Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Those of you who have received our annual Halloween cards might have wondered where it was this year. Student teaching, helping to elect Barack Obama, and house projects ate it. We took the pictures, but never actually got around to sending them. Better late then never? Here it is:
The caption was going to be: "Isn't there laws against dog child labor?"

Is it weird...

That I really enjoy stripping paint? I mean, don't get me wrong, the dangerous lead issue is no fun. However, watching the paint bubble up, and then scrapping it off in ugly, lead infested ribbons makes up for the hassle. It's a little like Christmas: what is the grain going to look like under here? Oh! I think there's a knot coming up! Look at that tight, old-growth grain! Wow!

Kevin and I have been taking the lead thing seriously lately. Me, because I would like us to be able to reproduce someday (not any time soon, mom), and Kevin, though he wouldn't admit it, probably has the same thought. Also, the other things lead paint does to you aren't pretty.

For this project, as prep, I laid down cardboard, brought up the saw horses, the shop-vac (it's like our second pet, it goes everywhere with us), respirators, all of the tools I could think I would possibly need, and a fresh set of work clothes. This is a big part of lead prep. Once I seal myself in, I don't like to leave. This is what I did for this room:
I used duct tape (none of the door frame wood work has been stripped, so I don't care about wrecking anything) to seal the door way on the top and right side. Then I used tape rolls on the left to make an opening. The plastic also overlaps the doorway. On the floor, I tape about half-way, then use a cardboard box to weight it down. It's not a perfect seal, but after working, when I leave the room, I can't smell burning paint fumes, so it must work.

We keep our work clothes in the room for the duration of the project. We take off whatever we're wearing and leave it outside the door, then go in and put on work clothes. And of course, like all the cool people, we both always wear our nifty respirators. The other thing we do is use the shop vac periodically as we're working to get all the chips we can up as we go, so there's less chance of stepping on them and crushing them.

This is the heat gun we use. It is on loan from Kevin's uncle, Jim. Thanks again, Jim! It has variable heat settings that are really useful. It tells you the temperature it's set at. Which is especially good if you know that lead fumes vaporize at 1100 degrees. It also blows at high and low speeds. It's a Wagner, but we haven't seen one like it at any of the hardware stores we frequent, though we forgot to check Seven Corners last weekend (I just looked in the catalog, and they have similar models). We love it, and it's been put to good use.

Basically, our process is this: I strip a section with the heat gun. Kevin comes behind me and uses 0000 steel wool and denatured alcohol to get up any bits the heat gun missed and to take the old shellac off. This is what it looks like after I run over it with the heat gun: That is the closet door, and no, I'm not leaving the panel like that, I was just doing the easy flat surfaces first. Anyway, see the bits of paint? Now Kevin comes along this is what the wood looks like after he is finished:
Pretty, huh? It's pine, really nice old growth. This is a shot of the profile of the two pieces of molding, yet to be stripped. There's also quarter round. You can see how they fit together if you look at the shot above. There's about three layers of paint, and one swipe with the heat gun (if you're as good as me) usually takes it right off. It helps the wood has shellac on it underneath the paint.
We are kind of trying two methods with this room. Half of the molding was taken off for the electrical project, so some of it we are stripping in place and the other half we're using the horses for. Believe it or not, I think it is more comfortable to work on the molding in place. We pry it slightly away from the wall so we can get the edge really clean, but we don't risk cracking the molding.
Also, when it's on the wall, I don't bump my head on the slanted walls as much.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Have I mentioned we're cheap?

I came home from work one day, and lifted the lid of our mailbox to get the mail. It snapped off in my hand. Now, lets be clear. I know that's how a lot of things happen around here. Like the faucet or on the first night we owned the house, when the front doorknob came off in my hand when the pizza guy came? Or the walls in the office? Okay, I admit, I picked at those. Anyway, I digress.

The mailbox we had was from the seventies, you know, the generic one that looks something like this?

Picture it older and uglier and you get the idea. Anyway, we had always wanted a more period appropriate mailbox, so we viewed this as the perfect opportunity to get one like this:
Last weekend, we went salvage shopping. At one place, as we were walking out the door, the owner asked us what we were looking for. He happened to have a mailbox in the back that just came back from the sandblaster. While there, a very important piece came off: the bracket that holds the lid on. It was lost, and now he had this beautiful, but useless, mailbox. We (see title of post) asked how much he wanted for it. He said, "As is: $25.00." Now, we had been looking on Ebay, and these normally go for $90-100. We saw this as an opportunity (again, see title of post). So we left for a quick stroll around Home Depot to think of how we could fix it. Enter FastSteel, a moldable, metal epoxy. Jackpot! We dashed back to get the mailbox. I think the owner was sad to see it go, he took forever to ring up our bill. After a failed attempt at using just plain FastSteel (not strong enough for moving cast iron) Kevin created this:It is a bracket made of a copper coupling. He screwed it on the back.
Then he made a mold from the bracket on the other side. In this picture you can see the bracket in the top right corner, and his mold out of FastSteel in the middle.

Then he carefully used his mold to make a new "bracket" over the copper coupling.

Our finished product:

And the detail shot:
Now, in the pictures of the repair, you might notice the surface he is working on. Wow, you might think, that looks like a really nice work bench. And then I would tell you, no, no, no, that is not a workbench. That is our coffee table. Oh, you would say. Oh. And then you might wonder, with trepidation, did he clean up the coffee table when he was done? And I would have to answer


We're alive!

Student teaching is over, my life has returned to normal. Well, except for the fact that I am now waiting around for my teaching license which shouldn't show up until the beginning to middle of January. So aside from finishing up some paperwork, I am unemployed. Which is good news for the house, because that is what I will be spending my time doing. That, and working on Kevin's super secret special Christmas present. A quick house update:

THE WINDOWS ARE DONE!!!!!!! The Curtain rod has to be hung on the foyer window, but other than that they are done and looking beautiful. Kevin is in charge of hanging the rod. I have done four compared to his one, and every time I do it, I ruin a drill bit. We have walls made out of concrete. Either that or the horse hair in the plaster has surprising strength.

I broke the mailbox, which gave us the perfect opportunity to buy a new one. More on that in another post.

One day, while I was at work, my dad came over and he and Kevin blew "an obsessive amount" of insulation into the attic accesses and knee walls. He had worked for a week on sealing holes and such, and installing baffling, which led to endless jokes about being baffled.... Really, we laughed so hard Arlo was giving us baffled looks. Um...yeah. The best thing about this project was that when I came in the door, dad was using up the last bag. I imagine that must be what it is like to hire someone to work on your house. It was wonderful!

We also discovered a new architectural salvage place, Architectural Antiques, which, if you live in the Twin Cities Area, is definitely worth checking out. It is our "if we can't find it anywhere else and we really want it" place. It has two whole wood paneled rooms! And two whole entryways, complete with doorbells! And a crucified Jesus!

As part of our attempt to cut our heating bill, I put plastic wrap on the upstairs windows. They haven't been refinished yet. In the process, I did this:Yup, that's my cellphone and the double-sided tape encased in plastic. Smart, huh?
Arlo did this:
He thought laying on the plastic would give it that lived-in look, like everything else we own. You know, wrinkled and full of dog hair.