Posts Tagged How To

$50 That Will Make Your Tiny House Look Like A Million Bucks

Looking back on my build I realized that there were a few things that just made a huge difference in the quality of my finish work.  I am total novice when it comes to finish wood working and before my tiny house I had never built anything, so I learned some secrets along the way that I wanted to share.  What I realized was, there was a few things that cost only a few bucks that really took my finish work to the next level in terms of perceived quality.  Here are a few:

tear out

Blue Painters Tape – $3.50

When you’re making cuts on nicer plywood like birchply or appleply you run the risk of tear-out, which is small tears in the veneer.  Veneer is very thin and right where you cut it, you often get tear out on veneer.  This leave a messy looking edge and reduces the quality of your work.  It can look bad enough that you need to trim over it to hide the seam.  If you instead buy a roll of painters tape and line the blade path you can reduce the tear out a good bit.  Stick it to your board and then make your cut!


A Scribe Tool – $15

I think this is just something that most carpenters take for granted as just common sense, but to a lay-person we would never know of it.  I just happened upon this technique when someone off handily mentioned it in a post and I started googling it.  I didn’t know it at the time, but what I found was a solution to a problem I had been trying to figure out and the universe seemed to conspire to show me the solution.  I really like this particular scribe tool, which is $15, but any normal compass can work.

How scribing works is when you’re having a piece of wood that is butting up against another surface and that surface isn’t perfectly flat, you drag the scribe along the surface of the uneven plane and the pencil transfers the profile to wood your butting up with.  With the exact profile drawn out, you then cut it to make a perfect fit.

round over bit router

A 1/8″ Round Over Bit w/ Bushing – $25

There is something about rounding over edges that just makes things look higher end and it’s so easy to do.  I also find rounding the edges of wood makes it more comfortable if you are making something that you’ll touch often: a handle, a ladder rung, or edges of furniture.  This does assume you have a router, but I feel that a router is a necessary tool for finishing any tiny house.

A round over bit does exactly what it sounds like: it takes an edge and rounds it, making the edge curved.  I like the look of a 1/8″ because it softens it just enough, but doesn’t take a lot of material away, it’s a subtle detail that you can only appreciate up close.  The key here is having a bit with a bushing, which is a small metal wheel that is attached to the router bit and allows you to roll the bit along an edge.  It’s important to note that router and bits come in two sizes:  1/4 inch and 1/2 inch; pro wood workers use 1/2″ but I’ve found a 1/4″ worked great and was cheaper.  I like this particular round over bit; with a bushing you place the bushing on the outside edge and it perfectly spaces the cutting head (assuming you’ve properly aligned it vertically; make sure to do a test piece).  This is great because as long as you keep your router plate flat, you can’t mess it up!  It also lets you move fast, you just set the bit, and you can drag it along very quickly.

align a table saw blade tiny house

Align Your Table Saw – Free

I don’t know why, but this never occurred to me when I first started using tools, but then need to be aligned.  I think the biggest offenders tend to be your table saw and your miter saw.  Out of the box, saws are only so accurate, but with a few minutes of tweaking, you can get your blade to a high degree of accuracy.

I’d suggest getting a high quality blade right off the bat and tossing the stock blade.  If you can also spring for a higher end fence, that can help a good bit.

Even a tiny fraction of an inch can add up when you’re ripping a piece of plywood over an 8 foot distance and it will just make your frustrated later when you go to fit things together.  Check out these videos below on how to align your table saw:


So I hope you find this useful, let me know your tips of taking your finish work to the next level in the comments!


A reader sent this into me and I really like how well he laid out each aspect of his housetruck.  I decided to quote his key points here for your review.  He has a lot of practical solutions to many of the “how do I do ______”  questions when it comes to tiny houses.  He is still in progress of building it, his craftsmanship is gorgeous!

