Friday, November 4, 2011

Tales of a New Gun

To anybody who does even a modest amount of carpentry, I strongly recommend at some point getting a nail gun for doing finishing work.  There are many times when glue just isn't secure enough, and even more when manually hammering in a finishing nail just knocks around the pieces too much for precise work.

A few years ago, I got my first 18-gauge pneumatic nailer to do some fence repair work at the old Monkey Cave.  I got it for next to nothing at Harbor Freight Tools (of course) and marvelled at how quickly I could staples or brads up to 2 inches and use them to fasten the redwood trim in a fraction of the time that hand nailing would have taken.  Not only was the process fast, but the nail holes were so much smaller and cleaner than anything I could have done manually.

When we acquired our new Monkey Cave, however, it was the interior that needed some carpentry work.  The windows had no casings, and looked sad in their moulding-free nakedness.  I realized that I didn't want to lug a compressor and dirty hoses throughout the semi-furnished house, so I started looking into cordless options.

In the end, I purchased the Firestorm FS1802BNB, an 18V, 18-gauge nailer from Black and Decker.  In a class of its own, the Firestorm is priced very affordably (about $180), but is powerful to shoot a 2-inch nail into solid wood.

The Firestorm was a lifesaver when putting up the window casings.  While slower than an air-powered nailer, this gun was clean, powerful, and lasted forever on one charge.  The process was simple;  push the gun "nozzle" up against the work, press the trigger, then wait about a second for the unit to wind up and shoot the nail into the work with muffled "bang".

Alas, before long, the fun was gone.  The nailer suddenly stopped working one day for no apparent reason.  Luckily, it is backed by Black and Decker's full 2-year warranty (for non-commercial use), so I brought it into a local shop for repair.  After three months, I was informed that the unit was not repairable, and since B&D has since stopped producing the unit, they offered to send me a check for a full refund.

Now that I had been spoiled by hose-free nailing, I immediately started looking for a replacement for the Firestorm that hopefully wouldn't break the bank.  Since the Firestorm was designed for home use, it was designed to be affordable.  However, other nailers are designed for contractors, and tended to use more expensive technology.  The Firestorm used some sort of "wind up" mechanism that started when you pressed the trigger.  This caused a delay in firing that no contractor would tolerate. 

I found that many of the other "battery-operated" nailers only use the battery to control an air valve, and that a small compressed-air cartridge actually provides the driving force.  The cartridges are consumable, however, so they're another thing to constantly have to use up and buy.  Hmm. Do not want.

Fortunately, Dewalt makes a fully cordless nailer that gets good reviews.  It doesn't need air cartridges, and seems to use some sort of internal flywheel that spins up as soon as you press the nozzle against the work.

The DC608K "kit" version includes a battery, charger, and case, and normally sells for about $280.  I was able to get a refurbished unit of for only $180 (about the same as the Firestorm!) and this is even covered by Dewalt's three-year warranty.  I'll report back later after putting it through its paces.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

MakerMonkey Battles the OC

'OC' as in Orange Cabinets, that is.

For some strange reason, five years ago, when the makers of our new Monkey Cave built the place, they chose to install cabinets of surprisingly good quality, but tinted the most hideous shade of orange known to man (or monkey).  Even worse, I didn't think it possible, but for some strange reason, the finish they used to coat the things is strangely water soluble(!) to the extent that stains from water droplets from the previous owner had discolored the cabinets throughout the house.  Yikes!

Of course, we decided to refinish these cabinets, which consist of some 111 doors and drawer fronts spread throughout the house.  The plan was to paint them, since sanding all the nooks and crannies would be next to impossible.  We choose a semi-gloss black/brown, figuring that a color this dark would be nearly indistinguishable from stain, especially if topped with a satin wipe-on poly clearcoat.

Surprisingly, a very, very, dark brown paint is impossible to find.  The closest I could find is Sherwin Williams "Bittersweet Chocolate", which has the right tone but is still many shades too light.  In the end, I ended up mixing my own color from a black and two browns and having a local Ace Hardware color-match the result.  I'm very happy with the results.

If you are curious, here is the formula, which fills the paint can to the very very top with pigment:
Base: Neutral 340 (Quart)

B:  3Y 14.500/48
C:  0Y 2.000/48
F:  0Y 20.000/48
KX: 0Y 8.000/48
L:  0Y 2.500/48
V:  0Y 6.000/48
I:  0Y 22.000/48

And the result before:

and after:

Incidentally, I learned two important lessons in doing all this.

First, tintable oil-based paints are really hard to find, and getting them in California in a gallon-sized can or in semigloss is nearly impossible.  Fortunately, a few manufacturers have recently come out with new "hybrid" paints that have the durable Alkyd tints used in oil-based paints, but suspend them in water instead of oil.  I used this, and got the best of both worlds!

Second, I found that when using a spray gun to apply paint on the doors (I rolled the cabinets frames), it's critical to be really disciplined with:
  • spraying straight lines across the entire surface without stopping or changing direction
  • overlapping neighboring passes perfectly by 50%
  • angling the spray head and progressing in the forward direction so that any over-spray is directed towards the unpainted part of the door instead of the part you've already painted.   
Otherwise, any over-spray or pauses in spraying will be visible as uneven streaks in the gloss after the paint dries.  Then, you'll have to paint those doors all over again (like I did).


Maybe I'm just trying to act counter to type, but it's funny how, despite working in high tech, I'm often so late to adopt new technology.  Now that the blogging craze has faded away, it's the perfect time for me to jump onto the bandwagon.

In this blog, I plan to post updates on various construction projects, reports on ensuing household mayhem, reviews of latest tools and gadgets, and other random meanderings with no real expectations on anybody reading them.