Thursday, March 30, 2006

Dodging Rain Drops

We were forecast for a few days of dry weather so I decided to get the door to the side yard hung. This proved to be a little bit more of a challenge than I thought. As I’ve said repeatedly and often, I removed a 2 story addition to the house (Yes Greg, we all know about the Damn addition you took down. Just get on with the story) Ok, but it’s an important part of the problem. The door to the side yard that I’m working on used to go to the rental kitchen. The rental kitchen was in the addition (Yes, yes, we get it!)

Now, if you close your eyes and picture a doorway that leads, say, from the kitchen to the dining room there is no change in the floor elevation, right. The floor is flat most of the time and this is how the door to the rental kitchen was. Flat as a pancake. However, when you have an exterior door there is always a slight change in elevation. The exterior side of the doorway is lower than the interior side. There is usually a large and imposing hunk of wood that makes up the threshold for the doorway. This threshold is usually notched in to the floor in the doorway so it is almost level with the interior floor on one side and sort of rests on top of the porch floor on the exterior side. I forgot about this when I removed the addition and put in the temporary door.

In a very recent post I think I said it was last year I removed the addition but it was in fact 2 years ago. I remember that I finished up in November and it was raining a lot and I made a few short cuts because I was really sick of working in the rain, and, to be honest, it was a lot of work dismantling that thing and after 3 months of working on it by myself I was really ready for it to be over. Anyway, when I put up the temporary door I swiped the old threshold from the back door on the addition and just shuved it under the new side door that I had just slapped up and called it a day.

Now fast forward 2 years to yesterday. I pulled off the temporary door and realized I needed to notch the threshold in to the floor so it would look right. If I didn’t, the top of the threshold would be 2-inches higher than the interior floor. Two inches doesn’t sound like a lot but believe me it makes a difference. Nobody expects the threshold to stick up like that and everyone would trip over it and I would be sued for millions and lose my house and probably end up destitute and living on the streets. You can see why I needed to fix it. Here’s where the story gets strange.

I took out the threshold, which was easy because I never nailed it in to place. I started to look at the floor to try and decided where exactly I should cut. I always get a little nervous when I cut in to original 1895 parts to the house. You can’t un-cut wood. The more I looked it the more I realized this was a patch job. This floor had already been cut and the joists had already been notched for a threshold. This didn’t make sense. It was another Old House Conundrum. I know for a fact that this was a window and there was a sink in front of the window. I won’t go in to how I know, but trust me, I know. So when was this a door? I haven’t a clue but it was obviously a door at some point in it’s life. Windows, as a general rule, don’t have thresholds.

It took all of about 30-seconds to remove the piece of floor and the shims that were covering the notch for the threshold. I then took the - what I thought was a 1926 threshold from the addition – and fit it into the notch. It was a perfect fit. A threshold is a threshold and the odds are just about any threshold for a 32-inch door would fit in this notch, but I think I’m putting back an 1895 threshold that was removed and used on the addition back in 1926. Very strange.

(I want to take a moment to say that this is why I love old-growth wood. This will be the third life for a threshold on a south facing door.)

Unfortunately, because I had removed some floor and lowered the threshold, the door jamb was now hanging in mid air. Here’s what it looked like.

I had two choices. Remove the jamb and re-build it (Ugh!), or extend it down a few inches. I decided to extend it. I didn’t feel real good about this. I thought it would be kind of a hack job, but the clouds were looking ominous and I was in no mood to build a door jamb from scratch, so extend I did. As it turns out it came out fine and I went ahead and drove in a few more nails here and there and the door jamb is probably more sturdy than it has been in 50 years.

After I extended the jamb I then had to replace the outside casing which was also hanging in mid air now. It was lucky that I ran out of nails because when I went to the hardware store it started raining hard. I mean really hard. We’re talking a serious gully-washer here. Buckets of liquid sunshine fell from the sky for a good hour and a half. When it was all over I was able to go back outside and finish nailing up the trim and caulking the whole thing to within an inch of it’s life. The casing came from in interior door from some place (some place in the addition, no doubt), but you can’t beat old-growth wood for a south facing door. (I think I said that, didn’t I) Of course, this means the casing was coated in numerous layers of that delicious and wholesome lead paint. Umm, umm good. This means, of course, I got to strip more paint. Yea! I was just finishing up the fronts when it started to rain again so I called it a night.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, more stripping. Hmmm, outdoor stripping. A little treat for the neighbors.

If I had been standing in this spot two years ago I would have been in a kitchen sink. The little porch I built meets code by about 1-inch. Any taller and railing would have been required.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Musical Doors

I need to hang two doors in the newly modified Butler’s Pantry. First, I want to hang a door in the new opening that separates the Butler’s Pantry from the new utility room. I don’t really need a door here right now but I want one. I like to define spaces. Nothing defines a space better than a door.

