Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Got Marble?

So, my plans to be done with the mudroom by Thanksgiving are slowly going asunder. There are two jobs I’m farming out and so far it looks like it is going to be a very bad crop. It seems every where I turn I'm met with nothing but excuses and blank stares.

First, there was the mill work I needed to get made. It consists of 6, fairly simple plinth blocks and 14, 6 foot pieces of casing. It is a half a days work for a decent mill with a capable and energetic staff. It was twelve days ago that I dropped off the sample at The Blue Ox Mill and to date I have not even received a bid on the job. After the first 6 phone calls I have given up. This place is notoriously bad at finishing – or even starting – work on time, but I went back to them because they have the knives already cut for the profile of casing I have.

The knives were cut specifically for me the last time I ordered casing from them. So to go to another mill at this point I would not only need to start the whole process over, but I would need to pay another fee ($75?) to get another set of knives cut. Extremely frustrating. I’m giving them until Friday and if they don’t produce something - ANYTHING - by then I will not only go and get my samples back, but I will begin “Operation Bad-Mouth” in which I slander their already bad reputation all over town. To be honest, most people will just roll their eyes and say something like, “While the hell did you go back to them. Every body knows how bad they are”. It’ll probably just make me look like an idiot to admit that I went back, so maybe I won’t even admit it. I’ll just quietly go some place else.

Then there is the marble I need cut for the two corner cabinets. This is probably no more that 5 sq ft of marble. I made two templates out of that 3/16th inch foam board you would mount photos and pictures on prior to framing. Last time I had marble cut it was 3 simple pieces I needed for the apron around the bathroom sink. This was 3 pieces of stone roughly 6X24 inches with no milling at all. Just straight cuts. It couldn’t get any simpler than that. I don’t remember how long it took, but it was something like 8 weeks and as many phone calls to get it done.

At the time, the place I went to was the only game in town. I might be able to make the 30 or 40 mile round trip to Fortuna, but I really can’t be sure if any other place has exactly what I want. Needless to say, I didn’t want to go back to the other guys. Since that time, a new place called “Got Marble?” has opened. They are located in a large, industrial warehouse about half way between Eureka and Arcata. I took a drive out there a few weeks back to see if they had the ¾ inch white marble I’m looking for.

The place is huge and they have dozens of varieties of stone in large slabs leaning against racks. The slabs are all the size of a sheet of plywood, roughly 4X8 feet, and maybe ¾ of an inch thick. There is a lot of freakin’ stone in one slab. Way more than I need. I walked down one row and quickly found what I was looking for. I went back to the office and there was a guy on the phone there. When he got off we started talking about the marble. I explained I only needed a few small pieces and I already had the templates cut.

He said, “Oh, well, we only sell slabs. We don’t do any cutting.”
Me, “Yean mean, I must buy the entire slab of marble.”
Him, “Yep”

I asked him who the heck buys whole slabs of stone and he said they get a lot of DIYers in there. This was a Saturday and I was the only person in sight. I asked him if he knew of any fabricators that could do what I want and he was stumped. I left, more than a little disappointed.

I looked in the phone book for monument makers (think tomb stones). There was only one so I called him on Monday. I told him what I needed and he said he could do it, no problem. I went in yesterday and took my templates, plus a small sample of the marble left over from another project. I didn’t want any mistakes on this. He looked it over and seemed like it wouldn’t be a problem at all. He then looks up and asks, “So when can you bring the marble in.” I was like, “Uh? What do you mean”. He was all like, “Oh, well, I don’t carry anything in this size. I thought you just wanted me to cut your marble”. He points to his stone selection and there isn’t a piece larger 12X24 inches.


So today with drooping shoulders and head I dragged myself back to the guys who screwed me over the last time. I raced down there on my lunch hour with my now well traveled templates in hand. I went in and the place seemed empty. I looked out in the shop and couldn’t find anyone. I called out a few times as I made my way down a hallway past one empty room after another. I finally found a young woman in an almost empty room staring out a window. I told her I wanted to get some marble cut in the shape of my templates. There was an awkward silence as she stared at the templates like they were some alien artifact that her mind couldn’t comprehend.

