Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

Our brand new dresser, via Ikea hacking

October 8, 2014
ikea hacking tarva dresser

We spent the past several weeks building ourselves a new dresser. We were in the mood for another woodworking project, but with our limited amount of woodworking space, we weren't sure whether building a whole dresser was feasible. Then we realized that IKEA sells a few pieces of unfinished furniture and decided to try "IKEA hacking."

IKEA has two types of unfinished wood dressers: the Rast and Tarva lines. There are lots of hacks online for Rast dressers, but we wanted something bigger. Most of the Tarva options were also on the small side for two people, so we settled on combining two Tarva 5-Drawer Chests (pictured above). They're made out of solid pine, so no particleboard or engineered wood. Miraculously, we even fit both dressers into a two-door electric BMW that we had rented for our trip to IKEA.

As you can see we made a number of modifications:
  • We bolted the two dressers together.
  • We routed the edges of each drawer.
  • We routed across the middle of the top drawers, to make each look like two drawers.
  • We replaced the two top boards with a single piece of 1" thick solid pine and routed the bottom edge.
  • We added molding around the bottom.
  • We shortened the legs.
  • We painted and stained.
finshed tarva dresser ikea

All of this (of course) turned out to be a lot more work than we expected.

The routing wasn't difficult, just tedious. First, we experimented with different bits and depths on a throwaway board. Then we mounted each board to the saw horse. We had to cut fast enough to not burn the wood but slow enough to be smooth, and routing all 10 drawers took almost an entire day.

Fitting the molding perfectly was a challenge. To cut the ends at 45˚ angles, we used a simple plastic miter box. (The next big tool on my wish list is an electric compound miter saw.) We cut the legs to be tall enough for the molding plus 1/2" (most of the gap sinks into the carpet). For the molding to be flush with the front of the drawers, we added 1/4 shims to offset the molding from the legs. Unfortunately, between the width of the saw, the thickness of the pencil marks, the imprecision of the ruler, and simple error, we cut the front piece of molding almost 1/4" too short. Cutting a tiny piece off the end of the spare molding, we created a shim that we spliced into the gap with wood glue, which after polishing with a little wood filler and painting, is barely noticeable.

You can see the molding we added on the left and the routing on the right.

Unlike our media cabinet, we didn't have to measure and saw most of the boards — they came pre-cut by IKEA, and the top board we had sawed at the lumber store. But there was still plenty of sanding and routing, which we did in the driveway under our apartment, producing a lot of sawdust. Despite vacuuming constantly, and cleaning the dust off the neighbor's cars, our neighbor complained (reasonably) about "blanketing everything" with dust. So we've probably burned our political capital on that front for a few months.

Choosing colors was the hardest part. We had a vague idea of wanting a dark stain on the top and a light paint on the rest, but went through dozens of paint swatches and stain samples before we settled on the combination. The stain is "espresso" by Varathane, and the paint is "indian muslin" from the Pittsburgh Paints palette (though we weren't impressed with their actual paint, so we got the equivalent color from Benjamin Moore). The paint wasn't exactly as we expected — on the swatch it was a little darker, more pink, less off-white — but it came out nicely enough. One pint was enough for two coats on the whole thing (with primer underneath).

We used "clear satin" finish, two coats of oil-based polyurethane on top (over the oil-based pre-stain and stain) and two coats of water-based polycrylic finish over the water-based paint. (The knobs we stained with the same espresso color, no finish.)

The funny thing with this dresser project was it was actually the second iteration. Several months earlier, we saw a large, very nice-looking dresser on the street corner, and carried it into our driveway. It was old and worn, but we thought it was made out of good wood and worth re-finishing. So we stripped the paint off the whole thing, and started to replace the rotted wood runners with new metal ones, when we realized it was all just particleboard. (The giveaway was when a little rainwater that got through the tarps caused the top to puff up significantly; real wood wouldn't have done that.) We decided the low-quality materials weren't worth the work. Despite feeling foolish at having spent so much time working on it, we sold it on Craigslist pretty quickly, defraying the cost of "v2".

Our first attempt. What it looked like when we found it (left) and what it looked like when we sold it (right).

Our rough estimate for what this all cost:
  • 2 Tarva dressers: $218
  • Stain: $14 (including one can we didn't use)
  • Primer: $11
  • Paint: $8
  • Top board: $37
  • Hardware: $20
  • Assorted materials (drop clothes, miter box): $21
Total: $329
And the reason we went through all this trouble in the first place? Steph has been using a bookcase as a dresser for the past two years. We thought it was time for an upgrade.

- Ben

Road trip: Crater Lake

mount shasta road
Mount Shasta

Start from the beginning of our Oregon trip.

We woke up in Bend, where we watched the U.S. lose to Germany in the World Cup. Before hitting the road, we grabbed a pizza at the Old Mill District. Even though the road to Crater Lake is called the Cascades Lake Scenic Byway, the scenery was monotonous and not that scenic — a few lakes hidden behind trees and remnants from a fire in 2003.

