Rolling Chair Mat

September 29, 2014 - 11:44 am

Today’s post will feature our quickie project from the weekend, because the tiling is on a timeout.

One of the little projects that has been malingering around here is making a rolling chair mat for David. Our carpets are super squishy, enough so the chair mats we had cracked immediately when we sat in our desk chairs.

I’m still suffering with carpet and making plans, but we purchased a box of laminate floor months ago for David’s mat, and it’s been buried in his closet. We excavated it last week when I was helping him get things bait more orderly, and it got put on the weekend task list.

The laminate strips are 48” long, which is a generous size for a floor mat. We decided to cut two down to the right size to fit between his desk legs so he wouldn’t roll off. 38” was the absolute widest, but to make it easier to fit we went with 36”. So first there was marking:

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I like making lots of marks:

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And then using a square to average them out:

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Note that I mark with sharpie. I do this because the kerf of my saw blade is about the same width as a wide tip sharpie. “Kerf” is the term for what gets turned into sawdust when you use a saw to cut something. There is a width to that cut, and it’s important to bear that in mind when measuring and marking to avoid sadness.

So here are the two boards that will become the extension of the mat. Notice also that I only marked one. I’ll be cutting them together, so as to be pretty certain of having them end up the same size:

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Next we set the saw up on a table in the driveway:

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Note the safety glasses, and the fact that I store the saw with the blade lock engaged. Also the saw is well clamped to the table, so it won’t start wandering from the vibrations when I start cutting. 

Plugged in the saw. I like tying the two cords in a knot where they join, so it’s harder to unplug them accidentally when walking around:

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Here’s my flustered assistant after I announced he would be doing the cutting: 

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When I put the flooring on the table I discovered it was just a little too wide for the saw to make it through in one cut: 

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You can kinda see that the boards are stacked, and they extend a little bit past the blade slot in the table. This means I shouldn’t really make that cut if I were following proper safety guidelines, and I wasn’t going to start David out on a chop saw by making a tricky cut. He got to support the long end of the boards, and make some practice cuts on pallet wood scraps instead.

I completed the cut by cutting as much as I could, then rotating the boards and cutting from the other side to complete the cut. Kids, don’t try this at home.

Next up was assembly. This laminate floor is click-lock, which means it doesn’t require glue when used as a floor. That’s excellent in normal situations because it means individual boards can be swapped out if they get damaged, but for our application we need it to hold together when squished by a task chair wheel into a thick carpet. That means we needed to glue.

So we laid out boards:

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Ran a line of glue down the joint:

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and clicked them together by inserting the top board at an angle:

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And then flattening them out:

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Not too much glue, because it can keep the joint from closing all the way. There is too much on the edge here:

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and that leads to glue forcing its way out through the seams, and the boards not fitting properly: 

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We wiped off the excess glue on top, then pulled the boards apart and wiped some of the glue out of the joint, and then they went together nicely. In an ideal situation there would be exactly enough glue to fill the spaces in the joint but not enough to overflow. In practice, with manufactured flooring, less tends to be more. The surfaces are going to fit together pretty tightly such that the glue will make a good bond. Too much actually makes the joint weaker, and creates a noticeable gap between boards.

Having a sponge, clean water, and a towel around is essential. There will be glue going where you don’t want it.

Last up was attaching the chair lip:

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We used the tape measurement to get it pretty much centered on the boards. Note that this particular floor allowed us to install boards cross-wise to each other. I decided this might further reinforce the joins between the long boards, so that’s what we did. 

Then we waited. It started curing on the porch for about 8 hours:

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then was moved gently into place to finish curing overnight. I apologize in advance for the poor lighting and messy state of D’s office, but here’s the mat doing its job: 


David’s happy with it, and it seems completely solid. It’s more attractive than those plastic mats, and *much* less expensive. I believe the box of laminate was about $25. 

I may pull it out and use my laminate trimmer to round off the edges and remove the joint lips. Then again, it seems fine as is, so I may not. I’m pretty confident this will hold up to the job we’re asking it to perform until we decide to afford to replace the carpets with hardwood or laminate.

* * *

For them what wants to know what the tile did wrong, here is the update: 

I was 4 tiles away from done with the project when I broke one. For which there was no spare. I purchases two spares originally, and these are 12×24” tiles so that should have been plenty, but our layout for this room had to make several rearrangements due to Surprise! issues that came up during the construction, so I had ended up with no spare tiles.

