Friday, April 16, 2010

DIY curb appeal upgrade: Replace your old house numbers with shiny new numbers

Every house has these... or should have these. These are the numbers on your house that should be big, bright, and easy to see from the street. What? Your numbers are old, small, and rusted! Well then, maybe you should replace them and gain a little bit more curb appeal.

I recently decided to do this as part of my front porch overhaul. I got tired of the rusted, bronze colored items hanging near my new door and its new brushed nickel lock-set. So I found some nice numbers at my local hardware store that matched my front lock-set, were slightly larger than the old numbers, and had a simple style that should withstand the test of time. This project cost me about $4 per number and less than an hour of my time. Now here's how you can do it too.

What you'll need
  • a level, preferably 2-3 feet long
  • a sharp pencil
  • a power drill
  • a set of small drill bits
  • masking or painter's tape
  • an adjustable square or ruler or other tool for measuring length
Before going to the hardware store
take a look at your existing house numbers from the curb and from up close and ask yourself; what size should the new numbers be? What finish should they have? Is there a theme in progress that they need to conform to?

Now that you have an idea of what you want, let’s see what we really have to work with. Unscrew and remove your old numbers from the wall. This is easy and shouldn't require any detailed instructions from me; just do it. Take note of the condition of the wall. Are the old screw holes eyesores? If so, you need to be prepared to fill them, maybe with acrylic caulk or wood putty, then dab some paint on top. Speaking of paint, when you pulled the old numbers off the wall, did they pull any paint or texture with them? If so, you'll need to consider making a small cosmetic repair to the patches of missing paint and texture. Take your numbers with you to the hardware store

At the hardware store
take a look at the different ways you can replace your house numbers. You can buy decorative numbered tiles, frame them and stick them on the wall. That's not what I did. You can also buy vinyl numbers and stick them to the wall or a support beam. Those are simple and go on like stickers, but that's not what I did either. I took a look at the different styles of individual metal numbers available and found my ideal numbers there. I compared them to the old numbers; the new numbers were a little larger, simpler in style, and brushed nickel. Perfect!!!

Back at home,
it's time to begin installing the new numbers. Let’s make sure these numbers go in as level and balanced as possible. First, you need a level base-line to reference off of. The bottom of each number will just barely touch this line. Of course, you don't want to draw a line on the front wall of your home, so take a long piece of masking or painter's tape and place it horizontally (parallel with the ground) whereabouts you want the bottoms of your numbers to be. You don't need it to be perfect. It's just there so you can draw a line on it then peel the line off when you're done. Get your level out and draw a level, horizontal line on the tape. This will be your accurate base-line, where the bottoms of your numbers will touch. Draw a small intersecting line (cross-hair) where you want to center your numbers. This can be measured or just decided by eye. It's your choice.

For each number, tear a piece of tape about three times the height of the number. Stick the tape to the number, vertically, so that there is lots of excess to the top and the bottom. This tape will be your center line. Centering it by eye should be good enough. Now take your middle number, or middle-most two numbers, and stick it/them on the wall. Use your cross-hair from before to eyeball this. By squeezing the excess tape to the wall, you can make micro adjustments to the height of the number(s). Repeat placing numbers on the wall and aligning them to the base-line. Move from the middle out to the ends. After each number, take a few steps back to make sure all the numbers look evenly spaced and straight (not tilted). You might be able to measure the distance between the numbers and use a level to make sure they are straight, but some number styles will actually look uneven if you are too precise with your measuring tools, such as numbers that are designed to look thicker on one side and thinner on the other, or have an italic appearance or very decorative ends.

Once you have positioned all of your numbers and are happy, it's time to drill some pilot holes. Pick a drill bit that is a little smaller than the screws that came with you numbers and load it in your drill. Each number should have two screw holes; one around the top and the other near the bottom. Place a pilot hole in each one of these screw holes. Now you can remove the numbers and all of the tape. One by one, hold a number to the wall. Use the pilot holes as guides. Using a screwdriver or your drill (set to a low torque setting), put the screws in place. Once you've done this for all of your numbers, you're done. Step back, smile, and feel proud.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

How to reclaim wood from pallets

Wood is the material of choice for a lot of my projects. In an effort to keep my hobby budget tight, I've ventured into the world of reclaimed and re-purposed wood. I'll often collect shipping pallets, crates, and wood that has been previously used for sheds and decking, then re-purpose it for my projects. Sometimes, this wood has been taken apart for me and I just need to cut out any rot and remove and any pieces of metal that have been lodged in it. But Most of the time, I have to take it apart myself.

The most common structure to reclaim wood from is a shipping pallet. They can be found anywhere across America. Small companies often want to get rid of these ASAP. Large companies sometimes have a process to reuse or recycle their pallets, but are often willing to give a few away to anyone who asks.

With all of the boards and nails, it can be a little intimidating and difficult to start separating a pallet. Just going at it with a pry bar and hammer isn't going to work very well. You'll have trouble getting the pry bar in to those tight joints and you can easily crack the wood, rending it hardly usable. Here is a guide with my steps, precautions, and techniques to help you reclaim the wood used in a pallet with maximum efficiency and minimal damage to the wood.

