Tag Archives: floor finishing

Shoddy Work Hall of Shame

I’m having a problem in WordPress – most of my pages are all fine when I edit them but don’t show up when I publish and I can’t figure out why. The house tour can stay broken for now, but the h.

Studs too short? Cut blocks of wood and/or stack up scraps of plywood to fill the gaps!

Don't even try to understand this one

Don’t even try to understand this one

Time to frame a wall. New wood or old? Let’s alternate them! (These studs are not the same size, but they didn’t screw the drywall into the studs anyway so it doesn’t matter)

I guess it looks cool get size, color, and texture variety with your studs

I guess it looks cool get size, color, and texture variety with your studs

Woodwork coming loose?  Don’t push it into place and re-nail it, just caulk! Cracked plaster? Just find a scrap of drywall to cover most of the cracks, and some of your woodwork! Just line it up between/on the surrounding trim, drive screws in wherever the spirit moves you, and you’re done! Radiators are totally solid so no one will ever notice.


And then there’s the caulk. So much caulk. I wasn’t strong enough to pull apart the caulk on the living room radiator covers; had to cut it.

Radiator cover removal

Radiator cover removal

Normally how do you handle finishing floors around the radiator? You’d use special sanders to get around the low clearance. How did the previous owner do it? His… people just skipped it. And when they dropped globs of joint compound, dirt, pennies, and other odds and ends under it, they just polyurethaned right over them. This is what it looked like after I gave it a thorough cleaning.


It looks like someone kicked in the door to the front bedroom at some point. The jamb was all busted out around the strike plate. To fix this, long screws were driven through the destroyed wood into nothing. And there’s a lot of caulk on it, of course.


Then there are the front bedroom windows:

P1040199 P1040198

So what exactly are we looking at here? Lots of holes, obviously, and gorilla glue! Inside that, we have a very cheap window installed so crookedly (in a wall that’s actually square!) that it doesn’t even close. There are scraps of who knows what stacked up to reduce the size of the opening, and there are 1×3′s, that’s framing grade lumber, not what you’d ever have for decorative purposes, attached right to the tops of the window sills. I know this woodwork won’t survive being taken down, but I’ll be able to replicate it. Not just yet though because the front windows are staying until the brick is restored. And until I can afford the windows I want. And when I feel like doing another project. That could be a while.

Then there are the radiators. More bad paint. More joint compound gloop.


And I don’t have the steadiest hand, but look at this job cutting in with the paint around the stairs.


And, when you install stucco, install the flashing to take water out and over it, not as corner molding to drive it into the wall.

Back 3

Back 3


My Old Floors – Before, After, and a Whole Lot of Delerium

I was going to let this wait until after I have a real-world reveal tomorrow but I can’t contain my excitement. (Shoot me a comment if you want to come.) I’ve known what I was doing with these floors for more than 2 years and you have no idea what it’s like to see it finally happen!

So let’s go through it all. I knew the living room had nice floors, but they had (just) been refinished really badly. Like wavy, coins stuck in the poly, and they didn’t sand the corners or under the radiators. And ridiculous drips. I knew these had potential but was a little scared there wasn’t enough material left to redo them again. I think these floors were added in the 30’s when the house was about 40 years old.

Living room, front

Living room, front

And what do I have now? Drumroll please…


Then, did you see the pink marble tile in the vestibule? It was poorly installed and also (I think) 12×12 tiles were totally wrong for the space. Luckily, under a vinyl floor there was wood. And a lot of black glue.


And now? (You can also see that the water damaged area at the front isn’t perfect, but perfect wasn’t what I wanted anyway)


And how about all those carpet tacks in the stairs?




Then there’s the kitchen.


That vinyl floor was one of 7


And under it was this. This pine is not original to the house so I assume they needed a flatter subfloor for linoleum sometime between the 1930’s and the 50’s.


And now? (It’s not quite as yellow as it looks here.)


And the same angle as the February 2013 Before, just for fun.


Then we’ll go upstairs. Starting in the front bedroom. This room was the only place in the house where I could see the original random width pine subflooring. It was intriguing, but also painted purple. And yes, that’s a traditional South Philly master bedroom closet.

