Saturday, April 17, 2010

I Don't Think So

Well, I was at it again late this evening and early morning, doing more planing, and filling more cracks in my hallway floor with skinny little wood shims.

Yeah, I said I was done the other day. That's what I said.

Put it down to perfectionism. Put it down to my having lived with and scrutinized the floor the past few days. But I've sliced off a few more strips, slathered them with wood glue, and rubber-mallet-rammed them into the increasingly-narrow cracks.

Or maybe you can put it down to my facing reality. Maybe I've finally accepted that there's no way I can do two stages of sanding, mix up and apply the filler for the remaining small cracks and sand it down, get the aniline dye and the lac buttons to dissolve and do the necessary color experiments, and apply three coats of finish (also figuring out how to restrict my four animals from the job site) in time to have the floor all finished before the 21st.

No. I don't think so.

So I may as well do as good a job at this stage as possible.

We'll have fun with shellac in June.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Got This Done!

When my surgery was scheduled for the end of March, it bugged me that I wasn't going to get the Blue Angel holly bushes I bought last fall planted. I heard it needed to be done by mid-April, and one of them didn't look like it'd gotten through the winter that well. Lots of dry leaves and desiccated berries on it. I didn't think they'd survive till June, when I'll be allowed to lift heavy objects again.

If I can lift heavy objects by then . . .

And somehow, I couldn't see asking some random neighbor to come over and dig out fifteen to twenty cubic feet of landscape rock, extract deep and persistent arborvitae roots, test the soil, amend it as needed, and plant those hollies for me by income tax day.

But with my operation being postponed, and a day yesterday when I didn't get called in to work, I was able to finish digging out the river rock and get those shrubs planted myself.

This evening, I mulched them in.

Yay!!! Finally, finally, got that job done!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Three-four years ago, when I first pulled up the rug from my 2nd floor hall, it struck me for the first time that I live in an old house.

Of course I've always "known" that--intellectually. It's just that with the beige carpet and the beige trim and the beige wallpaper it didn't feel any age in particular. This, despite the POs-1's attempt at applied-gingerbread Victorianizing. The house's age and character was so muffled up and cocooned.

But as soon as I saw that dark shellacked pine floor, even with all the paint drips on it, I began to have a feeling for the house as something that had seen nearly one hundred years. I was taken with an almost visceral sense of the living that has gone on here in that time. It was a little like freeing the ghosts, in a good way.

So now the floor is stripped, the wider gaps are filled with shim strips cut from original floorboard material, and tonight's project was to finish removing the fifty or sixty 8d (2-1/2") and 5p (1-3/4") common nails the previous owners felt compelled to drive into the floorboards. Around me was more evidence of their work, in the 1/2" gouges left by the carpet pad staples. But I'm afraid I added my own bit of history to the floor . . . I did my best not to wreak destruction getting the screwdriver tip (yeah, a regular screwdriver) under the nailheads, but sometimes bits of the wood came up with the nail, anyway.

Well. Not as bad as what I did the other day with the five-in-one tool, and oh, I hope the sanding will remove the evidence here!

But who needs perfect? People pay thousands of dollars for that authentic "distressed" look, and here I was creating my own for free.

(Pause for hollow laugh.)

In some cases, the nails were too small to pry up. Those I rammed in with a nail set. In two or three cases, the heads on the bigger nails came off; those shanks got countersunk, too.
Now that the nails are up and out (or down and in), I find myself walking over the floor monitoring the squeak. It squeaked before, didn't it? Sure, it did. It's just the voice of an old house that I hadn't really noticed before. We're not talking the scream of the family banshee at 3:00 in the morning; just the familiar signal that a person is treading there.

What I was checking for was any sign that anything was dangerously loose now that the surface nails are gone. No, everything seems nice and tight (maybe the shims help!). Wonder what those nails were put there for in the first place?

After this, I took my grandfather's old hand plane (now sharpened) and planed down the parts of the shim strips that stuck above the floor surface. I am no expert at planing. So I'll state the obvious: Planing rewards the bold. That is, make good long strokes and keep going. It's the short, tentative strokes that leave the gouges.

I have a bit of cupping on my floorboards, so I expect to have to take it down with the rough sanding. Which should get rid of any inadvertant "antiquing effects" my planing has left.
I still think it would be really great if I could get the floor refinished before I go into the hospital the 22nd. Depends greatly on whether I do my shellac color tests and hit on the right color in time.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Good Signs

No pictures yet (it's dumping rain), but I'm pleased to announce that despite the snow and the cold this past winter, my crape myrtles not only made it, but are starting to leaf out on the old wood!

