Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Final Tips and Thoughts

TIP #1: Carefully look at your pergola with a critical eye. I like to call this my own Project Punch List. Before the tools get put away for the last time on the project, is there anything else that needs attention? Do it now. I see so many projects that are 95% of the way complete and someone doesn’t have the final piece of trim in place or final bit of paint touched up. You don’t want to be that person. Dedicate an evening or a day and complete it. You will be much happier in life

TIP #2: Make sure you have a long enough vacuum cleaner attachment to “vacuum” the tops of the beams of your pergola. I would recommend doing this at least once a month in order to keep the dust level to a minimum. The attachment arm should have a soft brush attachment so as not to scratch the surface or the lights of the pergola. Spiders may make the pergola their home as well and you will want to vacuum in order to keep them down to a minimum

TIP #3: After any project, at least any project I do, some self doubt creeps in and I am frustrated that maybe it isn’t good enough. I could have done better. Walk away from the project and scrutinize it again in 2 or 3 months. I was having some doubts about my basement finishing project near the end and I had wished I had done several things differently. I don’t know what to call these feelings of capitulation – project regret? But I find that if I let the feelings go and come back later and look at something, I see that my attention to detail and the extra time has paid off.

I enjoy working on projects like this. I feel a strong sense of accomplishment at the end of the project and it always makes me feel better to have completed something like this myself vs. having paid for it. For me personally, there is a satisfaction in the knowledge that I could have paid someone big money for lesser results and I know that I achieved results that you probably can’t pay for, or would be difficult to get even if you were willing to pay for it.

Things I wish I had done different:

1. Pre-paint the plywood. It would have saved a lot of time.
2. Scarf the plywood. I think this would have made more uniform seams. Minor, but maybe worth the extra effort.
3. Crown trim. I should have used a sleeper piece of ¾” by ¼” piece of stock on top of the stop and behind the cove to control how much reveal I had on the stop and it would have given the top of the pergola a cleaner look. This is probably my biggest regret. I thought I could save a couple of bucks and caulk behind the cove. Between the time caulking and the amount of caulk, it may have been a wash and the results would have been better.
4. Incorporated some sort of “design” or “artful” elements into the design. I am very good at seeing things from a fundamental basis. However, I have had some people comment on some artsy things I could have done with the painting or adding design and trim elements that would have set the pergola off. The paint elements we may still be able to incorporate before we install the cabinets, and I am playing with a couple of things. But this would have been easier before the trim went on. Plan, plan, plan and don’t be afraid to share your ideas with others.

Ideas that have come along since we’ve completed the Pergola:

A textured roller or “rag roll” look on the beams would have added a lot of depth and character to the pergola. I am experimenting with this now. I have never done anything like it and there are countless internet sites that go into this in great detail. I would reference those for the how to. At the bare minimum, I will probably do something with my columns to give them a “marbled” look without the marble – but I have lots of time before I need to have that complete as we are 4-6 weeks away from cabinets and granite counters.

Another idea was to incorporate a plant staging area somehow. I haven’t completely thought this element out, but a friend with a green thumb made a couple of very logical suggestions that would have been sort of easy to incorporate – a closed in shelf in the corners, for example – where you can have a plant growing in a pot, off the counter out of site. Then, the plant could grow throughout the pergola, which was our vision initially. We will probably end up using the tops of our cabinets for this staging area. But adding something to the design or at least think through would have been fun.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Trimming and Final Paint

Okay. Now it's time to trim.

Hopefully, if you have come this far, this isn't your first trimming project. If it is, well, be patient. I am going to start this section with tips vs. a step by step process of how to trim.

TIP #1. You can cut it too long every time. You can only cut it short once. Fudge to the big side and re-trim after test fitting.

TIP #2. Use finish nails sparingly, but don't go so light with them that trim can "separate" from work. You will have to fill ever nail hole and if you have already filled the plywood, you know how much fun THAT is...So, secure it and stop.

TIP #3. When doing the crown trim stops, and you have it cut to the perfect length, cut the associated Cove trim that butts up to the stop. You will save yourself a trim trip due to the fact that you can cut precisely what you need.

TIP #4. If you do cut it too short, all is not lost. If there isn't another spot you can use the piece, or it was getting very specific, install it. Caulk the open spot. The naked eye won't see your "faux pas" from 3 feet. Believe me, it will still look great.

TIP #5. When you are cutting the 67.5 degree cuts for the interior triangles pieces that need to mitered, build a jig for miter saw. This will save some time and allow you to make precise cuts quicker and more accurately.

TIP #6. I didn't have a lot of coping saw cuts to make (In fact, I didn't have any - all my cuts were opposing angles) but if you do, remember to cut the angle and cope the un-needed portion away by following the cut line.

TIP #7. Patience. Take your time. This is where the effort really starts to pay off. If you can make this look good, everyone will notice....

TIP #8. Trim done? Start caulking and filling all those finish nail holes. There are multiple types of caulk sticks on the market that will make this job easier. I use the gun with the smallest hole I can make on the tip. Then, I use a finger and paper towel to smooth and get rid of the excess.

TIP #9. Start final painting - TRIM FIRST. Why? The trim will be easier to wipe off the base color due to it's gloss finish. Also, it you are painting a darker bae color, any white you get on the base will cover in one coat.

TIP #10. TAKE YOUR TIME. It's getting near the end now.....


Okay - If you've read this far, you're probably asking, "Why are you paininting before you put trim on?

1. I hate painting trim in place.
2. If you are going to try and build one of these, you'll find out very quickly that there is a lot more surface area, not to mention trim length, than meets the eye. Everything you can do BEFORE IT'S assembled will be a time saver.

