Ever since I was a small child I wanted to find a treasure map that led to riches beyond my wildest imagination (and trust me, I had a WILD imagination).  Most people think that the hard part is finding the treasure, but what I have found in my many years of experience is that the real challenge is finding the map.


As a youngster I determined that the film “Goonies” was the quintessential treasure hunting instructional video. Of course, if there is going to be a map lying around somewhere it must be hidden within an antique.

Channeling my inner goonie, I would gently dissect picture frames to see what might be hidden behind the artwork.  I’d sift through books that were covered in dust, and examine all antique furniture for that secret drawer that would lead me on my adventure.

In my many years as a treasure-map hunter, one thing I’ve had to do is expand on my definition of “treasure.”   It’s very simple as a child.  Treasures are made up of gold and jewels.  As an adult, however, I prefer to be more nuanced in my thinking.  Take for instance when I was demolishing the In Law unit.  In the post Extra! Extra!” I found newspaper articles that transported me back to the 1970’s.  Not only could I picture myself uncomfortably wearing polyester in the summertime heat, but I could also picture the former homeowner/DIY enthusiast  standing in the exact same spot as me, 40 years ago, insulating the In Law unit ceiling with old newspapers and dehydrated rats.  While my usual definition of ‘treasure’ may not include dehydrated zombie rats, I would certainly think of those newspaper clippings as being hidden gems that brought an unexpected value to the demolition process.

In the spirit of paying it forward, along with the desire to have a little fun, I decided to leave a treasure of my own hidden in the walls of the In Law unit.

Now all it comes down to is assembly.

Step 1:  Identify the Treasure Receptacle

While the receptacle of choice for pirates would be the wooden chest, in the film ‘Romancing the Stone,” a ceramic bunny statue hid the palm-sized emerald within its fragile walls.  In my case, I decided to utilize what was around me.  I asked myself, “what empty receptacles do I have an abundance of lying around the house?”  That’s right, wine bottles!


Of course, it’s not just any empty wine bottle. Since I am, after all, the type of wine connoisseur who bases her purchase of wine primarily on how cute the label is on the outside of the bottle, I selected the wine called “Freakshow.”  With circus performers playfully frolicking around the bottle, this one was a winner from the start!

Step 2:  Identify the treasure

Now that we have a receptacle, we need to stuff it full of treasure.  Now, realistically, a full bottle of wine might be a great treasure to find, but the risk of breakage and the inevitable lingering wine oder that follows prompted me to empty the bottle prior to its use.

As you might imagine, the opening to a wine bottle is quite small.  You might be able to fill it with diamonds, but let’s be honest.  If I had a bottle full of diamonds I’d most likely be out shopping rather than blogging.  Therefore, I will stuff it with something I have a tremendous amount of.  That’s right, I’m going to stuff it with words.

Here’s my treasure:


I wrote a two page letter that talks about who I am, who my partner is, and how we got this house.  It talks about the DIY process and what’s happening in the world right now.  I close with some of my hopes for the future and a nice photograph of my family.  Ideally, this treasure won’t be found for many years, making my brief but comprehensive commentary on today’s world that much more interesting.  With that said, even if this treasure is discovered in 30 or 40 years, I hope someone can find as much joy hearing about the world in 2013 as I found while reading about 1970’s fashion.

Step 3:  Treasure Assembly

Now, while I did my best to empty that bottle of wine, I didn’t quite get every drop out of it.  I don’t want to put my letter into the bottle and risk it being ruined, so I have utilized modern technology to assist me in the assembly process.  The Ziplock bag.


Okay, so bandits could probably make it through a ziplock bag, but at least it will be weather & wine proof.  From here I simply pop in the cork and I have a message in a bottle.


Step 4:  Identify A Location To Hide This Treasure

Now I’m nearly ready to begin spray foaming the walls of the In Law unit.  I figured that if I pour spray foam over the bottle it will be locked in place like a time capsule.  The spray foam will keep it protected from impact (or earthquake) as well as water.


While you can all look forward to my next post about spray foaming, for now here’s a teaser picture:


Step 5:  Dream Of The Discovery!

