Gneiss House

Low-pressure home metamorphism


Winter projects

I may have built a fence in the winter, but it wasn’t planned that way. My other winter projects are warm and indoors.

First: cutting and installing new base shoe molding throughout the entire house, including closets. I saved myself some energy and after I went all around the house with a measuring tape and added up the amount I needed (several hundred feet), I bought it pre-painted from Home Depot. Lazy, maybe, but still reasonably cheap and I had enough else going on. I measured out each piece and manually cut them all using a borrowed hacksaw and a small portable vise on my dining room table. It took about a week of work in the evenings and on weekends. Also it was fun. I haven’t actually hammered them in yet, though. When I do, I promise pictures. It will just look like normal rooms! You won’t even notice!

Second: so that I no longer have to vise things to my dining room table, I purchased lumber and a kit of table legs to build a work table in my basement! Now I no longer need to have all my tools and things laying around on the floor across the basement. I used the 2×4 Basics workbench with shelves kit. Here it is, nearly finished and before adding shelves (fluffy cat for scale):

Work table!

It’s a table!

And here is the finished product:

It's a table!

Look how fancy it is!

My review of the kit is that overall, it’s really nice. I was one screw short for the shelves but have plenty of my own to supplement, so that wasn’t a problem. The screws for the base are very long, though, longer than my drill bit, so it was hard to drill long enough pilot holes, and far too hard to screw them in otherwise. The holes in the hard plastic legs to guide the screws were also very short, so they were poor guides when it came to angle: A number of the screws went in a little too perpendicular and ended up poking through the back, and my parents and I had to try to cut and file them down after the table was built. That said, the instructions about how to measure out the lumber I needed and how to assemble the basic table were clear and easy to follow. The instructions for the shelving were less clear, since they had to be modified for this table assemblage and were not as clearly laid out, but I figured it out after a few minutes. Overall a good kit, and I’m very proud of the finished product!

Remaining winter tasks are to permanently install all the base molding, and to finally replace the floor panels we had to remove during carpet removal because they had been so badly damaged by the carpet installers. Thanks again to craigslist magic, I have acquired old oak panels of the right height–no easy task! They all need to have nails removed and be sanded and refinished. I plan to do that job ON MY NEW WORKTABLE.

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How to install a salvaged wrought iron fence

So, I mentioned a few posts back that over the summer I was lucky enough to acquire a wrought iron fence from craigslist. It was about 80 feet of three-foot-high fence, not including gates; I later managed to find two of those separately on craigslist, too. They didn’t match the design but it’s a simple enough fence that they look good with it anyway.

The fence had been installed previously on a slight incline, so most of the sections were also slightly inclined. It had been removed by cutting the sections apart from each other at the posts, and then by cutting the posts off at the base. I had ten ~8-foot sections, with effectively no posts to mount them.

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Closeup of one of the gates I found, in front of the stack of fence sections.

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Two and a half sections that I actually didn’t end up using.

To get the parts I needed to actually install this fence, I wandered around hardware stores, chatted with store employees, measured things over and over, and shopped online for many, many hours (two recommended parts sites are here and here. The Metals Depot site was particularly great for pricing and raw materials).

My township restricts residents of corner lots from installing fencing forward of the front edge of the house, and in my neighborhood, the road right-of-ways extend beyond the sidewalk a few feet into our yards. I had full freedom to extend the fence as far back on the property as I wanted, but I decided to stop it at the edge of the driveway, beyond which the yard is much narrower. After acquiring the township permit and marking the measured fence dimensions with marking paint, I confirmed with the state’s dig service that there were no buried lines to worry about.

Once I knew where I wanted it, I installed the fence over the course of several months using the following method:

  1. Buy plain steel rebar of the same dimensions as the existing posts (1″x1″ square). I purchased them wholesale online–much cheaper than, say, Home Depot, which didn’t have enough posts for me anyway. The one caution I have about using steel is that it’s more flexible than iron, so it might feel a little flimsy when it’s in the ground. It is actually very strong, though–some flexibility is okay.
  2. Paint the new posts black, just well enough to keep them from rusting during installation and through the first winter.
  3. Measure fence section intervals and dig post holes with post hole digger. For a 32″ fence, the goal was to get 18-24″ deep, with deeper holes higher priority at the corners. Where the ground was really clay-rich, digging was extremely difficult, though, and there were also a lot of big stones in my yard fill that were very hard to remove. An iron digging bar was probably one of the best investments I made for this project: it loosened the soil faster than anything else during the post hole digging, and it came in handy later when I had to pound a few extra posts directly into cold ground to finish the last pieces of the job.
  4. Mount painted steel posts in the post holes, using the last of the leftover gravel and concrete. This took a few bags of concrete overall, some good measuring technique, a plumb bob to ensure the posts were vertical, and some bricks to brace the posts for a few days while they dried (to be on the safe side). Once I got the hang of it, I was able to mount most of these on my own with no help. The trick was to place the post exactly where I wanted it (I was a little off for some of these, so the fence is a little uneven, but it’s not really a structural problem so much as a minor aesthetic one), hold it with one hand while dumping some gravel in the hole to brace the post, then pouring cement until the hole was mostly full. I found it easiest to mix up about half a bag of cement at a time, using a watering can while stirring to get to the right consistency, and then to scoop it into the hole using a big plastic scoop. I’d make sure the cement was wet enough to fill in crevices pretty well after pouring. That way I could use the plumb bob and adjust the post orientation to get it just right, then the cement would flow with it to hold it in place, then I’d carefully brace with bricks until it dried a few days later. After they were all dry I filled them back up with dirt left from hole excavation. Note that I always had to spray down the wheelbarrow and plastic scoop really well with the hose as soon as I was done so they didn’t permanently have cement stuck to them.
  5. Purchase large steel bolts long enough to extend through a coupled pair of an old iron post alongside a new steel post. For strength and appropriate length, I ended up settling on 3/8″ wide, 3.5″ long carriage bolts, despite the square part for wood.
  6. Line up each fence section in its appropriate location and mark both its height on the new post and exactly where it needed to be trimmed to fit perfectly between mounted posts. This takes several people: wrought iron is heavy, and you need a free hand to make the marks.
  7. Trim the edges of the fence sections to marked lengths so they fit perfectly. Because of mounting on a slope, in one area we also cut a section into multiple pieces to step it down the slope (I had installed extra posts in that area to make this possible). Trimming and cutting were done with an angle grinder. (Always wear safety goggles with full coverage when cutting metal with an angle grinder!)
  8. Drill 3/8″ bolt holes through new and old fence posts at appropriate heights to ensure fence stability. I put two bolts through each post pair for strength and stability. This was the hardest part of the job: the holes needed to be lined up very well for the plan to work, and the drilling was physically difficult, even with cobalt bits, which dulled quickly. It took weeks and several helping hands. To ensure the holes lined up reasonably well and for stability during mounting, the top sets of holes were drilled first. It is easier and safer to stabilize a section from the top down.
  9. Drill additional bolt holes through new fence posts in places where a neighboring section did not have an old post (each section had an old post on only one side, due to how they had been cut). Each of these locations would get two holes (one top, one bottom), and each hole would receive a bolt, some of which needed to be trimmed with the angle grinder to fit the fence geometry. The neighboring section would be balanced on top of the two bolts using the top and bottom horizontal fence bars (and tightened up later: more stable than you might think!).
  10. Mount all sections. This had to be done in sequence: to make sure the drill holes were lined up, all bottom holes were drilled after a section was mounted and bolts tightened up at the top. It took several weeks of working (around my full time job!) to finish mounting the sections. Use the angle grinder to trim down the new steel fence posts to match the height of the old iron ones. I then hammered in simple, black plastic caps designed to fit the steel fence posts.
  11. Where sections were balanced on bolts because there was no old post to pair with a new one, U-bolts were added to stabilize and tighten the joins and make sure nothing could accidentally knock the fence down. All of the U-bolts were purchased wholesale for cheap (after some intense online shopping). This is probably the most amateurish-looking part of the final product, though it’s helped considerably by a black paint job. I’ll be keeping an eye out for a way to bolt these areas with something that makes a slightly snugger fit, so it is less noticeable.

By then it was so cold that I could no longer do the finishing touches. So once the weather is warmer, here is the plan:

  1. Install the gate latches. They could not be placed until the rest of the fence was in place and gates mounted, because the latch has to be carefully positioned. One of the gate latches also requires mounting a piece in the ground, and I’d like to do it with concrete. It’s been either too cold or too wet for concrete (if not both), so this is on hold.
  2. Paint the bolts black. I did a quick and dirty job of this so it was nicer to look at for the winter, but I’ll be redoing it once it’s warm enough for paint to properly set.
  3. Remove all rust and repaint the whole fence black, too. It’s really in reasonably good shape for a salvage iron fence, but there are rusty areas and it needs touch-ups and a fresh coat to look done.
  4. Finish edging around the bottom of the fence, so there aren’t big gaps and holes. I have started this process but cannot finish until the weather is warmer and the ground has thawed for real.
  5. Reposition the stones I used to shore up the slope, because many of them had to be moved during the installation of the fence.
  6. Plant/replant areas that were disturbed by the fence installation.
  7. Finish the whole side yard project: remove the little strips of grass from the slope that are difficult to mow and replace them with plantings that are easier to maintain.

