Re-seasoning Vintage Cast Iron

My sister and I were lucky enough to find vintage Wagner Ware cast iron skillets in my grandmother’s basement. The skillets hadn’t been so lucky though. After going unused possibly for decades, they were covered in an impressively nasty crust. Then my sister’s boyfriend got a Griswold Dutch oven from his grandmother’s basement. These are treasures, possibly some of the finest cookware ever made in America. But they needed work, and since my sister lives in a building where she doesn’t want to set the fire alarm off, I offered to do it for her (Project 11). And then they sat all scuzzy in my cabinets for over a year.

IMG_1270.JPG

And she was coming in the middle of the month for a wedding! So, ack! I let it go to the very last minute, and then scrambled to get it done the day she arrived. (Also, ack! The month is more than half over!) To start, you have to get all the old seasoning off. The coolest way to do this is in an electrolysis tank. Hook your cast iron up to a battery charger in a tank of water, connect the other terminal to another piece of metal, and the electricity does all the work for you. I’m not cool enough for this though so I used Easy Off. I wrapped them up in plastic bags and let them sit overnight.

And with just a bit of scrubbing they came out nice and clean. Except for the little Number 3 skillet, which didn’t come clean in time for me to do it. Too bad, these little guys are perfect to fry an egg or 2. Now she’ll get that one back for Thanksgiving.

 

IMG_1269.JPG

Anyways, the next step is to coat them with a thin layer of fat and then bake them in the oven at 500 degrees for an hour.* See, this is why she had some fear of the fire alarms. I read that very perishable flaxseed oil is the best, but I just used canola oil that I had on hand. Also, I dragged my feet through a week of cool weather and did this hot job when it got warm again. The good news is it didn’t actually stink that much.

*Non-American readers, don’t panic. That’s 260 degrees Celsius.

And then I turned my brain off for a moment and took the Dutch oven out and set it on the counter. Now I have that sought-after old Griswold logo burned into the polyurethane. (I was fortunately able to scrape off the bits of poly that stuck to the pot.)

IMG_1275.JPG

If you’ll recall, this oak was a table top that I got from a friend’s basement and the plan was always to sand off the old finish and treat it with cutting board oil. Is this what will finally get me to… do that?

Advertisements

What Should A Good Guest Room Have?

After renting the back bedroom to a friend for a year and a half, I’m really moving up in the world. I have a guest room (Project 10)!

First off, wow. When she moved in last April, I was scrambling to finish things that now I’d call basic necessities, like the drawers in the kitchen. I didn’t have blinds for that room yet and she had a felt blanket covering the windows. That’s a relic from the heavy construction days I don’t miss. (Picture is my bedroom in case you don’t recognize it.)

IMG_2963

And here it is now, with authentic guest room accessories!

IMG_1239.JPG

And in all seriousness, I’d like to have some things in here that will be handy for guests. Because I live in a place people want to visit, because I might go to work and leave out of town visitors to their own devices, and also because what else am I going to do with the cutlery dividers in the dresser? So far, I have spare toothbrushes, a small tube of toothpaste, and 3 SEPTA tokens. Amy Vanderbilt’s Etiquette says that I should provide stationery, stamps, envelopes, and an alarm clock, and that my maid should close the blinds and turn down the sheets in the evening unless I know my guests prefer otherwise. I’m thinking a paper pad and a few pens would be nice anyway.

IMG_1248.JPG

And this is what it looks like. Because I don’t actually iron very often. I love this room. It’s the only room in the house that gets bright direct sunlight for more than 2 hours (until the awnings come down on the front next year) and in South Philly, it overlooks, gasp, a tree! I’ve started to have my coffee in here on weekend mornings.

IMG_1235.JPG

And let’s make it a full tour. Here’s what else is in the room. A friend swung by to help me get the bed in and I asked him about a print that my mom’s friends gave her when they downsized. “Is it too meta?” He said, “Too meta? I love things that are meta.” The size and price were pretty perfect, too.

IMG_1243.JPG

In fact, almost everything in the room was that same price. The only thing I paid for is the lamp shade above, which was $1 in the as is section at IKEA. I like that I have this modern cedar chest / night stand from one grandmother’s dining room…

IMG_1272.JPG

And the dresser is out of the other grandmother’s dining room, almost the exact same age, and basically the opposite style. And though I was considering architectural details separate from the decor, doors and hardware are like the most important thing in the world, and I got mine at Philadelphia Salvage. Same with the light fixture.

