Saturday, January 7, 2012

Getting Sorted

Yeah.  Really.  It's really a little past four in the morning.

I've been down the basement till just a little bit ago, sorting out trim.  I needed to dig out every piece that goes back into the stairhall on both floors, so they can be shellacked prior to remounting.  While I was at it, I filled holes and cracks and gouges with Zar wood filler.

I'd likely still be at it, except I was so clever Wednesday afternoon when I went to the hardware store in New Brighton and bought only a 4 ounce container of the filler.  I didn't want it to dry out like my pint pot of it did.  Well, that plan worked.  It didn't dry out in the plastic pot.  No.  I ran out first.  And way before I'd gone through all the trim pieces, I can tell you.  And lot of those big nail holes will need a second application.  So I know what I'm going to be doing before the hardware store closes at 2:00 PM.

All this wood filling will mean sanding, of course.  I didn't mean to do much if any, really:  The Howard's Western Wood Doctor Refinisher leaves the wood with a nice, smooth surface.  But the Bosch orbital sander really helps; it was making short work of cleaning up a patch on a piece of really messed-up closet trim (the previous owners had obviously taken it down and cracked it at some point and I'd had to do my best to glue and clamp it back together).  But I saw I'd left a really big place unfilled, and had to glop the stuff in again and set the piece aside again.

The biggest problem with sanding is removing too much of the patina.  The final finish comes up so much better if it's left on.  with it.  But it'll help if I give every last piece a sealer coat of untinted buttonlac first.  Unlike what I forgot to do on the hallway floor.

But no shellacking got done this work session.  It was more like this:  Take a piece from the stack.  Wipe it.  Fill it.  Sort it into its own separate stack by room and/or which door or window it belongs to.  Run out of filler. Put the woodwork all back neatly, with the dining room and living room trim at the back, since it'll go in last.  Cogitate whether I should set any particular order for shellacking the 2nd and 1st floor hall trim, so all the pieces in each "suite" of trim for each door and window will be available as I want them for remounting.  Tell myself, good grief, look at the hour, you can think about that later!

Like after I run up to New Brighton tomorrow-- I mean, later today-- for more wood filler.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Is It Soup Yet?

I've been at this floor and stair shellacking business since the wee hours of December 13th.  Aren't I finished by now?

Well, maybe.  Not quite sure.

You see, one thing I always liked about the shellac finish on my upper staircase is the effect it gives, not so much surface-shiny-glossy, but that the wood is somehow under water, and you could reach down into the clear finish and touch the warm golden surface an inch or two below.

In October and November of 2010 it took me about ten coats of 1.5 pound cut Kusmi #1 buttonlac to achieve that, and regardless of color issues, when it came to the 2nd floor hallway floor and the main stairs down to the 1st floor, my resolution was to keep on adding coats of the untinted buttonlac until that's what I got.

Have I?

Well, I can say that watching the grain emerge more and more with each coat has been almost a poetic experience.  It's felt like each floorboard was a rough gem I was polishing, each with its own distinctive beauties, and I've been laboring to bring those beauties to light.

So has that been accomplished?

Maybe first I should say something about how I've been going about this project.  I have to laugh about all the stuff I bought eons ago to make the job easier and didn't use.  Like the lambswool pad and the three-part screw-in mop handle.  Ha.  Can you imagine me keeping any sort of control with that rig in my little L-shaped hall?  With my lousy eyesight?  Not to mention how much shellac it'd soak up and waste!  Instead, I chose to follow the advice given on a post here by Ralph the Woodworking Guy.  That is, I followed him as regards the sanding and wiping-down prep work, and especially as to the use of the 1" fine brush.  Two or three years ago I bought several good, if not luxurious, artist's brushes of various sizes just for the shellac work, and I had a  nice 1" model right at hand.

