Zen and the Art of Cabinet Making



It’s the rattle of the specks of medicine in the pill that bother me.  Like miniature packing peanuts, they take up space in the capsule, but don’t add to the heft or bulk, and the pill grazes whatever inner moving parts my esophagus has.  I imagine little hairs being lightly touched all the way down to my stomach.  Is there any sensation more disconcerting?  When I swallow I imagine I can hear the plastic-like shell squeezing in on the Effexor specks like one of those stress bean bag things on a cubicle desk.

Sometimes I pack it in a bite of food, like we do for the dogs.  Unlike Bruno and Greta, though, I’m aware of the creepily rattling bubble in the center of the bite.  My throat and chest gets that really awful tickle when I even think of taking the anti-depressant.  I salivate and sweat before I even open the bottle.

“I’m a horrible medicine taker,” I say, and it’s true.  I forget to take all kinds of medicine.  Antibiotics inevitably sit, one or two chalky pills untouched in the bottom of the bottle by my bed.  Pain meds?  Forget it.  Even my testosterone, which isn’t even a damned pill – forgotten until Kris starts her Nurse Ratched routine and practically chases me down with the syringe singing, “Bevel up to the bar!” (injection humor)

I would make a horrible drug addict.

Instead, I rely on other obsessions to trigger that all important serotonin bump of which my brain is so fond.  For a while my obsession was puzzles.  Giant, monotonous puzzles with small pieces.  Kris wasn’t a fan of the dining room table space that compulsion required, and I eventually migrated to leather tooling, sewing, long games of Mahjong, Sudoku and Words with Friends and then the mother of all obsessions – my woodworking shop.

If you know me or have followed my blog for any length of time, you know about my weakness for sawdust, my poetic relationship with mitered edges, my affair with my table saw.  My garage is my happy place.

It’s where I went this past weekend when, so profoundly burned out at work, so exhausted from struggling with my body issues, so anxious about, well, everything, I had to take some time off and regroup.  The loose doorknob, the unattached threshold at my feet, the Rube Goldberg electrical setup and layers of spiderwebs greeted me.  The scent of humid sawdust triggered that feel good switch that’s reserved for chocolate and drill bits.  The mosquitoes sharpened their dinner knives and tied their napkins around their necks.

I started slow, cleaning and arranging, fondling the last eight of my favorite 1 inch finishing nails, straight and true – gleaming in their glass jar, then worked my way into the project – a cabinet for the refrigerator.

Kris says I need a radio in my garage, but I think silence is an underrated antidepressant.  Sure, I need the musical  stylings of Rage Against the Machine on the elliptical machine to push me through that last mile – who am I kidding, the last 3 miles –  of my workout, but blissful solitude soothes the troubled soul.

And then there’s Lowe’s.

I went to the store with the flimsy excuse that I needed shims for the kitchen base cabinets and left with a giant piece of MDF balanced in the back of my truck.  (side note – When purchasing gigantic pieces of plywood, use the cart that carries it vertically, not horizontally, so as to avoid running headlong into the JawHorse display, knocking part of it down and propelling other shoppers down side aisles to avoid you.  Not that I’ve had any experience with this.)

Back to my sanctuary.

I cut the MDF into pieces and used salvaged doors, wood from old bookstore shelves, screws and glue to construct my gift to Kris.

I take back every bad thing I’ve ever said about my router.  And there have been many bad things said about my router.

I’ve left out the part where I electrocuted myself trying to turn off my light while perched one footed on my thinking chair.  (side note – When unplugging a shop light from a power strip suspended by an extension cord from the rafters of a garage, use both hands.  Not that I have any experience with this type of thing.)  Also omitted was the giant fit I threw after spending 5 hours trying to anchor this to the plaster over lath kitchen wall with no apparent stud in the ENTIRE room.

Today, I’m sitting in a coffee shop typing this blog post instead of going to work.  In all honesty, I was headed there, computer in hand.  But I wasn’t ready to transform myself back into the bill payer at a small bookstore just yet.  Instead, I ordered a large coffee and swallowed my Effexor with a bite of bagel and cream cheese.

