We have WALLS!

And a CEILING!

It’s kind of amazing actually.

A few weeks back my dad and brother-in-law joined up for an Epic DIY weekend.  My dad and I kicked it off with some custom door and window casings.  Matt’s brother, Isaac, got in later, so he and Matt were going to tackle the ceiling on Saturday.

Matt and I had already gotten drywall up on the walls, and all the seams taped and mudded.  The ceiling was going to be a far more intensive job though and a little college boy labor goes a long way. The first step was to rent a drywall lift.  My dad was telling me that he and my mom drywalled a ceiling without a lift back in the 70’s…oof!  It cost us $15 to rent a lift for the most of the day (from Menards).  Totally worth it.

I may have mentioned before that my dad and I make up team Crazed Perfectionist.  We watched Matt and Isaac for a little bit to see if they would need extra hands.  They didn’t really, but we started getting a little twitchy about the lack of crazed perfectionism, so I suggested (firmly) for a division of labor.  Team Crazed Perfectionist would handle the measuring and cutting, and team Grunt Labor would handle the lifting and installing.  This actually worked out pretty well, especially since doing anything on the ceiling gets tiring pretty quickly so this gave team Grunt Labor a bunch of mini rest breaks.

We’re still pretty new to drywall so I’m not going to do a tutorial (I’m sure they are far more knowledgeable people out there who have already written them).  I do have a few useful takeaways we learned though.

  • Suck it up and rent a drywall lift!  We didn’t bother with it for the walls because we installed the sheets vertically, but it was MUST for the ceiling.  If you’re installing sheets on the wall horizontally, you’ll probably want it too.ceilingDrywall1
  • Align the factory edges of your drywall as much as possible.  The edges of a sheet of drywall have a very slight indent in them to help compensate for the thickness of the tape and mud.
  • Mark the ends of your joists on the walls, then use a chalk line to connect the marks to show you where to put your screws.  It’s MUCH harder to eyeball a straight line when you’re balanced and bent on top of a ladder.

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  • THIN coats when mudding.  Seriously. Yes, if it goes on too thick you can sand it down, but drywall dust is horrendous. Thin coats should mean less sanding AND less dry time between layers so you can get more done in a day.
  • Once you’re at the sanding stage, try and tarp off the room as best as you can.  We hung plastic sheeting over the door and kept the door closed at all times.

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  • We didn’t try this, but had multiple people suggest a drywall sanding sponge.  Wet sanding should help control the dust and joint compound is water soluble so it’s supposed to be faster.
  • We tried a sanding attachment for our shop-vac.  Awesome in concept, but according to Matt it was a little unwieldy.  The head would spin unpredictably making things a little difficult.  He did notice an improvement in the dust control though, so it probably depends on the person if they like it or not.
  • Get a bag filter for your shop-vac!  You for sure want one rated for drywall dust because you will be vacuuming up a LOT.
  • Wear a mask and full goggles when sanding.  I really can’t over-state how awful drywall dust is.
  • Make sure you keep a good moisturizer handy.  Drywall is incredibly drying on the skin.

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You can see we ended up with a tiny little strip of drywall, which is usually frowned upon.  Based on where our joists were positioned, this made the most sense for us.  We were able to screw the edges of the second-to-last board directly into the joists and the last little strip was light enough adhere with construction adhesive (because we were drywalling over existing plaster instead of bare studs).  We screwed it in too, but there wasn’t a joist there which we would have needed to secure a larger piece.

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After making it though the weekend without killing anyone, Matt kept working away on the mudding/sanding the seams.  It’s a process and, quite frankly, it sucks.  Actually, the mudding’s not so bad, but the sanding is possibly the worst home improvement task ever.  I was really happy to have solid excuse not to help.  Once Matt got things sanded, he would call me in to give the Crazed Perfectionist opinion and then I’d go around with a pencil and circle all the areas that needed more work.

Two weeks later we were ready to prime!  I’m specifically holding off on installing trim until the room is fully painted.  Painting goes SO much faster when you don’t have to worry about cutting in!  We knocked out all the walls in about an hour one evening after work. Unfortunately, it was starting to get a little dark at that point and the “fancy” bare drywall primer is nearly impossible to see until it dries so our first coat turned out super crappy.  Oops.  It also highlighted some spots that still needed a little extra smoothing (though not as many as I expected!).

