Tuesday, March 20, 2007

My Friend the Wire Rope

Behold the steel cable (aka wire rope), ferule, turnbuckle, and eyehook. Four of my favorite interior design secrets.
In this first application I've used these basic supplies, available at any hardware store, to construct a minimalist techie looking drapery hanging system that allows me to span a long distance, in this case both the length and width of my bedroom, with a few simple and inexpensive pieces of hardware and twenty minutes worth of effort.

Below you can see the whole set up: my DIY cable system with heavy outer drapes and under it the IKEA version of the tensioned cable, the DIGNITET, which works and looks great for lightweight fabrics or sheers but gets easily overwhelmed and saggy with a fabric that's even remotely heavy:

What's the big deal, you say?
The tensioned cable allows one to pull any number of drapery panels all to one side or another instead of having to split them to either side of larger openings because of those unfriendly center support brackets that most drapery hardware requires. And that, in my world, solves a huge and frequently encountered design dilemma that used to make me crazy.

Not your style, all those industrial looking metal bits? I've used this little trick in lots of regular houses too, except there I keep it a secret by covering it with a valance. I love love love doing this for sliding door treatments, because almost without fail, I find that sliders look much better when the panels go all to one side when open, (usually to the inoperable side so as not to interfere with traffic in and out the operable door), but that is nearly impossible with anything but a formal drapery traverse or a large diameter rod because of the dreaded center bracket. But I almost never like the look of those kinds of things or I'm doing a valance anyway and it seems stupid to go spending a bunch of money on something that's just going to be covered up.
So in situations where you have a longish distance to span and: A. you don't care for a big, decorative rod, B. you want to spend like $4 instead of $400, C. the rod would be covered by a valance anyway, or D. you like the minimalist-industrial thing, the tensioned cable is your best friend.

But it doesn't stop there.

This friend also served me well in the stair and balcony railings in our house. I knew I wanted a horizontal cable rail (fortunately it complied with code here but that is not the case in a lot of areas so check first) but I didn't like the look, materials or cost of any of the commercially available cable railing systems. When I was looking, these ran on the order of $110 a linear foot and up, which at my house would have meant $10,000 minimum in railing alone. Do I need to tell you that wasn't a Modern in MN budget figure?

Instead, I had a basic steel framework welded up and installed and then spent a couple of very sweaty days wrestling 1/4" cable to do the infill myself. One thousand feet of cable, turnbuckles, ferules and the ~$300 swageing tool to put it all together cost me less than $1K, or one tenth the price of the commercially produced kits that are made from lesser materials and that I would still have had to install myself. Now THAT was definitely within my budget and I think it looks a hundred times cooler.

The basic components of a wire rope rig-up I've already mentioned: wire rope, ferules, turnbuckles and eyehooks. Four simple and cheap little piecesparts that do so much.

Wire rope comes in a whole range of gauges and construction, but unless you're hanging humans or several tons worth of stuff, don't worry about the construction or strand count of the cable. Just get some that's the size you like, keeping in mind that the skinnier stuff is easier to work with.
Most decent hardware stores will carry a range of gauges of rope that will be fine for household use. They'll also have the ferules or the little metal sleeves that are smushed in place to make a loop in the cable. It's important to get the ferules that correspond to the size cable you choose, because the ferule is all about using friction to hold things in place. Likewise, you'll also find eyehooks and turnbuckles at the hardware store, and you can choose these based on looks alone or, if you're suspending something heavy, based on duty rating which I'll discuss below.

If you want either the cable or hardware in a specialized metal, like stainless steel, check out marine supply stores or look online for "rigging" or "swaging" equipment. Stainless costs a bit more, but this is the way you'd want to go if you're doing anything outdoors or in a wet area like a bathroom.

