Scribing Stair Skirt Boards

In the below pics, the left-hand skirt board was my first attempt.  After making the floor cut for this skirt, I started second guessing, and measured before cutting out for the treads and risers. Hmmm, got some gaps that aren’t too nice. Good thing I did this intending to fit the risers and treads to the skirt, rather than skirt OVER the treads and risers.  It will be okay.

Skirt Base Transition

Skirt Base Transition

Scribing Gauge

Scribing Gauge

Right Skirt Base

Right Skirt Base

The right hand skirt base (looking from bottom to top of stairs) is my second attempt. NO measurements were taken.   I found that making my scribe gauge out of longer stock allowed me to use the same piece of stock and keep it reasonably plumb more easily. I used a scrap piece of poplar. I simply scribed for treads and risers exactly as explained. Worked like a charm!  I don’t need a zero tolerance fit because I intend to fit treads and risers after the skirt is on, but this is darned good without any touch up sanding.  Very good recap of this technique provided here.


Wainscot Setup with a Rabbet and Kreg Jig

There are plenty of how-to on YouTube, but Gary Striegler is the guy to follow for methods using the Kreg jig that are simple and quick. Striegler uses a frame with inset panel glued to the wall and finished with trim.  I prefer to rabbet the back of the frame to accept the edges of the panel. This allows the entire assembly to be glued together and installed all at once. The backside rabbets will have to be cut out with a chisel on the corners. This technique allows use of a broader range of stock lumber and does not require inside trim to cover the panel to frame joint (along with a pin nailer to install it).

NOTE: Gary Striegler is using poplar for the frame.  S4S poplar that is most available is NOT 3/4″ thick. It is 13/16″ thickness.  

Rabbet Bit  Rabbet, Wainscot Frame

Wainscot – Pocket Hole Joinery

Gary Striegler’s 10 minute video, demonstrates the approach I think I’d like to use for the kitchen wainscot, which uses pocket hole joinery and offers and attractive set of options.  The technique is simple and straightforward. I also have most of the Kreg equipment needed for the pocket hole joinery setup. Note that the actual wainscot is held above the floor, so we do not have to demolish the tile flooring until we are ready to install baseboard. 

Stile and rails for the wainscot would be poplar, paint grade. The cap rail for the wainscot I’ll mill using a router to match the line of the handrail on the entry wall. It will be stained to complement the countertop and stair handrail.  For now, I can simply install the wainscot stile and rail and leave the cap until we have picked the wood and finish for the bar top, and integrate it at that time.

We have discussed three panel ideas-

1. board on board to match existing hallway

2. beadboard to match small bath and window seat

3. bamboo veneer finished with polyurethane and paint finish to incorporate a tropical element

My quick thoughts

1. Board on board can’t be used in the small bath because of its thickness.  It also is tough to scale for the planned window seat area.

2. Beadboard is available in several different modes – MDF, single board, plywood, and PVC.  

3. Bamboo veneer is the thinest and probably not durable enough for the bath or the window seat

Electrical Junction Box Extension

What do you do when an electrical junction box is set deeply into a wall and you plan to remodel a wall, as we did, by adding wainscot, paneling, or trim?  This requires the installation of a junction box extension.

Any exposure to flammable material by spliced wiring is not allowed by NEC. It needs to be fully protected by the J-Box – with no gaps allowed.  For this, you need to extend the junction box with an electrical box extension.  

With an existing J-box than cannot be moved without demo of the wall, you can add a J-box extender.  There are several different types, and I’ve used three of them

Carlon box extender for most residential wiring

Metal box extender for condo wiring or exposed conduit wiring

Arlington BE 1-5 below is carried by Home Depot

For new construction, or remodel where you can install a new J-box, I really like the Carlon adjustable box. I used these for all planned wainscot installation locations.  

Regardless of which one you use, always choose the best product that will do the job, not the least expensive.  Carlon sells tons Zip Box Blue, thin wall plastic J-boxes that meet NEC, if installed correctly. Problem is, they flex, and for DIY it is all too easy to push the box out of shape.  Pass over the Zip Box Blue thin wall boxes, and pay the extra money for the Carlon SuperBlue Hard Shell Boxes. They are easier to install, and you get more capacity, and no worries about fire. 

Again, consult the NEC and your local building code.

Shelf Pin Holes for a Shoe Shelf

For the replacement hallway shoe shelf, I wanted the shelving to be adjustable. This meant once again taking on the task, and pursuit, of perfect shelf pin holes. I opted for L-shaped 1/4″ shelf pins only in antique brass so discoloration won’t be an issue. The small hole will allow for a retaining screw to be installed so that the slanted shelves will stay in place.

The next problem to solve was how to get clean holes without any blowout. I already have used the Woodpecker shelf pin template, which works well, but each bit/method I’ve previously experimented with left me unsatisfied with the results. The 5mm pins used in the closet organizer have no flange to cover the hole, and there was always a tiny bit of tear-out using a Vix bit with a brad point 5 mm drill bit.  I had also attempted to use a 5 mm spiral UPCUT bit in the router, which is specified by several online sources. I thought it odd at the time since I  found that the UPCUT bit, just like a spiral drill bit, will cause some tear-out.