The bills will still be there tomorrow.


A Pantry Like No Other

I’ve paused my obsessive blogging about my kitchen partly because I’m perpetually worried that you all see my posts on facebook and roll your eyes like, “Oh, goody. Jay sawed through another gas line.  Big friggin’ deal,” and partly because my wrists, elbows and hands have raised their collective voices in protest for being asked to enter endless bookstore numbers on my laptop, turn screwdrivers, hold palm sanders and then type about all of it.

Carpal tunnel anyone?

Anyway, let’s catch up.  When last we met, I was soothing my bruised ego (after flooding the basement) by painting random park benches and building drawers.  I have recovered sufficiently enough to unveil my latest triumph.

Check. It. Out.

Behold the self-contained beauty of the drawer slide out thing

I took out the glass in a couple of glass cabinet doors and replaced it with MDF (sort of like plywood only kind of better and a crapload dustier to cut), glued and nailed it in, then attached the drawers that I built from spare wood in the garage.

Later, we’ll paint the cabinet fronts to match the kitchen and put on  drawer pulls.

For my next trick, I decided to use medium duty drawer slides on the top and bottom.


The answer is no, it’s not flipping level! These drawer slides are a thing of the past.

After trying for two days to get the godforsaken drawer slide out thing to actually SLIDE OUT, I decided to take a break and build another drawer slide out thing that probably wouldn’t budge either.

This one had to be built a few inches off center to get around the funky air duct that the dear installers left jutting into our pantry.  Degree of difficulty? 8.

New drawer slides (model not included)

I finally got wise and sprung for the better drawer slides and it worked proving that my death grip on my wallet sometimes gets in my way.  They totally work now!

And scene.

What, you may ask, is Kris doing whilst I am toiling away at our project?


She’s landscaping the entire back yard.  By herself.  Apparently she “needs somewhere to go that isn’t under construction.”

Picky, picky.

In case you’re wondering who gets any rest in our house.

I’ll stop typing now so that my fingers don’t fall off, but I will be back with updates on what will be the most awesome built-in wine rack in the world:

Why yes, that is an old bookshelf.

How Jarek Got His Groove Back

After last week’s severance of my confidence from my person by my plumbing,  I couldn’t bring myself to look at another kitchen related project.  Instead I cleansed my palate of Hell Corner and did this instead:

Bench Before

Before taking out my aggression via sandpaper.

Bench After

After reattaching some boards, painting, and stenciling.

I feel much better now.  So much better, in fact, that I decided to dip my toes back into The Project.

I’ve been sneaking out to the garage to play with my tools all week.  I do love them all, but I reserve a special place in my geeky, diy heart for my table saw.  She is strong.  She is capable.  She can do anything.  I’m sure of it.

This unfettered admiration is almost matched by my infatuation with the band saw that was one of the tools that Terrie the other Tool Fairy provided the other week for the promise of a couple hundred dollars and my lawn mower.

What?  Have you seen my yard?  It measures approximately 6 1/2 x 4 inches.  I have been mowing it with a weed whacker for a year and a half.

Anyway, I’ve been bonding with my first love (the table saw) by figuring out how to build out our pantry.  And who figured out how to make cabinet joinery for the slide-out drawer cabinet thing without so much as ONE shop class in high-school?

That’s right -ME.  But before I get too self congratulatory, let’s just review the training I’ve had in all things home improvement.



Exactly.  While other boys (who, incidentally, were born into actual [ahem] boy bodies) were busy building soap box derby cars and plaques in shop class I was planning my wedding in a high school class called “Marriage and Family” [a mandatory class exercise I managed to squeak a C out of after planning a K-Mart Wedding with Kentucky Fried Chicken catering – which, incidentally, isn’t too different from what my actual wedding was like later on, except we went to McDonald’s after hitting the Justice of the Peace].  Also on my class schedule was Home Economics, and Foods.

I’m convinced that the Unit 40 school district contributed to the melt down I had years later while shopping at the Boy Scout store for my step-son, Ben.

