Saturday, November 21, 2009

Windows 7 Taskbar

The one thing that I cannot get used to about 7 is the new Taskbar.  First, Windows 7 replaces the old fashioned task “buttons” with just an icon. 

original taskbar1

Fixing the buttons is easy enough.  Just right click in an open space on the Taskbar, and select Properties.  Check the box labeled “Use small icons”, and change the Taskbar buttons to "Combine when taskbar is full”.  Click OK.

configure taskbar

I could probably get used to just that change, but then they went one step further and removed the Quick Launch too.  For those of you who don’t know, the Quick Launch is that area next to the “Start” button/Orb with all of the tiny icons.  Out of the box, Windows 7 has the ability to “pin” an icon to the Taskbar, but my opinion is that it just gets in the way of your real “tasks”. 

original taskbar

Here you can see I have UltraEdit (UE), FileZilla (FZ), and my KeePass icons pinned to the taskbar, but because Firefox was already open, it pushed those three icons off to the right.  Basically, it’s messy and you never know quite where you’ll find your icons to launch a program.

Getting the Quick Launch back isn’t difficult, but you do have to know what you’re looking for because it’s not just a simple checkbox (that I could find anyway).

Start by right-clicking the Taskbar in an empty spot, go to Toolbars, select New Toolbar…  When the dialog box pops up, type the following in to the Folder field:

%UserProfile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch


When done, click the Select Folder button.

That’s all that’s required to get the Quick Launch folder back, but you’ll want to change a couple of things to get it back to “normal”.  Right now it probably looks something like this, with huge chunks of text wasting space.

task with ql

To fix that, right-click in some of the empty expanse taken up by the Quick Launch, and uncheck the two boxes “Show Text” and “Show title”.

turning off labels

That will pretty much get things back to normal, however if you’re like me, you probably have a number of icons already pinned to the Taskbar.  For each icon that’s pinned, right-click on it, and select “Unpin this program from the Taskbar”.

Unpinning icons

That’s it!  Your Taskbar should be back to “normal”.normal task-bar

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Refinishing a Dining Room Table

Despite buying a new dining room table from a local, reputable show room, and being very careful with it, I found myself refinishing our table after only three years.  I recently re-finished the surface, and was fairly happy with the results.

I took a few photos of the table before I started the process.  Originally, a shellac finish had been applied, which provides both the color and a glossy, hard finish.  Apparently this is very sensitive to heat, as any place that serving dishes or our plates (yes, our dinner plates that we’re eating off of) would sit, we had chipping, bubbling, discoloration, or some combination of the three.



With some help, I got the table out into the garage and began the process.  It had been recommended to me to only strip the top, and leave the sides alone because of the complex curves from the trim-work.  I opted to go ahead and strip these for two reasons: 1) I didn’t feel that I would have enough control over the stripper goo to be able to stop it EXACTLY at the edge and 2) I was concerned about being able to match the top color to the side color.  I did mask off the table legs and left them alone, as they were in mostly good shape.


The first step is getting all of the old finish off.  To do that, I used a citrus-based chemical stripper.  As I later confirmed, the veneer is too thin – sand paper is NOT an option.  After masking off the base/legs of the table, I applied the stripper in a fairly thin coat using a cheap paint brush.  The goo needs to sit a while (about 25 minutes) to do its thing. 


I went with the citrus-based chemicals as they are supposedly more environmentally friendly, and less fumes to contend with.  I’m not sure about the first one, but I can say that the small wasn’t too bad, especially with the garage door cracked open about a foot.  Nevertheless, it is still a potent chemical and it ate through my vinyl gloves in a matter of minutes.  I wound up with quite a bit of the stuff on my fingers, and it didn’t leave any permanent affects that I’ve found so far, but my thumb was kind of dried up and tingly for several days.


After a short break, I came back to the table and using a plastic flat-edge scraper, I began pulling up large globs of finish.  I found that the best thing was to have a paper-towel in hand to continually clean your scraper to keep the blobs from falling on the floor (which make a big mess).  I went through an entire roll of towels stripping the finish off our table.


