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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Open Wide (And That Will Do for Now)

Step one: Allow the wide, smooth expanse of plaster taunt me in to tackling it at 6 p.m.

Step 1: Allow the wide, smooth expanse of plaster taunt me in to tackling it at 7 p.m. on Friday

Step 2: Reciprocating saw cuts along the studs through the backside. Realize I'm going to need more dropcloths.

Step 2: Reciprocating saw cuts along the studs through the backside. Realize more dropcloths are needed, but know that the floor will need refinishing anyway, so screw it.

Step 3: Come out swinging. And try not to fall off the ladder.

Step 3: Come out swinging. And try not to fall off the ladder…again.

Step 4: Piling bits neatly convinces me that, at 11 p.m., it's OK to wait until tomorrow to clean up.  Note: Bad idea; JJ jumped atop one pile at toppled it at 4 a.m.

Step 4: Pile bits neatly so as to convinces oneself that, at 11 p.m., it’s OK to wait until tomorrow to clean up.
Note: Bad idea; JJ jumps atop a pile and topples it at 4 a.m.

Step 5: Make coffee and clean up.

Step 5: Tear out studs and clean up. Decide that too much cleanup is a waste of time.

Step 6: Realize there is still a railing to move (above), a floor and the ceiling below it to remove, another wall to tear out and a closet doorway to remove, cut down and relocate.

Step 6: Lament that there is still a railing to move (above the viewing area), a floor and the ceiling below it to remove (as marked), another wall to tear out, a closet doorway to remove, cut down to size and relocate and carpet to tear out. All before rebuilding can commence.

Step 7: Decide that really is quite enough work for one 24-hour period.

Step 7: Decide I’ve done quite enough work for one 24-hour period.

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Sept. 10, 1955


I don’t know for sure when my house was cut up into a two family, but I do know it was on or after Sept. 10, 1955. As I removed the last bit of Masonite on the stairwell side of the added wall, I spied a rolled up and folded newspaper stuffed into a gap between the last stud and the exterior wall; I carefully extricated it and flattened it. I wish it had a been a front page, but oh well. Instead, I got the tail end of the sports section (Rocky Marciano was taking a wee break before his upcoming fight) and the classifieds and car ads (a new Nash with radio, heater and continental wheel? Yours for $1,397).


And this is the clean work…

Circa 1955, the wall material of choice – at least in this house – was a precursor to contemporary sheet goods: 6′-long x 16″ wide pieces of some kind of gypsum board, rough on one side, with paper sandwiched between the smooth side. Over the top is a coat of plaster, about 1/8″ thick (you can see it squeezing through the seams on the backside above), with a skim coat on top.

Altogether, It’s about 7/8″ thick and I’m guessing it has Osmium in it (not really); I was breaking out 16″ squares, each of which weighs about 15 pounds. That doesn’t sound like much, but when it pops free of the nails and one is atop an 8′ ladder with a crowbar in one hand, well…

But it’s worth it. Already, with only the bottom area torn out, the entryway is much more inviting (if one can overlook the dust), and a lot brighter, too. I still have plenty of the plaster-like stuff to remove to fully open up the stairwell, and there’s some pretty nasty carpet to tear out (and under that, Masonite). So I don’t yet know the state of the trim on the bottom edge of the staircase (if it’s even there) or if the original treads are still in place (and/or salvageable).

I’m itching to find out…but like Marciano, I need a wee break before that next fight.


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Well, at Least it’s an Excuse for 2 New Tools?


The one thing I was actually hoping had been done poorly (unlike some of the plumbing and wiring)? Nope. Exploratory surgery reveals the walls that need to come down are properly framed out 14″ on center, and with a superabundance of nails.

In the front hallway wall, the sheathing on one side is 1/4″-thick LDF or Masonite with a mesh adhered to it, with a thin, rock-hard plaster-like coat on top. It is damn near impossible to cut through this stuff with a utility knife, never mind a drywall knife. And my 14 ounce hammer bounces right off it, barely making a dent. (Why did they stop using this stuff?!)

Time to order a Sawzall.