Actually, I was about 6 tiles short of what I wanted, but I rearranged the layout to use the leftover travertine mosaic tile from the upstairs bath in a way that would cover the bathroom nicely. And for a bonus I got away from fussy cuts around the plumbing fixtures.

I’ve spent the whole project terrified of breaking a tile. I made sure they were handled carefully, only put down on a mat or on cardboard, and generally sweated from the time a tile was pulled from the box until it was on the wall. Then, during the install, I tapped one with a rubber mallet to help settle it into the mortar level with its neighbors, and it fractured into 8 triangular pieces radiating from the center. 

I spent at least a minute just staring at it and thinking furiously about what to do before I could bring myself to pull the broken pieces off the wall and scrape off the mortar.

When I pulled it away I discovered that there was a joint in the hardibacker that wasn’t level, and where I hit the tile was over the piece that was deeper. The lip between the boards was apparently enough, in combination with the tap from the mallet, to break this tile.

While I was scraping and cleaning up and trying not to cry I came up with a strategy. Plan A was to call the supplier and see if possibly maybe they had more of this tile we had purchased on super markdown closeout. Plan B was to extend the travertine mosaic tiles to cover more of the wall behind the tub. 

I just got off the phone with the supplier and she has one more box she’s holding for me, so phew. I don’t have to make a drastic rearrangement of my thinking. Also, meh. I am so tired of big tiles. But only about four more pieces to attach to the wall, and DONE. I like done. Well, done with the wall. Still have to make the slate vanity counter and the slate window sill and half wall ledge. Anyway. Much progress was made.

Tile will be done soon. Possibly tomorrow, if I can get the layout done today and the grout tomorrow. Then contractors come back. Then it’s a bathroom, and the planned construction on the house is officially complete. 

I call the first bath in the new tub— I’ve earned it!!!

Tile is Hard!

September 26, 2014 - 9:07 am

I had hoped to be done with the bathroom tiling but, well, I ended up going on two Epic Quests this week to hardware stores to find (1) the specific mortar I’ve been using and (2) the QEP tile leveling system I need to install the large tiles. Each required checking multiple hardware stores, and the mortar ended up requiring a will-call trip to the local distributor.

Each store, of course, had to re-check the shelf when I reported they were out of stock before they checked their computer to determine that Yep! That’s out of stock! Grr. Anyway. Hours were spent, things were found, tiling continued.

Monday I posted this picture:

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I snapped this at one of my breaks yesterday: 

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And here’s the state of the wall at the moment:

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The wall tile and the travertine mosaic blend more pleasantly in person than in my crappy cell phone camera’s eye. When it’s all done I’ll take out the good camera. The Monday photo above (which was taken in daylight) has a much closer representation of the colors.

The tools and materials are all on top of the tub: 

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which is what needs tiling next. That will be my job on Sunday. Then (hopefully) grouting on Monday, and we can call the contractors back to finish up!

I found some nice dark grey slate with a rough surface finish that will complement the pebbles in the floor tile. That will be the window sill, the ledge of the wall, and the counter under the vessel sink. I made some test cuts yesterday, and after adjusting the wet saw a bit it was quite happy to cut through them. I ripped the narrow strips that will be placed under the tile where it overhangs whatever surface it’s on. This will all make more sense with photos. 

I’m learning a lot about laying tile. Mostly, it HURTS. Kneeling for hours while wrestling with thick mud is surprisingly taxing. Or, perhaps not so surprising in retrospect, but I hadn’t anticipated the physical toll this work would take.

It’s also wet and messy. I was never the kid who wanted to play in the mud puddles. Ever. I liked building sand castles so long as I didn’t get too sandy myself. The answer to almost every issue in tiling seems to be add more water or add more mud.

I have gone through more sponges on this task than in every other task in my adult life combined. Caustic mud + porous foam = goo. I’ve taken to cutting the sponges in half or thirds, and I pretty much expect them to start disintegrating after one or two uses. And there are few things more tedious than picking disintegrating sponge bits out of rapidly setting grout. New sponges are your friend.

