Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bonus Season

Certainly is one of your chillier sub-freezing mornings. A hard frost on everything. Heatmor burning nicely though, still a couple of logs burning in there as we overslept this morning. Whoops.

Lady Luck was on our side at the Habitat Store last night. We found exactly what we were looking for: An old, metal, salvaged magnetic bracket and plate (the kind from old furniture, that holds a swinging wooden door shut) and a neat looking, old brass drawer handle. Measured to the exact spot we wanted to mount that stuff, and did so. Crossed the plumbing access hatch off the list.

The exposed stud was finally finished off, too. I like that 2x4. We left it for a couple of reasons. One, a year and a half ago when we were putting the drywall there we didn't know how we were going to deal with this 2x4 that was sticking out a quarter-inch too far (we now know enough to tell you that this isn't a structural piece, just a partition wall post, and we could have just removed it). The other, and better reason that we left it exposed is because in my mind it's the color of the house, the color of its bones. For about nine months when there were no ceilings or walls, all we had was the old, dark brown wood with all its scars and stains. This is our truth window!

We took a quick break for dinner and then nailed up the trim around the kitchen-side of the posts and beam. The longest piece, which covers the drywall edge along most of the length of the beam, was fabricated on the kitchen floor by gluing a corner piece the length of the trim, forming about a seven-foot L piece. We were impatient and short on clamps to use wood glue, so we used up our fast-drying epoxy. The results weren't as fine as we had hoped; the glued-on piece was slightly warped and didn't always sit flush with the wider piece. So once it dried, I got the block plane on it and evened it out. Erika hit it with another coat of paint. We nailed it up, and then nailed up the final vertical piece.

Looks good! We need to do a little touch-up work to it before we can cross the "trim around the posts and beams" off The List, but we're getting close!

- John

Monday, December 1, 2008

And we feasted

It was a glorious Thanksgiving, the first big party we've had in our house that wasn't a work party, and a beautiful celebration.

We had, at various times, three and six and nine and twelve people at our house. Lucky numbers? Mary and Paul came over on Wednesday while I was home for Baking Day: we spent a fun two-plus hours slowly touring the house, and it was so awesome because they've been embroiled in their own house project for more than two years—it's way bigger than ours and has involved a lot more rotten luck than ours, so they are the rare guests who truly understand what it means when I pull down some denim insulation in the basement and say grandly, "Here's our tubing." They love our place and asked good questions. Then they left and I made a green-tomato-mincemeat pie, two other pie crusts, tomato sauce and a lovely pumpkin bread.

Wednesday night my family arrived and we ate the sauce over pasta and sang songs 'round the table to Seth's magic strumming and split a chocolate bar. Dad slept in the attic and was reasonably warm—hey, this heat system's really working! Thursday we launched into a frenzy of cooking: I made those pie crusts into sweet potato pie, Mom made peanut soup, John made biscuit batter, Mary and Archie and Paul came over, we made cranberry sauce and stuffing and a chicken and salad from the garden. We ate some pepper jam and brie on crackers and hot cider. John got a fire going outside; Seth split some wood. I picked some things from the yard for a centerpiece. Alex and April and Penny arrived and the kitchen became a freight train: John baking the chicken and the biscuits and making honey turnips, Mary making mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts, April unveiling her beautiful rolls and a Crown Roast with beet stuffing and a pumpkin cheesecake! We had peach honey for the biscuits! Wine! Vermont specials (equal parts maple syrup and whiskey, hot)! Coffee with Grand Marnier!

We are thankful for good food, our house, our family and our beautiful friends.

Saturday and Sunday, alone again, we rode the wave of the Thanksgiving Challenge right on into the January Challenge, a month early! Bought a few pieces of trim, cut 'em up, painted, and threw in the plumbing-hatch project while we're at it. This is the little door that gives access to the shower/tub plumbing, just in case. We made a nice one from ½-inch plywood and painted it to match the wall, then added cute little fleur-de-lis hinges. Too bad most of it will be hidden behind furniture. Tonight we'll be nailing all these trimmies up and we'll put some pix up soon.

- Erika

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

Big day, Sunday. Epic.

The night before, we had all the pieces of the wooden threshold cut and laid out. After we had quit, I had second thoughts about this one, narrower piece of moulding that we were using on the short side of the kitchen floor. We decided to use a 1x4 in place of it, which matched the rest of the design better. We also decided to cut it on a 45 degree angle (and cut its mate the same way), which would look a lot better. The bevel and mitre cuts went off without a hitch and we were ready to start nailing it down.

We set the 2x4 first, and glued it instead of nailing or screwing it. The reason was simple: we couldn't be 100% sure that we weren't going to nail right into one of our heating tubes under the floor.

