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Douche achevé

January 17, 2012
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Just as you would not serve a slow simmering stew before it’s time, there are some BAB projects that just shouldn’t be blogged until they’re “done”. (at least in MY opinion…) This little project has been “simmering” for quite a long time… I can date the actual start of the work to July 23rd, 2011, but it’s been in the works and in our minds since the day our tile setter walked away from our bathroom project.

Here is what our shower looked like the day we moved in:

Our shower on move-in day

This project is about creating trim transitions from new stone tile in the shower to old plaster walls, to new drywall construction, and to new granite wall base. Since we moved in last March, we’ve used a shower curtain on a spring rod until this project could be completed. Once the trim was in place, then we could order a glass shower door and get rid of the curtain.

So our design intention was to use a somewhat neutral-colored band of material that looped around the entire shower, from ceiling to walls to threshold. The material we chose to use is called “solid surface” in the construction trade, and a lot of people have heard it called “Corian”, which is just one brand name a lot like the way we refer to “Xerox” as a paper copy. We chose a solid surface material brand called “Staron”, partially because we got a super deal on it – normally about $800 a sheet (about 12’x3′) and we got it for $150. (It was a contractor leftover – it helps to know product reps!)

[Oh – you might want to grab a drink or snacks and hit the head – this is a long post. It spans many months from start to finish but through the magic of the internet you can experience the whole project in less than 15 minutes…]

But before we could install the solid surface, we needed to add a finish cap on the granite wall base that our tile setter installed, because the threshold of the shower entry needed to be coordinated with whatever solution we installed on the base. Hopefully the next photo explains that…

raw shower threshold with granite base

And THIS is where this project really started. We considered many options, like thin ceramic trim pieces, or wood, or plastic extrusions, or custom polished granite pieces, or even more solid surface. It took us several months to decide that the most appropriate solution was to top it with a material that was crisp, clean and matching in hardness as the polished granite base. So a rectangular aluminum extrusion felt just right.

raw aluminum stock

temp brace to hold it

trickier behind the sink

Finished trim on base

The aluminum channel had more of a “brushed” finish, which I didn’t think was appropriate, so I used some steel wool and my polishing wheel to give it a brighter and easier-to-clean finish. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures of that intensive refinishing process.

Now that the trim sub-project is complete, I could start on the solid surface. Nearly all solid surface material can be worked with the same tools used for working with wood, so I cut the Staron into strips with my table saw, and then finished the edges with power sanders, then hand sanding and finally fine steel wool to dress the raw cut edges into smoother appropriate-for-shower edges.

The first piece piece to install was the threshold into the shower; which I wanted to slightly overlap the top of the aluminum trim on top of the granite base. Another feature of this piece was that it needed to slope inwards slightly, so that water from the shower would drain inwards.

first piece of solid surface on shower threshold

flat piece at back wall

The next “easy” piece to install was a flat rectangular piece that sat on top of the short wall and up to the ceiling. Rather uneventful installation, just a little bit of tape held it in place.

scrap for alignment

I also used some scrap pieces of the same width to help with alignment – temporarily fastened butted up to the piece I was currently making. These basically took the place of pieces I hadn’t made yet.

This might be a good time to note that the adhesive is a special glue meant for tile and solid surface. Unfortunately, the forty tubes of Liquid Nails adhesive that we have at BAB were not recommended. And if you’re wondering: “What the heck is up with the SURFACE of that solid surface?” — there is a protective film applied that is meant to be removed at completion so there’s all kinds of logos and warnings printed on that film. But it’s also beneficial to me because I can write on it with orientation notes to myself.