It’s just stuck in there right now. This is a 1926 door that was originally a door to the bathroom that was added to the kitchen during the apartment conversion.

The other door I want to hang is the back door leading from The Buiter's Pantry to the side yard. This doorway is the door seen in the picture below (not the actual door). This doorway used to give access to a rental kitchen that was part of the 2 story addition I removed last year. The door that is there now was slapped up there in a hurry last year when I removed the addition. It does not have a lock of any kind, and to be honest, it’s not a very good door. It is a 15 light door but the “lights” are wood. It was nothing more than a quick fix. I screwed a board in front of it to keep it from opening, and up until a few weeks ago there was a 300 pound claw foot tub in front of it. Needless to say, I need a proper door here.

The Temp Door

This can’t be just any old door. This is an exterior door and it faces south and there is no over-hanging porch. It will take a beating. The other thing about this door is it needs to have a dead-bolt, which leaves me in an unpleasant situation. I don’t currently have any 32-inch wide doors that have been drilled for a dead-bolt. I can do one of 3 things here. I can buy a new door, which is offensive on a number of levels. I can find an old door that has already been drilled for a dead-bolt. And finally, I can drill an old door for a dead-bolt.

The second option is the ideal situation, so I headed out today and made the rounds at the local places that sell old doors. There are only 2, and their selection is limited, so it was a short trip. I found nothing. So I headed up to the door room (a back bedroom in my house filled with old doors) and searched for a door that would make a good candidate for a back door. It needs to be in really good shape. No cracks in the panels, and no loose tenons.

There are two doors I bought about three years ago shortly after I bought the house. They came out of the Ellory Building on 4th Street shortly before it was demolished to make way for a parking lot. The Ellory Building was built in the 1880s but had not looked like an 1880s building for a very long time. Fourth Street is THE main street heading south through downtown. None of the original buildings from the 1880s on Fourth Street retain their original facade. When last seen before it’s demolition The Ellory Building had those 1950s enameled steel panels on it.

The Ellory Door

Surprisingly, though, the second floor of The Ellory Building was an 1880s time capsule. It was a treasure trove for the local salvage people. I bought my 2 Ellory Doors several years ago from one of the 2 salvage places I went to today. They don’t really match the other doors in my house but I was in a bit of a panic when I bought them because at the time I wasn’t able to find any Eastlake doors like I needed. These two doors were a close match and they were in absolutely beautiful shape. Over the years, though, I’ve been able to scrounge true Eastlake doors here and there and now The Ellory doors area bit of an anachronism in the house. Be that is it may, they are still great doors. They are solid redwood and just as sturdy and solid as the day they were built. One of them happens to be a perfect size for the opening to the side yard. Sadly, it needs a dead-bolt. Big sigh.

So I’ve decided to use it as a backdoor. Before I drill for a dead-bolt I’m going to see if I can find an old lock-set that has a strong bolt. The old mortise lock-sets that take a skeleton key have a dead-bolt but just about any skeleton key can open it. I need a real lock. For now, I’m going to go ahead and hang the door and continue to use the board screwed in to the framing to keep it locked. There is a motion detector just inside the door, so it has some security. This is the area of the house that I’m going to paint first when I paint the house this summer. My goal is to have a real lock and have it on the alarm system before I paint.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Building Conundrums

If you live in an old house that had early modifications to it then you can appreciate this. It’s not always easy to tell what was original and what was added to it when the part that was added could be pretty darn old itself. Case in point is my kitchen. It was first modified back in about 1915 and then had major modifications done to it 1926. Because the changes were done so early, and done well, it was really hard to tell what was 1895, what was 1915, and what was 1926. To make matters worse, everything was hidden under layers of paint, wallpaper, and then later plywood. Believe it or not, I found 15 distinct layers of wallpaper in the kitchen. It was like an archeological dig.

The kitchen was by far the most confusing part of the house. Other rooms were easy to decipher but the kitchen was a real brain teaser. The key turned out to be the bead board. I think I wrote about this in a post last year. Anyway, it was obvious that the room was not meant to be in the configuration as it existed when I first bought the house. I started by removing the plywood from the walls. When I did that, in one area a big chunk of wallpaper came off with the plywood. Much to my surprise there was bare wood planks under the wallpaper.

Wood plank walls with wallpaper tacked up was a common practice all over the country but not something you would normally see in an upper middle-class house like mine. As I pulled at the wallpaper the planks ended and I hit plaster. When I studied the bead board just below where the planks turned to plaster I discovered that the bead board below the plaster had a 3.5-inch face and the bead board below the planks had a 3.25-inch face. This would prove to be The Rosetta Stone for the kitchen.

