Tag Archives: woodwork

Pushing Through with the Banister

A quick note: It’s been an exhausting couple of weeks. I should have published this about 2 weeks ago on April 8. I present it to you now as if I had.

It’s been a tedious month. We left off with the banister and the paneling below looking more or less like this.


The sequence was burn paint off, sand, wood filler, sand, prime, then see everything I missed (and the grain that the primer raised), wood filler again, sand again, prime again, rinse, repeat.  And because I was getting so fed up with this job, I did what any sane person would do and squeezed in the upstairs banister. I was going to focus on the downstairs part and let this go till later. But the job was so bad I thought getting it all done now made more sense.


So the dirty part was going on upstairs while my OCD got free reign downstairs.

wood filler.jpg

This work might seem pretty sedate compared to Phase 1, but I’ve also done it on top of working out 5 times a week and cooking myself heaps of meat and vegetables so I stop wanting bread. You see, I’m 30 now and to my great horror, my waistline has grown enough that for the first time in my adult life I’m wearing a pants size that American stores keep in stock.

And today I have a couple dear old high school friends coming for dinner, which was a bit of a problem because I was still working on the banister yesterday and I haven’t done a lick of house cleaning in a month. I just let the place look like this, plus a continuous accumulation of dust and clutter.


And so, my parents came down yesterday. My dad and I got another round of priming done and my mom cleaned the house. Maybe I should be ashamed that I let that happen but it was her way of helping. So where are we now? Well, just about all of it is primed (except for some difficult spots where the 2 banisters overlap). In this critical corner, there is no sign left of the hatchet job someone did moving the basement stairway door. The paneling has its sticking in place and the sticking matches the door perfectly. The only thing missing is the little piece of ogee trim under the cap above the door. With a compound miter cut that the Irishman said was not easy to do.


Upstairs I have a little bit more priming to do and then, sadly, there is more sanding to do there. And there are 8 balusters missing from around the volute downstairs, but I don’t want to install those until everything else is painted. Seriously, I don’t know how anyone would fit their hand in there except that they did a really terrible job painting this.



But anyways, I’m ready for a break again. And the house is spotless, so keeping it that way for a while would be a nice thing to do instead of messy, tedious projects.

Or, maybe not. On the morning of the 8th, a few hours before my company’s supposed to show up, there’s a crazy person cutting high density fiberboard on my sidewalk! Can you guess why?



Progress and Increasingly Delicate Sensibilities

My dad came today and we got the lower part of the stairway wall primed!


Old house purists: before you bite my head off for painting my woodwork, the first floor interior is a Colonial Revival style remodel from the 1930’s and had always been painted. But getting it back to this point seemed insurmountable. Especially these scrolly things under the stair nosings. There was so much paint glooped up onto them that I used 3 different types of chemical stripper, then burned it off with a heat gun, and finally gave up and used sandpaper. I then primed it, which exposed more flaws, so I sanded it all again and primed it a second time. It looks pretty good now!


There are still imperfections to fix, including all the little nail holes in the paneling. But the paneling all needs to be sanded as the paint raises the grain of the plywood it’s made out of.

Once this is done, there’s another round of it upstairs. I didn’t do it all at once because (1) there is only so much prep I can stand to do in one go and (2) I wanted to get the downstairs painted before reinstalling the top 2 stair nosings, and then I have to close up the unfinished underside of the upstairs box newel.IMG_0724.JPG

And I’ll be replacing the 8 bottom balusters in the second phase after getting everything painted that they’ll block. (No, not restoring. It’s not worth the trouble for paint grade pine.)


But my sensibilities are getting delicate. I can no longer handle this bit of unpainted trim on the ceiling that was supposed to happen later with the upstairs banister. It’s now getting moved up into this phase.


What is happening to me that this is bothering me? Remember when I was sleeping in the kitchen? That was totally fine.


And then this project is about to collide with the Phase 2 kitchen cabinet fronts thanks to another flaw my delicate sensibilities can’t handle. The casings around the big opening between the living room and kitchen is just tacked up so it can be notched into the cabinet fronts later. But this is affecting the living room now because I’ve decided that the little strip of molding on the left side of the door opening is too skinny.


You see, I opened the wall, but emphatically wanted it to look like the wall was still there, just with a big doorway in it. I think that completely open rowhouses can feel relentlessly long and narrow and liked the proportions of this room as it was at the beginning. And right now this skinny rip of trim doesn’t feel like enough to hold up the corner of the room. It feels more like an outside corner than a wall. It will also balance better with the window on the other side.


