April 16, 2014

Kitchen Progress: That Sinking Feeling

The kitchen sink and faucet have been installed!  So have the counters.  And the drywall.  You know, when you live with naked insulation for awhile, bare drywall starts to look really fancy.  But don't let that fancy drywall and elegant window frame(lessness) detract your attention from the real showstopper: the faucet.

Do you remember how many moons ago I asked for your help choosing a new faucet for the kitchen, because Pfister had kindly offered to send me one for review?  The one we ultimately chose - the Lita - was not available right away and when it arrived we had already listed the townhouse for sale.  I think there were more votes for black, but Hubby really pushed for silver (as did some of you).  I'm thankful that I was convinced of the merits of the stainless finish - and not the black finish I loved - because we ended up sandbagging the faucet for the lakehouse kitchen, where the black wouldn't have worked with my plans.

The lovely Lita was straightforward to install.  You might remember that it's a pull down model, which is a feature we've become overly dependent upon.  Both the townhouse and lakehouse boasted older faucets with that feature, and it's handy for filling a pot of water on the counter, or winning a kitchen water fight.  We didn't even look at any models that weren't a pull down, we're that committed.  This one feels different, though: it's sturdy and slides smoothly, and then clicks back tightly into place.

It has two settings for spray, which is also a feature we prefer.  The old lakehouse faucet had this feature too, but it was broken, and I really missed it!  Stuff that works properly feels like a real novelty around here.

I'll keep you posted on durability and how the finish wears.  For the $449.00 MSRP (!), I'm expecting outstanding quality, and I hope to salvage the faucet for our phase II reno.  The shape is clean and modern, but not too trendy, so I hope it won't look tired in a few years.  Strangely, what drew Hubby and I to this style originally was the unassuming handle: some are really curvy and seem more traditional, while some really angular ones look exceptionally modern.  This one is so simple.  We like simple.

The sink is also a stunner, but it gave us a little trouble.  It's a beast - much larger than what was there before - but we found it at Costco for $199, which is a good price for a sink this size and quality.  Plus it was fun to put "kitchen sink" on our grocery list.  It's an Atlantis Commercial Grade Pro Series, in 18-gauge stainless steel.  The lower the gauge, the thicker the steel but I've read conflicting reports about whether the gauge really impacts durability.  Reportedly, around the 22-gauge mark, a stainless sink will be more prone to denting, but I think 18-gauge is pretty standard.  We'll see how this one wears.  It does have two stainless steel basin grids with rubber feet, which keeps knives and cutlery from scratching the bottom (plus it makes a good dry rack for the things I hand wash).  Hopefully the basin grids will keep this sink looking new.

We actually bought the sink in Ottawa and drove it up here to Thunder Bay.  I'm sure we measured . . . okay I'm not sure, I just assumed that sinks are a relatively standard overall size because I thought cabinetry was pretty standard.  Nope.  The front of the cabinetry needed to be shaved away to make room for the sink.  The weight of the counter mostly sits on the vertical supports so it shouldn't be a problem, but we can always add horizontal support pieces. 

The sink sits a little farther back than I envisioned, but it's as far forward as we can put it.

This sink has the option of under mount or drop-in and we chose the latter.  Under mount required a frame be built to support it, because it wasn't designed to attach to the underside of the counter.  Bah!  Too much work.  Plus, cutting the hole was tricky enough, without making it pretty enough to show off (it wasn't).  Hubby used a jigsaw to cut the hole and although he did an amazing job, there were some areas where the cut jogged a bit.  Not a problem for installation, just not show-pretty.

More relevant than our laziness, we love the sharp lines of this boxy sink and the rectangular edge looks perfect with our thick, blocky counters.  Hubby and I have been admiring the counters with the sink, and we're so happy we didn't hide most of the fanciest sink we've ever owner with under mount.  (Not that doing dishes in the laundry room sink wasn't fancy).  

As a reminder, here's the old sink and faucet (is the new one freakishly tall, or what?):

Because the new sink's shape and proportions are different than the old sink's, Hubs spent quite a bit of time under the sink playing plumber.  So long, in fact, that while he was on his stomach, fussing, Szuka wandered over and decided his bum would be a good place for a nice, long snooze. 

Disclosure: I was provide the Lita faucet for review, courtesy of Pfister, but was not asked to, or otherwise compensated for, providing a review.  Time will tell how well it wears, and I'll be sure to keep you posted on the faucet, and our new sink, once we've had a chance to break them both in. 

