Gilles' Outlet

June 22, 2008

Building a Cedar Planter, Raised Panel Style

Filed under: Uncategorized — Gilles @ 4:24 am


A Raised Panel Cedar Planter is built.

Cedar panels are glued and raised on a router table. Posts are cut to length and decorated on a router table. All parts are sealed and assembled.

Skill Level: 3~4 (Intermediate ~ Advanced)

Time Taken: About 6 hours

There are many designs for cedar planters and I have already showcased a simpler version in a previous article. It was meant to hold the soil directly and has served me well. Today, I am going to show a more sophisticated design.

Unlike its older brother, this planter is designed to hold a pot. It is entirely made out of solid clear cedar and features an adjustable shelf. This allows the planter to host various kind of pots.

Pieces of the planter before of the assembly:

  • Four raised panels: these are the sides,
  • Four posts: these act as corners (only 3 visible on the picture)
  • Eight supporting strips: panels rest in groves machined in those (only 7 are visible)

All pieces received a coat of Thompson Water Seal before assembly. This picture was taken immediately after application which explains why the wood looks darker. Thompson Water Seal is a clear product and I decided not to apply any other finish: cedar is beautiful as is.

This is the first time I used that product and while I have been satisfied with it, it did not always goo smoothly.  Suffice it to say that it is critical to read and respect all instructions exactly. More specifically, be sure to respect the temperature, drying time and maintain the wood dry as the product dries or you will ruin your pieces.

But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Left: The construction starts by cutting four 18 1/2” long pieces out of 2×2 clear cedar stock. This wood is already surfaced on four sides and is designed to build deck ballusters, among other things. These will ultimately become the posts installed at the four corners of the planter.

Right: I cut eight 14” long segments out of 1×6 clear cedar stock and glued them together to make a wider panels (14” x 11”). You already saw me gluing panels before.

After the panels dried, I sanded all panels smooth and raised them on the router table. You already saw me build raised panels before.

Left: The top of each post gets decorated with a narrow and shallow groove made at the table saw. I have installed a stop block (the piece of scrap wood clamped to the fence on the bottom right). This ensures a consistent location of the groove on all posts.

It is also critical to safety: to prevent kickback when crosscutting on a table saw, the wood must never be in contact with the fence.

Right: The blade was raised about 1/2” above the table and each post was ran through using the miter gauge. It is necessary to groove each post on for faces.

I decided to leave the blade guard for safety. It was mildly awkward to run pieces through.

Left: I moved to the router table and installed a chamfer bit. A chamfer will be cut at the top and bottom of every four posts …

Right: … like that (example at the top of a post). The chamfer is a little less than 1/2”. I just kept moving the fence away from the bit until I was satisfied with the depth of the chamfer.

You can also see the result of the previous grooving operation on the table saw.

Left: A decorative stopped chamfer was added on the external edge of all four posts.

There is a special procedure to make a stopped chamfer. First write marks on the work piece to indicate where the chamfer will star and end.

Right: With the router running, make sure the left side of the post rests on the table and hold the left side above the bit, without touching it. Position the mark on the work piece on the center of the bit.

Now, slowly plunge the work piece into the bit.

Left: When the piece is flat on the table, push it through as you normally would until the center of the bit reaches the end mark.

Pull the right end of the work piece up, making sure the left side is in contact with the table.

It is critical to make sure that at least one side of the work piece is on the table otherwise, the bit could catch  the wood and send it flying in the shop.

Stopped operations on the router are dangerous and you can get hurt badly. Always consult a professional.

Right: I cut eight supporting strips out of 1×2 cedar. One side will require two pieces: one to support the panel at the bottom and one top hold the panel at the top.

Left: Each piece was chamfered on three edges using the same chamfer bit. The last edge is left square because it will not show.

Right: I cut a grove on every single supporting strip. This groove will receive the panel and hold it in place. The groove was cut using a straight 1/4” bit. 1/4” bits are usually more fragile because they are thin so it took three passes to machine the groove.

It needs to be deep enough for the panel to be held and allow for wood movement. I decided that 5/8 was deep enough in this case.

Left: Using the same 1/4” straight bit, I machined two grooves on each post. These will receive the raised panels.


Right: Pocket screws slots were cut on all eight supporting strips. You have already seen me cutting pocket screws before.

Left: All pieces were sanded smooth and paired together so the grain of the wood would match top and bottom supporting strips.

At this point, the wood has not yet received any finish or sealant. However, assembly steps can already be outlined.

