Drawer-ing To A Close ~ Kitchen Cabinets Are Done!

In my last post, I made and hung the kitchen cabinet doors. This time, I focused on the drawers. Now with the drawers completed, the kitchen install is drawing to a close!

I started with the drawer boards thickness-planed to 5/8″, and I cut them to a width that would allow for good spacing on the dovetails. I measured and cut all the drawer pieces to length and started making the dovetail corner joints. Here are two boards in the dovetail jig:


One of the fronts/backs is clamped into the jig horizontally and one of the sides is clamped into the jig vertically. Then the dovetails are cut with a tapered bit in the router.

P1030262-001 After I cut all the dovetails, I took the boards to the table saw and cut a one-blade-wide cut at the bottom of the pieces. This allowed me to slide the aluminum drawer bottoms into place. Here is a set of boards all ready for assembly:


I cut the aluminum sheets to drawer-bottom size. Then with a small paintbrush, I applied carpenter’s wood glue to the joints and tapped the pieces together with a rubber mallet. With this joint, no nails or screws are needed — a good thing in a tropical climate because any moisture left in the wood will rust nails and screws in short order. Here is the stack of drawers waiting overnight for final sanding of the joints:


I like kitchen cabinets that have pull-out trays at the bottom of the cabinets because it it is much easier to reach the pan in the back of the cabinet. So I made trays in the same style as the drawers. Here are the trays waiting for sanding:


Same as the doors, after a good sanding, I gave all the drawers and trays a coat of sanding sealer and two coats of polyurethane, sanding between the coats. The drawers (not the bottom trays) also needed additional drawer fronts so I made and finished those too. Finally it was time to put the drawers and trays into the cabinets. Here are some photos of the completed kitchen:


The Caoba (African Mahogany) will continue to darken over time and will develop a deep rich red-brown patina. There’s a strip of LED lights behind the sink for a gentle-on-the-eyes light in the middle of the night. Shown here, the light is reflecting off the shine of the waxed concrete countertop.



Cat BobBob needs a place to eat, too. I still have to install an LED light strip under the counter here plus caulk the corners of the aluminum.


This is the baking island — it is two-inches lower than the other cabinets which is especially useful when rolling out dough. It’s an easy-0n-the-back height.

Here is a closeup of a drawer with its attached front, one of the trays, and a door:


I used the same aluminum floor-plate that I used for the cabinet sides and shelves throughout the house. Termites don’t like aluminum, but they would do a job on plywood drawer bottoms. On the underside of the drawers, I ran beads of urethane caulk to keep the aluminum from rattling.

Here is a closeup of one of the dovetail joints:


I used Blum brand drawer slides for the drawers and trays. These slides are very nice — when you close a drawer, just push on the drawer, and at the final two-inches you can let go of the drawer and the drawer slide takes over and automatically and silently glides the drawer to its closed position. Here is a short video that I found on YouTube by Dan Lake that shows how the drawers come to a smooth and quiet closed position:

I have to say that I am very, very happy with how the kitchen turned out. Everything looks just right and my eyes are doing a happy dance. Cynthia likes it too, I just wish that there weren’t so many conflicting priorities with the house and that I could have done the kitchen a lot sooner. I still have a couple finishing details, but I’m calling the kitchen, DONE.

Not much in other news this post, except that one day, using bananas from our back yard, Cynthia made “good for you Fun Food” or baked banana bread doughnuts. Gluten-free and very delicious. I couldn’t eat just one!


Living in Latin America, it doesn’t take long before one comes across a statue or park named for a hero from distant history. Who are they and what did they do? I just finished reading the book, Bolivar: American Liberator by Marie Arana. Almost every night for a couple weeks, I would retire to the screened-in bump out in the master bedroom and read the Kindle version on my smartphone. I enjoyed the hooting of owls as I read.

Over the course of twenty-some years, Bolivar traveled 75,000 miles on horseback, fought the Spanish plus many competing forces withing South America. He made and lost fortunes and always fought for equal representation for all South Americans including freeing slaves. All this was at the same time as Washington and Jefferson and other North American patriots were fighting for freedom. It was a fascinating read.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Hung Out To Dry ~ Kitchen Cabinet Doors

I’ve been working on the kitchen cabinet doors.

I planed the wood for the cabinet doors to its final thickness, cut the pieces to their final widths, then plowed a groove to accept the glass panels. Here is a photo with the boards cut to width and the groove cut:


I used to have a router table, but the humidity here made Purina Mold Chow out of it. I looked all over Panama for a new router table but couldn’t find one. So using a small shop bench and a quarter-sheet of plywood, I made my own.

With the router set up with a single cutter, I easily made the groove for the glass panels (photo above). Next, I calculated the size of the stiles (the side pieces of the doors) and the rails (the top and bottom pieces of the doors) and cut them to length with the miter saw. Here I am sizing the doors and cutting the pieces:


I put double cutters on the router and cut the ends of the rails. Here is my makeshift router table. The router hangs upside down under the plywood:


Here is a close-up of the double cutter assembly that cut the ends of the rails:


Here is a photo of a stile (on the right) and a rail (on the left):


When all was said and done, I had a pile of pieces and parts, ready to assemble:


I marked the bottom of each stile with the number of the door and the direction that the wood faces. Now to assemble the puzzle!

