Monday, October 14, 2013

The Secret of Monkey (BBQ) Island

Avast ye mateys!

Okay.  So maybe talk like a pirate day was last month, but I couldn't resist it given my fond memories for that other Monkey Island of lore.  The latest project on the Monkey grounds has indeed been an island, albeit a far more terrestrial barbecue island and not nearly the maritime destination as its electronic diversional counterpart.

Ahoy Matey!

They say a man's home is his castle.  "They" obviously refers to people who have never been married, or they would surely know that instead a man's home is in fact HER castle, and that includes all the inside rooms, common areas, kitchen, bathrooms, any place that doesn't have a greasy vehicle in it or hasn't been explicitly designated the Man Cave.

The only other refuge that qualifies for a similar variance is a place dedicated to the practice of that distinctly sooty- fiery-burny (and hence sufficiently "manly") style of cooking:  the Outdoor Kitchen.

I must admit that even outdoors, I do very little of the cooking, but that's no excuse not to embark on another construction project.

While we already had a standalone stainless grill and gazebo, what we really needed was a more complete solution that lessened the need to shuttle back and forth from the inside, giving flying pests more opportunity to breach the "castle's" outer perimeter.  I had previously laid water pipe and electrical conduit underneath the patio in preparation for an addition like this, but didn't know what final form it would take.  We decided to build a pair of islands to straddle the grill that could provide storage, work surfaces, a sink, and refrigerator.

Bottom Rails
I started by laying out the base using some galvanized steel channel track I got off Craigslist.  A fellow was selling seven boxes of components from an expandable wall framing system.  These wall sections are designed to each scissor open and extend out to instantly frame a 4-foot length of partition wall.  I got the whole load for $35 and salvaged them into their component studs and track sections, which provided more than enough material for entire project.
The parts came together quickly using just tin snips, vice grips, and self-tapping screws, much like a large Erector Set, and at the end of the first weekend was ready for siding.

Rough Framing
Adding composite lumber feet
However, working with jagged sheet metal was not without its downsides, as the skin of my fingers and palms collected more holes than the plot of Batman and Robin.
Both islands framed

Cutting stucco siding
The normal way to create a stucco finish is rather messy and time-consuming, and involves first siding the boxes with plywood, then wrapping them with mesh, and then laboriously applying a layers of mortar and stucco to the outside.  Too inefficient for me.

Fortunately, JamesHardie makes a stucco-textured siding panel that can be cut with a circular saw (with diamond blade) and simply screwed into place as a standalone covering.  I found it at the local Lowes for $37 per 4x8 sheet. 

Attaching siding over moisture barrier
After wrapping the framing in a plastic moisture barrier, I simply cut and screwed in the Hardie Panel, countersinking the screw heads so I could caulk over them later.

My plan was to simply screw it into place, caulk and fill the corners and screw holes, then paint over the whole shebang to match the house.
Framing overhangs
The overhanging edges of the counter needed special attention, so fortunately I had a little help.  We boxed overhang using galvanized studs, and then clad the countertop with pressure treated outdoor plywood.
Working in tight spaces
Both little monkeys did their best to help.  Though they really thought the open cabinets made a great clubhouse and really preferred we not finish it.

I sealed the plywood with RedGard waterproofing membrane, then screwed some steel angle iron to the edges to keep the plywood from curling up.  I applied a layer of cement backerboard using thinset and screws.  Then another layer of RedGard went on top of the cement board, both to waterproof it and prevent the tile from cracking.

Reinforcing edges
Work break

My first thought was to leave open shelves for simplicity, but I was convinced that adding stainless doors would be a worthwhile addition.

Stainless doors
From, I ordered a tilt-out garbage can holder and two sets of double doors, one with a built-in deep storage drawer.  Costing a grand total for the set, it was by far the largest expense, but in the end so worth it.

Cutting slate tile
We always planned on tiling the top, but were unsure of what type of tile to use.  In the end, we found a great deal on clearance natural slate tile at a local tile store for $1.99 a square foot.

Finished tile
Using a cheap tile saw I have purchased years ago at Harbor Freight (one of my favorite stores), I was able to quickly cut and set the tiles, then finish the top off using a water resistant grout (no sealing!).
Prepped for sink
I dropped in a composite granite bar sink into an opening I had left in the countertop.  I plumbed the supply lines to pipes I had laid down before the patio concrete was poured, and I routed the drain lines to a dry well I dug in the dirt behind the island.

Mounting sink
After adding plumbing and electrical outlets, the only one last final touch remained.

I planned to use a small bar refrigerator that I got for free off Freecycle a number of years ago, but it was clashingly black in color.  This presented the perfect opportunity to try out a new product I'd read about online.

Ugly fridge

Thomas "Liquid Stainless Steel" is a paint-on system that claims to give the attractive look of "brushed stainless steel" as "commonly used in chef's kitchens".  I was a little skeptical, but at only $25 for their range/dishwasher kit (and a fridge that was free in the first place), I had little to lose.

Uglier fridge
The kit comes with a small foam brush, a can of clear protectant, and a can of "color" coat that consists of fine stainless steel particles suspended in automative paint resin.  You're supposed to carefully brush on a few thin coats of color, followed by up to three clear coats of top coat to add shine and protect the finish.  The instructions warn that the first few color coats will look quite bad, but not to worry.  I certainly found that to be the case; the initial coat looked horrible, but the look indeed improved with each successive coat.

Somewhat less ugly fridge
In the end, I was pleasantly surprised.  While by no means a replacement for stainless steel, it resembled what it was; a faux painting technique that evoked a stainless-like look.

At the right angle and a distance of 10 or more feet, it looked fairly convincing, certainly enough for an appliance that would live outside. 
Faux Stainless
So in the end, did it give the look of a "Chef's Kitchen"?

Hmm. Well--especially close up--no Thomas Keller would probably not be terribly impressed.  But Helen Keller... maybe.
So here are pictures of the final product.

In the corners of each island, I later drilled large holes to mount shade umbrellas for additional sun protection, also lining the paths for the umbrellas shafts with pipe that could channel any rainwater to safe outlets underneath the islands.