CategoryHow To


Outdoor Kitchen Cabinet Design

There are probably many different variations in design and construction that could be taken for the base cabinets for our outdoor kitchen (a kitchenette installed to the porch, or ‘lanai’).  Both cabinets need to be designed to support the fixture that will eventually be installed in the cutout – one will accommodate a cooktop, the other a sink.  Despite similarities in terms of fully supporting a permanently installed appliance, such as framing the cabinet top to accommodate a cutout, along with proper layout for doors and drawers, there are some big differences.  One of the cabinets has to support a sink and the other has to support a cooktop.  For our installation, which will be traditional, face frame cabinets homebuilt with a Kreg jig, here is the design/build approach

  • Sinks can be top mounted, or bottom mounted, but there is also a hybrid option when using a solid surface top and a stainless steel sink.  Typically our granite installer simply prefers to drop the sink into the cutout and have the framing support the sink rim, essentially sandwiching the sink rim between the sub-top and the bottom of the finished granite top. Since that is the installation we’ll be using for the lanai kitchen, the sink base has been framed to allow the sub-top to be cut out, and at the same time provide max support to the sink rim while allowing firm attachment of the sub-top at the perimeter of the sink.
  • For the sink base cabinet, there will be a face frame and drawer blank on the front. In this case, the a small stretcher is installed horizontally across the top, and larger one below the drawer space. There is a tilt-out kit that can be installed in front of a sink base, so this base cabinet has been designed and built with that option in mind. The rear stretcher pieces are wider, with the vertical stretcher also designed to accept cabinet mounting screws. All pieces are screwed and glued with water proof glue.

    Sink Base Cabinet

  • Cooktops take a lot more of the cabinet top area than a sink, and are supported typically by being top-mounted on the finished counter top. In this case, The Bosch cooktop will be supported at the finished top, and the granite will be protected by an insulated, cushioned tape. There are also required safety set backs to each side of the base cabinet due to the heat produced by the burners, and those have been considered in design of this cabinet.
  • Because the opening is so much larger, and the set back from the front to the counter top is only 2 1/2 inches, the front stretcher here is installed vertically, with a cross-brace stretcher below it, with the two pieces glued and screwed together. A face frame and false drawer front will cover this stretcher hiding the pocket screws.

    Cooktop Sink Base

Stair Construction: Determining Run and Baluster Construction

This week I went back to work to finish the stairs.  I found out I’m really not good at basic math anymore….  Well, at least in determining the as-built run for a set of stairs.  Getting the run was the hardest part, what with a double top newel, crooked walls, molding interfering with measurement on the newels, base and quarter round molding at the bottom of the wall, eventually after three tries I finally came to the conclusion that making a full size template would get me close.  So, after guestimating the actual run to be approximately eight feet, I ran my Excel spreadsheet for baluster calcs, and grabbed a piece of plywood and did this layout.

baluster template

baluster template

With the layout now figured out, I did a preliminary assembly of the top and bottom plates of the balustrade with a few pieces of baluster, dragged it into the house, and found that I was about 3/16″ out of level with the marks on the topic and bottom plate. Oh, just for reference, each of these plates is fully bullnose both sides, so transferring a mark with a square and level is just a best guess at being close. So, it was back out to the assembly table, pull it apart and refit the balusters. That got us to this point (below) today.  I nailed the balusters in place with the finish nailer to hold the assembly together and bring it into the actual location position for final adjustment. The balustrade is temporarily clamped in position on top of the stair skirt so that I can get screws thru the top plate for a permanent connection to the balusters. Once that’s done, the assembly will be removed, the bottom plate screwed to the balusters, and the whole thing painted before being re-installed and the hand rail attached.

Here is what happens when there is a short landing at the top of a flight of stairs with an exposed outside stringer.  The sleeve on this newel is clamp up to allow the skirt installation. It will slide down over the skirt, and matches the elevation of the loft wall end newel. The two newels are 6″ apart. Humbug to fit in one baluster and a chunk of rail!