So, Actually, I should have titled this - Make your trim run to Lowe's Depot. Buy your paint from Sherwin Williams. Personally, I think Home Depot, at least locally, has a slightly better trim selection at better pricing. But both their paints suck. Buy sherwin williams or another specialty paint store paint. You won't have to paint as many coats and the overall performance of the paint will be that much better.

Calculate how much trim you will need. I used the following for my pergola:

1. Bottom 1/2" corner mold on the bottom of the "field" beams.
2. 1" corner mold on the face beams.
3. 3/4" stop for the base of the crown or upper beam trim.
4. 3/4" cover for the final crown detail on all the beams.

Approximate lengths of molding needed for pergola:

Bottom 3/4" corner - 110 feet
Bottom 1/2" corner - 220 feet
Top 3/4" stop - 330 feet
top 3/4" cove - 330 feet

Even if you get it for $0.75/foot, you are figuring to spend about $700 on trim alone. If you can, buy pre-primed trim.

1. Set up sawhorses to accomodate all trim pieces outside or in your garage.
2. Prime all trim pieces. I tried several ideas that included soaking a sponge in paint and pulling through to cover. However, this didn't give the desired finish.

TIP: Spraying the trim's first couple of coats may give you an excellent finish. I didn't have access to a commercial sprayer, but if you have and can spray the trim before installing, by all means, use it.

3. Apply at least one coat of gloss white or prefered color to the trim.
4. Apply a 2nd coat. (The reason I do the second coat is because I like a true coat and a thicker "Appearance."
5. If you followed my advice, you already are looking at primed plywood in the pergola. If not, prime.
6. After priming, get out the caulk. Because you are painting, caulk every seem, nail hole and wood imperfection. Some of my gaps required hitting with caulk twice or three times.
7. Paint pergola. At least two coats. Re-apply caulk as needed.

TIP: Painting is a big deal and I didn't go into a lot of steps here. But it is a time consuming process and the patience you exercise now by looking for every nook and cranny with the caulking gun in hand will give you a much better "finished" look later. Be patient, take your time.

I did NOT use a roller when painting the pergola. I used a foam brush and I didn't want the "textured" look. I really wanted a smooth or wood grain look to show through.

TIP: Find an online site to buy your paint supplies. You can get a great deal when you buy in bulk. You will need a lot of foam brushes. Try this link (I use them for boat building supplies and general supplies. Watch for their discounts)

Jamestown Distributors



Okay, you have completed the rough in and now we need to wire this thing. What I did was:

1. I added 17 halogen "puck" lights on the top of the beams. I did this for two reasons: I didn't want that much light shining down and I wanted the indirect lighting to reflect off my ceiling surface. I came up with 17 based on the layout and number of lights per beam. I ran a wire down to an existing switch where I pulled an additional circuit for the puck lighting, based on wattage and requirements.

TIP: If you are not familiar with electric loading or how to figure max electrical loads for a circuit, seek out a qualified electrician.

2. Task Lighting: I wanted task lighting at the cooktop and at the prep sink. I ran two wires here and down into my island. I plan on pulling power from the existing island lighting.

Step by Step on Wiring.

1. You will need to cut 1/4" plywood "top" skins for your beams. These are 4" wide.
2. Miter and cut to size for each beam. Place loosely on top of the beams.
3. Using a recommended size hole saw (2 1/8") mark per your layout grid and drill holes according to plan. (DO NOT FASTEN TOP PLYWOOD TO BEAM YET)

TIP: I tried to center the lights as much as possible and keep linearity with respect to the edges and face beam. This is where a really good drawing will help you with the task of orienting the lights.

4. Install the puck lights. Follow the manufacturers directions for installing. If you cut the hole precisely, you may need to keep a rasp or knife handy to open up the hole in order to get the fixture in.
5. Wire to source.

TIP: You may want to search out a lighting or electrical specialty shop and locate a "manifold" or power distribution bar. This can mount in one of the main beam races. Wire all your puck lights to this source and run main power source or 12-2 to the distribution bar.

6. Test puck lights. After successful test, go back and make sure you have secured all the wiring in the races with wire staples.

click on picture for larger image
(You can see from this picture how I tried to maintain linearity in the lighting layout).

7. Locate beams where task lights are going to be located.
8. Pull romex wire to location leaving an extra 18-24" in final location for wiring fixtures.
9. Pull remaining wire to switch.
10. I will power up the fixtures from the sitch, vs. powering at the source. This is not a major issue, but some prefer to power the source. It's up to you.

11. Once all wiring is complete, finish nail your top skins in place.

It's starting to look like a pergola.....

Friday, July 25, 2008

Building Phase - Roughing it in....

Here We Go!

First things first:


You are gonna need them. I used to joke with friends that I was going to have a TV show that came on right after the New Yankee Workshop that showed how you could build the same thing Norm just built, only using a skill saw, 3/8's drill, hammer, pliers and a set of screwdrivers. However, I am a devoted convert. I am a self proclaimed tool junkie now. The right tool makes the job a whole lot easier...A list of what I think is a MINIMUM REQUIRMENT of tools you will need to tackle any remodeling project and the Pergola Project, if you are so inclined:

1. SHOP VAC. Don't even attempt a major project without one of these. Sears still makes the best
2. Skill Saw. Ripping wood or cutting dimensional to length. A must have.
3. Battery Operated Drill. Get a good one. 18 volt, preferably.
4. Drill/Screw Combination Bit - this can save a lot of time.
5. Miter Saw. A good 10" one is a must. I don't believe you need to spend the extra money on a combination miter...But if you want it, buy it.
6. Compressor/Finish Nailer Combo. This is a must for any finishing or trimming project. I find myself using this for a lot of projects around the shop. The Porter Cable pancake and 1 1/4" and 2" combination set will be the best $299 you'll ever spend.
7. Hand tools. You need an assortment: Hammer, screwdrivers, chisels, putty knives, pliers, snips, wire cutters, wire strippers, and the list can go on. But these are the minimum.
8. Levels. I personally own 3 of these: A good 48 or 72" level is a must. I have a 24" for smaller areas and then I have a reliable 6" for tight areas.
9. Squares. Speed Square, combination square and carpenter's square. All handy.
10. Coping saw, hand saw, and flat trim or japanese pull saw.
11. Hand plane or block plane
12. Hand Sander - 1/4 sheet DeWalt sander I bought in 1993 still works great. I have replaced the pad and it's still one of the best tools I own.
13. Clamps. Get lots of them. If you try any project, pick up a couple every time you're out. I have convinced my wife that owning at least 100 clamps is necessary.
14. 3/8's Drill. Never leave home without it.
15. Holes saws, drills, and assorted drill accessories.
16. RECIPROCATING Saw. Get a good one. I have had my DeWalt for 15 years.

Miscellaneous: Step Ladders, Saw horses, safety glasses, extension cords, paint brushes, paint supplies, dust covers, Tape - masking and electrical, utility knife, pencils, nail sets for finish nails.

Tools that are nice to have, but not necessary (But I used them on this project)

17. Belt Sander. There isn't any overcut too big that a belt sander can't make quick work of.
18. Hand held Power Planer. See belt Sander. When you want to reduce an area quick.
19. Radial Arm Saw. I use this for big, compound miter cuts or wider dimensional cutting.
20. Table Saw. Ripping wood to length is a whole lot easier with a table saw. Ripping the plywood with the skill saw is easy...Ripping a 3/4" board or 2" stock is easier on the table saw.
21. Jig Saw. I can find multiple uses for a good jig saw.

Tools that would have been nice that I almost bought for this project:

22. Laser Level. I ended up about 1/4" off from one side of the Pergola to the other. A bubble on the line three or four times with your 6 foot level can result in this kind of error and force you to make corrections later. If you are so inclined or already have a laser level, good buy or good for you.

I always like to start building. It means that we have decisions and a direction. Chances are, both of those will change before any project nears completion.
For example, I was thinking about the structural issues surrounding the pergola and I wanted to keep the trim operation as simple as possible. I started to count my compound miters and angles with my current design and I quickly realized I would be mitering until Christmas if I didn't come up with some sort of time saving idea.

The idea was simple, as most good ones are. Make sure that any intersecting beams do not meet on edge.

Starting at the support beam in the island, I ended up shrinking the height of this beam down and placing three spacer blocks in between the beams that rested on the support beam. You can see in the picture how it appears that the pergola "Floats" or hovers above the support beam. Simple solution.

With respect to the field beams intersecting with the outer cap beams, I made the field beams 7.5" tall by 3.5" wide. The outer cap beams were 10.75" tall. This allows for the upper and lower trim on the field beams to be cut at a square angle to the adjacent surface. Very few miters, no fancy cuts. This saved a TREMENDOUS amount of time and gives the pergola a much better look.

Here's a step by step plan for building the Pergola.

1. Go to Lowe's Depot or your local lumber supplier and get your rough lumber. Don't buy the trim yet. Take your BOM with you and see if the deliver. If not, have a pick-up ready to go.
2. I started the project scribing a level line where I wanted the bottom of the support beam on the pergola to fall on the wall. This line was approximately 84" from the SUB floor. THIS WILL BE IMPORTANT LATER. I struck this line on both of the adjacent walls surrounding the kitchen.
3. Attach 2x4x8 foot studs horizontally on the line using 3.5-4" drywall screws.

TIP: If you can afford it, buy 3/4" dimensional pine and use it for your mounting surface and using spacers to "space out" from the wall to the final mounting surface. I would have saved myself some time and enery using 3/4" here instead of 2x4 stock. It costs a little more, however.

4. On the short wall, I only used one "layer" of 1 1/2" 2x4 for the mounting beam. Where the ceiling came down and intersected the wall, I need to bring the face of the mounting surface out away from the wall in order to get the height I needed, so I double layered the 2x stock, making it 3 inches thick.
5. Measure up 10 3/4" from the boards you just mounted. Strike another line on both walls. From THAT line, strike a line that is 2" below your upper line.
6. Mount additional 2x stock up to your second line. This will leave a 2" "race" for wiring that you can then add a cap to using 3/4" stock near the end of the project.
7. Rip 1/4" birch plywood lengthwise (8 foot pieces) to 10 3/4" width. Rip approximately 24 feet in length. (4 pieces)

TIP: Before doing ANYTHING with the Birch ply wood - If you are painting, put a coat of primer on all the finished sides of the plywood BEFORE YOU CUT OR MOUNT. This will save you a painting step later on and probably would have trimmed 6 to 7 hours out of the project for me. Lay them down in your garage or driveway and roll them in 10 minutes with primer.

8. Glue and Finish Nail the plywood to the mounting surface. This will be a finished surface at this point.
9. Using the 2x8x10' planks, build a header that is 3.5" wide. You will need to rip a piece of 1/2" plywood and sandwich this in between the planks.
10. Once complete, mark a vertical line 9' from the finished corner of the mounting surface outwards on the adjacent faces. This becomes the line that you will mount the "back" cross member to. See drawing.
11. Using your skill saw set at a 45 degree angle (Or your radial arm or miter) cut one end of the beam at a 45 on the vertical. Measure the distance between the 9' marks on the wall and mark and cut your beam to length accordingly, cutting the reciprocating 45 degree angle on the vertical.

