Setting the stage

The Stage

The main focal point for the music area is the stage. With only 7′ of height to work with under the drop ceiling, it would need to be a fairly small step up. 2×3’s would fit the bill here, topped with 5/8″ OSB. I added additional support under the area where the drum set would live and pink insulation under the entire thing to deaden any resonance from the platform. The entire 8′ 6″ x 12′ 5″ stage would be finished off later with some inexpensive laminate flooring…and some rather pricey matching stair nose at the front to finish off the front edge.


Building the stage

Platform framework

Platform framework

Insulating the stage

Insulating the stage

The kids got a chance to learn how to use a screw gun!

The kids got a chance to learn how to use a screw gun!

I probably should have made her put her hair up, but she did great driving screws for the first time.

I probably should have made her put her hair up, but she did great driving screws for the first time.

Even Nathan was able to use the driver

Even 6-yr-old Nathan was able to use the driver

The Ceiling

I was greatly concerned about the ceiling. On the one hand I knew it really should match the wall color. On the other, the dark walls were already going to darken up a small basement room with limited lighting. But I ultimately decided to march forward and figured I’d deal with any lighting issues that arose. The big question was if I could actually paint the squares and supporting framework – and how would that look? This gave me an opportunity to (literally) dust off my Earlex 3000 sprayer and try it out. The tiles coated fairly well. They each required two coats – I would paint in one direction, rotate the tile 1/4 turn, and spray it again. This helped getting the paint into all the nooks and crevices in the textured tiles. They look really good, however if you hit them with a bright light from an angle you can see some white in the deep pockets. As long as I don’t install any up-lighting this won’t be an issue!

For the metal supports, I considered using a separate primer first. In the end they took the paint well enough without a primer coat, though requiring two coats for full coverage. In this case the short ceiling was a big help as there was no need to march a ladder around the room…though it was a bit hard on the neck!

Painting the ceiling tiles

All of the tiles removed for painting – the walls are covered in grey primer at this stage


Spraying the ceiling tiles to match walls

Freshly painted ceiling tiles in place

Freshly painted ceiling tiles in place

Chalkboard Walls

I knew early on that one thing I really wanted for the “Rock ‘n Roll Basement” was chalkboard walls. We would allow the kids to draw on the walls and I could jot down chords and lyrics! I found a few inspiring images online of folks that mounted empty frames on chalkboard walls, inviting visitors to frame their masterpieces. I thought this was just brilliant – and decided I would copy them.

With such a large area to cover, commercial chalkboard paint, which I found available only in limited colors and quart-sized cans, would be both expensive and inconvenient. Thankfully there are numerous articles online discussing making your own chalkboard paint by mixing in non-sanded grout with standard flat latex paint. This worked just great – though it made for a fairly noxious odor, so be warned if you wish to do the same. The added benefit of making our own was the choice of color was virtually limitless. For the basement I chose a color called Starless Night – a very deep blue.

The kids insisted on helping prep the walls.

The kids insisted on helping prep the walls.


The kids enjoyed helping with this step - and with such a large are it was definitely an arm-saver.

The kids enjoyed helping with this step – and with such a large are it was definitely an arm-saver.

Priming the chalkboard walls with chalk

Priming the chalkboard walls with chalk

Taking it for a test spin

Taking it for a test spin

Wall complete.

Wall complete.

Next up…a special wainscotting

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Rock ‘n Roll Basement

Shortly after moving into our home in 2003, I began to dream of building a home theater in the basement. It would feature a frame and panel proscenium, wainscoting, and super cool reclining leather theater seats. Then we started having kids and priorities changed…dramatically.

A few years later a new plan emerged – it was going to be a super fun playroom with a slide, a treehouse, and even a boat. I managed to make some progress towards this new goal. Up until this point the basement was used solely for storage – it was finished (ugly but finished). Unfortunately, following the first step in the remodeling process, cleaning up the room, the kids discovered the basement space and almost immediately moved in. Mom and Dad too found it was great to have a space where the kids could run around out of sight and at least somewhat out of earshot for a bit during cold winter days. So this plan too was shelved…the basement would simply have to wait.

So here we are, or at least were in October 2014, when I was finishing up the LCA SG electric guitar and rehearsing with the company band for our holiday party. Over the summer we had inherited a drum kit from a cousin, and an electronic keyboard from Grandma. For years we had joked about starting a family band and the older two had already started music lessons. Now that the kids were a bit older, I figured it was time to re-make the basement.

The Plan

A view of the stage from the initial design

A view of the stage from the initial design

The finished part of the basement is basically “L”-shaped and can be considered as three separate parts. I would put a small stage for the band on one end, a sewing/craft room on the other, and a general living space that will someday feature a projector for watching movies and playing games in the middle. The whole thing was planned and drawn up in SketchUp.