The next evening we tackled the touch-up spots and the ceiling.  We’ll take another look at everything in full daylight, but it seems to be going well.  I’m planning another coat of regular primer just so we don’t get any surprises when we paint.  And when will we get to the actual paint?  Well, my ceiling fan is now back-ordered until the end of April and I need the fan to decide on the ceiling color and I need the ceiling color to decide on the wall color.  Matt just sort of shakes his head and asks why we can’t just get a white fan.  I tell him he because he married a crazy person which he really should have been aware years ago.

Until my beloved fan comes in I’ll be sanding (with a mask!), priming, and painting all the trim pieces.

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Gettin’ Our Groove On

I know I’ve been light on the house updates lately, but this past week should make up for it! Last Wednesday night * Two Wednesdays ago my dad came into town and then my brother-in-law joined us on Friday night.  Matt and I had taken off work for an Epic DIY Weekend and had a big ‘ol list of projects to try and tackle.

On Thursday we started looking for wood for our door and window casings.  We already knew we had to custom route the vertical casings so we just need to get wood in the correct dimensions.  Well, since the original casings in the rest of the house were 4.5″ inches wide, which meant dimensional lumber wouldn’t cut it.

We poked around through the trim section to see if there were any flat trim pieces that were 4.5″ wide.  Nope.  A bunch of 3.5, some 5.5, but no 4.5.  Figures.  At the end of the trim aisle though, were some door jamb pieces and kits.  Do you know how wide a door jamb is?  4.5 inches!  BOO-YA!  Plus, the outside edges are slightly rounded like our moldings.  Can I get another boo-ya?  The only minor problem is that they’re 81″ tall, which is a bit short but we have plinths in every other room so that’s an easy fix.

Sounds perfect right?  Only all the jambs at Home Depot were pretty warped.  Arrrgh!  Plan C now was to get 1×6’s and rip them down to size on a table saw.  A table we don’t have….  My dad offered to buy us a table saw though!  Some people give cribs as new baby gifts, my dad gives table saws.  I pointed this out at the store and a nearby customer laughed and pointed out that table saws were way more useful.

Ok, so we have a plan!  We have lumber!  We have a saw! We’re good to go, right?  Ehhhh.  Because the door jambs were so incredibly perfect and my dad and I make up Team Insane Perfectionist we decided to swing by Menards to see if they sold the same thing and if they were any straighter.  Success!  Let’s roll!

My dad had brought along his router and router table so we figured we’d get that all set up and then zip the boards through like you would with a table saw.  Easy-peasy right?

Um, nope.

There’s more resistence with a router blade than a table saw blade so it takes a LOT more effort to feed the wood though.  Pair that with a longer board and it’s really hard to get a nice, consistent groove.  The amount of effort it took to get one edge done (that didn’t even end up being a good edge), was clearly not going to work.

Ok, time for Plan B.

Back we go to the hardware store to pick up some inexpensive pine to make a jig. The jig consists of a 1×8 for the base and a 1×4 for the back guide that are screwed together in an L shape.

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We knew we needed the raised edges on the casings to be 3/4″ wide so we did some quick math to determine where we would need to position the board, then screwed in some thin scrap wood as spacers.  It needed to be tall enough to butt the board up against, but short enough that it wouldn’t interfere with the router.

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You don’t need to run your spacer pieces along the full length of the jig.  The board won’t be moving, just the router, so you really just need to make sure you have nice, even spacers on each end so you can position the board well.  It’s also worth mentioning that if you’re going to build a jig you want all the lumber you’ll be using to be as straight as possible.  We may have spent a good 10 minutes pulling out board after board and checking it for straightness.  Knots and splits don’t really matter, it just needs to be as straight as possible.

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Once we had our jig set up, we clamped the wood into place and got to routing.  We did have to stop at each clamp to re-position it, but that’s not a big issue.

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See my lack of a mask?  Don’t do that.**  Routing kicks up shit-tons of sawdust.  I didn’t realize that right away (yes, I’m an idiot) so I didn’t put on a mask until I was about 1/2 way done… and then 2 days later I was in the ER with an asthma flair-up.

We did one pass, then flipped the board around to do the other edge.

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Bee-yoo-teee-ful.  But now there’s still a chunk left in the center.  We re-measured to see how far out the next pass would have to be, but this time just marked lines on our jig.  The outermost passes were the ones that really had to be precise, so for these we just lined the board up with the marks and had the second person simply hold it in place.