TIP: Some people will think they can do the math here and use the Pythagoras Theorem and calculate the length. I always measure and cut. I have yet to find a room in a house that is PERFECTLY square.

12. Mount the header back beam to the mounting surface. Flush the BOTTOM of the Beam to the BOTTOM of the mounting wall surfaces.

TIP: BEFORE SECURING THE BACK BEAM PERMANENTLY: Check the distance of this beam at the two points from where you will be securing your columns for your support beam. These distances SHOULD BE WITHIN 1" of each other. IF NOT: Adjust your Back Support Beam or Island to get these measurements closer to each other.

13. Rip 3 more pieces of 10 3/4" Birch plywood and mount on the beam. These will become finished surfaces.
14. Build two support columns. I wanted square support columns, so I ripped a 1/2" piece of ply wood 1" wide. Rip 4 of these. I buillt my column with two of the 1/2" pieces of plywood "sandwiched" in between two straight 2x4x8's. The resulting space in the middle of the column makes an area that you can run a wire in.

TIP: This is a tight space to pull a 12-2 or 14-2 romex through. You may want "rip" out a trough in the 2x4 that is 1/2" to 3/4" deep in order to give you more space. I wish I had.

15. Cut your columns to length. This is CRITICAL. Remember the line you scribed earlier? Okay. You need to cut your column as follows:

84" - 1.5" (Beam Supporters) - 6" (Cross Beam supporter mounted to Columns 5.5" + 0.5") + 1.5" interior beam offset. See the detail drawing below for a clarification of the thought process here, but you are cutting your columns to 78" in length. This should result in a level Pergola.

16. Erect your columns in your island wall or however you are going to position them. Now, if you are going to mount them in the wall and set them on the wall base plate and not go all the way to the floor, YOU WILL NEED TO REMOVE ANOTHER 1.5" of length from your columns.

TIP: I am assuming HERE that your island wall is parallel to your back support beam that you mounted to your adjacent walls.

17. Build the support Beam. Take two 2x6x8's and cut to 72" in length. Cut two 2x4x8's to 72" in length. Build a square "box" by placing the 2x4 stock in between the 2x6 stock and fasten with 3.5" screws. Skin the box with 1/4" birch, ripped to appropriate size.

18. Once your columns are vertical and plumb and secured in place, center your support beam and mount.

19. You are now ready to begin building the internal beams. This is a process that reapeats, so I am going to give you the steps here in letters to refer back to as needed:
A. On the three main beams, you will want to use a 2x4x12 for the base of the beam for strength reasons. I will admit that this is probably overkill, but I would rather the structure be sound than suspect.
B. Start ripping 1/4" birch to 7.5" in width. You are going to need a lot. I set up a quick way to do this.
1. Get or make a GOOD straigt edge that's 8 feet long.
2. Clamp your straight edge to 4 sheets of plywood, flush and set to your skill saw's offset (usually 1.5")
3. Set the depth of your saw to 7/8" inches.
4. Rip your wood to width.
5. If this works, you will have 3 pieces ripped to width with the 4th sheet having a line started by the saw. This does a couple of things. You don't have to have someone standing ther catching your work as you go. You can complet the cut, remove and stack the pieces move the straight edge over 7.5 inches and set up for the next cut. When you have cut the first three sheets, the 4th sheet will have lines at 7.5", ready to go for the next three pieces.
6. Cut approximately 25 pieces. This should last you for quite awhile.

TIP: If you want to create a better "seam" in your plywood vs. butt jointing on the beam's length and filling later, you can create a "scarf" joint with a full sheet and a 1/2 sheet of plywood and cut 12 foot lengths instead of 8 foot. The scarf joint is a boat builder's favorite way to lengthen plywood and will be discussed in a later post.

C. Rip the 1x8x12' down to 3.5" in width. You should get two pieces from each board.

TIP: I get a lot of questions on this. Why not just buy 1x4x12 that's already ripped to size? Two reasons: 1. It's cheaper to buy the bigger, wider wood. 2. Try finding 1x4x12 stock that doesn't have a HUGE bow or curve in it. Trust me, rip your own. It will be straighter and cheaper. BETTER: If you have access to a jointer/planer and can make even straighter stock, but I think this is overkill.

D. Take the 1x4 x 12' and the 1x2 x 8' stock and build a "U" shape. This is done by gluing the 1x2 stock to the "top" of the 1x4 stock. Finish nail using the 2" nail gun up from the bottom of the 1x4 stock. Do both sides. Offset the butt seams of the 1x2 by reversing the starting end of the 12' board.
E. Start with a 2x4 and a 1x4/1x2 "U" on edge laying parallel next to each other on your saw horses or on the floor. Apply wood glue to the edges that are exposed facing up. Take one sheet of the 7.5" birch and mount to the 2x4 using the 1 1/4" nail gun and then mount to the "U" using the 1 1/4" nail gun. Finish by cutting another sheet of Birch to 4' and apply.
F. At the plywood seam, add a "butt block" of either 1x4 or 2x4 stock. glue and nail INSIDE the beam.

TIP: DON'T SKIMP ON GLUE. Glue will give this structure lots of strength. If you are using the 1/4" plywood, you will be glad you used the glue.

G. Roll the beam over and repeat step E and F. You now have one of the 3 main beams that will rest on the outer support beam. Build TWO more beams just like this unsing 2x4 stock for the bottom of the beam and 1x4 stock for the top.