I am developing a fair proficiency at one of the former gaps in my DIY home owner knowledge, and have amassed a set of tools for doing this work. I’m pretty sure I can figure out most any tile layout I want to in the future, and will be much more savvy in assessing how hard a given task will be going in.

Tiling will be in the “Approach with caution” set of home tasks with tasks like cabinetry work and wall modifications, not the “never again” set that includes drywall and roof work, or the “I will never pay someone to do this” set that includes changing out light switches, painting, and minor plumbing repairs and upgrades. (There is also the “too much risk if I eff up” set of tasks that involves significant plumbing and electrical changes, and anything to do with gas.)

Soon, it will be done. One more tiling push, and then the grouting, et voila. I will take a bath in my giant new soaking tub and it will all have been worth it.

Adventures in Home Ownership!!

September 22, 2014 - 2:35 pm

So this post is a departure from the knitting I wrote about last week. I enjoyed daily blogging, but knitting isn’t really how I spend my time these days. Sadly, neither is sewing. I’m itching to get my studio going and dive in to all I want to do with Hack Your Clothes, but for the past 8 months I’ve been focussed on the house David and I bought back in Feb.

I’m almost done with all the originally planned improvements. So close. The last one on the initial list is the bathroom I’m tiling. I’m more than half way there:

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The floor is slate pebble tiles. The walls are big porcelain tiles edged with travertine mosaic. The decor will end up having a strong Asian flavor, leaning towards a Japanese garden sort of thing. There’s an antique hand carved and painted lacquer screen to hide the water heater, washer and dryer, and the heater. There’s a vessel sink which is glass with a pattern of koi in a pond. Paper lanterns for the light fixtures, and rice paper shutters for privacy screens on the window.

The contractors come back to finish out the plumbing and electrical stuff as soon as I get the tile on the wall; the floor is already done. But I ran out of mortar yesterday, so this morning I worked on a garden project.

A couple months ago I realized that when mud season starts we’re going to need some paths to be able to move around the house. The house is on quite a slope. We are at war with the blackberry, which was 25’ up into the trees and had grown up to the second story windows from the down slope I’m showing below. To keep it from re-emerging I’m going to be weeding on a hill all winter. I need at least someplace to stand. 🙂

So I started looking on the net, and got bitten by the “make it out of pallets!” bug. In the long run I want to hardscape with custom artisan concrete work. I am hatching plans for terraces and mosaics and very interesting retaining walls based on fabric formed concrete, but that’s a couple years from getting started and perhaps a decade from being realized. So I need temporary paths. Enter the pile of pallets.

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That’s the view towards the driveway when I roll up my studio door. There are paint cans and various other junk from the old owner that we are disposing of; we’re sort of down to the dregs of things that require special handling. After five dump truck loads of trash and eight of blackberry, ivy, and other overgrowth. But I digress.

The big stacks of wood are disassembled pallets. I picked them up off Craigslist, and in free moments of destructive energy I’ve been deconstructing them. There are 2×4’s:

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and 1×4’s:

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And a bucket of nails:

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The are going to be stairs here:

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Note that the railing was part of a daybed frame that was under the blackberry, and all the bricks and blocks were among the debris. This is a sort of “before” picture; I had tossed a few boards on the slope a couple weeks ago, and discovered stairs would be necessary.

I started laying them out today:

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Above shows some of the 2×4’s that will be step risers and the 1×4’s laid out in a test pattern, looking towards the back of the house. Here’s looking from the back to the front:

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Here’s another view of the future stair risers:

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And a look at the area under our porch that’s become tool storage as well as our dog run:

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That bamboo lattice is completely transparent to poodles, but the Belgian respects it. Up soon on the task list is improving the run fencing:

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She goes straight under the mesh along our property boundary, and walks through the lattice like it isn’t even there, so she only gets to go out and do her business with a leash. I’m going to get 6’ deer fence and drape the lower two feet on the ground to discourage tunneling.

The path will get set first, though. I need to level along the house and sink the boards in a bit, then mulch and plant between them. The steps need to be built. And there are a couple other yard tasks in the works in the next couple weeks. 

Anyway. I’ve been not posting because I figured this home improvement stuff is neither fiber nor food, but I’ve changed my mind. I’d like to have a record of the work I’m doing on the house and I like writing. So I’ll be doing more of it, as the whim strikes. 🙂