We are going On the Road

Road Trip!

That’s right. We are packing up our ponies, leaving our town and wandering the country looking for new projects to tackle with you. Perhaps we’ll arrive in your town and partner up with you on one of your pesky projects. You’ll recognize our hats. Be ready!

Canvas Work Apron

For Christmas, my 13 year old daughter made me my very own Hammer Like a Girl work apron with our logo! It is great – made from really heavy canvas, includes pockets, a hammer loop, and most unique of all, a sewn-in magnet to hold random nails. Genius! We are thinking that we should make these and sell them through our blog (giving the creator a cut of the profits of course). What do you think – would you buy one?

Tiling a Backsplash – Part 2

The last time Monica, Heidi, and I worked at my house, we planned out and prepared all the tile. (see Ready to Tile – Part 1) Now on to Part 2 – Installing the tile backsplash:

We had all our supplies out and ready. I was referencing the notes from my Art Tile adviser and the iPad…again. All of a sudden Heidi (having a tiny bit of tiling experience under her belt) said, “Ah, let’s just do it.”  So we did.

Step 1– Mixing the Thinset   Thinset is a powder that you mix with water. It works like glue to adhere the tile to the wall. The mixing ratio directions on the thinset bag are clearly intended for big projects. This project is not huge so we slowly added water to the thinset powder and mostly aimed toward achieving a peanut butter-like consistency.

Step 2 – Spreading it on the Wall

Previously we had marked out pencil guidelines on the wall. We used a ¼ inch notched trowel. Art Tile suggested that I keep the trowel moving vertical and horizontal (rather than the curved sweeping pattern that you see in pictures) when applying the thinset. Keeping the trowel grooves vertical and horizontal will ensure the thinset moves into the spaces between the 1” tiles.  You don’t want to press too hard when placing the tile sheets up on the wall. Thinset shouldn’t squirt through the spaces between tiles. The goal is to apply just enough pressure to get a good hold. We applied a depth layer of thinset equal to that of the notches in the trowel. We also applied the thinset in sections as large as the tile sheets instead of spreading it over the entire area. Doing it that way made it more manageable since we didn’t have to rush getting the tile sheets positioned and up there before the thinset dried too much.

Step 3 – Getting the Tile on the Wall   The layout required one full sheet on the lowest part of the wall and only another ½ sheet above that. Pretty simple, huh? We installed the lower row first. Applying the thinset to a single sheet area at a time and so forth. After getting that handled we started installing the top row. Again, applying thinset to a single sheet area. We slid tile spacers in between the first and second rows, but the two sheets started to buckle where they met. After panicking a little, (there could have been a tiny bit of screaming), and using all 6 hands to press/hold the tile in place, we used some cloth-covered books as weights to prop up the buckling areas.

We think this slight setback was because the thinset was a little too thin of a mix and the glass tile was very heavy. I don’t have many pictures of us placing the tile sheets or what the slumping looked like because we were using all of our hands to hold the slumpers on the wall. The good news is that we adjusted our plan and it all worked out.

Step 4 – Selecting a Grout Color   Grout is the stuff that you’ll see between most installed tile. There is a wide range of colors available. The grout color really does influence the overall appearance of the tile. Be patient, look at several samples near the tile with the actual light. The first thing we did was to cut some paper strips from a magazine page and taped the strips in place on the tile just to get a general idea. Below is a dark version that we looked at.

Then I selected about 5 color options from Art Tile’s plastic grout color samples, took them home to see them in the actual light and narrowed it to two colors. I got actual grout color samples of those two (one happened to be sanded and one unsanded) from Art Tile to test out on some left over tile I had.

It was worth it for color testing, but also to practice applying it. I also learned that sanded grout is easier to handle and use. Even though the directions for the glass tile said to use unsanded grout, I got assurances from the Art Tile Installer that he always uses sanded grout because it is easier to work with. The risk is scratching the glass tile, but as long as you don’t press really hard when dragging the grout across the tile it shouldn’t be a problem.  And it wasn’t.

