The Devil Queen

How my wife and I sold our souls to the Queen Anne Victorian we tried to save.

My Photo
Location: Crow Mountain, Arkansas, United States

Synopsis: This is a cautionary tale. A seriously disturbed couple find the charming, old ruin of a Queen Anne Victorian in Russellville, Arkansas, and buy it for $1.00. They tore the roof off, cut it in half, and had it moved to some land they owned sixteen miles away because they didn't know any better. Since then, they have hired and fired contractors, had all of their tools stolen, re-wired, re-plumbed, insulated, and essentially rebuilt the entire house. Their only problem is that after four years it still isn't finished. Now they are tired, broke, and wonder what in the hell it is they've done to themselves. And, it's haunted.
(Last updated on April 3, 2008)

Press: Russellville Courier Article - December 2003, HGTV website article, AP story - October 2006, and Victorian Homes Magazine - February 2008 (link coming soon).
Art: From time to time, I receive requests for my art. If you would like to look at more of my art, go to The Failed Artist. If you would like to buy my art, email me. I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have. Thanks!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Russian Roulette

Since we didn’t have enough going on already (like the final project for my web design class I haven’t started), my wife and I decided to up the ante. We’re playing Russian Roulette this weekend, and, to make it more interesting, we’re using a double-barrel shot gun. How do you like those odds?

Before April became the month of unpleasant and unexpected events, we’d considered having a pre-house warming party at the Devil Queen. You know, something to celebrate the running water we don’t have yet. As of Monday this week we’d nearly decided to cancel the whole things since we were hopelessly behind. My wife, our resident pessimist, wasn’t convinced that anyone would come anyhow. Then, people started asking about it and telling us that they were planning to come.

So, we did what any reasonable people would do. We told them to come on down, the party was on.

We’re planning on spending tonight and all of Saturday plumbing. I might be reading too much into our situation, but I think the Fates are with us. Last night Kenny came by for his pay check and we talked about the Queen. Fortunately for us, Kenny has a very diverse background in construction. He has several years of experience in both HVAC and residential wiring. And, it just so happens that he is planning to run the wiring out to our septic pump (another story in itself, more later) today. He is also going to reinstall the six cutoff valves for the bathroom sinks (he had to pull them off to do a good job with the wainscoting).

This means all we need to do is install a toilet in the master bathroom (my wife bought it Wednesday), install all the clawfoot tub hardware, and connect the main water line to the house. Then if we’re lucky, the Queen won’t flood too badly. God help us, I know this is going to be a disaster. But, we might as well get it over with. And, if it is a total fiasco, at least beer will already be on hand.

On the other hand, if we pull this off, we’ll have nearly Frankensteined the Devil Queen. If the plumbing works, all she’ll need is that final jolt of electrification and she’ll be ALIVE! To think, I may yet live long enough to see the old whore raised from the dead.

More House Jewelry

I just bought two of these on eBay for the master bathroom.

I know, where will the madness end?!

Including shipping, they will cost $240.00 and they come with the drain (but not the S-trap). Now, all I need to do is find some faucets.

I know, they aren't period et cetera, but that is fine with us. I think the final product will make these little bit of modernity look like they belong. Just give us a little time. . .

Blue Wood II

The question of the blue wood is still vexing us, so I did some research at my wife’s urging. I discovered a couple of things about blue wood.

First, Fidge was correct in thinking that it was a mold, sort of. According to what I found online, the blue is caused by a fungus not a mold. I’m lacking in botanical skills and have no idea what the exact difference between a mold & fungus are. They are both filed in the same categories in my mind: things that you shouldn’t eat on food (unless it is a French cheese), or things to be killed with bleach before you paint.

What causes the bluing fungus? “As with other pines, Ponderosa can be subject to blue stain if a felled tree or green lumber becomes too warm before it is dried.” (from Western Wood Products Association’s Ponderosa Pine Species Facts, August 1995)

There seems to be some controversy as to whether the bluing compromises the strength of the wood. Who is right? I have not a clue.

As per some of the comments about the blue wood, the wood bleach sounds like a good idea to me but it is too late. My mother-in-law is not a patient woman. She’s already started staining the floor. I’m not sure what concoction she is using but it looks good so far. I’ll try to get some pictures and details over the weekend.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Clawfoot Tubs

My days and nights have been consumed in trying to find an answer to this question: should someone buy an Australian clawfoot bathtub and ship it back to the States at a later date? According to Expatriate Aaron, old clawfoot tubs only cost slightly more than a good crack-whore (my vulgar turn of phase, not his) in Australia. That would be about $35.00 US. So, what should our poor expatriate do?

I’m still not exactly sure how much it would cost to ship one of these babies, but, if pushes the total cost of this baby over what it would cost for a new one or good used one in the US, I’d say forget it. [Just before I posted this I received an email from Aaron. According to him, his company will foot the bill for him to move back to the US. If that is the case, I’d say go for it. Buy a dozen or so if you want.]

While there is a finite number of old tubs floating around the US, I don’t see an imminent shortage of them. There just aren’t enough house-whores and house-bloggers to use them all right now. Unless our expatriate is planning to spend another 50 years down under, I don’t see supply as a real problem.