In the meantime, it looks pretty good, if I may say so!

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It snowed right after I finished most of the installation. So pretty in the snow!


Plants!

Once the path and garden beds were more or less in place, it was time to plant! It was pretty late in the season (and very hot), so my goals were to get some of the things I planned established for next year, and to help reduce erosion as much as possible.

I planted plugs of creeping mazus along the stone path. Mazus will spread well to fill in between the stones, making a lush, low, walkable carpet. It also has pretty blue flowers! It does prefer some moisture, so if we have a midsummer drought I’m not sure how well it will do, but last summer it held up pretty well during some dry weeks, so I am hopeful.

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Groundcovers and wildflower meadow, a month or two after getting them in. The clumps of green mats interspersed and close to the path are mazus. The rest are some pansies (which are hardy and should survive at least one more season–they’re not really single-season annuals) and the wildflower mix.

On the slopes I added a few things: some lavender plants, some transplanted lilies, and some perennial seeds (aster and dianthus, if I remember right). Hard to tell if all of those took, but I’ll know for sure next year.

Otherwise I used a lawn-alternative wildflower meadow mix from American Meadows. Unfortunately, it was too late and too hot for it to germinate quickly, but I had the advantage of bare, untouched ground with few weeds. Some of the seeds were washed out of higher or more gravelly areas before they germinated, so the cover is a little patchy, and I will be oversowing this coming spring to even that out. This year the perennials weren’t ready to bloom, but I had a nice show with sweet alyssum, creeping daisy, and roman chamomile flowers.

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Early plantings.

In the keyhole gardens, I got some preliminary vegetables and herbs going, because why not? The herb seeds I scattered around took off like weeds, and they haven’t died back during our mild winter this year so I’ll have to do some transplanting in the spring! The rosemary took well and I had a nice late crop of peas, plus some tiny and delicious late carrots!

Carrots!

Carrots!

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The right keyhole had a transplanted lily that I saved and some herbs this year. Those onions got in too late to produce much.

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The left keyhole has the rosemary in the middle, with some herbs around the sides.

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Transplanted chives and sage from my previous residences off to the right. The gravel bed is a trench I dug to help control drainage from the house gutters. Previously it was falling right over the house foundation, and I added a drain extender to move it away from the house. Once the area is better planted I hope the rest of the runoff will stop eroding and washing out the new path so much.

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Mazus on the path in the foreground; lots of snap peas (I switched to dwarf peas for next spring!); and lots and lots of cilantro.

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These were in too late to produce a large crop, but after a few frosts, the tiny carrots I grew were delicious.

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A pleasant surprise: the parsley attracted a lot of beautiful black swallowtail caterpillars! I had so much parsley that I could certainly afford to let them eat some. This is an early stage caterpillar.

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And here’s a late stage black swallowtail caterpillar, probably days from making a chrysalis. This guy was seriously chomping down on that leaf.


Yard attack 2: Bricks and stones

Through the magic of craigslist, I was able to acquire nearly a third of a pallet of flagstone, about twenty largish blocks of local schist, and ten 8-foot sections of minimally rusted, salvaged, wrought iron fencing. I accumulated other pieces of stone for the yard from waste piles at work (a perk of being a geologist), and liberated brick pavers from now-unnecessary borders around my yard. I also obtained an iron and wood outdoor bench off craigslist, and repainted it red, and purchased an iron bistro table, patio umbrella, and solar lighting. Once most of the gravel had finally been removed and I had loosened some of the packed soil, I began installing stone paths and garden beds:

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Bench and new stone path, with small pile of remaining gravel to the left.

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Main flagstone path immediately after installation. Patio area to the left still contains gravel.

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Primary stone path, viewed from the back of the yard.

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Main stone path continuing toward the back steps and driveway. While the majority of the side yard was rather sterile and filled with gravel by the previous homeowner, this area is so densely planted that it’s like trying to manage a (beautiful) waist-deep jungle.

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Rear steps down to the driveway. These replaced unstable, unopened bags of gravel.

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Final stone path installation in what used to be the patio area, with new raised double keyhole garden beds.

