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

The Boob Light Is History

Well, the easy work is done.

Most people wouldn’t think that. They think demolition and carpentry and plumbing and electricical work is hard, and anything to do with decorating is easy. I know better. Wiring a convenience outlet ain’t difficult. Stripping off four layers of wallpaper is hard, dudes and dudettes. Especially when some of the layers have been painted.

There are various labor-saving devices for scoring the face of the wallpaper to make it easier to wet the backing and get it off the wall. They cost money, they don’t work, and they damage the wall. But other than that, they’re great. I simply know that there’s no free lunch, and get on with it. I’ve stripped acres of wallpaper over the years. If the wallpaper was painted with oil paint, it could be pretty hard to get the steam to the backing, it’s true. But we just got a handsaw out of the truck and dragged the teeth over the paper to score it a little. No late night commercial purchases necessary.

Wallpaper steamers were once big propane-fired boilers that sat in the middle of the room and made Mike Mulligan noises. You had to rent them by the day, and they made gouts of steam, I tell you what. It was a good job to undertake in February. Not so much in July. Nowadays, you can buy a little steamer for a few quid and it works well enough. You can use the little kettle and hose to make a steam box to bend wood, too. I have. My wife is constitutionally incapable of taking a photograph, but I’m holding the steamer “plate” in my left hand, and squeezing adhesive out of a sponge with my right. The spare heir is sleeping in the corner, I think.

Old wallpaper paste is just flour. I used to buy the stuff way back when. If we had an old-skool customer, we’d sometimes use the old-fashioned stuff. The labels used to say, DO NOT EAT, adorned with a skull and crossbones. Everyone knew it was some form of flour back during the Depression, and plenty of people were plain hungry. Some people used wallpaper paste in powdered form to make bread. I’m not sure if it’s accurate, but super old-timers on my first jobs said that they government forced the manufacturers to put poison in it, because they didn’t like citizens getting around some recovery scheme they had running that wasn’t working. That sounded like an urban legend to me. I imagine the manufacturers starting putting in poison to kill any mice that tried to eat the stuff on the shelf. In my experience, risky behavior antedates TikTok by a country mile. Hell, people were drinking methanol back then. It might make you blind, but hey, great party. I wouldn’t be surprised if they figured a little rat poison made the wallpaper paste bread rise quicker. It tastes like rye, Jethro!

This room had an absurd ceiling fan in it when we moved in. We put a “boob” light in its place. Shortly after that, we disconnected the knob and tube circuit that served it, and were back in the dark again. We’ll get proper light in here, finally. I skipped the whole curlicue light bulb era. I hoarded regular light bulbs for a while, and then made the leap directly to LEDs. We punched four holes in the plaster ceiling, and fished wires between them and back to a new wall switch. We put a dimmer in. These lights are an older version of LEDs. The holes were filled with the same sort of can light that used to have incandescent bulbs in them. The LED  disk had a trailing wire with a threaded fitting like a regular light bulb. They have integrated trim rings, which was a money saver. We’ve since morphed into using the canless variety of LED lights in the rest of the house. They’re pretty nifty, and easy to retrofit.

The place was getting kinda crowded. We patched up the existing plaster walls where we could. The long, straight, angular patches are backed up with paper drywall tape. We use ceiling buttons to shore up any plaster sagging away from the lath.

Doorway is taped and mudded in  Lights are in and working, which increases productivity a bit. Patches everywhere. The boob light is history. Time to sand the patches.

I had an employee once. Hi Joe! Great guy. He’s a lawyer now. He was fond of needling me. I was fond of giving him the worst jobs available on the jobsite. It sort of evened out. We were renovating an enormous restaurant/brewery type place. Someone came in, looking for me. They asked Joe where they could find me. “As far away from the sandpaper as you can get,” was his answer. True dat.

But there was no place to hide in this room, and no one to hide from. We have an apparatus for sanding that works well, though. You put a sanding screen on a handle that has a hose for a shop vac. It’s still hard work, and plenty noisy, but there’s no clouds of dust in the room.

We refinished the woodwork after stripping off the errant paint. I suspect that all the oak trim in our house was this dark walnut color at one time. This is the last room where it hasn’t been altered. This is the “cutting in” stage of painting. If you’ve ever listened to a painting crew at work, everyone fights over the roller. No one wants to cut in. The roller is like the front passenger seat on a road trip. You have to call it early.

The picture isn’t accurate color-wise. The color isn’t very peachy in real life. More like a buckskin. Hey look, the window is square again, and goes up and down, and closes properly. Wonders never cease around here. We’ll have to do something wonderful to that baseboard with the plug in it. Maybe tomorrow.