Front bedroom closet

Front bedroom closet

There were some bad patches at one end of the room, so I redid them with other original wood. (That process took several posts in 2014, starting here.)




I was expecting them to come out lighter. Not that I don’t love the color, but now that white paint between the floorboards shows more than expected. I might color it in with a marker.

It’s also fun that you can see where walls came out. There used to be a door connecting the front and middle bedrooms (this is a thing in Philly) that I enlarged when that part of the old middle bedroom became a closet. Here’s the scar.


And the upstairs hall might finally look better than when I bought the place. Tell me what you think. Also, this floor is fun because you can see the shadows of where the oak floorboards used to be. Also the crazy contrast between the oak and this old pine. Both just have clear water based poly on them.

Upstairs hall

Upstairs hall

Then with the oak out:


And now!


Then there’s the back bedroom.

Back bedroom

Back bedroom

I pulled out the original floors, enlarged and rebuilt the room, and put the old floors back in, plus some salvaged material mixed in. (This post shows the floors done, 6 weeks after starting in the other room.)



The floorboards in this room are lighter and more varied in color, which I assume is just because my installation as uneven and they had to sand harder.


And that threshold the Irishman built is really light because he cut the original patina all the way off.


There may be a few tweaks yet, but you get the idea for now. I’m pretty ecstatic.

One last look at my beat up floors

That’s right, I made it. Whew! The floor finisher said he’ll be here between 7 and 7:30 tomorrow. I’m on the floor where my bed used to be writing this now. So here’s a quick look at what I accomplished this week.

The scotia under the stairs that I wrote about before but forgot to photograph:


Then there were these holes in the kitchen floor.


I patched them the same way as I did upstairs about a year ago, except didn’t try to make these patches look good since they’ll be covered.

And the radiator alcoves, stained just like the doors. Everything took the stain a little differently but it all looks great. Those vertical lines are saw marks that are original to the wood, not horrible runs from me applying the stain badly.


And a crazy amount of cleaning. My dad came down today and helped a lot with this. It’s weird to see the house empty. Full of stuff it’s hard to really see the house for what it is. So here it is, cleared out for the first time in 2 1/2 years, with a few minor alterations here and there. The downside is it kind of looks newer than I wanted it too. I think more woodwork will help though.





And you remember all that effort to have a paneled wall that’s secretly removable? Here it is taken off!


You probably guessed by now that I’m not a magician, so there is a very ugly side to all this clearing out. You guessed right.



So, I’ve got a key laid out for my floor guy. But for now, let’s bid farewell botched sanding jobs, old mastic, paint overspray, and mismatched patches. They won’t be missed. But to the inlays we’ll say hello.


All by myself!

The plan was that I was gonna bring in the Irishman to do some pre-flooring repairs, but he’s not well. This was scary, but I actually did totally fine without him and was even sorta fast… I think. So what all had to be done?

One kinda straightforward job was that the cove molding under my steps was missing. The carpet installers took it out many years ago. And they put about 5000000000000000 staples in with some sort of military style machine staple gun. I hate whoever did this.


But I got to the Home Depot and to my horror, the oak cove molding wasn’t the same size as what’s on my nosing! That piece that still has the cove on the end of the step is all one piece of wood. So then with 40 minutes until they closed, I drove a half hour to Tague. And I found out that what I actually need is called scotia. Which looks just like cove except it isn’t.

I bought it, got it home, and found out that it wasn’t quite the right size either! But luckily, the Irishman’s table saw is in my living room. So I did this.


Can you see the difference? Probably not. But it shows on the steps I promise.


Then I installed it and forgot to take a photo. Stupid, but I’ll get one later.

And then I moved on to the the threshold at the back door. I have weird slopy things and holes all along this end of the room. I thought building something to cover both would be hard.


I set the Irishman’s table saw at a 10 degree angle and put a nice bevel into the end floorboards, ripped the boards down to the same widths (because I’m using whatever was left from upstairs), notched one of the boards on the end where the wall is thicker, and glued them down. I had to trim away a bit of the kitchen floor and found that it is in fact made of the good solid pine, so I’m glad I never went through with ripping it out. It looks like this now. The asymmetrical bevel to take out the cross slope is a little crude, but the floor finisher will even it all out.


