Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Yes, I’m at that point in the door project. I started to plane down the wood to add some height to the doors. I need 5 more inches. I didn’t have any of the big joists left with enough clear wood to get two 40 inch pieces. Instead I’m using two 2X4 pieces that I will glue together. I’m paying very close attention to wood selection so that the grain will look the same. If I do it right I’m hoping it won’t be noticeable.

This is of course more salvaged wood from the 1920s addition. The addition had a flat roof and the roof joists were all clear, 15-foot 2X4s. These 2X4s didn’t actually span 15-feet because there was a center wall. Still, they seem undersized. But the roof never sagged, so who am I to question the wisdom of a bunch of dead men.

The one thing I’m really concerned with is matching the new wood to the doors. In the past when I’ve glued up boards like this I’ve always had to do a lot more sanding than I liked. It was ok because I didn’t have to worry about matching an existing finish so I could sand away until everything was smooth and even. This time I don’t want to have to do any sanding after I attach the new wood to the doors. I don’t want to sand the existing wood on doors at all and go back to bare wood on them. I’m not sure how this is going to work.

In other bad news, I found out today that the doors are only 1.5-inches not 1.75-inches as I thought. I could swear that I measured them the first day I brought them home and they were 1.75-inches thick. Maybe I took off more shellac than I thought I did when I stripped them. Anyway, this could be a problem for the hardware. All the pocket doors I saw locally and the ones on Ebay were either 1.75-inches or 2-inches thick. The hardware is designed for those widths. I may have to go back to the edge pulls and that means my new $5.00 locksets may be of no use to me.

Man, I hope this doesn't come out looking like crap.

Monday, November 28, 2005

A Diamond In The Rough

I decided the $425 Pocket Door Locksets were just not in the budget at the moment. Not a real surprise to many of you, I’m sure. Frankly, even if I had the money, that seems a bit steep. With a little effort and a lot of time I’m sure I could get a nice set on Ebay for half that. Not only that, but this Friday I have to go to the stupid County Building and pay my stupid property taxes, so I really don’t have the money. I think they should start holding elections the day after property taxes are due. I have a feeling a lot fewer bond measures would pass.

So the $425 set is out. I started last week looking on Ebay and nothing grabbed my attention right off the bat, so last Saturday I made the rounds of the local shops to see what was in store. I did not have high hopes and that proved to be wise. In the 3+ years I was looking for the actual doors I only saw 3 sets of doors so there wasn’t any real hope of finding locks for them.

There are really only 4 shops in town that would carry something like this. My favorite place, Empire Furniture, where I got the doors, doesn’t deal in small hardware items so I didn’t even bother going there. I first went to my friends Chuck & Wendy’s store. There stuff is always very nice and always out of my budget, but they have given me a discount the rare times I have bought from them so what the hell. They had one set but it was from about 1910 or so and was not really suitable for my house. I need Eastlake or Aesthetics design.

The next 2 places I went had squat. The guy at the second shop even told me the locksets are hard to find in this area. It seems odd because there are so many Victorian homes in this area. Victorian homes had pocket doors. This means that either the homes all still have their pocket doors or the stories I hear of big fires of ginger bread and Victorian trim during the 50’s when many homes were Eisenhowered are true. They just torched it all and slapped on asbestos siding.

The third shop I went in to, which I forget the name because I rarely go in there, I asked the owner if he had any pocket door hardware and he asks, “Is this for new doors”. Uh, hello! I’m in an antique store! He said he didn’t have anything and suggested I go to San Francisco. That’s only an 8 hour drive one way. It’s funny how none of them suggest Ebay. I can’t imagine why.

The last place I went to is a place I call “The Junk Store”. Again, I forget the name of it, but I actually go in there fairly often. I’ve mentioned this place before. It is one big junk pile. Literally, without exaggeration, a third of the store belongs in the dump. There is a large section of the store that is completely inaccessible because the junk is just piled up. I’m surprised the fire marshal doesn’t shut him down.

In the back there is a row of all kinds of tools and machinery parts and some household hardware. There was a wooden box about 1X2 feet and about a foot and a half deep. It was filled with old mortise locks in various states of disintegration. From what I could see on top they are all for standard doors but I figured, what the hell, I’ll dig through it anyway.

About half way down I found two unmatched of pocket door locks. One was small and had a broken face plate, and the other was absolutely caked in paint. I continued to dig. I had locks all over the floor and on adjacent shelves. Towards the bottom I found what appeared to be the mate to the one caked in paint. It was the same size and also caked in the same amount of paint. I could see no detail to them so there was no telling what era they were. I thought about them for a few minutes and then decided not to buy them. I threw them back on top of the pile and walked out.

Today at work I started to think about them some more. I figured I could get them real cheap. I decided I would go in and offer him $10 – take it or leave it. I was not in the mood to haggle over something that I may not be able to use, may not work, and may not even be a matching set. I went by there after work and they were still sitting right where I left them. They were worse than I remembered. Five dollars was now my top price.

I took them up to the counter and told the owner I’d give him $5 for the set. I could tell he was trying to think of a positive spin to put on them to see if he could get a few extra bucks but it was a waste of time. Both of us knew it. He talked about how I could take them apart and clean them up and I just kept saying, “Five dollars”. That’s what I got them for.

The pictures below speak for themselves. They turned out to be late 19th century, Eastlake, nested pocket door locks. It took 2 and a half hours to strip the paint off, clean and oil the guts, and put them back together. They look very cool and they are a great match for the house. The bail handles pop out when you punch the little buttons on the front. I don’t have a key for them but that’s minor. I would have to say this was the best $5.00 I’ve spent in a long time. I need to polish up the brass a little and after that they should really look good.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Four Sides Down – Zero To Go

Eight rolls of paper towels, 4 packages of steel wool, and a gallon and a half of denatured alcohol later and the doors are stripped. Whew! As I suspected in yesterdays post, the first side I did that was in really, really bad shape was in fact also finished in red tinted shellac. It was just so bad I couldn’t tell. That is one of the reasons it came out so dark. I think the darkness in the wood was also the result of exposure.

The good thing is, though, I have 2 sets of matching sides. The two that were tinted red are a little darker, but they are a good match, and the other two sides that were not tinted look as they should and are also a good match. The plan is to put the tinted ones facing the foyer and the good ones facing the parlor. I will probably see the parlor side a lot more, and the parlor has better lighting.

The Parlor Side

The Foyer Side

For the Foyer Side, the one on the right is the very first door I did. The one on the left was just oiled before I took this picture so it may be hard to tell, but that first one is a little darker. Below is what I started with.

Is There A Door Under There

It may also be hard to tell in the picture, but the panels have some subtle burl grain in them. I just could not be more thrilled with them. The next part of the operation is to add 5-inches to the height. I took a better measurement of the width today and they appear to be dead-on for the pockets. This means I may not have to trim the width any. I had thought they were an inch too wide. Maybe I won’t be going to hell after all. Wouldn’t that be nice.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Three Down – One To Go

I finished the third side today on the pocket doors. This one took the longest mainly because the finish was the most intact, but also because it was tinted shellac and instead of just plain shellac. I tried something new that I thought was working at first but then I changed my mind.

One Pass With the Heat Gun

On the flat rails and stiles I could use the heat gun to get most of the shellac off and then just go over it with the denatured alcohol and steel wool. The panels have too much small detail close together and it is hard to get the scraper in there. I was just using the alcohol and steel wool to scrub it off. Kind of a slow process. I thought that maybe if I hit it with the heat gun and then scrubbed it might go quicker. The idea was that the heat gun would loosen the shellac a bit.

I thought it was working at first but after finishing one of the long panels I wasn’t so sure. I think there may be a magical period of time to hold the heat gun on the shellac and a magical period of time that the shellac is loosened and it is easier to scrap off. Hitting it right on proved to be difficult. If the heat gun stayed on too long it seemed to bake the shellac on. If I waited too long to start scrubbing after I hit it the heat gun it didn’t seem to work too well either. It seemed like if I did a 6-inch square spot with the heat gun for just the right amount of time and then scrubbed quickly it worked ok. Getting all that right was not easy. Then there was also the issue of working with a heat gun and alcohol at the same time. I could have explosive results if I’m not careful. I decided to drop the whole idea and go back to just the alcohol, steel wool, and elbow grease on the panels. It worked.

Finished Product

The Messy Aftermath

The one on the left now has both sides scrapped. Notice how it is kind of dark just like the one on the right. The one on the right is the one I had problems with because of moister darkening the wood – or so I thought. I now think that both of these sides had the tinted shellac. The finish was in such bad shape I couldn’t tell at that point that it used to be tinted. If that is true then this last side I need to do should come out lighter and match the other door. Below is the last side to do. I think this one will go very quickly because the finish is in really bad shape. It does not look like tinted shellac either. Yippee!

Friday, November 25, 2005

The Good News Is…

…The other side of the doors are tinted shellac and not paint. The bad news is, the other side of the doors is tinted shellac and not plain shellac. It takes a lot more effort to get through the tinted shellac than just the plain stuff. At first I thought maybe it was paint over shellac but it is definitely tinted shellac because I can get through it with just alcohol. Also, you can tell the way it comes off with the heat gun - the smell and texture - that it is shellac and not paint.

I started with the heat gun to get the flat rails and stiles. This gets just about everything and then I go over it with the alcohol and steel wool. Even after one pass with #2 steel wool you can still see a sheen of shellac and the wood is a little darker than it should be. I will need to go over it again

The panels have their own issues. They pretty much have to be done completely with alcohol and steel wool because it is very hard to scrap the detail by using the heat gun. I go through a lot of paper towels and steel wool but it is coming off. Now that I think about it, I might try heating it with the heat gun and then scraping with the steel wool and alcohol. Even with out scraping, the heat gun sort of brings it off the surface and makes the shellac brittle.

I’m working kind of slow and taking a lot of breaks because I’m sort of not really into it today. Even so, I should be able to get one side done today. That is, if I don’t run out of paper towels - again! I'll post some pics tomorrow.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

A Petch House Tradition

Just as I do every year here at The Petch House I wake up early and slave away in the kitchen. This year I prepared and elaborate Friskies Buffet of Turkey & Cheese for the 2 piglets. Oh, the endless seconds it takes to open those cans and dish out the food.

Do they appreciate the effort it takes? No, I don’t think so, but all I need is to see the backs of their furry little heads as they inhale the bounty I’ve prepared. That’s all the thanks I need.

Now it’s off to friends to partake in my own Thanksgiving Dinner. Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A Mistake or The Work of a Master

Several months ago I wrote some blog entries concerning my subtle mistakes and also about mistakes I found on original millwork in the house. I came to the conclusion that if you stared at just about anything long enough you could find a problem with it. The solution is to not look too hard at something, or if you do and you find mistakes, don’t let it drive you nuts. It’s OK to sweat the details, but if it leads to cold sweats in the middle of the night you’re taking the whole thing too serious.

Having said all that, I’ve found some intersting “mistakes” on my new 120 year old pocket doors. Two mistakes to be exact. One mistake on each door in the same exact place. This begs the question: Are they mistakes or were they done on purpose.

The doors are really made very well. They are still pretty much square. The joints where all the rails and stiles meet are still tight. The miters of all the millwork around each panel are still crisp. After having made a small 2 panel door I can really appreciate the craftsmanship that went in to making these 2 large 9 panel doors.

Freshly Oiled Doors

As you can see in the picture above each door has 3 rows of 3 raised panels. The center panel in the middle row of each door has a flaw at the bottom of the raised portion. This flaw is only on one side of each door. In all 32 raises on the panels this flaw shows up on just two and they are in the same exact spot on each door. You can see the flaws in the pictures below.

Flaw One

Flaw Two

All Other Panels

After I found these 2 identical mistakes I started scouring the doors for more. There aren’t any. I’ mean, not every centimeter of every raised panel is 100% perfect, but even after careful study it is hard to find even minor mistakes. The mistakes at the bottom of the 2 center panels is glaring. Not only that, but these are mistakes that could easily have been fixed had they caught them before the doors were assembled. You can’t un-cut wood, but you can re-cut. There is no reason why they couldn’t have run these ends again and trimmed off that last little bit and straightened out that panel.

