Tag Archives: dysfunction

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.

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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.

 

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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.)

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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?

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Office Chairs and Free Rugs – More Complicated Than It Sounds

My parents wanted to do my dad’s office on a shoestring budget (though they did put a little money into 3 days of Irish labor), so they happily took some free stuff. I picked an office chair out of the trash at work and my aunt happened to have a good Oriental rug in her attic.  The problem is the edge of the rug is in just about the worst place possible for the chair.

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I had pictured the rug being just a little bit smaller and thought that it was going to be turned around the other way and kept clear of the desk. Instead it almost fills the floor space in the middle of the room. (Yes, that means that they did move the bed out of the center of the room.)

So we decided to butt a small, rug up against the big one and then put a clear plastic chair mat over this area so the chair could roll around and not damage anything. My dad ordered a chair mat, then when I was visiting we found a cheap rug that was the right size and ordered that. He seemed happy. But then he told me that rugs weren’t quite the right sizes to cover the whole space under the mat.

Anyways, he dwelt on this problem and proceeded to work himself up into a fit. He said that he’ll just let the mat hang off the rugs and void the warranty, or that he could make it work by never stepping on the edges that hang off. He said he’ll push the big rug as close to the cabinets as he can get it, which would buy him all of 2 extra inches. He said he’d use remnants of blue wall-to-wall carpeting underneath… even when apparently he also apparently has remnants of every other carpet they ever had installed, some of which are better colors for the room. And as he shouted about the stress it was giving him to design a room around a free rug that is not suitable for an office, he said that he’ll just leave the room vacant and use my sister’s room, where a wooden chair and carpet scrap are less of a problem than the insurmountable dilemma of putting a chair mat over area rugs.

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So, disaster. Irredeemable, right? Not so much! The mat and rug came, he likes them, and his blood pressure is back to normal.

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I think maybe the chair mat should go all the way up against the cabinets, and if the wants full mobility in the chair maybe they do need to find little plugs of carpeting to cover those gaps. It would look a bit rigged but who’s paying attention? Now how does one find a piece of carpet that would blend in and disappear here? I suggested going to a junk yard and getting a black floor mat from an old car. My mom said I’m crazy. I think my dad liked this plan for exactly that reason.

But anyways, this room is starting to look like a room now! Soon it might be done enough for me to show it to you!

Planning… Stucco?

So I’ve had a pattern. Do project, burn out, take time off, start 2 new projects. I was around that point in the cycle 2 weeks ago and, well, it was pretty obvious that sooner or later I need to finish painting the kitchen cabinets, get the knobs on, and get glass in the doors. So I took down the ones that the Irishman never painted on the back sides. Incidentally, he skipped all the ones that are the hardest to pop on and off.

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And he convinced me that I need to stucco around the patio door this year. I’ve had plywood sheathing exposed to the elements (under an overhang at least) for 2 years now. So after lining one side of the dining area with cabinet doors I filled  the other with stucco materials. Also PVC trim boards for casing around the patio door.

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And then I got food poisoning. (And I don’t know what from but I probably cooked it myself.)

So here’s the plan. First off, the old plan was to have the whole rear of the house stuccoed at once. The new plan is to defer the air shaft area indefinitely…

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And do it like everyone else did and just redo the part that I can see for now. As in, new stucco on the plywood and the stucco that got this lovely green paint.

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Now, stucco terrifies me. Because there are some stucco houses I love.

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But there are others that are McMansions. Also, modern stucco is supposed to have ugly control joints so it doesn’t crack. I’m definitely going to need a couple because the stucco around the back door will be installed as a veneer over paint and plywood while the rest of the house (to be stuccoed later) can get it right onto the masonry, the old fashioned way.

So here’s what I’m thinking. I’ll install the new stucco with one horizontal control joint right around the top of the first floor. And I’ll wrap the corner and put the control joint right behind the downspout where you can’t see it. Because inside corners are bad, this means that when I go back and stucco the rest there will be a really long skinny strip of stucco that wraps the corner from the siding (the trim is PVC) to behind the downspout. Then the rest of the back inside the air shaft can hopefully get one seamless coat. Back to this photo again, the little bit of brick that’s showing behind the downspout is where the joint will be. (Note: I’m pretty sure the back of these houses are all a low grade of brick that needs to be stuccoed.)

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Then there’s the small matter of texture. What I’ve noticed about old stucco is that it’s not as perfectly flat and often has a heavier texture than new stucco. That house I showed above? The walls seem to have heft. New stucco more often than not looks like a card house.

