Moving In

We’ve moved. Finally. And parts of me think we’ve jumped the gun.
We’re in pretty good shape here, but we’d be a little more comfortable if we’d waited another 2 weeks while shelves, drawers and doors get made. That’s the way it always seems to be, though: one excuse or another, and what’s really forcing the issue here is that Celia had to move into the green house by 7/1. This is exactly the kind of kick in the butt we needed to get going.
So we moved.

Last fall, I told Mary that, as soon as I could shit and shower at the new house, I was going to move. For her part, she wasn’t going anywhere until the master bedroom floor was done.

My first shit.

My first shit.

My first shower.

My first shower.

Our 200-year old bedroom floor.

The master bedroom floor.

The Ladies' Lounge

The Ladies’ Lounge

After all this time, we still didn’t really have a plan about where to put the furniture or ‘stuff’. So Friday, when we took 2 trailer loads out of the Hellhole, we piled the whole thing in the Ladies Lounge (aka my office)  because it happens to be the closest room to the trailer.  DISH had hooked up the TV on Thursday, and it wound up somewhere behind the pile. Next day, we took 2 loads of furniture over and stood it all up in the living room, unsure where any of it was going to go.

(Last spring, when we moved from Westford, the trailer’s left rear tire kept going flat, and replacing the valve stem fixed it. Over the winter, the right rear tire went flat, and I inflated it with a portable air tank. It lasted a few hours, but it was flat the next day. I took it off to have the valve stem replaced, but they told me that not only was it leaking through the sidewall, but the rim was close to rusting through. Even so, with its new valve stem, it didn’t go flat for over a week. The next morning, though, the right front tire was flat, and I plan to replace the valve stem. Meanwhile, I park it within reach of an air hose and keeping a wary eye on the front left tire.)

Mary's first drink.

Mary’s first drink.

Saturday night, we had dinner here for the first time. Mary made beat up chicken (my favorite) with one of her birthday wines, and I made brownies. We sat out on the back porch and read for a bit, used the oven for the first time, cooked on the stove, chopped at the counter, sat in chairs at a table on a carpet, washed our dishes in the sink, and loaded the dishwasher. All for the first time.


It was a little surreal for me. All winter, I’d done all my thinking and working and relaxing in the basement, and I only went upstairs when I had to ‘put something in.’
When I’m “bent to the task,” I make little mistakes, and when I try to ‘back up’ enough to see how the big picture is shaping up, my view can be clouded by the flaws: It’s too big, or a detail is imperfect, or a leftover hole somewhere, or it’s way late, or not done yet. Or not started. But sitting at the table, on a rug, in a room full of furniture, with Mary and a meal in front of me, I looked around and, like God, I saw that it was good.


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Day by Day

Since I’m hopelessly behind blogging on specific topics, here is a taste for what I do every day.
Unfortunately, I seem to have lost a slew of photos.

April 2013

Mon 4/1
dry-laid hickory in CO, LL, west side of LR, ordered adhesive
Tue 4/2
dry-laid more hickory
Wed 4/3
paperwork in AM, cut MBath countertop, moved hickory, cut thresholds
Thu 4/4
fitted floor in CO clos. taxes & shopping mid-day, milled butt tenons
fitting a threshold

fitting a threshold

Fri 4/5
fitted floor pieces at MBR door, slate angle. Finished shower door install. Taxes.
Sat 4/6
re-wired 240V plugs for planer, took out planer blades, scraped/cleaned floor periphery & foamed
Sun 4/7
emptied office at IBM, power failure, Picked up woodpiles in the yard, Trombley walk with Mary
Mon 4/8
set up air compressor, started staking back yard, met with ashton, mill butt ends
Tue 4/9
run into town, install mudroom sink & bathroom valving, taxes, mill  butt ends
Wed 4/10
planed MBR flooring until motor overheated. hooked jointer up to dust collector. milled most ‘A’ and ‘B’ trim pieces Taxes
Thu 4/11
Milled more trim pieces, discussion with Bernie
Fri 4/12
Milled ‘the rest of’ the type C trim. sorted thru house receipts, library, dropped in on Craig at MWL, hardware & grocery stores, installed trim on trial window, Date night at Piecasso. Floor glue did not arrive.
The aftermath of forming type-C trim pieces

The aftermath of forming type-C trim pieces

Sat 4/13
milled rest of butt grooves, put up ‘A’ and ‘B’ trim pcs
Sun 4/14
got hot water going, cleaned up, sharpened/changed planer  blades
Mon 4/15
planed MBR flooring till blades died, assembled stairway doors
One stairway door panel ready for grooving

One stairway door panel ready for grooving

Tue 4/16
sharpened blades, planed MBR flooring, cost spreadsheet, hardware run, got milling machine working, worked on hinge prototype (bad), received 40 gal glue for floor.
Wed 4/17
started laying floor. Got most of CO done, 25% of LL
Thu 4/18
worked with Ashton on LR floor. Did 17′ to the beam.
Fri 4/19
worked with Ashton on LR floor. Did up to pantry.
Sat 4/20
Finished out kitchen, prepped for flooring re-start in CO and LL
Sun 4/21
Finished CO flooring, worked LL until I ran out of glue. Prepped for dump run tomorrow
Mon 4/22
trip to burlington for more glue &c. finished LL and dead ends except for CO closet
Tue 4/23
finished CO closet floor, incl secret compartment. moved leftover wood downstairs, cleared out for finishing, lathe plug, scraped all  but half of LR.
Wed 4/24
finished scraping floor while Mary & Ashton oxidized and sealed. Worked on Stair hinges.
Thu 4/25
Installed hinges and stairway door. Mary & Ashton stained floor
Fri 4/26
Sealed all 9 kitchen cabinets. Adjusted stairway door, added transom & handles. mary & Ashton did 1st top coat.
Sat 4/27
Moved rock and changed faucet for Charon & Marshall. Sealed insides of kitchen cabinets. Mary did 2nd top coat
Sun 4/28
Started building bi-fold door for Marshall. went to burlington for Celia’s birthday
Mon 4/29
lumber run. began installing kitchen cabinets in cooktop corner. Found that sink unit will need re-build.
Tue 4/30
install kitchen cabinets: appliance bay. Received Dad’s workbench
Dad's big bench arrives