So why didn’t they? Here’s a few possibilities.

1)They didn’t catch the mistake on the first door so they decided to make them match.
2)It is a “signature” of the door maker.
3)It has something to do with the location or owner of the doors.

As for #3. I’ve come to the conclusion that these doors came from some public space as opposed to a home. I think they were the entrance to a hall or meeting place. There really aren’t any 20,000 sq ft Mansions in this area, and even in a larger size home for this area (6 or 7,000 sq ft) furniture would probably get in the way of big swinging doors like these. This is the reason for pocket doors. You can have impressive openings in modest homes and still be able to close them off. Perhaps this little dip in the center panels plays off some element in the logo of the building they were in or has something to do with the organization or group that used the space. A long shot, I know, but it is very curious.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Two Down, Two To Go…Sort Of

I stripped the shellac on the second side yesterday. It came out better than the first one did, but more importantly it came out different. This is not a good thing. The doors should match. If you recall, the doors were stored in a barn with one of the doors face up, stacked on top of the other. The face up side of the top door really took a beating. It was caked with dirt and grime and the shellac pretty much became one with the dirt.

After I stripped it I thought it looked kind of dark and after I stripped the other one it was obvious that it was darker. I’ve stripped acres of redwood and this door just didn’t have the rosy red glow I’m accustom to seeing. Once I got the other door stripped of shellac it was obvious there was a problem. I posted a question about the problem over at The Old House Web and a few responses came back. StuccoHouse suggested that moister had gotten in the wood and had darkened it. Others suggested there was still more shellac on it. I think both were right.

When I stripped the first door – the bad one caked with dirt – I used #2 steel wool to get the dirt and most of the shellac off. I then went over it with denatured alcohol and #000 steel wool. On the other door, because the shellac was mostly intact, I started with my trusty heat gun and then finished up with #1 steel wool and alcohol. The #000 just wasn’t cutting it with the fresher shellac. The picture below is what I had after one pass on each door. You can see how the one on the right is much darker.

Then today I went back over it with #1 steel wool and alcohol. I did get off a lot more shellac. I got pretty much all of it off. You can tell that you have got most everything because the alcohol is just a light tan when you wipe it off with the paper towels. The wood is still too dark. I’ve never encountered redwood that looked like this after stripping off shellac. If anything it should be lighter not darker than the other door. When you go too far with stripping the wood gets very light. Below is what the doors look like right now. The one on the right is the one I went over again today.

So the question is where do I go from here. I’m not sure how far this darkness extends in to the wood. I’m also not sure how noticeable it will be when the new shellac is on. I think it will be noticeable, but the question is: How Noticeable. One option is to start sanding, but as I said, I’m not sure how deep it is. I would more than likely do more harm than good if I tried to sand away the problem.

The plan now is to let the doors sit over night and make sure all the alcohol has evaporated. I’ll then see if I can bring the wood back to life with a little BLO and turpentine. Another, but even more drastic option, would be to try and stain the other door to match the darker one. I don’t like that idea at all. We’ll see.

Monday, November 21, 2005

This Could Be The One

I stumbled upon a type of Pocket Door Lockset that would solve my problems and require very little modification to the doors. I was scouring the web for locksets and I found the set pictured below at Historic House Parts. Actually, the set in the picture sold and the site says they have another one that is missing the striker, so it won’t work, but the style is right.

Notice how only one side has a mortised lockset and the other side is just the striker. This would be perfect. Another intersting thing about it is that two of the pulls have no back to them. The locking mechanism is part of the lockset housing. When it is mounted the pulls with the open backs give access to the lever that locks and unlocks the doors. There are small finger holes on the lock face for you to pull the doors out of the wall. Very clever.

I found another identical set at Ed Donaldson Hardware but they were also sold. Grrrr! Historic House Parts has a Searching Service for a fee. I might use it to have them search their extensive inventory for another set.

Here is a picture of the one that sold over at Ed Donaldson. You can see how the locking mechanism is on the lock case. This is accessed by the pulls with no backing on them

I just went back to House of Antique Hardware to drool some more and I saw the set below. I must have overlooked it before. They want $425 for it. Gulp!

What to do. What - to - do.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Hardware Dilemma

Even though I’m probably a few weeks away from being ready to hang my ultra-cool, more-spectacular-than-you-could-possibly-imagine pocket doors I need to start looking for hardware like yesterday. Because the doors were originally double doors and not pocket doors I’m going to have to modify them to except pocket door hardware. To do this I’m going to have to break one of my own Cardinal Rules Of Old House RestorationNever Cut Old Wood – but rules are made to be broken. This is an extreme case so I won’t be losing sleep over it. Well, not a lot of sleep anyway. Of course, I need the hardware before I can make any modifications. I can’t just begin to blindly cut away at wood and then hope something fits. No, first I get the hardware, then I cut the wood, then I go straight to hell for cutting in to the doors. That’s the plan.

As they exist now one door has a mortise for a large lockset. There is evidence that it had a Eastlake style plate attached to both sides. The existing lockset mortise can be reused. I will need to make a mortise for my currently non-existing pocket door pulls. The pulls, of course, need to be recessed into the door so they are out of the way when the door slides back into the pocket. I want to get pulls large enough to cover the existing marks from the old plates that used to be attached to the doors.

The other door is another store all together. It has never had a mortise for a lockset because it was the stationary door. On double doors only one door has a door knob and lockset. The other door acts as the door jamb and has only the catch for the lockset. This door has top and bottom bolts that keep it secure. When the stationary door needs to be opened you release the bolts at the top and the bottom and swing it open. I was lucky in that the bolts on my ultra-hip pocket doors were surface mounted and not mortised in. Unscrew 8 tiny screws and they will be history. This door has only a shallow mortise for the catch.

I want to try and avoid having to do a full mortise on the stationery door. I’ve done two full mortises and it is a lot of work. The way I can get around this is to get what are called “edge pulls”. Edge pulls look just like standard pocket door locksets but there is no locking mechanism so they are much smaller and require only a shallow mortise of about 2 or 3-inches at the most instead of the full mortise of maybe 5 or 6-inches. You see them come up on Ebay from time to time but the full mortise locksets are much more common.