After a few seconds I repeated my request, only this time with more detail. “These are templates I’ve made for counters for corner cabinets. I want to get marble cut in the these shapes.” I gave each word more emphasis and annunciation as I pointed at the templates. She reached out for the templates and muttered, “Ummm, OK”. I cautiously handed her a piece of paper with some additional measurements, and with a clear voice, and in simple sentences I explained that it was for the backsplash pieces. She stared at my writing like it was written in some foreign language.

After more silence from her I asked if the guys were out on a job doing an installation. She said yes and I suggested I just write down my name and number on the piece of paper with the backsplash measurements. She smiled and nodded in agreement. I wrote down my name and number and left her standing there in the almost empty room. I got a little ways down the hallway and called back to her to tell her to not lose the templates because I would want them back if they can’t do the work. I didn’t get a response.

I’m having a bunch of old house fanatics over on the 14th of November. What do you think the odds are of me having either the millwork or the marble by then? I’m thinking the odds aren’t too good.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Stencil Madness

The second time I did the stencil on the frieze in the mudroom today it came out very nice. First time, not so good. I had read an excellent tutorial on stenciling over at The Old House Web. It went on and on about the layout…blah, blah, blah. I don’t have time for that sort of thing, I thought to myself. I’ve got stenciling to do.

Well, the spacing sucked, so I wiped off the first run and did it over. I had only one wall done, so it wasn’t the end of the world.

The Test Run

Round Two

You can see in the top picture that there is not enough room for another of the long designs. However, if I had started out on the left with a short design, as you can see in the do-over, I can start and stop with a short design, and the spacing is very nice. So, I wiped off the first test run and did it over.

The spacing on the short walls worked out just as well. Above are shots of two opposing corners. It is like the design was made just for this room. This was my second choice of a design. The first turned out to be too big. Someone had a clever idea of cutting it down, but it didn’t really work out. I think this design fits the space nicely.

I ordered the casing last week but I still haven’t heard from the mill as to when they can even start it. Very frustrating. I’m working with The Blue Ox Mill again, because they already cut the knives for my casing profile, but working with them can be trying at times. The owners, Eric and Vivianna, are very nice people and have a great operation going on, but sometimes it seems like they really don’t know how to run a business. Maybe I’ll bore you with the details tomorrow. Their place is really amazing. It is much more than just a mill.

I also made templates for the two marble counter tops for the corner cabinets. I’m dreading ordering it because the last time I ordered marble it was like pulling teeth to get these guys to make a few cuts. I’m going to contact a monument maker here it town and see if they’ll do it. I’m trying not to get my hopes up. Sometimes I just hate dealing with other people when I’m trying to keep a schedule. This is why I do so many things myself.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

And The Winner Is….

Well, Anonymous and & Kathy won the “Let’s Guess The Mistake” contest, so they get to split the set of 6 Ginsu Steak Knives. Congratulations you two. The problems were the crooked window and the different widths of beadboard.

For some reason, in the butler’s pantry and going up the back stairs they used a narrower beadboard than in other rooms of the house. The boards are actually wider, but it is the kind of beadboard that has what appears to be 2 boards milled in to one wider board. The beads are closer together. I used this stuff to fill in above and below the window, and over the cabinet. It’s hardly noticeable, and I don’t think many will even catch it.

The window is another issue. I put that thing in nearly 3 years ago and I’ve walked by it hundreds of times and never noticed it was crooked. Now with the vertical beadboard running on either side of it, it is painfully obvious that it is crooked. This will only become more obvious once the casing is on. I must straighten it.

This is not one of these things where, “oh, it’ll only be noticeable to you”, or “It’s one of those charming nuances of an old home”. No, it’s crooked and it will stick out like a sore thumb with all of the straight, even vertical runs of beadboard going floor to ceiling. I’m going to need to remove the outside casing, so its kind of pain, but not really an all day job.

I got the room all painted and I really like the way it came out. This mud room is only 4X6 and sits in between the kitchen and bathroom. I used the 2 trim colors from each room for the paint colors in this room. In the bathroom the trim is Queen Anne’s Lace and in the kitchen the trim is Honied White. I think they go well together in here

I bought the stencil pictured above to go on the frieze but it turns out the pattern is about a half inch too high for the space. So I can’t use it, which is a bummer, because I really like the pattern. I first had the idea of fern leaves or something, but when I looked at patterns like that they all started to seem a little too Martha Stuartish too me. Everybody does know that she is the Devil incarnate, don’t they? Anyway, it’s back to the drawing board for the stencil. The paint needs to cure for a week anyway, so there is still time to change my mind a half dozen times.

I also cut the marble window stool for the stained-glass window. It didn’t come out as good as the others, but it should look nice once it is sanded down. I also went down to the mill and ordered the casing and plinth blocks I spoke about last week. The owners weren’t in, so I wasn’t able to get an ETA. I should find out Monday and I’m hoping it will be less than 2 weeks.

The last thing to do is to make templates for the marble pieces for the 2 built-in cabinets and then order that marble. I had hoped to do that this weekend, but it didn’t happen. Maybe tomorrow. I’m hoping I can get that ordered and received within 2 weeks as well. If all goes well, and it never does, I could have this room finished by Thanksgiving.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Guess The Problems

So, I finally got some paint on the beadboard in the little mudroom. I ran out though, and will need to buy more (Grrrr!). Anyway, as I was putting up the beadboard I noticed a kind of major flaw in the room that will need to be fixed. Then tonight, when I was painting I noticed another, minor flaw that can’t and won’t be fixed.

Both problems are visible in both shots, but the second shot is primarily there to show off the frieze. I really like the way it came out. I did it primarily so I could shorten the beadboard, because it was a little beat up at the ends. Plus, one wall already had the 1X10 board on it, so it was either remove one board or add 3 more. The plan is to do a stencil of some sort around the room.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this, but it looks like I’ll be heading back to the mill. A year and a half ago I went to one of the local mills and had a bunch of custom casing milled to replace the stuff that was cut-down back in the 1920s. When they cut the place up in to apartments they took some of the more grand entry ways on the first floor and reduced them to small openings more appropriate to a small apartment.

I opened up the entryways back to their more grandiose size and needed the casing to match. So I took a small sample of the 1895 casing down to the mill and they cut a custom knife for a milling machine that can reproduce the profile exactly. The original 1895 casing that was cut down, while being too small for those openings, was perfect to use in other areas of the house. I had a whole stack of it up in the attic that I planned to use for the bathroom and kitchen.

Well, I used it in the bathroom and kitchen, but there is not enough left for the mudroom. There are 2 doors and a window, and I only have enough for one door and the window. So it’s back to the mill. I’m also going to have enough made so I can do the door to the laundry room. When I went to the mill a year and a half ago that door did not exist, so really I’m shorter than I thought (Short than I thought? Does that make sense?)

The stuff left in the attic is really bottom of the barrel stuff. While technically enough to do one whole door and the window, it’s really in bad shape. There is only one piece that is not cracked or missing notches here and there. I think I’ll just get enough made to finish up all of the doors and use that stuff for the window. If you count one door as having two sides, and each side needs two side casings and a header, I need 12 side casings and 6 headers. That comes to 88 feet of casing.

They cut the knife last time, so I won’t be paying for that again. Depending on how much I order, they may or may not charge me a set-up fee. If they do, that would be $75. I also need 6 plinth blocks, and those are $15 each if I get redwood. Poplar would be cheaper. If I need to pay the set-up fee, and they charge me $2 a foot for the lumber (A guess), that comes to $365.72 with tax. Ouch! This was not an expense I had anticipated for the mudroom.

Oh well, all in a days work.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Hot, Burning Passion

It’s been too many months since I’ve held you, my love. It’s been too long since I’ve felt your sensuous curves and your warm embrace. Oh how I’ve yearned for you. To feel your hot, burning passion once again is almost more than I can bare. Your firm body separated from me by nothing more than the thin leather of my glove causes my pulse to race, my face to redden, and beads of sweat to trickle down my forehead.

Oh, how I’ve missed you.

So, yea, I got the paint stripped off the few runs of beadboard that were put in above and below the window. Tomorrow I can start to trim out the room. There are 2 doors and a window, and then there is an 11-inch high wooden frieze up near the ceiling. There will be a piece of fluted 1X3 where the beadboard meets the frieze, and then a small 1X2 crown detail where the frieze meets the ceiling, and finally a bit of quarter round where the beadboard meets the tile.

1X3 Trim

The 1X3 piece is the same trim I used as a wainscot cap in the kitchen and the bathroom. It is hemlock and I buy it at a local lumberyard. The 1X2 crown is salvage that came out of the 1920s addition I took down. I’ve been waiting for a place to use it. This is such a small space (4X6), and utilitarian in nature, I think this is a perfect spot for it. The plan, eventually, is to do a stencil boarder on the wooden frieze. The quarter round I’ll make my self out of old redwood.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to be alone with my heat gun. Come to me, my darling!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Switch On/Switch Off

I got the two switches mounted for the mudroom lights. One switch is for the new back porch light, and the other is for light for the room itself. For a few reasons, I ended up mounting them one-over-one instead of side by side.

First, it was a very tight space. Once the trim is on there would have only been about a half inch on either side of the switch plate. While that wouldn’t be the end of the world, it just seemed a little tight. Also, there are two studs in the wall that are close together right there. I would have needed to chisel out some wood in order to get a double gang box in there. Again, doable, but why go to the trouble. Finally, I would have had to cut one of the runs of beadboard in half. I was concerned the wall might become springy there.

It will look better with paint and switch plates

As a side note, I think I’m getting a little lazy. Four years ago I would have chiseled out the studs to make way for the double gang box. I would have accounted for that when I was putting in the beadboard and put in extra framing just incase I ended up cutting all the way through one of the boards. Secretly I ashamed of myself.

It’s funny how every time I work on electrical in this house I think it’s the last time. I went through the big whole-house rewire about 4 years ago and when I was done I thought I was done for ever. It took me more than 3 months to do the whole thing and I remember thinking at the time that it was all done and I would never again need to touch another wire in the house.

Oh, how wrong I was.

There was still a lot of wiring to do in the kitchen, and of course, the down stairs bathroom was only a gleam in my eye at that point. Oh sure, I put in circuits for those rooms and pulled wire to the general location 4 years ago, but that is the easy part. Cutting holes for boxes and wiring switches, lights, and sockets, that is the real grunt work of residential wiring.

Then today, as I was finishing up the switches in the mudroom, for one brief second I thought to myself, “Finally, I’m completely done with the wiring!”. Then I remembered the laundry room. Sure there’s a circuit for it, and the wire is pulled in to the room, but I still need to do the grunt work.

{Siiiigh!} Will it ever end?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Blog Wall

So, this is my new thing now. I wish I had thought of it earlier.

As I was about to put in the last few pieces of beadboard in the mudroom I figured I should cram something in the wall, you know, for posterities sake. Actually, my house is going to be an archivers dream during the next major renovation. I’m hoping this will be decades and decades away, but when it happens there will be a treasure drove of goodies to be had.

With every wall I’ve opened I’ve always left something inside. Sometimes it had context and sometimes it didn’t. The daily newspaper is always good, but it’s been suggested by some that modern newspaper won’t stand the test of time like old newspaper. It’s there either way. I’ve also written things in the walls. Because the walls are sheathed in that dove-tail grooved plaster board there is lots of room to write. A few times I’ve sanded down a board and then written a few paragraphs on the backside before I nail it up.

So today, as I was about to finish up with the beadboard in the mudroom I started to think about what to leave in the wall. I had today’s paper sitting there, so I figured that would be good enough. Then I thought about the blog. {Ding! Light goes off}. Of course, the blog is perfect. It doesn’t get any more contextual than that. So I printed up yesterday’s blog entry, and rolled it up with the newspaper. I then wrapped them both in a plastic bag and sealed them in the wall.

I hope it is a long, long, long time before the wall is opened up.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

An Accomplishment

I actually got some work done this weekend, more than I thought, in fact. The main goal was to get the beadboard up in the little mudroom. While that didn’t happen in its entirety, I got a lot of sort of periphery things done that lead to the start of the beadboard installation.

At the last minute I decided I wanted an exterior light for the backdoor. This door didn’t exist a few years ago and I never put a light outside for it. It will give light for the porch, of course, but it will also add extra light for the tenants who park near this door. There is a motion detecting security light near this area, but it’s a little further away from the street than it should be.

I went down to Ace to buy the light and I found a boxed set of two exterior porch lights. The second one will go at the other back door. Right now that door has a motion detecting security light that has never worked right. I have screwed with that thing a dozen times over the past 2 years and no matter what I do it seems to stay on 24/7. It just a piece of crap.

While I was at Ace I found that they carry the retro looking cloth (Rayon) covered lamp cord. The ceiling fixture that is going in the mudroom is a small 1910ish fixture with an original Holophane shade. Because it has a few links of chain I wanted some nice cord. I looked on and they wanted $1.99 a foot, plus shipping. At Ace it was .49 cents a foot. Much better. So I rewired the light and its ready to go.

In order to add the backdoor exterior light and I had to run some new wire, naturally, but I also ended up moving the location of the switch. The ceiling fixture that is in this mudroom was originally…well, not originally…..originally it was an interior light, then they moved some walls and it was an exterior light, then I put the wall back and it became an interior light again. At any rate, when I rewired the house 4 years ago I just rewired the switch where it was. Now, 4 years later, that is not the best spot, so I moved the switch so it is next to the new backdoor.

This required me to go under the house.

After I finished the bathroom plumbing I vowed i would not go under the house for 12 months. Well, I broke my vow. Today I was crawling in the dirt and cat poop and it seem like yesterday. It wasn’t the end of the world, really. This spot is very near an access hatch, so I only had to go maybe 10 feet under the house. In the end, the switch was moved and I now have an exterior light for the door. It was worth it.

While I was under there, I had nothing better to do, so I checked on the plumbing for the new bathroom. I never went under the house to inspect the new drains – and more importantly, the new bathtub floor drain – for leaks. I’m happy to report that everything was dry as a bone. I’m very relieved because if something had been leaking there was no way I was going to work on it until next year. As it is, I can shower, flush, and shave with confidence now.

Also….finally back to the beadboard….I prepped all of the beadboard for installation. These were 9.5 foot pieces of beadboard salvaged from the scullery. I remember when I removed it I measured carefully to see if it was enough to do the mudroom. At the time I said it was, but in reality it wasn’t even close. I mean, there was enough, in a very technical sense, but a lot of it was in such bad shape, in reality, it would never be enough.

I’ve worked with a lot of salvaged wood that was a little beat up, but to say this was “a little beat up” is like saying George W. Bush is “a little clueless”. This stuff was really, really beat up. The good boards were in good shape, but the bad stuff was beyond hope. The room it came from started out life as a scullery. Think mop buckets and piles of coal.

Then in about 1915 Mrs. Petch turned the home in to boarding house and the scullery was opened up in to the butler’s pantry and dining room to create her apartment. She may have been running a boarding house at this point, but she was hardly a savage. Beadboard in a living area just would not do. No, she covered the beadboard with wallpaper. This was the kind that was glued to cheesecloth and the tacked to the walls. Some pieces had many, many tacks still in the wood.

Then back in the 50s the real wood beadboard was covered with wood grained sheetrock. Those people were rocket scientists, weren’t they. So this meant more holes. Oh, the 50s. It was a terrible time for old houses. It worked out ok because all of the nails for both the wallpaper and for the sheetrock seemed to mostly end up on the same pieces. Add to that the fact that the back wall of the scullery was pushed out one foot. This meant that all of the beadboard on back wall and part of the two side walls had been removed and reattached.

Now fast forward 90 or so years and I pry if off again. Its amazing it wasn’t just a pile of splinters. Well, actually, in some respects, that’s what it was. I spent yesterday gleaning the good pieces out. I puttied all of the holes and sanded it down. The best part about was the lack of paint. Because it was papered over so many years ago it was spared the gallons and gallons of paint that was sloshed over so much of the wood work in this house.