Step 5 – Applying the Grout   Before applying the grout we waited a couple of days for the thinset to dry hard and then carefully chipped off any thinset that had gotten too far into the spaces between tiles. Since the tile is glass/transparent you’d be able to see the thinset color through the edge of the tile so we wanted it out of there. We mixed the sanded grout according to the directions and again until we had a peanut butter-like consistency.

Then we scooped some out of the mixing bin with a grout float and began dragging it over the tile surface. We kept the float at a 70-80 degree angle and moved it over the surface in multiple directions, making sure to gently coax grout into all the spaces. Right after one of us applied the grout, another worked right behind with a large tiling sponge, wiping the excess grout off the tile. The sponge was wrung out thoroughly and we always kept a clean side of the sponge while wiping the grout. It is important that the sponge not be too wet. Use your muscle and wring that baby out!

There was a gray looking film over the entire surface of the tile that was a bit unsettling. 30 minutes after applying the grout we got to wipe it off with some clean cheesecloth. It was fun because we could really see the full effect as we wiped away the filmy residue.

Step 6 – Caulking    Caulk is available in many colors and is intended to protect against water and moisture around the edges and to provide a flexible transition between the tile and another surface (trim, countertop). Typically it is difficult to tell the difference between the caulk and grout. That is intended. I painted my wall first so the caulk would be placed over the paint rather than me trying to paint perfectly up to the caulk afterwards.

We taped the surfaces on the sides of where the caulk was to be laid down to keep off excess. We had one person laying down a bead of caulk and two people smoothing it out by dipping an index finger into a bowl of soapy water and running it along the surface. I’m sure that experts would laugh at the fact it took 3 of us to caulk, but may I just say that caulking is somewhat of an art. It takes patience and a steady hand, but is definitely do-able. A gap that was about 3/8” between the tile and the trim cracked a little, but I just applied some more caulk over the top after it set up a little, and it seemed to work fine.

Step 7 – Sealing   The final step after grouting is sealing it to protect against staining and mold due to moisture. This is the easiest step of all. 7-10 days after grouting, just apply with a sponge brush, let set for a bit (read the instructions) and then wipe it off with clean rags or sponges. It can be a little fussy or was that me?

Our supply list included:

  • ¼” spacers
  • ¼” Notched tiling trowel
  • Thinset & mixing bin big enough to fit the trowel
  • Lots of clean white rags
  • Disposable gloves
  • 2-3 large tiling sponges
  • Grout float
  • Grout & mixing bin big enough to fit the float
  • Cheesecloth
  • Grout Sealer
  • Caulk color to match grout color
  • 511 Impregnator Sealer
  • Sense of humor

What could go wrong? 

1. Uneven spacing between tiles. It’s critical to get this right. Bigger and smaller gaps will show up. Draw directly on the wall where each tile or tile sheet will go, including the spaces between them. Plastic spacers are really simple to use, available in different sizes and inexpensive.

2. Thinset too thinly mixed.  The tile can start to slide off the wall.  Our story with this is above. The simple solution is to take a breath and add a bit more thinset powder to the mix before moving on.

3. Breaking the curing bond. This didn’t happen to us, but apparently it is a big no-no to try to reposition the tiles after 15-25 minutes. Depending on how dry the thinset is it can break the curing bond and no longer be securely adhered to the wall. Bummer!

4. Having to stop and mix more thinset or grout. To avoid stopping at a critical time to mix more and risk uneven drying or different consistencies mix more than enough thinset or grout prior to starting each phase. My project was small so it was easy to mix more than enough for the whole project. If you had a big project that would be tough. I think then you would assign a designated “mixer”. I’m guessing experts have a system. Ours is to grab a friend to help out.

5. Cracking caulk. This sometimes happens if you are trying to caulk a wide gap. By that I mean 3/8″ or 1/4”. Don’t freak out. Just wait for it to dry and reapply. It’ll be fine.There are some other general overall caulking tips that we’ve learned through trial and error. But that is for another post. “Caulking tips for the DIYers” is coming soon ; )

What can go right!

