Monday, March 28, 2005

This months under achiever award goes to.....

I have spent a total of 4 days this month working on (to be politically correct) "This aged home of illicit pharmaceuticals."
Now, for me that is really bad (the work, not the joke.) I hope to make it up next month though. Next months plans include getting the bathroom tile finished, putting the wood floor down in the upstairs hallway AND getting the woodwork finished up in the entranceway.
The woodwork is slowly getting done. In fact I got to work on it for two whole hours yesterday. The process is quite involved but should look great when it is done. The big problem is that the wood was originally painted back in 1845 and then finished to look like either rosewood or walnut. Well, not all the paint will come off without some aggressive sanding which could take forever to do. Another problem is that the doors were replaced between 1870 and 1890 with the big walnut ones that we have and the molding around one door is of a different wood and would not match the rest of the hall. If I were to stain and varnish the surface now then it would look patchy, which is what happened when I did Elizabeth's bedroom.
My solution has been to color wash the wood with a pale flesh colored acrylic paint and wipe the surface down so that the wood is a uniform color and the grain shows through. The molding at the top of the baseboard has been washed with a burnt sienna color, the return nosing and the scotia molding under the stair treads with a "buckskin" brown. The risers and stringer ornamentation will be either "paynes gray" or more than likely dark, dark walnut (almost black because I have more than enough aniline dye from the dining room floor project.) I only have the risers and a bit of the molding on the stairs left to paint. Then all the woodwork will get about 5 coats of shellac and the end result will be natural looking woodwork of three different types of wood. The bulk of the wood will be a caramel amber color. The top molding will be a dark amber orange and the risers will look black. Hopefully very "Beidermeier" in decorator terminology and period to the house though more European than American.
If it looks like crap then I can always paint it! I will post pictures when I can but my memory stick floppy adaptor has died on me and after performing an autopsy I screwed it up royally. So a replacement is well in order....

Anyway, when it is done we can consider painting the walls. I'm thinking beige with a darker beige repeating vertical wide stripe. Any other suggestions? Remember though, Deborah's single vote out votes everybody else, including me!

Friday, March 25, 2005

Minding ones own Beeswax...

It is time to make some more so here is a recipe for Beeswax polish that I used when I sanded and polished the kitchen beams. I also used this on some other wood surfaces that I wanted to leave in a natural finish, such as the back stairs to the third floor and the beadboard hatch to an attic crawl space. It works quite well but I would recommend using less water (maybe a cup less) and don't store it in a coffee can like I did because it will rust!

3oz. Beeswax
1oz. white wax (a candle)
2 1/2 cups turpentine
1 tbsp. dish washing detergent (don't ask me why)
2 1/2 cups water

Using an old saucepan over moderate heat, melt the wax. Remove from heat and slowly stir in the turpentine. Mix detergent with water and gently add to wax mixture. Let cool stirring occasionally. Put in screw top jars and label clearly. When using, allow the wax to penetrate into wood before polishing.

Isn't it just amazing what I come up with?

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Alcohol is your friend!

I passed this tip on to another blogger recently and figured that it was worth posting here. I learned this from an antique dealer back in the early 1990s. He was putting some furniture up for auction that had some dings in the wood that he wanted to obscure. He pulled out a permanent black ink felt tip marker (alcohol based) and dabbed it on the ding. Then he rubbed it with his finger and "voila!" The light colored ding was gone. Having recently done some floor finishing with aniline tinted shellac I got to play with the alcohol/dye solution a bit and discovered that aniline dye is used to color ink AND wood stain. So, if you have a ding in your original woodwork and are tired of it being noticeable, try this out. Of course you could always use a brown marker pen if you think black is too harsh.
Something called Lac paint was common at the turn of the century. This was an alcohol based colored shellac. I recently acquired a free lockset with red colored porcelain door knobs that appeared to be chipped. I wiped them with denatured alcohol and the red color came off leaving perfect white porcelain which is what I wanted anyway. So, alcohol IS your friend!

