Misadventures in DIY: Closet Organization/Conversion

(Disclaimer: I’m no handy man. I hope I can inspire other people who are complete DIY novices to try, even if it’s not perfect. That’s why I always mention my terrible errors and sloppiness.)

One of the things about humble beginnings is making them more livable: case in point, our duplex. One of the other complaints that Melanie and I have lobbed is the super crowded closet. Our bedroom closet is 64″ wide with a 30″ opening and it’s only 22″ deep. Melanie couldn’t even reach all the way inside the closet to grab some of her clothes because one of the sides of the closet went back so deep. The crowded, cramped clothes jutted out of the entrance, making it hard to close the closet door. It had this terrible Lowes metal wire shelving that was poorly installed. I understand why the previous Owner did this, because it was a rental unit, and we usually don’t spend too much time making those super nice.

But when Melanie casually mentions that something is inconvenient, I, of course, go to work on a plan that is way more than is necessary to cure the ill by hacking and screwing wood that would make most home improvement professionals cringe.

Onward!

Forgot to take a true before pic, so this one after I got the first part up. FYI: I know these photos suck… I may need some photography classes if I’m gong to keep doing these blog posts.

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I Googled solutions and I came upon an idea to make 2 levels of perpendicular clothing racks and went to work designing it. The plan was to use 1x4s to make strips around the perimeter of the closet to attached the clothing bars to. This would also give me a way to put wood shelving in the top of the closet for storage.

Step 1: I took measurements and drew up a plan

Closet Plan Front003 Closet Plan Side003

Materials:

  • 32′ of yellow pine 1×4 (2 at 16′ lengths)
  • 8′ of round closet rod
  • 1 4’x8′ A/C Plywood
  • 5 Wood closet rod holders (I like the look of wood more)
  • 2-1/2″ Square drive screws
  • 1-1/2″ nails
  • 5 #20 Joiner Biscuits
  • Wood glue
  • Scrap 2×4

All of my lumber was purchased from Siewers Lumber & Millworks, my employer’s supplier here in Richmond, VA. Siewers is a local, family-owned business since 1888 and their lumber is infinitely better than the crap you have to dig through to find only slightly less crappy lumber at Lowes.

Also, I only needed 4 closet rod holders, but I messed one up when I split it in half trying to hammer a nail on it to hold the rod on. Thus, I had to buy another.

Tools:

  • Measuring Tape
  • Pencil
  • Speed Square
  • Level
  • Circular-saw
  • Electric drill/driver
  • Hammer
  • Chop saw
  • Table saw
  • “F” Clamps
  • Saw horses
  • Plate joiner
  • Headlamp

I had access to my employer’s workshop and thus nicer tools than most novices, but a skil-saw can do what any of these saws that I used can do, it just takes longer because of all the steps to make sure you don’t mess up.

Step 2: Cut the 1×4 support band

I cut the 1x4s to the appropriate lengths. To do this, I used the chop saw at the shop.  (I took pictures after the fact, so yes, that is not a 1×4, that is a piece of plywood.)

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Step 3: Installing the band around the perimeter.

First, I used my trusty stud detector and found the studs around the closet.

Once that was done, the first problem that came up is that (like it is all over the house) the walls and floor were uneven, the floor was not level, and the doorway was crooked. None of it uniformly so. With Melanie’s help (and patience) I did the best I could to give a sense of balance and symmetry to the thing.

IMG_20151213_104132[1]So, with sort of a weird un-level, but straight base line using the doorway and floor as a guide, I began screwing (with 2-1/2″ square drive screws) the upper and lower bands around the closet. I had to toe-screw some of these 1×4’s in place to be able to reach the stud. I’m not sure if that’s suppose to be done or not, but I did it anyway because it seemed right!

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I used that shelf to try to make the bands even and contiguous for when I put the top closet shelf in.

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A skilled carpenter would have mitered the corners, or made some other joint to lock the 1×4’s together, but skilled carpenter doesn’t describe me, and the project needed to get done without spending 10 hours and 30 extra linear ft. of 1×4 to finagle a half-decent joint of some kind.

Step 4: Closet Rods

Next was the closet rods. I opted for wood ones, because I feel that they look nicer. I cut the rods to length (and re-cut when I screwed up twice) and then installed the brackets.

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In order to make sure the closet rod didn’t come out when clothes were pulled off it, I hammered a small nail into the bracket to hold it in.

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Step 5. Melanie’s lower closet bar leaving room for longer articles of clothing to hang

The other issue that I had to find a solution for was mounting the clothing rod for the lower level of of the closet while leaving some space for the longer articles of clothing (dresses) to hang down freely from the top bar. The solution was a (shoddily) homemade bracket using a piece of the plywood for the shelving and a 2×4 ripped in half to be a 1×1.

