It's Curtains for You, Kid!


Last Lent, I discovered the 40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge hosted by White House, Black Shutters. I had fun getting started, but got off track when I had family come to visit. So this year, I've decided to make it the focus of my Lenten fast.  Before I get to "stuff," however, I've got a lot of unfinished projects to declutter. One of the unexpected ones happened a month ago.

Our bedroom windows are 73" wide. They are really tough to find curtain rods for.  The first set of expandable rods was a cheap set with a rectangular cross-section that didn't even stand up to a toddler trying (not succeeding, mind, but at least trying) to use them properly.  So then I found a nice 3/4" round cross-section set at Menards (in the $15 to $20 range) and was much more impressed with its strength.

Which, alas, is still not enough to withstand a toddler who cannot pass up any invitation to lift up her feet and swing. The brackets ripped out of the drywall, and the center one which was in a stud actually bent. As did the rod itself.

But what to do now?  Blinds, besides being expensive (even the cheap kind), have difficulty with the casement windows, don't block out enough light or insulate well enough. Plus there's the issue with the cords being a strangulation hazard.

I actually tossed out a set similar to this in that bedroom several years ago. It was broken, and using the blackout liner made a huge difference in the kids' ability to nap.

Just blacking out the windows (with, say, paint or window film) doesn't let light in when needed. I considered reusing the fabric for Roman shades, but I wasn't sure where to source the hardware cheaply.  Tacking the fabric back up leaves open the possibility of Rose mining the carpet with tacks if she tries her Tarzan act again and pulls them out. So that left one option: find a stronger curtain rod.

Even if I shelled out the big bucks for a solid wood curtain rod, the brackets sold for those have itty-bitty stalks between the cup and the wall. They are clearly meant for decoration, and I need something engineered for strength.

Fortunately, I had some scrap wood, and a brand-new router bit set...

Step One: Create a Template.

(Actually, Step One was Build a Router Table, but that's a story for another day.)
Fortunately, I had about 18" of scrap 1x8 planking left over from my study re-do. So I traced out the template with a compass, cut the hole for the curtain rod with a 1 1/2" hole bit, cut the curve out with the jigsaw, and used a Dremel to clean it up. Then I used that as a template to trace five more, and cut those with a jigsaw, being careful to leave the pencil line.

Here's where I screwed up, though. I really should have made the template out of scrap (well, scrappier) wood - like the MDF I had lying around - and cut out six more pieces. I also should have taken more care to really finish the template nicely instead of deluding myself that I'd smooth out the lumpiness on the curves at the end.

Then it was time to get out the router table! I had to buy a flush-trim (or templating) bit with a 1" cutting length, screw a handle to the template to keep my fingers away from the blade, and attach the rough pieces to the template with double-stick tape before routing. This carpet tape with mesh reinforcement works great - it has awesome shear strength (so the router doesn't shift it apart from the template while cutting) but limited vertical hold so it can be easily pulled off.  I also found it works best if there is 1/8" or less to trim away.

Step Two: Dovetail Mounts

Not having a drill press to make nice, straight holes in my brackets (and recognizing that the size of the brackets would make positioning them properly on the studs awkward anyway), I elected to get a 1/2" square dowel to hold my screws, and use dovetail joinery to secure the brackets in place.






Yay for playing with the dovetail router bit!

This was actually kind of a rush when I trimmed up the three different piece types needed... and they actually fit!!!

Step Three: Gluing

If it hasn't become obvious by the last set of pictures, I chose to glue two pieces together for the finished product, mostly because I wanted the strength of 1 1/2" of wood instead of 3/4", and also because it made the dovetailing a lot easier.

The most important part to line up was, of course, the dovetail. So I made sure to slip the dovetailed poplar dowel in as I applied the clamps.

I need to get some shorter bar clamps, by the way. Those are 36". One end is resting on the floor, and the other is leaning against the table.

I also need to learn to keep my woodworking away from the toddler and her crayons.

Step Four: Finishing the Dowel Mount

I placed my holes in the dowel while it was still long, so I'd have more leverage to hold it steady.
Because of the aforementioned lack of a drill press, I went in from the narrow side first so I could be more sure of not coming out the side.

Then I flipped it over and countersunk the holes so the screw-heads would be flush or slightly below.
With the holes done, I cut the dowel into three pieces just a smidge longer than I'd need.
To trim off that excess, I tried clamping the brackets vertically and using the coping saw. But they kept slipping, so I had to lay them down flat.  I tried not to cut them completely flush, but you can see I scuffed the edges some anyway. (Look! Unauthorized toddler crayon can come in handy as a visual aid!)

Step Five: Finishing

Back to the flush-trim bit! I just had to take care that the cutting direction would force the dowel mount into the bracket rather than shooting it out. I also rounded off the tops of the inside dovetails with a rasp (doing it before routing because it changed the depth ever so slightly) for a smoother initial fit.

I ended up taking off quite a bit in some places where it didn't quite line up.

Then I played around with my roundover bit and my coving bit to give the pieces more visual interest.

Step Seven: Hanging the Curtains

(Yes, I know I skipped Step Six: Painting. But I really needed them functional now rather than pretty. Eventually I'll come back to Step Six.)
I found the studs, placed the dowel mounts over them, and fastened them in. I had to borrow an 8" level from my second-grade neighbor to get them straight in that small space. I actually didn't get them quite perfectly straight, but I am going to blame the earthquake that literally took place as I was mounting them (which I completely didn't notice) rather than my ineptitude.

Finished it off with an 8' long, 1 1/4" diameter steel closet rod for about $12. Yay me!


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