Tuesday, August 24, 2010

And Then I Go and Spoil It All by Doing Something Stupid Like . . .

(We pause while Frank and daughter Nancy go to fade . . . )

All right.  Today I got back on the 3rd floor stair sanding work.  The general plan was to do as many treads as I could with the shop vac at the top, then when it would no longer reach, to move it down to the 2nd floor and finish the treads at the bottom.

But I discovered last week that with patient application with the big oscillating sander I could clean the treads off a lot better than I thought when I started this job.  So before I moved the vacuum cleaner down, I wanted to go back and redo the three winders at the top.  I'd given up too soon before and left a lot of the carpet knife scratches on them and some general dirt, and I knew I could do better.

So I did.  The scratches aren't totally obliterated; at least, there's still some discolora- tion in the wood where they were (which shows up less in person than it does in the pictures), but for the most part the cuts themselves are gone.  The winder treads look a lot cleaner and brighter and now they match the ones below.

However.  Still.  Nevertheless.

The third winder from the top has a crack in it, that left the pieces on either side of it uneven.  You know, I says to myself, if I just keep at it with the sander I can get that levelled off and get off the dirt that's collected in there.  What?  You say I could switch out and use the palm sander to do that?  Oh, surely not!  That'd leave a depression!  I'm going to use the big dual motion sander and keep it moving and the tread will come out nice and even!

Uh, notice anything strange about this picture?

Yeah, that's right.  Talk about "something stupid"!  No, sanding down the rest of the tread to match is not an option.  I want to be able to walk on it, after all.  Nor is replacing it without mass destruction, since the treads are slotted into the stringers.

Oh, carp carp carpitty carp!

OK, let's think of something.  All right.  How's this:  The wallpaper is going to be William Morris, and he was influenced by designs from the Middle Ages.  The tile I've got my eye on for the first floor hall has a Medieval motif to it.  I've got reproductions of Gothic art all round the house.  That's it!  I'll just tell anybody who asks that I wanted my 3rd floor stairs to look like the turret stairs in a Medieval castle!  Never mind that in that case the low place would be in the middle of the tread and not at the side . . .

No use!  Epic DIY fail!  Now I've gone and done something that future owners can rag on me about.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Down Day

Got up this morning, put on my work clothes, and was going to spend all day sanding steps.

But the mild weather tempted me outside to do something about the net-bound black raspberry canes.  Spent all morning detangling the net and cutting off the tops that'd grown through it; pulling up the suckers that had ranged out of bounds (including through the fence into the neighbors' yard), and lopping off the old growth.  Ended up with three paper leaf bags full of trimmings.  I'd glad I did it and I wish I'd done it a month ago, but after that I was scratched and exhausted.

And went upstairs and took a four hour nap.

And still felt draggy and tired after that.

So no sanding today.  Damn.  I guess this chemo business does have an effect on me after all.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Are We Having Fun Yet?

I've noticed that when people (including fellow bloggers) post their floor and stair refinishing experiences online, it generally goes something like this:

"Well, I sanded it all down with 60 (or 40) grit sandpaper, then I filled the holes, then I sanded it again with 80 or 100 grit, then refilled the places that were still a little low, then I got it real smooth with 120 grit, then I finished it off with three coats of polyurethane [or shellac, for the purists], and isn't it beautiful?"

And generally, it is.  What these blithe renovators don't tell you is that a single 94-year-old yellow pine stair tread will take you over two hours, maybe three, and several sheets of 40-grit paper to clean up to bare wood, and even then you'll still have the scratches where the helpful past owners used the carpet tack strip as a straightedge to cut the pad that they put down under the ugly carpet.

I've been back at sanding the 3rd floor stair treads since Friday, and as of this afternoon I have exactly four more of them (for a total of five out of eleven) that show any sort of progress.  My friend Frieda* brought a selection of her husband's power sanders over the middle of last week, and my weapon of choice has been the orbital mode of the big Craftsman dual motion sander.  But even with that, it takes ten forevers to see any difference.

Am I having fun yet?  No, I am not.  This is not satisfying, it's just frustrating.