It turned out that the 1926 bead board was slightly narrower than the 1895 bead board. From then on it was just a matter of measuring the width of the bead board to determine when it was installed. Another interesting thing is that the 1926 bead board was all exactly 36-inches long. The 1895 bead board sort of varied in length from about 35-inches to 37-inches, and it was cut irregularly at the top. It was as if they were cutting from longer pieces and they new they new the top would be hidden behind a cap so it didn’t really matter that it was all exactly 36-inches.

So now I’m building my own conundrums in to the house. Back in the butler’s pantry I’ve added a wall to create a utility room. As I mentioned in an earlier post this is the first time I’ve deviated from the original floor plan of the house. I decided I wanted it to look like an old wall though. As I mentioned a few days ago they used a very unique method to plaster the walls in the house. Because doors had been cut in to the butler’s pantry walls I did not have enough of the T&G plaster planking, nor did I have enough of the 48-inch double-bead bead board to do both the reduced size butler’s pantry and the new utility room. Instead I salvaged all the plaster planking and bead board from the utility room side and created a complete butler’s pantry. On top of that, I still had enough of the redwood 2X4 to frame the wall, and I used a redwood door jamb from the addition I dismantled. I have, in effect, created a new old wall.

Now, I’m pretty proud of myself, and I think it’s very cool, but of course, it will all be covered in plaster and paint and no one will ever know. Maybe 100 years from now when the house is going through another major restoration they will open up the wall and think, “Wait a minute, this doesn’t make sense. I was sure this was a new wall.” On the other hand, maybe they’ll just go at it with sledge hammers and pry bars and not really give a shit how old it is or when it was built. I’d better leave a note. I’ll just write something like, “Suckers!” It’ll totally blow their mind.

Here's What I Started With a Few Weeks Back.

Then After The Demo (Thank You Grunt Work!)

New Wall Framed With Old Lumber

Sheathed In The Plaster Planks.
That is roughly where that sink will go

This cabinet came out of one of the old rental kitchens, although I think it pre-dates the 1926 rental kitchen that it came from. It will go above the sink.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Sealing Marble: More Marble Weirdness

In yesterdays post I showed a test I did to try and see how susceptible marble is to staining. I did a comparison test between unsealed marble and sealed marble. If you want to read about it, you can, but in short I did a series of 10 minute tests with various food stuffs, and then finished off with a one hour torture test.

Here’s is the final shot after the final hour long test.

The sealed marble surpassed even my own expectations. The unsealed marble did show significant discoloration. I guess that’s to be expected, right? Everyone says marble stains easily. I decided to do one more test. This time I slathered on more tomato paste, red wine and smooshed in some lime3 juice and lime peel. I left it in the sink over night. This morning it was kind of dry and crusty and I left it there until around noon. I got sick of looking at it so I scrapped off the mess. The tomato paste had really dried on around the edges. I was forced to get out a green scrub pad to get it off. When I was all done it looked pretty much as it did at the end of yesterday’s test. That’s the picture above.

To sum it up, the marble sealer worked fantastic. Even after sitting in the sink all night caked in things that should have stained it – that is, if you believe what you’re told – it came out looking great. The untreated side didn’t fair so well. There was no one particular stain, it just had an over all dinginess to it. The white part of the marble was no longer really white, it was more gray.

I decided I had proven the point that the sealer worked and I didn’t bother taking any more pictures. I figured the test was over and I had proved my point. There was no need to write any more about it, or so I thought. The real surprise came 2 or 3 hours later.

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I cleaned up the little test piece and left it on the counter and went about my day. Just a few minutes ago I went in to the kitchen and the dinginess was gone! All it had to do was dry and it was almost as good as new. The food stuff did some staining but it turns out to have been very minor. It was the water that was causing most of the discoloration. The sealer is still a good idea, and it will help with the glass rings and just regular protection. The truth is, though, sealed or unsealed the marble does just fine by itself. It’s all a myth. Marble is no more or less susceptible to staining than anything else. What it does have a problem with is soaking in water and turning dingy until it dries. That’s where the sealer comes in. It keeps the water out.

Here’s what it looks like right now. The marble in the background is the slab that had no testing done on it.

Can you guess which side of the sample has the sealer.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Sealing Marble: The Acid Test

I wanted to seal the marble with something to protect it against some of the nasty elements of the kitchen. I have a 111 year old marble vanity in the bathroom that is doing great but the bathroom doesn’t have red wine and tomato sauce in it. Well, at least not normally {cough}. I forgot to ask the guys I bought the marble from if they recommended anything.

So last Friday I posted a message over at The Old House Web asking if anybody had used a particular product they liked. I got a number of responses but most were along the lines of, “Oh no, marble in the kitchen, that’s bad”. I got the standard responses like “Marble is a soft stone”, “Marble stains easily”, “Marble chips easily”. It’s like everyone has a set of Marble Talking Points they read from. One person even suggested that I keep it covered all the time unless company comes over or something. Isn’t that the idea behind those tacky plastic covers people used to put over sofas and lamp shades.