(I really like that the above pic shows all the parts of the threshold, including the blocky shims.)

With the 2x4 glued down, we placed our thick shims and then nailed down the 1x4 on the high side, covering the nasty cracked linoleum. Last, we nailed the doorstop trim to the 2x4.

Okay, threshold's in place...what's next!

We nailed down the hardwood floor along the edge of where the second stone threshold goes. Erika cut some plastic for a vapor barrier under the stone. We screwed down the plywood on top of that. Rushed outside, mixed up a batch of thinset, came back in and started spreading.

Erika worked the trowel and cement, I set the stone, we wiped the excess from the edges. It's the prep work that takes most of the time; setting the stone itself went pretty quickly.

We gobbled up some lunch and discussed color options for the wood threshold. We wanted it to match the exposed wood around it, which is mostly dark brown. After lunch, we hit the hardware store and bought some brown paint. Chesapeake.

Back home, we had more domestic tasks to accomplish ahead of the company we're expecting for Thanksgiving. I mowed the lawn at a brisk pace, Erika buzzed about transforming the back porch from recycling/landfill-esque area to a nice and clear back entrance to the house. She also picked up around the yard and elsewhere.

Still a little light left, so we hit the dump with our recycling and all. Back to the house, deep cleaned and rearranged some stuff. I broke out the vinyl collection (finally!!) and set it up. With the house clean, there was one thing left to do: paint the threshold. Masked it off and painted it up. One more coat, tonight.

Finally, dinner at 10. What a day. But, the Thanksgiving Challenge drew to completion, and we met it, victoriously!

- John

Update: Second coat on, masking tape off!

Friday, Saturday, here we go

I'm gonna keep this short.

Friday: stone-polishing day. John at the file, grinding corners off our three slabs. Me following with corner-cat sander, vibrating my wrists, 80 grit then 120 grit then steel wool then a towel, making it nice and dark. John had sweat on his brow and the basement was a cloud of stone dust. Good times. I polished the first two but by the time John was done grinding the corners off the third piece, it was nearly 10pm. That was a tough job he was doing. So I'd finish up…

Saturday. I woke up already stressed out. We were having dinner with friends, which is a good thing, but limited our work time. The goal: Build the wooden threshold. We had a 2x10 which we meant to carve and cut into a multi-faceted piece to ease the transition between two floors, plus cover chipped linoleum.

We wanted to use the table saw to do this, but it oddly quit after firing up once. Eh, why? Our backup plan to make the rabbet cut: circular saw, many cuts side-by-side, then chisel out the remaining thin fins (are those like spinning pins?) of wood. John made the cuts (we started in the basement, but the light situation down there is ridiculous so we brought it outside and blew sawdust all over the yard) and then I completely screwed up the chiseling. 2x10 ruined. No good.

We gnashed our teeth and came up with another design by playing with scraps of wood we had from other projects. A 2x4, a door stop, a trim piece. John made the big-box run while I polished the third piece of stone. Stress: It was almost 2:30 by the time he returned. He'd forgotten his wallet and had to talk his way into paying with a credit card. We measured, cut and designed on the fly at lightning speed. Many trips up and down the basement steps, many miter and circular-saw cuts and time running out. But we got everything cut and dry-fit before we had to quit.

An against-the-odds day. I wasn't feeling good at the end of it, but Sunday—which John will tell you about next—redeemed it all.

- Erika

Friday, November 21, 2008

talk'n 'bout a jumble

We took the measurements, we cut the stone. It got off to a, uh, rocky start though. This slab o' soapstone is much harder than the last one we used. And it's a little thicker. The plywood circular blade (many-toothed) that I normally use for this stuff was not cutting it. I switched to a brand new blade of the same type - with the same results. Ooh, a metal cutting blade. It made everything smell funny, but it didn't cut into the stone. Last resort: an old wood ripping blade with big shark teeth. It worked so well I wondered why I hadn't tried it before!

So we cut the three threshold pieces out there in the front yard, drop light, low thirties.

Everything fits perfectly. Except there was a little notion creeping up that this stone looks significantly different than the stone we used for the first threshold. It's got almost no veins or clouds in it. Too impatient to wait until the next night (as we had planned) to sand and polish, I took a piece to the basement and gave it a five-minute sanding to darken it up a bit.

It looks great (or, it will look great once we dress it) but we stood there, disappointed that our conscious attempt to add a structural/design element which would actually match and tie a theme together may have failed. There was concern that our house is "such a jumble" of ideas.

