Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Hi, Honey, We're Home!

Hurrah! We finally made it. As of Sunday, we have moved into our first home. Do-mesticated! We have been living in and out of boxes so-to-speak as we (un)pack our material possestions these past few weeks and for weeks to yet come. This means spreading butter on the muffin with a spoon 'cuz we haven't found the knives yet, and walking through the house with such an exaggerated hipsway as we navigate around the piles of boxes and "unprocessed" furniture. Efficient movers, we are not. It's more like uprooting a knarled old tree... by hand. All those dangley parts We have yet to deal with the flotsam of oddments left behind and gather them all up and clean our last abode. Moving is such a curse to artist-types, artists fond of collecting strange and marvelous bits (like camera parts, lenses, armatures, etc.), bits that have never been truely organized and put together, along with the plethora of paints, clays, woods, tools.....

I sometimes fantasize about being a simply amused un-complicated person with none of the collecting propensities I have (this is where I sigh). Well, anyways, we are moved in and that makes us happy. Our girls (5 mo & 2 ½ yo) are happy and Kaela likes the 'slippery' new floor. The cats...well, there's more exploring to do before their verdict is out. It seems one of the neighbors' cats is amused by taunting our cats (whom are indoor only) and that can only spell trouble.

Monday, January 15, 2007

A Footnote about Flooring

- REV.2 -

Wood flooring comes in all colors, lengths & sizes. It comes in a variety of widths and thicknesses, too. Just hope that the floor you bought doesn't. Now I would like to call this a review, but there are a few too many caveats that disqualify that (more on this later). By appearance alone, we were duly impressed with the Bellawood 5" Ash (select, pre-finished) that we acquired for a pleasing price. But as we got to installing it, we found a number of variances that should not be. Specifically:

- 1/16" (max) difference in width
- 1/16" (max) difference in thickness
- both ends not being parallel

I can only hope that this is not endemic in all wood flooring. We purchased our flooring as a quasi-odd lot. They claimed it was mostly due to being in the warehouse for so long, rather than for manufacture defects and therefore retains its 50 yr finish guarantee. This was the same floor we had wanted beforehand, type, size & grade, and it was all they had which was exactly 105% of what we needed. Happenstance, no? So until we actually purchase an "official" set, I will have to withhold my review in regards to their milling accuracies. For now, my rule of thumb is to avoid all gaps I can easily slide a folded sheet of (20 lb) paper into, or an empty envelope. This is what I have to do in each of the above cases to some degree for each board I put down.

Now, variations in color and length are expected, even desirable. Having a board that is just "*" wider than its adjacent one will cause tremendous grief when the next row comes along. The same goes for boards that are wider at one end. What happens is that you will have a sizable gap between your floorboards, one that will welcome dirt, grit, hair, etc., and will stare back at you when you try to admire your otherwise beautiful floor. There are three solutions...well, four, but I don't like that fourth one. I am listing them is decending order of preference.

(1) The first thing I try is to sand down the bump-out, assuming it is rather less than that 1/16". This bump-out is the result of boards that are not of uniform width, rather than mis-alignment. I use a palm sander on the face above the tongue of the piece stapled down, and on the lower lip of the groove on the piece about to be laid. You need to do this latter part or it wont slide in flush. (2) If it is nearer to that 1/32" difference, I will shape only the board about to be put down. This may involve extensive sanding, but I am not so good at sanding a level face over, say 12" at that depth. Other wise I will pass it through a table saw. I might do this differently if I had a rabbet or shoulder plane, of the Lie-Nielsen variety. O! How I wish I had a plane. I will have one by the time I get to laying the floor in the rest of the house. whish-whish.

Here is a 5' board I had to 'shape' that had ~4' which needed 1/16" shaved off. That's 4-feet. There's no way I could evenly sand 1/16" off 4' (O! How I wish I had a plane). I just hadn't noticed that the preceding board (upper right) was that much narrower until after I installed it. Rather than rip it up and find another (I could spend half my time doing this), I chose to move on and deal with it. I chose a board of the wider variety (why are they not uniform???) and shaved off that difference on my table saw, then beveled the edge with the sander. It fits, is nearly imperceptible, and keeps the leading edge straight for the next row. I will have to hand coat these edges later with an aluminum-oxide finish.

(3) A less desirable solution is to come back and fill the gap with wood putty. I will have to do this in a number of places. I will also have to find a way to seal it, probably with a tiny paint brush and a polyurethane finish. This is acceptable, because it is in the recessed seam and not directly walked upon. But it's still a visible "fix". (NOTE:I will have to do this because I missed it while installing intially) (4) Even more undesirable is to try to take up the difference by wedging something like a screwdriver into the subfloor and bend it into place. This is sometimes necessary, especially if the board is longitudinally warped (aka, crooked). But if doing this throws your leading edge out of line, you will be doing this evermore, and dealing with other repercussions, as well.

Another problem I've been encountering is a variation in the thicknesses of boards. Now this is relatively normal, which is why prefinished boards have beveled edges to make up for any differences in milling. To me, 1/32" difference in thickness is acceptable, but 1/16" is not. The solution: Don't intall a board that is that much thinner/thicker. It's not that you'd stub your toe, but you would definiately be aware of it, even see it. I do NOT recommend shimming or remilling the groove or bottom to level it out as you are inviting squeaks into your floor instantly. Just be mindful; you should notice it on the initial dry fitting, whereas it easier to overlook the width issue mentioned above. This is something that an unfinished floor benefits from as they are sanded down prior to finishing. But overall, this has been less common to confront from what we have seen.

The last issue is one I deal with 90% of the boards I put down, one of unequal butts. I am rather disgruntled that the machine that mills the end tongue cannot do this parallel with the machine that mills the end groove. Both ends should be 90°, or if not that, then at least be parallel with each other. I know this is the case because the joint lines run straight through the two rooms and do not bend or curve away (taking great pains to ensure this). Why, therefore, am I left with up to 3/32" gaps at the bottom of the end joints? The one you see here is only 1/32" and will be sanded. For these lesser instances, I can just sand the groove-end down to match, but in the greater discrepancies, I have to angle the chop-saw .25-.75° to re-cut the groove end. And of course, I then re-chamfer the new edge with a sander. Feh!

Note: More pictures will follow soon, within another
day or so, some to be replaced. Need to retake some shots, so stay tuned.

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Cracking Good Plaster, Eh?

Something I failed to detail previously about painting the ceiling was the way we chose to resolve the cracks in the plaster. I once mentioned that the foundation has "issues", including a foolish resolution of it's failures by butressing. This does little to help anything, and merely "looks" beefy. The sloping of the house is evident from the dining room through to the back of the kitchen. In the dining room, it seems to drop ~2-3" out of level. I will soon provide a picture that captures this. Now, how we decide to fix this is still on the table, whether we lift the house and pour a new foundation or merely level the house on the foundation as it is now.

Either way, that type of deflection had given birth to a number of cracks throughout the plaster, and lifting/leveling the house will only do moreso. So to fix these micro-fissures, I took to them with a small hammer & chistle, aggressively knocking loose the areas about. I wanted to make sure that if it was going to stay, it had to want to stay. Well, sadly, a significant ammount of plaster near the cracks was too blasé to stay.

So I had to fill these chasms with something that would be forgiving to future movement & jiggle. Rather than common spackle that would crack and chip, we opted for an elastomeric compound. There are a number of products out there that qualify, and this is not a review. We chose one (knife-quality) and it worked, but it was not so easy to apply but adhered admirably afterwards. Still, it shrank significantly and needed several coats to level out(~3-4 applications), but took 12-24 hours to dry before it could be re-applied. Sanding high spots down was kinda like arguing with a pre-teen; it yeilded, but begrudgingly. So because of this, it was best to get the desired finish without sanding. Tool marks/scrapes in the compound usually soften out when it drys, to your advantage. Just think of this stuff like the medium between regular spackle and silicone caulk. I'll include pictures next time, both prior and post painting. Starting tomorrow, we resume our flooring of the living/dining room and foyer.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Let's Go Bowling

We’ve a lane open for all you Hepcats! We began laying down new floor this weekend, after a weeks-worth of whirlwind activity that ended with freshly primed and painted ceilings. My ever gracious (and industrious) parents worked all week to help us push the house along so that we may move in mid-month. For those of you betting against us moving in on this fourth rescheduled date… congratulations. That’s right. We will reschedule our move-in date ONE MORE TIME (and may this be the last-last time). This comes after much hand-wringing and consternation and not without a massive and valiant effort by those involved.