And then I had enough time left over to burn paint off of the bit of baseboard and casing that I never got to before. This paint job was a thing of beauty. And the baseboard had poly from the floors slopped up about an inch and a half. I don’t miss it, obviously.


So it all came out well, except that the outlet in my baseboard has a plastic box and I melted it with the heat gun! One more small job for the punch list, but I’m moving forward with the critical work first.


I told the floor finisher to confirm me for the 9th, so it’s on! Before then, I have some more flooring repairs in the kitchen, a little more staining and finishing, and a whole lot of cleaning and emptying the house. It’ll be a fun week.

The biggest jobs left: Floors and Doors

There are only 2 big jobs on my short list right now: floors and doors. There’s also a whole bunch of little things that I’ll talk about next time.

I’ve decided to have the floors done. Because I think it’s the only way to stay sane and still finish the house before my 65th birthday. The Irishman has a guy I should call saved in his phone, but I’ve been trying to get this guy’s number for 2 weeks and I’m starting to wonder if something fishy is up, but it’s probably just his ADD in overdrive. Anyways, I’ve gotten numbers from reputable sources for three other contractors and they’re all coming in this week to give me estimates!

As for what I want on the floors, I have 3 different types of flooring, and I think I said before that I’m planning on using water based poly and no stain. For aesthetics, my living room floor must be light. That’s really the only constraint I have. A dark stain would hide the border. And though I could use a light stain if I wanted to, no stain is a lot cheaper. Picture them lighter than this. And not wavy from a botched sanding job.

Living room, front

Living room, front

The oil vs water debate is important. My understanding is that a good catalyzed water based poly is the best thing I can get. The Irishman told me that I should insist upon a good catalyzed oil based poly that isn’t legal anymore. He wasn’t joking. I’m leaning away from his advice because I’ve read that

  1. The best water based polys are better than the best oils anyway.
  2. I like the idea of my floors being really light and oil based poly ambers them and then continues to yellow over time.
  3. Oil based poly is bad for the environment and environmental regulations exist for a reason.
  4. Oil based poly stinks to high heaven and needs to cure a lot longer before you can walk on it.

The Internet tells me that top of the line water based finishes that take pro level skill to use are great. Like Bona Traffic. Of course the Internet also tells you every viewpoint under the sun, but this is the one I think I believe. Feel free to tell me your experiences though.

Then there are the doors. I thought they were all ready to stain. But I thought this mainly because I was delusional. They had rough spots, raised grain, and globby bits of varnish residue pretty much everywhere. I’m working on sanding them and figuring out what to do with the holes. Then I’ve already decided to use a tinted finish on them to even out the color. This will darken them to a mahogany color. It looked like this would just darken them a little, but they’ve lightened up quite a bit since then. I still think it’s the way to go.


Here are some of the flaws I won’t be hiding. The doorknobs had roses and keyhole escutcheons first, then were updated with rectangular back plates. I’m going back to the original and leaving the back plate outlines. I might put a dark filler in these holes.


But here’s a hole that’s not so okay. Yes, you can see right through to the bathtub. Do you think a dark tinted filler will do here? One co-worker says I should drill it out and put a dowel, but I don’t think I want to cut out the well-worn hole that’s already there and would rather just plug it with something that won’t change the look.

Turning Another Corner

I’ve just begun reintroducing myself to my own house. I’ve been in it plenty lately, but I always looked at the progress and carefully ignored the chaos piling up in the corners. But now it’s my turn to get to work on the place. The first order of business is cleaning. Which means shoveling up sawdust and, sigh, more crumbled plaster.

There are scraps of woodwork everywhere. And long skinny sticks from all the custom rips of all my trim.


2 evenings have most of the Irishman’s chaos cleaned up. I’m dreading the kitchen though. But that’s too boring to write about. The interesting part is moving forward. Having the floors done is the hurdle we knew about all along. The one that my life is going to revolve around sooner or later. But really, there are only two things that NEED to happen before the floors are done:

  • Thresholds and transitions where flooring materials change. I have 5 of these, 4 of which will be wood and need to be done.
  • Emptying the house except the bathroom, basement, and back yard. The woodwork that’s been pre-cut has to all be labeled and then moved into the bathroom.

