Saturday, September 3, 2016

Starting Over Is Not an Option

With one sealer coat only
So today I'm tackling the shellac job on the inside face of my front door.

I hoped to be able to do it with the door hanging and not risk scratching the new finish on the exterior as I heave it on and off the sawhorses.  But I couldn't keep the sealer coat from dripping as I brushed it on, no matter how careful I tried to be. About the fastest way to ruin a tinted shellac job is to let it get dripped on at any stage, and I had to give in and demount the door again.

And wasn't that the way I did the back door four years ago?  Of course, that meant I had to sit down for a half hour or more reading 2012 entries in this blog to see if that was so.  And if it was, how did I manage not to do any damage to the shellac job on the exterior?  I distinctly remember having the door laid out on the sawhorses on the back porch, sanding the first coat of wine-red paint off the interior face because it didn't flow out.  I'm pretty sure I had the outside done before that . . . or did I?  Never found a post that told me what I wanted to know.  But I sure managed to eat up a good chunk of time I could have been working on this project now.

Old towels and painter's tape
A little after 6:00 I faced the inevitable and gave the sawhorses some extra padding.  I think I managed to manoeuvre the door onto them without destroying my previous work; I'll have to check in the daylight.  But finally, I was getting something done.

. . . The nice thing about shellac is that for the first coats at least, you only have to wait fifteen minutes to a half hour for it to dry.  But here it is nearly midnight, and I'm nowhere near the six or seven coats I hoped to lay down today.  No, I'm sitting writing this entry while waiting for the fourth coat of shellac to harden up, and the cold night air (59̊ F) is wafting in through the open windows and the screen door and freezing me out.  It would have been really nice if I'd gotten this door face done for good and all, but I'm falling asleep over the laptop and I don't see it happening.

I should probably wait for daylight to continue, anyway.  I put way too much mahogany dye in too-thin a mixture of the Kusmi #1 button lac I dissolved yesterday, and this fresh batch of dye is stronger than what I used on the outside of the door.  So with only two coats of tinted shellac and two of clear, the inside of the door is already darker than I planned it to be.  (It took nine coats on the exterior to get the same tone.)

This is what happens when
your shellac is too dark
and too thin
And the topmost panel is all blotchy, and I can't depend on more coats of tinted shellac to even it out.  Carp, carp, carp.

Not sure what I'm going to do to solve it.  Starting over is not an option.

ADDENDUM:  Around 12:30 AM I gave in to reality and rehung the door and called it a night.  I'll look at it tomorrow after church and if that panel is still as ugly as I think it is now, I may have at it with the orbital sander and try again.  But that panel only.  I don't have the shellac on hand for a complete redo.

But I'm wondering what it would have looked like had I not tinted the shellac at all.  Too late now.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Eating the Elephant

Last January when I generated my "To Do in 2016" list I broke each project down by task, however small.  (What is it they say about eating the elephant bite by bite?)

But now that I'm in the throes of redoing my front room, I find I left some obvious steps out.  Other steps that I had rejected I've put back in, and there are tasks to complete that I had no idea about seven months ago.

Beginning with something that was always on the list:
  • As much as it goes against my conscience, I'm going to paint the woodwork in the front room.  
Yes, even after I've stripped it. In that room the old dark woodwork is depressingly heavy, not elegant.  It's a sun room, really, with ten windows plus the glass in the door.  It should be fresh and full of light.  I'd thought of reshellacking the trim a paler shade, but it'd be too similar to the gold-toned wall paint I have in mind.  And now that I've worked at it for awhile, I know it'd take way more time and effort and wood refinisher to clean up that woodwork than I physically have.  So despite the inner voice whispering that it's immoral to paint over old woodwork, that's what I will do.

  • I ended up stripping the paint off the exterior door frame.
Why on earth didn't I realize I was going to have to do that?  That's what happened four years ago when I redid the back entry door, only that time it was from the outdoors in.  I mean, just try aiming the heatgun at the inner woodwork only, and not have the outer trim paint start to bubble and swell.

The great thing is that it came off beautifully.  Seven or eight hours straight I put into that, totally on a roll.  

And joy of joys, while doing the exterior I found the possible answer to a question that's been nagging me for years.  In some future, dreamlike time when I have the money, I'd like to replace the 1980s-vintage aluminum windows.  But, I wondered, did the Previous Owners Minus One leave the original brickmould hiding under the metal trim, or did they pry it off and throw it away? Brickmould is scary expensive.  I found that out when I had to buy new to go around the renovated back door.

