DIY Quartz: Putting in The Sink

Epoxy fight!!!

- Bart Simpson

After putting our new quartz in place, we still needed to put in the tap and hang the undermount sink. The first part was fairly easy, although the holes drilled in the countertop gave us some pause.

flintstone holes

We asked Menards about this Flintstone-window effect, and were told that they drill through from the underside and when they get within a quarter-inch of the top, the last bit just pops off. *blink*

Anyway, a hole is a hole. We were concerned that the rough edge would prevent faucet installation (and us without a diamond-tipped file to ream it out), but with some squeezing and breath-holding, everything went through. From there, it’s basically the same as hooking up any faucet, except we had an extra line for the sprayer and a hook-up for the dishwasher.

The Kev: Hand me a towel. I forgot to drain the line before starting.

Me: You should have read my tutorial!

The Kev: What tutorial?


Tap and sprayer in place

Tap and sprayer in place (Moen’s Finley)

With that part done, we tackled the sink. Some sources recommend attaching the sink before installing the countertop, but that was going to complicate the lifting aspect of the installation (insofar as it would mean lining stuff up while hoisting the countertop). We didn’t want to make installation any harder than needed, since we were relying on the kindness of relations and neighbors.

The first thing we did was put the sink in place against the underside of the quartz. We used a small bottle jack (and a wood platform so we didn’t dent the sink) to hold the sink in place. Once we had it right where we wanted it, I drew around the edge with a pencil. This line would keep us from epoxying something where part of the sink needed to be.

Sink rigged up

Sink rigged up

Menards provides a box containing sink clips and epoxy with quartz orders. (Buyers can also opt for a $30+ package that includes caulk and shims, but we passed on that: caulk is $5 and we’ve got a drawer full of shims.) The funny thing about the clips is that they come with no explanation whatsoever.

Hey, here are your countertops and a bag of weird metal things! Good luck with that!

Here’s a bag of unexplained metal things!

We searched for similar sink clips and found instructions online. Basically, the flat top of the bolt part is epoxied to the underside of the quartz. You array the clips around the edge of the sink close enough for the clip portion to overlap the sink rim. After reading up, I developed this technique:

  • Wipe down the underside of the countertop with rubbing alcohol.
  • Remove the wingnut and the clip from the bolt part.
  • Put on eye protection and nitrile or latex gloves; open a window because this is going to get stinky!
  • Mix the two-part epoxy (I used a shoe box top as a pallet and a plastic fork for mixing) in roughly 2″-diameter dollops.
  • Scoop up the mixed goo with your FULLY GLOVED fingers, then smear it in a roughly circular patch at the target location.

It has a lovely mucous-y consistency and color.

  • Wrap something around the threads on the clip so they don’t get covered in goo (I used a paper towel). Push the flat bit firmly up into the goo so that it is flat against the countertop and the goo spurts through the holes. Hold it there for several seconds until it is well-seated.


  • Carefully smear the goop that came through the holes around the underside of the flat part so it is fully encased in epoxy (but the threads are not).


  • Wait 24 hours for the epoxy to cure before attaching anything.

We received two containers of two-part epoxy with the clips, but because I am a novice, I used more than expected and we had to buy another container. Actually, we bought two and returned one when we didn’t break into it.

The next evening, the epoxy was well and truly dry, meaning we could put in the sink.

Sink clips all in place

Sink clips all in place

We jacked the sink back up and checked that it matched up with the traced line. Then, we let the sink down just enough to apply clear silicon sealant to the top of the sink rim. Once there was a continuous bead there, we jacked the sink into place, checking again that it was within the traced line and that it was all correct on top. I used a paper towel dabbed in rubbing alcohol to help clean up the excess that was squeezed out. I was thinking we would need additional caulk (UK: mastic) around the join, but the silicon takes care of both jobs.

The silicon conveniently oozed between the quartz and the front rail, and we dotted it a few other spots underneath the counter to keep it in place (not that it was going anywhere).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce the silicon was all cleaned up (and leaving the jack in place), we installed the clips to the epoxied bolts. The clips go with the bump side up to meet up with the sink rim.

We tightened these up, but not torque-wrench tight–just nice and secure against the rim. I finger-tightened, and then the Kev screwed them down a little further.

Our research indicated that many people rely strictly on the epoxied clips to hold up the sink. I understand that epoxy is strong stuff, but it just didn’t seem like enough. After reading about sink failures(!!!), we wanted to add some support.

The slickest thing would have been to lay down a 3/4″ plywood base that completely covered the cabinets, use the template to cut out the sink, set the sink in, and then install the quartz on top, effectively sandwiching the sink rim between the two surfaces and providing the recommended support for the quartz. Then just add silicon sealant. We didn’t find this clever option until the ship had sailed, but if you do DIY quartz, give this method some serious thought!

Instead, we went for a technique we saw plumbers and fabricators arguing over online: running straps under the sink to cradle it. The main point of contention over this technique was whether or not it looked professional, and not whether or not it would work. I don’t spend a lot of time under the sink, so I don’t care what the support system looks like! The Kev picked up some strapping at El Menardos.

sink ape tape

Ape Tape is rated to 125 lbs., and we were going to use two lengths, so 250 pounds worth of support seemed more than enough for epoxy-assisting purposes.

We attached the straps to the wood behind the sink using some serious screws (and making sure to double over the Ape Tape and to screw through over an inch from the end).

sink ape tape back

After the sink was in place and the clips were attached, we brought these straps to the front and attached them tightly to the 1×4 at the front of the sink (again being sure to fold over the strapping and to stay substantially away from the end to avoid pull-through).

Straps in place (Mayya on quality patrol)

Straps in place (Mayya on quality patrol)

Other sink support options include building a frame under the sink or using a special product, but the strapping worked well for us. The Kev brewed beer the other night and a full carboy didn’t cause any problems for the sink. (What a mess that would be if it did! I guess we were pretty confident.)