And it doesn't help discovering in the better illumination from the task light (which keeps falling down and breaking its bulb, dammit) that some bright soul of a previous owner nailed in something from under one tread with a big honking 8 or 10 penny nail and bent the half inch or so that stuck out over and smashed it into the surface of the tread.  I pulled the exposed end erect and tried a variety of tools to cut it off so the remainder could be countersunk.  No luck.  Ended up pulling more of it out with a nail puller, which gave me enough to get at it with the hacksaw.  Now the exposed shank could be hammered in with a countersink, since it hadn't been bent and would go in true.  But I added to the mess on the tread and I'll have to see if I can steam up the dented wood.  This little divertissement provided another half hour's worth of dubious entertainment and did not help my attitude towards this stage of the refinishing job.

Then there's the shop vac.  I'm glad I have it, yes.  But the size of the thing doesn't allow it to balance quite steadily on the middle winder, and every time I use it to suck up the sanding dust I have to manipulate the hose with one hand and keep the cannister from tumbling down the steps on me with the other.  Not to mention keeping the hose from getting tangled in the lead to the task light.  And when they all start to fall down together, it takes mighty quick thinking, I tell you, to decide which to catch first.

Oh, it's a continual delight.  What kills me is how I've read of people taking as much as 1/16" inch off their treads to get them smooth, and I'll be looking at a little scratch, barely perceptable to the touch, and I'll sand and sand and it never goes away.  So demoralizing, but with no money to hire the job out and no option to say to heck with it and paint the stairs (they'd still need sanded if I did), I have to keep plugging away.

Well, an hour or two ago I determined that one of the biggest problems is treads that've cracked, and the crack forms a shallow valley where the dirty scratches have accumulated.  So I gave in to the lure of the detent switch, and with it keeping the sander running without my squeezing the handle, I've been mindlessly gliding the machine back and forth, back and forth, back and forth . . .

It seems to be doing some good.  The dirty places aren't so apparent, I've produced an amazing amount of sanding dust (yeah, no dust catcher), and that particular tread is now perceptibly thinner than the others.  Maybe even by 1/16".

I'm taking a break to eat some late lunch/early supper, and while it's cooking, this is a good enough time to take a break and make a bitch-and-moan post-- I mean, a progress report-- on how the work is going.

Just don't ask me how I'm going to deal with those disastrous bullnoses.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Fillets Mignons

Last night after posting I took my 40-grit sandpaper and my B&D mouse sander to the topmost winder of the stairs to the 3rd floor.  After about an hour and six or so pieces of the paper (all cut out individually by hand, I might mention), I began to make some impression on it.

This is going to take bloody forever!  What do I do if, a week from now, after assiduous labor, I'm working on tread No. 7 and my eldest cat hocks a hairball on the exposed wood of tread No. 3?  I gotta get these sanded and refinished within a reasonable timeframe!

There is hope, however.  Late last evening I got a call from my friend Frieda*, and asked her if anybody in her family might have some other kind of sander that might have more of an effect.  "Oh, yes!" she said, obviously going into their garage, her husband has all sorts of different sorts, including ones good at getting into tight areas.  He's off on a fishing trip now, but she'd see if she could call him today and ask him.

By now, I know she wasn't able to get back with me today, but there's a chance that by Wednesday I might be able to borrow something useful.  I could wait, I told her, because in the meantime I can work on shellacking the stairrail parts from the 1st to the 2nd floors, down in my workshop.

Took awhile for me to get to it, but this evening I got the first coat of warm walnut shellac on the rail and shoe fillets for the bannister.  Used a 1" synthetic watercolor brush I got at the arts & crafts store, and it seems to be working well.   I plan to put on another coat before I go to bed, then lay on the third coat when everything is back together.

I may be taking a risk by leaving the brads in, but I'm thinking I can realign with the existing holes and tap the fillets in with a rubber mallet.  We'll see.  I took some of the more crooked ones out.

Quick addendum, then I'm off to bed:

Got shellac coat No. 2 on.  The fun bit is trying to remember which of these fillets I'd recoated, the finish dries so fast.  You'd think I'd be able to tell by the color of the wood, and I hope I have.  But if anything looks funny tomorrow, it's liable to get another coat slapped on, regardless.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Slog Ever, Slog On?

The 40-grit sandpaper arrived today.  I cut a couple of pieces to fit my Black & Decker mouse sander and tried it on one of my hard yellow pine stair treads.

