Terrific Broth

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

Category: Life (Page 2 of 7)

My First Carpentry Work!

Ladies and gentlemen, I built these!


And I built them 100% by myself, without Slav’s help!


I’ve been wanting to learn woodwork for a while. But as a handyman’s wife, I am both lazy and intimidated to start. I do plenty of DIY. In fact, I designed most of the furniture we built. But when it gets to the actual cutting and drilling, Slav shows up with his drill and takes over. Over the years, the separation of our work flow became more and more exclusive, to which point I do not even know where our drill is anymore. There is nothing wrong with job specialization – it does speed up the process of a big project. But for small projects like door trims, a picture hedge, or hanging shelves, it would have been much more efficient if I did not have to call Slav every time I need to drill into a wall.

The problem is – better Slav gets, more clumsy I get, and more intimidated I am to try. I think we both just assume that I will hurt myself using tools at this point. And I really really want to change that. I want to feel comfortable with power tools. I want to be able to pick the right screws for the right job. And I want to be able to take over small projects so Slav can focus on large scale project such as walls and plumbing. The ranch house has brought so much work, and every single one involves using power tools. I do not want to just make a honey-to-do list and nag Slav to complete everything.

When the need of a pair of saw horses comes around, I saw a great opportunity for me to start. Sawhorses are simple to build – Ana White published this simple plan with a complete cut list and an easy-to-follow video, so I can just focus on the building part. The material is cheap and simple, just some 2″x4″s, so if I screw up, little will be wasted. Most importantly, these are just saw horses. They do not need to be pretty or have a nice finish, so I can feel free to practice on them and learn from my mistakes.

I started by gathering materials. We took down a wall in our utility room a while ago and still have some of these 2″x4″ framing lumber laying around. They are cut into random length during the demo process, and a lot of them have nails on them. But they are long enough to provide some usable pieces for the sawhorse.


I picked out all the long and relatively good pieces and hammered out the nails. Slav reluctantly pointed out that 2″x4″s are cheap, so it does not make much sense to dig into junk wood pile and risk to cut my hands with rusty nails. And he is absolutely right. But I also to wanted to practice using pry bar and hammers, and I am stingy genetically. So I kindly reminded him that it was International Men’s Day and World Toilet Day, and he should be doing what men do on the toilet and leave me alone.


After half an hour of work, I managed to harvest lots of good-looking lumber without breaking my skin. Points for that!

I did need more 2″x4″‘s, so I picked up two from Lowe’s along with some wood screws. I made two mistakes while doing that – one is I did not inspect the 2″x4″s carefully. I did check the straightness – and you bet I did it proudly because it made me felt like an expert. But I did not double check the length of these lumbers. One 2″x4″ is 4 inches shorted than expected 8’. But fortunately I did not need the whole length. The other mistake is that I did not get enough screws, apparently 50 of them are not enough for two saw horses!


I marked length on all the pieces according to the cut list, and fired up the miter saw:



Roxie watched me and licked saw dust off my hair. It is truly wonderful to have dogs.


I dry fit the pieces together after cutting. I can definitely get better at the miter saw – the pieces were a bit uneven at the end and corners, and sometimes I did not push the miter saw down enough, which resulted in jagged edges. Luckily, none of the mistakes prevented me from continuing the assembly.

The next step was to put the pieces together. I picked deck screws for the job, which might be a bit overkill, but they grab so well that they made the job really easy. I made a mistake not picking up enough of them, which became a good lesson, because I got to try all different kinds of long screws we had around, and figured out that I did not like self-drilling screws so much. I also learned quickly that having two drills around can make the work a lot faster when pre-drilling is needed.


It took me probably 20 minutes to assemble the first sawhorse, but a lot quicker for the other one. After building the first one, I decided to spice it up by adding on top a piece of 1″x8″ we had laying around:


If you have looked the cut list, you will notice that I skipped the 1″x3″ cross braces. The sawhorses were already very steady and I was running low on long screws, so I decided that having a pretty top was more important than cross bracing. 🙂

Here are the sexy pair. Aside from the scrap wood, I bought one box of screws and two 2″x4″s.


These saw horses are built to give our miter saw a boost, so we no longer need to cut on the patio. We have work benches in the garage, but we prefer to cut lumbers outside so our garage remains saw-dust free. Without a miter saw table, it can get really hard on our backs.


Slav immediately used it for his quarter round trims (another weekend project, stay tuned). My build is now Slav-approved! Below is the photo evidence – right after Slav crossed himself for using my saw horses.


To end today’s post, I want to give a shout to Ana’s Youtube channel. I have been watching it for a few months now, and it really inspired me to tackle woodwork myself. Guess who will be building more after today’s first project? This lady!

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We Got a House!

Remember the list of things we want in our first house?

Well, here she is, our raaaaaannch (use Bush’s voice here):

Ranch house - 1

When listing our must-haves, we were prepared for a house that does NOT grant all our wishes. We are less willing to compromise on the size of the lot, the two-car garage, or the construction quality. But if we have to pay for cheap upgrades that we will tear down soon, or drive 20 minutes longer to the mountains,  that would be OK.

