Category Archives: Basement

Subterranean odyssey, part 2

[Special guest blogger Eric continues his saga of transforming the unspeakably gross basement into a usable workspace.]

Halfway there!

When you have a room full of stuff and no storage space, what do you do? Make storage space, of course! But what do you do with all the stuff in the room when there is no other place to put it while you make storage space? Pile it up in one corner while you work on the other. Or better yet, go to the Flower and Garden Show and then go to the Seattle Home Show. In my last guest post I said I felt like Billy in the Family Circus. Ah yup. Here is how projects work at our house.

Cartoon of circuitous route from start to destination

We’re distracted by anything shiny.

The first step in creating my new workshop was, I thought, to repaint the walls a brighter color. Like white. Removing the dark color in a basement without much in the way of windows and replacing it with a light color just seemed the right thing to do. That meant removing some of the wood crate shelving so I could paint behind it. As I emptied the shelves, I sorted. Stuff for the dump here … stuff to keep there…unidentified stuff somewhere else. I was quickly running out of space to pile stuff. Two five-pound lead bricks could be used for something someday. So I put those on top of the foundation wall next to the little wooden Japanese sandals that a long-ago owner must have made for his daughter. Let the next owners of the house wonder where they came from.

Green wooden geta sandals for a child

D’Arcy found these Japanese geta sandals on top of a beam in the basement.

The solution to the storage problem? Take out half the wood crate shelving along the south wall, paint, and then install some new cabinets for storage. Fill the cabinets and the repeat the process. That was my plan. Here is what I started with.

Panorama of crowded, dusty worbench and tools

From wine to air-conditioner.

The first real step was to find a place to temporarily stash a few bottles of wine. The new wine cabinet will become a storage unit after I build a new wine rack or we drink all the wine, whichever comes first. One bottle a day and we will be out of wine sometime in late July or early August.

Tall, narrow white cabinet holding wine bottles

Red or white?

The fanciful paint job was actually fun to look at. But it made the room really dark. The dirty metal cabinet on the right is the original base for our vintage kitchen sink. It was rusted beyond use, so I chucked it … but I saved the Art Deco pulls.

Ols sink cabinet and workbench with leaves painted on wall

Elvis’s jungle room had nothin’ on this.

I decided on bright white paint. I first put Zinsser primer over the top of the painted wall. One coat was enough to cover the paint below. Of course, I had washed and wiped down the walls to remove the many-years-old dust and dirt that might be there. It seemed solid. But as the primer dried, the existing paint bubbled in places. And it flaked off in other places.

Bubb;ed and peeling white paint

Not a good sign!

It was then that I realized that the base coat of old paint (under the foliage design) was nothing more than a whitewash. So that meant scraping and wire brushing the walls to remove any newly loosened paint. A good lesson learned there. A new coat of primer went on. I made sure it was a version that had mold inhibitor and would cling to cement and masonry. The white semigloss went over that.

When I had cleaned and painted about half the wall I stopped and bought a couple of inexpensive storage cabinets at IKEA. They were two inches too tall. I had to trim them down so they fit under the floor joists. Now I had a place to put hand held power tools and accessories. A good start!

Two tall, white IKEA cabinets

IKEA to the rescue!

When the walls were all painted white the room seemed so much brighter! If there was any OCD within me I would have put a skim coat on the rough foundation walls to make them smooth. But what the heck? It is a basement, after all, and no matter what I did to the walls and floor, it would still be a low-ceiling basement! Harumph …

New white paint on one wall, original paint on the other

Before and after

My next task was either to buy or manufacture some sort of new worktable for myself. I wanted a lot of drawers and counter space. I figured 28” x 78” was a good size for a worktop. It would go under the east wall and window. Since the closest worktable I could find for purchase was roughly $850 and was not everything I wanted, I decided I would build one myself. Wouldn’t it be great if I had a fully functioning workshop to build something like that?

Stack of boards on basement floor

Future workbench

For $63 I purchased all the wood I needed for my workbench. Fir 2x4s and 2x8s were pretty much what I started with. That and some 1×6 pine boards. These days, a nominal 2×4 is actually 1.5×3.5 or so (plus or minus a sixteenth of an inch from board to board). That is something that is a constant reminder in our 103 year-old home, where the 2x4s really are 2×4. It always makes the remodel and repairs here interesting. I milled the 2x4s to1x3s and milled the 2×8 to even, squared thicknesses to create the tabletop.

Lumber for wrokbench cut to size

Cut down to size

At first I thought of making 15 wooden drawers for the workbench and then decided to go a totally different way. IKEA sells plastic drawers that are the perfect size and only a couple of dollars each. I picked up a few other things while at the Swedish superstore that would wind up in the basement.

The bench is done and works well. The entire workbench cost me less than $120 and many hours of labor. But it will work until I make one out of quarter-sawn oak or other really hard wood.

Wood workbench with colorful IKEA drawers

New worktable with IKEA innards

With the workbench done, I had the storage space and workspace to get the rest of the room cleaned and sorted. The pegboard is full of tools, the cabinets are in place and full, and all the bench tools are in their resting places. My old center island worktable and all the bench tools are on locking casters so they can be moved around as needed. That helps when you have a small workspace.

