Sept. 10, 1955

Marciano

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).

mess

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.

after

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

wall

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.

spindles

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I Speak Hayward…Though it’s Difficult

cramps

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

Bat

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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Like ‘The Anarchist’s Tool Chest,’ with Sheep

SLcover

I often joke about chucking it all and moving to Montana to herd sheep. I don’t mean it of course; my little experience with said animals is wearing their fleece (I do like a good wool sweater) and eating their young. But I’ve a romantic ideal about the age-old trade – how its continuation allows us to stay in touch with our collective history, if but vicariously. Modernization has in some ways led to life as simulacrum rather than as physically connected to the world. That’s one of the things I (as someone who doesn’t do it for a living) likes about hand tools – to me, they offer a deeper connection to the wood and to a long history of makers. I feel as if in some small way I’ve a physical connection to an important past, and in helping to keep it alive today. (Plus, flattening a board a day keeps the arm wattles at bay…at least for now.)

If you’ve read “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” by Christopher Schwarz, you know that for him, a connected (he calls it “ethical”) life centers around woodworking, tools and making things — and buying things from other makers and family businesses (butchers, bakers, clothiers) instead of corporations. And you know that while the book is ostensibly about making a chest (it’s a great chest) and acquiring a good set of tools to fill it (excellent list), those are secondary to the central philosophy therein: “Though woodworking might seem a traditional, old-time skill, it is rare and radical stuff in this age.”  It’s one of my favorite books (even if I oftentimes take the prologue’s title, “Disobey Me,” to heart).

And to that list – and for many of the same reasons – I now add James Rebanks’ “The Shepherd’s Life” (Flatiron). It’s a book ostensibly about just what the title says, but the central conceit is to champion a way of life in England’s Lake District that’s been virtually unchanged for centuries – a way of life that while always hard, is more challenging to sustain in the face of modernization. “We are each tiny parts of something enduring, something that feels solid, real, and true,” writes Rebanks.

It feels a like lot anarchy by Chris’ definition, but with (a little) more lanolin.

Now I want to move to the Lake District and herd sheep; I’ll just need to pack a few sweaters and my ATC.

Even the endpapers are

Even the endpapers are “bloody marvelous.”

Follow James Rebanks on twitter @herdyshepherd1 to see his gorgeous photos (all shot with an iPhone) of the Lake District, sheep and his dogs. And read his book. Don’t disobey me; you’ll be glad you didn’t.

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In Search of Illumination

It ain't me babe. And it also ain't anywhere close to Arts & Crafts.

It ain’t me babe. And it also ain’t anywhere close to Arts & Crafts.

100 percent gen-u-ine plastic (though to be fair the glass shade isn't bad...and I get out of fixing the plaster until I find the right fixture).

100 percent gen-u-ine plastic (though to be fair the glass shade isn’t bad…and I get out of fixing the plaster until I find the right fixture).

I have Pappy Van Winkle tastes but a Four Roses budget. Many of the light fixtures in my house – with the notable exceptions of two lovely contemporary chandeliers made by a local artist – were acquired on what must have been Old Crow tastes. There’s lots of plastic – though a couple “higher-end” fixtures are pot metal.

I can’t paint the hallways until I’ve replaced the wall sconces…and I can’t replace the wall sconces until I talk myself into something less than what I want on the lighting front…or pony up for the good stuff.

Rejuvenation’s Cascade Double Sconce is playing the siren’s song…loudly. I might have to start sippin’ on Evan Williams (the watered-down, uber-cheap version from the grocery store) for a few months.*

The worst offender (and not only the electrified portion). One of us will have to go -- unlike Oscar Wilde, it's not going to be me.

The most egregious offender (and not only the electrified portion). One of us will have to go — unlike Oscar Wilde, it’s not going to be me. But first, I have to make a replacement cabinet.

* No way will I resort to that…but I will crack open the backstock of holiday bottles instead of buying more. I think I’ll survive.

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I Need a Man, Or…

Stymied.

Stymied.

My muscles and telekinesis skills are equally ineffective.

I need to either get married or start building bookcases out of balsa. Or just borrow a husband…again.

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