Monday, November 23, 2009

Trimming the Sow

When I first saw the notice for the latest True Value ( DIY contest, "My First DIY," I thought I was supposed to write about my first do-it-yourself project ever.

Ah, yes. That would be the time I demounted and stripped all the Victorian hardware in the first floor apartment I shared with two other girls one summer at college, to the genuine joy of the landlord.

But I looked closer at the notice, and it actually says "After I got the keys to my house, the first thing I changed was..." So this is definitely a Sow's Ear question. My first and so far only bought-and-owned-by-me house.

Then it reads, "We want to hear all about that very first DIY project you completed, once you had the keys in your hand."

Oh. Do you really want to hear about that? It was really simple and boring, if very effective. I scraped and cleaned the basement bathroom and laundry room floors and gave them a coat of porch floor paint. It went from flakey gray and burgundy red, pockmarked in places with spots of bare concrete, to a nice light green. Brightened the spaces up amazingly and six years later, even after two supplementary applications in the john, the fresh color makes that part of the basement a pleasure to work in. The only thing I would have done differently is to paint the laundry floor before I had the new washer and dryer installed. Oops.

But how exciting can that be? That ranks right up there with, well, watching paint dry. So if I may submit a more involved project for the community's amusement, may I present the Grand Woodwork Stripping and Refinishing Campaign-- even if even now it's not yet done.

Truly, spiritually, the woodwork is the first thing I began to change after I got the keys.

From the moment I first walked through the door with the real estate agent in June 2003, I knew the mushroom beige paint on that trim was doomed. It was already trying to shrug it off, helped a lot by my previous owners' dogs. I could see the deep shellacked red-brown peeking out from cracks and chips in the loose paint, whispering the promise of solid oak natural-finish woodwork just like I knew back in Missouri. Turned out it was yellow pine, but never mind that. As soon as I had the keys and had retrieved my toolbox from the storage locker, I took my razor blade scraper (with a dull blade) and began flaking away.

And flaking away and flaking away. But I'd just started a 60+ hour a week job as a church pastor and I had to get my study painted and in order so I could find my books and write my sermons, and then there was no way I was going to put my dishes away until the kitchen was relieved of its nice-try-but-too-busy-and-dark wallpaper, was repainted, and had the new backsplash border up and the cabinets remounted. Which didn't get accomplished till January 2005.

Meanwhile, I kept chipping. I chipped when I was on the phone. I chipped when I was bored. I chipped when I came home from a meeting and wanted to feel I'd gotten something useful done that evening. I was awash in dark-beige and cream paint flakes, flakes under the furniture, flakes down the heat registers, flakes tracked around by the dog, flakes being sampled by the cat ("No, Wennie! There might be lead in that!!"). But I swept and vacuumed up the mess and kept on going.

Seeing how easily the paint came away, I concluded that the POs who'd applied it in the first place (this turned out to be my PO-2) had neglected to prime the wood first. Worked well for me, since the only places the paint stuck was where the original finish was worn. The question then was, what to do about them? Once the paint was off most of a piece, the finish was beautiful. So why mess it up? Why not just use the Western Wood Doctor refinisher and use it for both the stubborn paint and to blend in the rest of the finish? And I'd do all the trim while it was still up. So much less hassle that way.

In late February 2004 I got serious about this project, starting with the doorway between the front hall and the kitchen hall. But problems immediately reared their heads. The inner casing, I discovered, once was mortised for hinges and a latchset and the patches screamingly didn't match. These pieces were in bad shape, too, so gouged and pitted the palm sander wouldn't even it out. Bugger. I'd have to take it down after all. But the adjacent face trim was stuck behind the lip of the hall bench and I couldn't work out how to remove it. The casing wouldn't come off till the trim did.

Phooey. I decided to strip it all in place after all. But somehow, I could never work up the nerve to make the commitment and the mess this would involve. Besides, I lost my job for awhile and couldn't afford the supplies, and then I got another job (as an architect) which hardly gave me time to turn around once I got home in the evenings.

So I kept chipping and sweeping, sweeping and chipping. Front room, 1st floor hall, living room, dining room, 2nd floor hall. The only reason the incompleteness of it didn't drive me mad long since was that even with the spots and splotches of stuck-on paint, the natural wood finish revealed on the trim made even the boring ugly beige wallpapers look good.

But in January 2008, in response to a call for New Year's DIY resolutions posts, I realized I needed to make a big push and get this project finished. Or refinished. Whatever. And I faced the fact that there was no way I could get it done without taking the trim pieces down. So I launched my big woodwork refinishing campaign . . . which as of now still isn't complete. I'm set to start reshellacking the woodwork and remounting it, but nothing has happened since the end of August. A girl has to deal with the garden and pursue her part time work and look for a fulltime job, you know.

But I've almost finished doing the things I swore I had to do before I could go back to the woodwork, and maybe-- maybe-- the stair balusters and 1st floor hall trim-- if nothing else-- will be shellacked and remounted in time to deck the halls for Christmas.

Or maybe not. It occurs to me I may have made a similar resolution before on this blog . . .
This post was written for as part of a sweepstakes sponsored by True Value.


Larry said...

Okay - you now have me second guessing myself.

It took me over two years to do the woodwork in the kitchen and that was done in place. I'm very leery of pulling the woodwork off the walls. I did this in our first house and really tore up the wood. I now know how to remove it, but am still worried about doing so.

We had decided to just paint the woodwork. Now you, as well as a photo I found, have made me start to reconsider.

Oh bother....

Kate H. said...

I had to pull mine down since the refinisher I use (Western Wood Doctor) is very runny. And because there was so much old paint stuck in the cracks between pieces, it would've been impossible to get it all out without ripping up the wood. I know. I tried.

Plus, the refinisher is applied with steel wool and elbow grease, and I can get more force into it if the pieces are horizontal.

Your mileage may vary!