The Story of a Book and then some…

A recent online discussion of other people’s art reminded me of a book I helped to produce in my studio in the late 90’s. I operated a studio named Digital Media Production which grew out of another company and was a supplier of digital know how to the advertising agencies and PR firms that were located in the area. At one time we had up to two art directors, five production artists and a couple of interns, our normal work was to take the clients ideas and direction and bring it to a stage that would allow it to be reproduced in a professional system.

If that sounds vague it’s because things changed fast in those days. This day we happened to be book designers when a client came in asking for us to design and produce a book for her client a large food manufacturer. She came to us with her chef and we discussed their ideas, she wanted a beautiful glossy coffee table book produced in full color with large photos on one page and the recipe on the other. After some initial proposals her client came up with the deposit checks for all those involved and we were off.

Hardcover binding and heavy glossy paper meant meetings with book binders and paper suppliers. We already had a photographer in mind and the same for food stylists and set decorator so more meetings and scheduling, scheduling, scheduling. Mockups were approved, studios rented and principle shooting started which went amazingly well, we were averaging seven photos a day which is really good for food photography.

Since the client was looking for beautiful full sized photos we shot everything on large format cameras and were preparing for Hi-Fi 6 color printing with a special color for the clients logo and spot gloss and flood varnishes, this thing was going to pop off the pages. A few weeks after shooting we were ready to deliver our artwork to the printer.

This is when things got fuzzy as our client the agency had gotten into a fight with her client the food company and nothing happened for a long time. I put my copies of the project into storage and went on with life which was beginning to get hectic as my wife had discovered she no longer wanted part of me and since she was a partner in my company it triggered a confrontation with our third partner who now wanted and was within his rights to ask that we close the company. This left me really scrambling with no time to worry about a shelved project.

Some time later and I don’t remember how long but the money part of the project found my former partner and wanted to restart the project, a deal was made and I released the files which meant I handed a CD to Phil when he asked for it. I don’t know what the deal was as I had no involvement and my company was long gone.

Well life goes on if you’re lucky and I think over ten years did. In the meantime I did many other things only remembering about this project recently thanks to a discussion on facebook. My initial searches turned up nothing because when the book was finally released they changed the name and they changed authors making it harder to find. Well Goodwill in Texas had a copy for ninety-nine cents on ebay so last week I bought my first copy of a book I created over fifteen years ago but never seen. It arrived four days later in a flimsy plastic envelope, way too small and light for the book I worked on. That was the first change, instead of the big beautiful coffee table book what arrived was a 7″ x 10″ softcover.

That’s not all, opening the first page the light hit the paper at just the right angle to reflect off the ink exposing that the piece was printed on a digital press which is more like a photocopier than the 6 color + specials offset press we prepared our work for. Also with the pages a lot smaller they had to shrink the margins and now the copy is awkwardly near the edges and dips way too far into the gutter. The serif typeface being printed with a less quality method and shrunk down slightly had become too fine making the edges look jagged and tattered.

The final thing I notice is my credit has been left off, I guess I’d rather not be named when the results are like this so it’s really no loss just another point in a long list of disappointments. Since I still have the original files I have no problem proving it’s my work I just wish they had executed it better. Well at least now I have a copy and I can put this chapter to rest.

Oh I almost forgot, my used copy which was listed as good condition had been marked up by a previous owner making the condition much worse but I won’t hold Goodwill responsible. It seems some person had taken a blue ball point pen and converted all the recipes into some Chinese characters. I actually like this as it shows this book was actually useful to someone. All this brings back memories of tasting these dishes from when we made the photos, I hope they enjoyed them too.


Building a New Basement Stair


Newly completed stairs, view from old doorway.

We had initially planned on only painting the den and changing the carpet but the carpet place had a big sale on what we wanted and a special promotion for free installation so we got a quote. The price seemed good and we decided to have the stairs recarpeted at the same time since it was almost as bad as the den. The installer’s rep came out to inspect and do a final measure, he turned out to be a really good guy and gave me a number of useful tips from his years of being an installer when he was younger. One tip was for me to remove all the old carpet and padding and have the floor ready when the guys got there. He said that they charge extra for the time to do this and also charge a disposal fee for what they take away and if I found anything that needed to be fixed I could reschedule the install until after the work was done but if the guys came out and found anything that would stop the job I would be charged for the time they wasted.

The den is on a concrete floor so removing the carpet was as easy as cutting it and rolling up the pieces. My garbage took the carpet so the total cost for this was zero. Next I started to remove the carpet from the stairs. Under the carpet the first thread had a huge crack in it, then the second and now the third was found broken. At this point I stopped and had a good look at the rest of the stairs.


Old landing, repaired once.