I would have been a kick-ass boy scout.  Instead, I was in the friggin’ Brownies making up cheers and dances in South Side Elementary School’s lunch room.

Anyway, imagine my GLEE when I actually succeeded in putting up a level built-in cabinet wall, complete with hidden screws I drilled with my pocket hole jig, then actually installed drawer slides for the slide out drawer cabinet thing (at midnight last night)!

Behold the Beauty!

Ok, so it’s not beautiful YET, but once I patch and paint the walls and install the drawers it’s going to be great.

But THIS –  this is the thing that swept away the anxiety of Hell Corner in a thunderstorm of AWESOME.

With my trusty table saw, I mastered (sort of) the technique of building the drawers this morning before realizing that Bruno ate a light bulb.  That put an end to my fun.  That and the fact that I have to actually work today.

See the perfect grooves?  The beautiful cuts?!  The straight lines?!!!

Recognize that wood, Terrie? That’s the stuff you were going to BURN! Blasphemy!

Anyway, I think we can all agree that I.  AM. AWESOME.

Today anyway.  There is that phone call I have to return to my therapist, but that can wait until tomorrow.

Today I rock.

Earth Wind and Fire: Hell Corner

Yes, I’m behind on my posting (9 long days to be exact) – mostly because I’ve been busy organizing and producing this:

Go ahead.  Take a good long look.  Enjoy.  Because it only goes downhill from here.

It looks so innocuous, doesn’t it? Look at the innocent sink sitting there in its nonthreatening cabinet.

This past weekend, after being bolstered by our previous success (routing/routering not included) Kris and I decided to tackle what I’ve affectionately dubbed HELL CORNER corner corner corner corner…..

For those of you keeping score, we sold our old dishwasher on Craig’s List and bought the model sitting in this picture wrapped in what looks like a prop from an episode of Dexter.  Why isn’t it installed, you ask?  Because I may or may not have broken several wires when uninstalling the last one, and then realized that the garbage disposal now leaks.


In which the plumber who installed our sink fell into rapturous evil laughter when he thought of the poor soul who would have to replace the cabinet.

Anyway, this weekend we decided to deal with it.  First up – disconnecting the drain and other plumbing.  Yeah, so you can’t just saw through all these little elbows and such.  You have to have a piece of pipe so you can patch it later.  (Don’t I sound competent?)

After mulling it over for a while and thinking fondly of the DIY channel’s sledge hammer heavy demo jobs, Kris and I decided the best way to handle this was to cut the cabinet away from the plumbing and have a look.

I mean once you have all the carpentry out of the way, you’re home free, right?  Right?

So after a few satisfying swings with a hammer and Kris’ obsession with Kim the Tool Fairy’s shop vac, we were left with this:

See the copper pipe?  More on that later.

I had been lucky enough to find a damaged sink base for cheap.  I fixed the cracked back panel and shored up the top with a board, some screws and wood glue.  The rest of it is awesome.  But how does one encourage such a delicate piece of furniture to mate with such a well endowed plumbing system?

Still looking competent.

One cuts several holes to accommodate the protrusions and a “secret” panel for the back.  It’s all very Victorian.

As for the copper pipes, there wasn’t enough room below the dishwasher valve to cut and patch the pipe, so I brilliantly (yeah, right) decided that I could cut the pipe in the basement and pull it up through the floor, set the cabinet down, put the pipe back and, gulp, solder it into place.

Don’t get too close to the well endowed plumbing, Kris!

Whilst I whittled away at our new cabinet.  Kris brandished the shop vac wand again and set to work on tiling the unfinished part of the floor.

I had some time to kill between destroying (I mean modifying) our new cabinet, so I made the first of 4 trips to the hardware store.

