Monday, April 30, 2007

Plating Prices Presented

I got a call today from Astro Chrome and Polishing on the items I sent in to be nickel plated. I wasn’t home when they called so I was not able to confirm the information, but the message was clear. This is for stripping and plating 4 claw foot tub feet, a drain assembly for a claw foot tub, a fancy, cast brass TP holder, and a pair of small brackets for the marble sink. The reason I’m doing the tub feet is because they will see more water than normal because of the tub shower design. Originally, I was just going to paint them. The whole procedure will be to strip back to bare metal, copper pre-plate, nickel plate, and then polish.

Above are the results of the poll I posted. I never posted a guess in the pole, but the figure I had in my head was about 50% lower than the actual cost. To be fair, though, I had no idea since I've never had anything like this done before. I could have gotten it done cheaper, I’m sure, but I feel you sometimes get what you pay for. It would suck big time if the tub feet started rusting in a few years. Sometimes it’s worth it in the long run to do it right the first time.

There is also the issue of paying for not having to deal with flakes and losers. I think a good indication of the work that will be done is the promptness with which they contacted me. I shipped the package late Thursday to LA and they called me with a quote today, on Monday. I just get this feeling that I'm not going to be shipping these items back to them 2 or 3 times for them to finally get it right.

The total comes to {drum roll}: $325.00

Yes, that’s a lot of money, and some people will think I’m nuts, and they’re probably right.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Livable Green To The Rescue!

Earlier today I wrote how I was lamenting my color choice for the bathroom walls. It was my failed attempt to make color picking easier that lead me to choose the uninspiring Dover White. I figured I would need to repaint, but I mentioned how buying more paint was not in the budget this week.

After I put the crown molding up today, which was a blog worthy event in itself, but only because of the challenges. If it wasn’t the slightly wavy 1895 beadboard ceiling causing problems, it was the, shall we say, slightly less than plumb walls giving me problems. Also, in my haste to get some plaster up to show the family, I forgot to put a screed at the top of the door wall. Oh, when will I learn. That wall had a few waves of it’s own that weren’t really noticeable until you put a straight edge on it. Eventually the crown molding was put up….and then taken back down….and put back up….and taken back down….and finally put up and it looks good.

Anyway, after I put up the crown molding I remembered that I had some green paint left over from house painting last year. Quite a bit, in fact. A few years before I started painting the house I went out and bought a 5 gallon pail of SW Basil and a 5 gallon pail of SW Livable Green. After getting about a gallon of the Livable Green on a side wall I decided it was much too light to use (this is one of the reasons I hate picking colors).

In an effort to use up the remaining 4 gallons or so of Livable Green I saved 1 gallon to use for high-lights on the gingerbread and combined the rest with some of the Basil. This new color I called Petch House Green and it went on the 3 attic gables that have fish scale shingles. Well, there’s not many shingles on the gables, and although there is a lot of high-lighting on the gingerbread, a gallon of Livable Green goes a long way. I still had about a half gallon of that.

Neither of these two colors was quite right for the bathroom, and there was only a half gallon of the Livable Green, so today I mixed up yet a third color using the remaining half gallon of Livable Green and topping it off with the Petch House Green. This new color I’m calling Puke Green.

The reason I call it Puke Green is not because it doesn’t look nice. Not at all. If you think about it, where does one normally go to puke? In the bathroom, of course, and that’s where I’m using this latest creation for the Petch House line of custom colors. The best part is, I don’t find it entirely offensive.

Here are some shots with the Dover Gack! White, and then with the Puke Green.

Dover Gack! White

Puke GreenThis is fresh puke. It will lighten a hair as it dries. I would say it's a shade darker than the Clarey Sage I put on the second story shingles.

I think we have a winner!

Instinct Is Not My Thing

The failed experiment of me being impetuous and acting on instinct is now on the bathroom walls and it looks terrible. The Dover White paint I hastily picked out, pretty much looks like white primer in satin on the walls. Along with the white subway tile, and the soon to be white floor tile, the room will probably end up looking more like a place you would hose off lunatics who have soiled themselves again, rather than an elegant Victorian bathroom.

What was I thinking? I spent all of about 2 minutes picking it out, hoping that this impulse method would save me from the agony of needing to once again pick out a paint color. I don’t know why it’s so unpleasant for me, but it just is. It’s not that I’m picky, or maybe I am, who knows. I just like what I like, and lot’s of color is something I really don’t like in my house. I think I’m afraid it will ending up looking like a clown house or something. No offense to clowns.

I was trying to avoid green once again, because I have a green house and a green kitchen, and I don’t want the whole house to be green. I think green is a nice color for kitchens and baths, and I do have a lot of house yet to be painted, so maybe it’s too early for me to give up on green. There was a “Show me your living room” thread over at The Old House Web last week and there were a surprising number of green living rooms. It got me to wondering if green is to the Two-Thousands, what orange and yellows were to The Seventies. Will people look back 20 years from now and think, “What was with all of the green”?

So I’ve learned a valuable lesson, instinct is not for me. I need to think, over think, deliberate, and obsess over a decision like this. As uncomfortable as it is, it’s something I must endure. Either way, it seems, the experience is unpleasant. Either I obsess over it and eventually – hopefully – pick the right color, or I “instinctually” pick the wrong color and then obsess over the mistake. It’s a lose-lose situation.

So, it’s pretty much $35 of Dover White paint down the drain, or maybe, over the cliff might be more appropriate. The trouble is, I’m not sure it’s in the budget this pay-period to buy another gallon of paint. I bought the new marble vanity, the slabs of redwood, the crown molding, and shipped a heavy package of cast iron and brass down to LA to have some things nickel plated. Oh, and I go to the dentist tomorrow and I don’t have dental insurance, so that’s another out-of-pocket expense.

I may be stuck with this Dover White for a week or two. I’ll hide the still almost full gallon and if anybody asks, I’ll say it’s primer on the walls.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

I Got Wood Today

I was walking back from the market today and as I passed an alley about two blocks from my house I saw some curly redwood slabs leaning up against a garage. You don’t just pass by opportunities like this without inquiring about the wood. The house is a fairly non-descript 40s stucco bungalow. It is about as bland as a bungalow can get and still be called a bungalow.

The family that lives there has a couple of sons in their early teens, and two older boys as well. I see the younger ones a lot in the neighborhood on their bikes. They’re good kids. They go around and mow lawns in the summer. The house is a real hang-out spot and there always seems to be something going on. I know the boys well enough that I felt comfortable walking around back.

I asked one of the younger boys if the redwood was for sale. He said probably and he went and got his older brother. There were probably eight pieces altogether. Two of them were large, thick slabs, and the others were much smaller. I was only interested in the 2 larger pieces. They were book matched.

The older brother came out and we chatted. I asked him how much he wanted and he asked me how much I thought they were worth. I pointed to the big one standing up and I said $50. I immediately felt that was too much. It was nice wood, but maybe not that nice. It was curly, and had some nice tight grain, but it was nothing like the fence post wood I wrote about a few weeks back.

He said $50 sounded good. I told him I needed to go get some money and my truck and I’d be back. He said if I wanted the other one I could take them both today and pay him later. I wasn’t going to pay $100 for both, so I told him I would take the one today and let him know later if I was interested other one.

I walked home and got my truck and drove to the store to get some cash. When I went back by to pick up the wood he tells me he’ll sell me both for $65 and I can pay him the other $15 when ever I get it. That’s a fair deal I think. It’s a good amount of wood, and they’re nice thick pieces.

This is cut with a chain saw and still real rough. it will look better sanded smooth and oiled up

The boards are 6-feet tall, 3-inches thick, and range in width from 9 to 13 inches wide. I can split one and use it for a thick counter top maybe. Six feet is a little short for that, but maybe I can be creative. The other one can be milled in to 1X4 stock for rails and stiles for face frames, or maybe make some raised panels. Who knows, I got it, that’s the important thing.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Good, Bad, or Indifferent

I’ve picked the color for the bathroom walls. I just went in and did it. I was like a bathroom-wall-paint-color-picking machine. I hate picking out colors, so my new thing is to not think about it and just act on instinct like an animal, or a machine, as the case may be. It remains to be seen how well this New Thing works.

I went with Sherwin Williams Dover White in satin. If you recall the trim is going to be Queen Anne’s Lace, which is a very pale green. In fact, it’s so pale, unless it gets up against a color that is more pale, it’s hard to tell it is a green.

The Queen Anne’s Lace will be on the window trim on the window opposite the toilet, the medicine cabinet, door trim, the two built-in cabinets, and the bead board ceiling and crown molding. It is a lot of wood considering the relatively small size of the room. I think if the Queen Anne’s Lace were used on much less wood, it would not be noticeable as a green at all. I painted the beadboard ceiling more than a month ago and it wasn’t until today when I primered the walls that the green started to come out.