April 14, 2014

Wood Behaving Badly

Hubby and I installed the kitchen sink and faucet over the weekend (photos Wednesday).  Maybe it's because I spent a couple of days inhaling the cloud of sawdust generated by cutting a giant hole for the sink, but I've been thinking a lot about wood.  In fact, a lot of woodsy things have caught my eye recently:

This streamlined credenza I'm confident we could build (welded legs and all):

This striking front door:

These mod bathroom vanities (which are a lot like what I'm planning for our phase II bathroom reno):

This nature-inspired table (as tacky as it sounds, I'd like to make a knock-off version for the dining room):

This impossibly chic kitchen:

This painstaking wood plank ceiling:

This inventive take on the DIY tree stump table:

This agate-topped solid wood table I can't stop thinking about:

Wood Movement

We actually have quite a few woodsy projects on the horizon, and while I was huffing sawdust I dreamed up a few more.  The tricky thing about wood, though, is that you can't just slap it together.  Wood expands and contracts (primarily across the grain - width wise) and it can't be forced to stay put.  It sometimes has a mind of its own, which needs to be accounted for during construction.  It was once a living thing, after all, and the cells that held onto moisture for its survival still move moisture, so in humid conditions wood can expand as it sucks in moisture while in dry conditions it can shrink as wood cells release moisture.  Plus, if it hasn't been properly seasoned, even if construction allows for wood movement, wood can still crack or split or warp.  (Of course, this is a simplistic account from a simple DIYer).  Last week I spotted a couple examples of W.B.B. (wood behaving badly, my term for the more accepted "wood movement"). 

Although they rebuilt it, Scott and Kim found that their farmhouse table split along the grain:

Jenny made wood floors from plywood planks (what a neat idea!) but in an instagram shot it looks like one board might have split (to the left of Evelyn) . . . although I might be seeing things because plywood doesn't behave the same as solid wood.  It should be more resistant to W.B.B.

Edit: After posting, I spotted Daniel's DIY kitchen counters, which had sadly warped and developed gaps.

I don't even need to go online to see W.B.B. - our hardwood floors have gaps!

Tongue and groove hardwood flooring, which is seemingly straightforward to install, also experiences wood movement.  When Hubs replaced the hardwood flooring in the closet, he realized the flooring in the lakehouse had been improperly installed.  Typically, hardwood flooring is installed so that there is expansion room around the edge grain.  The baseboard hides any gaps, and the quarter round attaches to the floor, so as the wood swells and shrinks the quarter round moves with it (no gaps!).  In our case, the edges of the hardwood planks were shaved down on an angle to facilitate wedging them tightly against the wall - the drywall was even dented from the force with which the hardwood was pushed down.  We're lucky we don't have any buckling that should accompany this kind of mistake (drywall is soft-ish, so it's likely smooshing to accept the swell of the wood).  Instead, we have gaps, which is kind of the opposite problem we expected. 


The gaps might have occurred because the wood wasn't allowed to acclimatize in the house prior to installation.  Maybe it was installed during a humid spell and our dry winter sucked the moisture out of the wood.  Luckily the gaps aren't really prominent, and hopefully they will disappear come summer.  But after the incredible effort Hubby and his Dad put into installing the townhouse hardwood floors, which looked perfect and never behaved badly, I'm crabby about inheriting gaps.

The townhouse floors, I miss you!
These musings on wood movement are relevant to our counter project because wood movement made planning our DIY wood kitchen counters tricky.  On a surface that butts up to a wall, like a counter, it could cause major problems.  If the wood isn't given room to expand, it could push against the walls and cause the cabinet to buckle.  If a wood counter is installed close to the wall in humid conditions, it could shrink and cause gaps between the counter and backsplash in dryer months.  When Hubby shares the how-to of our wood counters, we'll explain how we accounted for wood movement and what our solutions were.

I am by no means knowledgeable about wood, but I've learned enough from Hubs to know what wood movement is, and to be wary of it.  In the meantime, for anyone planning a wood project, here are some tips and, more importantly, resources to prevent W.B.B.

  • Bottom line: you can't stop wood from moving (glue and nails can only do so much)
  • Opt for joinery that allows for wood movement, like elongated screw holes
  • Allow wood to acclimatize to its environment before use
  • Ideally, construct a wood project in an environment with the same kind of humidity level as where it will be positioned once completed
  • Factor in the species, the way it was cut from the log, and the humidity, which all impact wood movement (this widget might help, talking with the pros at the lumber yard will too)

  • Realize that the smaller the panel, the less it will move overall
  • Research any project to get advice from the pros (not necessarily fellow DIYers), about how to address wood movement for your project's particular circumstances
  • Consider plywood (and other manufactured panels), which are more stable than solid wood and are better for beginner projects 

How you deal with wood movement varies from project to project, so it's difficult to provide more troubleshooting tips.  Click here for a great article about why wood moves and how to estimate wood movement.  This article is even more in depth with great photos to illustrate wood movement.  Finally, this article lists which kinds of wood experience more, or less, movement.  There are a LOT of woodsy DIY tutorials out there, but not all of them account for wood movement so I thought I'd chat about it a bit today. 

Worst case scenario, there's always the option to just work with a split and make something totally bad-ass:


April 11, 2014

Reader Q: How I Get Such Shiny Wood Floors (Ha Ha)

If I had an FAQ page, one of the most-asked questions would be how I got the wood floors to gleam in the townhouse.  I never really answered this question, because I wasn't really sure. 