Can you picture it!?

It’s the year 2150.  The new owners of the house have decided that they need someplace to park their hover bike.  Rather than putting it on the roof like everyone else, they decide to build a hover bike garage under the deck.


While opening up the walls, the first thing they notice is how well everything is built.  After a brief moment of reminiscing on how they “built things to last back then” they come across a bottle covered in spray foam.

“Oh silly people of the 21st century, didn’t you know spray foam was just a fad.”

As they continue their construction and foam removal they notice something unusual.

“Oh Wow, it’s a bottle!  Bottles haven’t been used in a hundred years.  Not since geneticists discovered how to engineer humans with gills that filter water out of the atmosphere”

Upon further investigation the homeowner notices that the bottle says “Freakshow!”  Fearing that his home use to be owned by a circus, a serial killer or a wine-o, he pops open the cork and discovers the most amazing treasure.  A letter written by an old-timer WAY back in the olden days when cars had four wheels and cell phones still needed physical interaction to activate.

The knowledge gleaned from this letter would surely enlighten the people of modern-day!   If nothing else, it could be sold on ebay for $1000 (which is the equivalent of $2 in 2013 money).

After touring Earth and the interstellar outposts on a speaking tour about his discovery, the homeowner decides that he too will leave a treasure hidden in his newly constructed hover bike garage.  And with that decision the treasures continue to flood our home for many years to come.



I’ve come to the conclusion that renovating a space is not entirely unlike creating a Frankensteinian monster.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect our In Law unit to terrorize the village locals; nor do I expect it to require a jolt of lightening before I can call this project complete.  With that said, there are some similarities that should not go unappreciated.

If you think of renovating as being a series of phases, we begin with the demolition phase.  From a Frankenstein standpoint, this might include digging up bodies and harvesting the good parts and chucking the bad parts.  “Oh..that legs is missing a foot, let’s go ahead and scratch that.  Onto the next body.”  From a building standpoint, you open up the walls and identify the rotten wood, or broken pipes.  Then you try to identify the parts of the space you plan on keeping.


Then you’re onto phase two, “repair.”  Now if I was a mad scientist, this is when I’d start opening things up and shoving things into place.  A kidney here, a femur there, etc.  As more of a mad-DIY’er than a mad-scientist, in this phase I prefer to put a floor in here and a wall in there.


Now, we’re onto the last phase, the “finishing” phase.  This would be when I (the mad scientist side of me) might stitch up the holes, put on the little neck bolts, hook my beast up to a lightning pole and hope for the best.  This would understandably be the most anxiety producing phase of the project.  Questions, that I might not want to know the answer to would go flying through my head, such as… “Will my monster eat children?  Will he chase screaming farmers off their land making it that much harder to find organic vegetables in the village?”

Now, as a DIY’er, this is the phase that has the highest level of instant gratification.  This is when the work space magically transforms and reflects its own personality and character (more like a butterfly than a crazed zombie beast).


This, my DIY following friends, is the phase I’m after!!  This is the prize I have my eye on!

The “Finishing” phase is right around the corner!  I am officially in the final throes of the “Repair” phase and after a few stitches supports here and a new kidney electrical outlet there, I’ll finally get to move onto the finishing phase!  (and don’t think I won’t yell “IT’S ALIVE!” when this is all over).

Here’s the list of everything that needs to be done before I can put up drywall.

  1. Raise the closet floor
  2. Add support where the wall mounted TV will be installed
  3. Add support where the sliding door tracks will be installed
  4. Stain the joists
  5. Insulate the walls
  6. Install the tub
  7. Add electrical outlet in the kitchen

So far I’ve knocked 4 items off my list.  Here’s the summary:

The Closet Floor:

Now that all of you blog readers are well versed in the art that is installing a floor, I will spare you the details of what it took to raise the closet floor.  Instead, I’ll show the summary in picture form:


As you can see in the picture above, there is a significant drop off from the main floor of the room to the closet floor.  While this didn’t bother me for a long time, when someone asked me about it the other day I decided that it would make more sense to bring it up to the height of the floor.

closet2 closet3


Unfortunately, the floor is about 1/2″ higher than the main room, but that may be able to be fixed when I put the new finished floor in.  At least you won’t break your leg when trying to get a shirt out of the closet.  It’s a…step…in the right direction. Get it? “Step” in the right direction.

