Over the course of renovating rental property, there have been several times I had to explore cheap baseboard alternatives. I needed something that would be functional and look decent while staying within the confines of a sometimes-strained budget.
My solution won’t win awards but costs a few cents per foot.
I needed a small laptop desk but wanted something that wouldn’t clash with my other furniture. So I built a farmhouse-style laptop desk and stained it oak. I used scrap wood, but if I’d had to buy the lumber, it would have cost less than $20.
Cutting baseboards can be tricky. Rooms are rarely perfectly square, so just cutting baseboards at 45-degree angles on the ends doesn’t usually yield a perfect corner. So instead you usually have to fit the pieces into the corner, trace the outline of one onto the other, then trace the angle onto the top and bottom, then cut the outline with a coping saw–at the correct angle.
A comment over at Lifehacker got me thinking about plywood as flooring, which led me to a blog post at Quarry Orchard. The author is one of many people who have had success making floors out of strips cut from ordinary 4×8 sheets of plywood, the variety that sell for around $14 at home improvement stores.
I’d be a bit concerned about durability but there’s a lot to like about the idea as well.
There are several acrylic floor finishes–sometimes mistakenly called wax–that promise they’re like a new floor in a bottle. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but if you have reasonable expectations, they definitely can make a floor look better and easier to clean. And depending on how you use them, they can even make the floor last longer.
I tried to remove black marks from wood floors with Bar Keeper’s Friend recently, and I’m happy to report it worked pretty well.
Here’s the story: I had some mysterious black ring-shaped marks on my hardwood floors. I traced them to metal ends of furniture legs. The long-term solution is to put the furniture on leg cups, but one still has to contend with the damage.
The pros use a floor bleach whose active ingredient is oxalic acid, but finding it is hard, and finding it in household quantities is harder. But there’s a cheap, readily available household alternative: Bar Keeper’s Friend. It costs a couple of dollars and you can buy it at big-box stores like Home Depot, hardware stores, grocery stores, and even some discount stores. It’s usually in the cleaning aisle next to the Comet. It’s good stuff to have on hand anyway, because it does a great job of cleaning up pretty much anything you’d use Comet on, but it literally eats rust spots for lunch so it’ll take care of chores Comet doesn’t.
Painting model figures for train layouts is a task that few toy train hobbyists relish, but we can borrow techniques from other hobbies to solve that problem. The model railroading and toy train hobbies have solved a lot of problems for hobbyists in other fields, and I don’t think we borrow knowledge back from those other hobbies as much as we could.
One problem the miniature wargaming hobby has solved is painting large quantities of figures rapidly while getting acceptable results.
Because of my nearly-new job, I needed home-office space in a hurry and without spending a lot. A few weeks ago I spotted some peel and stick vinyl planks at my local Lowe’s store, sold under the Style Selections brand and priced at 98 or 99 cents per square foot, so I picked some up. I also installed them in my entryway.
A generation ago, it wasn’t terribly uncommon for men to make their own kitchen cabinets. And those cabinets, if built correctly, would last several lifetimes. The cabinets my great-great grandfather built before the turn of the previous century survived just fine into my lifetime. A year ago, a prospective tenant took me to task for having such handbuilt cabinets in a rental house, and pointed to a couple of other rental houses–with particle-board Home Depot junk in them–as having “better updates.”
Most traditional toy train layouts feature painted scenery: After plopping the 4×8 sheets down on some 2x4s to make a table, the hobbyist grabs a brush and some dark gray and green paint and paints roads and grass on the board.
If you want something that looks a little better than that but doesn’t take a lot of time, here’s my method, which takes 2-3 hours to complete.This method works well for traditional toy train layouts and for wargaming scenery, where ultrarealism isn’t paramount. You can also mix the method with modern model railroading methods if you wish, if you’re modeling flat land or flat areas.
First, buy enough 1/8 inch 4×8 hardboard sheets to cover your area. If you go to Lowe’s and ask for Masonite, you’ll get what you want. If you go to Home Depot, you’ll have to ask for hardboard (Masonite is a brand name, and Home Depot doesn’t carry it). A lumberyard should also have what you need, if there’s one near you that the big-box home improvement stores haven’t run out of business. When I bought mine, a 4×8 sheet cost about $6, so this project costs a lot less than those Life-Like grass mats that some people use. And unlike those mats, these don’t shed.
I had the boards cut into smaller boards ranging in size from 1×2 to 4×2. I can then arrange the boards on my tables, leaving six inches between them for roads, and then I have curbs and stuff on my layout. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I took the boards outside and painted them. Don’t worry if you’re a horrible painter; you don’t have to be any good to use this method. I used random spray paints (whatever I had) of various shades of green, yellow, and brown. The greens I had on hand had names like Hunter Green, Forest Green, and Meadow Green. All of these came from garage sales and estate sales so they cost me very little (25 cents per can, usually). Cheap spray paints from Dollar General and other private-label brands are just fine for this project if you don’t have it on hand or you don’t make a habit of visiting every single garage sale in your neighborhood every Saturday like I do.
Here’s an unpainted board.
Next, take a shade of green and spray it. Don’t go for total coverage. Don’t think of it as painting the board; just try to stain it.
Here’s a board with one coat of green on it.
Now spray a different shade of green on it. Again, don’t go for total coverage. You’re making the green look less uniform and more random. But leave a little brown still showing.
Now dust some yellow and/or brown over the board. Basically spray the yellow above the board and let droplets fall where they may. This breaks up the monotony a bit and gives the illusion of texture. As you can see, my yard isn’t a uniform shade of green either, especially not in March.
And here’s a closeup of what a board will look like when finished.
Let the boards dry out in the sun for a few hours, then you can take them inside and use them.
This method is similar to what British train manufacturer Hornby must have used to produce its scenic panels, which it sold before WWII. They’re quick and easy and cheap, and if you vary the shade enough and lay on enough yellow and brown, the result doesn’t look like the surface of a ping-pong table.
If you want, before you lay the boards on the layout, paint curbs and lay down sidewalks where appropriate. To paint the curb, get a good-sized brush, mask off about 1/8 of an inch from the edge, and then paint the edge and that 1/8 inch from the side with acrylic paint. A bottle of Delta Ceramcoat from a craft or discount store, at a price of about a dollar, ought to be enough to do the trick. You could mask and spray the edge with white or gray primer, but I find I can do this part about as fast with a brush, and using a brush and acrylic paints lets me do this part indoors.
If you want more realistic scenery, you can get boards and then paint a base coat on them, then spread glue on the surface and sprinkle Woodland Scenics materials on it. The result is quick and easy and portable scenery that looks a little more realistic.
Take the boards inside, arrange them on the table, lay down some material for roads, lay down your track and ballast (if desired), and you’ve got very quick, easy, and inexpensive terrain for your layout.