Thursday, December 24, 2009

Small Projects over the Holiday Break

I am really tired of working on the living room woodwork, so I decided to work on a couple small projects instead. The first was to strip and restore the upstairs door hardware. The hardware is nickel and most of it was coated in multiple layers of paint.
I started by boiling the hardware in a solution of water and dishwashing liquid for about an hour or so. I have this technique is even more effective if you soak the hardware longer, but I am not that patient.

Next, I used a little bit of Zip strip to get any stubborn bits of paint, and cleaned the surfaces with furniture refinisher. Unfortunately, the hardware really didn't have a nice patina underneath the paint, It actually looked like someone had stripped the hardware previously and removed the tarnish in the recessed areas of the pattern.

To restore the hardware, I used Brass Darkening Solution (bought at Rockler for under $5). This stuff works on nickel and steel in addition to brass. Once the nickel was sufficiently darkened, I used Maas polish to even out the finish, leaving the recessed areas dark.

It actually turned out better than I expected and the nickel hardware really stands out on the white doors.
After that, I decided to try the brass darkening solution on one of the unlacquered brass switchplate covers in the dining room. While you can still tell it isn't original, I like the darkened look better, and it definitely beats the hole in the wall that was there before.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Help with Missing Weatherstripping

I am trying to find a piece of galvanized steel weatherstripping that is missing from one of the casement windows in the dining room. Not sure why it was removed, but you can see daylight through the bottom of the window where it is missing. The window itself has a strip of bronze weatherstripping which locks under a steel flange the comes up a little more than a quarter inch. The back of the weatherstripping is a vertical steel piece that extends up about 1/2 inch and fits against the front of the window. Any thoughts on where I could find a replacement for such a thing? I check all the easy options (Ace, Menard's, Home Depot, etc) with absolutely no luck.

With weatherstripping


Friday, October 16, 2009

Taking on the living room

The living room is not a pretty sight. The contrast against the recently finished dining room makes it look even worse. I can't put off dealing with it any longer. Here are the before shots.

The woodwork was painted at one time. It looks like someone tried stripping it, but gave up. Given how sloppy it looks up close, I am amazed I didn't notice this before. Check out the sweet mid 80's track lighting. Honestly, these are the world's dimmest lights. Given that I don't have any art on the wall, the only thing they light is a 4 foot section of plaster with a nice big crack in it.
I really think this is going to look great when it is done. I would just like to skip the many steps it takes to get there. The dining room took me a ridiculous 8 months, so I have to do better than that this time.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Paint and Something for the Wall

We finished painting the dining room last week. I was a little nervous as the paint was going up, but I really liked the way it turned out. The color is Benjamin Moore Forest Moss.

We also added a vintage map of our neighborhood to the wall. Actually using the picture moulding as opposed to the 30 nail holes I patched in the wall worked out very nicely. The map is from Althea Maps and Prints which can be found in the Coe and Channell Antique shop at 2727 Hennepin Ave S. The frame was custom made by Dard Hunter Studios.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


The dining room woodwork is finally all refinished. I was determined that I wouldn't post anything until it was done. It took me 10 months and who knows how many hours (definitely in the hundreds), but I am extremely happy with the results. While incredibly tedious, the 5 step refinishing technique worked very well. Here are some before and after shots.

Column header before
Same header after - none of the wood grain was visible with the old finish.
Built-in before
Built-in after
Bank of windows
Close-up of the board shown in a previous post

Another close up

Unfortunately, there is a little bit of bad news. We still need to repaint the dining room and I have the entire living room left to refinish. It better take less than 10 months this time. I am going to work on some other projects before I get up the motivation to go after that one. Here is what the refinished woodwork looks like next to the living room woodwork.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Woodwork Update

I have finally removed all the old finish from the dining room woodwork and have started the almost equally painful process of refinishing it. Normally, I think refinishing would be much easier, but I am using the same 5 step process I used on the crown molding. So far, I am almost done with step 1, which is the dye stain. I am using Transtint Golden Brown. I make up 8 ounces at a time: 1/4 ounce dye, 4 ounces denatured alcohol, 4 ounces lacquer thinner. You can see the difference between with dye (on the right), and without.
When I took the hardware off the windows, I was surprised to find the original finish. This is the color I am trying to match. In the course of stripping the woodwork, I realized it was previously painted, then stripped, bleached, and refinished (poorly, I might add). Somehow, through all of that, it appears the window hardware was never removed.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Future Projects Tour

This future project/online house tour is an excellent diversion from my never ending woodwork project. My wife and I moved into our house a little less than 1 year ago. It seems like most of my projects since moving in involve removing paint.

