Bigger on the Inside, part I

Ever since we first saw the house, the closet big enough to hold a queen-sized bed has been a running joke for us, and was very quickly named the TARDIS. Eventually, we started to have plans to paint the door blue and what not. Well, one thing led to another….

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While this is clearly a work in progress, it has also come a long way from the initial joke name for the closet. At first the idea was to make a 3D version of ThinkGeek’s TARDIS Door Poster, where it would look like a TARDIS on the outside but just be a normal door. While trying to figure out how to modify the existing door, I encountered TARDISbuilders.com, and quickly discovered it would be just as easy to build TARDIS doors as it would be to make the current door look like a TARDIS. Given that choice, what would any reasonable person do?

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Thanks to the attic project I actually had lots of spare wood, and only needed to buy the plywood for the core of the doors. I ripped 2x4s to make the rest of the frame and started putting the pieces together. At first I tried just gluing without screws or nails so that I could do less touch up work later but it ultimately proved not to be strong enough on just glue.

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With the doors mostly figured out, I was unsure what to do for all the signage. Do I special order it or follow one of the dozens of ideas I’ve seen online. Eventually I just grabbed PDFs for them and printed the Police Box sign at the reduced scale for my narrow frame. I was surprised it turned out so well, so the next step was to grab a sheet of acrylic and sandwich it and see what happens…

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To say this worked better than I hoped is a massive understatement. This is the kind of rare success from idea to implementation that makes you run with a project and complete inside five hours what you originally weren’t even going to work on that day. the above photo is actually me trying to figure out how deep I need to make the sign in order for the light to diffuse enough to be uniform, and as it turned out the magic number was the same as a roll of dog shit bags (2 in). It was time to break out the table saw.

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Earlier that morning I had used the table saw to groove Bunny’s lightsaber so grooving the wood for the sign was simple in comparison. I had square pillars in the back on both ends to give it more structural support, as well as to create an easy mounting point for all the parts.

 

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Looking at the above sign just sitting in my kitchen, I dropped everything and ran out to buy the paint for the TARDIS. I had house guests at the time who were the only people I know that have a sonic screwdriver collection as big as mine, and they were both staying in that room AND out having fun roaming Boston for the day. My goal was to get the sign painted, installed and powered before they got home. Painting it before putting it together ensured I wouldn’t get any paint on the sign itself, as well as letting me paint the interior white with a high gloss paint to increase brightness.

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The big pleasant surprise with the plywood frame was that you could still see the wood grain after it had been painted, mainly thanks to not really sanding anything. However that was perfect for the TARDIS in general. Once it was dry enough I took it right up and mounted it. Drilling the hole for the light’s power cord was interesting. I didn’t want it coming out of the frame on the other side so it comes out above the frame, and getting that to align was not remotely as easy as I hoped. Eventually I’ll install an outlet in the closet to power the sign (hopefully this week). In the meantime I use an extension cord when I want to show it off. The results when my house guests returned were…. satisfactory.

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Once PAX was over I decided to panel the front of the door frame with plywood to get more of the wood grain texture on the  whole of the TARDIS. That would’ve been a whole lot easier if I had planned to do so when I made the sign, because then I could have left the scrap wood lined up by the grain instead of having to figure it back out later. Once that was done and installed I turned my attention back to the doors. I had fucked up the beveling thanks to bad reference angles, and correcting it at this stage was not remotely pleasant. I had designed the horizontal parts to account for the vertical bevel, so I had to fix the vertical AFTER attaching the horizontal parts.

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Once that was taken care of however, and checking to see how things were fitting together, I just had to get some color on there…

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Now I’m in the process of mounting the doors. Since the closet door had swung into the room, and the TARDIS needs its doors to swing into the closet, I’ve been modifying the door frame to allow it. Sure, it would’ve been simpler to add wood to the frame and make the doors just a tiny bit narrower, but when your door opening is only 67% as wide as it should be, you don’t want to lose even a half inch. The left door is mounted in the top photo, and I’m about 1/3 of the way trimming the frame for the right door. Once we get there, very little will remain. I need to build & attach the window frames, install the latch/lock, and build the phone panel (which will not open because these doors are thin and I don’t need something else easy to break). Oh and painting. I’ll still need to paint the back of the doors and finish painting the outer door frame.

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Modern Hardware

I still have plenty of things I need or want to do to the house. Some may be outside the realm of possibility but many aren’t. It can be hard to decide what to work on without an immediate need, but I had house guests last month for PAX and I was pretty sure they’d love bedroom doors that latch and can be locked.

When we moved into the house, almost all the doors had old skeleton key hardware, including the front door. Sure we were planning on replacing the front door, but I liked the thought of security between now and then. I removed the skeleton key assembly, filled the cavity with scrap wood, drilled holes for the modern door hardware and installed the spare modern handle I had. I slept a lot easier after that. Considering none of the doors upstairs latched anymore save our bedroom door, I figured eventually I’d get around to replacing them.