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Raised, double keyhole garden beds

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New patio area, with new iron bistro set, patio umbrella, and solar lighting.

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Looking back at the yard from the rear driveway area, after full stone path and garden bed installation.

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Stones installed to shore up the eroding slope

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Stone installation to shore up eroding slope, following tree removal.


Yard attack 1: Trees and shrubs

Being a corner lot, my house has two yards: a small front yard facing roughly west, and a larger south-facing side one. Both are up a slope from the sidewalk. The front yard has a lawn, but the side yard only has a little bit of lawn around the edges, on parts of the slope. The back has a wide brick driveway with a one-car garage and a separate entrance into the basement.

When I bought the house, the side yard contained a cedar tree, some shrubs and hedges, a few garden beds, and a whole lot of gravel. It was set up as a wide gravel patio, with a pea-size gravel walkway through the whole yard and leading to a set of steps down to the driveway in the back. The gravel areas and several of the garden beds were underlain with matting and bounded by cheap plastic edging, some of it held down with rusted metal stakes. The rear steps were made of unopened bags of gravel.

Listing photo of the side yard, including a couple thousand pounds of gravel.

Listing photo of the side yard, including a couple thousand pounds of gravel.

gravel gravel gravel

gravel gravel gravel

There were a number of problems with the whole design. While it’s good that the yard slopes slightly away from the house and then steeply down to the sidewalk, xeriscaping matting and gravel fill are designed to funnel water off the surface of your yard and directly into plant beds that need the moisture. It’s not a good idea to just funnel all rainwater off the slope and into the road: none of the water can be absorbed by the soil to keep the soil healthy. All of the water is wasted. Not to mention that this area gets 44 inches of rain a year, so a design intended for semi-arid climates is poorly placed here: some moisture inevitably tends to get trapped, making your whole yard a mosquito breeding ground. It’s also a particularly bad idea to place matting under the soil on a steep incline, particularly with added mulch layers, as the previous homeowner had done around the edges of my side yard: then there is nothing to hold the soil in place, and it will tend to wash away or fall off in large, cohesive sections. Sloping yards in moist climates already typically have problems with creep and erosion, and this yard was no exception—several shrubs and perennials around the side of the yard were displaying classic signs of creep, and the mats were demonstrably making the soil erosion substantially worse.

The old holly bush was a severe victim of slope creep and was not doing well

The old holly bush was a severe victim of slope creep and was not doing well. Also note the white specks in the soil in the middle of the picture: poor, pea gravel victims of people trying to walk down the path.

The soil and mulch under these hedges was placed on top of the fabric matting, and would slide off the mats in sections whenever there was a heavy rain storm.

The soil and mulch under these hedges was placed on top of the fabric matting, and would slide off the mats in sections whenever there was a heavy rain storm.

The gravel itself was a headache. It didn’t stay put, and pea gravel is an especially bad idea for areas where people will be walking—you sink in while you’re trying to walk, it gets stuck in your shoes, and you end up kicking it out of the contained area just by walking. Gravel is great for color contrast and drainage in planted beds, and for temporary fill for drainage and short-term weed control, but it is not very sensible as a permanent fill in a patio area.

So here was the plan:

  1. Cut down the cedar tree, which blocked the southerly sunlight year-round from the central part of the yard and made the yard feel very small and enclosed due to its size and placement;
  2. Cut down two shrubs that were doing poorly because of slope creep;
  3. Remove the gravel, the edging, and all of the matting;
  4. Shore up the slopes with interspersed stones;
  5. Install a nice pathway through the yard;
  6. Plant to permanently establish both a stable slope and a green, healthy yard; ideally something much lower maintenance and more eco-friendly than a classic turf lawn;
  7. Establish and plant vegetable and herb garden;
  8. Establish pleasant outdoor seating areas;
  9. Fence the yard for my dog to play in, within township restrictions for fenced corner lots.

This was the plan for the warmer months of the year, which were upon us soon after I closed on the house, finished the floors, and moved in.

Gravel removal came first. After it was clear that no one was going to pay for pea gravel, even large quantities of it where I did some of the work bagging it, I started listing it on craigslist for free. It took no fewer than 7-8 people and a couple months of steady removal to get rid of most of it. It was frustrating, pretty backbreaking work: shoveling the gravel into containers and bags, raking it into piles, sifting it from the sand and pulverized-gravel dust. Although the craigslisters did a lot of their own removal, I probably shoveled and raked up half of it myself before it was all gone. The matting underneath was mostly rotten and ripped into tiny pieces when I tried to pull it out. The stakes holding down the matting and edging were in some cases extremely deep and difficult to get out. I did most of this work in the sunshine, during a very, very hot early summer. Finally, when just small amounts of gravel mixed with sand were left, I pulled the craigslist ads and shoveled most of what was left into my garden beds so I could finally remove the last of the fabric from underneath. The soil beneath was clay-rich and had been packed down hard by the weight of the overlying gravel.