Speaking of the walls, as I just said, I got the primer on them today. They really look nice. I couldn’t be happier with the plaster work, with the one little exception of a hair line crack that has developed over the shower. I’m not sure what to do about it. For now, I’m going to ignore it and hope it goes away. This usually works for illness and non-emergency medical problems, so I’m hoping it will work with cracks in the plaster as well. Fingers crossed.

I also picked up the crown molding today. I bought the finger jointed pre-primed pine crap. This is the first time I’m putting something other than redwood or fir in the house. I feel so cheap. I should have gone to the mill and had custom redwood molding made. Is this a sign of things to come? Will I start considering vinyl windows next? Maybe I’ll re-install that green high-low shag carpeting? That carpet was kind of nice, now that I think about it.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

High-Tank Saga Final Act

I don’t know if any of you remember the high-tank parts saga I had with that bathroom parts supplier I’m no longer mentioning by name. You know the one I’m talking about. Anyway, I stopped blogging about it, but the troubles continued. It became too painful to even think about, let alone write about.

I actually had to return the flush valve one last time. At this point I’m not sure what happened. There is a chance that I told them inch and a quarter, but it’s not likely. Regardless, I received an inch and a quarter flush valve and not inch and a half as I needed. After sending it back a few times (I lost count) I went to try and install it on the flush tube and realized it was the wrong size. When I realized it was the wrong size, after returning it so many times, my shoulders slumped a bit, and my head drooped down between my shoulders a bit, but that was it. I didn’t yell or scream or cry. I was beaten, but as much as I hated to, I had to return it once more.

By now, this is weeks after I wrote some truthful but also scathing blog entries about the service I had received. If you Googled this company’s name some of my blog entries come up near the top of page one. I decided it was time to be conciliatory in my dealings with them. I sent back the flush valve yet again, only this time with a very polite note. I speculated this snafu may have been my mistake and would they please rectify the mistake that may or may not have been mine. I just wanted my flush valve.

A week goes by and I don’t hear anything. Remember, I was beaten down at this point. The fire had gone out. I just wanted the right flush valve and I had time. The bathroom is far from finished. I could wait. Two weeks go by and I hear nothing. Three weeks – nothing. I don’t remember how long it was that I waited but I eventually called them.

I got Jim this time, not his dim-witted assistant, and he assured me the part was received and the correct part was sent out. I asked if I he could confirm that it was sent and he told me he remembers taking care of it personally. It’s possible the mail could be delayed so I waited some more. Another week passed with no part.

I called Jim yet again. I was a little more persistent this time and I asked if he could find any shipping confirmation. I had my credit card statement that showed I had been credited for the wrong part, but I was never billed for the new part. He told me he would look in to it and get back to me.

I got a call a few hours later. I wasn’t at home, but Jim left me a message. He told me that the part I returned only needed to be modified. They could cut off the inch and a quarter threaded stem and solder on an inch a half stem. He had taken it back to the shop but no one knew what to do with it, so there it sat for more than a month. It just sat there and no one bothered to question it.

Jim apologized. The part was fixed and I received it 4 days later. That was several weeks ago when I was up to my ears in windows and tile so it sat until yesterday. I finally got around to fixing the tank and installing the valve this week. I now have all of the correct parts and the toilet is complete. This started in December.

I rebuilt the hole with PC-11 marine epoxy. The nut was just big enough to cover the epoxy if I got the valve perfectly centered, which I did not. I had to touch up with a little paint, but it should be fine.

Above is the valve installed. You can see a little paint. I’ll clean that up once it’s installed. A little more touch-up and a few coats of shellac, and it should be all but invisible. I put a bead of caulk between the washer and the copper liner in the tank. Tomorrow or the next day I’ll do a water test to make sure there are no leaks. I feel good about it at this point.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Plating News

I called Astro Chrome & Polishing today to see about sending them some bathroom items for nickel plating. I tried to get an estimate from the person I spoke with, but he basically said it all depends on condition. The best he could tell me was that there was a $75 minimum, so it will be at least that much.

I mentioned it yesterday, but to recap, I’m having a few things for the bathroom nickel plated. On some, the original plating has worn off, others are new, fabricated parts that need to be plated, and some were never plated, but for the sake of protection, I’m having them plated.

I’ve never done this before, so it’s new territory for me. We don’t have anyone locally that can do it. I called some places in the area and did not feel good about the conversation I had with them. With one guy I had to repeatedly correct him that it was nickel and not chrome I wanted, and others sort of had funny comments when I told them these were antique plumbing parts.

Astro Chrome & Polishing was recommended to me by Don Hooper, who owns Vintage Plumbing. When I spoke to the man at Astro today, he didn’t flinch when I mentioned it was old plumbing parts. I sort of tried to give him as much information about what it was I wanted plated, and the condition it was in, while we were talking. I wanted to make sure I wasn't going to get a, “Boy, I don’t know about that”, or, “Well, I guess we can do that”. With each curve ball I threw at him his response was something like, “Yes, we’re familiar with that”, or “We do this often”. It’s just the sort of thing you want to hear.

On their web site they even have a link for “Hardware” and it shows a few pictures of nicely nickel plated bathroom and door hardware, along with some other high-end house wares. The man I spoke with told me to UPS the items to him, and once they get them, they will contact me with an estimate. I’m going to send them out tomorrow or Friday.

The Polls are still open.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

How Much Will It Cost

I’m in the home stretch of spending money on the bathroom. There are still more expenditures to be made, but none are capital expenditures, and there only a few. I need a gallon of paint, some outlet and switch covers, and some other little things like that. The last unknown is the nickel plating. I’ve never had this done before, and I have no idea what to expect.

I want to get 4 claw foot tub feet, two small brackets for the sink, the waste pipes for the tub, and a toilet paper holder plated. The brackets are new, and they are only about 6-inches high an inch wide. The TP holder is pretty clean, and shouldn’t need a lot of prep. The tub feet will need to be sand blasted I guess, and the tub waste pipes have a lot of paint and grime on them as well.

We don’t have a anyone locally, so I’m going to send it all to a place in LA that was recommended by the owner of Vintage Plumbing, who was the guy who made the little brackets for me. Anybody want to take a guess what this might cost? Make your selection below. For the sake of the poll, shipping and taxes won’t be included.

How Much Will It Cost?
Less than $50
$50 to $75
$76 to $100
$101 to $125
$126 to $150
$151 to $175
$176 to $200
More Than $200
Free polls from

Also, I bought another marble vanity today. I really can’t afford it, but it was a good price. It was listed in an Ebay store at $97.66 (odd price) and it had a Make an Offer button. I emailed the seller with a few questions, and I think it will be much better than the one I have now. I mentioned last week why I don’t care for the one I have.

The new one is white marble, so it will match the other marble in the bathroom and kitchen. It is also finished on 3 sides, unlike the one I have now. It does not come with a sink bowl, but the one I have fits it, and it’s also the same depth, but just 2 inches narrower than the one I have now. I’ll just need to trim the front apron piece by 2-inches and it should fit nicely. This will give me a little more clearance for the door as well.

I made an offer of $75 and he/she excepted today. With shipping it comes to $114, which, as it turns out, is the least expensive one I looked at. I’ll see if I can sell the one I have locally on CraigsList, or to a friend. I’ll wait and make sure the new one arrives on one piece first, though.

Monday, April 23, 2007

They’re Real, and They’re Spectacular

The plaster walls are finished, and I couldn’t be happier with the way the they came out. They are as smooth as glass and will require NO SANDING!!!! Woo-Hoo!

The product I skim coated with is the Diamond Veneer Finish Plaster. It is a completely different animal than the Structo-Lite plaster. The Structo-Lite, which is used in the scratch and brown coats, is comprised of Gypsum Plaster and Expanded Perlite. The Diamond Veneer Plaster is made up of Plaster of Paris, Hydrated Lime, Gypsum, and then it also says it may contain limestone or Dolomite. It warns of it giving off heat when mixing with water, but I didn’t experience this, or at least not to the extent that I could tell. The heat would be from the lime reacting with the water.

The finish plaster sets up very fast. The package says to not make more than you can work with in 30 minutes, but I would say it’s more like 10 minutes. With the Structo-Lite I was mixing a 3:1 ratio with water, and with the Diamond I was mixing it 2.5:1. Some batches were so soupy I had trouble getting the plaster from hawk to trowel. Even with that, once it’s on the wall you can rub your hand across it in less than 30 seconds. It sets up that fast. It’s not hard as a rock in 30 seconds but it’s firm enough you can feel for irregularities.

In the Worley PDF it says to mix some of the Structo-Lite with the Diamond, but someone else who was also taught this method of plastering emailed me a few years back and said they were taught not add the Structo-Lite. I think this was done to increase the working time, but the perlite makes it hard to get a smooth wall. I used straight Diamond finish plaster this time.

Did I mention that I won’t need to sand. Woo-Hoo! I used a similar method for the finish coat as I did the other two coats, only everything was either cut in half or doubled. I mixed small batches of 2 quarts dry mix at a time. You must work fast and you can cover a lot with a batch that small because it is just a very thin skim coat. There was really no time for me to stand back a berate myself over the potentially bad job I was doing. As soon as it’s on the wall and reasonably smooth it’s time to work on it with the sprayer and scraper. Then it’s on to the next batch.