After the faucet and sink were in, the Kev added the drain assembly. Here are the complete instructions:

Instead of a coin, we used a fancy blade screwdriver.

Instead of a coin, we used a fancy blade screwdriver.

Kev had to push the existing drain pipe down a bit to accommodate the lower sink, and the pipe from the drain assembly had to be shortened a bit, but otherwise, it all went together quickly. We checked all the connections and did a leak test. We had a leak! The last connection before the wall just needed a little tightening, and we were back in business.

The kitchen is operational again!


Progress! Sink in, wallpaper gone, wall repairs underway.


Other side: still need to get to the wallpaper backsplash and most of the wall repairs.

We have a few things left to do:

  1. Finish cleaning up the walls (wallpaper mostly removed now, and spackle is pending sanding).
  2. Caulk around the wall-edges of the quartz.
  3. Add matching trim to cover substrate.
  4. Add support under two small overhangs (not technically needed, but will look better).

Eventually, we also need a backsplash. For now, though, I’m just basking in not obsessing about countertops any longer!

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DIY Quartz: Installation and Then More Installation

Mrs. W: Looks like young Simpson is going to kill himself.
Mr. W: Oh, maybe not. Maybe he’s just taking his boulder for a walk.

- The Simpsons

Well, it’s in.

How did we get here? Back when we ordered the quartz, we had an estimated delivery date at the end of March. We almost immediately received an email saying that they had a backlog of orders, so delivery would be a couple of weeks after template approval. Once we approved the templates, we received an email putting delivery into the second week of April. We were pleased with that because we wanted time to research installation and to do any needed prep work. Imagine our surprise–nay, DISMAY–when it arrived at Menards three days later.


We enlisted my brother and his wife for the next day, and we started reading up on quartz installation. There are three guiding principles:

  1. The cabinets need to be strong enough to hold up quartz.
  2. The quartz needs to be super-flat and well-supported when installed.
  3. The quartz must not be moved lying flat.

We picked cabinets with strong structural parts back when we put them in, so we were good there. We could also personally vouch for the base cabinets being screwed to the wall very solidly. Be wary of particle board or thinner plywood construction, weak fasteners, and cabinets out of square.

So far, so good. We thought we would be in good shape for the tops of the cabinets being level as well, because the laminate measured dead flat. That evening, we took off the laminate tops, and found that shims factored into laminate flatness. We had anticipated that we would do a bit of shimming and then put the quartz pretty much right on top of the cabinets. But the more we read about quartz (late into the night before the morning pick-up), the more pros we found who recommended adding support.

We did not sleep well.

Installation: Day One

The Kev ran to Menards first thing and picked up some 1x4s (actually 3/4″ thick) to run across the tops of the cabinets.

Front rail cut around where the sink will be

Front rail cut around where the sink will be

We shimmed and screwed these pieces down to provide a completely level surface for the quartz. The strips added more regular support for the counters, and put some structure across the otherwise uncovered dishwasher gap. As an added bonus, having this substrate gave the dishwasher mounting brackets something to connect to with ordinary screws instead of having to pick up a special rail to fit with epoxy.


This all sounds hurried but productive. It didn’t feel that way at the time. We like to plan and prep, and everything here was on fast-forward. With Andy and Mary on their way with the truck, we realized that we didn’t have long enough screws to attach the 1x4s. The shims kept falling out. The bubble got stuck in the level. We laid out the structure before remembering that there was going to be a sink and a piece of wood running through it would be a problem. This was the point at which Kevin shouted, “CAN ANYTHING ELSE GO WRONG TODAY?!”

Andy and Mary arrived, and we decided that we would go pick up the quartz and get it in the house, then take our time finishing the substrate. We would assemble a different team of muscly folks to move it into place. We set up a flat row of 2x4s on the dining room floor as a landing spot for the big piece of quartz and headed off to Menards.

The quartz was loaded on an A-frame. The yard staff helped us put it in the truck by lifting it from the side with the forklift, then approaching the back of the truck from the side. We were able to get about a third of the structure on the tailgate and manually push it into the back while the forklift driver slowly extracted the tines. It was some fancy forklifting! (Which reminds me, I need to take them some cookies.) We strapped the A-frame to the truck and headed back.

At the house, we cut the slabs loose and moved the two small pieces inside. Then, we arrayed ourselves along the length of the seven-foot piece to keep it vertical, and shuffled it off the A-frame, up the steps, and into the house.

That guy is way too happy (via).

That guy is way too happy (via).

Remember: keep it upright. Your quartz is saving itself for your cabinets! Quartz (or granite or drywall) can crack if flexed too much along its flat surface–it’s just a function of its weight versus its depth (3 cm). Here’s some people moving granite to show you what I mean about keeping it vertical. 

Mary kept saying she didn’t feel like she was carrying all that much weight, and neither did I. In fact, I was care-free enough to make off-color comments because one of my hands was grazing Mary’s hip. Four people moving carefully seemed plenty for seven feet of quartz. When we got to the staging area we’d set up in the dining room, we lowered the piece carefully into its temporary home. On the way to the floor one of us (ahem!) got a little overconfident, and then a little overbalanced, and could have been hurt. You really need to respect the weight of this stuff.

And that was day one. Not a single sleeping pill was required that night.

Day Two

My brother said he could come back the following afternoon to hoist the countertop in place. We also recruited our next-door neighbor, who brought his sister, taking us up to five people to make the final push.

Before they arrived, Kevin built a seesaw trolley for the big piece to cut down on the lifting. He picked up two fixed wheels (because pivoting wheels could turn at an unwanted time–think shopping carts) and put them at the midpoint of a padded rail onto which we would lift the quartz. Then we could scoot it into position and only have one big lift.

It worked great. It still requires a swarm of people, but holding the quartz up and scooting it is much easier than carrying it. The only change we’d make is putting the wheels further apart because the skinny “axle” width did tend to make the trolley kick out. Since we were all ushering the piece along and moving slowly, it wasn’t a problem.