A few words about "swageing", which is the term used to describe applying the ferule to the wire rope. Like ferules, the tool used to swage, ie the hand swager, is sold in sizes that correspond to the ferule size. From what I can tell, one swaging tool is typically suitable for two or three consecutive sizes of rope and ferules, and they also have a nice bypass cutter on one side for cutting the cable. But unless you're doing something really heavy duty with thick cable, forget the specialized tool because they're expensive. All you need to smush those ferules on and make a nice sturdy loop is a good pair of pliers and a strong grip or a bench vice that you can whack shut a few times. A heavy duty wire cutter will cut smaller diameter cables with a bit of effort. If you're using thicker gauge cable, you can ask them to cut it to length for you wherever you buy or use a hacksaw with a metal cutting blade. For the latter, wrap a piece of masking tape around the rope before you cut. This method has served me well for many wire rope projects, and again, unless you're making something that your life depends on, don't worry too much about the how and the what of the specialized tools. But for the sake of knowing our stuff, here's what a swager looks like:

This one works on 5/16, 1/4, and 5/32 diameter cable and ferules, otherwise known as pretty heavy duty stuff. It's roughly the size of a large bolt cutter.

In the picture above, you can see an alternative style of turnbuckle. It works exactly the same as the open ones shown in the previous picture in that the body turns on the screw eye and hook to either shorten or lengthen itself. Turnbuckles have load ratings just like wire rope, so be sure the turnbuckle you choose has a load rating that meets or exceeds the weight of what you want to support. I tend to buy bigger turnbuckles than are necessary just because I like the way they look, but having a nice strong turnbuckle can never hurt when you're doing something that will require a lot of tension on the cables.

The picture below is of the cable railing I installed here at Modern in MN, and you can see the individual components I've mentioned. The ferules I swaged using that big fancy tool (that crimp mark on the ferule is from the swager) because these cables have a fair amount of tension on them. In a critical application, each ferule would be crimped three times, and then this gauge cable and loop could support something like 6000 pounds. Considering it took all my strength to operate the swager and that my cables have something like 1/10th that amount of tension on them at best, I opted to crimp each ferule only once:

Below is another of my favorite ways to use wire rope. In this application, I used very thin gauge rope and a couple of eyehooks to suspend an old window from two hooks in the ceiling:

Wire rope works great for things like this because it's visually unobtrusive and it hangs nice and straight and neat looking.

Anyway, there you have it, and introduction to my friend the wire rope and a couple of ideas. Now run free and swage :)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Floating Shelves in the Closet

Back to the guest bathroom, where the tall IKEA PS cabinet that matches the one in this post, also in the guest bathroom, just happened to be an exact fit for the closet nook:

I love happy accidents!

I wanted to continue the wood theme over from the vanity, and since this is a closet I figured why not use the same NUMERAR oak butcherblock to make shelves? It was quick and easy enough to cut up into shelf-sized chunks, but I wanted them to be floating, because I've never met a shelf bracket I got along with. Acheiving that required a little domestic engineering, and with the help of Boy, here's how we got float:

First I located the studs in the walls of the nook. In my case, the closet only had three, one in the back wall and one on either side. I marked their location carefully and drew a vertical line that extended up at least to where I thought I wanted my uppermost shelf. Then I figured out how high I wanted each of the shelves and used a level to carefully draw a level line all the way around on the three walls.

Next I cut pieces of 3/8" oak dowel, 2 1/2" or so in length. In my case I needed three for each shelf because there are three studs. Using the level line I just drew and the previously marked studs, I drilled a 3/8" hole through the sheetrock and into each stud about an inch or inch and a half, being careful to drill straight and level. Then I pounded one of the pieces of dowel into each of the holes:

The dowel is now snug in the stud and is sticking out from the drywall about an inch. (I could have glued them in just in case.) After the dowels were all in place, I measured the distance from the back of the nook to the dowel and marked this distance on the piece of butcherblock that will become the shelf.

Using a table saw (a circular saw would probably be easier), I cut a slot into either side of the butcherblock. It took several passes through the saw to achieve the necessary width, and what I was looking for was a channel just slightly wider than 3/8", centered within the thickness of the wood and extending along the edge of the shelf just a bit farther than the distance from the back of the nook to the dowels on either side:

In my case, the dowel pegs stuck out from the wall about an inch, so I set the depth of the saw blade to cut slightly deeper than this, maybe 1 1/4".

