Collateral Damage of Renovation/Restoration: Scaring the Neighbors

I'm starting to feel bad for our neighbors. Before we moved in, there was a very nice, tidy couple with a baby that lived in the Prairie Box. They planted some flowers in containers on the porch, kept the grass mowed, did some minor work on the house, and lived a nice, typical suburban life. I'm sure that they were universally beloved.

And then we came along.

Now the grass is long and weedy, and the planter boxes on the porch are neglected and empty. Every few weeks, a large pile of rubble appears at the curb, containing everything from carpet to 2 by 4s to curtains. We stay up til 4 am sanding and hammering. They have to wonder what the hell we're doing over here, especially since it was such a "nice house" to begin with. It's not like the Prairie Box was one of those neglected, forlorn homes that the neighbors are thrilled when you start fixing it up. Our house wasn't the eyesore of the neighborhood. To most eyes, our house was fixed. I'm seriously waiting for someone to come over and ask exactly what we're doing to this poor house.

Speaking of what we're doing to the house... I was supposed to go camping on my days off this week, but due to the extreme heat (and never-ending to-do list) I decided it would be best to stay home. I haven't accomplished too much yet, but I did get a second coat of shellac on the living room floor. Finally. With the addition of the second coat, it's starting to get a nice, uniform shine. It was a little shiny with one coat, but only on the dark part of the grain pattern. Don't know why. I'll put a third coat on tomorrow and see how much glossier it gets. I don't want it to be mirror-shiny, but it needs to be more uniform than it is now.

Here's what I'm hoping to accomplish on my next 2 days off:
  • Finish the floors - completely
  • Sand woodwork (weather permitting)
  • Declutter the dining room and office

I also need to find a way to get the paint off of the living room windows. The genius second owner painted them without sealing them, so the paint is damn-near impossible to get off. The only thing I've found that works is paint thinner and lots of elbow grease. Each window will take at least an hour, but I won't be able to work on them until the weather cools off a bit.


No more leaky garage roof!

When the second owner of our home took on a project, he never, ever did it right. I haven't found a single addition, repair, or remodel that wasn't screwed up in some way. The third owners told Shayne and I that they had fixed some of Owner #2's weirder additions to the home, but I have my doubts. From what I can tell, they painted the paneling in the dining room, put down Pergo over the hardwood, covered the floors in two of the upstairs bedrooms with polyurethane without stripping first, and skimcoated the walls in the master bedroom and little front bedroom (Hey! One out of four ain't bad!). In 5 years, I don't consider that a whole lot, especially considering the really obvious weirdness and damage they left unfixed. In their defense, I'm pretty sure that they updated the electrical and HVAC, so I don't suppose I can complain too much.

One of the biggest unfixed items was the addition connecting the "new" 1950s garage to the original garage. The connector had a flat, shingled roof, and looked to have leaked for about 10 years. At some point, that special second owner had realized that a flat shingled roof was an invitation for leaking, especially since he hadn't bothered with any flashing, and had tarred over the whole thing. It began to leak again, probably in the mid 1990s. The third owners must not have been too bothered about a leaking roof, and simply let the water damage and rot continue unimpeded. We spent the winter with a tarp jury-rigged between the three roof pitches, and probably prevented the roof from collapsing under a heavy snow or ice load. Now that summer had come, it was time to fix the roof once and for all.

Shayne started off Friday afternoon by demolishing the old roof. The whole process, including cleanup, took mayber 3 hours. The wood was so rotten, it basically just fell down in defeat when he threatened it with the crowbar.

Saturday morning, our friend Randy came by and helped Shayne sister the framing around the doorways and in the connector walls, frame a new roof, and shingle it. Our new connector roof has about a 6" drop over 2.5 feet, which is shallow, but water flows down without pooling. The reason they had to keep the pitch so low is because they had to work under the 24" overhang from the original garage but still make it high enough to walk through on the inside. Three people can stand on it, so it's plenty sturdy.

I don't have any pictures, since I was busy shellacking the floor while they were working, but I'll post some soon.


A floor to be proud(er) of

The floor has gone through quite a transformation this week. We went from this:
To this: Back to this:
And finally, to this: We're not done yet, but the first coat of shellac went on beautifully this time. No problems. Of course, it also helps that I did it right... This time around, I used clear shellac. For every 2 cups of 3lb cut I used, I added 1/2 cup of denatured alcohol to thin it. I also made sure to spread it as smoothly as possible from one end of the board to the other (lengthwise). I only did 3 boards at a time this time, and I instead of using the lambswool applicator on the pole, I got down on my hands and knees so I could monitor the coverage more closely. I think that the results speak for themselves, but the floor looks so much better than it did before that I can hardly believe it. The far left side in the picture is still wet, which is why it looks a little darker than the rest of the floor, but everything is a uniform golden color with no splotches or thick spots. The only flaw is a deep scratch that runs the width of the floor, right in the middle of the room. It didn't show up well in the above picture, but it's pretty noticeable in person. I sanded the hell out of it, but it was so deep that it didn't help much. Once we have a rug, though, it should be less visible.

