Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Corner

Having committed myself to building a hanging sink vanity instead of one that is grounded to the earth through a big cabinet, I am consumed with fear and feelings of inadequacy about my ability to build a truly sturdy structure that has one corner hanging in the air.

I started with two layers of thick plywood and glued them together, fastened that to the wall studs on two walls with 4 inch lag bolts, tightened to a terrific torque and finished with thick braces underneath. (I'm preparing for the big one.)

A small elephant could tip-toe on this shelf with no give or creak at all. And still I am not confident in it, even to support a tooth brush, not without some more reinforcement somewhere.

And then there's the corner. I've given this corner more thought than all my combined other thoughts for the past two years, and I still haven't decided what to do with it. I could cut it off and put a tile on the angle, but how would that look?

My first attempt at cutting the hole and the top piece was a bust, but today I got it right. As I suspected, when I got the backer board in place, I changed my mind again about the corner. Nothing is fastened down yet, so I am free to waffle.

When I was a kid, my parents took me to Carter's barber shop. I remember the guy always swiveled the chair around so that I could see myself in the mirror, and he asked if it was OK. He always said the same thing. "I can take it off, but I can't put it back on." Same thing with the corner.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Sink Platform

The new sill piece and Willow,
disgusted with me for changing course
I woke up this morning intending to frame the window and doors with new lumber. The old framing was all dinged up and ugly, and it really doesn't fit any more because the walls have all changed position.

I cut out the new sill piece for the window and realized, while holding it in its future position, that I could and should put it on after the tile is in place. Likewise for the door frames since the walls are deeper on one side of each door than the other.

So, instead of tiling up to the framing, I'll do the tile first then rip the framing (I have to do this anyway to compensate for the walls) so that the framing slightly overlaps the tile, giving a nice clean line where wood and tile meet.

OK, then. It's time to build the platform for the sink. I laid out some tile to get an idea how the sink might look. The layout above is about 23 inches wide, but I've decided to make it a little wider. (The sink is only 17 inches wide--it appears bigger in the picture because it's closer to the camera.)

I'm also going to do an angle cut on the front left corner so that it doesn't poke people on the hip as they walk in.

Hopefully I'll get this done today. Then the tiling begins.

I had grown comfortable with the idea of framing because it's my favorite thing to do. I like cutting wood, sanding wood, nailing wood. Downstairs I walked past Cheryl and said, "I think it may be time to start tiling." But she looked confused, as if to say "how it could not be time to start tiling."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Stepping Up

By mistake I picked up the white thinset at the store. It really sticks out on the edges I finished up yesterday. I suppose the white is for people who are planning to use a white grout--I'll be using gray instead, so I guess I'll go get the gray thinset, just to stay on the straight and narrow.

I've been thinking about the Libya problem, and it all goes back to my days as a musician, playing at redneck bars and clubs, where it was not uncommon early in the morning, out in the parking lot, to see some drunk guy being mean to his girlfriend or wife, grabbing her by the arm and yelling, punishing her for his own pathetic existence.

The police would be called, and the guy led away in handcuffs, though you would see him (and the woman) back again in a few nights. Still, something has to be done.

But what about a civil war? Can you protect the innocent people on one side and not the other? And can you ignore one country (Sudan) and not another just because of oil? Isn't that like the police arresting the drunk guy just because they think his girlfriend is cute?

Cheryl made one last attempt at the antique store to find a small cabinet for our sink. Looks like I'll be building the vanity into the wall. Oh, well, it's easier than managing world politics.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mesh Tape

I've finished sticking the mesh tape to the joints of the wall boards; the next step is to trowel a thin layer of mortar (called thinset) through the mesh and into the empty corner spaces between the boards, with the intent of keeping the walls from expanding and contracting over time.

In the old bathroom, the builders accomplished this structural integrity with steel mesh and truckloads of mortar. Our new bathroom is what you might call disaster-lite--it probably would not survive an earthquake like the one in Japan, so we'll keep our fingers crossed.

