Introduction to Jigs

Jigs are extremely useful for many DIY projects, and since I love jigs so much, I have dedicated an entire week to them – “Jig Week”. Below is an introductory video that explains what a jig is and why you should consider using some in your DIY home improvement shop.

Video Transcript:

Welcome to Jig Week here at This week is all about jigs.

What is a jig? Jigs are typically used in manufacturing to help make processes more efficient, accurate, repeatable, easier, and sometimes safer. Why should you use them in your home shop? Because they will save you time, money, and headaches.

Let me give an example. We recently built a floor to ceiling book shelf in our home office. To do this we needed to cut 20 bookshelves that were exactly the same. We could have sat there and measured each shelf out to cut it, but that would have been pretty repetitive and wasted a lot of time. So we used some scrap wood and took 5-10 minutes to make a jig. The jig allowed us to cut all 20 shelves very quickly and it also ensured that our shelves were the same dimensions.

This week I have 3 exciting jigs to show you. The first is a jig for the chop saw that will let you make accurate and repetitive cuts. The second is an 8′ cutting guide that can be used to cut full sheet goods. Lastly I will show how to set up a jig that helps you while ripping material on the table saw.

I hope you can check out these jigs this week, and I hope that they help to improve the efficiency of your next DIY project. Thank you!


Jig Week Series:


Garden Treasures

Flowers are beautiful, but unfortunately they aren’t always in bloom. Try putting some cute little knickknacks in your garden for that extra pop of color or fun. I’m always looking at thrift stores and garage sales for that garden treasure that will express my personality in my garden. Below are some images of treasures hidden in our garden and our neighbors’ gardens.

This $10 garage sale find adds great character to the garden, and with a drainage hole added, it is the perfect planter box.

“Betty” drinks from the pond as she rocks in the wind.

This caterpillar is tucked away in the vegetable garden, ready to eat those fresh cucumbers.

Adding a fountain to your garden can make for a very peaceful atmosphere, as the water trickles and the birds sing while bathing.

These frogs are ready to serenade you as you relax under the stars.

A pair of watchful owls.

These birdhouses were mounted on upside down flanged fence posts.

This colorful chicken dances in the wind.

Groupings of large rocks also make for a great accent.

This turtle peaks out from the garden.

What garden treasures do you have? If you don’t already have some, I encourage you to keep your eyes open the next time you go garage sale hunting. You can really express yourself in your garden, so why not take the opportunity to do just that?

Budgeting Projects

Before starting any home improvement project, make sure you know what those projects will cost and how much you are willing to invest. Projects have a lot of hidden costs, and things always seem to come up to make them cost more. In this blog I will give you some tips to budget your projects and to keep you on track with that budget.

Family Budget

Look at your overall family budget and determine how much money you want to use for home improvements. Do you have a lump sum that you set aside when purchasing your home? Can you spare $100/month to put towards home improvements? Make sure you don’t take away from your home maintenance budget (or other essentials), because things always come up outside of home improvement projects. Also, whatever amount of money you choose, make sure it is appropriate for the value of your home and your neighborhood. If you bought a home for $100k and the average home value in your neighborhood is $120k, it would be silly to add $100k worth of home improvements, unless you have the money and truly want to stay where you are at (in other words, you don’t care about ROI).

Project List

Start a list of projects that you want to complete. Think large and small; from remodeling the kitchen to replacing door knobs. Determine the priority of each project (I use a 1-5 scale with 1 being the highest priority); should it be done before you move in or can it wait a few years?

What is each project worth to you?

For each project determine a justifiable cost; for a kitchen remodel, would you be willing to spend $1,000 or $10,000 to have a new kitchen? This justifiable cost has nothing to do with the real project cost; this is simply about personal worth. Obviously a $1,000 and a $10,000 kitchen remodel will get you completely different results, but in the next step you may find that the $1,000 you can justify is enough to make the changes you really want.