First, let’s start with “Marble is a soft stone”. So T F what. It’s a stone for cryin’ out loud. Saying marble is a soft stone is a bit of an oxymoron, don’t you think? Yes, in the whole family of stone marble is not as hard as others, but in the context of a kitchen counter it is a hell of a lot harder than other materials. It’s a freakin’ rock people!

{I want to take a moment here to say that if anyone says that granite is harder than marble as a comment, your comment will be deleted for the sheer stupidity of it.}
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Now for the “Marble chips easily”. Well, let’s go back to the whole rock thing. Marble is a rock and rocks chip if you bang on them. Here’s a helpful tip: Don’t bang on it! For that matter, don’t bang on your Formica, linoleum, tile… fact, don’t bang on your counter tops with hard things that are likely to chip, ding, or scratch them. It’s a little something I like to call “common sense”.

Finally we have “Marble stains easily”. The word “easily” is, of course, a relative term. A lot of things stain, and yes marble does stain. However, there are ways to treat the marble so it doesn’t stain as “easily”. It’s called a sealer and that was the whole point of the question I posted on The Old House Web forum. You apply the sealer to the marble and it protects the marble for several years. Of course, even if you do seal it there is always the little trick my mother beat in to my brain everyday for 18 years, “Wipe up that mess! Is this how I raised you?!?!” That’s right, you guessed it, don’t leave heaping piles of rotting matter on the counters and they won’t stain.

So, anyway, I looked locally and found 3 different stone sealers. The people who sold me the marble buy a product called Stone Shield 611 but the receptionist told me they buy it in bulk and don’t sell it retail. A tile center had another product, and I don’t recall the name of it, but it was really cheap and I just didn’t feel good about it. The sales girl had never used it and knew nothing about it. Oh, and when I asked for a price on marble tiles because I was thinking about putting them in the foyer she said, “You know, marble is a soft stone and stains easily”. It was all I could do to keep from punching her in the face. I honestly felt like asking her if she was issued a set of Marble Talking Points some place.

As another aside, I saw on This Old House last week or the week before they took a tour of the recently renovated Union Station in Washington DC. The football field sized floor was done in white and black marble. It looked stunning. And if you like Beau Arts style architecture, it doesn't get much better than Union Station.

At the only Home Center in town called Pierson’s they carried a line of products called Stonetech. I bought a 1 quart bottle of the Stonetech Professional - Maximum Bullet Proof Sealer. The guy who sold it to me said he used it many times professionally and swears it’s the best on the market. At $48 a quart it better be the best. To be honest, Pierson’s is notoriously over-priced so I wouldn’t be surprised if I could get it much cheaper outside the area. It took about a third of the quart for 2 applications on the counter and it says it lasts 3 to 5 years. So I bought about a 12 to 15 year supply.

Naturally, because I’m neurotic and obsessed about these sorts of things I wanted to perform a test to see how well it works. When I picked up the slab they gave me some scraps of marble from the same slab because I want to do some tests with the router before I cut the hole for the sink and finish the edges. I used a piece of that for the test. I wrapped a piece of electrical tape around the middle and left one side untreated and treated the other side the same exact way I treated my marble slab. So here’s results.

At first I tried basic spill tests for 10 second durations. I spilled wine for 10 seconds and wiped it up. That was too short of a time and didn’t effect either side at all. I then went to 1 minute and that didn’t do a thing to the untreated side either. So I went to 10 minutes as the first test period. I used red wine, tomato paste, and lime juice. I also did a cutting test and a chip test. After the 10 minute tests I did a 1 hour test with all the ingredients and set the wine glass in the whole mess.

Here’s the results.

Here it is before any tests. The treated side is on the right.

Red Wine

This is after about 7 minutes. You can start to see some change.

After 10 minutes. I only rinsed with water between each test. I'm not sure how well it shows up in the pictures but the untreated side has some discoloration.

Tomato Paste

Ten Minutes Later.

I cut the lime on the marble and I wasn’t careful at all. I cut hard enough to slice through the electrical tape. There are a few marks in the marble. To be fair, if you’re going to use any counter top surface as a chopping board, unless it is designed for that, you should just get plywood counters.

The Lime Test

Ten Minutes Later.

The Chip Test. I smacked it good several times with the blade of a standard flatware eating knife. There are some minor nicks. Again, though, if this is how you treat your counters then get plywood.

This one was really telling. Before I did the final hour long test I took the tape off. The difference is dramatic. It is obvious which side was treated.

Here is the final torture test. That is tomato paste, red wine, and lime juice with the wine glass smooshed in to it. It sat like this for more than an hour.

Afterwards I rinsed it with cold water.

I think the treated side looks pretty good and it will lighten back up after it dries. The day I picked up the slab it was raining and they had been storing it outside. After a few hours of being in my house it lightened up a bit. The next step will be to get some marble cleaner and see if I can clean the untreated side any.

