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Today I Worship the Hammer

Eastwing 24oz Rip Hammer with Leather Grip

“Today I worship the hammer,” so ends American poet Carl Sandberg’s short poem “The Hammer“, which isn’t really about hammers so much as humankind’s dualistic nature as builder and destroyer. But, whatever, it’s a good opening line for a short meditation on high-quality hammers and their utility.

What you see above is my favorite hammer, a 24 ounce, Eastwing Leather-Handle Rip Hammer in a straight English pattern. I love it. It feels magnificent in my hand, a beautifully balanced, precision tooled piece of cold steel, made warm to the touch by a piece of cow hide leather.

A well-built, one-piece steel hammer is a pleasure to use. The force of the blow transfers exactly to where you apply it, a mis-strike won’t snap the head off, and the good balance means it’s easy to wield.

Hammers are the King of All Tools, the direct, straight-line descendent of that first rock our distant ancestor, homo habilis, picked up and banged on a coconut, or the bone of a mammoth, or the head of his neighbor. All we’ve done to the hammer since then is improve on the basic concept; added a handle, made it from hardened metal, and attached something that lets us put out the nail we’ve just bent with a clumsy blow.

The hammer: it builds, it destroys. Tools don’t get any better than that.

Everything Old (Can Be) New Again!

When it comes to amazing couch reupholstery, you can’t beat Susan’s primo DIY job! The hip chick from Freshly Picked managed to turn this:

Into this:

And apparently she learned to do it as part of a class she took with her husband. Lucky? I would SO like to take my boring little family room loveseat and turn it into something amazing. Want a little peek into how it was done, then look no further. Here’s a sweet time-lapse video of the couch during nine two-hour classes:

Have you ever tackled a DIY project on such a massive scale? Because I’m pretty sure I haven’t.

4 Ways to Make Small Feel Big

Built-Ins, Built-Ins, Built-Ins
Obviously you can bring a ton of furniture into a small house or apartment, but you can maximize the space you have with built-ins like cabinets and cupboards and window benches and bookcases. These don’t have to be as deep as standalone furniture so you’re not encroaching too much on the airspace of the room, and you end up with a place for everything and everything in its place. Have I mentioned that clutter is a major no-no for those of us who live in small houses and apartments?

Divide With Doors
In my house, the kitchen and the living room are open to each other in two ways: a big interior window sort of thing in the wall and the wide doorless doorway between the two rooms. The idea is that a small kitchen and a small living room will feel larger if they’re attached, but instead it ends up feeling like one cramped room because there’s no usage division. Installing a set of French doors in the doorway between the two rooms helps the mind see two separate spaces that are useful and sizable.

Let In the Light
While not a solution for the renter, the homeowner can install more or larger windows that let in light, air, and a view of the wider world that will make a small space feel more ample. Bumped out windows can do a lot to enlarge an awkward space, as can very tall windows.

Make Rooms Do Double Duty
The reality is that if you don’t have a lot of space, you don’t have the luxury of having a room just for X and another just for Y. That means that whenever possible, a room should have more than one purpose. You can put a pretty writing desk in your living room, for example. Your home office can double as your crafting room. A landing can play host to a chest of linens. Bookcases in the dining room. And so on.

What are your favorite tips for making a small house or apartment feel bigger?

The Tools Every Homeowner Needs

Since my tools tend to end up all over the house, and half of my basement is currently stuffed to the brim with baby gear due to the renovations finally underway, it’s hard to take a true inventory of our household tools. We seldom encounter a simple project that requires us to go out and buy tools, but there’s this part of me that is always a little worried that we’re missing something vital. It may just be that my dad is basically a low-key version of that fellow on Home Improvement or that I’m always worried about something – either way, it’s nice to give the ol’ toolchest a once over every now and then.

Luckily, if you’re only tackling the basics, according to the NY Times, you don’t need much. Sure, we talked a lot about redoing the upstairs ourselves, but when we started reading about drywall lift rentals, our zest for DIYing the second floor went right out the window. So for now, we need to make holes, fill holes, change what’s in holes, and maybe loosen and tighten this or that. Nothing major. The NY Times list is right up our alley – here’s the gist:

To start off, you need a hammer.

Buy a multihead screwdriver…, said Mr. Stone of M.I.T. It should have at least two different size bits for slotted and Phillips screws, as well as Robertson (square) and Torx bits.

Mr. Ball, of Pulte Group, actually recommends a cordless hammer drill, which is twice as expensive as a standard drill. “That really opens up the ability of the tool,” he said. “And it’ll last you a lifetime.”

He also recommends a one-inch-wide, 25-foot-long tape measure with a lock.