Project Estimate

Small projects are pretty easy to estimate costs on, so go ahead and tally up what they will cost (replacing door knobs, painting, changing your blinds). Big projects are a lot harder to estimate, so I suggest creating a separate spreadsheet for each one. Start with the major costs to get a good rough number; for a kitchen remodel these would be the appliances, countertops, cabinets, etc. As you go through this process, reflect back on the justifiable cost you already set. If you have a $1,000 budget for the kitchen and want slab granite countertops, it probably won’t happen; but would you be happy with granite tile instead? Come up with these alternatives as you budget the project, listing them as Choice A, B, or C. As you budget your individual projects, always overestimate and roundup. Depending on the type of project, I tend to add on an additional 10%-50% of my original estimate, just to be safe. Screws, glue, sandpaper, and other small items really add up quickly, plus I am known to add things on mid-project.

Determine Feasible Projects

Some projects will be pretty obvious no-goes, such as the “converting attic to playroom” shown in the example below. I was so stuck on this idea for the longest time; planning out where the stairs would go, and how we could finally take back our living room from my daughter’s toys. I finally called my contractor over (aka Dad) and asked about the feasibility of the project. Yes, it was technically feasible, but with the structural changes involved, it would be over a $5,000 project. Although the extra room would be nice, I’d rather put that money towards a larger home in the future, when we really need that extra space. Although the list below is mostly fictional, I like to use highlight colors to signify where each project stands; grey = ‘no way’, green= ’active’, yellow = ‘next in line’, and red = ‘done’.

Sample Project Spreadsheet

Reviewing Your List

Once you have your project list, reflect back on it from time to time. As you live in your house or as other things come up, projects will continually change priority, their value to you will also change, and your home improvement budget may also go up and down. Due to some really bad golfers (we have a 16’ golf net that sits on a 2’ hill and they still manage to hit balls over it), my daughter’s swing set is in the “danger-zone”. We now need to build an overhead structure as soon as possible to protect her, and because it is for safety, the justifiable cost is whatever it needs to be and the priority is very high.

I hope you found these tips helpful. Please feel free to share any other budgeting tips you might have in the comment section below.

Kitchen Trashcan

I have always had intentions of converting one of my kitchen cabinets to a pullout trashcan, but haven’t felt like spending the money for a conversion kit. After staying with my friend this last weekend, I realized that she had a brilliant idea; combine and convert 2 drawers into a pullout trashcan! It was so simple, inexpensive, and such a great solution that I just had to share it. Unfortunately it won’t work for our kitchen, but maybe it will for yours.

Convert 2 drawers to a trashcan drawer!

Step 1: Check Feasibility

In order to do this, you need drawer faces that touch each other with no cabinet fascia between the drawers. If you do have fascia between the drawers, you could always remove it and attach it to the drawer fronts to keep the basic visual, although you will notice gaps on the side.

Feasible Drawer (no fascia between drawers)

Infeasible Drawer (fascia between drawers) – although still possible if you cut out the fascia and attach it to the drawer fronts as a visual

Step 2: Remove bottom of top drawer

Take the top drawer completely out of the cabinet and remove the bottom of the drawer. Depending on how your drawer was constructed, you can cut it out or you may be able to disassemble it neatly. Note that this could weaken your drawer, so you may want to brace the drawer in a square position before removing the bottom.

Step 3: Combine the drawers

After placing the top drawer back in the cabinet, you need to combine the top and bottom drawers into one large trashcan drawer. My friend used a thin white hardboard to do this, and I think that was a perfect and inexpensive solution. You can cut the hardboard to the full drawer dimension, essentially creating one large enclosed drawer, or you can just connect the drawers with two strips at the front (the latter is what she did). Using short screws attach the hardboard and verify that your drawer opens and closes properly before adding all screws.

Combine drawers using thin hardboard

My friend absolutely loves this solution, and it was such a graceful way of using what was already there. Do you have any other thoughts on disguising kitchen trashcans? Please feel free to share them in the comment section below.

Building a Chicken Coop

The Chicken Coop is finally done and Mary and Nate have officially moved in (Ed got bullied and won’t be moving in until he feels better). This was such a fun project to work on, and I am so glad we were given the opportunity to build something so fun for the kids (and chickens).

Design and Planning

When taking on this project I didn’t know the first thing about building chicken coops. After some research I came up with a design (see Designing a Chicken Coop), but quickly realized that I didn’t know where to begin for constructing this thing. I continued to research and ended up building the chicken coop as a mini shed.