For me, it took two or three passes with the stripper before I had it down to bare wood.  Notice that the coloring is actually in the shellac finish, and did NOT stay in the wood. 

Once the original finish is off, it is very important to get all of the stripper residue off of the table before you begin applying the new finish.  To do this, you will need a bottle of mineral spirits.  Here you can see me pouring the spirits (the milky-white stuff) onto the table, and I used a scouring pad to work it in.


That leaves the table with a residue on it, which I wiped off with a paper towel, and then repeated the process with more spirits.  I continued this process until I felt that I had a clean table top.


The mineral spirits dry quickly after being wiped off.  I allowed about an hour before continuing with staining.


Here you can see the nice, clean table top after all of the finish was stripped away.  I was very fortunate that we had been able to keep any moisture or oils from seeping down through the cracks and chips in the original shellac finish, thereby discoloring the wood.  The variations that you see in the oak top was just normal variations in wood colors.

At this point you will need to determine what color of stain to apply.  Since I was not re-staining the legs or the chairs, it was very critical that I get a close match.  I keep about a dozen samples of various colors on hand, so I took a scrap piece of oak that had similar color and markings, and rubbed in a small patch from each of my options to compare against the existing furniture.

It is important to check your match in various lighting, as fluorescent and incandescent can cause coloring to look much different than when in direct sunlight.


This was the point at which it really set in for me as to the quality of the product and misconceptions that we were left with from the sales-lady.  As you can see, the table top has an oak grain to it, and it appears to be several pieces jointed together.  The photo above was taken where the table splits for the leaf, and you can see from the side that the top is just laminated onto some sort of pressboard.

This caused me to take note of a few things.  First, that laminate is WAY too thin to be able to do any sanding on it, as the thickness in unperceivable when viewed from the side.  Secondly, the grain that used to run horizontally along the first lip at the top of the table was actually painted on.

I was really afraid that this second revelation would be the end of this project, but I decided to see how the round-over would take stain.  As it turns out, it stained very darkly, to the point that you really can’t tell what it is, and it just looks like another type of wood.

So without doing any sanding (just cleaning with the scouring pad), I moved on to stain.

To apply the stain, I prefer to use a couple of sheets of the blue shop-towels that can be found in the automotive section of your favorite department store.  Wearing gloves, I dip the towel into the can of stain and begin rubbing into the clean wood.  Honestly, it’s fairly difficult to mess this step up too bad.  I do try to keep the towel moving so that I don’t get blotches where the stain sat too long.


Generally speaking, one coat of stain will be sufficient.  Don’t kid yourself into thinking that you can get a darker stain by applying a second or third coat.  My experience has been that 95% of the stain is applied on the first coat, and I use subsequent coats mainly to touch up any spots where I didn’t apply it evenly enough.


Once the table is stained to your liking, it is important to let this sit for a good 24 hours to let it dry.  It doesn’t hurt to run a clean towel over the tacky finish after a few hours to pull up any excessive stain to help the drying process.

Take a good, hard look at the surface, checking for any imperfections.  The stain should be free of streaks and the top clean.  Be sure that there is no dust or debris on the table.  While the fumes can be a bit potent, I prefer to apply the final finish with the door closed, to prevent wind from stirring up dirt.

Based on recommendations from others, I decided to use Deft as the final finish.  Whenever I apply polyurethane or in this case Deft, I like to use an appropriately sized foam brush.  I find that the foam tends to leave fewer streaks, and you won’t have the problem of bristles falling off into the finish.

Starting with a good clean table, I applied a healthy amount of Deft to the brush and starting at one side of the table, make long smooth strokes across the top going with the grain.  Keeping the motions smooth and consistent is the primary key to having a good looking finish.  This is also a time when being tall and having long arms is almost a must.  If you stop the brush at any point, you will be able to see it in the final product.  This is especially true as the Deft begins to cure.