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That 90 degree line right there was to notch it so that it fit around the 1×4 band.

I didn’t have a jig saw, or any fine woodworking tools really, so I just had to make due with my circular saw and coping saw leftover from trimming out my water heater closet…..which is why it looks so sloppy. (1st photo)

I split a 2×4 into two then, once again, use a circular saw to cut a notch for the band. (2nd Photo)

Then I hammered a nail through both sides to attach the 1×1 flanges to the plywood. Ignore my messy nightstand. (3rd Photo)

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It’s bulky, ugly, and, yes, I didn’t make the plywood wide enough and had to add another, wider piece of ply to make the clothing rod mounting bracket line up with the other one, but I didn’t have to spend money on any extra materials; which I consider a minor victory.

Yes, the rod is slightly tilted. It’s an…um…err….  aesthetic choice….

For the other side, I actually found a better method for making the bracket.

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I added a shelf in case we need it for whatever reason. I used 1-1/2″ trim nails to make sure it doesn’t go anywhere.

I actually should have done the upper closet shelves before we put Melanie’s clothes in the closet, but I didn’t want her to have to leave her clothes in the living room closet and on the couch while I waited until the next week to finish the closet.

Step 6. Closet Shelves

The next order of business (before installing my clothing racks) was getting a shelf in the top of the closet. this was made immensely difficult by uneven walls, and studs making drywall subtly bulge out.

The thought was that I could use the 1×4 band as support for the shelves. The only problem was that I had to make the shelves in 3 parts to make a “C” shape and one corner would be unsupported.

So I used the table saw in the shop to cut 3 boards (one all the way across, and 2 smaller panels to go in the sides of the closet):

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Now, how to join the 3 boards? Our cabinetry subcontractor (Joshua Cooley Fine Carpentry) and I were talking about this one day during work and he showed me how to use biscuits, a plate joiner, and wood glue to make it into one unit. (These illustrative photos are actually of two scrap boards because I had already joined my shelving and was waiting for the glue to dry.) Descriptions are in creepy Silence of the Lambs speak for my own entertainment.

Photo 1: It lines up the two boards that it wants to join and draws a line (hopefully more straight than mine).

Photo 2: It clamps the board to its work bench/surface/precariously placed saw horses, lines up the plate joiner and makes the hole on both boards.

Photo 3: The hole

Photo 4: The #20 biscuit

Photo 5 & 6: It puts wood glue in the hole and then puts the biscuit in the hole on both boards. It also glues the surfaces of the boards that will be touching.

Photo 7: It uses “F” clamps to hold the boards to the table and flat, and also to hold the boards together.

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Then I put the boards in the closet, and hacked, cut, and maimed the sides so they fit into the uneven closet. Because I’m a jack-leg I used a hammer to tap the corners down to get the shelves flush.

That dividing line in the side and the main shelf is because I didn’t glue them well and the joint started to come out, but I had no glue at the house, so I just said screw it and left it. The biscuits will hold it together enough to hold towels and pillows and stuff that will be up there. The other side stayed together perfectly.

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Step 7: My lower rod (get your mind out of the gutter)

The final piece of the puzzle was to make a lower bar for me using a panel, rather than a bracket (you know, to hide old shoes and stuff behind) as well as to leave room for longer articles of clothing.

First, I notched the board to accommodate the 1×4 band and the trim at the bottom. I also had to cut the bottom side at an angle to account for the slope of the floor.

Next, I made a new and improved bracket by nailing a piece of 1×4 to the plywood panel and then nailing that to the band. It looks much better than the 1×1 flange type thing that I used on the other side. I did the same at the bottom.

I also put a shelf there which I forgot to take a picture of.

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And voia-la! An ugly bit of closet customization that is nonetheless effective at making it so we can access all of our clothing, as well as reduce crowding of clothing. I only put a pic of my side, since I don’t know if Melanie would be too thrilled with me displaying her wardrobe on the internet.

Also, the answer is yes, that is my red suit with gold trim and buttons, custom made in Hoi An, Vietnam.
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There’s a bunch of empty space in the middle of the closet now, so we’re thinking we can put some hooks to hang stuff from, and maybe some sort of shoe cubby.

My workstation set up on the front porch when I do these projects along with the most important tools of the trade: measuring tape, square, and pencil. Along with my cheap, plastic saw horses that have served me well over 3 projects.

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and my Skil-saw (that is actually Skil brand).

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Thinking that my next project (aside from covering squirrel holes around the roof line) will be a rail for this front porch.

