JamJam Days 5 & 6 – Home Improvement

I spent Sunday and Monday working on my house. It’s not technically a creative endeavour, but it’s something I’ve very much wanted to get done, and so spending some of this little window of free time at it makes good sense to me.

I have a board where I keep my current list of Stuff What Needs Doing.

Lots of things to get done!

As with most note-card-based systems, it has the singular advantage of being profoundly easy and agile – I can change my mind about what’s important whenever I want to just by rearranging the cards. As I complete tasks, I remove items. As I recognize new problems, I add cards. In this way I keep some kind of handle on what I need to do with my home to make it a halfway sensible place to live.

A short aside: A buddy of mine stayed at my house for several days this month – a visit for which I would gladly have paid him – and by way of thanks he left a substantial gift card for me (and, presumably, my significant other). Initially I was going to mail the dang thing back to him, but I’m trying to be less persnickety about accepting people’s kindness, and so I decided I’d instead just try to make best use of it, which I’m pretty sure is what he intended.

I’ve been steadily adding tools to my collection since I bought this place, and thanks to my buddy, my latest acquisitions are a 14A 7.25 inch Ryobi circular saw and a diamond blade suitable for cutting concrete, as well protective earmuffs to avoid the worst of the buzz. I started the day in the basement with this creature in hand.

Very powerful. Tim Taylor would be proud. But very loud.

Very powerful. Tim Taylor would be proud. But very loud.

As it turns out, cutting concrete produces a massive amount of dust. This dust is not good for you, I am told, and so I wore a mask.


I squared off one side of the hole and started on the other, but the dust and the sweat pouring of me suggested a break from the activity was in order. Not wanting to waste too much time, I figured I’d move on to another big item on my todo list: mouldings.

Mouldings are the devil. They require precision to look good, and I’m possibly the least precise human being who’s ever lived (before you disagree, consider this sentence). I bought panel mouldings, which  are not really meant for ceilings as such, but they do the job of concealing the cracks between my new ceiling and my walls both old and new, which is basically all I care about. Also, they’re hard to fuck up.

Working on the mouldings allowed me a chance to break out my mitre saw. I bought mine (along with a bunch of other goodies) on a fairly deep discount at Christmas. It has 2 feet of “travel”, which means I can do cuts  up to 4 feet wide if I need to. More on that in a bit. It also has a laser guide, and let me tell you, that thing is the biz-digiddy-izness.


If the laser is on your thumb, you’re it. And by it, I mean about to lose a thumb.


With the laser guide, you can see essentially the exact relationship between your rough cut and the “finish” cut (the one that makes it fit correctly, ie the important one). I can’t overstate how important that is for doing mouldings.

I’m sure there are folks out there who can make one cut and get a corner right every time, but for the average loser (me, for example), getting mouldings to fit snugly together despite walls that are slightly more or less than 90 degrees to one another, despite the mound of paint and sealing compound that builds up at a corner, and despite doing a 2-person job by him or herself is, to put it lightly, a challenge. A mitre saw, and in particular a mitre saw with a guide, lets you fudge it a bit by, say, cutting a quarter inch too long and doing quick, progressively shorter cuts til it fits snugly while also adjusting the mitre angle to account for those off-square wall angles. And when I still get it wrong (which I will), the saw makes repeating the cut on a new work piece a cinch.

I try not to run power tools too late since the downstairs tenant has a kid, so I had to knock off from doing mouldings before 8. As I sat here Monday afternoon looking at the half-finished job I felt good about what I did get done.

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There was one major fail, of course. I bought two old-ish wooden doors from a house downtown that was being renovated. I paid something like $80 for the two of them, and they’re reasonably nice-looking, but the problem is that they don’t really fit where I want to put them, nor were the handles at the same height, which I didn’t realize when I bought them or I probably would have held off.