Our timeline allowed for having the flooring complete by last Sunday, but beginning task that was delayed by you’ll-never-guess-what; it starts with a “str-“ and ends in a “-ping”. Yes, never underestimate the time to strip. Rather than leave some stripping to be done over a beautiful new floor or freshly painted walls, we all worked laboriously to get as much of that finished that would lie in harms way. All that remains to be done is inside both built-in bookcases and buffet. Because we were not able to complete the flooring on Sunday, we will not be making our previous move-in timeline. I mean, it could be possible, but many other essential things would be sacrificed, like making the bedrooms and closets smoke-free scented. There’s nothing like turning all your jackets into smoking jackets, is there?

It was Friday evening that we had the essential stripping, neutralizing, washing and sanding complete, rather than Wednesday. So instead of having the ceilings painted before the weekend, they had been painted mostly on Saturday, and part of Sunday. It was early on that later day that we began to lay down the floor. Dad & I spent the former day prepping the floor, sealing the hole from the original centralized heater and laying down the felt.

Prepping the Floor

Now, Bob Villa recommends using a layer of rosin paper between a new wood floor and a wood-based subfloor, but we used 30-lb felt (roofing type). 30 & 15-lb felt is impregnated with asphalt, ideal for moisture resistance from below if you’re over a basement or crawl space such as we are. Typically rosin paper is for floors over a climate controlled space, like a second floor or apartment. Rosin paper’s role is to only prevent the floor squeaks from wood-on-wood, as it is a pushover with moisture. To maintain a flat surface, we lay the thick felt end to end, rather than overlap as you would on a roof. Flatness takes precedence over barring moisture when it comes to floors, so moisture retardance is quite adequate for our uses.

Eliminating Cigarette Odors & Painting

As for painting, my mom took on that task. Again, it seemed prudent to have the ceilings painted BEFORE we put in a new floor, and it was quite good that we did. We opted to prime the ceiling with Zinsser B-I-N Primer Sealer. This seems to be the best product hands down for eliminating aged cigarette odors. It adheres to both oil and water-based paints (such as latex), and does not need glossy surfaces deglossed to adhere properly. It is shellac based, and therefore has denatured alcohol, so wear adequate respiration for this. Paper masks are no good. It dries and is ready for painting/recoat in 45-60 minutes, although it outgases for some time afterwards. Ventilate and be free. Also cleaning brushes is done differently; the product recommends washing the brush in ammonia, and then household cleaner afterwards, though I imagine denatured alcohol would do the trick. Painting with B-I-N is not easy chore. It is runny like cooking oil and loves to drain from a brush tipped sideways.

For the final coat, we chose a flat latex of a color called Rich Cream. Its rather a yellow just orange of center, with only white without complimentary color to de-saturate the hue. We toyed with colors having names like Lemon Soufflé, Melted Butter and Banana Cream; I found myself salivating. Who makes this stuff up? I rather wish it were YellowB5 or somesuch. Now every time I look up at our ceiling I’ll think “mmm…coffee/pastry”.

Laying Down the Starter Row

So as she finished the painting in the dining room, we started laying down the floor. Most sources recommend starting against one wall or another, but with the built-in bookcases flanking the center rooms, we wanted to center the floorboards between those. Being 5” planks, their placement would be more notable. We marked the center, measured to the wall where the foyer entrance resides and marked the second point equidistant at the front end of the living room, to run the boards parallel with that wall. This entrance (perpendicular to the bookcases) would be the second noticeable place if the floorboard joints look funny. That settled, we ran a chalkline the full distance to the buffet and screwed in backer boards. This keeps the first few lines of board from drifting out of line when the impact of the nailer hits.

Then my mom, perched on the ladder still painting the ceiling, pulled the equivalent of a back-seat driver. Who does flooring from a ladder? She asked if we shouldn’t center the board, rather than the joint, on the center line. Blinking nonplussed, it slowly occurred to us that she may have a point. She pointed out that the boards may end with a joint ~½” from either built-in, which would be bad (think ¼” wide board here). So we mocked it up, and discovered that she was EXACTLY right. I still marvel at how she does this, and I’ve known her all my life!

So we unscrewed our nice straight line of backer boards, and re-fastened it 2½” over. Here you see our original center line and then the revised one (including a faulty snap of the line). Then we began the actual flooring using a rented pneumatic flooring nailer/stapler and 2” staples. We used a slotted block which fit over the tongue to hammer the boards into place rather than hammering the tongues directly, risking damage. By the time we got to the built-in, we had plenty of board from the joint. Phew!