The longest piece needed was the full-height section where the hinges of the future shower door would be installed. While there were no fabrication challenges, because of it’s length, I needed to craft some clever pressure system to make sure that it stayed flat against the wall while the adhesive was drying. The photo shows the solution I came up with…

improvised brace system

I needed to make sure there was a gap between the stone tile and the solid surface, which I would later fill with a sealant. Minor adjustments could be made while the adhesive was setting, and I found that a Q-Tip broken in half made the perfect shim to create the right sized gap.

improvised shim

Once I had the hinge-side piece in place, I could now strike lines on the ceiling that would later be my guidelines for all of the solid surface pieces that would be on the ceiling. If I didn’t follow this order of construction, it would be very likely that these solid surface pieces could be out of alignment just an eighth of an inch, which would be noticeable by most mortals.

draw guide lines on ceiling between jambs

Now for the main attraction…

Not sure where we’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but way back when, in the house we called the “Demo House” (number 1), we salvaged some interesting pieces of glass that we just now refer to as “wavy glass”. They were basically “windows” between the living room and the covered porch, people had crazy ideas back then. I wish I’d taken pictures of them in place before we removed them – here is a pic of it in storage in the old operator’s lavatory room at BAB:

wavy glass from demo house

The wavy glass has some texture to it – that’s part of why we like it. But it’s only textured on one side; the other side is smooth. This works out great for our shower – we can put the smooth side inwards to the shower to make it easy to clean. Maybe this was mentioned previously, but we always intended the glass to be on that short shower wall – so that short wall was built so that the wavy glass would sit perfectly on top of it.

Construction of showers typically involves waterproof membranes and/or cementitious materials, and the top of the short wall, where the wavy glass will sit, has cement board on top. I didn’t want the glass to sit right on top of this hard surface, for fear of fracturing or chipping, so I salvaged some flexible shower liner scraps and laminated two layers of it on top of the cement board.

weights squishing the membrane

flexible membrane ready to go

Ideally, the piece of glass should “float” within spongy materials between the wall and the ceiling so that any flexes or vibrations (yes, we have earthquakes in Missouri!) would not fracture the glass.

I decided long ago that the best design solution for us was to have the glass “pass through” the solid surface, which meant that the solid surface pieces would need to have a profile cut in them that matched the curves of the wavy glass. Wanting to minimize the cutting, I stacked two layers of solid surface together, taped all of their edges to keep them in place, and I’d cut two layers at the same time. (The assumption here is that the top and bottom pieces on each side had similar profiles and could merely be repositioned higher or lower but within the same “wavy-ness”.

two layers of solid surface stacked

Then I needed to trace the profile of the wavy glass onto the solid surface. This needed to be very precise; I was basically determining where the glass would be positioned on the wall with these wavy cuts.

tracing glass onto solid surface

I don’t (yet) have a band saw, but I do have a nice scroll saw that can often fill in on some occasions. I could only cut about half-way down the length of the piece, which meant I had to back the blade out, then flip to the other end, and cut the remaining half. But it was still about 20 times easier than if I was cutting it by hand!

ready to cut on the scroll saw

halfway through

Eventually I had 4 separate pieces each with wavy cuts in them.

matching waves

So that was just ONE wavy cut through the stack, and that profile was traced from just one side of the glass. If this wavy glass had just a minimal thickness, like 1/8″ or less, MAYBE I could get away with using the same wavy cut for both sides. But this glass is about 1/2″ thick.

Just in case there was some weird luck where I wouldn’t have to make a second profile, I test-fit both sides and made a sandwich of solid surface and glass; nope – didn’t work, I’d need to trace the OTHER side of the glass and use the scroll saw to cut another wave.

Here’s a pic of the “waves” after cutting:

skinny waves cut out

The first two pieces to go down weren’t exactly the easiest; they were setting the baseline of everything else so a high degree of accuracy was needed. The position of the wavy glass would be determined by this first piece, and hence, the position of the future shower door. (Because the door needed to align perfectly with the wavy glass for water-tightness.) I also needed to make sure that the jamb edge of this top piece would be flush with the jamb piece (not yet made) so another temporary scrap piece needed to be installed as a stand-in. I made many round trips from test fitti on the wall to cutting away tiny slivers on the table saw.

first wavy piece down

more waviness

Aligning the matching the piece to the ceiling was aided by those lines that I struck a few paragraphs back. And some simple wood jigs held in place with screws held the other piece tight to the ceiling while the adhesive set up.

first wavy piece on ceiling

Hey – I can make waves with text: ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Before I could place the wavy glass on the wall, it needed some prep work too. Back in the 1950’s when it was installed in that ranch house, ALL of its edges were covered up by wood trim, so it didn’t matter that they were raw, sharp, glassy edges. So I needed to make TWO of those edges suitable to be exposed. (TWO because the other two were going to be covered by the solid surface.)