The stringer was sitting on the landing with no support and at the top of the stringer was two huge cracks so the stringer was no good either. I had remade that landing when we moved in as it rocked and flexed when you walked on it. The person who built it used 2x4s and two pieces of plywood for the top but did not add a support where the two pieces joined, that made the flex and the rocking was caused by the nails pulling out and twisting. You can see my quick fix uses 4x4s and carriage bolts.


Ruthie loves to be in the picture

You can see the two cracks here, the photo makes them look better than they are but every time I walked these stairs I could feel the stairs moving and making noise as these cracks opened and closed.

Starting the new stairs: The web and youtube were very helpful in planning the new stairs. One of the first things I found was recomendations to consult the local building codes. I did this and found that the old stairs had too high a rise and the stringer were made with wood that was too small. In my area the homeowner is allowed to make “home improvements” that don’t comply with local code but since I had to buy all new material to build this stairs I used the code as my baseline and in most cases I went above the minimum requirements.

During planning I asked my wife if she wanted anything changed on the new stairs and she complained that she was afraid she would hit her as the bottom landing was too near the ceiling. I hadn’t noticed this but she was right and the space was also smaller that the requirement in the code. To change this I would need to shorten the top landing and move the stairs further away from the ceiling. This move would require that the door to the garage be moved to the den. That’s now a big deal so I slept on it for a few nights.

All the homes in my neighborhood were made by the same developers and quite a few of them are very similar in design to our home so I have a keen interest in them and always try to see what they have done and it was noticed that all of them had the garage door going into the den and not the stairs like mine. I never liked that door and how it blocked the stairs and what a pain it was to bring anything in especially groceries which you do often.

Back to the hardware store and a chat with the boys at the door department. They said I need a firedoor and spend a few minutes showing me how it should be mounted. At home I find that it’s not a firedoor and it was the wrong frame for the opening and it was mounted wrong and that wrong mounting caused the door frame to crack all around the door. So not only is it a tiny door in the wrong place but it’s the wrong door and they broke it installing it! Great.

New firedoor costs $190 and takes two weeks, I’ve ordered the carpet but they don’t schedule the install until it arrives so I can put them off until all the work is done. I order the door and start the stairs. Youtube videos show many ways to make a staircase, I have to pick on that I feel I can build with the tools I have. One guy says you can make the whole thing with just a handsaw and a chisel and I’m sure he’s right I’m just not that guy and keep looking.


This is the first cut I made, it allows the mockup to sit flat on the floor like the finished product will.


Here I’ve made a mockup of the stringer angle from the height and length needed in the basement, this way I can make sure everything is correct before cutting anything.


You start by clamping a piece of wood on a square that has been set up to show your thread length and your rise. You then transfer those dimension to your stringer in pencil to make sure everything lines up. I did this many times making adjustments each time, a good tip I found was to use a different colored pencil for each try.


This full size drawing on graph paper allowed me to easily transfer the marks on my stringer to the template boards.


To build the stairs I chose a method that uses a router and four templates, one for the thread and one for the riser on both sides. You can do it with just two but it is easier to accurately cut two squares than to get an “L” shape perfect so I went with that.


Above is one thread template, you can see how I notched out the end to get the contour of the bullnose on the thread. The piece of wood under the template is one of the guides to keep the template on the same angle for all the treads. On the right is the riser template, you can see that I’ve been cutting here, you just line up each template and cut out the slots and repeat for the entire length. It took me about a day to cut each stringer.


Here you can see how once I get the markings perfect on one stringer I transfer them to the other. This requires that you move the reference on your square to the other side (in background).


I don’t have any shots of assembling the staircase or of the hardwood wedges I had to cut to shore up everything nice and tight but suffice it to say it was the hardest part of the job. The wedges were cut from an oak shelf bought for this purpose, you have to cut them with a slight variation as each one needed to be slightly different. My building code says you need to use long and large nails to hold the threads as they won’t break off like screws will but there is an allowance to use a screw to aid in assembly which is what I did. I also used glue and construction adhesive. As an extra and likely overkill point I doubled up on the riser boards with one blind riser and a custom one cut for each step that is attached to the front.


The tops of the stringers were cut off after a test fit since I wanted a perfect fit here.


The bottom thread is open because the last staircase was too and the cat liked to play in there so we grandfathered it in. The stringer sits on a very large plank and is attached with carriage bolts, if this plank were to become damaged from moisture it can be replaced without removing the stairs. The landing is also easily removable because there is a floor drain underneath, it’s heavy but you can move it.

It’s been installed about four months now and we’re still very happy with the results. The new door is in and all the drywall has been repaired and painted. We love the carpet too. Next I’ll put up a hand rail and it will be finished. We’ve saved a ton of money thanks to having some basic tools and using youtube and our local hardware store.

For my next post I’ll be documenting the installation of a pretty large assortment of LED lighting and dimmers.