Books, Baths & Food*

Watching paint dry (to guard against paw prints).

Watching paint dry (in an effort to guard against paw prints).

As I move beyond the “must-do” in this house (taking out the 1950s walls that divided it in two, Romex to replace knob-and-tube wiring, a new roof and windows) and move on to the “want to do,” it becomes clear to me what I value most in a home – and that it hasn’t changed in my adult life.

In order of importance, it’s books, baths and cooking.

My former study (there are matching shelves on the other side of the brick fireplace bump out...at least there were when I sold it!).

My former study, circa 2000 (there are matching shelves on the other side of the brick fireplace bump out…at least there were when I sold it!).

In my last house, the first room to get redone was what became my study; I think it was about three months after I moved in. I asked my contractor friend to design built-ins across one wall to both serve as my desk and hold all my Shakespeare and other schoolwork-related tomes. (That was a ridiculous ask; it took more than one wall of built-ins.)

That study served me well, and doubled as a hand-tool shop after 2010, when I finally built a bench for home. (Having a second-floor shop, though, that shared the room with my computer, was a major impetus for my move.)

I miss my old study most of all. So that’s what I’m working on now in the new place: A wall of built-in bookshelves and cabinets with a large worksurface that has room for my computer.

The top units aren’t quite as wide here, but they’re about 2′ taller, with two more shelves per. It doesn’t really matter…no matter how large, I’d still run out of room. Good thing I can now build more shelves myself.

The only photo I could dredge up was mid-work...which looks far better than the current bath state here.

The only photo I could dredge up from the old place was mid-work…which looks far better than the current bath state here.

The bathrooms here are pretty bad (the first and second-floor ones are functional; the one in the basement is wholly terrifying). At the old place, with a couple years of tool use under my belt, in 2008 or so I ripped out everything down to the studs, laid new tile, put up new drywall, made faux paneling, built a medicine cabinet and installed a fancy glass shower as well as new fixtures.

That’s the next project here, writ large: rip out the current second-floor bath, put a door through to my bedroom, move some walls so there’s room for a shower and soaking tub, put in a floor heating system, then start building it back out. And simultaneously rough in a guest bath, because it will be easier and less expensive that way. (We’ll see what hubris and my pocketbook have to say about that next year, which, in my defense, is only about 1 year behind schedule!).

"Old" kitchen

“Old” kitchen

At the old place, I never liked the kitchen. But I couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it until a lot of other people (potential buyers) didn’t like it either. So I decided, after 12 years of living with it, to rip it out, build new cabinets, blah blah etc. (I’ve already written about it here ad nauseam). The finish was still drying on the countertop and I installed the last built-in piece of furniture the day before I moved out. (The place sold off-listing to friends of friends, just after I’d begun the work.)

It’s a nice kitchen, with fancy, self-closing drawers and plenty of storage. Too bad I never got to cook even one meal in it.

The kitchen here is worse than the old one at the old house (a former tenant seems to have punched a hole in a cabinet front, for example). I won’t be waiting 12 years to redo this one – but it will come well after the books then the bathroom(s), again.

And no…I still haven’t finished the staircase – but I realized in moving the large cases upstairs for the study that having a wide staircase with no rails is excellent when moving, say, large casework upstairs…and that’s an excellent excuse for holding off!

* Is there a synonym for “food” or “kitchen” that starts with “b?” (Alliteration is, after all, the mark of fine literature…)

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A Love Letter to Bosch, M-Power & Wolfcraft

Bosch 18-volt drill

I’ve been rushing to get a project done; it damn near killed me. It is thanks to a Bosch drill, the M-Power MERCPro bevel-edged chisel (sans replaceable chisel tip), and a Wolfcraft lock installation kit that is no longer made, that I’m not in the hospital – or dead. I will never again make fun of that chisel (though I do think learning to sharpen rather than replacing a chisel tip is the more enduring path to chisel success).