We stained the treads some time ago, but the color was way too light to match up with our flooring. I made a stain mix of traditional cherry and red mahogany to get us into the range.  I sanded the treads down with 220 grit, and used a staining pad to get the stain well distributed.  I did 3-4 treads at a time and wiped down with Viva paper towels to get off the excess.  After an hour or so, I went over all of the treads again with a nice white rag to clean off all of the excess so that I can poly.

Trim: Craftsman Update to Interior Door Openings

In our master bedroom closets, the existing bifold doors were installed into drywall-wrapped jambs with no trims.  This is a pretty common installation in our area (and many others), however, as part of the house remodel, the objective was to improve the vernacular of the interior design by using Craftsman-style trim detailing.  One area of focus has been to install matching trims at all window and door openings, and using the same Craftsman vernacular in trim detailing elsewhere.  My approach, outlined below, involved a custom refit of the door jambs and straightforward biscuit joinery to bring out a Craftsman update to an older home.

New Trims – Old (and Variable) Openings

The original 1/2″ drywall was installed with a very heavy plaster and orange peel spray finish coating, adding anywhere from 1/8″ to 3/8″ to the thickness of the drywall, making for a very odd width door jamb for the master bedroom closets. The problem of installing new doors in the old openings was complicated by the fact that the original framing rough opening was slightly undersized, meaning you had to slightly bind the doors to close them in the opening. Once I ripped off the drywall, it became clear that I had to choose one of several options to make the rough opening the correct size for new doors – 1) reframe the opening (too much mess involving demo and wiring), 2) cut down the new doors to fit (okay, but it meant refinishing the doors), or, 3) making custom door jambs to a thickness that would bring the finished opening to spec.

New Custom Door Jambs

After installing the new linen closet door in a newly framed doorway, we found that the pre-finished door was a close match to the existing trim color, and would not look any better with a brushed on topcoat. I made the decision to go with option 3. But, there is no trim stock available in the appropriate thickness.  I found 1/2″ X 3 1/4″ finger joint base trim at HD. If I edge glued two pieces it would give me the appropriate sized stock I needed to cut the custom 5 3/8″ wide, 1/2″ jambs to size.

Biscuits to the Rescue

Attached are photos of the steps taken to make the finished board stock using biscuit joinery. Setup for the biscuit cuts was a little tricky since the biscuit joiner mouth is not capable of adjustment for thin stock.  I set the boards on top of thin plywood and clamped the entire setup with a strong back (clear 2 X 4 used to mount my outriggers for the miter saw).

Board Clamp Setup for trim

Board Clamp Setup

Board biscuits

Board biscuits

Biscuit cut

Biscuit cut

Biscuit Joiner

Biscuit Joiner

Board setup

Board setup

A Mobile Chop-Saw Workstation

Scott King’s 1991 Fine Homebuilding article served as inspiration and the basic plan for my miter saw workstation.  For my purposes, with limited storage and often working in my driveway or garage, it was important to have a workstation that I could easily move and also tuck away.  I live in the tropics and near the ocean – critters (geckoes, cockroaches) and salt air add additional challenges to tool maintenance – an enclosed box is the way to go…

Chopsaw workstation.

Chop station set up.


Easy Storage for saw.

Outriggers extended.

Workstation with rollers and outriggers

ready to stow

ready to stow

Rolling, locking casters.




Fan Relocation Project

It’s long been the plan to relocate the deck lanai fan to be centered in the entertainment area.  This can be done several ways, but aesthetically we think the use of a box beam to fully contain the wiring and mounting system is the best approach. Of course, it is more complicated than a strut, but looks better in the end.

First step was to build a box. Of course, unless I used plywood, there was no treated board stock wide enough, so first step first was to edge glue (biscuits) treated trim boards to make up the wide stock needed. With that done, I made a U-shaped box with web members to reinforce the box

Building a box - glue up.

Building a box – glue up.