20. Okay. You have a support beam up. You have built 3 main beams. (I am calling these main beams as they are actuall support beams that will support the face beams that will in turn support the field beams. They are structurally important) You need to set the "middle" of the three main beams and center it on your cross support beam.
A. Strike a line at the center of the support beam.
B. Strike a line in the longitudinal center of your middle support beam where it will intersect the base support beam. This line doesn't have to run the length of the beam. A 6" line at the intersection will be fine.
C. You will need to make the support blocks for the "floating " effect. Cut 6 pieces of 1x4 inch stock: 3 pieces 3" long and 3 pieces 2.25 inches long. Square the blocks so you have 3x 3" square and 3x 2" squares. Round over the top edges using sander or block plane. Center the 2.25" block on top of the 3" block. Set these on the support beam: One at the center and the other @ 2' on center. ALTERNATE: Take 3 pieces of 2x4 stock and cut down to 1 1/2" thick 3"x3" squares. If you have a router, use a 3/4" bit and round over the top edge with a 1/4" rabbit.
D. I didn't mount my blocks to the support beam. Instead, I "surrounded" the blocks with 4x 1 1/2" screws on each side, screwed into the support beam, 1 1/4", leaving 1/4" inch exposed. This kept the block from moving, but allowed small, relative movement of the pergola.
E. This is where you might need some help. You need to find the "square" intersection line from the Main support front beam to the back support beam. Get a tape measure and your 2' carpenter's square. Have the aid hold the square on the center line on the front support beam with the squar point back to the back support beam. Have them also hold the end of the tape measure. Strike the reciprocating square line on the back beam. Exchange positions and "verify" that both lines are square to each other and their respective beams.

TIP: This step may take awhile, but it is imperative to get the center beam as square as possible. Everything else builds from this beam.

F. Mounting an "End Block" on to the Back Support beam.
1. Make an end block by cutting 2x4 stock to length. The end block should fit snuggly into the end of the main horizontal beam. Find the center of this block. DO NOT MOUNT IN THE BEAM!
2. At your center line on your back beam, draw a line that is 2" above the bottom of the beam.
3. Mount the End Block on the beam at the 2" line using 4x 3.5" screws. You will want to pre-drill the holes in the end block before mounting.

G. Get your assistant, place your ladders on the job and each of you grab an end of the beam. Raise the first main beam into position on the Front support beam. Slide the beam towards the back support beam and over the mounting block. Once the beam is over the mounting block, let go. Check this beam for level and square to the back support beam and front support beam using the 3-4-5 method. IF off more than an acceptable amount, reset the back mounting block and check for square again.

TIP: 3-4-5 Method. Measure 3' on a beam and mark. Measure 4' on the adjacent bea and mark. If the distance between the two marks is 5', you're beams are square.

You should now have your main horizontal beam set square and level. Please look at this and make sure it's what you want.

Setting Subsequent MAIN Beams

21. Once you are happy, you will need to srike center lines at 2' on either side of the main horizontal beam for the other beams locations. Use your carpenter's square to strike the lines.

22. Mount the other two main beam using the same end block mounting technique and position the beams into place. These should be 2' on center at the back beam and on the exposed ends. On the protruding ends of these three beams, insert a "block" of 2x4 glued into place and finish nailed. These will become the anchors for the Face Beam.

23. Front FACE Beam. You will need to "build" the front face beam in place. In fact, from this point in the process forward, I built half of the beam and then completed the application of the last "Skin" or face operation on the beam after it was placed. I will describe the procedure here and you can refer back to it.
A. Rip a 1/4" 8' length of birch and a 1/2" 8' length of plywood to 10 3/4".
B. Glue and nail together using 5/8" finish nails.
C. Make a top "U" as described in the earlier Beam constructionsection
D. Get a 2x4 of 8' length for the bottom section.
E. Construct "half" of the beam by attaching the top and bottom of the beam to the 1/2" and 1/4" panel. BE SURE TO ASSEMBLE WITH THE BIRCH FACING OUT.
F. Strike a 2" line on the bottom of the beam on the birch panel all the way across.
G. Get an assistant. Raise the face beam up to the 3 main horizontal beams and secure (temporarily) with screws at the correct level, centered on the main beam.
H. Create a temporary support on the wall Have your assistant hold a 1x4 x 12' at a right angle from the adjacent wall. This will become the basis for the adjacent face beam.
I. Do the same thing on the opposite wall.
J. You should now have the face beam with two temporary boards showing the intersection on the face beam. Eyeball these for relative appearance and confirm that they are square to the walls. Once you are satsified, strike the intersection line on the face beam.
K. IMPORTANT: Remove the face beam. You need to cut the face beam at a 22.5 degree angle. The adjoining beams will also be cut at a 22.5 degree angle.
L. Once it's cut, remount, permanently in position on the three main horizontal beams.
24. Adjacent Face Beams: Build two more 10 3/4" face beams (half way - completed half inboard or facing the pergola) for either side of the face beam that are the appropriate length to reach the wall and the front face beam. Remember that the intesection angle will be 22.5 degrees. Mount a beam support block on the wall beam to hold your adjacent face beams to the wall. At the face beam intersection, I cut a scrap piece of 1x4 and trimmed to fit and mounted underneath the top portion of the upper beam. This held the other end of the adjacent beam. Now, you should have the external face beams all secured, halfway built.
25. You need to strike the opposing 2' center lines on the face beams. Use your carpenter's square or other technique.

TIP: Another way to do this is to take two pieces of 8' 1x4 and clamp another 8' piece square to the ends of the two boards. Strike a two foot line and place on top of the three beams you already have in place. Clamp in place. You now have a temporary "guide" that will show you the intersection on the face beams and back beam or wall in order to take measurements more accurately. This was a time saver for me personally. If you have a better system, by all means, use it.