Before you know it, it’s all over. I would say it took maybe an hour and a half to do the actual skim coating. There was, of course, a lot of prep and clean-up. Of course, I WON'T NEED TO SAND! Whoo-Hoo! So the walls are pretty much ready for paint. The packaging does say apply one day and decorate the next. I think I’ll wait a while, though. Exactly how long, I’m not sure. I’m not sure if it will dry completely over night.

The other odd thing about the packaging is that it gives a number of surfaces over which the Diamond plaster can be applied. It doesn’t mention Structo-Lite or blue-board, yet two sources have told me this is what they apply the finish plaster over. More confusion from USG. Also, I had to go back today and buy one more bag of the finish plaster. I asked the guy in the warehouse if they carried any other plaster and he said that was it, just the Structo-Lite and the Diamond finish plaster.

Ideally, I would start putting in the floor tile next, but I only have 60 sq ft of tile ready for installation. I want to get all of it cleaned so I can use the best in the most visible areas. Cleaning the tile is just so hard, though. It’s not something I want to do for hours at a time. I think I may go ahead and paint the walls and put up the crown molding next. I’m not sure.

Oh, and did I mention I won’t need to sand the walls. Woo-Hoo!

One final thought on Lime plaster. As we’ve all heard and read, lime plaster walls must cure for a year before you can paint them. In the book I quoted the other day, it said the reason for this was because the new plaster would absorb the oil in the paint and leave you with a mottled finish. It was said a painter would apply 5 coats of oil paint to the walls. Does any of this sound odd?

First, who applies 5 coats of paint? Well, if you were working with paint that was linseed oil, lead, and pigment I guess you might need to. This got me to thinking about the fact that all that I hear about lime plaster is based on 100 year old information. Would new oil or latex paints be absorbed in to the plaster like the old linseed oil paint? Did they start with a good primer 100 years ago? Maybe not? I’m willing to bet that new lime plaster walls could be painted much, much sooner than their 100 year old counterparts if modern paints were used. Hopefully I will be able to test this theory with the next room I plaster.

Here's some pictures of my walls that won't need sanding {snicker}.

My Mom’s idea is to make a stencil of the design in the window and use it as a boarder around the top of the room.

There will be 1X3 crown molding were the plaster meets the beadboard ceiling

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Plaster Pictures, As Promised

But first, I want to clear up something about yesterday’s post. I speculated that I had bought two different types of base coat plaster from US Gypsum. After I posted, I went to the USG web site and looked up the product.

The perlited gypsum base coat plaster that I bought last week matched what was on their site. I could not find on the site the bag of perlited gypsum base coat plaster that I had purchased 2 years ago. However, when I downloaded the PDF file that had all of their products and looked up perlited gypsum base coat plaster in that, it showed the bag I had bought 2 years ago, but not the new one. It seems someone in marketing got bored and they just redesigned the bag. The ingredients and instructions for use are the virtually the same on both bags.

Why I have problems with the old product is anybody’s guess. It could just be because of problems inherent with any manufacturing process of a mixed product like this. Maybe the bags I bought two years ago were from the bottom of a mix and they had a little more perlite in them (or not enough). Who knows. Regardless, it seems to be the same product, just different packaging. The site did say there were two versions of the product. One is for lath and the other is for masonry (applying directly over brick or cinder block), but both bags I have indicate it is to be applied over lath.

The old type just sets up so quickly no matter how thin I made the mix. At one point I had it set up on the trowel as I was applying it! I had a quarter inch skim coat of plaster that was hard on the trowel from a mix that was only a few minutes old. This never happened with the new stuff. The working time of the old stuff is 5 to 10 minutes max, while it is 15 to 20 minutes with the new stuff. It is very frustrating to work with. The amount of loss I had in the bathroom was maybe a quart. With the kitchen it was close to an entire bag over the course of the job.

Also, it seems the perlite is a replacement for sand in the scratch and brown coats. They do sell an un-perlited plaster that is to have sand added to it on the job site. I think the perlite puts the “Lite” in Structo-Lite plaster. Being that perlite, once expanded, is an airy, puffed mineral, it must weigh much less than sand. That is not to say that Structo-Lite when mixed with water does not weigh a lot. In fact, it is dense and heavy. I’m sure it’s just lighter than plaster with sand. Oh, those wacky marketers.

Now, on with the show. I should once again point out that I am a novice at plastering. If someone else who seems to know what they are talking about gives you different information, then you should seriously consider taking that advice.

The brown coat went on very well. I mix the plaster in a roughly 3:1 ratio of plaster to water. The instructions give mixing ratios by weight, but I’m not going to weigh dry mix and water. The Red Sea analogy is good, but if given a choice, the scratch coat should be on the dry side and the brown coat should be on the wet site. One batch for me is 6 quarts of dry mix to 2 quarts of water. I mix first with a small hand trowel and then finish mixing with an attachment on a drill. I put up one mix in three batches on the hawk working with a 12-inch metal trowel.

I don’t expect to get it perfectly smooth at first. When initially applying the brown coat to the wall I’m concentrating on thickness. I want to get an even thickness on the wall and get it relatively smooth. I make sure I fill any large voids and get an even thickness at the screeds. Around doors, windows, or anyplace that has trim you should have wooden screeds nailed up to ensure the thickness is accurate. Three eights inch screeds is the standard. I have half inch screeds along the tile, and then 3/8ths every where else. You don’t want wavy plaster where a piece of wooden trim meets the plaster. In the center of a wall though, it’s not as important that it be accurate. This is one of the great things about plaster and old houses. You don’t need smooth, flat walls or perfect angles to start with.

After I have mixed 2 or 3 batches and applied them to the wall I go back over the first batch I put up. This is about 15 or 20 minutes after I applied the first batch. By this time it has the consistency of firm modeling clay. I take a semi-flexible, 4-inch scraper and a squirt bottle and smooth out any areas that came out less than perfect the first time. I fill in any small voids and just kind of clean it up. The next coat is going to be a very thin finish coat, so this is the time to make the wall look good and get rid of any bumps, voids or problem areas. USG says on the bag to leave it rough to except the finish coat. If I was good enough I could probably do the second pass with the 12-inch metal trowel. Maybe someday.

After that I mix another batch and apply it, and then go back and smooth out a batch I put up 2 or 3 batches ago. It goes pretty fast, but does tend to slow down around tight areas. It’s easy to get frustrated around light switches, outlets and other areas like that. Just remember that you have a good 15 or 20 minutes to work with it. I went back to some areas 2 or 3 times and worked on them some more with the scraper and squirt bottle. Once it sets up completely though, you will be reduced to sandpaper, or maybe even a hammer and chisel. This is stuff gets very, very hard when it sets.

Here are some random shots of the room

This is the scratch coat. The walls are very rough.

It’s hard to see but the next two are shots are the same spot on the wall.

This is the first pass.

This is after the second pass with the squirt bottle and scraper.

You can see the wood screeds around the vent.

More shots of the brown coat. This is how it looks now.

Before I started I laid down pieces of cardboard and taped them together. The plaster is much too sticky for plastic or paper. In fact, it’s much stickier than joint compound, but then, why would I be using joint compound on plaster walls (Wink: Gary)

After I’m finished I pull up the cardboard and then once over with the shop-vac. I’ll put down more cardboard for the finish coat.

Next up: The Finish Coat

Saturday, April 21, 2007

More Plaster Confusion

The place I buy my plaster from is essentially a brickyard. They sell other things besides bricks, but most everything is brick or masonry related. Most of their business goes to trades people and they aren’t really set up to handle a brisk retail business.

When I go to buy the plaster I pull up to a small cinder block office building, and go in and tell a woman I need some plaster. She gets on an intercom and calls out to the yard that a customer is coming for plaster. She then tells me to drive to the second warehouse and someone will meet me there.

I drive through the gate and back to the second warehouse where two bored looking young men are leaning against pallets of different masonry products. There are a dozen different products in 50 and 80 pound bags on all of the different pallets. I tell them I want 3 Structo-Lite and 3 Diamond Finish plaster. There are no prices and none of the pallets are marked. They load up my truck and write up a tag. I then drive back to the cinderblock warehouse where the woman fills in the prices and totals, and I pay her.

I don’t remember what I got three years ago when I did my first plaster work in the upstairs bathroom. That room came out great and I had few problems. Then 2 years ago I did the kitchen and it didn’t go as smoothly. Some of the problems, which I won’t go in to, were unrelated to the plaster, but in general, it just didn’t go as smooth.

When I did the kitchen I bought the product in the picture above. It is the same as in the Worley PFD file. It is Structo-Lite Pre-Mixed Perlited Gypsum Plaster. Perlite is a volcanic mineral that has the interesting property that when it’s heated to 1600 degrees it pops like popcorn. It expands to 20 times it’s original size and is a common filler in masonry products. I still had most of one bag left over from the kitchen, and I was planning on using it up this time.

When I went to get more plaster this time I went through the same routine at the brickyard only this time they gave me a different product, or at least I think they might have. Below is what I got this time. It’s called Structo-Lite Base Coat. The ingredients are the same (Plaster of Paris and Expanded Perlite), but it seems to be a slightly different product.

Maybe it’s just my imagination, but this Base Coat Structo-Lite seems to be easier to mix and does not set up as quickly. After I finished my first bag of the of the Base Coat I got the old bag of pre-mixed perlited plaster and started mixing it in with the other type. I used 1/3 of the old and 1/3 of the new and 1/3 of the diamond finish plaster for the brown coat. Immediately I began to have the same problems I had in the kitchen. It’s just harder to work with.

After a few batches with the old Sturcto-Lite I decided it wasn’t worth it and I would just throw it away rather than deal with the problems it caused. The trouble is, I now don’t have enough plaster to finish the room. Also, the brickyard is only open Monday through Friday. My choices are to wait until Monday to finish, or muddle through with the old plaster I don’t like.

I’ve decided to use it anyway so I can finish up this weekend. I got about 4/5th of the way around the room when I realized I would need to use the old Structo-Lite. I had been at it for several hours today, and I decided to wait and finish up tomorrow. There is nothing worse than running in to problems at the end of the day. I’ll just start in fresh tomorrow and finish the room. I have a half of bag of the old and a half of bag of the new, so I'll just mix them together and hope for the best. I should be able to get the brown coat finished and start the finish coat tomorrow.

Tomorrow I’ll post lots of pictures and more tips & tricks I’ve discovered.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Finally, Plaster.

I’ve got walls! It feels good too. I got the scratch coat on all the bathroom walls today. It took about 3 hours. I think I could have done it in under 2 if I had someone to mix plaster while I troweled it on.

There was nothing too exciting about the plastering today. It went well. I did notice a few things that might be helpful to any would-be plasterers out there. In the great Plaster Repair PDF made by Dave from The Worley Place, he says to mix the plaster to a consistency of “Cake Batter but just a tad soupy”. I found this difficult to imagine because I’m not a baker. What is the consistency of cake batter? I made the first few batches of scratch coat too soupy. This was one of the reasons I think my Keys were so large.

I tried to come up with a better way to describe it. For me, I like it to be the consistency of warm peanut butter. That’s sounds good to me, but what if you’re allergic to peanuts, you’re probably thinking, “Warm peanut butter!? What the hell does that look like?” I ran in to similar problems with other analogies for consistency.

Soft shoe polish: shoe polish allergies
Soft serve ice cream: lactose intolerant
Squished cockroach innards: cockroach innards allergies

The list goes on. No matter what the analogy, someone will be left out. Then as I was mixing up a perfect batch of plaster the perfect analogy came to me as if by some unseen force. As I was mixing the plaster with my little 2-inch wide trowel, I thought to myself, “Wow, this is just a perfect batch of plaster”. As I scraped the bottom once more with the trowel I noticed how the deep valley I created in the pail looked kind of like when Charlton Heston parted the Red Sea in the movie The Ten Commandments. That’s when it came to me. This is the analogy everyone will understand. I mean, I’m an atheist and I’ve seen that scene dozens of time. It’s part of the collective consciousness.

So when you’re mixing your plaster for the scratch coat get it to where you can “Part The Red Sea” with your trowel and have smooth sides. The sides of the "sea" should be smooth, and maybe sag just a hair. If they flop in too much, the mix is too wet. If you get any cracks or breaks, the mix is too dry. Go Unto Thee And Be Like Moses...Or Charlton Heston, Which Ever Works Best. {Said in a loud, booming voice}.

Other helpful tips: Don’t put the pail of plaster at the base of the ladder where you can step in it. I’m not going to say how I know this is a good tip, you're going to have to trust me on this one. Also, don’t wear expensive Italian loafers when plastering. Trust me on this one as well.

And one last thought on the origins of plaster. I can’t shake the train of thought about how and when gypsum plaster became the preferred method to lime and sand plaster. It’s easy to see how drywall supplanted them all. It’s a quicker method. Quicker does not necessarily mean better, it’s just quicker. And for a professional, the quicker you can work, the more money you can make. That’s easy to see. There seems to be little difference in the methods for the two types of plaster, though. So why the switch. Then it dawned on me: Marketing! The great un-equalizer.

I’m sure that’s the missing link. US Gypsum had a product that they wanted to move. Plasterers that used lime plaster did not buy US Gypsum plaster. It was probably through a series of clever marketing campaigns, discounted merchandise to get shelf space, and maybe some threats and intimidation that they were able to get there product in to the hands of more and more plasters. Lime was used in enough of the other building trades that the use of lime in plaster could have lost the focus of the lime producers for a short enough period that the switch was made among plasterers, and even more importantly, those that sold products to plasterers. Or maybe the lime producers were cocky and assumed they could never lose the market. A fatal mistake for many industries though out the ages.

The old saying goes, Build a better mouse trap and the world will beat a path to your door. A modern twist on that could be, Market your mouse trap better, and you can beat your own path.

Tomorrow: The Brown Coat

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Still More on Plaster

This is from the book Victorian Interior Decoration 1830 to 1900

Painting walls or ceilings in the 19th Century required a hard finished surface or stuccoed wall, built up of 3 coats of plaster, with the final coat plaster of Paris, creating a perfectly smooth surface. New walls had to dry, or “season” for a year before being painted in oils; otherwise they would absorb the oil as they dried, giving an unsatisfactory, mottled finish. When the walls were ready the painter applied an average of 5 coats of paint, each composed of lead, pigments, and oil. The final coat was often thinned with turpentine to reduce the gloss.

Unlike oils, distemper paint, an opaque water color paint made from tempera, could be applied immediately to any newly plastered wall or ceiling – there was no need to wait for the surface to cure – and could also be applied to walls finished more cheaply in lime and sand. The American name for distemper paint was calcimine (or “kalsomine”). Distemper – calcimine – is closely related to “whitewash”, a finish based on whiting (finely ground chalk) and a solution of water, salt, and lime. The term whitewash should not be taken literally since coloring agents could be added to the mixture.

Distemper and whitewash had several advantages over oil-based paints. Because they were water based they were far less expensive. They could be applied immediately to new walls, and their drying time was rapid. They were relatively odorless. As they were fairly easy to work with, a skilled painter was not required to apply them. Critics also praised the flat or matte finish they produced. Because they could be applied to new hard-finished walls, they were often used as a temporary first coat.

The book I got that from breaks down the Victorian era by period, with each period usually separated in to decades. The above is from the first chapter, which is 1830 to 1850. It does seem that lime and gypsum were not completely exclusive, but were used together. According to that, the lime and sand plaster was used for the scratch and brown coats, and then the gypsum based plaster of Paris was used as the finish coat. It still indicates that walls needed a year to cure, even though the Preservation Brief says gypsum plaster cures in 3 weeks and that was one of the advantages over lime. More contradictions.

I found this line interesting:

distemper paint…could also be applied to walls finished more cheaply in lime and sand.

So it looks like maybe the Petch family took the cheap route and did not finish the walls with the gypsum based plaster of Paris finish coat. This kind of made sense, since most of the walls were papered. Only the kitchen and bathroom did not have wallpaper. The kitchen did have an 18-inch boarder, but the wall between the beadboard and boarder were “painted” plaster. Painted is in quotes because it seems it may have been distemper. Perhaps gypsum plaster was hard to get here, and if you’re going paper, why go to the trouble and expense to acquire it and apply it.

Also, when I moved the wall back in the bathroom and discovered the original “painted” plaster – it was a light blue color that I tried to duplicate – I always thought it looked odd. It looked more like the plaster was tinted blue, rather than a blue oil paint applied. The color was only on the surface, though. I now think this was distemper and not paint. I now wish I had repaired the original finished lime and sand coat and painted with distemper. Oh, well.

Oh, and the answer to yesterday’s question, “When was sheetrock invented” is, June 11, 1912. At least that’s the earliest patent date I have on the sheetrock that use used in my house in the late teens or 20s. When they added the bathroom to the kitchen they used sheetrock. On the back of each piece was a sticker with instructions for storing and hanging the sheetrock. At the bottom are a series of patent dates and the earliest one is June 11, 1912.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

More Thoughts On Plaster

Correct me if I’m wrong, and this time I mean it.

I’ve been peiceing together information on plaster and drywall over the last few years. A bit of it is because I’m curious about different construction techniques, but mainly because I wanted to try and use historically correct building methods in the restoration of the house.

Getting information about plaster repair was not easy when I first started working on The Petch House. I didn’t even know there was more than one type of plaster. As I said yesterday, Dave from The Worley Place supplied me with very good information on the use of Gypsum Plaster. From what I’ve been able to gather, the two basic types of plaster are Gypsum and Lime. So the question is, why was one preferred over the other?