[To be continued. Feel free to mock me in the comments]

9 Responses

  1. No comments here yet so I’ll drop a turd into the punchbowl.

    I’m always being accused of being paranoid, of checking out every little sound I hear, and looking into everything I catch out of the corner of my eye. We were at my sister and brother-in-law’s place for dinner…they had been stripping the paint off the siding in preparation for sanding and paint it. My nephew had been given the heat-thingy, with a big metal pad that you laid on the siding to warm it up to strip the paint off. It had long since been put away, and we were getting ready to eat.

    I heard a strange noise from the side of the house and got up from dinner to check it out. When asked why I left the table, I said something like, “I heard a weird noise; I’ll be right back”. When I went around the side of the house, the noise turned out to be the crackling of flames from under the siding, with smoke shooting out of the joints. I yelled, “The house is on fire”, and went to turn on the garden hose and drag it over. My BIL came over and started, with bare hands, to rip the siding off the house while I got the water from the hose bearing on it. My wife and sister were calling 9-1-1 independently and got the fire trucks there about the time we had the fire out. I ended up spraying the crew chief in the face with the hose as we uncovered another burning board, but he didn’t seem to mind.

    It seems our nephew had let the heat-thingy on one spot just a fraction too long and heated up a nail underneath, which ignited the wood. It must have smoldered for a while, and then burst into crackling flame (which is what I heard).

    The moral of the story is, “Just because you’re paranoid it doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.”

    When we bought our house I tested the old knob-and-tube wiring for voltage and didn’t find any live wires. When we sold it 27 years later the house inspector told us all of the knob-and-tube wiring to the ceiling fixtures was live and had to be replaced. We had already moved and were a thousand miles away, so we paid an electrical contractor five grand to re-wire all of that stuff. Thank the heavens it never burned down around our ears.

    P.S.: Thanks for the shout-out on the previous post.

    1. Hi Blackwing- Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I’ve always advised against any sort of flame or heat when removing paint from a house. As you described, it’s easy enough to start a fire that you can’t detect right away. Even if you don’t burn the place down, you’re basically freebasing lead, and mercury, and anything else the paint manufacturers of yore used to add to the paint. We scrape, and pick up the chips, and complain the whole time.

  2. ” I hoarded regular light bulbs for a while, and then made the leap directly to LEDs.”

    Thank you, Jesus, for superseding the curly lights with LEDs. I never could quite understand the old incandescent bulb revanchists who swore to only surrender their tungsten filaments “from their cold, dead hands.” Here in South Texas, the home of hot, sweaty hands, every watt coursing through a light bulb must be pumped out of the house with the air conditioner. It turns out that LED bulbs lighten the load considerably. I expect in Maine you can just heat the house in winter by burning all the money saved on air conditioning.

    1. Hi Mike- Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Incandescent light bulbs were very inexpensive, and the “waste heat” they produced was a mythical beast if you live where I do. When you’re pricing HVAC systems, they sometimes list 0 cooling degree days for the year. But LEDs lights are cheap enough now, to buy and operate, that we’ve switched over entirely. The canless version of LED overhead lights is an amazing improvement on incandescent cans.

      1. BC Hydro did a study showing that the net energy effect of CFL’s and LED’s was actually a negative for the majority of areas above 45° north latitude. The “waste” heat from incandescents is actually a good thing in most northern climates. Our old 1901 farmhouse had no heat source in the basement, other than the heat coming from the original gravity-hot-water boiler and the water heater. Needless to say, we didn’t insulate the water heater, being grateful for every erg it could put out.

        If we turned on all of the basement lights while working down there it made an appreciable difference in the winter. That was in Minnesnowta.

        Here in NW Wyoming it’s very different; winters are (relatively) mild except for the couple-of-times-a-year -35°F week-long cold spell, and we’ve switched to LED’s for almost everything…except the basement, where even in the summer it’s nice to warm it up just a touch. Fortunately there’s basically zero humidity here year-round.

  3. I had four layers of wallpaper to strip from a hallway. It’s where the swamp cooler exhausted, and I guess they kept adding paper, mystified why the old stuff kept wrinkling.

    As soon as I started, a familiar but long-ago smell hit me. Took a moment to realize it was stale cigarettes.

    Growing up in the ’70s, I was used to that smell in my friends’ houses. Smoke infused the carpet, furniture, and now (I’m realizing) the walls themselves.

    Fortunately it left my today house with the piles of shredded wallpaper on a tarp. A layer of primer sealed up any remains for good.

    1. Hi Michael- Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Oh, yes, cigarette residue. When I was young, I used to paint apartments. Occasionally we’d paint one where people had been chain smoking for decades in there. In some cases you could peel off the gummy film of tar and nicotine etc. with a wide putty knife. I’m like you, I’ll never forget that smell.

  4. Hello Greg. Just wanted to say I appreciated the Mike Mulligan reference. That was my favorite book as a child and now I enjoy reading it to my granddaughters.

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