One nice thing that I found about the Deft is that it cures very quickly.  The temperatures in the garage were running in the mid-sixties throughout this project, and I found that the Deft had cured totally after about four hours.

Once the first coat is cured, it’s time to go over the finish with a scouring pad.  This is about your only opportunity to remove any imperfections or streaks in the finish, although it’s not perfect, and it’s better to get a good coat put on the first time.

Take a paper towel and wipe off the table top, again looking for any imperfections.  Apply the second coat of Deft just like the first, again being careful not to leave streaks.

Allow the second coat to cure, repeat the scouring pad routine, and then apply the third coat.  After three coats, I normally consider this to be sufficient as long as you feel that they were all good, thick coats.

And that’s all there is to it.  I estimate that I put in about 20 hours of labor over the course of a long weekend to refinish the table.  Considering the labor, and the cost of various chemicals and supplies, the estimate that was given of $500-$700 seems reasonable for someone to do the project for me.  Unfortunately for me, my table only cost about $800 new, and so I felt obligated to eat the cost of labor by doing it myself.  Materials themselves cost me about $100.

We now have a beautiful dining room table again that actually is better than new.


Here’s a few of the lessons I learned while completing this project.

  • Chemical Strippers ONLY!  Regardless of what the salesperson may have told you about being “real” wood, it is only veneer, and sand paper would go straight through it.
  • Be prepared to find anything.  Again, even though our table supposedly did not have any painted-on finishes, all of the wood grain from the edge of the table somehow disappeared when I stripped it.  I was able to recover, but be sure to go into this process with the attitude that you MAY have a permanent table cloth covering your new “finish”.
  • It’s not hard work, but it does take time.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Kel-Tec PF-9 Update

I thought I would give a quick update regarding the status of my PF-9. I've now been shooting it for about nine months, and while I don't consider it a "pleasant" gun to shoot, I've really grown to like it.

I've put about 400 rounds of ammo through it, and have had only a few jams, almost all of which where when feeding the last round from a brand new clip. Since then, that clip seems to have worn in and no longer gives me fits.

There was one other incident that I had with the gun, and that was a split casing from what I later realized was reloaded ammunition. I was just out shooting targets when I felt my face get peppered with hot powder, and the gun jammed. The shell was stuck 90% into the chamber and had to be pushed out with a stick.

At some point during all of this, the extractor (which is just held in by a spring) popped out and was lost. That was frustrating, although if I had realized the situation before I left the range, I may have been able to find it. As it turns out though, I couldn't find it and I was leaving for a trip in a few days in which I wanted to carry the gun.

So doing what any normal person would do, I ordered the $1.50 replacement part, and paid $38 to have it shipped over night. I was very careful to order it first thing on Monday morning, about 8:30 (central), as I knew that the factory was in eastern time. The website was fairly easy to order, and I left feeling confident that it would be in and replaced before my Thursday departure.

As you can image, I was upset Tuesday evening when no UPS man had shown up. Wednesday morning I gave Kel-Tec a call and asked for a good explanation. The lady that took my call (I'm sorry, I don't recall her name) was very calm and took the time to check into the order. She could not explain why the package left late, but assured me that it had left Tuesday (a day late), and produced a tracking number to prove it. I asked what she was going to do about my $38 shipping bill that didn't exactly work out. She took my number and told me that she'd do some research.

At that point, I pretty well wrote off the lost funds. The part showed up Wednesday night as promised, I was able to fix the gun, and took it to the range to verify proper operation.

I carried over most of my road trip, and felt confident, and comfortable with it. I picked up a ConcealmentT at the local gun show, and really like how it holds the Kel-Tec out of the way yet accessible. But that's another story...

After I returned from the road trip, I happened to be checking my account, and I noticed a credit for the $38 and some odd change (the cost of shipping). Yes, Kel-Tec had some failure to deliver as promised, but they stood behind their service and made it right to the customer. That's worth a lot in my book!