Guitars hanging above media cabinet at bottom of stars

Guitars hanging above media cabinet at bottom of stars

Sewing and crafts area

Sewing and crafts area

Front projection video area

Front projection video area

Next up…chalkboard walls and setting the stage

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Wiring it up and finishing touches


Lacquered Up

As agreed, my co-worker Kerry would paint and finish the guitar. Working with a friend who I’m told has finished guitars for some big names in rock, the guitar was finished in a brilliant, beautiful deep red. They did a fade on the neck, keeping the natural mahogany visible in the middle. The finish looks just great.

Giving her a “voice”


Wiring complete

Although the guitar came back to me wired up, due to some last minute changes in components I re-worked the electronics. For a single-pickup SG with a Golden Age P90, the work is fairly trivial. The lacquer had plugged up the holes a bit, so after carefully reaming them out with a 3/8″ round rasp, I was able to install the freshly wired components and give her a spin.

Finishing touches

One thing that I had originally wanted was to label this guitar with the band’s name and logo. Unfortunately due to time constraints there simply wasn’t enough time to inlay something into the headstock. Also, as I knew I wanted it painted to match the body, an inlay would have been painful to work around – or clean up subsequent…and I definitely wasn’t going to inlay a painted headstock. So that left something like a waterslide decal – however this would have required the painter to do the work and this was already a rush job for them.

The idea came to me to have the pick guard and truss rod cover engraved. Fortunately we know a wonderful person who does this stuff for a living – and has helped me out several times in the past with urgent requests. She not only agreed to take this one last minute, but as this was for charity, the work was done gratis!

My wonderful wife coordinated all of this, including the drop off and pick up of the work – and it was perfectly executed. After filling it with some gold paint and sanding it back, the results were better than I’d envisioned.


Fresh from the engraver


Filled in with gold paint using a toothpick. I’ll handle the overflow with a scraper and some 2000 grit paper.

The Final Product

I think the finished product looks great. It sounds great as well – though I’ll save that for when I can get someone more accomplished on the electric to wail on it for me.



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Electronics cavity, headstock, and placing the bridge

I managed to make significant progress on the SG build this weekend. After routing the electronics cavity I laminated sheets of black and white acrylic together with some CA glue and fit the cover.

Electronics cavity cover

Electronics cavity cover

Though I’d  typically fret and fuss with something like the headstock design, in this case I basically decided to wing it and see what I could come up with in the shop. A friend recently introduced me to the Collings guitars “haircut” headstock design. With that design in mind, I sketched out my own pattern. I’m sure it’s been done before, but I rather like the final shape.


Headstock design

Headstock design


Completed headstock

Completed headstock

On Sunday, between birthday parties and baskets of laundry, I measured out the location for the wraparound bridge and dropped it into position. This was the source of much anxiety – I was mainly concerned it’d entirely muck up the bridge installation and wind up with an unplayable block of wood in need of significant repair work. I’m planning my next guitar to be something for me – but this one’s on a deadline and I don’t have time for major reworking.

Measuring for the bridge

Measuring for the bridge

I used the nut supplied with the factory neck. However, this piece of plastic is nearly worthless…and far too tall. When I first strung it up the action at the 22nd fret was sky high. Some of this is due to the bridge which is clearly designed to work better with a neck angle of greater than the 2-degrees my SG plans called for. However, after sanding down the top of the nut, I wound up with an entirely serviceable action. Although I spent some time on intonation, my rush job on the factory nut – that I knew I would replace with a custom piece – resulted in a bit of buzz on the low “E.” I intend to shape a custom nut from some material I already have on hand, which will necessitate resetting the intonation anyway.

With that in mind, and a fresh set of strings installed, I gave it a preliminary test run:

Attaching the tuning machines

Attaching the tuning machines


Strung up and ready for intonation

Strung up and ready for intonation


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The LCA SG Jr.

An annual running joke at my company is that due to overspending on the space, food, and booze, the social committee ran out of budget for entertainment. The solution, they say, is to form an all-volunteer, all-employee band! This year was no exception.

The band, affectionately known as “LCA” or “lowest-cost alternative” has been a staple at the company winter holiday extravaganza for something like 7 years now. While discussing the band, a coworker and I got on the topic of electric guitar construction. He apparently greatly enjoys, and in fact has specific experience finishing and wiring electric guitars. Up until this point he was unaware that I was an amateur woodworker – who also had interest in guitar-making, or more formally luthiery.

So we decided to make a guitar.

