Saturday, July 31, 2010

Some Finish Decisions. I Think.

Early last week, after the previous post, I'd made a decision on what I was going to do about my shellac.  I was going to buy a great big gallon of the Zinsser Bullseye Amber at the blue and gray store, tint it with the aniline dyes I've mixed, and use it on all my floors and trim.  The buttonlac I'd save for a few furniture pieces I have to do.

But Tuesday afternoon I showed up at Lowe's, and the Bullseye shellac can didn't say what the pound cut was.  And there's this other shellac product Zinsser has called SealCoat, and it's 100% dewaxed.  Meaning the other kind isn't.  But the SealCoat can didn't list the pound cut, either.  And the kid behind the paint counter hadn't a clue.  I wasn't about to blow upwards of $25 on the wrong thing, so after getting the scissors I needed to cut sandpaper, I went home and did some research on line.

OK, Bullseye is still 3-pound cut, and SealCoat is 2-pound.  Hmm.  If wax is not that great, maybe I can just tint the SealCoat and put on three coats of that, with a couple of thinned-down coats of polyurethane over it?

Did some more research.

And ended up back on the site, where I'm reading about the buttonlac I already have, and it says this: 

"Buttonlac is a unique shellac product preferred by restorers and those looking for a very protective shellac finish.  It is superb for French polishing due to its hardness. Button Shellacs are prepared by the hand made process of heating the seedlac in a cotton tube. The resin secretes through the pores of the cloth and the molten shellac is formed into buttons. The processing heat polymerizes the resin, resulting in a very tough & moisture resistant finishing material.  Button Shellac is preferred for finishing floors and interior woodwork."

Oh.  Floors and interior woodwork.  I do seem to recall having a phone conversation to this effect with Ron at  Just about a year ago, it was.  I shot him off an email Tuesday evening, full of questions about poly over shellac, could I get the right tint with the red mahogany and dark walnut dyes I already have, what if my dog peed on a shellacked floor, etc., etc.  A few minutes later, I got impatient and called him.

He said yes, I wanted to leave the wax in the Kusmi #1 I'd mixed.  Yeah, I could do poly over the shellac . . . if I laid on a coat of the dewaxed kind first . . . and if I really don't mind losing the repairability of the shellac finish.  Up to me.  As to the dyes, he didn't think I'd need to lay in a supply of golden oak or anything of the sort.  Just try a very little bit of red mahogany, and the natural tone of the yellow pine would supply the gold.  And if I ran out of the buttons for the floors, he could have more to me in three days.

That put me firmly back in the do-it-myself buttonlac camp.  On Wednesday I sanded down some original yellow pine floorboards (what was left of them after I'd sliced them for gap-filler strips) and on Thursday I tinted up some of the Kusmi #1 mix with a wee bit of the mahogany dye (we're talking 1/4 teaspoon in 3/8 cup of 1.5 pound cut shellac-- is that 1/72?).  Over the next two days I brushed on six (count 'em, 6) coats of this mixture on three different old floorboard remnants, and I think I have a reasonably good tone for my hall floor and stair treads.  (Note that the piece shown above is fully-coated only on the left.  Otherwise we have a 6-5-4-3-2-1 sample).  Ron was right-- the yellow in the boards was enough.  Some might think six coats is too much, but I like the easy way the 1.5 lb. cut goes on and everything I've read tells me that several thin coats will hold up better than fewer thicker ones.  I tried splashing some water on it and it beaded right up.

(Two boards have shellac only at the ends; I was reserving the rest in case I needed to test other tones. Yeah,
there's a stripe of build-up next to the bare or less-coated wood.  I've read I can avert that by starting to brush the shellac on about an inch or so away from the end of the workpiece, continue to the other end, then quickly brush back all the way to the first end, picking up and evening out that first deposit of finish on the way.  Should work if I can keep the tread shellac off the stair stringers in the process.)

All this led to a decision:  Instead of successively coating the 3rd floor stairs, 2nd floor hall, and the main stairs (which had long been my assumption), I would now start on the 3rd floor stairs alone.  I'll give them five or six coats of shellac only, then live with them for awhile and see what the dog, cats, and I do to them.  If I think they still need a layer of polyurethane over, I can repair any damage to the shellac and go from there.  Meanwhile, I can be working on the hall floor and the stairs down to the 1st floor.

But today, I had a brainstorm.  You know how I've been stressing over how to keep the animals off the work?  I already had figured out that I can use my tension-sprung baby gate to exclude them from the 2nd floor when I'm doing the stairs to the 3rd.  But I was looking down the stairs to the 1st floor today, and I said to myself, "You know, if you replaced the balusters to the stairwell first, you could put that gate at the bottom of the stairs between the wall and the newel post, and do the upstairs hall and maybe even some of the steps below without the cats and dog in the way."

