Sippican Cottage

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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Something Stupid

There comes a time in every home improvement project where costs have to be compared with benefits using a gimlet eye. In our case, that time is before we start, and every waking moment after, because we gots no moneys. It might come much later in your planning phase, if you draw a paycheck with any zeros on it. I don’t get a paycheck, and if I did, the only zero on it would be on the payee line. You nice folks might have the wherewithal to do what you think best, instead of whatever you can, so your mileage will vary from mine. But sooner or later everybody runs into something that makes them pause and say, “I’m not paying that for that!  You start talking about writing strong letters and carpet bombing review sites and so forth. Then you do none of those things, and grumble and pay. Happens to the best of us.

Up until now, everything in our office remodel was heavy on labor and light on the wallet. Plaster and paint and romex wire and all the others sundries we used are relatively affordable. But I was faced with about an eight-foot-plus gap in the baseboard, and it gave me pause. The baseboards in our house are solid oak, 7/8″ thick and about 8″ wide. I couldn’t scavenge that much from anywhere in the house. I’d have to sell a kidney to buy a 1″x8″x10′ oak board, and the organ donor place is always fussy about such things. They’re always prying into my personal affairs with questions like, “Whose kidney is this?” I used to buy hardwood lumber a lot, to make furniture, and I knew it would cost a lot. So I did the average Joe thing and said harrumph, I’m not paying that for that, and went around the side door, as I like to call making do.

If you’re faced with this kind of dilemma, I advise you to do like I do. Ask yourself, does it matter? Lots of things seem to matter in home renovations, but don’t really. Is there really any difference between a Live, Laugh, Love sign, and a Dance Like Nobody’s Watching sign? Probably not. Get the one on sale, and ignore the sentiment forevermore with a few extra pennies in your pocket. So I’ll ask you. Does it really matter what kind of wood I use to replace the baseboard in one corner of an office for one person located in a frozen hellhole in the back of hell and beyond? Didn’t think so. So I got a piece of lumberyard pine from the stack, put the 10-degree bevel on the top edge, and stained it with the same home-made dye/shellac elixir I made to recondition the rest of the woodwork in there. I’m kicking that baseboard right now. I can assure you it didn’t matter. Things continued to go swimmingly.

There comes another point in every renovation project, however, when you pause for a moment and make decisions on how you’ll proceed based on how well things are going up ’til now. Maybe you’re ahead of schedule (I know, I know, it never happens), or under budget (there’s a laugh). They’re the hinges of history, or something. In general, if things have been going badly, you consider options like hiring someone to finish the half-finished mess you made, starting over in another room after nailing the door shut, or maybe arson if you’re more practically minded. None of those things compare to the trouble you can get into when things have been going well. You’re breezing along. You gain confidence. You do a little imaginary flexing in front of your mind’s mirror. Then you go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like let’s sand the floor with hand sanders.

Of course you can rent a drum sander and its little pal, the edger. Rental house always have those. You can cart it home and gouge your floor and your wallet to your heart’s content at the same time. But you’re made of sterner stuff. You looked at the floor, and noticed the finish was ninety-percent worn off already. You noticed there were sons sleeping upstairs, who maybe could be fooled into trained to sand a floor with hand tools. Mostly, you noticed the rental house was closed on the weekend. Things were going good, and you didn’t want to stop.

Gather ’round the internet, brothers and sisters. Lay your hands on the hard drive. Feel the energy I’m projecting out into the ether. Listen to me and you’ll be saved, praise Intel! Don’t ever sand a floor with hand sanders. It’s something stupid.

Well, I’m with stupid, and I’m all alone here. First I patched the numerous holes in the floor. There were holes for steam pipes and conduits and cable wires and whatnot all around the edges of the room. I mortised out a neat square around the holes with a hammer and chisel, which is a beast of a job in old birch flooring. Then I glued hardwood blocks in the mortises. I got out a big belt sander I found in a trash can on a jobsite many moons ago. It had a nail stuck in it, which jammed the roller and kept the belt from turning. I pried the nail out, and have used it ever since. There was a lesson in there somewhere, along with the nail, but I’m not sure exactly what it is. But hey, free belt sander!

I went over the patches, and the floor came clean fairly readily around them, too, so I kept going. The room is about 10′ x 16′, one of the smallest rooms in the house, but it didn’t seem that small while crawling around in it all day with a sander and a shop vac roaring in my ears. I’m telling you: don’t do this.

I’ve also got a big 6″ random orbital sander with a vacuum hose attachment on it. The floor needed to get sanded with various grits in succession to get it ready for the finish. I’m telling you, don’t do this.

I got real sick just then, and couldn’t work on anything for a month or two or three. My heir had to finish sanding it for me. Now he’s telling you: don’t do this. This is why basing your decisions on how well things are going is foolhardy. You can call it mission creep, or shit happens, but it’s the same either way. If you think things are going well in home remodeling, you’re obviously overlooking something.

But at least once it was done, it was done. I found an ancient can of floor varnish in the basement. Clear gloss varnish doesn’t spoil like satin varnishes. There’s nothing held in suspension to settle and harden up. This stuff was the quick-dry variety. They get it to dry faster by adding charming stuff like xylene, which has fumes that will turn you into a gibbering moron faster than Twitter ever could. Hence the fan in the window.

You can go over the floor several times in a day with this stuff. The solvent in the additional coats sorta burn into the previous coats, which is great for adhesion. You cut in around the edges with a small brush, and then use a lambswool pad on a pole to coat the field.

And, we’re done. That leaves us with just one more thing: Before and after photos. See you tomorrow!

3 Responses

  1. I rented a drum sander to do the third floor of my folk’s house. I’d never used one before, and it was a good lesson in how to “not pause”. The first grade of paper looked like it came from a gravel pit, but those old floors had so many layers of stuff on it that I never touched wood…the sandpaper would clog up with that stuff, and melt onto the paper so I’d have to crack it off the drum.

    I got down to the finish paper grade having only put one divot in the floor from resting the machine for a few milliseconds too long in one spot. My dad had access to some gymnasium floor varnish that I applied in three coats, I’m sure it was toxic as heck but I kept the windows open at both sides of the house and had a decent cross-breeze to ventilate. It actually turned out pretty darned well and the 15-year-old me was pretty proud.

    Decades later I visited the house, and the really, really nice lady who owned it showed me through, and I got to see that my floor sanding had never needed re-doing. I also got to explain the strange plaster patch in the basement room where my older brother’s friend embedded a ping-pong paddle…

  2. Sir,
    Ah, me. You can tell us DIYers a thousand times ‘don’t do it’, but we’ll do it. Thanks for another reminder, but I’m afraid fumes of yesteryear have fuzzed up our brains.
    See, you showed us a good looking floor when you were done, so we’re thinking, hey maybe I can do and it’ll be different for me.
    Ah, fumes and fuzz.

  3. Renting a belt sander from that orange store costs around $32 a day, while a pretty good Bauer belt sander from that red store is like $70. Since I’m sanding 350+ sq feet of weathered pine fence, I bought the pgBb sander–stifling that smartass voice saying “don’t do it.” So far, I’m averaging about 15 sq feet an hour, which sounds good. Until you realize this in the unrelenting Texas sun, and this week is the first time the temperature hasn’t broken 100 in over 2 months. Most mornings I sand for about an hour, right after my wife says “don’t do it.” But I’m persistent; that fence WILL get sanded, but probably not until the end of the month.

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