I didn’t take pictures of the internal blocking needed for the 4″ junction box, but it is installed fastened to a center mounted, glue-block reinforced web member installed with a mounting bracket lag bolted the reinforcement. I cut the 4″ J-box hole and designed the mounting system so that I could use a 1/4″ drive wrench thru the J-box hole for the short lag bolts used to install the bracket. I used the the side mount back j-box from Home Depot (Titan Industries CMB 150-SM). It is two part, so the side bracket could be mounted into pre-drilled holes after the box beam was installed to the ceiling, and then wire pulled and the J-box screwed to the bracket.

CMB 150-SM Ceiling Fan Fixture

CMB 150-SM Ceiling Fan Fixture

The actual installation points for the box beam was a center top-glued block, pre-drilled for short lag bolts that could be installed thru the J-box opening to hold the center of the box to the deck ceiling.

End plates fastened to the beams secure the box to the beams on either end.

With plates mounted to be beam, I used a belt sander to make the minor adjustments to scribe the end of the box to fit between the beams, and huffed, and puffed, and heaved, and got it into place with several ups and downs to tweak it to fit. In the picture below you can see where the old fan was mounted off center on the beam to the left. Box beam is now painted and ready for the fan in the master bedroom to be relocated to the lanai.


Paint Ready

Paint Ready

Lanai Kitchen: Base Cabinet Box

I had to back off this week, and sit down and work thru the various details before I started box assembly for cabinets that will be installed in an outside kitchen on our lanai (what some people call a porch).  I needed to know exactly how the face frame was going to work; exactly what drawer box hardware was to be used and how it installed (Blum 563H slides with side adjusting catches); exactly how the hinges will be installed; what sink/faucet will be installed, so I knew how to frame the top of the sink cabinet (deck matters – faucet max deck thickness is 1.5 inches, so that drives stretcher placement); and, how the end panels, top panel/trim, backsplash, etc will be installed.  I did another four pages of drawings in addition to the rough sketches and computer printout I did for the original cutting diagram.  So, finally yesterday and today, after running out of screws and scrambling to find more, I finally got the first base cabinet box built, 47 pocket screws later.  I’m using the Kreg Blue Kote exterior screws, which are oddly enough for our marine environment, difficult to find.

 This base cabinet has a part of the plumbing vent stack running behind it on the wall,  so the back top is notched to accommodate the area needed. This cabinet will have a small top drawer and shelf. Opening is for a single door. Cabinet is 18″ wide. All cabinets will be installed on a common base that will incorporate the toe kick. Face frame cabinet construction is hybrid, meaning that the face frame will not extend into the cabinet interior on the sides, allowing regular installation of hidden self-closing hinges, and soft close drawer slides without needing to block out or purchase special face frame hardware.  But, it does not embrace the complete 32mm system with its consistent rows of shelf pin holes that also become the connection points for the hardware. This will give a more traditional Craftsman look to the cabinet area, with 1/2″ door overlays and reveals, while still allowing use of Euro-style hardware.
Base Cabinet

Base Cabinet Carcass – Complete

Face frame construction will be as one complete unit, fastening on the top and end cabinets by pocket screws, and glue and biscuits in other areas to help align and hold it in place.

Clamps – Never Enough!

Thought I’d pass along a some lessons learned and what clamps I choose to use.  This isn’t an end-all, be-all list, but what rather my experience with household carpentry work, cabinetry, edge banding, and other projects on this site.  Your requirements/results may vary.

