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!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Coming to Terms with Paint Removal

I find the first hour of any involved home improvement project is the worst. It takes a lot of will power and effort to ignore the couch's siren call, the lure of insipid, mind-numbing television, or a long, intoxicated soak in the tub. If you can actually start the project, then you have to work at getting into the groove of what you're doing. Every task has its own rhythm and until you find it everything is a mess. But, once that first horrific hour has passed, you find your body moving in a relentless mechanical rhythm (unless you're doing plumbing or anything involving exact measurements). This is great because your mind can drift far away for a while.

I spent a lot of time doing my paint scraping dance on the top of a ten-foot step ladder the other night, and I couldn't help but think of poor Chris. In particular, there was this comment he left on a previous post:

"I'm having to swiftly come to terms with the idea of dry scraping as I'm going to have to do it to all of the exterior woodwork of the house. Any suggestions you have in terms of process would be hugely helpful I'm sure."

My first thoughts were pretty knee jerk. You know, the stuff most people would think of using for a project like this: hard liquor, hookers, and lots of wasp spray - unless they have something else in Canada. I don't know what you'd use to take care of a nest of Grizzlies roosting up on the eaves. A Gatling Gun maybe?

But, once I got past these superficial suggestions, I dug deeper into the philosophical meat of this problem. It occurred to me that there is one central fallacy around which everyone bases their approach to paint stripping or scraping: that there is a good and easy way to strip off old paint.

The stark and central truth is there is no good way to strip paint. None.

No, actually I lied. If you have money to burn, you can hire a whole team of trained monkeys scrape your house clean and sit out in the yard under a shade tree drinking mint juleps and reading the newspaper. That is easy. Well, conditionally. We're assuming that the monkeys actually know what they're doing and come to work.

Each and every method of paint removal suck in their own way. What you have to find is the method you prefer to use, learn to do it well, and just get it over with. Divest yourself of the idiot dream, the Easy Way, and embrace the truth in all its filthy glory.

Over the years we’ve work on the Old Whore, we've experimented with a number of different paint removing methods: spray-on stripper, paint-on stripper, heat guns, UV strippers, sanders (hand sanding, orbital, random orbit, palm, etc), grinders, eco-friendly strippers, and dry-scraping. And, do you know what I've found? If I had spent all that time actually scraping paint and not dicking around with the newest path of enlightenment, I'd probably have finished long ago.

I find that all paint removal techniques have four components on which they may be rated: ease, mess, speed, and cost. I won't break these down any more than that (unless someone wants more detail), because they seem fairly straight forward to me. And, my final conclussion to date is: dry scraping is hard work but it is cheap, fast, and occasionally easy. The mess is unavoidable, just jump in and wallow in it.

One thing I have noticed is a correlation between ease and speed. For instance, a heat gun is pretty easy to use. You flip it on, heat the paint, it bubbles, and it glides right off with a pass or two of the scraper. But, compared to dry-scraping it is a very slow process. In my experience, dry-scraping goes roughly twice as fast (or more) for me, but it wears me completely out after a couple of hours. There is definitely a trade-off here.

Anyhow, here are my "big" dry scraping tips:

1) Use a scraper with a small blade. Sure, it will take more passes to strip the paint, but I find that they are easier to control (fewer gouges) and you can exert more pressure because of the smaller surface area.

2) Sharpen your scraper often. Depending on how tough the paint it, you may find it necessary to sharpen your blade every 5 to 10 minutes. It sounds like a hassle, but your muscles will thank you. It is soooooo much easier to scrape with a sharp blade.

3) Wear thick leather work gloves. If you are doing it indoors, wear a respirator or mask at the very least.

4) If possible, always go with the grain of the wood.

5) Manage your expectations. No matter how bad your paint is in, it will take a very long time to get it all off. Don't get discouraged, it can be done but it will take a while. Persistence counts.

6) Know when call in the big guns. Sometime you will find a section of paint that will not come loose no matter how much you dig at it. Save yourself some grief and time, and move on to Plan B. At this point, the heat gun is my back-up of choice. Unfortunately, since there are lots of gaps between boards into hollow walls full of 100 years worth of potentially flammable shit, I usually opt for spray-on chemical striper. Or, I might just take a sander to it and feather out the edges and paint over it anyhow. Below is a picture of some paint that would not turn loose on the foyer wall it. Took me longer to get it down to this than it did to scrape half of the foyer ceiling.

Now, as the final disclaimer, I will say that I haven't done too much exterior paint stripping, but, from what I can tell, all of the same principles apply. Also, you might check with Greg over at The Petch House. I can't remember for sure, but I believe he dry scraped the whole Petch House.

Hope this helps Chris. And, good luck.

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Well, very little report in the way of progress. I worked an 11 hour day at the day job, so I didn't really have much energy to put into the house. Boiled and stripped hardware then shellacked it a few times. Nothing too big.

I had a little time left before bedtime so I thought, "Gee, I could prep that closet door for some paint and maybe slap on a coat of primer before bed." In hindsight, this probably wasn't the best idea. However, I blame the heat gun, or at least the manufacturer of the heat gun. I mean, I don't recall seeing a warning label stating, "WARNING: Use of Heat Gun May Induce a Hypnotic Trance."

Hell, I didn't even plan to use the heat gun as I dragged the door out and tossed it up on the sawhorses. I was just going to give the door a good scuff sanding, tack-cloth it, and start painting. The chocolate-poo colored paint was holding okay, so what the hell. Why not paint over it? We have a deadline to meet, right?

Well, once I got the door up on the sawhorses, I saw there was this one long, lumpy spot on the bottom mullion and rail of the door. I couldn't figure out what it was, but the paint over it was flaking off so it would have to go. I decided to use the heat gun on the bugger, and it worked great.

I'm guessing the lump was a lot of sap that oozed out of the door over time. It boiled under the heat gun and turned into syrup (pancakes anyone?); that was a real bitch to get off, but it was manageable.

Soon, I was completely entranced by the hum of the gun, the blistering paint, and boiling sap. After a while, my eyes started burning. I thought maybe it was the heat or the fumes, but as time wore on it occurred to me that I was really tired. I've been ignoring this sensation for so many years I apparently no longer recognize the symptoms. In any case, I figured it wasn't too late yet, so pushed onward. I finally finished rendering all my pine syrup for the evening, so I decided to take a shower and crawl into bed. I was shocked to find that what had seemed liked 30 minutes was in fact closer to an hour and half. Not good.

So, I'm really tired today, and I'll probably be stuck at work late again tonight. On top of that, the zombies are clamoring for more primer and paint (20 gallons of primer used on the exterior to date in case you're curious). If I don't get it to them soon, they may start eating each other, the neighbors, or me. So, that'll blow another hour or two after work. I'll be lucky to get the laundry room door hung tonight. I can't tell, does that count as optimism?

I need to get the living room ceiling finished by early Saturday, so it looks like I'm going to be putting in some long hours Friday night.

Remember, only pussies need sleep and second gear.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Living Room Ceiling Part I

I made a good go of it, but I'm disappointed with my progress. This will definitely be a three evening job, not the two evening one to which I aspired.

Anyhow, here is the before photo.

Here is the ceiling after one hour of scraping.
And here is the ceiling after two and a half hours of scraping.

At that point, my arms gave out and it was time for bed anyhow.

Chris, I've got a dry-scraping post with tips in the works for you. Hopefully, I'll get it up by Friday.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Killing Fields

This warm weather has everything just burning to go. The wasps are all a buzz and building nest under every eve and over the front door. Every evening I kill as many of the little devils as I can, and the next day more have come to take their place. As annoying (and sometimes scary) as the wasps are, this year is a real improvement over previous years. In years past, they'd awake from their slumber and fill the Devil Queen's interior, like 200 in the master bathroom. We've only had a dozen intruders this year and they were handily dispatched.

Last week I started to wire the closet light in Gideon's room. I immediately ran into a snag. Whether the switch was on or off, the voltage detector was going nuts. I took a closer look and discovered and extra set of wire(s?) in the receptacle. Like any intrepid DIY'er I said, "screw this," and found something else to do. Then I called Jack and asked him to take a look, no big deal.

Friday morning, Thera, our cat, woke me up a little before 5 AM.

Usually, I'd have been annoyed if not pissed, but not today. Why? Instead of waking me with his emotionally co-dependent need-me-love-me caterwauling or his feed-me-now-lazy-stupid-biped call, Thera was giving the hall wainscoting his your-ass-is-mine call of the wild. "Weird," I thought, "it must be mice." Then, since it was nearly time to get ready for work, I took a shower and didn't think about it again until that night. That is when I found this in the living room.

Apparently, not only did his ass belong to Thera, but a back leg did too. The big question for me was, "Thera, did you eat the leg or am I going to find it in my shoe or on the couch later this weekend?" Unless I am proven wrong by some grisly, future discovery, it appears to have been eaten.

I disposed of the corpse and gave Thera an impromptu celebratory party, and this was a big deal given the long standing pseudo-antagonist relationship Thera and I have.

Thera's relationship with my wife easily predates our marriage, so we've been living together for a while. Thera thinks I'm a stupid interloper who will leave sooner or later; he thinks he can out wait me. I typically think he's mouthy mooch whose only contribution to the household is mule sized shits. Now, after nearly eight years, Thera has proved me wrong. He is a bonafide mouser. He has earned his keep and is welcome for the rest of his days as far as I'm concerned.

Friday was a busy day. In addition to a finger sized cadaver, I also discovered this.

And, Jack came over and wired everything up in a jiffy. The problem? The electricians had run a ground wire in from someplace else to tie in there, or something like that. I forget the particulars. In any case, no electrocution or fire and there is light so everything is good.

I called Jack to thank him and he asks, "Hey, did you see the dead mouse out front?"

Me: " You mean the one in the living room?"

Jack: "No. There was a dead baby mouse in the front hall when I came over. I threw it out in the yard."

Me: "Really? Wow. Thera has been busy. There was another dead mouse in the living room when I got home."

Thera had been very busy indeed.

Much later that night, Scarlet and I were sitting in the kitchen talking when Thera chased a huge grey mouse across the kitchen floor. Thera was winning though the mouse had spirit. He actually tried to jump onto Thera's face and bite his nose. Thera bitch-slapped the mouse for his effort and bounced him off the refrigerator a few times. The mouse got tired and Thera got bored so we had to intervene before we went to bed. I caught the poor bugger and tossed him outside.

These mice were pretty dumb, not the uber-mice of last year. Until now, I thought that they were pretty clever, staying in the walls since we move Thera in with us. Did they just get carried away with Spring Fever or what? Why else would they come into the house during the day to tangle with the cat?

What can I say, Darwinian Selection at its best?

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Night of Ill Humors

Last night I just didn't quite feel well. I wasn't sick per se, I just didn't feel good either. Tired, stomach ache, wane, and aching muscles and joints. I got a late start last evening and didn't accomplish too much. A cat-nap, drugs, and half a pot of coffee helped quite a bit though.

Anyhow, this is what I did manage to do. First, I "tented" the living room in preparation for scraping down the ceiling.

Here is what the ceiling looks like now.

Here is the close up.

This stuff is really loose. Some of it pealed away with a dirty look. I originally thought this ceiling would be a three or four day project, but now I'm wondering if I could knock it out in two.
Here is how it should look when I'm finished. This is the foyer ceiling in case you care.

And, here is what I did with the rest of my time, striped and shellacked door hardware (sorry, not the complete set here).

Sorry, I can't find the picture of the door. It will close off the laundry room.

I love how the floor flows seamlessly from room to room, well worth the effort.

Tonight, without further ado, I shall assault and vanquish the living room ceiling.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Fear. Loathing. Barbecue.

Barbecue, blood, bodies, bonfires, bratwursts, chandeliers, chemical warfare, caulk, cracks, gardening, Lowe's, painting, priming, spray-foam insulation, tequila, wasps, wiring, and what-not. Pictures of the carnage will follow over the next few days. What can I say? We had pretty good weekend even if it was hot enough to make you sweat. It was definitely a lot more like late May and not late March this weekend.

One of the sure signs of a good weekend is the house was a total disaster come Sunday night. I guess we were too busy to bother picking up like we should. Actually, it was a might bit disturbing. We'd just finished watching Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas when I noticed the bowels of the Devil Queen pretty well look like the last hotel room they trash in the movie, not a pretty sight. All I need is a pair of sunglasses, a cigarette holder jammed between my teeth, substitute the polyurethane and stain for ether and I can become the Hunter S. Thompson of Houseblogs. Would that make this Gonzo Home Improvement?

Sunday (or was it Saturday?), we spent a few frantic hours cloistered in the breakfast nook, drinking pot after pot of coffee, and working on the The Plan. Actually, it is a fairly compact affair. Phase One starts tonight. I will attempt to sent the paint scraping endurance record by systematically dry-scraping every flake of nasty, decrepit paint off the our ceilings. The living room will be first. It will be followed by the hallway, the dining room, the rear hall, and the master bathroom ceiling. While I wait for the cramps and seizures subside, I will try to relax by boiling hardware, shellacking, and other small, must-do tinkering chores. If I am partially successful (that would be finishing the first two or three rooms on the list), will be having a "paining party" two weekends from now. The last one was such a success that we are hoping we can replicate the effect and get all the scraped rooms primed and painted. This will get us very close to meeting our bank deadline.

The spray priming (is this the home improvement equivalent of spray on tanning?) of the Devil Queen is nearing completion. We may soon have to commit to a final color selection for the exterior.

Regarding the paint job, the question of the day is, what do the neighbors think? The answer will probably have zero impact on our course of action, but we are curious folk. Ms. Scarlet and I figure that it is a toss-up between:

1) It's about bloody time they painted that piece of shit. Slackers.
2) Wow, they painted it and it still looks awful. Maybe if we're lucky it will be struck by lightning and burn to the ground.

Anyhow, we continue on our journey across the dark underbelly of the American Dream, what the hell ever that means.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Not Quite Dead, Too Busy to Write

Sorry y'all, crazy week at work and home. Mostly, busy beyond belief. Hopefully posts and pictures will come next week. Have a glorious weekend and all of that. We're having summer all weekend long, so we'll be out enjoying it.

Bis Dann!

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Monday, My Mental Health Day

Not only does all work and no play make Johnny a dull boy, it makes him an evil monomaniacal bastard. And that is just not fun for anyone. So aside from a little tinkering around the house and a good mental exorcism, I sat quietly, drank tea, ate a light dinner, took a nap and went to bed. How do I feel now? I feel great! Who knew seven hours of deep sleep could make such a difference?

With that rude little deadline encroaching upon us, how can a justify this therapeutic slackerdom? Easy, we worked on the Devil Queen all weekend. Things were caulked, primed and occasionally painted. And, more notably, Ms. Scarlet put two coats of poly down on the laundry room floor.

Of course, she had to contribute to the scraped vs. sanded wood floor debate after spending several hours crawling around on it. She prefers the drum-sanded look to the scraped look. And, she said the rougher surface of the scraped floor made it more difficult to apply the poly. Not an earth-shattering difference, but enough to annoy her. And no one wants an annoyed Scarlet.

In an attempt to burn your retinas with my sub-par photography skills, here is a close-up of the scraped flooring.
What I'm trying show is the variation in the surface. The photo flattens everything out, so you can't really see it here. In particular, more of the soft wood (light blonde) was scraped away than the dark grain which is slightly raised. To the best of my knowledge, this wood hasn't been wet, so I don't think that accounts for the raised grain.
As part of our family outing on Saturday, we stopped at a cool little junk/antique store in Dardanelle, just over the river from Russellville. They have some pretty incredible stuff there. But, what was I so annoyingly thrilled to find for $6.00?

See, exciting isn't it. In case you have no idea what these rusty, painted smeared bits of metal are, they are latch catches for 3 1/4 inch rim locks. They are a perfect fit too, so I won't have to cut any of the door trim to make these fit. All I need are a few good screws.

For Exhibit #2 in my effort to prove that I should not seek a career as a professional photographer, here is what I used as my excuse for enjoying the good weather and playing with Gideon outside.

These are terrible photographs. Really, it looks much better in person. In case you can't tell from the photo (My eyes! My eyes! I'm blind!), this is a dry-stack (i.e. no mortar) rock retaining wall. In theory this wall is supposed to continue on for another 60-70 feet in front and to the side of the Devil Queen. For the time being, we would settle for getting the section directly in front of the house finished before the appraisal. If the current issue of This Old House can be trusted, having a nice front entry not only makes a good first impression but can add 10%-25% to a home's value, and we need every penny we can get.

In addition to the wall, we're planning to lay a brick patio in the for ground, a slightly raised flower bed in front of the porch, and a lot a flower beds at the top of the wall too. By the time we've finished planting, a lot of the rock should be covered in creeping or climbing vegetation.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Answer to Yesterday's Post

After re-reading this post, I would like appologize for the bit about which wood has had what done to it. Even I found it confusing.

Here is the answer. Boards #1 & #2 were scraped and given a light sanding. Board #3, as the transition between the hall and laundry room got a mix of full-sanding, scraping, etc. Board #4 was finished with a drum sanders and then stain & sealed.
Even though Boards #1 - #3 don't have poly, I really can't say that they look significantly different than sanded board. The transition is virtually seamless. To my mind, this begs the question of why scrape a floor by hand if you get similar results with less grief with a drum sander?
The "distressed look" is reason most often given for scraping the wood. But, if you have salvaged/reclaimed floors or original, 100+ year old floors, how much more distress do you need? I have more than enough, thank you very much.
My final recomendation? Just say "no" to scraping.


Doldrums & Doubt for the Weekend

Maybe the weeks just catching up with me. I feel like some bull bled out in an abattoir, motionless and warm waiting at that last black door.

The rain and humidity foiled my schedule last night. I'd planned to put down a layer of poly on the laundry room floor, but it was tacky in a few places so I let it be. I managed to do a few things, but none of them satisfied my need for progress.

So, what did I do? I caulked the window trim in Gideon's room, caulked some of the hall wainscoting, put three coats of primer on the laundry room door, and re-glazed the window glass in the front door. That last item was . . . interesting. I didn't much care for it to be honest. I didn't break the glass and it doesn't look like complete ass, but it's nothing to brag about either.

As I stumbled to bed, I was over come with my moment of doubt for the week.

Here is the to-do list I try not to think about too much:

1) Main hall: paint trim & wainscoting; outlet covers; scrape, prime, caulk, paint ceiling; install light fixtures; refinish all doors & install hardware; lay & finish floor; stain & shellac crown molding; install corner trim.
2) Foyer: prime & paint everything; refinish doors; lay & finish floor; install light fixture and switch covers; install corner time.
3) Master bedroom: finish priming (70% complete); paint everything; refinish floor; outlet and switch covers; finish closet and door; install ceiling fan/lights.
4) Front (Bay Window) Bedroom: everything.
5) Gideon's room: paint closet; finish built-in; paint trim; refinish floor; switch and outlet covers.
6) Living Room & Dining Room: everything.
7) Kitchen: finish painting trim and vent hood.
8) Rear Hall: prime & paint.
9) Hall Bath: install light fixture.
10) Master Bath: Paint windows; scrape, prime, paint ceiling; finish & install sink vanity; install lights, switch & outlet covers; install quarter round.
11) Pantry: install window trim, paint door.
12) Laundry: seal floor; install tub faucet; touch-up paint; install quarter round; refinish & install sink; install toilet; install washer & dryer; install light fixtures.
13) Miscellaneous: install miscellaneous fixtures, doors, hardware, trim, etc.

It does seem like a bit much to finish in 52 days, doesn't it?

What I worry about is getting the rear hall (3 walls & ceiling) and the dining room and living room ceilings scraped down so they can be painted. Everything else seems do-able.

There is one small consolation though. However this house fiasco goes for us come May, I will finally get to do something I've been wanting to since 2003.

I will be taking sailing lessons with my wife this June.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007


Finally, the scraping and sanding marathon has ended. I am finished. And, the stain has been rubbed on as well.

Here are a few pictures of the floor after I finished everything (scraping, sanding, vacuuming, and tack clothing).

And here is the floor after one sloppy, wet coat of stain.

And here is a riddle for you. In the picture below, one board has only been sanded, one has been sanded & scraped and the remainder have been scraped with a finish sanding with 120 grit paper. Counting from the top, there are four full boards shown in the picture (1. top board, 2. top-middle board, 3. bottom-middle board, and 4. bottom board). Can you tell a difference?

Once I finish sealing the floor, I'll post some comparison pictures our different floors. They all are made from the same batch of salvaged wood, but one was run through a plainer before it was installed & drum sanded, one was only drum sanded, and one was scraped.
Exciting, I know.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

An Evening of Unanticipated Events

When 11 PM reared its pug-ugly head last night, I had one of those son-of-bitch moments as in, "Son-of-bitch! I can't believe I didn't get to stain this damn floor tonight!" I mean, for the love of everything evil and hopeless, I'm so close to finishing this floor that I could piss on it.

So, what evil did the heartless universe spring on me? Really, it wasn't anything too onerous, but it gobbled up my ever dwindling time. Jack was going to bring his pressure washer over for me to borrow, but he threw his back out so he couldn't load it. I drove over, played with Gideon, said hi to everyone, and hauled the pressure washer back. That ate up an hour. Then I tended to my painting zombies and set things up for my tile-guy. Then I talked to my wife about perverts, reporters, and go-go boots for a while.

As such, I have no new photos of freshly stained floors. Bugger.

Not one to squander yet another personal failure, I'll take this time to answer a few related questions.

As Brooklyn Row House asked, why not a use a belt sander for the floor? This is an excellent question, but the answer is a little complicated.

First, our original belt sander was stolen a little over a year ago with the rest of our $2000 of tools and equipment. We borrowed one from my wife's grandfather, but it is smaller than the stolen one so none of the remaining belts fit. We're too lazy and cheap to buy more at this point.

Second, I don't really like them much. As Brenda mentioned, they are a booger to control even if you have good upper-body strength. And they tend to gouge; God help you if you hit a nail head or tack with one. At best the belt will shred. Worst is it jumps all over the place and tears the wood up.

Three, as Brooklyn alluded to in their comment, if you have any amount of significant finish on the wood, the paper quickly becomes coated in a thick, hot, tacky mess.

Four, belt sanders tend have blind-spots that make getting flush with walls and other obstacles difficult. This room is filled with weird trim, shut off valves, angles, and what-not, so I wouldn't be able to get to half of the room with one anyhow.

I'd like to say that my decision to scrape was carefully made with some grand plan in mind. Mostly, it was just dumb happenstance. I started of using a grinder, palm-sander, and a sanding block, but I was unhappy with the progress. In one night I ate through $15 worth of sanding paper for the palm sander but barely finished a 1/3 of the room. There was a lot of wood putty to sand flat, and it was taking for ever to get it ground down smooth. Dust was everywhere. Through some experimenting, I discovered that one or two firm passes with my paint scraper was enough to take care of most buildups of wood putty or anything else. At some point, I quit sanding and grinding and just started scraping like mad. And, it seems to be faster. Maybe I'm just making the last part up? It really feels like it though.

And now for my beer recommendations per Brenda's request. Having traveled a small bit of the world and tried many beers, I'd still have to say that my favorite one is Guinness.

It's just damn hard to beat a good pint of stout whether you like it chilled or room temperature.

Every now and then, I like something different. One of my favorite standbys is a pint of Franzischkaner Dunkleweiss Beer (a.k.a. fat-happy-monk beer).

Another memoriable beer whose name I've forgotten was one a German friend smuggled through customs for us. It was unpasturized and from a local brewery near Mainz. It came in a corked pottery bottle of sorts. Excellent.

For those of you who don't obsessively check and recheck the comment sections of my old posts, DavidLBC has some interesting thoughts on hand scraping in the good old days here. I don't have time to cover it now, but I have some thoughts on it as well that might make for a future post. I would say that David and I seem to be on the same page regarding this one.


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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Hard Row to Hoe

Here is a section of the floor I've finished scraping.

Here is the only unfinished section. It is probably 4-5 square feet.

And here is the view of the transition from scraped to un-scraped.

For those of you who might be interested in the process and how-to, I'll try to have a post up on that in the next two days or so.

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Brought to a Boil

The front two rooms and the foyer are the only parts of the Devil Queen that didn't have all of their hardware stolen before we bought her. I guess they didn't have the balls to stand out in the open and strip house of all its hardware. Not that I'm complaining. The window locks and pulls are quite nice, but the hinges on the front door are the real treasure.

These buggers were covered under three coats of paint and one or two different layers of shellac. Here is a before view.

Looks pretty bad, though there is a hint of something more beneath.

I unscrewed the hinges (an ordeal in itself) and boiled them in water. I learned this trick from some of you Housebloggers some time ago, but this was my first use of it.

I ended up boiling them four times. I think if I'd left them in longer that I could have striped them faster, but I was too impatient to wait. I tried several different tools to take the loose paint off. I had the best luck with a razor blade and the handle of a metal file. For the "finish" work I used a small wire-bristle brush and a steel wool.

We are going to shellac these. My wife likes the silver sheen, so we're going to use clear shellac instead of the all-holy amber shellac. Sorry Gary.

These hinges are the ones I pulled from the door jamb. In my excitement I forgot to remove their other halves from the door. Oops. What can I say, genius happens.

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Paranoidal Floor Crawler

Filthy, floor crawling, frantically scraping away varnish, wood putty, and gouges I toil, mind driving in erratic loops. Scrape, scrape, scrape, sharpen with singing file, repeat, repeat, repeat. Man as relentless machine. Mind wanders far, seizes a thought and flips it like a shining silver coin.

Again and again the phrase repeats, "Steve wants us to do this! You know hand scraped floors are very in now. Sigh."

I shake it off and dine with my paranoid menagerie. "I love this iPod Shuffle, four hours of music in a match book. But, would I hear them? Pernicous intruders, stalking me, drawn by the steady song of blade on board, takinging up the large scraper and driving it down into my skull. Would the stain come out of the grain? Poor floor."

Stupid thoughts, but still I turn to face the doorway side wise as I work. No good ever came from sitting with your back to a door.

Such beautiful blonde and amber wood grain.

Later in the evening tide. Prone and submerged in steaming bath, Gatsby perched tub's lip, I regard the purple and madder blooms, my knees a full flush of tender petals. Tired but satisfied, I calculate, one more hour of scraping, and hour sanding with 150 or 220 grit, vacuum, tack cloth, and finally stain. So much time and work for such a tiny space.

Again, insistent, "Steve wants us to do this! You know hand scraped floors are very in now. Sigh."

WHY! Why would someone do want to do this to themselves!? Poor Jocelyn, tell him no! Say it! Save your back, your hands, your knees!

Again, why? I must know.

A thousand web-spiders are sent crawling and a small few return with answers.

"Hand-scraped and Distressed hardwood floors are becoming a popular choice in today’s upscale homes and commercial buildings. These floors are a newer trend but are rooted in history. Before today’s modern sanding methods, floors were hand scraped on site to make the floors flat. Today’s hand scraping is done to add texture, richness and uniqueness."


"Not all flooring is smooth – texture is popular.

"Hardwood flooring does not have to be smooth. Many companies are offering hand scraped, distressed and reclaimed flooring. These floors have a classic look and add great value to upscale homes. They do not show much wear or scratches since they have a great deal of character interest to draw attention to different parts of the floor. These floors will be a guaranteed conversation piece with your friends and neighbors and are often the focal point at luxury home tours."

Unbidden this image rises.

"Guaranteed conversation piece," indeed.

"Go, look at the floor, and, while you're up, please hand me the walker. Oh you are such a dear, thank you so much. My knees have never been the same."

Are beauty and suffering forever twined?

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The White Goddess

Having crawled from dark woods and lonely night, what is this lurking here? It can be nothing else but the work of the restless, toiling dead.

"Your broad, high brow is whiter than a leper's,
Your eyes are flax-flower blue, blood-red your lips,
Your hair curls honey-colored to white hips.
All saints revile you, and all sober men
Ruled by the God Apollo's golden mean;
Yet for me rises even in November
(Rawest of months) so cruelly new a vision,
Cerridwen, of your beatific love
I forget violence and long betrayal,
Careless of where the next bright bolt might fall."

- Robert Graves

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Big Tease

Sorry, not enough time for more. Tomorrow?

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Poor Bastards

I have now joined the ranks with these poor bastards.

[Caillebotte, Gustave Les raboteurs de parquet (The Floor-Scrapers)1875; Oil on canvas, 102 x 146.5 cm (40 x 57 3/4"); Musee d'Orsay, Paris]

It seems that back when I was sanding and refinishing some of our floors one of you (Angus?) mentioned that you'd sanded all your floors by hand. What you didn't mention (or maybe you did and I've forgot) was what a never ending visit in hell this is.

After nearly six hours of sanding and scraping (razor sharp paint scrapers in case you're wondering), I still have roughly three hours more before I can stain the hoary bitch.

I did learn one little tip from this painting though. Note one small detail on the far right of the painting, a bottle of wine. In case you're wondering, beer works too. Everything is better with beer, except turbulence.

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