Monday, March 12, 2012

In Case Anybody's Wondering . . .

Why no pictures lately?

Because about two weeks ago my Canon digital camera sat down and flatly refused to turn on, ever, ever again.  It'd been having lens trouble for awhile, but this was the end, fini.

So on the first of the month I went to WallyWorld and bought a Samsung P20 camera, 27mm wide angle lens, great for interiors, great price, 10% off because it was the demo model.

Well, it was the demo model.  That was the problem.  In light of the great reviews the model has received online, I will allow that that's why it couldn't focus in any light, at any ISO setting, in any shooting mode (examples are in the post of Thursday the 8th).

Took it back, and I've ordered a FujiFilm FinePix Z90 to replace it.  I've had FinePixes before, and they've done pretty well in the focussing department.  Best price was from B&H Camera in New York, whence I've purchased cameras and equipment plenty of times before.

But as Providence would have it, I ordered it just at the start of Purim.  And the B&H folks, being good observant Jews, close the place down for the holidays.  So for a few days, I'm without a digital camera.  I'm shooting a few record photos with my old Minolta 35mm film SLR, with a throwaway film camera, and with my phone (that I have no Internet plan on).  So I may have illustrations for the previous posts one of these days-- just not now.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Off Hours

Remind me that I need to reset my body clock to normal human hours.  Nothing to do with Daylight Saving Time coming on last night, just a reflection on the cockeyed hours I've been keeping this weekend.  Up till 3:00 or 4:00 Friday night/Saturday morning, not out of bed till Saturday noon.  Up till 5:00 AM DST this morning, not up and getting dressed till nearly 2:30.

My excuse is that I was getting things done on the house these past two nights/early mornings, I felt awake enough to keep going, shouldn't I take advantage of the opportunity?  Whereas if I went to bed at a decent hour, there was no guarantee I'd lug myself out of bed the next day to correspond. 

But this is ridiculous.  Today by my mixed-up timing I missed the opportunity to make it to church anywhere, and I missed over half of a beautiful, bright, pleasant day.  Shameful.

I did as much with it as I could.  Got out and pruned all the roses (barring the groundcover ones) for the spring, as well as the crepe myrtles and the blueberry bush.  Tied up the tall stem of the Don Juan rose so it'll climb, and cut back a lot of the English ivy that's overwhelming the clematis and the Sympathie rose in the back.

Got the first application of joint compound into the holes and gouges in the living room north wall, and around the two corners a yard or so to the west and east.  That place I chiselled out at the upper right hand of the doorway casing is going to be really tricky to get right.  The joint compound is really too loose for the job, but it's what I have on hand.  The whole wall and the problem corner especially will need repeated applications before it's through.

After a late dinner, got the west dining room window lintel gooped up with wood filler where the big splinter came out Friday night.  How long did I say it was?  At least a foot in reality.

    Was planning to do something else on the living room tonight, but I guess not.  What it is, either my POs or the POs-1 (I think it was the former), when they repainted the ceilings, got ceiling paint on the cornice moulding.  The cornice is dinky enough as it is, but the white paint along the top of it reduces its effective height by about a quarter inch.  I don't have the time or money right now to replace it with the more robust moulding the living room and dining room, if not the front room, should have.  So for the time being I've planned to paint over that white with the same cooked mushroom brown color (the can is downstairs in the paint locker), then go over it with shellac so it'll more or less match the rest of the trim.

But as it turned out, the remaining quart or so of the mushroom brown is covered with mold.  OK, Plan B!  There's an unused quart of a warmer medium brown down there, and I think I'll repaint the cornice entirely with it, with the shellac over.  But it's been sitting so long it's badly separated.  No point in me trying to stir it up myself tonight.  After work tomorrow I'll take the can to Lowe's, where it's from, and get them to put it on the shaker.  And maybe I can remember to ask if they can order the kind of wallpaper paste I need while I'm there (Roman's "Golden Harvest" GH34.  Wheat paste. "For English wallpapers."  Well, there ya go.)

Thinking about the cornice again.  If I actually have some money for frivolities someday, I want to get cornice moulding of a more appropriate size and nail it up using the existing as blocking.  What's there is 2" high if it's lucky, so it shouldn't get in the way.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Saturday Night's Entertainment

Making slow and desultory progress stripping the last of the paper and glue off the north living room wall and those parts of the west and east walls I can reach from the ladder.  The big question is, is the whitish goop that appears to have been rolled over the walls, thicker in some places and thinner in others, wallpaper paste or is it size?

If it's paste it has to come off.  If it's size it can stay, and I'll just paint a fresh coat of primer/size over it.