The tools I recommend are

  • a 4x4 piece of wood, long enough to lay across the pallet.
  • a 2 pound or heavier mallet, possibly made of rubber
  • a piece of 2x6 or similar, 1-3 feet tall
  • a regular hammer with a good claw
  • a pry bar - Stanley 21-Inch Wonder Bar
  • gloves
  • safety glasses
  • punches - 8 Piece Pin Punch Set
  • optionally, a sledge hammer and an empty jar for rusty nails

Start by

putting on your gloves and laying the pallet out on a hard, flat surface. I use my garage floor, but a sidewalk, porch, or driveway will also work well. Make sure you have sufficient space to walk around the pallet. I like to start the pallet with the heavily planked side up, the same way the pallet would lay if the shipping cargo were sitting on it. Grab the 4x4. Raise the pallet with one hand and slide the 4x4 underneath with the other. Position the 4x4 so that it is side to side with the first board you want to remove.

Once in position,
grab your mallet and 2x6 and stand it on the board you want to remove. You will need to hold it steady and can choose to hold it at an angle if you need to. Stand the 2x6 near where the pallet board contacts other boards and try to hold it so that as much of the 2x6 end is touching the pallet board as possible. This will distribute your hitting force more evenly around the nails attaching the board to the rest of the pallet, preventing cracking while still allowing you to deliver a lot of force. Hit the 2x6 with the mallet. Give it a few good hits and you should notice the pallet board slipping away from the other pieces of the pallet. Once it reaches about a quarter inch of separation, move your 2x6 to another part of the board where it is connected to the rest of the pallet and continue. Go up and down the length of the board until the board has fallen from the pallet. The more evenly you separate the joints, the less likely you'll crack the board.

If the board is in a really hard to reach place,
use the sledge hammer. Don't go nuts and start swinging at the board! Use gravity and the weight of the sledge hammer. Just lifting it and dropping it a few times is enough to dislodge the board from the rest of the pallet. This technique allows you to place the head of the sledge hammer sideways into a small space, then just lift and drop to get the board moving. You could use this method for the entire pallet, but this method is prone to creating more cracks in the boards.

Before moving on to the next board,
make sure to move the recently removed board far enough from your work area that you won't accidentally step on it or the rusty nails sticking out of it. Then move your 4x4 next to another board and start removing that board with the mentioned techniques. I like to work from outer-most to inner-most boards, helping keep the pallet rigid while I'm working with it. Once finished with one side, flip it over and do the other side of the pallet.

When deciding which side of a board I want to place my 4x4 against, I choose the side with the least weight. This puts the board I want to remove in between the 4x4 and the floor, as opposed to the 4x4 and the air. I can't follow this rule when removing the boards on the ends of the pallet, so to help keep the pallet heavy and steady against the 4x4, I stand on the pallet while making my hits. Another thing to note is that hitting too hard into a small area will cause cracking in the board. You never want that. That's why I recommend using the mallet in conjunction with a 2x6 and only using the sledge hammer in tight spaces.

Once the boards have all been separated,
you should take the time to remove the nails. This will make your new boards safe and easy to store. I take each board, one at a time, and lay it on the edge of a work bench or flat stool. I make sure the nail heads are on the bottom side (floor side) of the board and that I'm looking at the points of the nails. I then take my regular hammer and start knocking the nails out to the other side. Keeping the targeted nails close to the edge of a sturdy table or stool keeps the board from flexing and makes each swing of the hammer count that much more. Once I've knocked each nail flush with my side of the board, I grab another board and do it again.

As I finish each board, I lay it on the floor, nail heads up. Once they are all on the floor, I put on my safety glasses and grab my jar and pry bar. Make sure you have your safety glasses on, because sometimes these nails will flex on their way out, causing them to fling into the air when being removed. I've already been hit in the face a couple of times and hit in the goggles once. I begin walking on the boards, taking care not to step on any nails, using my pry bar to pull the nails out. This is a cake walk on thinner boards and can sometimes be difficult with thick boards. Thicker boards, like 2x4s, might require you to get down on your hand and knees to pull their nails out.

Some stubborn nails
will lose their heads. To get these out, you need to get creative. If the nail hole goes all the way through the board, I take the board back to my workbench or stool and flip it over, the same way it was when I knocked the nail through to the other side. I then use a punch set to drive the nail the rest of the way out from the bottom side. If the nail hole doesn't go all the way through, I will lay one of my punches next to the nail and us the hammer to bend the broken nail over the punch tool. Then, I'm usually able to use the claw on the hammer to get enough grip to remove the nail.

Now you're done.
You'll want to store the nails in a safe place, like a jar with a lid. I haven't thought of any good uses for rusty, bent nails yet, so I just recycle them. Make sure that before using the reclaimed wood, you pass a metal detector over it. You don't want any missed nails or staples damaging your saw blades and other tools. Also, I try to plane my wood ASAP. I do so with a lot of dust protection. The reason I do this is because some pallets get fumigated and treated with bad stuff and strong chemicals while they are being moved around the world. It's my belief that this stuff typically sticks to the surface and doesn't absorb deep. Holding the boards to the light, you can sometimes notice an eerily shiny surface layer. So, I plane or cut the surface layers away before storing and using this wood, getting rid of that shiny layer. I wear an N95 or better rated mask while doing this to protect myself from contaminated saw dust.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

How to start your own blog!

  1. Go to
  2. Click to create a blog
  3. Sign-in with an existing google account or create a new account
  4. Give yourself a user name
  5. Choose a prefix to the blogger domain name
  6. Choose a template to start with
  7. Get typing!!!
There was an error in this gadget