Our New Old House

1918 Bungalow


Archive for the ‘future plans’ Category

Hardwood Floors: To Sand or Not to Sand?

A lot of deliberation went into my decision to sand the finish off the hardwood floors.

Once I got the carpet padding up, I got some help from a couple of experts in identifying what issues I’d have to consider. I knew that the floor had been refinished at least once and had been sanded very aggressively. When I removed the quarter-round trim from the baseboards I could see the original surface of the floor as it had been installed under the baseboard. There seemed to be a drastic difference between the original surface of the floor and the present surface. Whatever the actual measurement was, it made me worry that there would not be much left to sand before getting down to the tongue and groove between the boards.

I wasn’t able to get a very good picture illustrating this but if you look closely you can see a dark line just under the baseboard. That’s the original surface of the floor.

IMG_5818 Zoomed In

One expert took a razor blade and placed it between the boards at several points around the living room and dining room to see how far it would go in before hitting the tongue of the next board. In some places there was about a sixteenth of an inch, in some places more or less. It was very inconsistent. That led this expert to be very wary about the prospect of sanding the floor with a belt sander. He said that whoever sanded it so aggressively in the past probably did it to even out some “cupping” which means curving of the boards to make a wavy texture across the floor. They took off a lot of wood and didn’t leave us much to work with. He suggested removing the varnish using chemicals and only doing a light sanding before staining. He gave me a bid on what he would charge to do the chemical stripping and refinishing. I don’t remember how much the bid was but it was quite a bit more than I was hoping to pay, since it’s a very labor intensive process.

Since I have the skill to do it myself I thought about how long it might take me to do that but since I am only working on these things after my day job I decided I wouldn’t have the time to get the whole thing done if I did it myself.

Next I spoke to someone who is an expert at running a belt sander. I wanted to know how much the belt sander actually takes off if the floor doesn’t need leveling or anything. I hoped that just sanding enough to take the finish off and prepare it for staining would be possible with the amount of wood we had to work with. He took a look at the floor with me and assured me that with the right grade of sandpaper we could do what we needed in just two passes. One to take the finish off and one to smooth it for the stain. It would require a bit more detailed sanding by hand using a handheld orbital sander to get into areas that had cupped, but since cupping wasn’t a big problem, that wasn’t too daunting.

I rented the belt sander from Des Moines Rental and it came with an edge sander. They sold me a bunch of belts and pads for both sanders and promised to buy back whatever I didn’t use.

Over the next two days, our expert, Brian Smith, ran the belt sander while K.O. and I ran the edger and a handheld orbital sander. We did one pass with 80 grit sandpaper to get the finish off and then one pass with 100 grit sandpaper to prepare the floor for stain and sealant.





Because Brian went so easy with the belt sander, there were lots of spots where the floor had cupped a little where I needed to use the handheld orbital sander to get the rest of the varnish off. I did that detail work while K.O. did the edges and the corners and in three days or so we had the whole floor sanded and ready to be cleaned and stained.

Next post: “Andronicus, stain not thy floors with blood.”

Continued Window Progress: Nearly Done!

At the time of my last post the remaining windows in the house looked like this:




While I had a great experience learning how to refinish and reglaze the window sashes myself, I decided in the interest of time that hiring someone to do the sashes while I refinished the frames would be best.

I found a local contractor who was willing to work on the sashes while I prepped the frames. When we got the sashes back from him, K.O. and I took turns cutting slots into the sides of each sash so they could run on the metal weatherstripping rails we’d be installing in the frames.



We used heavy duty chemical stripper to remove the paint from inside the frames. Though we didn’t test it, we were fairly certain that several layers of the old paint contained lead so we worked with gel chemicals and mineral spirits to keep as much of the paint contained as possible. Once we had the wood as clean as possible, we sanded the insides of the frames to restore the beauty of the natural wood grain and prep it for sealant.


We sanded for a long time and grew very attached to our safety goggles and face masks. We loved wearing them. We never wanted to take them off. Can’t you just see the love in my eyes for these oh so fashionable accessories?


In between what seemed like endless days of sanding, we measured the frames, ordered the metal runners from Dorbin in Chicago, and did the necessary prep work so they’d fit around the weight pulleys. For that I used a pair of tin snips. Tin snips seem to come in one size. One size does not fit all. Maybe someday they’ll make tin snips in my size.