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Aaand then you flip it around and do the same thing to the other side.

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Now we’re left with one tiny strip in the middle.  Now, you guessed it, we measured, marked, and re-positioned the board.  The narrow strips we used as spacers for the edges were the perfect width to position the board to get the center strip.  We flipped them vertical to line up the board and pulled them out once someone was holding the board in place.

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SHAZAAM!

Some of you may be wondering why we bothered painted the boards if we were just going to strip a bunch of it off.  Well, we didn’t; the boards came pre-primed.  We didn’t need them too, but they were the only real wood (not particle board or MDF option).  The bonus is there’s a much better contrast in my pictures.

Just take a look at these beauties compared the original casings!

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I’m giving them a rating of PDG: Pretty Darn Good.

 

*I may have been a little slow in publishing this….

**See my awesomely coordinated gloves and Batman shirt?  Not planned at all, but you can totally copy that.  Also, I hate pregnant-me in pictures.  In real life I feel totally fine but I see a picture and can only quote Spaceballs–“Why didn’t anyone ever tell me my ass was so big?!”  My amazing and supportive husband responded to this with “Well, you’re supposed to be getting bigger.”  This is the same amazing guy who once told me “I like how fat you are” and said I looked like “a yellow whale” after trying on a very unflattering maxi dress.  He may suffer from foot-in-mouth disease.  I’m hoping for the “pregnant glow” before we get a professional pregnancy shoot done, but so far I’ve just been breaking out like a teenager.

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Presidents Day Dry-walling

Last year we went to Vegas with some friends for the Presidents Day/Valentines Day weekend.  This year, we dry-walled a nursery.

Well, we started dry-walling a nursery.

Yes, getting older can be a little lame.  Like I tend to tell people though, I’ve never been cool a day in my life and don’t intend to start now.  So yeah, dry-walling.

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As a quick refresher, this is where we were at with the nursery.  We had ripped out the gross ceiling tiles, the lame trim, the prison-esque light fixture, and the grody paneling.  I voted to just hire someone to come in and skim-coat ALL THE THINGS but Matt wanted to just re-drywall.  It’s definitely cheaper so I didn’t argue too much.

Last weekend we headed to Menards, rented a truck, and bought a crap-ton of 1/4″ drywall.  We opted for 1/4″ because we weren’t ripping out the existing plaster and wanted to minimize extra bulk.  I helped Matt haul this into our house, all the while thinking I’d fall, have to call the emergency mid-wife line and explain to them that I slipped on some ice while carrying drywall because the first thing we decided to do after finding out I was pregnant was to demo an entire room.  Thankfully I remained upright and told Matt he would need a different assistant to help haul the sheets up the stairs.*

One of the issues with adding a layer of drywall was that door frames would be a little awkward.  If you drywall up to the edge of the door, you’re stuck with a bare edge of edge of drywall.

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Ew ideed.

To solve the problem (without redoing the entire door frame) we bought 1/4″ strips of wood to frame out the openings first, and then butt the drywall up against the wood.

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The change in materials (and the gap) won’t be an issue because we’ll be adding new trim to the entire room as well, so all we need is an even surface. Once the rest of the doorframe gets painted, you’ll never even know it was there.

Speaking of even, have I mentioned that old houses are not even remotely square?  Yeah.  We’ve got some seriously half-assed looking drywall happening in here.

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Although it’s hard to tell from the picture, so feel free to think of us as drywall masters.  We’re cool with that.

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…but I’m honest, so here’s a close-up of the piece above the window.  It is the exact same length as the piece below the window that has nice, tight seams.  This is what happens when you assume things are even.  Except you really only make an ass out of u, because if me had been there I would have put a stop to these shenanigans because I know not to trust old houses.

Aaaanyway…. We can get away with some half-ass-ery because we’re dry-walling over an existing solid wall rather than bare studs.  This is also why we opted to hang the sheets vertically instead of horizontally.  I usually see drywall hung horizontally so I researched it a bit and the conclusion seemed to be that it doesn’t matter a lot, but horizontal hanging will be a little more structurally sound.  Well, we already had existing walls, so that I wasn’t a huge issue for us.  It was easier to hang the sheets vertically, so we went with that.

