Spoiler Alert – We finished the swingset last Saturday!

What started out as a large Christmas gift turned into an all-summer project.  You may recall that in "Kitchen Faucet", I included an in-progress picture of "the pit" as a teaser.  Here is the full story.

In the spring, CJ downloaded the instructions for the swingset, and found that the manufacturer recommended a 25’x36′ box, filled with at least 9 inches of mulch or pea-gravel for safety.  We didn’t relish having a 9" or 12" step up to get to the swingset, so we made the decision to dig down, and sink the box into the ground.

Let’s see – 25′ x 36′ x 9" = 25 cubic yards. 

“Moving 25 cubic yards of root-laden, rock-infested dirt shouldn’t be too hard by hand, “ said No One Ever.

I spent one entire Saturday in June trying it, and managed to move less than 1 cubic yard.  We needed a better option.  CJ and I talked about hiring it done, but we were trying to keep costs down.  Then CJ asked, "Could we just rent a Bobcat?"


Yes.  Yes we could.  Things went a LOT faster after that.


Of course, being a family project, the entire family had to get in on it.




And we were all geeking out about it.


Driving the Bobcat never got old.

It took us all Saturday, and part of Sunday, but we got the pit dug.  The following weekend, we started laying out the box that would keep the wood chips in, and the rest of the yard out.  I looked for several weeks for something I could attach to a 2×10 that could be driven into the ground.  My solution was hacky-at-best.  CJ swooped in again to save the day with her find – garden-framing brackets from FrameItAll:


These brackets mount to the end of a 1×6, and the spikes drive into the ground. 


The spikes come in two varieties – ground spikes and stacking spikes.  The latter would allow us to stack two boards, one on top of the other.

We started in the back corner, and worked our way around the pit.


Random math factoid.  Katherine + Power Tools = Fear and Chaos



We intentionally left out one entire section of the box as a "ramp", thinking ahead to when we would have dozens (if not hundreds) of wheelbarrow-fulls of mulch to drop in.


Before we could get there, though, we found we needed to put some of the dirt back.  Apparently, we went a little overboard with the Bobcat in taking it out, and there were places that were several inches deeper than we wanted.


That took us several weekends to complete, mostly because a) it kept raining on the days we were going to work on it, and b) we were really, REALLY getting sick of moving dirt around.  The day we finished it could not come soon enough.

Now it was on to the swingset itself.


We unboxed it, and found our first step was to pummel the snot out of innocent scraps of wood.



Ok, the pummeling served to drive the A-frame pieces together so they were snug, but the wood wasn’t fooled for one second.

Then we got to step 2.

Ah yes, step 2.  We need how many bolts?  And we have HOW many bolts?

We found we were missing at least one entire bag of hardware.  So, we assembled what we could, and put in a call to the manufacturer for replacement parts.


The parts came in a week or so later, and we resumed assembly.




Only to find that we STILL didn’t have enough parts.  CJ, not wanting to wait another week or more for parts, ran out to Lowe’s and found screws that matched what we were short on.  That allowed us to keep going, and not waste the rest of the day.

CJ and I got the swingset upright, and I tightened everything down.


The two of us moved the set into position, and discovered to our utter amazement that it was nearly perfectly level right where it was.

Then, of course, we had to try it out.  You know – break it in?


We added the swings themselves, guestimating how high they would need to be once the mulch was in place.


Before we could get the mulch in, though, we needed to lay down weed fabric.  It didn’t take very long, but it sucked – literally – because of all of the mosquitos out that night.


And then came the mulch.


22 cubic yards of it.

And an army of helpers to move it.


We put wood down the ramp, and through the middle of the pit to keep the wheelbarrows from tearing up the weed fabric.  Then we raked the mulch into position.  It worked fairly well.


Once the bulk of the mulch was in, we finished the wall.


We were storing the extra wood behind the house, where it was shielded from the sun most of the day.  When you put those next to the ones that had been out in the sun for weeks, you can really see the difference.


We strapped some pool noodles to the cross-beams on the swingset ’cause running into those things with your forehead ends the happy thoughts.


Ask CJ how she knows.

We filled in the rest of the mulch, and also filled in the outside of the box with dirt to level things out again. 


The big pieces of this project were now done.

A huge thank you to all the grandparents, John from down the street (not pictured), and my brother for helping bring this massive project to a successful conclusion.


The girls love it, and every day since we finished have asked "Can I go out and swing?"