One idea that stuck was an “LCA” guitar. We’d build a custom Gibson SG Junior-style guitar, paint it up in the LCA colors and logo, and play it in the company band. We could maybe have the band members sign it and raffle it off at the party, proceeds to go to charity.

Now I just needed to learn how to build an electric guitar.

Though I’d started building an acoustic already, and had read the excellent “guitarmaking” book, I knew an electric would present a different set of challenges. Especially considering we only had a month or so to complete it. First decision: purchase a neck. I knew I didn’t want to try and build my first fretboard under such tight time constraints. And since I didn’t have one to trace, I also purchased a downloadable plan for a Gibson SG.

With the plans in hand I set out to construct my first electric guitar.

Since I had some 9″ wide 8/4 poplar lying around the shop, it seemed like a good idea to start with that as the body. I’d heard that poplar had been used for some commercial electrics, so why not?


Poplar body blank cut and marked for shaping

I’d used the commercial plans to cut a template from tempered Masonite for both the body shape and the contour lines. I cut the body to rough shape and then routed it with a pattern cutting bit to final form. I really should’ve sanded it a bit closer to the line before routing, though. There was a bit of tear out at the end grain. Thankfully this is a painted guitar, so no one will notice a small bit of filler. I’ll keep this in mind for my next build that I intend to make from something a bit nicer with a natural finish.


Sizing the factory-made neck to fit.

The factory-made, and I assume Chinese neck (it was only $100!) doesn’t seem half bad. The frets appear clean and level – at least as far as I have checked thus far. The real test will be when I try to intonate and then actually play the finished product, but so far I’m pleased. The heel and tenon were a bit too big for the thin SG, so I needed to do some work to finish it off. I also cut a

Rounding over the neck tenon

Rounding over the neck tenon to match the routed pocket


Jig for routing the 2 degree neck angle

Though I had hoped to avoid building an involved jig, I needed to go at least part of the way in order to route the 2 degree angle spec’d for a Gibson. At some point I’ll probably update this with adjustable guides, but for now this worked.


Routed neck pocket

The part I was really looking forward to – carving the body. This is the chance to work with hand tools and see the design take shape. I wasn’t disappointed. It was a blast and looks pretty good I think.


Carving the body contours

Carved body with neck dry fitted in pocket

Carved body with neck dry fitted in pocket

I’m anxious to join the neck and body, but first I need to cut the headstock and drill the tuner holes. It will also be safer to route out the electronics pocket without the neck installed. I’m hoping to have those bits completed by the end of the weekend.

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Building the Stairs and Installation

The bed  was definitely a hit! ("It's awesome!")

Building the stairs

With the main bunk bed complete, it was time to turn my attention to the stairs. For safety reasons, mom insisted the bunk bed have stairs instead of a ladder. The original design featured drawers on the end and paneled sides. Upon further reflection (and measuring) it was clear that this placement wouldn’t work – there simply wouldn’t be enough room to access them. Many commercial beds feature drawers under each step, so I figured this could work here. The final design was based heavily around what materials I had on hand. The stringers and back would be stained cherry ply. I’d always intended to treat the treads with the same faux concrete finish as the “X”es. I decided to use concrete-finished OSB for the side basically because I was out of cherry plywood and the left-over OSB has been taking up space in my shop since it’s construction. One more sheet gone!

Building the stairs


Assembled with drawers; treads ready for shaping


Drawer pulls

I really wanted to make custom X-Men logo drawer pulls. After much searching and a discussion with my very talented and craft-y sister-in-law, I made a run out to Hobby Lobby and picked up a box of Sculpey III polymer clay. This stuff is very cool. You can sculpt or mold it like Play-Dough, then bake it for 15 minutes and it hardens nicely. Armed with some metal commercial pulls, I formed the “X”s, applied them to the tops, and baked ‘em. A quick coat of paint and some clear acrylic top coat, and they were ready to go.

The Sculpey III X-Men logo added to the pulls

Baking the polymer clay drawer pulls

The finished pulls


Faux Concrete

This is the fun part! I repeated the same steps as with the earlier pieces. Dry-brushing on the paint and stain is a blast. For the stairs, I let some stain run down the side and pool on a step. The results are very cool and it’s difficult to screw this part up. I thought it might be fun to carve Wolverine’s claw marks into the side…I think he may have slipped while climbing the steps or something.

Wolverine was here!

Stairs complete!



I installed the bunk bed and let them at it. Happily the results did not disappoint. The most heard comment was “awesome!”

Attaching the back "X"

Finishing the assembly

Ready for unveiling



Next up…

Next up, a backyard Tree-house Playhouse, and then “A Midsummer Night’s Bunk Bed” featuring butterfly fairies and tree-trunk posts for the girls.