Hmm.  But that means mixing up the dark shellac for the woodwork in the stairhall and refinishing all that first.

What of it?  A lot of it is vertical surfaces, and maybe it'd be better to have that done before I do the floors.

So tonight I mixed up another jar of button shellac, a pint and a half of 2-pound cut Kusmi #2.  It's still getting shaken and dissolved.  This batch I plan to keep more of, as this time I won't be trying fruitlessly to get rid of the wax!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

It's Always Something

I'm trying to make progress on my floor refinishing, I really am.

This past week I mixed a quantity of Kusmi #1 shellac buttons in denatured alcohol, enough to make three cups of 2-pound cut shellac (that's the biggest jar I had).  Three days to let the lac dissolve, then filter it and the aniline dyes yesterday or today, and I'd be ready to start mixing up color samples.

But once the buttons were dissolved, I noticed an orangey cloudy substance floating in the bottom of the jar.  And though I tried filtering it out through heavy t-shirt fabric, whatever it was went right on through.  Looked it up online last night, and it appears that's the wax that naturally occurs in shellac.  I also learned that it's good to get rid of it, since the less wax, the better water resistance.

Yesterday I decanted the waxiest part into another jar.  But this evening I saw that what was left is pretty waxy still.  The websites tell me to siphon the good part off, but I'm not schooled in such mysteries.  Doesn't that involve sticking a tube into it and sucking it up and trying not to get it in your mouth?  Sounds like a dubious procedure to me.

As it is, I think I have half or less left of what I originally mixed, and I'm contemplately committing sacrilege and letting the Zinsser people take care of it.  I know what they say about getting better quality control and freshness if you mix up your own shellac, and I also know what other people say about Zinsser having perfectly good quality control, you just have to make sure you look at the top of the can and make sure it's from a recent batch.  I do know that I sampled the can of Zinsser amber shellac I bought in May last year, brushing a swatch on a piece of Plexiglas, and it set up right away.

If I give in and use the commercial shellac, it may be because I'll need more of it than I can mix on my own with what I have.  For some reason, when I ordered the lac buttons I got three different kinds, none of which are enough to do the whole job, floors, trim, doors, and all.  Gary at the Old Crackhouse says the various lac colors don't show up that different as applied, but I'd prefer not to make the experiment.

Meanwhile, what I have left of the Kusmi is settling some more.

Got the walnut and mahogany aniline dyes filtered.  That's done, at least.  Had some sediment stuck on the bottom of the jars after I was done.  I'm hoping that took care of a lot of the particles that wouldn't remain in suspension, and isn't a sign I've waited too long to use the dyes.  (Mixed them two months ago yesterday.)  Not sure what would happen if I had; I dipped a piece of pine wood into the mahogany dye and it took it and dried like it's supposed to.  Whatever I use for my basic shellac, it will be cut and tinted with the aniline, so the color will go on in layers, vs. dyeing the wood itself.

The next thing on the list was to sand down some discarded pieces of floorboard to emulate the real thing, to test colors.  The sandpaper sheets you can get to go on the Black & Decker mouse sander are too blinking expensive, so I purchased rolls of fuzzy-backed 60 and 80 grit paper from these guys.  Works great, but I have to use an old sheet as a template and cut each piece to size.  No problem, except I can't find the scissors I use for that, anywhere.  It's a old pair I inherited from my grandfather, and last I saw them, I'd discovered I'd left them out in the garden all winter.  I thought I put them someplace safe, but if so, they're safe from me!  And my other utility scissors refuse to work.

So until I can cut sandpaper, I can't do any sanding and the work is at a standstill.

Actually, I'm on for round three of chemotherapy tomorrow, so there's a standstill of its own.  Temporary, I hope.  I've been stinking tired these past few days, but I hope that's from the heat.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Somebody tell me to pack it in and go to bed.

Since my student version AutoCAD program expired a year and a half ago, if I want to computer-draft anything for the house I have to do it on Google's free version of SketchUp.  SketchUp is 3-D and three dimensions are wonderful and all the latest thing for computer aided drafting, in professional offices, especially.  But it can make things amazingly complicated if you're working with existing conditions.

Like, for instance, the stairway to my third floor.

The idea is that I'll draw this up and then try different colors and tones of fills to figure out how I should finish the risers.  The drawing will also be handy down the road when, God willing, I redo my bathroom and I'm working out how to fit a catbox cubbyhole under the stairs.  But tonight I've got a major bust (as it's called) in my dimensions and things are overlapping that shouldn't be and some contours aren't closing that should be.