Dad’s big bench arrives

 May 2013

Wed 5/1
modified sink base, mounted fan housing, overRefrigerator, bought plywood. made rough counters
fan and refrigerator housings, and some trial trim pieces

fan and refrigerator housings, and some trial trim pieces

Thu 5/2
finished 3 counters, put up kitN & kitE trim. hardware run. talked about industrial park at dinner.
Fri 5/3
Moved stovetop & DW upstairs (failed to move oven), started working on install
Sat 5/4
Moved Dad’s bench to west, drilled propane hole, mostly installed DW, cabinet wiring, AB wiring
Sun 5/5
milled elec hole in trim piece, hardware run, collected rocks, discussed excavation plans  slider handle, router collet
Mon 5/6
milled for switches in kit cabinet trim, drilled joists for hose bib main, trimmed counter flush at stovetop, put in A,B trim at front door, removed blue tape from E jambs.
Tue 5/7
Installed toilet, started processing type-A trim pieces, prep for tomorrow’s Trombley walk
Wed 5/8
set up to dado trim. sent laptop fedex. got new tires and inspection. Trombley walk w/ 4. Johnson rental for bib project. Great store! groceries.
Thu 5/9
dadoed  trim. put in bib main. put in bib branches. fixed mower idling. fixed mower clutch. Johnson rental. put in bibs.
Fri 5/10
cut V-trim to length. moved piles of wood. sink cutouts for both bathrooms.
Sat 5/11
visit from Cheryl. got to dump too late. finished hose bibs. made planer pal. sealed kitchen trim pcs
Sun 5/12
removed iron popane pipe. sharpened planer blades. edge-jointed V-trim. moved oven upstairs. home depot to buy kit faucet. went to Maggie’s for mothers day
I built a ramp to get the oven upstairs.  Didn't work.

I built a ramp to get the oven upstairs.
Didn’t work.

Mon 5/13
went to dump. groceries, installed shelving. prep to install kitchen sinks using hickory counter.
Tues 5/14
prepped oven for inserting into cabinet. kirsten visited
Wed 5/15
shaped and profiled hickory sink counter, mounted sinks in it.
router jig for recessing under-mount kitchen sink

router jig for recessing under-mount kitchen sink

Thu 5/16
flush-trimmed sinks. hardware store tours. dry-assembled kitchen sink plumbing.
Fri 5/17
mounted + wired switches and fan knob. re-assembled kit trim pieces. moved refrigerator. wired up oven.
Sat 5/18
hardware run for fittings (refrigerator still leaks). moved big rock at north. lined up med rocks at south.
Sun 5/19
planed down some MBR flooring. attached shelf supports in bsmt. hooked up refrigerator with copper. made hinge jig for door for Marshall. brief appearance at Ashton party. dinner with Criscolos.
drilling the hinge pivot for a bifold door for Marshall's bathroom

drilling the hinge pivot for a bifold door for Marshall’s bathroom

Mon 5/20
worked on planing MBR flooring. joinery on Marshall’s door. Realized that dad’s tool cabinets are not empty. collected some rocks
Some kind of gimbal-based scriber from Dad's tool chest. No idea when to use it.

Some kind of gimbal-based scriber from Dad’s tool chest.
No idea when to use it.

Tue 5/21
sharpened planer blades. finished planing MBR boards. got diesel. talked to Bournes about propane to kitchen. hardware & groceries. installed dryer. began re-installing propane
Wed 5/22
johnson F&G. Worked on propane. glued marshall’s door. set up to rip 1st edge of MBR flooring.
Thu 5/23
Finished propane install: stove works! Shimmed stovetop. put in most windowV trim pieces. scraped marshall’s door. ripped 1st edge of 1/3 of MBR flooring.
Fri 5/24
1st day of Mary’s vacation. Rainy all day. Read on my new kindle all morning – Ender’s Game. Finished ripping 1st edge of MBR floor planks. Matched up planks to span room width. We’re probably going to be a little short: have 25 random width runs to cover 20′.
Sat 5/25
ripped 2nd edge on MBR flooring planks. gave tour to Laura & Dave. roughed out elliptical bannister for Marshall. dinner at Charon’s.
Sun 5/26
set up and cut shiplap profiles on MBR flooring edges. Mary taking care of little girls.
Mon 5/27
cleared out MBR, chiselled away some high spots. foamed periphery. moved flooring upstairs. set up cutoff saw. hooked up kitchen sink. attached Mbath counter. dinner at Maggie’s
Tue 5/28
ella showed up 1st thing in the morning. grand tour and chat. dry-laid entire MBR floor pile and am only 24″ short
Wed 5/29
installed shower fixtures: broke shower head, looks like trio roughs are wrong. started assembling boards for last few rows. dinner with ella & celia at frida’s
Thu 5/30
more floorboard assembly. pack. drive to woodstock. campfire w/ ella + celia
Fri 5/31
bike ride, grilled chicken & sophia birthday in woodstock. meet & greet

June 2013

Sat 6/1
bike ride in woodstock. Adriane’s wedding. Reception. very drunk
Sun 6/2
battilana brunch. drive home.
Mon 6/3
cut, drilled, hung horiz closet pieces. grocery run. re-milled MBR flooring pieces
Tue 6/4
moved MBR floor to one last pile. glued + nailed 60% of flooring, using 5 gal glue and 1.8 box nails.
Wed 6/5
Finished laying MBR floor. grocery run. moved tools downstairs. machined marshall’s railing supports
Thu 6/6
worked on mount for Marshall’s door. Moved hickory for drawers downstairs.
Fri 6/7
planed drawer wood down to 5/8″. Sanded 1/3 of it. hardware+groceries. removed glue from MBR floor. Mary migraine.
Sat 6/8
finished belt sanding drawer wood. went to Charon’s to prep railing & bifold door. Mary sick to her stomach, but rallied to do some cleaning at new house.
Sun 6/9
finished railing and sanded it. glued threshold for bifold. stripped blue tape from MBR jambs. sorted thru door wood. Mary cleaned and coated slate.
Mon 6/10
messed with Marshall’s bifold door. replaced body bar nipples. put in shower heads. scraped 2 blobs from floor. began cutting up drawer wood. Mary coated MBR floor
Tue 6/11
ripped all drawer wood to size. Hardware+grocery run. made cutting charts for shelving plywood. bought plywood. cut all drawer wood to length. made 3/8″ finger joint jig. glued down thresholds in FB & mud doorways.
Wed 6/12
cut all finger joints – 1912 cuts. went to burlington for buffer, shelf stuff, errands.
That's a lot of finger joints, and I made them just a hair too tight.

That’s a lot of finger joints, and I made them just a hair too tight.

Thu 6/13
put up entry closet hardware, cut banded shelves to size. cut up 3.5 pcs plywood for shelving. milled banding, applied half. worked with dish guy for TV. started bifold mount.v2. Mary coated stuff and tried buffing MBR floor, but it was too aggressive. Ashton will return.
Fri 6/14
moved 2 trailer loads of boxes out of hellHole. removed tire from trailer for valve stem replacement. hardware run. Mary & ashton sanded & coated MBR floor. anchored some shelf hardware. finished gluing shelf banding.
Sat 6/15
moved 2 trailer loads of furniture-type stuff.
Sun 6/16
chris & co came to move big stuff
Mon 6/17
move furniture
Tue 6/18
trim and sand shelving. mock bifold mount in basement. glued banding on shelves
Wed 6/19
charon’s to trial-mount bifold and install handrail. mary finished floor there.
Thu 6/20
kitchen corner counter. specht party
this year's event at the party was moving 2 900# beams down a 30deg slope into place and bolting them in. The trick is that they are cantilevered so far over the dropoff as to be unstable

this year’s event at the party was moving 2 900# beams down a 30deg slope into place and bolting them in. The trick is that they are cantilevered so far over the dropoff as to be unstable

Fri 6/21
adjusted door jambs, installed doorknobs. replace furniture at charons, eat out
Sat 6/22
sanded drawer wood inner. ripped drawer grooves. dump run
Sun 6/23
glued up 11 drawers
Mon 6/24
hooked up septic alarm, glued 5 drawers, cleared out front porch,got clothes from green house closets. installed screens, organized office
Tue 6/25
chainsawed to improve the view. glued last 11 drawers, drilled holes for DSL, waited for fairpoint guy
production run of 28 drawers

production run of 28 drawers

Wed 6/26
scraped glue from drawers. trek to hotspot. order drawer slides. made brownies & fruit salad, party at Adam’s.
Thu 6/27
scraped the rest of the drawers. rough-sanded short drawers. trimmed drawer bottom groove notches. sketched plan for front yard
Fri 6/28
put in chandelier. sanded drawers, cut some trees for view.
Mary's been lugging this thing around for 17 years and finally found the perfect spot for it.

Mary’s been lugging this thing around for 17 years and finally found the perfect spot for it.

Sat 6/29
finished sanding drawers. entertained little girls with butternuts and frogs. Marshall’s party.
Sun 6/30
Installed shelving. visits from Dave & Laura, Celia, Bill & Lisa. Hauled logs and managed to ‘break’ tractor.
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The Master Bedroom Floor

Before the beams came out of the green house, we took out the floor they held up, and the floorboards went into a pile in Chuck, where they were in the way all summer long.
These boards came out of Maggie’s old room and the roadside bedroom, where there were holes framed in (and covered over) for an old staircase and a chimney. I sifted through the piles a few times, and it was apparent that I had a variety of boards on my hands. Thick and thin. Light and dark. Knotty and clear. All of them had 5 or 6 coats of floor paint on one face, and none on the other, and large and small nails everywhere.  Deep down, though, they were really nice boards: long, wide and flat, and really, really old.

The boards came from the 2nd floor of the green house. The hard way.

The boards came from the 2nd floor of the green house. The hard way.

The idea was to use them for the master bedroom floor, but I knew it wasn’t going to happen for a long, long time. I scraped off the big chunks of dried crud and de-nailed about half of them onto the lawn, but lost interest and skipped the rest. In the fall, I moved the whole pile into the new basement, where they could be dry – and still be in the way.

All winter long, while I plowed through other projects, the pile of boards was in the way, and every time I had to work around them, I’d look them over and wonder if it was a big enough pile to do the whole room. With all the ragged edges and and irregularities, it was impossible to add up the area, but I’d eyeball the pile and tell myself that it looked about right. Not that it mattered, because there are no more boards to be had anyway, and if I ran out, then I’d deal with it somehow. What I did know was: this is going to be a lot of work.

But not for a long long time, and meanwhile, my enormous shop filled up with piles. Piles of floorboards. A pile of beams. Trim wood piles. Door wood piles. An offcut pile. A dozen assembled cabinets. Plus all the boxes, benches, and tools that actually belong in the shop. Sometimes, I feel guilty that I’ve indulged myself with such a spacious shop, and I tell myself that the best way to justify it is to bite off a project so big that I need a shop this size to get it done.  This house is just such a project. And just about the time I ran out of space, I started finishing up ‘other projects,’ and the piles began to disappear. And eventually, I  looked at that pile of floorboards, and it wasn’t in the way.
It was time to get started.

(I took lots of photos of this project, but can’t seem to find them. Damn!)

So I finished de-nailing the pile and ran them through the planer.
It overheated, so I gave it a rest. I lightened the cut and it bogged down and stalled.
The blades were dull. Shot, in fact. The other set of blades were sharp, so I put them in and 15 minutes later, they were dull. Shot.

These dulled planer blades are edge-to-edge, and you shouldn't be able to see any light between them.

These dulled planer blades are edge-to-edge, and you shouldn’t be able to see any light between them.

OK, so I was 10% done, and I was out of planer blades. There’s a place in Newport where I can get them sharpened, but it costs money and takes 3 days and, at that rate, I wouldn’t be done for a long, long time. It turned out that my grinder can sharpen a 16″ blade, though, and  by the time I got all the boards planed down, I’d sharpened them a dozen times, and  was pretty good at it.

The first couple of planer passes got rid of the paint layers and most of the nails I’d missed, not to mention about 3mm of planer blade length. I sorted these boards by thickness, and they ranged from 3/4″ to 1 1/8″. It was pretty clear that I was barely going to have enough boards, if I had enough at all, so I had to keep planing off perfectly good wood until they were all 3/4″. Worse yet, the boards are old and dry and fragile, and as I planed down pass after pass, I watched as the knots vibrated loose and fall out, or simply  disintegrate. This was demoralizing, but I rescued as many as I could and glued them back in. After planing off and on for a couple weeks, I finally had a pile of floor boards. Much smaller than before, but all the same thickness.

My pile of 200 year-old flooring, sorted by thickness.

My pile of 200 year-old flooring, sorted by thickness.


While the hickory flooring was thick, strong, and milled with a tongue and groove, these old boards were too thin for T&G, so I profiled them with a shiplap. It was a lot of work:

Rip the boards. Stack in a pile.
Rip the other edge. Stack in a pile.
Mate the boards for width and length to span the room. Stack in a pile.
Rip to width. Stack in a pile.
Dado the ship. Stack in a pile.
Dado the lap. Stack in a pile.
Move the pile upstairs. Stack it.
Dry-lay the floor, cutting to length.
And finally, I know the answer: there’s not going to be enough wood for the whole floor. Damn.

So I sorted through all my offcuts and shorts and the ratty boards I hadn’t even planed down and came up with enough pieces to finish out the room.
Plane. Stack. Sharpen. Stack. Plane. Stack. Rip. Stack. Rip. Stack. Rip. Stack. Dado. Stack. Dado. Stack. Mate. Stack.
They’re not as pretty as the long ones, but they are the genuine article, and we’ll just hide them with the bed on top of them and they’ll be fine.

At this point, I decided I’d screwed up one of the dado passes (too much ship, not enough lap), needed to re-mill them, and using a router was the only way to do it right. I couldn’t quite bring myself to haul the pile downstairs to mill it and then haul it back up again, so I made one last big mess on sawhorses in the living room. Then I stacked the boards in yet another pile.

I took a 4 day break from ‘housework’ to attend Adriane’s wedding in Woodstock. Mary had rented a house on the river, and we topped out at 10 adults plus the little girls. We had a campfire, a barbeque, a birthday party, a couple bike rides, a pool and ping-pong table, a meet & greet, the wedding, the reception, and a brunch. I got bitten by a tick at the outdoor ceremony and was on Lyme alert for a few days. I got very drunk on very good wine at the reception.

When I finally got back to work on Monday, I dry-laid the boards one last time, and checked that the problem with the shiplap milling had been fixed and that there were enough boards to cover the whole floor.
It was all systems go, so I took up the boards again, stacked them in one last pile, and prepped the room for installation.

Compared to the hickory, installing was easy, because there was no T&G to get stuck. On the other hand, because of the ‘live’ surface, there was zero-tolerance for stray glue drippings, so I had to pay attention. We also used ‘cut nails’ instead of pneumatic blind nailing, and there are eyebrows scattered all over. If anybody asks, they are ‘very old eyebrows.’

My job was over, and I turned the project over to Mary, who’d been looking forward to finishing these old boards for over a year. She brought in a buffer and steel wool, only to find, in a test spot under the bed, that the surface abrades right off. So she and Ashton sanded the whole surface by hand between coats. Three times.

Elbow grease: Nature’s wood finish.

Our 200-year old bedroom floor.

Our 200-year old bedroom floor.

Posted in New House, oldWood | Leave a comment


The bread and butter of Mary’s business is wood floors. She deals with other peoples’ floors day in and day out, and she would really, for once, like to have a floor like the ones she helps her clients with. So we put Mary in charge of the floor at the new house.

I have just one hard and fast rule for the floor: “I ain’t taking my shoes off to walk in my own house!”  Beyond that, it turns out we’re on pretty much the same page:  Variegated coloration. Wide-ish random widths. A kerfy, un-even texture, with knots. I suggested hickory because I happen to have a big chunk of it, and it’s good lookin’ stuff:  like oak, but without the blahs.

Mary asked around, and Everybody advised against using wide boards.
“They’ll cup.”
“They’ll crack.”
“They’ll warp,” everybody says. “You’ll be sorry.”
But Mary had her heart set on wide boards, and I kind of liked the idea too. She started pinging her contacts in the flooring industry and worked out a deal with Ron, in down-state New York. We give him rough boards, and he turns them into flooring.
Late in February, we drove down to check out his operation and arrived around lunch time. Here’s a math quiz: If there are 20 items to choose from in a restaurant, what are the odds that all 5 of us will order the lamb sandwich? (1 in a million) The Pied Piper. We played with his machines and made a surface we liked. It was like the mix-your-own perfume place in France, except they didn’t sell us 1600 sqft of perfume.

Milled boards to be moved inside

Milled boards to be moved inside

A couple weeks later, the boards arrived on a truck. There was the milled and surfaced flooring of course, but there were also a LOT of rough boards. WTF? Turns out that the guy who sold us the wood wouldn’t sell us just the wide boards, so Mary took the whole lot. We’ll sell what we don’t use. The rough boards went in the garage, and the milled flooring went over by the front porch. My job was to get it inside, where it could begin to thaw out.

Rough boards went in the garage

Rough boards went in the garage

The rock

The rock

It was a cold, windy, icy day. The path to the porch used a rock as a step up. And the metal roof had been shedding its load on the rock all winter long. It was one icy rock.
It would have been a good time to build a nice dry ramp going up to the porch. But I chiseled the ice off the rock instead, because I didn’t want to walk back to the end of the ramp. Four boards per bundle, most of which I could lift. And about 50 bundles. Pick up the bundle. Walk to the rock, climb two icy 12″ steps to the porch,  walk into the house, and set it down. Fifty times. And not once did I slip, fall, and hurt myself. But god, was I sore! When normal people do this, they get hernias and broken bones, but after a couple days, I was fine.

Flooring thawing out

Flooring thawing out

I was working on the master shower at the time, and I walked back and forth past the pile of boards 20 times a day. I looked them over and -whoa- they are quality stuff. We’d planned to ‘have them installed,’ but with boards like this, I decided it would be a privilege to put them in myself.

Everybody agrees that the right way to put in a hardwood floor is to start with dry wood in the winter, let it acclimate to the floor and then cinch them up tight to one another and glue and nail them down.
Everyone but me, that is.
If you cinch up 20′ of boards tight, you’ve basically got a 20′ wide plank, and in humid weather, it’ll want to expand, say, 1″, or 1/2″ on either end.  The glue and the nails won’t like that at all, and the boards will (ahem) cup and crack and warp.
But if you cinch up about 2′ of boards tight, and put a gap every 2′, the movement within a section is only 1/10″, and between the gaps, the glue, and the nails, the boards just might stay flat.
So that’s how I installed the floor.

buttTenonI started laying out the boards, placing the joints and covering the floor 1-deep. I flush-cut the jambs and fitted the thresholds. With wide boards, you want a tongue between the butts, and it took some thinking to decide to mill the grooves relative to the underside, because the top surface is quite irregular. For the tenons, I cut up 2 of those rough boards in the garage.

Two hundred fifty boards in the pile.
Two hundred fifty boards!
You take two down,
Cut ’em way down,
Two hundred forty eight boards in the pile.

We needed glue to install the floor. Lots of it. Ron recommended Sika polyurethane glue, so we bought 40 gallons of it online. The website steered me to paypal, which I don’t use much, and paypal decided the transaction looked suspicious, froze my account, and took a 3-day coffee break before deciding it was really me trying to buy glue. It finally got shipped, but I missed the delivery confirmation call, and we didn’t get the pails for another 4 days.  So the wood had an extra week to acclimate.

The glue is very strong

The glue is very strong

Finally! I was ready to put in the wood floor, and I started in the Corner Office. I worked alone the first day, so I could work the bugs out of the process. I’m glad I did the tile projects first, because wielding a notched trowel is a lot harder than it looks. The glue is the consistency of warm peanut butter, and droopy strands of it get everywhere. Get it on your shoes, knees, or hands, and it will soon be everywhere you look, so I learned fast to clean up my dribbles immediately. By the end of day 1, I’d installed a couple hundred sf, learned the ropes, and covered my hands and forearms with glue.

After washing in many solvents

After washing in many solvents

Which wouldn’t come off. Fresh glue dissolves in paint thinner. Residue does not. I had to make a grocery run that evening and, while I refrained from touching every bundle of asparagus, I still had to hold out my blackened hand for my receipt and change. The clerk didn’t flinch, but she reached for the Purell.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt took 5 days (2 with Ashton helping) to install 95% of the flooring and then I ran out of glue. The coverage they claim is probably about right on a smooth substrate, but radiant concrete slabs are not smooth. Or flat: After the first day, I noticed that most of the concrete surfaces are below the sleepers, and ‘no amount of glue’ will reach from the concrete to the hickory. If I’d stopped smearing the low spots a few hours earlier on that first day, I would probably have saved myself a trip into Burlington for another pail of glue.



When they poured the radiant slabs, they forgot to fill a small section with concrete, and I turned it into a secret compartment, just big enough for a handgun and some gems, cash or drugs.





Staining the last few square feet

Staining the last few square feet

From the day the wood was delivered to the day I pounded the last nail was exactly 1 month. It seemed like much more. I cleaned up my mess and, for 5 days, I was not allowed to make any dust while Mary and Ashton finished the floor.
Oxidizer, sealer, sanding, wiped stain, top coat, sanding, and another top coat, and Mary was hurting everywhere, but she did a great job, and it is a beautiful floor.




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The Master Shower

Or, should I say, the Dreaded master shower.

I don’t think there is any place in the whole house that’s been the subject of so much discussion. Mary has had ‘a vision’ of what she wants the master bathroom to look like, but has had a hard time expressing exactly what that vision is.  For my part, I know that, if you let them, bathrooms will suck the bucks right out of your wallet, and a shower that starts with a custom base would end with a 5-figure price tag.

Back in the ’80’s, I built a cedar strip canoe (in my living room!) and waterproofed the cedar with fiberglass cloth and resin. The canoe never leaked until, one spring day, Faye and I took it down a fast river. She steered left of a rock while I steered right, and suddenly we were bailing out of a cedar strip submarine.  So when I built the master shower in Westford, I made the pan out of plywood and coated it with fiberglass. It, too, never leaked, but they just don’t build showers like that nowadays, and since I didn’t know how they DO do it, it looked like I was going to have to hire a tile guy.

Not a chance. After a little surfing, I felt like I could do it myself, and all we needed was to agree on a design. I proposed to start with a pre-formed shower pan and save $1000 right off the bat. No good: Even the biggest one was “too small.” I proposed your basic valve and a shower head. No good: A “body bar” was apparently a must. At times, the debate became surreal. Dueling body bars on opposite walls? How about a head spraying toward the door? Or a wall of glass bricks so she could see into the closet while showering? At one point, Mary wanted to up the size to a 5×5 space, so Bernie and I were standing in the already-framed 4×5 space, discussing it. Two grown men in a shower-sized space, bending over, pointing, measuring, and never in one another’s space. It’s plenty big as-is, we decided.

threshold So Mary picked out a green tile she liked, and I set to work.
I rough-plumbed it, put plywood on the walls, cement board on the plywood, and put in a threshold.



trowellingJigI poured the first layer of mortar for the floor and rubberized it, but I put the ‘weeper gasket’ on upside-down and had to replace it. Trowelling the surface, I saw that the concrete crews make it look easy, and mine was anything but flat, so for the final mortar  bed, I built a jig to maintain the smooth slope. I poured it and we rubberized the whole thing.


