Tag Archives: finish carpentry

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Closing Out the Irish Labor

I bit the bullet and hired the Irishman twice more. Here’s what I have to show for it.

The oak counter next to the stove is in! I plan to sand off the old finish and oil it. (Also, the kitchen is getting tidier)


The missing chip of wood on the banister has been patched. He then used a fair bit of wood filler while doing the final carving but it should even out with stain.


The bathroom door has its marble threshold.


The vestibule door is in! He extended the bottom because the gap was big and he thought it looked stupid. And this door has beveled glass so the photos don’t do it justice.


The panel sticking on the stairway wall is cut and pushed in place.


This last one was unexpectedly hard because the saw doesn’t cut the super tight angles we needed. So he clamped blocks of wood to the saw fence.


And, I no longer need to use a sneaker and a can of paint to keep my bedroom door shut!


He promised me that on top of all this, he’ll come back an evening and shoot in (meaning use the pneumatic nailer) the panel sticking, finish off the roller ball catch on the linen closet door, and put up the permanent stop moldings on the bedroom, bathroom, and linen closet doors.

So yay! That’s a lot! And I got some things done too but not nearly as much.

I got fed up with the condition of this rocker. I wasn’t 100% sure I’d be keeping it forever but decided it makes sense to get it re-caned regardless.


So I found a couple that canes chairs from an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer. They wanted $240! My PTSD is almost gone. I started to plan out a DIY project to rig it with an upholstered seat. But then the low bid came in at $83, and here it is. And that puts it on the short list of most expensive furniture and décor items in the house. Many thanks to my grandmother for having good enough taste that I can be happy with her stuff.


Then I’ve been doing a fair bit of organizing things now that space is carved out for them. One drawer in the kitchen had more contents than space, but the chest by the front door had room for the reusable shopping bags and that fixed everything. I picked up a few more drawer dividers for the kitchen. It’s the little things right?

And another day of sweeping up sawdust. I thought we were done with that.


So organizing is a priority right now. So is just basic house work. I’ve been good about the washing my clothes thing but not so much folding them. The wash stand got a new purpose consistent with its name as I stacked the clean unfolded wash ever higher every week.


So… little things are the new order of business. Cleaning, organizing, prepping to paint everything I didn’t get to before. And painting all the things I left undone. And things that don’t cost anything are all I can afford to do for the next 2 months anyway. That means the blog will be straying off-topic for a while. And the next time you see the Crooked House, it should look a good bit more polished off!

Oh, and I’m excited about the off-topic posts.

Casing the Joint

The DIY trim installation is off to a good start. First, those baseboards on solid brick walls that sagged before the glue dried? Well I figured out a solution. Bro, do you even lift? (Yes, I lifted those weights up the stairs and leaned them against my baseboards.)


The down side is that the glue is taking several days to dry so I didn’t get back into this room to finish the job. But it’s not like I was short on things to do. Meanwhile, the back bedroom was ready to go. So I had a scary adventure scribing base cap with the coping saw. My first try wasn’t so great – I ended up redoing this cut – but the second try I got pretty decent at it. Had to do some filing and will still have to caulk a little.


But here’s how it looks installed!


And the wall with the doors!


I mostly did trim work the whole time while my parents cleaned like crazy. My dad returned the basement to sanity, though not yet to cleanliness. This is important because I want to store tools and stuff down here soon.


And he took out the bags of sawdust and stuff the floor guys left out back and swept up the pile of brick debris from when the Irishman put in the kitchen exhaust fan in September. Yes I left it there that long. And do any contractors take their trash with them ever?

Meanwhile, I think I’m done using saws upstairs. Forever! OK, maybe for the rest of Phase 1. So my mom vacuumed with glee. First the floors, then everything else that could possibly catch dust. And she was INTO IT.


“Don’t take photos of me in this goofy sweater!”

Then she wiped down the doors. Which brought us the line of the year.

“What did you finish these doors with? They’re silky smooth! I love cleaning them!”

(Answer, if you didn’t read it before: General Finishes High Performance acrylic topcoat. And no, they didn’t pay me to write this. But I am totally willing to take money if they want to give it to me.)

She wiped down the metal bed frame after a year in the basement. And civility began to creep in. My mom asked if I had a second green pillow case.


“Oh, if you’re going to the bathroom, let me get this before we go.” That’s right, she just can’t stop vacuuming.


And then we loaded up the (borrowed) truck with random crap to get rid of. 3 surplus doors, the boob lights, and a hand-me-down bed that my mom took for me but I won’t be using.