Whoa! Not so fast! Before I assemble the doors, I need to drill holes on the back of the hinge-side of the door stiles to receive the hinges. Here is my setup for drilling the holes with my grandfather’s antique drill press:


Now with everything measured and ready to assemble, I calculated the size of the glass panels and ordered the glass. I had to wait the better part of a week for the glass to be cut. There is one glass company that we like to use, and they didn’t have any of the frosted glass that we wanted for the doors. It would be weeks (months?) before they would have any. But they did have frosted safety glass, basically two sheets of clear glass with a frosted safety film sandwiched between the panes. Although it cost a lot more, we went with it.

While I waited, I applied a couple of coats of polyurethane varnish to the edges of the stiles and rails where the glass panel will slide into the grooves. This will keep me from slopping varnish all over the glass when it comes time to finish the doors.

Next I pulled all the hinge stiles out of the pile and screwed the hinges onto the stiles. Then I screwed the hinge onto the cabinet. These hinges easily come apart into two pieces, making hanging the door really easy. These are Blum brand and have several adjustment screws for aligning the door in the frame. Here are the hinges shown with the parts connected and separated:


I also took some time and installed the drawer slides onto the wooden carriages that I previously built:


These are Blum brand self-closing drawer slides, the best. They aren’t cheap, plus I had to import them from the $tates. Here is a close-up:


I like these drawer slides. They have several adjustments for tilting and moving the slides to easily-align the drawer front with the front of the cabinet.

I finally got the call from the glass fabricator, and drove down the mountain to collect my order. Back home, I wasted no time in assembling the doors.


At this point, they don’t look very pretty what with the edge varnish slopped a bit here and there. You can see that the hinges are ready to remount on the doors.

I let the glue dry for a day then sanded the doors smooth and ready for varnish. Now they look like this:


For the first coat, I painted on a coat of sanding sealer. Basically thinned down varnish, sanding sealer soaks into the wood, raises any grain that is going to raise, then dries hard and is very easy to sand. It leaves a satin-smooth surface for the polyurethane. Here I am applying the sealer. Notice that I don’t have to cut close to the glass because that part of the wood is already sealed:


Here are the doors all hung out to dry overnight:


After sanding the sealer, I applied a coat of polyurethane, let it dry overnight, sanded the doors again, then applied a second coat of finish and let them sit another day. I finally got to hang the doors and install the handles that we bought about a hundred-years ago. I like to mount the handles so that the top of the handles line up with the horizontal line of the rails:


The door on the left is in direct window light and photographed much yellower than it actually is.



We think that they look great. But now we can’t just reach down and pull something out of a cabinet; extra step — remember to open and close the doors!

The drawers are next and I have already started working on them. But this will wait for my next post.

In other news, just as a downpour arrived, Armando dug some of the yucca that we have growing on the other side of the road. He couldn’t wait to show it to me as it is Guinness Book-qualified BIG!


Water from a long gutter at the front of the carport/bohio dumps a lot of water! The water goes under the fence and into the drainage ditch:


The garden is growing on steroids this rainy season; there is a lot of sun but the downpours are substantial and deeply-soak the soil. Here are some going-crazy maracas:


And some going-crazy ferns and what-ever-they-are big purple plants:


What a dignified jungle we have! It is nice to have a mature garden at the same time that the house is nearing completion.

And last but best, Cynthia just completed a glass platter. This one was an amalgamation of two projects that she didn’t like. So we got out the tile saw and cut both projects into small pieces. She then arranged them into a new piece that is really fun to look at. Cyn named the piece, “Amalgamation.” In the photo below, the platter is casting a long shadow in the morning sun:


We made a little video about it:

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Kitchen Cabinet Progress


I have made some progress on the kitchen cabinets.

If you remember, a long time ago I framed the cabinets with 1.5″x1.5″x1/16″ square steel tubing. At the time, I had no idea how I was going to mount hinges and drawer slides, but I knew that I would figure it out when the time came.

Well, the time came. I spent some time sitting on an upside-down five-gallon bucket, analyzing and figuring out what I would have to do. Finally, I had a clear idea in mind. I would build a wooden “carriage” inside the metal framework to carry the drawers and to mount the door hinges to.

The 1.5″x1.5″ pieces that I cut for the purpose were finally dry enough to work with. I made pilot holes in the wood, then screwed the wooden pieces to the metal framework with 2.5-inch zinc roofing panel screws. These screws are self drilling and hold well.

Where I needed to attach one piece of wood to another, I used my Kreg pocket screw jig to make the holes for the screws. Here is a photo (credit — Kreg website) of the jig and the pocket holes that allow you to screw the pieces together. I like this jig; it is well worth the money and really speeds assembly of parts:


Building the framework was a double-jointed contortionist’s idea of a good time. Here are some photos of the completed carriages — sealed, sanded, and polyurethaned:


I’ll mount the hinges to the vertical pieces and the drawer slides to the horizontal pieces that go front-to-back in the cabinets.



On the right side of the photo you can see one of the pocket screw holes in the wood. In the rear of the cabinet you can see the head of one of the roofing screws.

Between coats of urethane, I spent most of a day running boards through the thickness planer. Here are the drawer fronts — I still need to cut them to their finished length and width:


And the pile of un-thickness-planed boards that you saw in my last post —


Now looks like this:


I planed (as in past tense of to plane) the parts that will be the door frames down from one-inch to 13/16″. I still need to take these down another sixteenth to 3/4″ when they dry just a bit more.

And I planed the parts that will make the drawers and pull-out trays down from one-inch to 3/4″. I still need to take these down to their final 5/8″ thickness after they dry just a bit more.

Each board went through the planer six-or-so times as it is best to take off a little bit at a time; I was like a one-armed wallpaper hanger, jockeying each piece of wood in and out of the planer as fast as I could. I took Armando home with four more bags of expensive shavings for his chickens.

I’ll let the wood dry a few more days, then plane it to its final thickness. I took my dovetail jig out of storage today — I hadn’t opened the box in eight-years. I was afraid it would be full of big black ants and a lot of rust, but everything looks good to go. I can’t wait to make the drawers!

So that’s my update on the kitchen.

In other news, I finished painting the front door wall metalwork and spent a few hours with a razor blade cutting paint and caulk off of the perimeter of the windows. It looks nice now:


I took this photo standing in the bed of our pickup which was parked in the driveway turnaround.

Here is a panorama shot that I took from the pickup as well. Remember, the driveway doesn’t curve, it is just the panorama distortion:

Panorama -- From Honda -- 2015-09-016

Cynthia has been spending a lot of time at her lampworking torch. She and I were just remembering how her (now fired) neurologist told her that she would never work with hot glass again because of the neurological damage done during her last open-heart surgery. Never tell Cynthia that she can’t do something!  Here is a slide show that we put together of some of her recent stunningly-beautiful beads:

And finally, Jabo takes solace on the cool tile next to the living room fountain on a warm afternoon.


That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.


At some point during construction, a Project becomes a House. Later, when the floor coverings and furniture and other creature comforts are in place, it becomes a Home. Yesterday, some of the glass for the living room/dining room arrived and although we have been camping here since September, we felt a very real emotional shift from Project to House.

Ramiro and I got right to work and installed the four panels that arrived Saturday morning. It was satisfying and rewarding to see reflections in the glass. In the next picture you can see the glass. You can also see that we chose a dark green for the trim color (also on my to do list last week). Eventually we will repaint all the window security bars and the front gate the same color:


While we waited last week for the glass to arrive, Ramiro and I made the hand railing for the stairs to the loft and roof deck. I want to install lights on the underside of the railing, so I decided to use 1.5″ x 1.5″ square tubing for the railing. Here we are cutting and welding:


And here is the completed railing waiting until I can find some hand rail brackets (or make them…):


After we install the window glass (so that rain won’t rust the stairs), I want to clean the steps with muriatic acid and finish them with boiled linseed oil to give a nice homey industrial feel to the metal. You can also see that Ramiro burned up a lot of welding rods — he ran continuous beads at the inside corner of all the steps. The steps sound much more solid now.

Using my DIY homemade sheet metal bending brake, Ramiro and I fabricated the remaining pantry shelving in the kitchen. Plus, we made three, five-foot wide door frames for the pantry. One door is in the picture below, we still need to pop rivet the diamond plate aluminum sheets to the back side of the door frames once the paint is good and dry:


I still need to buy wheels for the three sliding doors. The doors will hang from the two tracks that run under the beams.

Additionally, we installed the ceiling panels in three of the five sections between the beams in the kitchen. We had to quit because my arms just wouldn’t raise over my head any more!

We chose to install a ceiling under the shipping container roof because the roofs in these containers had a lot of welded-on patches and were not very attractive. The suspended ceiling also gave me a good wiring and plumbing chase for the upstairs wires and pipes. Here is a photo between two beams:


The ceiling panels are 16-foot-long zinc roofing panels. We had to cut about 7-inches off the end of the panels. You can see a line of screws that screw up into the shipping container where the two containers meet.

At the outside edges of the shipping containers, we screwed a 1.5″ x 3″ steel C channel (carriola), on edge, to the corner of the container. The zinc panels simply sit on the lip of the carriola. Like this:P1010027-001

For another little task, I wanted to install a digital door lock on the front door. Standard door handle/lock sets are made for 1+3/8″ to 1+3/4″ thick doors. But I used 2″ thick steel tubing to make the door, one-quarter-of-an-inch thicker than the lockset would accommodate. I installed the lockset, but it wouldn’t lock or unlock. I determined that the little tab of metal that goes into the lock/unlock turn-thingy on the inside handle wasn’t long enough. So Ramiro and I welded a 1/4″ extension onto the tab.

Actually, in order to clamp and electrically ground the metal for welding, we welded on a piece much larger, and after welding I ground it to size with the bench grinder. The little extension is on the right side of the photo:


The little piece of extend metal on the right will now fit into the door handle lock thingy.

With the door lock installed and working, we will be all locked up once we install the rest of the glass.

Armando and Francisco worked four days last week, continuing on with the back yard path project. They still have at least another week to go, but here it is to date:



Note the hand of bananas that is developing.


Jabo at a gallop. Note that Ramiro has finished welding the top tubing onto the fence. He ground his welds smooth and applied two coats of paint to the welds.

So that was our week, more glass next week. Installing the glass is easy, just apply sealant to the angle iron and press the glass in place. But then we still have to make another set of angle iron for the inside of the glass and pop rivet it into place, quite time consuming. But that’s how you make a shipping container house. The hard way!

Thanks for stopping by. That’s all for now.

In The Kitchen Plus This, That, And The Other

I know, I know. I haven’t posted in a few weeks now. I usually take Sundays off and write a post, but the last two Sundays I have been consumed with getting Cynthia into her new kitchen.

Last Sunday night she cooked her first meal in the new kitchen. There are still many, many details to go, but at least she is out of the wind and all her equipment and supplies are now in the same room. Here is how she had to cook in the camp kitchen:


You can see that I had to hang a tarp so that the wind wouldn’t blow out the burners.