They're the ones I planted in January of 2008. Winter before last (2008-2009), they died down to the roots-- at least, I think they did. I cut down the dead-looking twigs in the spring, at any rate. But this spring I've been too busy to cut them down, and good thing I was.

Annnndddd . . . The white lilac I moved from the west side of the house to the east in the fall of 2008 is not merely sporting baby leaves, but also the buds of masses of blossoms!

Happy, happy! I shall have lilacs in my side dooryard!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Decided Lack of Enthusiasm

I confess it: I don't greatly enjoy filling the cracks in my 2nd floor hall floor with little wooden strips.

I don't like the fact that the gaps aren't uniformly parallel, forcing me to piece different widths end to end and hope it won't be too noticeable once the floor's refinished.

I don't like having to notch out around the roofing nails some previous owner saw fit to use to hammer in the tongues instead of proper square flooring nails. Inevitably, at least some of the filler strip cracks away.

I don't like taking the old floorboards-turned-shims down the basement to rip strips on the table saw. Never fails-- I always end up with some that are too wide to use.

I don't like the fact that no matter how many gaps I've filled in, I seem to have just as many yet to do. Or at least, the more I fill, the more I feel compelled to fill. The ones that seemed narrow enough to let alone look pretty wide after all.

On the other hand . . . it's good to have the old floorboards to match and rip.

And the table saw to rip them on.

And I'm grateful for the discovery-- which I made last Friday, oh, duh-- that the work goes a lot faster when I do it in the daylight, instead of trying to juggle my old shop light to see to clean out the gaps.

And I am making progress, really I am. By the time the local hardware store gets around to sharpening the blade on my grandfather's plane (they've only had it for the past week, ye gods), maybe all the filler strips will be done and dry.

Maybe, maybe, by the time I (finally) go in for surgery on the 22nd of this month, my hallway floor will actually be refinished.

I think I could muster some enthusiasm for that.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Foolishly April

Like a deft enchanter, the warm April weather beguiled the whole neighborhood out into our yards this late afternoon and evening. If I was going to do anything on the house today, I'd planned to work on filling the cracks in my 2nd floor hall floor. But then I heard the sound of the neighbor childen (three or four houses' worth) playing on the front lawns (plural) and the voices of their parents watching over them, and I had to come out, too.

And noticed that my front lawn really needed mowed.

So I mowed it, reflecting that with an electric mower, I didn't have to worry about changing the oil or cleaning out the filters or anything like that, I just had to put in the battery and go. Of course, it would turn out to be the battery that holds only half a charge, since I forgot to plug the good one in after I ground up leaves with it the beginning of last week. But never mind. There was enough power to do the front and side yards, and that was enough. The back could wait till later, because this evening I was-- totally on the spur of the moment-- inspired to dig into the border on the west side of the house and clear out landscape rock so I maybe, maybe can plant my hollies.

The Blue Angel hollies, I got for half-price at Lowe's last fall. They overwintered in pots in the back yard, mulched in with leaves and the now-melted piles of snow. I am reliably informed they should be planted by the middle of April. I'd worried about that, since I'd expected to be on restricted activity by now, and how could I ask anyone else to go haul out rock for me?

So it was very satisfying to get out there this evening and do it myself.
I'm surprised I got as much done as I did before it got too dark. Pretty much everything on the near side of the air conditioner. And that's considering that I didn't want merely to clear out an area big enough for the planting hole. I intend to get all or most of the rock out of there eventually, and I may as well do it before I get the plantings in, especially ones as prickly as hollies.

There was even more rock to extract than a cursory glance might indicate, as I discovered awhile back. The west rock border extends farther out from the house than it appears to. A good foot or more of it is overgrown with grass, but the landscape fabric and six or seven inches of rock is under there, too, and needed to be removed. (I think I only have about 15" of actual grass between the border edge and the property line.) I wheeled four or five loads of rock out to the alley in my garden cart, and found myself musing on how nice it would be if some of the kids would offer to come help me. But no, that's too much to expect from a gaggle of three- to six-year-olds. The best they could manage was coming around to ask questions and accepting a present of three of the larger or more interesting stones.

I found that the roots of the late arborvitaes, though severed, are still very tenacious. Give them a tug and not only my turf, but the neighbors' as well, was ripping right up. Oops!

Once I get enough rock out for both bushes, I need to test the soil and figure out if it's the right pH for hollies. It should be all right, since there were evergreens in there before, but it won't hurt to check.

And it won't hurt to find out how big the planting hole needs to be.

And judging from how big the pile of landscape rock is getting in the alley, I guess it's time to put another ad on Craigslist and see if I can get rid of it, for love, or better still, for money!