And on my triumphant lap through the metro area to get rid of this stuff, I struck out. The ReStore was closed and Philadelphia Salvage has too much stuff and doesn’t want mine. It looks like my old oak floors are getting burned, and everything else is back in my living room. Which is annoying because I don’t like moving backwards. But it should be gone for real soon.

Another Delay, What’s New?

Last week, the Irishman made me a big request and a big promise. Could I hire him all week? And if so, I’d have all the woodwork in the house installed along with all the kitchen cabinets, the countertops, the sink, the vestibule door, and strike plates for all the doorknobs by today. How much did he actually do? Nothing.

Mind you, he has had some difficult things happening lately. So I knew that there was a reasonable chance that this promise was outrageously unrealistic. But “Kitchen Friday” was also a powerful drug. The high was magnificent, but 3 days of it clouded my judgment. Meaning, it made me believe that this thing was actually happening and that I should stay away and not work on the place myself. Needless to say, coming down from this high made me irritable.

So the old plan from last week was to have 2 weeks to paint baseboards and make other finishing touches at a not-too-frantic pace, furnish the bedrooms as the get finished, and bring the sofa into a nearly complete house on the 5th. That last part is still happening. My sofa can stay where it is until my parents get ready to decorate for Christmas. The major adjustments are the not-too-frantic part and the nearly complete part.

The old plan was that I was going to prep and get rid of random crap tomorrow and Sunday my parents would join me and do lots of cleaning and start painting trim. The new plan is I’m installing baseboards and other trim all day tomorrow, my dad will prep and touch-up-paint Sunday, my mom will do all the cleaning by herself, and I’ll focus on getting rid of random crap. That’s right, my way of coping with all this is to dump more work on my parents. Son of the year I am.

So the goal is shrinking. I still hope to paint all the trim in the back bedroom except the windows. They can wait until it’s warm next year. I want to at least get the front bedroom’s trim in but could wait till Phase 2 when the room gets major rework to paint it. And in the living room, one radiator is going in without baseboards behind it. Which is sad, but I can’t get the baseboards in until after the kitchen is done and bringing the electric radiators back would be even sadder.

So now I’m back on the stick. In 2 weeks I should have sorta finished bedrooms, a thoroughly unfinished kitchen, and a really pretty wood shop with a nice couch in it. I still hope to have a Christmas party, but I’m giving myself till the 12th Night.

The Archaeological Dig Begins

Having all the floors done at once may have saved me money, but I also had to plan ahead for years to have the house empty now. And then I was ridiculously late with everything and now it’s time to stop doing this to my poor parents.



So even though I can’t really furnish the house yet, I’ve started to bring things in. I also brought things up from my own basement. What, did you think my living room was done being a wood shop? But it’s better than it was.


I thought my sofa had to go first because when we couldn’t get it into the basement or any of the bedrooms it invaded the holy of holies. But my mom’s friends were impressed and now she says let it stay till the Christmas tree is going up.


But in their basement where the hoard is really bad, I borrowed a friend’s Suburban and loaded it up with bedroom furniture. Nothing to big to move around.


And the basement already looks a little better! That secretary desk didn’t fit in the truck, but Moving Day number 2 is this weekend again.



Getting that first round of stuff out was like working with a puzzle. The next round, when I’ll want some things from the back, should hopefully make it look like a real room.

So then there’s the real work. I had a snag with the baseboards. Back up in the front bedroom where it was impossible to attach anything to the wall. No surprises here.


I tried driving trim head screws into the brick but none of them held. So then I tried screwing them down into the floors, but the screws sucked the boards in so much at the bottom the tops pulled out. Then I tried a whacky idea of shimming out the bottoms with little pieces of dowel to prevent them from sucking in too far. This sorta almost worked.


I’m also getting geared up for the rest of my kitchen! So I mapped out the rest of the cabinet layout and picked them up! And I got a pleasant surprise. At IKEA, you put the drawer fittings in after the cabinet frames. This was really, really fantastic news because I can’t afford the drawers. So for now I’m going to have a copy room look with stacks of boxes in open cabinets with no shelves or drawers. It’s gonna be awesome.

Then I went to the ReStore and picked up some inoffensive Formica countertops for 50 bucks. I’m gonna have to cut them up to make them fit so they’re probably not gonna look quite right. But they’ll be usable!


And anyways, it looks like I’m getting some more Irishman help soon. I think. One can never be certain. But if he does come, I’m really, really almost there!