The best solution to this was to use a wet sanding process. You may have seen “Wet or Dry” sandpaper in the hardware store; I’ve never know anyone to use that kind of sandpaper in a “Dry” situation, so maybe they need to rename it. I’ve used wet sanding for everything from sanding lacquer paint on cars, to objects made out of acrylic, to “polishing” the yellowed headlights fo may car. The process is basically the same – you use a regular stream of liquid that acts as a lubricant to carry away the fine particles that are removed by the sandpaper. These particles normally clog the grit in “dry” sanding. With wet sanding you get a much finer polish and finish, that is as long as you progress to finer grits of sandpaper and insure a good flushing of particles.

Unfortunately I only have one photograph of the setup on the glass – I put some Gorilla tape along the face of the glass so that I the sandpaper only hit the EDGE and not the face of the glass. You can also see that I used a pump sprayer (which I filled with water) to use as the lubricant. Don’t let the one photo fool you – it took several hours to prep the edges so that they wouldn’t be sharp when we were in the shower.

wet sanding edges of glass

As an extra layer of cushion in addition to the flexible material, before installing the glass, I laid down a bead of silicone where the edge would rest and then let it dry for a couple days. It had a good “spongy” consistency to support the glass.

Installing the glass: this is where that temporary piece attached to the jamb was critical. After squirting out more silicone at the top & bottom to glue it in place, I could scoot the edge of the wavy glass to be perfectly flush with that temporary jamb piece. Once it was in place, I could screw in a few pieces of blocking at the top & bottom to hold it while the silicone dried.

the main attraction installed

blocking at ceiling

view from the toilet (standing of course)

The next piece of solid surface to install was the bottom inside piece. The top of that short wall was not exactly level for some reason, so when I test fit the piece, it didn’t lay flat and it would need some shims. And just like the threshold, I’d like this piece to sloped down slightly into the shower to help water drain off. Since I’d been sawing off lots of pieces of solid surface to cut lengths to fit, I had an excess of various “shims” of solid surface ready to go.

free shims

But it wasn’t just the shimming that was a challenge.

Maybe it was my tracing of the profile with a fat sharpie pen, or perhaps my cutting on the scroll saw, but this piece didn’t fit perfectly. I needed the long straight edge to align flush with the face of the stone below, and it’s front edge needed to align with the temp piece acting as the jamb face. The only place where a little play was allowed was at the back and along the curves, where I was going to add sealant.

So there were either highs in the glass or lows in my waves, and I’d have to test fit, then mark where solid surface touched glass, then saw a little off, a quick sanding, then back to test fit for high spots. I had to repeat that about ten times until I was happy with a somewhat equal width gap between the glass and solid surface.

Once I had all of the shims located for proper orientation, a schmearing of glue and I was done with the third wavy piece.

looks almost tasty

looks easier said than done

Instead of putting up the last wavy piece on the ceiling, I had somewhat of a deadline: the shower door company was coming in a few days to take final measurements for fabricating the door. So the jamb piece on the short wall was a higher priority. I also needed the adhesive under that third piece to be fully cured because I would put braces for the last ceiling piece directly on top of it.

After cutting the full size piece for the jamb, test-fit revealed that a slight flaw in the stone tile work became more pronounced. The edge of the stone at the top sloped outwards, and since I wanted an even gap (for sealant, and more importantly, straightness of DOOR) all the way down to the threshold, I’ll have to grind away the stone edge into a straight line. DANG – another reason to be pissed at our tile contractor!

tape with a guide line for grinding

gotta cover EVERYTHING!

The grinding was not too hard, only took a few minutes. It actually took longer to cover everything and create the plastic tent within the shower.

grinding is one of my favorite things to do

Now we had a nice even joint there.

see the light!

solid surface above threshold

Some shims, some glue, and the strike jamb was done and installed.

The next piece I chose to install is the one on the ceiling directly over the threshold. This was a strategic move – it would be easier to cut the adjacent last wavy piece to exact length rather then cut an angle or step in this piece. And those lines I drew on the ceiling several steps back were very helpful. The hardest part was scrambling to find struts or braces of the right height to hold it in place.

