Enlarging a Hall Closet – Part Three

The pictures you see below are taken a month after the pictures from part two of this story.  By this point I had the final design sketched and drafted.  I had also ordered doors so I knew exactly how large the framed opening needed to be.

The biggest time sink of the renovation was building the cabinet and shelves.  Luckily, since I’d last built cabinets, the plywood warehouse had started carrying pre-laminated plywood.  It was a very handy solution and a real time-saver.  The only issue I had was that the laminate was thinner than typical countertop material so it chipped a little easier when going through a table saw.  The solution I came up with was to use my good table saw blade which I didn’t like doing very much.  The advantage of this material is that, like countertop laminate, it is nearly wearproof and stuff placed on it will slide easily without getting snagged.  All of the shelves and the cabinet were faced with poplar which was selected for its cost, strength, stability, ability to take paint and ability to be shaped.

The cabinet’s left-hand side would have a series of drawers with nice 100 lb ball bearing slides to organize small stuff.  The right-hand side was sized to accommodate our sewing machine and to have an adjustable shelf for other items.  Above that would be a series of fixed-height shelves that ran the entire width of the closet for towels, sheets, etc.  These long shelves would be supported in the middle and ends by cleats that were screwed directly into wall studs.

To keep the process moving, I worked on drywall and painting during this time.  I’d start the day doing something in the closet and then when I’d have to wait for drywall mud or paint to dry, I’d go do something on the cabinets.  I should also mention that I got some rolls of fiberglass insulation and insulated the walls and the ceiling of this closet.  For the easy work and low cost, it could only help save energy and do some sound dampening.

The biggest challenge during this phase was dealing with the header area that faced into the hallway.  When the previous owners had enclosed the space they hadn’t built their new wall to the correct length.  It didn’t really matter at the time since they used a free-floating bi-fold door, but because I was using a traditional set of French doors, the error would probably be more noticeable.  You’ll have to wait until next time to see how I dealt with the cosmetics of the situation, but the real pain for this phase was blending the two walls together.  I ended up cutting a piece of ¼” plywood and feathering the edge of it to smooth the offset.  I couldn’t believe how well it worked.  I taped all seams and, even now several years later, there is no cracking and you can’t see or feel where the correction was made.

The only other thing that happened during this phase was relocation of the A/C thermostat.  Happily, during the planning phase when I checked the length of the wiring I found that it could be moved without having to be replaced.

Next time you get to see the finished product!

Enlarging a Hall Closet – Part Two

Continuing the story of the hall closet from part one, we fast forward seven days for the pictures you see below.  In this period I spent more time with a cold chisel, a five-pound hammer and curse words than any other time in my life.

Brick chimneys can either be easy but heavy work if their mortar is old and in bad shape or arm numbing, extra heavy and extremely frustrating work if they are built like a tank.  Ours had sections of both.  I knew it was likely to not be a fun job especially since I couldn’t just toss the bricks to the ground but had to load them into a five-gallon bucket and carry them down a ladder and outside.  Luckily since I’d done this sort of thing before, I recruited two other people to help me.

When the house had been reroofed, the previous owner wisely had this chimney knocked down below the roofline so I didn’t have to worry about a patch.  My goal the day that I had my helpers was to get the chimney down below the ceiling of the closet so future work would be from floor level.  That took the better part of a morning.  The remainder of the week I worked on my own removing the rest of the chimney and patching the floor.

The floor required some thinking on my part as there were many finishing options.  The existing tile sat in a several inch thick bed of concrete (I would guess as a fire resistant solution).  At first I thought I’d try to remove the tile and replace it with something more attractive, but after working on it for a while I realized it was very well adhered.  I didn’t want to replace everything with wood flooring as I actually like the surprise of the tile upon entering the hall.  It also indicates the turn that takes place at that corner which is pretty neat too.  Since I knew that I would be covering the entire floor of the closet with a lower cabinet, I opted to plug the hole with some ¾” plywood level with the rest of the floor.

Three other things of note happened during this phase.  At the time our white cat was still alive and curious as ever, but that isn’t my first point.  While still working in the attic, I managed to drop my chisel down inside the chimney.  Annoyed, I had to stop work, get somewhat cleaned up and go buy another one.  The second one I attached to my wrist with a slipknotted string.  So point one:  secure your tools when working on a chimney.