Late last Friday after the work day was over (read: there was no one else left at the office), I was in the shop trying to get a few more steps done on a project before heading home.  While I always have a bit of trepidation about using machinery when there’s no one around to hear a scream, I needed to glue up a 1-1/2″-thick countertop from four pieces of plywood that I’d cut to size at lunchtime. So at this point, it was just a lot of glue, some sticks of wood, and some clamps. What could possibly go wrong?

I ran out of clamps. No – that’s not what went wrong. I simply went to our storeroom to grab more (we have a lot of clamps).

That storeroom has a metal fire door with a thumb-turn button on the shop side and a key slot on the storeroom side (no key). There is no other way in or out of that room. No windows. No other door. I’ve mentioned several times to the building manager over the last two years that the handle set should be non-locking, because I’ve a long-standing fear of someone getting locked in.

That someone was me.

I always confirm that the button is in the unlocked position before I go in there – always, apparently, except last Friday evening (unless someone came in the shop and locked me in – but as paranoid as I might sometimes be, I’m pretty sure that didn’t happen).

popwood storeroom

The storeroom holds tools we’ve not yet tested, tools we bought and tested long ago, tools we pull out only when needed, projects/project pieces and other assorted items. It is not usually this messy; I did that.

I’d left my phone on my bench. I may never let go of my phone again.

It was probably 5:30 p.m. by this time; no one would be in again until Monday morning. I’d had nothing to drink for at least a few hours (and of course, no water in hand). The room was in the high 80s, with 90 degree+ weather projected for the weekend. The roof is metal; the walls are cinderblock; there is no HVAC; there is no fire alarm. I had to get out.

I’d like to say I did it with a stick of chewing gum and a hairpin. But I don’t chew gum or use hairpins.

After succumbing to a few moments of abject panic, I started tearing apart boxes to see what was on hand – my first thought was a recip saw. No joy – and no other saw suitable to the task (I do like both the band saws pictured above, but when it comes to breaking out of a room, they’re useless). I considered a plunge router and a big-ass bit. I dug up a router and a big-ass bit, but could find no extension cord (probably for the best on that one…what can I say – I was desperate). I tried a lot of things. And succumbed to a few more moments of panic.

Then, in the deepest recesses of a disused cabinet, I found an old Wolfcraft hole saw kit. Promising. Now for a drill…

On one storeroom shelf, we have at a couple of drills with no batteries, lots of batteries with no drills, drills and batteries but no charger (they may or may not work), and several drills and batteries that are altogether non-functional. I do not know why we have any of those still – but I can tell you it’s damn depressing to encounter them in such a situation. But finally I opened a dark blue container and cried (really) with burgeoning hope: a Bosch “Brute Tough” drill with two batteries (one charged!) and a charger.

It was hard work of about 45 minutes, but it worked. The twist bit in the hole saw kit wasn’t long enough to span the door thickness with the steel saw blades in place, so I took them off, and drilled a series of holes just above the door handle.* The MERCPro chisel shaft served to pound through the bits of metal left between, using a length of pipe as a hammer (I can’t believe there are no hammers in the storeroom).

Some not pretty drilling. And I could not care less.

Some not-pretty drilling. And I could not care less.

I was then able to reach through the hole with end of a narrow bar clamp (yes, the very clamps I went in there to get), and push down the handle on the other side enough to escape.

By that time, my first glue-up was dry – so I used the F-style clamps from that one for the second glue-up (after the shaking stopped and I’d downed a liter of water). No way was I going back into that storeroom to pick up that box of bar clamps.

But I reserved one clamp for the door; I’m not letting it close again until that handle is gone.

door-outside

* On Monday, the building manager said I should have drilled out the lock instead of “ruining the door.” Maybe – but I don’t know if that bit could handle it – and after one hole, I knew it could handle drilling through the door. The building manager can bite me.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 31 Comments

Don’t Worry (& Call Me if Old Yeller Shows Up)

This little guy was masquerading as a gargoyle on my dresser.

This little guy was masquerading as a gargoyle on my dresser last summer.