But there above my front door, until now overlooked, I discovered the original brickmould.  And it continues under the metal cladding on each side; they didn't cut it off.  If it still exists there, isn't that a good sign it's still there everywhere else?

  • I told myself I wasn't going to demount any of the front room woodwork to strip it. 
I changed my mind on that when I saw how difficult it was going to be to clean up the lintel above the front door and sidelights.  And realized how much easier it will be to strip the muntin casings to the left and right of the door while they're down.

I may pull down the muntin casings on the front and west sides as well.  Since I'm painting the woodwork the cracks don't have to be as clean as if I were shellacking.  But if it's too gross in there, they'll likely come down, too.

I can't demount the side casings--- the POs-1 covered the plaster with 1/2" drywall and the wall surface is nearly flush with the trim.  Try getting those casings off without destroying the wall!

  • As I noticed when I took down the door lintel, I've got a job ahead of me with drywall tape and spackle before I can paint.  
As in the kitchen, it looks like they used wallpaper in lieu of drywall tape. Fortunately I've got tape and joint compound.  Or I do, if the latter hasn't gone moldy.

  • I'm also going to have to retape the joints in the ceiling, and paint over the repair.
I don't know what the ceiling was like after they converted the porch back in 1932 or so.  Beadboard, maybe?  But my POs-1 put up sheetrock, and the joints are a mess.  (Funny how for years you don't notice things . . . )  I have to take care of it before I paint.

I'll try to pull off a sample of the old ceiling paint and match it on our laser scanner at the store.  I'd rather get a quart to match instead of having to repaint the whole darn thing.

  • I'm going to wait to prime until I have the wallpaper stripped and any holes in the drywall patched.
I mean, why not?  It'll be the same primer for everything, so why not do it all at once?

Monday, August 8, 2016

Getting into Gear

See this?

That's my pretty Christmas tree from last December.  That's also the ugly front room it's standing in.  That room's been ugly for years, and in a flurry of planning and resolution-making in January I determined that by this coming Yuletide it will be redone.

But with twelve or twenty other projects to pursue and with my limited spare time during the school year, nothing was going to get done on the front room until summer.

Summer came, and other projects still took priority.  Nagging, guilt-inducing-if-I-didn't-do-them projects.  Besides, I had three long, lazy, open months ahead of me.  There was plenty of time for the front room.

But early in the morning the 24th of June I got bored of doing accounts and sorting paperwork.  I rebelled.  I fetched the heatgun, the scrapers, and my leather gloves up from the basement and had at the stubborn, stuck paint on the sidelight to the left of the front door. The light was bad and I only scraped a little, but it was something.

The next afternoon I carried on with something even more rewarding--- stripping the paint off the outside of the front door.

I guess that puts me past the point of no return, since I can't have a bare door once the fall rains come.

The 4th of July, I had at it again, and made good progress before time to go to work that evening.

Lovely, the way the old paint came off in ribbons under the 1200 watt heat.
Still, I had a boatload of other, crucial, non-house projects to finish.  And I intend to self-publish my first novel by the end of this month, and had to get busy starting my little publishing company to do it properly.  Then the linkage on the gear shift on my car went out and I had to replace the bushings (yeah, did it myself, with a neighbor's help).  And the garden needed worked on.  And the yard kept needing mowed, which takes forever with a corded mower.  And I lost a day reporting for jury duty.  Then came the scare with the refrigerator freezer. And now one or more of my cats has decided they'd rather pee on plastic bags, shoes, rags, or even the bare floor more than in the litter box, meaning I'm playing constant catch-up trying to get rid of the stink.  And so forth and so on.

As I said in my last point, the end of July I got fed up with not being able to get the refrigerator cabinet down and marched in and stripped the rest of the outside of the front door.  Got a little more done on the inside trim the next day.

And there the project sat . . . until I dropped by the Walmart one night after my shift at the Big Blue Box Store.  I ran into a gaggle of my students--- that is, some kids I sub teach for--- and they greeted me enthusiastically.

I didn't recall any of their names (Sadly, I never can.  There are too many of them).  To get past the awkwardness I asked:

"So, when does school start?"

"In three weeks."

Three weeks!!!??? Where did the summer go!?  Panic!  Hurry!  Run and get myself in gear!  Quick, get things done!

Which I have.  It's a "good" time to do it, as my hours at the store have been cut to three nights a week.  I truly took advantage of that last Wednesday, and I plan to tell you All About It.  But if I spend any more time today working on this blog I won't get any house renovation done.

Sunday, August 7, 2016


Not a rummage sale
So what are all my platters, teapots, vases, and so on doing piled on my dining room table?

