Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Newel Post

Get it? A newel post? Ha. 

I will be honest.  The hall is not done, and I started a new project.  Why? Well, it turns out, trim installation is a lot harder than it looks. In the twenty minutes I attempted it on Friday night, I cracked two boards and a wall.  Ouch.  Lucky for me, Kevin is a much more patient person, he is more methodical, and he doesn't mind finishing my abandoned projects.  We tend to compliment each other well when working on the house. He is really our detail man, whereas I am the blunt force.  I am good at removal and power-tooling; he is good at finishing and picking paint out of cracks.  He is good at power-tooling too, but only after I've destroyed something enough that he is over the fear of wrecking it. Without me, projects would take months to get started.  Without him, they would never get finished.  

More on the trim, installations and decisions in another post.

Anyway, we need to get the trim installed today because the furnace is finally going in on Wednesday, and we can't have stuff everywhere in the basement.  So Kevin is installing the trim, while I begin the hall stairs. There are five stairs from the main floor, then a landing in which you make a 180 degree turn, then go up the rest of the way.  I am focusing on the stairs on the main floor, and leaving the top half until we are working upstairs again. Kevin and I are getting sick of feeling like we live in a crackhouse whenever we have guests, so main floor first. 

Here is a before shot, taken on the day we bought the house.  You can just barely see the carpet on the stairs...mmm minty green goodness.

Here is What we did to the stairs on the day we closed on the house:

Why is it that new homeowners always feel the need to rip out carpet the first day?  It's like a hazing ritual from the house. 

Anyway, here are the stairs about midway through the day yesterday. 

I took off the trim around the newel post and I am planning on trying stripper on it, as they are small pieces and I don't want to sand them too much.  Our stairs have this glossy yellowish finish from the 50's.  Here is a close-up.  

Anyone know what this is? You can see the grain through it, so it's not paint. We know it was put on circa 50's because the crappy built-ins in the dining room also date to the 50's and the finish is on them too.  It reminds me of a glaze.  

I would love to hear from you all: 

What was your first project after the keys of your house were handed to you?  

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Step Five: Finishing the Wood

So this is where all of the work from the last three months will pay off.  Seeing gleaming finished boards ready to install is a wonderful thing.  I will write an after post once things are installed, but first, Step Five: how we finished the wood.

When I left off, we had sanded the boards down to 220 grit sand paper.  The first thing we did to prep them for finish is to wipe the dust off the boards.  A tack cloth works best for this, though ours keeps running off, so I just use a clean, lint free cloth.

After wiping down the boards, I put on a thin coat of shellac.  This keeps the boards from taking the stain unevenly.  Once this is dry, I stain.

The woodwork in our house is pine, according to Kevin, and was originally stained very dark to look more sophisticated.  We are keeping to the original spirit by staining the boards, though we are going a lot lighter than the original.  The stain we are using is Minwax's Vermont Maple.  Kevin held up a bottle of genuine maple syrup to a board, and it does have an uncanny resemblance.

Anyway, I digress. I use a cloth and put on a liberal amount of stain to all sides of the board that will be public.  I then wait 1-2 minutes and use another cloth to wipe off excess stain.  If the boards are small enough, I put stain on one, then another, then wipe off the first and then the second.  If it's too long a board, I just wait about half a song (listening to music is a pretty good way to time it), then wipe it off.

Up until now, we've been finishing everything (a spare bedroom and the three restored main floor windows) with shellac.  I like shellac, and I understand it is the historically accurate finish, however, I think I need a higher skill level to use it.  It dries incredibly fast, which makes it rather hard to apply.  Kevin and I thought long and hard about whether we wanted to keep going with the shellac, or switch to something else. The trim is going to see a lot of abuse and use, so something strong was essential.  Shellac has a tendency to get water spotting and reacts poorly to alcohol. Also, I am not happy at all with how it's held up on the window sills we've restored just last year.