I think I know what needs to be done to solve the problem.  I also know that if I go to bed now I'll be obsessing about it in my sleep all night.  Which I did over last night's SketchUp quandaries, only I didn't obsess all night, I obsessed all morning, since I didn't give up and turn in till after 5:00 AM.  Can't afford a repeat performance of that, which is why I need to pack it in.

OK, here's what I'll do.  I'll see if I can cut a section or two of what I have so far, save them as jpg.s, and append them to this post.  Then at least I'll feel I've accomplished something.


Or maybe not a section.  Can't get the cutting planes where I want them.  And hey, this is 3-D, isn't it?  Why don't I show the messy bit in all its conflicted glory? 

Well, there ya go.  One stairway vs. a guest bedroom closet.  Wipe me up with a ShamWow, I'm off to bed.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

So What Now?

If anybody's checking my project trackers over there on the right these days, you'll notice something has changed.

Yes, finally, the one for the stripping of steps to be refinished is at 100%.  Cheers and huzzahs!

About ten days ago I went at the painted stringers of the steps to the 3rd floor with the heatgun, then took a break and devoted my home improvement energies to garden work.  But today I seized my refinisher and steel wool with both hands and got the stringers and the last risers and treads cleaned off and done.

That was completed by around 4:00 this afternoon, with no thanks to a last handful of embedded carpet staples.  If this were ordinary times for me and my energies weren't sapped by the aftereffects of chemo (sorry to have to mention it, but it's true), I would have put up the dropcloths and dust barriers and gotten on with the sanding.  As it is, I cleaned up the stripping mess and retreated to the computer to read other people's houseblogs and contemplate what's next.

1) I managed to chip paint off the trim of the doorway at the bottom of the 3rd floor steps.  I repainted that myself seven years ago.  It's going to stay painted.  I tried smoothing it off with refinisher.  But it's going to need sanded, regardless.  Do I do that first?  Or, given the stricter lead paint regulations, do I just say oh, phooey, and strip that as well, just to get that much more lead paint off?  No, it wouldn't be done according to all the current EPA hazmat rules; I'd be doing well if I put up with wearing a mask in this heat.  But it'd be done.

2)  The treads and risers will need some light sanding, at least.  Can I do that with the animals in the house?  Should I make sure I have the shellac ready to apply right after I sand, so I don't mess up the bare-bare wood walking on it?  That will mean sequestering the critters, somehow, somewhere.  But how, and where?

3)  Have I waited too long since I mixed up my aniline dye colors for the shellac?  I did it on the 24th of May; where did the time go?  Should I have put the jars in the fridge?  Should I get myself in gear to make me some shellac out of the buttons I have in the fridge since last year (they're still good, definitely), or should I go the easy and standardized way and go pick me up some Zinsser's at Lowe's?

4)  How much barrier plastic am I going to have to put up against the sanding dust?  Which would be worse, croaking from the heat and no ventilation with the plastic up, or cleaning yellow pine dust off everything the next five years if I scamp it?

5)  Given the fact that I have to work around the chemo tireds, how long should I allow to sand and refinish the hallway floor and both flights of steps?  Two or three days?  Can I get space in a local kennel for that long at this time of year?

5)  More to the point, how should I finish the risers to the 3rd floor?  Back when I first took the carpet off, I was thinking I'd paint them white and leave the treads natural.  That'd demark the study and its stairs as different, maybe more private. But the stairway comes down past the doorway and I'm not sure I want the white "intruding" into the Craftsman ambiance of the 2nd floor hall.  But maybe that's just my lack of guts talking.

I was hoping to work with a photo of the stairs to render two or three different color schemes for them.  But my cheap-ass photo editing software so far hasn't allowed me to do that.  Or maybe I just don't know how to use it.

Well, one good thing about writing about my worrywarting:  It's shown me how silly a lot of it is.  I mean, just do it and get it done, for goodness sake!

Friday, July 16, 2010

How I Wish!

How I wish my neighbor to the west were a bona fide renovator instead of just a compe- tent home repairman.

This past Wednesday he decided to start reshingling his roof.  They'd had a leak ever since they moved in seven years ago, he told me, and he finally was tackling it.

In order to pry off the double layer of shingles that run down a narrow slope on the side on the house, he had to remove a piece of the godawful ugly aluminum siding they have on their house.  And look what was revealed:

Yes, dark green shakes, maybe cedar!  Underneath all that crappy metal there may just be a respectable Shingle-style bungalow!  Oh! what if?  What if?

I figured there was no way Mr. Westneighbor* had any idea what he'd uncovered.  So yesterday, when I ran into Mrs. Westneighbor outside, I invited her upstairs to take a look.  Maybe, maybe if she saw what I'd seen, she'd get inspired and tell her husband and maybe they'd take all that filthy siding off and repair the shingles underneath.  Then not only would their house look better, but mine would look better next to it!
"Oh.  That's interesting," said she noncommittally.