Point two came into play once the chimney dropped below the tee where the old furnace connected to it.  You see this was an oil-fired furnace (the first I’d dealt with).  It had no cleanout which meant it contained about 60 years of sediment in its base.  You might begin to imagine how this train wreck would unfold.  As I worked my way down to ground level, black soot began to fall out of the chimney.  I had put plastic floor to ceiling in the immediate area and had turned off the A/C.  What I was unable to realize at the time was just how much of a cloud I was creating.  Everything always looked cloudy through my sooty safety glasses so I just pressed on trying to get the nasty work done as quickly as possible.  I knew I was in real trouble when three things happened.  The first was when I tried to wipe the soot off me.  It turned into a greasy smear.  Hey, this stuff isn’t like regular chimney ash at all.  The second (safety glasses removed):  Hey, I’ve created a nice little angry atmosphere in here.  There is a lot more soot in the air than I first thought.  The third was when Melanie got home that evening and she gently let me know that black soot was everywhere in the house.

That stuff got on EVERYTHING – every surface including ceilings, floors, books, doors, pictures – everything.  It was a real pain to clean off too.  Luckily our extremely good and generous friend was back again the next weekend to help us clean.  I worked on it the remainder of the week and it still took the three of us all day Saturday to finish.  Horrible!

Remember the cat?  That’s point three.  Once I had decided how to deal with the closet floor, I had to go get the supplies to make it happen.  I knew our cat would be drawn to that opening like a magnet so I blocked it with a chair, ice chest, cardboard and some other stuff.  I still don’t know how she managed to get down there to this day.  Around dinner time I hadn’t seen her and realized where she had to be.  Opening up the hole to the crawlspace, I was greeted by a greasy black cat.  One more thing to clean…

Also, during this phase I ripped out the back wall, the non-structural header for the doorway and took out a carefully measured chunk of the front wall to accommodate new larger doors.

Next time we start putting things back together.  For now enjoy the mostly soot-free pictures below (although you can see signs of the nightmare on my tools and the grey garbage can).

Enlarging a Hall Closet – Part One

We live in a small house that has a lot of storage for a home its age but more storage would be an improvement.  Every square inch of this house had been put to use except a few feet of wall space in the middle of the house between an existing closet and the pantry.  A couple years ago I decided to do something with that area.

At first I thought an inset chest of drawers beneath the thermostat would look neat and be very useful.  One of my grandmothers had a similar set up so I knew how practical it could be.  A quick peek in the attic reminded me that the reason this space hadn’t been converted earlier was an old unused furnace chimney.  No worries.  I knew that meant potentially a lot of very physical labor, as I’d removed chimneys before, but it made me rethink the design.

If I was going to remove an entire chimney then why not reclaim the entire space leaving only a sliver of the wall for the thermostat?  I would be able to effectively double the size of the hall closet without much additional work.

Since this area of the house was not critical to daily life I had the luxury of doing the tear out first and then finalizing the design.  That way if I ran into any hidden surprises I could adapt the design as necessary.

Unfortunately I no longer have a picture of the closet before I started the demolition work but it is pretty easy to imagine.  As you look at the pictures below notice the tile floor in the corner of the hall.  The furnace sat on this pad.  When central A/C was installed, the furnace was removed, the chimney was capped and the corner was enclosed with a small wall and a louvered bi-fold door to create the closet.

The first thing I did was remove the bi-fold door and its molding, all of the shelves, some unused plumbing and the plaster covering the chimney.  The pictures below show the closet with progress up to that point.

Coming soon, I’ll show you the steps I took to finish the transformation which includes new shelves, custom made drawers and a set of double doors.

Golden Ticket Number Two – Boxy

Time has passed and another niece is turning ten which means it is time for our second Golden Ticket.  As previously mentioned, the Golden Ticket is a way for us to announce to a niece or nephew that their birthday present for that year is one week of extravagant fun at our house.

I don’t think I’ll ever change the design of the ticket itself but I hope to be able to customize its enclosure for each recipient.  It is exciting to me because everyone at my brother’s house knows that a Golden Ticket is coming but most, if not all of them, are assuming it will be identical to its predecessor.

I tried to incorporate her fondness for girly stuff and her love for animals.  The resulting “box” is very soft and squishy from the foam-covered ears to the baby blanket material.  I’m particularly pleased with the feline cues.  They are bold enough to be obvious but not overbearing.  I didn’t want this box to be seen as a toy that happened to house a Golden Ticket, but rather a container with stuffed animal characteristics.  The big breakthrough that got me thinking on the right path was scaling it down from baby doll or pillow size to Golden Ticket container size.

The following is a gallery of concept, in-process and finished product images with notations.

TotW: My Saber

I know what you’re thinking – another post about lightsabers?  Well, this will be the last one, for a while at least.  Consider it a bookend to this post.


My Saber. Design and Image Copyright Jason Patz. All Rights Reserved.


In this week’s TotW you get to see what my lightsaber looks like.  I can’t remember exactly when I built it but it was around the same time as the trainer saber.  Just as before, I thought through exactly what features I’d want and where I’d want them placed.  After all, a lightsaber is a personal thing – not in the sense that it is secret but that it is intended for one person’s use.


My Saber. Design and Image by Jason Patz. All Rights Reserved.


I won’t go through all the details as they have been explained in the other saber posts.  I will mention that this one does have a functional button that turns the custom blue-green LED on.  It is powered by a super-compact battery pack out of some random broken electronics that is stored in the base of the hilt.


Super-compact Battery Pack is Stored in Hilt Base


Unlike the trainer saber, I never finished this one completely.  You’ll notice a hole around the power button and a blank bump in the left side of the hilt.  The power button hole was to have a custom black rubber piece to seal it and then be covered by another piece of chromed tube.  This would have sealed up the hole nicely, given the saber a waterproof look and added a cool black line in some type of pattern around the power button.  I was thinking of something like the pin striping on a custom painted hot rod or motorcycle – something with a dynamic shape.  The bump was to have a pop-up twist knob for blade length adjustment drilled into it.  My thinking was that adjusting the length of the blade easily based on the fighting environment would be a handy feature.  How cool would it be to have a claymore-length lightsaber to berserker with in a big open field?

The same limitations from the trainer saber popped up here.  I didn’t have access to a lot of tools so I had to use a lot of existing parts.  I managed to get the overall shape almost exactly like I wanted it, but not with the level of detail.  If I had been able to use a metal lathe to make these parts I could have increased the thickness of the parts allowing for a more exaggerated profile that would have been much more interesting.  For example, the emitter shroud is the same diameter plumbing tube as the body of the hilt.  I think it would look much nicer if the emitter could be a larger diameter.

I’ve been sketching saber designs on and off for years and, besides Obi-Wan’s Ep. IV saber, this is my favorite one.  I’m happy with the way it turned out.  Maybe one day I’ll remake it when better resources are available to me.

Saber Drawing

I unearthed another saber-related item while digging through my archives.  Here is a drawing of an existing (not my design) lightsaber that I did just for fun at one point.  No-prize prize to the first person who correctly identifies the owner in the comments below.mastsab

First Saber

Whaaaa?  You say.  Is it possible that we get two TotW’s after such a dry spell.  Well, kind of.  Not really.  But in putting the post about my trainer saber together I gathered all of my saber resources.  Mixed in there was the first saber I ever built that was for a friend of mine.  It is made out of plumbing parts, lighting parts and wood.  He wanted something that was reminiscent of Obi’s Ep IV saber and Luke’s Ep VI saber.

Being a design guy I had to do some user vs. item to be used methodology.  We used various tube diameters to get the best fit for his hand and placed the on/off trigger in his preferred location.  We worked out the right length for a comfortable two-handed grip.  The blade length and intensity are controllable on this model through two pop-up knobs in the bottom of the hilt.

Consider this behind the scenes bonus material for the TotW.  If you like Star Wars, I know you like secret behind the scenes bonus material too.  It is engrained in you.  Behold my first saber it all of its low resolution glory (It is the only image I still have of it.  Notice the better lighting though.  Man, I miss having a good camera and photo studio)!

Image and Design copyright Jason Patz

TotW: Trainer Saber

It’s Friday and that means Thing of the Week.  Yes, it is hard for me to say that with a straight face.  I am so far behind on these I don’t know if I can come close to catching up by year’s end.

However, I am partially fulfilling a promise I made to you here when I discussed the greatness of the lightsaber and its impact on the SW franchise and me.  As discussed there, I could never find a decent lightsaber toy or prop so I decided to build my own out of plumbing parts, lighting parts, wood and resin.  I have two sabers to show you and this is the first of them.

Trainer Saber. Design and image copyright Jason Patz

As many of you no doubt know, one of the last things a padawan does to prove that he or she is ready for jediship is to build his or her own lightsaber.  This is how the movies explain all of the variation in the hilts and blade colors.  But as I approached the task from a design perspective I quickly realized that there must be some sort of trainer saber.  Probably some standard mass-produced design.  This was long before the prequel movies so I only had my imagination and reason to guide me.

As deadly as these weapons are, there must be an intermediate step.  Something that might hurt or even maim, but would not kill or destroy – like the shinai that is used in place of a katana when one practices kendo.

