Tuesday, November 23, 2010

For a Moment, I Wavered

For awhile there this past weekend, I about gave up my DIY card on the 2nd floor hall sanding.

Very early this past Friday morning I was minutes away from heading to a substitute teaching engagement, when a call came in from the school's dispatching secretary.  Class was cancelled: some bright soul had crashed his car into the power pole carrying the transformer that fed both the junior and senior high schools.

I can cope with that, she said brightly to herself.  That gives me an entire day to make good progress on my hallway floor.  With my tamed belt sander.  Yeaa!!

Or maybe not.  Ever try sanding a floor with a liquidly runny nose?  There I am with my goggles getting fogged up because I keep the thermostat low and my dust mask catching snot every time I bend over to work.  I can't see, I can't breathe, and besides, it's gross.

And then here's the belt sander, with the belt getting off track.  Damn!

I got online and looked up how to fix that.  All the while, my cold is getting worse and my head more congested.  Okay, it says to find some screw on the side of the sander and adjust that while holding onto the switch.  Oh, gosh, that'll mean my big screw flathead driver, and I can't even fiiiiiiiinnnnndd it!!!!!  I doubt I can even find the blinking screw!!

I try using the orbital sander instead.  It does No. Good. At. All.  Crap-crap-crappity (sneeze-sneeze-sneeze!!)-CRAP!

I find a diagram of my sander.  Oh, good grief, it's not a screw, it's a knob!  Why the dickens do they want to call it a screw for?

I try adjusting said knob.  Maybe now my sandpaper will track and I can get something done.  Between drips, that is.

But no.  The belt slid over again and sent up sparks, and every time I bent over, my nose sent out snot.


So I wavered.  I confess it, I did.  I got back online and looked up "Floor sanding Beaver County PA."  And found the website of an outfit not too far away that seemed to do good work and came with good references.  I measured the hallway (approximately 65 square feet) and  the treads (14 at 3'-0" x 10") and put in a call.

The refinisher guys weren't in, but hopefully they'd call me back on Monday.  If the bid would came in at $250 or less for the rough sanding (or all the sanding), they could have the job.  Screw my pride, I didn't give a single damn.  My health can't take this.

That evening, I went to bed early.

But hope springs eternal.  Saturday I dragged myself to a local hardware store that was having a one-day coupon sale, and among other things bought some 80-grit belts.  Maybe I could manage them better than the 60-grit I just got in the mail.  And when I got home, I tried retracking the 60-grit belt that was on it (too sick, tired, or lazy to change it) and got to work.  In the closet, where it wouldn't show.

Whoa!  Good thing I did!  It took the dirt off, but it definitely left treadmarks in the floor!  Blast it, it wasn't the sandpaper, it was the forward roller of the sander.

Back to the Internet.  Oh! you're supposed to turn the thing on while turning the tracking knob!

That was too much for me.  I went back to bed with a new box of tissues.  For the rest of the weekend.

Yesterday afternoon the floor refinishing people called back.  My little hallway would be their minimum $600.  $1,100, if they did the treads down to the 1st floor, too.  "Treads are very labor-intensive."  Yeah, tell me about it.

Six hundred dollars for that hallway?  Another $510 for the treads?  Uh, thanks but no thanks.  Looks like I'll have to stiffen the backbone and get on with it myself.  After I get over the cold.

And as earnest of that, this afternoon I took the Hitachi down the basement, clamped it in the vise, and did the tracking job properly.  It's still sending out sparks from the dust it's collected, so work will have to wait till I get a new can of compressed air.  Just as well-- that'll give my sinuses the chance to clear up, too.

But my DIY resolve is returning.  Funny how the prospect of a humongous professional bill can do that for you.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Slog, It Continues

Sometimes it pays to be ignorant.

Back in the summer when I made up the shellac sample for my floors, I used a piece of floorboard that my previous owners two back had pressed into service as a shim piece when they moved the front bedroom door.  It sanded down very quickly, and I thought the boards in the 2nd floor hall would be the same.

Um, well, no.

As of last night, I've been at the floor sanding game for portions of three days, and I can't claim to be even 15% done.  Something to do with the fact that the shim board was obviously unused, whereas people have been walking on this floor and grinding dirt into it for nearly a hundred years?

But let's take it in order.

Last Saturday the 6th when I was feeling fed up about that recalcitrant stairway tread, I got something done (as I thought) by patching the nail holes and other irregularities in the hall floor with tinted Zar wood filler.  The tint job wasn't the same each time, and I can only hope that once the shellac is down it'll all even out.

Thursday I got to the sanding.  I hung plastic over the doors in a symbolic attempt to keep the dust out of the bedroom, bathroom, and 3rd floor, and off I went with my belt sander with the 80-grit paper!  The idea being to take off the high places of the cupped floorboards.

Well, I didn't put any gouges in the surface.  And the high places at the edges did go down a bit.  But the dirty dark middles stayed as dirty and dark as ever.  And the Zar filler seemed proof against any attempt at abrasion.

More depressing, just that little bit of work put a lot of crud in the sanding belt.  And those things are expensive.  Enough of that.  Take it back downstairs and put it away.

All right, get out the orbital half-sheet sander.  And the mouse.  Both with 40-grit.   Sand, sand, sand, sand, sand.  Couple of hours later (when I had other things I had to go do), the three or four boards I was working on looked a little better, but like nothing that could be called done.

At the same time, I noticed that some of the bigger holes I'd filled the previous Saturday had sunk in, so I topped them off before I went to bed. 

Friday, I was at it again.  I extended my incursions maybe three or four more boards' worth.  For another hour and a half.  The photos reveal pathetically little progress.