From an old house prospective, the Gypsum plaster seems to be the newer method for wall plastering, while the Lime plaster seems to be the older method. Plaster of Paris is gypsum plaster, and the ancient Egyptians, and many other cultures have used gypsum plaster for thousands of years. There is nothing new about gypsum plaster.

There is nothing new about lime based plaster either, from what I can tell. It seems to go back thousands of years as well. I assume the method for creating lime for plaster is the same as quicklime for lime mortar. Bare with me, I’m no chemists, so I’m sure this is over-simplified. Anyway, you take lime stone and cook it in a kiln to burn off the carbon dioxide. This creates what is known as Quicklime or Burnt Lime. Adding water to quicklime starts another process which I guess sort of reverses the process the lime stone went through in the kiln. Simply put, the water starts a chemical reaction in which the lime gets hard again.

The process for turning raw gypsum in to plaster is similar, from what I’ve been able to tell. I tried to figure out why one was used over the other. I thought maybe it was regional. If an area had a lot of lime stone and kilns near by maybe they used lime plaster, and if you had a source of gypsum you used gypsum plaster.

I know that there is both a source for gypsum and limestone in California, and I also know that there were many lime kilns in central California at the turn of the century. When I lived in Santa Cruz I would go hiking in the local mountains and there were a few old lime kilns still up in the mountains. They were crude structures built up against a small cliff.

In So. California there is Plaster City which is a source of gypsum plaster, which I assume has been an active source for a very long time. Given the amount of commerce going up and down the coast by ship it seems that either could be a source of plaster for my house. So why did they use lime instead of gypsum? Also, why were some houses skim coated with a finish coat and others were not.

My walls don’t have what you would think of as a finish skim coat of plaster. There may have been a scratch and a brown coat, but really, it looks the same all the way through for the most part. The only difference I can tell about the surface of the plaster, and what’s behind it, is that I never see any animal hair on the surface. Maybe it was skim coated, but there is definitely sand in the skim coat. It is not the smooth, white skim coat one normally associates with later plaster jobs.

If you have sandy plaster walls, then it’s lime based. Even if it’s smooth on top, that may just be a skim coat of plaster (lime or gypsum) without sand. Why gypsum plaster wasn’t applied to more walls in 19th century homes, I can’t say. Or maybe it was and I’m just not aware of it. From my limited perspective, it seems that plaster walls in 19th century homes were largely lime based horse hair plaster, while gypsum based plaster became more and more popular in the early 20th century. I could be wrong.

The lime based plaster is usually referred to as “Horse Hair” plaster, but it was not limited to just the use of horse hair. The hair in the plaster acts as a binding agent to hold everything together. At some point drywall, also known as sheetrock, became the predominant method for finishing walls in a house. I can’t say exactly when sheetrock got it’s start, but I do know when the first US patents for sheetrock were obtained by the US Gypsum Co.

And that will be today’s poll question.

When was sheetrock invented?
Before 1860
1860 to 1870
1871 to 1880
1881 to 1890
1891 to 1900
1901 to 1910
1911 to 1920
1921 to 1930
1931 to 1940
After 1940
Free polls from


Seconds after I posted this I had a thought. Maybe it was the rise of the automobile that lead to the demise of horse hair plaster. With fewer and fewer horses in the city there would be fewer places to obtain horse hair. Without a reliable supply of hair as a binding agent you would need to switch to gypsum plaster.

Horse hair plaster literally went out with the buggy whip.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Worley Way

When I bought The Petch House I knew I wanted to restore the plaster, but I had no idea how to do it. I went to a few on-line forums dealing with old houses and I started asking questions. Eventually, I found a guy named Dave at The Old House Journal forum and he gave me some information about plastering. Dave had a house he called The Worley Place. The Worley Place is a beautiful 1890s Victorian and Dave was doing some amazing restoration work on it.

Dave had been taught how to plaster by an old-time plasterer. At first I only got real basic information but I continued to pester him for details. Eventually Dave made up a PDF file with step-by-step instructions on how to plaster. He emailed it to me, or maybe posted it on his web site, I don’t recall, but he did say I could pass the information along to anyone that needed it.

Dave sort of stopped hanging out on the forum, and eventually even his web site disappeared for a while. I posted the link to the PDF file several times for people over at The Old House Web forum. The editors of The Old House Web saw it and asked if I wanted to write an on-line article about plaster repair. I explained that the PDF wasn’t mine, and I didn’t feel right about taking credit for it. At the time, I tried to get a hold of Dave, but his site was not up anymore, so the whole thing fizzled out.

Now that I’m plastering again, I thought I’d make the PDF available to anyone who wants it. Oddly enough, I made another attempt to find The Worley Place web site and it’s up and running again. I didn’t bother to try and contact Dave. It was many years ago that he made the PDF file and I’m not sure he’d remember who I was. I think I’ll send him a link to this post, though.

Anyway, below is the PDF file. This is for gypsum plaster repair, as opposed to the old lime and sand based "Horse Hair" plaster. I have used this method for repairing horse hair plaster, and talked to others who have, and the method works fine. Bearfort of The Carley Brook Farm has rediscovered the lost art of lime and sand horse hair plaster, so maybe if I keep pestering him, he will divulge the secrets on how to do that. After I plaster the bathroom with gypsum plaster I want to learn Horse Hair plaster and use that method in the rest of the house.

The Worley Place Plaster Repair PDF

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Count & The Amount

I’ve cleaned the house as well as it’s going to get cleaned for the impending family visit. Saying it’s clean is a bit if a stretch. It’s definitely clean-er. I’ll just say that’s its clean enough. My family is well aware of what I’m doing here and they’ve been here several times in the past few years. Even though the house is far from finished, it’s the best it’s ever been, so I can get away with it not being spotless. It’s all relative.

I really couldn’t do any work inside my clean house, and I was kind of tired of cleaning, so I turned my attention back to The Oberon Saloon tile. To date I have 40.5 sq ft of ready to install tile. There is another 45 sq ft that has been through the surface cleaning operation, but still needs the grout removed. Finally, there is another 30 to 40 sq ft that still sits as it was the day I pried it off the floor of The Oberon Saloon.

I’m not going to sugar coat this in the least. Removing the grout is just about the worst possible job imaginable. At one point today I was actually looking back fondly on paint stripping activities I’ve had in the past. It’s that bad. When I was searching for salvaged subway tile I was getting prices that started at $30 a sq ft and went up to $56 a sq ft. I now know why. Cleaning the salvaged tile is just the worst.

My tile, of course, is the 2-inch hex encaustic floor tile I salvaged from the 1902 Oberon Saloon. There is a two part process to cleaning it. First the surface is cleaned by soaking it in bleach for a week. That’s turned out to work well and not be too over-whelming. The next part is to remove the grout. It first seemed like it was going to not be too bad as well, but that was early on.

I bought a bench-top belt sander and that seemed to take the grout off well. The problem is, the belts wear out quickly. The coarsest belt they make for my sander is 50 grit. It does really well for the first 3 or 4 sq ft of tile and then after that it starts to degrade quickly. After about 6 sq ft it is like using a 100 grit belt. It just takes forever to get the grout off.

I got a comment from someone suggesting I use tile nippers, which I did. These work well too, but only when the grout is thick on the tile. And remember, there are 6 sides to each tile. When the grout is thick, say an eighth of an inch or more, you can snap all the grout off with one pass. It’s very satisfying when that happens. Most of the times it is not that thick though. Back in 1902 the style was thin grout lines, and most of the time there is a minimal amount of grout on the tile.

You would think it would be easy for the belt sander to get off the thin grout. You would think I could use the nippers on the thick grout and the sander for the thin stuff. You would think. Honestly, I try and do that, but there is this urge to try and get it all with the nippers. When you lock on to one of those thick chunks of grout and the whole thing snaps off cleaning with a sharp Pop!, you want to experience it again. You get to a tile with minimal amounts of grout on it and you think, if only I can get these nippers on that hair-line edge I will not have to spend so much time at the sander. It’s like an addiction.

Working with the nippers has other problems as well. You must hold them awkwardly and you seem to use muscles in ways they weren’t intended to be used. A half hour with the nippers is like doing 50 push-ups or something. I don’t know why exactly, it’s just very unnatural work.

I’m not sure I can continue working like this. I haven’t even de-grouted half the tile and the system seems unmanageable at this point. I have two thoughts so far. One, go back to the original idea of the dremel tool. I’m not sure how well this would work. I’m thinking at first I could add it to the repertoire of the nippers and sander and use it for the thin grout in the pre-sander part of the operation. I would have to invest in a dremel tool and some accessories.

The other option is to change belts more frequently. I have another 80 sq ft of tile that needs to be de-grouted. If I change belts after every 3 sq ft that’s 27 belts. The belts run $4.50 a piece, I think, so that’s $120 for belts. I’m not sure what a dremel tool costs, but I’m guessing once I buy the tool and enough abrasive accessories to do the job I need to do, it’ll be more than $120. Also, I bet if I went on-line I could find the belts cheaper if I bought in bulk. I think that’s what I’m going to do.