Right: A panel slides into two supporting strips: one at the top and one at the bottom.

Left: The right and left sides of the panel slide into a grove on the right and left posts. The supporting strips rest on posts and will be later fastened to them ….


Right: … like that. Each side is completed after driving the four pockets screws home.

Left: After assembling each panel, I drilled a set of holes to hold shelf pins. This allows the mobile shelve to be moved up and down to accommodate various pot sizes.

I drilled free hand and some holes were not exactly at 45 degrees. This is clearly not ideal.

The best tool for this job is a drill press: the work piece can be maintained tight on the table and drilled precisely. Unfortunately, I do not own one.

Right: A shelf pin installed in one of the holes.

The imperfection in the drilling did not have any consequence. I guess I was off but not off enough to have a noticeable impact on the stability of the shelf.

Left: I turned my attention to the shelf itself. It is essentially a few strips of rough saw cedar fencing stock cut to length and screwed onto two pieces of 1×2 cedar. I did not put any glue but it would not hurt.

If you glue this, make you you use a waterproof glue: watering plants will definitely pour water on the shelf.

This design is rather primitive but the shelf is not going to be visible so I can save some labor and materials here.

Right:  I drove a couple of screws to hold the shelf together. I used the same pan head screws (aka screws suitable for pocket screws) because I had them handy and they were of the adequate size.

Left: The shelf face up. It looks reasonable and it is fairly sturdy.


Right: A view of the planter after assembly, looking down at the shelf. The shelf rests on four shelf pins.

Tools Used:

  • Power Miter Saw 
  • Table Saw 
  • Router & Router Table
  • Router Bits: Raised Panel, Chamfer, 1/4” Straight
  • Cordless Drill
  • Pocket Screw Jig
  • Clamps
  • Basic Carpentry Tools

Materials Used:

  • Clear Cedar 2×2 S4S (posts)
  • Clear Cedar 1×2 S2SS2E (supporting strips)
  • Clear Cedar 1×6 S2SS2E (panels)
  • Rough sawn cedar fencing (shelve)
  • Pocket Screws
  • Outdoor Oil Based Water Sealer
  • Shelf ins (4)

June 12, 2008

Removing ceramic tiles without breaking them

Filed under: Uncategorized — Gilles @ 4:19 am

Two ceramic tiles are carefully removed.

Skill Level: 2 (Basic)

Time Taken: About 20 minutes

It is often necessary to remove ceramic tiles without breaking them. For instance:

  • You want to match an existing tile job and need to bring a sample to the store,
  • You need to gain access to a shower faucet concealed behind a tiled wall.

Removing tiles without breaking them is only part of the job. If you plan on re-using them, you will also have to clean up the back of the tile. That means removing old mortar or adhesive. Finally, removing tiles usually damages the substrate and you’ll have to patch it up before you can tile over it again.

I have about 70% success with the following technique (for 100 tiles removed, I’ll break at most 30). The key is to progress slowly and refrain from using brute force.

In this article, I’ll show how to remove two tiles, both set with mortar directly over drywall.

This blog sometimes illustrates dangerous tasks and removing tiles is one of them. Be sure to wear the necessary safety gear. That includes but is not limited to: gloves, safety glasses … I cannot be held responsible for anything which may or may not happens to you or anyone as a result of reading and / or applying procedures described in this blog . Be safe. Always consult a professional.

Left: The first tile to remove. It is a ceramic tile which was ripped in half to serve as a baseboard. This is a common practice.

With a utility knife, I cut through the paint, caulk,  mortar and grout all around the tile. I used a dull blade: no need to waste brand new, sharp blades here. They get dull in seconds.


Right: There was a thin line of grout at the bottom so I cut through it. I wanted to remove most of the grout / mortar (about 1/4” deep in this case).

It is important to remove as much grout as possible before attempting to remove a tile. Failure to do so will greatly increase your chance of breaking the tile. Do not rush.

Left: After freeing the tile from all around it sides, I gently inserted a stiff putty knife between the tile and the substrate. I gently tapped the blue handle with a hammer to help the blade go in further.

I repeated that operation on the other side of the tile (right on the picture). Again, it is critical to be gentle with the hammer.


Right: I inserted the flat side of a mini pry bar at the top of the tile and gently pushed it in. The tile came without a fight.

The tile separated from it substrate. As you can see, part of the drywall came off. There is even a screw visible.

The substrate will have to be patched before tiles can be re-applied. In this case, I’ll just fill the void with drywall joint compound.