In the last couple days I’ve posted on social media about (more) bats in my basement, and a video of a bat flying around in my stairwell. In the last year (mostly over the winter when a few little buggers would wake up briefly to find a way into my living space to seek out some water), my close friends have heard me complain about late-night bat evictions at least 15 times. A lot of folks have warned me publicly and privately about the possibility of contracting rabies. My mother begged me to move out until the bats were removed (and volunteered to pay for a long-term hotel). Good thing I declined; it would have been awfully pricey. It’s been more than a year since I moved in and despite having taken measures to remove them, I and at least some bats are still sharing the place (I gotta think that at least some of the colony – or colonies – are gone, given said measures).

I truly appreciate the concern, but you needn’t be worried.

Yes, one can contract rabies from bats – though the disease in bats is rare. The most recent reliable stats I could find (in 10 minutes of Googling…dogged and trained researcher that I am) is that about six percent of bats in the U.S. might have the virus. It’s hard to say definitively because in order to test for it, the bat has to be caught and killed (and it is illegal in Ohio to kill bats without exigent reason). I am against killing things (other than cockroaches and spiders) unless I plan to eat them (and I’d much rather buy my meat than hunt it). May I never be so hungry as to have to eat a bat (or a cockroach or a spider).

That said, the overwhelming majority of human rabies cases are caused by bats…but that’s an average of two cases per year in the United States over the last two decades. Two cases per year out of a population of almost 319 million. The odds are in my favor.

Bats eat a metric sh*t ton of bugs. They pollinate flowers and crops. They help to disperse seeds. Guano is an excellent fertilizer. An extract from their saliva is being used in tests for an anticoagulent drug (named Draculin, natch). They entertain my cats – though only one cat, JJ, has managed to catch a bat. (More on that in a moment.)

I am not afraid of bats; I even find them kinda cute.

This litle guy was hiding in the pocket for the pocket doors. I trapped it with a bowl and piece of cardboard, then took it outside.

This little guy was hiding in the pocket door pocket (top). I trapped it with a bowl and piece of cardboard (yes I had on thick leather gloves), then took it outside. After a few minutes’ recovery, it disappeared into the night…and possibly back into my eaves.

Still, it is undeniably alarming to wake up at 2 a.m. in the dead of winter with bats zipping around one’s bedroom.

This spring, after the hibernation period but before the breeding season, I hired an expert to perform live exclusion measures. (Had I known before the hibernation period last fall that the bats were residents rather than inadvertent visitors who fell down a chimney or what have you, I’d have done it then). Bat man clearly has a bit more work to do – though not until after any possible pups have learned to fly (trapping them inside the walls, eaves, or wherever they are would be disastrous). That will be around August 15.

The bat mitigation costs have thus far totaled about $1,100 (I’m ignoring the possibility of future bat sh*t cleanup; I can’t smell it so it isn’t there!). But my total bat cash outlay is now closer to $4,000. That one bat JJ caught in late March? In trying to get it away from him, I got swiped with a claw. Or a tooth. I do not know which, or whose. Better safe than sorry (and dead). But the shots? Now there’s a damn good reason to be scared of bats. Warning: Stop scrolling now if you’re squeamish; the extra space below is on purpose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

needles

This was the first visit’s worth of shots. There were three more similar visits in the following 14 days.

Even with decent insurance coverage (for which I consider myself lucky), I still had to pay about $3,000 for the full series of shots. It was not exactly out of pocket, because I am generally healthy and thus had enough in my HSA to cover all but a very small portion. But I now have no medical safety net. Must. Be. Careful.

After recovering from at-times debilitating neuropathy and weird pupil-dilation issues that went on for about 10-12 weeks (I am 100 percent sure the neuropathy was/is from the shots, though my doctor is skeptical; I sorta believe him that the eye thing might be unrelated, but the timing is suspect), I’m pretty much back to normal. My fingers and toes are still a little tingly at times, but I can once again hold a hammer, so all good.

But I’ve developed an aversion to needles.