I found the pair pictured below at Charleston Hardware. They are an 1880s reproduction of a pair of nested edge pulls. I like them a lot and they on-sale right now for only $45 for the set. The problem with them is that they are a tad short. The existing mortise on my door is for a lockset with a 6-inch face. This edge pulls are only about 4.5-inches. It is in the ballpark, and could be used in a pinch, but a 6-inch face would be ideal. I’m am left with a Bird-In-The-Hand dilemma. I could get these edge pulls now, or wait and hope I find something better. The edge pulls at Charleston Hardware aren’t going anyplace, and their site says they have 47 pairs available.

This one is from Kilian Hardware and is the perfect size, but it lacks the panache of the Charleston Hardware one.

The plan at this point is to continue to strip the doors and while simultaneously continue the search for The Perfect Lockset. When I feel I’m a week out from having to mount the hardware, and if it looks like I won’t be able to get what I want, I will buy the Charleston Hardware edge pulls and do what it takes to get them to work. Above all else it can't look like a hack job.

You can just cut the tension with a knife, can’t you?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

More Dirt Than Finish

As I said in an earlier post, these doors were in a barn for who knows how long. They were stacked in the rafters with one door on top of the other and the one on top took the brunt of the abuse. Year after year dust settled and then got moist and then more settled, and so on. The top door was just caked in dirt, and what was left of the finish was about in as bad a shape as it gets. This is the door I decided to start with and then I will try and get the other to look like it.

This Is The Same Panel
Before & After

Stripping it was actually pretty easy because the shellac that was under the dirt was so dry and crumbly I got most of the dirt and shellac off with just #2 steel wool and no alcohol or strippers. After vacuuming I then went over it again with more steel wool and denatured alcohol.

Here Is The Whole Door
Before & After

One side down, three to go. I don’t think the others will go this quickly. Two of the sides are painted with a single coat of deep red paint. I don’t think there is shellac under it so I’m not sure if I will be able to get back to bare wood.

Friday, November 18, 2005

First Look

I’m going to start on the pocket doors restoration in earnest tomorrow. This has become a top priority because when I get the pocket doors up I can close off the parlors and run the one and only heater in the house. Right now when I run it I can’t feel a thing unless I run it for 6 or 7 hours straight. Even then the room goes from being really, really cold to just cold. When the doors are up I can keep more of the heat in the room.

Today I set up the work area and got everything ready. There is so little finish left on these doors I’m going to start with just steel wool and denatured alcohol. I’ve started with the one door that was face up in the barn. It has more dirt on it than finish. In some places the dirt is about 1/4-inch thick and caked on. Just to see what it was like under the dirt I went over a small section with just steel wool and no alcohol. If the rest looks like this these are going to be just fantastic.

Waterfall Grain?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

This Is Huge

This is colossal. This is Big. Really Big. It is the Super Bowl and The World Series rolled in to one. A three year search has finally come to an end. I now am the proud owner of a pair of antique, redwood, 9-panel Victorian Pocket Doors. And more importantly they are doors that fit my opening – well, almost fit. More on that later.

For people who live East of the Rockies you could probably throw a rock and hit two sets of Pocket Doors for your home. I see them on Ebay all the time. For every one Victorian Home they built in California they must have built 50 of them back East. Even though none of the Ebay doors I’ve seen are the right size, at least there is something – anything – available to look at. Some things can be easy to come by here but not pocket doors, and especially not redwood pocket doors. And even more especially, not redwood pocket doors in original condition with an original finish that is hanging on by it’s finger nails (Read: Easy to refinish because they’re not coated in 50 layers of paint).

Shortly after I bought my home I realized that the wall separating the front parlor from the foyer was nearly 12-inches thick but the door was only a 32-inch door. The door was way to small for the space and the wall was way to thick for the door. Obviously something had changed. When I opened the wall I found that the space used to be much bigger and there used to be pocket doors. The track and rollers were still there but the doors were long gone. The hunt was on.

For more than 3 years I’ve been looking for doors that would fit the 76X96-inch opening. That is roughly 7-feet wide by 8-feet tall. I would need some big doors to fill that space. As some readers may recall I’ve talked about making weekly trips to local salvage and antique stores that carry doors. I’m always on the lookout for standard sized doors but replacement pocket doors would be the Holy Grail of door finds.

The Butchered Opening

Not only do I regularly hunt locally but I have standing searches at 2 larger salvage yards in the bay area. If your looking for something specific you tell them what it is and they put the request on file and contact you when something comes in. The woman at Omega Salvage took my request and then politely told me that the odds of me finding the right doors were very slim. I told her I realized that but I had nothing to loose by looking.

Locally, in the last 3 years I have seen exactly 3 sets of pocket doors for sale. All were woefully undersized and completely the wrong style. There is just nothing in this area. I’ve always had this dream that there were a pair of doors in the rafters of someone’s barn just waiting to be found. In reality I realized I would probably need to have them custom made or even attempt to make them myself if I ever wanted pocket doors again. Reframing the wall to match a smaller pair of doors is out of the question.

So last Sunday I made my regular trip down to Empire Furniture. Actually I had missed going there the week before because it was raining I was either working on the kitchen cabinets or watching football, or both. I went in a and had my regular chat with the charming and beautiful Rose and then began to mosey around the store. I eventually made my way up to the 3rd floor where the doors are. As I got up to the top of the stairs a small stained glass window caught my eye and I started to check it out. Then out of the corner of my eye I noticed something massive and brown leaning in front of the door rack. I nearly dropped the window and almost knocked over a young couple as I hurried towards the doors.

My first impression was they were stunning. The lighting is poor up on the 3rd floor. In fact there is no lighting except for a wall of windows at the far end of the building. Empire Furniture is in a late 19th century commercial building designed in High Victorian style but the building is in desperate need of repair. I would be willing to bet there is no electricity on the 3rd floor at all. Anyway, the lighting is poor, to say the least. The owner prices things with small white stickers that are 1.5-inches wide and a half inch tall. There were two stickers at the top of one of the doors. One was the price “$295 – Firm”, the deal of the century, and the other was a “hold” sticker – Choke! I just about shit. I had missed one week coming down here and “My” doors were now on hold for somebody else!!! I stretched and squinted to read the sticker and I was able to make out, “Hold Greg Pocket Doors”. That’s Me! I’m Greg, or at least I am A Greg.

