Friday, October 30, 2009

Great Room Project Update, Thursday 10/29


All that is left is trim. And all the trim is finished, dried, and ready to cut and install. So the goal today was to finish things up!

The base cap went back up, no sweat. The section I had to buy and stain blended in just fine. The base shoe pieces were easy to miter, piece together, and nail to the baseboard. After that, more stained wood filler went into the nail holes in the trim.

Did I say just how GREAT a tool a pneumatic finish nailer is? I can’t imagine doing a project like this without it, especially working by yourself. It allows you to hold things with one hand, and nail with the other. Zap! Zap! Zap! Just that fast. And you don’t even have to countersink the nail heads, since you can set it to fire hard enough to bury the heads slightly. Gotta like that!

Nail with one hand, do something else with the other.

Note the cool hand knit vest.

On to the last bit – installing the threshold trim pieces where the bricks and hardwood meet. Once installed, the elevation of the hardwood is maybe 3/8” higher than the bricks. So there has to be some sort of transition piece. I used these “baby thresholds”, and mitered them in around the corners. This was a bit easier than the “in place and level” mitering I did around the fireplace. But it was going to be very visibly exposed, so I took my time and did it right! I think it turned out okay. I had to futz a bit at the corner where three different trim bits intersected, none at the same level. There is probably an elegant way to do this, but if I ever did figure it out, my Caveman Carpenter status would be revoked for sure.

So… The wood is down and the project is done, at least from a construction standpoint. I just have to move furniture and things back in without doing any damage. (Just…)

We decided to celebrate with a glass of Goat wine. Not sure if it is made BY goats, or FOR goats, or for consumption WITH, say, goat stew. But either way, if goats are somehow involved, how bad can it be?


I really only found one thing that I would do differently next time (so far...). I mean other than NOT lose that piece of trim. I would make an elevation transition, like the brick-to-hardwood, with a tapered transition piece instead of a threshold. More like what I did around the fireplace. It would be a smoother look. Here is the difference:

I came up with the transition scheme after reading about it online and asking the Lumber Liquidator folks. I was worried about leaving an expansion gap around ALL the edges. But it turns out that that's not strictly necessary, at least in this part of the country where season-to-season temperature and humidity swings are not that extreme. Live and learn.

Great Room Project Update, Wednesday 10/28


The stain color was within tolerance, so I coated it with a coat of polyurethane.

Spent quite a while filling in nail holes. The last three rows of hardwood had to be nailed in through the top, and since the skinny little finishing nails don't hold things down as well as the big beefy staples, I got pretty happy with the finish nailer. But now I gotta fill all those holes! I used that stained putty stuff. It’s really a pretty cool product. You just smush it into the hole with your finger, then smooth it out with a rag. Done! Now, repeat 5000 times. I used a lighter color for the floors, a darker color for the baseboards.
Yesterday I reported that the baseboards looked like they had been attacked by squirrels. Not anymore!

Left of the cutter: filled. Right of the cutter: not filled.

Great Room Project Update, Tuesday 10/27


My baseboard system consists of three bits. The baseboard itself (essentially stained 1” x 6” boards) and the base cap (a shaped top molding) were both salvaged from when I tore the room apart. The base shoe would be new. I dragged the baseboards, which kind of looked like they had been attacked by squirrels, back inside.
They went in fine, but when I was setting the cap in place, there was a piece missing. Now, when I took these out, I remember breaking a small piece, and I was able to glue back together. But where did it go? Jeez... It will reappear when I move stuff from the garage back in into the Great Room. Just to add insult to injury.

The piece that wasn't there

Luckily, the original builders used a standard molding which is still available today(!). My buddies at Lowe’s didn’t have that shape, but the pointed me in the right direction. I also picked up the base shoe pieces, which differ from standard quarter round like this:

Stain time. In order to get an approximate match to the existing color, I had to dig through my collection of ancient wood stain remnants and mix up a custom batch. A little trial and error, and I was in the staining business.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Great Room Project Update, Monday 10/26

Rippin' it up!
Ran errands in the morning -

- Lowe's to get a new blade to replace the dull 20-year old one on my table saw.
- Pick up rugs from the Atlas oriental rug cleaning guys.
- Lumber Liquidators to exchange the two boxes of hardwood. I wanted 16 boxes, but they had 19 in stock, and cut me a deal to take all of it. Sure, I'll take more product for less money! It turns out that I only needed a tad over 15 boxes, so I have 4 boxes left over in case I want to do another room someday. It turned out that two of the boxes contained the wrong size and color boards. So I went up to do an exchange.
- Trader Joe's for food. This is just a cool place...