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After about half of the gravel was removed from the pea-size gravel path, but before tree removal. The cedar is in the back on the right.

Then, with the help of my extremely helpful parents and a borrowed gas chain saw, we accomplished steps 1 and 2: removing the tree and unhealthy shrubs. Due to thick, low branches that had never been managed or pruned, the cedar tree was difficult to see well when I hatched my brilliant plan, so I was unaware that it contained four trunks. But with a gas chain saw, a smaller electric chain saw, trimmers, and loppers, the three of us got the whole job done–on a nearly 100ºF, humid, sunny, brutal day. And we cut and tied up all the branches for township pickup. I gave the cedar trunks to some coworkers who love woodworking, and happily sent the rest of the mess to our town’s compost pile. Hooray!

Next time: Installing paths, gardens, and greenery!


Interlude: furnishing and decorating

Once the floors were done and I could put things on them, it became clear some redecorating was necessary. I didn’t have appropriate area rugs for most of the rooms (the exception was the guest bedroom, which I decorated more or less like the master bedroom in my last rental apartment), my old futon was not a good fit for the living room, and I didn’t have two bedrooms’ worth of furniture, though I had a spare dresser. I definitely didn’t have enough shelves. My parents were getting new couches and I was happy to take theirs for the living room, though, so that was a good start.

Enter numerous affordable shopping options:

  • Ikea: New mattress for the master bedroom. I also got their queen-sized bed foundation because it’s thinner than a box spring, and I knew my stairs were narrow. It was still too big, though, and the deconstruction/reconstruction project that ensued was an excellent lesson in Just Buy A Split Box Spring. (For the record: Ikea bed foundations contain a fabric layer that is attached with about one million staples that are not very fun to remove.)
  • Ikea: New bookshelf, DVD shelf, and sideboard-like horizontal shelving for two rooms
  • Craigslist: Beautiful new-to-me queen bed frame, with headboard and footboard (needs minor repair)
  • Overstock: Three new rugs
  • Flor: One modular, washable, recycled-plastic-fiber rug (and most of the rug squares were on clearance!)
  • Bed, Bath, and Beyond (with accumulated coupons): New lamps, a couple curtain rods, blue towels (in an attempt to balance the unfortunate intensity of the harvest yellow tile with complementary colors)
  • Marshalls or TJMaxx or Homegoods type places: New curtains
  • Amazon: New shower curtain (also with blues)

See pictures of the outcome below. A friend also suggested a clever design for mounting the dog gate in the stairway but giving the cats full access to the second floor. Limiting basement entry to the cats so the dog can’t access cat food/litter, however, was complicated by the door. I settled on a pet door with magnetic collar entry (the dog is as small as the cats, so size is not a limitation), though the only options available fit poorly on doors with uneven molding shapes, so some creative mounting was necessary. Someday I have to believe that my second cat will figure out how to use the magnetic key.

The bathroom is a little small to photograph, but nonetheless: shower curtain with blues to complement the yellow. There are also blue towels.

The bathroom is a little small to photograph, but nonetheless: shower curtain with blues to complement the yellow. There are also blue towels.

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Guest bedroom. Most of the decorating came from my previous rental apartment. Soon after this picture I replaced the curtains (which are too long for the room’s windows) with brighter red grommet panels.

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The guest bedroom is also the declared hobby space: musical instruments, yarn crafts, jewelry making, sewing, papercrafts. The mirror is now mounted on the wall above the dresser, which my parents found at a yard sale and refinished for me. Long term plan is to paint the wall behind the dresser (and only that wall) a rich red to complete the theme.

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The office (third bedroom), complete with curtains, new loveseat cover, and rug. The walls now have a movie poster and bulletin board, and the plan is to paint them all an almost-periwinkle medium blue. Also I’ve added some scratching posts to deter my naughty little cat.

The master bedroom also has rich purple curtains.

The master bedroom also has rich purple curtains. (Photo predates rug addition.)

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Master bedroom, with new bed frame and mattress. The wall behind the bed is planned to be a grayish lavender, with a framed print containing purples/lavenders/greens (when I find just the right one). The new rug is a modular recycled-fiber carpet from Flor.