Cascades Scenic Byway

The highlight of this section was the town of Chemult. Ben loves to tell the story of the time he ended up in Chemult on his motorcycle trip in 2006. He asked his waitress how to spell “Chemult” so he could locate where he was on a map. She had no idea had to spell the name of her own town.

Our destination for the day was Crater Lake, where we had planned to camp. But when we pulled up to the ranger station at the north entrance to the park, the ranger warned us that the weather was nasty up near the lake. There was still snow on the ground and the temperature was forecast to drop to 39 degrees overnight. Initially we decided to persevere but I was afraid that I’d never warm up after driving an hour in freezing rain, so we turned around and headed for Diamond Lake, a bit north of Crater Lake and at a much lower elevation. This turned out to be one of the best decisions of the trip because this is where we spent the night.

We stopped at the general store for beer, milk and firewood, then set up camp with a nice fire and ate pasta with sausage for dinner. Then we watched the sun set over the lake from our campsite. It was magical.

The next morning, we attempted the drive to Crater Lake for a second time. It was cold, rainy and foggy and there were no guard rails protecting us from the steep cliffs on either side of the road. We were very glad we hadn’t attempted it the previous night. The fog cleared a bit after lunch to give us a better view of the lake, but I still struggled to adequately capture the lake in photos.

360 degree panorama Crater Lake
Scroll to the right to see

At this point, we had reached the part of the trip for which we had done no planning. We had two days to travel from southern Oregon to San Francisco and we knew nothing about the roads or sights ahead of us. Route 92 featured mountains and cows and we were pleasantly surprised by Route 97, which had looked boring on a map. Even I-5 was fun.

Once we reached California, we had the chance to admire Mount Shasta (see photo above), as the views kept getting better and better as we approached. We didn’t have time to stop but want to return this summer.

The next day, Ben finally got to return to Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. We toured the brewery on our first-ever California road trip and it’s largely responsible for my appreciation of beer. Ben had been wanted to return for months, but the ride from San Francisco to the brewery on the motorcycle is unpleasant so I had been resisting making a special trip out of it. Fortunately our itinerary took us right past it. Though we both agreed that we aren’t big fans of their beers, their brewpub is a lot of fun and it seemed like a fitting last stop on our beer-themed vacation.

After that, it was a pretty miserable slog through 100-degree heat, but we didn’t care. We had just spent 16 amazing days on the road in Oregon. It’s easily one of our favorite vacations ever and one that will be tough beat in the years to come. We intend to try though.

- Steph

Tomatoes all year round

October 4, 2014
We didn't go quite as crazy with our canning extravaganza as last year, though I did buy a 20-pound box of early girl tomatoes. Ben's company, Good Eggs, sells delicious, local produce, and one of their producers was selling a box of tomatoes that "didn't quite meet their standards of perfection." At $1.15 per pound, it sounded perfect for canning. I used half for tomato sauce and half for gazpacho.

Tomato sauce
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

10 pounds of early girl tomatoes
1 cup of olive oil
20 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups white wine
2.5 tablespoons sugar
3.75 tablespoons salt

For the gazpacho, I couldn't fit everything in one blender batch, which gave me a perfect excuse to experiment. Each batch featured slightly different ingredients.

Gazpacho #1
2 pounds of early girl tomatoes
1 clove of garlic
1 small cucumber, peeled and diced
2 T sherry vinegar
1 T lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
Chopped basil

Gazpacho #2
2 pounds of early girl tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic
1 small cucumber, peeled and diced
1/4 white onion
2 T sherry vinegar
1 T lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon tarragon
Dash of cumin

Gazpacho #3
2 pounds of early girl tomatoes
1 clove of garlic
1 small cucumber, peeled and diced
1 thick slice of stale white bread, cubed
2 T sherry vinegar
2 T lemon juice
1 T lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
Chopped basil
Dash of cumin

- Steph

Road trip: Bend

October 1, 2014

Start from the beginning of our Oregon trip.

Day 12: Beacon Rock State Park to Bend, via Mt. Hood (185 miles)

Our notes for this day began with this observation: "Only 4 more days," followed by a sad face. After we returned from a somewhat lackluster Thanksgiving camping trip, we commented on how much better our Oregon trip was. It was basically the most awesome vacation ever.

At this point in the "most awesome vacation ever," we had hung out on the Oregon/Washington border for several days and were starting to make our way back to California. We had heard a lot of great things about the city of Bend, an outdoor mecca on the eastern edge of the Cascades. Plus it made geographical sense to stop here on our way to Crater Lake.

After hanging out in the vineyards, fruit farms, rivers and waterfalls of the Columbia River Valley, the ride to Bend provided a beautiful change of scenery — an arid desert, with the snow-capped Cascades hovering off in the distance.

Bend is located in the high desert, at an elevation of 3,623 feet. 