I wanted to reuse the baseboards and trim, but they are now too tall by the thickness of the hardwood. I had to rip 3/4" off them. Hence the need for a functional table saw blade! The problem was in how to rip a pair of fourteen foot long pieces of wood on a table saw with just one person. First of all, you need a room with 14' on each side of the saw. Since I don't have many 30' long rooms, I had to drag my tools out into the driveway. That meant clearing a path in the current project-induced mess of a garage wide enough to get the table saw out through. My hand truck came in handy. (Remember - chicks dig guys with good hand trucks!) I used the miter saw stand to catch the cut lumber coming off the saw, and an old chair to support it on the feed-in side. Looked like this:

The in side **

The out side

It was going to be a challenge keeping the stock feeding in tight to the rip fence and tight against the table. A 14' long piece of 1"x6" is pretty floppy! So I made some featherboards and clamped them down to use as guides. I like to be mega-careful around power saws, especially when there are no other people around. I even wore my safety glasses, but since they are an old prescription, I'm not really sure if they increased or decreased my safety. But they make me look like Elvis Costello, so I wear them.
..............Me.................................................................Elvis Costello.......

The table saw set-up:

This all worked like a charm. I was, as my friend George would say, rippin' 'em up!


** Two things to notice in that top photo:

1) Those seven foot tall wooden box-like things in the upper two photos are halves of an antique wardrobe. There is a long, involved, hilarious Bond family story about acquiring and getting this home to Livonia from some auction out in the sticks of lower Michigan. I think I remember driving from Detroit to Worcester, MA with one of those halves strapped to the roof of a compact car. Must have killed the gas mileage on that trip! I also remember getting some custom trim milled for it at a shop in MA. This restoration project started a good 20 years ago and was, umm, set aside. Maybe I'll re-start that it when the Great Room is done. Could be more blog fodder...

2) The small grey stonelike thing at the bottom of the photo is a mostly life sized cast concrete replica of a human brain. This is our most prized lawn ornament.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Great Room Project Update, Friday 10/23

The End of Whacking

Approaching the end of whacking down the hardwood means coming to the beginning of the slow, detailed stuff. I'll have to put a mitered frame around the fireplace hearth, and start face nailing once I get close to the wall.

Face nailing will have its’ downside. The WHACK! part of operating the regular floor staple driver does two things; it triggers the machine to fire the staple into the floor (duh!), and it snugs the boards together for a nice, tight fit. It’s that tight fit that keeps the floor from looking like it was installed by monkeys.

Part 1: Putting in the mitered hearth frame.

My plan:
1- Plan out in detail how all the pieces will fit together
2- Measure twice
3- Cut once
4- Assemble

What actually happened:

1- Plan out in detail how all the pieces will fit together
2- Measure everything three times.
3- Decide on a very slightly different assembly process
4- Measure everything five times
5- Repeat steps 3 and 4
6- Repeat step 5
7- Finally start cutting wood
8- Assemble everything “dry”: tap pieces in place without sinking nails
9- Realize that the subfloor around the hearth is raised up slightly, just enough that the boards don’t sit flat.

The 45° mitered corners will be especially bad. This will make that zone look like it was installed by, you guessed it, monkeys!

Blow the good half of a day grinding down the subfloor with the belt sander,along with other sanding machines. Fill house with dust. See pictures below. The orbs are back with a vengeance now! (Ref: 9/30 blog entry)
Lesson learned: sanding belts have a finite lifetime. I had 4 or 5 new belts in the garage. Most of these are probably left over from when I sanded the evil “opaque stain” off the back deck. That must have been 7 or 10 years ago. After one minute of sanding, the belts would break at the seam. As it turns out, the glue that holds them together dries out and dies of old age. Off to Lowe’s again. So – don’t keep many sanding belts in your personal abrasive inventory!

10- Assemble everything “dry” again. Note that everything fits together nicely.
11- Sink nails
12- Realize that any of the various assembly plans hatched back in steps 1 through 6 would have probably worked out just fine.

After all that, the mitered frame worked out very good. Here’s a before shot, when I was working on sanding the subfloor into something that could be described as remotely level.




The important pieces dry-fit together.










Close-up of the miter zone, with a couple of “fill-in” rows installed.










Part 2: Finishing up the rest of the room.

