Terrific Broth

The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

Oh My Desk

Howdy everyone! Did not expect to come back so quickly but Slav put in a couple days of effort and made some considerable progress in my retreat room. Here is the result:

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Yup! It is my new desk! A corner desk on motorized legs!!! It is 76″ long and 25″ wide, with the left corner piece doubling the width to 50″. There is lots of space after placing a laptop, as you can see from the first picture.

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This desk is made with a butcher block we bought from Lowe’s. We had the motorized legs and controller in hand.

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Here is the desk sitting at its lowest position. It is the perfect height for me when sitting in a dining chair:

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The picture below shows the desk in its highest position. As a standing desk it can accommodate someone who is 6’2″. I am 5’5″ and usually lower the top for a couple inches.

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The desk top

was made from a 8′ x 2′ Baltic Birch butcher block with just one cut and no waste. I chose a butcher block as table top for its warm and bulky look. And this one is in 25″ width, which is the perfect depth since I only use laptop at home. A friendly reminder: if you use big monitors and additional keyboard, you might want to go for a wider table top to give you the depth needed. Just keep in mind that they will be much heavier and might require additional support.

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We started by cutting a 20″ section off the block. This was the only cut during this construction and it was surely nerve-wrecking! Even I was the one who designed the desk, knew the dimension well, I still measured and measured and remeasured to make sure that we would not make a mistake.

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Due to the heavy weight we decided to use a circular saw instead of a table saw. Slav clamped down a track as a guide and kept the good side of the butcherblock facing down. Circular saw often tear the top edge of whatever you cut, so having the good side downward usually yields better result. You can see the difference from the two edges in the picture above – the left side is the main portion of the block with its good side (the future top) facing down, and its top edge is not as perfect as the short piece to the right, which I flipped over after it being cut off.

The next step is to joining the short piece to the big piece to create the short end of the L-shape. We used biscuit to keep the two surfaces aligned, and lots of glue to ensure a tight joint.

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The circular saw track is the only clamp long enough for holding the two pieces together as the glue dried overnight. I wish we had more clamps! But it worked…phew, thanks to the DIY god. I chose to glue the short piece on its side to keep the wood grain all in one direction, and we kept the good side of the block downward during the whole build so there would be no need flipping this heavy piece when attaching the legs.

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Additional support to the L-corner

After creating the L-shape with the cut piece, the short arm is now twice the width of the original block, about 50″. Since this short arm won’t have any leg underneath and very heavy (the butcher block is 1.75″ thick), we decided to add two 1″ x 1/2″ steel C-channels to support the entire short arm from below.

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Slav routed two 5/8″ void underneath the short arm so we could sink the C-channels into the block. The C-channels are 36″ long, which gives a good 18″ support on each side of the glued joint.

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The C-channel came with no screw holes. With a metal bit Slav created some mounting holes on the C-channels:

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He also put in plenty of glue before setting the channels for good measure:

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The C-channels were screwed into their final place.

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The magic of shellac

The wood glue between the counter tops required overnight drying time but the glue used here dried in a few hours. Since butcher block has to be sealed within 48 hours after being exposed to the air, I jumped onto the sealing step as soon as the glue was dry to touch.

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To seal the block I chose my new favorite – shellac! I’ve only learn about shellac recently from Daniel Kanter over the Manhattan Nest, and only used it once on our master bathroom door. But I liked its ability of bringing out the best wood tone with a dash of sheen. In the picture above was the bare butcher block. And below was after the first coat of shellac:

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Here was after three coats of shellac:

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Then we flipped the block to repeat the sealing steps on the top. Since the edge of the block is a tiny bit rounded, I applied some wood filler at the glue joint before sealing it:

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I ended up doing four coats of shellac on the top of the block, light sanding with 220 grit sandpaper in between. Then it comes the exciting time of mounting the legs!

Motorized table legs, repurposed

Back to our North Carolina days we lived near the University of North Carolina campus. The campus has a surplus store selling retired office furniture and classroom electronics. One day Slav spotted a bunch of drawing tables there, all of which were equipped with motorized legs. They were dirt cheap – I think each desk was $50 a pop? So Slav snatched them up and took all the legs home. We were able to make three office desks for both of us (including one at my work), and gave out a couple pairs to friends. These motorized legs are German production and very, very sturdy. I trust them to hold much more weight than the ones currently sold in IKEA and online stores.

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To set them properly Slav routed two 1/2″ voids to accommodate the motors. Then the legs were attached!

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Taadaa!

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Polished and in use

After moving the desk into its final position (it is super heavy), I sanded the table top one last time with 400 grit sandpaper, then polished it generously with Howard Feed-n-Wax. Although unnecessary, this final sanding and waxing step really created a super smooth shine and added a slightly warmer tone to the desk. Plus the bee wax smells great! It is always nice to conclude a DIY project smelling like lemon and honey. 🙂

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Here is the desk, in its final glory:

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Although a big surface (76″ x 25″~50″ and 16 sqft usable space) this desk is just the right scale for the room. The long arm barely reaches the floor register and leaves a good 8 inches under the east window. The 50″ short arm overlaps with 2/5 of the north picture window and leaves enough room at the foot of the future Murphy bed.