  1. Quick-Grip Clamps.  Quick-grip clamps come in a dazzling array of sizes and since they operate one-handed are really useful for lots of tasks.  They don’t have enough clamping pressure and are poorly built. When I first started buying clamps at Haiku, I made the mistake of picking up Irwin One-hand Quick-Grips with the yellow markings (SL300), thinking they looked pretty decent.  Turns out they only have a clamping pressure of about 250 lbs after allowing that you probably aren’t going to get full pressure all of the time.  Sounds like a lot, but it’s not.  I’ve since sold them on Craigslist, and standardized on the Irwin SL600 for general purpose clamping like clamping my jigs or work material to the bench. They are soft jawed, won’t mar, and reliably hold well and quickly.  I’ve seldom seen them available in any stores here, and ordered them online after discovering a couple lonely ones in HD, and have never seen them since.  I use 6″ regularly for all kinds of quick clamping tasks.
  2. Clamps for Case Work.  For glue-up case work, I now have a good set of Bessey K Body Revo Clamps.  They are the go-to for cabinet assembly. Again, I made the mistake previously of trying to save money and bought Brand X, but quickly learned that better precision in manufacturing results in a tool that is easier to use, and more reliable. They are widely available now, too.  At the time I needed them, Woodcraft was the only distributor here on island, and they were pricey. Now HD has added them to their line. Amazon has great pricing.  I understand that JET and Jorgensen may have similar, but they are not available locally, so I can’t comment.
  3. Edge Banding. My go-to for edge banding where you need a LOT of clamps are the Bessey H-style pipe clamps.  What I like about the Bessey H-Style pipe clamps is that they have wide “feet” and can be set in place to position the workpiece, and they tightened. The 1/2″ pipe clamps are all I think I’ve needed, but they are available to fit either 1/2″ or 3/4″ black pipe.   (I use galvanized pipe here to avoid rust, and they don’t move quite as smoothly as they would on black pipe). I use 30″ pipe to make up 24″ clamps that work well for the type of work I do. They supplement the K-Body clamps.
  4. For light duty, supplemental clamping I use several Jorgensen HD 3700 series bar clamps, mainly because I like the rubberized handles better than the Bessey handles, but I think they are out of business.  They used to have a really good cabinet assembly clamp, but I can’t find it any more, either. If you can find the HD 3700 series on close-out, they are handy for a lot of situations.  The old wood, parallel jaw clamps were in a class by their own, and what I first learned to use in 6th grade shop.
  5. Face-frames and Edge Clamping.  Sometimes you have to be able to clamp in two different directions, as when you install a face-frame. I only had that need once or twice and picked up a pair of the least inexpensive 3-way edge clamps, and they worked okay, but I had to put blocks under all clamping points to avoid marring the workpieces. A better solution is one of the other padded edge clamping solutions, either from Bessey or Rockler. Kreg distributes a wide range of special application clamps. I find, for my work, I’ve only needed the face clamp that came with my K3 master kit, and the right angle clamp, which is indispensable for case assembly. 
There are more clamps out there in the clamping universe. I still think good old Norm’s collection in New Yankee Workshop is the largest I’ve ever seen. I can’t come close!  But, I now sorta have what I need.

Bora Guide Plate Review

I’d seen the Bora Guide Plate in Woodcraft some time ago, but wondered how a piece of plastic would actually manage to hold a heavy saw. I really wasn’t able to find anything else that I was willing to try, and, so since it is no longer in Woodcraft, I ordered it on Amazon.

I’m pleased to be able to report that the use of the Bora Saw Plate Guide with my tracks went off with no major issues.

Review of the Bora Saw Plate Guide Workshop Addict

Review of the Bora clamp-edge guide on Concord Carpenter

I didn’t expect much for $29. But, it did what needed doing without allowing the saw to tear-out or wander. Decent cuts with a 60 tooth Freud blade. It’s useful to remember which side of you blade gives you the tear-outs, and I was able to make use of that memory for a few of the cross cuts.  Rips would be no problem.

It isn’t going to replace a high-end track saw anytime soon, but with some finicky setup jiggling to get the saw squared up on the plate, it works well enough for infrequent use in breaking down plywood.  Key is to keep the plywood well supported.

I did not find the saw track guide pointer (little bitty piece of plastic with “pointers”) to be of any use. I could not get my Sawcat to offset the base enough to allow positioning of the pointer in any of the three alternate screw holes.

