Archive for the ‘Cabinets’ Category

Fine Woodwork, for a Spaceship

Monday, April 6th, 2009

Chattanooga Spaceship house

I guess it was inevitable.

As I slowly work my way around Chattanooga, leaving my woodwork in the homes of people who favor the unique, maybe it was inevitable that the Spaceship House would eventually be scheduled as a destination.

Just backing in with my truck gave me a new perspective on this house I've passed so many times … it's huge! And the inside is far bigger than you would imagine: I'm guessing around 2000 square feet, distributed between three levels.

As usual, I set up shop on the pull-out bed of my utility camper, which meant I was doing my cutting beneath the belly of the spaceship as the usual interested passers-by did their passing.

Signal Mountain Tennessee Spaceship house

“Can we take a tour?”


“Is it for sale?”


“Is it haunted by aliens?”


Anyway, in the course of one workday, I did meet a neighbor who shed more light on the history of the house:

It was built by Arthur King, a contractor, out of “spare parts” from his other jobs in the early 70s. Mr King went on to build an A-frame on Stringer's Ridge and “something cool” in Cleveland. He only had a sixth grade education. He died in 2007.

The house sold in the late 70s for 20-something thousand dollars, and most recently went for a mere 120k!

Finally, here's a story about the house from “Mr. P”, my source:

One of the owners of the house, who shall remain un-named, was “bad to drink” (had an alcohol problem). One night when he had imbibed too much, the man's wife decided that she would rather not spend the night with him. She left, telling him she was going to spend the night with her mother.

So, she lowered the stairs, stepped down to the ground, and then raised the stairs back up. She had taken the keys to both their vehicles. She then proceeded to park his truck beneath the stairs, so that they couldn't be lowered. None of this would have been visible from within the house because of the shape.

Spaceship stairs

There is only one way in/out of the Spaceship House, of course.

Finally, she backed out with her car and waved goodbye to him as she drove away.

Needless to say, he was still there when she returned in the morning.

Here's a few shots of my work as I left it. At some point I'll take (or link to) some shots of the finished kitchen. Feel free to bother me about this if you're reading this in 2010 or later.



Can Anyone Top these Drawer Organizer Concepts?

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Kitchen remodels, and cabinetry in particular, have been a big focus of this site and of my work. So it probably won't come as a surprise to my readers that I've developed some new concepts/products for kitchen cabinets. Actually, it's all about the drawers.

Here's the story:

I built custom cabinetry for the kitchen remodel of some friends here in Chattanooga. They live in St Elmo, which is a quaint old part of town where the houses have small old kitchens. There would be no tearing out walls for this project, so they had very little space to work with and wanted to make the most of it.

…Just like the rest of us.

One difference is that they weren't going to skimp on this, at least not for the one top drawer they were going to be able to fit in their postage-stamp sized kitchen. So the wife did her homework and came up with (what she thought was) the best drawer organizer ever: a double-decker (also known as two-tier) by Kraftmaid.kraftmaid two-tier

When I saw her pictures of this organizer, I was quite stunned. It wasn't that the design is brilliant (though it is clever), but rather it was that I couldn't believe I hadn't run into this thing in all of my time/research in the remodel/kitchen world. I don't know how long it has been around, but I'm guessing it can't have been around long. This, too, is surprising because it's really a straightforward idea: by removing part of the drawer's back wall, we have room to insert a second “drawer-within-a-drawer” which pushes all the way back. (not to be confused with the cheap plastic gizmos that have a half-sized upper layer that rolls back and forth on a full-sized lower layer)

my custom two tier installedAs long as you're not trying to store stuff that's thicker/higher than about 2″, it's like getting two drawers in the space of one.

I was intrigued, of course, so I made a deal with them to buy the biggest size they made. Well, like all factory-produced cabinet parts, it only comes in three inch increments. It turned out that the “space-saving insert” was actually four inches too narrow to fill the available space in their one eligible base cabinet.custom double decker large open

So I kept the Kraftmaid double-decker and built them a custom replica that filled the space. They were happy with it, at first. But, thankfully, they're the really honest types and — when asked — shot the design full of holes.

