Floored by the Kindness of Strangers

Yes, inside the halves of the newel post are parts of another newel post. Not salvageable.

Yes, inside the halves of the newel post are parts of another newel post. Not salvageable.

I was hanging out with Chris Schwarz at his first Lost Art Press Saturday open shop a few weeks back, and in walks his neighbor, Dave. Dave and his wife, Marissa, are rehabbing a Victorian about a block away. He started talking about flooring, and my ears perked up. It is for lack of flooring (OK, and time) that I’ve made little progress on my staircase in the last few weeks.

Turns out Dave has a lot of the right stuff, pulled from an old factory – 3-1/2″-wide yellow pine tongue-and-groove flooring from around 1915. And he didn’t hesitate to offer me some.

I picked it up last Saturday, cut it to rough length, then planed off 100 years of paint and dirt. It’s gorgeous, and a perfect match for what’s in my house…except that it now looks a lot better than my floors, which are in desperate need of sanding and refinishing.

Two weeks ago, I pulled from the archway in the basement the two halves of what I think is an original newel post. Saturday afternoon and Sunday, I removed all the crap that had been added to the interior, in hopes of putting the halves back together. And I found part of another newel post…cut in pieces and used to shore things up (see above). There’s no putting those bits back together, I’m afraid.

There was also some old newspaper wadded up to I guess act as a dam for the concrete that had been poured inside. (Why did someone pour concrete inside? No effin’ clue. But it left a nice relief pattern on either side of the doorway.) Also inside? Lots of bug parts and bug poop…but nothing living. Whew!

In the 1950s, "help wanted" ads were overtly separated by gender.

In the 1950s, “help wanted” ads were overtly separated by gender.

With the concrete and other additions out, I could finally get the post halves upstairs…where I was sad to realize that repairable post is not the one I need. The cutouts at the bottom indicate it fits the left side of the landing; I’m planning a built-in bookcase at the front of the landing, with steps that curve around to meet it.

I'm fairly certain this post was in this position on the original landing.

I’m fairly certain this post was in this position on the original landing.

I want to put a post at the bottom of the straight run only. But this one won’t work in that location without some serious reconfiguration to its bottom. So OK…time for some serious reconfiguration.

Here's where I need to make it fit.

Here’s where I need to make it (and the other half of it) fit.

One of those treads leaning against the wall above will become the front board on the landing; I’ll fit it after I install the rest of the flooring (waiting on my cut nails to arrive), and rabbet the board to retain the nose shape on the front edge (the rest will be planed from underneath to 3/4″ to match the floorboards).

The two bottom treads will be new. (I’m still looking for 4/4, 54″-long pieces of 100-year-old pine from which to make them…though I’ve resigned myself to gluing up the width – The bottom tread will be 20″ wide at the curved section.)

So there’s still a lot of work to do, but I’m making progress – in large part thanks to Dave (whom I now count as a friend).

JJ wouldn't design to sit on the plywood I had there for the last month. Apparently, he approves of the pine.

JJ wouldn’t deign to sit on the plywood I had there for the last month. Apparently, he approves of the pine.

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About fitz

Editor & content director for Popular Woodworking, ABD PhD focused on early modern drama, freelance content and copy editor/writer, ailurophile
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6 Responses to Floored by the Kindness of Strangers

  1. rondennis303 says:

    The smell of resin is much more attractive to cats than Formaldehyde.

  2. BLZeebub says:

    Getting there, lady. A few minutes now and then online and you can source some old pine somewhere. I found a cache of it on Craig’s List a few years back. Old growth, came out of a condemned cigar factory, heavier and harder than rock maple. Tight growth rings, over 60 per inch and amber colored through and through. I still have about twenty board feet of 6/4 left. What to do what to do…

  3. Patrick says:

    Will the bookcase sides kinda sorta resemble the missing posts? Flutes, moldings etc?

  4. Kinderhook88 says:

    The concrete is a mystery to me also. Seems more like a commercial thing than residential (we fill hollow steel door frames with mortar when they are fastened to masonry walls, for example). Here the concrete serves no purpose without any masonry or steel to bond to. As a residential contractor, I’ve seen a lot of weird things. Usually I just attribute this to enthusiastic but untrained DIYers and move on.

  5. Mike Wasson says:

    Megan, since you helped me with my dovetails a while back, let me help you. You are a woodworker, stop agonizing over this and just start remaking the pieces you need. Don’t let fear paralyze you. You can do it ,you just have to start. I have been where you are and believe me the first step is always the hardest. Good luck, and keep on making sawdust. Just do it.

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