Thinking that a DOWNCUT bit made much more sense, this time I ordered a 1/4″ DOWNCUT spiral bit, and it turned out to be spot-on.  

Spiral DOWNCUT bit shown below with the Porter Cable threaded template bushing adapter (since a 3/8″ template guide is not in the Bosch lineup) latched into the Bosch spring loaded, latching template guide accessory. All parts sold separately. 

Not to say it was a perfect job. Every job has a learning opportunity!

Early lesson learned – when cutting shelf pin holes in hardwood plywood, dial back the speed in the router to avoid burning.  Fortunately, found that out in a test piece of stock.  Second lesson – threaded template bushing adapter tends to become unscrewed, and needs tightening periodically. Pay attention to little stuff, it matters – the template will move when hit with a rotating router bit that is not fully un-plunged.

Spiral DOWNCUT bit shown below with the PC threaded template

Spiral DOWNCUT bit shown below with the PC threaded template bushing adapter


Pin holes-complete!

bottom view - pin hole downcut bit

Bottom view spiral DOWNCUT bit shown below with the PC threaded template bushing adapter


More Stair Construction: FastenMaster HeadLOK Newel Install

I’m working on the finished loft stairs in the master bedroom, focused on newel construction. One challenge I’ve had to address is scaling up the newels and constructing a hollow core box newel using Fastenmaster Headlok lags.

l’ve had factory-built newels on hand for sometime. It is from them that I scaled the loft pony wall end newel, since they all have to line up. It would have been easier if the previous stair builder had been more conventional, but our stairs have a mini-landing of one tread at the top, creating a need for a double top newel. about 6″ apart. Not ideal, but what we’ve got….more on that later.

It’s been a challenge to get all the cuts just right and level up a newel. I’ll put out more later on the complete stair install. Previous to this I’ve glued up a humongous outer skirt/stringer.

Below are a few photos, showing the core of the newel, clamping, and the mostly finished newel. The top fastener is just a temporary screw to aid in leveling. The newel is counter bored to the depth of the head with a 5/8″ paddle bit. Not visible, a block has been cut to fit into the hollow core between the box newel and the stair stringer.

Newel Sleeve Clamp

Newel Sleeve Clamp

Fastenlok Fasteners Newel Post

Fastenlok Fasteners Newel Post


Mostly finished newel with HeadLOK fastener

A Simple, Small, non-Gigantic Entry Sideboard

I’ve made all of three pieces of furniture in my adult life.

My first project, a workbench, lasted almost four years before disassembly and reuse as scrap.   My second project, a small, two-shelf bookcase based on a Kreg design remains in the corner of myson’s bedroom – still quite stout, functional, and dutifully holding two shelves of books.

Most of my time doing projects has been spent on remodeling projects focused on finding storage in a tiny townhouse in the DC suburbs.  In light of the challenge of storage, and a home with a small footprint, it may seem ironic that I was inspired by anything with “Gigantic” in its title. Yet, browsing for design inspiration for an entry sideboard, I came across Hillary’s The Friendly Home and Gigantic Rustic Sideboard design.  It meshed with the desired, Pottery Barn-ish, design aesthetic and my modest woodworking skills.

Completed sideboard.

Finished entry sideboard. Approximately 38x40x26″.


An hour or so with pencil and paper, and I downsized the design and came up with a design and cut list that reflected the finished proportions.  All lumber, including sheet goods, came straight from Home Depot.  Hardware, on the other hand, required a trip to my local Woodcraft as did the wax for the finish, which was a 50/50 mix of clear bowling wax and Tudor Brown Briwax. As most of my ‘woodworking’ has been outdoor-oriented carpentry projects such as fences and decks, and I didn’t own a chop saw or radial arm saw, I relied on my sidewinder fitted with a finish blade, a steady hand (assisted by clamps), and methodical approach to cutting to include taking the time to ‘gang cut’  ‘matched’ parts of the frame.  I worked in the elements (this was late summer 2014).

Doors & drawers-completed.

Finished entry sideboard.

If you have access to a chop saw or radial arm saw, so much the better – I recommend using one and setting up a stop in order to get good, uniform cuts. Otherwise, primary tools included a Kreg jig, a standard assortment of framing and carpenter squares, Titebond, and a Bosch Colt handheld router (although designed more as a laminate trimmer, this router – equipped with a new Bosch bit – was more than powerful enough to cut and route smoothly in the the whitewood that forms the frame and stiles of the door and back). I’m a huge fan of a Dewalt variable speed R/O sander that I purchased for this project – and the sideboard received a standard progression of sanding from 80 grit up to 220 grit (3-4 complete sandings). I relied heavily as well on my Makita impact driver and Makita 14.4V drill.  Clamps – Bessey H-clamps, Kreg clamps, and an assortment of other clamps also made possible the assembly of the case and other components.