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The Back “X” and Top Bunk Safety Rails

In the last few weeks since my latest post, I’ve made significant progress on the bed. I applied the finish to the poplar parts and glued up the head and foot ends of the bed. At this point I was able to test-assemble the bed and give the kids a chance to take it for a test…er…rest?

The boys give it a test run

Back “X”

The “X” across the back of the piece is very similar to the “X” logos in the ends, minus the top and bottom arcs. It was cut from some lightweight MDF and assembled very much like the ends. One big difference was I didn’t bother to bevel the back edge as that would never be seen, and without the bevel, construction was far easier as it eliminated two of the compound angle intersections.

Fitting the "X" on the back

Jaxsan 600 and Dry Brushing

I used the same basic finishing technique on the back that was used on the ends; Jaxsan 600, dry-brushed with various shades of grey paint, and some brown oil-based stain. I made this one a bit lighter as I noticed the sides dried darker grey than I’d intended. I also added more texture to this one.  This process was a blast and I’m thrilled with the results.

Finishing the back "X"

Distressing the surface

I used both oil- and water-based stains in the dry-brush

From the front

 Top Bunk Safety Rails

No bunk bed is complete without safety rails along the top edges. I did turn to the CPSC web site for this one to ensure that I met with the minimal standards. Although this won’t be going up for sale, I figured the rules were (probably/maybe?) based on scientific evidence of some sort. At least they were better than going with my gut. Thankfully the design I’d originally drawn up appears to work just fine.

The rails were built from bent and cut 1″ EMT conduit. I first attempted bending them with a ($80!) bending tool. The problem was   the resulting curves were far too gentle and the look was wrong. I’d originally considered using square tube steel, but I’d need to buy a wire-feed welder and either rent a power miter or outfit my DeWalt with a grinding disc and un-mount it from the wooden walls/counter to avoid the sparks. Instead, I built a form and manually bent the pipes around it. Though this results in crushing the pipe at the bends, they actually came out really well I think. A couple coats of Rust-Oleam silver metalic paint + primer and they were ready!

EMT railings bent, cut, and test fit

Our new wind chimes or painting the front safety rails?

Painted rails in place

Just need to build the stairs!

Just about complete…just need to build the stairs!


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Test Assembly and Finishing the Ends

Over the last couple weeks I’ve completed the construction of the side and end rails and cut the slats for supporting the mattresses. I also settled on somewhat novel connection hardware for the rails. Woodcraft sells a very inexpensive bed rail set bracket set that are nonetheless very sturdy and heavy duty. I’ve augmented the connection with a single 10x50mm domino in each rail for added security and support. I cut the slots to exact width in both the rail and the post, so they will fit snug and the rail won’t have any vertical movement.

Before gluing up the ends, they will need to be finished. But before that, I wanted to ensure the whole thing fit together. The MDF “Circle-X” sections that fit into the ends, though solid, aren’t designed for actual support. End rails on the inside of the ends are there to hold the rails together and mask view of the ends of the mattress from the outside. So it was time for a test assembly:

Test assembly without the Circle-X parts

Slats in place

Sean testing his top bunk


The large “X”s in the panels are designed to mimic concrete. Though I’m no scenic artist, I have a good friend who is. Michael Sprada is an incredible artist (and entrepreneur) and was generous enough to provide me step-by-step instructions for creating a concrete-y finish on the MDF. The first part involves a product I’m very fond of — Jaxsan. This is a water-based rubberized roofing compound we’ve used on many theatrical sets to add realistic textures and finishes to everything from sidewalks to tree trunks. I purchased a 5 gallon pail of the stuff a few years back for a basement project that got scrapped, but now I finally get to use it. The basic process involves mixing up a bunch of batches of the stuff tinted with latex paint to various shades of grey. This is “wet-blended” onto the MDF in random, organic patterns. When this coat drys, we dry brush more gray paint on top, along with some oil-based brown stain. Finally, the entire assembly is given a few coats of a water-based poly finish like Polycrylic.

Tinted Jaxsan

Wet-blended Jaxsan

Dry brushing oil stain

Poly coating the finished "concrete"

Next steps…

Next up is gluing together the ends, assembling the bed and completing the large back “X” cross-brace and the top rails. Once these are complete it’s on to the stairs!


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Assembling the Circle-X Panels

Fits and Starts

The last couple weeks have been crowded with both personal and professional activities. I’ve had to work in found time, an hour here, an hour there. My next task was to fit the upper and lower bouts of the “X”s with their panels.