Granted 10 minutes isn't a long time, but it seems to be a good test. If I was cooking and I spilled something I would probably wipe it up within 10 minutes. The hour long test was to show what would happen if you left something there during dinner and then wiped it up afterwards. I think I'll try over night next and see what happens.

(Read about what happened The Next Day)

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Back Stairs Inside Out

You can learn a lot by observing what others have done before you. Since I have no formal training in construction I always pay close attention to the way the house is put together. I tend not to be real aggressive when I’m doing demolition work. Instead it is a slow and methodical process. Although I’m not always successful, I always try and get each board off in one piece.

Today was a treat because I got to see the back side of the back stairs. These stairs lead from the back end of upstairs hall to the kitchen. The first time I looked at the house it was still cut up in to apartments and it was a little confusing at times trying to figure out where you were exactly in the house. It is a big house and it was just room after room after room. I remember I ran home and tried to draw a floor plan of the house from memory and the backstairs seemed to lead to no where on my floor plan.

Back in the teens or 20s when the place was cut-up they built a small wall in the kitchen to isolate the back door from the rest of the kitchen and then removed the back door. The back stairs that used to egress in to the kitchen now emptied out on to the “back porch”. Back porch is in parenthesis because it was still the kitchen but because of the wall and the missing back door is seemed like an alcove on the porch. It allowed upstairs tenants to have a door that lead directly outside.

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Anyway, when I looked at the house it was in really bad shape. The backdoor at the bottom of the back stairs had been nailed shut. There was no light in the stairwell, and the light in the upstairs hallway was not working. The back stairs where a dark pit that seemed to lead….maybe in to the gates of hell. They where really spooky. The realtor would not go down the stairs so I ventured down by myself. I got about half way down and as I descended in to darkness the ripe smell of dog poop became stronger and stronger. As I approached what I thought was the bottom I thought I heard something move. I never made it to the bottom. It would be about 2 years before I was able to re-enclose the kitchen and pry open that door.

Now I love the back stairs. I use them all the time and the cats use them more than I do. They are still kind of dingy but they are somewhat clean and don’t smell. That’s a real plus. It was under these back stairs that I found all the items that turned out to be the tattered remains of Mrs. Petch’s last few years in the house. They are now part of the Museum of Petch. Because of the work I’m doing in the butler’s pantry I opened up the rest of the wall back there. I find it interesting.

To give you context, here is a shot of the stairs from the bottom, as they exit in to the kitchen, and from the top of the hall. Notice how the bead board goes up at an angle and then angles up again after completing the turn.

Now here is the back side of the wall. You can see the vertical bead board at the bottom, and the nailer that matches those angles on the front side. Above the bead board is the horizontal T&G redwood boards that make up the plaster wall. You can also see the cavity under the stairs where I found Mrs. Petch’s things that were abandoned around 1919.

When they plastered the walls in the house they did not use the traditional lath strips. Instead they used 8-inch T&G redwood boards that had a series of dove-tail grooves milled in to the boards. Her is a shot of one of the boards.

You can see the tongue and one end and the groove at the other, and then there are a series of dove-tail grooves that run the length of the board. They covered the walls with these boards and then smeared plaster over them. The plaster filled the dove-tail grooves and formed the “keys” that held the plaster to the walls. Very cool. That also means there is enough freakin' wood in this house to build two houses. Because the second story is shingled. This means there is wood sheathing on the inside, for plaster, wood sheathing on the outside under the shingles, and the shingles themselves. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. It always amazes me just how much wood goes in to making a house.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Rugs For The Kitchen

I’ve been banging away (literally) at the butler’s pantry for the past few days. Still no sink for the island, so nothing much has been happening there, but I did get some rugs for the kitchen today. Before I built the kitchen island I had a 48-inch round oak table in there. I also had a 5X7 foot Jute Rug under the table. Once the table was gone I had a lot of floor. I like the idea of a rug in front of the sink and there will be two sinks so I needed two rugs. I decided to put a runner down on the main walking area past the island as well.

Here in town there is a Kmart and a new Target, but nothing grabbed my attention there. There is also the mall that has 3 department stores and a Ross, but again, nothing jumped out at me when I occasionally perused their selections. Naturally, being a kitchen I don’t want anything too nice. I saw some great wool rugs, but I’m not putting down a $200 wool rug in front of the sink.

Then last week I got a catalog from a place called Ballard Design. I’m not sure how I got on their mailing list but I get one of their catalogs about once a year or so. They had a lot to chose from and some nice designs. Prices varied quite a bit but they did have a few nice designs of rugs made from polypropylene. Here is the info from the catalog.

