Friday, August 29, 2008

Historical Sleuthing

I'm so impressed with the amazing and curious items other housebloggers find in walls or tucked under floors of their old houses as they do demolition.

Me, I've had to settle for various indistinguishable pieces of rusty iron dug up in the back garden, the random buried roofing slate, and once, a very sharp slate nail I discovered when it pierced my finger, making me very glad I recently got a tetanus shot.

But late this evening I found something very curious indeed. I'd finished prying off the last long piece of baseboard trim in the dining room and was kneeling down with the pliers to pull out the nails from the back side. And I noticed a piece of paper sitting against the plaster at the foot of the wall, where the baseboard had been.

This is what I found:

A Christmas postcard, with most of the message erased by the elements and Time . . .

And on the other side . . . Well, this is odd. Not what I would have expected.

It's signed "Kathryn," which is the name of one of two women, mother and daughter, who lived, together and in succession, in the Sow's Ear from 1920 to 1981. Whichever Kathryn signed this, I'd say she did it closer to 1920, considering the style of the card.

But wouldn't you expect it to be to the lady of the house, and not from her? But it's addressed to a Mrs. M. M. Moore, who lived on a street four blocks over and five blocks up from here. And it's got a stamp on it. Why was this Christmas card never sent? How did it end up between the baseboard and the dining room wall?

Maybe the McLaughlins were doing renovations back then and the baseboard was loose? I've found evidence that sometime in the past some of the dining room trim has been removed and replaced. The casing around the double windows for instance. I can tell because the wallpaper just under the current layer goes down behind it. But that wallpaper also appears on the "new" drywall that was put up by the POs-1 sometime in the 1980s or early '90s. And there was only one set of nails in the baseboard I pried off this evening. I seriously doubt it was loosened in the 1920s, so soon after the house was built in 1916 or before.

So again I ask, How'd the card get there?

Here's my theory: Back when the house was new and there weren't four or five layers of wallpaper on the walls, there must have been a crack, a gap between the plaster wall and the baseboard there under the dining room windows. I visualize some piece of furniture set under that window, a side table, maybe, or even a buffet. Mrs. (or Miss) Kathryn McLaughlin sits at the dining room table, doing her Christmas cards. As she signs, addresses, and stamps each one, she sets it on the pile on the table under the window. But the pile is unsteady. It slides. It tips. And unbeknownst to her, the card to her dear friend Mrs. Moore goes hurtling down behind the-- hey, I think I'll argue for a buffet or some other solid-backed piece of furniture--behind the buffet and slots itself into the gap between the baseboard and the wall. Maybe it went only partway in at first, and Kathryn might have noticed it if the buffet (or whatever) hadn't been in the way.

But it was and she did not, and dear Mrs. Moore did not get her Christmas card in 1924 (or whenever), leading to who knows what rift in their friendship. And over the years, as the house settled, that card settled, too, working its way down and down until it could no longer be seen at all, concealed there as layer upon layer of wallpaper closed the gap, waiting (and being eaten by bugs) until some house renovation fanatic like me would come along and decide that the only way properly to strip that baseboard was to pry it off the wall entirely.

I also found back there a few fragments of a previous wallpaper. Maybe the original? Allowing for yellowing over the years, it's not far off what I hope to put up myself, if the dollar-British pound exchange rate just would go back in my favor. Though in my opinion, my chosen William Morris leaf design is nicer than the geometric trellis style this paper seems to be.

Nice to think I'm keeping with the spirit of the place. And I hope Mrs. Moore wasn't too put out with not receiving her Christmas card from Kathryn McLaughlin that year.

(They probably blamed the long-suffering Post Office. When all that time--!)

What a Brick!

"Brick brik, n baked clay; a shaped block of baked clay, generally rectangular . . . ; a helpful, supportive, kind person (colloq)."

Yesterday, I saw my across-the-alley, in-the-process-of-becoming-former neighbor sitting in a plastic lawn chair at the head of his alley driveway.

"You're probably wondering why I'm sitting here like this. My car's been inspected, and I'm waiting for it to be brought back. They always miss the house, so here I am!"

We got to talking, and I admitted to my dumpster-driving foray of a week ago. He didn't mind, but "How did you ever get that picnic bench out?!" And offered me a look at his remaining theology books, in case I wanted any of them.