IMG_1245.JPG

The bed was free, too, and the bedding came from my dorm room. It’s not quite perfect. I’d like a nicer daybed, possibly made out of a door in my basement hoard, and bedding that covers the mattress properly. Also, if I put bolster cushions against the wall, I might be able to make this comfortable to sit on.

IMG_1247.JPG

 

Phew, Scratch Coat’s Done

Current 30 Projects in 30 Days count is 9. First I finally finished nailing the lath up to the house (Project 6). Between the casings, the tar paper, and the lath, the stucco prep took over 2 months. (Recycled photo but you get the idea.)

IMG_1182

And here it is with the stucco up (Project 7)! You’ll notice that some stucco is scratched and some isn’t in this photo. What we did after our lunch break was still too soft to scratch, so we took a break while it was setting up. The scratch coat is the first of 3 coats that are required for traditional (read:Twentieth Century) hard coat stucco. If I do the rest of the house myself, I will float only the second 2 coats right onto the old stucco and (thank God!) skip the lath.

IMG_1231.JPG

It’s funny because for what a big deal this is I don’t have that much to say. One thing is I was better at floating stucco onto the wall at the end of the day than at the beginning. Another is that my hands are dry. And most important, having exposed plywood sheathing on the back of the house was a worry and might have made the back of the house compete with my real source of future joy, restoring the front.

Speaking of which, we did one small thing to the front. I’ve had this nice mailbox sitting on my living room floor since my birthday in March, and you may have noticed that my 30 projects tend to revolve around finishing all the unfinished things that are stacked up around the edges of the living room. Alternate title for this challenge: #FreeTheCorners! Anyways, here’s the new mailbox. It doesn’t look TOO out of place on my scuzzy house, does it?

IMG_1252.JPG

And for reference, here’s the old one. Only downside is I’ll have shitty takout menus stuffed into my railings now because the new mailbox is too nice for a Circular Free Property sticker. I’ll stick one to the glass on my front door, but not until I spruce it up next month. More on that later.

IMG_1253.JPG

And I installed the third clothes bar in my closet. I re-purposed old clothes bars everywhere else and when I ran out, just did without on the right side and filled it up with junk. Now it will be easier to install baseboards in the closet because I can empty the lower bar on the left side and work without emptying the closet.

IMG_1250.JPG

So, will I make #30ProjectsIn30Days? Last update I was 2 days behind if my goal were a project a day. Today I still am! I think that’s a good thing.

30 Projects, Week 1

First off, I can already tell that I’ll be re-defining what a project is. There were a lot of things on my list. Second of all, it’s been a struggle lately to go to the gym, cook healthy food, and keep up with house work, let alone do remodeling on weeknights. But today I doubled up at the gym, am now blogging, and did some stuff to the house! But, sorry Mom, the dishes are gonna sit in the sink. Anyways, here are the tasks I’ve completed:

  1. I cleaned out the junk side of my closet, and the floor on the clothes side. I found some real gems, like pieces of the Pontiac that broke off and put in a box to reattach later. Now some of my random crap is in control and I’m ready to add  the missing baseboards, robe hooks, and clothes bar. Also note that I built more twice as many shoe shelves as I can fill.
    IMG_1215.JPG
  2. The Irishman seemed to have forgotten to paint the back sides of all the kitchen cabinet doors that are the hardest to take down. I’ve had them leaning against a wall for a month. Now the back sides are all painted and they’re hanging again. The fronts will be painted in place on a separate item. (He also started to paint a bunch of his off-cuts because he didn’t check whether they were doors or not. Since I paid for that work, I’ve finished painting them to use them as extra shelves. But that’s not finished yet.)
    IMG_1205.JPG
  3. I helped my roommate move out. Setting up my guest room is on hold until I can borrow the Suburban, or use my parents’ car and some bungee cords on a dry day.
  4. The bookcase in my living room had an open top. It was supposed to fit tight to an 8-foot ceiling, but because I have higher ceilings, I closed it up with a piece of scrap plywood that I stained. The color is too dark but you can only tell because I had the flash on.
    IMG_1210.JPG
    The edges of the plywood look pretty bad but I’ll fix that once I retrieve my spare mahogany boards from the lumber-hoard.
    IMG_1214.JPG
  5. Here, I’ll let you see how much I cared about my containers this spring.
    IMG_1203.JPG
    I finally weeded them. Believe it or not, I had a boxwood and a camellia hiding behind those weeds. The vegetables on the wall aren’t mine. The neighbors borrowed my pots.
    IMG_1204.JPG

So, even with this rather generous re-numbering and staying home on a holiday weekend, I am a little behind one project per day. Do you think I’ll make it?

30 Projects in 30 Days?

I’ve never thought it worked for me to participate in blogger things like the One Room Challenge. Starting a room and finishing it in the same year? That’s not how things work in the Crooked House. And even my parents, who raised me with more normal DIY remodeling, leave rooms unfinished until they redo them for the second time 20 years later. But 30 little things in 30 days? Stacy came up with this idea because like me, she’s made major headway on fixing up an old house but left little bits undone everywhere. I’m not excited to do these small projects, so I like the chance to cheer on and commiserate with other people doing the same thing. But on the other hand, September is the return of weather I like, and I’m not sure I want to be bound to give the house all of my time. Especially when some of these jobs can happen when it’s miserable again in January.

But My mom says do it! So here’s my list, leaving some bigger things for later months and breaking every item into the smallest thing I could possibly call a stand-alone job. I’m still not sure if I can manage 30, and I might come up with extra things to sub in for some of these. But this is a good start.

  1. Finish getting the lath attached? Yes, I am rewarding myself for missing my goal by putting it on this list. There’s almost nothing left to do from this.
  2. Stucco, scratch coat
  3. Stucco, brown coat
  4. Stucco, finish coat. 3 coats, 3 jobs is not a cop out because I said so.
  5. Wire brush and paint the stub of a cast iron pipe the gutter connects to.
  6. Weed my flower pots. I haven’t done a lick of gardening all year and now they’re kind of ridiculous.
  7. Finish painting the kitchen cabinets.
  8. Install kitchen cabinet knobs
  9. Have glass fitted in the china cabinet doors.
  10. Organize/clean the basement and retrieve some materials from the lumber hoard.
  11. Fill nail holes in woodwork throughout the house.
  12. (Have my dad) caulk seams in woodwork throughout the house. Because remember, I suck at caulking.
  13. Make small drywall repairs and patches throughout the house.
  14. Touch-up paint walls throughout the house.
  15. Install vintage brass switch and outlet plates throughout the house. (They are smaller than the new ones, thus most of the wall repairs.)
  16. Bring my twin bed back from my parents’ attic and furnish and set up the guest room. Yes, I have a guest room! I’ve arrived!
  17. Finish my closet. This means one more closet bar and baseboards, hopefully made of scrap wood. It also probably means random crap in the guest room closet.
  18. Finish the linen closet. This means paint the shelves and add baseboards.
  19. Paint woodwork in the upstairs hall
  20. Paint paneling under the stairs
  21. Paint and reinstall the basement stairway door
  22. Install a bulletin board on the back of the basement stairway door. Part for function, part to hide damage.
  23. Paint woodwork in the kitchen and the big archway between the kitchen and living room
  24. Paint vestibule door.
  25. Get the hardware back on the vestibule door and find a skeleton key. Because I’ll be locking the house with an old-fashioned skeleton key when I take the front door off to refinish it.
  26. Repaint kitchen walls as needed.
  27. Tape and mud basement stairway walls (there’s not much and they don’t need to be done well)
  28. Paint basement stairwell.
  29. My sister bought me a really nice mailbox for my birthday in March. Let’s get it up.
  30. I promised my sister I’d season her vintage cast iron at the same time that I do mine… a year later, she’s asking where it is. And since she’s visiting home this month, it’s time.

My Dad Provided Common Sense Again

Like I said before, I want the stucco to wrap around the corner where the downspout hides the ugly control joint. But there’s a problem. The cast iron pipe connecting my downspout to the sewer angles in toward the house so the top is right up against it. It’s original to the house (1890’s) and not in good shape. Ask me why I have a can of Bondo in the basement. But in until I can replace it, it’s in the way of the stucco.