Between then and now we’ve had multiple overnight guests. While most of the time we only needed the guest room to accommodate them, two or three times the study has also been used. The bathroom and guest room both had eye-and-hook “locks,” but the study didn’t and every time a guest stayed there I felt self-conscious about its absence. I decided I had to resolve the situation before PAX.

The biggest road block (aside from how ugly the doors will look until the patching and painting is completed) was filling the existing hardware cavities. It needed to be warm enough to use the table saw and I needed the wood. Luckily I had more than enough spare wood from the other project for the task, and I did myself a favor and cut all the filler pieces at once. I only had one new door knob, so I bought three more and some wood putty to patch what holes remained.

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With the filler piece installed, it was a quick matter to drill the holes for the new hardware, but the new mechanism had a wider faceplate than the old one. Fixing this managed to be the most time consuming part of each door, especially since none of the original mechanisms had been centered in the door to begin with.

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Anyone with older doors can relate to how laughably badly they will line up with the hardware on the frame. Once the handle was installed, I had to mark on the frame where the door would latch properly and then modify the doorframe to accommodate the new hardware. Once these were installed I could start patching. This stuff takes forever to dry and requires a special primer, but whatever. I’m not entirely happy with the way it turned out but that’s the issue with sanding doors that potentially contain lead paint….. Still, the doors are white so it’s good enough, and it’s nice to finally have fully-functional hardware and to not worry about it falling apart in my hands.

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House Saga, Fall Edition

The fall is always very good at both making you love how many trees you have around your home, and then a week later hate the same trees as they can’t stop shedding all over the place.

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My town does this interesting program for leaf collection. We are not allowed to bag our leaves, but instead we must pile them curbside for our designated pickup week. They will show up with a vacuum that will take away the leaves but none of the stuff you’re not supposed to put in the bags anyway like branches and stumps and the like. I’m not the biggest fan but I can understand why they do it this way.

The biggest problem with this method is getting the leaves to the curb. Since I’ve never had to do this before, I spent two days raking large portions of my yard towards the front for the eventual collection, trying to get it done before it had to be done, and before I’d complain too loudly about how cold I was doing it. A week later I spotted a neighbor pulling a tarp covered in leaves to the front, upturning it, and going back to work. It’s been a while since I felt quite that stupid. I bought a tarp the next day, and after turning the difficulty from nightmare down to casual, accomplished in an hour what had taken me three hours in previous days. And that was only due to high winds stealing the tarp before I could weigh it down properly.

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They asked us to not pile the leaves under low-hanging branches, but it wasn’t until the truck came by (three weeks late) until I understood that by “low” they meant “under 20 feet.” Next year I’ll make sure it’s further from the tree…

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On the interior front, it has always been a priority to get flooring down in the attic before the winter so it could be utilized for storage. Since the future will probably include a finished attic, I am determined to start the process off correctly so that I won’t have to undo anything later. This has led to an annoying amount of planning and not much getting accomplished, but I did cut the majority of the floor boards and put them into place. Even if I can’t secure them for a while, it’s nice to not have to worry about falling through the ceiling anymore. Before I can go any further, I need to finish any wiring changes to the second (or third) floor and decide whether that vestigial chimney is coming out for a proper stairwell. Bunny likes to point out I’m using that word a lot, but with a house this old it’s bound to apply more than once.

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This brings us to present day on the housework front. Now next time maybe I can actually write about video games or Agents of SHIELD or something.

House Saga, Summer Edition

It would’ve been nice if I actually had taken the time to write this stuff down while it was going on instead of having to piece it all back together after the fact, but whatever. Here lies the story as best as I can remember it.

June was a busy month. Sure, I was working more, but it was taking me slightly less time to get to work now, and I didn’t have to take a toll road to work anymore. What I did have to experience for the first time was water flowing into my basement.

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Thankfully it was never more than 3 inches at its deepest, and never covered the entire floor, but this was still one of the last things I wanted to deal with. The grading outside the house was messed up at the south corner, so I get tons of water in all the tiny holes there. Lots of patching jobs later and it now takes more water to cause any flooding, but it’s still an issue, one that hopefully I’ll solve in a more permanent fashion shortly.

Gradually over the course of June I painted the upstairs hallway and bathrooms to the only-slightly-different colors that Bunny picked out. I was super grumpy about it, insisting there was practically no difference, but she could see the difference, and it was really good to paint the hallway to remove any scars from moving in, so whatever. I did it, it’s finished, and the finish on the “new” color is much more reflective and more of what I expect in a home. Next we painted the guest rooms, and these were hard colors to get right but we pulled it off.

With the interior essentially finished, I could again turn my efforts to outdoors. We had the new front door installed the second week of July, and shortly after we got an estimate for completing the fence for the dog. It would’ve cost nearly $5K for contractors to use what was already there and just seal it off, or $8K to replace most of what was already there and have it all be the same. I did my best not to laugh in his face.

The next time I was at Lowe’s, I realized that the white vinyl fence we had was sold there and it was decently cheap, so I sold some stock, and for only $2.1K, we fenced in the yard over the next month.