1. Everything.  It’s worth it. We know you can do it! It’s rewarding.

2. Save some money. Really!

3. Teamwork. Grab a couple of friends and go for it. We know you can do it, too. I already said that, didn’t I?

Let us know how your project goes. We’d love to see what you’ve done!


Painting Kitchen Cabinets

Repainting Kitchen Cabinets

I’ve wanted to do something with my cabinets since I moved in. That was 15 years ago. I’m a slow mover on my own. I called in “the girls” to brainstorm and make a plan. ~MJ


  • Can’t afford to replace the cabinets. Is there anything we can do?
  • They are in good shape and function fine. How do I justify a change?
  • Could those darn things even be painted?

Action Plan:

  • Paint ‘em and change the knobs and pulls.
  • Poke around online initially. We searched for “painting kitchen cabinets”.
  • Talk with quality paint suppliers about cabinet paints. We took a door in to them so they knew what we were working with.
  • Just try it, what the heck.

How we did it:

Step 1: Select a color. We got several sample pints (any brand will do) and test painted 1’x2’ or larger boards. It was worth it to see the colors options large, with my lighting, in my kitchen.

Step 2: Remove the cabinet doors from the boxes. “Boxes” are things you put your dishes in. They are fixed to the wall. You could think of them as the frame. We marked each box and corresponding door so we’d know where to return them.

Step 3: Fill the existing handle holes with spackling paste (since I wanted to replace/reposition the hardware).

Step 4: Sand the surfaces just enough to rough it up. Safety first! We used dust masks.

How to repaint Kitchen Cabinets

Step 5: Remove sanding dust with Tack Cloth.

Step 6: Set-up a factory style painting area. We used my basement table and a sawhorse set-up. Laid the doors horizontally to reduce the possibility of paint drips.

Step 7: Lunch

Step 8: Prime (with tinted primer) the surfaces being careful not to leave drips. Quick even strokes, but don’t overwork it. Paint like you know what you are doing. We had one person priming the boxes up in my kitchen and other 2 of us priming the doors and drawers in the basement.

Step 9: Paint ‘em. Mine needed 2 coats, even with the tinted primer.

Step 10: Install new hardware and put the doors back on the painted boxes.

Kitchen Cabinet makeover paint samples

Before: MJ’s Cabinets

Kitchen Cabinets repainted

I ended up painting the walls as well. Oh, and that is a new dishwasher – mine had been broken for years and I found one on sale.

Someday I’ll replace my fridge. Could be another 15 years.

Our supplies:

  • 150 grade sandpaper
  • Benjamin Moore Kitchen & Bath satin-finish paint
  • Benjamin Moore Superior Primer
  • Tack Cloth
  • Spackle paste (non-shrinking)
  • 2” and 3” quality paint brushes
  • Satin Nickle finish pulls and knobs. I bought mine with credit card bonus points. Score!
  • Dust  masks
  • Sawhorses
  • Lunch

What can go wrong:

Drips. If that happens:

  • After the paint is dry, use 220 grit sand paper to lightly sand the drip and the surrounding area.
  • Run your finger across the area to make sure it is smooth. Remove sanding dust with a tack cloth.
  • You’ll need to prime again if you sanded down to the original surface.
  • Lightly paint sanded area.

Lead is deadly.

  • It’s a good idea to get your paint tested for lead if you are not sure it is lead free.
  • We’ve used NVL Laboratories in Seattle, but there are others. It’s worth it and is cheap insurance ($30-$40) against brain damage.

Counter depth caution:

  • If you are replacing appliances make sure your countertop depth is deep enough. Countertops in older homes are sometimes not standard depth.

Last thoughts:

It was daunting to start. But the girls showed up and we immediately started removing doors and drawers. Before I knew it, we were on our way.

After the initial work party everything seemed to fall into place. I worked in the multiple coats of paint over that week and rehung the doors/drawers the following week. Ta da! After 2 weeks and about $200 in paint and supplies my 15-year old procrastination was over. Over, I say!

I’m not certain about the long-term durability.  I’ll let you know how it all holds up over time.  Stay tuned.