It’s a small price to pay, really. That is, if this works out with the tile. As I was working away with the nippers today I was adding up how much time I will have spent on this tile. I think once it’s installed I’m looking at about 3 hours per sq ft, if you include the salvage, cleaning, and installation. At $15 an hour that works out to be $45 a sq ft, which is in the ballpark of the prices of salvaged tile I was getting. Of course, the big difference is, as my Favorite American Patriot once said, a penny saved is a penny earned. And I will get a cool tile floor to boot.

Damn the grout. Full speed ahead.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Chronicle for The Chronicle

The Petch House in late 2006

I thought I’d do a little recap for any new readers that came to The Petch House blog by way of the article in the April 14th edition of The San Francisco Chronicle. Also, this month happens to be my 2 year anniversary for the blog, and next month is my 5 year anniversary for owning The Petch House, so a recap seemed in order anyway.

The basic plot is this: The house is a 3000 sq ft, 1895 Queen Anne Victorian in Eureka, CA (Remember us, way up north?). The Petch family were the original owners of the house in 1895. Hence the name, The Petch House. Thomas Petch was an electrician and ran The Eureka Lighting Company, which was a subsidiary of a SF company. At one point he also operated the local coal-gas plant and the electric power plant, which were located at the foot of H St here in Eureka.

From the 1898 City Directory

The Petch family fell on hard times in the mid teens and there was a nasty divorce. By the 1920s PG&E was running the show in town and the Petch Family Lighting business was no where to be found. I suspect there were hired goons from PG&E involoved. They probably rolled in to town with a lead pipe and a sack full of doorknobs and strongly suggested that Thomas Petch give up his position. He ended up in Santa Clara, living with his sister and running the power plant there.

The house went to Phyllis Petch, the wife, and she turned the home in to a respectable boarding house. There is evidence that she took up residence in the dining room and rented out the 4 bedrooms to young couples and retirees.

Ca. 2002 with Asbestos siding. Yuck!

Phyllis sold the house in 1919. At some point in the early 1920s the house was officially cut up in to 4 apartments, and a 2 story addition was added to create two new kitchens and bathrooms for the house. You can see the addition on far left, near the back, in the picture above.

In 1926 the carriage house was unceremoniously ripped down and a Mission Revival structure (see above) was built in it’s place. This building had 2 apartments on the second floor, and 6 Model T sized garages on the first floor. The property now had 6 apartments for tenants, and 6 garages for those noisy horseless carriages.

Sometime in the 1940s or 50s the house was Eisenhowered a bit. Some of the gingerbread was stripped off and the house was covered in hideous asbestos siding. Then nothing happened for a very, very long time.

The house remained a pleaceful place to live for many decades. I've met people who lived here in the 1960s and the 80s and both had fond memories of the place. Then in the 1990s the house was taken over by a rental management company. They filled the home with Section 8 drug addicts, prostitutes, and an axe wielding Nazi. The third floor, walk-up attic became a full-on shooting gallery. It was by far the worst house in an otherwise nice neighborhood.

For some silly reason, which I can’t quite remember at the moment, I thought it would be a good idea to buy the place and turn it back in to a single family home. Despite the history, much of the interior grandeur of the house remained intact. With the exception of the two High-Victorian oak fireplace mantles, and some fir decking on the porches, the house is made entirely of old-growth redwood. The grand staircase, all of the mill work, floors, ceilings, doors, windows, joists, studs, casing, siding…..everything. It’s all redwood. If nothing else, this means the house can withstand a lot of abuse and neglect with out rotting and falling apart. Which it did, and it didn’t.

The only upgrade done to the place between 1926 and 2001 was the addition of the charming electrical conduit installed in 1951 that snaked through the house to give outlets to every room. For the most part, when I bought the place in 2002 the house was still using the original 1895 wiring and plumbing, which had been extended in the 1920s during the apartment renovation. Each apartment got one electrical outlet. It’s a wonder the place didn’t burn down. Also untouched were the 1895 and 1920s bathrooms and kitchens.

Working on a shoe-string budget, and doing all of the work myself, I’ve completely replaced all of the wiring, plumbing, and natural gas lines. I took some classes to learn residential wiring, and a neighbor - a master plumber - has given me technical know-how and much more, so I was able to do the plumbing and gas myself. I removed the 2 story addition, all of the asbestos siding, and restored all of the gingerbread.

Last summer I finally painted the house after stripping all of the siding to bare wood (First picture at the top). The original siding, with octagon and fish-scale shingles, and horizontal shiplap siding, was in great shape under the asbestos siding. The house had only been painted twice in more than 100 years. The last time was in the 1920s when the addition was added. In some places you could rub your hand on the siding and be to bare wood in a few seconds.

The 2 story addition was made of old-growth redwood and I was able to salvage about 80% of the wood. This was used to recreate some of the exterior gingerbread, to rebuild missing parts of the interior of the house, make kitchen and bathroom cabinets, and reproduce some damaged millwork. The interior is still very much a work in progress.

During the apartment phase, they didn’t go to great lengths to move walls around. For the most part, getting the house back to it’s original floor plan was not too difficult. With very few exceptions, the house now is as it was in 1895. I’ve been able to use the wood from the addition to do all of the rebuilding, so not only will it look the same on the outside, but the parts you don’t see are also built with historically accurate building materials. Nobody will know this but me, but no matter, I think it’s cool.

I work with salvage and used materials extensively, not only because I think it’s the right thing to do, but also because I really don’t have the money to be running down to the lumberyard or home center every time I need something. Dumpster diving, scavenging, and swinging deals with local shops is all part of the fun. It just makes sense. To date, on the interior, I’ve completed the kitchen and the upstairs bathroom. I’m currently working on the downstairs bathroom. At all times I look to the past for inspiration and design, while thinking about the future and modern necessities on upgrades.

Living in Eureka has made some aspects of the restoration difficult, and other aspects easier. The weather is very similar to The Bay Area, especially the peninsula. The big difference is that Eureka only has about 30,000 people. It’s a lot less crowded and things are more affordable, of course, but there aren’t as many services or resources.

Eureka is a nice town with some amazing architecture, but it does have it’s problems. Even at only 30,000 people, it’s still the Big City for the area. Northern California, and especially Humboldt County are unbelievably beautiful. People often use the term Living Behind The Redwood Curtain, as if we’re cut off from the world by what’s left of the ancient redwood forests. It really does feel that way at times.

Eventually, this place will become The State Capital, so word will get out about just how nice it is up here. Until then, I’ll just keep plugging away at The Petch House, while living in a fantasy world. I’m not sure I’ll ever finish.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Bathroom Rushes

Under the category “One thing lead to another...”, I give you my latest video. I thought it would be nice to set up the marble vanity to show family members that are arriving next week for a visit. Well, then I thought it would be nice to show the toilet….and I might as well get the cabinets in there, and the lights, and the towel rack, tp holder, medicine cabinet, faucets, heater, etc. etc

The next the you know, the room is pretty much set up, although nothings really hooked up. Not every thing is in it’s proper place at this point either. It took a lot of time, but I’m glad I did it though, because there are a few things I noticed. One, I think the medicine cabinet is too low. I made it lower than I would want it on purpose, because I’m a tall person, and the upstairs bathroom will still be my domain even after this bathroom is finished. Still, it may be too low. I’m going to need a second opinion.

The other thing I noticed is that I’m just not thrilled with that marble vanity top. I love the skirting, and the legs are to-die-for, but the top is just not what I had in mind when I was looking. In fact, I did pass on that one early on and then went back to it when I had trouble finding anything else. I’m not sure what to do, but if another one that was more to my liking, and a similar size, came along, I would buy it and worry about getting rid of this one later.

The room is tight, but not cramped. At least I don’t think so. I think it’s going to be a very nice bathroom, if I ever finish it, that is.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

All Keyed Up

For those of you not familiar with it, a plaster wall relies on the plaster that smooshes through the lath to keep it on the wall. The strips of plaster that hang off the back side of the lath are called “Keys”. The most common reason for plaster failing in an old house is broken keys.

Today I started in on the plaster in the bathroom. I started on the wall with the door because it will be the last place you look when you enter the room. It went pretty well. It took me a few minutes to sort of get use to the whole hawk/trowel relationship again. I was also pressing too hard at first as I was applying the first coat of plaster. It was like I was treating the lath more like a cheese grater than wooden plaster lath. I got the hang of it after a few minutes, though.

Above is a front and back shot of the door wall. You can see how the plaster oozes through the lath to form the keys. Once it sets up, those keys will keep the plaster on the wall. I think I’m still pressing a little too hard. The keys don’t need to be that large, and it’s just a waste of plaster.

The front view represents 2 coats. If I remember correctly, the first coat is called the scratch coat and the second coat is called the brown coat. The scratch coat is coarse plaster that forms the keys. The brown coat is put on after the scratch coat is hard, but before it completely dries. I waited over night to put on the brown coat. The final coat will be the finish coat and that is just a very thin skim coat to smooth any imperfections and give the surface a nice smooth finish. If done properly, there is very little sanding involved. It remains to be seen how “properly” I’m able to do it.

I have come up with a different system over my kitchen plaster debacle. When I plastered the kitchen I made large batches of plaster in a black plastic tub that was about 2X3 feet. This time I’m using a much smaller tub and I mix smaller batches at a time. Hardly the way a professional would do it, but as we all know, I’m not a professional. There is no point in me trying to act like one if I know I’m not. Right?

By making smaller batches I don’t feel as rushed. When you know you have 20 pounds of plaster slowly getting hard in the tub there is an impetus to get to it. I now make just enough to fill the hawk twice. It’s more work, but I get better results, or at least I hope I will. So far, I’m not completely disgusted with my work, so I’m off to a good start.

The other benefit to making smaller batches is that I don’t have as much waste – there was a lot with the kitchen – and I don’t have small, dried chunks of plaster mixing in with the new stuff. Small, dried chunks of plaster getting mixed in with the fresh plaster caused me endless problems with the kitchen. You’re going along, just as fine as you please, getting a nice smooth wall, and then you get one of these destructo-chunks on the trowel and it just ruins all of your work by digging a gash in the fresh plaster. That didn’t happen once today.

This is pretty much as far as I’m going to get for a week or so. I’m going to be shutting down operations tomorrow, as I’m getting ready to play tourist director for some visiting family members. I wonder if they know how to plaster. Hmmm, maybe as part of the activities for the week I could sneak in a day of plastering demonstrations. I think they’d find it fascinating, don’t you?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Window Styx

If I could do this window one more time I know I could do a kick-ass job on it. The first thing I would do is rent a much better tile saw. I know, you’re not supposed to blame the tools, but really, the little $80 wet saw I borrowed is not well suited for this type of work.

Regardless of which saw I used, much of the blame is mine. I just didn’t check the top of that window to see if it was level. A rookie mistake. Oh well, I did it over, and it came out better, and I didn’t smash the bathroom up with a sledge hammer. That’s the important thing.

The best part is, I’m now finished setting the Subway Ceramics subway tile. As soon as those last few pieces I put in today set I can remove the sticks in the window and be officially done with it. The sticks are holding up the tile I just set up under the window jamb. After that, all there is to do is grout, and that’s just like a 5 minute job, right? At least that’s what the guy at the home center told me.

I must admit, despite the little set back with the window, the room looks really, really nice at this point. My goal was to finish the tile and get the walls plastered before this weekend. Well, I don’t think that’s going to happen, but I am starting the plastering today. If I can get the scratch coat completely on it will go a long way to making the room look more like a bathroom. This will give me something I can show off to the family that’s arriving for a visit next week.

So why am I sitting here at the computer writing when I should be making a big mess with plaster….

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Upgraded Condition

The re-tiling operation was a success. I’ve upgraded the condition from Total and Absolute Crap to Not Bad.

I’m leaving the plywood brace on for another day, because the horizontal quarter round I put up yesterday is supporting, albeit just a little, the new tile above it I put in today. Once that comes off I’ll really know how well this Tile Do-Over has worked.

Before the repair

After the repair

Already you can see improvement by comparing the two pictures above. If you look at that first piece of lath just above the tile, you can see that the gap is even in the second picture, and very uneven in the first picture. Also, the first row above the window is now done with all full tiles, and the horizontal quarter round are reasonably even in length.

I’m not going to call this a top-notch tile job, but I no longer want to take a sledge hammer to it. Anytime I don’t have a strong urge to take a sledge hammer to my work, I’m going to consider it a success.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Oops, I Did It Again

I guess that should be, F*ck it! I Did It Again.

I tried to convince myself that the tile job around the window was ok. I don’t think I ever posted a picture of it, and for good reason. I knew it looked bad, but I didn’t want to do it over. Several times last night, and even a few times this morning before work, I went back to the bathroom to look at it. The sides were ok, but the top was hosed up bad.

The problem, or at least one of the problems, was the top part of the window jamb. It sags a bit, from age I guess, and I didn’t really notice when I attached the cement board to it. I also didn’t do a very good job building a temporary wooden ledge to support the quarter round while the mortar set. Instead of building the ledge and making sure it was level and straight prior to putting on the quarter round, I tried to level the quarter round with shims after they were in place. It just didn’t work.

In the picture above, you can see how thick I had to make the gaps just above the quarter round to try bring the next row level. Even with that, all of those tiles just above the window sag a bit. It’s only about 3/8th of an inch, but I noticed it a lot. Especially considering how level all of the other tile came out. In the picture, I’ve already removed one tile, but look at the wooden lath above the tile and you can notice the sag. Also, look at the top of the window sash where it meets the quarter round. You can see how it all sort of swoops down from left to right. It's really bad.

The other thing that bothered me was the sizes of the quarter round. Notice the 3 horizontal pieces in the middle. There are 2, 6-inch pieces, and 1, 4-inch piece. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I really wasn’t thinking when I did that. When I was putting that all together yesterday I knew it was coming out crappy, and just wasn’t paying attention. I was kind of in panic-mode. That should be 3 pieces that are all about 5 & 3/8th inches.

I got home today and couldn’t stop looking at it. I started to put on the wood screeds for the plaster on the walls, but after about 15 minutes I started ripping tile off. The mortar was less than 24 hours old, and while the tiles did not come off without a fight, most of them came off without breaking.

I also decided to fix a third issue with the window. If you’ll notice in the top picture again, I had to cut the tiles down for the first row above the quarter round. Also, I had to cut the tiles on the left more than the ones on the right. I had to graduate the tiles from one side to the other. It didn’t work that well, and that’s another reason from the screwy gaps in the first row. I decided to fix this at the same time.

I shortened and evened up the vertical pieces with the compound miters. Now, I can use full pieces across the top and have them level all the way across.

I used a piece of ¾-inch plywood for the temporary ledge this time. I first drilled holes in it that were much larger than the screws I would use to secure it to the top jamb. Because the holes in the plywood were so much larger than the 3.5-inch screws I used, I could easily adjust the height of the plywood a fraction of an inch in either direction.

Also, I have more quarter round that is going to go on the floor to separate the tub area from the rest of the bathroom. I can use the 4-inch piece for that, which enabled me to use a fresh 6-inch piece so I could have equal length pieces in the middle of the horizontal run across the top of the window.

I tried to take my time and not rush this time. It’s still not perfect, and if I had more tile to re-cut those compound miters, I might try those again. It’s much, much better than the first time, though… this point, anyway. It’s level, I know that. I’ll let that set up over night and tomorrow I replace the missing field tiles. If you don’t hear from me tomorrow, that probably means it came out bad again, and I took a sledge hammer to the whole damn room.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

1895 Bathroom: The Movie

I sort of finished the tile today, and I wasn’t ready to start anything else, so instead I started cleaning. I have family coming for a visit in one week and I really need to get the place cleaned up. They’ve been here before, and they know it’s a real work-in-progress, so it doesn’t need to be prefect.

Anyway, I polished the bathroom today so I thought I’d shoot a video of it. This was the first room I did in the house, and as you can see, it’s not really finished. There is the window that needs help, but I’m saving all of the windows to do as one project over the course of a year or so. The other issue, that I sort of talk about in the video, is the missing piece of trim.

The missing trim is a wainscot cap that they used in every room of the house that had wainscoting. It’s the same profile of trim in 5 rooms and the back stairs. I was missing a piece for the bathroom, and missing some for the kitchen. I thought I might have some made for the kitchen, so I figured I’d just wait and get enough made to replace missing pieces in both rooms. I ended up using something different in the kitchen, so now I can use some of the original pieces I salvaged from the kitchen to complete the bathroom. The trouble is, it’s not going to get done unless I do it.

It dawned on me as I was shooting the video that I haven’t really finished any rooms in the house yet. I did the bathroom and the kitchen, but the bathroom needs the trim piece, and the kitchen still needs the edges of the marble on the island finished. I really need to do these things as soon as I finish the bathroom. This assumes I do someday finish the bathroom.

I also talk about stripping the shellac off some of the beadboard. I used salvaged wood from the addition to have the missing beadboard made. When I oiled and shellacked it, it came out lighter than the original wood. I need to strip off the shellac and then re-oil it and tint the oil with red mahogany stain. A friend of mine turned me on to this trick and it works very good to match the old color of the wood. The new wood, because it was salvage from the 20s, was milled at about the same time, and is also old-growth wood, but it just hasn’t had the same exposure as the original beadboard, so it comes out lighter in color. So I’ll do that before I put on the wainscot cap. Then, aside from the window, the room will be done…..except for the tub and sink faucets, but that’s another story.

So now I give you, 1895 Bathroom: The Movie. Do I hear Oscar buzz already?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Tiled Window, How Do I Fear Thee

As I started to tile around the window today I began to realize just how many ways there are to screw this up, and as I started, I didn’t even know about the worst of it yet.