I haven’t written about this (just posted bat pictures) because I’ve considered approaching the former owners (who were landlords and did not live here) to cover the costs of the mitigation and future guano cleanup…and possibly some of the medical costs (though arguably, those are my own stupid fault). They did not reveal “bats” on the disclosure forms; according to a former tenant, the owners were aware of a bat problem. I’m told by that tenant that the owners took steps themselves to address the problem rather than seeking professional help (if so, it didn’t work).

I’ve decided not to.

I can’t find anything in Ohio law that addresses whether or not one needs to disclose bats, and I don’t know how long the statute of limitations is. That is, said tenant, who lived here long-term, can’t recall when he told the former owners (and there is no record of his having told them). If it was, say, five years before I bought they place and the owners thought the problem was fixed (it wasn’t), did they have an obligation to disclose? (Had they done so, I’d have hired an inspector experienced in bat detection.) No one among my lawyer friends and family members knows personal real estate laws of Ohio well enough to offer informed advice. (I would have disclosed it. I disclosed every “problem” I knew about in my former house, legal obligation or not. There are moral obligations.)

While I realize I could simply ask the former owners about it, given the pictures I’ve posted on Facebook over the last year and our many mutual FB and actual friends, there’s simply no way they haven’t seen or heard that I have an ongoing bat problem. So maybe they truly didn’t know there was one before I moved in.

But I hate confrontation, and there is no clear legal path forward. It would be a they said/I said situation (with but hearsay to support my claim). And here’s the thing: I’d have wanted the place anyway (though had I known about the bats, I’d certainly have asked for and expected a price reduction or allowance to at least cover the mitigation and future cleanup costs). So yeah, I’m disappointed; I just don’t know with whom.

But the most important things are: a) I am on the right side of the “2 in 319 million” equation; b) my hands are once again fully functional; c) I’m available to hire for all your rabid animal removal needs (all fees will be deposited to my HSA).

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 20 Comments

2 Steps Up & 2 Steps Back

stairsmidjuly

At the Lie-Nielsen Toolworks 35th-anniversary open house last weekend, almost everyone with whom I talked asked one thing: How are the stairs coming along? Those who didn’t ask about the stairs asked about the house in general. (Except for the one guy who wanted to know if Roy Underhill was as funny in person as he is on TV. (Yes.))

The short answer, to both the stair and house question, is: slowly.

All I’ve really done (that’s worthwhile) on the stairs in the last month is to take one of the original 1-1/4″-thick bottom treads (that had been cut short in the 1950s, precluding its reuse as a tread in my “new” configuration) rip it to 5″-wide or so then cut a wide, 1/2″-deep rabbet on the back to use as the front 3/4″-thick floorboard on the landing, with the original profiled edge lipped over the front. (I have the original 3/4″-wide moulding that will butt underneath it. Eventually.)

Then I ran into a stumbling block: stupidity. To make the two bottom stairs that will curve on the front end and terminate into a bookcase at the front of the landing, I bought a couple 2″-thick joists that had been salvaged from a late 19th-century Covington, Ky., building, assuming they were Southern yellow pine – that’s typical for the period in this region. I should have paid closer attention. It is white pine. So I’ll use those treads to prototype the curves and lengths, then go back on the hunt for old SYP.

Hmmm...something isn't right here...

I took my frustration out in what was the second-floor kitchen (with the generous and muscular help of Christopher Schwarz – MDF cabinets are heavy!). I realized just before John Pater was scheduled to measure for the new windows that the one behind the sink couldn’t be right. And I was right. It was originally the same height as the one on the back wall, of course. (And will soon be again.)

after

This room will, in the distant future, become a second-floor laundry room and guest bath. Until that day, I’m claiming the exposed plumbing is installation art. Like so much else in the place.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Why Not Go for (Sub-) Broke?

Really hoping to get this replaced quickly; blue tape is a crap weather seal.

Really hoping to get this replaced quickly; blue tape is a crap weather seal.

After emptying out most of my savings account for a new roof, I thought, “What the hell. Might as well get new windows, too.”