Finished with siding, sitting in my driveway

  • Philosophy: My overall values in designing the housetruck were simplicity, durability, sustainability, and mobility, which combine to liveability. Although I’ve been inspired by the tiny house movement, the biggest breakthrough was discovering the long tradition of gypsy caravans and British ‘living wagons.’ You can peruse a sketch of the overall purpose, structure, and systems of the project at Overview, read a rumination on the values that direct the design at Philosophy, design, values, inspirations, and read the historical background of the architecture at On showman’s vans, living wagons, and gypsy caravans.
  • Dimensions: The house itself (not including the truck cab) is 14′ long, 8′ wide, and about 7.5′ tall. Mounted on the truck, the floor is about 3′ from the ground. I’m well under the maximum height for most overpasses and bridges (13′, if I recall), but I’ll still have to be careful on small country roads and the like. There’ll obviously be no parking garages in the housetruck’s future.

Finished frame, among the roses

  • Truck: The vehicle is an Isuzu NPR. This is a medium-weight commercial truck, often used as a delivery truck with either a box or flatbed on the back. I bought mine as a cab-chassis only, so I could build up on it. The NPR has an excellent reputation, has been made for many years, and is quite common around the world. It has a sturdy little 4-cylinder diesel engine, which can be run on biodiesel or even waste vegetable oil (with some modifications). My truck is a 2001 model, with 91k miles on it and a rebuilt transmission. It’s a total blast to drive!
  • Shell: The core frame is made entirely of 2″ square-tube steel, solidly welded together. Attached to that on the outside is exterior-grade plywood, for weather protection and added strength. The exterior siding is Port Orford cedar, sourced from local/renewable forests in southern Oregon. The interior is partly fir beadboard, also sourced locally, as well as Homasote (a recycled newsprint product) faced with fabric wallpaper. The finished floor is cork. The insulation is sheep’s wool. The windows are wood and glass.
    Read more about the theory of the steel frame that is the house’s skeleton at The skeleton dance, as well as The skeleton arises, Skeleton becomes structure, and Skeleton becomes structure for the process of building the frame.

Ceiling 2/3 done

  • Electricity: The electrical system is simple and flexible. The core is a set of batteries, a charge controller, and an inverter; this will provide me with enough 12VDC and 120VAC power to run lights, computer, phone, etc. The batteries can be charged in several ways: from the truck’s alternator while running, from a solar panel outside the truck (not mounted on the truck — if there’s a lot of solar energy, I want to be parked in the shade!), from ‘shore power’ (plugging in to the grid), and from other generative sources like wind turbines, human-powered bicycle generators, and even fuel cells.
  • Water, bathing, etc.: Two large storage tanks provide around 80 gallons of fresh water (and act as ballast to keep the housetruck from floating away). A simple brass handpump fetches me water. For bathing, I use the Japanese method (hot water, a bucket, a washcloth, and a tub) or a portable shower. Because everyone asks: yes, I have a simple composting toilet.
  • Cooking & food storage: A relatively large counter gives me plenty of space for preparing food, whether for cooking or preservation. Much of the storage space in the housetruck is designed for long-term storage of food & cooking tools. Cooking itself happens out on the porch of the housetruck, on a stove powered by either charcoal or propane. A small absorption refrigerator keeps the essentials (dairy, beer) cool.

Windows set in (working space)

  • Heating & cooling: A tiny woodstove provides sufficent heat without noise or dangerous fumes. During hot weather, the upper windows of the mollycroft roof open to vent out warm air. Finally, the wheels of the truck propel me to more comfortable climes.
  • Communications & electronics: While the emphasis is on simplicity, my hacking instinct is strong. The housetruck is a kind of mobile research station, where I can measure and analyze such things as the electrical system, water levels, weather data, and positional information like GPS. These are tied together in a small network of motes  tiny computers that each do a particular job. The data is aggregated and published, when possible, to a website where observers can view a ‘dashboard’ of the housetruck. Like the electrical system, the communication system is flexible, depending on setting: cellular broadband, opportunistic wifi, SMS messages, even the narrowband of amateur radio packet networks.

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