Another consideration is luck and patience. If you’re lucky, you can find a good tub on the cheap. I went on eBay a couple days ago, and someone was selling a vintage tub in near perfect condition for $200 if you’d pick it up. In our part of Arkansas you can find old tubs in various states of disrepair for $50 to $150 each. My wife bartered/paid cash for our tub. She agreed to post some stuff online for a middle-aged technophobe and to pay $25.00. It needed some work, but, once we’re done with it, it’ll have cost us about $100 ($25.00 for the tub, $35.00 for paints, $35.00 for an enamel patching kit, and what-not).

If you really don’t care if it is old or not and you have money to burn, you can always buy a new reproduction tub. They start at about $1,500. Or, if age does matter, you can pay even more for a professionally refinished old tub.

So, my guess is that unless the tub is an exceptional, one-of-a-kind piece [or the shipping is FREE], save your money and buy one in the States. However, if the shipping rates are insanely cheap [FREE], you might reconsider the situation.

Hope that helps Aaron.

Blue Wood

My mother-in-law has a real flair for decorating and house designs, and, since she gets bored with her house every few years, this is a good thing. Here most recent adventure in home renovations is the new wood floors in her two bedrooms.

In addition to being inventive, my mother-in-law is cheap. I don’t mean this in a negative way. I really appreciate people who have a lot of control with their money. I do better than a lot of folks, but the truth is I’m pretty bad with it. I aspire to be cheap in a lot of ways, but usually fail when it comes to houses and anything that my wife wants. When these two weakness of mine come together, bad things happen to me (like buying a Victorian and moving it).

My mother-in-law has been contemplating this project for years, but the hassle and the cost have kept her from committing to it. Hiring Kenny took care of a lot of the hassle. That just left the cost to overcome. Her solution to this looked pretty good on the front end; she bought 1” x 6” pine boards (think interior wood work) for her floor. Kenny and Burt did an amazing job laying the stuff even though they “hadn’t done anything like this before.” They fixed the boards to the sub-floor with a construction glue (F-26?) and faced nailed it with finishing nails.

It looks goods, but I don’t much like the idea of construction glue. Working on houses has taught me that no matter how well something is built, sooner or later someone will have to take it apart to fix, maintain, or repair it, and usually it is me.

Here is a picture of the floor.

Here is a close-up of the wood. Notice the blue streaking.

Originally, Kenny and Fidge thought these streaks were on the surface and they’d sand out. Jack spent the weekend working the floor over with a drum sander, and the blue is still there.

Fidge thinks the blue is some sort of mold in the wood. My wife and I think that it is either part of the tree (sometime soil may effect coloration) or that it resulted from the treating/drying of the wood. In any case, the wood is blue.

Fidge is now left with problem of what to do with the blue. She has tried several different stains on some scrap wood, and the results are less than inspiring. Anything with an orange’ish color turns brown-green when applied. Regular browns (like walnut) look odd too.

My wife and I are advocating the use of colored gels. We figure a white or light gray would look good and work with the blue. Last I heard Fidge still hadn’t decided what to do with it. It ought to be interesting to see what she does.

Chain of Custody

Last week Kenny started working for my mother-in-law.

I an attempt to keep a death-grip on Kenny I’ve had to engage in an elaborate shell-game with him. As of two weeks ago, we were effectively broke. Really, it’s not as dire as it might sound. We’re really not broke, but we’d run out of money to pay Kenny. To buy myself some time to pull more money out of my chapped bung-hole, I asked my mother-in-law if she had any work to keep Kenny busy for a week or so. She did, so I approached Kenny to see if he’d be willing to work for her while we tried to find enough money to keep him. Reluctantly, he agreed.

I spent a lot of time working on this scheme. I was telling my sister all about it, and she said, “You do realize that you’re stalking your carpenter, don’t you?”

“Well, yeah. I can’t let him out of my site until the Queen is finished.”

Anyhow, last week Kenny built a new railing for the back porch and laid wood floors in two bedrooms for my mother-in-law. In the mean time I managed to come up with some extra money, and we were prepared for Kenny’s return to the Queen. As of this week, Kenny has returned. Now, if I can just maintain my death grip on him for 4 to 8 weeks, the Queen may soon be finished. Well, maybe.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

It Never Hurts To Ask

I’ve been spending a lot of time on eBay the last couple of weeks. I’ve been trying to buy some hardware so we can tie off some loose ends at the Devil Queen. You know, little stuff like turn on the goddamn heating and air system.

I killed-off the evil chip-board beast many moons ago, but I still haven’t finished my own improvised return-air box yet. It’s basically intact, but I haven’t cut out any grill openings yet. Why not? Mainly, because I don’t have any grills, so I don’t know how big to make the cutouts.

Anyhow, last week I finally found a set of matching grills on eBay that I think my wife will like. This is harder than you might think. Most of the grills had one or more of the following flaws:

1) Wrong period. Art Deco is nice but it doesn’t match the Devil Queen at all. Since they’ll be going in the main hall (the first thing everyone will see), it has to look right.
2) They were wall vents. These are built out too far to be used as floor grates. They’d stick up a couple of inches, so everyone would be tripping over them.
3) Too angular of a pattern. My wife wants something with lots of curves and/or flower-like patterns to match the Queen’s feminine character.
4) Fugly. No one wants that even if it is period.