On the checklist, the gas is now piped to the kitchen stove, the kitchen water heater, plus the clothes dryer and the water heater for the bedroom part of the house. I’ve installed the sink and the faucet. I installed the dishwasher. I installed the new gas range. I built an exhaust hood (but I still have to install the motor). I did a bunch of electrical wiring, and I grouted the floor.

Here are some photos as the kitchen is now:


Note the electrical receptacles and switches mounted in the side of all the island cabinets. At the bottom of the aluminum siding on this cabinet you can see that we are experimenting with frosted glass for the baseboards. It would apply nicely with silicone adhesive. We’ll see.

Here’s the new American Range and the hood that I built using my DIY homemade sheet metal bending brake. Also, check out the shine on the concrete counters:


Here we are installing the exhaust hood. Armando and Francisco are holding it in place as I drive screws up into the beam at the ceiling:


Here is an overview shot of the kitchen. Cynthia chose a charcoal gray paint for the end of the container. The TV will be mounted on that wall. We will have a love seat backed up to the third island:


We can’t wait to get more color in the kitchen. Just the addition of the two placemats makes a huge difference. Cynthia is going to make some colorful slumped-glass lights to hang from the beams. Her supplies are in the mail and on their way.

The electrical took some extra doing. It is not unheard of (understatement) for electrical spikes to happen, taking out expensive appliances along the way. (At one of the rentals that we lived in, some wires got crossed on an electrical pole, sending 220-volts down a 110-volt line and into the house, blowing out all the light bulbs, a microwave, refrigerator, stereo, and a TV!)

At the electrical panel, I wired receptacles where I could plug wiring from the stove, refrigerator, dishwasher, coffee maker, etc. into circuit protectors. Like this:


The two boxes at the left of the circuit panel are controls for the well pump. After I finish all the electrical, I’ll build an aluminum enclosure around all the electrical stuff. As a redundancy to the plug-in circuit protectors, I’ll also wire in a whole-house voltage protector at the main circuit panel.

Here is the floor all grouted. I made a custom mix by combining “cocoa” colored grout with “terra cotta” colored grout. It really isn’t visible to the casual eye:


Another little detail that I had to take care of is where the open shipping container doors on container #1 meet the container. There is a space from floor to ceiling that had to be closed:


I bent some aluminum scrap on my brake and caulked and riveted it into place:


In other news, I have measured for all the glass in the dining room/living room and we have placed our order. The glass should arrive in about a week. But before I install the glass, I want to paint all the trim around the windows. But what color? Way back, we decided to paint the house a dark gray/green with black trim. But the good part about building over such a long period of time is that you can change your mind without having to redo a lot of work! So now we have chosen a lighter body color for the house, a gray, sea-foam minty green, if you will, with a darker green for the trim. Yesterday I sprayed a gallon of the new body color on the wall by the front door and started priming the galvanized metal window frames. I had to quit because the wind picked up and put more paint in the air than on the metal.

Here is a photo of the wall. To me, it looks more blue than green on my monitor. But it really is on the green side of the spectrum so what you see may not be what is:


Remember those clay pots that a neighbor gave us? The guys cleaned them and Cynthia and I bought some plants. They look good on the front landing.

Here is a closeup of the plants in the new pots:


With the dry season rapidly passing, it was time to get some outside welding done. When we built the perimeter fence, it was raining too much to weld on the pipe at the top of the fence. Aramis, the welder that worked for us for six months, has other work, but he recommended his godfather, Ramiro. Here is Ramiro hard at work rapidly completing the fence:


Armando and Francisco have their hands full with an outside project that will make a huge difference. Before, our back yard was all but unusable because if you walked in the grass, you would be eaten alive by the no-seeums. We want to have more garden and less no grass. So Armando and Francisco are creating a path that will go all the way around the house:

Here is a photo from the second floor before they have laid any rock:



Step one is to remove the grass with a pickaxe. Step two, dig a shallow trench for a foundation for the rocks borders. Step three, build the rock borders. Step four, put down weed cloth and bring in gravel for the walkway. Step five, plant plants and more plants. Jabo knows that there is an armadillo or an opossum under the house…


Jabo can now patrol the entire property. Before, he understood that if he went in the grass that he would come out with ticks. Now he runs the path like a race car driver.


The back garden was looking kind of sad, so I bought a few drip irrigation hoses and an automatic timer. Now the garden stays well watered and is doing much better:


We still want to fill in the empty spaces with a few more plants.

Here are some closeup shots:


This is the torch plant starting to open.


Here it is more open.

Cynthia’s favorite is the Heliconia:


Remember Victor, that man who drilled our water well? He and I have stayed in touch. From time to time he needs help finding a part for his antique drilling rig. He tells me what he needs and I take to the Internet to find it and to talk to the vendor in English. I recently gave him two leads to nearby people who need his services, and the other day he stopped by with a couple orchid sprigs for us. He was on his way to a lake in El Valle to set free the box turtle that he had had for five years. “He needs a girlfriend,” he said.

Cynthia asked Victor how his wife is (for proper etiquette in Panama, you always ask how a person’s family is, even if you have never met the family). With a big smile and a laugh Victor replied, “GORDA!” What a joie de vivre he has!

Here is Victor with his turtle:

P1000942Victor also told us (and has photos on his phone to prove it) about the small yellow bird that has returned to his house every year for seven years. The wild bird eats bread and milk out of his hand. We like Victor.

It’s been a busy two weeks since my last post. It seems to me that I have used every tool that I own, but still nothing is done! It goes like that sometimes. But that’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Kitchen Floor ~ Five Days In

One day last week plus four days this week makes five days working on the floor so far. Although the going is slow, we are really happy with the progress.

There is one tedious part to the floor tile installation and I have resigned myself to taking the time that it needs — when abutting the end of one tile to the end of the next tile, I have to make sure that the joint is at the correct elevation — that is to say that it is all too easy to have that joint be too low or too high in relation to the neighboring tiles, thereby creating a spot to trip or stub a toe. And I often can’t tell if the height is correct until the next row of tiles is in place, so I’ve had to remove a few tiles here and there to adjust the thickness of the mortar. To help me remove an already surrounded tile I made a tile removal tool; I doubled some baling wire and made a small “L” bend at one end. I can slip the wire into a grout line, turn the wire 90-degrees, and lift out the tile. This saves a lot of mess and I don’t have to unnecessarily remove other tiles.

As I said, we are really happy with the progress and we like how the floor is warming the space. Here are a few progress photos — remember that I still need to apply the grout, so the floor doesn’t look finished yet:




Yes, that’s a lot of tiles to scribe and cut along the container wall. But it is going surprisingly well.

So far I have about sixteen of the forty-feet of floor completed. This has been the most difficult part because in addition to the walls, I have to cut around the islands, too. I’ll pick up speed when I get to the open area of the floor.

To give my old knees a break from the floor, I spent some time installing adjustable shelving brackets on the kitchen wall (other side of the wall from the stairs). I made two aluminum shelves; there will be a lot more shelves and four, large sliding doors. These shelves will be the pantry for food and dishes:


In other news, In another day off from the floor, Cynthia and I went to the city and bought a dishwasher. I hope to have the kitchen up and running, although not finished, within the next two weeks. Although we will still be “camping,” it will be great to have the kitchen out of my workshop and to have a sink actually inside the house! And without the wind constantly blowing the burners out when Cynthia is trying to cook, as happens now in the shop/kitchen.

And finally, some pretty orchids are in bloom. Along with the hibiscuses, our “plant angel neighbor” also gave us some Espiritu Santo (Holy Ghost) orchid plants. Armando planted them in pots, including in the dirt mix some rotting pieces of wood and some charcoal from our burn pile to make the plants happy. Already, one of the plants has flowered:




And in the dead tree in the front garden, two orchids are in bloom. One with large brown flowers:


And one with tiny, tiny white flowers:


That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Kitchen Floor Tile And Garden Bonanza

At 10:30 on Monday morning, I got a phone call from the woman at Elmec where we ordered the floor tile. She told me that the tile would be arriving at 1:00 and asked if I could be there to transfer the tile from the large delivery truck directly to my truck. This would save a lot of handling and potential for breakage. I told her yes.

I knew that it was more than our half-ton payload Honda Ridgeline could carry, so I set out to find a larger truck. Friend Jim gave me the number of a potential person, but he didn’t answer his phone. Looking for more advice, I drove to Aramis’ (the man who has been welding for us) house about two kilometers from our house. Fortunately for me, Aramis was home and suggested that I go to the kiosko where Cynthia and I buy fruits and vegetables. I went there and pleaded my case. They had a one-ton pickup truck that would be available, and I agreed to come back at 12:15.

I returned at 12:15 and we headed, each in our own truck, down the mountain to Coronado. The large delivery truck and our two pickup trucks pulled up to Elmec simultaneously. We loaded the 65-square-meters (700 square feet) of tile plus 20 bags of mortar into our two pickups and drove back up the mountain. At 3:00 after unloading, I paid the driver $60 for his time and fuel. For having had no idea where I would find a truck, the process couldn’t have gone better.

I’ll get back to the tile, but first, on Sunday a neighbor of ours came by to visit. He told us that he had just rented his weekend house for six months, and that he had some hibiscus plants in pots that he wanted to give to us. Cynthia and I got excited, because he is a hibiscus collector.  Beyond the standard red hibiscus, he has a wide range of exotic colors and flower shapes and sizes. We drove the short distance to his house. By the time we left his house, we couldn’t fit another pot in the overflowing pickup bed. Most of the plants aren’t flowering now, but I’ll post photos when they are in bloom.

Cynthia and I decided to dedicate most of the west side of the yard to a giant hibiscus garden. Armando started his week on Tuesday, and spent most of the day putting the plants in the ground and giving them a good drink of water. Here is a photo of one of the plants that had one flower on it:


Here Armando has a few planted and a few to go:


In addition to the 25 hibiscus (called papos in Spanish), our neighbor also gave us a couple bonus plants including a raspberry bush, a giant elk horn, and a giant variegated cut-leaf philodendron. We planted the cut-leaf near the front gate:


I labeled this post Garden Bonanza not just because of the plants that our neighbor so generously gave us. This week another neighbor gave us seven large clay pots that they were no longer using. All we have to do is clean them and find some plants to put in them:


While Armando was planting the hibiscus on Tuesday, I put some foam building panels on the west end wall of the kitchen. I also ran wires for electrical in the wall and for an outside security light high on the shipping container wall. On Wednesday, Armando applied the first coat of repello (stucco). He works elsewhere on Thursdays and Fridays, so he applied the second coat of repello on Saturday. Here is the wall ready for paint after the mortar cures a bit more:


We’ll mount the TV on this wall. The two holes will allow me to run all the wires to and from the TV behind the wall for a nice clean look. I’ll build a cabinet below the TV so the bottom hole and the electrical receptacle will be hidden too.

