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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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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