Well.  Early into the first coat (the one that should have been untinted-- sob!), I discovered what a blinking long time a 1" brush requires and how little shellac it actually carries to the surface.  Yeah, Mr. Ralph was probably working with skinny modern 2-1/4" floorboards.  Mine measure nearly 4" in breadth.  So I moved to a 2" brush of the same type and haven't looked back.

I think I'm getting better at the application, keeping the brush well-filled and making long, smooth strokes.  Ralph's recommendation is good, to do it floorboard by floorboard.  Works well in maintaining the all-essential wet edge, and the joints make a good boundary at the sides.  Though given how I filled the cracks with sliced-down strips of old disused floorboards, my floor is pretty tight and a little overlap was inevitable.  (*smiles*)  Standing up, you can't really see where the filler strips are, unless you're purposely looking for them.

I assuredly did not use the 2.5 pound cut he advises.  Yeah, I guess that'd give you good build in three coats, but I know myself and my brushing abilities.  I left enough weird streaks on the upper staircase with a 1.5 pound cut to try that.

No, this time I took to heart something said in a comment on The Prairie Box blog.  There Mr. (or Ms.) Anonymous recommended more coats in a 1-pound cut for quicker application and drying, and ultimately for a stronger, more durable floor.  Well, anybody who's successfully shellacked a floor in a house with "3 brutal cats" with claws is worth listening to.  I've also heeded his (or her) advice about the increased and increasing waiting times between coats.  For the upper stairs I only waited an hour or so between each coat.  And of course, I let myself and the four animals (brutal, with claws!) onto the finish way too soon.  Not going to make that mistake again!

Which is why it's over three weeks since I started this project, I've worked pretty steadily on it, barring four or so days at Christmas, and only today have I finished applying the sixteenth coat of shellac.

Yeah, ten-plus-six.  Sixteenth.  Hey, that would have been ten or so coats at a 1.5 pound cut, right?

But for whatever reason, I haven't yet achieved the "under water" effect I'm looking for.  I'm judging by the shellac's finish on a certain large piece of soft/open grain on one particular floorboard, and it doesn't look limpid and even with the hard grain next to it, it looks mottled and glisten-y.  What can be wrong?

Nothing, maybe, except different wood on the T&G boards than on the upper treads.  It's all yellow pine, but the treads are more close-grained.  And-- this is the kicker-- I don't have any artificial lights shining obliquely on the upper stairs, as I do in the hallway.  The fact that I couldn't get the effect I wanted was bugging me, so I took a light and shone it on the stair treads.  Yeah, in the stairwell I get some of the same glistening effect, though there I can't see it.

Which is why I'm saying Enough with sixteen coats.  On the hallway at least.  On the main stairs I really have glisten where I want limpidity, and I was thinking they were going to need four more coats, at least.

But maybe not.  I was on the FAQ page earlier this evening and it said something about rubbing-out.  Rubbing out?  On researching this, I find that that's what I really need to do to even out the finish and get the effect I want.  I think.  I've heard you don't want to make it too glossy, or every last (claw) scratch will show and scream.

Maybe I'll first experiment with rubbing out the main stair treads.  They look dull the way they are, whereas the overall effect in the hallway is just fine.  Very likely it won't gain me a thing to coat the main stair treads any more, and it might be counterproductive.

So can I say the shellacking on the stairs and hallway floor is done?

Maybe.  I'm not sure.  Because "everybody" says that dewaxed shellac is what you really need on top to shed water, and I have a nice can of Zinsser SealCoat I can use.  Or I can dewax some of the Kusmi.  But I recall Ron at telling me that the Kusmi #1 buttonlac is fine and hard for floors just as it is.  And really, once it'd had time to cure on the upper stairs it had no trouble resisting the wet snow the cable guys tracked in last January.  The water beaded right up.  And if I lay down a coat of dewaxed shellac, isn't there the likelihood that it'd just get rubbed off in the polishing process?

