Replacing Wood Balusters With Wrought Iron (Sort Of)

After

We recently had a dishwasher leak in our kitchen that necessitated the wood floors being patched and re-finished.  We had always wanted to extend the wood floors through our entry and into the dining room, so we decided to just pull the trigger and have it done along with the kitchen floor.  It pains me to hire this work out, but insurance was covering the kitchen floors and it was just easier to have it all done at once.  In order to extend the wood flooring, we needed to rip out the stair railing that was holding my kids back from parachuting to the basement.  My wife reminded me that we had a project on “our list” to replace the beat up wood balusters with wrought iron.

Congratulations to me!!!!! I had a new project to work on… and it needed to be done quick!

Here is a picture of my new canvas.

The new wood flooring is in, but there is an 8 foot drop for my kids to find!

The new wood flooring is in, but there is an 8 foot drop for my kids to find!

I didn’t have many pictures of the existing railing (fully in tact), but below you can see what I was replacing.  Anything white on the railing was coming out!

I didn't take many pictures of the old railing, but this shows what it looked like.

I didn’t take many pictures of the old railing, but this shows what it used to look like.

My plan was to:

  • Replace the painted white plate that runs down the stairs with an oak plate stained to match the floors.
  • Replace all the balusters with the wrought iron (actually, they are aluminum…. but look like wrought iron) that I found at Home Depot (link), including the decorative shoes and knuckles (link).
  • Re-finish the hand rail using Minwax Polyshades.  Using Polyshades should make re-finishing go much faster because I did not need to sand down the hand rail to bare wood… just scuff it up with some 400 grit sandpaper.

*** I considered replacing the entire hand rail and newel posts with new oak rails and posts, but it would have added an extra $1,000 (or more) to the job and I decided it just wasn’t worth it.

There are some pretty good YouTube videos on replacing balusters, so instead of giving a full description, i will just give a few links if you want to do this yourself.

Video 1

Video 2

Really… if you are only replacing the balusters, it is a pretty easy job.  You will need a mitre saw, cut-off blade (for metal) and a drill.  I would estimate this job could be completed in a single day if you are ony replacing the balusters.  The picture below shows some of my progress where you can still see the old balusters, hand rail and posts as well as some of the new ones.

Too bad my kids can't parachute down to the basement anymore.

Too bad my kids can’t parachute down to the basement anymore.

Below is a good shot of the new bottom plate that runs down the stairs.  It almost looks like it has been there the whole time!

New oak bottom plate.

Everything has a new coat of stain!  Polyshades is quite a bit more difficult to work with than regular stain and my first pass came out a little blotchy.  I was trying to avoid going too dark, and a second coat of Polyshades would have made it too dark.  I ended up using a brush to “touch up” the blotchy areas and even out any areas that were too light.

Almost done

Almost done, just need to cover up those newel post anchors.

The railing is a little “bumpy” after the Polyshades.  I had heard about a trick to rub down your finish with cardboard to smooth out those bumps and it worked like a charm.

Close up of the re-stained hand rail

Close up of the re-stained hand rail

After covering up the newel post anchors and putting on some finishing touches, this job was done.  My kids are just going to have to climb the railing if they want to parachute down to the basement.

Some final pictures:

Railing - Final 1

Railing - Final 2

Railing - Final 3

This project definately gave our entry way a much needed boost!  While the balusters are not real wrought iron, they seem pretty durable and have a nice look to them.  They are also pretty easy to work with.  The only thing I would do different on this project would be to stain the hand rail and newel posts before installing the balusters.  Unfortunately, time (and safety) did not allow me to leave a big 8 foot drop into the basement.  My kids had already began fabricating their parachutes so I needed to move quick!

Princess Dress Storage Corner

Dress Up Shelf - Final Close

We have a small area near the bottom of our stairs that is PERFECT for a little wine cellar.  This project is about the princess/dress-up area that is there instead 😦  To be fair, building a wine cellar or wine storage area (I even thought of temperature and humidity control) would be pretty time-consuming to build and probably expensive to boot.  Maybe one day…

Despite my pouting, we did have an actual problem to solve with this project.  My girls love to dress up and pretend.  All their princess dresses and dress-up stuff was thrown into a bin that usually ends up strewn across our entire basement.  My wife had an idea to build some sort of “coat tree” that could be put into the corner for hanging the dresses.  After taking a look and going over some options, I came up with the idea of building corner shelves that could also be used for hanging dresses.  My wife thought it would be a good idea to add a second shelf as well.  This is a pretty simple project, but seems to do the trick for wrangling dress-up stuff (it is TERRIBLE for wine storage though).

