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.


A @ Is It A House Yet said...

I didn't know you were sanding steps! What a project - much more time consuming and intricate (all those corners!) than the flat surfaces of our wainscoting. Good luck! How are planning on finishing them?

Kate H. said...

Thanks for coming over! I'm going to shellac them, as they were before. But this time, with a lighter mahogany tone on the treads and the warm walnut on the risers. Of course, that'll highlight where I've sanded the treads unevenly (see 8/24 post) . . . :-(