My readers with kids and pets, prepare to laugh . . .

Because I was trying to provide an answer, I really paid attention to my cleaning habits.  At the time, I used a dry swiffer once a week to catch dust bunnies and then I mopped with a Vileda sponge mop and Murphy's soap once a month (sometimes every six weeks).  Was this why the floors were so gleamy?

Maybe a little (Murphy's soap is awesome), but nope, not really.

Now I know the answer: we were pet-free and child-free, plus we had radiant heat instead of forced air.  Of course it's easy to make floors gleam when nobody is smearing peanut butter all over them!!

Once Szuka arrived on the scene, her smudgey little paw prints and nose prints made our wood floors much less shiny and she necessitated a weekly, not monthly, mop.  Truthfully, we could benefit from a daily mop.  Moving to the lakehouse, which boasts darker wood floors and forced air, I found I was hauling out the swiffer or mop every couple of days, and sometimes multiple times a day, to maintain any semblance of cleanliness, never mind gleamy-ness.  My system had limitations, however, and I really yearned for an itty bitty vacuum just to pick up the larger detritus Szuka tracks in.  I started sweeping up Szuka-grit using a broom left with the house, but that seemed a little 1800s.  We casually shopped for a little dust buster, and almost bought one at Costco, but online reviews revealed that the battery life was disappointing: ten minutes - twenty at best for the models I was considering.

When I was given the chance to review the Rowenta Delta Force Extreme Lithium 18V Stick Vacuum (which is new to Canada, and available in stores like Sears) - with up to 45 minutes of use on one charge - I was eager to try it, but skeptical all the same.  It's similar to their Air Force model, but with an even longer battery life.

I was instantly smitten.  First of all, it's really cute.  I know that shouldn't matter, but in a house this small, with so little storage space, it matters because there's no where out of the way to charge it.  I store it in a closet but once a week I charge it in the office or laundry room.  It's designed in France and the French must know what I love because it's teal and sleek, plus it stands upright on its own.  It also has headlights (!) which seemed like a silly feature until I realized I can see under the furniture and catch little bunnies lurking in the shadows.  It's also great in the hallway and laundry room, which get so little natural light.

It takes 6 hours to charge, but that charge really does last 45 minutes.  Of course, it's new so the battery still holds it's charge well, but I cleaned intermittently for two weeks with nary a charge.  Just in case, it's got a battery level indicator so I'm not stopped mid-task by a dead battery.  It has three settings and I usually use it on the highest because I don't have any carpet.  I have little experience with full-size vacuums, but this one seems to be impressively powerful - it sucks up dust bunnies from a few inches away.

I am loving the fact that it's cordless, and super light, because it makes cleaning so much faster.  Because it's so easy to use, I find I'm using it often for a quick maintenance clean.  Instead of reaching for a swiffer cloth (and burning through dozens a week) and then following up with a stupid broom, I just whiz by with this and pick up all the dirt in one fell swoop - it's excellent at grabbing gravel, luckily.  When it's full, it's a snap to empty and the electro brush is easy to clean too.  Here's Hubby, in the rattiest pants ever, showing us how:

CONS: There's a bit of a learning curve to work with the way it tilts and swivels to move under furniture and around obstacles.  I'm getting the hang of it, but I have never owned a proper vacuum so I'm particularly stupid in this regard.  (Okay, technically we had a clunky vacuum that the former townhouse owners left but that was short lived because it caught on fire while I was using it).  I also find that this vacuum is not the quietest thing around.  The media kit contends that Rowenta products are exceptionally quiet, and maybe they are quieter than other brands - I don't know - but I find it a bit loud.  I used to swiffer the floors while anytime I talked on the phone (I have ants in my pants), so I miss that.  In the video below, you can get a sense of the loudest setting, and how the vacuum swivels and moves.  It has a MSRP of $269.99, which isn't the cheapest vacuum around, but the company has been designing and developing household products since 1884 and has devoted 40+ years to vacuum cleaners specifically, so there is a lot of research and development behind their products.  I'd never heard of them before, but they are an industry leader in Europe, which piqued my interest!  Only time will tell, but I think there's a lot of quality behind Rowenta vacuums, which hopefully makes these a good investment.

All in all, I think it's a fabulous little vacuum, high on style, power, and easy of use.


With this new tool in my dirt-busting arsenal, I think maybe, just maybe, I might be able to keep the floors townhouse-clean.  Now I need some kind of robotic mop that just swirls around the lakehouse, cleaning up peanut butter paw prints.

Disclosure: I was provided the Delta Force Extreme Stick Vacuum for review by Rowenta, but not compensated or otherwise motivated to provide a positive review.  We have been in the market for a small, cordless vacuum for months and hadn't found one with a long-lasting battery.  This suits our purposes perfectly and not only would I purchase one of these if they took mine away (please don't!), I would certainly recommend this to friends and family.  As someone who doesn't need a big clunky vacuum, but gets frustrated with cheap little dust-busters, this is the perfect combination of quality + small size.
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