Friday, December 31, 2010

That's Done, at Least!

Look at that.  Isn't it pretty?

Fourteen stair treads, all rough-sanded.

Yes, they need lots of filling, then a go with the medium and then the fine grit.  But the old dirt and grime and roughness is off.  It's gone.

And it's still 2010.

In which case, I'm hitting the Publish button and going to go party.

See you next year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Where I Am with Things

I admit it:  I haven't done anything with the hall floor sanding since Monday the 20th.  Too much going on since then with choir concerts, year-end paperwork, Christmas cookery, and general holiday-making.  Even if I'd had time to sand, my friends wouldn't savor my bread and candy any more with a dusting of wood floor over it.

But this afternoon I really am going to do something.  Need to rehang the plastic over the doorway to the 3rd floor (it fell down day before yesterday) and 120-grit sand the last 2/5 of the hall way floor.  Then drape the openings to the stairhall on the 1st floor with plastic-- not my favorite sport, and the animals won't appreciate it, either.  Then, then, maybe I can start on the 1st floor stair treads.  Nothing gets shellacked in there until the sanding is done.

Meanwhile, here's a couple-three pictures from the most recent work:

Where I cracked a groove during the medium sanding.  May've had something to do with countersinking that nail beyond the board's tolerance.

Securing down that cracked groove.  I used some small annular nails I had in my workshop, toenailed in, as recommended by various websites.  Wish I'd used regular finish nails instead.  It doesn't look too bad in this picture.  You don't want to see how it looked after I tried countersinking those flat heads.

Ran my carpenter's pencil over the surface (actually wrote myself a monitory message) to keep from oversanding before I started the 120-grit fine-sanding phase.  When the pencil marks are gone, it's sanded enough.  Period.
How the part that's totally sanded looks.  Pretty!  (I think.)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Back at It

I'm too tired to say anything clever at the moment, but I thought I'd report that for the last two days, after an hiatus of what? two or three weeks, I'm back at the hallway sanding.

And I suppose it's going reasonably well.  The rough sanding still isn't done, but at least I can tell the difference between what I've worked on and what I haven't.

I've been using the belt sander; it's the only effective way to get things started, my floor's in such bad shape.  The biggest difficulty has been keeping the damn cord out of the way.  They say to drape it round your neck, but that's only going to work if you loop it round once or twice.  Which could get interesting if the sander got away from you.

Ergo, I didn't get the best use out of it yesterday, which led me to believe I was going to have to do a lot of additional filling, where the soft parts of the wood have worn away.  But where I was working today, I was able to hang the belt sander cord off the newel post, and got a lot more done with it.  Smoothed down some floorboards I was sure would have to be filled, and I think they're still structurally sound . . .

I'm still not sure how far I can take that.  If I decide I'd better not sand the boards down until they're absolutely clean, which will look worse:  shellacking over the remaining dirt, or shellacking over the wood filler?  I've noticed that the latter actually looks darker than the wood around it once you've got a few coats on.  And if I don't fill those areas, what will that mean for wearabilty?  But if I don't, will the filler necessarily stay in?

I reflect as I work that I have no method.  I mean, sometimes I use 80-grit belts and they work well enough.  But sometimes they don't, and I go to 60-grit belts.  And sometimes I can manage the 60-grit belts just fine, and sometimes they leave skid marks in the wood and I have to go back to the 80.  A professional would be able to use a given tool or technique the same way all the time.  Me, I'm no professional.  I have no method.

I haven't made too much of a mess of the floor, though some of the adjacent vertical woodwork now bears marks of where I let the belt sander get rather too close.
But I've figured out how to track the belt, so that's an advance.

The rough sanding isn't totally done, but as I said, I'm tired.  I'm using muscles I forgot I had.  I need to cut more sandpaper for the mouse sander, and rip some more filler strips for floor cracks.  Yes, there are some I didn't fill last April and know now I should have.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

For a Moment, I Wavered

For awhile there this past weekend, I about gave up my DIY card on the 2nd floor hall sanding.

Very early this past Friday morning I was minutes away from heading to a substitute teaching engagement, when a call came in from the school's dispatching secretary.  Class was cancelled: some bright soul had crashed his car into the power pole carrying the transformer that fed both the junior and senior high schools.

I can cope with that, she said brightly to herself.  That gives me an entire day to make good progress on my hallway floor.  With my tamed belt sander.  Yeaa!!