We may have been being hard on ourselves. The threshold is going to look awesome when it's done, and the thresholds together will still have a strong, combined effect. Really, this new stone matches the bathroom stone better, in terms of its lack of clouds, and it's in the line of sight of the bathroom floor. Once polished, the new stone will have the same dark color as the other threshold. And even if we wanted to match the other threshold, we'd have a difficult time doing so; we were at the quarry the day before and looked through everything and this was the only piece that was the correct thickness (actually, it was even a little thicker than we wanted).

We're still on top of the Challenge! Tonight we dress the stone, tomorrow we work on the wood threshold/transition piece (a nine-footer!) and lay the whole area out, and Sunday (if we're still on track!) we cement it all in.

- John

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lookin' Tough

Last night we accomplished a lot. We made our triumphant return to the crawl space to firm up the floor boards around the gap in the floor. After removing the insulation from that area and taking some measurements, we cut a few 2x4s to length and crawled back in with the wood, drill, and some screws. We screwed the 2x4s into the subfloor on one end, and into the bracing on the other. Everything went smoothly.

Back upstairs, above the work, we pounded in some shims to fill the small gaps between the new 2x4 bracing and the subfloor. Much more rigid now!

Next step was to cut some plywood to fit over the 2x4s and fill the hole. We cut a couple of pieces of 1/2" plywood. The first piece was glued and screwed to the 2x4s, the second (same size) piece was glued and screwed on top of the first piece. Success!

Final task of the evening: cut plywood to fit along the length of the threshold, so that we've got something to spread the mortar on when we set the stone. We measured the width of the threshold area at one end and took some measurements working towards the other end. We had to trim back the "temporary" plywood floor to make that section a little wider; it was about a 1/4" narrower than the kitchen floor area of the threshold. The circular saw made quick work of that.

Working fast, we marked up the plywood and cut it in two lengths. Everything fit right in.

We could have gone one step further by toe-nailing the last row of hardwood floor planks, since they're starting to separate, but I decided to hold off because I was starting to get a little tired and impatient, and that's not the time to try and pull a task like that off...too many things could go wrong. So, we'll get to that tonight or tomorrow.

Next up: cutting the slab!

- John

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Stone Cold/Hot

Feelin' good in the Thanksgiving Challenge! Last night we started preparing the area where we'll install the second stone threshold; this time, under the beam between the dining room and kitchen. We started by chiseling away the what remains of the hardwood floor, against one of the oak posts. If we had a toe-kick saw, we could cut the floor flush with the post in a matter of seconds. But alas, we don't, and so we chiseled. Next, we used the circular saw set to just the right depth and cut along the hardwood, flush with the kitchen floor. We used the pry bar to pry out the flooring. Again with the circular saw, we cut the tongue from the edge of the hardwood running the length of the entire area.

So far, the biggest obstacle is this gap in the floor...the actual subfloor. And on either side of this 16"x6" gap, the subfloor is a bit bouncy. That's two problems for stone: no support underneath that section, and a bounce which would likely crack the stone over time. After some pondering, Erika suggested that we fix a couple of 2x4s running parallel with the the joists, attached to the cross-bracing on one side of the gap and to a more sturdy part of the subfloor itself on the other side of the gap. And you know what this means: crawlspace action! Once we've got these 2x4s screwed into place, we will glue and screw a 1" thick oak piece on top of them, flush with the subfloor. This should do it. Tonight, as the challenge rolls on, we plan to do the bracing, and cut and install the vapor barrier and plywood substrate.

This morning, we took a ride over to the soapstone quarry. Last time we were there, it was May and it was hot. This time, it's November, early morning, and very cold. It felt good to roll in though! We donned hardhats and wound our way through the various stacks of slab in the yard. We even visited the scrap pile, just to say hello. We found a nice-looking slab of proper dimensions and they came over with the forklift to weigh it and load it onto our truck. About 220 pounds. Tomorrow (if we're still on schedule), we'll cut the second threshold from this slab.

Finally, I should mention that last night we fired up the Heatmor for the first time this season. Earlier in the month we got it ready to go by cleaning and oiling the blower motor, wiping away spider webs, and giving it a basic check. We had also bled/pressurized the radiant system and tested the pumps. So all we had to do last night was get a fire going. In less than 45 minutes the water temperature went from 38 degrees to 190 degrees. Switched on the floor heat and heard the familiar creaks of the tubing snugged up against the floor. Less than 12 hours later, there's a very noticeable difference. Welcome to the season!

- John

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Thanksgiving Challenge

Well peeps, we're picking up the pace 'round the house again. We've still got this pesky list of things that we never really finished, and some of these items would go a long way towards making the place feel a little more, well, done.

I think we're looking at two phases here: the Thanksgiving Challenge, and some sort of Winter Slog.