Original Sketch of the Chicken Coop

Original Design Using Google SketchUp

Since I love drawing in Google SketchUp, I decided to draw the frame out in detail so I knew exactly what I was doing. We had several 2x4s leftover from other projects, and daycare had a bunch of 4x4s that were donated, so we made use of the material available for building the frame. Once the drawing was complete, I was able to determine cut lengths from my drawing, and we were able to precut the frame pieces.

Chicken Coop Frame

Let the Construction Begin

With most of our framing material precut, the first construction phase was pretty straight forward. With high winds and kids running wild, we chose to cement the coop for added rigidity. To do this, we cut the posts to the rough dimensions, then leveled the frame itself. Once the cement was set, we used the Sawzall to trim the posts below floor board height.

Chicken Coop Foundation

With precut pieces, the frame assembled like a puzzle.

With the frame built it was time for siding, a chicken run, and a roof.

We precut the siding offsite, then used the jigsaw to cut out the windows after installation.

Securing the roof panel

Adding Trim

The details are what make a project like this come to life. With construction mostly done, it was time to add the trim. My dad had some old cedar fence panels laying around, so we were able to rip the panels down to the appropriate width and use them for the trim (we were also able to use my dad to help finish this part which I was so thankful for since time was running out). Although paint colors were still a choice to be made, the entire structure needed to be primed before color could be added, so my husband began the priming process as the trim was being finished. Having a mobile workshop was extremely helpful for this part of the process (see The Traveling Shop).

Added trim and began priming the structure


It was important that the chicken coop looked fun since it was ultimately for the kids. I chose 5 colors that were bright and worked well together, and then spent hours deciding which color should go where. I tore the paint swatches into several tiny pieces and I am pretty sure I drove my parents nuts trying to get 2nd opinions on my choices.

After tearing the paint swatches apart, I finally made a decision on paint colors.

To seal the wood properly from weathering and chicken smells, we painted the inside of the coop as well as the outside. Since we had our fun colors leftover, we chose to paint the inside these colors also.

We painted the inside of the chicken coop to seal the wood from moisture and odors.

Chicken Wire

We stretched chicken wire on all sides of the run, the gate, and the viewing window. To help prevent unwanted guests, we chose to line the bottom of the run with chicken wire as well, which we then covered with sand. I am sure there is an art to cutting and stretching chicken wire, but having never worked with it, we certainly did not have it. Chicken wire is very sharp and since it comes in a roll, it is a natural spring, making a hazardous scenario (moral of the story is to be careful). Although most of the run is free from sharp edges, we will be adding protector strips over the cut ends this week to prevent possible injuries to the kids.

Added chicken wire to the run

Final Items

After finishing the coop, we added shade screen on the far end of the chicken run so the chickens can escape the heat of the day. We also added an emergency pull string to the chicken run latch so the latch can be released from the inside (just in case the door closes while someone is inside). As winter approaches, we may add shutters to the viewing window, and we will be adding a weather strip to the step that opens to prevent water seepage into the nests.


I am so happy with how the chicken coop came out, and when I saw my daughter playing in it (pre-chickens), I realized how cute of a playhouse this would make (future project?). With the chickens all moved in, when I stopped by daycare today to see them, my daughter’s class was playing in the garden. The chicken coop steps were lined with kids trying to look in the window at the chickens, just as I had imagined them doing in the design process. So far it seems as though the children love the chicken coop, and I think the chickens like it too.

The Kids love the Chicken Coop

The Chickens love the Chicken Coop

Do you have any chicken coop experiences to share? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.

The Traveling Shop

You may have a nice workshop at home (see Workbench and Garage Lighting if you don’t have one set up yet), but unfortunately some jobs require onsite construction. So if you can’t bring the project to your workshop, why not bring your workshop to your project? When building the chicken coop at my daughter’s daycare, we needed to make a lot of cuts on site, so we brought what we needed with us and set up shop. In this blog I will go into some tips that will hopefully be helpful for your next away from home project.