Later today I plan to put on another coat of shellac, this time one-third amber and two-thirds clear. I'd like the floor to be just a little darker and less yellow, but I don't want to lose all the bright happiness of the clear coat. After the second coat, I'll add a third coat of thinned clear before I wax. That should be another adventure, since I've never waxed a floor before in my life. Whee...

I really can't express enough how thrilled I am that the floor turned out this well. After having to re-sand the floors, I was terrified that I'd just ruin them again. I agonized over whether I should just give up the whole shellacking thing and just polyurethane them like everyone suggested. Shayne was supportive of whatever I decided, so long as I would be happy with the results. Everyone else said that the shellac was a bad idea and poly was the way to go, except for my best friend Diana. In the end, I followed my gut and my ideals instead of following the crowd, and I'm so glad I did. The poly-ed floors upstairs just don't have the warmth and natural look that the shellacked floor does.


Sanding the Floors, Part II

Due to my really crappy shellacking, I decided to start from scratch. Again. This time, I did it right. We rented a drum sander and truly leveled out the floor. The drum sander is a totally different beast than the Medusa-like orbital sander, but once I got going I was fine. It was the getting going that was the problem.

Shayne picked up the sander from the rental place and deposited it in the living room. After showing me how to load the paper, he left for work. Alone with the scary machine, I warily turned it on. Loud, but no problems. I started to slowly push it forward while rocking it down to contact the floor. Disaster. The second the drum hit the floor, the sandpaper exploded and flew everywhere. I quickly turned off the machine and went to assess the damage. The floor was a little shredded, but since I was moving, it was a line and not a gouge. I got a new sheet of paper, reloaded, and tried again. This time, I moved about 12" before the paper exploded off the drum. Since I was already afraid of the drum sander (due to the horror stories I'd heard about it runnning away and ruining floors), the fact that it kept exploding at me only made matters worse. My floors were ruined, the sander wouldn't work, and I'd have to get wall-to-wall carpet to hide my damage. In light of those revelations, I did what any self-respecting, modern woman would do: I burst into tears of frustration and went to hide upstairs.

I came back down about 30 minutes later, after reading about the SL-8 sander on the internet. Supposedly, if the cams that hold the paper are not tight enough, the paper will break. I gingerly loaded another sheet of 36 grit paper, tightened the cams fully, put in earplugs, and turned the sander on. The Exploding Paper Monster was vanquished, and a purring tiger was left in its place.

I had heard horror stories about gouged floors and uncontrollable sanders, and I feel obligated to say that, if you use it properly, it's very easy to use and control. Aside from my paper explosions, which were completely preventable, the sander is a tame beast. It doesn't pull like I expected (I could contol it with one hand, even though I used 2), and the only gouge I got was when I sneezed with the sander moving along the floor. It hardly uses any sandpaper at all compared to the EZ-V. I used 6 sheets for the whole room, including the 2 that I ruined. Total rental cost was under $50. Guess what sander I'll be using next time?

After sanding, I wiped down the floor with mineral spirits and prepared to re-shellac. This time, I used a thinned down coat of clear, and I only applied it to 9 boards in case it was horrible. I applied it to 3 boards at a time, moving with the grain, and coating the whole board at one time. Here are the results:
9 shellacked boards
The 9 shellacked boards are little darker than the natural wood, but not too much. The color variation is due to the floor, not the shellac (thank God!). I'll still be adding a coat or two of amber over it, but it's a nice start...


Beetle juice

I woke up at 8:30 this morning to return the floor sander to K Wood Products, which is the hardware nearest our house. We kept it under $175 in rental fees and sandpaper, but just barely. The gentleman that works there (possibly the owner) is going to start looing for picture rail molding for me, which is awesome. They have a sample on their board of woodwork that they stock, but he said that because it's not that popular, they didn't reorder when they ran out. Hopefully I'll be hearing from them soon.