Okay, moving on.

Support for Wall Mounted TV:

Here I just added a couple 2×4’s to the wall to give me something solid for the future attachment of the wall mounted TV arm.





Support For Sliding Door Tracks

As you know we will have two wall-mounted sliding ‘barn’ doors in this room.  One door will be for the closet and the other will be for the bathroom.  Both of these sliding door tracks will be holding anywhere from 75lbs to 200lbs, depending on what type of door I decide to buy or build.  These tracks will require a lot of support to carry that weight.

Here are the new supports for these doors:

Barn Style Sliding Closet Door:





Bathroom Door

The bathroom door will also be on a wall mounted track, although this one will be a little smaller to fit in the limited space.




Stain The Joists:

As you may recall, I intend to drywall between the ceiling joists so that about 2″ of wood remains exposed.  Since half of the room has beautiful old (original) Douglas Fir ceiling joists, and the other half of the room has new construction Douglas Fir, there is a noticeable difference between the colors of the two types of wood.  The old wood is dark and rich like a freshly brewed cup of coffee, while the new wood is bright and golden like the afternoon sunshine.


To create some degree of continuity, I decided to stain the new wood to get it to a closer color match with the old wood.  Unfortunately, trying to reflect the difference in photographs is quite hard.  The main beam, however, is big enough that you can see the difference in color.  Check it out…






With that work done, all I need to do is get the electrical to install one more outlet, get the plumber to set the tub and I’m on to insulating the walls and putting up drywall.  Then things will get really exciting!

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted much to the blog over the last couple weeks.  Between summertime fun interrupting my usual working weekends and high levels of procrastination I have mostly been tackling smaller projects.  These projects, in themselves, don’t really warrant their own blog posts, however, much like Voltron, when they come together they add up to something much greater.

(For those of you unfamiliar with Voltron, let me both enlighten you and date myself)

Now, as much as I’d love to continue to watch robotic lions form a giant space robot and protect the universe from the evil forces of planet doom, we should really focus on the task at hand.  (NOTE:  this is exactly the type of procrastination I’ve been fighting over the last couple weeks).

Channeling my inner project manager, I decided that rather than bore you with a lot of short posts about small tasks, I’d streamline my approach.   Therefore, I’ve combined a couple of my most recent In Law unit accomplishments into this singular blog post.

The Bathroom Floor:

First, let’s begin with the bathroom floor.  While I know we’ve talked about this floor many times on this blog, the fact remains that despite the jack-hammering, digging, plumbing, and concrete pouring I am still left with a dramatically uneven floor.   Unfortunately, as long as the bathroom floor stays in this uneven state I can’t progress with any of the remaining bathroom renovations.


While I waited patiently for a beautifully level surface to magically grow out of the uneven concrete block that was my bathroom floor, eventually I came to the conclusion that it was up to me to get this floor finished.  This meant that I was going to need to navigate through some of the residual trauma I was holding onto after my last encounter with concrete.

You see, I found that my relationship with concrete was very one-sided.  Not only did it feel like I was the one doing all the work, but every time I’d come home with a new bag of cement it wasn’t enough.  I would estimate 7 bags of concrete and 14 bags later I was still left needing more.  While I wasn’t looking forward to rekindling this relationship, I decided that this time I wasn’t going to settle.  Rather than buying the estimated 3 bags, I bought 6!

“That’s right! Concrete!  Either meet my needs or we’re through!”

With my six bags, my bucket, my hose and my drill, together we set out to try to fix the ugliness that had become the bathroom floor.





pour 3


With a flat and level surface in place, I was able to begin building the subfloor.  Because the bathroom ceiling is lower than the ceiling in the main room, I couldn’t build the subfloor very high.  For this reason, rather than laying the two by fours on end, I instead placed them flat on the ground.  This would allow me to build the subfloor without making the room feel like a cave.