I read that the entire country of Japan has shifted position: 8 feet to the east in some places, and 3 feet down. Now some towns are under water at high tide. Even the planet has shifted position, causing the days to become shorter, though apparently this type of shifting happens all the

We use the same taping process for the drywall, only with different materials. Here I've put on some tape and an initial layer of drywall joint compound to hide the 1/4 in. edge of the backer board on the ceiling. I'll need a few more layered coats to make this all appear flat, allowing me to bring the ceiling tiles to a good stopping place (instead of all the way to the edge).

And this approach will allow me to line up the tiles so the joint lines go up one wall, across the ceiling, and then down the other wall in clean, unbroken lines. If the tiles don't line up, I will be punished by that fact forever and will be aware of nothing else when in the bathroom or any other room in the house.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Smudge of Ink

About 25% of the bathroom wall space will be painted instead of tiled, so it gets drywall instead of backer board. Drywall is much easier to cut and install--it's nothing more than a hard sandwich of talcum powder.

The trickiest piece of drywall had two cuts: a little one for the light fixture above the sink and one for the air duct. I measured the openings and then drew them onto the board along with a big FRED. Like every single thing I've done to this point, my signature will be not be visible at the project's end. If this is a metaphor for life I'm not inclined to pursue it here...

...Or maybe I will. Yes, my signature will first be covered with some spray-on texture stuff we found at Home Depot--if it works. Otherwise I'll use a sponge or something to emulate the plaster texture (called orange peel texture) that's on most of the walls in the house. Then it will get a couple coats of paint.

Like me, my signature will be buried and forgotten before too long, a smudge of ink covered in sand. Too gloomy? (Can't a guy be gloomy now and then?)

Anyway, I hate doing drywall, and I always have. It is too forgiving, too flimsy and artificial, though it may last for centuries. (I don't care.)

Very soon, the project becomes visible: tile, texture, paint. Maybe I should sign the wall after I paint?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Doing Right and Feeling Good

We've been deliberating on how to install our new sink. Seeing an opportunity to make Cheryl happy (which is my goal in life), I asked her to go antique shopping to find a table that would work as a vanity for the sink. It would have to be a small table, but a tall one. Off she went.

The other option is for me to build a table into the wall. The sink is opposite the toilet, and the room is only 5 feet wide. Not much wiggle room. Of course, the toilet is not actually in the bathroom now so I'm using my memory and some yoga squatting to see where my knees would go when I sit down. Under the sink, it seems. How would a table even fit?

And if I'm going to build a table top, everything needs to be perfect. I had to own up to the fact that I did a terrible job on the sink wall: the board was not aligned well, it was squeezed into place, the holes for the plumbing appeared to be roughed out with a chain saw, and I didn't put up any moisture barrier (even though there's plenty of water in a sink).

So I redid it all, and now I feel much better.

After a few hours Cheryl returned empty-handed from antique shopping. "You'll have to make the table yourself. There isn't a thing out there." I think she felt better for looking, though.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Goal-Driven Wallboard

My right thumb has an ugly bruise today, sore and ugly and inexplicable because it is one of those bruises that you get from a misplaced hammer blow, only I never ever swing the hammer with my left hand. I suspect that Cheryl is hitting me with a hammer in my sleep, and this is my best proof so far.

Yesterday was one of those goal-driven days. I was determined to get the wall board for the shower in place, and I did it (well, almost).

On one wall I had to cut out holes for the bathtub spout, the shower handle and the shower head at the top, and these cuts needed to be pretty precise. I drew out the cut lines in blue pencil. Then I cut them using a new diamond blade on my saber saw. All in all, I probably spend more time previewing and thinking through these tasks in my mind, particular in the early morning when I first wake up, than I actually spend doing the work.