That’s it. Doesn’t sound like a lot. But then there’s a lot more stuff that it would be nice to do.

There’s the wild card, final installation of the electrical stuff. Because I don’t want power strips and extension cords running all over the house from the couple of working outlets I have. To do this, I’ll be painting the kitchen, living room, front bedroom, and vestibule. The walls in the upstairs hall probably won’t survive moving furniture unscathed, so they’ll have to wait.

That’s the plan for Memorial Day weekend. Paint the house. We’ll talk about colors later. Before that happens, there are those patches in the kitchen ceiling from the plumbing stupidity flood. I never finished sanding and mudding the new joints.


And then there’s the ceiling light. I remember texting the electrician, “Do you think I should center the light between the beams or center it in the room?”  He replied, “Center the room.” While the Irishman was in the house not long ago, he looked up and asked why I didn’t center it between the beams.


The lesson is, don’t let your tradesmen make aesthetic choices for you! At least not when you already know what you want. I’m redoing it now though.

Then I have a laundry list of things that I’d like to do if I can.

  • Clean the toilet and reinstall the tank. I’m tired of flushing it by pouring water in from a bucket.
  • Clean out the oven. It’s full of little broken architectural bits that I needed to keep safe to put things back together. And receipts.
  • Stain the patio door, the living room window alcoves, the banister, and the secondhand IKEA bed frame I’ll be using. They’ll all get the same dyed finish that I got for the doors upstairs, but since some of those doors are nailed into their new jambs, I won’t be finishing any of them just yet.
  • Closet shelving. I’d like them done in the front bedroom and linen closets. This will eliminate most of my scrap wood and give me more places off the floor to put my crap.

And that’s the bulk of it! Next time I think we need to talk about paint colors again.

Planning the stairway… to the end!

This is exciting because although I’ve been thinking about the end of this project (meaning the whole house) for a long time, there’s been too much left for me to be able to write out every step to anything. But now I’m starting to get there! So here’s the deal, I plan to have all the floors in the house (except the tile in the bathroom of course) sanded and refinished, professionally, all at the same time. This means finishing this and that messy job and then preparing to empty the house and turn it over to strangers for the second time. But certain things I’m doing with the stairs get kinda mixed up, so let me know if I’m not sequencing this right.

My stairway is a pretty common traditional/Colonial style that I think dates to a major remodel in the 1930’s. They’re built with true 1-inch thick oak and have these nosings that wrap around the ends of the treads. I plan to take them all down and number, de-nail, and strip them. And that wasn’t my pating job!


Why? Because the balusters are mortised into the treads and with the nosings off, they can be knocked out and sanding the treads should be easy for the finishers. And cheap for me. You can also see how close the last baluster was to the box newel at the top of the stairs. I got it out to make stripping and painting easier.


The bottom step that flares out for the scrolly railing thing (bill and keys shelf) just had the balusters nailed down to it so I took them all off. Most of these are just square baluster stock and the same size so I cut them in half to get them out. But now the step should be easy to finish. And yes, you do see thick puddles of polyurethane on there.


I won’t even think about replacing the balusters at the bottom until the floors are done. But the one that I took out up top I think needs to go in after the floor finishers sand but before they finish the steps. I’ll probably also need to paint the newel first since I don’t want to have to push my paint brush through narrow gaps. But the rest of the balusters are getting painted after because the floor finishers will probably damage the paint job anyway. It may be their job to put that one baluster back in and reinstall the nosings. Also, the cove molding under the stair treads is gone, victim to another previous owner’s wall to wall carpet installation. I need to replace it with new read oak, which may not be perfect but I don’t think it’ll be obvious.

Oh. And with how well the banister is looking with all the paint stripped off, I couldn’t stand the sight of the baseboards anymore. So now they look like this.


Anyways, I haven’t actually brought a floor finisher in to look at my job yet, so if my ideas here are off base, I’d be glad to know now.