From there I added some additional two by fours between the “floor joists” for some additional support.


With the ‘floor joists’ and additional support pieces in place I was finally able lay the pressure treated plywood on top.



Finally, after all that work the bathroom floor was done!  This last experience with concrete was not nearly as tough as the first experience.  I credit the shift to both my increased familiarity with the product, and also with the fact that I was working with concrete’s much more flexible and attractive sister, self leveling floor resurfacer.

With the bathroom floor completed, it was on to the next task.

The Bathroom Door:

You see, I got into a bit of a pickle when it came to the bathroom door.  It turns out that the standard door height is 80.”  While this may seem like a somewhat insignificant fact, when I raised the In Law unit floor I also shrunk the bathroom door opening to 78.”  Oh well, these things happen.  Now it’s just about figuring out a solution so our future guests can have the private poop they so desire.

While I could cut the door down to 78″ that wouldn’t change the fact that there is a step down when entering the bathroom.  This means the door would only be able to open into the bathroom, making the already small space that much smaller.  Another alternative would be to install a pocket door, but the plumbing on either side of the door opening made this option only possible if I moved the plumbing around.  Since this is not an expense I am eager to accommodate, I had to consider another solution.


After careful consideration of my options I decided to channel my inner equestrian and visualize life in a barn.  Then, like filly winning the Kentucky Derby, it came to me!  Remember these beauties?



That’s right, we’re back to wall mounted sliding doors.   Not only will these doors continue to keep the room feeling spacious, but they will also, most importantly, help facilitate the all important private poop.

With the decision made, it was time to figure out how this door would fit into the space.  You see, the fancy new poop pipe has made it so one side of the door opening protrudes into the room further than the other side of the opening.  This means that there would be nothing for the sliding door to butt up against when it is closed.  To solve this problem I needed to build a small wall near where the kitchenette will be.


With my trusty new framing nailer in hand, putting up that wall was a breeze!



Now with the door framing all figured out and the bathroom floor completed, I just need to finish up the ceiling, put in the bathtub and insulate before I can put up the drywall!  We’re getting closer to a finished rustic retreat!  Stay tuned!

Over the last couple weeks the In Law unit has really started to take shape. What was once a zombie rodent playground, littered with rotting wood and asbestos, has begun to resemble a rustic retreat.  Well, even if the room leans on the ‘rustic’ side more than on the ‘retreat’ side,  at least you don’t need to don a space suit just to walk inside.


While we continue to work towards the modern-barn aesthetic, we’d still like our visitors to be able to enjoy all of the conveniences of the 21st century.  Luxuries like indoor plumbing and electricity should be in lavish supply.  Unfortunately, electricity is one item that has been hard to come by in our rustic space.  While draping extension cords from the garage may work for this DIY’er, the tripping hazard liability has prompted me to pursue other, more permanent, methods of powering this space.    Now, when it comes to re-wiring and electricity, I thought it might be wise to reference my DIY Rulebook.  

Rule #1…”Don’t do anything that might cause you to die.”

Now, while you might think that this rule should be reserved for jobs like underwater bomb defuser or flaming aerial stunt woman, you really shouldn’t limit yourself to only the extreme professions.  In my case, my knowledge of electricity does not expand much further than keeping powered items away from a full bathtub.  Therefore, when it comes to re-wiring an entire space, it is time to bring in the professionals. 

Here’s where things are right now:


As you can see, we’re not exactly overflowing with lightning-like power.  Therefore, the wiring plan is as follows:


  1. Recessed lighting all over
  2. New electrical outlets all over
  3. Behind the wall wiring for a wall mounted TV
  4. Some lights outside the sliding glass door.
  5. A bathroom fan and vent it outside

I’m very lucky in two regards (well, many more than two, but let’s stay focused!).  First, a family friend, Dave, is a great professional electrician who I completely trust;  and Second, Dave knows how to design wiring for a space.  If anyone can take this gloomy In Law unit, that is littered with ancient home-owner hacked wiring, and make it glow, Dave could do it.  So I handed over the keys and  let him get to work.