I hope you enjoyed fuddling my way through this project!

 

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Mis-Adventures in D.I.Y.: Building a Water Heater Closet

Melanie are doing what many investors would call “house hacking.” We bought a duplex (that use to be a single-family home), rent out the lower unit, and live in the upper unit. One of the things about property ownership is that you get to try your hand at being handy.

(You also get to know the layout of your local hardware store very well.)

I have never been particularly handy, but one thing that my Uncle taught me (when I was 23 and helping me get my condo rent ready) was that you just have to try, because even the handiest of people don’t always know exactly what they’re doing.

So I try.

And I thought it would be amusing to present my attempts at home improvement as an almost complete novice in a segment titled “Mis-Adventures in DIY Home Improvement.”

Often, home improvement blogs are done by experts.

Not this one. And I will tell you all of the problems that I ran into that were either my fault, or something I didn’t ever know could occur. I work for a construction company (never having worked in the field) and so I had a lot of people to lean on and ask for advice; but a lot of my learning came from Youtube.

I should also note that my work is not an indicator of the construction company I work for. I’ve never been trained as a Carpenter and have never done field work.

Now, one of the things about doing this in a rental property is that the remodels haven’t always been done to super high standards by past Owners.

One detail a landlord wouldn’t care about is this water heater in the corner of the kitchen… out in the open.

We decided this was ugly and if we were going to live here for a year or two, we should do something about it. So I built a closet. And in the process greatly built up my meager tool collection.

1st: I spent about 3 weeks with a stud detector, plumb bob, chalk line, framing square, tape measure, level, pencil, and step ladder trying to get all of the future walls plumb and square.

My first issue is that the house is 100 years old, balloon framed, and crooked! Being that I’m not skilled enough to compensate, I decided to just go ahead and do it by the book, plumb, square and level. I messed up the chalk line a bunch of times. I marked up our walls with pencil that was nigh impossible to erase. I even used permanent marker to mark the floor that I thought would be covered by a bottom plate that ended up not being the right spot.

Never the less, I lined it up the best I could and started framing.

2nd: First, I nailed the bottom and top plates. The shorter side has no bottom plate, because a pre-hung door was going to be put there and pretty much take up that whole side.

Because of the location of the ceiling joist, my top plate positions were pretty limited in options. The longer side in the picture was parallel to the ceiling joist and the shorter top plate is screwed (with 3″ square-drive screws) to the other ceiling joist that is above the existing wall.

I had to use the same joist for each top plate, which is why the top plate on the longer part of the closet isn’t the same length the bottom plate.

The bottom plate was screwed in directly through the linoleum to the sub-floor with 2-1/2″ square drive screws (so as not to poke through our tenant’s ceiling!).

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3rd: Next was placing the two main studs on the walls. You’ll notice that on one wall the base trim is gone and on the other, the stud fits much more neatly. That’s because I ripped off the trim and shoe mould of the one wall before a carpenter friend of mine recommended that it would be easier to just use a Multi-Master tool to slice a spot in the trim for the stud and drywall. He let me borrow his.

He was very correct as it took me 20 minutes of painstakingly and awkwardly cutting and nailing trim behind that stationary table that the water heater is setting on. When I finished, it still didn’t look good. The multi-master took about 2 minutes and looked great.

The studs (somewhat bowed and arched because Lowes sells crappy lumber and I didn’t know any better) were screwed into the top and bottom plates. Since there was no stud behind the wall where these were placed, no supporting screws were put between the top and bottom plates. This might be a problem if this was a load bearing wall, but it’s just cosmetic.

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4th: Next was putting in the corner. I did this by putting two studs together in an “L” shape and screwed them to the top and bottom plates. One regret I have is that I sort of jammed and tapped these stud into place since I cut them about 1/8″ too long, so they were kind of bowed. This is sort of a no-no, but I needed to make progress.

Then I put in a jack stud for the door to fill in that inside corner of the “L.”

Generally, you’re suppose to put  studs 16″ on center, but I just opted to put one stud in the wall since it wasn’t structural.

It ended up being way off because I didn’t measure 16″ correctly. I honestly don’t know how that happened.

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I toe screwed the studs to the plates. Toe screwing is putting screws/nails/fasteners in at an angle.IMG_20151013_190514 IMG_20151013_190520 IMG_20151013_190528

5th: Next was the door. It was a cheap, 6 panel, pre-hung door Lowes…and my studs were a little tight. With a bit of finess, I jammed the door (and the jamb) into its’ spot. The door doesn’t shut flush because the jambs aren’t even, but with the bottom and top plated being slightly off (due to my slight mis-chalk-lining), it’s what we were stuck with. I had to carve a sliver of wood to get it to close right. It’s definitely not the best installed door.
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But it opens and it closes!
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6th: I put cross studs (obscured by the drywall) and the jack stud over the door. Traditionally, there would have been a jack stud on either side of the door for that door header to rest on, but the wall left no space, so I just had to toe screw it right into the king stud. This would be a deifnite no go if this were a load-bearing wall.