After reading a lot of advice from Fine Homebuilding magazine's online archive,  we decided to switch to a oil-poly blend they recommended:

So far we are really happy with this product.  It is a wipe-on finish and has a three hour dry time, which makes it easy to apply.  I put on a third coat today.  The plan now is to install everything with three coats, then apply a fourth coat to the installed boards after filling nail holes.  Here is what the finished boards look like:

Pretty, huh?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Step Four: Sanding

This is the fourth part of my series about stripping woodwork.  This is the step we really didn't want to do, but since the stain originally put on our wood work became blotchy when we took off the old shellac, we had no choice -- we had to sand.  It really did slow the process down.  Any regular readers might recall I was planning on doing the entire main floor this winter.  I am still in the hall I started in.  So it goes; we didn't really think I was going to have such high productivity did we?

Anyway, on to the sanding.  Any area that could be power sanded, got treatment from the random orbital.  While doing the outdoor project, we invested in a hose attachment and connectors so we could hook up the  shop-vac and the sander.  It really cuts down on the dust produced by the sander. We got the hose attachments at the Orange Store.

For sanding the trim, we went with four grits: 60, 100, 150, and 220. During the finishing phase we are using 400 to sand between coats.  Looking at the boards that are done, there are a few things I would have done differently.  I have a few of those curly scratches from the random orbital sander, and I think from now on, I will check the boards more carefully and hand-sand any of those out.  I will also work in a more well-lit area of the basement so I can see them better.

The trickiest part of sanding for me is when I am hand-sanding.  The boards that must be hand-sanded are the ones with the curves and detail.  It's hard to make sure I am keeping the profile crisp. I use a combination of hard sanding blocks and those soft foam sanding blocks that you see by the sanding paper at the store.  When I feel like the block itself is losing its grit, I just wrap new sandpaper on top.  I use the foam for any curves and the harder sanding block for corners and hard edges.

Once I was done sanding the boards I removed, I also began sanding the boards that remained installed.  These are the door frames. I found something kind of interesting when doing this.  The round doorway has a stop installed, like it used to have a door.  There are no ghosts of hinges, however, so I think the stop is just decoration.  Anyway, we thought removing the stop would make sanding a lot easier, so I began to pry it away.   The stops on our windows is mounted flush to the frame. On the round doorway, however, there is a channel cut into the frame. The joinery is so tight that the wood underneath hasn't even aged.

This picture above shows the straight piece of the stop removed, and the rounded still installed. I don't dare try to take it off the rounded area. I have a theory that the stop must have been installed before the frame was put in; all of the nails are sticking point side out.  Incidentally, it is a good thing there are no small children running around this house, because there has been at least 20 nails sticking straight out of the doorway for a week.

This picture gives you a good idea of what the wood looks like sanded down with 60 grit.  I make a point not to sand it down to make it look like perfect, new wood.  If there is a scratch, I don't sand it all out.  Although there is still some blotching I will sand out in future passes.

When working on the frames, I went to strip the paint on the kitchen doorway, and discovered it had always been painted.  I had mentioned what wood that was originally painted would look like when stripped. This is a good picture of it; see how underneath the paint it looks almost whitewashed?  It also shows the paint color we decided on for the hallway (the green on the left). I plan to strip this doorway and repaint it to match the kitchen woodwork.

And what has Kevin been up to while I have been working on the hall?

Making himself a woodworking bench.  It is his pride and joy; the top is individually laminated solid pine, when finished comes out to about 4 inches thick. The legs are also laminated together, all of it was hand-planed down smooth, and all of the mortises are hand-chiseled.  He really is a pretty talented guy.

And finally, a sneak preview of the finished boards. Next, I will report on the finishing and installation.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Textured Walls

Any opinions on what we should do about our badly textured walls?  I'm talking about the sand-paint look, seen here on the right side of this photo.  It isn't original to the house, but is it really out of character for a house of this vintage?

Options (I might make this a poll):

1. Leave them and retexture over repair work

2. Re-skimcoat the entire house ourselves

3. See how much it would cost to get professionals to skimcoat

4. Other option I haven't thought of....

Share your thoughts!

There might have been a reason....

that the PO calked the windows shut. I am seriously cold right now, and I am sitting inside on the couch. I can feel a breeze coming through (okay, that might be an exaggeration). I don't remember it being this bad last year, but we messed with the weather stripping while restoring the west-side of the house, so that might be part of the problem. I think we're going to look into blow-in wall insulation.

However the new furnace, with a whole-house humidifier, is going in soon so that should help the dry-air aspect of things considerably.