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But the Crooked House is not Tudor. It’s not Cotswold Revival, Colonial Revival, Spanish Colonial Revival, or arts and crafts. It’s a very modest late Victorian, a period when I don’t think stucco was particularly popular. And the back has no architectural style at all really. I’m going to do the walls in a fairly smooth sand finish. That’s basically the plainest stucco finish and it was popular before my house was built and after. It’s also the easiest to do. And I’m skipping the corner bead. I’ll chip off some of the old bad repairs to let the wall be semi-flat, then I’ll just let the corners be a bit rounded off.

 

Am I a player now?

First there was Tim. He was in the picture for a solid 2 years, and even though I had to put up with a lot of stupid shit I stuck with him. But he left me high and dry when a better option came along. I never gave him his stuff back.

Then there was Ken. The first time he came over was encouraging and I guess that’s why I kept coming back to him after how many times he stood me up. And he never took it upon himself to tell me – I had to sit at home calling him to find out.

So it may have been underhanded of me when I went after Dre, who Ken knows, and got Ken to give me Dre’s number. But, you know, I’m trying to find someone. I took a day off of work partly to meet Dre. We were good to go the night before but then he ghosted on me, just like the others.

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And now there’s John. He stopped answering my calls, too, until I called him from the office. He finally did get back to me and we were supposed to meet. Again, nothing.

I haven’t dumped John yet but I’m already after another guy named John. They don’t have to know about each other. At this point I want to get whatever there is to get from whoever will give it to me. My roommate even knows to leave the door unlocked when John is thinking of coming by.

And if all else fails, there’s one more number I can call and I’ve heard good things. But they’ll charge $75 just for someone to come by before even doing anything. The thought of paying for that just leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but they’re in the back of my mind in case I ever need it bad enough.

 

But a little good news – I finally found the one! The second John came and got my heat working today!

Yeah, this whole post was about plumbers. What did you think I meant?

But a little bad news. Having given up on professional help, then given up on DIY, then given up on professional help, and so on, my dad and I tried to hook up the thermostats ourselves. What’s the worst that could happen?

Well, we fried the boiler control relay, the damper control, the circulating pump, and all 3 zone valves. I was starting to save money again. That was nice while it lasted. So, a little shocked horror there. But at long last, the Crooked House has functioning central heat. And considering that the boiler was exhausting 3000 parts per million carbon monoxide and the chimney was blocked at the top and had a hole halfway up… well, I’m glad that the small child who used to live here is still alive. And I’m thrilled to finally put away that electric radiator at the bottom of the stairs.

The Great Soap Dish Dilemma

I’m taking a break from expensive and time consuming projects, but there are smaller things I should be doing. My roommate has been away for 3 weeks and I promised her that stuff would happen while she was gone. I didn’t follow through. Some of this is dependent on the Irishman, who also promised to help me and didn’t follow through, but the bathroom’s lack of towel bars and other storage items is all on me. The toilet paper sits on the radiator, which doesn’t bother me. Towels hang on the side of this temporary storage cart, which I’m also fine with except that guests never find them.

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It’s in the bathtub thatthings get ugly. All I have is a bar of soap, a bottle of shampoo (usually large and inexpensive), and a scrub brush. My roommate has 2 additional bottles. And then I use a clean wash cloth every time I shower and with no place to hang them I let them sit in a nasty pile until laundry day.

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My roommate said she’d like to see all of that stuff go away. Her tone was gentle but that didn’t imply that I was welcome to slack off. But I did, mainly because my search left me disappointed. I want fixtures that are as plain and sleek as possible in shiny chrome at the dry end of the tub away from the shower head. And there’s a slim chance that I’d want storage for just a wee bit more in case someone more high maintenance ever lives here.

Chris suggested a magnetic soap dish like he used in his house, and this idea sounded fantastic. But there’s a problem. There’s a very limited selection of these, and the most sensible ones have a very traditional look that’s wrong for my bathroom. Everything else is either very high end and imported from Europe or looks as cheap as it is. But I could get one from Zack Scala with a look I liked – for about 50 bucks.

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That’s not super cheap but I figured it would be okay and I should get it. But then I was thinking of the other stuff I want that would be on the same wall. It’s one thing to cheat and use cheaper fixtures across the room, but here wouldn’t it look stupid? But getting them to match would cost like $300! And even after spending all that money will it look any good?

And I went back to the alternative, finding a different manufacturer whose product is close enough. But they’re all chrome when this soap dish is polished stainless steel. Polished stainless steel that looks like chrome is apparently not a thing in the US.

I thought when I was planning this project out that marble shelves would stick out like a sore thumb and thought I should get glass. But then I wondered about safety if I broke it. So I considered getting wire shelves. No need for a soap dish that way. But I couldn’t find anything I liked and decided that the risk of breaking a glass shelf (that I like) is pretty small anyway, right? But that takes me back to where I have to order expensive things online and decide if I’m going to hold my nose and spend hundreds of dollars or try to mix different styles of fixtures that I’m buying sight unseen.