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I added some googly eyes on the controller to cover the worn surface and add a bit fun. This desk is all about fun!

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I could not start using it fast enough. The very next morning after the legs were mounted, I have already moved in some plants and set my computer on it!

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What do you think of the desk? Do you like it or is there something you think we could do to improve it?

The Dog Days of Summer

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What a lovely summer we are having this year! Except a few hot days here and there, we are experiencing in general much cooler temperature and a lot more rainfall than previous years. Bright morning sun and afternoon clouds kept plants and wildlife happy. It is seriously the best year for gardens and lawn since we moved into the house.

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Besides abundant flowers from returning perennials, we got many blooms from this year’s planting as well. Remember the Chinese Snowball Viburnum I planted near the patio planters? It did not fail to impress:

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Next to the Snowball Viburnum I planted a patch of garden Cosmos. Raised from seeds they were pretty pathetic when planted, but look at them now! Honestly I was just short of perennials and tried to fill the new patio garden with random annuals. But these cosmos really exceeded my expectations.

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And I had sunflowers for the first time! Planted by visiting birds they just came up one day on their own. I had no idea what they were, but decided to keep them out of curiosity. What a nice surprise! They are looooved by bees.

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Speaking of birds, we seeded a patch of grass in the backyard early summer which accidentally created a buffet for a family of American Robins. Apparently when you lay down compost on the ground and water a lot, earthworms come to the surface. And these robins just feast on the worms.

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Every time the sun sets Slav waters the newly seeded area. In a few minutes these two robins will show up for dinner. I think they can sense the moisture in the air. We had a lot of fun watching them hunting worms: they carefully listen to the movement under the soil, then snap at worms risen just below the soil surface.

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Once they get a bit of a worm they pull it out of the soil completely, crop it into pieces, then fly away with a mouth full of worm to enjoy in their nest.

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Besides worms they also steal my strawberries…but that is it. Interestingly they do not eat any grass seeds, nor any of my vegetables. Robins are steak-and-dessert kind of bird I guess.

What has been stealing our vegetable harvest is the Cottontail Gang. Look at this cute monster waiting for us to go inside so he/she can start supper:

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This is the first summer I got bunnies in my backyard – my dogs must have made a deal with these adorable little thieves to exchange my lettuce for their poop. Bunny poops are like M&M to my dogs – they just could not resist licking the last drop clean.

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Compared to the neighborhood bunny gang, the resident squirrels carry themselves with dignity. I keep some bird seeds and occasional sunflower heads in an old bird bath in the front yard. The resident squirrel couple show up in the mornings and eat quietly by themselves. They live in a big tree across the street and have been challenging our squirrel-proof bird feeder every winter. So far I am winning. So I understand their urge of getting fat during summer months and I am OK to lend a hand.

As our garden matures and expands there are more and more wildlife visiting. We saw many more native bees, a greater diversity of birds, and increased number of rabbits and squirrels hanging around. It is interesting to see wildlife crossing path and foraging next to each other. Like birds eating from the bird feeder at the same time when the squirrels are around, and they hide in the same tree when we come out of the front door. Lately, a couple bunnies visit in our front yard every morning, often during the time the squirrel family eats from the bird bath. They sometimes get as close as a couple feet to each other. It is so nice to watch them peacefully eating their respective meals side by side.

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Despite the bunny interest the garden is doing well too! Above is a shot of my cucumber plant about a week ago, and now it has climbed to the top of the trellis. I have already harvested a few rounds of radish and greens. And 75 heads of garlic came out just after July 4th:

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Last week I cut my herb garden back and gave all the trimmings to my co-workers. My car smelled like mint for days.

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We continue harvesting greens while beans, beets and zucchini come to season:

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Starting mid-July there has been a steady steam of onions, tomato, cucumber, and more zucchini…

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And even more zucchini…

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As you can see we are flooded with zucchini this year – they seemed to really like my garden so one plant is usually enough for two of us. However this year we planted four. I have donated lettuce and zucchini to food pantry twice, sent some to our neighbors, and made many, many meals with them:

Chinese zucchini pancake:

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Beef zucchini dumplings:

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Zucchini bread (with chocolate chips!)

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I even worked some into the sheet cake I baked form Slav. Zucchini is an amazing flour substitute and we can barely tell the difference!

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In the dog days of summer Slav and I celebrated our seventh anniversary. Seven years being married, and fourteen years being friends. I know this man well, but I am still discovering more. For example, I always thought he liked tiramisu and have been making it every year for our anniversary, only to learn that he prefers cheesecake…Oops. But we still enjoyed the cake which might be the only thing we had this summer without zucchini in it!

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How is your summer going?