Grayton Indoor/Outdoor Rug
Great for busy indoor areas or to add warmth to 
your covered outdoor living spaces. Both are machine
loomed in a soft sisal weave of durable, non-fading,
washable 100% mildew resistant polypropylene. 
Seagrove features an all-over floral pattern. Grayton
has a subtle tone-on-tone ground with a floral pattern
border. Imported from Belgium. Exclusive.

At first I was a little nervous about ordering them. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what a “sisal weave of polypropylene” would look and feel like. As you can imagine it is not the most luxurious thing in the world, but it looks nice, it doesn’t cost a lot, and it is for the kitchen. I read once that tightly woven grass mats from Japan and China where popular for kitchens and bedrooms in 1890s Victorian homes. I’m telling my self that this is the modern, plastic version of that. I think this is the first plastic thing I’ve bought for the house. I hope it is not a trend.

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They are a very tight, flat weave so it should be easy to sweep. If not, they are very light so taking them outside to shake out will be easy, or I could even just hose them off for that matter. They come in 3 colors. The field is always the same and the boarder design can be in Red, Brown (pictured), or Black. I chose black. Here is what I got:

Runner 2’7” X 8’2”
Small Rug 2’ X 3’7”
Large Rug 4’ X 5’ 7”

With delivery it came to about $120. Not bad as far as I’m concerned.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Estimating Electrical Needs

After reading Chicago 2-Flats blog entry the other day about the mile-high estimates they were getting from contractors I started to picture them in a Medieval battle. I pictured Jocelyn and Steve armed with battle axes and broadswords desperately trying to protect the checkbook, as contractors came at them from all sides and tried to bash in their house with trebuchets and battering rams.

It almost does feel like you’re at war when you are dealing with those guys. Their not all crooks, and in fact, I’m sure the majority of them are honest and hard working individuals. Still, even the honest ones, when faced with 2 ways to solve a homeowners problem, will probably suggest the more expensive way just as often as the less expensive way. I don’t really fault them for this, but as a homeowner it is our responsibility to make sure we are not going to be paying for work that goes way above and beyond what needs to be done. The best weapon to prevent being taken advantage of is knowledge.

One of the things Jocelyn mentioned that she might need to do is to upgrade from a 100 amp electrical service to a 200 amp service. She may end up needing to do this but there is no reason she should just accept what an electrician says. With that in mind, I thought I would share something I learned in a residential wiring class I took a few years back.

There is a worksheet electricians use to determine what type of service a house may need. At the time I did this for my house I had 60 amp service that was last upgraded in 1951. I was thinking I was going to have to upgrade to a 200 amp service. I have a 3000 sq ft 2 story house with a walk-up attic that I might want to convert to living space someday. It turned out my estimated usage was much lower because my heating, cooking, water heater, and clothes dryer are all natural gas. I also don’t have A/C.

So here is the worksheet I used. (Va = Volt Ampere)

3 Va for each sq. ft. of house.
For me this is 3000X3=9000

Small Appliance circuits (code requires 2, 20=amp circuits for each kitchen)
2 X 1500 Va
Me: 3000

Laundry Circuit
1500 Va
Me: 1500


Electric Range = 8000 Va
Me: 0

Electric Dryer: 5000 Va
Me: 0

Electric Heater: 5000 Va
Me: 0

Microwave: 2000 Va
Me: 2000

Dish Washer/Disposal: 1500 Va (separate circuit in the kitchen)
Me: 1500

If you have well pumps, basement pumps, or other motors you would need to figure their Va.
Me: 0

Total For Me: 15,000 Va

(This part figures that you are not going to be maxing out all circuits at the same time)
Less 10,000 Va @ 100%
Total For Me 5,000 Va

40% of Balance
For Me: 2,000

Plus 10,000 Va required at 100%
For Me: 12,000 Va

Divide by 240 to get the total amps needed

12,000 / 240 = 50 Amps

As you can see I only require 50 Amps, so when I upgraded the 55 year old panel I went with a 100 amp service. Even if I do add a Jacuzzi or A/C in the future there is plenty of room. This is taken from the 2002 NEC. If you Google Service Entrance Calculation you can find tutorials and other information that gives you more detail. I may have left off some things that don’t apply to me. But it’s a good start.

We wired a new house in the second semester of the course. The service entrance calculation for that house was 92.5 amps. We installed a 100 amp service panel and it passed code and everyone was happy.

To figure the Va for things not listed you multiply the amps times the current in a circuit. If something requires 3 amps on a 120 volt circuit it requires 360 Va. If it is 3 amps on a 240 volt circuit it is 720 Va.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Boy Meets Marble

I’ll admit it, I’m infatuated. No, it’s more than infatuation, I’m in love. I’m in love with the new marble countertop on the island. Like any true love the more time you spend with the object of your desire the more you appreciate it. The marble has a subtle beauty. The beauty of the stone is apparent the first time you see it, but the true measure of it’s beauty is not immediately apparent. The more time you spend with it the more you appreciate it.