So, I’ll be yanking off that that piece of casing that had been ripped down, pulling off everything that had been tacked in place on the kitchen side, facing the cabinets, installing a new wooden board over the old one to make the doorway like an inch narrower, and putting up a new, heftier rip of trim on the living room side. Luckily, this isn’t the expensive special order casing, though I will, sigh, be needing more of that later, too.

So, does this sound like a good idea to you, or do you think I need to be medicated? My thoroughly practical dad flinched, but then took a second look and said, “You know it really will look better if you come out about one and a quarter and cover up the side of the refrigerator.”

A triumphant end to Phase 1

I always imagined that the stove would be just about the last thing I’d do in Phase 1. The house wouldn’t be perfect but it would be livable and I’d make pasta and it would be triumphant. Well, I’ve been making pasta and a triumph it is not. Even easy meals are kind of tedious in a chronically messy kitchen. And elsewhere in the house, the march toward civility is moving backwards.


Now the plan was always to slow down a bit and get my life back for a little while after Phase 1. So when would that come? It was looking like at some point or another I’d just anticlimactically say that’s enough.

But now there’s big news – I have a triumphant end to Phase 1 once again. Because a good friend of mine wants to be my roommate! That means great things for my bank account. And it also means more stuff to do now. She’s pretty easy going, but she said in no uncertain terms that the doors need to be back up on her room and the bathroom before she can move in. And there’s at least one solid weekend’s worth of work left to turn the living room and kitchen right side up again. I’m hoping for a little more help from the Irishman; without him, it could easily be 2 weekends.


And the new end of Phase 1 (I think) is the washer and dryer. But first, there’s all this painting that feels like it will never end. But there are bright spots. I’m done most of the prep now and at the very least, the messiest painting should be done this weekend. I hope. And the back bedroom closet doors look oddly new with the mildew bleached off and painted over. Of course new wasn’t what I wanted, but I’m happy enough to have it here.


And there’s quarter round in the living room! That’s not just a big step forward (and a prerequisite for the bookcases) but also one more thing out of the basement. 5000 to go before the washer and dryer come! Just kidding. But not really.


So, it looks like I need to put a third coat of paint onto most of the walls. Hopefully that’s done this weekend and I can really put the house together next. Then here’s what’s left:

  • Finish Phase 1 trim painting, which means all upstairs woodwork. Re-hang upstairs doors.
  • Clear out the back bedroom. There is stuff in the furniture. I’ll have to put it in boxes.
  • Procure and install curtains or blinds for the back bedroom.
  • Move the bookcases I have back to the long wall where they were and anchor them. Add a 4th narrow unit and height extensions. (Bringing over books and other things that go on them can go beyond Phase 1.)
  • Hang the 2 downstairs interior doors and slider screen door that are currently stored in the living room.
  • Bring over one more piece of furniture for the brick wall by the stairs.
  • Add 6 more drawers (for a total of 7) to the kitchen. Make plywood drawer fronts. Paint them? Rearrange kitchen things and bring in china.

The list is getting shorter and less scary, right?


Three Problems to Bring Back the Irishman

I’m still working on that banister, but there’s not much to see just yet. Luckily, there’ still plenty to plan.


It’s been a while since I’ve had the Irishman help me, maybe all the way back to drywalling. But now this summer he’ll be back to help me with finish carpentry! He’s not consistently available, but I’ve decided to keep just about every Saturday open. If he can’t come, I can sleep in till 8 and take breaks when I’m hungry. If we come, he works without stopping 7-3 on coffee and cigarettes alone. Though his coffee is like half milk so I guess there’s a little food value in it. As nice as it’s been to have only free labor these last few months, I have a few problems that will be a lot easier with a master carpenter’s help. I have them in order here, starting with the jobs I think are the most important.

The first is these doors. I need them cut down and re-mortised for hinges so I can move forward with the staining. Their sizes are all fine, but their previous owner was abusive. Abusive! One of them is going to need to be cut down about a half an inch! Luckily I don’t need to re-mortise any doors for the doorknobs. But more on this later.


