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.

No comments: