Getting a Leg Up

Yesterday morning, I picked up some nice 8/4 cherry at Paxton Lumber (thank you, Greg, for searching through the back for the perfect stick); today, I milled it down into eight 34″-long x 1-7/8-square sticks and stickered it on my bench.

And there the wood will sit for a few days in hopes that it remains straight and flat – but if it doesn’t, I have a little wiggle room to correct that. My leg dimensions as drawn are 1-3/4″ square, but if I can leave them a little heavy, I will.

My plan calls for four legs, though I’m considering adding two more (at the stile that divides the door section from the drawer section) to beef up the construction. The base will be topped with a 1-1/2″-thick x 64″-long soapstone slab, a 4″-wide soapstone backsplash and a carved soapstone sink. I don’t know the weight of those, but I imagine they’re not light. My initial thought was a recessed leg at that location to help bear the weight – one that wouldn’t show.

No matter my decision, I’ve six nice rift-grain sticks, which is what I want for the legs. The other two are to play around with.

The cherry for the frame members and drawer fronts is in the basement – I picked that up from Frank Miller Lumber a couple months ago. The basement is semi-climate controlled…so it’s semi-acclimated. So tomorrow, I’ll bring that up and cut it to rough size.

My hope is that I’ll be done with the base by the end of the month…then it’ll be a four- to six-week wait on the top and sink. (I’m afraid to place that order until I know the exact sizes on the thing on which it will sit.)

I look forward to being able to shower and brush my teeth in the same bathroom. And I look forward to my en-suite bathroom project being completely done…after I also make the plumbing-access-panel cover for behind the toilet, install the wood-frame window and hang the door.

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Garanimals for Old House Owners

I’m not usually too proud of my shavings vs the work…but these were particularly nice and fluffy.

I bought some architectural columns and knee walls to go in the large opening between my front hall and the living room, but instead of creating a frame around the space, the columns will butt into the door frame – so I was able to repurpose that frame wood for other things – including the drawer fronts for my second-floor-hall built-in cabinet.

Yesterday, I finally got around to cutting those to size, milling them to about 3/8″ thick, and planing them nice and smooth. That was the easy part. Finishing them to match the rest of the woodwork in my house was a bit trickier.

I’ve been playing around with various recipes for a while, and the closest I can come (without going to crazy amounts of trouble,. e.g. a violin finish) is four coats of garnet shellac (I like the Tiger Flakes from Tools for Working Wood (TFWW)) followed by a coat of Behlen’s Jet Spray Lacquer Toner in Dark Walnut (which is currently also available from TFWW, but Behlen has been sold, so it might not be available in the same formulation for long), with a topcoat of Liberon’s Black Bison black paste wax.

Old-growth pine (or possibly fir) with one coat of garnet shellac (top) and bare (bottom).
Four coats of garnet shellac (top), one coat of the dark walnut lacquer toner over four coats of shellac (bottom).
I buffed out the black paste wax with a hertofore unused pollisoir. Good thing I’ve another to use with untinted wax!

The finish is not a perfect match for the old mouldings – it needs a touch more red and a touch less brown (and a shiny topcoat – the original, now patinated, finish is likely a pine-resin varnish), so I’ve ordered some dark red walnut lacquer toner to give that a try on the replicated three-part mouldings I’ll be installing in the kitchen and first-floor hallway…when I get around to that project.

But for a second-floor back hallway built-in, my current recipe is wholly acceptable.

They all fit perfectly left to right, but I’ll have to take a couple swipes off the bottoms of each for the top-to-bottom fit. Then I’ll glue and screw them in place from behind, and install these bin pulls. Then there’s the paneled doors for the upper part…

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An Actual Dutch Dutch Tool Chest

Just…wow. On the block at the Martin J. Donnelly Nashua spring auction is an actual Dutch tool chest – complete with carpenter’s tools, brought to the U.S. from Holland by Marinus Steenland. According to Jim Tolpin in “The Toolbox Book,” Steenland emigrated in the late 1800s, but the chest is “thought to have been built several generations earlier.”

The estimate is from $2,500-$5,000.

p.s. You can build your own Dutch tool chest for a bit less with me in Port Townsend, Wash., in June…though I admit it might take a few decades to look quite as cool.

p.p.s. Thanks to John Cashman for the auction link.

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Three Dirty Letters

“Beetle kill pine.”

Get your head out of the gutter. I mean three letters of alphabet: S, E and O. Now I have nothing against search engine optimization; if done properly and in a way that legitimately reflects what’s on one’s website, and honestly supports the mission of the content you publish, then sure – optimize away.