Supplies:

  • 1×4 pine board
  • laminated pine panel
  • wood glue
  • brad nails
  • 14 rubber coated mug hooks
  • screws
  • paint
  • string (for making the 1/4 circle shape)

Tools:

  • Circular saw (optional)
  • Mitre Saw
  • Brad nailer
  • Scroll saw or Jig saw
  • Router + 1/4″ round over bit (optional)
  • Sander + sandpaper (150 & 220)
  • Drill & Drill Bits
Cut out pieces for the shelf

Cut out pieces for the shelf

I used a string that I pinned down in the corner of the laminated panel with my finger to draw 2 1/4 circle shapes.  The trick to drawing the 1/4 circle shapes is to use string that doesn’t stretch easily and just keep a steady hand while holding your pencil to make the arc.  I free-handed the shape on the end of the 1×4 pine, cut it out on my scroll saw and used the first piece as a template for the other 3 pieces (to make sure they were all the same).  I used my circular saw to make a bunch of rough cuts around the arc… essentially to remove material.  This makes it easier to use my scroll saw, but if you are going to use a jig saw you shouldn’t need to do this.  After some sanding, I used my router with a 1/4″ round over bit to round off the top outer edge of the shelf.  This step isn’t required either, but I would at least sand the edges.  Add some glue and nail all the pieces together.

Both shelves are assembled

Preview Changes Both shelves are assembled

I decided to paint these shelves to match our baseboards.  All that was left to do was hang these up in the corner using some screws and install the mug hooks.  I pre-drilled all my screw holes to prevent any splitting of the wood.  It was definitely helpful to draw out my hook pattern on paper before installing the hooks.  This was the most time-consuming part of the whole project because I am anal about things being evenly spaced.  Here are some final pictures of the corner shelf/dress hangers.

Dress Up Shelf - Installed

Dress Up Shelf - Hooks CloseUp

Dress Up Shelf - Final Close

Dress Up Shelf - Final Far

While this is definitely not as fun as a wine cellar, this little project definitely made my girls and wife happy.  The girls have easy access to their dress up stuff and my wife doesn’t have to come get a bin down every time they want to do it.

Garage Mud Room

Mud Room - Final Close

One of our favorite activities is griping at the kids to put their shoes away, hang their coats up and generally quit making a huge mess out of our front entry every time they came in the house.  To be fair, the small coat closet in our entry is way overmatched for a Colorado family of 5.  We always seem to need access to 3 different jackets (each) depending on the weather.  It is an absolute necessity that my wife have easy access to 63 pairs of shoes and my kids sometimes end up wearing flip-flops in the winter (gotta love Colorado).  We were cramming 5 people’s worth of stuff into a closet that my wife could probably occupy all on here own.  We figured… why not give our favorite activity (griping at the kids) a little more space?  Wouldn’t it be much better to gripe at the kids in the garage rather than our front entry?

This project really isn’t that complicated.  It is basically building boxes.  I chose to use melamine because it matches some existing closets we had already set up in the garage and it cleans up easily.  Here is the space I am working with.  As you can see, I did a poor job of cleaning up before taking this picture

Mud Room - Before

Space in the garage cleared out for the new mud room

I started off building the bench with storage space under it.  Each box is about 15 inches wide and 21 inches deep.  I even used some scrap pieces to make a kick plate to cover up the frame under the bench.

Mud Room - Bench Front

Front view of the bench

You can’t just set the bench on the garage floor because of the moisture in the concrete as well as the possibility of melted snow finding its way to the bench, so I built a small frame out of pressure treated lumber to protect the melamine bench.  You can see it in this picture along with the un-attached kick plate.

Mud Room - Bench Side

Closer side view of the bench showing the pressure treated lumber base

To complete the project, I built a set of cubbies to hang over the bench and made a coat closet to keep those extra jackets.  Again… it is really just building boxes.  I also grabbed a few sheets of panelling while I was at Home Depot to hang on the wall and fancy it up a bit.  I anchored some pine boards on the wall above the bench to have something sturdy to attach the coat hooks to and attached what looks like a bazillion coat hooks.  After a couple coats of white paint… and I thought I was done.  But after using this area for a couple of days, I decided to add some of those rubberized garage floor tiles to make it softer and to hopefully keep it clean.

The whole project was about a day’s worth of work (spread over 2 weekend of course… kid activities).  We now have a place in the garage to gripe at the kids!  Here are some shots of the completed project.

Mud Room - After Close 2

Completed mud room with the coat closet door closed

Mud Room - Final

I have to be honest here… this picture is staged with a reasonable amount of jackets and shoes

Mud Room - Final Reality

Here is a more realistic view of the mud room in use. This is before my wife has figured out what to put in the two storage areas above the coat rack. Look at all those shoes!