Or maybe not.  Ever try sanding a floor with a liquidly runny nose?  There I am with my goggles getting fogged up because I keep the thermostat low and my dust mask catching snot every time I bend over to work.  I can't see, I can't breathe, and besides, it's gross.

And then here's the belt sander, with the belt getting off track.  Damn!

I got online and looked up how to fix that.  All the while, my cold is getting worse and my head more congested.  Okay, it says to find some screw on the side of the sander and adjust that while holding onto the switch.  Oh, gosh, that'll mean my big screw flathead driver, and I can't even fiiiiiiiinnnnndd it!!!!!  I doubt I can even find the blinking screw!!

I try using the orbital sander instead.  It does No. Good. At. All.  Crap-crap-crappity (sneeze-sneeze-sneeze!!)-CRAP!

I find a diagram of my sander.  Oh, good grief, it's not a screw, it's a knob!  Why the dickens do they want to call it a screw for?

I try adjusting said knob.  Maybe now my sandpaper will track and I can get something done.  Between drips, that is.

But no.  The belt slid over again and sent up sparks, and every time I bent over, my nose sent out snot.


So I wavered.  I confess it, I did.  I got back online and looked up "Floor sanding Beaver County PA."  And found the website of an outfit not too far away that seemed to do good work and came with good references.  I measured the hallway (approximately 65 square feet) and  the treads (14 at 3'-0" x 10") and put in a call.

The refinisher guys weren't in, but hopefully they'd call me back on Monday.  If the bid would came in at $250 or less for the rough sanding (or all the sanding), they could have the job.  Screw my pride, I didn't give a single damn.  My health can't take this.

That evening, I went to bed early.

But hope springs eternal.  Saturday I dragged myself to a local hardware store that was having a one-day coupon sale, and among other things bought some 80-grit belts.  Maybe I could manage them better than the 60-grit I just got in the mail.  And when I got home, I tried retracking the 60-grit belt that was on it (too sick, tired, or lazy to change it) and got to work.  In the closet, where it wouldn't show.

Whoa!  Good thing I did!  It took the dirt off, but it definitely left treadmarks in the floor!  Blast it, it wasn't the sandpaper, it was the forward roller of the sander.

Back to the Internet.  Oh! you're supposed to turn the thing on while turning the tracking knob!

That was too much for me.  I went back to bed with a new box of tissues.  For the rest of the weekend.

Yesterday afternoon the floor refinishing people called back.  My little hallway would be their minimum $600.  $1,100, if they did the treads down to the 1st floor, too.  "Treads are very labor-intensive."  Yeah, tell me about it.

Six hundred dollars for that hallway?  Another $510 for the treads?  Uh, thanks but no thanks.  Looks like I'll have to stiffen the backbone and get on with it myself.  After I get over the cold.

And as earnest of that, this afternoon I took the Hitachi down the basement, clamped it in the vise, and did the tracking job properly.  It's still sending out sparks from the dust it's collected, so work will have to wait till I get a new can of compressed air.  Just as well-- that'll give my sinuses the chance to clear up, too.

But my DIY resolve is returning.  Funny how the prospect of a humongous professional bill can do that for you.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Slog, It Continues

Sometimes it pays to be ignorant.

Back in the summer when I made up the shellac sample for my floors, I used a piece of floorboard that my previous owners two back had pressed into service as a shim piece when they moved the front bedroom door.  It sanded down very quickly, and I thought the boards in the 2nd floor hall would be the same.

Um, well, no.

As of last night, I've been at the floor sanding game for portions of three days, and I can't claim to be even 15% done.  Something to do with the fact that the shim board was obviously unused, whereas people have been walking on this floor and grinding dirt into it for nearly a hundred years?

But let's take it in order.

Last Saturday the 6th when I was feeling fed up about that recalcitrant stairway tread, I got something done (as I thought) by patching the nail holes and other irregularities in the hall floor with tinted Zar wood filler.  The tint job wasn't the same each time, and I can only hope that once the shellac is down it'll all even out.

Thursday I got to the sanding.  I hung plastic over the doors in a symbolic attempt to keep the dust out of the bedroom, bathroom, and 3rd floor, and off I went with my belt sander with the 80-grit paper!  The idea being to take off the high places of the cupped floorboards.

Well, I didn't put any gouges in the surface.  And the high places at the edges did go down a bit.  But the dirty dark middles stayed as dirty and dark as ever.  And the Zar filler seemed proof against any attempt at abrasion.

More depressing, just that little bit of work put a lot of crud in the sanding belt.  And those things are expensive.  Enough of that.  Take it back downstairs and put it away.

All right, get out the orbital half-sheet sander.  And the mouse.  Both with 40-grit.   Sand, sand, sand, sand, sand.  Couple of hours later (when I had other things I had to go do), the three or four boards I was working on looked a little better, but like nothing that could be called done.

At the same time, I noticed that some of the bigger holes I'd filled the previous Saturday had sunk in, so I topped them off before I went to bed. 

Friday, I was at it again.  I extended my incursions maybe three or four more boards' worth.  For another hour and a half.  The photos reveal pathetically little progress.

Whereas my work light revealed that a couple of the boards right outside my bedroom door are in terrible shape and needed more filling.  I filled them, and if that stuff goes dark under the shellac, I'm in a lot of trouble.

Yesterday I actually looked online to see if it was possible to rent a small floor sander.  But the sites talking about technique all blithely admitted that it's very likely that an amateur like me is going to inflict a few circular gouges before getting the hang of the thing, and my hallway's too small to practice on. 

Late in the evening (after an afternoon spent out in the fine weather cleaning up the garden), I was up and back at it.  Decided maybe I should give the belt sander another chance.  This time I was working into the hall closet.  Belt sander took down a few more ridges.  Nice.  Interior of boards remained gunky.  Not so nice. Usual dance of the three sanders.  Maybe I should bear down on the orbital sander a bit more?  Marginally more effective, but not much.  But I suppose the cleaned up area is expanding.  If I don't look at it too closely.

But something different has got to be done.  I believe in taking the time needed to do a project well, but this is ridiculous.  So around midnight I cleaned up, went downstairs, and got online again.  This time I looked up "Good belt sander technique."  And found what looks like a very good article on the American Woodworker website called "Tame Your Belt Sander."  And the most useful thing I learned from it was that not only is it okay to run the machine at a 45 degree angle across the boards you're trying to level, it's absolutely advised.  Oh, yes, and that you should always lift the sander vertically off the work piece at the end of the run and never turn it off or on while it's on the surface.  And that you can clean up gunky belts with an abrasive stick or with a wire brush.  Which I have. 

(Oh.  Guess I should fish those used ones out of the trash . . .  )

But as to what I was saying about ignorance.  I was roaming around other sites to see what else they could teach me, and I came across this forum, wherein a hapless would-be DIYer asks,

"I have no idea how to refinish wood floors, but ours need it. I suppose you rent a sander and buy materials at Home Depot or someplace similar.  Anyone ever done it? Any advice?  Thanks!"

And damned if all but one or two of the many replies didn't say, "Hire it out!"  "It will take forever!"  "It'll cripple your knees!"  "It'll ruin your back!"  "Hire it out!"  Probably the most pungent (if not putrid) of them wryly suggested, "Have s*x with the moldering corpse of a goat. Why? It will seem like a day at the beach compared to sanding your [own] floors."

Funny, the typical houseblogger seems to be of sterner stuff.  Unless everybody else is hiring out their floor sanding and just not saying?

Well, I doubt I could get anybody to come do my little hall.  And I doubt even more if I'd trust anybody else to do it.  So I need to invest in a few more belts for the Hitachi, and some more 40-grit hook-and-loop paper for the B&D mouse, and just keep at it.  And definitely some more wood filler.  I found more holes and cracks that needed filling last night and the tub is empty.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

For My Sins

I'm not sure how to explain it.  Too much care or not being careful enough; not doing well or not knowing when to leave well-enough alone.  But some diabolic fate seems now to be binding me to the next-to-the-bottom tread of my stairway to the 3rd floor, there eternally to be chained not physically, but emotionally, as I expiate my shellacking sins.

Late Wednesday night the 3rd, I assayed to get the seventh coat of shellac on those stairs.  It didn't go too badly, really.  I filled a divot in the next-to-the-bottom step with the Miniwax wood filler putty that you're not supposed to finish over.  But I need something flexible there and the shellac ought to move with it.  It seems to be working so far.

But after I got done, at just about straight up midnight, I noticed that I hadn't properly brushed out the finish at the right hand side of that same tread.  You definitely could see a brown build up there.

So did I go to bed and sleep on it and see if maybe it looked okay in the morning?  Heck, no.  I got a brush with some alcohol on it and tried to blend it in.