On Wednesday I wanted nothing more than to start laying the tile. But there was still some prep work to be done. When we poured the concrete floor in the kitchen, I was sure that we would put a baseboard around the room so we weren’t too neat about the concrete. But the more I tried to design a baseboard that would work with the corrugations of the container walls, the uglier the end product became.

I could affix a piece of tilebacker to the container wall (how???), then tile the tilebacker with the floor tile, then fill all the spaces with mortar where the container wall bends outward. If not tile, then whatever material I could think of still had to have all the outies filled with mortar and it would be a dusting nightmare for the person cleaning the floors. It was just arduous and ugly in my mind. The only conclusion was to go baseboard free. No baseboard was the decision. But as I said, when we poured the floor, we didn’t figure that the tile would hug all the innies and outies of container wall corrugations.

So I spent all of Wednesday on my hands and knees with a hammer and a chisel cleaning the line where the concrete meets the container wall. This made a lot of dust and debris.

I woke up Thursday morning and couldn’t open my right hand, the one that had held the chisel all day Wednesday. I had no choice but to take the day off. But I planned to start the tile on Friday!

Friday arrived and I was anxious to start the tile. But wait, I still had to clean up all the concrete debris, so I got out the shop vac and cleaned the entire floor. After that, I noticed that the container walls were quite dusty from all the chiseling and also from sanding the counter tops. So I washed the walls, changing the water in the bucket umpteen times. Now that the walls were nice and clean, I noticed that the white paint on the walls needed some touch up where I chiseled the floor. I got a paintbrush but really didn’t want the brush marks. What the heck, I hauled out the paint sprayer and not only touched up, but gave the container walls an entire third coat of white. Wow, now they gleam!

Armando arrived Saturday morning expecting to see half the kitchen floor tiled. Sorry to disappoint, but no Armando, I am only now going to start the tile. I set up the tile saw and finally, FINALLY got to work. I took my time establishing a straight and true first two rows of tile.

Here is what I got done on Saturday:


I had to go slowly so that I didn’t disturb the first two rows while the mortar set. I also wanted to make sure that every tile was level with its neighbor. I hate tripping over the edge of a tile.

The downside of no baseboard means that I have to scribe each and every tile where it meets the wall. I rigged a Sharpie marker on a pair of dividers to scribe to the wall:


I left a little space at the wall for grout.

So that was the week. Next week — MORE TILE!

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Kitchen Cabinets ~ Aluminum Siding ~ Not What You Think!

I can imagine the telephone conversation:

Me: Hello.

Salesperson: Hello. We have a truck in your neighborhood and would like to offer you free aluminum siding.

Me: Yes, I am interested.

Salesperson: How large is your house?

Me: Um, the size of my house doesn’t matter. I want the aluminum siding for my kitchen cabinets.

Salesperson: Pardon me? Kitchen cabinets?

Me: Yes, kitchen cabinets. When can you come?

Salesperson: Click.

As an aside, this reminds me of a conversation that my then 88-year-old mother had with a telephone salesperson. She had neither a driver’s license nor a car. She did, however, have a sharp wit and a great sense of humor. The conversation went like this:

Mother: Hello.

Salesperson: Hello. We have a truck in your neighborhood and would like to offer you a free windshield chip/ding repair.

Mother (putting on her best old-lady, shaky and weak voice): Do I havvvve to oooown a carrrrr?

Salesperson: Click

Okay. With that nonsense out of the way, I would like to confirm that I am indeed putting aluminum siding on our kitchen cabinets. When Cynthia saw it, she said that she thought that she was in a diner.

I used one-sixteenth-inch thick aluminum floor plate (also called diamond plate), the same stock that I used on the shelves in the walk-in closet. I cut the 4’x8′ sheets on the table saw. Of course I still have to make the cabinet doors and drawers, and they will be faced with the aluminum, too. Here are a couple photos:


Sitting at the eating bar, we can see out the windows to the left and through the kitchen door to the back yard. This is a large room (16′ x 40′) but still, it is good to have vistas to combat any closed-in feeling in the room.


You can see that I cut holes in the ends of the islands for electrical plugs. To cut the holes, I drilled the four corners of each plug hole then used a saber saw to cut to the corners. Cynthia and I pulled some of the wiring cables into the islands.

As it stands now, the kitchen, with the white walls, dark grey counter tops, and the aluminum siding on the cabinets, is quite cool looking. As in cold. Kind of dead if you will.

I laid out a few of the grey floor tiles that we have had on hand for some time now. We realized that the look of the cool-toned tile with the rest of the cool tones looked, um, really bad. Too much of a good thing if you will.

We decided to use those tiles on the loft and on the roof deck floors upstairs. Exact same square footage so nothing is lost. We took a trip down the mountain and went to Elmec in Coronado. Elmec sells floor tiles and plumbing fixtures.

Cynthia had been dead set against having any brown in the house. Too much brown in the ’70s I guess. But as we looked at the floor tiles on display, the browns kept coming up as the best option to warm the space. She still had a massive amount of trepidation, but we finally chose a warm brown (reddish but not red) tile and put our money down. The tiles have a wood grain embossed in them and they are the shape of wooden floor planks. I’ll lay them with a thin (one-thirty-second of an inch) grout line and use a grout that matches the color of the tile.

We will also look for warm colors when we choose curtain panels for the windows. I think that when all is said and done that the kitchen will have a nice balance of the coolness of tech and the warmness of nature.