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The drywall sheets were 4’x8′ and the ceilings were about 8’3″ tall.  We’re planning on installing baseboards that are taller that 3″ so the bottom seam wouldn’t be issue.  We grabbed a couple scrap 2×4’s (thanks to the brilliance that is modern lumber dimensions, 2=1.5) and were able to prop the sheet up so it would sit even with the ceiling while we screwed it in.

So now we’re almost half way done with the walls!  There’s still the other half, plus the ceiling, plus all the mudding/taping/sanding.  We’ve recruited my dad and brother-in-law to come help in mid-March so we should see a big chunk of progress made then.  I’m planning on haz-matting myself up and diving in too because I start getting twitchy if I see people doing things that aren’t up to my standards.**  I’m mostly concerned about all the dust from sanding (since I’m already asthmatic and prone to bronchitis) but I figure a heavy-duty mask and a sander that attaches to a shop-vac should leave me pretty safe in that area.

 

*He opted to do it himself and as a result we have two more broken picture frames.

**Drywall joints pre-compound are clearly not one of my higher standards

 

 

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Shit My Husband Broke This Weekend

Matt decided to get his DIY on this weekend, which is general is awesome!  This time though… he was a little off his game.

Project 1: Fix the leaky radiator

The radiator in our dining room had a small leak.  Nothing super noticeable, but it was causing some rust on the pipe and, because radiator systems rely on pressure, was also causing some issues with the radiators on the upper floors.  So Matt did some research and decided to try a fix with epoxy putty and fiberglass tape.  “I don’t know if it will work, but it can’t possibly make it worse” was basically his mantra.

Except it made things worse.

I wasn’t supervising watching his progress, but he had to chip off some paint to get the putty to adhere.  Paint that had been partially sealing the leak.  And then the epoxy and fiberglass didn’t really do anything (except look awful) so we just ended up with a slightly larger leak.

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I don’t have a before picture because I wasn’t expecting this to be a big deal, but this is the aftermath.  I told him he wasn’t allowed to “fix” anything else this weekend.

Project 2: Study Demo + Outlet Replacement

We’ve been steadily ripping out the paneling in the study and were down to the last wall this weekend!  The only annoying thing so far is that the outlets in the room were installed over the paneling, so they needed to be removed in order to take the paneling off. Which means once the panels were off we had to put the outlets back in, but properly this time.

Matt picked up new electrical boxes that could be secured to studs (so they wouldn’t be wibbly-wobbly).  To reach the studs he had to cut through some of the old plaster and lath.  He was pretty excited because he got to bust out the reciprocating saw we got for Christmas.

The first outlet went smoothly… but the second.  Well, I was downstairs and heard a crash.  I shouted up that I didn’t want to know about it, but I found out anyway.  He was cutting a new opening for the outlet on the wall that runs along the stairs.  The wall where we had recently hung a gallery wall.  A gallery wall I was planning on photographing that same day.  If you’re unfamiliar with reciprocating saws, they create a lot of vibration.  Vibration doesn’t mix well with wall art and one of the pictures came crashing down off the wall.

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Yeah. There goes my project for the weekend.  I made him take down the rest of the art before continuing and he made it through the rest of the project without destroying the house.

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Let the Demo Begin!

Now that Matt has moved into my study, we’re ready to start tackling the demo work on his study (well, he’s starting the demo, I’m still trying to tame all my crap in the other room).  The main reason we decided to work on this room next is because it is currently the grossest room in the house.  While we have plenty of rooms that still need a good ‘ole paint-and-style, this is the room that actually needs WORK.

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Whomp whomp.

Do you see that trim?  Matte-black, skinny trim in a 115+ year old house?  Are you kidding me?!  Half the reason I love old houses is for the big, chunky, amazing trim!  This makes me want to cry.

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And the ceiling… we had this same nasty acoustical tile treatment happening in our dining room.  I’m terrified of what we’re going to find underneath it… but it absolutely HAS to go.

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We’re also missing a closet door in here…. and it’s currently Matt’s closet.  We’re planning on getting a wardrobe for the master bedroom so he can keep is clothes in there, but I still want this closet to have an actual door.  Thank god it’s a standard size at least!