. . . Inclined to think it's size.  The glue that was on the stairhall walls came off really easily with the vinegar and water.  This is more like, well, paint.  It's true I'm picking up some kind of viscous white stuff with my wallpaper scraper, but they say that vinegar can dissolve finish plaster and spackle.  And there's plenty of the latter here.

And it's not like I'm painting these walls.  I don't think they've ever been painted, and anyone who tried now would be a fool.

Wait a minute, though.  Maybe they've never been painted, per se, but that doesn't mean they've always had paper.  Because I just discovered something.  I think the living room walls were colored at one point.  Not painted, but the top coat of the plaster seems to be tinted with an old-gold pigment.  You'd think I would have noticed that before, but with the size-goop over it it looked brown.  I thought it was the brown coat or something.  But no, this is streaky.  Nice color and effect, especially with my black marble fireplace-- which wasn't here in 1916.

No, I'm not going to try to clean the walls so well the gold shows all over.  The more I scrape, the more I destroy the old spackle patches.  It'll all be covered anyway.

. . . But hey, what's this I see?  Around the top of the living room, to about 11" down, there's a band of lighter yellow-gold!  And there's patched holes along the line between the two colors.  Hey, do you think this room had a frieze band?  And a picture rail?  Looks like it!  (I love domestic archaeology.)

A lot less fun is seeing all the little cracks in the plaster on the east and west walls.  And that doesn't include the ones some previous owners covered with paper tape.

My wallpaper scraper is playing merry hell with that paper tape.  And leaving random gouges in previous applications of levelling spackle.  I hate to think how much joint compound I'm going to have to use to get a decent surface.  And if I may be permitted to worrywart further, I hope the bulge in the upper part of the north wall won't disrupt the matching of my wallpaper.  The old beige moire-effect paper didn't betray any problems.  And I don't think the bulge is recent.  Trouble is, a survey of my photo collection has shown that apparently I didn't take any pictures of that wall when I took down the trim.  Guess I didn't think it was interesting enough.

I couldn't stand the way the plaster is so much thicker and protrudes so much up there on the righthand side at the corner where the doorway jamb and head casing meeting and where the trim has to be nailed up again.  I fetched the jamb trim piece up from the basement to gauge how much plaster I should knock off so it won't stick out so much.  Chiselled away at the finish coat, and I think I've got the gap down to an acceptable level.
The trim piece won't lie totally flat, however.  It has a bit of a warp to it.  I've noticed that in some other trim pieces, and I've worried that it might be my fault, for leaving the trim standing on end the past three or four years.  But how possibly would any of it have enough moisture left in it after more than ninety years to warp?  I certainly keep the humidity in the basement at a reasonable level.  Still, there it is.  Have I messed things up by working so slow?

But then I recall when the trim was still up, how in many places I observed that the jamb casing was sitting cockeyed to the lintels.  Much more likely it was installed a little green back in 1916 or whenever, and warped in place.  I know I've been knocking down a lot of dried filler where the trim edges used to be.  But clearly, this should put a damper on my dreams of reinstalling it all straight.

More Dust in the Wind

As piece by piece and bit by bit I stripped the wood trim the past few years, I comforted myself with the idea that due to the type of stripper I was using, I wouldn't have to sand any of it.  The Howard's product doesn't raise the grain and leaves the surface nice and smooth and ready to receive a new finish.

But a smooth surface requires more than smooth grain.  It also implies that holes and gouges and cracks and pits be brought level as well.  So, as stated previously, I've been doping in the wood filler.  Big campaign in January until I ran out, another spurt last month getting a second application onto the stair hall pieces so they could all get shellacked (as they now are), then the last of the job taken care of earlier this week.

All this means, yes, sanding.  Lots of it.  Which I've tackled these past two evenings.  I'm happy to say it's mostly accomplished, all except some pieces where I discovered splinters that needed to be glued down; I'll fill and sand those once the glue is good and dried.  It's been more gratifying work than my struggles with the living room plaster.

Back when I was thinking "Thank goodness I won't have to sand all these pieces!" I was visualizing having to do it by hand or maybe with my palm sander, with lots of expensive precut fabric-backed sheets from the big box store. Back then I didn't have my Bosch half-sheet orbital sander to help me.  Now I do, and the work went pretty quickly.

But!  but!! What also went quickly is the sanding dust, all over the basement.  Pooling on the sawhorses.  Coating the floor.  Changing the color of the nearby stacks of wood.  Floating in the air, and getting up my nose.  This shouldn't be.  The sander has a dust catcher, and the residue should be sucked into the holes in the sandpaper.  Obviously, it's not.  Not much of it, anyway.  When I go to empty the dust catcher, it's hardly half full, even after an hour or two of steady work.  I read stories about spontaneous combustion due to sawdust accumulations, and dust fires started by pilot lights-- so this isn't something I can ignore.