Of course, it didn't.  It just took the upper coats off. 

I tried a little more.  It took off some more.

To hell with it.  I tried cleaning the whole surface with alcohol.  It didn't take enough off.

Off to bed, and deal with it later.

On Saturday the 6th I went the whole hog and pulled out the Western Wood Doctor refinisher and the 00 steel wool and took the entire finish off of it.  So there. 

And proceeded to start essentially from scratch on that tread and started applying the six or seven coats anew.

Last Sunday, I was getting there.  When I wielded a full brush with a light hand, the shellac blended in beautifully. Just one more coat and I'd be done!

Damn!  Somebody remind me not to be doing that after 11:00 PM when I'm tired and the light isn't that good anyway.  This last time, I failed to notice or brush out puddles on both sides of that tread!  It looked terrible! 

Was I going to get out the WWD and strip it off for the second time?

Not likely.  An article on the This Old House website says you can repair shellac, everybody says repairability is one of the great things about shellac, and I was going to repair it.

It's taken me the last three days (and at least one dream-obsessed night) to deal with it, using a small artist's brush first to dissolve the brown ridges and then to lay on a little color at a time.  But I think-- think!-- I'm to the point where I'm going to say Good Enough.  I know the aberrant places are there.  I will have to live with the reminder of how dumb it is to do finishing at midnight when I'm tired and not thinking or seeing straight.  I stick my camera in close where I can catch every last irregularity of it. But nobody else will notice unless I point it out to them.

And if nothing else, this proves that I was right to do my experimenting and get my technique down on these upper steps.  Pretty much no one's going to see them except for me.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Linguistic Reflections on Things Finished in the Past Couple of Days

I really owe you a post, and there's liable to be a few inserted in retrospect.  But in the meantime, here's a link to an article on shellacking-- in both its senses!-- that I just found on the BBC website:

"Who, What, Why: What Is a 'Shellacking'"?

Observe the paragraph on the use of construction terms to denote taking a severe beating.  I wonder how that got started, hmmm?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Scary Things

I knew the shellacking was going too well up to now!  I knew the Demon of Klutziness was going to pop out and get me at some point!

Or did I just ignore the Angel of Good Sense?

Friday, I had the fresh shellac for the stairs all mixed up and ready to go.  I'd been decanting the stuff into a square plastic Rubbermaid storage container, which was handy for the brush and had a nice lid to seal it between coats. 

That evening down in my workshop, I poured the tinted mixture into this and managed to fill it all the way to the top.

"You're going to spill that," my good sense told me.  "Pour some of it back."

"No, I won't.  It's better to have more in the plastic container.  I'm going to need it for the last two coats."

So I took the closed and brimming container of shellac upstairs.

Once up at the top of the 3rd floor stairs, the first thing I realized was that I'd forgotten to add the teaspoon or so of 91% isopropyl alcohol to keep it workable longer.  But I was too lazy to go down the basement to get the bottle and add it.

Next thing I noticed was that there seemed to be a lot more hairs and dust squiggles landing in the wet shellac than there were last Tuesday.  You think maybe the vacuuming I did a few days ago didn't last till the end of the week?

Struggling with that, I got the first four or five treads done well enough.  But on the fifth or sixth one down, I was reaching for the smaller brush to do the nosing, and-- out popped the Demon of Klutziness!!!!

No, I got careless.   I jiggled something, or joggled something else, and that full container of shellac tipped over and cascaded down the stairs.

I knew it!  I knew I was going to do something stupid like that!

There was no time to wring hands, or be dramatic, or even take pictures.  The river of shellac was washing over at least three treads, and I had to clean it up before the whole job on all of them was ruined.

I grabbed a clean jar I had at hand, and brushed all the runny shellac I could into it.  Once that was closed and in a safe place, I quickly brushed the wet remainder over the treads that needed to be done anyway

What I didn't think of was that the lowest tread that was spilled on, the one with the least renegade shellac on it, was the one I should have brushed out first.  By the time I'd dealt with the overflow and the two treads above, this one was splotchy and blotchy and too tacky to do anything with.

Yesterday noon I tackled it.  Applied another coat of shellac, hoping it'd blend in as advertised.  So I took a pad of sheep's wool wrapped in a piece of old T-sheet, soaked it in denatured alcohol, and rubbed off the top layer or two off.  That removed the blotching.