I knew I was in over my head with this project, and if I tried tiling it, I’d screw it up. Which is why I spent parts of the next 2 months practicing on the mudroom floor and the slate hallway before circling  back to the shower. And it’s a good thing, too, because the bar got raised when Mary decided she wanted a ‘basket weave’ accent strip on the walls and the floor.

Make that a basket case. I don’t want to give the impression that I cater to Mary’s every whim, but anything that breaks the monotony of the green tile she picked has got to be a good thing. Besides, this mosaic comes pre-mounted on a flexible backing. What can go wrong?

For one thing, it’s a million little pieces, and the edges of the mosaic sheets are irregular so they can interlock. This means a hundred or so edge pieces had to be cut and fit. And then there’s the flexible backing, which is made of paper which clogs the shop-vac when it’s dry, and turns to gluey mush when it gets wet.

If you look closely, you'll see spaces where 5 tiles fell out while scraping

If you look closely, you’ll see spaces where 5 tiles fell out while scraping

So I did all the prep work and, early one afternoon, started hanging the mosaic ‘belt.’ Well let me tell you: spreading thin-set on a wall is not like spreading it on a floor. The floor got ‘sprinkled,’ and I tracked it everywhere. But the real problem is that the tiles don’t stay where you put them: they slide downward under their own weight, and I only started to notice this after a couple of sheets had been hung. With 1/8″ spacing, it doesn’t take much movement to ruin the alignment, but with pressure and frequent adjustment, I got this under control and, by early evening, I’d hung the whole mosaic belt.

If I’d learned anything from the slate in the hallway, it was that you gotta clear the thin-set out of the grout lines before it sets up. So after Mary went to bed that night, I went back to the house to scrape.
First off, there’s a lot more grout lines in a square foot of 1″ and 2″ tiles than there are in a square foot of big tiles.
Secondly, all the pressure and frequent adjustments I’d applied to keep the tiles from sliding down the wall had forced just about every single grout line to be chuck full of thin-set.
Third, it was already pretty close to set up, and the scraping wasn’t easy.
Finally, that damned paper backing reduces the surface area available for the thin-set to adhere to, especially on the backs of the 1″ tiles. And with all the vigorous scraping I was having to do, some 20-odd small tiles fell out.
It was an ugly job and a rough night, but if I didn’t get it done NOW, the hardened thin-set would be impossible the next day. It took me until 3:46 a.m. to get it done.

drillingWithCoolantCompared to the mosaic, the big green tiles went on easy. There are several places where a pipe pokes through the tiles, and I found out the hard way that cheap diamond  hole saws need to be water-cooled. I used a jig to contain the water cooling my second such bit.





wetTeeShirtThe holes are big enough for the pipes, but only if you take off the end caps. I drained the system, but the valves and some trapped air kept pressure in the shower system itself and I got wet.






OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe recessed shelf played havoc with the green tiling pattern, and we decided a vertical strip of red mosaic was a good solution, but I didn’t want a repeat of the ‘belt’ fiasco, with the tiles sliding slowly down the wall. Using nails and spacers, I managed to get the whole column to support its own weight, and the shelf looks like it was meant to be there.


drainCompared to the walls, the floor went on easy. The drain was a pain, but by this time, I was feeling like I could handle anything.





quarterThey say that, if you want to keep a kid occupied, you should just glue a quarter to the floor. So when the grandkids come over, we’ll just lock ’em in the shower.




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Tiling floors

I’ve tiled before, but I’d forgotten everything I ever learned by doing it.

I didn’t remember, for example, how hard it is on your knees, but it all came back to me after the first day. Since I’ve got a lot of tiling ahead of me, I bought the best kneepads money can buy, and wore them the next time I had to work on the floor. They have lots of padding, so my skin and pants are safe, but they raise me off the floor almost 2″, and shuffling around on the ground became the moral equivalent of dancing in 4″ heels — I kept falling over. So I went to Home Depot and knelt down in the kneepad aisle, trying on every style in their selection and bought a pair that cost half as much as my ‘good’ ones, and they work really well.
Lesson learned.

So with a lot of tiling ahead of me, I realized I’d be needing a tile saw, and I bought the cheapest tile saw money can buy. (It ain’t over yet, but there may be another lesson here.)  This saw cost me $80, complete with a diamond blade, and it has all the features you’d expect in a cheap saw. A fence that sticks, no slurry pan, a weak motor, and much more. But it works and, like the Everready bunny, works and works.
So I went to work.

Next time, I’ll mask the wall before I grout the floor

I started out in the mud room. It’s 10×13, and a perfect rectangle: it doesn’t get simpler than this. It took me a couple days, but I got the tiles all cut, set, grouted, and cleaned in a couple of days. Piece of cake! Gimme something hard!




We’d been browsing at Best Tile every couple weeks for a couple months, hoping inspiration would strike. This time, we decided we wouldn’t leave without picking  out something for the hall. Mary wanted red. Terra cotta. And they didn’t have any red tiles we liked. So we looked … and looked and looked.  And finally agreed on some greenish orangish greyish slate they had in stock, and drove off with 2000# of tiles in the back of the tahoe.

Well let me tell you: working with slate is waaay different from working with tile.
It’s irregular: Not always square. Not always straight. Never the same thickness. And with lots of chips. cracks, blemishes, and structural defects to be aware of.
In the mud room, the waste consisted of 20 of these:

In the hall, I had this much waste:

Hallway: About 2+ boxes worth of offcuts and rejects.