My mission?  To buy a soldering kit, some new conduit to rewire hell corner and some copper joiners for the now severed pipe.   While I was there, I bought a gasket for the garbage disposal.  I had a bad feeling about the garbage disposal. [insert ominous music here]

I returned to find Kris preparing a luncheon of turkey, bacon, field green wraps cut and secured with toothpicks, served with potato chips and a very civilized glass of limeade.  Kris’ compulsion to prepare gourmet meals grows in inverse proportion to the actual functionality of the kitchen.

After our fine dining experience, we set to work again.  We installed our new cabinet around the obscene and vaguely pornographic pipe structure, and I wired the conduit to the dishwasher and pushed it into its new home.

Look at Hell Corner. Isn’t she pretty?

Now all that was left to do was hook up the plumbing and electricity.  Right.

So we put the old counter top and sink back on the cabinet, dropped our copper pipe through my expertly cut holes, and I went to the basement to wire in the dishwasher.

Metal is not my friend.

I’ll spare you the adult language I used while cutting, re-cutting, wiring, rewiring, twisting, capping and stretching metal sheathed household wiring.  Suffice it to say it didn’t put me in a good spiritual place for plumbing.

I needed to find my center.

I needed to find my confidence.

I needed a beer.

But the day was still young, so I resolved to wait for the beer until I cracked it open in celebration at having conquered HELL CORNER corner corner corner.

The problem with soldering is that I don’t know how to do it.  Kris agreed to stand beside me and pray while I lit a torch and approached our basement pipes.  We read the directions twice and I assured her I had seen it done on Youtube.  It was only after dry fitting the joiners that Kris pointed out that the copper pipe I was about to light on fire was directly above our gas line.

So after my next trip to the hardware store, I glued the pipes using some wicked copper adhesive bonding glue stuff that will kill you if you think about it too hard.

Then we turned the water on.  It (of course) leaked, but not at my patching job – the leak was upstairs in Hell Corner.  Also, when we turned on the faucet nothing came out.

I’ll spare you even more adult language and a very tense conversation with Kris, after which we (meaning Kris) decided to sleep on it and come back to it in the morning.

So Sunday morning I arose bright and early, pulled on my big boy pants and headed downstairs.

I’ll skip forward at this point in the story because it really doesn’t matter what came when.  All you need to know is that somewhere between rewiring the dishwasher (again) and me sitting on a water soaked Christmas tree in our basement pondering my worth as a plumber – nay, my worth  as a human being!- my patching job failed.

I knew this right away because just before smacking my head on the bottom of the sink I heard a shower running.  In the basement.  Where there is no shower.

I ran downstairs, turned off the water, soaked up the pond with the dog towels and my shirt and listened while Kris coached me to get some zen about the whole thing.  I only heard intermittent phrases, such as “call a plumber” and “I can’t cook without electricity” so I can’t reproduce the conversation in its entirety.

We (Kris) decided we would call a plumber and she would stay home from work on Tuesday to deal with it.

As it stands now, we have a sink.  It works.  Our garbage disposal is apparently 568 years old and is no longer in production, so the gasket I purchased Saturday will not work. We’ll have to either permanently install a bucket under that part of the sink and never use our new dishwasher, or wait until we get paid next month and buy a new one because we are so very much at the end of our budget this month.

We did buy the paint for the walls and cabinets on Monday before the ReadMOB.  Now, if I can only get temporary custody of a paint sprayer….

With this router, I thee wed

This is the front side of the cabinet frames.

I decided to keep myself busy this weekend by cutting the panels from our cabinets so I can replace them with MDF (that’s medium density fiberboard to you and me).  Why, you ask?  Because our cabinets are so cheap [how cheap are they?]  They’re so cheap that the panels in the frames won’t even take paint well.  At least that’s what Tommy [the architect who Kris knows from back in the day] says.  I only call him “Tommy” here because it’s weird if I call him that in person.  It’s like at the Oscars when everyone talked about Martin Scorsese in their acceptance speeches.  “Oh, it was such fun working with Maaahty” and “Marty is such a genius.  He really gets actors.”  Then the camera went to him sitting in his seat nodding appreciatively, but you could tell he wanted to jump up from his seat and say, “I am Hollywood royalty you peon.  Address me by my rightful title or I’ll relinquish your acting credentials!”