Here are their complaints and my remedies:

  • First and most critical: not available in custom sizing. I already told you how I fixed that: building it to the width and height needed.
  • Top drawer is “slippy” in that, when you open the main drawer, the acceleration causes the inner drawer to slip back. The net effect is that, when you get the main drawer open, the upper/inner drawer is already several inches (or more) back. We fixed this problem by some modifications to the Kraftmaid slides, but since then I've been providing my customers with a toggle-type slide that prevents slippage altogether.
  • The final complaint was that the layout of their “organizer grid” was out of touch with the way real people use their silverware drawer. They pointed out the 50-80% of the time they open that drawer, they just want to grab a spoon, fork, or knife for a coffee, snack, or simple meal. The designers put the critical, common-use area near the back, though. This is another problem that would be solved by allowing the customer to customize the layout to their needs.
  • As the “how do you really like it” conversation was winding down, the husband made the comment: “It would be so nice if these sections could be adjustable. There's so much wasted space.” I said, “Hmmm, I'll have to think about that.” Sounds pretty logical to me. After all, the goal of this expensive thing is to make optimal use of space!

two tier small closedSo, sure enough, I was out in the shop soon afterwards, looking for ways to answer their criticisms and make the world's best drawer organizer even better.

Here's my first attempt at a solution. I built it for my lovely bride of 12 years. (Yes, her drawer of choice was much narrower.) It solves all the problems presented above, most notably the adjustability problem. As you can see, I have movable, thin slices of wood that fit into slotted walls.two tier drawer small open

There are some other neat features on this drawer that I don't have time to discuss here, but the one that caught everyone's eye was the adjustable slats that divide the storage pockets down to a precision of 3/8 inches. Pretty good adjustability! See right for a close-up shot of these cool slots.closeup of slots

The biggest problem with this drawer is that it's expensive. I wouldn't make one for less than $300, and if I shipped it, the recipient would need a handyman to install it properly.

My next realization was that my moveable divider system could solve lots of problems for people without the expense of a full double decker. Thus was born the custom drawer organizer/insert which I am now selling locally and online. Follow the link and you'll see that I've prepared some templates, but most people prefer to send me a sketch and dimensions by email or fax. I've been shipping these and getting good feedback for several months.custom drawer insert

Then I got the next great idea from another honest customer: “Why can't you just add a deck to one of my useless deep drawers? I never use more than the bottom five inches.”

Hmmm. Yeah, why didn't I think of that?

You can see the finished product in the picture at right. I borrowed the deep drawer from this client for a few days and gave it back with a second deck built into it. Pretty great.add-a-deck with organizer inserts in a deep drawer

And, since this installation is much simpler (although it does require cutting out part of the drawer back, which means using a circular saw), I think this custom product would ship cross-country fairly well. I'll be adding it to the choices soon.

What I’ve been up to…

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

Well, I managed to miss the whole month of April on this blog, so I thought I'd post an update for those of you who follow it.

My own path has been moving further from remodeling and toward woodworking, cabinetry, and now furniture.

(I have a mental hierarchy in my mind that goes like this: trim carpentry graduates to cabinetmaking, which is below furniture building. Then at the top is musical instruments or maybe the “arrow carver”?? See Cole Porter on that one.)

Anyway, I'm in that transitional phase between cabinetry and furniture. Here's a piece I built recently. This was not a completely solo effort, but it was mostly my baby.

Furniture-style vanity

The other big development, and somewhat related, has been the recent opportunity to go deeper with CNC-based woodwork and design. (Translation: programming a robot to do lots of your work for you.) For good or ill, this is the future. Hopefully in future entries you'll get to see some work created on this machine.

Small-Kitchen Storage Idea: Custom Wood Pantry

Friday, January 4th, 2008

custom-sized-pantry.JPGIf you have outgrown your small kitchen but can't afford a major upgrade (a new house or a full kitchen/cabinet remodel), then this idea is for you.