Hand tools hanging on white pegboard wall.

A pegboard for tools, like everyone’s dad used to have.

Tall black metal tool chest and rolling tables for bench tools

The black tool chest is where the old sink cabinet stood.

What’s next? I still need to add outlets and another new LED ceiling light. And I need to seal a few more floor cracks and run some leveler on the floor, too.

When those last few items are done I will move to the other side of the basement. There is an old workbench over there that is still great. I plan on using both side of the basement. The side I am finishing now will be the area where we do the heavy work of sawing, milling, and sanding. The other side will be for the detail stuff and will hold more storage for household needs and some hobby things. And mostly spider free. The adventure continues.

View of other half of dark, dirty basement

More to come …

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

Subterranean odyssey, part 1

While I’m toiling away with endless plaster repair (or, alternatively, lolling in the Barcalounger ), I need to come up with something to entertain the five people who read my blog. Fortunately, the living room walls aren’t the only project around here. I’m making a mess upstairs, but Eric is in the dungeon—a.k.a. the basement—turning it into a functional shop. He’s doing such a great job, I asked him to write a few posts about it. Put on your hazmat suits, folks–Eric is taking this blog where it’s never been before!

Below decks

I feel a little bit like Billy in the Family Circus. D’Arcy is taking a short break from her blog as she works on our living room walls and I get to fill in for her. Patching and filling and sanding and painting a 103 year old room has its ups and downs (mostly on a ladder) so it takes a bit of time to get it all done.

So, what project in our house do I have to write about? Well, we have a small basement in our house. It used to contain the boiler and heating system for the home. Old pipes for the radiator system that used to be in the house are still present and capped off to provide a real plumber’s nightmare (especially when not all the pipes were capped off properly many decades ago).

Rusty old unused water pipes in basement

Not creepy at all

Piping for new-fangled items like washing machines made for interesting challenges for someone in the past. The drain for the basement sink (no longer functional) and sump pump go out through the foundation wall at about two feet up from the floor and come back in again at five-and-a-half feet. Oh yes, our washing machine drains into the sump. At first I thought that was a bad thing. Then I realized that during the long dry spells we have in the summer, using the washer actually runs the sump pump regularly to keep it working properly.

[Ed. note: I heard this was a common setup in older Midwest houses, but not many houses on the West Coast have basements, so it’s an oddity out here.]

Basement sump pump

Our faithful sump pump.

Old plumbing and grounds on basement wall

The white pipe (second from right) goes out, the black pipe (hard to see at the top) comes in.


Drain pipe on outside of foundation wall.

The strange out-and-in pipe on the outside of the house. We don’t know what the other pipe is for.

We live in the Green River valley. That means that the water table at our house is about two feet below the surface of the yard in wet weather. The basement floor is five feet below ground. When it really rains the sump pump is very active. With a 103-year-old cement floor, there are bound to be small cracks. There are patches upon patches on the floor. Water is always trying to seep in, but that is what the sump is for. I will have more on the sump and plumbing another time.

patched and cracked concrete basement floor

Kind of arty looking.

We have only a partial basement—under the kitchen and our bedroom, on the east end of our house. The bottoms of the floor joists sit about 65″ above the floor. Wiring, ducting, and piping go through and along the floor joists. There are few windows to the outside world from the basement. The furnace, the sump, and the water heater are on the north side of the basement. The stairs come down the middle. The north side is storage and is full of bicycles, cat carriers, and stuff from many decades. Well, the whole basement had a lot of stuff in it. That would include spiders. That would be why my wonderful wife doesn’t go down there.

Not to scale, but close enuf

Not to scale, but close enuf

So why bring all of this up? This is where I decided to create my workshop. There used to be a workshop there. Oh, by the way…I am 73″ tall.

Man standing with hhis head between floor joists in basement

A perfect fit.

The workspace that was in the basement when I moved into the house served a purpose for a former tenant. It did for me too, for a while. But then I decided to make a change so that it worked for me. Isn’t that what ALL guys do with projects, anyway?

Workbenched piled high with junk

Custom painted by a graffiti artist.

The original arrangement of the workshop was just an open space next to the stairs. The foundation walls had been spray painted in a colorful, but dark, jungle-like theme. The shelves were made from old floral bulb pallets (a clever reuse of materials). But they didn’t provide the best storage space for me. The countertops were sheets of heavy chip board. They sagged in a few places (as do many things that are older). There were a lot of extension cords hanging in the rafters to provide electricity and light. They all came off of the same outlet. As long as only one thing was plugged in at any time what could possibly go wrong?

Bags and boxes of old project pieces, leftover hardware, and hundreds of parts to something or other had been here on a shelf since the last century. And of course I only added stuff to the mess.

Messy workbench and ancient canning shelves

Everything in its place.

I somehow managed to build, from scratch, an entire set of kitchen cabinets, a king-sized headboard and footboard, and many other things in this environment. So why make any changes? I set down my trusty old Reed and Price screwdriver somewhere on one of the counters and I couldn’t find it anymore!!!! I need better storage! I need better lighting! I need better ventilation! I need more outlets! I need a real workbench! Phew, I need a nap.

My next post will show what I did at the start the project.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it