It works, sort of.  At least, it gets the tippy-top layer off.  The dirty scratches in the recessed grain, not so much.

Now, I'm not looking to have these floors mint-perfect.  I mean, the staple holes are part of the house's history, right?  But I'd like to get the worst of the dirt out, so the grain will actually shine through under the shellac.

I've been online to see if anybody can recommend a small hand-held electric sander that might have a little more horsepower than the B&D.  No luck.  Looks like I'm just going to have to cut a lot of hook-and-loop sheets and go at it.

And at it.

And at it.

And at it.

And at it.

And at it . . .

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Sir Isaac's Revenge

While I'm waiting for the heavier-grit sandpaper to get here so I can continue with the stair treads and 2nd floor hall floor, I've kicked myself up to see if I can get going on the shellac for the trim.

First thing that entailed, late this afternoon, was cleaning up my workbench.  It looked so pretty and clear!  For about five minutes.  Then it was messy time again, filtering the bug bits and stick residue from the Kusmi #2 shellac I mixed up the other day.  No, I didn't make the mistake of blowing on it to make it go through or anything Newtonian like that.  I just had a bad aim when I first tipped the mixing jar to pour the solution through the cheesecloth in the strainer.

No problem.  I had newspaper down and didn't lose too much.  Strained the shellac twice, once into the spare jar and then again into the original mixing jar, which I wiped down well first.  Lots more residue than in the Kusmi #1, I noticed.

But Sir Isaac had his little joke later, when I was mixing up a tinted sample of what is supposed to be a warm darkish walnut.  I bought a couple of little syringes the other day, thinking that would give me better control over the dye amounts than trying to dip it out with the teaspoon set.  So I drew a little of the mahogany color up in one of them, thinking I'd decant just a 1/4 teaspoon or so into my yogurt cup of 1.5 lb. cut shellac.


Oh, yeah, I got dye into the shellac, all right.  Also all over the workbench, on the shelf above, on my scratch pad, on my t-shirt, on my left arm, and a few drops on the finish sample I made for the floors the other day.  Though it should have been out of range.  Happily, the shirt is old and navy blue, I was wearing disposible gloves, and the solution on my arm came off easily with some fresh denatured alcohol.  And unlike some people I could mention, I did not get any on my face.  I checked.

Confident that that little contretemps was past, I thoughtlessly proceeded to try to eject the rest of the mahogany dye from the syringe.  Spplaaaaatttt!!!!  Well, I tried doing it more gently! 

This time, most of it ended up in the yogurt cup-- just before it hit me that I wasn't planning to put that much red color in there.  So I added the equivalent (I think) of dark walnut.  Nope, not warm enough.  OK, more mahogany. 

With that I'm seeing what it will do on the back side of one of my oak balusters.  Not anywhere near dark enough yet (it looks way darker in the photos), and I don't want to lay on more than three coats.  Color's nice, but too much like the floors.

Maybe I should leave the trim shellac a 2 pound cut and dilute it, if at all, with the dye.  I think I need more coverage.  And a bit more walnut.

I know for sure I'm going to have to invest in another, narrower, shellac brush.  The 2" one I have is too wide for those balusters.  Got drips all down the sides, meaning some stripping will be in order.

Never mind.  It's easily done.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hard Pine

I don't know why I think of pine as a softwood.  Like heck it is.  Not yellow pine, at least.  I just tried sanding down my topmost stair tread with 60 grit paper on my mouse sander, and it made hardly an impression on it.  And that was going at it for several minutes.  (The photo is an after picture.)

Phooey.  I`ve just ordered a 40 grit hook-and-loop roll from the Online Industrial Supply people (they're running a pretty good sale, if anyone's interested), and another roll in 120 grit, for the pre-finish smooth sanding.  If the 40 grit doesn't do it, that'll mean buying a more powerful sander.  I don't think hiring a floor sander would do any good, on these winders. 

So that's a couple more days of waiting.  Though why that should bother me, I don't know.  Just because I'm suddenly in the mood to get this all done doesn't mean I should gripe at a little more delay.

Besides, in the meantime I can mix up my dark shellac and tackle stairparts down in the workshop, right?