But whenever I hear those three letters, I cringe. And some things in particular make me reflexively shudder (one of which is pictured above…though actually, at a relatively far remove, it made me both laugh and shudder simultaneously).

A company for which I used to work had always been big on SEO (which is reasonable) – but a few years after the SEO bandwagon first rolled into town, they hired a “team” of “experts” that (among other SEO-related things) made spreadsheets of the top internet “keywords” and phrases searched for all the fields in which said company had an interest. Then that team dictated the various “communities” write content that included said words – never mind if it wasn’t the kind of content that community typically wrote. The internet had spoken.

I’m pretty sure were I to get that list shoved down my throat now, I’d have “epoxy pour” running through my waking nightmares. At the time, it was “beetle kill pine” (followed closely by “whelping box”) atop the list of things about which I refused to write. It simply didn’t fit with any of the content we were producing…or that I thought we should produce. (In hindsight, I’m surprised I didn’t get shown the door sooner…)

But today, I actually found some blue-stained pine. So: “We’ll use beetle kill pine backboards in a weekend woodworking class on making a bookcase.”

That ought to move me right up the list at Google! (I even got it within the first 250 words – barely.)

But that probably doesn’t work anymore, so here’s a cat video:

P.S. The most maddening edict along these lines of which I heard was to a community in which I didn’t work: spell Stephen King as Steven King. I still can’t laugh at that one.

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Lath, Now Lathe

I awoke this morning in a destructive mood, so I grabbed my dropcloth, pry bar and a lot of garbage bags, and finally got around to finishing the tear-out on the front of my staircase (it’s been in the same state of not done since I took down the dividing wall in September/October of 2015, and rebuilt the bottom landing in July 2016).

I really only wanted to remove the weird 1950s plaster board over the original plaster…but the plaster was in terrible shape, so I stripped everything back to the bearers (as I think the stud-like supports are called in this stair construction). And gosh did I make a mess (twice).

I had to get it done in one day with no breaks, because my elderly male cat, JJ, enjoys relieving himself on dropcloths – so I can’t leave one down and unattended.

No one needs or wants a step by step on using a crowbar, so below is my day in pictures.

With the tear-out done, I’m almost out of excuses to put off rebuilding – or will be, as soon as I finish the sink base and get it up the stairs. I’ve designed that and purchased the lumber, so it won’t be long now. Then, it will be to the lathe to turn the balusters…or turn to someone who has a lathe to do them for me.

How it’s looked for 18 months
Plaster almost gone
Plaster dust cleanup.
Considered stopping here…but sucked it up and kept going.

Yay. Another mess.
Done for now. (The cats love the new hiding place.)

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Renovation Resumption

My view from the bed for the last year or so.

You’d think, free for the last 16 months to make my own schedule, I’d have gotten more done on the house. You’d be wrong. Lacking a regular paycheck, I’ve been afraid to spend any money and eager to earn money, and have thus spent most of my waking hours editing for The Chronicle, Lost Art Press and Mortise & Tenon, and teaching woodworking classes.

But I’m tired of living in a tip, and there’s plenty I can do with an investment of time, but little cash outlay. So I’ve decided to set aside at least a few daylight hours each week to work on the house. This week, that day was today.

After months of looking at the exposed lath and door framing to my bathroom, I’ve finally denailed and installed the trim I salvaged off the original hallway entrance to the bathroom.

After hauling all the necessary tools up from the basement, I cut back the base moulding (every homeowner should have a multi-tool!) to fit the corner blocks, drilled pilot holes then nailed them to the door frame bottom.

The rest wasn’t as simple – which is why I’ve put it off for so long. Because I’d stripped the lath on the bath interior to install drywall then flushed the door frame to that surface, on the bedroom side the mouldings wouldn’t be flush to the frame and plaster without the addition of filler strips (stained to match the old moulding).

After gluing those strips in place (so I didn’t have to worry about them shifting as I nailed), I worked my way up both sides.

Side trim installed (finish nails for catching the frame, pneumatic nails for securing the exterior edges to the wall…so that I didn’t have to hammer atop the plaster).
Done – well, closer to done.

Unfortunately, this trim was originally against a wall on the left side, so there are no returns on the left corners of the cap. I’ll have to cut some – but not today.

Even with that wee moulding replication job remaining, the doorway now looks as if it has always been there. Sure, I still need to make a threshold and haul the refinished door up from the basement then hang it (and refinish the bedroom, hall and study floors, then paint the bedroom), but I’m pleased to have made some progress – with more to follow shortly.

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Well Of Course.

It is a universal truth in home renovation that wherever one might need to make a critical cut, there will be a nail – or three (but only if one is down to one’s last blade).

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