Pretty soon, the driver from the garage came with the car, and my neighbor got in-- I guess to drive around to the front. But before they did, I screwed up my nerve and asked, "Do you have any plans for that pile of bricks there? I could really use some to line my garden beds."

"Oh, a guy came by the other day and offered to buy some off me."

"Well, if there's any left over after he gets his, let me know how much you want for them."

"Oh, just come take them! You can have as many as you want!"

Wow, what a brick!

Couldn't do the job yesterday, but today I got my lawn cart over and from noon to about 4:30 PM I hauled bricks. And stacked bricks. And hauled bricks. And stacked bricks. And hauled bricks. And stacked bricks. And hauled bricks. And stacked bricks. And hauled bricks. And stacked bricks. And hauled bricks. And stacked bricks. And hauled bricks. And stacked bricks. . . .

You get the point. I definitely could sympathize with Gary at This Old Crackhouse, and I didn't even have to haul them upstairs to the roof!

I don't know if my neighbor had come to any agreement with the guy who'd offered to pay; if so, that party was out of luck. I cleaned out every brick that was whole and a small pile of those that weren't. And his wife supported my depredations this afternoon: "Oh, just get them out of here."
If I counted right, I hauled and stacked 252 whole bricks, most of which did not have mortar on them. Various colors, which is perfect; varying sizes, so I'll need to sort them to get a straight line on the edge to my long borders. The broken ones I'll figure out how to cut to go round the curves of the crape myrtle bed in the front yard.

As some kind of return, I brought back the little dumpster-dived outdoor table, since I saw it matched two wooden lounge chairs they hadn't chucked. Another neighbor had come by to get them, to pass on to yet another neighbor who just got a house with a yard and needed some furniture to go with it. Hey, let's keep the set together, eh? That particular X-leg table would have looked funny with my Adirondack chairs anyway.

After I finished hauling the bricks I needed (and more or less restacking the ones I didn't), I tried to return the favor by pruning the bushes they'd been stacked under. I found forsythia branches growing in and through the pile, and once or twice, sprouts were rooted in the bricks themselves! However, I may have overpruned one bush, mistaking it for a volunteer elm tree. Then I noticed that the whole shrub had leaves that looked the same as the scraggly branches I lopped out . . . Ouch. Looks a little, um, open on the bottom now.

Oh dear. Do I go pull the forelock and apologize? Or put a brave face on it and say, "Hey, I've opened it up and it'll have nice new growth in the spring?" Or just figure they won't care, since they're practically all moved into their new apartment anyway?

But I've got the bricks I need for at least one long border. And I have a question: What shrub is it anyway, that looks like a dwarf elm tree? And no, I can't recall what kind of or if it had any flowers last spring!

But I'm losing my neighbor. Who is a brick.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Stripping in Public

Heaven help us, the things we'll resort to.

Even stripping in public. With children present.

I mean, when you've got a 12' piece of baseboard trim and it won't make the turn on the basement steps, what are you going to do?

You put down the tarps and the papers, set up the sawhorses, and strip it on the back porch. With the three-year-old from next door standing on his back porch, yelling over the fence all about the "'Lympics!!" which he's been watching non-stop with his dad, seemingly ever since he was born.

Just the one piece done this evening. The light failed, and anyway, that baseboard's going nowhere till I glue the second cracked-off piece back on. Only have two sets of pipe clamps--and one pair of sawhorses--to my name.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Crape Myrtle Watch 080824

What's wrong with this picture?

Nothing, at first glance. All four of my crape myrtle bushes are in bloom. The one on the left is a little slow, but that can't be helped: the weather's been very cool here this summer, and crapes like it hot.

But look closer. The two light purply "New Orleans" minis up the slope on the right, they're fine. And in front of them, next to the steps, is the "Pixie White," blooming its fool head off.

Wait a minute. "Pixie White." Those flowers aren't white, they're a lurid shade of pink!

And to the left above the Siberian irises is the picotee "Bayou Marie." Except whatever it is, it isn't picotee. It's kind of a solid fuchsia.

Whatever it is I have in this bed, only half is what I ordered.

This is not good. Not good at all. I already spoke with and emailed to the people at in mid-June, to let them know about "Velma's Royal Delight" being dead, and they said they'd take care of it within a fortnight. But here it is the end of August, and I've heard and received nothing.

Damn, and now I have to call up and gripe about this. And I suppose I must, because the colors I have here clash, and the bush at the left is way too small. has a wonderful selection and the cost per plant isn't high, but when the minimum order is six, maybe it's better to buy the individual plants you want from a nursery where you'd pay a little more but where they're more careful about what they send.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Window Wondering

One big historical renovation question on my mind the past year or more has been, How did the piano windows in my living room, dining room, and front hall originally operate? The metal replacement windows the POs-1 put in in the early 1990s just have the usual doublehung sash. They work well enough, but I know the originals would have been some kind of three-light single sash. And my wild, crazy, extravagant dream is to replace all the windows in the Sow's Ear eventually with double-glazed wood sash to match what would have been there in 1916.

(My practical justification is that some of the windows have seals that are leaking, metal pieces are falling off other windows, and I was left with no record of what brand they are or who installed them. Can't repair 'em. So replace 'em! Replace 'em all!

But I digress.)

For seven years I lived in a pre-War (I mean, World War I) apartment in Kansas City; it was the same Craftsman style as my house. One room, my study, had three-light windows on three walls, and they were single-hung. I don't mean two sashes where only one operates. I mean one single sash where when you raise it it disappears up into the wall above.

Gosh, I wish that's what was originally here. I wish it intensely.

But I consider my brick walls (the room in Kansas City was a frame annex to the brick building), and I perceive where the framing for the second floor must start, and I think no, there wouldn't be room above my piano windows.

Well, last night, early this morning, I was stripping the window sill from the piano window next to the fireplace, and I discovered this:

Does that look like the footprint of a hinge to you? Sure does to me.

And yes, there's two of them. And I've inspected all the other piano window stools, and they have the same paint residue in the same places, where I couldn't chip it off.

Hopper windows. That's what the house had. Inward-swinging hopper windows. You can even see the hole in the header where the bolt of the latch used to go.

And I've been checking the Van Dyke's Restorers' catalog, and I think I've located the type of surface-mounted hinge that might have been used.

I still need to get someone stronger than I to pop out the metal windows so I can look at the sill and jambs and figure out what I'd need to design in the way of stops and weatherstripping and things.

And I guess I need to decide how authentic and historical I want to be. Hopper windows make it hard to display anything on the window stools in the summer. Or on the bookcases sitting under them. Would I be willing to compromise on a three-over-one doublehung unit, for convenience' sake?

Happily, I don't need to worry about that right now. Too much else to do first.

Like go on stripping woodwork. Last night and this evening I disposed of nine more pieces, hooray, living room window and baseboard trim. If my count is right, that brings me to 62 out of 330, or 18.8%.

Noticed something on the baseboards while I was at it: Looks like somebody for some reason had the idea of shortening them. Two of the living room pieces I've done so far have this kerf in them. Whatever was behind it, they thought better of the plan.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Indecent Places

The banner motto on this blog is "I'll make a silk purse out of this house if it kills me."

And yeah, I've put a modicum of suffering into it . . . To the tune of refinisher-tanned fingers where the stripping gloves wear through . . . and lingering congestion when the ventilation isn't quite adequate to take away the fumes of a five-hour basement woodwork stripping session . . . and the occasional bruise or splinter when pieces of trim get out of hand when I'm prying them off the wall . . .

But "if it kills me"? That's just been something cute to say. Window dressing. I have not truly suffered for my renovation Art as so many of my fellow travellers have. I have not lived with crevasses in my bedroom floor, or done the dishes in the bathtub for four months or gone to the bathroom in a coffee can while the toilet was waiting to be plumbed, or endured the other true hardships necessary to enter the kingdom of house renovation heaven. No, even while removing a piece of trim here, and stripping it there, I have endeavored to go on living a Civilized Life. I have had my books and music on their shelves where I can get at them. I've had my computer in my study, to take me whithersoever I will. I've got my piano in the front room. And if I don't feel like facing the state of the house, I can sit down and read or surf or play, and pretend everything is just fine.

But last week, when I moved the trim removal operation into the living room, the penny dropped: Silly hobbit! This isn't Civilized Places! I have to make the sacrifices everyone else does.

So the books on Art and Architecture History, the Church and General History Books, the beautiful tomes on ancient icons and Frank Lloyd Wright and medieval cathedrals, they all had to be packed up in boxes and stored in the guest bedroom until the trim is back on and refinished and the walls are repapered or painted. Can't get at the trim or the walls with a full bookcase in the way.

And the two other bookcases in the living room must undergo the same fate, as soon as I get more boxes. Ornaments and pictures and candlesticks have to be put safely away. And when the time comes, the furniture must be covered and moved aside. I've must to do what I have to do and live as I must live to get this job done.

. . . Of course, having thought of that saying of the famous philosopher Smeagol the Stoor, I had to follow the quotation to its source, to make sure I had it right. Which I didn't: It's actually "Silly! We're not in decent places!" And in the process of finding it, this past week and a half I've reread half of Tolkien's The Two Towers, and then of course I had to reread all of The Return of the King, and here we are again, alas! alas! fallen from the daily rigor that should be my path and my goal.

I've been very civilized these past few days, but from a house renovation perspective, not exactly decent!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Tools for the Job

Late this past Sunday afternoon I marched across the street to the neighbors'. I wonder what Mrs. Neighbor thought when she saw me standing at her door, 10" pry bar in hand.

"I was wondering, do you have a bigger pry bar than this?" I asked quickly, to forestall any dire impressions.

"Oh, yes! I'll send my husband over with it when he gets home."

But the afternoon, the evening, and the days went by, and no neighbor with large pry bar appeared.

Meanwhile, I've moved my trim removal labors into the living room, and there are baseboard pieces in there that I can't get off the wall by myself, with my present arsenal of tools. If I borrowed the neighbor's pry bar once, I'd have to keep borrowing it again and again and again.


Gotta get a pry bar with some decent leverage of my own. And get it cheap.

Which in my area, turns out not to be Lowe's or BigLots (that's just cheeep), but Hamilton Tool & Supply Company on Seventh Avenue in Beaver Falls. Yesterday afternoon, between dumpster-diving, I drove up and visited them for the first time.

This place is hilarious! It reminds me of my grandpa's and my dad's workshops taken to the nth power; the biggest toolbox in the world, multiplied and on steroids. An ancient Victorian building with a corner turret and floor upon floor, room after room of tools, tools, and more tools! Tools piled on shelves! Tools hanging on walls! Tools in file cabinets! Tools in boxes! Tools in bins! Tools in desk drawers! Used tools! New tools! Antique tools! Gigantic tools! Tiny tools! Tools power and mechanical! Tools beyond imagining! Sensoree obberlode, ai haz it!

Having told him what I needed, the clerk took me up two or three flights and back into the bowels of the building. There I was allowed to rummage through a veritable haymow of prybars of all sizes and descriptions. I tried the heft, the pulling angle, and the splay of end on several, and settled for two, one used and one new, that should do the job. $5 and $7, cheap.

Then the clerk escorted me down a floor to find a plaster spatula/putty knife. I needed a nice wide one to put between the wall and the woodwork, to stop the pry bar leaving marks in the back of the trim. This collection was in the bottom drawer of a metal four-drawer file. Hey, it makes for low overhead, what? $1, used.

Truly, as the Hamilton clerk said on the phone when I called, happiness is a good selection of pry bars. The newer-model one I got made short work of the living room baseboard pieces I started on Wednesday and couldn't get loose.

And of the trim around the piano window to the right of the living room fireplace. (Funny, when I first moved in, I thought that was the first trim I was going to strip and refinish. That was nearly five years ago. Funny.)

It also enabled me to pry the 12' baseboard the rest of the way off the north wall of the dining room . . . unfortunately, the piece was a tight fit on the left, ran into the resheetrocked wall a good two inches at the right, and was cracked at both ends. And the hole I'd made in the east wall sheetrock didn't give it room enough.

Yeah, the cracks kept going. All the way. Both ends.

Hooboy! More gluing to do! In a perfect world, I'd use biscuits to join the pieces together. In a perfect world, I'd have whatever machine it takes to make the slots. Will I go back to Beaver Falls to see if Hamilton's has one?

No, don't think so. Not now. For this, I probably can get away with clamps and then reinforcing the joints with those squiggly metal fasteners. But it's nice to think they might have a biscuit slot machine, if I needed one!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Modern Euphemisms: Recycling

Inspired by Elaine at Bless This DIY Mess, I decided to do a little dumpster diving-- ahem! I mean, recycling of my own first thing this morning.

Funny that I hadn't thought of it before. The elderly couple across the alley is moving out to a smaller home, with the intermittent help of various family members. For the past week they've had a full-sized dumpster out back of their house, being filled with all sorts of things. My eyes rolled over it every time I took the dog out to do his business, but I never bothered to investigate.

But this morning I went across to have a closer look-see.

Hmmm, what have we here? Two perfectly good picnic benches. I'd noticed them poking out before, but assumed they were both broken. But no. Just unwanted.

Me, I don't need two picnic benches. Not without a picnic table, anyway. At any rate, one of them was buried too deep for me to remove. But the other . . . it looked manageable, and it'd make a good low scaffold for taking down long pieces of doorway trim for stripping.

The bench was tilted up with one end above the rim of the dumpster and the other submerged in and under a lot of other stuff: Miscellaneous loose and outdated books on junior college subjects of no interest to me. A big black trash bag, torn, full of toiletries about to spill out. A funny oak chair missing a back slat. A small wooden outdoor table painted the same color as the picnic benches. A big piece of scabby plywood over on top of it all. I lifted the plywood, shifted the books, scootched the chair, managed to roll the bag of toiletries over without dumping it on the ground, and pulled out the little table and claimed it as my first prize. Then with an effort of shifting, pushing, and pulling, I finally got the picnic bench up and out and down on the ground.

I don't know what the rules are around here on dumpster-diving, but I felt a little sneaky as I picked up the bench and got it inside my fence and into the house.

However unsettled I felt, it didn't keep me from going back across the alley this afternoon and pulling out that funny oak chair, missing slat and all. The legs and seat are basically solid and I've decided it'll look cute on my back porch.

It's a church chair, as I realized when I saw the hymnbook rack on its back, and the dowel shelf underneath. Appropriate, since its now-former owner is a retired Methodist minister. Well, it's gone over to the Presbyterians now-- it must have been predestined!

At any rate, isn't recycling a modern virtue?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

It's Progress, Ain't It?

Here I am again, come to announce (trumpets, please!) that I have Three More Pieces of Woodwork Stripped. Which brings me to 53 out of 330, or 16%.

Well, whoopty-do and wallop me with a cornpone, as some down-home philosopher I've just made up never said.

It doesn't sound impressive, does it? Or worth blogging about.

But I started this blog a year ago to document whatever progress I made fixing up the house, as an incentive to keep me making it. What's the point if I don't use the blog for its purpose?

Besides, these were three big, important pieces of wood trim. They're the inner jamb and header facings of the "archway" between the living room and dining room. They're the ones I didn't dare take down, because the plaster was so fragile I was afraid the whole house might collapse if I pried them free.

So they had to be stripped in place, with me sometimes working blind, with the floors protected the best I could with contractor paper, a plastic-backed drop cloth, and newspapers over it. I'm sure I've got some stripper spots on the fake Pergo, though. Rubbing that runny Western Wood Doctor refinisher on with steel wool can send the drips flying, whatever care I take.

I did the heat stripping part of the job Sunday evening. And managed to hold fire with the heat gun until I'd cleared out the excelsior and bits of Kleenex that various past owners had stuffed into the space above the header trim. I can sort of understand what the nose tissue was doing-- I suppose it makes a feasible backer material, if your mind runs that way-- but the excelsior I don't get at all. It didn't even pretend to be mixed with the plaster. It was just lying there.
Anyway, tonight (blast it, do I have to say "last night and early this morning"?) I got the pieces cleaned of their old finish, and that is progress. Even if I did run through three right-hand rubber gloves doing it. On one jamb I'm left with the mark where I removed the POs'-1 quasi-Victorian decorative bracket, and a piece of the trim came off with it. I'm hoping I can get the new finish dark enough to even that out.

That, however, is something I'll concern myself with down the road. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, and all that sort of thing.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Help Wanted

Oh, gosh, is it 2:45 AM again already?

No joy today-- yesterday-- Saturday-- whatever--borrowing a neighbor's large pry bar and/or a neighbor to help me finish getting the first long baseboard piece off the north dining room wall. The likely candidates seemed all to be out frivoling.

Me, I did not frivol. I got busy doing something else.

Like pop the plastic window stops out of the casings in the dining room. As I was at it, I got confirmation (if any was needed) that the metal replacement windows were put in by the POs-1:
This wasn't a bad or difficult job. Removing that plastic trim from three windows today (yesterday!) took a lot less time than removing the first two pieces had from the first window one or two years ago.

And I figured out that if you hold your wide-blade spackle knife between the woodwork and the pry bar, the woodwork doesn't get quite so dented.

With the plastic trim off, I was able to see that on the double west window, at least, the jamb and header facings are of 1x material, not 2x as I'd thought. Maybe after all I can take all that down and strip it in the basement, too. It needs it, since you can see about 3/8" along their outer edges, all the way around, and it's simply caked with paint.

Removed one header facing piece. Cracked a bit; I'd have to glue it, and ultimately did.

Not sure now why I didn't pull down any more. Maybe because I was contemplating the jamb facing pieces and got to wondering if the one in the middle sat on the window stool, or ran down behind it. So it seemed good to find out if the stool could be easily removed. I mean, last winter I had the idea, somehow, that that piece extended way in, such that if I were even able to get it out, I'd see daylight under my windows. No idea why I'd think that, I just did.

But I was wrong, and happy to be wrong. Once the caulk bead between the back of the stool and the front of the window case was removed, the stool came away easily.

Well, mostly. I found it was nailed to a couple of pieces of . . . okay, don't tell me, I know what it's called, I've drawn enough wood window details in my day . . . Well, frankly, it looks like blocking to me, and it came away along with the stool, and not in too great a condition, either.

(This material I may replace with new when I put the trim back together. It's not visible or anything.)

Still, that wasn't too hard! I went to pry off the stools at the two dining room piano windows, too.

But they wouldn't budge. Tried taking a mallet to them and trying to knock them upward. No go.

And I looked at all those windows and really, I need to take them out to strip the jambs and headers, even if I can't replace them with double-glazed historically-appropriate wood sash just now; and if I am going to replace them, I have to take out the existing metal units, temporarily at least, to get an idea of the existing conditions so I can design the new windows properly. And even the little ones look heavy.

At this point a major case of frustration set in, hard and congested as old putty. After four straight days of working on this, I Just Didn't Want to Anymore. It wasn't the simple frustration of laziness, it was the sick frustration of realizing how much I've still got ahead of me on this job and how much of it will involve muscle I haven't got and, oh, damn, what's the use??

So I went outside and tied up tomatoes and pulled weeds and fiddled about with the lawn sprinkler and liquid fertilizer in the new pump sprayer till nearly 9:00 PM. After a bite of supper (featuring homegrown green beans), it was down the basement to strip the two pieces of trim removed today (aka yesterday).

Had the double window stool about 2/3 done when I 1) ran out of stripper in one gallon can and went to get another, and 2) noticed that my right index finger was feeling wet and funny.

Oh, bugger, the finger's worn out on the expensive rubber gloves I looked all over for and bought last spring! What could I do?

What any sensible DIYer would do at that hour-- mend the finger with duct tape.

And mended it again, when the stripper melted the glue on the first mend.

So there you go. Two more pieces stripped, to bring the tally to 50.

But I do, certainly do, have to figure out where I can get some help on this. Preferably someone I can bribe with free fresh vegetables.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Sometimes You Gotta Wait

Last night (meaning some time in the wee hours of this morning), I got the four pieces of dining room baseboard I removed yesterday stripped. Three shorts and one long. That makes, I believe, 48 pieces done in all, out of the 330 I tallied last January (not counting doors, floors, and stairs).

Doing them, I couldn't help but notice the charming pry bar marks I've left in the top edges. Couldn't help making them; that's what it took to get the trim off the walls; but oh, lord! What a joke it is on oneself to lambaste the clumsiness or outright butchery of previous owners, and realize that klutziness like this will rise up someday to accuse you, too!

And this afternoon I had enough to accuse previous owners of, and myself as well. This mid-afternoon, all virtue-bedecked, I set out to pry off the first of the twelve foot long baseboards in the dining room. I knew there'd be somewhat of a challenge, since yesterday I discovered that when the POs-1 (I think) resurfaced the east dining room wall with sheetrock, they'd notched it over the baseboard trim on the south and north walls. But with a modicum of work, the short piece on the south wall came free.

I anticipated the same event on the north.


For one thing, between the original builder's great scribing job and the humidity of summer, the piece is wedged tight at its west (left) end. Oh, and it's also cracked there. For another, its east, righthand end, appears to run into the wall, oh, at least an inch, inch-and-a-half. For aught I can tell, it goes half-way round the world and terminates in some mystical kingdom of ancient plaster dust and horsehair.

So now it was I justifying wanton house butchery, and delicacy be damned. I chistled out big hunks of sheetrock. I pried out pieces of furring strip. I yanked out a couple of drywall nails. Good grief, by now it should only be plaster that thing's abutting now, but it feels like it's hung up on a piece of wood!

Of course I know the baseboard's hung up on the stupid fake Pergo at the toe. That's no mystery.

The mystery is now I'm finally going to get this piece off.

I've taken my hacksaw and cut through the nails towards the top of the board. There's maybe three more, about 3/4" from the bottom, where I can't get the hacksaw to them. And I'm not strong enough to take the wire cutters to them. By dint of the prybar ("SCREEEEE!! SCREEEE!! SCREEEE!!" till my ears where ringing) I've got the piece at maybe a 60 degree angle, plenty of room left to go where I got rid of the drywall and furring, but still stopped cold by something.

So around 3:30, I stopped cold, too. And had some ice cream. I shall have to borrow a bigger pry bar, or someone stronger than I to wield it, or both. And since my near neighbors all seem to be having parties or to be out this evening, that will have to wait.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Things I Need to Consider

Last night before last (meaning early this morning), while basking in the virtue of having gotten some woodwork stripping done, I lay in my bed wondering what pieces needed to be taken down and done next.

And the facts confronted me, stolid and grim: The long baseboard pieces in the dining room have to be done now, in the summer, while I can still strip them if need be on the back porch.

So this afternoon, I took up spear and cudgel-- I mean hammer, five-in-one, and pry bar-- and set to work.

But as I am a sensible being (mostly), I started with the shorter baseboard pieces, in the walls with the doorways. This was not a means of avoiding work. No. These pieces on the south wall are the ones with the electrical outlets in them. And for the baseboard to come off, the outlets had to be disconnected and pulled out.

Happily, by now I know which circuit they're on-- the same one that controls the basement lights and all the outlets in the house, except the ones in the kitchen and the third floor study. Turning it off decommissioned all the phones except for the one up in the heavenlies-- lovely when you're expecting a call back from a job search committee chairman and you run all the way up to find it was only a telemarketer. And so nice to have to reset all the clock radios once the power is back on. But we make these sacrifices for Art.

What was not at all artistic was how these two outlets are wired. It's not just that the wiring is only one notch up from knob-and-tube, it's also that on one of them, the clever improver back in the '40s or whenever neglected to put the bloody mess in a box.
Oh, golly, don't I feel safe?!

Five years ago when I was purchasing the Sow's Ear, the electrical inspector hired by my real estate agent said these outlets needed attention because they weren't grounded. But redoing them would only cost $250, he estimated, well under the $500 floor set by the sales contract that would've required my sellers to deal with it. I was 900 miles away in Kansas City when this inspection took place. So I do not know if this clever inspector was aware of the um, frugal job made of this particular recepticle.

But oh, damn, I'm aware of it now. And I shall have to get my electrician (not the same bloke) out to rectify matters.

But when? Before or after I get the trim stripped, replaced, and shellacked?

Or both?

Couldn't get him over today, that's for sure. So I pried the wires off the screws, pulled the recepticles free, wrenched off the baseboards, and then, using the photos I took along the way, replaced the old ivory outlets with brown ones that'll match the woodwork better. Don't worry, I know what I'm doing-- my dad was an electrician!

But I'll still feel happier if I can get Mr. Coffey out here soon to make a proper job of it.

But there's another thing I have to consider: When my previous owners put in the fake Pergo, they ran it up against the existing baseboard, then put quarterround over the crack. This made the baseboard pieces harder to remove.

But it also raises the question of how and whether I'm going to replace the laminate flooring with proper oak boards, and when. I'd really like to install the new floor under the baseboard, and dispense with the quarterround altogether. Seems it'd be a lot cleaner look. But I can't afford new flooring right now! And I don't want to wait to put the baseboards back until I can!

I shall have to figure this out. Meanwhile, I'm marking and saving the existing quarterround pieces, if I have to use it after all. I don't plan on stripping them, but they'll do for patterns for the new stain-grade material