Well, this lady proudly proved us wrong by covering EVERYTHING on our list.

1. She is “small”.

We wanted a place about 1000 sqft with two bedrooms. And the main floor of the ranch house is merely 850 sqft! It consists of two bedrooms, one bath, a kitchen and a living room. A perfect “small” house for two.

Ranch House - 5

The reason I put “small” in quote is because the ranch is actually twice as big. It comes with a full basement that is another 850 sqft, a separate apartment of its own. It has a similar layout to the main floor, with living room, bedrooms and a full bath, kinda like a twin sister to the main floor. The only difference is that there is no kitchen, but a laundry/utility room and a third bedroom instead. We intend to keep it separate from our living space for now, until we have a clear vision for how to utilize the space.

2. She can be very open

The layout of the main floor is very simple. You walk into a big living room with a kitchen ahead, and both bedrooms are on the left side. One bedroom facing backyard is smaller and neighboring the full bath, which will be our bedroom. There is already a window looking into the backyard, and we plan to replace it with a french door to the back yard. A cozy but open bedroom it will be.

The other bedroom is much bigger and only separated from the living room with a non weight-bearing wall. We plan to open it to the living area and use it as Slav’s home office. In order to close it when needed, we plan to install a pocket/sliding/french door between this room and the living area.

I know for most people, the first wall coming down should be the one separating kitchen and living room. Not only we are 99% sure that it is weight-bearing, but we also kind of like to have some separation between the most messy room in the house (kitchen) and the should-be most presentable (living room). Our last NC apartment has a partial wall between kitchen area and the living area, with wide doorways on both sides. We liked that it hides kitchen clutter from the view of front door, while providing more wall space for kitchen cabinets and counters.

Kitchen view in the ranch

Ranch House - 6

Kitchen view in the NC apartment


Living room view in the ranch

Ranch House - 5

Living room view in the NC apartment


3. Big lot. Big yard

The ranch house is sitting on 1/4 acre (10800 sqft). The zoning is considered “Low Residential Density” or R-L, which allows higher fences and more livestock (I am looking at you, chicks!). I know that 1/4 acre is probably not impressive to most of you folks out there, but in Denver, new builds only have 4000 sqft lots, off which the houses usually take a significant bite. The ranch house also sits relatively close to the street compared to new builds, giving us a bigger backyard by comparison.

Ranch house - 2

4. She comes with a two-car garage.

Gotta keep my man happy. Enough said.

Ranch House - 3

Ranch House - 4

5. Walk/bike to every service we need.

We were less willing to pay for the neighborhood to begin with, mainly because that we need to prioritize our budge toward the house itself. But we are lucky (so thankful!) to bank this one too with the ranch house. We will be in a big neighborhood at a corner of a major intersection. Another corner of the intersection is a big park, and the rest two are shopping centers. We are within 15 minutes walking distance (or 5 mins biking distance) to 4 grocery stores, a post office, banks, a pharmacy, and one Chinese restaurant! Fortunately and dangerously, we are also a short walk to Target!

What about the noise level you may ask? We are lucky (again, sooooo thankful) that our house is sitting in exactly the middle of our neighborhood. Lines of houses protect us from main streets on both sides, so we hardly hear the traffic – especially when we are inside. Being on a short street of ten houses, we also have little through traffic.

What makes us most happy about the location, is the 10 mins short ride to I-70. being in the west of Denver, we are an hour to several major ski resorts!

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6. Plenty room for upgrades

Ranch House - 7

Ranch House  - 10

Ranch House - 9

As you can see, there is has plenty room for upgrade. This 1964 ranch has not been updated for 20 years. The roof, most windows, and all the appliance will need to be replaced fairly soon, which made her $10K lower than its own appraisal. Neighboring ranches with these updates can sell for $40K~$80K more, giving us plenty of room to make her our own while building up some equity.

It is worth mentioning that even though the house is completely outdated, it is actually the most structurally sound house we have seen. All the issues it has are due to its age. Things like roof, gutter, and appliances do not last forever. But in terms of foundation, walls, roof support, this 1960 ranch stands out as the best maintained. This is exactly what we want – a good bone with ugly fixtures. We have toured another ranch house that we really loved, except it is slowing splitting into halves due to water damage in the foundation (very common in Denver area due to expansive clay).

Overall we cannot be happier with our first home, and we cannot wait to make this classic lady shine. The neighborhood has very good schools (accidental bonus), so the houses here are very sought-after. We believe that she will make a lovely home as well as a fruitful investment.

And the best news? With a decent size of down payment (we saved for the last five years religiously) and thanks for the lower-than-market price, we are able to get a 20-year loan! We are thrilled not to have to get a 30-year burden. The 20-year-old roof and outdated kitchen definitely helped. We cannot help but talking about plans for her and I will catch you up over the next month or so with our plans. The next post on the blog is probably our moving day, which will be early next week! Stay tuned my friends!

Now I will shut up and do my little dance, and let you insert your admiration and congratulatory comments below. 😉

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