Here’s the progress:



While these wires are not being powered at this exact moment, I am still at risk of being strangled or of getting an eye poked out, so I have left this space so Dave can continue to work his magic.

After a few days of wire wrangling, here’s our newly powered up space!









This light and electricity will definitely come in handy with my next project.  It’s time to focus some time on that bathroom.  Stay tuned.

This week was particularly fun!!  Not because I was able to get a lot done in the In Law unit, as you might suspect, but because the in-laws were visiting!  And what do you do when the in-laws visit, you ask?  Put them to work of course!

As you might remember, one of the windows I needed to install was ordered with the wrong dimensions.  Conveniently enough, the new window arrived not long after our family arrived.  This seemed like the perfect opportunity to encourage them to put their own stamp on the project that has been named after them. Luckily for me, Terry, my father-in-law, actually had an interest in getting his hands dirty and lifting heavy objects.  There are few things heavier than new windows, so this worked out perfectly.


Here’s where we started:


When we installed the sliding glass door and the bathroom window we framed the space where this last window would live.  Having the space already framed made the process of installing this window much faster.



One thing that I learned while working with Terry to complete this task was that I am very easily distracted by enjoyable conversation.  Unfortunately, Terry is a fun and interesting person, which is a huge distraction to this DIY’er.  This means that I failed to fulfill my DIY’er responsibilities and document the entire process of window installation.  I can only hope that you, my blogging audience, can forgive me, and that my DIY membership pin (that I built, of course) isn’t revoked.

A result of this lack of DIY’ing evidence is that it appears as if the window unwrapped itself, waddled up to the hole in the wall and effortlessly leapt into place:

Ta Da!


While the window would like to take full credit for the installation, the reality is that (despite my encouragement) a magical arm did not extend from the window to affix itself to the exterior wall.  In the end, it took the combined teamwork of Terry and myself to get this task completed.  Now if only we could get the in-laws to come and visit more often we’d get this project done in a flash!

In the mean time, with a little help from family we’ve finished all of the windows, and are on to the next task.


When I’m not destroying renovating my home and going to my day-job that makes all of this magic possible, I take a furniture building class at the local City College.  Since this blog is called “Building With Beth” I though that it might be an appropriate forum to show you what I’ve been working on outside of the house.

About a year ago we replaced a structurally unstable support column in the garage that is very similar to the one that still resides in the In Law unit:


Rather than throw this beautiful piece of old growth Douglas Fir into the garbage, I took it into my wood working class.  There was something poetic about converting a historic piece of our house into something that could continue to be a part of our home.  With that in mind, we really needed a good coffee table for our livingroom, so I got to work.

Now, if you know anything about me, you know that I’m a planner.  I approach furniture building much like I approach DIY’ing.  If I just started hacking away at a piece of wood hoping to build a table I’d end up with a toothpick.  Therefore, the first step was to create the design using Google SketchUp:




With the design in place, and the wood ready to be whittled down, it’s time to get this project started.  Here are some pictures of the transformation from structural column into reclaimed wood coffee table.

Here’s what I started with:


The first step was to make this small tree trunk as square as possible.  Unfortunately, reclaimed lumber tends to be littered with shrapnel from years of abuse.  You can’t run a piece of nail ridden wood through a mechanical planer or saw without risking damage to that machinery.  Therefore, I had to square this beauty up using a hand plane, old school style.

plan1   plane2

Once I finally got things square I was ready to cut them to size.  Since planing helped me identify both where the nails were and where my arm muscles were, I was able to take some pliers and pull out all the metal slivers that were scattered throughout the wood.  Once I was confident the wood was free of shrapnel, I could start using the machines to do the hard work.

legs2      legs

The table top is being built out of an old work bench that was in the garage.  The workbench was as old as the rest of the wood in the house, so I imagine it was “reclaimed” as a workbench by the previous owner.  As we know from the In Law unit, he too was a DIY’er.

To create the tabletop, I took a Biscuit Joiner and ‘joined’ the two pieces together.