Then, my parents definitely want the armoire lined with plywood and fitted out with adjustable shelves. While we’re at it, I need a new upper panel for the basement stairway door. The original one was busted out and replaced with subfloor grade plywood. At least it was better than OSB! I’m putting this second in importance, but it may not be second chronologically since we have to plan and buy materials.IMG_5386

Then there’s this big pile of trim. When the floor finishers come I have to find someplace else to put all this, and I’m tired of moving things around, so now the plan is to install as much as possible.


The door jambs and baseboards are going in after the floors are done. The finishers will charge less and do a better job with very little edging. But window sills and jambs, the bathroom door (!!!), and all the bathroom trim (!!!!!) can move forward right away. Paint may have to wait. My first plan was to do all the trim and doors with a sprayer, but now I just want to finish all the doors with a brush (some stained and some painted) and paint the trim at my own pace after I have furniture in the house (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

And finally, I can consider shelves in the closets and upper cabinets in the kitchen. I have a lot of nice shelves that my friend’s parents had left over and were gonna toss in the trash. You might remember some of the doors I hoarded for no good reason. The shelves are from the same basement. Along with a piece of plywood sheathing that went in around my back door. And maybe it makes sense to put in the upper kitchen cabinets since I already own them?

Peeling back the last layer on the front windows

I have these neat paneled alcoves under my living room windows that are original to the house – I think about 40 years older than the rest of my living room’s current incarnation.  One of them is super crooked. The paint was chipping badly, so even though they’re not going to show, I conceded that they needed to be stripped.


They came out way nicer than I thought they would. By better, I mean stain grade. Once I burned the paint off, stripping the varnish was effortless.


I’m happy with the way they look, but it creates a dilemma. I’ve already committed to painted trim throughout the house. I peeled back a lot of layers on this wall, so I think it might be good to go through them again.

Before I started there was a lot to like: Craftsman trim, deep sills, alcove radiators, and those awesome inlaid floors.

Living room, front

Living room, front

But other things were not so hot. If you look at the upper left corner of the left window, there’s a chunk missing from the crown molding. And worse, the jambs were lined with crappy plywood paneling. It turned out that this was covering damage from when the interior wall sagged. But the windows were attached to the outside brick wall that stayed level. You can see the crappiness of the paneling and the huge amounts of caulk holding in the boring radiator covers here. It’s the best shot I got of this.

Radiator cover removal

Radiator cover removal

And the best part is, the sagged jambs were holding the wall up! They were the framing! so I couldn’t fix them without sacrificing the whole wall! I still feel a little sad about sacrificing so much of the before house.


But anyways, I now have drywall jambs around these windows. I’ll recreate the “before” look with nice trim after those crappy windows meet their demise. The problem is, I still think it will look best to paint the alcoves. If they’re stained, the painted trim will look weird. Or I could paint the sides but stain the panels. And in the end, I’m probably going to put deep window sills back on and they won’t show anyway. The original sills are wrecked. The original sills were nailed to them and I did the best I could to put them back together.And though I want to recreate that part of the 1930’s remodel, in my dreams I will also reinstall the pocket shutters that were taken out at that time.


So what do you say I should do? Paint it? Stain it? Paint the sill and sides but not the panels? Do you want to smack me for being neurotic enough to even ask this question? Staining this teeny bit of trim is either doing right by 120 year old pine… or wasting my time on something that won’t be visible or fit with the rest of the house.

Charm on the back of a truck

It’s a common sight in South Philly. But usually it’s being taken out to landfill, not in. The good news is, the woodwork is great quality, the price was good, and it’s in 16 foot lengths. All the baseboards in the house should have just one seam. Except in the closets where I’ll throw together whatever is left over. The bad news is I don’t have a living room anymore.


But you remember what a good match I said the upstairs trim was? Look now! The real life version of that photo I took of the catalog and have been overusing for the past year and a half. Like I said, the new stuff is a little too fancy. But I can live with that.

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#controlissues as the Sheetrock Wraps Up

Yes, it’s getting close, but extra hard toward the end. First on Saturday I freaked out about the Irishman starting work while I was helping my dad fix his car, even though it turned out that everything he did without me was FINE. But I got down there to help/micromanage him for the second half of the day. Then today, more of me being difficult. It was finally time to confirm my second woodwork order, closing out a purchase that I started planning last April. So I should show you, the Tague Lumber place in Malvern is the fanciest lumber yard in the world. Literally.

Tague Design Showroom

The fanciest lumberyard in the world

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