Thursday, March 28, 2013

Homestead Kitchen Design part 2: The Sink

About a year ago Christy and I were wandering around Earthwise, looking for something, I don't remember what.  Not having anything close to a house, we were certainly not looking for a kitchen sink, but sometimes a sink is looking for you, and when it finds you you just have to welcome it into your life.  The sink that found us that day is a behemoth.  A six-foot long, sixty year old, hundred-something-pound, cast iron, porcelain enameled, double basined and be-draining-boarded super sink called a Kitchen Queen by Crane.  I don't remember if Christy or I said anything once it caught our respective eyes; we may have just glanced at each other, nodded briefly and begun to load it into the pickup.  No, we must have said something, because we certainly need help lifting it.  Either way, there was no question in either of our minds.

This wundersink came with a catch, though.  The steel base and built in cabinets designed to hold it up were conspicuously absent, leaving us with the duty of reinventing a base for the worlds heaviest sink.  What we ended up building now takes up most of our kitchen at 9 feet long, includes ample storage, a
towel bar, the fridge, a sheet pan rack and yes, the kitchen sink.  Behold, the process:

Step one was to flip the sink over and fit 11/4 '' tube steel around the lip on all sides.  This gave us a dependable fit to the sink, something to weld to, and something to pull measurements from to cut legs to the right size.  The height we decided on is 39'' (99cm), higher than your average sink.  Since we wash our dishes in the sink, having it a little higher means we don't have to bend at the back to reach into the basin.  Having used it for a few weeks now, I'm very glad with that height.  So is Christy, who measures in at 5' 2 3/4''.

Step two was to weld a box, using the custom fit lip as the top.  We then divided the front face of the cuboid rectangle into four sections, one for each door.  Christy had the brilliant idea of using the space on the face in front of the sink basins to put in a towel bar.  An old brass kick plate from a commercial door was inset to the frame, with the towel bar sticking out just proud enough to grab without your knuckles rubbing it.

We decided that our under-the-counter refrigerator should go on the other side of the sink from the stove.  Since the fridge is designed to be a built-in, we incorporated it into the design.  Between the sink and stove we made a tall, skinny rack for the storage of cookie sheets, baking pans and cutting boards.  Soon, both of these built-in expansions will get covered with the cherry wood we'll be building the kitchen island out of, giving us a full 4 square feet of counter on one side, and a sliver of counter on the other just big enough to rest a wooden spoon on, or a place to set a bottle of olive oil.

Step three was to weld some flat stock steel on the inside of the frame to give the doors and sides, which are wood, something to attach too.  We drilled holes and attached hinges, or left them for screws.

Step four was getting "the unit", as we've come to call it, and the sink from the shop into the house.  I wish I had some footage of that, but it was an all-hands-on-deck process involving both of us, two plumbers and my little pickup truck.  You'll have to imagine the four simultaneous sighs of reliefs as the sink was hoisted onto the frame and settled right into place.  Surprisingly, no fingers were crushed!

Step five was to cut some cabinet-grade plywood to size for the four doors and two sides.  Christy used a very watered down mix of a few different paints we had kicking around to create a swirly, sky-like wash.  It's hard to capture on film, but it's really reminiscent of an asian water color painting of waves or the sky, the way the grain flows and the color's soaked in.  We were both a little skeptical about it at first, but once we put on the salvaged brass handles it all magically came together and worked perfectly.  We were going to wait until the cherry was on top (not a figure of speech here) before we posted about it, but we may not get to that for a little bit, so here it is mostly finished.

Notice the weird angle the handles and faucet come out at?  You don't see sinks like this too often.

There's plenty more to be done in the kitchen, so this will end up being a many-post-series, this homestead kitchen design.  It really is the most important room in the house...

Friday, March 22, 2013


We just passed our final inspection!  No more bureaucratic nonsense!  We can officially live here now! We can start blogging about things other than house construction!  We get to build weird stuff without anyone asking us about it!  We have a home!

We really didn't expect to pass our first final inspection.  In fact, we were told on our previous inspection that they pretty much never pass anyone on their first final, and we should expect to be given a list of things to complete before scheduling a second final.  We still tried to take care of everything we could think of, but had no idea that he would just sign us off today for good!


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Salvaged Wood Floors: A Labor of Love

A very kind couple bought a defunct lumber mill near Leavenworth, Wa.  They suddenly found themselves the owners of several hundreds of thousands of stickers, strewn about their new property in vast piles.  Stickers are small pieces of wood, spacers really, that go between milled planks as they dry in large kilns.  Not being interested in milling, the kind couple decided to advertise this vast stockpile of stickers on craigslist for next to nothing.  Christy, who has a keen eye for useable materials, ferried across the water, drove the three hours in takes to get to Leavenworth, loaded up about 4,000 of the stickers and hurdled down the Cascade Mountains with a very heavy trailer behind a comically flimsy Jeep Wrangler.  A harrowing ride for sure.  This was last August.

Since then, we've been periodically moving this mountain of splinters to wherever is least in the way for any given project.  For the last few months, the pile has been smack dab in the middle of the loft, the only dry place we could think of that wouldn't get in the way of drywall or painting.  We even put ladders on top of it to put up the ceiling.

People would ask us what the pile of small sticks of wood was for.  "The upstairs floor" we would say.  A chuckle and cocked eyebrow would always precede the inevitable "That's going to be a labor of love!".  This exchange became so routine that Christy started losing her calm when it came time for that warning, "that's going to be a labor of love!".  It is an odd thing to say to people who are 11 months into building a house with no prior experience.  People who are three years into building an entire homestead, a wood shop, a 3,000 square foot garden.... We are very well aware that we are not taking the easy route on any of this.  We know that working with salvaged materials and using unconventional techniques can often be tedious and frustrating.  Our entire life is a labor of love, so why should our floor be any different!?

That being said, this project was amazingly tedious.  Some of that credit might have to go to the fact that we're so close to moving in that every extra day of work seems never ending.  We've been pushing ourselves to our limits for weeks now, trying to complete various disjointed projects for the final inspection, so we can hurry up and live here.  Our standard cheers at the end of each day has become "to dragging our asses across the finish line!"

Not all of the credit for this project's tedium goes to our exhaustion and delirium, though.  By any measure, using 1 1/2'' material to cover any large surface is crazy.  Add to that the fact that each piece is uniquely weathered and must be carefully trimmed into useable an un-useable sections, glued into place with finnicky subfloor adhesive that likes to glob up and make a mess, shoved into place, often times being coerced into straight lines against stubborn bows and torques, and finally shot through with 6 or 7 finish nails, and what you have is a fool's mission.  Most flooring has tongues and grooves that grab onto each other, fit perfectly and have tools specially designed to help lock them in place and nail them down.  Most flooring isn't smaller than 4''.  Well, we may be fools, but now that we're done, we're very happy fools, because while most flooring is much easier and quicker than this, our floors are far lovelier, much more unique and are a-glow with the love we put into them.  Or is that sweat?

I've got to say, Christy took the brunt of this project.  She worked a couple of days on it all alone.  When I showed up, I would do all of the cutting, but she's the one who laid each piece.  I hope she'll be able to look at it soon without her entire body aching.

Here's to dragging our asses across the finish line!