Sippican Cottage



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

Quod Erat Demonstrandum

Well, here’s the (old) walls and the (new) ceiling almost fully patched up. Working on 9′-high ceilings is a bear. Drywall guys, and plasterers¬† (who I am more familiar with) often have at least one guy on stilts to take care of the ceiling, and the join between the ceiling and the walls. Now, when I was little, my parents sold me to the circus, but before I could learn how to walk on stilts, Barnum or Bailey or some other guy dropped me back on my parent’s doorstep, with a note pinned to my clothes: “Talks too much. Scares the clowns.” So I’m earth-bound to this day.

Stiltless contractors used to make do with stolen milk crates and planks. They’d lay a grid of crates and plop a bunch of planks across them and walk around on them while looking up, without ever missing a step when I saw them. Balletic. I’ve actually seen guys walking on stilts on top of planks, in houses that had even taller ceilings. People can get good at anything, I guess.

I also guess I’m not exactly “people,” because I’ve never gotten good at drywall work. Oh, sure, I end up with something presentable, but it takes me way too long and I show exactly zero panache doing it. But it’s not complicated work, and most anyone can do it if they set their mind to it. Watch these guys mudding a drywall job to see how good you can get at it:

Of course, being a jerk, I can’t help but notice a problem here. These fellows sound like they’re in Kangaroo-land, and good on them, mate, but up here in the Podes, we don’t leave the joint between the ceiling and the walls unfinished under any circumstances. Honestly, it’s the only difficult drywall task there is. Straight seams at eye level is damn near cheating. It takes finesse to make a clean, even line at the top of the walls where it meets the ceiling. I know, I’ve painted maybe 10,000 linear miles of it, and I’ve painted a lot of wavy, lumpy seams, many of them born of my own trowel. These fellows are probably planning on covering the gap with molding, but that’s not how it works in fire-resistance land.

You see, a wood-framed wall covered with gypsum board with all the seams taped is fire-rated. It’s supposed to take an hour for a fire to get through it. If you get inspired, you can get that up to four hours with multiple layers of specialty drywall. An hour is a long time in firefighting land. But you can’t leave any seams open. Smoke can travel behind moldings, and get into wall cavities and pass between floors pretty fast. If smoke can, flames can, too. You can do a crappy job at the ceiling/wall joint (believe, me, I do), but you have to make sure it’s done.

People often remark that a wood frame house is more flammable than a masonry one, but that’s not entirely true. Blocks don’t burn, but neither do fire-rated walls very easily. It’s generally the furnishings in a house that make the fire deadly. Like this:

Those are wood-frame walls with drywall with the seams taped. No one in a house fire like that would live to see the house itself catch fire. It’s your stuff that burns, and the smoke kills you. Or stuff you hang on the structure itself. The worst recent fire I can think of was in London. The Grenfell Tower, wasn’t flammable, but the insulation they hung on the exterior sure was. Modern furniture, carpeting, drapes, and pretty much everything else in your house is made of some form of plastic. When stuff is made out of plastic, it might as well be gasoline when a fire breaks out.

So we stink at drywall but we are dogged, do the best we can, and don’t leave open seams behind moldings. Besides, moldings cost a lot more than drywall compound and tape.

I’m a fan of multiple thin coats of drywall compound. The fellows in the video haven’t got time for that sort of thing, and lay it in there and get ‘er done. I noticed I was having trouble troweling thin coats of the ready-mix drywall. It had bubbles in it. I wasn’t used to that. Apparently omitting half-a-gallon of mud from each five-gallon pail wasn’t the end of their assault on me. The stuff is thicker than I remember it, too. You have to mix water in it and blend it thoroughly to get a usable mix. Drywall guys have been doing that forever, but it’s more than mandatory now.

My heir wisely made himself scarce at this juncture, as the sanding operation loomed large. I’m not a sloppy finisher, so the seams don’t need a lot of sanding, but working over your head while walking on a plank is no penance for an innocent man. Maybe that’s why I had to sand the whole thing, and my son didn’t have to sand any of it. Quod erat demonstrandum, that.

[Tomorrow, we paint!]

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