There would probably need to be a lot of them (At the time there was nothing that indicated how many Jedi or initiates there used to be – only more).  They would almost certainly be standardized for easy production, repair and maintenance.  I envisioned a quartermaster with racks of these things charging for the next practice round.

They would be free of much ornamentation not only for easy production but for more universal use.  You never know what kind of hand, pincher or tentacle is going to need to grip these hilts.  For the same reason the controls would be simple and obvious – an oversized red button within easy reach on the top for on and off and two set screws recessed into the bottom of the hilt for blade length and intensity on the bottom.

They also needed a battery life indicator that would be prominently displayed.  It would double as a simple diagnostic indicator when in that mode.  A diagnostic probe and charging tool could be hooked up at the small port on the top of the saber.

The emitter shroud would be large and simple to provide maximum protection and minimal opportunities for over eager sleeves to catch on.

Top Front and Side View. Design and Image copyright Jason Patz.

Next up will be my own personal saber.  I hope to have that for you next week.  There you will see that I addressed the two most common comments about the trainer saber:  1.  It looks a lot like a flashlight.  2.  Does it do anything?

You had me at Vvuhshzzz – Intro to the TotW

For a select number of years the shared experience that pulled me from autopilot and forced me to consider my age was a person’s first viewing of Star Wars.  We want to think that basically everyone is the same as us, but in instances like this we are reminded just how different we are.

“You saw Star Wars in the theater?!”  This was quickly followed by one of these:

1.  “I wasn’t even alive then.”

2.  “I saw it on VHS.”

3.  “Is that the one with the gold guy in it?”

Today the discussion rarely comes up, proving that I’m even older now.

Those of you that personally know me will find it hard to believe, but I didn’t really like SW that much when I first saw it.  Mom and Dad had heard all the hype and decided to check it out.  They determined that it was ok for my brother and me to watch it and for a few days (or weeks – movies ran for much longer in the olden days) my mom tried to build it up.  “You won’t believe what you are seeing.  All these big ships.  Lasers.  Light-up swords.  It is so cool!”  It didn’t make much sense to me but I was always happy for the rare treat of a movie.

I don’t remember a tremendous amount about that 2hr 1min spent at the Westbury Twin.  The beginning was loud.  Man, that ship is biiiiggg.  Why are the bad guys wearing both black and white armor?  Obi-Wan Kenobi sure is cool.  Han Solo is funny.  I could be friends with Chewy.  It’s kind of dumb that the bad guys can’t shoot better than that.  I think maybe all of this stuff is real somehow.

What did stick out in my mind was this scene.

I wanted to have a club house just like Obi’s Jundland Waste chalet.  Scorching dry winds.  Sand everywhere.  Curvy hard stuff to sit on.  In all seriousness, it would have been so cool to have little fort in the backyard that looked like that.

Most importantly, I wanted that light-up sword!  For years I have believed that no single thing contributed to the SW movies success more than the lightsaber.  Everything else could have been terrible but this one well-executed bit of design would have produced at least a mediocre movie.  Imagine that – a single prop cobbled together from grenades, lighting equipment, plumbing fixtures and such is capable of  making a successful movie.

It never really occurred to me that things like this would be for sale so I didn’t really picture myself owning one.  Remember, SW was the first movie that really made the strong connection of movie and merchandise.  They were figuring it out on kids like me (and making Senior Lucas mucho dinero).  Sure we loaded up on action figures and playsets.  We saved our proofs of purchase and got the mail-in Boba Fett.  What I really wanted was a good lightsaber toy.  I’d seen that inflatable one at friend’s houses.  Invariably it was sitting flaccid in the corner looking stupid.  Played with once but, upon contact with a bratty sister’s head, now broken and tossed aside.

It needs to make the sounds.  It needs to go in and out and light up just like a real one.  It needs to look cool with real metal and switches and light up buttons.  It needs to be solid so I can hit people and things with it.

Luckily for kids watching the theatrical re-releases, technology caught up with design and you can own an electroluminescent-bladed, really-truly sounds-right, prop-accurate lightsaber today.  You can get cheap toys that look pretty good and have a fairly solid extendible and retractable blade.  You can get all colors and hilt designs.  This product line is now so super saturated that you can get the one used by that Jedi that only appears in the back corner of one shot before she is beheaded.

Years before all of this merch was available, I decided to take matters into my own hands and I designed and built my own light saber hilts.

I’ll show you pictures and give you details soon.   I’m looking forward to sharing this with you.