The swarm (minus me) positioning the big piece

The swarm (momentarily minus me) positioning the big piece

When it was in position (and in the right orientation) in front of the cabinets, we lifted the big piece straight up (still vertically) until it was about halfway over the edge of the cabinets, then tilted it back onto the cabinet tops. From there, it was easy to push into place.

It's up!

It’s up!

We also built up the tops of the cabinets for the short runs on the other side of the kitchen, but those pieces were so small that even I could hoist them into place unaided. The only issue we had was with the corner piece, where we needed to chisel into the plaster a little bit at the back corner. That corner wasn’t quite square, but we had measured with the possibility of digging into the wall a little bit. I only took off about a eighth of an inch for a good fit.


We put a few dabs of silicon adhesive on the back of the little pieces to hold them. The big piece did not seem like it was going to need fastening down just because of its weight, but we did end up attaching it as part of the sink installation (next post).

That was the major part of the installation finished. Since our new countertop with the substrate was now about a quarter-inch higher than the old laminate, though, our range (UK: cooker) was now lower than the surrounding surface. If you have a freestanding range, it most likely has adjustable feet that you can unscrew to bring the top up to the new counter level. Just note that this is not an exact science, and one of you will spend quite a bit of time crouched in the gap behind the stove, feeling attractive and comfortable.


Eventually, it was level!


That took care of the first major step, but we still had a big old hole where the sink belonged. More on that next time.

Posted in American vs English, Before & After, Construction, D'oh!, Decor, Kitchen | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

DIY Quartz: What We Know Now

Questions?!! My whole scheme down the…I mean, ask away.

-Homer Simpson

When we were researching countertops, we had trouble finding information about Riverstone quartz. Now that we’ve put our Riverstone in, here are some of the answers to questions we had earlier in the process (and couldn’t seem to find anywhere!). We hope these Q&As will help you out if you are currently in counter-shopping mode.

Is Menards Riverstone Quartz as good as other quartz countertops?

Yes, because Riverstone IS another quartz countertop, although they don’t advertise it as such. It’s HanStone, which is one of the major quartz makers. The slabs are manufactured by Hanwha in London, Ontario, where HanStone is made for the North American market. As far as I can tell, Menards gives the HanStone colors and patterns different names to make it “Riverstone.” For instance, our “Cotton” quartz was marked as “Swan Cotton”–the latter is the HanStone name for the white pattern we ordered. Some colors don’t even change names; “Maple Canyon” is the same name (and color) on both sites.

Basically, you’re buying HanStone slab material and Menards (or their affiliate, Midwest Countertops) is fabricating it.

Swan Cotton from the Hanstone colors page

Swan Cotton from the Hanstone colors page

Cotton from the Riverstone color page

Cotton from the Riverstone page; same picture, closer up

How do you know it’s HanStone?

The stamps on the underside are for the Hanwha facility, the colors are marked for HanStone color names and codes, and, most tellingly, one of our pieces had a “HanStone” sticker on the back.


What’s it made of?

HanStone! (I kid.)

According to HanStone, “Approximately 93 percent of HanStone Quartz is mined quartz crystals, one of nature’s hardest materials. The quartz is combined with high-quality polyester resins and pigment to produce a natural stone without the high-maintenance.” The 93/7 quartz/resin mix seems to be pretty standard in the industry.

Apparently, quartz crystals are colorless or near-white, so the deeper the color or more complex the pattern, the more dying and other processing they need to do to the material. Fortunately, our tastes ran to the cheap option on this occasion.

Why is it cheaper?

Riverstone quartz countertops are sold as a house brand by Menards. The buyer doesn’t work directly with the fabricator (Midwest Countertops, which seems to be owned by Menards) or a designer. The buyer provides the measurements (which you can check with a template if you so choose). The fabrication choices are more limited (only three edge options, for instance).

Most significantly, though, the price doesn’t include delivery or installation. At our Menards, they had some names and numbers for installers if buyers wanted to contract for that separately.

How thick is it?

Three centimeters, which is 1-3/16 inches.

How heavy is it?

VERY. Somewhere around 20 lbs. per square foot.

How is it delivered?

The fabricated pieces are set onto polystyrene strips and strapped to wooden A-frames for transport.

Something like this, but out of 2x4s (via).

Something like this, but out of 2x4s (via).

I didn’t get a picture of ours, but it was about a 4-ft wide base by about 4-ft tall, and then just over the length of our longest piece, about 7 feet. The frame will vary by the order.

When we came for pick-up, they used the forklift to help us get it in the truck. Quartz can crack if carried on the flat, so we kept it on the A-frame until we got to the house, then took the pieces off. Menards will take back the A-frame; most locations have a drop-off point for pallets where you can drop it.

What about sinks?

You can either buy a sink from Menards or give them your sink model number when you order, and they will include it in your template. They also send along sink clips, about which more in a future post.


We didn’t order one, but I believe they do a 4-inch option. They also offer windowsills, I noticed. Might be a good material for a windowsill.

How do you maintain it?

HanStone says soap and water. Avoid abrasives and bleach.

How do you install it?

Tune in next time for how we did it! For now, suffice it to say that there’s more to it than removing the old tops and flopping the quartz on top of your cabinets.

Long story short, is this DIY-able?

It wasn’t easy! On the first day we worked on it, the Kev exclaimed, “CAN ANYTHING ELSE GO WRONG TODAY?” He doesn’t usually say stuff like that, although to be fair, our planning and prep had been condensed by a change in the delivery schedule, which caused some unexpected scrambling day-of.

But yes, it’s doable, if  you are a detail-oriented DIY-er with some strong friends. I could not have done it without the Kev, and neither of us could have done it without my brother and sister-in-law. And their truck. We’ve got to get us a truck.

I still have questions, maybe?

Feel free to comment or email us with other questions!'s HanStone.

Psssst…it’s HanStone.