26. Start filling in the remaining "field" beams that are constructed exactly like the face beams, only you use 7.5" 1/4" birch plywood only. Contstruct so that the most external, or short face is constructed on the half beam, leaving the long face left to attach after the beam is oriented and secured.

TIP: If you made the jig I suggested earlier, you can temporarily clamp the beam to the jig to hold it close to where it will be mounted. It will be much easier to do a final positioning and securing to face beam.

27. Fill in the Back Beam - Wall Triangle. Technique here is exactly the same. If you have made it this far, building beams is EASY....You are cruising now.
A. Strike a starting line on the back of the back support beam that is EXACTLY half way between the horizontal beams on the opposite side. I personally think this looks the best.
B. Repeat the squaring process and strike lines on the walls. These will intersect at a 45 degree angle. Carpenter's square is handy here.
C. Build the half beams and install. The space starts to get tight, but you should be able to manage.
D. Skin the opposite sides of the beams to close them up.

TIP: Skinning the long side of the beam. Cut your plywood at a 45 degree angle for the pieces that will intersect at that angle. Position and cut to length. Apply glue to the plywood and get an assistant and some clamps. I found that clamping in place and then making adjsustments before nailing was easier than trying to nail and making adjustments.

28. Filling in the face Beams: Make face beam sides the required length out of the 1/4" and 1/2" sandwhich. The 1/2" plywood may not be necessary on the outer face of the face beam, but I used it here, so if you want to follow to print, use. Glue, clamp and finish nail in place.

Your pergola should now look something like this:

Planning Your Remodel

Plan, Plan, Plan

I sometimes think, and Eann ESPECIALLY thinks, that I get a little too ivolved in planning. I guess I spend a lot of time lost in thought when I am getting ready to start a big project. But just when I think I'm overthinking, something pops up that re-inforces the idea of a well planned out project. Use whatever planning tools you have at your disposal and don't be afraid to WRITE DOWN THE DETAILS!

It might be something really minor - white caulk for finish trim - but when the thought hits you, write it down. I can't tell you how invaluable notes and writing down the most minor of details can become once you are into a project. Sometimes, it's those thoughts that you have already gone through that end up saving the day or showing you the way through the next change or new idea.

Case in point:

Initially, the Pergola was going to be a solid wood structure. I was going to use Cedar for weight reasons and the plan was to either use three 2" x 8" planks cut to length laminated together to form a single beam that would have been 4.5" x 7.5" finished size. That would give me the height and width of the beam that I wanted and also let me cut in the design on the exposed, overhanging ends. I also thought I could get away with "splitting" the center lamination in order to create a "runner" space for the rope light in addition to reducing the weight. However, Eann didn't like this idea at all. She was starting to think we would have too many "wood" elements colliding with cabinets, flooring, and the pergola all being different wood. I agreed with her. So, I scrapped the laminated beam idea.

(click on the image to enlarge)

The next idea was to get plywood that matched the cabinet material with matching stain and finish. Then, the Pergola would match the cabinets. I initially considered dimensional lumber for this solution, but that quickly proved to be cost prohibitive. We could afford plywood that matched the cabinets and matching trim, albeit this was going to get expensive, also. And I was starting to have some doubts about the rope lighting.

But, I was stuck on rope lighting for the top of the Pergola. Don't ask me why. I wanted rope lighting and for whatever reason I had concluded that it was the only way to create the indirect lighting affect we wanted for the kitchen. I guess it came from a lot of cabinet indirect overhead lighting ideas that I have seen where rope lighting is placed behind the finish crown molding for the "spillover" light effect. I assumed I would use rope lighting on the cabinets and I just couldn't shake it.

Finally, my moment of clarity came when I realized I was going to have a hollow beam that would be capable of housing anything. I realized I could put a conventional lighting can in the beam or use halogen puck lights. I quickly scrapped the rope light idea and the drawing changed again:

(click on the image to enlarge)

This idea was now a simple design with a painted finish, vs. trying to match the wood with the cabinets and having it clash with everything else that would have a bright, or polyurethaned wood grain finish. We decided to match the colors we painted the room, cream on the walls with high gloss white trim.

It all clicked at that point. That was it.

Don't be afraid to change and write details down. The Close to Final Beam for the Pergola Design:

(click on the image to enlarge)

Once we decided against the laminate and that we were going to paint, the design simplified down to a single sheet of 1/4" Birch plywood for each of the beam sides. If you are questioning the "strength" of a boxed beam using 1/4" plywood, consider: Structure only needs to support itself. The sides of the beam are really only holding the tension beam (bottom) and compression beam (top) in position to support themselves.

If you still have questions about this - please go to

Georgia Pacific gives a nice summary of engineered lumber and the principles behind it. Better yet, if you doubt the strength, build a test beam and test to failure. I think you will be very impressed with how much weight you can actually hold.

Details, Details, Details

Here is our kitchen budget. I love Excel and use if for just about everything - Buegeting, Timing, and idea tracking.