Framing & Case Assembly. I basically followed instructions for the sideboard’s ‘gigantic’ cousin except for insetting the doors and the back with ¼” baltic birch plywood (Hillary discussed this in her article). I opted to inset the back simply because it looks beFrame and case.tter and our sideboard would be positioned near the front entrance of the house. The side assemblies are straightforward – joined with pocket holes with the assistance of the Kreg jig. I assembled the interior divider separately. The proportions of the interior divider were key to the overall design: the interior divider comprises six compartments. Three small compartments for shoes (7.5” high) and 28” upper compartment to accommodate backpacks and large pursues. Unlike many projects with face frame assemblies, the face frame and the back – which again was inset – were the last components assembled.  The H-clamps (Bessey pipe clamps) should receive an honorable mention.    Although I had the actual clamps for a few years before this project, it was their first use in accordance with the design.  The H design allows for the clamps to “stand”on their own feet, as seen in a few photos, easing the process of alignment and clamping.

Inset back of sideboard.

Visible inset and overhang.

Top Assembly.  The top is the easiest part – but I would recommend leaving assembly of the top for the next step after the case (or even the last step).  The sideboard’s top is simply comprised of 2X6″s and 2X4″.  I only left a 3/4″ overhang all the way around my sideboard.  Although a modest amount of contortionist endeavor will be required, the top should be attached to the case only after drawers are installed.

Drawer Assembly. Another moment of honesty: this was my first time building drawers. I kept them simple, and relatively strong, albeit not highly attractive. I knew that it was important to know the dimension and method of operation of the sliders before designing the drawer. I opted for ball bearing slides that would more than accommodate the likely weight of any items (my backup plan for the project was to use it as a replacement for the aforementioned dismantled workbench – so heavy duty slides made sense).  My slides were pretty rudimentary – Richileu 18″ sliders from Lowes.

The front and sides of the drawers are whitewood.  To assemble the side, I routed grooves to accept the bottom panel of the drawer (I ran the groove using a 1/4″ up-cut router bit and edge guide.  I ran the groove, full length, in the 1X4″ before cutting the sides to length, ensuDrawer assembly.ring that the groove would be uniform for each drawer).  The back of the drawer actually rests on the bottom – and the bottom slides into the assembled drawer.  Pocket hole joinery came into play, yet again, as the sides were screwed and glued to the front and back.  The actual front of the drawers is a false front, sized and screwed to the actual drawer box close to the final steps of assembly.

Door Assembly. The doors on the sideboard are relatively tiny compared to the design, and insetting the panel within the door seemed like a prudent approach to ensure a stable, basic, attractive door. This time, however, the challenge was that I was working with ½” whitewood – not a particularly forgiving dimension with the Kreg setup. Pocket holes also would’ve likely made the inset unnecessarily complicated. After some experimentation, and some delicate clamping and drilling, the frames ended up being butt-joined and received a ¼”x ¼” shoulder to accommodate the inset.  I opted for hinges that didn’t require mortising.

Finish.  I sanded — progressing with from 80 grit to at least two final passes with 220 grit sandpaper.  As mentioned, the finish is an approximate 50/50 mix of clear bowling wax and Tudor Brown Briwax.  The clear wax lightens the brown in the Briwax and makes for a harder, more enduring finish than Briwax alone.  The combination also yields a smooth, almost caress-able finish, as it fills the voids and pockets in the surface of the wood.  I experimented with the specific ratio on pieces of scrap.  Enough elbow grease and its also quite possible to lighten and even out the coloration across the piece.

Thoughts? AA.



5 Steps to Trim a Door Bottom

Five steps to trim the bottom of a wood exterior door in order to get it to the right length.  With the door resting on sawhorses:

1. Accurately measure up from the bottom of the door with a metal ruler, preferably a carpenters’ square, not a measuring tape. Tape ends move. Do it again. Measure twice at least. This measurement will identify where you need to do step 2.

2. Fully mask the area of the cut line with blue tape. Include the area that your saw base will travel over (or tape the cut line area, and separately tape the saw base to prevent it from marring the door). The tape on the cut line is to help prevent splintering, particularly at the door stile sides where you will crosscut, not rip. While most saw blade blowout will occur at the exit side of the cut, I like to tape both sides of the door for good measure.

Note: Depending on the type of threshold, it may be necessary to bevel the cut. Usually a slight bevel, with the outside of the door lower than the inside is helpful to keeping the weather out and makes for a tight fit against the threshold seal strip. 3-5 degree bevel is sufficient.

3. Repeat step 1 – marking the masked tape. Using a metal or otherwise crisp straightedge and a utility knife, score the cutline once it is marked out on the taped door. Using a utility knife to mark the cut line will assist with minimizing the splintering by relieving the surface tension of wood fibers.

4. Clamp a straightedge to use as a guide for the saw at the appropriate offset from the saw blade cut line. It is usually about 5.5”, but check against your circular saw. Make certain you have allowed for the saw kerf width to the correct side of the cut line. I like to use 60 tooth blade for door cuts, but depending on the door finish, 40 tooth or 80 tooth may be fine/needed. Rockler has a saw blade 101 to review blade types.

5. Once setup, pucker up, goggle up, and make the cut……. Sand all edges to finish and breathe…..

Good luck! Hope all goes well……