This is not an aesthetic choice. Half the windows in my house don’t close properly and thus don’t lock (I have workarounds in place, in case you’re contemplating stealing the silver…and anyway, I haven’t any silver; I sold it to pay for the roof). And, because of the significant window widths, many of the vinyl sashes are sagged in the middle; those windows look drunk and let in gales of cold air all winter (despite the towels and weather stripping I jammed into the voids, and the lovely 3M plastic I installed over them). But yeah – they’re also ugly – maybe aesthetics played a part….

So John Pater (of Pater Architectural), is making new wooden sash windows for me, in the style that is appropriate to the house (I’m cheating toward the 2st-century a tiny bit; they’ll be double-paned). John will paint the exterior bits (which is why I was in a frenzy to choose the right colors); I’ll stain/tone/shellac/varnish the interiors to (hopefully!) match the casings. (I’ve been playing around with that for a few weeks now.)

For that to happen, I had to pull a window so he could take a look at the frame, and measure the angle of the sill. And I’ll have to pull another in the next week or so to confirm that angle, before he returns to make final measurements for the 21 windows (very few of which are the same size).

But I realized last weekend as I was walking around the place whilst contemplating my dive into penury that one window, in what was the second-floor kitchen, is probably not right. That is, there’s a sink in front of it, and the casings are clearly not original. That window, naturally, is on the side of the house that’s close up against the neighbor’s fence and house, so I can’t get back far enough to get a good look from the outside.

So I leaned out and had a look.

Pretty (and pretty far to fall...)

Pretty (and pretty far to fall…)

Sho ’nuff. There’s a piece of plywood in the bottom of the frame. The window ought to (and once did) start about 1′ farther down. (Funny that it’s the only replacement window in the house that is wood…were it the right size, I might leave that one.)

But the kitchen cabinets have plumbing and electric inside that preclude my going “full Fitz” on them with a sledgehammer and wrecking bar, and I want to leave the water and electric in place – this room will eventually become a guest bath.

So I roped in Christopher Schwarz. He’s on his way now to help me get the cabinets out in a more controlled manner…and to be truthful, because I am terrified to see what might be living in the void between the plywood and the interior behind the cabinet. If I swoon (say, should a colony of cockroaches come pouring out), I want someone here to catch me.

Those windows should be the same length. And will be.

These windows should be the same length. And will be.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

The Tipping Point

Goodbye old roof.

Goodbye old roof.

Hello new roof.

Hello new roof.

Watching the roofers scurry up and down 40′ ladders and perching on gutters – with no apparent fear or regard for safety – must have addled my brain. I, who sit at a desk most days, thought it would be a fine idea to scurry up and down a 32′ ladder to paint the exterior bits of the porch.

I’m not a complete weakling…but jockeying a mouse around a desktop doesn’t do much for my upper body strength. And while I can carry a 32′ ladder on its side, getting it upright and in position is an entirely different matter. I’m not stellar at math…but 32 divided by 2 is, let’s see…16. With my (weak) arms stretched above my 5’6″ head, I can grasp things about 80″ up. On my tiptoes. That is well below the 16′ tipping point of a 32′ ladder…and that makes it difficult to – no, damn near dangerous – for me to move around.

And of course, with only one ladder and a lot of porch exterior to scrape then paint, there is a lot of moving of the ladder.

I now understand why the roofers put up four, then simply left them in place through most of the job.

This? Not fun.

This? Not fun.

But I got the porch scraping done; all flaking paint has been removed, and I scraped off some bubbling bits on a stretch of dentil moulding as well. And I am so very thankful it was but a stretch that required it; the dentil moulding goes around the entire porch.

At about 8:30 p.m. last night, I started painting the areas that will be dark gray-blue. By 9:15 or so, it was too dark to continue. By 9:30, I was on my couch realizing that I’d hurt myself. But at least I didn’t send the ladder crashing through the neighbor’s window (it was a close call a couple times).

Wow. I made it look even worse.