So then I decided to ignore the house and wash up to do something fun. And I threw another washcloth on the pile.

Ups and Downs with the Bookcases

So first of all, yes I got them! I took the Suburban up to the seller’s house in Perkasie, and we got all of them except the middle lower unit in. This meant an hour and a half of driving over my usual afternoon commute. The seller is a concrete contractor and was working closer to where I work the next day, so he offered to bring it to his job site so I could get it there. But then he finished early and brought it to me instead. I said before that last week was bad. But then he showed up with this on his trailer. And yes, that’s my bookcase on the truck.

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And here they are in the house! They’re supposed to go on the other side of the room and will get a little cosmetic tweaking – more on that later – but this is a start.

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Sadly, the lowest shelf of the upper shelving units is fixed. won’t house a TV . But if I can choose between practical and solid mahogany… there’s no contest. The middle base unit has a pullout and a carousel for a TV, so that got me thinking that I could just be old fashioned and keep my TV 4 inches off the ground, too. And that way if there are people with bad taste in TV coming around too often, I can install locks on the doors! Should they insist on being allowed to watch, I’ll see if I can rig something up using the boiler as a stand and and throw some lawn chairs in the basement.

And then, remember how the bases are too deep to fit in my house? I plan to cut 5 inches off the backs, then rout out the side panels and reinstall the original backs to make them look like they came that way. This was easy in my mind. We’d run them through the Irishman’s table saw. He left it in my house and we’ve used it plenty.

But my dad wasn’t comfortable with us being able to balance something that big on such a small table. So instead he said we could clamp on a fence and cut them with a circular saw. We took one out to the sidewalk and made the first cut. The result? Wavy. A disaster.

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I’ll need a Plan B. Either going to Philadelphia Woodworks to have a real wood shop and professional guidance – at $70 an hour – or hoping I can do better redoing the cuts with a router. But for now I’ve just thrown the room together to leave this project till later.

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I thought seeing things bit scrunched and the couch off center was going to make me twitch, but I gave it a shrug. It’s fine. Also, I’ve figured out that the couch will be smushed against the bases if I size them to fit the stereo receiver, but because there’s a big gap behind the cabinets above the baseboards, I’m just gonna be lazy and cut a big hole in the backs. Problem solved.

I think the boiler hates me

I’ve got a good story today, but first you need a little bit of boring background information. This is an aquastat relay, which controls the boiler, the circulating pump (which moves water through my radiators), and the chimney damper. It also powers and receives a signal from the thermostat. There are 4 screw terminals for the thermostats near the top, but 2 of them have a metal strip factory installed to jump them because most systems only need the other 2. You can see that strip covering up the word thermostat right above the little plastic sheet, and the TV terminal is one of the ones for the thermostats.

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The heat wasn’t working after I finally got all the thermostats hooked up right, and first I assumed that the complicated thing I have with 3 thermostats and 3 zone valves (instead of 2 wires on 1 thermostat) was the problem. So I took down the thermostat in the living room and connected it right to the relay with some extra wire. Now with simple wires it should turn on.

But it didn’t.

My dad had been worried that we blew one of the transformers by wiring it wrong, so I thought either it was that or the thermostat was bad. But I waited for my dad to come down with a multimeter so we could test for bad wires and what not. And so he came in and put the multimeter across the thermostat terminals and immediately, click! The relay flipped and the boiler fired up.

I gasped. The thermostat is bad and current is running through the volt meter and turning the boiler on. How is this possible? So I tried just running a wire across. That should be the same as when a thermostat saying “turn on” to the boiler. But it did nothing. Did I have a whole lot of faulty wire? He switched the meter to measure resistance and found that the wire was good.

And then he stuck wires across the terminals and click! Whoosh! On it came. And I did it again, and nothing. We did this a few times and then I asked him to sit there until the house warmed up. He said no. But finally, he pushed the wire against one terminal only and on it went. So we realized that he was flexing the circuit panel and something was connecting that wasn’t connected before.

There must be a bad solder on the back side of the circuit panel. So we disconnected every wire going into that relay, took it off the boiler, and dismantled it. Nothing looked bad. I figured I needed a new relay, which I guessed I could afford at $160, even though I had just said I could not afford $130 for an automatic ice maker in my freezer.

But then, remember those 2 thermostat terminals with the jumper running across them? The ones I don’t actually need? One of them was loose. So we put it all back together and what could have been a 2 second job was accomplished instead in 3 hours.

I went and reinstalled that last thermostat in the living room and we connected it back to the relay. And nothing happened. So remember the wire we used to bypass the thermostat before? I put that back on. Now my heat is on all the time until I get hot and go downstairs and power off the aquastat.