Resource and Reuse

One thing I did not expect before renovating our ranch, is how much material this rebuild consumes. A 100-ft section fence needed hundreds of pickets and dozens of posts; thousands pounds of concrete were poured into the soil. The roof on our small house took thousands of shingles, each consists of multiple layers of different natural and synthetic materials. Layer of plywood went under our feet, and the amount of 2″ x 4″s we hauled back from Home Depot can only be counted by trailer-load. Before owning this house, I never thought about how much material goes into building a house, nor how much more it takes to renovate one every a few decades, or more frequently, every times it changes ownership.

It prompts me to think in a larger scale, how much we as human, affect the world during our expansion and development. How much we took from the Earth, how forcefully we invaded the Nature, and how many wild life we have terminated, although not deliberately, for our comfort and convenience.

More I think about it, more I regret some decisions I made during the renovation, such as putting in a big concrete patio. Of course, most decisions we made for the house are good for the environment and wild life, such as planting hundreds of trees and perennial shrubs, as well as making our house more energy efficient. But we can do better. Moving forward, I would like to be more conscious on the environmental impact of our renovation decisions. A good place to start, is to reuse and repurpose materials from our own demolition.

I have noticed the amount of solid waste generated during demolition, pretty much as soon as we moved into our houseConstruction and demolition (C&D) waste represents a big part of the solid waste generated in US, and 90% of the C&D waste is generated during demolition. Since we demo by hand, we have an opportunity to save some material by carefully taking things apart. These materials and parts, otherwise going into landfill, is now returning back into the circulation. And reusing our own material will form a even small cycle compared to the process shown below, going from step 7 straight to step 4:

Most of the material we have saved are lumber and occasionally hardware/screws. During our last big renovation project, namely the basement reno, we were left with lots of framing lumber. We took the nails off them, and stored them over the garage roof trusses.

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Do you label your lumber? #woodworking #reclaimedwood

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This Spring, I started using them for indoor and outdoor projects whenever we need 2″ x 4″s. I know, 2″ x 4″s are dirt-cheap (probably cheaper than dirt at this point…have you paid for good dirt lately?) and readily available in big box stores. However, the goal of reusing these lumber is mostly saving them from landfill and conserving the energy and virgin resources used to produce new materials, rather than saving on the project costs.

The addition advantage of using older lumber – in our case, dated back to the 1950s – is how well they match our original framing. The picture below shows a piece of modern 2″ x 4″ on the left, and a piece of old 1950 2″ x 4″ to the right. The difference between them are so apparent!

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Compared to modern 2″ x 4″s, the 50s 2″ x 4″s are 1/8″ wider and thicker and with straight edges. They are also a lot denser and harder than their modern counterparts.

Because of dimension difference, these 50s’ 2″ x 4″s are excellent for creating new framing that has to marry the old framing. Using these lumber with exactly same dimension helps everything line up more evenly. We also notice that there are very little bow on the old lumber.

Old 2″x4″ on the top, modern 2″ x 4″ at the bottom:

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Because of the different density, the old lumber offers the same expansion/contraction coefficient and should be more compatible to the existing framing. I expect less issues down the road joining similar material together.

Over a weekend, Slav and I frame the closets in the retreat room. The old lumber we used came out of our basement, with a few from the very closets during the demo last week.

Before demo:

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After demo:

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In preparation for the Murphy bed installation, we need to add more framing on the lower part of the closet so the Murphy bed has something to attach to.

Before putting in new framing, Slav patched the missing floor boards with leftover from the office project:

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Then we started with the closet to the right. Here is the before:

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With new framing:

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As you could see, another layer of 2″x4″s were added onto the existing framing. We did a short wall at the bottom and created a new stud. At the top and side, we attached pieces of 2″x4″s for future side panel to attach.

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We did the same to the left side of the Murphy bed closet. Since this part of the framing was pretty weak, we added more horizontal bracing to reinforce the structure.

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As you may notice, we also took down more drywall in the left closet. This closet will be lined with plywood, and it does not make much sense to have the drywall sandwiches between plywood and the framing.

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Since the left side will be used as a closet, we just beefed it up by adding 2″ x 4″s along the edges.

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After patching the flooring and framing, Slav repaired the drywall around the closets:

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And repaired the bedroom doorway with drywall:

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Since we plan to move the bedroom door to the hallway opening, this doorway would just become a walk-through. So Slav patched it with leftover drywall and finished the corners.

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We are in process of sanding and painting the newly patched walls, then it will be time for the Murphy bed build! It is nice to cross off four items off the list!

1. Patch missing floor boards;
2. Repair and finish drywall edges against the closet wall;
3. Reinforce the closet framing;
4. Murphy bed construction and installation;
5. Wire the electrical outlet to face the bed;
6. Construct guest closet, and shelving unit in between;
7. Construct and install closet doors;
8. Trim out the closet wall;
9. Caulk and paint the closet wall wherever necessary;
10. Construct a standing desk with motorized legs and a wood top;
11. Construct a window seating next to the desk;
12. Adding necessary storage behind Murphy Bed area for bedding and pillows;
13. Repair and finish the original bedroom doorway.

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