If the tile is to be reused, its back needs to be cleaned. I usually take tiles outside, lay them on a piece of carpet face to clean up. I then spray them with water to control dust and use a belt sander with a 40 grit belt to grind the mortar off. It usually takes a minute per tile and it can get a little messy.

Now, let’s remove a small tile set on the wall. It is part of a decorative border around a corner shower unit.

A critical tool for this task: a grout saw. This is essentially a small piece of steel onto which diamond powder was deposited. It makes removing grout between tiles much easier, especially when grout lines are at least 1/8” wide.

This saw was purchased at my local Harbor Freight store for about $5. So far, I have used it to remove about 4 linear ft of group and it is still working fine. I can feel it is not as durable as more expensive saws but it has served me well for a very reasonable price.

Left: I used the saw to cut the grout on the left and bottom side of the tile. the saw is pressed against the grout and a back and forth movement performs the cutting, like a regular wood saw.


Right: The tile after the grout was cut. I went as deep as I could. In this case, this was the substrate (drywall).

Cutting the grout will reduce the risks to break adjacent tiles during the removal.

Left: Using a dull utility knife, I cut through the caulk and paint on the left side of the tile. The tile is no only held by mortar under it.


Right: I inserted the flat side of a mini pry bar under the left side of the tile and gently pushed it in.

The tip of the pry bar dug a little bit into the drywall. This is OK.

Left: With the help of a hammer, I gently tapped the pry bar under the tile. Again, it must be gentle or the tile will break.

Under normal circumstances, I would hold the pry bar with my left hand but I was taking the picture.


Right: The tile popped off. It is difficult to see on this picture but the drywall will slightly damaged: the pry bar created a low spot as I was prying.

Again, the substrate will have to be fixed and the back of the tile cleaned before reuse.

Tools Used:

  • Stiff Putty Knife
  • 20oz. Brick Hammer (any hammer will do)
  • Mini pry bar with flat side 
  • Utility Knife + Dull Blades
  • Diamond Tipped Grout Saw

Materials Used:

  • None

June 6, 2008

Installing door casing when drywall is not flush

Filed under: Uncategorized — Gilles @ 6:29 am

While preparing a door frame for casing, we notice the drywall is not flush with the door frame.

The drywall is shaved to allow the casing to sit flat on the wall and on the frame.

Skill Level: 2 (Basic)

Time Taken: About 20 minutes

You have already seen me installing door casing here. It is usually an easy task when the drywall is flush to the frame. Sometimes, this is not the case. This short article describes one common technique used to correct the problem.

The starting point is pictures above: a piece of scrap casing is held on the drywall and a gap of about 1/4” appears between the casing and the window frame.

The tool for this project: a single blade tool


  • Painters use this tool to scrape paint of glass windows, or from ceramic tiles, among other things.


This tool can be purchased at home centers for around $3. I once purchased a box of 100 blades on sale at my local Harbor Freight for about $3.

I am usually not a big fan of HF tools but I figured that $0.03 a blade was a bargain even if they last 5 times less than more expensive blades. I must admit that so far, those blades have met and exceeded my expectations: they worked at least as well as more expensive, brand name blades.

Left: It is easy to see that the drywall is sticking out w.r.t. the door frame.

Using the single blade tool, I shaved a little bit of drywall at a time … 


Right: … like this. It is important to remove only enough drywall for the casing to rest flush with the wall and ensure the shaved region is still concealed under the casing.

I find it is best to cut a little bit at a time and use a piece of scrap casing to test. If the casing still does not rest flat, it is easy to see where material needs to be removed. It is a iterative process.

Left: A section of the wall where drywall was cut. It looks bad but everything will be concealed behind the casing.


Right: A piece of scrap casing now sits flat on the drywall / frame.

I continued all around the door, on both side. The door is now ready for casing. You can see this article here.

As you shave drywall, it is not uncommon to uncover finish nails, drywall nails or drywall screws.


  • Finish nails: I like to remove them with a pair of carpenter pliers. Finish nails are leftover from a previous casing installation and if you pound them in, they will eventually make their way out, possibly pushing the casing out.
  • Drywall nails / Drywall Screws: I pound them / drive them in. Drywall nails hold the drywall to the framing. It is best to pound them in because removing them would weaken the bond to studs.

Tools Used:

  • Single blade Tool
  • Hammer
  • Carpenter’s Pliers

Materials Used:

  • Scrap piece of casing

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