On the other side of the framing is some foil-backed drywall-like something or other that I can’t yet properly investigate – I can’t start punching holes on the first-floor sides of things until August 1 (a couple folks rent the first floor through July 31 on an hourly basis for holistic healing and massage sessions – not what you’re thinking; all perfectly legal).

The very sad news is: there is no balustrade tucked between the two sides of the wall. Ah well. I’ll have to turn new ones to match the existing spindles that are on the second floor (which, thankfully, aren’t too complex). The stair project just got more time-consuming.

Time to order a lathe.


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I Speak Hayward…Though it’s Difficult


I’m so very close to completing the copy edit on the forthcoming Lost Art Press book, “The Woodworker: The Charles Hayward Years.” I then have to traipse over to Kentucky to update the files, then there’s another edit round from Christopher Schwarz, more changes, a few design tweaks no doubt, another edit?…in other words, while Chris and his business partner, John Hoffman, are fighting to publish before the end of the year, they’ve the luxury (and good sense) of waiting until it’s unquestionably ready for prime time.

And I’ll admit, were Chris not busy teaching in England right now, I’d probably be a disappointment; I’m now two days behind my promised deadline of mid-July (which to me means July 15). In my defense, I’d not seen the volumes of work when I agreed to said deadline. That, however, is not the real problem. I am the problem.

In addition to copy editing the tome, I’m reading it (those may sound like the same things; they are not). Sure, I already know a lot of this stuff, but it’s fascinating to read about it from another point of view, and to see how Hayward did things differently than I’ve been taught. And there is, of course, a lot of stuff I don’t know, so I’m learning (which takes a great deal longer than editing and reading). I didn’t know, for example, that a bullnose plane was so essential to woodworking success (though actually, I’m not wholly convinced about that one). And I have never been told to heat the parts of a joint before applying Scotch glue (a.k.a. hot hide glue).

The above is also indicative of another thing that has me distracted…remaining faithful to the original language, spelling and punctuation (much of which is at odds with my usual lexicon). Although I’ve now read almost 800 pages, my red pen still hovers over every “mortice,” “vice,” “realise,” “straightways” and “to-day” … it’s awfully difficult to tamp down my atavistic need to bleed “mortise,” “vise,” “realize,” “straight away” (or better yet, “now”) and “today” onto the page. And the semi-colon and comma usage is decidedly different than what I was taught. But so what. What on page 2 was annoying is on page 762 charming.

But there are two words that keep tickling my fancy (other than “whilst,” which I often employ): “practicable” and “lugs” – they are so much more fun to say than “practical” and “ears.” And I find it trés drôle that “french” (as in French polished) is never capitalized, but “Scotch,” as in the glue, is. Sometimes.

“Cramps,” however, are to me something entirely different – and “cramp shoes?” Slippers, worn while eating ice cream and downing a stiff drink.

OK – back to it. I have to have this finished before Chris is back from showing folks how to centre grooves, trim mitres and cut rebates.

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Living Gargoyle


OK – I’ll admit that I squealed when it flew toward me. But unlike my cats, I did not run away and hide.

Oh no – instead, I grabbed a hat (I know the hair thing is probably apocryphal…but), closed the bedroom door, opened both windows and just sort of stood uselessly flapping my arms as it zipped around, frantically trying to escape.

The earlier one went right out the window; this one? Not so good with the echo location. (Yes, the above is the second of two bats in the house last night. I need to add a belfry.)

It seems I tired out the poor little bugger, because he kept trying to rest…only to take off again as I advanced on it. Once completely knackered, it alighted on the floor…at which point JJ decided to give his bat-hunting skills another shot.

Good work there JJ; you made the the bat scuttle behind a baseboard, then you retreated under the bed when it squealed at you. My hero. As if I could sleep with a bat in my baseboard.

I herded the cats from the room, grabbed my pillow, turned off the light and shut the door, then headed for the first floor to sleep on the couch.

But…eek! My alarm clock got left behind. When I opened the door to retrieve it, I was dive-bombed.

And now I’m glad I’ve not finished unpacking. This time, I opened the windows, dumped a bin full of towels on the floor, managed to capture the bat in the bin, then summarily dumped it out the window (the bat, not the bin).

Alarm clock in hand, I headed back to the couch. For all I know, there were three of them.

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