By a stroke of luck, however, they both needed two inches off their height to fit into the doorway and a 2-inch height adjustment to fit together. I wasn’t sure how to get these beasts up onto my mitre saw to make the cuts, but I managed thanks to a couple of almost-cooperative chairs standing in for sawhorses. It turns out, however, that you can’t actually cut across 32 inches of door with a mitre saw that claims 2-foot travel.

I ended up, after an immense amount of effort and noise, with two reasonably well-aligned cuts that didn’t quite meet.  This is where my handy-dandy Matrix jigsaw attachment saved my butt. I put on a longish wood blade and sawed through the gap. It wasn’t pretty, but it sufficed.


Only later did I realize that I could have saved myself a lot of time, energy, and general silliness by
a) using the circular saw, which would have obviated the need to “flip” the door to get the second half of the cut as well as the need to align the two cuts
b) using the coffee table or dinner table as a workbench instead of using chairs which have a habit of falling over.

Nonetheless, not a bad day’s work.

I’d originally figured I’d do some more creative work on Monday, but given what I did – and probably more importantly what I didn’t – accomplish on Sunday, I figured I’d keep going.

I learned a couple of things about doing mouldings; most importantly, to cut conservatively so as to keep fittings tight, and be reaaaally particular about angles at corners. I also figured out that when working along the length of the wall cutting so the next piece will fit under the previous one makes my life at least a little easier.

I managed to get the rest of the living room mouldings done, and I’m reasonably proud of them, although they do need to be painted sooner rather than later.


I started to work on the mouldings for the master bedroom, but quickly realized that there were some very large gaps between the wall and the ceiling, which I’ll need to fill in with drywall strips and plaster. Sooo…another day for that.

Instead I took on the doors. Having had my little circular saw epiphany, I tried my coffee table work bench idea. Unfortunately  the coffee table has two major weaknesses:
1) It’s narrow, which means the doors are unstable.
2) Our particular coffee table has two raised ends, which means there’s not even much surface-to-surface contact between bench and work piece.

We do have two end tables, however, that are a little wider and have at least a little more contact area on offer. I laid the doors on them and was reasonably satisfied with the result.

I started cutting with my grandfather’s old 9-amp metal beast, which my father thoughtfully brought out when he visited last. It was fine, but I didn’t really know how to make a straight cut with it.

It looks more beastly than it is, truth be told.

It looks more beastly than it is, truth be told.

My new hotness, however, like my mitre, has a laser guide built in, which seemed like a safer bet for a newbie like me. As it turns out it was – after making careful measurements and marking out the necessary lines, I managed to cut an inch off the door I cut on Sunday so it would fit. It wasn’t a little crooked, which gave me the idea to cut faster to keep it straight. That was useful for my second cut – I needed to cut an inch and a bit off the 78″ long side of the door, which was maybe a little advanced for my blood. As I pushed the blade down the door, it kept kicking. I eventually figured out that I was allowing the blade to go off-vertical. Fixing that fixed the cut more or less completely, although I’d already left a few ugly little notches.

But cutting fast did at least kept the edge straight!

The next bit was hinge recesses. I have the Craftsman Bolt-on, which is the Sears rebranding of the Black and Decker Matrix. I bought the router attachment in anticipation of doing the doors, but I’ve had some trouble finding bits for it. I tried Kent and Home Depot without much success, so I figured Canadian Tire was worth a shot.

Turns out that was the right idea – I found a nice little 6-piece set that was originally $45 on for $33. When I got to the cash, however, it turned out to be on for $13, which is a significant blessing in a year of blowing through cash trying to save on home renovations. Tools are expensive, y’all.


My hinge notches turned out a mess (routing is hard), but I managed to hang one door. Creaks a bit, and it doesn’t like being closed all the way, but it at least swings cleanly.


The door frame, unfortunately, is off-square, which means I need to somehow cut the other door to fit. I should have measured for that, but I’m a newbie. I also discovered that the hinges on the other door were not functional. Annoying, but not a big issue – I’ll get some on Tuesday.