Friends of mine had the same problem, and they solved it by adding this cleverly-designed, custom pantry unit in a (previously) useless area of the kitchen.

expanded-kitchen-storage.JPGWhen you open it up, you are immediately jealous of the immense amount of storage that this crazy thing contains. There are shelves on the outer doors, then you realize that there are also shelves on a tricky set of inner doors. Then you swing those out and a very beefy set of additional shelves is revealed against the back wall of the cabinet. And because it was custom, it is sized to take advantage of the entire nook where it was built. Every inch.

As you can see, they aren't filling this thing up yet, but with five children it won't take long.

Here's the catch. (more…)

Kitchen Cabinet Bids: the Nickel and Dime Game

Friday, November 30th, 2007

In my experience the following is a common scenario:

Katy Kitchen is ready for a remodel. She heads out for a day of planning and decision-making.

Stop #1 is a warehouse home-improvement store. Katy spends an hour with a kitchen designer and comes away with a price estimate for her cabinets and counters.

Stop #2 is a small, locally owned kitchen and bath showroom. Katy spends 1-2 hours with a kitchen designer and comes away with a price that's 10% higher than the warehouse store price.

Seems like Katy will get the best deal by going with the big store's offer, right?

Probably Not! (more…)

Built-In or Free-Standing Cabinets?

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

“Why Built-Ins?” VideoIt's always a tough call: Should you go with Free-Standing or Built-In Cabinets for that [insert needed item here: bookshelf, office, entertainment center] that you've been needing? Free-Standing will always win on cost, but it's your home and Built Ins would be so nice…

Free Standing Custom CabinetsFor a little extra, a custom cabinetmaker can make a built-in so that it can be moved like a free-standing unit. But this presents some problems:

  1. If a cabinet can be moved somewhere else and look just as good, it wasn't a “truly great” built-in. To understand what makes for a “truly great”, you'll want to take my free built-ins course. A one-sentence summary would be: (more…)

Choosing Cabinets Requires Self-Education

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

Recommendations work well when choosing a contractor, so do they work equally well when it comes to choosing a line of cabinets?

This from a leading consumer advocacy and testing website:

Readers who chose cabinets based solely on the advice of contractors, designers, or architects were twice as likely to report a problem as those more involved.

There's an important difference between choosing contractors and choosing cabinets. Cabinets are a known quantity that can be objectively measured against other cabinets, so there's definitely a place for testing agencies in this process.

One shortcoming of the testing agency, though, is that they aren't actually putting the cabinets on the wall. I can tell you from experience that some cabinet lines have faults that no testing agency is aware of.

So, if you wanted the opinion of someone who really knows about the cabinets, skip the designers and architects and ask a kitchen cabinet installer.

Getting Beyond the Just-So Magazine Pictures

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

I found a refreshingly honest article at the Nova Scotian Chronicle Herald. One weird thing is that, although the entire article is written in the first person, no author is listed on the page. Anyway, good stuff:

I tend to find the [glossy home] photographs misleading in some ways. Like how clothes look on runway models. Yes, you might be able to purchase the outfit, but what will it look like on a normal-sized body?

You’ll never be able to achieve a successful space by copying these design photographs if your room is a square box, so you are already at a disadvantage before you even begin.

Don't you hate that? But if there was a magazine that showed real solutions for normal homes, would anybody buy it? (more…)

Why not Color-Coated Heads for Cabinet Screws?

Saturday, October 20th, 2007

I've been noticing these nice deck screws with color-coated heads.

You can choose from around a dozen colors that match up well with typical wood or synthetic deck boards.

It's a great idea, and the obvious question is… (more…)

Tip for Kitchens with Old Drawers

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

Old kitchen drawers have quirks.

You know. There's that narrow one with the little catch when it's halfway out and the big one that you have to kick to get all the way back in.

And then there's that wonderful “binding” action where you have to maintain perfect straightness or it grinds to a halt.

Yes, this too is an important part of the human experience. But here's a tip from a friend that might help a little. (more…)