and enter the details for your material in the pop up window.  As you can see, I labeled my sheet as Birch Plywood - Cabinet Grade, and entered my measurements as 48" wide by 96" long by 3/4" thick.  There is also a section where you can add price information, which while not necessary, can help you figure out your total material cost for the project.

Click on the File menu and Open to start a new job.  Name the job, then click on the "Input Items" tab and click the "Add" button.  In the pop up window, enter the name of your panel, the measurements for your panel, desired quantity and the "Panel Material" you wish to use for this panel.  Below I have named my panel "front cabinet side" and have given it a length of 71.25" and a width of 19.25".  I set my quantity at four, and chose Birch Plywood as my material.  Once you enter the information for the panel, click the save button.  You'll need to do this for each panel in your project.

I've only entered the panels for my plywood parts, as I didn't really feel the need to add my face frame parts to the layout, but if you wish, you can do so....just remember to add the type of material to the program so you can select it while adding the panel.  Now that I have my entire list and quantities added to the program it looks like this:

Now, if we click the "Optimized Sheets" tab, it will create a layout of our panels on a sheet of the chosen this case my 4'x8' sheet of 3/4" plywood.  It will also tell me how many sheets I need, given the chosen cut settings:

If you click the "Cut Settings" button, you can choose how the program will optimize your layout.  You can basically tell it whether or not you want your first cut to cut across the width of your sheet, the length of the sheet, or by choosing "Normal" it will try to reduce waste by combining rip and crosscuts.  This method is the most efficient use of material, but can potentially leave you with some strange cuts.  In my case, it worked out just fine.  The layout shows that I need four sheets of plywood for the closet, and by clicking the "next" button I can see each sheet's layout.

Now....hopefully you have a good idea of what a cut sheet and layout are, and how to use them to benefit your project.  I know I've said it before.....but next post we'll actually get to work and start cutting material.  Leave any questions or comments below, and I'll do my best to answer them.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

......something something.....of mice and men.....something something.

Yeah, so about that....

I know I promised that the next post would involve some actual work....but the truth is, I was traveling back to Michigan for the weekend, and I never managed to get anything together for part 2 of the closet build.  What I did get, however, is overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done on my rental house before I can manage to get it sold......along with a list of things that need to be done at my other house.  But being home 4 days a month doesn't really allow for much of that to get done, and the piles of snow aren't encouraging either.

So, as a I'm going to talk about what tools we're going to need to get this closet going.  Just for clarification, these images are not my own.....most are stock images obtained via Google.

First things're going to need a circular saw.  These come in a wide array of sizes and power ratings.  You don't have to spend a ton of money on a saw, but as my grandfather always told me: "Good tools are a good investment."  I've got a cheapo Skil brand 7-1/4" saw that's been sitting around the garage forever, so that's what I'm using.

Since I don't have a nice table saw (or any table saw for that matter), ripping down 8' long sheets of plywood is going to be tough.  My lines need to be very straight, as the edges of my cabinets will be visible in some places.  To make this job easier, I picked up a product called Rip-Cut by Kreg Tool.  It's essentially an adjustable fence that attaches to your circular saw, allowing you to make long cuts without having to follow a line.  It takes a few minutes to set up properly for your specific saw.  Once the setup is complete, you just set the pointer at the width of cut you want, and let to speak.  They retail for about $35 and I think I picked mine up a bit cheaper on  This is a great product, that while not perfect, I still highly recommend.

This should probably go without saying, but you're going to need a tape measure and carpenter's well as a pencil for marking measurement lines.  You'll also want to pick up some good wood glue.  I recommend Elmer's.

For this particular project, I decided to use pocket-hole joinery.  While not as pretty as some traditional joinery methods (dovetails, box joints, etc.), it allows for very easy construction, and very tight joints.  Pocket-holes are also much easier to make for the novice wood worker.  When it comes to pocket-hole joinery, few companies offer more options or better products than Kreg Tool.  Pictured here, is their K4 Master System.  I borrowed one from my friend Shannon, and once I drilled a few holes, I decided I liked the product enough to buy my own.  They make several options, ranging in price from about $20 to around $150 for their manual systems.  There are also several automatic systems for production cabinet making.....but the average home builder would never need anything like this.  I think I picked up their K4 (retail $149) for around $115 on Amazon.  Again....while pricey, I highly recommend this product for anyone who ever intends to build a few sturdy cabinets.  If for whatever reason you decide after building a few boxes, that you'll never use it can still get most of your money back by selling it to someone else.