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Living room with my parents’ old blue couch and chair, and new dark blue and gray rug. Walls will be a light, bright yellow for cheery complementary colors.

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Second view of the living room. The DVD bookshelf was new from Ikea.

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Dining room design with rich browns, including new curtains and new rug. There is a rich, dark brown bookshelf on the right (not shown) and the shelving on the left is acting as a sideboard, both from Ikea.


How to finish a floor

The hardwood floor was fully sanded and ready to go. What came next was a lot of crawling around and kneeling on hard wood surfaces. This job is very hard on the knees. Knee pads help, but we were still pretty sore.

To do this right, the floor needs to be really clean. Anything left on the floor becomes part of the floor once the finish is down, so you want the surface to be smooth and free of dust and particles. After all the sanding, sweeping, and vacuuming, any remaining sawdust and other particles need to be removed–twice, leaving about a day in between cleanings for any suspended particulates in the air to settle.

The cleaning is done with tackcloth. Tackcloth, it turns out, is sticky and gooey and kind of gross to handle: the adhesive that makes the cloth tacky comes off the cloth and attaches itself to your fingers, making your hands tacky. We solved this problem by wearing disposable gloves. (Note that latex gloves turned out to be a pretty dumb idea, because of course, latex dissolves in oil-based solvents like stains and polyurethanes. Learn from my mistake: use synthetic disposable gloves.) The other thing about tackcloth that took some time to learn was that it unfolds into much bigger sheets than we initially realized. It’s actually cheesecloth, but the adhesive makes it very difficult to open it all the way. Opening it all the way increases its surface area so much that you’ll need significantly fewer cloths to clean your floors, though, so it’s worth fighting to get them fully unfolded.

So, if you’re refinishing floors, plan for many hours on your knees, using sticky cloths to wipe all the dust off your floors. Do this, of course, from the outer edge of a room backing towards the doorway, so you don’t back yourself into a corner. Bring something very padded to kneel on, and expect sore knees nonetheless.

The cleaning is followed by staining, which is also best done kneeling, using gloves and clean, lint-free cloths to apply the stain. Because my floors had the previous stain only mostly removed, and I was going lighter to brighten the house, a traditional stain was a bad idea: it would apply unevenly and look bad in the areas that still had the old stain. Instead my local hardware store sales rep recommended a less absorbent stain that sits more on the surface of the wood–something not unlike the MinWax Polyshades line, but just a straight stain. This property made it coat over both the prestained and fully sanded wood more similarly. I went with the “honey walnut” shade, which I love: it’s a relatively light tone, but still warm. The outcome was a variegated but nice look to the floor overall. There was ultimately nothing I could do about the two dark water-stained areas without replacing the panels, and for now I decided to just live with those dark spots. It is (I have discovered) difficult to find old oak paneling that’s the same width and thickness as my floorboards, so replacing the panels would be tricky, and the spots aren’t so severe that it was worth trying to do that.

Finally: the finish. After the stain had dried, we tackclothed the whole thing one more time, and then I applied a water-based, semi-gloss polyurethane intended for flooring. After the first half of the first coat, I abandoned the recommended technique of first using a hand brush to apply the polyurethane near the walls followed by a brush applicator on a pole to apply it to the interior of the rooms. The reasoning behind the hand application near the walls is that it will help you avoid polyurethaning the walls. But my walls had no base shoe molding left, and instead there were holes and gaps around the edges of all of the rooms and hallways. I knew I was going to have to install molding later anyway, so for the rest of the job I used only the applicator with the pole. This made the applications lightning fast and much easier and more comfortable than the previous work. I was also able to avoid the headache of trying to brush on the polyurethane with hand brushes without creating a lot of bubbles, which would give the finish a rougher, more milky surface. At first my feathering technique was pretty poor, and there are one or two places where I failed to apply perfectly with the grain of the wood and it looks a little funny when it catches the light. But with furniture and rugs on it, even I have a hard time noticing those details.

I intended to do three coats but ran out of time, because the polyurethane needed to dry for several days before I could put furniture on it and moving day was approaching. So in the end I got only two coats down. That might mean that in the long run it stands up less well to scratches and nicks, but so far, one year later, it’s holding up well. And I think it looks great!

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Refinished hardwood flooring (oak with honey walnut stain) in the dining room.

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Another view of the dining room, with additional lighting.

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Refinished floor in the living room.

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Refinished floor in the third bedroom/office.

Next time: adventures with landscaping!