The new furnace, incidentally, is very exciting to me. We knew, when buying the house that we would eventually have to replace it, as we were the only people dumb enough to buy a house with such a creepy old furnace. However, cost-wise, it never made sense. Based on online calculators, the payback period was up to 15 years. However, our neighborhood association has a rebate program using federal stimulus dollars that is offering 35% rebates for qualifying energy improvements. So that rebate, coupled with the federal tax rebates, made it much more feasible and put payback time at 8 years. Minneapolis residents take note: here is the website.

I don't know how these things work in the real estate world, but I would imagine when we finally tear ourselves away from this house, we will get some money back by having a furnace that doesn't look like it came out of a World War II submarine. Right?

Finally, in a vein completely unrelated to HVAC, we bought the house another Christmas present with our Christmas money from my grandparents (Thanks!!!). We're really just too indulgent when it comes to the bungled house. That, or we're trying to apologize to it for all of the unfinished projects.

This one is for the outside of the porch; there is currently no light there at all.
This one is for the inside of the porch. There is also no light there right now, but there is a hole where we ripped the old one down and put it in a closet. It was ugly, and we killed the electricity to the porch when we rewired the house. It was one of those "we'll just temporarily not have electricity out there, say three months until warmer working conditions?" that turned into two years of no porch lights.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Step Three: Getting rid of the old shellac

So when we last left off, the board looked like this:
The next step is to get it looking more like the right side of this board:

Removing the old shellac is pretty simple, though a little messy. If you're lucky, you can go right from removal to finishing your boards, which was our plan... that fell through. More on that in a minute.

Anyway, tools you need are:
1. Denatured Alcohol, the solvent for shellac.
For more information on shellac, check out this Wikipedia Article.
2. Rubber or latex gloves.
3. Steel Wool or Synthetic Steel Wool
4. A bowl (doesn't matter the size, though it might be nice if it had a tight lid).
5. A rag (any rag).

Get your gloves on. Pour some alcohol into the bowl and dip the steel wool in. I bought synthetic steel wool for the first time on this project, and I must say, I like it a lot better than the real thing. For one, I don't have to worry about metal shavings ending up in my wood. Also, I don't like the feel of it. Though I can touch it unlike my mother-in-law who wouldn't even stock it at the hardware store she used to work at. I don't think she or I are alone in our distaste for steel wool.

Anyway, back to the process after a lengthy diversion.

Begin scrubbing the wood with the steel wool dipped in alcohol. When the alcohol gets too cloudy, pour some new stuff in your bowl. When the boards start to take on a dull appearance, the shellac is off.

Now, this is where we were going to go ahead and refinish. What we didn't count on was a stain below the shellac. This stain, while removing the old shellac, became blotchy. After reading about fixes for blotchy stain and trying talk ourselves into liking the look, we gave up and decided to sand all of the boards down to get rid of the blotchy stain.

So, stay tuned for sanding and finishing!

An Ode to the Beast in the Basement

Your subtle warmth has graced this house
for 64 long years,
and you have served it faithfully
--though your demise will cost me no tears.

When every fall we lose the fight
and temperatures dip too low,
it is I, dear furnace, who must go below
and light your pilot light.

I face your rusty, blue-green frame
(you really have let yourself go, by the way)
and my heart begins to pound.
(Yes, I know that fearing you is really pretty lame.)

I will miss the sense of accomplishment I get
when I hear your familiar Whoosh!
(Especially when it's not followed by BANG!)
However, I must say, the damage you do to our utility bills
are something I won't soon forget.

So goodbye, dear beast, it's been real;
your replacement is on its way.
I assure you it's nothing personal....
We just got a really good deal.

Every House Deserves a Christmas Present!

Here is ours:
This is one of those splurges we could justify no other way, except to gift it to the house. We've been eyeing house numbers like these for some time now, and decided that installing them in the below zero weather we've been having in Minnesota would be fun. Actually, I think they will wait until spring, since we are planning to do to the rest of the house what we did to the west side last summer. We also ordered new lights, an outdoor sconce for the front and a matching ceiling fixture for the inside of the porch. I'll post pictures of these when they come.

It has been busy here at the bungled house, so the posts went off my to-do list for awhile, though the projects have been going smoothly. I am going to post a ton, now, to make up for it. Sorry for playing catch up.

By the way, on New Year's Eve, we saw this house for the first time two years ago!