The sander is working fine.  Maybe it's the filter that needs changed.  Odd thing, when I go online and look up my model, it shows it with the dust catcher with filter for purchase new, but when I look up spare parts, it only has an ordinary dust bag.  Guess I'll have to call them and find out.

However.  Soon as I finish gluing the mitred returns onto the lintel mouldings, fill and sand down the last two or three mended spots, and vacuum up the residual dust, I can start shellacking the living room trim.  Hope it goes faster than the stair hall work did.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Oh, Fudge

I've been working on resecuring the plaster on the south wall of my living room since this time in February.  I'd been contemplating repairing that plaster since July of 2007 at least.  Now, a major cause of procrastination is the fear that a project won't come out the way you hope and visualize.  A major cause of depression is when you discover that your fears very likely were right.

The only problem with the plaster, as I originally perceived it, was up at the righthand corner of the cased opening between the living room and dining room, where the doorway jamb and head casings come together.  When I pulled off the trim to strip it, lo these many years ago, I found that the plaster protruded beyond the room face of the casing a good half inch.  Meaning that the face trim gapped more than a little.  Previous owners had fudged that over with spackle and paint, but I'm going back to natural wood. 

When I learned about Rory Brennan's Big Wally's PlasterMagic® system, I knew it was just the thing to take care of that protruding area and make the plaster nice and flat to receive the newly-shellacked trim. 

But things have not been that simple.  Back on the 9th of February when I started drilling the holes for the conditioner and adhesive, I noticed, for the first time in eight and a half years of living here, that the entire top fourth of the south living room wall bulges outward.  On the righthand side, especially, the protuberance was a half inch and more.  Clearly, I was going to need more Big Wally's adhesive than I had on hand.

Insert interval while I got around to ordering more tubes, while it shipped, and while it sat in the box in my dump of a living room waiting to be used.  All right.  So this past Sunday, I got to work.  And noticed two odd things:

First, that the plaster bulge on the righthand side, where I started my operations, went in a little with the washers and screws, but not as much as I expected.  Only a quarter inch at the most.  But the plaster wasn't flexible and it didn't give, and the wall developed no cracks as I drilled the washers in, though that's what you might expect if the keys where pressing against the lath.

Second, that up at the crucial corner the plaster wouldn't move in hardly at all.  At this point I did have cracking before and the washers caused more yet.  It wasn't salvageable.  So I pulled some goodish-sized chunks of it out, and saw-- And saw that up there the lath sits at the most an 1/8"back from the room face of the wood casing.  Seriously.  I poked the lath and it's in there solid.  It has no place to go.  Around that area the plaster thickness ranges from 3/8" to 1", and it's no wonder the door trim needed some fudging before!  It's going to need some fudging again when it's time to fill in the holes--but I'll describe that when I get to it.

But what did this mean?  That maybe the plaster at the top of the wall is thicker and the old wallpaper concealed the problem?  No idea.  The plaster I'd treated seemed well-secured enough, and I let it go because I was out of washers anyway.

Well, now.  Give it a few days for the adhesive to try and for me to take care of other business.  So Monday night I'm up there on the ladder snugging up the areas above the doorway and on the lefthand side.

And what's this?  In these places, where the bulge wasn't as bad, the plaster moved in a good 3/8" or more, with a soft, subdued, stomach-squeezing whhummphh!   What the dickens?  Why did that pull in but not the worse area to the right?  Was there something wrong with my drill bit, and did I not drill the holes deeply enough on the right-hand side?  Did the whole wall actually need    to be done?  After all this labor and material, was I still at risk of it failing and falling down?

Not to mention that where I power-screwed the anchors in too hard, the plaster just crumbled.  But the surface of the wall looks fine!  What's up with this?

Oh, fudge.  Aggrieved, aggravation, frustrated, crabby.  Last night I tried the conditioner and adhesive in a few more places on the upper righthand part of the wall, trying to pull that bulge in a little farther.  Drill penetrated more than an inch, inch and an eighth even, but the pull-in when I tightened the washers was a fraction of that.  Maybe the plaster is extra-thick at the top of the wall.  Or maybe the big hairy plaster/lath gap is there-- full of keys cushioned by all the Big Wally's I pumped in.  However it is, I can't do anything more to true it up-- and no, demolition and drywall is not an option.

This is not what I had in mind nearly five years ago.  I'm holding my breath that a lot of joint compound and the new wallpaper will disguise the mess.  I even have visions that the wallpaper will end up holding the wall together.  But I have no call to throw rocks-- or chunks of plaster-- at my fudging previous owners.  It's a pot we're all in together.