When we got close to the fireplace and the nailer couldn’t fit, I had to pre-drill pilot holes and hand nail the boards down. The hardwood boards would split if I hadn’t piloted them. I also had to drill a countersink shoulder and use a center tap to get the nails clear of the tongue. When I get too close to the wall or seat even to do that, I will need to top nail them in with finishing nails, countersink and putty over. I’ll show this soon, so stay
tuned. One final picture, however, is as it stands after the first day of actual flooring.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

The Secrets What Lie Beneath

I am going to talk about many things, including why I hate carpets and wood strip flooring. Primarily, this post is to be about why we DID NOT move in on New Years weekend and what we found under those carpets. When I began ripping up the carpet on Christmas weekend, I noticed merely a few stains on the underside of the carpet, but a veritable potpourri of stains and damage across the ¼” x 2” white oak strip flooring beneath. Over-watered houseplants, incontinent pet syndrome and perhaps a few domestic mushrooms plagued this floor. And it seemed that water was left standing in many places, thanks to the sponging traits of carpets and their mats, which had warped and shrank the meager wood parcels that someone once called flooring. I cannot think of how to salvage this, even if I wanted to, that is. This does not to mention the plethora of heavily rusted staples from a previous much longer standing carpet. I dread to consider how that one looked prior to its demise.

You see, the carpet that *I* tore up was relatively new. My guess would be about 6 months old, long enough to spill a few things and filter a few dozen cartons of cigarettes. It still smelled like stale tobacco smoke, yet showed few actual signs of wear. I imagine that when the POs [Previous Owners] decided on selling the house, they did away with the previous carpet as the first part of prepping the sale. This older carpet might have been 30 years old or more, but had left many signs of its trialsome life behind.

So after concluding that the oak strip flooring was unsalvageable, I decided to rely on the original floorboards. The bedrooms still had them, although one bedroom had its boards painted brown for reasons yet unknown. My parents had come to our rescue to help us out; being the seasoned homebuilders/renovators that they are, this was a MAJOR relief.

The original ¾” old growth quarter-sawn tongue & groove Douglas Fir boards told me a tale of woe surpassing that of the puny oak strips. First of all, being thin and narrow wood strips and NOT t&g, they require a plethora of nails to keep them in line. And when some PO decided that wet mopping a wood floor was a good idea, this army of nails decided to rust and leave corrosion stains through the floorboards in too many places (though not shown here). This means that no amount of sanding will remove the stains, though I suppose some bleaching might work. Well, the same continued for the incidents during the carpet years because as wood strips, the dust, silt, cleaners and water seep through each gap, and reside evermore underneath, spreading out with every step of the foot.

Not only that, but when those malevolent strips were first put in, the installers seemed to have used some pick axe in the poor flooring to nestle up the oak nice and snug (but not snug enough). These ½” deep holes are found about every 3 feet, and some of them, like you see here, had been sloppily mis-placed. We figured that the amount of time/effort/money it would take to redress those wrongs and apply an adequate finish to the dougfir, we might do better with a whole new floor on all accounts.

So after much deliberation and sleeping on it, we decided upon and found a great deal on ¾” x 5” pre-finished Ash, and it has a 50 yr guarantee on the finish. Here is a mock-up. We are quite pleased with how it compliments the baseboards. This will be our task this weekend, but it means that we should have the ceilings painted beforehand…AND WE HADN’T EVEN CONSIDERED COLORS YET! But thank goodness that this is Roxana’s area of expertise, color theorist as she is. I trust her explicitly.

Here you see a corner of our living room all bare a neekid. Just a little shellac here, paint there, and a floor to come soon, and voila! All this week has been about preparing to paint, which means we have to finish with the stripping, neutralize the residual stripper left behind and mask off everything else. To neutralize the stripper, we are scrubbing the wood and adjacent surfaces with mineral spirits, and then washing it all down with a 10% solution of cleaner (Simple Green, in our case) using nylon abrasive pads.

Perhaps I shall soon provide an addendum to my Chemi-Strip Primer, or more "advanced" techniques, I am such a profession now.
Our next post will be about painting the ceiling and the colors chosen. Phew! (This is now an expression in our 2 ½ year old’s repertoire and a hoot to see). Until then...

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