That Sinking Feeling

CJ made it clear yesterday that she wanted the newly cleaned sink to be KEPT clean, for at least 48 hours.  “Let me enjoy it being clean” she said.

The girls and I Cheat Commandos had other ideas.  They decided the sink looked SO nice and inviting, that they’d have a picnic there.  Unfortunately, they weren’t as tidy as they should have been.


From left to right:


“Oh my G-O-S-H!”

“Mom’s gonna go thermal!”

“Quick!  Hide the evidence!”


CJ took the discovery remarkably well.

Kitchen Faucet

For the last month or so, we’ve been working on prepping the backyard for the new swingset.  Unfortunately, three out of the last four Saturdays, the “pit” that will eventually hold the swingset has looked like this:


(More on that project later.)  Needless to say, we decided to work inside today.  We chose another home improvement project – replacing the kitchen sink faucet.


The old faucet had been leaking slowly for months.  I’m actually more comfortable working with electrons than water (even though the electrical projects frustrate me sometimes), but CJ and I decided it was time for it to go.

So, even though I approached the project with more than a little trepidation, I threw myself into it.



The first task was to get the old faucet off.  Two out of the three plastic nuts holding the faucet in place came off without too much trouble.  The third one wouldn’t budge.  There wasn’t a whole lot of clearance to get a wrench or a pair of pliers in, and I was working above my head while lying on my back, so it got increasingly frustrating to work on.  After several minutes of swearing praising the solid construction, I decided to take things to the next level, which included options such as hammer, chisel, and my electric drill.



After we cleaned up the sink, CJ ran out to get the new water lines, and Katherine and I got the new faucet mounted.


Wow – that’s going to look pretty nice.


Ah, dang.  Seriously?


Dad, this is why we can’t have nice things.


There.  That’s better.


Yes.  Much.

Surprisingly, installing the new faucet seemed to be going very smoothly, but twice when I was coming out from under the sink, I nailed my head on these.


More loud comments about the solid construction.

CJ soon returned with the water lines, and with lunch.  After we ate, I finished hooking up the water lines, and tentatively tried the new faucet.



And no leaks!

And the hot and cold handles even deliver hot and cold water, respectively!

It was nice to have a working sink again.  And even with the shenanigans getting the old faucet off, it only took a few hours on one day.

That definitely qualifies as a win.

Cargo Frame – First Attempt

In "Quad Cargo", we determined that the Alias had 2.5oz – or just under 71 grams* – of cargo capacity.  Now it was time to build a frame that we will use to attach what the Alias would need to lift.

Our first attempt was to lay some hollow cardboard tubes across the arms of the copter.


Next, we planned to attached those two tubes together with wooden dowel.  I marked the tubes where the dowel would go…


…and then measured out the doweling.


I drilled holes in the tubing for the dowel to pass through.


I glued the pieces together, and and then verified there would be enough clearance for them between the arms and the rotor blades.


There was, but only barely.  I was a little concerned about the effect the frame would have on the Alias’ flight characteristics.  The frame’s components weighed a little more than 21 grams, but I didn’t know how much the rotor’s thrust would be compromised having the doweling and tubing positioned so close. 

So, instead of putting the frame on top of the arms, I moved it to below the arms.



I zip-tied the four corners down…


…and we were ready for our first test flight.


The Alias appeared to respond well.  It still felt like we had good control over it.


That is, until I got a little too wild on the stick, and crashed it.  The Alias was fine.  The new frame, however, was not.


The crash illuminated a fatal flaw in our design.  The holes drilled through the cardboard for the dowel weakened them too far to be useful.  We would undoubtedly crash several more times even before we go to the "tough" parts, so we needed something more resilient. 

Back to the drawing board.


* Dealing with the weights in grams is easier than dealing with fractions of ounces, so from here on out, all of our measurements will be in metric.


In late 1996, CJ and I purchased our first Saturn – a burgundy SL1, which became CJ’s primary vehicle.  We were so happy with it that we purchased another one in 1999 – this time a blue SL1.  "Blue" became my primary vehicle for the next 7 years before being traded in for my current vehicle (a white Kia Rio).

We traded in "Red" for our third Saturn in 2004, this time a burgundy Ion.  The Ion became CJ’s primary vehicle up until this week, when on Monday she got rear-ended.  She texted me right after it happened:

The good news: I’m fine & the car is mostly fine.

The bad news: I got rear-ended and the trunk doesn’t shut because the bumper is crumpled.

Happy Monday!