One of the things we like best about our house is that it has all of its original windows. The front door opens to a large sun porch, which is one of our favorite rooms. We only plan to make a couple changes to this room before we call it done, namely an upgrade to the ceiling fan and the current flooring, neither of which are original. I am amused by the shear number of Phillips head screws in the ceiling fan every time I look at it. I have been checking out for a replacement.

In the living and dining rooms, we are lucky enough to have the original quartersawn oak woodwork and unpainted, wood burning fireplace. We are unlucky enough that the woodwork has been painted, stripped, and poorly refinished over the course of 85 years. See my previous posts for more fun with woodwork.

Several of the rooms still have their original, bare bulb light fixtures. From the tiny chip in the picture below, you can see that these are brass underneath. I am betting there is some polychrome coloring as well. Stripping the paint off these will be the subject of a future post. The popcorn ceiling pictured below will be dealt with at some point as well.Working on the side entry is another project I have in the works. You can see where I have picked off some of the paint near the lock. The old linoleum floor has oak underneath, but I am worried that it might be in pretty poor shape from all the water that has gotten tracked in on people's shoes over the years. I am also in need of two new storm doors. The current aluminum ones are terrible. I have been checking every salvage store for a vintage one, but I am thinking I may need to go the reproduction route. Any suggestions on a good place to find an authentic looking wood storm door? Creating a full bathroom upstairs is another long term goal. The room pictured below is the nursery off our master bedroom. Our bungalow has a lot of headroom upstairs and this room is actually the rear dormer. Right now I think the trickiest part is going to be fitting a shower stall in this room somehow given the angled ceilings.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Slow Going

I will be really happy when I am working on a project that doesn't involve stripping paint or finish. That said, I am making slow, but steady progress on the woodwork. The great news is that the wood underneath looks awesome. With the weird glaze finish removed, you can really see the rays in the quartersawn oak. At least now that the weather is improving, I can actually work with adequate ventilation, which is nice.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Push Button Switches

Since we moved in last summer I have been meaning to replace the light switches on the first floor. At some point, one or more of the previous owners clearly fell in love with dimmer switches. Literally every switch was a dimmer. I guess I just don't see the need for that much dimming. I finally got up the motivation this weekend to switch all the first floor lights back to non-dimming push button switches.

I started by ordering 6 single reproduction switches from Classic Accents. Normally I try to get original versions of everything, but starting a quest for 6 matching, antique, functioning push button switches sounded pretty painful.
Once I had the switches I made a trip to Guilded Salvage in North Minneapolis. This is my favorite of the salvage places in Minneapolis because their stuff is well organized and the service is great. I was able to find 5 matching switchplates including 4 singles ones and 1 double. All 5 are solid brass, but the double one has a great copperish patina on it. The 4 single ones needed a little work. They really didn't have a lot of patina to begin with, so I decided to fake it. I used lacquer thinner to take off the remaining paint, lacquer and grime. I then used 0000 steel wool to even out the color a little. I followed that with the cleaning instructions on this blog. I used the "baking method" to age the brass.

I baked the switchplates for a little over an hour and am very pleased with how they turned out. They still don't have the patina of the double one, but I am going to let time do the rest.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Momentarily Done

It only took me 4.5 months and who knows how many hours, but the crown molding project is done. Some pics and my refinishing technique are below.

Just after the popcorn texture was removed.
Same corner after

Close up before
No more popcorn No more paint
Close up after. We still need to paint the walls.

Once I was ready to actually refinish, I used the following process.

  1. Applied Transtint Golden Brown dye stain. Diluted according to the directions with equal parts denatured alcohol and lacquer thinner.
  2. Brushed on 2 coats of Zinsser Amber Shellac. I read a lot of different things about making your own shellac from flakes versus using the premade stuff. The amber Zinsser stuff contains wax which supposedly makes the finish less transparent. The bigger issue is finding premade stuff that is actually fresh. The date of manufacture is printed on the top of the cans. Based on books I have read, I try to make sure the shellac is less than 6 months old. This usually means going on a wild goose chase to find the freshest stuff.
  3. Applied Old Masters dark walnut gel stain. I spent a disturbing amount of time and money trying to find the right glaze. In my opinion, Old Masters dark walnut looks like a mix of Van Dyke Brown and Black. It has a fairly long drying time. Basically, I painted the gel stain on section of molding at a time, and then wiped off as much excess as I could. Abbott Paint in St. Paul and Lathrop Paint in Minneapolis carry Old Masters.
  4. Applied one layer of shellac to seal in the glaze.
  5. Applied a final coat of dark brown Briwax to give the molding a satin finish.