Finishing the Wedges

The pie wedges are cut from 1/2″ cherry plywood, stained to match the poplar hardwood used elsewhere. Though it seems a shame to stain cherry, the cheaper plywood readily available to me was pretty poor stuff and, well, I wasn’t 100% certain I wasn’t going to use cherry for the rest of it when I got it…so, that’s where we are. In any case, I figured it’d be far easier to stain and finish the panels before they were glued into place in their MDF frames. After a bit of experimentation, I settled on a two part process of penetrating stain topped with a gel stain. Then I went to the big box and wound up buying a single can of Minwax® Polyshades and using that instead. It does a very nice job of obscuring the poplar and hiding the green, though my attempts to brush it on with a foam brush left me less than satisfied. I wound up wiping it on instead, which produced far superior results. Definitely a time-saver, and I think they came out great, no?

Staining the plywood wedges

Notching for Entry

I must admit to being a bit concerned about notching out the top for the entry. I considered leaving the top as-is since I’m fairly certain it wouldn’t be at all difficult to climb over the end. However, it simply didn’t look right that way and it would probably get old having to slide over the arc. In any case, I dry fit the assembly on top of the full-size drawing and laid out the notch.

To my amazement it came out essentially dead-on. Sometimes you get lucky!

Laying out the top bunk entrance

Top corner cut out

Trim for knock out finished and dry fit

Assembling the Panels

With relatively stable MDF frames and plywood panels, it seemed safe to glue the panels in place instead of trying to float them. They’ll also provide extra strength to the relatively weak MDF structure. The glue-up went smoothly. The posts are here to help align all the parts; I plan to mortise and drill for the rail assembly and stain them before gluing the panels permanently between them. Now I’ve just got to figure out exactly how I’m going to join the rails. Although I’ve purchased some metal knock-down bed-rail hangers, I have concerns both about the possibility of a child on the lower bunk pushing the top rail up and out, and the holding power of screws holding in the end grain. I’m leaning right now toward using these plus a single long bolt through the post into a barrel nut in the bed rail to keep it together. The problem with that is I absolutely loathe barrel nuts – I can never get them to line up just right. I’ll keep mulling this over….any ideas?

Center panel glued up and set aside with posts for safe-keeping

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The Headboard and Footboard Part I, Making Xs

Laying out the Ends

Typically I find a detailed SketchUp drawing to be sufficient for my builds. For this project, however, I felt the need to do a full-size drawing to lay the components out on. After drafting an end on a 4×8 sheet of MDF,  I started ripping down another MDF sheet to 6″ wide strips. After much thought, the easiest way to build the edge-beveled, circle-inscribed Xs would be to cut the strips, bevel the edges on the table saw, and then cut the compound joints to put them together. I’d alternate the full-length ones to provide strength. After ripping and beveling the MDF strips, I drilled holes in the middle of two of them and, using a nail for a pivot, lay them out on the full-size plan.

Laying out the first "X" on the full-size drawing

Compound Angles

Cutting the compound angles necessary to join the shorter pieces in the center properly required setting both my tenoning jig and the table saw blade at different angles. Rather than try to calculate this, I just drew lines and lined things up by eye, plus a bit of trial and error. I was very lucky — it all came together much faster and easier than I thought it would. The completed joints came out very tight. It’s almost a shame that this core of MDF will be coated with my favorite rubberized compound when finished. Because of the texture, there’s a lot of room for slop here — but these joints would actually work as raw hardwood.

Both the jig and blade were angled to make the cut

The joint was a bit tricky to cut, but I really dig the result

Gluing up the "X"

Completed joint out of the clamps

 Top and Bottom Arcs

The design calls for the “X”s to be inscribed within a 60″ diameter top and bottom arc. These were fairly easy to cut, but I was reminded precisely why I so rarely work with MDF. What a mess!

Cutting the top and bottom arcs

Arcs cut and ready

MDF dust everywhere...ugh

Inscribing the “X”

My biggest concern here was that I would cut the arc improperly and not be able to get the top and bottom to sit square with the side posts. Fortunately things worked out just perfectly here, even with my jury-rigged arc cutter (having misplaced my large adjustable one).

Trimming and radiusing the X ends


Ready for my Festool domino to join the pieces

Second "X" ready for joining

Next Steps…

Next up will be cutting the legs, and fitting the cherry ply wedge panels that fill the top and bottom spaces. As mentioned above, the MDF pieces will be  coated with a rubbery compound and then painted. However, the wooden panels and legs will be stained and finished. Therefore I’ll cut the joinery with the festool domino, dry fit both ends, and then disassemble for finishing. One of the ends will also be cut down at the top back corner where the steps will meet the end. So far this has been a messy but interesting build!


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