Whereas my work light revealed that a couple of the boards right outside my bedroom door are in terrible shape and needed more filling.  I filled them, and if that stuff goes dark under the shellac, I'm in a lot of trouble.

Yesterday I actually looked online to see if it was possible to rent a small floor sander.  But the sites talking about technique all blithely admitted that it's very likely that an amateur like me is going to inflict a few circular gouges before getting the hang of the thing, and my hallway's too small to practice on. 

Late in the evening (after an afternoon spent out in the fine weather cleaning up the garden), I was up and back at it.  Decided maybe I should give the belt sander another chance.  This time I was working into the hall closet.  Belt sander took down a few more ridges.  Nice.  Interior of boards remained gunky.  Not so nice. Usual dance of the three sanders.  Maybe I should bear down on the orbital sander a bit more?  Marginally more effective, but not much.  But I suppose the cleaned up area is expanding.  If I don't look at it too closely.

But something different has got to be done.  I believe in taking the time needed to do a project well, but this is ridiculous.  So around midnight I cleaned up, went downstairs, and got online again.  This time I looked up "Good belt sander technique."  And found what looks like a very good article on the American Woodworker website called "Tame Your Belt Sander."  And the most useful thing I learned from it was that not only is it okay to run the machine at a 45 degree angle across the boards you're trying to level, it's absolutely advised.  Oh, yes, and that you should always lift the sander vertically off the work piece at the end of the run and never turn it off or on while it's on the surface.  And that you can clean up gunky belts with an abrasive stick or with a wire brush.  Which I have. 

(Oh.  Guess I should fish those used ones out of the trash . . .  )

But as to what I was saying about ignorance.  I was roaming around other sites to see what else they could teach me, and I came across this forum, wherein a hapless would-be DIYer asks,

"I have no idea how to refinish wood floors, but ours need it. I suppose you rent a sander and buy materials at Home Depot or someplace similar.  Anyone ever done it? Any advice?  Thanks!"

And damned if all but one or two of the many replies didn't say, "Hire it out!"  "It will take forever!"  "It'll cripple your knees!"  "It'll ruin your back!"  "Hire it out!"  Probably the most pungent (if not putrid) of them wryly suggested, "Have s*x with the moldering corpse of a goat. Why? It will seem like a day at the beach compared to sanding your [own] floors."

Funny, the typical houseblogger seems to be of sterner stuff.  Unless everybody else is hiring out their floor sanding and just not saying?

Well, I doubt I could get anybody to come do my little hall.  And I doubt even more if I'd trust anybody else to do it.  So I need to invest in a few more belts for the Hitachi, and some more 40-grit hook-and-loop paper for the B&D mouse, and just keep at it.  And definitely some more wood filler.  I found more holes and cracks that needed filling last night and the tub is empty.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

For My Sins

I'm not sure how to explain it.  Too much care or not being careful enough; not doing well or not knowing when to leave well-enough alone.  But some diabolic fate seems now to be binding me to the next-to-the-bottom tread of my stairway to the 3rd floor, there eternally to be chained not physically, but emotionally, as I expiate my shellacking sins.

Late Wednesday night the 3rd, I assayed to get the seventh coat of shellac on those stairs.  It didn't go too badly, really.  I filled a divot in the next-to-the-bottom step with the Miniwax wood filler putty that you're not supposed to finish over.  But I need something flexible there and the shellac ought to move with it.  It seems to be working so far.

But after I got done, at just about straight up midnight, I noticed that I hadn't properly brushed out the finish at the right hand side of that same tread.  You definitely could see a brown build up there.

So did I go to bed and sleep on it and see if maybe it looked okay in the morning?  Heck, no.  I got a brush with some alcohol on it and tried to blend it in.

Of course, it didn't.  It just took the upper coats off. 

I tried a little more.  It took off some more.

To hell with it.  I tried cleaning the whole surface with alcohol.  It didn't take enough off.

Off to bed, and deal with it later.

On Saturday the 6th I went the whole hog and pulled out the Western Wood Doctor refinisher and the 00 steel wool and took the entire finish off of it.  So there. 

And proceeded to start essentially from scratch on that tread and started applying the six or seven coats anew.

Last Sunday, I was getting there.  When I wielded a full brush with a light hand, the shellac blended in beautifully. Just one more coat and I'd be done!

Damn!  Somebody remind me not to be doing that after 11:00 PM when I'm tired and the light isn't that good anyway.  This last time, I failed to notice or brush out puddles on both sides of that tread!  It looked terrible! 

Was I going to get out the WWD and strip it off for the second time?

Not likely.  An article on the This Old House website says you can repair shellac, everybody says repairability is one of the great things about shellac, and I was going to repair it.

It's taken me the last three days (and at least one dream-obsessed night) to deal with it, using a small artist's brush first to dissolve the brown ridges and then to lay on a little color at a time.  But I think-- think!-- I'm to the point where I'm going to say Good Enough.  I know the aberrant places are there.  I will have to live with the reminder of how dumb it is to do finishing at midnight when I'm tired and not thinking or seeing straight.  I stick my camera in close where I can catch every last irregularity of it. But nobody else will notice unless I point it out to them.

And if nothing else, this proves that I was right to do my experimenting and get my technique down on these upper steps.  Pretty much no one's going to see them except for me.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Linguistic Reflections on Things Finished in the Past Couple of Days

I really owe you a post, and there's liable to be a few inserted in retrospect.  But in the meantime, here's a link to an article on shellacking-- in both its senses!-- that I just found on the BBC website:

"Who, What, Why: What Is a 'Shellacking'"?

Observe the paragraph on the use of construction terms to denote taking a severe beating.  I wonder how that got started, hmmm?