So....that's all for now.  There are a few other tools I picked up along the way, and we'll discuss those in later posts.  Next post we'll talk about cut lists and how to make the most of your material by reducing waste.  Leave any questions or comments below.  We'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Master Closet: Part 1 I've decided to update/optimize the walk-in closet in the master bedroom.  First thing I needed to do was assess the situation.  Taking measurements should always be your first step.  It's hard to plan anything, if you don't know exactly how much space you have.

Our closet is 75" wide, by 52" deep with double closet rods on the right side, and a single pole on the left.  There is a short shelf that runs above each set of closet poles, close to the ceiling.  The closet also has an inward opening 24" entry door (exactly like all of the bedroom/bathroom doors in the house).  Most closets will have a bi-fold door, or an outward opening door.  This keeps the door from interfering with the available space inside the closet.  Unfortunately, one of the problems with our closet, is that you had to walk inside, then close the door behind you in order to access anything on the right hand side of the closet.  This meant I would have to find another solution for the door.

I've never been a huge fan of bi-fold doors.  They tend to sag over time, and if your opening isn't perfect, they just never look right to begin with.  Some might say they look cheap.  But....when you're trying to utilize every bit of space you can in a closet, the bi-fold is a pretty simple solution.  Since our door was only 24" wide, replacing it with a 24" bi-fold would mean that when the door was opened, the folded door would take up about two inches of space inside the door frame and stick straight out.  With limited space in the bedroom, this means entry to the closet could be awkward.  What I decided to do instead, was buy a 24" bi-fold door, and remove the hinges in the center.  I would then carve out hinge pockets into the outsides of the two halves so I could hang them on the existing door frame (but opening outward instead of inward).  This will allow me to open two tiny 12" doors which will swing fully open, taking up very little space on the wall, and allow full use of the 24" opening........but we'll get back to the door project later.  We have cabinets to design and build.

First thing I did was use a ruler and pencil to sketch up a quick overhead layout of the closet, being careful to scale down my measurements as accurately as possible.  My drawing took up most of an 8.5x11" piece of printer paper.  I then just sorta drew in some boxes where I thought the cabinets might fit. I figured out how wide I thought the cabinets could be, and decided this plan was going to work.....what I decided to do was place two cabinets against the front wall of the closet so when you walked into the door, you'd have the open fronts of both cabinets facing your right and left sides.  Then I wanted to put another cabinet on the back wall facing you as you walked in.  Since I had about 25.5" between the closet door opening and each side wall, I figured I should make the cabinets 24" deep to utilize as much space as possible.  Since I've only got 52" of closet depth, I needed to make the cabinets as narrow as possible (while still being functional) so I could maximize the amount of closet rod length between the cabinets and the back wall.  16" seemed like it would be a good fit.

Our closet rods (like many houses) were spaced about 12" from the wall, so assuming I left an equal 12" on both sides of the rod (that's 24" total from the wall for those of you playing along at home), I should have about 27" of usable space between the two sides at the back wall.  I wanted to build a cabinet on the back wall that was 25" wide by 16" deep.  I planned on making all cabinets 84" tall from floor to ceiling.  I wanted to keep the right side of the closet as a double rod setup.  On the left side, instead of the single rod, I wanted to use half of the space with a double rod setup, but leave the other half as a single rod so there would still be some space for hanging long items.  I figured a divider wall that ran between the closet rods could make this work just fine.

While at work the next day, I bounced my ideas off a friend of mine who used to run a finish carpentry side business.  He's done a decent amount of cabinet work in the past, and has a good imagination when it comes to stuff like this.  While he liked my ideas, he pointed out that even though I would be using up what might be considered wasted space with my full depth cabinets, it would make the closet seem very cramped.  So after deciding he was right, I wanted to see what all of this would look like in 3D.  I did some searching on the internet and found a program called Sketchup which allows you to make really nice 3D designs, much like expensive CAD programs, but this has more limited features, and the trial version is free to use for non-commercial purposes.  I downloaded the program and watched a ton of tutorial videos on YouTube.  Eventually I started to get the hang of it, and this is what I came up with:

This program is really awesome!  I know you're probably thinking, "But Gib.....I can't do that!".....sure you can.  I did this after just a few hours of playing with the program, and I had no prior experience.  The cool thing about this program, is I can grab and spin the entire drawing around so I can see it from any angle.