Posted in Construction, Decor, Kitchen | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Cabinet of Dreams, Part VII: If You Build It, He Will Put the TV on It

At this point in the fireplace/cabinetry project, we’d been living for over three months in the other corner of the sitting room with the television armoire in the arch leading to the dining room. We were really tired of the temporary arrangement and were more than ready to put the room back together. There were just a few things to finish up.

New Cabinet Doors and Hardware

The original cabinet doors were long gone, having been replaced by solid partial-overlay doors when the unit was updated around 1950. Because we were going to be putting electronics in the cabinet, we needed glass doors for the remote controls to work.

One of the new doors that we had made for this project.

One of the new doors (also note the fancy twist-tie drawer pull)

We ordered empty, unfinished glass frame doors from the wood-shop that had made the top for the built-in. These were made from Douglas fir (or “Doug-fir” as the wood-shop guys called it for short) to match the rest of the unit.

A new door being held in place.

Door in place. We later added shoe moulding to the front to hide those shims.

When ordering doors, first find out how you should measure. At the place we used, we brought in the size of each opening (making sure to measure both dimensions in several different places so we chose the smallest length or width for the opening). They subtracted the necessary gap from there, but some places want the size of the door instead. Either way, make sure to measure each opening individually. The two door spaces varied more than we expected.

Since we were attempting to make a unit that looked original to the house, we looked for period and reproduction pulls and hinges. We picked up the hinges at Menards, but antiqued them using Rockler’s brass darkening solution (a chemical wash that “ages” new brass fittings).

For the drawers, we matched the sash lifts found throughout the house by taking one to an architectural salvage shop and physically checking a stack of them until we had matches.


1920s sash lift (via)

Some of the ones we found were painted or covered in varnish, so Stacey cleaned them in the slow cooker, then used the darkening solution on the handles to restore the patina. She buffed the ends a little because they would not have been touched as often as the middles.

Vintage-style turn latch (via)

Vintage-style turn latch (via)

We also needed two cabinet latches. We have a spring-operated turn-latch on an original cabinet in the refrigerator nook and wanted to match that as closely as possible. Salvaged turn-latches are usually missing the catch, so we went to House of Antique Hardware for brass reproductions (we ordered the oil-rubbed bronze finish). The latches are very convincing and good-quality units.

The trickiest part with the hardware was screwing the various parts to the doors and the cabinet. This was another time when using Douglas fir presented its own special problems. It turns out that there is a big difference in hardness between the dark and light bands for this wood. The dark bands are hard and the lighter bands are soft. This little feature means that when you try to drill or screw into fir, the drill bit or screw will try to take the path of least resistance and head off into the nearest light-colored band. Fixing these fasteners and hinges tried my patience to the absolute limit, especially since the reproduction hardware came with really cheap mounting screws. But I managed to stay with it, and it all worked out in the end (albeit with different brass screws, also dipped in the antiquing fluid).

Since the doors are at kicking and toddler-diving height, we put toughened glass (US: tempered glass) in the frames, which we ordered to size from a local dealer. Our original intention was to add some detail to give the illusion of leaded glass (and to distract from the electronics), but that hasn’t happened yet.

Finishing the Paneling

To carry on the built-in look, we paneled the rest of the wall from the built-in over to the door. The fir-clad plywood for the paneling came from an old cabinet we bought just to break down to reuse its sides. The trim was from the fir cache we purchased from Craigslist, cut and routed, then attached using a finish nailer.

Paneling on the end of the built-in and on the wall.

We thought about adding a bench or bookcase to the built-in in this corner, but so far, we like the open spot just as it is.

I also fitted a small section of paneling on the other side of the door to give some continuity and visually connect the wall on both sides of the door.

Continuation of the panel on the other side of the mirrored door (during staining)

Paneling on the other side of the mirrored door (during staining)

With all the woodwork done, it was time to fill the nail holes and stain the new cabinetry to match the rest of the house. I handed this off to Stacey, who is finicky about stain matching. She used Old Masters gel stain to build up colour to match existing woodwork in the room. She used a gold colour to make the trim around the hearth match the floor.

After two base coats of cherry stain

After the first two base coats of cherry stain

The eventual finish was protected by a wipe-on polyurethane that gave the whole thing an older-looking, hand-rubbed effect.

The Before and After

We’ve been really happy with how it all worked out.

Before and After Fireplace

Many people dislike televisions over the fireplace, but the mantel here is fairly low, and we’re building our gallery wall around having the TV there. Plus, we don’t have a dedicated room for the telly–this sitting room/living room is where we sit/live.



Wondering what the rest of the room looks like?

Furniture scrunched to one side to allow picture-taking

Furniture scrunched to one side to allow picture-taking

If you are new to this series, here are links to all the steps:

1: Genesis–how we decided to add a fireplace with cabinetry

2: Light My Fire–how we selected a fake fireplace

3: You Don’t Know What You’ve Got–how we found and prepped the cabinet

4: The Building Part–how we built the structure

5: A Firry Tale–how we found and used vintage wood for trim

6: The Tiling–how we picked and installed fireplace and hearth tiles


We finally have a house with a fireplace!

Posted in American vs English, Before & After, Construction, Decor, Furniture | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cabinet of Dreams, Part VI: The Tiling

We’re nearing the end of the fireplace project. Next up: tiling. There were two areas to tile for this project–the vertical fireplace tile around the surround, and the hearth tiling for the floor in front of the fireplace.

Tiling the Fireplace

Once the wood trim was in place, it was time to tile the front of the fireplace. We looked at many tile options, but kept coming back to pictures of craftsman fireplaces with green tiles, like these:

After some hunting, we found tiles for the area around the fireplace.


These are the hand-made Mexican tiles that we chose for the fireplace.

We opted for these Mexican tiles after being uninspired by all the displays in all the ceramic tile outlets in the metro area. Because these tiles are handmade, no two are exactly alike, and they are neither flat nor perfectly square. The hand-hewn look was just what we were seeking for this project.

Tiling the fireplace

Tiling the fireplace

Applying these tiles to the tile base works the same as for any tile. To add a little decoration, we used floral tiles in the top corners, and a darker green tile in the middle at the top.

IMG_1291We only needed to tile the area that would be visible around the fireplace, but I tiled a complete row beneath the top row because we had the tiles, and I said that I thought it might help keep the top row straight and in line. But I was probably obsessing a bit.

The tiles in place and grouted.

Note the black fire surround attachment bracket at the bottom right.

We finished the fireplace tile with a regular tan-colored sanded grout. Originally we were going to use gray, but the warmer tone just looked better with everything else.

Making the Hearth

Of course, every fireplace needs a hearth. One of the things we had in mind for this project was that we didn’t want to destroy any of the existing room elements. We wanted to keep the hardwood floor in good condition, and didn’t want to put fasteners into it. So the hearth had to be freestanding.

We made a floating, hardboard base to stick the tiles on. To prevent the hearth from moving, it was cut out to fit tightly around the bottom of the fire-surround frame in an “I” shape so that it could not scoot around. For the hearth tile, we liked the appearance of slate, but for ease of cleaning, we used porcelain tiles rather than actual low-grade metamorphic rock. We found 12″ square slate-look tiles at Lowes. We liked these tiles because they matched the metal fire surround, and were neutral. We used regular tile adhesive to stick the tiles down to the hardboard base.

Hearth tiles stuck down to the hardboard and grouted.

Hearth tiles stuck down to the hardboard and grouted.

I routed some pieces of oak trim to fit around the tiles. The trim had a notch on the underside so that it would sit on the hardwood floor and lap onto the hardboard. Then the grout was applied. The result is a hearth that sits on top of the existing hardwood floor, without being attached to it. Its weight holds it down as if it were screwed to the floor.

The fireplace is finished and ready for the fire and surround.

The fireplace is finished and ready for the fire and surround.

Construction of the built-in is nearly finished! There are just a few finishing touches left to do.

Update! Links to the other posts in this series:

1: Genesis–how we decided to add a fireplace with cabinetry

2: Light My Fire–how we selected a fake fireplace

3: You Don’t Know What You’ve Got–how we found and prepped the cabinet

4: The Building Part–how we built the structure

5: A Firry Tale–how we found and used vintage wood for trim

7: If You Build It–the finishing touches and the final reveal

Posted in Construction, Decor, Furniture, Walls & Floors | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cabinet of Dreams, Part V: A Firry Tale of St Paul

I mentioned (in Cabinet of Dreams, Part III) that our decision to use Douglas fir for the whole built-in made things quite interesting at times. Well, finding a piece of wood for the upper surface of the built-in was one of those times. We drew a blank trying to get new lumber in the sizes we wanted, so we concentrated on finding ‘vintage’ wood.


A nine-foot diameter Douglas Fir, photo taken in Washington State, 1900

One day, Stacey saw some reclaimed 10” x 1½” ceiling joists on Craigslist, so we went to look at them. As you might imagine, they were quite rough, but we felt that we would be able to find enough useable sections to do the job.

Damage, knots, and cracks made long sections of the joists unuseable for our project.

Damage, knots, and cracks made long sections of the joists unusable for our project.

We picked over all of the joists looking for 8 ft long sections in good condition. Being joists, they had suffered all the usual indignities over the years. Holes had been drilled through them, presumably for electrical cables to pass through; and notches had been cut out of them, I don’t know why.

The joists had attractive grain, but also quite a few cracks scattered about.

The joists had attractive grain, but also quite a few cracks scattered about.

Having selected the three best joists, there was another issue. They were 16′ long and we were transporting them in the back of our station wagon (UK: estate car). So, I had to cut them up before we could get them in the car, which meant we had to make spot decisions about exactly which section of each joist we would want to use.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur built-in top was going to be 23” wide and 8′ 4″ long. So, it would take three of the 10″ wide sections joined together. Since we don’t have a planer or a joiner, this part of the job was beyond our capabilities. We gave the work to a professional wood-shop. We gave them our rough old joists and some money (surprisingly little), and they gave us a beautifully made top for our built-in.

There were still work to do when we got it home. For example: The exposed, front right, corner was cut off at 45º, we cut electrical access holes above each of the three outlets along the back edge, and we used fine grained sandpaper to finish it off. Then it was ready to install.

Our new built-in top made from reclaimed joists.

Our new built-in top made from reclaimed joists.

I attached some 90º mounting brackets to the cabinet and the frame of the fire surround. Screws passing through holes in the mounting brackets and up into the underside of the top hold it in position.

The built-in top in place with the electrical access holes cut.

The built-in top in place with the electrical access holes cut.

With our top in place, it was time to make the corbels and trim. Since the rest of the built-in was made from Douglas fir, we wanted the trim to match. It was not easy to find new Douglas fir boards that you can actually look at locally; we could have ordered lumber, but we would receive whatever they happened to put on the truck. We wanted to pick and choose boards for straightness and grain quality. Stacey resorted to Craigslist again and found a woodworker selling his extra Douglas fir boards.

We drove for just over an hour to get to his place. He showed us what he had and we picked over his stock to find the pieces with the fewest knots. We bought five 8-foot lengths of 1” x 4” from him. We left him a little bemused that we had driven so far for so little, but that was his problem.

USDA Douglas Fir Photo

Douglas fir grain from different cuts. The fine-lined cut is often sold as “vertical grain” fir.

We wanted the trim to be quite simple. We played around with a few different router bits, but in the end we decided we liked the straight 45º chamfer. For the 1” x 4” uprights either side of the fireplace, I routed a 45º chamfer on each side. These were then nailed with our newly bought finish nailer (every project is an excuse to buy power tools) to the front of the built-in.

IMG_1244-001Other pieces of 1” x 4” with a 45º chamfer along the top edge were cut to fit against the wall, around the top of the built-in.

IMG_1317The trim extends out from the back wall by the same amount as the cabinet. We notched the leading edge following an inspiration photo that we now cannot find.

The trim around the top of the built-in cabinetry.
Then I made corbels for the tops of the uprights. These were made from some left over pieces of joist. We decided on the profile that we wanted to use for the corbels, and I made a template from a piece of hardboard and cut them out with a ½” diameter, flush trim, pattern router bit.

Corbels in place either side of the fireplace.

Corbels in place either side of the fireplace.

I made four 1½” wide pieces and glued them in pairs so that the grain matched up in a V pattern down the middle of each corbel. When they were set, I sanded them and glued them in place. These aren’t actually supporting anything, so strong wood glue seemed like a good idea. We set them in place and held them until the glue grabbed, following the instructions. Five minutes later, they started sliding down the verticals. Moderate panic and clamping ensued.

Next I made a piece of crown molding to fit between the corbels, and one to fit from the wall to the first corbel. I ripped 2½” strips of the fir and routed 45º chamfers on each corner. Then, using a horizontal crown molding bit I made a concave surface along the front of the molding.

crown molding cross section

I don’t have a good photo of  how the crown molding fits in the angle between the front and the top, so I drew this totally not-to-scale diagram for you.

The 45º chamfers on the back made a nice solid contact surface, and the moldings were nailed into position.

Now the fireplace has been trimmed, it’s time to tile it!

Update! Links to the other posts in this series:

1: Genesis–how we decided to add a fireplace with cabinetry

2: Light My Fire–how we selected a fake fireplace

3: You Don’t Know What You’ve Got–how we found and prepped the cabinet

4: The Building Part–how we built the structure

6: The Tiling–how we picked and installed fireplace and hearth tiles

7: If You Build It–the finishing touches and the final reveal

Posted in American vs English, Construction, D'oh!, Decor, Furniture, Salvage | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Cabinet of Dreams, Part IV: The Building Part of the Built-In

This is the fourth in a series about making a built-in unit in our sitting room. In the last post, I talked about how we found and prepared a cabinet to use as part of the built-in. Now it was time to fix the restored cabinet in place.

The first thing was to fit the existing cabinet to its new home. We were not going to remove the baseboard behind the built-in, because we thought future owners may want to dismantle our handiwork. I cut the cabinet to fit around the baseboard rather than the other way around.

I cut around the baseboard with a coping saw.

I cut around the baseboard with a coping saw. This cracked piece is pinned together at this point, with wood filler and attention to follow.

A spare piece of baseboard that we’d removed during a different project made a handy template. (We did remove the shoe molding behind the cabinet, but we labeled it and put it in the basement.)

Because we were going to be using the built-in unit to hold our electronics, we pulled an electrical permit and wired up some outlets to go behind the built-in (that was a project unto itself, despite the passing reference here). I cut holes in the beadboard at the back of the cabinet to allow access to the outlets.

I cut away the beadboard at the back of the cabinet to allow access to the newly installed electrical outlets.

The mitered trim on the opening wasn’t very stable, and we later removed it.

Of course, our living room floor isn’t level. The wonkiness of this house is well documented. Fortunately, leveling the cabinet was a fairly straightforward task. Quite surprisingly, the floor slope increases linearly with distance from the wall. I had expected the slope of the floor to be greatest next to the wall, and then level off.

I intended to put three leveling strips of wood under the cabinet, one at the end furthest from the wall, and two either side of the middle drawers. The gap under the cabinet where the first leveling strip was going was 5/16”, under the second was 5/8” (10/16”), and the third was 15/16”. So I used 5/16” thick strips, one where the gap was smallest, then two, and three at the end furthest from the wall.

Leveling strips the depth of the cabinet were placed at the end furthest from the wall, and either side of the middle drawer section.

The leveling strips are visible beneath the cabinet.

With the cabinet leveled and cut to fit, it was time to fasten it to the wall. We wanted to avoid putting holes through the floor underneath the cabinet for the same reason that we wanted to preserve the baseboard–someone might want it as floor again someday.

Now that the unit was sitting solidly on the floor, it only took a few screws through the horizontal rails at the back of the cabinet into wall studs to hold it securely in place without drilling through the floor. The bottom back of the cabinet was up against the baseboard, so there was a gap between it and the wall at the top. I found some scraps of wood to use as spacers, so that I could tighten up the screws through the spacers without pulling the cabinet towards the wall.

With the cabinet fixed in place, I began working on the part of the built-in where the fireplace would go. The plan was to build a frame and attach heat resistant tile backing to enclose the fire.

The first part of the frame for the fireplace.

The back section of the frame for the fireplace.

I made the fireplace frame from 2” x 4” construction lumber. End-lap joints made flush corners for the front and back sections of the frame.The height and depth were determined by the height and depth of the cabinet. The width was determined using the golden ratio.

The front and back sections were joined together to make a frame that was ½” narrower than the cabinet to allow for the thickness of the tile backer.

The frame is narrower than the cabinet to allow for the thickness of the tile backing.

The frame is narrower than the cabinet to allow for the thickness of the tile backing.

With the frame finished, it was time to apply the tile backer. We decided to create a box with heat resistant tile backer to contain the fire and prevent the heat warping any of the other elements of the built-in.


The enclosure for the fireplace.

The enclosure for the fireplace. There was a new electrical outlet behind the fire, so we needed to cut a hole for that. The electric firebox runs through a surge protector into this line.

Once the frame was finished, I removed the bottom front section of stud.

Once the frame was finished, I removed the bottom front section of stud.

And with that, the main structure was complete. Next time, how we made this basic structure look more like a mantel.

Update! Links to the other posts in this series:

1: Genesis–how we decided to add a fireplace with cabinetry

2: Light My Fire–how we selected a fake fireplace

3: You Don’t Know What You’ve Got–how we found and prepped the cabinet

5: A Firry Tale–how we found and used vintage wood for trim

6: The Tiling–how we picked and installed fireplace and hearth tiles

7: If You Build It–the finishing touches and the final reveal

Posted in Construction, Decor, Furniture, Salvage | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Cabinet of Dreams, Part III: You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Until You Clean the Basement

Previously on D’oh, we decided to build cabinetry and a fireplace in our sitting room. I talked about choosing the fire and surround in Part II. With an electric firebox picked out, we turned our attention to building the cabinetry.

At the beginning of this process, we looked at hundreds of pictures of arts & crafts cabinetry and mantels. The image below combined all of our “wants” in one place: arched fireplace, mantel at same height as cabinets and sharing a top, glass cabinet doors–check, check, and check.

In our room, however, the wall where the built-in and fireplace were going to reside had a door at one end, so the symmetrical version wouldn’t work–the fireplace would be way too off to one side. Fortunately, symmetry wasn’t non-negotiable in houses of the era.



The important thing was to have the fireplace centered on the wall, regardless of what happened with cabinetry. We hatched a plan for a one-sided built-in unit with a central hearth.


Our idea was to find an old cabinet that we could incorporate as the cabinetry part of the project, rather than making the whole thing from scratch. So, we began looking for a suitable cabinet–specifically, a dislocated built-in buffet with dimensions that would fit the cabinet side of the plan. We searched Craigslist and beyond, but no luck.

Then, one day when Stacey was in the basement, she realized that the perfect cabinet was sitting right there under our noses the whole time. It was a cabinet that we had taken out of the kitchen ten years earlier.

This was how the kitchen looked when we moved into the house.

This was how the kitchen looked when we moved into the house.

When we moved into this house, it had shallow, built-in cabinetry on one side. Probably at some point, this kitchen would have been a housewife’s dream, but it didn’t meet expectations for the new millennium. So, we gutted it and remodeled (and are now doing a bit more).

We replaced these kitchen units with modern ones in 2000.

We replaced these kitchen units in 2000, as well as the stick-on vinyl floor.

During work on the kitchen, we set up a temporary kitchen in the basement using the bottom unit. Ten years later, the base was still down there, being used for storage. The top part is currently providing storage space in the garage until we someday find another place for it.

What Stacey realized is that the paint and partial-overlay doors were concealing the original cabinets from 1922, complete with dovetailed drawers under the awful, cheap fronts that had been nailed on sometime around 1950.

The cabinet in the basement covered in spare aquarium equipment.

The cabinet in the basement with a drawer front pried off (spare aquarium equipment on top).

The cabinet was in pretty good shape, considering I hadn’t exactly been gentle with it when taking it out of the kitchen. Other than nail holes, the only real damage was at the bottom front left corner where the wood had split. The only other structural issue was a cut-out on the front near the top, which had housed a chopping board.

The faux drawer fronts were stuck to the drawers with about a million nails each, but they still weren’t too difficult to remove. The original drawer fronts, like the rest of the cabinet, were Douglas Fir, which has an attractive wood grain. Because of this, we decided to make the entire built-in from Douglas Fir. This decision was to make things quite (possibly too) interesting later on in the project


Of course, there was some work to be done on the cabinet, not least of which was stripping the paint. I found that the most effective paint stripper for this cabinet was Zinsser Magic Strip Citrus-Action.

I applied it according to instructions, and found that it worked as advertised. Essentially, apply a generous layer, leave it overnight to do its magic, and then scrape it off.

It took several applications to take off the many layers of paint that had been applied over the years. Under a couple of layers of green was white, and then a neon yellow. The paint easily peeled off, but the grain was very dimensional, which meant it stuck in the grooves. After removing as much as possible with a scraper, I turned to the palm sander to finish the job.

The cabinet stripped and in place.

The cabinet stripped (where needed) and in place.

Now, the cabinet was ready to return to the ground floor and begin its new life in the sitting room. In the next part of this series, I’ll talk about making the framework for the built-in.

Update! Links to the other posts in this series:

1: Genesis–how we decided to add a fireplace with cabinetry

2: Light My Fire–how we selected a fake fireplace

4: The Building Part–how we built the structure

5: A Firry Tale–how we found and used vintage wood for trim

6: The Tiling–how we picked and installed fireplace and hearth tiles

7: If You Build It–the finishing touches and the final reveal

Posted in D'oh!, Decor, Furniture, Salvage | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cabinet of Dreams, Part II: Light My Fire

In the first part of this series, I talked about how we wanted to build cabinetry and a fireplace in our sitting room. First we considered which type of fire to install. The main options were:

  • A real fire or stove,
  • A gas fireplace, or
  • An electric fire.

We gave a great deal of thought to all of our options–it’s easier than actually doing anything. This is what we came up with:

A Real Fire

I lived with real fires for the first 35 years of my life, and like most people, I prefer the look of a real fire. When we were househunting, a real fireplace or stove was our original ideal, so we considered retrofitting a solid fuel fire.

Coal Fire taken from blog

This is one of the real fireplaces they have over at Little House on the Corner.

The existing chimney, which hasn’t been used since we changed the boiler, runs up though a different part of the house than where we wanted to put the fireplace. To put in a real fire, we would have to build a new chimney.

If the fireplace was going on an outside wall, building a chimney might have been feasible. However, between windows and doors, there was only one wall where it could go, which was one of the interior walls.

Plan of the living room

Since the fireplace would be on an inside wall, the cost of a chimney would have been far more than we wanted to budget for this project. The ROI would have been laughable, not to mention the amount of personal and structural disruption it would have caused. Sadly, we just didn’t want it enough. A real fire was a non-starter.

Gas Fire

If we installed a natural gas fire, we would need a flue to vent hot exhaust gases. Like this:

A vent diagram from Regency Fireplace Products

A B vent diagram from Regency Fireplace Products

But we weren’t putting the fire on an exterior wall, and so, we would have to find a way to route the flue to the outside. We looked into it, and it would have been doable, but fairly complicated. We would have to build out an interior wall to accommodate the vent, which was going to eat up space in a not-huge room and cost quite a bit.

Gas fireplace from djsonline

Gas fireplace from DJS Online

While a gas fireplace has actual flames coming from gas vents, they are covered by faux logs or coals. The flames are very regular, unlike the flames of a real fire, plus there’s no crackle. It’s still basically a fake fire. If we were going to have a fake fire one way or another, I didn’t think gas was worth the extra money and effort.

Electric Fire

With an electric fire–a faux fire effect and heating unit–there would be none of the flue installation problems of the other two options. But until we began to research electric fires, our impression was that they were utilitarian and unattractive.

An old electric fire with wood surround

This was how we thought of electric fires (via).

It seemed to us that this was going to be an unsatisfactory, but necessary compromise. But as we looked into electric options, we discovered we were wrong, and pleasantly surprised.

An electric fireplace from A V Designs.

An electric fireplace from A V Designs.

It’s now possible to find electric fires that do quite a good job of impersonating a real fire. In my opinion, some of them even surpass gas fires for flame looks.

So it wasn’t a difficult decision in the end. It was pretty clear that an electric fire, with its ease of installation and realistic effects, was the way to go in our situation. Since we were going to build the mantel, we needed an electric insert (also called an electric firebox) to slide into place. Our focus turned to which kind of electric firebox to go with.

Electric insert installation could not be easier

Electric firebox/insert installation could not be easier (via).

We whittled down our preferred options using online research, then we checked out the short-listed inserts in person at the local showrooms. Most electric fires produce their flaming illusions with lights and mirrors. Some fires, notably the awesomely named Opti-Myst by Dimplex, use steam to produce realistic flames and smoke. This one is from GlammFire:

Our first choice may well have been a water vapour effect fire, except it unfortunately was not available in the US at that time (it is now). That helped narrow down the options, and we soon settled on our favorite, a Dimplex electric firebox insert with LED lighting (model DFI2310, which was the right size for our room).

As soon as we got the electric fire we plugged it in to try it out.

As soon as our new fire arrived, we plugged it in to try it out. This isn’t its best look.

We really like the effects produced by this fire. It uses a mirror and moving lights behind the fake logs to give a nice 3D flame effect, and the glowing logs brighten and dim to give a very realistic, smouldering effect. Stacey added to the overall effect by adding the sounds and smells of a real fire.

Having chosen a fire, we looked for an attractive fire surround (trim for around the edge of the fireplace opening). We both really liked the Dimplex surround shown below because it looked more like an English hearth than most of the ones we’d seen in the states. (This one has been discontinued, but check out other metal surrounds here.) Stacey found a display model on eBay.

This is the metal fire surround we chose, pictured here lying on its packaging.

This is the metal fire surround we chose, pictured here lying on its packaging.

We particularly liked the integral mesh spark guard, which can be pulled across in front of the fire, obscuring it a little. When mesh is in place, it increases the illusion of having a real fire.

And this is the fire and surround together, modelled by the lovely Stacey.

And this is the fire and surround together, as modeled, in situ, by the lovely Stacey.

Having decided on the type of fire and its surround, we turned our attention to the cabinetry.

Update! Links to the other posts in this series:

1: Genesis–how we decided to add a fireplace with cabinetry

3: You Don’t Know What You’ve Got–how we found and prepped the cabinet

4: The Building Part–how we built the structure

5: A Firry Tale–how we found and used vintage wood for trim

6: The Tiling–how we picked and installed fireplace and hearth tiles

7: If You Build It–the finishing touches and the final reveal

Posted in Decor, Electrical, Energy | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Cabinet of Dreams, Part I: Genesis

My dreams will go unfulfilled? I don’t like the sound of that one bit.

- Homer Simpson

When we bought this house it ticked most of our boxes. The only box left unticked was the one next to “Fireplace.” But other than not having a fireplace in the sitting room, this house was exactly what we were looking for, so it seemed like a reasonable compromise.

The way it was in our sitting room.

Our living room before we set about building cabinetry and after we’d done a lot of tidying.

This was our sitting room back in February 2012. The armoire, which we bought at Slumberland circa 2000 AD, was designed to house a giant TV from the 90s. It was quite an imposing piece of furniture, and tended to loom over the living room. But it was very useful for housing all the electronics, DVDs, and CDs, and keeping the clutter at bay.

Our sitting room before we installed cabinetry

No clutter, but no other particular visual appeal

After we bought a flat screen TV, we realized that we no longer needed such a deep cabinet. We began to think about making a built-in cabinet that the TV could stand on top of, and the electronics could go inside of. That way, we would have the same storage capacity with less loominess.

Then we began to talk about incorporating the fireplace we’d always wanted into period-appropriate cabinetry, simultaneously satisfying our desire for fire and reducing room loominess. Stacey did some research and found that fake fireplaces were even a thing in the 1920s, so it was arguably period-appropriate. And that was how we developed our cunning plan to construct a built-in cabinet and fireplace.

Quest for fire quad poster

Could our quest for fire be satisfied?

Having decided in principle to build cabinetry into our sitting room, we began to think about the major issues, such as:

  • Deciding what type of fire (solid fuel, gas, or electric) to install,
  • Finding a fireplace surround that we liked, and
  • Designing the associated built-in cabinetry.

Clearly, this was a project where we would have to decide what we were doing, and with what, before we broke up a perfectly good sitting room. Eventually, we came up with answers to most of our questions, and this was the result.

The finished cabinetry, incorporating a fireplace.

This is the first “after” picture we took of the finished cabinetry, incorporating a fireplace.

For the next few posts, I’m going to be talking about the process we went through to get to this point and beyond. The first thing we tackled was deciding which kind of fire to install, which will be tackled in turn in the next post.

Update! links to the other posts in this series:

2: Light My Fire–how we selected a fake fireplace

3: You Don’t Know What You’ve Got–how we found and prepped the cabinet

4: The Building Part–how we built the structure

5: A Firry Tale–how we found and used vintage wood for trim

6: The Tiling–how we picked and installed fireplace and hearth tiles

7: If You Build It–the finishing touches and the final reveal

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