Pickup Truck

You may or may not have a pickup truck, but if you do have one, open the tailgate and use it as a workbench. For our project, we set up the chop saw on the tailgate and when we were done, we pushed it in the truck to go home.

Pair of Ponies

You can typically buy a pair of ponies for $20-$30 a pair and they are great to have. The nice thing about the plastic ponies is that they fold up flat and they have notches in them that are meant to hold two 2x4s making the perfect open work surface, or add a solid piece of sheet goods on the top with a few screws and you have a solid table.

Tool Caddy

In the shop you can put tools away as you use them, but when you are away it is much easier to misplace tools, especially small drill bits. Invest in a tool caddy (or tool belt or both) and place all small tools in it as you use them (you can also use a 5-gallon bucket as a caddy). This also makes clean up really easy at the end of the work day; simply load the large tools up then pick up your caddy on the way out.

Extra Battery

If you are using cordless tools, make sure you have an extra battery with you, and if possible, bring the charger too. At home, we immediately place the dead battery on the charger whenever we grab the fully charged battery we always have a full charge. On the first day of chicken coop construction, we didn’t think about the extra battery which cut our day short. On the second day we grabbed the extra battery, but started to run out of juice towards the end of the day. On day three I threw the charger in the truck and followed our normal procedure of replacing the dead battery right away.

Keep a Note Book

Although you can probably do most things on site, some necessary tools are just too large to bring and no matter how hard you try to think of everything you need, you will most likely forget something. To minimize trips back to the shop or to the store, keep a note book or notepad with you at all times. Make cut lists, shopping lists, and “bring from home” lists. We needed to rip our trim material for the chicken coop on the table saw which was at home, so we calculated what we needed onsite then while at home for lunch we ripped the necessary material so it was ready to go.


I hope this blog gave you some useful tips if you ever have to set up shop away from the shop. Do you have any other tips for working on projects away from home? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Spray Paint

I never knew how fun and useful spray paint could be until now. I have found so many uses for it over the last couple of years and in this blog I will go into a few.

Things you can Spray Paint

  • Yard Decorations – I had an old plant stand that I almost got rid of, but after quickly spraying it with Rustoleum, it now adds a splash of color to my patio. I also have some other metal decorations that I plan to spray and place in the garden for a splash of color even when flowers are not in bloom.
  • Door Hinges/Light Fixtures – If you want to swap out your door hardware inexpensively, try spraying your hinges (or light fixtures) with Rustoleum in the desired finish. Each can is $3-$5 and will last quite a while (see Updating Door Knobs and Hinges).
  • Picture Frames – Pick up some inexpensive wooden picture frames at your local thrift store and paint them a fun accent color.
  • Metal Fence Panels – Sometimes fence panels get marked up or the paint gets chipped off over time. Try touching them up with some spray paint. When we built our Golf Net we also used black spray paint to match the additional hardware and metal pipe to the fence panels that were already there.
  • Desk Organizers – Those boring black office desk organizers don’t have to stay black. Try painting them an accent color to give your desk a splash of color.
  • Patio Furniture – Give new life to old patio furniture with some spray paint. It is amazing what a can of spray paint can do for dated patio sets or old metal benches.
  • Garage Sale Finds – I found a wall shelf for $1 that was an ugly blue, so I sanded it down and sprayed it red so I can put it up in my office as an accent. I also bought an easel for my daughter a while back and the wood was full of pen marks. Since I was already in spray painting mode, I painted it the same red as my shelf since it also sits in my office.

Bought this easel at a garage sale for $3 then spray painted it with left over paint to give it a fresh look


Tips for Working with Spray Paint

  • Work in a well-ventilated area or the fumes will get to you
  • Plan for overspray because you won’t see it all until the mist settles
  • Wear gloves because many cans get your trigger finger full of paint
  • Practice your technique on some scrap material first (I try to use long light strokes holding the can about 10” away)
  • Verify that the paint you are using is appropriate for the surface you are trying to paint
  • Sand first and blow off any dust with an air hose (this helps the paint adhere better)

For additional tips see this Expert Advice from Krylon.


Spray paint is so easy to use and in a few hours you can transform almost anything. Have you found any other interesting uses for spray paint? Feel free to share in the comment section below.