Here is what I found.

I put a maximum bid of about $50.00 on each of them. When I turned off the computer, I was the high bidder. The next day I checked eBay only discover that I’d won. Great, right? Nope. I’d only won one of the three grates. What the hell was I going to do with one grate?

I emailed the seller and asked if they had any more of this type of grate. They informed me that was it. Then I emailed the high bidder. I asked if they’d be willing to sell them to me for more than they’d won them for. The high bidder sent me a very nice email saying that they needed them for an old farm house they were renovating. In the off chance that her husband had miss-measured the openings (she hinted that this had happened before) and they didn’t fit that they’d let me know.

I thanked them for the email and pretty well figured that was the end of that. I went back to eBay and started my search again. This was my next choice.
As it turned out, I missed bidding on these because of my trip to Eureka Springs. I was a little disappointed, but they still weren’t my first choice so I didn’t really mind looking for some more.

Not an hour later, I received an email from folks who’d bought the first set of grates. The husband had miss-measured and they couldn’t use them. If I wanted them, they were mine. YES! So, I put a check in the mail and all I need to do is wait.

It’s funny how things work out sometimes.

Voodoo Contracting (II)

I was telling my wife about Gary’s idea for Houseblogger uniforms last night. She had her own suggestion, this on a T-shirt.

The text is too small to read. It says, "When Patience and Good Manners Don't Get the Job Done, VOODOO CONTRACTING."

Lets face it, dabbling with a little black magic isn't such a bad thing when you have a house to finish. Right?

Winning Eureka Springs Photo

My wife took this picture of the Daffodil House (real name) last weekend. Artistically, I think this was the best picture she took that weekend. I thought it should stand alone, so here it is.

Eureka Springs

Wow, nothing like a short vacation to bring the misery and pointlessness of your day-to-day routine into sharp focus. My wife and I left our son with his grandparents for the weekend and went to Eureka Springs, Arkansas. This was our first real vacation in years (since we got the Queen), and we had a great time.

Eureka Springs is the largest historic district in Arkansas (I’ve heard it’s the largest in the US, but I don’t know that for a fact). It started as a Victorian Era resort boom-town and most of its historic homes, businesses, building, et cetera have survived to the present.

We’d originally planned to stay at the Basin Park Hotel, but they didn’t have anything available on such short notice. The Crescent Hotel (certifiably haunted) was also full. In the end, we tried something new, a bed & breakfast. The bed & breakfast we stayed in was the Bridgeford House. Here is a picture.

We stayed in the private suite that was added to the back of the house sometime in the last 20 years. They put in a lot of effort to making it look old, but, since we’ve spent three-some-odd years working on the Queen, we riddled it out in the first five minutes we were there. Even so, it was a nice suite and its age (or lack of) in no way interfered with our enjoyment of it. It had a king sized bed, tons of amenities, a private entrance, and a Jacuzzi. Also, we got breakfast in bed every morning. In the off chance any of you end up in Eureka Springs, I would highly recommend them. It was easily one of the nicest places I’ve ever stayed.

Since we are certifiable house-whores, we spent a lot of time scoping out all the for-sale property in need of TLC. We’ve decided that if we are forever doomed to live in Arkansas that we would like to live in Eureka Springs. Here are a couple houses we liked.

We took pictures of this house because of its roof crest (Cap? Trim? Whatever the proper name for it is). It is nearly identical to some of the stuff we pulled off the Queen.

One of the worst things about Eureka Springs is the antique shops. As you walk down the street, you are libel to get hit buy all the purses and wallets being sucked into the shops. On the upside, once your wallet or purse is empty, they will gladly return it to you.

The shop we had the most trouble with was Crystal Gardens Antiques. We spent a lot of time and money here over the weekend. They sell a lot of the usual fare: china, books, small items, furniture (limited selection, the best of which was a China hutch salvaged from an 1880’s railroad car), and silver. However, what they specialize in is refurbished antique lighting: lamps, chandeliers, sconces, and more. Here are a couple of pictures of the shop.

The prices range from about $160 to $1,500 and they date from around 1880’s to the1920’s. While the selection of Victorian lighting is exceptional, they have the best selection Art Deco lighting I’ve seen in state (and in a few neighboring ones too).

As you may have guessed, we couldn’t restrain ourselves. We bought the Queen a pretty. Here I am carrying off our loot. You want to see it? Sorry, we don’t have a picture of it yet. I know, we're a tease. Don't worry, you'll get to see it before too long.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Rabbi the Kosher Kitty

Disclaimer: I wouldn’t normally bother to post about our pets, but, since Kristin over at 1902 Victorian asked, I’ll make an exception. Kristin, sorry it took so long to get this to you, I kept hoping that I’d find an old picture of Rabbi to post, but I haven’t had any luck. For those who are looking for juice DIY tips or other house related topics, please check back later. This post isn’t for you.

The poo-fearing cat that I mentioned in this post is Rabbi the Kosher Kitty (aka “White Loaf”), or just Rabbi for short. He was one of the many cats people have dumped on us over the years. Apparently, my wife and I are tattooed with the word “softy” so everyone dumps their unwanted, wormy, retarded animals on us.

Rabbi is no longer with us. We gave Rabbi away shortly after my son was born. Why? First, a newborn and three cats produce copious mountains of poo. Cleaning it up gets old fast. Second, Rabbi was too stupid to figure out that we didn’t want him in the baby’s crib, ever. The other two cats quickly learned this lesson and abided by it. A fifteen-to-twenty pound (my wife maintains he weighed closer to thirty pounds) cat and a sleeping newborn don’t mix. Three, he just plain bugged the hell out of us.

Rabbi and his sibblings were all the product of non-consensual, back-woods cat sex. According to their former owner, their purebred Persian mother was dragged into the woods by some enormous tom cat, which may or may not have been a lynx. A few months later, some truly stupid white cats were born (the only exception to this was their brother, Titus Andronicus, who now lives with a cousin in Louisiana).

[Titus loose on the roof; Rabbi was a short haired version of Titus]

At best, Persians are pampered, indolent living-accessories. At worst, they are semi-functional, neurotic, invalids. While Rabbi was only a half-breed, he personified the Persian cat personality.

First and foremost, he was strictly Kosher. He had exacting requirements when it came to his diet and his cleanliness. If he ate anything besides Iams cat food, his bowels would open like flood gate. To be honest though, we never figured out if he had a genuinely sensitive stomach. The problem with Rabbi was he’d eat out of the cat food bag if you forgot to put it away. Unlike our other two cats who’d knock the bag over and eat out of the open top, Rabbi would eat the bag until he got to the food. As my wife put it, “I could never figure out if he had a bad stomach or if he had problems because he ate so much damn plastic.”

Rabbi was a fastidious groomer and kept his coat a shinning white (unlike his piss-yellow sister). He was very particular about his liter box. He had a specific corner in which he liked to do all of his business. Thera, our trash-can kitty, would deliberately crap in Rabbi’s corner just to irritate him (you might think I’m making this up, but I’m absolutely serious). If the liter box was too soiled in Rabbi’s opinion, he was prone to poop in the bathtub. Needless to say, we spent a ridiculous amount of time keeping the liter boxes clean.

The worst part of cleaning the liter box was Rabbi would hover over you as you cleaned it. He was not adverse to holding it for hours until you cleaned it to his liking. He’d hardly wait for you to finish before he was muscling you aside to get into his pooping corner. I’m not sure how to describe his technique, but it was the cat equivalent of using a toilet without touching the seat. Before the last log could hit the liter, he’d rocket out of the box in a bug-eyed panic and run to the far end of the house. You see, he was afraid the poo would touch him. Touching poo was unacceptable. He was so terrified that he wouldn’t even bury his mess like a proper cat. Are you beginning to see why we were so thrilled to rid of the little bastard?

Rabbi had a curious collection of neuroses and phobias. Narcissistic, he would watch himself in mirrors for hours at time. He was also afraid of heights. Anything over three to four feet tall was far too high for Rabbi. He was also claustrophobic. He liked playing with toy-mice, but only the bright red ones. My wife had some iridescent butterfly stickers that he really liked. In fact, he liked them so much he ate them.

One irksome behavior was his penchant for crawling under furniture and moaning/grunting for ten or fifteen minutes at time. We’d be sitting in the living room watching TV or reading a book, and you hear an odd sound. Think Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally (The “I’m going to lay in bed and moan” scene). Hmm… ugh. Hmm… ugh. Hmm… ugh.

And, as Persians are prone to do, Rabbi had moments when his mind would flat-line. You’d look at him and you just knew that no one was home. He would get walleyed when he was mentally absent, which was pretty funny to see. It always made me thing of the hyenia Ed in The Lion King.

Rabbi, as Persian cats are prone to be, was very skittish. And, he was a wimp. The one time I saw him try to assert his manly tom-cat inner self, he got his as kicked by a giant wolf-spider.

The spider was huge. If you include all the legs and other fuzzes, the thing was bigger than the palm of my hand. It was tarantula sized. How it got into our house, I don’t know.

Things started off well enough for Rabbi. He cornered the spider and forced it into a tactical retreat. The spider would creep backwards in it ninja fighting posture, three or four its legs held high revealing its fuzzy spider death-maw. Rabbi would creep closer, and the spider would back away. Finally, the spider had enough. Rabbi nosed closer and the spider pounced on him. It jumped at Rabbi and wrapped itself around Rabbi’s neck just under his chin.

Terrified, Rabbi went nuts. His eyes bugged out, he ran backwards all over the kitchen, and shook his head from side to side trying to escape. I fell out of my chair I was laughing so hard. Finally, the spider turned loose and ran for it. Since it went for the master bedroom, I felt obligated to squish it. Ideally, after such a gladiatorial show, I would have granted it its freedom, but it didn’t work out that way.