All The Progress While I Was Gone

The best things always happen to my house when I’m not involved. I balked at the price at first, but in the end allowed the Irishman to work 6 days in a row on my place. He finished a nice mix of things I couldn’t to myself and things that would take me long enough to make the Crooked House my retirement home.

To start, he hung all the kitchen cabinets. He said cutting them down to size and getting them tight to the soffits were both tough jobs. I’ll take his word for it. In the end they’re in, they’re square, and the fillers are scribed neatly into the crooked walls.


Boring through 10 inches of brick for the stove vent might have been a little hard to DIY. (Note where the old fan was before we ripped the wall out.)


Then he went ahead and did all the flooring repairs. These boards came out of the 2 back bedrooms upstairs 2 years ago and have been in my basement and then my back yard under the overhang since then. I’ve said this before, but someone did a hack job shifting the stairs over so the door could be in the living room instead of the kitchen, so I want to fix their poor installation bit by bit. The awkwardly thrown together landing now looks like somebody built it on purpose. And some extra oak boards tidy up where I made the doorway to the kitchen bigger. The plan is still to sand out that old pine in there. I could have done this myself but remember how the upstairs floors took me 2 months?


Then he decided that it’s not a big deal to install all the door jambs before the floors are done after all and put the last 2 in. All the better, now I can finish them before the floors, quite a relief. The crooked door to the front bedroom was apparently a pain.


The back bedroom door needed a threshold made out of a floorboard to transition gracefully from level to crooked floors. It’s made out of an original floorboard so we can pretend I have a finished house when we look at it.


And here’s the upstairs hall now, with all 5 pretty doors in place! It’s kind of funny that after I’ve lived without these doors for years, suddenly they can go in before the floors are done. But somebody wanted to keep entertained while he was marooned in South Philly.


Does it look better than the before photo yet?

Upstairs hall

Upstairs hall

And now the biggest door mismatch is in place. I was gonna paint all my doors until I realized that 8 of them are far to nice for me to paint if I want to sleep at night. So now all my doors will be stained, except for the ones that aren’t. I think these closet doors were made to be paint grade.


And finally, he’s not 100% done, and one of the things undone is the cleanup. Nothing stays tidy in this house for long. Here’s the living room I just emptied last week. I can barely walk through this but I decided not to mess with it till he’s done.


Building the Paneled Panel

Did you think I forgot about this? You might have since I haven’t mentioned it since January. It’s looked like this for about as long as I can remember. Leave your kids at home.


But the panel on my stairway wall is very much still happening. Here’s the sketch I made way back when.

stairway paneling

The whole point of doing this was to make the wall come out for access to the basement. I can’t remove it all though because there are switches and wires in that wall. The Craftsman-style long skinny panels are perfect though because the panel closest to the door can be fixed while the next 3 come off. On top of that, there was one aesthetic problem I wanted to solve. Not a huge one, but while I’m at it…

You see, the door to the basement used to be in the kitchen and someone filled it in (weirdly), moved the stairs toward the front of the house, cut the door down, and put it on the side of the stairwell. This was a big improvement in the kitchen, but I wasn’t fond of the weird wall where the door used to be or the way the casing around the new door jutted into the stairway woodwork. Plus, there was a triangular chunk of the wood hacked out and filled in with drywall and caulk. I think this happened in the 50’s. (And remember, the house didn’t look that bad when I bought it.)


I decided to use a wainscot cap to finish the paneling, which is now thicker than the edge of the stairs. And there is no casing at all around the door, just a little strip of sash bead. And the cap comes so close to the door that the bead doesn’t even go all the way around. The Irishman thought I was crazy for wanting to do it this way, but he said he’d build it. He sent me a photo of the opening with sash bead all the way around the door, which was wrong! So I quickly sketched it (not to scale) and texted him a photo. (Though this is a scan. It looks better.)


And then he built it and it’s perfect. Except that little hacked out triangle. He’s going to stick a piece of plywood in there and then fill the cracks with Bondo. As in auto body filler.


And remember how I was going trim inside the panels that looked like the sticking on the door? That didn’t quite work out. He hates wasting molding passionately, so he made custom panel sticking out of the scraps of my upstairs casing. It’s that small piece to the left. He says we’ll find a place to use the reeded part to the right, too.


So that’s where we are now. It was hard. And because I’m paying him by the hour, it was expensive. But I love it, and if I get my finances in order by 30 it’s all good, right? Stay tuned, finishing touches are coming together so there might be a big reveal in the near future!