We will mount the TV on the west wall at the far end of the kitchen. For watching TV, a love seat will back up to the third island. But with the white walls, that far end of the containers looks a long way away. We decided to paint the walls at that end a dark color to pull the wall in a bit. Here is a charcoal grey (and we like it a lot):


Of course you aren’t looking at the finished product. There is still some touch up to be done, and I am considering putting the foam building panels on the ribbed end of the container for consistency with the closet. That is the west wall and it gets hot when the sun goes down in the west. We don’t need that much radiant heat against the TV mounted on the wall.

The new floor tiles should be in this week or maybe next and I am anxious to get going on the floor!

In the meantime, Armando had taken a lot of time off and Aramis has run out of work here for the time being. Armando is working on a curb at the side of the driveway:


And early one morning just after sunrise, we had a visitor on one of our windows:


I know, I know. It looks like a plastic frog with a suction cup. But it really is real and apparently this type of frog does indeed have a suction disk on its belly.

That’s all for now, thanks for stopping by.

Concrete Kitchen Counters ~ Part 2

With some tears-of-frustration and a lot of joy and excitement, the concrete counters in the kitchen are all but done (I still need to find some carnauba wax and polish the counters).

In my last post, we had just removed the forms from the countertops. The concrete looked good, but there were hundreds of tiny holes — professional concrete guys have concrete vibrators and vibrating tables to coax the air out of the mix. But I don’t, so we had to deal with the holes the hard way.

I made a mix of cement and black colorant. We didn’t mind if the holes were filled darker, it would only add interest. Cynthia and I spent a morning troweling the paste over all the surfaces.

The next morning, I started wet-grinding the smallest counter top. As I ground away the cement filler paste, I realized that the filler had filled virtually none of the holes. Oops! Damn! But now I was faced with grinding all the counter tops back to ground (pun) zero — two days of filling and grinding for naught. I was wrought and fraught (hey, it rhymes). The wet grinding was very slow, so I tested the orbital (dry) sander with coarse sandpaper. It worked better than the wet, but still took the entire tiring day.

We considered our options. Tile over the concrete — absolutely not! Apply that glossy bar top epoxy — toxic, it will scratch, and it doesn’t have the natural patina that we wanted. No.

Finally, the winner — what we did was to partially seal the concrete with an acrylic polymer concrete sealant. Then I made a paste of black grout mixed with water and the acrylic sealant (I figured that there would be a good bond between the sealed concrete and the acrylic-modified grout). I made a small plastic spatula from a plastic jug and spent the day tediously spreading the grout in at least six directions over each and every hole. I had to beg and coax the air out of the holes as I introduced the grout. I kept the grout as thin as possible on the surface. Did I mention that it was tedious? I kept the grout moist with the occasional teardrop.

The next day I put a 220-grit sandpaper disk on the orbital sander. Happily, the sander made quick work of removing the residual grout layer, and with only a handful of disks left a very smooth surface.

Then I spread more of the acrylic sealer on the concrete, keeping the surface wet while the concrete drank its fill. I kept the sponge moving for about six hours and used a gallon-and-a-half of the sealer. Eureka! We now have a really smooth surface that we can protect with wax.

Here are some photos:


As the concrete absorbed the sealer and began to dry, we were delighted to see that the black concrete mix had retained much of its color.






Cynthia and I commented almost simultaneously how the concrete looked “rustic.” We tossed out words and it was odd how the word “nostalgic” came to our minds. The counters look as if we had re-purposed some old counters from a farmhouse or a nineteenth-century factory. They look durable, like they were made in a time now past. They go well with the recycled, industrial-strength aspect of the shipping containers. And with our eclectic style, we can’t wait to see the high-tech aluminum-faced cabinets below the massive and hand-wrought counters.

So even with the distress of not knowing what to do about the air holes, we have emerged completely jazzed with the look.

In Other News: One day I woke up and was really tired. Cynthia asked, “Why don’t you just take the day off?” That sounded like a great idea. After my shower, I went into the dry room/walk-in closet to get my clothes and get dressed. Struggling to get a shirt off the packed-and-temporary closet rod I said to myself, “Boy, it would be nice to just have more room on the closet rod (that Cynthia and I were sharing).” I thought that it would only take a short while to install one of the new closet rods. “I’m just gonna do a quick project,” I told Cynthia.

By bolting through the container wall with some short screws, I installed two brackets. I cut a piece of one-and-one-quarter-inch galvanized tubing, sanded it smooth, and attached it to the brackets. Total time: about a half-hour.

I moved my clothes to the new rod.

It wouldn’t be too much more work to put up the second rod, the one for Cyn’s clothes, so I did that, too. Another half-hour or so.

We had been using those wonderful and ubiquitous chrome steel shelving units that PriceSmart (and probably Costco, etc.) sells. But now, with the new rods in place, the racks didn’t fit. So I took another hour; Aramis working on one side of the container wall and me working on the other, we screwed some adjustable shelving standards to the container wall. But now there were no shelves.

So I dragged out the table saw and changed to a fine-toothed blade. I had Aramis help me cut sheets of diamond-plate aluminum that I bought some time ago for this purpose. The shelf brackets measure 18-inches, so we cut strips of the aluminum 20-inches wide. We cut enough strips to make four, eight-foot shelves and four, four-foot shelves — three 4’x8′ sheets of aluminum with just a small amount of scrap that I can use for baseboards or other trim.