In real life I call Tommy by his whole name, Tom Cohen, the way I still refer to Jennifer Matthews as Jennifer Matthews, although that’s to differentiate her from the 14 other Jennifers in my life.  Tom Cohen is Tom Cohen because there is no way my life would ever intersect with his except through Kris and the bookstore, and calling him “Mr. Cohen” suggests some sort of kinky secretary/boss relationship.  Sure, I force myself to call him “Tom” when we’re in the same room together, but that’s like when your father-in-law tells you to call him “Tom” so you do but secretly it creeps you out.  But I digress.  Often.Tommy came over to our house the other day and informed Kris (because I was picking up a dishwasher and generally trying to look competent and busy and therefore inaccessible) that the adhesive on the walls about which I complained in earlier posts in fact contains ASBESTOS!  Is there nothing that is not tainted with poison in this house?  Anyway,

Pantry/ductwork thing.

the kitchen is poison and the cabinets are too cheap to paint, but he did mention that I could use a router to “pop the panels out” of the doors and replace them with MDF, which isn’t too cheap to paint and will make all the doors match.I do love the tools I borrowed from Kim the Tool Fairy, including a router,  and even though I’ve never actually used a router, I was confident that I was up to the task.

The long and the short of it is I suck at routing.  Or is it routering?  Probably routing.  We’ll call it that.  Kris and Lori, the most Awesome Neighbor Ever, soothed my damaged ego by saying the gouges add “character” to the cabinets.  I told them that I’d made the executive decision to use the other sides of the doors so that we’ll have the arts and crafts shaker look, plus the crappy routing/routering job and panels which are sure to be crookedly cut will be hidden behind the closed doors. How quickly one forgets that one is not the executive. Kris set to work sanding the frames within an inch of their lives so that we could “pop” a panel of mdf in when we get paid next week while I destroyed something – which is what I do best.

I ripped out the rest of our built in hutch/air conditioning thing so that I could start building a new pantry there.  I even got to use the “saws all” to rip out a particularly stubborn piece of cabinet.The plan is to close off the ductwork thing and build shelves for cookbooks under which will be the wine/coffee station.  Below that will be two slide out pantry cabinets made by yours truly.

An argument against open shelving.

As it stands now, the kitchen is cabinet doorless and the ductwork is slightly exposed.  This week, I’ll convince myself that I can actually build a pantry.

Next weekend I’ll beg Cody to come over and solder our copper pipes so we can replace the kitchen sink cabinet without flooding the house.

What could possibly go wrong?

Sold – to the man with the pickup truck!

What’s the solution to reaching your budget limit for the month?  Craigslist.

Yes, when you’ve reached the end of what you can do until your next paycheck, the only logical solution is to sell off your belongings.  Today we say goodbye to our dishwasher and hello to a new one we don’t have to pay for until October (when, presumably we will have conquered the electric nightmare).

And who unhooked and took out the diswasher (including scary electrical conduit), sink and counter top then replaced the sink and counter top then hooked up the plumbing and electricity all before 7:30am this morning you ask?  Me!  I’m almost competent.  I’m so proud.

I’ve even conquered my paralyzing fear of our house’s electricity [almost].  I took my trusty screwdriver down to our basement, turned off the circuit labeled “dishwasher” and  unscrewed the plate on the box where the conduit was attached.  Then I went back to the electrical box and turned off everything that had “kitchen” next to it, then went back to the conduit box.  Then went back to the electrical box and double checked that the little switches were actually flipped the right way.  Then thought about turning off all the electricity in the house just to be safe. Then realized I would be in a completely dark basement and pulled on my big boy pants and went back to the conduit box.

A brief moment of my life – the one where I was at a slumber party at Christy McDaniels’ house and we accidentally broke the plug off her grandma’s lamp in the outlet and they all elected me to pry it out with pliers – flashed before my eyes.  That time, as in this one, the electricity gods spared me.  All is good so far.