In the end, I couldn't be happier with the way it turned out. Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg and I have all the remaining woodwork in the dining and living rooms left to do.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Great Bungalow for Sale

This bungalow just went on the market this week. It is MLS#: 3656594. I am willing to bet it was built by the same people who built mine; same windows, same doors, same chimney, same brickwork including original brick planter box. This one appears to have most of the original windows as well as no aluminum soffits. Unfortunately, I have no idea how intact the inside is or isn't and the MLS listing has very few pictures. I just think it is cool house with a lot of curb appeal. I am really hoping whomever buys it appreciates it for what it is.Check out the original real estate photo from just after the house was built in 1924. I would kill to have an original picture of my house like this. You can see that not a whole lot has changed on the exterior. I can only think of 2 houses I have seen in Minneapolis that still have the original roof caps. I just made up that term since I have no idea what they are really called.

Non-tree obscured view

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Salvaged Fixtures

We are lucky enough to still have most of the original light fixtures. Unfortunately, this doesn't apply to the track lighting in the corner of our living room. This is currently the only overhead light in the living room. One thing I have always found odd is that there are 2 light switches by the front door, one that works the porch light and one that seems to do nothing. The living room ceiling has received the popcorn treatment, so I can't tell if there ever was an overhead fixture in the center of the room. Regardless, the plan is now to remove the track lighting and install a central overhead fixture. So far, the tricky part has been finding the right fixture since I have been trying to find one to complement the original bare bulb fixture in the dining room (pictured below). It is very elaborate for a bungalow, but I really like it.

Before this weekend, I had checked every salvage and antique store from here to Duluth without any luck. Amazingly, I found the 2 perfectly matching fixtures pictured below on craigslist this past week. Also pictured is a rare image of my wife performing manual labor. The 4 bulb fixture will go at the top of the stairs and the 5 bulb one will go in the living room. Now I just have to them rewired.
If anyone has any electrician recommendations or tips for installing the electrical box for the living room fixture, please let me know.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

No more paint

The paint is no more. It took a ridiculous amount of time, but the molding is finally ready for refinishing. I wish I could say the same for the rest of the wood in the room. By the way, the light fixture is original to the house. It is a 1920's polychrome fixture. I think the only reason it survived all these years is that it appears to be impossible to remove. When we were working on the ceiling, I tried removing it to clean underneath it, but had absolutely no success. If anyone knows where I can get another like it, please let me know.
The picture below shows the various tools I used to remove the paint. I really liked using Soygel because it was really good at removing the final layer of wax and glaze without affecting the original color of the wood itself. I would apply a coat of soygel, let it sit for about 1.5 hours, then I would scrub it with the red bristled stripping brush. I would then wait another hour or so and start removing the residue with the black hard rubber potter's rib. The pottery tools in the upper right corner of the picture were great for getting into tough to reach spots. The blue brush is actually a denture brush that came in really handy for getting into corners. Once I got almost all the residue off, I used furniture refinisher to get anything that was left.
Now if I could just decide on a final finish.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Office Chair Refinished

I actually finished a project. Unfortunately, it was the office chair and not the dining room crown molding. Still, I think the chair turned out pretty good. Here are the before and after pictures.



I used the following process to refinish it. I decided not to use an initial dye on the wood since I liked the dark orangish color it already was. I started by cleaning it up with "furniture restorer", followed by 2 coats of shellac. I just use Zinsser Amber Shellac and mix it with an equal amount of denatured alcohol. The 50/50 mix keeps the coats thin. I then used a gel stain as a glaze. This time I used Old Masters brand dark walnut. Basically, I just paint it on, wait a few minutes, and then wipe off all the excess with t-shirt material rags. I follow that up with another coat of shellac. Lastly, I applied dark brown Briwax and buffed it with a t-shirt type rag. Obviously, I am no expert on mission style finishes, but I think it turned out pretty good.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Mission Finish Testing and Random Chair Purchase

Since I am assuming that the woodwork will be ready to finish at some point in the distant future, I have been testing different mission finishes in an attempt to find one that is close to the original. So far, I have been using the following basic formula: Transtint dye, followed by two coats of amber shellac, followed by a gel stain glaze, another coat of shellac, and finally a coat of dark brown wax. I am testing 4 different dye colors, and 2 different glaze colors, giving me 8 finished samples. The picture below shows my first 4. The dyes are (from left to right) dark mission brown, golden brown, brown mahogany, and medium brown. I used a dark mahogany gel stain as the glaze on all 4 of these. My other gel stain option is a dark walnut, which I will use on the next 4.

My wife has also been looking for a desk chair, so I convinced her to let me find an antique quartersawn oak one so I could practice my finishing skills. Being incredibly cheap, I bought the swivel chair pictured below on Craigslist. It needs a little rehab as you can see, but I think it will look great when all is said and done.

I really don't know much about the history of this chair, other than the label that says "Sperry Office Furniture, St Paul" on the back of the seat. Has anyone heard of, or know anything about this company? Please comment if you have.