7th: Time for drywall! I basically screwed a 4×8 sheet to the cross-studs which I didn’t get a picture of and then just cut along the wall.

One of the problems that I had was that I didn’t saw off enough of the trim with the multi–master to fit drywall, so I had to carve out a notch in the drywall to make it sit right.
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I pretty much just cut along the corner stud to make the piece of drywall fit. Then used that for the thin parts next to the door.
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8th: Drywall tape and mud: after I finished cutting and fatsening drywall to the rest of the frame, I needed to tape an mud the joints. I had done this once before on my bathroom cabinet project and I used the pre-stuck mesh tape rather than using mud to afix traditional drywall tape to it. Despite my better judgement due to my not-so-great results on that project, I did it again.

It still proved troublesome.

But by the time that I put some mud over it and realized I had made a mistake, I was too far to go back, so I just kept at it. I’d put 1 layer, wait 24 hrs….IMG_20151017_194437

Another layer.. wait 24 hrs.

IMG_20151017_194500 And finally a 3rd layer of mud!
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This outside corner proved especially tricky because of the aforementioned tape issue. Despite my best efforts, the mesh part of the tape kept peaking through in parts of that corner.

I was later told by a Carpenter friend that you’re suppose to put a “corner bead” on the corner which avoids that problem. Well, I didn’t know that and it’s too late to go back, since I’d already finish painted it!

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9th: Prime and paint. Did this on a Sunday. Managed to erase all of my bad pencil marking on the existing walls by matching the paint very well.

10th: Trim-out: I had run base trim, very much ugly base trim, in the bathroom project before. This time, it would be different….

And after messing this up 3 times and having to buy more base trim than was necessary, I did it! I coped the piece of the base-trim that connected to the existing wall’s trim, and mitered the corners to match with my skil-saw. Not too shabby…

Then came caulk. Lots and lots of caulk around the door trim and the space between the wall and the base trim.
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My coping of the meeting of the trim… I’d give it a 6.

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The final step was shoe mould which I messed up..ohhh…probably 7 or 8 times because the corner isn’t a perfect 90 degrees. Finally I just cut the base mould at a weird angle, and filled the 1/8″ space at the outside corner with wood putty…

One day, I will install shoe mould well!!!

I painted the trim and voia-la!IMG_20151112_073529
Our kitchen looks a tiny bit smaller and the closet wall’s a little off, but now we don’t have a water heater hanging out in the corner in plain sight. We also now have a place to stash our tall trash and recycling cans (which use to just be next to the water heater out in the open)…paper grocery bags… cleaning supplies (brooms, mops, etc.) and I have a sense of accomplishment having done a job in spare time over 6 weeks that would have taken a decent carpenter an afternoon to do!

Kudos to Melanie who put up with 6 weeks of tools, lumber, etc in the kitchen ever so patiently and our tenant who had to deal with my going up and down the stairs 80 times to make cuts on the front porch.

Tools used:

  • Stud detector
  • Plumb bob
  • Chalk line
  • Framing square
  • Tape measure
  • Level
  • Pencil
  • Step ladder
  • Skil-saw Circular saw
  • Sawhorses
  • Swanson Speed Square
  • Black and Decker corded drill and driver that I’ve had for 10 years.
  • Utility knife
  • Assorted hand screw-drivers
  • 2″, 4″, and 8″ Scraper Blades for drywall mud
  • Coping saw
  • Hammer
  • Bosch Multi-Master Tool
  • Paint brushes
  • 9″ Paint roller
  • 3 Spare rags
  • Swear jar

Materials:

  • 2x4x10s (11) I actually only would have needed 8, but I messed up a lot…
  • 4x8x3/8″ drywall (2 sheets)
  • 2-1/2″ and 3″ square-drive screws
  • 2-1/4″ Drywall screws
  • 1 2’8″ x 6’7″ pre-hung door
  • Roll of drywall tape
  • Pre-mixed drywall mud
  • 10′ beaded base trim (I used 20, but that’s because I messed up so many times!)
  • 10′ Shoe mould (I used 2, but that’s also because I messed this up a couple of times)
  • 1″ Trim Nails
  • 1 tube of general caulk
  • .3 gallon primer
  • .6 gallons of finish paint
  • Old newspaper (during painting and caulking)