So, in this drawing, the side cabinets have been reduced to 20" depth, and the back cabinet is now 22" wide by 12" deep.  This allowed me to open up the space inside the closet a bit without really losing any usable shelving space.  You might also notice that the cabinets are now do not touch the floor.  My friend Shannon suggested allows me to use the small space under the cabinet on the floor for any abnormally long items, and it's just aesthetically pleasing.  You can see the short divider wall on the back side of the closet which separates the double rod from the single rod.  The cabinets are now 72" tall instead of 84", and all of the shelving in the front side cabinets is adjustable using shelf pin holes (much like you see on the cheap particle board closet kits you can buy at the big box stores).  The back cabinet has a fixed shelf in the middle with adjustable shelving above and drawers below.  Full width shelves will go around the top of all three cabinets.  You'll also notice that the cabinets have a nice face frame on the front.  Not only does it look better that way, but the frames will give added support to the plywood boxes.

One of the cool things about this setup, is that we're adding in a bunch of stuff that takes up space inside the closet, but believe it or not, we're actually going to gain usable space.  Right now, Melissa's jeans are folded into a stack that sits on a milk crate on the floor.  The rest of the floor is lined with shoes and boots.  We currently have a total of 156" of closet rod....but much of that is used for clothing that would be better suited for folding up on the shelf.  Once the cabinets are in, we'll lose 30" of closet rod.....BUT we'll also be gaining almost 33 square feet of shelf space and 4 cubic feet of drawer space!!  Needless to say.....I'm pretty excited about it.

Next update.......we get down to business and make some sawdust fly.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Writing is harder than building....

So, I'll be the first to admit, I'm not writer.  I've done a lot of things over the years....even sold vacuum cleaners door-to-door....but writing is something new for me.  This all started when I posted a project progress blog on one of the wood working forums I frequent.  I posted the link to my facebook page, and my friend (who happens to run the Gear Acres Blog), after reading it, convinced me to start this blog.  She feels that I have something here that lots of do-it-yourself-ers will find useful and I hope she's right. Hopefully this gets easier as we go along.

So, since Melissa bought this house about 4-1/2 years ago, we've done little things around the house, but nothing major.  We both have pretty demanding work schedules (hers demands more work, mine demands more time), so it took a long time before the lack of space really caught up to us.

To save money on bills when we moved in, we elected to forgo the luxury of cable TV.  I honestly didn't watch much television anyway, and although she missed having access to all of the popular shows everyone discusses around the water cooler, she reluctantly admitted that it was a good decision.  Well....late last year, she finally caved, and informed me that she had ordered a digital cable package from our local provider.

At first, I was skeptical....who needs cable anyway?  Then, a few weeks in, I find myself watching all sorts of DIY shows, house hunting and design shows, how-to stuff.....anyway, I was hooked.  So, once I started seeing shows about first time home buyers, and the compromises they have to make, it reminded me of how much I HATED having to compromise when it came to home buying.  Truth is:  Most people want a lot of things in their first house that they simply can't justify or afford.  I should know.  I had done this twice already, and lived through the same experience with Melissa as she bought her first house.

But something is different now.  The home improvement shows I've been watching have rekindled an old love for wood working.  I mean, I honestly haven't built anything substantial from wood since high school wood shop it's been a loooooong time.  But I suddenly decided I was going to test my skills, and build some stuff for this house that will make our time here more enjoyable.

Most of my motivation comes from the fact that I've gone through the compromises of affordable small house purchases three times now.  I'm finally just fed up with not having things the way I want them to be.....the way they should be.  So I decided that if I can't buy a house the way I want it, I should build it....