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What you can’t really tell from the pictures is that these walls we also all paneled at some point.  It’s actually fairly hard to tell in person too so I think the paneling may have gotten skim-coated too.  We’re a little on the fence about what to do about the paneling.  And by “we” I really mean me (Matt doesn’t want to deal with the walls at all).  It’s honestly pretty inoffensive in person so the tentative plan is to leave it alone unless it gets damaged as we rip the trim out.

This past week Matt already got started on the demo and took out all the ceiling tiles.

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Wow… that is nowhere near as bad as it could have been!  We’re a little concerned about some of the bigger cracks causing issues when we rip out the furring strips, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the moment!  Hopefully all it will need is some crack repair and a fresh skim coat…hopefully!

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We also found some more awesome electrical work!  And “awesome” I mean wtf?  It’s been a total crap-shoot if fixtures here have an electrical box and/or modern wiring or not and this one seems to be another not on both counts.  I want to get this light wired to a switch anyway and adding an electrical box isn’t a huge undertaking.  I am a little concerned that an electrician will want to redo the wiring as well.  It’s not a bad thing by any means, just a more expensive thing.

We spent Christmas in Wisconsin and then brought Matt’s mom and brother back with us.  If there’s one thing college boys are great for, it’s manual labor, so we put him to work with Matt.

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The furring strips were soon removed. And the ceiling stayed up!  I was a little concerned that the furring strips might be propping up some of the cracked areas, but so far so good!

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The offensive trim soon followed the ceiling into the garbage.

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The paneling took a bit of a beating in the process so Matt is finally coming around to just taking it all down and re-drywalling.  It may be a lot of work, but I think it will be worth it in the end.  I’m hoping the ceiling just needs a skim-coat.  I do NOT want to deal with the ceiling so I’m hoping for a budget-friendly project that can be hired out.

Most of the demo was done with pretty small pry-bars, about 1 foot long or so.  They’re better for getting into tight spots.  We’ve got a 3 footer too which is better if you need a lot of leverage.  As sissy as the tiny ones look though, they’re super useful to have around.

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Here’s to ending 2016 on a destructive note! If we had a fire pit we’d probably be ending it with a bonfire as well.  Hopefully we get it all put back together next year.

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Via Twitter, @HeatherGenua

Lies My Hardware Store Told Me

No, don’t worry, this isn’t another customer service rant.  Our stove is still here and functioning well, and for the record, the local Home Depot employees are awesome when it comes to in-store help (it just broke down for us once there was a special order involved…. sigh).

No, today I’m going to talk about stain.

I’ve been working on refinishing our upstairs doors and, well, let’s just say there’s a reason I haven’t shared more pictures yet.  Last time I mentioned that I got  a color I liked, but the finish was kinda splotchy.

Annoyingly splotching in fact.

Matt was fine with it, but it was steadily driving me crazy.  Ultimately I decided I couldn’t live with it and decided I needed to try a different technique to get the same dark color minus the streaky-blotchiness.

Easier said than done.

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I currently have 6–count them 6–cans of different stains that I have experimented with.  Gel stain + polyshades was my first attempt, but it completely hid the wood grain really just looked like a crappy paint job.  The problem was trying to duplicate that same rich color, but with a better finish because you know what?  All those little samples they have in the stain aisle showing the stain colors on little bits of oak and pine? LIES!  I’d see a beautiful, rich, dark espresso stain in the store, try and on my door and  whomp whomp, it would only be a shade or two darker than the honey oak I started with.  I went through 4 rounds of stripping, 3 brands of stain and 6 colors before I finally found something that worked (more to come on that–I promise).  This is also why you only do one door at a time…

I even had a mini-meltdown in Menards bemoaning my inability to find a properly DARK (but not black!) stain.  Let that be a lesson to all you helpful employees who come up to customers and ask if they need any help–you may find a lunatic (although mystery lady–you were the single most helpful Menards employee I’ve met–thank you for putting up with me!)

Do you have any DIY disasters you need to vent about?  Knock yourselves out.  I feel your pain, really.

Keepin’ It Cool

We recently hit the height of Minnesota Summer.  The last couple weeks have been toasty.  Like temps in the high 90’s and heat index of 110+ kind of toasty.  Yeah, yeah, anyone in Florida or Arizona or some such place may be laughing at me, but I’m sure ya’ll have central air.

Point is, we haven’t the ideal conditions for painting an upstairs hallway so I’ve had to turn my attention elsewhere.  I decided to tackle my basement work space because it’s virtually nonexistent at the moment.