Using the same 3/8" drill bit I used on the walls, I drilled a hole in the back edge of the shelf that exactly matched up with the location of the dowel peg sticking out of the back wall:

The shelves just slid right into place, with the side dowels slotting into the saw cut channel. The pin on the back wall fit into the hole drilled in the back of the shelf to keep everything nice and snug. I didn't glue any of it because my shelves won't be seeing a lot of activity but it probably wouldn't hurt.

Below you can see the shelf in place and the dowel that's holding it up there peeking out of the gap:

Now for some paint and accessories!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Kitty Powder Room

What to do with the litter box? It's a chronic question if you've got cats, and one I chose to solve once and for all.

This, my friends, is the door to the kitty powder room, my solution to the where to put the litterbox.

At Modern in MN, this feline size portal goes from the living room into the bike room (where one day, hopefully, the boxes will be inside a cabinet to completely hide them), but in a normal house I think this idea would work great to allow you hide a litter box away in a closet or other room and not have to worry whether the door is open or closed.

Basically, you'll need a drywall saw, some scrap drywall and 2 x 4 lumber, corner bead, some drywall mud and paper tape.

First, figure out where you want your opening. Use a stud finder to locate the studs in the wall. You want to plan your opening to fall between two studs, making sure you're not directly in front of or behind an electrical outlet. To make things simpler later on, locate the bottom edge of your hole 3 1/2" off the floor and then use a drywall saw , also called a keyhole saw, to carefully cut out the hole. Duplicate the marks on the other side of the wall and repeat the drywall cutting procedure.

My opening is about 8" x 10", but you can make yours as wide as ~15" (the usual amount of space between studs) and as tall as you'd like, keeping in mind that the dimensions of your opening will shrink by an inch or so once you add drywall.
I made my opening slanted at the top, which I'll explain later, but a square or rectangular hole would be easiest to execute. Feel free to do a trapezoid or a parallelogram or whatever Dali-esque shape you can think of, but don't forget that you're going to have to come up with a way to finish out. From what I can tell, cats aren't picky when it comes to interior design as long as they can fit through, any shape will work.

Next, cut a scrap of lumber to fit inside the wall in the bottom of your hole. If you got the height right, this piece of 2 x 4 should sit on the walls' existing sill and below the cut edge of the drywall by about 1/2". Screw or glue it into place.

Now, get a small hunk of drywall and cut four pieces to fit the size of your opening. You can typically buy scraps at the home center, and lately I've noticed they're selling half and quarter sheets already cut. Make sure the pieces you cut are as wide as the wall meaning they'll probably need to be about 4 1/2".
Starting with the bottom surface, position the drywall on top of the opening. It should rest on top of that scrap of 2 x 4 you already put down there. Either screw or glue this piece down.

Next cut eight pieces of corner bead, four for each face of the hole. For the vertical sides of the opening, you're going to need to use the corner bead to hold the drywall in the opening. Position the first piece and get someone to hold it in place while you staple on the corner bead. Repeat for the other side and the top face and then on the other side of the wall.

Now, put on your patience and get to work with the mud and the tape. Fill the edges of all of the corner bead with mud, and tape and mud the inside corners of your opening. If you've never done this before, it's going to suck, but you can always sand things down and put on another layer. If you're good, it will probably take at least two or three applications of mud to get things nice and tidy looking. On the outside of the wall, you'll want to feather out the drywall mud at least 8 or 10 inches to get everything nice and flat.

Carefully sand everything down and repeat as necessary until you have nice smooth surfaces on the inside and outside of your opening.

Add the paint and trim of your choice. I painted my opening orange and applied a little slanted door, because after all, it is the kitty power room and I figured it was only fitting that it coordinate with its' human counterpart:

I should tell you that I was loosely inspired by this, so if you've gotten through this whole post and decided it's just too much work, save yourself from the DIY fun and go pay the $30. I won't be offended :) Another, possibly simpler alternative would be to frame out your opening with wood instead of drywalling it...