There were some hard to reach areas where the chemical stripping gel just didn’t get the job done.


For those areas I used my Dremel tool.


Here’s one of the areas around the pulleys in progress.


I needed to replace about half of the weight ropes. Once I did that we were ready to install our newly refinished sashes. Here’s one of the dining room windows going in.


At the time of this post we’re still waiting for the stops to come back from being dunk stripped and we need to install the locks and lifts. The facing parts of the trim still need to be sanded, stained, and sealed. But in the meantime, the sashes work, they are beautiful, and they are amazingly airtight and rattle free. Here are a few of our nearly completely rehabbed windows:




Riding the Rails

My updates on the windows keep trickling in slowly. If you’d like to see more about the process up to this point, read these past entries:

Windows To The Soul

My Windows: The Lost Images

Window Prep Continues

A Spa For Window Sashes?

It Doesn’t Take a Boy Scout To Tie a Good Knot

The latest step in rehabbing my 100 year old wood windows is to install metal rails that the sashes will slide along as they move up and down. The rails serve two purposes: to make the surface between the sash and the frame smooth so the window glides better, and to keep drafts of air from coming around the sides of the sash.

Here’s the first strip installed. It is attached to the frame with flat head screws that rest flush with the surface so the sash doesn’t catch as it glides by.


In this picture you can see the unstained parting bead that goes between the sashes and the unstained panel that provides access to the weights. The metal strip goes over the access panel and alongside the parting bead. If installed with screws, it can easily be removed to get to the access panel.


A view of the strip on the other side:


My bedroom has windows again!


Also currently in progress are the living room windows. Since I’m running into a time crunch with these I’ve hired a local craftsman to reglaze and refinish the sashes for me while I strip the paint and prep the frames. I’ll be giving them the same metal rails as I did with the ones in these pictures. More pictures coming soon!

My Bathroom: The Rest of the Story

Some people said they wanted to see more pictures of my crazy bathroom in its recent stages of transformation. I am nothing if not obliging. Here, you dirty voyeurs! Feast your eyes on the nitty gritty recesses of my bathroom.

You may recall that when we decided to put up wainscoting, I allowed Brandon, my cousins, sister, sister’s boyfriend, and myself to draw on the bathroom walls.


Then we put up some shelf paper because we weren’t able to tackle the job of putting up the wainscoting for a while and we needed it to look nice and be easier to clean in the meantime.


THEN! We took the shelf paper off in anticipation of the wainscoting installation. That didn’t go so well.


BUT THEN! The carpenters from Loki’s Garden put up the wainscoting and our bathroom began to look beautiful.


Next up: patching a few plaster flaws near the ceiling, some fresh and lovely blue paint, and a fresh coat of primer and paint for the woodwork. Also, the tub will get paint. And shiny shiny feet.

Hooray for shiny feet.

It’s a jungle out there.

This summer finds us cutting lots of trees and shrubs down at both of our new old houses. In Des Moines Brandon cut down the shrubs in front of our porch. They’d overgrown the space provided and I wasn’t able to trim them back far enough to be able to use the sidewalk. I’m going to replace them with rose bushes.

(With bushes, and snow)

(Bush free and summery)

We did a similar job at our house in Clear Lake. The shrubs in front of our porch there were getting dead spots and were kind of preventing us from keeping the rest of the area around the house clean, so we decided to cut them out too.




Obviously, we have more clean-up to do now that the bushes are gone. We’re going to dig out the stumps and clear all the weeds out, then plant some new flowers there.

In the back yard in Des Moines we’ve got a bunch of trees that were volunteer saplings many years ago and have now grown to be total pests. We’re gathering quotes this week to see what it will cost to have them removed, as well as what it will take to have the big catalpa tree between our house and the neighbor’s taken out. I’ve got a good recommendation for what kind of tree to replace it with, so that will be a big change coming up sometime.

And while I’m talking about future plans I might as well list out some other things we have coming in the (hopefully) near future.

  • Reshingle the roof
  • Repair the front steps
  • Tear out sidewalk blocks & have a new one poured
  • Paint the back wall of the house
  • One more coat of paint on the rest of the house
  • Build a shed on the old garage slab

Phew! That’s a long list. Better get to work then!

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