We didn't get to bed last night until after 2 am. We wanted to get the first coat of shellac on the floor so that it could dry overnight. It didn't turn out perfectly, but I'm satisfied with it so far. We'll need to put on at least one coat of amber shellac, then use clear as "build coats". Even with just one coat, the floor has a nice sheen and color. It's still a little too yellow for my taste, but the second coat thould take care of that. The only bad part is that there are lap marks and slight unevenness where I had to refill the applicator. There are more towards the south end of the room, where I started, than at the north end. I think at the beginning, I was putting it on too thin, and it dried while I was refilling the applicator. Towards the north end, I started to be a little more generous with the shellac, and there are fewer lap marks, and the color is richer. I've tackled a few spots with denatured alcohol and steel wool, and the color has smoothed out, so now it's just a matter of doing that everywhere there's a mark. I'd better go get some kneepads...

South end

North end

Surprisingly, we didn't have too much sawdust floating around. The sander did an excellent job of picking up its dust, so almost all of the mess was from the little orbital sander. I think that next time, I might get brave and rent a drum sander, but overall I'm satisifed with how everything has turned out.

In case you're curious about the title, "beetle juice" is Shayne's name for shellac. It doesn't sound quite so glamourous that way, but it is accurate, since shellac is made from the secretions of the female lac beetle. The resin is then harvested off of trees, supposedly without harming the beetle.


Fun With Floor Sanding

After working most of the day, I am just about finished sanding the floor. Shayne is downstairs working on sanding around the edges, and I'm taking a much-needed break.

Today went much better than yesterday. The floor was dry and free of nealy all shellac. The boards were more cupped than I anticipated, so I ended up having to go back to the hardware store for more super-rough paper. Even now, there are some spots on a few boards that refuse to level out. We're going over those with the hand sander to get the last bits of old finish off, but they're just going to have to stay unlevel.

It's pretty ironic that I was worried about the floor sander being too aggressive. The exV is almost not aggressive enough. The living room floor is probably one of the worst, since it sees so much use, but I might use a drum sander on our other downstairs floors. Having not done this before, I'm not sure how long it usually takes to sand a floor, but we seem to be progressing rather slowly.

Here are a few "before" and "during" pictures for your viewing enjoyment:
I tried out the amber shellac on a board in the office last night, and it looks good. I think we'll be doing a few coats in clear to keep it from getting too dark, but it should look really nice.



I can't believe I was excited about having floors with the original finish intact, since it means more layers of crud to get through before I can sand the wood. I also can't believe what a bitch this shellac is to remove. I've stripped it with Citristrip, washed the floor twice, and mopped with denatured alcohol, and and I think it's finally off. However, the sandpaper is still gumming up, since the floor is now too damp. It's dry to the touch, but the sander must know the difference.

Lesson: Do better prep work beforehand. Don't expect the sander to do more than sand the wood. Get the shellac off before trying to sand, and give plenty of drying time...

Nothing Is Ever Easy

I should know by now that nothing ever goes as planned. I should be downstairs sanding the floor, but here I am upstairs piddling around on the computer. Now why would that be...? Well... I guess the shellac on the floor was in better shape than I thought. There's so much left on the floor that it was gumming up the sandpaper in about 45 seconds. Since it was a pain in the ass to keep stopping to pick the clumps off the paper, I 'm stripping the floor first. I tried scrubbing the floor with denatured alcohol, but it was extremely labor-intensive (i.e. it hurt my bad shoulder) and I ended up with a 1.5" splinter in my palm. That was the end of that. I slathered on some trusty Citristrip about 20 minutes ago, and I'll go scrape it off in about another 20-30.

I should have known this would happen. I'd read about it happening to other people. I just didn't think that our shellac was that thick. So... Here I am, biding my time and kicking myself for not prepping properly. Live and learn, I suppose.


Shellac and Floor Sanding Madness

It's official: The floor refinishing madness will begin on Thursday. On last Thursday, Shayne and I stopped by a local hardware store to inquire about their floor sander rentals. I've decided that I do not want a drum sander, since our floors are in good shape and don't need any radical leveling. They also don't seem to have many layers of finish. Surprisingly (to me), they rent Varathane's ezV sander, which is the Medusa of orbital sanders. The ezV resembles an oversized carpet cleaner, and it has 3 smallish random-orbit heads positioned in a triangle. It is supposedly tough enough to strip the finish off a floor, but gentle enough not to leave gouges. I guess we'll find out on Thursday...!

I'm feeling pretty good about the sanding, but I'm very nervous about the finishing. Against many people's better judgement, we've decided to finish the floors with shellac and not polyurethane. Every time I tell people this, even old house people, they tell me how wonderful oil-based poly is and how weak a finish shellac is. Maybe I'm missing something here, but the original, 80+ year old shellac on the floor downstairs looks fine. It's not worn down to bare wood or scratched to hell, and it looks way better than the edges that were refinished probably inthe '60s or '70s with varnish. In some ways, it even looks better than the polyurethane upstairs, since it really brings out the texture of the wood. It looks like wood, not wood coated with something, if that makes any sense.