Finally, crown your arsenal with Mole-Grip pliers, commonly known as Vise-Grips.

Next, wrenches. You’ll need one adjustable wrench and a set of standard and metric wrenches.

A set of socket wrenches — metric and standard — also helps in the age of unassembled furniture.

A level and an electronic stud finder.

A footlong wrecking bar is essential, especially one with a nicely tapered edge so you can slip it beneath existing wood.

A handsaw small enough to fit in your toolbox.

Toss in a small assortment of screws, drywall fasteners and eight-penny nails, a small notebook (for recording dimensions) and a carpenter’s pencil, and you’re set.

I see I’m missing a few things I really ought to have – not many, though. How about you? Where are the gaps in your tool collection?

Wainscoting: An Illustrated Primer

For an easy update, you can’t beat wainscoting (especially the fakey stuff that doesn’t need much other than cutting down to size, though of course it doesn’t look as sharp as the real deal). But what is wainscoting, exactly? And how do you say it? According to Webster’s, the proper pronunciation is not waynescahtting but rather waynescoating – though either is acceptable in a pinch. As to what it is, wainscoting is paneling typically applied to the lower three feet of a wall below a chair rail and above the baseboard molding, though it can be much taller. According to Wikipedia, the original purpose of wainscoting was to cover the lower part of walls which, in houses constructed with poor or nonexistent damp-proof courses, are often affected by rising dampness. Nowadays, it’s purely decorative.

Here’s what it looks like:


Raised panel wainscoting (via)


Flat panel wainscoting (via)

(more…)

The Quarter Bath Problem

One of the strangest things in our house is the room we like to call the Quarter Bath. Think a half bath without a sink. Basically, it’s a closet with a toilet installed down in our finished basement. We’ve just added it to the list of strange DIY projects that one of the house’s previous owners decided to tackle, badly. Anyone else have this problem? Because we have it in spades.

As it stands right now, there’s no room to add a sink, even one of those tiny corner sinks. What we’d like to do someday is expand the room, finish the walls properly, and add something like this:

half bath

Inspiration provided by Kristen Buckingham. I think something like this could really cheer up my sad basement half bath (which as I said is currently a quarter bath). I’ve thought about scrapping the project altogether as rather ambitious, but really, it would be nice to have somewhere to wash one’s hands after using the facilities instead of having to pop back upstairs to use the kitchen sink.

Where I’d Rather Be

Brrr, so cold here. And the snow that’s still on the ground has turned that dismal gray color that means it’s no longer at all nice to use for snow ice cream. I’m entirely sick of winter at this point. I’ve exhausted my to-do list of indoor projects needing my attention, and I’m itching to tackle some outdoor projects. Alas, it is too cold for exterior painting and too wet for sanding, so I’m SOL. The worst part is my brain keeps retreating into itself where it can dream of places like this uninterruptedly.

beach bungalows

Maybe not places exactly like this, as those lovely little bungalows are in Wells-Next-The-Sea, a seaport situated on the North Norfolk coast in England. I’m sure Wells-Next-The-Sea is quite picturesque just now with all those pretty colors, but I can’t imagine that it’s at all warm, which makes it less than inviting in my mind. Summer (or at the very least springtime) cannot come quickly enough, in my opinion.

(Photo by russelljsmith)

Four Things I’m Loving Right Now

1. Paloma’s nursery:

modern nursery

All right, so by the time Paloma actually has a proper nursery (hey, she was early) she’ll probably be extremely embarrassed to hear me even saying the word. For now, she spends most of her time in my black-and-red themed home office — the space that will eventually become her room. And we’ll probably keep that theme. But until that dream becomes a reality, I can fantasize all I want about building the perfect nursery from the ground up… or letting ducduc do it for me.

2. The color gray:

gray living room

Cool, somber, elegant. What’s not to like? Don’t think gray is too dark for small spaces. It’s not. A lighter gray can actually make a small space look bigger!

3. Houzz

Houzz

The Washington Post calls it “the Flickr of design idea sites,” which isn’t too bad of a description. You can search through thousands of photos of interiors by professional designers and save the ones that inspire you in your online idea book… Which means yours truly can finally toss out some of the magazine clippings she’s been sitting on for ages.

4. Hanging things up:

picture frames

With the baby underfoot or attached to me at all times, I don’t get much done around the house anymore. Projects like tiling the mudroom or tackling the bare upstairs room have been put on the back burner for the time being. Just about the only thing I can do is affix things to the walls. Hanging things up makes me feel like I’m actually doing something to add a little zest to my living spaces, and I heartily recommend it to those with a desire for change but not a lot of free time.

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