Everything lined up pretty well. Cheryl had to help me with the ceiling piece, which is 5 x 3 feet, meaning that I will need to hang 60 tiles upside down--the thought of it will begin to haunt my dreams soon.

The next step is to tape and seal all the edges with thinset so that we have a solid concrete box for the tile.

Berkeley was pleased. She likes to see results, likes to check items off the check sheet, likes to see milestone achieved and schedules met, never mind about quality. She was not concerned about my thumb. A new era of management has begun.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Black Curtains

After several days of fussing and tweaking and aligning the wall studs so that the tiled walls will be more or less square, I finally said enough and I stapled up the vapor barrier, which is solid black and disconcerting in its lack of geometry--I had grown accustomed to and fond of the grid of wall studs, despite their imprecise alignment. Now I can't tinker with them any more. Sigh.

A log cabin might be nice for just this reason; just to sit and contemplate the rows of logs and mortar on the interior walls, stretching around and around. Why did this ever go out of fashion? (People are weird.)

Next I'll put up the backer board, though not today because I want a nap instead. These sad black curtains have sapped my strength.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Little Green Worms

Nature indulges itself in excess now and then, with human beings as the worst offenders. And for all my good intentions and my respect for the natural order, I realize that my peaceful and benevolent feelings are a slim veneer, easily cracked to unleash my inner wrath, when it comes to something like these little green worms that are descending from our oak tree and covering everything in sight with a silky, worm-infested web that, once cleaned away only comes back in an hour or so, so bad that we cannot even park our cars in the driveway or walk around in peace.

The worms are commonly called Oak Leaf Rollers and are considered to be a natural, helpful part of the environment, providing food for birds, etc. I even found this quote on a web page: "They are our green little friends. We should treat them with love and respect. They get up on their little hind legs and look around. They're not hurting anyone."

Are you kidding me? We can't even walk to our car without getting these on our clothes and in our hair (or Cheryl's hair). I would permanently banish them from the planet and send them to wiggle for eternity in worm hell (which is populated with big fat birds), so yet again it is a good thing that someone else is in charge.

Apparently nothing can be done--nothing short of renting a flame-thrower and turning the oak tree and the front yard to ash (which I only briefly considered).

Meanwhile, I've installed some insulation to the exterior-facing wall, put up a layer of roofing paper, and I've put up my first panels of backer board. I still have some framing to do in the shower area, so I'm getting ahead and doing things out of order, but I wanted to get some experience with the board first so I can make any adjustments. The backer board is more flexible than I expected, and it is not too hard to trim using the special tool that I got.

I suppose I need to learn to love the green worms, but this won't happen until they are gone from sight and I can become a "good" person again and forget this unpleasantness ever happened.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Electrical Box

With Berkeley away at school and occupied with other matters today, Willow and I put our differences aside and had a meeting, despite the fact that she could be fired when Berkeley and her other corporate dog overlords discover that she's been collective bargaining with me. Meanwhile I have joined the local Do-It-YourSelf Union, Branch 203. I still haven't actually gone to a meeting since I hate meetings and would rather just work on the project, but I suppose I felt the need to support my fellow workers.

Apparently Willow wants us to get everything back to normal. Sure, she says, our negotiations are messy, but that's how we get things done. She says she never wanted to be a dictator--she just likes managing proects. It was all a corporate decision, etc., etc., she wants me to know. We'll see.

So I'm not sure if I should be working or not, but today I completed my only electrical task: to move the light above the sink to a higher position. (The old location is about 9 inches down.) To do this I had to carve out an opening in one of the 2x4 furring strips. This wall is about 8 in. thick in total, with a criss-cross of lumber inside.

Normally I like to do electric work without turning the power off, just so I get a little shocked, after which I always seem to feel better so I don't mind. Today I turned off the power so I could thread the wires to their new location. I could go shock myself on purpose but that seems a little weird.

Why move the box at all? Because I promised Cheryl I would make a big tile border for a mirror here. More later...