At one point, I considered writing an illustrated children’s book based on Rabbi. I figured the little bastard ought to earn his keep somehow. I did a few pages of text, but the project didn’t progress too far. My wife read over the first draft and told me that Rabbi’s dialog sounded like Humbert Humbert from Lolita. In case I’m not clear on this point, it wasn’t what Rabbi said but how he said it that sounded like Humbert Humbert. I may be crazy, but I not that sick. In any case, it didn’t sound like a winner so I dropped that idea.

Kristin, that was probably a lot more than you wanted to know, but there it is. If you ever want a retarded cat, please let me know. I’m sure that we could find you one.


It’s official. I’m a backlogged blogging slacker. Last night my wife told me she was disappointed with the few, paltry post I’d left.

Lord, I have no idea where to begin. Mercifully, I’m nearly finished with my web design class. All I have to finish is my final project and that is it. It’s been very informative, but keeping up with it has been a real pain. If I decide to take part two, it definitely won’t be until the fall term. I’m taking the summer off.

Nothing happened at the Queen over the last week. Kenny, as will be explained later, was working on another job, and he should be coming back to work for us in another day or two (fingers crossed). Sunday, Jack and I met up at the Queen and dragged the claw foot tub out of the yard and put it in the master bathroom. It’s not hooked up yet, but it’s ready to be.

My wife and I took a much needed and much too short vacation over the weekend. Since we went to Eureka Springs (one of the, if not the largest historic district in the US), you’ll be hearing more about that. If I weren’t lazy (haven’t down loaded the pictures) and hadn’t let my wife have the camera today, you’d be hearing about it now.

We’re feeling anxious about the Queen and the lack of meaningful progress. We were supposed to have working plumbing by now, but we are at least two weeks behind schedule. Our current things-to-do list includes: buying a toilet for the master bathroom, making sure the claw foot tub’s faucet has working gaskets & reassembling the faucet, hooking up the claw foot tub, finished the plumbing, trying to decide how or if we’ll re-plumb the master bathroom for wall faucets v. counter top faucets, making a mile long list of other things-to-do for Kenny, wiring the septic tank pump, and God knows what else. Is your eye twitching yet? Mine is.

On a slightly different note, it seems I’ve found my place in the Houseblogging neighborhood. It would seem that I am the crazy street-person of houseblogs, and I am totally cool with that. Since I’m one of the crazy street-people in most social situations, it’s like coming home.

So, why did I decide this? It was the confluence of several comments in the last 24 hours that sparked this epiphany. First, there is this post by Gary which is in reference to comments that I left here and here. Starting to make sense?

And, then there is the email that I received from Expatriate Aaron yesterday. It is still cracking me up (my wife thought it was pretty funny too), so here are a few excerpts:

“We would never be brave (crazy? I’m too polite to say) enough to sink every last dime we had into anything, much less a project like you have. . . When we get back, we’ll be buying our first home. I’ve romanticized for years about DIY projects on a “fixer upper.” However, after reading your posts, I’ve got new respect for that word. What I’ve envisioned would be the equivalent of taking a few exploratory puffs of some wacky weed. You my friend have tied off your arm with that leather belt you always forget to put on, and have mainlined Afghani black tar heroin right into your aorta.”

As far as I’m concerned, it’s official. I’m Crazy John of the Devil Queen.

Monday, April 24, 2006

A Few Words

Sorry for the lack of recent posts. We’ve been incredibly busy and selfishly decedent (work hard, play hard), and I haven’t had time. I hope to make up for it this week. I’d like of give a belated congratulations to all of you who were featured in the Washington Post’s Houseblog article (old news, I know). I’d also like to thank Expatriate Aaron for the kind words and humorous email. And, I’d also like to make a shameless plug for my sister’s fiancé. He is a sous chief for an extremely nice restaurant in Boston. He recently was featured in the Boston Globe. Congratulations Matt!

If I don’t wuss out this week, I hope to answer all of Kristin’s questions regarding Rabbi the Kosher Kitty, Eureka Springs, AR, clawfoot tubs, chandeliers, wood flooring on the cheap, our stolen tools, Kenny & Burt, appraisals, and the Devil Queen in all her infernal glory.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Brief Update

I'm not sure that too much will get posted this week. I've got way too much to do. Saturday my mom and I worked on stripping the master bedroom's pink wallpaper of death and that was about it. Oh, and I put the third and final coat of polyurethane on the master bathroom floor Friday night. Of course, the digital camera's battery died so no photos for now. We're gearing up to finish the master bath (my wife estimates it'll take 40 hours of work to finish). The tub should go in Thursday, but that is about all I know for sure.

Here is a gratuitous picture of the Arkansas state capitol. And, I thought that I needed a lot of scaffolding to paint the Queen. What was I thinking?

Friday, April 14, 2006

Second Coat

I made it up to the Queen again last night and put down the second coat of polyurethane. This wood floor is a thirsty beast. It sucked up so much of the first coat that we’re wondering if we might have to put a fourth coat on to give it the kind of gloss we want. I guess we’ll see how well the second coat dried tonight.

Here is the bathroom floor before we sanded, stained, and sealed it with two coats of poly.

Here is the floor after the second coat.