Moving on to the final piece of solid surface…

Like the bottom wavy piece below this one, I checked the fit against the glass. Didn’t fit quite right so I had to find the high spots and remove them. I would mark the spots with a sharpie, then when I had the piece on a level surface, I’d draw out a gentle curve blending it into the rest of the wave, and that would be my guideline for the scroll saw.

marking the high spots

enlarging the waves to fit glass

Like the bottom piece, it took about ten fits and cuts cycles until everything lined up perfectly. Then my last gluing, last struts and shims and the final piece of solid surface went into place. Oh, and lest I forget, Q-tips again made the perfect spacing shim.

yay! last piece is installed.

Looking back from the other side of the room (the toilet) you can now see most of the solid surface, the wavy glass, and of course our shower curtain is back in place.We need to keep using that curtain until all of the insides of the shower are sealed.

waves and curtain

I could NOW take off protective film! Of course, obeying all of the warnings about static electricity…

On to adding sealant between the solid surface and stone tile.

I’m a big fan of taping off sealant joints. While a lot of people like to do it “freestyle”, I’ve seen too many crappy sealant jobs everywhere. I think of it like painting a car, and masking off areas that you want to keep clean just makes sense.

So I taped off the joint, gunned in the sealant, and got ready to smooth out the bead…

taped and caulked

taped and caulked

For most caulking, I keep a bottle full of what I label as “Soapy Water” – mostly water with a small squirt of dish soap. This makes a good solution that keeps the caulk from sticking to my fingers. Normally it’s in a plastic water bottle, so I just stick my finger in the bottle, give it a shake and my finger is well coated to smooth the caulk.

However, about three tenths of a second after touching the caulk, something didn’t feel right. It was sticking to my finger and it felt very thick. I tried a couple more times, not much progress.

I paused to read the label on the caulk – this was solvent-based caulk!

Hmmm… thinking back to buying this stuff… I picked up this caulk at a house siding distributor – it was the only place where I could find caulk in lots of colors, and I wanted to get a color that matched the stone tile (for inside the shower) and the solid surface (for outside the shower). I just didn’t think that it might be solvent based.

Well, I have plenty of mineral spirits around so I grabbed an empty water bottle, filled it with spirits and started over. Worked pretty well, but I had to “dip” more frequently because the mineral spirits evaporates a lot faster than soapy water.

Peeled off the tape – the joint needed a little touch up with solvent on my fingers and in the end it looked pretty good!

completed sealant - matches the stone well!

Next step is to seal the joint (gap) between the wavy glass and the wavy solid surface. But since these joints are about 1/2″ deep, I want to first add a “filler”. In the construction industry we refer to it as “backer rod” – it doesn’t have to be rod-shaped in this situation so I looked around BAB for anything that would work. I found some rectangular-shaped foam that would work for the bottom gap. The upper gap had an additional vacant space over the glass (the bottom did not because remember it’s sitting directly on the short wall) so I used real authentic backer rod that I had leftover from sealing the windows on the outside.

The hardest part was getting the tape in a wavy pattern. The glass surface wasn’t too bad; just pushing the tape in & out. But on the flat solid surface, I partially stuck down a 2″ wide piece of tape, then made some strategic cuts with Xacto knife that allowed the tape to bend around the curved glass. Once the tape laid flat then I carefully stuck the blade into the joint and ran it along the wavy edge of solid surface, cutting the tape flush with the wave.

filler for bottom joint...

...and filler for the top joint

Then some more squirting of sealant, mineral spirits and fingering, making a a contained mess… and the insides of the shower are all sealed.

bottom parts gooed up

top parts gooed up

What does this mean?

It means we can finally get our shower door and get rid of the plastic shower curtain! I scheduled the contractor to come as soon as possible when we came back from our vacation. (In case you’re wondering, yes, I did contemplate installing the door myself. I would have saved $200, but a) my experience in that realm is… about… zero; b) several parts of an installation could go wrong: alignment, hinges, and (eek) leakage; and most importantly c) if I were to accidentally break the door, I’d be out over $600, but if THEY accidentally break the door, I just say: “Whooops! I’ll clean that up while you guys order a new one…”

I wish I’d taken pictures of them installing the door – but they were in & out in 45 minutes and I didn’t really think about it. Anyway, this blog is about OUR work damnit!