If I'm going to do the dewaxed, I need to get it applied tomorrow.  I definitely want to give the finish a good week or more to cure before I allow shoe and pet traffic on it, let alone think of rubbing it out.  And as it is the foam insulation people may well be coming to deal with the attic late next week.  So time is at a premium.

So is it soup yet?  Yes.  No.  Give it several more days to simmer.  But it's getting there!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Dark Reflections

Two or three weeks ago I promised to post pictures of the 2nd floor hallway floor shellacking I was finally, finally getting done.  Here they are, with commentary (including a great deal of whingeing and wailing):

The work commenced a little around a quarter to one AM on the 13th.  First step was to float a fresh coat of mahogany-tinted shellac over the stairs to the 3rd floor that I did a year ago October.  I made the mistake back then of letting the animals with their capers and their claws back onto the finish too soon, and in several places they'd scratched the treads to the bare wood:

With cat and dog scratches
What you see above is actually after I took some plain, untinted Kusmi #1 shellac to it and rubbed some of the worst of the scratches out.  Here the upper stairs are with the fresh coat:
Too dark and red
Now, I wouldn't take the evidence of my Canon PowerShot SX120 camera to convict a cockroach.  It knows nothing of accurate color-rendering, and it's useless for depicting degrees of sheen.  But this photo does testify true, first that the scratches were colored in, which is good, and second, that the color of the top shellac coat is too damn dark.

All this is what I get for failing to look for the scratchpad where I wrote down the proportions of mahogany and walnut dye to shellac a year ago.  As it happens, it wasn't actually up in my study where I thought I'd left it; no, that notepad has to be in the avalanche that is currently my guest bedroom, where I dumped everything before I started repainting the study in late August.  In any event, I didn't even try to look for the recipe when I mixed up the latest batch.  Instead I used a formula inverse to that I used to mix the walnut shellac for the trim in March (meaning, mostly mahogany with a smidge of walnut instead of vice-versa).  And even with that, I used less dye than the formula called for.  I thought it'd match.

So my first mistake was laying on that shellac at night, under insufficient light.  It wasn't till I got to the bottom treads down at the hallway that I noticed how dark the new color was, and how I'd merrily killed the golden-brown color I'd loved so much in those steps.
This I loved.  Too late now.
My next mistake was not drawing the obvious conclusion from the effect of the new shellac on the upper stairs. No, I was so keen to get things moving that I went ahead and used it on the floor. You'd think when I saw how reddish and dark it was on the first floorboards in the back of the closet, I'd dip a rag in the jar of alcohol, wipe it off, then go dilute the mix with more shellac and alcohol and start over.

But no, I had to keep going.

You'd think I'd remember that the first coat on the study stairs looked like this:

But somehow I thought it'd be All Right and marched-- I mean, brushed-- on.

This is where I left it around 3:30 in the morning on the 13th.  The camera with the flash makes it look more finished than it is.

But this isn't exactly accurate, either:

Since then, it's hit me that I made another mistake: I forgot that with fully-stripped and sanded wood with no patina, the first colored coat sets up so much better if an untinted coat is laid on first.  So even though I knew good and well by the next evening that what I had was too dark, in the following days I still had to lay on two or three more coats of mahogany-tinted shellac, though not half as strong, so the color wouldn't be just a watered-down burgundy red.

The next two days, the 13th and 14th, I finished the first coat on the hallway and brought it down the stairs. 
The second stage starts at the bathroom door

Then on in front of the upper stairs

Did this in 3 stages, to have a dry place to perch on
And if I thought looked watered-wine color up in the hallway, did it ever go red on the main stairs!

My friend Frieda* came by about the time I finished up the bottom tread.  She thought it looked "beautiful."  I'm trying really hard to take her word for it and so make the best of it.  Wiping it down and starting over wasn't an object once I got to this point-- too much damage to the walnut-shellacked risers and stringers.  I'll follow up with a post or two on how it looks now, two weeks later, with the caveat that my crummy camera is not to be trusted . . . And I'll promise to buck up and not whinge any more.  Really.