On the T'day list:

- thresholds (fix gaps in the floor where walls used to be)
- kickplates (under the kitchen cabinets)
- plywood floor/kitchen floor transition

The thresholds are underway. We're using what is leftover of the soapstone slab from which we cut our bathroom sinktop from. As of yesterday, we've cut, sanded, buffed, and carved all the stone required for the space between the living and dining rooms. We figured out the trick (or a trick) to getting a nice dark finish on the stone. We start with 80 grit, move to 120, and keep using it until it's basically not even sandpaper anymore, then we switch to steel wool. Ooh, looks wet even when it's dry!

And here you can see the difference between the finished and unfinished stone:

Since the stone sits about a half inch (or less) above the floor and has 90 edges, I decided to try my hand at a bit of carving, with the goal of getting a nice, rounded edge. I pulled it off using a file, paint scraper, and sandpaper. Lookin' good.

Monday night, while I finished rounding the edges of the inlays that will wrap around the chimney, Erika put a vapor barrier (6 mil plastic) down where the threshold will go and together we screwed the plywood down on top of that. All that's left to do now is lay the stone in a bed of mortar, a small grout job, and figure out how to trim around the posts!

Sunday, we cut the wood for the kickplates. Erika was very diligent about finding and cleaning up some old door trim for this, saving us from buying more lumber. In relatively short order, we measured it up, cut it up, and popped it in for a preview - looks great! It's amazing what not being able to see under the cabinets will do for adding to that "feeling of completion" that we're aiming for. Erika got a coat of primer on there before sundown. Monday night, she hit it with a top coat of paint and we nailed it in place. Touched up the nail holes and we're good to go!



- John

Friday, October 3, 2008


So we've painted the porch columns and railings and eaves...

We've been growing and eating...

We got some rain...

We built a cold frame...

And we got involved with a herd of goats!

We partnered up with Goat Busters. They do goats, we do blogs! We've been reporting on the progress here!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Our porch is gleamin' in the moonlight at night

Before we travel to our next galaxy of truly large projects (back porch removal/deck building, kitchen remodel, attic bedroom), we still have to complete a few other large-ish ones. We have progressed slowly on the thresholds project. The other big'n is to finish off the porch/front-of-the-house. A couple of weeks ago, as the weather was cooling off, we thought it a good idea to spend a full weekend getting a chunk of that done. So that's what we did over the weekend - the first really hot and humid weekend in a long, long time.

First thing to do was prep all the surfaces for painting. This includes scraping old paint and scrubbing and washing the surfaces. We put the tall ladder along the south side of the porch, up Erika went, scraper in hand. It was 1 o'clock, it was hot, the sun was beating, and I was having a hard time getting into it. Once she finished scraping the board that runs down along the side of the porch roof, as well as the eaves along that side of the porch, I went up the ladder with a scrub brush and a bucket of soapy water and began scrubbing it all down. Hosed it all off. It was looking better already.

Eventually, we were both scraping and scrubbing. Up on ladders, standing on the railings, stradling ladder and railing, holding on, leaning out, arms overhead scraping and scrubbing. Paint flecks in our hair and sticking to our sweaty skins. While we were at it, we scrubbed the outside of the gutters, which were long overdue for a cleaning.

By the end of the day (well, just after 7), we were thoroughly soaked, filthy, and worn out. But, the porch overhangs, beams, rafters, and columns had all been prepped. We roasted a chicken and mashed some potatoes. Yellow wax beans.


We got a much earlier start that day. In the bright light, a few missed spots were visible. Erika took care of those while I started cutting and installing quarter-round trim pieces at the bases of the new columns and cut replacements for the rotted ones of the existing columns.

Then we got to painting and priming. The eaves didn't need to be primed, they already had old coats of paint on them so we felt a couple of top coats on those parts would be fine. Erika got to painting, and I got to priming the bare wood railings and columns that we had built last January. The day went well. We had a nice coffee break. Kept the tunes mostly rockin' and upbeat, and just painted and painted.

You can see some of the difference in the eaves and rafters here:

Bare wood vs. newly primed:

We finally quit around 7, I think. Everything had its first coat of paint or primer on it, though we stopped short of priming the hand rails that run down the steps. It already looks so much better. And it felt good (in a sick way) to have physically pushed ourselves this far - it had been a while. We're sore, but we're glad to know that we've still got it in us to pull out a real weekend like this.

Once we quit and got cleaned up, we fried up some eggplant from the garden, and had pasta with the sauce that Erika had started in the morning (garden tomatoes and basil and neighborhood garlic, shallots, and stuff).

What's left of the porch project? Basically, a second coat of paint on everything (that's another day's work), and then we've got to sand down the porch floor and get a nice thick coat or two of dark red porch paint on there. It's going to look great!

- John