And, here is the stain and polyurethane we’re using. The stain is Golden Pecan incase you're wondering.

Solid Brass

To be honest, we have no idea if this is solid brass, but that is what the general consensus is so far. According to the patent numbers on this, it was made in or around 1924. A friend of my mother-in-law gave us this. It is from her 1920’s house up around Fayetteville, AR. I have no idea why she got rid of it, but her loss is my gain.

When I first saw it, I wasn’t too impressed. I hate to admit that I had trouble seeing past the filth and the second rate rewiring job someone had done on it.

Then, a couple of weeks ago my wife walked down to the creek and wiped it down with a wet rag. Here is what it looks like now.

It needs a little work, but nothing too major. We’re going to rewire it (something less eye catching than white), and the sockets may need to be replaced. And it needs glass shades, but that should be easy enough to find (I hope the stuff at Lowe’s will fit).

This will be hung in the master bathroom. I can hardly wait.

Edger? We Don’t Need No Stinking Edger!

I thought this was interesting enough to stand alone as a post. I’m definitely going to give it a try. Thanks Gary.

"Ditch the edger and buy a variable speed polisher/grinder. Cut the used drum sander paper into discs and use it to sand the edges. When you are done with the floors you can use the grinder to buff the car, wax the floors, polish concrete counters or even marble. At least that is what I do here at the crackhouse! I only have 3 floors left to sand. Six are done already. When you are done with the poly, rub the floor with superfine steel wool and wax polish. Then buff it. It will make dusting easier and the surface will feel much smoother but it will make it very slippery for a week."

Bad Home Improvement Ideas or How Not to Build a Deck

The whole premise behind the Do-It-Yourself approach to home improvement is that with patience, hard work, and a willingness to learn anyone can repair, improve, or renovate their house without turning to a hired professional. And, while everyone should enjoy equal rights before the law, everyone is not created equal. By that I mean, not everyone is temperamentally, mentally, or physically able to successfully Do-It-Themselves. There are some people in this world that ought to hire a professional, and my father-in-law, John, is one of them.

Fortunately, he too has come to this conclusion, but he suffers occasional lapses of judgment.

At this point, you may be wondering why this post began with a picture of our irises blooming. And, the answer is that every time I see them I think of my father-in-law. We got these irises a few years ago as an unintended consequence of one of his ill-fated DIY home projects.

First, I should mention that John is a man devoted to anything with an engine: cars, boats, motorcycles, planes, bulldozers, and anything else with horsepower (except horses). He doesn’t like animals, flowers, gardens, or anything else without mechanical parts. His love of machines should not be misconstrued to mean that he is mechanically inclined. Actually, he isn’t. John hires people to fix his machines for him; his main interest is in using them.

A few years ago John decided to fix his yard up at the urging of his new wife. Their goal was to build a new deck onto the back of the house and to fill in a low spot in front of the house because . . . Well, I never figured out why. There seems like there was a reason for it, but I can’t remember it. Personally, I didn’t think they needed to do the last part, but it’s not my house.

My wife tried to talk him out of it. When my wife was about five years old, her dad had tried to build a deck off the back of the house. He spent all day working on it, and when he finished it looked bad, even to a five year old. One of her uncles came by and looked at the deck.

“John,” her uncle said, “Did you measure anything?”

Dumbfounded, John said, “Measure?”

Later, in a murderous rage, John doused the deck with gasoline and burned it to the ground. I’m not sure how the house didn’t burn as well. He is lucky that way.

Even after being reminded of this little episode, John was determined to move forward with this project.

We weren’t around to see it, but a few weeks later a deck materialized on the back of the house, but it looked a little odd. For one, the wood looked ten years old. It was all gray and weathered. Two, the posts didn’t have any footings. It was just sitting on the ground. Three, it wasn’t attached to the house. It was sitting just a few inches away from the exterior wall. And, there was an odd smell in the air.

When we asked about it, he reluctantly gave us all of the gory details. John had recently bought a mobile home or house (if forget) as a rental property. It had a deck and he decided that it would look really good on the back of his house, so he did what anyone else would do. He tied a chain to the back of his Dodge dual-axle diesel and tore the deck off the house in one giant piece. Then he borrowed his father-in-law’s John Deere tractor and loaded the deck onto a car-towing trailer. He drove the deck to his house and backed it into his backyard. He used the tractor to shove the deck up close to the house. While he had the tractor, he also dug out a couple of flower beds and dumped the dirt his front yard to fill in the low spot. As an extra bonus, the weight of the tractor ruptured his sewer line, so raw sewage was running through the front yard and down the storm drain.

So, what about the irises? The previous owner of his house had planted irises in the flower beds he dug up with the tractor and dumped in the front yard. They started coming that spring and my wife was admiring them.

John said, “You like them? You can have them if you do. I hate messing with crap like that.” So, my wife and I dug up all the poor things and tried to give them a better home.

Before and After

Here is a picture of the living room before Kenny.

I took this picture last night. Here is the living room after Kenny.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

My Happy Thought for the Week

My wife and I were reading this month’s edition of This Old House Magazine last weekend. They have an article about installing a beadboard ceiling on porches, and, in the story, they quote a figure of five-dollars-and-some-odd-cents as the cost of beadboard by linear foot.

All of the beadboard we used on the back porch, the rear addition ceiling and three of the four rear-hall walls are covered in salvaged beadboard. Thanks to the generosity of the Shannon brothers, we got it all for free from the Davis House before it was torn down two years ago. Curious, I calculated the worth of the beadboard using TOH’s figure, and we saved ourselves approximately $13,090.00. Winning the lottery must feel something like this; every time I think about it, I get a big, shit-eating grin.

More Moldering Wallpaper and Drywall in the Rear Hall

Here are a few more pictures from the last couple of weeks.

First, we have more remnants of the original wallpaper from my son’s bedroom to be.

And, here is picture of our rear hall with most of the drywall up. Kenny left the bottom sheet of drywall off so we can finish wiring the outlets for the refrigerator and trash compactor. Originally, this wall was going to be done in beadboard, but we ran out of it. We’re too cheap and too poor to buy some more, so we’ve settled on drywall. My wife had the intriguing idea of making a wainscoting out of an old section of wrought-iron fencing for this wall. Sounds weird, but I think it would look good if we did it right.

The Much Maligned Drum Sander

First, thanks for all the complements on the floor. Even with the whirls, I’m pretty pleased with how the floor turned out. It’s given me a lot of confidence in taking on the rest of the floors. It’s amazing how obsessively working on 80 square feet of flooring can make you feel like you know what you’re doing.

Like Greg and others, everything I heard or read about in preparation for this project warned me about the evils of the dreaded drum sander. However, after working with this gentle giant, I have come to the conclusion that its smaller, seemingly innocuous cousin, the edger, is one that should watched.
For those of you who are not familiar with edgers, they are basically giant orbit sanders on steroids. And, they are not random orbit sanders either. They are one giant spinning disk of sanding death. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m pudgy and weak or the motor on the edger was just that powerful, but the damn thing was almost more than I could control. Some of the floorboards were uneven (one board was higher than the one next to it) and when the edger hit the high board it would jerk or jump. It took a lot of effort to keep it from running off.

Supposedly, as you work through the finer grades of paper, the whirls will get sanded out leaving you with a mirror like surface. While I admit there may be some faults in my technique, this has not been my experience (I’m in agreement with Angus on this one). I still may use an edger for my other floors, but I’m going change the procedure that I follow.

The procedure I followed with the master bathroom is:

1) Sweep floor and pull grate off heating & air duct.
2) Use drum sander for most of the floor.
3) Sand along the wall with the edger.
4) Used the drum sander to “blend” the areas sanded with edger with the rest of the room.
5) Use palm sander (has an iron shaped pad with point, great for corners) to sand corners, around pipes, and other rough-ins.
6) Hand sand and palm sand whirls on imperfections left by edger.
7) Vacuum, tack-cloth, stain, et cetera.

The revised procedure I plan to use on my next floor:

1) Sweep floor and pull grate off heating & air duct(s).
2) Uses the edger around along the wall.
3) Drum sand the rest of the room making an effort to go over the areas sanded by the edger as much as possible.
4) Use the palm sander (or hand sand if necessary) to finish the areas sanded by the edger.
5) Vacuum, tack-cloth, stain, et cetera.

First, the new procedure shaves two steps off the list. Second, I’m hoping that this will remove any and all whirls from the wood. In about three weeks, we’re planning on renting the sander again, so we’ll see how this new procedure works out.

In short, the key to using a drum sander is to keep it moving. Start pushing it before you engage the drum and keep moving it until the drum is fully disengaged. From what I can tell, you’d have to be careless, unlucky, or both to seriously damage your floor with the drum sander. Knock on wood for me; I hope don’t have to eat my words on this one. A lot can happen in the other 1770 square feet.

Here are a few more tips for all of you would-be floor-refinishers:

1) Take your time. Sanding the bathroom floor probably took me three times longer than it should have, but it was my first experience with it. Even though it didn’t turn out perfect, there is nothing so wrong with it that it is permanently blighted.
2) When you change the paper on the drum, make sure you tighten the screws & bar down as tight as you can without stripping the heads. If you don’t get it tight, the bar or screws could gouge the floor. This didn’t happen to me, but I checked on it obsessively every time I changed the paper (unplug the sander while changing the paper). Also, if you are renting the sander, check the screw heads on the drum when you pick it up. These get used a lot and they might be stripped. The rental place should (mine did) check this for you, but do it just to be sure. There is no need to make a second trip if you can get new screws the first time you are there.
3) Check your paper every now and then. It goes a lot faster when your paper isn’t worn out.
4) Never engage the drum (lower it to the floor) when the sander is stationary. Get it rolling a little and then engage the drum.
5) When the drum is engaged, the sander will want to run forward. Don’t let it. Lean back and let it move forward slowly. Take little granny steps. The paper bites better, and it will go quicker.
6) Don’t be afraid of the coarse grit papers. There is a time & a place to use them.
7) If your floor boards are uneven, cut across the grain of the flooring at a 45 degree angle for your first pass with a coarse grit paper. Here is a picture of our bedroom floor after a few passes with 60 grit paper on the drum sander. Our floor boards are cupped (the edges are higher than the middle of the boards).

