Cat Door

The strangest projects tend to be the most fun. Jas salvaged a cat door from another project and asked me to install it in an existing basement window opening. His criteria were a tight fit and easy removal.

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My basic frame for the cat door.

I measured the opening within 1/16 inch, then used 1×2 lumber to frame the world’s smallest stud wall. I added an extra stud to the left side to space out the door from an existing window latch. The cat door is shorter than the opening, so I installed it at the bottom of my frame, then closed the gap with a couple more pieces of 1×2. I had to pre-drill all my nail holes to avoid splitting the wood.

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In progress. (I wrote the cat’s name above the door for fun.)

A couple finishing touches help the cat door fit snugly in the opening. I used a chisel to carve out a space for that window latch on the left side. Then I ran the right side of the frame through a table saw several times to create a quarter-inch groove that accepts the tongue of the sliding glass window. Installation is easy – just slide the frame into the opening and pull the window tight against it. Sebastian should be pleased.

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Cat door installed in the sliding window.

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Stove Envy

I’ve been helping Jas on and off with the installation of a new wood-burning stove. He finally got the thing cooking this week, so it’s time to report on the process.

To set the stage, let me invoke Captain Obvious for a moment. Stoves are hot. When wood gets hot, it catches on fire. Jas lives in a house made of wood. (A log cabin, in fact.) Several recent incidents in my area prove that houses still do catch fire sometimes and burn to the ground. So the main concern with installing the stove was protecting Jas’s house.

It’s not just the stove itself, of course: there’s also a chimney. The manufacturer gave guidelines for how far each length of pipe must be from a wall, with different minimum values for single pipe, double pipe, and insulated pipe, as well as reductions if the wall is shielded with another piece of metal. The manufacturer also specified the number of S-bends allowed and the final height we needed to reach above the house. Our path of least resistance goes through the exterior wall a few feet above the stove, jogs around a second-floor window, then travels straight up through the roof overhang to the peak.

Once we determined where the chimney should pass through the wall, Jas grabbed his chainsaw and began slicing a 10-inch diameter hole to fit an 8-inch diameter pipe surrounded by 1 inch of insulation. It wasn’t easy even for a chainsaw – his walls are almost a foot thick at the thickest part of the log. Once he roughed out an opening, I shaped it into a circle using a sawzall with a new blade.

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The transition stovepipe slides snugly into the hole.

In general we needed double-wall stovepipe inside the house and single-wall stovepipe outside the house. I installed the transition piece through the wall, and we sketched out the remaining sections of pipe we’d need. Jas installed them all, patched the openings, crossed his fingers, and lit a fire. Boy does it ever keep his house warm!

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Jas’s cat warmed up to the new stove right away.

Fit and Trim

David’s dogs did a number on the trim pieces around some doorways in his old house. The scratch marks were unsightly and he wanted to get rid of them before renters move in for the winter. I agreed to help him replace the trim.

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The damage.

Step 1 was to assess the damage. Determined they may be, but the dogs can only reach about three feet off the floor. I proposed to cut out just the lower, damaged portion of the trim, and then to spackle and paint over the joint after I installed a new piece. The partial replacement won’t be aesthetically perfect, but it saves a lot of time and material cost compared with replacing an entire length.

Step 2 was to remove the damaged trim. It looks like a single part, but the trim for one doorway actually consists of NINE pieces of wood! There are three lengths (left side, top, right side) with three faces each (facing outside the room, across the threshold, facing inside the room). The pieces are typically held to the wall’s structural frame using tiny finish nails, which are nearly invisible once a painter covers over them. I worked a cat’s paw behind the wood and pried the damaged areas out from the wall. Then I took a sawzall and cut out the damaged areas, careful not to nick the wall or the undamaged areas.

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Damaged trim removed from the doorway. I had to take the door off, too, for access.

Step 3 was to cut and install new trim. David brought the cut-out pieces to Allen Lumber and came home with stock lengths of trim having the same shape. Then I performed that familiar sequence: measure, cut, install. For each doorway I had to install the threshold piece first, since the outside and inside pieces sandwich the threshold piece in. I also needed to shim out each threshold piece from the jack stud anywhere from ½ inch to 1½ inches to match the width of the doorway.

One threshold piece presented an additional challenge: the door itself. I unscrewed the hinges from the trim and set the door aside. When I replaced the portion where the bottom hinge fits in, I needed to carve out a new niche for the hinge. There’s probably a tool out there that cuts perfect hinge niches, but I don’t have one, so I did the best I could with a hammer and chisel. The result was an indentation one sixteenth of an inch deep in the rounded-rectangle shape of the hinge.

But I haven’t reinstalled the door yet. I want to paint the new trim first, and before I paint it I need to spackle it smooth. That is a tale for another time.