Wow. I made it look even worse.

This morning, with a high temp for the day projected at 90°, I got up with the sun to try to get in a little more work outside before it got too hot. I made some coffee, ambled out back and eyed the big ladder. Then I walked back inside and had some more coffee, while massaging my aching right shoulder.

Instead, I decided to do something “easy” – paint the lintels, sills and window frames on the second-floor front windows.

While the sills and bottoms of the frames were indeed easy, it turns out I’m too short to reach the lintel and the upper frame reaches. And the porch roof changes planes right where one would ideally put a ladder. If one had the proper type of ladder to put there. I do not.

Kids, don't try this at home. Or anywhere else.

Kids, don’t try this at home. Or anywhere else.

On one side, I tried a stepladder. This is among the most idiotic things I’ve ever done – and I knew it the second I stepped onto it. But with a fingertip death grip on the window frame, I got that lintel painted. Then I had some more coffee, and used my head.

On the second window, I lowered the upper sash, then I was able to stand on the sill, get a good grip on the frame through the top opening, and barely reach the extents of the lintel and the upper frame with my brush.

But I’ve reached my tipping point on the rest. I’m hiring a painter.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

So Many Choices, Only So Much Plasma to Sell

Shingle and paint choices. I couldn't take the purple any longer, and my roof is falling off.

Shingle and paint choices. I couldn’t take the purple and lavender any longer, and the rate of shingle loss on my current roof is increasing daily (in 20 mph gusts – a telling sign).

In the last week (and over the long weekend), I’ve painted two ceilings, the walls in the hallway, replaced the screen in one of the front screen doors and painted the porch – well, most of it, anyway – after spending $75 in paint samples. I’m still not convinced the light gray is the right light gray, but I gave up. (And I’m still searching for the right, bright accent color, which will be used sparingly.)

I borrowed an extension ladder with big plans to get the porch interior bits, as well as the porch soffits, fascia and trim, done over three days. Ha! Dentil moulding is the devil’s minion, and Ionic column capitals are the devil himself. (Here’s hoping my neighbor will kindly allow me keep his ladder through a few more weekends….)

I did make an exciting* discovery, though: While prepping to paint, I had to scrape and scrub the stone sill. Turns out, the dirt removal allowed me to see where the original side casings were on either end for the sidelights and door.

Post ghost. On either side of the sill, I can now see where the original door frame was. That'll come in handy in a decade after I've paid off the roof and windows, and can afford to rehab the front entrance...

Post ghost. On either side of the sill, I can now see where the original door frame was. That’ll come in handy in a decade after I’ve paid off the roof and windows, and can afford to rehab the front entrance…

Friday afternoon, John and Judy Pater, of Pater Architectural, visited to talk historically sympathetic windows. I don’t yet have the price for those, but John has some clever tricks – along with top-notch machinery and decades of experience – that allow him to make wooden windows at a price comparable to top-name “modern” replacement windows. But his will last a great deal longer (if properly maintained, which I will do) – and they will look incalculably better.

Oh – and after weeks of fretting about the “right” shingles, I ordered a new roof (and yes Christopher, I actually went with the lighter ones). The tear-off begins Thursday, weather permitting.

The upper-story windows and all the wooden bits at the roof line will also need painting of course – but neither the ladder nor my courage extend that far; I’ll have to hire professional help. So, I suspect the house will remain piebald for a while. Apologies to my neighbors.

Almost there. By dusk yesterday, I'd gotten all but the capitals, bases and trim over the doors done. This morning, I threw in the towel after the door trim (more dentil moulding). The column tops and bottoms will just have to wait.

Almost there. By late yesterday, I’d gotten all but the capitals, column bases and trim over the doors done. This morning, I threw in the towel after the door trim (more dentil moulding and I have some other stuff I must do). The column tops and bottoms will just have to wait. (I don’t think I can bear to wait too long on the porch fascia and soffits though – the purple and patchiness must go…and quickly.)

*I have a low excitement threshold when it comes to house stuff.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments