A Heaping Serving of Humble Pie


I vowed to use period-correct tools, techniques and – as much as possible – salvaged materials from the early 1900s for the house rehab projects. And I’ve caught a bit of grief for it, because, as several people have mentioned, no one will know what flooring nails I used once the work is done. “Yes,” I said, “but I’ll know. And it will make me happy.”

Last weekend, I tried to nail the salvaged floorboard in place on the new landing. Parts of the substructure of said landing are built from 2 x yellow pine beams. Actual 2x. That’s 100 years old. Hardened yellow pine sap is adamantine.

I drilled pilot holes. Then larger pilot holes. No joy. The only way I was able to fully sink the “proper” flooring nails into that old pine was to drill a hole too large to allow the nails any holding power. Well that rather defeats the purpose.

So today, I rented a pneumatic flooring nailer. Compressed air is stronger than my arm wielding a 16-ounce hammer. I guess I should have a side salad of spinach to go with my humble pie.

But on the ends, where the nails are going into the old pine, the compressor and gun were not quite strong enough; I still had to use a nailset to sink the heads low enough to put the next board in place (or, ya know, bend the heads down enough to get them out of the way…that might have happened one or twice).

So I’m chagrined…but ready to move on to the next step(s). And that makes me happy.


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Floored by the Kindness of Strangers

Yes, inside the halves of the newel post are parts of another newel post. Not salvageable.

Yes, inside the halves of the newel post are parts of another newel post. Not salvageable.

I was hanging out with Chris Schwarz at his first Lost Art Press Saturday open shop a few weeks back, and in walks his neighbor, Dave. Dave and his wife, Marissa, are rehabbing a Victorian about a block away. He started talking about flooring, and my ears perked up. It is for lack of flooring (OK, and time) that I’ve made little progress on my staircase in the last few weeks.

Turns out Dave has a lot of the right stuff, pulled from an old factory – 3-1/2″-wide yellow pine tongue-and-groove flooring from around 1915. And he didn’t hesitate to offer me some.

I picked it up last Saturday, cut it to rough length, then planed off 100 years of paint and dirt. It’s gorgeous, and a perfect match for what’s in my house…except that it now looks a lot better than my floors, which are in desperate need of sanding and refinishing.

Two weeks ago, I pulled from the archway in the basement the two halves of what I think is an original newel post. Saturday afternoon and Sunday, I removed all the crap that had been added to the interior, in hopes of putting the halves back together. And I found part of another newel post…cut in pieces and used to shore things up (see above). There’s no putting those bits back together, I’m afraid.

There was also some old newspaper wadded up to I guess act as a dam for the concrete that had been poured inside. (Why did someone pour concrete inside? No effin’ clue. But it left a nice relief pattern on either side of the doorway.) Also inside? Lots of bug parts and bug poop…but nothing living. Whew!

In the 1950s, "help wanted" ads were overtly separated by gender.

In the 1950s, “help wanted” ads were overtly separated by gender.

With the concrete and other additions out, I could finally get the post halves upstairs…where I was sad to realize that repairable post is not the one I need. The cutouts at the bottom indicate it fits the left side of the landing; I’m planning a built-in bookcase at the front of the landing, with steps that curve around to meet it.

I'm fairly certain this post was in this position on the original landing.

I’m fairly certain this post was in this position on the original landing.

I want to put a post at the bottom of the straight run only. But this one won’t work in that location without some serious reconfiguration to its bottom. So OK…time for some serious reconfiguration.

Here's where I need to make it fit.

Here’s where I need to make it (and the other half of it) fit.

One of those treads leaning against the wall above will become the front board on the landing; I’ll fit it after I install the rest of the flooring (waiting on my cut nails to arrive), and rabbet the board to retain the nose shape on the front edge (the rest will be planed from underneath to 3/4″ to match the floorboards).

The two bottom treads will be new. (I’m still looking for 4/4, 54″-long pieces of 100-year-old pine from which to make them…though I’ve resigned myself to gluing up the width – The bottom tread will be 20″ wide at the curved section.)

So there’s still a lot of work to do, but I’m making progress – in large part thanks to Dave (whom I now count as a friend).

JJ wouldn't design to sit on the plywood I had there for the last month. Apparently, he approves of the pine.

JJ wouldn’t deign to sit on the plywood I had there for the last month. Apparently, he approves of the pine.

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Some Things Old, Some Things New

Not the right newel post, and the treads were lopped off at both ends years ago, so I have to make new ones. But this gives the general idea.

Not the right newel post at all, and the treads were lopped off at both ends years ago, so I have to make new ones. But this gives the general idea. Also need a half-newel at the back corner (maybe) and a full one at the right front corner. But I might make a built-in bookcase to cover the bottom front, tall enough to serve as the balustrade on the landing…which would preclude a newel post at the front corner and the half newel. I dunno yet. And there’s still those spindles to turn…

This weekend, after dithering a bit about how to go about it, I decided to cobble together the staircase landing from the original 2x8s (really that size) and some new materials…because much of the old was missing, thanks to the remuddling of the stairs more than a half-century ago.

Why not start with all new and rebuild it properly? Because I’m cheap, I guess. One of the three remaining original pieces is tenoned on the end to perfectly fit a mortise in the brick for solid support. To replicate that, I’d have to use 8/4 for construction…and the only 8/4 I have is mahogany. No way.

But it did cause some trouble; one of those piece was a little twisted, so I had to get creative underneath to support the landing. My apologies to any stairbuilders reading this; I know it’s not “right” – but it’s certainly solid. (I put a piece of 3/4″ ply over the joists –if that’s what they’re called – and had some neighbors over; we all jumped on it simultaneously and it didn’t move.)

But now I’m at a standstill. The flooring for the landing is going to be scavenged from my upcoming bathroom remodel (I’ll be putting in tile there), assuming what’s under the linoleum is in OK shape. If not, I’ll raid the third floor. And I have to find two pieces of  7/8″-thick 100-year-old pine pine for the two bottom treads that’s long enough and wide enough for two bowed entry steps that curve on both ends.

For now, I think I’ll put 3/4 ply over the joists, and cut some to what I think are the right tread shapes, to see how it looks. And use those temporary bits until I get the bathroom done. Could be awhile.


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Closer to Fine

Yes, yes. Go ahead and yell at me about the IKEA shelving.

Yes, yes. Go ahead and yell at me about the IKEA shelving.

This morning, I rearranged some utility shelving so I’d have storage in my bench room. My shooting plane, carving tools, hardware and other less-often-needed items are now in easy reach of my workbench and tool chest.

But sharpening is still a challenge. In my old house, I had a vintage concrete utility sink with a wide drainboard at the back; it was perfect for sharpening…except that my shop was on the second floor. So I usually used the bathroom sink.

Oh to have that utility sink in this place.

In this house, the basement is nice and dry, gets a fair amount of natural light and has high enough ceilings to accommodate even my tallest friends. But the cheap, thin, plastic utility sink is absolute crap. There’s no drainboard, and it’s far too deep to place stones in the bottom for sharpening.

But after looking for a vintage utility sink (with a drainboard to the side) for the last few weeks, I gave up – all the decent ones I can find are insanely expensive (a built-in drainboard is apparently rare). Instead, I bought a Naniwa sink bridge for $65. It adjusts to fit sinks 15-3/4″ to 21-5/8″, and securely holds stones up to 3-7/8″ wide x 9-7/8″ long. It’ll do.

But I’m now on the hunt for a vintage double-bowl concrete sink and metal stand, sans drainboard. From someone who will haul it to me and help me get it into the basement. (Once in a while, it sucks to be single – though the lack of a truck is far more vexing.)


But for the future – far in the future – I’ve a different plan: a dedicated sharpening station. Opposite the newly placed shelving (and about 6 strides from my bench) is an old enameled sink of the perfect depth, but it currently has no water running to it. I figure it would be fairly easy to drop down lines from the shutoff valves almost directly above…but with my luck, tapping into that waste line will cause no end of problems.

I have enough troubles to be getting on with for now.



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Hey – It’s a Shop!


Now to do something about that phone panel…

Were I strictly a hand-tool woodworker, I could call my shop done.* I finally made the tills for and attached the wheels to the chest I built in December 2012/January 2013. The tool rack on the front chest wall has been done for three years, so I’ve been using it to store chisels and backsaws, and my planes have long been stored on the chest floor. But my measuring and marking tools, and all the other stuff that should go in tills? Those have been stored in various boxes, on countertops, in drawers, in pockets…in other words, I’ve had a heck of a time finding what I’ve needed over the last year.

So I did something about it.

With the wheels added, the chest no longer fits in the back of my Subaru. But I can't lift the chest anyway, so it doesn't really matter.

With the wheels added, the chest no longer fits in the back of my Subaru. But unless it’s empty, I can’t lift the chest anyway, so that doesn’t really matter.

After flipping the empty chest on its top to attach the wheels, I flipped it back, leaned against it and promptly fell on my backside. The wheels work. Now I have to get used to them.

The three white pine tills are dovetailed at the corners…and some of those joints even look good! (I have Raynaud’s and it’s been acting up lately…I blame the bats. That’s made it difficult to grip a saw or do anything else that requires fine finger control. It’s also an excellent excuse when necessary for cutting crap dovetails.) While The Plan calls for oak till bottoms, I used walnut for the top and middle ones. Because that’s what I had.


Instead of fitting the tills tight to the chest walls as Christopher Schwarz directs in “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” (I really don’t think I could have done that easily with no feeling in several fingers) I used a trick he mentioned in a blog well after the book was published – the tills are a bit undersized from left to right (particularly the middle one; my stop slipped), but the bottoms are snug (thank you shooting plane).

My woodworking tools are now out of boxes/bins/bags/tubs/pockets/etc. and in the chest where they should be. My construction (and destruction) tools are all on shelves. And the tools I rarely use (Grandpa’s 1″ gouge, for example) are still in boxes, but I know which box and where it is.

Now that I can find everything at a glance (except for my favorite birdcage awl…no idea where that is!) I’m wholly out of excuses to not finish the front stairs. Well, except that I can’t grip a hammer at the moment. But as soon as it warms up and stays warm, that will pass. Then I’ll probably come up with a new excuse.

Those filled up fast. I think I have more than the "50 or so tools you need" (from the gospel according to Chris)./

Those filled up fast. I think I have more than the “50 or so tools you need” (from the gospel according to Chris).

— Megan

* I’m not strictly a hand-tool woodworker, so I still have some machinery to set up…and some I still need to buy.

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Just Add Wood


I’m exhausted, but there’s still a few hours to go until the “Downton Abbey” finale; I had to do something to stay awake. So I decided to fix some floorboard problems.

At some point in the distant past, presumably for electric work, someone made a bunch of crap cuts in the second-floor hall floorboards. There were four that had no support at one end, because the horizontal cuts made to pull out short sections are well shy of (or well beyond, depending on your POV) the joist. I guess “16″ on center” was just too difficult to remember?

I’ve been stepping around those soft spots for almost 10 months now. But I also had to pull floorboards for electric, so before I nail the boards back in place, I fixed the squishy bits.

A trip to my (obscenely large) trash pile out back yielded an old 2×4 (with some really tight grain, as it turns out) off which I chopped some 1-1/2″-long chunks. After drilling clearance holes in the chunks for 3″ screws (yes, they’re Phillips head; sue me), I clamped each little piece flush at the top of the requisite joist, and screwed them in place.

Now, I have something to which I can nail the floorboards…just as soon as I order some proper cut nails for flooring.

In the meantime, with all the floorboards properly supported, I can quit hopscotching from my bedroom down the hall to the bathroom.

Wish I had those nails, though; there’s still two hours before “Downton Abbey.”

* Yes, I know I should have cut lengths off the 2×4 and screwed face grain to face grain. But then I’d have to rip it, too, because 4″ (and it really is 4″ wide) wouldn’t fit because of the wiring . So we’ll see if it holds. I suspect it will be months before I get around to nailing those floorboards down; plenty of time for a test.

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Appetite (& Checkbook) for Destruction

Hard to believe I don't want to save it, eh?

Hard to believe I didn’t want to save it, eh?

Tim gave me his invoice for the miles of re-wiring and many days of labor, and I’ve several quotes for removing the bats and keeping them out (guaranteed for three years by the fellow I’m hiring). So my electric is now mostly modern, and soon – when the colony awakens from its winter nap – I’ll be bat free.

I won’t, however, be able to afford any costly (or even cheap) renovations for at least a little while…so I decided to make an even bigger mess. I have a sledgehammer and a recip saw, and destruction is free (well, almost – I’ll have to spring for a new box of contractor bags).

I’ve been itching to remove the bar that’s taking up space in what will be my bench room and hand-tool area. Stunning though the bar is, I think I can find better use for that space. So Tim removed the mass of wiring and plugs from the upright that attached the bar to the joists overhead (wholly unnecessary – this thing weighs more than a full-sized oak workbench; it wasn’t going anywhere without a healthy dose of persuasion). I grabbed the recip saw and sliced the 2×4 in half.

Been waiting to do that for eight months.

I’ve been waiting to do that for eight months.

The rest was sledgehammer and crowbar. And now my arms hurt. I’m pretty sure this thing might have doubled as a fallout shelter; it certainly withstood a beating. Until it didn’t. (I might leave the odd little dry sink in the corner, though I’d build a proper base for it; maybe this will become my sharpening area.)


Built to dance atop? If so, I don’t want to know.

After hauling all the pieces out to my ever-growing trash heap, I turned my sights on the weird arch that leads from the laundry room into the soon-to-be-bench room. Under the bottom of each side is what I think is the original newel post for the house. Cut in half. Screwed and glued to the sides of the opening. Bastards.

I’ll try to get that out without causing further damage, in hopes of repairing and reusing it in the stair rebuild.

Why? It boggles the mind.

Why? It boggles the mind.

The arch was far more trouble to tear out than the bar – because on the backside is a run of ductwork that needs to remain intact. Plus, whomever installed it used 20 14d nails wherever one or two 4d nails would do. And there were lots of little pieces nailed in all kinds on interesting directions.

I got it, but not without a couple cups worth of dead bugs and bug parts falling on my head (sorry Lie-Nielsen…I don’t think I can wear that hat again). Yes, these were termite parts, and no, there are no active termites. I didn’t check for bats before buying, but I did check and treat for termites.

That was a pain in the posterior.

A pain in the posterior.

I ran out of energy for the newel posts; that’s a project for this weekend, along with cutting a riser (I already bought that wood) and finally moving forward on the stairs…now that the one damn wire that sidetracked me is gone.

Also, I could finish cleaning up the mess in the basement and get things situated so I can use my bench. But I’ll need to save up for that box of contractor bags first.

Getting there!

Getting there!

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