I bolted down the stairs in search of Rose. I was frantic. When I found her in the back of the store I grabbed her by the shoulders and began to shaker back and forth while screamed, “Am I Greg? AM I GREG!?!?!” Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. That is what I wanted to do but instead I asked her as calmly as was possible at the time if she new anything about the pocket doors that were upstairs. She looked at me and asked, “What are pocket doors”. Rose is charming and beautiful but she would not be working in this store if her mother hadn’t been the previous owner.

I explained to her what pocket doors where and she immediately knew what I was talking about. Rose only works on the weekends and so she had no idea when the doors came in or how long they had been there. She attempted to contact Sheri, the owner, at home but had no luck. I didn’t say anything to Rose about the Hold Sticker and I told her I wanted to put a $50 deposit on the doors. It sounds crazy but I somehow knew they were for me.

The next day on Monday I went back down to Empire Furniture and as I walked up Sheri was standing out front pricing some things. The store is always packed stuff and items always seem flow out on to the sidewalk. Sheri owns a huge 1888 Victorian 4 houses down from me and we’ve known each other for 4 or 5 years. As I walked up Sheri saw me and said, with a big smile, “I guess you saw your doors upstairs.” She was still 8-feet away from me but I think my sigh was audible from that distance. The doors were for me. I am Greg.

It turns out a woman in Ferndale had called Sheri earlier in the week to see if she was interested in buying some old furniture. As Sheri tells the story, after they agreed on a price for the few pieces of furniture the woman says something like, “Oh, and I have these big old doors out in the barn. Do you think you’d be interested”. With her best poker face Sheri said she’d be willing to take a look at them. She told me as soon as she saw the doors she thought of me. Sheri knows that my weekly visits to her store are in search of doors. I assumed Sheri must have low-balled the woman on the price and then passed the savings on to me.

The doors have 9 vertical panels that are raised on both sides. There is additional mill work around each panel. They are in good shape considering they’ve been in a barn for who knows how long. You can see how they were stacked in the rafters and the side of the one door that was face up has almost no finish on it of any kind. It is pretty much bare redwood. I think they have been there for a very long time. One side of both doors is shellacked and the other two sides have either one thin coat of paint or tinted shellac.

Technically they are not pocket doors. They are actually a very large pair of French Doors. Do they need to have glass to be French Doors? Maybe they are just double doors. They are about 2-inches too wide but that is fine because I can trim off the place where they mortised in the hinges. They are also, unfortunately, about 5-inches too short. This is not the end of the world, though. I can add that to the top and 2 or 3 inches will not be visible at the top once the opening is trimmed out. Once I get a dark finish and shellac it should be fine. They have a few dings here and there, but so does just about everything else in the house so that should be fine too. Really, all of the problems are very minor. My guess is that these were large doors in a public space or an Odd Fellows Hall or something like that. It would have to have been a really big room to make way for large swing doors like these. Regardless, of where they came from they are very cool.

To make a good thing even better, On Monday when I told Sheri I would be pick up the doors on Thursday she said some thing like, “I’m so glad they are going to work out for you. I know you’ve been looking for pocket doors for a long time, and besides I priced these just for you.” She could have easily gotten $600 to $1000 for the pair but she knows I’m broke and working like a mad man on my house so she gave me a great deal on them. It pays to build relationships with people.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

My Fantasy

So last week when I was finishing up the cabinets I was down on the floor mortising the hinges for the last 2 cabinet doors. It is kind of tedious work and the mind wanders. I started thinking about a future cabinet building project. I want to rebuild the cabinets that separated the Dining Room from the Butler’s Pantry. These were floor to ceiling, double sided cabinets. They had cabinet doors on both Dining Room and Butler’s Pantry side and the drawers could be pulled open from both sides. They were ruthlessly ripped out some time in the 1920s.

On the Butler’s Pantry side the cabinet doors and drawers would have been somewhat plain. The cabinets doors would be solid wood panel doors. On the Dining Room side the cabinet doors would be glass or maybe the diamond leaded glass so you could display your fine china to all the important guest you would want to impress. All in all, on the Dining Room side they would have been much nicer, with more detail, and little bit fancier looking. The idea is that you clean and put away dishes on the Butler’s Pantry side and they are on display on the Dining Room side.

Despite the fact that the kitchen cabinets came out good I am still very much a novice cabinet builder. The one thing that saved my butt with the kitchen cabinets was that they were painted. I could caulk and fill as needed prior to painting to help hind any faux pas I may have made during construction. With the Butler’s Pantry cabinets the Dining Room side will be clear finished, wood grained cabinets. It will be hard to hide my mistakes. So I started to think, wouldn’t it be nice to have some help, and then I began to fantasize about the ultimate helper. Here’s how it went.

Ring. Ring. (The telephone rings)

Greg: Hello.

Norm: Hi, may I speak to Greg from The Petch House

Greg: This is Greg

Norm: Hi Greg. This is Norm Abram from The New Yankee Workshop.

Greg: Yea, right! Who is this, Phil? Chuck, is that you?

Norm: No Greg, it’s really me. This is Norm and I’m calling from The New Yankee Workshop. One of the producers of the show stumbled on your blog and we’ve all become big fans.

Greg: Ok, I’m about hang up unless you tell me who you really are.

Norm: No, Greg, it’s really me, I swear.

Greg: Hmmm, you know, come to think of it, none of my friends here know about my blog, and it really does sound like you. Wow! This is so cool. Norm Abram is calling me at home.

Norm: Yes, it really is me. Now listen, like I said, a lot of us here have become big fans of your blog. We love the cabinets you built in the kitchen.

Greg: Oh, boy, Norm that’s so nice of you to say that, but don’t get too good a look at them. There are a lot of little mistakes that would make you crazy.

Norm: Hey, come one, don’t cut yourself short. My first cabinets didn’t look near as good (Now you know this is a fantasy). Besides look at those crappy tools you have. I mean, come on buddy, don’t be so cheap all the time.