Budgeting a project like this is difficult. There are lots of guides on the internet. But, I have some stuff that you should try to budget in and think about, in no particular order:

1. I always add 10% to any costs I find at Lowe's Depot or on line
2. Budget the nicer materials. You can always come down later. This gives you a worst case scenario
3. Cabinets ARE EXPENSIVE. That's all there is to it. I went into sticker shock pricing our kitchen out. But, you will have them for the next 20 years, so go with the best you can afford.
4. Granite vs. Composite countertops is becoming a cheaper alternative. And I think granite looks better. Granite tile is an even cheaper option and probably will run you about the same as a formica countertop. Price it out.
5. Floor heat: Wire mesh that you place under the tile for those cold mornings. It's cheap when compared to the overall cost of the kitchen and easy to install.
6. Add a prep sink, if you have room. I think a prep sink -faucet near the cooking area is a huge added value. Try to manage it into the plan.
7. Quiet DISHWASHER! Pay extra for the lower decibels...
8. Careful choosing Stainless Steel Appliances....Hard to keep clean and magnets don't work..
9. Consider a double wall oven for re-sale if you are going with separate cooktop...
9.a. ...and a warming drawer. It will get used on Thanksgiving, I'm told...
10. Wall cabinets with glass doors add some pop and style at a low cost - especially if you add light INSIDE the cabinet. But you need to keep contents neat and orderly.
11. If your kitchen is like our kitchen, think about a media center. That's a nice term for a mail - homework - bill and general crap collection area. If you go this route, think roll top desk for when unexpected visitors pop in. It's a quick way to clean up (or hide) a mess....
12. Recycle center - but most good cabinet places will remind you of this.
13. Need vs. Want - Eann thinks she NEEDS more cabinet space...I believe she WANTS more than she could ever actually use. More cabinets means more things you will get to fill them up. Consider what you need and what could be stored somewhere else: Hall Closet, attic, etc...If it's only used once a year - or sometimes not even that often.
14. Gas wherever possible. It's my belief that this will eventually be cheaper than electric. Not to mention I like cooking with it better.
15. Pay extra for the convection oven...It cooks faster and will save energy.
16. There's more and will be more...but that's a start.

(click on the image to enlarge)


This is everything, and frankly, I am not very good at it. If I write a time down that something will be completed, I can usually, with a great deal of confidence, tell you that's the date that it WON'T be complete. It might be before, it might be after, but that date isn't it.

I don't know if this is good or bad. Obviously, if you're way of life is impaired due to the remodel, being late to your timing plan is not only unacceptable, it sucks. However, if your project isn't hindering normal life, timing can take a back seat, somewhat. Eann will completely disagree with this statement, but I think it's better to take your time, do it right, and get the best results you can. Rushing anything will show.

Here is my timing plan for the kitchen remodel (note that I don't have dates associated with cabinets yet. The ordering process is still in progress. Once I have an idea when they come in, I will be able to complete):

Planning Tips:

1. Create a detailed material list. The fewer runs to Lowe's Depot you make, the more time you save, not to mention gas.
2. Save the Lowe's Depot Savings or discount cards. Make multiple purchases to take advantage of all the cards they send.
3. Have a note pad on the kitchen table or counter that is DEDICATED TO THE PROJECT. When an idea pops in your head, write it down, no matter how insignificant.
4. Consider all aspects and personal impacts the project will have. Think about the kids and try to budget time for them.
5. You talked about the ideas, make sure you talk out the planning stage as well. There is no detail that's too minor not to throw out there and get a reaction on. It's better to discuss now than to have to face the "capitulation" that will surely take place in the next phase.
6. If you are building something, plan the build in your mind. This will help you to visualize challenges you will face when you actually get to them.
7. Buy extra. I always grab 5 or 6 extra studs and an extra sheet of plywood for "Oh Shits..." IT's a good idea....

The Kitchen IDEA Takes Shape

Where Did You Get THAT Idea?

I get that a lot. I really don't know and can't tell you where all my ideas come from. I know that a lot of it has to do with looking at homes, pictures of rooms, flipping through magazines and occassionally surfing the net for ideas.

I think it's important to let your imagination run wild in the idea phase of any project. So many people want to jump right to the colors or material selection, and while that's important, I think there needs to be a period that I describe as the "Russ Feng Shui" period. That is, I live in the space and it tells me what it needs or is looking for - I know that's not what Feng Shui is, but I am a simple man trying to sound intelligent, humor me. To come into a home and immediately start ripping out cabinets or flooring because it's old or not your style only to be replaced with exactly the same thing isn't giving the space - or you - a chance to "feel" what's needed.

If I'm not explaining this so you understand, let me elaborate. When we bought the house we're currently in, Eann's first comment was the kitchen had to go. Dark oak cabinets, BLUE formica countertops, and cream linoleum flooring. It was a kitchen that was clean, nice and functional, but it had the look of being completed on a small budget and the colors were not Eann's or my taste. But we could certainly live in that space while we decided how to remodel it.

The more time we spent there, we realized how much we loved our island cooktop at our old house. This house had the sink in the island with the stove and oven against the wall. So the whole time you were preparing the meal, which is when the best conversation takes place, you were facing the wall instead of looking out over the lake. Immediately, we wanted an island cook top. Which led to the idea of an overhead suspended range exhaust hood.

The house is an A-frame Great Room Style, with 30 feet by 30 feet of floor space that has a 12:12 pitch ceiling overhead that comes to a peak at 21 feet above the floor in the middle of the room. It definitely has a very open feel. So much so that the kitchen often times felt cold and impersonal. At first I thought it was the colors, but it wasn't. It was the large volume of air overhead that made the space feel intimidating and lacking warmth. The idea of a copper hood sprung into my head when Eann was looking at and fell in love with some copper inlay cabinets at a kitchen store.

I started investigating a decorative copper exhaust hood for pricing, placement, mounting etc. I sketched a few ideas out. But I soon discoverd that the pricing on something like this would be extremely prohibitive. It was about $20,000 to just get a hood that had the ornate qualities I wanted made out of copper. Again, I was looking for the warm feeling and stainless steel just wasn't going to work.