Now that everything is cut to size, I can start to fine tune these cubes & rectangles into a coffee table.


two cuts



Now that all of my pieces have been nicely refined, it’s time to glue everything up.  Unlike my work in the In Law unit (where I shoot three nails for every pull of the nail gun trigger), when working on furniture I like to avoid using any metal.  Therefore, all of the pieces will be held together using wood dowels and glue.





As you can see, between the cutting, planing and sanding, a lot of the beautiful old patina that makes reclaimed wood so special has been removed.  In an effort to recreate the look of aged wood I’m going to create a faux-patina.  How? You ask.  Well, using fire of course!


Burning wood can go horribly wrong, for both my project and my classroom.  However, after a bit of controlled flame-thrower action, we went from this…



To this…


Finally I’m ready to apply the finish.  After consulting with my teacher, I’m going to coat the table in polyurethane.


After a few coats, and some light buffing, here’s the final product:

Ta Da!



In case you noticed a drop off of “Building With Beth” posts over the last week it’s because I’ve been on a luxuriously relaxing vacation.  Now don’t start thinking that I didn’t spend any time working on the In Law unit.  It was my vacation after all.  I had to take full advantage of my open afternoons and scheduling flexibility.  While the first half of my week was spent soaking up the sun and hiking the trails in the beautiful Santa Cruz mountains, the second half of the week was spent bringing a little light into the dim and dark In Law unit.

That’s right, it’s time to install some windows!  Well, one window and one sliding glass door to be specific.  The second window that needs to be installed was accidentally ordered in the wrong size, so that installation will be a different post.  Therefore, today we will be installing one new window and the sliding glass door.

The original windows were old, ugly and very energy inefficient.  Technically they kept out rogue mourning doves and roving bands of mosquitos, however, that was the limit of their functionality.  Here are a couple of pictures:

Window 1 – The Bathroom:  Technically the window in the bathroom is called a “Jalousie” Window, but I’m pretty sure that’s just a marketing ploy to make these ugly slatted glass windows sound fancier.


Window 2 – Future Sliding Glass Door:  This is a basic single-paned glass window, but someday it will be either a glorious sliding glass door, or a massive breach in the fortified walls of our castle.


Since I’ve never installed a window or a door before, I brought in a little help for this task.  There is something intimidating about cutting a hole into the side of your home and exposing the inside to nature and/or bandits.  Not to mention that the framing needs to be done properly or the window / door simply won’t fit.  To make sure this was done right, I brought in one of the guys who has helped me through this project, Simon.  

We began by reframing the spaces where the new window and the new door will be installed.  Since the space for the sliding glass door was already framed, we only need to cut the hole where we should be able to (in theory) simply pop the new door into place.  


Once the hole was cut we could stick down the waterproofing membrane.


Once we finished cutting out the opening for the sliding door, we moved onto the bathroom window. The original window was tucked in between two studs, and was less than 12″ wide.  The new window will be nearly twice that size.  This meant that we had to add some new framing and expand the size of the original window opening.


I have to admit that the actual installation of the window & door was not nearly as complicated as I thought it would be.  In my mind I was opening a giant hole in the side of my home where waiting bands of robbers would come with their army of plague infested rodents and swarms of wasps to pillage my home.  I would be helplessly trying to keep them out by frantically working to assemble windows that came in a box of 1000 parts and needed to be put together using instructions that were both in a foreign language and in code


In the end, however, installation wasn’t nearly as intimidating as it was in my imagination.  Here are the really basic steps:

  1.  Frame out the space where the window will live.  Make sure that the new opening is 3/4″ wider and taller than the actual size of the windows/door that you ordered.
  2.  Install the waterproofing membrane in that opening.
  3.  Apply calking around the opening (on top of the water proofing membrane)
  4.  Pop the window into the hole & make sure it’s level by using a few shims
  5.  Screw the frame of the window to the wall
  6.  Enjoy your new window

Here’s the end result!




Now the real test will come when the reordered window arrives and I need to install it all by myself.   I’m pretty sure that I’m prepared for that challenge, but I’ll let you know how it goes!