Not sitting in the cabinet over the refrigerator, that's what.

Just one problem . . .
Last September I acquired a new Frigidaire french door refrigerator.  Well, not "new," exactly: it was a returned-and-refurbished model from the Big Blue Box Store, marked down to where I could consider it, then further marked down for me, as an employee, to a figure where I could actually buy it.  Yay.

But in my enthusiasm at finally finding an affordable white french door refrigerator, in my rapture at getting rid of the inefficient 1997 side-by-side model that was in the house when I moved in, I never thought to measure how tall the thing was in relation to the existing over-fridge cabinet.

It fits in the space, yeah.  With maybe a half inch at the top to spare.  But the doors and so on at the top front of that new Frigidaire are 1-1/2 to 2 inches higher than those on the old one.  And it wasn't until the installers were gone that I noticed that I couldn't get the platter, teapot, vase, etc., cabinet open.  And try as I might, I couldn't roll the refrigerator out to do anything about it.

Well.  There was a leak in my old icemaker supply line that prevented the BBBS installers from hooking up the water when they were here in early October.
Push fitting to the rescue,
because I can't solder pipes,
and saddle valves leak
I fixed that myself later that month, thanks to a push fitting (and I guess I could have blogged about that, right?).  But it wasn't till mid-December, after one of the store assistant managers put his foot down, that the installers came back to attach the new icemaker supply line.  I still had to hook it up to the
Bad photo,
good connection
pipe in the basement myself, but at least I was able to catch the guys before they left so I could take the doors off the cabinet and get access to my crockery.

And thus it remained till a couple weeks ago.
No, that's not exactly true.  Once I saw the problem I began to think of ways to solve it.  Buy a new, taller fridge cabinet?  Too expensive, and it wouldn't match the existing.  Shorten the doors on the one I have? They're plastic-clad, and they wouldn't cut off neatly at all.  Piece on something at the bottom of the existing cabinet to raise it higher?  How is that going to be structurally sound?

Best solution:  Buy new plywood panels for the sides, cut them to fit to make the whole cabinet a couple-three inches taller, and attach the existing over-fridge cabinet to them.
Ne'er more shall they meet
Only weakness in this plan is that there'll be a gap in the cornice where the fridge cabinet now meets the pantry, but I can deal with that later.

I have the plywood, 1/2" pre-primed finish grade birch.  Got it half price last December, when we BBBS employees have our holiday double discount.   But I've done nothing with it, because I Still Couldn't Roll the Refrigerator Out!  And I was convinced I had to have it out before I could start this project at all.

Fast forward to last month.  I was having trouble with the freezer.  Such bad trouble I had to take all my freezer food to my friend *Frieda's to keep for me. Repair guy came out (on warranty, thank God), and discovered the wire basket in the freezer was sitting crooked and was keeping the drawer from closing entirely.  Basket realigned properly, ice build-up cleaned out, all is well.

But before he came, I'm thinking, maybe he'll have to get behind the unit to fix it. Maybe it'd make easier access in my narrow kitchen if the fridge cabinet were down, at least on the lefthand side.  It also dawned on me that it would actually be easier to get that upper platter, teapot, vase, etc., cabinet off the wall if I could set it down on the top of the refrigerator once the wall screws were out.  [In fact, it hits me just now, why shouldn't I just leave it there on top of the fridge until time to reattach it to the new tall cabinet sides?]

Ghost of wallpaper past
So I cleared out the crockery.  Moved out the pie safe.  Knocked the cornice moulding off and set it aside. Brought the filthy bowls and things down off the top of the cabinet.  And dusted and brought down the even filthier pieces of shelving I keep up there so the bowls and things don't get lost behind the cornice moulding.

The repair guy didn't need to get to the back of the refrigerator.  Never mind.  I had received the impetus I needed to start this project and was now ready to demount the upper cabinet.  I undid the screw that ran through some blocking into the lefthand side of the tall cabinet.  I readied my trusty ratchet screwdriver to do the old lefty-loosy to the two big screws that attach the upper cabinet to the wall.  Annnnnnnd . . .

Nothing.  Stuck.  Next day, I tried it with my power drill on reverse setting.  Still nothing.  Bit just popped out.  Drenched those screws with PB B'laster until the kitchen stank.  Still nothing.  Stuck, stuck, stuckity-stuck.

I said to heck with it and went and focussed on the front door woodwork instead.

I need either A Strong(er) Person or a more powerful drill/driver.  Or else some way to drill those screws out.  But right now my ladder is in the front room, and it's staying there until the work in there is done.  I have plastic over the doorway to the hall to keep paint stripper off my stairhall woodwork, the living room is full of furniture from the front room, so I can't bring the ladder back into the kitchen and try anything right now.