I couldn't shake the copper idea as Eann was REALLY in love with the copper cabinets and said wouldn't it be nice to be able to hang copper cooking ware from something overhead. Then, an idea popped into my head for an overhead, hanging trellice with copper hardware and accents. I would use heavy copper wire to hang the trellice that I sketched out to be about 10'x10'. But I started running into problems trying to light the trellice with indirect lighting that would wash the ceiling in light and position it in a satisfactory way. That idea bounced around in my head until I finally decided that anchoring one side of the trellice to the wall would solve a lot of problems.

Attaching the trellice in my early drawings looked dumb. I knew that I would need to completely fill the space over the kitchen if I went to a wall attachment. I could still hang the trellice, but it would need to attach to both adjacent walls.

My early drawings looked like this. I added some 3-d drawings, but I am not an artist:

Eann, as most people I know, seem to have trouble in this area. I have the ability to "see things" in space and visualize in my mind's eye colors, textures, and lines of any idea. I can make the leap off a simple floor plan to the finished look with out the use of visual aids. Eann, while she sees and sort of "gets" what I am talking about, can't see the final product. IF you are an artist and can draw conceptual pictures or you have a program like 3-D architect that let's you see finished rooms, great. If not, build a model.

Start with simple materials. I like cardboard, popsicle sticks (Box of 1,000 at the craft store for $2.99) and a hot glue gun. You can use a razor blade knife and a pair of side cutters or snips to cut the popsice sticks and the knife to cut the cardboard. The results are instantaneous with the hot glue gun...and it's CHEAP. Build a scale model of your room and add whatever you want - studs, paper walls substituting for drywall, etc. Furniture, Cabinets, 1/2 walls, fixtures, etc. If you have kids, use some of their doll house furniture if you have girls. This gives you an idea of what you are facing when you start building and can give your significant other a better idea of what you're talking about.

My idea quickly changed from a trellice that was square to the short wall of the kitchen to the beginning of the end of the idea process. A Pergola with the long, supported beams extending out from the corner of the room at a 45 degree angle from the adjacent walls came into my vision and was stuck there.

We finally had our idea for adding warmth to the space. The planning phase, including budgeting, deciding on appliances, kitchen cabinet styles, flooring and countertops could now begin.

Here is the final Kitchen Layout With Pergola "Floor Plan"

Beginning The Remodeling Process

Why Remodel?

That is a HUGE question in a lot of peoples' minds...It is full of positive and negative feelings...If we remodel, we're going to enjoy it so much more. But we are going to spend tons of money. Mixed feelings are the difficulty, which makes the decision process of what you want, how you want it to look, and the final look and craftsmanship of the project so important. We have a lakefront walk-out in Michigan, so even in a recession, there is inherent value which makes cost less of an issue and you hope (eventually) you will be able to recover most, if not all of your investment.

If you are a person that likes to hire a contractor to do everything from start to finish, you may want to stop reading now. I am a committed do-it-yourselfer. My favorite shows: This Old House - even though some of the stuff they do anymore is beyond do it yourself, anything on HGTV, and of course, Norm Abrahams New Yankee Workshop. I love working with wood. And it never ceases to amaze me what people pay to have remodeling done and when I see the finished results, I am sometimes appalled. I have seen remodels that I wouldn't have paid for and in some circumstances, taken the contractor to small claims court over the job they did. But, if you like to spend your money remodeling and yelling at your contractor continuously throughout the process, please continue to do so. Unfortunately, I can't be of much help in that area. Maybe I can help some with ideas.

Where I can help is with the guy that wants to tackle a big job, but is intimidated or scared or doesn't have the first clue where to begin. I will walk you through my though process: Idea phase, planning phase, building and finally completion stage.

I like to think a project through from the initial idea to the completion phase. Often, I don't even know where I am going or what to start with. But, I get a blank sheet of grid paper and lay out the existing dimensions of the particular room I am working on and start doodling. It always helps the thought process and I usually come up with great ideas.

Eann and I have been remodeling our current house since we bought it in November of 2000. It was a diamond in the rough, but it was a nicer and newer diamond than our previous house. Or, at least I thought it was. I finished the lower walkout level in the first 3 years we lived there. When we bought the house, there was only cinder block and exposed joists in an unfinshed basement. Why did it take so long? Well, I put in a bathroom, bar, fireplace and guest bedroom - and I did it myself. I finished approximately 1,200 square feet of space that included drywall ceilings and walls, added noise reduction insulation to the ceiling, pulled wire, copper plumbing, added black pipe gas lines for an outdoor grill, indoor fireplace and eventual kitchen remodel and the floor is ceramic tile. The only thing I didn't do myself was mud and tape the drywall. That was a $1,200 check well written as it would have added tons of (my) time to the project. On a budget of $15,000, (that ended up about $1,000 over due to the cabinets and granite bar counter tops) we finished off that space and love the compliments we get and truly enjoy the space that was created. Finished photos of that project can be found in the entry titled Basement Remodel.

Then, we remodeled the Master Suite, adding a jacuzzi tub and a much large shower, complete with dual shower heads, linen closet, dual sinks and his and her walk in closets. We managed to keep the cost of that project under $14,000 doing it ourselves, finding internet deals on the tub and Hans-Grohe faucets, working with a discount tile store for the natural stone travertine tile we used and, most importantly, doing it ourselves. You can see finished pictures of that remodel in the post titled Master Bath.

Throughout the Kitchen Remodel blog, I will try to offer the do-it-yourselfer money and time saving tips, value enhancing ideas, and tips on craftsmanship that will help your projects come out with professional look that you will be proud to display and have people wondering, and asking, "Who's your contractor and what does he charge?"

Next Entry: The Kitchen IDEA Takes Shape