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The first problem in the existing fencing was that it was almost a foot off the ground, and Willow could easily get under it. So on a day off while Bunny was at work, I took off each panel and reattached it as close to the ground as I could. The photo is after two panels were done. I made great progress and was confident I’d be done long before Bunny got home, only to discover wasps nests inside the last two panels….. I managed to deal with them and get the panels back on before dark, but just barely. The next day I started on continuing the fence, and I had bought almost enough in the first trip to do the entire project.

We were still trying to decide on how to proceed with the fence for the south side of the house, where the yard is only 9 feet wide. I didn’t like Willow being able to see anything on the other side, but at the same time we didn’t want a wall of white in that corner, especially if it walled the plants away from the sun or away from us. Then we went to Kevin’s house for a birthday party and they’d just finished re-landscaping. As a joke he goes “Hey, want a fence?!”

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This meant we didn’t have to put a solid wall on either side of our arborvitae, especially since they’ll become one in several years anyway, and they’ll be prettier. This gives Willow a solid enough barrier without making the house feel trapped behind the fence. Sure, we wanted to use the same material the whole way around, but when something is free it’s easier to compromise. Amusingly, we needed two feet more of fencing than Kevin gave us, and good luck buying more in less than 50-ft chunks at a hardware store. Eventually I found a local contractor who was happy to sell me what I needed (Mr. Fence of Bellingham, MA), and they even gave me an extra foot on the house. I used the extra to seal the gap in the vinyl fencing that I couldn’t adjust.

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She wasn’t happy with me for sealing that off, but as soon as she didn’t have to use the run anymore she forgave me instantly. The chain-link fence meant that all I had to do was complete the fence from the driveway to the west corner of the house, and thanks to the vestigial sidewalk this was going to be the hardest part. I enlisted Chris Tatro and David to help me with this stretch, but thanks to stubborn subterranean boulders and no tools to smite them with, we weren’t able to quite finish that day.

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The next day I managed to complete the fence, a mere ten days after starting the project. Willow wasn’t particularly happy with the amount of time I spent outside not-playing with her, but she loves to run around that yard. The next two outdoor projects are going to be to build a shed/replace the wooden fence section, and to remove the sidewalk to nowhere. That’s right, I’d been planning on buying a pre-made shed until I realized I could probably build it myself for much less money. Maybe in 2014 if I’m lucky.

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The First Month

People keep saying that once you own a home you’ll always have something to do. Despite my best efforts, I haven’t proven them wrong yet. Here is the first of I’m sure to be many, many posts about the adventures of home ownership.

The First Month
I suppose the best place to start would be here:

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I’ve certainly been keeping busy. Our game plan was to not setup any rooms (major ones anyway) until they were painted first. This involved telling the moving team to put stuff in staging rooms while the correct rooms were prepared. The largest drawback to this is everything destined for the living and dining rooms ended up on the second floor. As if that wasn’t enough to do, the bathrooms were so new that there was no caulking in the shower, nor hardware on the walls for towels or toilet paper. We moved from room to room, doing as much as possible the first round so that it would just be done. I painted the dining room the night we moved in and then setup the table, as well as the computers. The next day we attacked the living room, and the next our bedroom. Eventually hallway colors were determined and artwork went up on the walls.

Our house had some odd inconsistencies when we moved in, most noticeably the coax wires coming out of the walls in many rooms for cable TV. These wires were obnoxious and not something we’re likely to ever use, but that’s no reason to trash perfectly good wiring. What didn’t make any sense to me was that in two of the guest rooms they were wired into outlets and not just wires springing out of the wall. The first chance I had, I went to the hardware store and got what I needed in order to turn all the annoying wires into proper wall-mounted outlets.

This process went fairly well with one minor exception. Behind the TV the wire was coming out directly below an electrical outlet. I made sure I knew where the wire was and was very cautious around it. However the saw didn’t like the wooden paneling that much, and got stuck. I failed to dislodge it gracefully, and immediately saw a large spark, the smell of burning paper, and the power went out. Jackpot. I managed to pull enough of the wire out to see that I had punctured the insulation but all the wires themselves were undamaged, so I re-insulated the wires and restored the power, after I finished working on the coax outlet.

With the essentials covered I devoted my attention to the Ethernet wires running all over the first floor. Whoever wired the house recently was kind enough to put CAT5E in most of the rooms and not attach jacks, so we could use what was clearly setup for phone lines as Ethernet. I enlisted my dad’s aid to help me run wires and installed the existing wiring into the patch panel. It took a couple days to finish, but there’s nothing like getting the wires off the floor to make you feel like you’ve returned to civilization.

With the interior adequate for now, I turned my attention outdoors. My goal was to get rid of as much unwanted plants on the property as possible, and I surprised myself at how quickly that went. The old enclosed “garden space” of ages past was demolished and cleared out save for the oak and maple trees it contained. Next I destroyed all the tall weeds and tossed garbage and construction debris, and suddenly we had a yard. All that was left to do was buy some trees for the front. After they arrived, we put them where they needed to go and after calling dig safe (new property means I have NO IDEA where any utilities are hiding) I panted everything despite stupidly hot temperatures for May.

This ends the story for now, but the next installment will come. At this rate, right before Half-Life 3.

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