Oh, I could fetch the wooden ladder up from the basement . . .

Hush.  I'll live with the crockery on the dining room table awhile longer.

EDIT:  This morning (8/8/16) I recalled something about the icemaker line business that I guess I'd been happy to forget.  And that's that last fall, between the first week in October, when the delivery guys installed the new refrigerator, to mid-December, when they returned to hook up the new icemaker line, I had no--- I repeat--- no cold water to my upstairs bathroom.

Yeah.  The existing saddle valve apparently had been stuck open for years.  I had no idea.  Since the icemaker stopped working in 2008 or 2009, I assumed the water supply was off.  But as soon as they disconnected the vinyl hose from the old fridge, boy, did the water spurt!  The older installer handed me the line to put my thumb over the end, and tried to turn off the saddle valve in the basement. But it failed at the first good turn.  Only solution: to close the branch valve in the pipe that feeds the icemaker.  Immediate crisis halted, but it also halted the flow of cold water to my main bathroom.

So, for two and a half months, for my morning drink I had to snatch the coolish water from the hot side before it warmed up, or bring up a glass of water the night before and have it waiting.  Washing my face was a delicately-timed process, as I got the washcloth under the tap just enough so it wouldn't get too scalding.  I went farmhouse style flushing the toilet, keeping a bucket in the bathtub and dumping a couple gallons of lukewarm water in the potty every three or four uses.

The installers could have come back any time after I got the push fitting in and bought the new copper line, and several times they were supposed to . . . on a "they'll stop by when they're in the neighborhood" basis. But manpower is limited at the BBBS, and as an employee I was pushed repeatedly to the back of the line.  It wasn't till the ASM actually put me on the installation schedule that I got results.

Obliging My Fanbase

There has been a Great Clamour from teh Interwebz that I should update the houseblog.  OK, it was one friend on Facebook.  But yes, I am hip-deep in a project or two that warrants recording.

But I'm viewing that last post from November 2014 and thinking how pathetic that wallpaper photo looks, with the final piece not trimmed at the cornice, and it's only right I should post something showing how the dining room came out once the trim was back up.

This isn't such a great photo, either.  It was taken with my cellphone camera, which doesn't have a wide angle setting.  But it should give some idea.

This is from this past January, and shows the new curtain rod that will hold the sheers--- once I get them sewn together and hemmed.  I bought them on clearance from the Big Blue Box Store maybe two years ago, and it turned out that the pattern on the lace panels doesn't align.  Never mind: it wasn't that far off and they needed shortened anyway.

Here's a better view of the curtain rod:

 It's actually a piece of copper tubing I spray-painted bronze and capped.  The brackets I appropriated from the actual drapery rod, since it needs ones with a greater projection to clear the lintel and its cornice.

I'd hoped to get the sheers altered and up by now, but stuff happens.

But that's not what you're here for, is it?  Bigger things are going on, but that will have to wait.  There is such a thing as sleep, after all.

EDIT:  Here's a recent photo of the dining room, with the trim up, in the daytime.

On the table you see the evidence of the "or two" project I referred to above.  But I'm saving that for later.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Believe It or Not

I've been neglecting the blog, but not the house.

Last strip, up but not trimmed
The William Morris wallpaper in the dining room is up.  Can you believe it? As of last Sunday night, after a good-- how many? seven? weeks of working on it.

It wasn't procrastination that made me take so long, it was waiting until I had an extra pair of hands available.  I did a lot of it myself, but some places I simply needed a helper.

Especially for the corners.  I didn't like the way my previous method for turning them was eating up so much pattern.  I found this method on YouTube and decided to try it.

I succeeded at the first one, in the northeast corner-- eventually.   But not after having the piece going onto the adjacent wall (all 5" of it) flop down on my head, onto the steps of the ladder, get stepped on, dirty, cat-haired . . . miracle it wasn't trashed.  I cleaned it up, repasted it, and got it on the wall, but after that experiment I decided no more corners until I had help.

That came in the form of my friend Lizzie*.  Between my work schedule and hers it would run two or three weeks between the times she could come and help.  And as the video says, the method takes time.  Lizzie and I were lucky if we could pull a corner turn off in an hour.