Where the mud room has 4 corners, the hall has nearly 40, including 3 closets, 8 doorways, and a diagonal  edge. The area-to-perimeter ratio is really low.
While the mud room has a ‘regular’ tile pattern, the hall is a mosaic of 2 stone sizes, so even away from the perimeter, ‘every other tile’ had to be cut twice.
In short, I couldn’t possibly have made it harder on myself if I’d tried.
They tell you to start in the middle of the room and work out,  but it’s a good thing I started in a closet, because it took me awhile to learn that, to make tiles of different thicknesses line up on top, you have to start with a thick bed of thin-set. Which is why I ran out of thin-set. More than once.

Nothing slows you down like running out.
It’s not so bad when you can run down to the hardware store for something you need, but I ran out of slate 4 tiles from the end and had to make a trip to burlington to get more. And then, while putting in these last few, I ran out of thin-set 2 tiles from done. I felt really stupid.

shinySealedSlateWith manufactured tile, you just glue it down and then grout it. With a porous stone like slate, you have to seal it before grouting, lest the whole surface take on the color of the grout. This gave Mary a chance to get involved, and she cleaned it and put on 2 coats of tung oil. By this time, it was really shiny, and I was worried about scratching the surface.





groutingSlateSlate is surprisingly soft, and I was starting to have misgivings about our choice. While installing it, I was careful about tracking grit onto it, spreading cardboard over it for protection.Then I started grouting, and the folly of all my precautions became apparent: Here I’d been taking my shoes off to walk on it, and now I was spreading a sandy, abrasive mush into all the cracks, leaning hard into the applicator. Based on the experience of grouting the mud room floor, I just went ahead and grouted the whole hallway before going back to start sponging off the excess. Big mistake, as the oldest areas had started to set up pretty hard. After almost 6 hours of elbow grease, though, all the big chunks were finally gone, and the second sponging went quickly. With all that rubbing, the sand in the grout had abraded the shiny surface very nicely, and it’s a good looking floor.

While the mudroom floor took me about 2 days, the hallway took me 3 whole weeks. Whatever I bit off next had better get done faster than that!  So the next project was the family bathroom floor. This would be done with cork tiles, because Mary likes cork, and also because Mary bought ‘a little extra’ when we did the kitchen floor in the Green house a few years ago. Enough extra, in fact, that we corked the floor in the Westford master bath with what we had on-hand, and STILL had enough left over to do the bathroom in the new house.

The cork is thin, and the cement-board underlayment was full of embossments. Plus, the thinset I’d used to tape the joints had left a low, but noticeable ‘wave’ on the surface. The last thing I wanted was to walk into the bathroom and see, in the glancing light, the “Hardie-Backer” trademark telescoping through the cork. So I decided a coat of floor leveller was in order.
What can go wrong? Well, had I read the directions, I’d have known that hard water, especially water with iron in it, messes up the setting time. And our well water is hard, with lots of irony So when the floor leveller started setting up just minutes after mixing, I knew something was wrong, but I worked fast and brute-forced it into place. Hey, compared to thin-set and half-cured grout, this was easy.

slateSliverWrongOffsetI spent a long time deciding where, exactly , to put the first tile. In the hallway, I wish I’d started the pattern about 1″ further south, because there are 3 very narrow pieces near the wall by the front door. In the bathroom, I did the math and, for once, got it right.






puttingGlueOnCorkCork goes on with contact cement, so I moved my tile saw benchtop into the Corner Office, and configured it for rolling out glue. Two coats per tile, plus 2 coats on the floor, and then – carefully – press it into position. It only took about a day to do the entire room, and it turned out fine.





Sorry I’ve got to cut this post short, as I’m having a lot of trouble with the web site response….

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Pants on fire!

Back when I worked for a living, I always had several pair of jeans going at once. I’d wear the newest ones to work, the comfy ones around the house,  and the frayed ones in the shop and garden. But it wasn’t always clear which ones were which, and I took to labelling the back of the ‘made in china’ tag with a sharpie as ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ … so I’d know which pair I was putting on in the morning. By the time we moved, ‘G’ were my fancy pants, ‘D’ were faded, comfortable and (usually) dirty, and A thru C were history.

Nowadays, I go through pants pretty fast and, between pulling wires, hauling wood, mixing mortar, plastering and what-have-you, my primary work pants were shot. (And since I’ve lost almost 30#, they were pretty baggy, too.)

I’d have thrown them out, but I was in the middle of painting at the time, and it made sense to get paint all over just one pair of pants instead of every pair I own, so I held on to them. It took awhile to get all the painting done, and the pants got more and more ragged, and I told Mary one morning that, if I ever finished painting, I was going to burn those pants.


I finished painting last week, so I burned my pants.

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Sanding plaster

Twas the night before new years. 
Single digits and blowing, 
The plow trucks were out straight.

I was working every spare moment on the westford house at the time and new years eve was no exception. It was about 9pm and I was sanding sheetrock plaster overhead, wearing a hat, a dust mask, and a trench coat I’d originally bought in college when I went trick or treating as a flasher.  And I was smothered in  white dust.

There was a knock on the door and I answered it.
It was a nubile maiden, dressed to party.  “Uh … hi. Is this where the party is,” she said?
I looked behind me, back at her, and shook my hat off, getting dust on her shoes. “Uh … no party here, I’m afraid. Can I help you out?”
“Uh! … No! Thank you! Bye!” And she ran back to her car.
“Happy new year,” I called, and shut the door.
‘Wow. That was cool!,’ I thought, and I went back to my sanding, using longer, more rhythmic strokes than before.

The door knocked again, and it was the same girl. Their car was stuck in a drift in the driveway, and can I help?  It must have taken balls to knock on my door that second time, but what are you going to do out in the middle of nowhere, before cell phones? You can’t push a stuck car in high heels.
So I grabbed a shovel and went out to the car, which had two more nervous, but festive girls in it, I dug it out, pointed the wheels and showed the driver where to drive, while I and the first girl pushed on the back end. It moved, gathered traction, and rolled up the driveway, with me and the girl watching it go.
Then the girl ran after it, waving her arms and yelling. It stopped and she got in, and I watched them drive off. “Happy new year,” I said to myself.

I stood in the wind for a bit, leaning on my shovel, and then I went back inside and sanded.