Once the hearth was framed out, I just had to fill in to the back wall on each side. Once I was 4 or 5 rows from the wall, the nailer would no longer fit. Swinging the hammer risked thwacking a freshly painted wall (no big deal, really) or busting a window (big deal, really!). And without the whacking of the nailer to snug the boards tightly together, I was left with more caveman-like techniques. I had to improvise with various levers, wedges, and crowbars. Luckily, my friend Rob not only owns his very own personal pneumatic hardwood floor nailer, he has a good collection of finish nailers. That allowed me to:

Pry with one hand, and...

...shoot nails with the other.

Here's an improvised caveman levering system. Note the small piece of wood that is being pried on. This saves the hardwood tongues from being mangled by the crowbar. It was the most useful little trick I came up with!

I tried to be a hot shot carpenter and do some blind nailing thru the tongue with the finish nailer, but that turned out to be kind of tricky, considering I was on working my knees, at a silly angle, prying with one hand, and working the nailer with the other. Seems like 15 or 20% of that row had to be chiseled out (or punched into the subfloor!) so it wouldn’t screw up the next row. Luckily, it was only possible to do that for one row, so I was spared that indignity for the remaining rows. But it all turned out good. And I even cut around the heating duct!










The very last board was only 3/4” or so wide, so I fired up the table saw and ripped the tongue off the boards for the second-to-the-last row. Then I made some 3/4” wide strips, and nailed in the final row.

Repeat on the other side of the fireplace, and... the wood is down!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Great Room Project Update, Sunday 10/18

More whacking

Not a lot of pithy commentary or witticisms today, just more whacking of staples into the floor. Making progress, though!

Great Room Project Update, Saturday 10/17


Last night’s staple jam turned out to be really easy to fix. A 90-second job using a single hex wrench. I just didn’t want to be the guy who hosed up a borrowed machine by messing up internal seals and screwing up a dozen hard-to-get O-rings. No such worries.

Half day of work today. Lots of whacking of the nailer. Betsy was around in the evening, and took a couple photos of me in action:

Here I'm selecting the next few rows. The trick is to keep the ends staggered, so the joints DON”T line up. You also have to mix up long and short pieces. I try to work out of a couple boxes at once, so any color variation is more randomized.

Sometimes a bowed or curved board has to be tapped into place. With a couple of good whallops, the nailer can straighten out a moderatly warped board. I’ve been surprised at how few reject boards I’ve come across. Pretty good quality for $3/sq.ft., I’d say.

Your standard whacking position.

The end of the day pic. Visible progress. Yay, me!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Great Room Project Update, Friday 10/16

Grass seed, end o' the floor prep, and NAILING

The weather earlier this week cooperated perfectly for yard work, so another day was spent outside (poor me), spreading compost, lime, fertilizer, grass seed and straw. Mostly in the back yard. All to the rabbit’s great amusement. I purchased a big, honkin’, 50 pound bag of tall fescue grass seed from a local farmer who had an ad in the paper. For $25, I’ll put up with the concept of overkill. Need some seed?

I did finish up the patch near the bricks:

It was also necessary to assemble some new toys. Everyone knows that guys take on these projects mainly as pretext to buy new and expensive tools, right? Well, this one is no exception. Here’s my new miter saw, with matching stand, thank you very much.

Notice that the saw is a Ridgid tool. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet any of their, umm, distinctive sales staff. I wonder what planet they originally came from? Well, I guess they would be pushing 75 or 80 years old by now…

The next step was to put down the 15# black felt paper. I guess the function here is to provide a small amount of insulation (?) and a bit of a vapor barrier. But we already know I have the world’s sexiest crawlspace, so moisture from down there isn’t an issue. The felt paper is also rumored to make the floor quieter. Hey, it’s cheap.

Small ERROR: I needed to go buy a chalk line so that I could put a straight reference line on the floor. Chalk comes in several colors. Since the floor was already covered by red chalk lines from the original construction, marking joists and things, I got some blue chalk. I wasn’t thinking that the surface I would be marking would actually be BLACK! Ahem… Off to Lowe’s to get some white chalk. At least I got out of there for less than $1.50. That’s a first.

My friend and new band leader Rob came over on Friday. Rob is the one I’m borrowing the pneumatic floor nailer from. He’s the kind of guy who has every tool known to man. You know the type – builds kitchen cabinets, installs hardwood floors, hires contractors only with great gnashing of teeth. Think Norm Abrams, only more fit, and with a shaved head. (He's the guy playing guitar in the previous post). Rob got me set up and nailin’, well, technically stapling, and was a great help in advising me on what was important and what was not. That’s the trouble with doing something new these days. There is almost too much information easily available. Too many different techniques and opinions. With 25 years of hardwood floor experience, Rob is great at filtering out all the overkill. I would have kept measuring forever. He said he really came over because he eventually wants his air compressor back. What a joker.

The pneumatic nailer actually fires these big, 2" long staples. They get injected at a 45° angle into the tongue of the tongue-and-groove hardwood. You can buy these special staples at any hardware-like stoor, but they come in only one quantity: big boxes of 7800. Probably twice as much as I really need. As you can see, a box is pretty hefty.
Zapping down the hardwood is great fun, once you get going. We had to make an “L” shaped piece plus a long skinny piece to turn the corner around the brick. Other that that, it was pretty straightforward. Top-nailing the first three rows went fast with the pneumatic finish nailer. No need for pre-drilling holes or countersinking nail heads! Again, Rob filtered out some of the dogma for me.

Here’s where I stopped at the end of the day. Technically, it’s where I was when the nailer jammed. But that can be dealt with tomorrow.
I think this is actually going to turn out nice, after all.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Great Room Project, Monday 10/12

Not much today

This past weekend I had my debut gig with the Stevens Mill Band. It was at an outdoor folk life festival held at Latta Plantation, a historic site just north of Charlotte. This band plays mostly high energy acoustic music - some singer/songwriter stuff, newgrass, a little celtic even. I played the fretless on Saturday, and switched to the upright on Sunday, which just seemed more appropriate for playing in a barn. It was a lot of fun. This event, along with attending a Charlotte Symphony concert, kept me away from the great room pretty much all weekend.

There was even a rooster that would occasionally crow at just the right part of a song. By Sunday afternoon he was getting the hang of things.


Since rain is in the forecast for both this afternoon and later this week, and I have NOT done the semi-annual ritual planting of the grass seed, I needed to do some yard work this morning. Blast leaves with the leaf shredder, make another compost system out of them, then rake out the dead grass, sticks, and acorns. With a little luck, this will boost the grass seed germination rate up to 10% or so. Just try growing grass in deep shade in a drought! Fortunately, I found a great worker to contract this out to. Here’s a picture of him with a bunch of roots he dug out with that pickax of his. Seems like I’ve been tripping over those roots for the past 10 years. What a guy! A little strange, though. He wanted to be paid in gold, and treated the cash I gave him like it was a used Kleenex.

Great Room Project duties consisted of heading to the crawlspace and toenailing in a chunk of wood into the floor underneath where that piece of OSB was maybe sagging. There was no other damage there, so that’s good. Probably overkill, but…

Friday, October 9, 2009

Great Room Project, Thursday 10/8

Floor Prep 2

Today: more glamour, more kneepads.
Plus lots of nails and particle board sawdust, to boot.

The first thing was to get out the old circular saw and chop out the rest of that water damaged spot. This required some judgment as to the depth of cut, but I was able to set it so it didn’t cut into the subfloor underneath. Erring on the shallow side, I finished the cut by tapping with a chisel.

Then off to the garage to cut out the patches. The garage is full of junk from the great room, so the table saw is pretty much buried. As in three-dimensionally buried. I wasn’t going to excavate it for one long cut. So I clamped a fence on to the workpiece and used the circular saw. Not bad. I didn’t get the small area cut out perfectly square (dang!), so I just cut the patch to match.

Set patches in place, extend the existing joist chalk lines from the original construction, find the appropriate flavor of nails, and hammer ‘em in. Not up to finish cabinet carpentry standards, but not bad for something you are going to bury.


You know how floors creak in places when you walk around? Well that drives me nuts. In an old house, it’s just part of the character. But this house, unfortunately, has about zero of THAT kind of character. So the creaks and noises have to go. Based on some observant stomping around, it looks like most creaks come from the free ends of the subfloor rubbing against each other. The subfloor panels are nailed to the joists pretty well, but the ends that float in space are free to move. I figured that if those free ends were securely nailed to the sub-subfloor (there’s probably a better term for that), the relative motion would be gone, and the floor would be quiet. Worth a shot.