Today, Mr. Westneigh- bor was up on the roof by 5:45 AM at least, working against time and the weather forecast to get the back side of his roof recovered before it could rain (which it hasn't, so far.  Rot.).  And by late this afternoon not only was that piece of disgusting siding back in place, he'd also glued it in with one of the most messy expanding foam insulation jobs I've even seen at that elevation.  His shingling job is straight and true, so I don't think he has any idea how bad it looks. 

And I need to keep my mouth shut about it, even if I'm the one who has to look at it.  It would be different if Mr. and Mrs. Westneighbor and I had ever grown to be friendly.  But for some reason, whenever I open my mouth to them, especially to him, I get the feeling I am highly disapproved of.  And in my sinful human weakness, I return the favor.  I don't approve of his aesthetic sense.  I don't like the fact he never mows his lawn (I and the neighbor on the other side do it when we can't stand it any more). I don't like the butcher job he did on the shrubs that face my property.  I don't like his overgrown silver maple that sends its seedlings all over the neighborhood.  I don't like his ugly stained siding.  And I don't like the fact that I struggle with feeling so uncharitable towards him.  So if I say word one about the expanding foam, my frustration and disapproval will leak out all over the place.

This is my problem and I have to deal with it.  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! 

At least I can't see that awful foam job from my bedroom window.  But with my bad attitude, maybe I could use the mortification.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Quick Update

I have been working on the house the past two-plus weeks; I just haven't been working in the house.

Nope, time and the growing season waits for no one, so it's been yard and garden, garden and yard, since the 19th of June.

Grinding up last fall's leaves to mulch the vegetable beds, mostly.  How long I could do that each day has depended upon three factors:  1) the relative wetness of the leaves to be chopped, 2) the battery life remaining in my lawn mower, and 3) the energy remaining in me.  Nos. 1 and 2 are the most determinative, since I'd be tempted to keep going until I dropped (though I know I shouldn't) if the mower would keep going and if there were enough dry leaves to do.

This process has really done a number on part of my back lawn.  Set the mower low enough the mulch the leaves, and there goes the grass.  What I really need is one of those leaf-grinding machines, but you know what they say about wishes and beggars.

There's been a lot more planting, too.  Local nursery had a good sale on flowers annual and perennial a week or so ago and I took advantage.  Put in some impatiens under the kerrias by the back gate, and it looks so nice, I wonder why I never did it before.

Got some pruning in, too, late last week.  My weeping cherry needed a haircut, badly, and I confess to taking my pruners to the shrubs of the neighbors to the west, here and there, to clean up where he'd done a crudely quick-and-dirty hack job on them about a month ago.  I mean, I'm the one who's gotta look at them, right?

Week ago Saturday, the neighbor across the street brought over his ladder and cleaned the maple seeds out of my back porch downspout.  We thought he'd got them all, till it rained hard that afternoon and the gutter was still overflowing.  I was watching the spout over the rain barrel, when whoosh!!!  the last of the clog cleared and that water exploded out of the spout and, completely missing the barrel, made a small temporary pond in my back yard.

It settled down and filled the barrel, and we got another good barrel-filler the 23rd.  Hope we get another soon.  That's the last it's rained worth a darn around here.

What else?  Once the leaves were gone from their spot in the west border, I moved the broken bricks I put there two years ago, then dug out the river rock and took up the landscape fabric.  Discovered a cool thing when I did:  the previous owners, when they put in the board fence, lined the foot of it with brick pavers.  Funny, it's only like this on the west side.  Looks like it keeps small creatures from burrowing underneath.  I laid another row of bricks over that, since the fence has shifted a bit.

That done, I was able to turn my compost pile.  Lots of nice dirt on the bottom, which I'll have to decide where to use.  Maybe I can fill the depressions in my front lawn.  Heaven knows that with this dry spell the grass in those areas might be dead already. 

Anyway, tonight, even though there were more leaves to mulch (raked out from the dark and mysterious side yard), I elected to come inside and strip old shellac off the stairs to the third floor.  Don't think I've tackled that since the 12th.  I knocked off about twenty till midnight, even though I only have two treads and risers and a certain amount of stringer left to do.  My sensible reason is that I have round two of chemotherapy in the morning and should get a good night's sleep beforehand.  My real reason for stopping is that my hair is falling out, and although I got it cropped short a week ago, it got really annoying with the hairs sticking to the sweat on my back and shoulders.  If I didn't have more heat gun work to do, I probably would have pushed through.  But I'm not feeling that dedicated.

So I'll try to add a picture or two to this post, then it's off to the shower.