Sadly, nothing quite that exciting has happened at this house, but this true story came to mind last week as I was sanding plaster. Every day, I walk next door to work, unsure what, exactly, I’ll work on. There is plenty to do, but the sequencing is tricky. “I can’t do A until I’ve done B. I can’t do B until I’ve done C. …” And always, it comes down to: I can’t do the fun stuff until I’ve painted, and I can’t paint until the (damned) plaster is sanded.

So the plaster is sanded and the paint is almost done. Let the fun begin.

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2013 Begins

It’s 2013.
It’s 6 below and windy out.
The tarps in the ceiling are doing a better job of keeping the cold out than keeping the heat in, and we almost ran out of fuel oil. Mary had to sweet talk Bourne’s into a quick delivery. The woodstove is a little too full of glowing coals, and adding wood only suffocates the fire and smokes up the house, so when I returned from a walk outside, I kept my heavy coat on while I sat in my chair and read. Our microwave died and the next-best way to heat up leftovers and chocolate sauce is a lot of work. Mary was sick for 2 weeks and is still coughing.  Until yesterday, I seemed to be immune.

We were supposed to be moved by now, but slow seems to be the norm, and as long as there is forward progress, I suppose we should be happy. Here is a rundown of some of the progress we’ve made.

You may recall the fiasco with the propane tank. The gauge didn’t work – nor the replacement – and we were left with a half-full tank and no way to know how much gas we’d burned through. Mary took charge and shamed the dealer into fixing it, and the fix was to exhume the tank and put in a new one. It was a big mess, but the new one seems to work.

And then there was the problem with the well pump. It works fine, but since it services 2 houses, the State requires that it have 10 gpm flow rate, so it had to be replaced. I’ve always wondered how they get the pipe through the casing below the frost line and still be able to pull the pump to work on it. Turns out there is a cool gravity-cinched wedge coupling that the pump dangles from. So now I have (another) spare pump to play with if I ever get serious about doing work on the pond.

Once the siding went on, the last thing we wanted the builder to do was to put in a cement-board underlayment over the radiant slabs wherever we plan to put tile. This gives a reasonably smooth surface so the tiles won’t crack. It was interesting for me to watch, because I have never worked with cement board OR used thinset mortar.  Between the supplier running out of cement board and Les splitting his time between jobs, this dragged out for 2 solid weeks. The good news is that now the builder is more or less out of the picture, and I can do whatever I want.

And there’s plenty to do.
I started out by roughing out some cabinets for the kitchen. Nothing like seeing some plywood boxes against the walls to help Mary visualize what it’s really going to look like. I’m using the same plywood-box construction I used in Westford and the Green house, but since I am trying to keep the dust down in the basement, I hooked up Mary’s dust collector to the table saw and built myself a little sanding hut with a tarp hung from the joists, and evacuated the dusty air from it by running a spare duct to the collector. Very effective.

 I ran out of plywood, but got enough built to find and fix a few problems.

The heating system is fabulous. With radiant heat, all the surfaces in the house are warm, so even when I left 2 doors open on a cold day to purge the dust from the house, it was more like a cool breeze in a warm place than the catastrophic heat loss it would be in other houses.  That said, it’s also a pain in the butt. Not only did we have to put in cement board underlayment, but the entire surface had to be checked for bumps and planarized. I started off with a hammer and cold chisel, but quickly got wise and bought a wide chisel for my hammer drill and spent a long day taking off the high spots. Whew.

 The entry from the garage was downright dangerous, so I built a better platform.


Pretty soon, I’m going to have to start working on the wood for the Master bedroom floor, which we reclaimed from the upstairs of the Green house. Half of it was still stacked up in Chuck. I moved it into the basement to acclimate along with the rest of it. I hope we have enough.       

This batch of wood hadn’t been de-nailed or cleaned, and was still covered with a century worth of crud on 3 sides. It took a whole day to scrape them clean enough that I can run them thru the planer.  



And then there was some plumbing to do. For years, I’ve been accumulating an impressive collection of assorted copper fittings and I looked forward to using them up. Back in the ’80’s, Hilson’s Home Center was the best place to get building supplies on sundays, and I made many visits when I was working on my house in Winooski. More than a few of the fittings I used had Hilsons price tags on them. As it turned out, though, my collection of spare fittings was bigger when I got done than when I started.

Most of the plumbing I did was just adding threaded fittings to the pipes poking thru the sheetrock, but the master shower turned out to be quite the project. I wanted to test for leaks before I closed in the shower, and last week, I pressurized the house. No problems found.



So I went ahead and closed it in with a layer of PT plywood plus a layer of Hardiebacker. I had never worked with cement board before, but it’s a lot like sheetrock, and I’m no better than I ever was at getting my penetrations to line up centered in my holes. It turned out good, though, and by the time I got it done, I had tools and offcuts everywhere.


So we’re making steady progress, and I feel like I’m re-living the 80’s, but without the job or the learning curve.

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Holiday message.

It’s the holidays.

When I was a kid, painting walls with a roller, trying to make the paint in the pan go a little bit farther, I’d leave behind a lot of spots with no paint. Dad used to call them ‘holidays,’ as though I’d taken a bit of time off from painting.
How true.

The last time it was the holidays, we were painting and messing with trim and changing out doorknobs and light fixtures in Westford, getting ready to move. And pretty much the whole year since has been about starting over and re-building and transition. 
Does it seem like we’re making this difficult?
Perhaps. But starting from scratch is in my DNA, and we’ll (eventually) end up with something that would otherwise have been out of reach. A year out of my life seems a reasonable price for the basement shop I’ve got now. Not to mention the rest of the house and yard. 

For most people, their holiday message recaps their year in review. But if you’re reading this, you’ve probably already read a lot about the last year of my life, and you wonder about the next one. Basically, my goal/resolution is to NOT be ‘taking a little time off from painting’ the next time the holidays roll around. I want to reclaim my life and hobbies and be deeply involved in some crazy project.

Happy holidays. I’ve got some painting to do.

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