What Happens When I Run Out of Red Ink

Before (with the swinging door already removed).

Before (with the swinging door already removed).

Last weekend I had three chapters to edit for Christopher Schwarz, a book editing project, some other freelance work and a house to clean. But my last red pen died; rather than go buy more, I instead destroyed more of my house.

Like the wall in the entrance hall I tore down a few months ago, this one was put up in the 1950s I assume, given the similar materials and inability of the installer to sink nails (and too many of them) in a straight line.

This wall created a narrow (31″) hallway from the kitchen to a full bath, and it walled off the bathroom door from the dining room (which was likely used as a bedroom when the house was a two family). But despite a swinging door in the wall and short route, it was decidedly less trouble to go through the front hall and into the dining through the front. Thanks to settling (or perhaps never being plumb) that door swung easily in only one direction.


No original trim was destroyed in the building of this hall. A miracle.

A few hours and a fair amount of dust later (yes, I wore a respirator), I had most of the gypsum down and was delighted to have uncovered the still-there original trim behind the stud (whew). Everything is now in a pile under the wide overhang on my garage. It will likely stay there until spring.



I did find one nifty thing – used as a shim was an entire yardstick promoting a Sherwin-Williams paint store in my neighborhood (that address is now an H&R Block storefront). Note the phone number. So I used my moulding bar to carefully remove the yardstick in one piece. I’m not sure what to do with it…use it? (I don’t really need it.) Hang it above my workbench? (Cracker Barrel decor). I don’t know – but I couldn’t throw it out.


Oops on that ceiling. The top plate was screwed in, not nailed. Screws don’t pull out quite at cleanly.

With that wall down, it becomes more obvious that either the door to the kitchen is also not original, or that it was blocked in and made shorter and narrower at some point…but why? My best guess is that what is now the bathroom was a butler’s pantry that connected the kitchen and dining room (there are still a couple intact butler’s pantries in houses in my ‘hood of the same vintage and basic design). You can see in the bathroom wall that a doorway to the kitchen has been filled in.

While it’s now much more convenient to get between the kitchen and dining rooms (good thing, given that I’ve 13 dinner guests on Thursday), I’m not terribly comfortable having a bathroom right off the dining room. That’s weird. And unappetizing (any guests reading this, please use the upstairs WC).

But I haven’t time to decide on a solution right now (other than simply closing the door). I bought more red pens, and must now put them to use.

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Paint as Procrastination

Brazen cat.

Brazen cat.

For the last several weeks, I’ve been too busy at work to do much real on the house – and Daylight Saving Time isn’t helping (hard to do electric when it’s dark, and it’s not dark when I leave in the morning and dark when I get home).  Plus, there’s the wee problem that what comes next* is the either the bathroom or the kitchen … neither of which is a small, fast or inexpensive job.

So I’ve resorted to my favorite form of rehab procrastination: painting.

The old “landlord white” walls in the former second-floor kitchen are – after a good scrubbing with TSP – now a light blue-gray-green, the formerly Kelly green bathroom is a blue-gray and white (two-hours work that I’ll likely tear out in the next four months… but I simply couldn’t tolerate it any longer) and the kitchen is sunshine yellow instead of a depressing off-white. (The cabinets and countertops remain depressing.)

But I’m pretty much out of things I can justify painting. Except maybe the living room…but I can’t decide on a color. (Trying to avoid blue-gray. I expect I’ll fail.)

* The stairs are not yet done…I’m still hoping for the right handrail – lots of it – to show up at the local architectural salvage place. I fear I’ll have to give upon that shortly.

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Fast & Functional(ish) Desk


I knew when I bought this place, there was a ton of work to do. But I swore I’d work methodically, tackling one big project at a time and not moving on to the next until the former was completely done. Further, I swore I wouldn’t make anything “just for now” – I’d wait until I had time to do it properly, and only once.

I’m typing this at the “just for now” desk (of sorts), that I pocket-screwed together in two hours after work tonight. The tiny vintage sewing table bordered by boxes just wasn’t working for me.

The model above shows a rough idea of what I’m supposed going to make, complete with a drop-down door that hides my computer and, more important, serves as a keyboard tray. Because of a doorway, the desktop can be only 14-1/2″ deep – that’s a little too narrow for a large iMac and keyboard…I feel like my mom’s going to yell at me any moment for sitting too close to the screen.

Mom would be right. I’m typing this with my computer and keyboard on a 14″-wide slab of semi-planed sugar pine, sitting as far back as possible from the screen, and it’s a strain (on my eyes and my arms).

However…I now have shelves on which to store more books. Empty boxes trump empty promises – particularly those made to myself. I was, at least, smart enough to build the base and plywood cases the correct size (or at least they will be once I remove the baseboards); all I have to do is slap a face frame on those in a few weeks months years.

It’ll do. For now.


In the meantime, it’s back to the Rail-less Staircase of Possible Death…right after I unpack four or five more boxes of books.

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Not at all Interesting

Since early June, I’ve regressed to my 19-year-old self every couple of weeks by either hanging out at the laundromat for a few hours, or timing visits to friends’ houses to coincide with a dwindling drawer of clean drawers.

After three-and-a-half months, I’ve put the need for a washer and dryer above my need to save for new windows. Because laundromats suck. And I want my friends to keep taking my calls.

This Friday or Saturday, I’ll have laundry machines at home…and unlike other things that I’ll cheerfully let sit for weeks until I get around to them (see the still-boxed kitchen faucet I bought in July), I suspect I’ll get those hooked up immediately.

 But there was no escaping one last laundry stop; as of this morning, my drawers drawer was empty.


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It’s About to Get Interesting (I Hope)


Yes, yes. I know there are still a few staples and strings of carpet in the corners.

After almost two months of tear-out, I’m about ready to start putting things back together in the front hall. That’s good…because with an open 12′ drop from the second floor, I suspect I’m just asking for trouble (as a result, I’ve had to limit the bourbon intake; so very sad).

I have all but a few areas of rock lath removed from atop the original plaster and lath on the staircase and closet, all the carpet is rolled up and ready for tomorrow’s trash pickup and I have the hall cleaned up (if moving most of the detritus to the front porch counts as cleanup) to the point where there’s enough room make a new mess.

The carpet was nasty…but even nastier was the surprise I got when I pulled it and the terrifying padding up from the doorway. Underneath was a layer of some kind of tile.

Likely asbestos-laden...but gone now.

Likely asbestos-laden…but gone now.

I had the same thing happen at the old place…and what was underneath was not good (so I covered it up with cork). But here, I was pleasantly surprised. What I uncovered seems perfectly salvageable (though I have to tooth in boards to close up the now superfluous HVAC service and returns vents). And the stair treads, while scratched to hell and back again, are solid.


But before that, I need to reroute some electric and run new wires (I’m thinking copper grounds would be an improvement…as would spider-web removal).

Really? In the HVAC return?

Really? In the HVAC return?

Then, it’s time to get serious. The last three steps are coming out, and I’ll rebuild the landing that ought to be (and once was) there, then turn the last two steps 90° to descend  to the hall floor.

Where the plaster and lath ends is where the landing will go.

Where the plaster and lath ends is where the landing will go.

But this weekend, I’m going to get the railing and spindles reinstalled in the second-floor hall. Woodworking in America is in two weeks…I could use a drink…possibly two.

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Racing to a Standstill


This picture is from six days ago. The detritus is still in the same place (because I’m out of room on both porches and in the garage). I need to rent a dumpster.

But for a tenacious few bits of rock lath (or whatever that old drywall-like stuff is called) on the side of the Harry Potter closet and staircase, I have the major tear-out in the hall completed.

I courted my own destruction last Friday when a quite heavy L-shaped joist/beam assembly, which spanned from the edge of the closet door frame to the dining room door frame on the right, came down in one piece. No pictures of that – I had both hands and arms, a shoulder, a thigh and a foot involved in keeping that piece from crushing me. And I’m sure it wasn’t pretty.

Also not pretty? the hack job on the dining room door moulding…and for what? That weird wall ruined the aesthetics by closing in the entryway and hiding the nice door frames, and it had no structural purpose.



I’m almost to the point where I can start rebuilding – using tools to create rather than destroy. But I’m still hopeful I’ll be able to find enough vintage handrail and spindles to match the short length of rail and spindles I removed (and will relocate) in the second-floor hall.

But I’ve looked in all the Cincinnati-area salvage and re-use centers. Time for a weekend trip to Louisville to check out Architectural Salvage and Joe Ley Antiques. And if neither of those pan out, perhaps I’ll drive north to Columbus Architectural Salvage then west to Doc’s and Architectural Antiques of Indianapolis.

I'm hoping to find 6', 8', 7' and 3' runs to match the original. Seems unlikely.

I’m hoping to find 6′, 8′, 7′ and 3′ runs to match the original. Seems unlikely.

If you have a cache of these, call me!

If you have a cache of these, call me!

I don’t really think I’ll find what I’m looking for – I’ve had a couple salvage guys tell me they’ve never seen that spindle pattern. But perhaps I’ll find the perfect leaded-glass door and sidelights I can’t afford right now.

I’m not quite ready to suck it up and start turning…but I’m close (now that the bruises and pain from the near-maiming have faded). I won’t let myself get started on the bathroom until the staircase is done. And man is that bathroom ugly. If that’s not a good reason to buy a lathe, well, I don’t know what is.

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Try This 1 Easy* Trick to Lose Weight

I highly recommend house renovation as a weight-loss regimen. Not only will you work your ass off (literally), you’ll use muscles you forgot you had (you’ll know, because they’ll hurt like hell the next morning), you’ll be too tired to cook, and be far too noisome to eat in a restaurant – and anyway, you won’t be able to afford it.

This railing should be back about 5', aligned with the doorway.

This railing should be back about 5′, aligned with the doorway.

Saturday morning, I began the labor-intensive job of putting the staircase and entry hall back to rights. The first task was to remove both runs of railing. One needs to be relocated about 5′ back; the other should follow the angle of the stairs.

The railing (the one still in place here) was a bitch to remove without damage. the right end was nailed into the newel post; the vintage bolt inside the half-post on the left end was frozen.

The railing (the one still in place here) was a bitch to remove without damage. the right end was nailed into the newel post; the vintage bolt inside the half-post on the left end was frozen.

For this first bit, I had to work delicately; most of the pieces will be reused, so I had to avoid causing damage. Unfortunately, because the railing that should descend with the stairs was cut so it could tie in at 90° to two posts, it’s no longer going to fit in its proper location. So I’ll have to make a new one, or – if the home-rehab gods are good to me – I’ll find the right one at an architectural salvage yard.


Rather than use joists of matching thickness to the original ones, whomever added this floor built up the thickness using several layers. Thanks for that.

Then it was on to flooring destruction…and because that was all added in the 1950s, I didn’t feel the need to be too careful, until I approached the edge of the original pine floor. So yeah…I cracked off a couple tongues and splintered a few grooves. And that’s OK.

Here's a view inside. Note the scabbed on pieces atop the too-narrow aftermarket joists.

Here’s a view inside. Note the scabbed-on pieces atop the too-narrow aftermarket joists.

The next task got a little lot messy: Removing the ceiling. Back to the original opening location, it was more of that heavy combo of drywall and plaster that was on the walls (at which point, it appears to be actual plaster…glad I don’t need to take that down). So I cut it near the joists, tried my best to break it at the seams, then hung on to the studs for dear life as the weight of each panel threatened to pull me down with it (11′ ceilings…simply dropping it would dent the floor below. DAMHIKT).

Don't jump!

Don’t jump!

One of the aftermarket joists was a little too short, so I had about a 1/4″ gap between the end and where it met the header. I was able to get a hacksaw in there and cut through the six (?!) nails, then wiggle the heavy piece of wood around to pull out the nails at the other end. But the weight of the wood breaking free almost put me over the edge.

I'm going to get help for the removal of the four remaining joists. The

I’m going to get help for the removal of the four remaining joists. The “easy” one was not so easy.

I’m going to have to find an at least semi-skilled friend (and possibly some scaffolding) to get the rest of the aftermarket joists out. Then, I can remove the two remaining studs. I thought it best to leave them on either end for now because they’re holding up the joists I can’t get out by myself…though I suppose cutting those out might take care of the joist problem (but in a manner I’m not willing to risk).

I should take a break and get some dinner. But I’m too tired/gross/poor (I’m saving my pennies for Sawzall blades; I’ve gone through 17 of them so far).

* Actually, it’s not easy. In fact, it’s kinda difficult. And you’ll need to know at least several tricks.

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