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Wood floors that say WHOAAAAA!

I got the dining room floor waxed and buffed and laid out some rosin paper walk ways so that I don't scratch up the floors now that they are finished. Well, I don't have any masking tape to hold the paper down..... can you say WHOAAAAAA boys and girls?

Saturday, March 19, 2005

You know you're a home remodel junkie when.....

You watch "BettyBoop" cartoons with your 2 year old and are more interested in the homes and furnishings than the plot!

The wife bought a 10 episode Betty Boop DVD at the Dollar Tree for Elizabeth who is already a Boop-a-holic. These cartoons were made in the mid to late 1930s. Besides "Grampy's" use for everyday items for his gizmos, the kitchen scenes are interesting. As for Elizabeth, well, she likes the music and the dancing!

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Some more Sanborn Maps Info

Boy, oh boy what a buzz I started....
I don't know about other states, but here in Ohio we have the "Ohio Public Library Information Network" located at If you have a current Ohio Public Library card you can go to this site, click research databases, enter your card # and locate the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps link. I can ONLY access Ohio maps though and not owning property in other states I have not had the desire to look elsewhere. I would suggest that you check with the genealogy department at your local library to see if they have access to similar databases. While you are there , see if they have old street directories because once you find out who the previous owners were, then you can research them and possibly find a descendant. That is how I was able to get pictures of the Edgars and Volkenands for our house.
The maps are really worth a look though, especially if you know that additions were made to your house because they could give you an idea as to when they were made because the maps were updated every 20 years or so. From ours we learned that prior to 1955 there was an additional structure on our property that was larger than the garage. We suspect it was an old carriage shed and it explained why our retaining wall at the back of the property has a section that looks different.
Otherwise they give you a glimpse into the past and show you what existed before expressways and strip malls became all the rage! Good luck. I kind of hinted in my first post that this might not be an easy thing to access.

The Irish Question?

I have a good supply of books about interior design, decorating, paint techniques, fixing up houses, curtains, kitchens, bathrooms, plumbing, roofing and numerous other subjects which I buy at our local library book sales dirt cheap and with four solid years of fixing I guess I have become somewhat experienced in a wide range of subjects. So with all this in mind I may just start posting tips and hints when I get bored (which is quite often being "Mr. Mom" to a 2 yr old.)

Well, today I learned something new. I was reading about lighting in a copy of "Household Discoveries" by Sidney Morse published in 1909. It indicates that electricity was convenient but costly to have installed. (It is my understanding that most houses did not have electricity until the late 1920s.) Gas was much more common, but not just natural gas. People had their own acetylene generators in the basement which produced gas by combining water with calcium carbide. There were also gasoline tanks that were buried at a depth of 6 to 8 feet next to a dwelling. Gas was produced by passing a current of air across the surface of the gasoline by using a blower. The blower was powered by a windmill, water or by means of weights and pulleys installed in the cellar.(Remember, this is 1909. Cars were not common so gasoline, a by product of kerosene production, was used for many things including cleaning fabric and as a medicine.) THIS was most interesting though because I know so many of you are remodeling kitchens now or in the future and I know that appliances are on your minds! It reads;

Gasoline Stoves.- Those who have generator gasoline stoves often complain that the gasoline smokes and ruins wall paper. To avoid this generate the fire with wood alcohol. Keep the alcohol in a bottle holding about a quart. Or a machine-oil can holding about a pint will be found convenient. If the latter is used, a piece of cork should be inserted in the end of the spout to keep the gasoline from evaporating. Or use a piece of Irish potato for this purpose. Pour a little alcohol in the generator cup, and light it the same as gasoline.

What I really want to know is WHY does it have to be an "Eyerish" potato?

An appropriate post for St. Patrick's Day.....

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Old House Maps

If you have ever wondered about the history of your house then you should investigate the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps. These maps were initiated in 1887 and were updated every so often. Many major cities were mapped and the maps are very detailed. Our house first appears on these maps in 1932 and again in 1950. You can see a plan of it below. 


The dots and crosses are codes for the type of roofing material used and they give you the height of your building in stories.  Many of these maps are accessible online through library networks or university research databases. I have only accessed Ohio records so I am not sure what is available in other states. You should check them out. They will give you a great insight to the development of your neighborhood. If you do a keyword search you will find a good deal of information out about them but it may be a little harder to access your particular map and it may warrant a trip to your library or university library.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Just a thought......

You know, I had a thought which is unusual for me because I try not to think.

With all the house bloggers and renovation lurkers out there, and you know who you are, we ought to be able to barter and trade skills or services amoungst ourselves in order to achieve our ultimate goal of having the perfect house.

I don't need a lot of stuff, but I do need a huge 5 panel door and I need the tip of my volute replaced. (That sounds painful!) The volute is the bottom part of a handrail for my stairs. These could easily be made by someone with a wood shop in their garage. I don't have a garage, we had to tear it down. The only wood shop tool I have is an old table saw that I bought at an auction. Though the wife said I could have a router for my birthday this month! (That's because she wants the holes in the floor fixed nicely). I also need a fireplace horseshoe for our marble fireplace. In the future I will need some manual labor to haul slate tile to my third floor and maybe someone who knows a thing or five about making copper box gutters. I will need a garage built and a foundation poured for it. Oh and the wife would like some landscaping done on our weed encrusted slope.

What do I have to trade? Well, I can paint stuff very well (but not pictures). If you click HERE you can see some of the kinds of things I have painted for our house. I seem to be able to refinish woodwork quite well and I have a floor sander. I have also made a concrete counter top but transporting one could prove difficult. I could reproduce some hardware in pewter and in the future hope to do some cold cast bronze reproductions of some of our door hardware (because none of it matches and it is quite unusual because it is made of a composite material). I can tuck point quite well and have roofing skills. Any thoughts on this?

OK, I'll try not to think any more....

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Too Cute

How do you say "No" to this face? "Elizabeth. NO. Noooooo. NO! Daddy said no. What part of no don't you understand? NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!"  Well, I figured out how to upload image files! That concludes this test at the "Old Crack House Emporium"



Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Modern Technology versus Primitive Know-How

When I left school we were the last class to use slide rules. Electronic calculators were not permitted in exam rooms. I took technical drawing classes with a compass and a T-square. We used creosote to preserve wood and asbestos was not a dirty word. I never touched a computer until 1987 when I was handed a "top of the line" 40MB Zenith laptop to help sell life insurance with. Without a single computer class to my name and only the instruction manual, I was soon able to comprehend DOS. My current system was acquired used in 1995 and would be considered antiquated by today's standards. It does what I need it to do and I only have one computer game which I mastered years ago.
Well, the challenge is on again. In order to master this "Blogging" thing it seems that I have to develop a better understanding of HTML in order to make my page template evolve. It may take a short while but I WILL figure it out.
This brings me to my point, is modern technology really better? Our house was made before industry took off and is stronger and more solid than anything built today. As I work on it, I am often having to revert back to a "primitive fix" as opposed to using a modern equivalent. Examples include

  • Adding lime and sand to plaster mix to get more out of it and slow the drying time.
  • Use tinted shellac over painted wood for a natural look.
  • Mix linseed oil with sawdust to make a putty that will fill holes and gaps in floor boards.
Then I get hold of some old book that tells me that what I am doing is correct or just one of several methods used.
As a result of this wondering, I won't fill in our cisterns, I have just covered them up, I might need them some day. I plan to line all seven chimneys in case natural gas gets too dear and I need to use wood. I study bizarre things like the uses for rosin and how to make your own paint. That is when I realize that I had better teach my daughter that new technology is good, but you better know how to cope when the time comes.

March page is started

The title says it all! If you go to my regular (Our New House) site you will find a link to the March page from the links page.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

First Blog Entry

Having managed several web sites for 5 years, I have decided to add Blogging to my repertory. Just one more thing to add to my long list of achievements over the last few years.