First thing I've decided to tackle, is the small walk-in closet in the master bedroom.  A lot of people would tell me I'm a fool to complain about a walk-in closet.....a majority of home owners would probably love to have one....but the problem with ours, is that it is too small.  It holds a ton of stuff, even for the small space it contains, but it is just a mess.  So, I took to Pinterest (something, as a man, I told myself I'd never do) for ideas.....quickly became frustrated with the lack of down to earth designs and small space ideas, and eventually started brainstorming.

In my next few posts, we'll discuss the design phase of the closet remodel.  There were some snags along the way, but in the end, I think I found a viable solution.....and we're really going to kick this closet up to the next level.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Introduction: Who are we? What is this all about?

Hello!  Welcome to One Tiny House.....Hopefully sometime soon, this space will be full of DIY ideas for the average homeowner.  Our goal is to share our "Average Joe & Jane" level projects with others who are making their own "Tiny House" into a livable reality.

First....let me introduce myself.  My name is Gib, and I'm a robotics engineer.  I'm what some might call a Jack of All Trades....Most of what I know about home improvement has been gleaned from helping my dad as a kid, reading DIY magazines, watching This Old House and the New Yankee Workshop, and realizing as a young, first time home buyer, that I couldn't reasonably expect all of my wants and needs to exist in a house I could actually afford.

My first home was a bank foreclosure that nobody (except me) seemed to see any potential in.  It was ugly....dirty....and full of surprises.  Many things I wanted to do, would cost far more money to have done than I was making at the time, so I figured I could do them myself to save some cash.  Needless to say, the learning curve was steep.  But, along the way, I learned a lot about plumbing, drywall, electrical, flooring and many other useful skills.  With each project, my skills got a bit sharper, and the end results were much more rewarding.

Somewhere along the way, I changed jobs a few times, and while I was making better money, I ran short of time for projects.  I ended up buying my brother's house when he had to move out of state for work, and put my old place up for rent.  Shortly after (with so many grand home improvement plans), I took a job that required me to travel out of state most of the time.  This unfortunately meant that all of my projects had to wait, and eventually, I lost interest.

A few years later, while working in Kansas City, I met my girlfriend, Melissa.  I was living with a friend of mine, and she had an apartment near the city.  Eventually we decided to move in together, and she decided she was done with apartment living, so she started looking for her own first home.  Now, since I still own both of my homes in Michigan, this was going to be all hers.....after all, we were less than a year into our relationship, so if things didn't work out, she didn't want to have to look for a new place.  So, I went with her while she looked at various homes, making sure the electrical and plumbing were up to date and there were no major potential gremlins with whatever places she liked.  She eventually settled on a nice little house that fit her budget, and she took the plunge.

The house is small, but "cute" as she would describe it.  Three bedrooms, 1.5 baths, and a basement that doubled as a small garage/laundry room.  The structure was built in 1929, but the previous owner had knocked down all but the outside walls, and started from scratch.  While this means the house lost any 1930's charm it might have had, it also meant that we had all new plumbing and electrical, new drywall, new windows, new furnace and AC....everything.  No worrying about cast iron or lead pipes, no knob & tube wiring, no asbestos, no 80 year old fire hazards waiting around every corner.  She was happy, and I was satisfied with her purchase.

Fast forward about 4 and a half years....How much space could two people take up??  Turns out.....a lot.  When we first moved in, we shared the small walk-in closet in the master bedroom.  The other two bedroom closets were used for storage of all of the things that didn't go out in the open.  Eventually, as our wardrobes and collections of various things grew, I ended up having to move my clothing to one of the spare rooms so she would have enough room for her stuff......then I somehow managed to fill that closet.....and the cycle continued.  The basement/garage area?  Well, that's another disaster.  I ride and work motorcycles in my spare time, and somehow, I managed to fill the garage/basement with bikes and spare much so, that it's often impossible for her to park her car in there.

Long story short, we have a small space, and a lot of stuff.....and we don't want to get rid of most of the stuff, so we need more space.  While we eventually plan to sell both of my houses in Michigan, and her house so we can move into or build something that suits us better, for the time being, we need to make the most of the space we have.  That's where this journey begins.

So....stick around....grab a beverage and dust off your tape measure.  We're going to build stuff, maybe even destroy stuff.  And hopefully, when all the dust settles, we'll have optimized our space, while hopefully adding to the resale value of the property.....and maybe the next owners will even appreciate all of the little things we've done.