The car was still drivable, and the bumper was still attached, so after dealing with the police, CJ just bungeed the trunk down and came home.  Our insurance company (Progressive) was awesome – arranging for the car to get into a local body shop the next day, and also arranging for a rental for CJ while it was in the shop.

Then I got this text from CJ yesterday:

When you have a moment, please call me at home

Uh-oh.  When I called, CJ said she just spoke with Progressive.  The agent said that the cost of the repairs would exceed the value of the Ion, so they offered to cut us a check for it.  In other words, the car was officially totaled.  The amount they were offering for the car was generous given its age – nearly 12 years – and its mileage.  We decided to let the Ion go.

When I got home, though, I found there was an unexpected side effect of us letting it go.  Lucy was on the verge of tears when CJ told her.  She insisted that she wanted to ride in the "red car" one more time.  Lucy has grown up with the Ion.  The Ion and the Rio are the only two family cars she has ever known.

So, this week – a week that literally started with a "Bang!" – we said goodbye to the longest-running vehicle we’ve ever owned.  It also brings to a close nearly 20 years of Saturns for us.  While they’ve had their share of quirks, recalls, and repairs, our Saturns were very reliable vehicles.


Thank you, Saturn, for keeping us safe, and getting us from point A to point B all those years.


You may have noticed this past week that “Mark of Quality” was looking a little different.  The biggest change was switching to a new theme (“Sketch”, by Automattic) – specifically one that supports a project gallery.

And then I built the project gallery.

The gallery collects the major projects that the girls and I have worked on in the past.  Many of them are only a single blog post long, but where the gallery really shines are the longer-term projects, like the Stratoballoon, that are made up of many posts.  Speaking of the Stratoballoon, I hadn’t realized that we made 54 posts for that project, including 16 podcasts!

In addition to pulling together the major projects, I also added a couple of tags to the appropriate posts.  First, the new Podcast tag links all of the podcasts together.  When I went through the posts to add that one, I realized we actually have two separate Episode 11’s.  Oops.

The other thing I did was add a tag called Quote Board.  A lot of the humor in our house ends up being verbal – puns, turns of phrase, and so on – and this new category ties those together.

One of the wonderful side effects of updating this corpus was having to re-read the posts to see if they fit the new tags or not.  We’ve made more than 350 posts since August 2010, when “Mark of Quality” debuted.  This week, I’ve re-read at least two thirds of them.  There are a lot of good memories here, and I found myself laughing out loud multiple times.

I’ve had these upgrades planned for a while, but it wasn’t until this past weekend that I really started putting any time towards it.  Once I got rolling, I really got into it, and wanted to see it through to the end.  There are still a couple of things that I want to do yet – like a blog banner image – but the bulk of it is done now.


Quad Cargo

Before we can start our relatively-still-secret quadcopter-project in earnest, we needed to find out how much extra weight could the Alias really handle.  I drilled holes in a small plastic storage container, and rigged it up as a basket that could be carried by the copter.


The basket and the harness for the Alias weighed in at a combined 1oz (our scale was accurate to about an eighth of an ounce).

We rigged up the Alias in the basement again, and then started loading it up with washers.


We found that the Alias could lift about 1.5oz of washers in the basket, or 2.5oz total being hauled by the copter.  Of course, we had to run the motors at full power to get off the ground.


Switching the Alias from Basic to Expert mode gained us another quarter of an ounce, but as the name suggests, it becomes a lot more challenging to fly.  For one, it doesn’t auto-level itself when we let off of the stick – it will just keep going in the direction we last had it pointed.


We decided that 2.5oz was our effective limit.  That required a full battery and we’d only have 1-2 minutes of flight time, but for what we want to do that should be enough.

The next step will be to build the frame to attach to the Alias to hold the real load.

Dishwasher Enclosure

It’s that time again.  Another Gilbert construction project!  This time, our dishwasher of nearly 10 years had to be replaced.


It started out life as a mobile unit – the kind on casters that you could wheel up to your sink, connect to the faucet with a hose, and then wheel it back into a corner when it was done.  We purchased a conversion kit with it that would allow us to turn it into an in-place unit, which is what you see above.

For 10 years, it faithfully scrubbed our dishes, and provided us an extra 2+ feet of counter space.  But, alas, in the last six months it’s started to not rinse all of the soap off the dishes, and made a few interesting noises along the way.  We decided it was time.

Unfortunately for us, the mobile-dishwasher-that-could-be-converted has gone extinct.  No one makes the conversion kits any more as far as we could tell.  So, to get a new in-place dishwasher meant building an enclosure for it.  This past weekend, that’s exactly what we did.

Of course, the first step was to get the old dishwasher out.  It took my father-in-law and I three hours, and a trip to Lowe’s (one of three I would be making that day), to figure out how it had been attached to the floor and the adjacent cabinetry.  It also took me a non-trivial amount of time to figure out how to disconnect it from the plumbing.  I’ll save you the gory details, but needless to say I love plumbing when it involves a lopper.  Good thing we didn’t want to save those hoses. 

So, after three hours, feast your eyes on – well, nothing:


At least now we could start building the framing for the new enclosure.  The new countertop would be supported by this framing on the "inside", and a new end panel on the "outside".


The original plan was to put the second 1×4 all the way in the corner, but when we found where the hole had been drilled for the drain line, we shifted it forward.


Additionally, the white board at the very front was supposed to have been a load-bearing member.  Unfortunately, I apparently can’t read numbers very well and thought that a 31" long board would magically fit a 35" gap.  Ahem.  To get around that, we attached it in the front as the show piece, and cut another piece of 1×4 to be the load-bearing member in the front.

Finally, the existing countertop had a small overhang that prevented us from putting a piece of wood flush against the cabinet, so we added the piece of oak you see going across the top as a spacer.  That allowed us to add another piece of 1×4 going across the top as the inner support for the new countertop.


I also cut a notch in the back corner for a piece of 1×2 to fit in.


Next, we mounted a piece of 1×2 to the floor


We had a fairly substantial gap between the floor and the wall (which you can see here), so the floor-1×2 runs all the way to the wall.  Next, we added a vertical 1×2, sitting on top of the floor piece, and attached it to the wall.


With the outer framing in place, I could add the 1×2 running across the back.  It is attached to the 1×2 via a metal bracket, and merely sits in the notch cut into the 1×4.  The new countertop would eventually sit on top of this piece, so we felt it didn’t need any other support.

Next we added the end cap.


The end cap was attached to the 1x2s via L-brackets, and would become the load-bearing member on the outside.


The front of the end cap is a 3" wide piece of fascia, which hides the 1×2 running along the floor.  To provide an easy way to attach the countertop, I added four large L-brackets, two to the 1×4 on the inside, and two to the end cap on the outside.

Now we were down to cutting the new countertop to length, and installing it.  This was honestly the part of the project I most dreaded, mostly because if I did it wrong, I’d have to scrap the entire piece of countertop and buy a replacement.

For the most part, we followed the instructions included in this video.  We started by measuring the width that we wanted to cut, and triple-checked that the line we drew on the back of the countertop was perpendicular.


Next, we clamped down a piece of 2×4 to the back of the countertop, to use as a guide for my circular saw.  Unfortunately, the 2×4 had rounded corners, and the guide on my saw kept getting caught by it as I traveled down the countertop.  It ended up being less straight and smooth than I wanted it, but everyone agreed it would be good enough.  CJ and I agreed beforehand that the side I cut would be the "inner" side, mashed up against the existing cabinetry, so it wouldn’t show.  As long as I didn’t take a major gouge out of it, we could make it work.

We bought a "finishing" kit that we would use to laminate the end, which required us to tack on a couple of pieces of filler wood (since the countertop had lips on both the backsplash and the leading edge), and then apply the laminate using an iron.


We did this before installing the countertop, figuring it would be easier to iron the pieces on if the countertop was unattached.

We laid the countertop on the brackets, and took a look at the level.


Not horrible, but we would need to adjust it when we screwed it down.  I marked where the bracket screws would go into the underside of the countertop, and pre-drilled holes for each.  Before I tightened the screws down on the brackets, I added a couple of washers as spacers to the "low" side, to help level it out. 


It worked fairly well.


It took us until 9pm that night to get the last bits finished up, but by the end we had a solid, (and hopefully functional) enclosure for the dishwasher.


The following Monday, the new dishwasher arrived while I was at work.  CJ asked the installer to verify that the enclosure would accommodate the new dishwasher before he did anything else.  He obliged, and CJ sent me a text:

Installer says it will fit!
You can exhale now.  🙂

Just over an hour later she sent me a follow up:

It’s running its first load of dishes.  😀

My wife gets me.  She really gets me.


As it turns out, though, we could have shaved half an inch off the width of the enclosure – there is now a noticeable gap on the left side of the dishwasher.

A problem for another day.