So, Thursday will be sanding, and Friday and Saturday will be devoted to shellacking. I'm going to go panic now...


I'm impressed with myself... Today is my first day off, and I've actually accomplished what I planned to, along with a couple of other things. So far, I weeded the back flowerbed for the second time (note to self: Use Preen this time!!), assembled the new Black and Decker mini workbench, sanded some of the living room woodwork, made cookies, did the dishes, and cleaned up some of the clutter in the garage and the house. Up next is vacuuming the house and possibly some painting. If I don't paint, it will be because I'm trying to declutter the few livable spaces we still have.

We really need to start organizing our stuff. We are accumulating piles at an alarming rate. Part of the problem is that I don't want to buy any furniture that we won't keep for a long time. And I also don't want to buy any furniture until the room that it will go into is finished. It's hard enough to keep moving things around with the little furniture we have. I also change my mind so many times in the course of a project that buying furniture before the project even starts could be very counter-productive. I know that the downstairs will be Arts and Crafts style to match the period and character of the house. Upstairs I'd like to be a little more expressive. I don't want it to clash, but I definitely want the private areas of the house to be a little more personal.

Tomorrow, Shayne is off work, so we'll be working on the landscaping again. He's going to go pick up a yard of dirt so that we can finally finish the flowerbed in the front. It looks much better without the bushes, and I'm sure it will look great once we get some flowers in there.


The Kitchen Floor Plan Version 1.5

I dont' think that I like the first layout as much as I wish I did. There isn't enough under-counter storage space for pots and pans, and I'd like more counter space. I think we'll be able to use the original cabinets, but maybe not in their original configuration. We're going to have to either salvage or build others to match. We might even have to start from scratch, but I'm not going to worry about that quite yet. Let's get the floor plan settled first...

Here's the new-and-improved version...

I don't have time for a commentary right now(I actually just posted these now so that some friends and family could take a look), but I'll be psoting some thoughts about various layouts later on tonight...


Kitchen Layout Idea Version 1.0

After looking at the original cabinets out in the garage, I came up with a tentative kitchen layout. I mocked it up using the Better Homes and Gardens Home Designer, and I think that I like it. Since the storage configuration is so different, though, I'll need to do some more thinking to see if all of our stuff will fit in the cabinets.


Planning the Chaos

Today is the halfway point in my workweek. I'm actually working 7 days this rotation, since I switched with someone to get a day off later this month. So even though I should be off on the 4th, I'll be working (and I'll get holiday pay!). On the downside, that means I'll only have 2 days off this week to spend on the house... Barring any unforseen catastrophes, I think I'll finish painting the living room and hallway. We have color everywhere, but some parts of the ceiling and most of the cut-in work needs a second (or third) coat. I'll also get off my reticent behind and work on sanding the woodwork. Shayne got 3 pieces finished the other night, but that was the end of the progress for a while. I know I've needed to sand them for a long time, and I can't figure out why I'm so unmotivated about it. It's like I'll do anything but work on the trim... But I can't delay any longer, since on my next three days off I'm going to (drumroll please!) sand the floor!

I haven't gotten much support in my decision to use shellac as a floor finish, but I don't want plastic on my floor. People argue that it doesn't hold up well, but the original shellac finish in the living room looks better than the 30 year old varnish around the edges, and it's easy to souch-up any mistakes or damage. I also don't mind waxing it once or twice a year to protect it. It dries in about 30 minutes (we don't have to vacate the house for a week), it doens't stink, and it's all natural, and it's a no-brainer for me. Plus, it's what was there originally.

Shayne and I have been talking about getting a temporary bathtub. We're not going to be redoing the bathroom for another 3 years or so, and the tub we have it ridiculously shallow. Our ideal bath is a Kohler Tea-For-Two 5.5' tile-in tub:

This tub is DEEP! It's 19.5" to the overflow and holds 105 gallons of water (standard tub holds 60). It's also designed for 2 person bathing, just in case. :) It will be installed like this tub from a 1920s Crane ad: Unlike the ad picture, we will have a shower. I still wish we could have a clawfoot tub, but it just isn't practical for Shayne. Before we make our final purchase, though, I plan on visiting a couple of salvage yards in Chicago, just in case we can find a freestanding tub big enough to fit him comfortably. Can you blame him for wanting a bathtub where half of him isn't out of the water?