No pictures today.  Yet.  I’m waiting until I go home this afternoon to meet guy who bought our dishwasher.  If our house isn’t flooded I’ll take a picture.  Who am I kidding?  Even if the house is flooded I’m taking a picture.

Maybe today someone will buy the cabinet doors Kris bought at our neighborhood yard sale one year.  If they do, I’m totally buying paint!

This is the part where our neighbors take pity on us.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The bad news is that we couldn’t sneak into our neighbors’ house and eat supper this weekend (they were home and would have noticed).  The good news is that Lori, The Most Awesome Neighbor In The World, offered to cook us dinner Saturday night.  Which led to even more good news and bad news:

The bad news – We could only offer her barbie sized table at which to sit and a glass of wine.

The good news – We had several glasses of wine and decided to do whatever Lori says.  She says we need to move the sink to the other side of the room so we can look out the window (which has the potential to lead to more bad news, but since this is the good news section I’ll defer that conversation until later).

Yes, this changes the scope of the project, and yes it is absolutely batshit crazy to attempt such a feat, but by now you’re familiar with our work.  Batshit crazy is how we roll.

Let’s reflect on what we accomplished this weekend, shall we?

Saturday Morning: We (and by we I mean I) woke up convinced that we had made a horrible mistake and were in over our heads.  I typically wake up with moments of clarity that are later ignored during the course of daily events, so I chose to ignore this particular moment of clarity.

It was a good thing, dear reader, that I did ignore this moment of clarity because just after shrugging it off, Kris and I drove to ReStore (people donate home repair stuff to ReStore to be sold to folks like me, then the proceeds go to Habitat for Humanity) and found the mother-lode of kitchen stuff.  And they were having a sale!

  • Lazy Susan corner cabinet – Retail cost at Lowe’s $ 182 – cost at ReStore $8.50
  • Switchplate for light switch – Retail cost at Lowe’s  $ 7.00 – cost at ReStore  .50
  • 60 square feet of backsplash tile – Retail cost at Lowe’s $600 – cost at ReStore $45

Total Retail – $789

We spent – $56


Ok, it took an hour for us to replace the broken tiles with good ones to make a decent kitchen (while obsessively checking my phone to see if the electrician sent a bid to my email), and while we were sitting on the floor sorting the other customers started circling like vultures questioning their own purchases and coveting our tiles.  And yes, we had to drive back home, check again for the electrician’s bid, get the truck and come back for the lazy susan (since strapping it to the top of the Vibe was clearly not an option), then check again for the electrician’s bid, but I’m ok with that.

Saturday Afternoon:

Baseball break.  Ben rocked.  His team won.  He was awesome as usual.  Kris says electricians aren’t “paperwork” people, and not to worry that I don’t have a bid.

Then, back to work!  I patched the sub-floor while Kris obsessively cleaned the adhesive off the old linoleum so we could lay our tile.  [I might have checked my phone again for a bid.]

I demoed the rest of our hutch while Kris continued to obsessively clean adhesive off the old linoleum.  Then Kris put down the Clorox wipes and paint scraper to eat dinner and drink wine with Lori (see above).

Sunday morning I again woke up convinced we made a horrible mistake and that we were in over our heads.   After shrugging it off,  I checked my phone for an email from the electrician again.  Then I replaced the floor and a built a wall around the air conditioning duct while Kris started snapping the chalk lines for the tile.  [Side note: While I have never actually “snapped a chalk line” I’m told this is what this activity is called.  Mostly it involved mason line and clouds of blue chalk followed by Kris marking the floor with a pencil, then marking it again, then asking me to mark it, then using the carpenter square to be sure.  But we’ll still call it “snapping a chalk line.”]

Several hours later we were laying the bits and pieces near the wall by the light of the moon (and the single remaining functioning lightbulb in our kitchen).  It’s almost there.  Not quite, but almost.

Addendum The electrician called me just now to tell me that the bid should be in today’s mail.

Addendum to the addendum – Kris has informed me that she will be handling the social portion of our project, so I’ve forwarded all pertinent electrician and plumbing contact information to her.