My walls are screamingly old and out of square and going around corners there was often a goodish amount I had to trim out of the piece going onto the adjacent wall.  At the top, especially.  That wasn't fun.  I was afraid to use the X-Acto knife to trim it (as the paperhanger in the vid does at 11:00 min.) because I was afraid I'd cut through both layers.  Instead I'd crease it with my thumbnail to give me a guideline for my scissors.  The worklight doesn't cooperate at such times.  It washes out the shadows and with my lousy eyesight the cutting was often hit-or-miss.  Still, at eye level the pattern looks pretty darn continuous and matched.

The scissors method doesn't work in the dead corner (southeast, in this room).  There I sucked up my courage and used the craft knife to trim the last piece in the corner.  Gently, gently . . . almost managed to do the whole cut without piercing through the bottom layer.  Almost.  Of course it had to be about six feet up, where the bookcase won't cover it.  Trimmed an eensy piece of wallpaper and shoved it into the inch-long slot, to bring the top piece out and eliminate the shadow.  It worked; at least, I have to be looking for it to find it.

It was a toss up as to whether a given whole strip would go up peaceably or fight me all the way.  The one after the turn around the northwest corner took Lizzie and me a good hour, just to get it matched.  Not sure why.  We blamed the settling of the house and let it go at that.

Dead corner, done and trimmed
Time and again the hanging got precarious.  Too bad: trashing a strip and starting over with a new one was not an option.  But this Britpulp is thick and pretty forgiving; you can even smooth down minor tears (not that I had more than one) so they're not obvious. In the end, I came out with a whole full strip to spare. Would have had a full, unopened roll had I given more thought to the cutting at the start, but them's the breaks.

Since it takes me so blinking long to hang a strip I've had to cope with popped seams here and there.  That's where an artist's detail brush comes in handy.  I gently lift the loose edge, poke in some wheat paste, wait five minutes, poke in some more, wait another five minutes (normal relaxing and booking time for a Britpulp paper like mine), then gently smooth it down with a clean, just-damp sponge.

All in all I think the installation looks good.  I'm no pro but I'm getting better.  Full strips matched up nicely with partial strips above and below windows, and in the dead corner the pattern's only off by a half inch (compare that to nearly an inch and a half in the living room).  Except for a couple of unobtrusive places I don't have any overlaps, and there they face away from the light so you have to run your fingers over them to detect them.

So now, at last, it's finished.  I wish I could post better pictures.  The "Savernake" pattern's so subtle it's impossible to catch on camera.  But the color turns out to be fine.  It changes depending on the time of day and the light, from cream, to yellowish, to off-white, to palest green, but never does it bellow "Celery green!!!"   And the pattern makes the room look bigger.

I've been shellacking and remounting the dining room window trim as the pertinent walls get papered, but that's another post.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Early this morning I got to thinking, maybe I can do this wallpaper hanging by myself.  I got the long strips of horizontal blankstock on the wall successfully, why not the vertical wallpaper?  And if I wait till next week when my friend Hannah* might be able to assist, the latest batch of wheat paste will probably go bad, even if I do have it in Tupperware in the refrigerator.  I’ve wasted too much money already letting wheat paste go bad; I can’t afford to squander any more.

So after a long day of teaching and working at the Big Blue Box Store (and after only slightly more sleep than I’ve been making time for the past week or so), I launched in and tried it.

I think it came out fairly well.  Not professional grade yet, but aligned, on the wall, with no tears or rips or bubbles to poke.  I hung three sheets in all; well, two full-length ones and one split in two above and below the righthand north window.

Some of the seams are excellent, if I say so myself.  You really have to look for them to find them.  Others I tented a little too much, and though the strips don’t actually overlap, today you can still see the line between them and feel the protrusion.  The most worrisome is the one at the bottom of the wall where I have a slight gap.  It couldn’t be helped, not by me at my present level of ability: It’s a function of the curve of the brick and plaster wall.  A pro would be able to stretch the paper just the right way to close that up.  Me, I’m hoping the baseboard covers most or all of it.

The biggest problem is keeping the edges of the strips wet enough with paste so the seams get stuck down.  Or maybe I’m waiting too long to roll them?  I looked up Robert Kelly’s report on seam cycles and he says 11 to 12 minutes for a Britpulp machine print like my “Savernake.”  But is that from the time you begin to apply the paste or from the time you get the abutting strip on the wall?

I could email him and ask, I suppose . . .

I’m glad I recut to adjust the pattern.  Now the heaviest elements will be balanced, top to bottom.  The way I had it at first would have spelled aesthetic disaster.

As for the color, I think it will be all right.  I really do.  Lying on the table or juxtaposed next to the pinky-manila-toned blankstock, the strips look very green.  But together, as a field on the wall, it eases out and goes more brown and neutral.

Beige?  Heaven forbid!