Greg: I know, I know. I buy I lot of crap, but you gotta understand I’m on a shoestring budget here. I have this massive home I’m trying to restore here all by myself and I have no money. I have to cut corners every place I can.

Norm: I know. Like I said, I’ve been following your blog, but this is sort of the reason why I called. We’ve been talking for years about taking The New Yankee Workshop on the road. Sure there are plenty of places here on the East Coast we could go but we want to come out there and help you with a project (Fantasy). So what do you say?

Greg: Oh my God! That is so cool! Are you serious?

Norm: Yes, I’m totally serious. We read about your missing Butler’s Pantry cabinets and we want to help you rebuild them. We’ll do the whole thing out of salvaged old-growth redwood. We’ll make the finest High Victorian Cabinets that town has ever seen. They’ll be fit for the…what’s that place called…The Carman Mansion…

Greg: You mean The Carson Mansion…

Norm: Yea, that’s the place, The Carson Mansion. So what do you say? Do you want to build some cabinets?

Greg: Oh man, do I ever. This is so fucking cool! Ooops! Excuse me.

Norm: That’s ok. You should hear Tommy curse.

Greg: But, there is one big problem.

Norm: What’s that?

Greg: Well, it’s my crappy tools. We can’t build first class cabinets with my crappy tools, and I can’t imagine you would want to dismantle The New Yankee Workshop and haul it across the country.

Norm: Well, that’s the best part. We’ve contacted a wealthy individual that loves your use of salvage and used materials and this person has agreed to donate a complete set of top-of-the-line tools for the project. The first thing we’ll do when we get there is set you up a first-class woodshop for you. It’s going to be great. So what do you say?

Greg: Oh, man, are you kidding. I’m totally down with it. You know, it’s really strange that you should call about this.

Norm: Oh yea, why’s that?

Greg: Well, last week when I was finishing up the cabinets in the kitchen I was down on the floor mortising the hinges for the last 2 cabinet doors. It is kind of tedious work and the mind wanders.

Norm: Tell me about it.

Greg: Right, so any way, I started thinking about rebuilding the Butler’s Pantry cabinets and I started to think, wouldn’t it be nice to have some help and then I began to fantasize about the ultimate helper.

Norm: Well, tell me about it.

Greg: Here’s how it went.

Ring. Ring. (The telephone rings)

Greg: Hello.

Norm: Hi, may I speak to Greg from The Petch House

Greg: This is Greg

Norm: Hi Greg. This is Norm Abram from The New Yankee Workshop.

Greg: Yea, right! Who is this, Phil? Chuck, is that you?

Norm: No Greg, it’s really me. This is Norm and I’m calling from The New Yankee Workshop. One of the producers of the show stumbled …...Wait, haven’t I done this before?

Greg: Yea, I think maybe we have. I think we’re stuck in some sort of Causality Loop.

Norm: A c-a-u-s-a-l-i-t-y l-o-o-p?

Greg: Yes a Causality Loop. It’s a theoretical phenomenon, which is said to occur when a chain of cause-effect events is circular. I’m not sure how we’ll get out of it.

Norm: I have a hammer.

Greg: No, that’s not going to do us any good here. Do you know anything about Quantum Mechanics or Spatial Distortions?

Norm: I have a hammer.

Greg: Yea, look Norm, the stupid hammer isn’t going to do us any good here.

Norm: I have a hammer.

Greg: So, is that like all you can say?

Norm: I have a hammer.

Greg: Holy crap! Are you stuck in your own Causality Loop.

Norm: No, I just like to say that. I have a hammer.

Greg: Yea…uh…why don’t you just sit tight and I’ll try and get us out of this. What we need is a massive explosion to break the cycle of the Causality Loop. Do you happen to have a Tri-Cobalt Explosive device.

Norm: I have a hammer.

Greg: Al right, just go to hell Norm. I’ll do this myself. Ok….let me just…. No wait…there I’ve got it. Are you ready Norm?

Norm: I have a hammer.


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Closet Closet Cleaner

I’ve decided to wait a couple of days before I start on any of the doors for the kitchen. It will be nice to just take a break for a few days. Besides, I have sneaking suspicion that in a few days a new project will take precedence over the kitchen doors. What I do need to do, though is clean out the closet in the kitchen that is under the back stairs. This became a depository for non-kitchen things when I first moved in and most are still there.

It is an odd assortment of junk in there. You know how it is when you first move in to a house and you are sort of guessing that one room will be your bedroom and another will be the living room, and so on. Well, the rooms in this house were so ill-defined it was hard to figure out exactly where to put stuff. The appraiser called it a 9 bedroom home because he wasn’t sure what all the rooms were. Any room that didn’t look like a kitchen, bath or living room he called a bedroom.

As I was moving stuff in there were a few boxes of things that had no real home and so they ended up in one of 2 closets under the front and back stairs. There boxes of books and knick-knacks. There is a box with a few cameras and binoculars. There is a box of photos. Stuff like that. All of them have some sort of home now so it is just a matter of putting them in their new home. The hardest one to get rid of is going to be a box of 80s porno magazines. They’re not mine, I swear, and if they were I wouldn’t be telling you about it. What happened was this.

Behind my house is the 1920s Mission Revival garage building. It has 2 apartments upstairs and 6 1-car garages downstairs. When I bought the property 5 of the garages were rented out. One of the renters never paid me rent and I could not get a hold of them. The rent was $50 a month and it was really more of a hassle to try and locate the person and get the $50 than it was to deal with what ever was in there and try and kick them out. I kept hoping the problem would somehow resolve itself but eventually push came to shove and I had to deal with it. At the time I cut the lock they were about a year and a half behind in rent and I was pretty sure I would never hear from them again so I cut I did.