An argument could be made that marble lacks the showy, in-your-face beauty of other stones. The white Cararra marble is mostly a 2 tone stone. You get a large field of white with subtle black and gray veins running through it at roughly the same angle. It is in those veins that you start to see the variety and beauty of the stone. It is like a woman who has a natural beauty that radiates from with-in. It is apparent the first time you see her but you can’t quite put your finger on any one aspect of her beauty that stands out. She has that certain je ne sais quoi. The same can be said for marble.

John over at The Devil Queen referred to it as “Michelangelo Grade” marble. The white Carrara marble is the type of stone Michelangelo carved his famous statue of David from. David is truly one of the great masterpieces of the human civilization. The block of marble was quarried in about 1460 but for a number of reasons it sat unused for about 40 years until Michelangelo carved what many believe to be the perfect image of a man. David then stood on display and in the elements for more than 300 years until it was moved in doors.

As with anyone who is in love I see only perfection, and maybe I image qualities that aren't there. I have convinced myself that my marble slab was cut from the same quarry that produced the massive marble block that Michelangelo carved David from. In my love sick mind I’ve convinced myself that 550 years ago the block was cut for David and then that part of the quarry was abandoned until last year. When work resumed in that part of the quarry my slab was produced from the same exact spot that produced a block of marble that would go on to be one of the greatest works of art the world has ever seen. Maybe I’m delusional, but you’ll have to forgive me, I’m in love.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Houston, The Marble Has Landed

And it ain’t goin’ no place for a long time. That slab weighs a freakin’ ton. Fortunately I built the island so you could park a car on top of it and it seems to be holding up well. Enough of the words, though, let’s get to the pictures! I shot several angles so we could all marvel at it’s innate beauty.

Hmmm, really, the pictures don't do it justice.

And thanks to Gregg from West Ave East Town and his insightful observations of my sample edge work from yesterday’s post the chipping problem has been resolved. If I tried to get a hard 90 degree edge on the first fraction of an inch it chips the edge. However, if it is a round-over to start with it does not chip. Even the smallest little bit of a round-over prevents chipping. This means I can go back to the Ogee (actually, I miswrote earlier, it is called a “wavy edge”) like I wanted in the first place. This is good because it will be a close match to the other counters in the kitchen.

The guy at the place where I bought the slab gave me some pretty good sized scrap pieces so I can do more practicing before I put router to marble. Now all I need is the sink and I’ll be in business.

No Chipping!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Marble Vs. Router: Round 2

I had a little better success with the router today. It turns out it isn’t as broken as I thought. You know how on some hand tools there is a little button you push in once the trigger is engaged. It’s there so you don’t have to squeeze the trigger the whole time. Well on the router you push this button in while it is mounted on the router table. You then plug the router in to an outlet on the table and you use an on/off switch on the table to control the router. This hold down button on the router is malfunctioning. That’s why it cuts of and on for no apparent reason. Some electrical tape solved the problem

Anyway, I made a few more test cuts. I has some more chipping with the more elaborate bits but when I switched to the simple round-over bit it was smooth as a babies bottom. It actually goes quickly. I’m accustom to working with redwood, which is a relatively soft wood. I would imagine routering the marble is on par with a very hard oak.

I also successfully cut a faucet hole in the test piece. For about $12 I bought a Carbide Grit Hole Saw. Instead of teeth it has carbide grit at the end of the blade. It is the same principle as a diamond saw only with carbide. I was able to cut the hole in less than 2 minutes. I’m starting to feel pretty good about this.

Also today (I was surprisingly busy today considering I had a dentist appointment. And something very strange happened at the dentists office. If there is a slow blog day I’ll fill you in) I made a platform to help move the marble. The POs had lowered the ceiling on one of the rental bathrooms rather than fix it. It was framed with modern fir 2X4. I used those to build the temporary wall to separate the water heater from the living space so I could pass inspection. I tore down that temporary wall a few days ago so I used the wood again to make an angled platform for the marble.

Here are some pictures.

Marble Transport
It’s like one of those things for glass

Carbide Grit Hole Saw & Test Hole

Ogee with much chipping – no good

Round Over with some chipping - better
I dropped it down to leave an edge. That’s where it chipped

Round Over with no chipping - just right
I lifted the bit all the way so there was no edge. Just a round over

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

This Should Be Interesting

After conferring with Sadie and Mortimer the decision was made to cut the sink hole in place. That is, I will put the slab of marble on the island and do all the work there. I don’t want to risk breaking it after it is cut. This does present a bit of a problem. The sink is under-mount and I can’t cut the hole while the sink is there. I’ve come up with two ways to deal with this. Hopefully one of them will work.

First, I could cut the hole and then slide the slab back, then drop in the sink, and then slide it forward. That is a lot of sliding. I’m a paranoid person and maybe a bit of a pessimist. I really don’t want to move this thing once it’s in place. The second way is to cut the hole and then slide the sink under the slab. I will do this from underneath in the cabinet space.

Here’s how it will work.

You can see in this picture the template I made for the sink and faucet hole. The next shot is with the template removed.

Without the template you can see that the sink hole in the plywood is twice as big as it needs to be. I can move the sink to the left and push it up under the slab and then slide it to the right in to position. Once it is in to position I can give it more support. I tried this with a plywood cut-out of the sink and it seems to work. This is the preferred method. Sliding the slab out of the way is a back-up plan.

There are so many things that can go wrong with this. I’ve been telling myself all day that there are people who do this for a living and there is no reason I need to reinvent the wheel here and make this up as I go along. I’ll admit that I love the challenge but sometimes maybe I shouldn’t be such a cheapskate and call in a pro. I don’t know. Worst case scenario is I ruin a $350 piece of marble. It’s not the end of the world.

Speaking of worst case scenarios, I have been giving some thought to what I do if I screw it up but not bad enough that the whole thing needs to be pitched. Say, for instance, what if I cut the sink hole too big or something. Well, I can always go to a drop-in sink. That would hide a lot of mistakes. I can also move the faucet to one side if the drop-in sink is bigger. If I screw up the edges there is enough room to trim off a half-inch and do it over. I could call in a pro to re-do the edges if I screw them up. It would be humiliating but I could do it. So I just need to plan for the worst and hope for the best.

Speaking of edges, I ran a short test on my router. I say “short” because my router died after about 3-inches. To be fair, it was a crappy router to start with and I really, really beat the hell out of it the last 4 years. It started doing this about a month ago. It just stops working for no apparent reason. I think the brushes might be going. What ever it is I did a successful edge – albeit a short edge – on the scarp piece of marble I have. There are a few chips but the blade is old. I think with a new blade and a better router it should look great. Here is the short test.

And finally, I’ve decided to change the cat’s names. Sadie will now be named “MOVE PLEASE!”, and Mortimer will now be called, “Get The Hell Out Of The Way You Stupid Cat!”. This is how I seem to refer to them all the time so I might as well make it official.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Meticulous Planning….Sort Of

I am in full-blown Marble Mode over hear at The Petch House. I’ve had to push back the arrival date to Friday because my friend with the panel truck who will help me get it is out of town until then. It works out well, though, because it gives me 3 or 4 days to figure out how this is going to work

I alluded to a potential problem with the faucet a few weeks back. I had feared there was not enough room for the sink and the faucet in the cabinet. I just can’t imagine what I was thinking when I designed it but I sure wasn’t thinking about the faucet. I made a cardboard template of the sink today and there is no way the faucet and sink will fit in the cabinet together. I don’t want to push the sink too far towards the edge because it will look odd and I will also have a thin piece of marble to deal with and maybe crack. We don’t want that, now do we?

Instead I’ve had to modify the back of the cabinet. I cut a hole in the back so the faucet will mount in to the 2X4 that separates the cabinet from the open shelves. Fortunately the good people who design the faucet seem to have anticipated cramped quarters in kitchen islands and the faucet has flex lines already attached. There is no ridged copper and I won’t need to have 12-inch long fingers the diameter of pencils to attach any lines.


The hole you see is in the cabinet and will be completely behind the sink and garbage disposal so it will never bee seen. Cutting the hole solved one problem but the problems didn’t stop there. If you add up the thickness of the 2X4, quarter-inch plywood, and the marble I would be at about 3-inches. The bolt to secure the faucet is 3.25-inches. That means the faucet would have to hang on by just a few threads. Not enough. So I had to get out Ye Old Reciprocating Saw and hack in to the 2X4. I hacked it good and this gave me another inch or more for the bolt. This should be fine.

I also got all the electrical hooked up. I got an email today saying my push button switch and face plate were on their way. I used a crappy regular switch as a stand-in just so I could get it done. The switch operates an outlet in the cabinet that the garbage disposal will be hooked up to, and then there is also an outlet on the front for everyday use. Everything is in working order now.

The HomeImprovmentNija asked a question about working on marble with woodworking tools in yesterday's post. He specifically brought up the issue of me working with a router on the marble. I’ve never done this myself but I’ve seen it done. I also talked with the guy I’m buying the marble from and he didn’t bat an eye when I told him my plans. This is the way to do it. However, I do have a small piece of marble left over from the bathroom. I had to replace a small piece of the backsplash for the bathroom sink and I will use it to test on. It’s all very nerve wracking but it’s one of those things where you know it can be done so I just have to do it. Of course, I need to plan, plan, plan, plan, plan. Almost every waking minute, when my brain isn’t thinking about something else, it switches in to Marble Mode.

Next up: More Templates and Router Practice