- Best case: easy solution for a quiet floor.
- Worst case: LOTS more nails for the poor guy who eventually has to remove this subfloor. Not my worry! (I hope…)

So I got some 1½” nails, the kind with the texture-ey, ringed shanks. These would provide some grip. Finishing nails would NOT work for this. I sunk two pairs in every 16” length of non-joist supported subfloor joint. I countersunk these the best that I could. That was made more difficult because these nails had a good sized head. Full countersinking wasn’t really necessary – I just wanted to be sure the heads were not sticking up at all. That’s still a lot of whacking.

The result: a very quiet floor. Score!!! A best-case scenario for a change!

On to the last subfloor patch – the plywood bit over my the bricks. This took some hacking to get out. I had to do some near-free form cutting with the circular saw. That’s always hairy when cutting close to things you don’t really want to hit, like, say, BRICKS! Since I could only get so close to the wall, I had to do the rest of it with a drill and chisel.

Here's a little excavation hole I chiseled to make sure I knew exactly what I was chopping into. No surprises.

And here’s the cut-out itself:

Uh oh. Could have a problem with the OSB board. I’ll have to head down to the crawlspace to see what things look like from down there. I may have to beef something up. That’s a job for tomorrow.

Tools of the day:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Great Room Project, Tuesday 10/6

Floor prep 1

Another glamorous, kneepad-intensive day here. But I did accomplish several good things.

1) I pulled all the carpet pad staples out of the subfloor. The kneepads got a good workout, along with a screwdriver and a pair of pliers.

2) I figured I'd just replace the 4'x4' sheet of subflooring that had the water damage. The original nails had been countersunk with good success, so I had to resort to a little help from my chisel to get them out. One all the nails were unearthed, the whole section came right out.

Surprise! Under the subfloor was another layer of waferboard. Or maybe OSB. Brother Tom would know. I thought I'd be peering down into the depths of the crawlspace (** see below), but no. This was very good news, for several reasons:
  1. Sure makes replacement easier.
  2. This means I can screw or nail any high spots securely to the sub-subfloor below.
  3. I should be able to more easily fix that plywood area near the brick pavers.
Here are today's before and after shots. Like the before and after nail hole wall spackling pair, I'll spare you any before and after staple removal photos.

Carb o' the Day

Water damage zone, before


If the rest of the water spot is raised up, I'll just cut out a small section, instead of replacing a whole sheet!

The afternoon was graced by a visit to the local Home Depot where I got to do a Big Tool Purchace. Everyone knows that guys like me do these projects mainly to justify buying more tools, power and otherwise. Today I picked up a powered miter saw, a workstand for it, and a chalk line. And a sheet of 5/8" fiberboard to make the big subfloor patch. Now my life has meaning.


Non great room editorialising:

Personal transport: I tell ya - you're not going to catch me driving a pickup truck unless I someday have reason to haul a lot of manure. Or maybe loose gravel. If you have to drive (as opposed to bicycle), minivans just rule!

Big boxes: Home Depot vs Lowe's. I usually buy stuff at Lowe's. There is one very close to my house, I know where things are there, they are always supremely helpful, and they usually have what I need (except for odd bass hardware bits, but that's asking for a lot). The Depot sometimes has a special tool I need, or maybe I'm driving by anyway, so I sometimes go there.

BUT... Lowe's has a much superior soundrack. Whoever does their Muzak does a real good job. It's always interesting, non-intrusive, appropriate, and played on a good sounding system. Well, good sounding for a big box store. I often hear music that I recognize and like there. Sometimes I catch myself browsing longer than I really need to. The Depot, on the other hand, cranks out cheesey, overplayed, bottom-of-the-barrel 80's pop hits thru water-damaged speakers. I just can't get out of their stores fast enough.


** The Big Crawlspace Makeover is a somewhat painful project that I took on last summer. I did NOT blog that one! For one, photography would have been a real challenge, far beyond my point 'n' shoot abilities and patience. For two, it's a crawlspace, dangit! NOBODY ever said, "Chicks dig guys with nice crawlspaces."

Monday, October 5, 2009

Carb o' the Week

Back to pancakes for this weeks' featured carb.

Double batch of 'cakes, starting with the classic Betty Crocker recipe. Changes:

  • Substitute buttermilk for 1/2 the milk (adjust baking powder and soda accordingly)
  • Use 1/2 whole wheat, 1/2 plain old white flour
  • mix in the big half of an apple, diced up fine (just eat the remaining bits)
  • mix in a handful of Craisins.

I think it's time to do something about that backsplash. Maybe when the Great Room is finished! The burn mark on the plain Formica is mostly hidden by that cast iron pan. Pretty grim.