The garages were built for Model Ts so it is only about 10-feet wide and goes back maybe 16-feet. I opened the doors and it was packed with junk. And I do mean packed with junk. It was filled floor to ceiling, wall to wall with what looked like construction debris. I was beginning to see why they stopped paying rent. I spent a few hours that first day just pulling out some stuff and trying to find any kind of name or address. A lot of the stuff in there was marked with names of stores in the local mall. Boxes of wiring and parts of fixtures labeled “Old Navy”. A part of some broken display labeled “Kay’s Jewelers”. There was also 2 life sized, sort of 3D Victoria’s Secret posters. Remember the thick plastic cards with an image and as you moved the angle that you viewed it the image would move? That is what these were except they were scantly clad models and has you moved pass the poster the model moved as well. They were each about 3X6-feet. They were pretty cool and I sold one on Ebay for $250. Anyway on the back of one was a message that said, “Hold for Jim Smith” (made up the name for the purpose of the blog). Anyway, I had a name.

I locked the shed back up and started trying to find Jim Smith. I found one in the phone book and called. It was Jim’s father. Apparently Jim Jr. was in trouble with the law and was on the run. Jim Sr. was not to thrilled with his son and said he wanted nothing to do with the junk. Great, I was really hoping someone would want to deal with this. At this point I didn’t even care about the back rent I just wanted it gone. A few hours later I got a call from Jim’s sister. She said she knew where Jim was and asked me if I could wait a few days while she tried to get a hold of him. I had nothing to lose so I said OK.

The next day Jim called me. He was asking a lot of questions about the stuff and it sort of sounded like he didn’t really know what was in the garage. He did say he used to be a maintenance guy at the mall but I think I may have lead him on. He finally asked me where the garage was and I started to get suspicious. He tried to convince me that his Ex-Wife had put all of his stuff in the garage when they separated and stopped paying rent when he went on the run. I really didn’t want some low-life with the cops after him coming to my house so I made a deal with him. I said if you want your stuff you need to pay me $500 back rent plus a $500 deposit. He could mail it to my PO Box. After that I’ll tell you where the garage is and you will have one week to empty the garage. If the garage is empty after the week you’ll get your deposit back otherwise I’ll haul it to the dump and take the cost out of the deposit. I never heard from Jim again.

After about a week I started digging in the garage again. It was just so much junk. I eventually threw about half of it away and then had the Mother of all Garage sales for the rest. You know what they say, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. I actually made some good money of the garage sale and with the EBay Victoria’s Secret poster sale I made back a lot of the lost rent money.

In the very center of the garage was a pallet with neatly stack boxes of very personal belongings. There were school transcripts, and bank records, and several boxes of books. There were also boxes of little trinkets one would collect while on vacation. This person had been to Japan, Hong Kong, and Mexico. The latest bank statement was over 10 years old and the address was in San Francisco. I tried to contact the person with no luck. School transcripts and bank records went to the dump and the vacation items I sold at the garage sale.

The last of the items to get rid of were the 6 boxes of books. There was nothing too spectacular from what I could tell but I didn’t go through all of the boxes. I thought I might be able to get a better price at the used book store I frequent than at the garage sale so I held on to them. A few days after the garage sale I loaded them all up in the back of the truck and was just about to drive down to the book store. I then got the feeling that I should go through the boxes before I take them down. You just never know what is at the bottom of a box. There could be something of value. So I’m out in front of my house in the back of my pick up and I started to go through the boxes. Wouldn’t you know it, in one of the boxes under an innocent layer of paperbacks was a collection of 20 or 30 porno magazines. Most are Penthouse and Playboy from the early 80s. Lots of big hair and pastels. Others I’ve never even heard of before and a few were Japanese. I was so glad I looked in there. Could you imagine if I hadn’t found them and the woman down at the book store had. I would have never been able to show my face in there again. The whole thing could have been very embarrassing.

So now I really need to get rid of them. Maybe I can throw a few away every week along with the other garbage. I really wouldn't want my tenants to find several porno mags in the garbage every week for months on end, though. I could also make a dump run and make sure they aren’t going to go flying around as I throw them in the pile. This is a small town. Could you imagine if I threw the box in the dump and all the porno went flying. You never know who you’re going to run in to at the dump. What ever I do with them it is time for them to be removed from the kitchen closet - ASAP. I eat in that room now!

Besides, they’re so 80s!

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Big Picture

I am finally done with the cabinets. I never thought I would write that. I celebrated yesterday by eating three real meals prepared at home and now it’s time to move on. The kitchen needs 2 things done to it and it will be a finished project. I need to hang 3 doors and put up a tin ceiling.

The 3 doors are a bigger job than they sound because none of them are in hanging shape right now. They need paint stripped and hinge screw holes fixed. It may take as long as 2 or 3 weeks to get them done, which in real time means 3 or 4 weeks.

The tin ceiling is still up in the air. I priced it more than 2 years ago and I think the estimate was just under $1000 for the material. I’m not sure if that included shipping. I still haven’t decided if I can or want to spend that kind on money right now. I have a few weeks to think about it while I’m working on the doors.

Yesterday I made a great, great find that I will talk about more in a few days. It is a very big deal and I’m really excited about. That is the reason I’m mentioning now. I don’t want to go in to any more details until the item in question is in my hot little hands.

Also, to finish up some business about the dishwasher in the cabinet. There was some concern about moisture and I’m happy to report that it does not seem like it will be an issue. The only time the DW lets off steam is during the drying cycle. There is a small vent on the front that is about 1X4-inches. There is a gap of about 2 inches where this steam could get up underneath the counter.

It seems there is some dynamic of air flow that prevents the steam from getting up in there. The dead air in the space above the DW and below the counter does not let the steam in. Instead the steam is forced out the few inches until it can make it’s way over the front of the counter and up in to the air. I’ve run two loads now and both times the underside of the cabinet just above the vent is dry as a bone. I do have to make sure I leave the door open while it is running, but it is not in the way at all so it is a non-issue.

And now for the final picture of the cabinets. I’ve included a Big Picture, which is a rare treat for my blog. If you click on the small picture below it will load a bigger version of the same thing.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Three Squares

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Occupying Space

Now that I have what is for all intent and purpose a completed kitchen it is time to start using it as a kitchen. If the truth be told it has been more than 3 years since I’ve had a real kitchen that I want to use. When I bought this house over 3 years ago what is now the kitchen was a series of small rooms and closets. There were 5 distinct areas that were divided by partitions. There was a bathroom, closet, Murphy Bed alcove, a kitchen, and a small area of the room had been opened to the back porch. This was all done in the teens and 20s when the house was cut-up into apartments. The “kitchen” part was a kitchen in name only. It really could not function as a kitchen because besides being filthy and disgusting it had no hot water, no stove, and no lighting. However, despite all this, I was determined to turn these 5 areas back in to the original 1895 kitchen that it once was. The plan has always been to put it back the way it was meant to be. It has been a long journey.