And from this point on we are enjoying our excellent shower. The door is beautiful, we don’t have to worry about water dripping into the exposed threshold, and the vintage wavy glass looks really cool.

It’s also because of this elation that the remaining tasks to call the shower “complete” just hang out there in the ether. (Every homeowner knows that it’s that last “five percent” of a project that’s always the hardest to finish.) Then the holidays come. Then there’s Sue bugging me that I haven’t published the shower photos. Me: “But it’s not finished yet!”… Sue: “Then finish it!”…

Then… we buy the sink/vanity base…

Which means all outstanding design issues of the bathroom have been resolved, and there’s nothing standing in the way of TOTALLY having the bathroom done.

Crap.

I guess I better finish the shower.

Okay so here’s the remaining 5%.

I’ll keep it short because it’s somewhat of a repeat – it’s basically doing the same sealing process but now on the OUTSIDE of the shower; similar to that which was done earlier on the inside.

bottom outside taped off

outside top, caulked and sealed

There was also a joint on the outside between the solid surface and the drywall that needed to be filled. No pics but it turned out great.

So here’s a closeup of the outside parts. Please observe and be amazed. You can also see the door seal that the shower door guys attached to the door edge and how neatly it hits the wavy glass AND the solid surface jamb below the wavy glass. A robot couldn’t have aligned those parts better! (Uh, I’m referring to ME not the door guys…)

closeup of short wall, sealants and wavy glass

And just to show how we coordinated (i.e. got lucky) (just kidding) many different design issues, here’s a pic from a bit further away showing how we matched the style of shower door handle (provided by shower door guys) with the towel bar we installed 10 months ago (provided by Lowes), AND when the guys came to measure for the shower door, I measured the distance from the floor to the towel bar and marked it on the jamb for the door guys to make the door handle holes at the same height.

the finished short wall, wavy glass and all...

And to show that [good] architects attempt to think of as many unforeseen circumstances as possible, when considering the length AND location of the door handle, you have to think beyond the current state of “door-ness” and project where the door will be in the future.

(What???)

What I mean is that the door moves – and its future position is important. So in choosing the door handle and where it occurs on the door, we made sure that the door handle will not cause bumping problems into the wall when it is opened all the way. So in the next photo you can see that the length and location PERFECTLY fit withing the opening of the door.

door in open position, handle clearing just clearing jamb

Well it’s time to wrap this up. Thanks for stickin’ with this long post – hope you haven’t had to pee again since the start.

I can’t think of any “lesson” to be learned here. (Maybe cuz this project started almost 7 months ago!)

Perhaps the coolest thing is that Sue & I both envisioned the same thing in our minds when we discussed and sketched how we would use that “wavy glass” in our shower after we pulled it from the demo house. Or, when we were selecting the solid surface material, we both understood how it would “band” around the shower to be the transition trim material.And we both liked it.

So as a final comparison between new and old, here are the “Before” (again) and “After” photos. I invite you to click on them both several times (your browser will continue to zoom in until you reach 100% pixel size) and really see the difference.

Our shower on move-in day

Shower finished in all its glory

And for those of you that are thinking: “Hmmm… isn’t the shower just one-third of the bathroom, and there’s more to come?” Yes, you’re right… in the next week or so we expect to be presenting the bathroom FINALE – when we can finally call the entire bathroom complete – the simmering stew will be done!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Patrick Kelly permalink
    January 17, 2012 1:58 pm

    Tom – I am glad the shower is “finished” but I am really dissapointed we didn’t get sufficient details on the process, I mean, how exactly did you do this?

    • Tom permalink
      January 17, 2012 2:06 pm

      I’ll email you Tom’s tome.

  2. Benzy permalink
    January 17, 2012 7:18 am

    There is a product made that is also glass, translucent or with bubbles in it etc. But it is straight.(:-)

    • Tom permalink*
      January 17, 2012 10:14 am

      Aww Benzy – no crack about the title???

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