Along the way, we took a detour to the Cove Palisades State Park, with its incredible canyons and rivers. About 10 million to 12 million years ago, alternating layers of stream sediments, volcanic debris and basaltic lava flowed into a huge basin in this area, creating the “Deschutes Formation.” Over time, water erosion and volcanic activity eroded the formation, creating the canyons and vertical cliffs that exist today. [1] The Deschutes and Crooked rivers run through the park, and in 1964, Lake Billy Chinook was created by damming the Deschutes River. The lake offers 72 miles of shoreline, drawing fishermen, campers and boaters to its waters. One of the most popular activities in the park is to rent a houseboat and float through the park. We didn't have the time on this trip, but it would be fun to vacation on a boat one day.

Our picnic spot, on the left. Picturesque, right? Unfortunately lots of gnats thought so too. Provisions: fresh cherries.

We continued on to Bend, where we checked into our hotel, grabbed dinner, then drinks at one of Oregon's many breweries (10 Barrel Brewing), before ending the night in the hotel hot tub.

Day 13: Bend (0 miles)

Half the reason for stopping in Bend was I wanted to float down the Deschutes River. When I was a kid, my family would go to Water Country every summer and one of my favorite attractions was the lazy river, in which you float down a river in inner tubes. You were supposed to stay in the tubes, but we never did. It's a ton of fun to get pushed downstream by the current. And happily it turns out that river floating isn't limited to water parks. Floating down the Russian River in northern California is a popular summertime activity but we've never down it because the logistics seemed complicated with the motorcycle. When I learned you could float down the Deschutes River, which flows through the center of Bend, I was set on doing it.

And guess what happened? It rained. Now you might say, it's the Pacific Northwest, weren't you prepared for that? Well, Bend enjoys almost 300 days of sunshine per year. So no — this was the one day of the trip we were assuming would be sunny. The rain meant no river floating for us. Instead, we visited the High Desert Museum.

The museum, which includes both indoor and outdoor exhibits, explores the wildlife, culture and history of Oregon's high desert region. We got there just in time for a show about the "raptors of the sky" (we literally had to run a half mile across the grounds to make it in time). In the show, the handlers brought out several birds, including a barn owl, hawk and vulture. The birds flew from perch to perch, sometimes flying directly over our heads, which always elicited ooo's from the crowd. All of the birds in the show were either unable to fly or too comfortable around humans to be released back into the wild. The one fact that struck with me from the program: Vultures are a valuable part of the ecosystem because of their ability to digest harmful bacteria without getting sick, yet they're getting poisoned by the lead bullets used by hunters. Our presenter said he was a hunter and urged any other hunters in the audience not to use lead bullets.

On the subject of guns, when I was looking for a place to stay in Bend, I came across an AirBnB listing that included this among the house rules: "Please declare any firearms you intend to have on the premises and if you have a Concealed Carry Permit. We are firearm friendly and do allow firearms on the property we just want to be aware of them."

The museum includes a recreation of a 1904 homestead and sawmill. One of our favorite parts was an exhibit on the history of the area called the "Spirit of the West." This is how the museum describes the exhibit: "Your journey starts with a stroll past a Northern Paiute shelter and a French trapper's camp where all the historic details are depicted in incredible detail. Continue through the Hudson's Bay Company fort, alongside an Oregon Trail wagon, through a hard rock mine, past a settler's cabin and into the boomtown of Silver City." We took part in a (free) guided tour of the exhibit, which was surprisingly great. It was much more engaging to listen to the guide than to read the plaques. He seemed to really enjoy giving the tour, which made it a lot of fun to listen to.

After the museum, it was time for dinner at the Deschutes Brewery and Public House. Deschutes is based in Bend and is one of the larger craft breweries in the U.S. We had visited their brewpub in Portland and enjoyed the experience so much that we couldn't help but try the Bend location as well. Somehow, we had an even better time the second time. My food was mediocre (ribs at the brewpub maybe wasn't the best decision) but the beer was delicious. I don't think I've ever enjoyed a beer as much as I enjoyed their Doppel Dinkel Bock. Their description of the beer: "This imperial spelt beer features a generous amount of dinkel (spelt) malt in place of the traditional wheat malt. The result features aromas of bubblegum, banana, clove, citrus, and a slight spiciness. Smooth, full bodied and drinkable, Doppel Dinkel Bock will make the Bavarian in you proud!" After writing this post and remembering how much I loved that beer, we ordered some from an online craft beer shop.

If you read our Portland post, you may recall that our visit to the McMenamins in Portland didn't live up to our expectations. We had a much better experience at the Bend location, where we watched "The Grand Budapest Hotel." McMenamins converted the former parish hall of an old Catholic school into a theater, with comfortable armchairs and couches. It projects the movie onto a large screen and it's a super-comfortable way to watch a movie (affordable too). And the movie seemed quite fitting for the setting. (And we highly recommend it.)

And a few more photos...

Leaving the Mt. Hood area
Driving through Oregon's high desert
Deschutes River, in Bend
- Steph

[1] Lake Billy, Chinook, Oregon State Parks