Going with the grain only takes the top off the edges while leaving the middle untouched. If you sand long enough, you will eventually even everything out. However, if you cut across the grain, it will sand down faster. I used this technique in the master bathroom. After two passes at 45 degrees, I went back to sanding with the grain and it went much faster.
8) With the exception of tip seven, always go with the grain whether you’re sanding, sweeping, staining, et cetera.

I’m sure that I’ll have more to say on this topic as we work our way through the Queen, and I hope these tips help you all some. So far I’d say the idea of refinishing our floors was more intimidating than the actual job itself. If you’re thinking about doing your floors, go for it.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Polyurethane and Built-ins

Sorry, I only have enough time for a quick post today. If I’m good, I’ll post some sanding tips and answer the questions some of you asked in the comments section of the previous posts.

Here are some new photos of the living room built-ins.

And, here are a couple pictures of the master bathroom floor.

These are before the polyurethane.

And, these are after one coat of polyurethane.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Jumping the Gun

I know I’m getting ahead of myself. I haven’t given you the thrilling run down of what you should and shouldn’t do while sanding a wood floor, but I am so damn excited that I can’t contain myself. Despite the fact that my son was sick Friday & Saturday and my wife had to work, we finally stained the master bathroom floor. It only took us three and a half years to get to this level of semi-completion. Amazing, I know.

Finished surfaces bring out my inner anal-retentive, type-A personality. While vacuuming the floor in preparation for the staining, I notice faint whorl markings in a few places on the floor. I believe these are from the edger. I’m not sure if I missed these spots with the finer grit papers or if it was something else I did or didn’t do. In any case, there were all these little lines cutting across the grain of my floors. This was unacceptable. I did what anyone else would do. I got out a wad of sandpaper and our new sander. With a combination of hand sanding and the power sander, I start working on the floor. After a while, my wife came in and caught me on digital-film.

Wife: “What are you doing? Are you done vacuuming yet?”

Me: “No. I’m trying to get these marks out.”

Wife: “What marks?”

Me (pointing): “These.”

Wife: “I don’t see anything.”

Me: “You don’t?”

Wife: “Nope. I have bad eyesight though. I believe you, but I just don’t see it. Let me know when you’re ready to stain the floor. I’ll come and help.”

A while later Rhea and a couple of her friends stopped by to see the house. I was still sanding.

Me: “Rhea, you have good eye sight. Come here and look at the floor. Do you see these swirls?”

Rhea (looking confused): “Swirls?” She leans closer, “I don’t see anything.”

Me: “Oh.”

Rhea and her friends enjoyed looking at the Queen. Apparently, we’ve crossed some mystical boundary. Instead of running in terror or cowering in fear, people are finally beginning to respond positively to the Queen. We actually hear comments like, “she’s beautiful, I can’t wait to see her when she’s done.”

Finally, I was satisfied with my sanding job. Well, sort of. There were still a couple of spots (behind the tub) I would have liked to sand until the November elections, but I decided it was time to move ahead. I don't figure that anyone besides me will crawl over the clawfoot tub, wedge their head between the wall and tub, and press their face to the floor to check the wood grain, so everything should be fine.

I methodically vacuumed the floor with the shop-vac. One tip regarding shop-vacs: if you buy the cool filters to keep the exhaust vent from blowing the fine dust out the backside, be sure to empty the dust-bin before you start. The filter doesn’t help if there is already crap in the dust-bin. After the vacuuming, we went over the floor with tack cloths several times, and then we were ready to breakout the stain.

I’d love to tell you what stain we used, but I can’t remember. We bought it ages ago, and all I remember is it’s something-pecan. Maybe. In any case, I like the color. My wife and I quickly covered the floor (brushing with the grain) using two, two-inch chip brushes (cheap, throwaway painting brushes). We waited about five minutes and then marched back in to rub the excess off (also with the grain) using some cotton rags. The funny part was there really wasn’t much excess. The wood floor is at least sixty years old, so it was real thirsty.

And, here is the finished product.

After work tonight, I’m heading back to put on the first coat of polyurethane. If we stay on schedule, we should have three coats on it by Friday.

And, if you're wondering how we kept our big, nasty foot prints off the floor, we used shower caps.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Top 10 and Kenny at Work

If I hadn’t been over reading Our Fixer-Upper, I probably wouldn’t have ever known, but the Devil Queen has made it into the Top Ten at I’m not sure where this accomplishment rates in the vast cosmos of achievements, but it’s still pretty cool. And, it’s nice seeing that we’re keeping such good company too.

Here are some photos of Kenny’s most recent work on the Devil Queen. Aside from some miscellaneous chores, Kenny has mostly been occupied with building our living built-ins (a full wall bookcases and an entertainment center) to replace our ill fated fireplace.

Below are some of the shims Kenny is using to get everything plumb & level.

I'm just under six feet tall. The built-ins will be about ten feet tall.

Here is one of the bigger shims. It's nearly three inches thick. It is amazing how crooked all these walls are.

Here is a view up into the attic looking up from the entertainment center.

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