Today I got two walls done. They were the most challenging walls, so I should finish up tomorrow or the next day. Some sections above and below the window are pieces of beadboard not from the scullery. This means they are soaked in layer after layer of paint that will need to come off. Its only a short run, so it should go quickly. After that I guess I can start to trim it out. More on that later.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Home, Is Where I Want To Be

I was down in the LA area this past week. It’s the first time I’ve been down there in about 15 years. I was at a conference for 3 days in Valencia, which is northern LA county. It was very odd. The whole place looked like it had sprung up in the last 6 months. The area surrounding the hotel was packed with shopping centers and malls. I visited one large mall and 6 or 7 large shopping centers within walking distance of the hotel.

Every evening I would go for long walks and in a mile in either direction all I saw were malls and shopping centers, with car dealerships at the periphery. There was really only one mall, in the traditional sense. It was two stories, and seemed to go on forever. It easily had 3 times the number of stores as our local Bayshore Mall (which is really on the shores of the bay). Then at all of the major intersections there were these large shopping centers that were like a mall turned inside out. Each one was anchored by an Olive Garden, TGI Friday’s, or maybe a Pier 1 Imports. They were the new kind of strip-mall where the strip had been convoluted a bit so the stores weren’t all in a straight line. These strip-malls all had names like “River Oaks” or “Maple Canyon” but there wasn’t a river, canyon, maple or oak to be seen.

They all had the exact same architecture too. And not just the shops, but the hotel, shops, malls, and business parks were all done in the same sort of California Mission style with a twist of Italian Renaissance. They all used the exact same stone veneer with stucco and touches of metal work. Next to or behind most of the shopping centers there would be an “Urban Living Center” that was done in the same style as everything else. These were massive condominium complexes with hundreds or maybe thousands of units.

There was one shopping center that did not have an Urban Living Center attached to it. It was anchored by a Myrvn’s at one end, and a Target at the other. It was not as stylish as the others and it was more like an older style strip-mall where the design was very linear. The architecture mostly looked the same as the others, though. Then I noticed that some parts looked different, but there was a transition point where it went for the original look to the new Mission/Renaissance look. It was actually in the middle of being transmogrified so it would like everything else. There was a point were a Subway Sandwich shop was in the middle of being born again in to its new Mission/Renaissance look.

The other thing I noticed was there was not one non-chain restaurant to be seen. I must have passed by literally hundreds and hundreds of store fronts, restaurants, and food courts. There was the occasional nail salon or dry-cleaner that was not a part of a larger chain, or at least the names weren’t recognizable to me as being a part of chain. As far as food went, though, it was all chain restaurants. And they had them all, including 3 Startbucks within 200 yards of the hotel, and Starbucks coffee in the hotel room.

The streets in this area were all 4 lanes in either direction, and as they approached the intersection the street would widen to 10 or 12 lanes in total to accommodate left and right hand turning lanes. The posted speed limit was 50 MPH, but most people were doing well over that. The sidewalks were wide and winding, but with the exception of the few Mexican immigrants walking to and from the bus stop, I was the only person on them. I’m not kidding at all. I never saw another person on these sidewalks and I walked for hours. To be honest, it’s not too surprising. With the 8 lanes of traffic whizzing by at 70 MPH it was a little like walking next to a freeway.

The streets were so wide at the intersection that it was usually a challenge to get across before the light turned. At the really large intersections, the Walk/Don’t Walk signs had big red timers that would count down from 30 seconds to let you know how much time you had left before the light turned. An older person, or someone not in good health would not make it in time.

All of the areas around the main mall had pedestrian bridges to cross the street. The bridges sometimes connected up with a complex of sidewalks that meandered behind the Urban Living Centers and Business Parks. They were really very nice. They were well landscaped and you were far enough away from the streets that the noise was not deafening. My walks were always in the evening after the conference. It would be about 6 or 7 in the evening and the weather was very nice, being in the high 70s. Still, not one person on any of the sidewalks – NOT ONE!

I’m not sure if this was downtown Valencia or not. Even though there were the business parks, there were no skyscrapers or large collection of businesses that would have defined a downtown as I know it. I don’t think I ever saw a building more than 4 stories tall. I assume there must be more to the city, although I didn’t explore it by car. I guess maybe this was just the shopping district, because really, that is all there was.

I may sound a bit like a country bumpkin describing his first trip to the big city. Really, I’ve lived in and visited many large metro areas before. I’ve just never seen one that was so dominated by shopping while at the same time being so devoid of pedestrians. It was very odd.