The house had 4 “kitchens” when I first bought it. The only one that could be considered a functioning kitchen was in a 1920s addition to the house. This kitchen was 9X14 and was also pretty filthy and disgusting. The plumbing was bad, the electrical was questionable, it was tiny, and it smelled bad. The room was really not conducive to sanitary food preparation. I just made the decision that I was not going to try and cook regular meals in there. I would make sandwiches and cook the occasional simple entrée, but mostly it was used for heating frozen dinners and making coffee.

In some ways it worked out well. Because the kitchen (and the bath) were both in the 1920s addition I could use them as a kitchen and bath while I rewired and re-plumbed the original kitchen and bath (and the whole house, for that matter). Once the rest of the house had all new plumbing and wiring in it I cut the main services (gas, electric, and water) off in the addition and brought everything in the main house on-line with all new wire and pipe. It was an incredible amount of work but it really worked out well. I then removed the addition and the house is now back to the way it was in 1895. For the first time since about 1925 the house is using the original kitchen and bath and all the rooms pretty much have the form they had when the house was built.

So now as I write I have a completed kitchen and bath and the rest of the house looks like hell. That’s OK, though. Those two rooms are the most complex and expensive to do so I really feel I’ve turned a corner here. I’m over the hump. There is still a lot of work to be done but it really feels like the big jobs are behind me. So now comes the time when I have to rejoin the human race and begin to cook again and use a real kitchen. It is time to occupy the space. Tomorrow I go grocery shopping!

Friday, November 11, 2005

The Final Cut

Mission Accomplished on the fancy doors. Well, “Mission Accomplished” implies that the job is completely finished, but obviously that is not the case. So perhaps I shouldn’t use that term. Using that term would indicate a lack of foresight on my part, or on anyone else’s part that chooses to use that term before the job is really finished. That would be pretty stupid. I’ll just say the doors are cut, and in spite of a major problem that I didn’t anticipate, they came out pretty good. Let’s go through it step-by-step in case anyone else wants to try this.

As you may recall from yesterday’s post, I went with Style #1. I started by drawing the outline of the design on the door. Pretty straight forward. You just line up the template with two sides and trace the outline with a pencil. You do this for two reasons. First, you will use it as a reference for the jig saw, but also in case the router does not cut the corners properly you will have a reference mark so you can finish up by hand.

Lined Up With 2 Sides

Next get out the trusty jig saw and cut most of the design out. Leave a ¼-inch or so of wood outside the line. This will be taken off with the router. It is important here to break your last jig saw blade when you are half way through the cut. This gives you time to reflect on your work as you drive to the hardware store.

Jig Saw Phase Complete

After the jig saw phase of the operation is complete you clamp the template under the work piece, lining it up with 2 sides just as you did when you traced the outline. Make sure the clamps are far enough away from the edge to make room for the router. Also clamp everything to the work table. You don't have to use an 1890s Eastlake door as a work table, but it helps. Then run the router left to right along the work piece. The ball bearing of the flush cut bit will ride along the template and remove the last ¼-inch of wood.

Notice How Low The Bearing Is
This Caused Major Problems

I didn’t notice it but a small piece of the plywood was missing on the underside of the template. I must have knocked it off when I was sanding or filing. It was a small piece of the outer ply of wood. Most of the wood was there and the template had a smooth edge except for this one small piece on the underside that I didn’t notice.

Because I had the bearing so far down on the template, when it got that point the bearing fell in to the missing ply of wood. Sort of like hitting a pot hole. What this means is that I gouged in to the work piece. The router follows where ever the bearing goes. When it went in the hole the router followed. Very much a drag.

Semi-Circle Gouge (Sniff)

I was really, really bummed when this happened. Fortunately it only went in about a ¼-inch. I went and got the piece of paper that had drawn the original design on and retraced the design on to the template a ¼-inch higher and re-cut the design. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it did kind of suck.

I then had to retrace the design on the work piece, re-clamp the template to the work piece, and then re-cut everything. I was also fortunate that this happened on the first door. Had it been the second door I would have had to re-cut both of them.

After I did the first door I could use it as a template. This ensures that both cut-outs are identical.

The Almost Finished Project

And as Norm would say, “Now this piece is ready for the finishing room”. In my case, the finishing room is an upstairs bedroom. One coat of primer and 2 top-coats and I can re-hang the doors and put on the hardware. After that there is just one more little thing to do with the cabinets. I want to put a small shelf under the sink to keep things off the floor and make sure you can’t see them through the cut-out.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Fancy Doors: Day 3

First off, I’ve decided to go with Style 1 for the base of the doors (See picture below). This was always kind of my favorite, but the main reason is because Style 2 showed too much. The cut-away was too big and it revealed plumbing under the sink. Style 1 is confined more towards the center and does not go up as high.

The Winning Style

Yesterday I took the panels out of the clamps and started sanding. In the picture below you can see that the one on the right is sanded and the one on the left still looks very much like 4 boards. I finished sanding today and got the doors cut and hung. I make the panels several inches longer and wider than I need and then finalize the size once they are sanded down.

Sasnded Down

Cut To Size

I then got them hung on the hinges. This went pretty good. The gap in the center of the two doors is perfect at the top and about an 1/8-inch wide at the bottom. Hardly perfect and really not expectable. I think I can shim the lower-left hinge to bring them into alignment. I will play around with that after I cut the detail. Hopefully that will happen tomorrow.

Hung & Waiting For Style 1

I used more of the old brass ball-tipped hinges I got off Ebay. I had bought 20 or so hinges for a little over $20. A great deal. I had thought about getting them nickel plated but I cheaped out at the last minute. They look fine. These hinges are the loosest loose-pin hinges I’ve ever seen in my life. A few times I accidentally mounted them upside down and the pin just falls out as I’m trying to hang the door. Put it back in and it falls right back out. Not good.