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It’s really just a corner of the basement where we stash our tools, but it’s totally disorganized and generally ucky.  I needed a place to organize tools and store supplies, and also a place to work without me constantly crouching on the ground since my back has decided to rebel ever since I turned 30.

I started by peg-boarding the ucky wall.  The space was 3 inches too long to get away with 2 sheets of peg board so I had to buy 3 sheets.  ARGH!  Luckily it’s cheap.  I had the hardware store cut the sheets down to the sizes I needed because I have a small car and no table saw.

The boards were all cut so the edges would center on the existing studs.  This was so I could both anchor the edges well and fit everything into our car.  And, of course, because it’s our house, none of the studs were evenly spaced so had boards that were 30.5, 22.5, 23.5, and 24.5 inches wide.  Brilliant.

Now I just had to cut out holes for the outlets and pipes.  First I tried using a handsaw but it was way more of a PITA than I anticipated.  Then I tried my dremel with a cutting wheel but it started smoking and then the wheel shattered.  Oops.  Finally I broke down and demanded that we buy a jigsaw.  They’re actually cheaper than I expected (at least they can be, they can also be pretty splurgey, but I didn’t need anything fancy).

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It’s been YEARS since I used a jigsaw and I didn’t actually have the correct blade to cut hardboard so the cuts are pretty rough.  I also started with the most complicated panel and ended with the easiest.  Brilliant right?  And then in the middle I totally effed one of my measurements around the the outlet.  So basically it looks kind of crappy, but it’s a basement right?  It doesn’t have to be perfect, just functional, RIGHT???.  Please humor me here otherwise I may go out and buy more pegboard to fix it because, yes, I am that insane.

Speaking of insane, I also switched out all the outlets for white ones so they’d match the pegboard.  While switching out the outlets, I added spacers to bring the outlets even with the front of the pegboard as well.

Once the pegboard was all set up, I picked up a work bench kit.  I wanted to use the 2×4 Basics connectors to make a custom sized one, but an 8′ long top would be really hard to fit in my car so I opted for a 6′ kit instead.

When you see “kit” would you assume pre-drilled holes?  ‘Cause I sure did and was incredibly disappointed.  What I imagined taking a couple hours ended up taking several evenings worth of work because I would get frustrated and walk away.  It went way smoother when Matt was free to help me–he held stuff in place and drilled pilot holes while I followed with another drill to screw everything together.

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Fast forward through a few hours of swearing, a trip to IKEA, and a few more hours for organization and voila!  I have a somewhat organized work space!  I still need to pick up a miter saw table since the work bench isn’t big enough to set that on, and I’ll be need a stool as well.  All and all though it’s a pretty awesome improvement, and I got do it all while hanging out in our (comparatively) cool basement.

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Repairing the Stair in the Lair Part 1

When I ran through the Before pictures of the stairway I mentioned that the railing was in need of some tender love and repair.  In general it’s a mighty fine looking staircase, but the finish is a little worn and most of the newel post are missing chunks of trim. Sure, it’s actually not all that noticeable if you’re not really paying attention, but this staircase deserves better.

I started by ripping off the existing caps on the newel posts.  I left the one on the large post at the base of the stairs and the one up by the attic door since it was that one would need some more complicated cuts if I tried to replace it.

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If your house has standard sizes, you can order Newel Cap kits which would be super easy.  Nothing in our house is standard though (the kits are designed for 3.5″x3.5″ or 5.5″.x5.5″ and our posts are 4.5″x4.5″) so I had to go custom. Because I want to keep (most of) the stairs natural wood, I picked some red oak to make my replacement caps.

I was lucky enough to find a small crown molding that was reasonably similar to the existing trim.  I started by staining the whole piece as close to the existing wood finish as I could.  No worries, that it’s not perfect, there will be another layer coming later on.

If you need a lot of pieces cut to the same size, the easiest thing to do is to create a jig of sorts.  Once I figured out the size I needed for the trim, I cut a bunch of pieces about 2 inches longer than I needed (I just eyeballed it).  Then I flipped my saw around so I could cut the opposite angle, and using my already-perfect piece as guide, clamped a piece of scrap wood into place.

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Now I just have to butt the short pieces up the block and cut off the excess.  Voila, perfect sized cuts every time!  I did still double check each post before cutting the trim pieces because I’m neurotic and the slightly variation in size could make this fail miserably.

I was a little worried about what to do for the top piece.  I only have the tools to cut a square block.  Laaaaame.  It would have looked sadly out of place.  While idly wandering through the hardware store* I started checking out router bits.  There was one that was super similar to our existing caps that I started eyeing.  Twenty bucks for a router bit?  Yeah, I’d spend that…. but another $200 for the router itself?  That I may never use again?**  Umm, not so much. Then I remembered a conversation I had with my dad several years back.

Dad: I got a new router!

Me: Computer or power tool?

Dad: Both actually!

Yup, dad’s tool hoard to the rescue!  Matt and I were even making a Milwaukee trip to celebrate his sister’s college graduation.  After the party Matt hung out with his family and my dad and I Got Shit Done.

Like most projects, the bulk of the time is spent on prep.  I brought a set of trim pieces with me so we’d have the exact sizing but then there was math.  The router bit we bought didn’t tell you how much it took off from the bottom, which was the measurement we really needed.  We measured a piece of scrap wood, ran one side through the router, and measured it again.  Our chosen bit took off a 1/2″ so we needed to cut blanks 1″ larger on all sides so the bottom would line up with the trim pieces.

Stair repair edging

When cutting the test piece we also learned that the way the router sat in the router table left a super skinny edge on the top of our finished piece.  Stairs are high traffic areas and take plenty of abuse.  Skinny edges will break easily.  Baaad combo. We couldn’t really lower the router, so we decided to raise the table surface.  Dad’s scrap wood hoard the rescue!  He had some left over pegboard that was perfect size, so we cut out a notch  to go around the bit and then clamped it onto the table.

Router table setup

Alright!  We had all our blanks cut!  We had the router set up!  We were ready to Do This Thing!  Aaaand it’s time to leave for dinner.  Matt and I were planning on leaving the next day right after lunch so he was a little concerned when he learned we still had to route about 90% of the pieces and we had already put in about 3 hours worth of work.

But everything was set up for the easy stuff now!

Routing newel caps

Now we just had to zip everything through the router.  Easy peasy!

stairRepair6

After everything was cut (and transported back home) I took my palm sander and rounded down the edges and corners so they would look a little worn.  Then I hit them with a couple coats of the stain I used on the other trim so they’d be in the ballpark of the existing railing color.

Now we just have to attach and the new caps and wait for the humidity to come down so I can stain the entire thing.

 

*Yeah, I do that.  Anyone surprised?

**According to my sister though, once you have a router, you will find things to route.

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Rain Rain Go Away. No Really, We have a Giant Hole in Our Basement.

When it was built our house as designed with a cellar entrance.  By the time we moved in the outside was boarded up, the stairs had collapsed, and any wood pieces had rotted away.  The door inside the basement was still there but super nasty and didn’t close all the way.  This was the cats’ favorite place to explore and I’m pretty sure it’s where Schmutz found her dead mouse (it’s also probably where the live one gained entrance).

What I’m saying is, we had this unsightly, ancient door in our basement, an unsightly cover in our yard, and a prime weak spot for vermin to sneak in.  Not. Good.

We’ve been trying since last fall to recruit a mason to brick the whole thing up.  You’d think this wouldn’t be too hard, but it was a giant PITA.  They were busy, they wouldn’t work over winter, then they wouldn’t give us an actual date, only vague answers, and that was IF they answered the phone.  Matt finally tracked down a different mason (who was also way cheaper!) who checked out our hole and told us what we needed to do to prep.

Pro-tip:  If you want to save some money, try and handle the “easy” manual labor yourself.  We didn’t really want to pay mason rates to dig and fill a hole. Is it a lot of work, yes.  Is it totally doable, YES.

We (and by “we” I totally mean Matt*) started by clearing out the excess debris and digging down about 10″ so the mason could pour a concrete base for the blocks.  It was a combination of dirt, sand, giant rocks, and tree roots.  Good times.

Basement Interior Believe it or not, this is the After and looks WAY better than what we started with.

After we had excavated, we (again, meaning Matt) turned to demoing the outside cover.  The visible cover lifted off (it was heavy as hell, but not actually attached to anything).  Under that was another layer of shingles, under those was sort of thin sheet metal/flashing, and under THAT was the wood that you can see in the picture above.

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Whoohoo!  We have a hole!  Unfortunately the mason wasn’t going to be in until later in the week, so we had to cover the giant hole back up.

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We also have a backyard that is starting to resemble a junk yard.

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We added a tarp and then put the pre-existing cover back and thought we were being pretty smart.  And we were… at least mostly.

It rained that night though.  Like a lot.  I went down to check how things had help and promptly informed Matt that we had “a good-news, bad-news sort of situation.”  The good news was that not much water ended up in our gaping hole.  The bad news was that a TON of water had pooled in the tarp and wasn’t about to go anywhere on its own.

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Luckily we had a bunch of buckets.  Matt cut a small hole in the tarp and let it drain into a bucket.  I was on standby with another bucket so he could swap them out and I could dump the full one down out utility sink.  This took quite a while we estimated that we emptied out over 20 gallons from the tarp.  Peachy.

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Schmutz has been very upset about what’s been happening to her cave and decided to come and investigate further.

On Monday the mason came to pour the concrete–yay progress!  Matt I also attempted to re-jigger the tarp (since it now has a hole in it….).  We’re supposed to be getting more rain throughout the week, so keep your fingers crossed that we don’t end up with an indoor water feature!

 

*I helped a little, but I have some serious Arachnophobia and refused to actually enter this particular spider-pit.

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Destroying Historical Fabric One Room at a Time

A while back Matt was reading an article on restoring old homes and it mentioned that you shouldn’t insulate because it would “destroy the historical fabric.”  It’s one of the reasons the Historical Preservation Society is often referred to as the Hysterical Preservation Society and has been a running joke with me and Matt ever sense.

Don’t get me wrong, the HPS is important, and recognizing historically significant homes is important. Here’s the thing though, not every old home is historically significant.  Our house is an American Foursquare… sort of the cookie-cutter house the early 1900s.  Is it pretty awesome compared to more recent architectural styles?  Hells yes!  It this specific house historically significant? Our neighborhood is filled with the same style houses, are they all historically significant?  No and no.

When I shared my dining room reveal on Apartment Therapy a while back, a handful of people decided to ream me out for painting the trim.  They claim I had “destroyed” the house and the final design was a “travesty” and merely “trendy” (*gasp*).  What do I have to say to that?  BAH!

Your home is a reflection of YOU.  Unless you own a house that’s on the historical register you can do whatever you damn well please (and people often do*).  I have been trying to keep the bones of the house pretty traditional, but have some fun with the fixtures and furnishings which suits my more eclectic nature.  I also don’t feel like white trim is trendy and I’ve seen it in tons of similarly aged homes including million dollar properties and historically recognized homes (ok, only certain rooms in this one–but important, public rooms).  It also lets me brighten our home and cost-effectively replace damaged trim pieces.

Which is why we’re continuing to paint the trim.

Yup.  The critics haven’t dissuaded me and we’re continuing the paint into our entry way/stairwell/hallway.

We also picked an awesome weekend to start painting.  Saturday was in the upper 90’s and Sunday was (only!) in the 80s. Keep in mind we do not have central air.  Yeah, it was boiling.

HallwayPrimed_1

We got the first section primed on Saturday by working in the morning and then late at night when the temps were a little cooler.  We were still dripping buckets of sweat.  Lovely.

hallwayPrimed_2

Notice our lack of a door?  It’s currently hanging out  (haha!) between our living room and TV room.  It’s not the locking door so I insisted we take it off so I could better paint the trim.  Matt rolled his eyes and said I was crazy, but humored me anyway because that’s what makes our marriage work.

hallwayPrimed_3

Big difference right?  This is just the primer, but it’s already made a huge difference on the stairs–that smaller landing was nearly invisible on the way down (leading to many missteps and trips), now you see the changes outlined against the white and it is SO much easier to see!

We continued to power through on Sunday so everything has its first coat of paint now too.  It’s been super cloudy and rainy all week so I don’t have any good pictures of that, but it won’t be impressive until the final coat of paint anyway.

 

* Sure people make crappy decisions all the time but the worse case scenario is that future homeowners will roll their eyes, mutter WTF? and change it all.  Big whoop. The less rehab inclined may just not buy the house in the first place, so it’s good to at least keep resale value in the back of your mind, just don’t let it paralyze your own dreams.

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