IMG_1177.JPG

At first I thought I’d just stucco up to it and repair the missing patch later. But this could get rust stains in my stucco and the patch may not be done right and could crack. So I thought maybe I could rig some kind of temporary plaster stop and leave a gap around the pipe. The metal trim would all be in place but no plaster on it. Then my dad thought of the solution that should have been obvious. Cut it off with the Sawzall. The problem? His sawzall is kinda old and battery powered, and the batteries weren’t holding up to the rigors of this job.

We decided that I’d go to Sears and buy more, even though that meant a trip to Jersey. And it wound up being a 2 Home Depot trip day because the Irishman was outside and he told us we were using the wrong kind of blades. When I came back with the right blade, it worked so well we didn’t need the new batteries.

IMG_1180.JPG

You can see that the stucco was , ahem, a little crude behind the pipe. And let’s not talk about the more recent work just to the left that I won’t be coating over this year. The Irishman told me the previous owner hired crackheads from the street whenever he needed work done. But we were able to patch the tar paper properly. Meaning 6 inch laps on vertical seams and 2 inches horizontal. I recut the weep screed since the old one was damaged from being wedged in behind the pipe. And we put in a longer downspout. The old one was damaged anyway. It’s a much better fit now!

IMG_1182.JPG

But it’ll still be a tight squeeze once the stucco is in place. I’ll probably have to crimp the downspout in a little bit more.

IMG_1183.JPG

Now one more thing – you might have noticed that I installed corner bead after I said I didn’t want it. Historic stucco had hand finished corners and was less perfect looking, but the corner bead does provide structural benefits. Corners can be prone to spalling, and this extra steel prevents that. And really, I don’t have truly traditional stucco, which would have been a coating applied to solid masonry that the owner would repair as needed forever. Modern stucco is cladding and we expect it to hold together without a lot of maintenance. Hopefully with the job I’ve done I’ll be good for 75-100 years.

Projects that Aren’t Stucco

Yes, I’ve decided to drop everything and do something else. You’re probably wondering what I was thinking. Well, first I was having trouble with my garbage disposal. It would drain slowly and clog up often, so I’d have to run it just about every time I used the sink and use the little wrench to un-jam it about once a week. This was almost enough to get me to remove the garbage disposal entirely. And then Saturday it WAS enough! Because when I tried to un-jam it, it fell off the sink! So when my dad came down, we flushed it out with the hose (which was super disgusting and probably a biohazard), got it back on, and now we both learned from YouTube that filling your disposal with ice cubes and running it about once a week will knock gunk out of it and prevent this from happening.

And after this, the next project? Stop moldings on the upstairs hall doors. They’ve been under my bed for like a year now. And I’ve had the Irishman’s table saw and pneumatic nailer in the middle of my living room since my parents were done with them. So I wanted those things out to make the kitchen look good? Not exactly – it’s already a mess from the other two half-finished projects. But my roommate is moving out so it was time to make some room for her stuff.

IMG_1176.JPG

So the first thing we had to do was the roller ball catch on the linen closet door. My upstairs hall doors all match, but the bathroom and linen closet doors are thinner. I think that’s because they were originally closet doors and Victorian closets were more like cabinets than rooms, so they had cabinet-like hardware on the doors. But installing the roller ball catch was scary because it meant boring a 7/8″ hole into a 1-1/8″ door. I let my dad do it.

IMG_1172.JPG

What a relief. The door split just a little when I drove the catch in, but I’ll touch it up with the stain/finish and no one will be the wiser.

Then onto the stop moldings. These doors are old and warped so I had to flex the stop moldings in tight to them. That makes everything look clean and the doors don’t rattle when they’re closed. I learned somewhere on the Internets that shimming them out with 2 layers of cereal box cardboard gives you just enough of a gap to close properly.

IMG_1175.JPG

This, the bathroom door, was particularly fun because it’s badly warped. The Irishman tried to warp it back the other way to no avail. I don’t really care since it was important to have a few imperfect things in the house anyway. The way this trim runs at an angle is a little bit fun. Except that now I have to fill the screw holes that it was supposed to cover.

IMG_1174.JPG

As for the stucco, I’m crossing my fingers that the PREP can be finished while it’s still August. That would mean it took 2 months.