Today I've been reapplying the coats to that tread, and I think it's to the point where my scary mishap doesn't show.  Just now this evening I've got the official sixth coat on all the steps . . . which should mean I'm done with them . . . if I didn't think they really need a seventh coat to get the color I want.

We'll see how that goes.  Hopefully the shellac spooks have had enough and will leave me in peace!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I'm Finally Doing It

Finally, finally, after months and years of reading and researching, talking and blogging, ordering and mixing, tinting and testing, I'm finally doing it.  I'm finally laying shellac onto a surface here at the Sow's Ear.

As you might have guessed, I'm starting at the top, with the treads of the stairs to the 3rd floor.  The treads are going on in and 1.5 pound cut of Kusmi #1 button lac dissolved in 195 proof denatured alcohol and tinted with mahogany aniline dye.   I'm not staining or dyeing the wood first, but putting the tone down in layers, so I can get the color I want.

I can't find the sample I did a few weeks ago, but I know it took six coats to get the right color.  It's all right, because freshly-mixed shellac dries quickly (you can recoat in forty minutes to an hour), and more coats diluted to a thinner consistency makes for a more durable finish.  Actually, I'm adding a nitch of isopropyl alcohol to retard drying so it won't get tacky before I get the brush marks blended in.

Here's today's progress.  Please note that my camera renders the color entirely too reddish, no matter how I adjust it.

11:35 AM:  The stairs to the Study stripped, sanded, dusted, and ready to be finished.

12:11 PM:  All taped to keep the mahogany-toned shellac off the risers.  Those'll be done in a warm walnut to like what was on them before.

(Wait a minute.  Almost  all taped.  Missed a spot.)

12:16 PM:  The top treads, without finish, and

12:27 PM:  The same, with one coat.

12:45 PM:  Making progress.

3:39 PM:  Two coats on.

6:27 PM:  After a light 220-grit sanding, ready for coat No. 3

7:10 PM:  Three coats applied.

8:43 PM:  Ready for No. 4

9:19 PM:  Four coats completed.  I'm running low on shellac, so I'll need to dissolve the rest of the buttons I have before I can finish this stage of the job.

And finally,

9:29 PM:  Huw the boikitteh, thoroughly disgusted with me for enleashing all those funny smells and for not allowing him to go up to the 3rd floor study, all day.

What I've Been Up To

A pictorial tour of the last couple-three weeks at the Sow's Ear:

Late on Tuesday, October 5th:  Flaws, holes, dings, and dents filled with Zar filler tinted with mahogany aniline dye dissolved in denatured alcohol.

Wednesday the 6th:  Nothing accomplished on the stairs.  Made quince jelly instead.

Saturday the 9th:  The five top stairs sanded down with 80-grit sandpaper.

Baby gate put at bottom of the stairs to keep the dog and his claw marks off the bare wood.

Sunday the 10th, approximately 7:00 AM:  The boy cat knocks the metal gate on the floor.  Replaced it with a wooden one.

Monday, 11 October:  One more tread and part of another medium-sanded.

Meant to do more that day, but I was watching my friend Hannah's* daughter Letty*, who was off school for Columbus Day.  We went to the riverside park and picked up windfall crabapples.  Twice.

Tuesday the 12th:  No stair work: made quince cheese.

Wednesday the 13th:  Medium-sanded the rest of the treads. 

Used the travel iron and a wet washcloth to raise the dents where I knocked the mouse sander and the canister vac down the stairs.

Dotted in some more tinted wood filler where I'd missed some spots.  Went a little nutty and used the rest of it on the hallway floor.

Raked and bagged leaves in the back yard while the filler was drying.

Thursday the 14th:  Fine sanded the stairs. 

Steamed the bottom tread again where I lost control of the mouse sander and let it plow into the wood. 

Decided I couldn't stand the stray nail tip some previous owner rammed through a riser from the closet below, and figured out a way to cut it off and countersink it.

Discovered I'd missed some holes and dings I should have refilled and sanded.  Too bad.  Any more material comes off these stairs, they'll have no intregity left whatsoever.

Since then, I've raked more leaves, gone to my second wedding of the month, gathered up the drop cloths and cleaned up a prodigious amount of sanding dust, substitute-taught a few times, gotten a sore throat, spent this past Sunday in bed, and, yesterday, had my final chemo session.  What I've been up to today, Tuesday the 26th, can wait for a separate post.