Aramis and I took the strips into my shop and made one-inch, 90-degree bends on each of the long sides of the strips. Like this:


I could bend the four-foot shelves solo, but it took two of us to bend the eight-footers. We applied so much force that one of the welds on my brake popped loose with a resounding BONG. A quick re-weld got us back in service.

I used the saber saw to cut notches on the back side of the shelves so that they would fit over the shelf brackets. Then Armando and I washed the processing oil off of the shelves and dried them to a nice shine. I installed the shelves on the brackets:


Cynthia and I then populated the shelves with our clothes and other stuff that we need to keep in the dry room so that they don’t grow mold. I will make a few more shelves, especially over the closet rods:


These new industrial-style shelves work just fine for us. I am capable of making a wooden, high-end closet installation with fancy drawers shaped like socks and racks for all the ties that I no longer own, but in this climate, open shelves and plastic boxes work the best in our experience.

Cynthia and I finished about 5:00 in the afternoon. And a fine day off  it was!

We discovered a weak point in our window security bars, so Aramis and Armando spent two days welding in an additional curve to each window, grinding the welds, and painting the new metal.

Additionally, Aramis has installed the last of the loovered windows, and Armando worked with me for a day cleaning the concrete dust from the kitchen.

Jabo has found the closet under the stairs and thinks that this would make a swell dog house. It is only temporary, Jabo…


That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by. Happy new year!

The Kitchen ~ Part 2

As I mentioned in my last post, we planned to pour the kitchen floor on the next Tuesday. On Monday, I spent the day finishing prepping for the pour. I tied the floor matting together, placed some rebar in critical areas, and raised the matting onto several hundred wooden blocks. I also placed planks to run the wheelbarrows on:


With four feet to keep track of, Jabo had a tough time navigating the matting. He liked the planks.

We poured on Tuesday as planned, and after the floor had cured for a day or two, Aramis and I started framing the kitchen cabinets. We are using 1.5″x1.5″x1/16th” steel tubing for the framework, just as we did for the cabinet vertical corners that we embedded in the concrete floor.

There are three islands in the kitchen. The first one, on the left as you enter the kitchen door from the dining room, has two parts. The backside in the next photo, the part closest to the big window, will be an eating counter set at 42-inches off the floor. We will have high stools at this counter. The other side of the island will have the dishwasher on the left and the sink in the middle of the counter:


You can also see that I have sprayed a first coat of paint on the walls. I used a 15-minute drying oil-based polyurethane paint, Lanco brand. This paint dries as slick as glass.

When we have the frames all welded and the welds ground flat, I will spray on a couple coats of black polyurethane paint. I will apply aluminum diamond plate to the framework sides, cabinet doors, and drawer fronts. More on this in a future post.

The other two islands are shown in the next photo. The island on the left will have the stove on the left, and on the backside of this island will be work space for food preparation such as bread. The third island at the right side of the next photo is two-inches lower for easier rolling of pizza dough and kneading bread:


You can see that we are also placing framework for drawers and cabinet doors.

Here is a view of all three islands:


Aramis and I did the cabinet work above in three days. I would measure and cut, and he would weld and grind. In order to keep out of his way while he was welding, I prepped a piece on one cabinet and then moved to another cabinet, then to another, keeping the 3-D framework of each island in my mind while building each cabinet carcass one piece at a time. We still need another day to work on supports for the aluminum panels and supports for the floors in the cabinets.

Here is a panoramic photo of the kitchen:

Panorama -- Kitchen -- 1 Nov 2013

I took this photo from the kitchen doorway. You can see that a window lines up with the doorway, and there is a window between each pair of islands. When you have a hallway, it is always nice to have a window to lead you down the hall. If you can’t have a window, a mirror or picture works well, too.

Aramis and I also fabricated a short wall at the door end of container #1. I will put glass blocks in the space above to bring lots of light into the kitchen. On the inside of the block wall will be a window seat, a nice place to read a cookbook or take a cat nap. Oh, you can also see that we have installed a lot of the large window glass:


We used scrap container siding to make the door end short wall. Also, you can see that we are using the roof deck; what a splendid place for Sunday morning pancakes!

I had to work on a few projects by myself. I installed a new, larger sand filter and water pressure tank for the well.

I also installed a couple motion sensor lights at the back of the house. Our neighborhood has another pesky petty thief roaming around at night. One night at 8:45 Cynthia, Jabo, and I were watching TV. Jabo was sound asleep on a blanket on the floor. All of a sudden he woke up and his nose started going wild. He ran to a window and started barking ferociously. I let him out and he chased the ladron (robber). Jabo almost had him, but the guy cleared the fence in the nick of time and took off running. In the past few weeks he has cut holes in several fences (including ours), broken gates, and stolen cash and cell phones. He is a real opportunist, but he doesn’t stand a chance against our bars and locks. I guess there is petty crime everywhere. I’m just happy that Cynthia and I have embraced the idea that these days we have to protect ourselves and our stuff and are taking it in stride.

While I was accomplishing things on my own, Aramis was stuck doing what I think is his least favorite job — installing angle iron in the windows in the dining and living rooms. He takes his time and makes sure that the spacing is all just right:


We pop rivet the angle iron in place. After the glass is installed, we will put another perimeter of angle iron on the inside of the windows.

While Aramis and I have been doing metalwork, Armando has been applying the two coats of repello (stucco) to the kitchen pantry, the half-bath off the kitchen, and in the under-stair closet. This was tough going what with all the tight spaces, low clearances, and lots of stairs to stucco around. I’ve always found that it is more difficult to finish out a closet than a large room:


That’s all for now, thanks for stopping by.