The key also is to remember your track-to-cut-line offset. It’s gonna be some weird number based on the size of your saw plate and the way it gets fastened to the Bora Guide.  I wound up using 1 11/32″.  My setup rule has a 1/32″ scale, so I was good each time, but really wanted to land on 1 3/8″ or 1 1/2″ for the offset. Your results may vary.

I have the Bora 100″ guide track.  I also have another manufacturer’s heavy duty 50″ guide track, and that is what I used for the cross-cuts using the Bora Saw Plate Guide. It worked fine, just as advertised! The Bora edge guides are excellent quality, and worth trying to find for your next time breaking down sheets of plywood.  At this point, having built “cabinets” for the master bedroom closet, the shoe shelf, and now the lanai, it has been more than useful to have the clamp-on edge guides that work well. Bora has introduced other companion tool plates to use with their WRX tracks that would be worth investigating.

Of course, you could buy a True Track track saw system for $169.

Removing Pencil Marks

 Well, you could sand away pencil marks, and hope you don’t gouge the wood or go through the thin veneer of expensive plywood. But, there is a better way! – Alcohol!  No, not that kind  – this kind – denatured alcohol.

the good stuff (for pencil marks)

the good stuff (for pencil marks)

Building cabinets, I try to minimize layout marks since the surface will be either clear-coated or stained, and marks can easily show through. Nonetheless, some marks are needed, such as these to layout a course of shelf pins.

Pencil Mark

Pencil Mark – Before

Soak a small rag in the denatured alcohol, and give the marks a good rub until they fade and disappear. It doesn’t take too much.


Allow the alcohol to dry


Pencil Mark – After

Take a good look – marks are gone!  There may still be some faint marks left, but they can easily be lightly hand sanded and they will be history. The denatured alcohol method works well also to remove most yard markings and small smudges from the surface of the wood, or fade them well enough to facilitate a light sanding.

Credit to Wood Magazine

Deck Stair Connections and Anchors

I subscribe to the notion that less wood in contact with anything close to the ground, the better.  This includes anchors for deck stairs.
The pressure treated wood kicker often used to anchor deck stairs invites trouble unless you live in a particularly arid environment, like Arizona or New Mexico.  In most places, water, leaves, and debris make nice homes for creepy critters, store moisture, and undermine the integrity of wood.  For deck stair construction, it makes sense to apply flashing in some appropriate areas, establish stand-offs between wood and wet, and anchor using threaded rod and angle irons for the stringers.
It’s tempting to simply flash the bottom of the stair stringer, but flashing often allows some moisture behind it.  Instead, put it on and then screw in the #14 screws to give you a standoff.  In tropical locations, for rods and angles, stainless steel is the only way to go, but in a lot of places, galvanized is fine.  Also flash the top of the stringer where you install the tread.
The top of the stringer should be solidly anchored to the rim joist using a joist hander and lagged, like this:
Deck Stringer Connection-Rim Joist

Deck Stringer Connection-Rim Joist

Deck Stringer Connection

Bolt-Through on the Joist

Here is the completed stringer connection. Note that the stringers have stiffeners fastened with screws.
Completed Stringer w/Stiffeners

Completed Stringer w/Stiffeners

Where the stringers make contact with the footing, make sure you separate wood and wet by using two products – peel and stick flashing at the bottom (not shown), and then install 4-5 #14 stainless screws ( short screws 1 – 1 1/2″) to provide a standoff for the stringer, like this:
Standoff with base screws

Standoff with base screws


The foot of the stringer needs to be attached to the footing. Interior stairs typically have a kicker installed, but exterior needs to have thought put into how to avoid rot, so I prefer an all metal solution with steel angles and rod bolts like this.

Angle and steel rod anchors

Angle and steel rod anchors

Again, consult your local building code and the Simpson Strong-Tie Connector literature/website for appropriate use of connectors and anchors.  Simpson has a useful deck center code guide that frequently receives updates.