New/Old Flagstone Steps

Flagstone Steps -  Before After

One side of our house is kind of a mess.  There are steps leading from the side garage door down to the back yard that are made out of rail road timbers with pea gravel in between the timbers.  The pea gravel sits below the level of the timbers making for very uneven steps.  It also makes for a very nice place for weeds to make their home.  Nothing irritates me more than pea gravel…well… maybe lava rock irritates me more… but not much more.

Flagstone Steps - Before 1

My lovely pea gravel steps. These weeds seem to return within 1 day of weeding

Flagstone Steps - Before 2

These “steps” are just waiting for someone to fall and break their neck

Our back patio has an area off to the side where the previous owner thought it would look good to place a few flagstones and put a bunch of pea gravel in between.  The flagstone was spaced pretty far apart and it really serves no purpose other than to make the area very uneven and cluttered.  Here was my chance to solve two problems at once.  I pulled up all the flagstone and replaced it with the pea gravel from the steps.  Actually, I think I just consolidated 2 problems into 1 problem (I still want to get rid of all the pea gravel).

Flagstone Steps - Cleared Out

All the pea gravel is gone! I thought about taking out the timbers as well, but am glad I kept them

After getting everything cleared out, I made a run to Home Depot to buy some bags of paver sand.  Because the areas I am filling with sand are so small, I decided not to buy a tamper and went with a spare brick for compacting the sand.  Ideally, you want to have a good 2 to 4 inches of compacted sand for the flagstone to rest on.  There is a lot of trial and error when trying to get the right level because flagstone is never the same depth.  Add a little sand here, take out a little sand there.  I found it easier to get my stone cut and ready before attempting to get the sand in place.  Basically I was doing one flagstone step at a time instead of setting the sand for all the steps at once.

Flagstone Steps - Paver Sand Tamping

Compacting the sand to make a nice solid base

Flagstone Steps - Paver Sand

Flagstone is ready to go in

I tried to have the flagstone setting about 1/4 – 1/2 inch above where I wanted it when I first set them in the sand.  Then I took a rubber mallet and beat the CENTER of each stone until it was at the right level.  If you hit the stone on the side or corners, you will end up creating spots where the stone is not firmly resting on sand… which makes the stone wobble when you walk on it.

I have not cut a lot of flagstone in my day, so I went to YouTube for a quick refresher.  This guy does a pretty good job of explaining how to do it… plus he LOOKS like a mason!

Originally, I was cutting the stone on a platform I had set up with my saw horses but found that setting the stones on a harder surface made it a lot easier.  I should also mention that I used an angle grinder with a diamond blade for some of the smaller cuts.

Flagstone Steps - Cutting 1

I marked my cut line by simply dragging my hammer across the stone

Flagstone Steps - Cutting 2

After several hundred light smacks with the hammer, the stone eventually broke right down the line

All in all… this project only took about 8 hours to complete including an extra trip to Home Depot to get more sand.  Here are some pictures of the finished project.  It definitely looks better than the pea gravel steps.

Flagstone Steps - After Top View

Flagstone Steps - After Side View

Flagstone Steps - After Bottom View

House Maintenance: Cleaning the Dryer Lint Trap

Lint Trap - Before And After

I started keeping a Google Calendar with all my house maintenance items a while back.  Frankly, most of my short-term memory is stored on my phone, so keeping a maintenance calendar just makes sense.  I also have it set up to send me an email when items need to be done, so I don’t even need to remember to check the calendar!  I have events set up for things like:

  • changing the furnace filter
  • replacing perishable items in our emergency bags
  • cleaning the vacuum filters
  • lawn fertilizer schedule
  • and the list keeps growing and growing….

One of the items on my calendar is to clean the lint trap in our dryer every 3 months.  I am not talking about removing the lint (that happens with every load), I am talking about scrubbing that sucker down.  The reason I do this is because I came across some information about how dryer sheets leave a coating on the lint trap that restricts air flow.  Restricted air flow will cause extended drying times and eventually will lead to a damaged or broken dryer.  In our 5 family member house, a broken dryer would probably cause a family disaster and the national guard would have to be called in.  I thought I would share some before and after pictures of our lint trap to illustrate the affect dryer sheets have on the air flow through your dryer.

[Seriously… what is more exciting than seeing before and after lint trap pictures?]

Here is the lint trap before I have scrubbed it with soap and water.

Lint Trap - Before

Notice the pool of water forming. You would think water would easily pass through a screen, but it doesn’t. All the lint has been removed and the water still can’t pass through the screen!

Here is the lint trap after I scrubbed it with soap and water.  I just used a scrubbing pad and some dish soap.

Lint Trap - After

No water pooling up, and the air will be free to pass through the screen.

Pretty drastic huh?  It only takes a couple of minutes and the only problem is finding a 24 hour period when the dryer is not needed (which is harder than you may think) so that the lint trap can dry.

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