I first realized I never checked to see if the window was level. What if the top of the window was slanting an inch or so. The row going across the top would look really wacky. Given that this window is directly across from the door, it would be something people would notice. I should have checked that before I started tiling.

As it is, one side is about a quarter of an inch lower than the other. It’s not too noticeable, but had I thought about it sooner I could have easily adjusted for it by making a few gaps in earlier rows a hair higher. A rookie mistake.

Also, if you count the little piece of tile inside the sash, there are nine tiles to a row. Six of those had to be cut on each row. It took forever. I’m using a crappy little $80 wet saw that I borrowed from a friend. The fence is not accurate, and it’s just not suited for this much cutting.

I was obsessed with not having anymore droopy tiles. As I said, this wall with the window is directly across from the door, and I’m working at eye level. Mistakes will be very noticeable. I did get the new tile in to replace the droopy tile. It looks good and I’m glad I fixed it.

The worst part, by far, was the quarter round. I had never worked with it before and it took a little getting used to. It’s difficult to explain why I felt I was having trouble, but I just did. The worst of the worst was doing the top corners with the quarter round. I basically had to do compound miter corners on a crappy wet saw that didn’t even have a miter gauge, let alone a tilting blade. It was brutal.

To make matters worse, if it’s possible, is the fact that I didn’t really order extra pieces of quarter round. I accounted for waste but I didn’t account for complete screw-ups. I had to get these cuts perfect or I was going to be calling and ordering more tile. Man, I was sweating bullets making those cuts.

To compound the problems, the quarter round that goes across the top of the window needs to be supported while the mortar sets. You can’t just slather on some mortar and stick it to the wall and hope it stays up there, because it won’t. I didn’t really realize any of this when I started.

As I approached the top of the window, these issues started to dawn on me. I ended up dumping a half pale of mortar because I knew by the time I built a wooden ledge to support the quarter round, and cut the compound miters, that stuff would be way too old.

Honestly, it was really a lot of work. I’m glad I kept the window, but had I known how much work it was going to be, I may not have. Ignorance is bliss, as they say.

A few times today I went back to the pictures of the tiled shower window at House In Progress’ site. To be honest, I don’t think mine came out quite as good. From what I can see in the pictures, that is a top-notch tile job. Mine is maybe a few notches below top-notch. I think it’ll look better once it’s grouted.

Tomorrow I’ll finish the last 3 rows after the mortar sets on the top quarter round.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Tile’s Here!….Again

The second, and hopefully last {Grrrr!} batch of tile arrived late yesterday. I’m going to wait until Saturday to finish the back wall and replace the missing tile. I’m still in full Lath Mode and I don’t want to disrupt the progress.

I’ve completed two walls, and then I have most of a third wall done. There is about a 1X5 foot section at the top of the sink wall that still needs lath. After that, I just have the door wall, and since it is mostly door, there is not a whole lot of lath to put on.

I can only imagine what it must have been like to put this stuff up in a whole house. I’m sure the guys who did the actual nailing of the lath to the wall must have gotten super fast at it. I’m sure they worked in teams, with the Master Lather doing the nailing, and the apprentices cutting and handing lath do them. There may have even been a third level of gophers who hauled lath from a delivery point outside in to the house.

Even though it’s a lot of work, I can see where a proficient team could make short work of a house. A small house could probably been done in 1 to 2 days, and a larger house in less than a week. I can also see why sheetrock became so popular with installers. I wonder if the same people who put the lath up were the ones who plastered. Were they so specialized that it was two different trades, or did one crew do everything?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Don’t Look At Me! ..... DON’T LOOK AT ME!

I got an email from a reporter for one of the local papers a few days ago. Apparently her editor found my blog and he suggested she contact me for an interview. I was flattered, of course. She had mentioned “my web site” in the email, but I wasn’t sure if she meant my blog or the original web site for The Petch House.

The original web site is very static. Even when I was updating it, I didn’t do it very often. I don’t really tell anyone locally about my blog, and if it weren’t for the crazed mayoral candidate that was stalking me last year, I doubt anyone would know about it. I emailed her back and said I might be interested, and I asked her which web site she was referring to in her email.

Eventually we spoke on the phone and it turns out she was talking about the blog – This Blog. I could go on endlessly about my house, and anyone who reads this blog probably thinks I do. The truth is, though, I don’t really talk about it a lot to people around town. More often than not, when the topic does come up, I find myself simply having to explain the basic difference between a restoration and a remodel. I’ve found it’s much easier to just keep my mouth shut rather than trying to explain things to people.

The other local daily paper in town did a short piece on me and the work I’m doing on the house 2 years ago. It was a lot of fun, but I didn’t mention the blog in that one. In that instance, it was part of an insert that specifically deals with local architecture and restoration. It’s a captive audience, so to speak, so I assume the people who read it already have an idea of what I’m going through.

It seemed from my brief conversation with the reporter this week that the focus of the story would be the blog, which is of course, about the house. I’m just not too keen on that. As many of you know, I often digress from the basic facts of restoration. As I told her over the phone, I don’t care if someone in Atlanta reads what I have to say, but I’m not sure if I want my next door neighbor to read it. Not to mention all of the pictures and the level of detail I go in to some time. Then of course, there are all of the typos and the occasional {cough} poor sentence structure. It would kill me to have someone critique my writing right in front of me. This assumes, of course, that anybody really cares in the first place.

The odd thing is, a few weeks ago I was interviewed for a story that is coming out in the San Francisco Chronicle on April 21 (I think). We do get the Chronicle daily here in town and it is widely available. It’s not like you need to go to some obscure newsstand or bookstore some place to get it. It didn’t bother me so much to be interviewed for that story. The Chronicle is not really a local paper and I don’t think it is as widely read as the two dailies printed here in town. Also, although the focus of the story is about House Blogs, I got the feeling it was mainly about Bay Area House Blogs. It wouldn’t surprise me if I got little more than a passing mention at the bottom.

“Oh yea, and there’s some goof-ball up in Eureka that writes a bunch of nonsense about some house he’s working on. I forget the URL, but you know, check it out if you want.”

So, I’m not sure if I’ll do it. I told here when we first spoke that I couldn’t do anything until later this month because I have family coming and I’m trying to make real progress on the bathroom AND get the place cleaned up a bit. I emailed her back today and said I would let her know after the 20th. We’ll see what happens.

Perhaps I'm being too neurotic about it, or maybe the whole Mayor Droz thing left me a bit uneasy about advertising the blog locally.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Thinkin’ Old Timey Like

Still no tile. UPS usually comes late to my house, so it still could show up today. I’m really itching to get the tile finished. Looking at the half wall is starting to bug me. Not to mention my one missing tile on the other wall.

To keep the project moving forward I started installing lath today. This will be my 3rd plastering job and will determine if my success with the first room was a fluke or not. The upstairs bathroom was my first attempt at plastering and it came out great. The kitchen, my second room, gave me more trouble. Both rooms were a mix of new and old plaster, and some major and minor repairs to the old plaster. This room is all from scratch, so it should be very interesting.

I’m removing the lath from the ceiling of the butler’s pantry and laundry room to use in the bathroom. The laundry room will be a redwood paneled ceiling (Don’t get too excited. It’s not nearly as fancy as it sounds) and the butler’s pantry will be a tin ceiling, so they won’t need the lath.

I immediately ran in to a few problems. First, the nails. They used an inch and a quarter wire nail in 1895 to put the lath up. All nails are either cut or wire nails. Cut nails are the old style flat iron nails. Modern wire nails can be broken down further to Box, Common, Casing, or Finish, and then you have Brads.

The modern equivalent of an 1895 wire lath nail is sort of like a panel nail (small finish nail). It is very thin but has a standard looking head on it. It's like a fat brad with a large head. They sell them at Ace and they are $2.99 for a box of 50! I would probably end up paying nearly $40 in nails to get the lath up. Ain’t gunna happen.

They also had panel nails that were only 99 cents for the same sized box. The panel nails are not quite as thin as the wire nail, and they have a slight head on them, more like a finish nail. I was standing there in Ace looking at these when it dawned on me that I could just use my pneumatic brad nailer. I already have a box of 2-inch slight head brads. It was another one of those “slap forehead” moments.

I was concerned that the brads might not be enough to hold the lath on the wall, but they are plenty. It takes several good tugs to rip the lath off the wall. It is about the same as ripping off the original lath, and I won’t be doing a ceiling, just the walls above the tile.

The other small issue I discovered today was that when I put in the outlet and the water pipe for the toilet I was thinking like a sheet rock hanger and not like a lath hanger. I’m going to need to add a little more framing around these two things.

Maybe you can see in the picture that there is nothing to secure the lath too around these two items. In the center is the hole for the medicine cabinet, and then to the left there is an outlet and to the right is the water source for the toilet. I need to have something just to the left of both of those items to nail the lath to. It’s not the end of the world.

I’m going to go buy plaster on Thursday and hopefully start slathering it on the walls this weekend. It is a very big deal for me. Not just because I’m going to see if I really can plaster, but it will really define the space. Nothing says improvement like covering up framing.