Monthly Archives: May 2014

A hard day’s night

After all that seemingly endless sanding (during which Eric listened to six Beatles albums on his iPod), the weekend finally arrived when we would stain and polyurethane the spare room floor. We auditioned two shades of Minwax stain: One matched the room’s fir woodwork, but we didn’t want the floor to be that dark because one of our main objectives is to lighten up the room. The other shade, Gunstock, had a reddish tone that was similar to the living room floor, so Gunstock it was. Unfortunately, neither of us thought to take a picture when we tested the colors in the closet. We were focused and excited about getting color on the floor.

Eric began in the closet, and I on the other side of the room, painting the stain on with foam brushes. We worked in areas about three feet square, wiping the stain off with rags almost as soon as we applied it because the porous, naked fir soaked up color immediately. After I’d stained my first couple of squares, I lamented to Eric, “I don’t think I like this color.” It seemed awfully red … but we were committed, and there would be no more sanding in this room! We would only go forward!

applying reddish brown stain

We moved so fast, it took hardly any time at all to cover the entire floor. Then we let it dry overnight. I kept peeking into the room, fretting about the red color. That night, I tossed and turned, unable to sleep as I lay there hating the floor, which glowed orange-red in my imagination. The next morning, I got up and immediately opened the spare room’s door to face down the redness.

Well. It wasn’t that red. In fact, it was kind of … pretty. Our friend Cathy came by to go to breakfast with us and she said it was beautiful. By afternoon I was actually liking the color. Was this real, or was I just convincing myself to accept what I knew I could not change?

I didn’t have time to ponder it too deeply because I was excited to apply our first coat of polyurethane. I carefully mopped it on with a Shureline pad on a pole. I had my back to the windows, so lack of reflection on the wood made it difficult to see what I had coated. The can said it would dry in three to four hours (“super fast-drying!”), but we had picked the wettest Seattle day we could find. Six hours later, it wasn’t even thinking about drying. We went to bed assuming that it would be dry by morning, but, because more than 12 hours elapsed between coats (“no sanding between coats!”), we’d have to … yes, dammit, sand it before applying more (“complete project in one day!”).

Minwax polyurethane can

But timing wasn’t the only reason it needed sanding. Once the poly was finally dry, I was horrified at what a lousy job I did applying it. The coat was uneven, with blank spots here and visible drips there. You can see the crappy coverage in this photo. It looked worse in person. I was NOT HAPPY.

polyurethane showing poor coverage

Because it was a work day and golf league night, Eric worked late into the evening sanding the entire floor with a mouse sander. We went to bed that night thinking not about the stain color, but about the next day’s task of cleaning away all that sanding dust.

I was hell-bent on tackling the dust situation as soon as I got home from work the following day. So hell-bent that I forgot to take a photo of the dustbowl. I attacked the floor with a vacuum and then a wet sponge mop. When it dried, all I saw was dried puddles of murky residue. This dust was thick and stubborn. When the second mopping made little difference, I adjourned to the living room to pout while Eric tried his hand at cleaning. After four moppings, the floor was finally clean and ready to be recoated. I had developed polyurethanephobia, so I let Eric do the application this time. I can paint the heck out of a wall, but a floor? Evidently not so much. Eric’s poly coat was far more uniform, and only slightly imperfect. Although we’d blocked off the heat vent, when the furnace turned on, a little flurry of pet hair poufed under the door and is now embedded for posterity in polyurethane. Kind of like our pets’ footprints in wet cement.

The next day Eric applied the final coat. Wouldn’t you know it, he ran out of poly as he was working his way to the door! What else could go wrong with this job?? I’ll tell you what. We made the trip to Home Depot for another $43 gallon. At last Eric finished the final coat. Except … when it dried, this is what we saw:

satin and semi-gloss polyurethane

We couldn’t believe our eyes! We had two identically labeled cans of Minwax oil-based semi-gloss polyurethane … only, one was satin finish and the other was semi-gloss!

We got our money back for the mismarked gallon, but our only solution was to recoat the entire floor to get a uniform finish. I was enormously relieved the next day when I opened the door and saw a dry and semi-shiny, beautiful reddish-brown floor. It might not have been love at first sight, but it definitely grew on me. I can honestly say I LOVE our floor now! (Because it’s done?)

finished floor view 1

finished floor view 2

finished floor view 3

What did I learn from this process? Two things, mainly: 1. It’s hard to fall asleep when you’re busy hating, and 2. I will never, ever DIY another floor!!





Preserved in amber


Facebook post

This is how Eric responded to my last blog post on Facebook.  Well … I wasn’t in the room during most of the sanding effort (although I remember well how much fun it was to sand the living and dining room). Every now and then I’d pop my head in to check out his progress and offer helpful suggestions (“Hey, looks great. Want to go get a Starbucks?”) If he wants to read about his hours of sanding, I suggested he write a guest post. I’m still waiting.

The floor looks terrific … ready for stain. But I’ve been focused on the walls.

After all the paper was gone, we were left with walls that looked, well … 100 years old. They’d been gouged and patched (poorly) and abused. Add to  that, plastering is not a perfect art. Looking closely, I noticed many small trowel marks that all angled from upper right to lower left. (The plasterer was right-handed.) I think it’s kind of cool that the marks of his craft are still visible on my walls, making me wonder, a century later, who this person was.

I grabbed my tub of plaster patch and worked my way around the room, skimming over all the areas where the paint had pulled away with the wallpaper, evening out old lumpy patches, sealing cracks, and filling gouges. Yes, I even filled some of the plasterer’s marks, although plenty are left. I did a reasonable job of disguising the big crater where I pulled that chunk of plaster off the wall. Quite the work of art, by the time I was done!

green walls with white plaster patches

The next day, after everything was thoroughly dry, I sanded the entire wall surface with the mouse sander. Although this sander has a dust catcher, it did little good with ultrafine plaster dust. The green powder covered everything and swirled in the air like the Oklahoma Dustbowl. Yes, I wore a mask. This is not my bra. It’s a used mask next to a new mask.

used and new dust masks

After all the dust settled (literally), I blew my nose and vacuumed the walls and floor, then I mopped the walls with a damp sponge mop.

As an old boss of mine used to say, “It’s not good, but it’s better.” The low spots were higher and the high spots were lower. In fact, this room hadn’t been so smooth and clean in decades—maybe ever.

Finally, I was ready to paint! It was late in the afternoon, but I still had time to paint one wall for a color preview … only to find that I had no paint rollers. Life can be so cruel!

While I was smoothing things over in the main room, Eric was in the closet making a mess. When he removed some wood pieces that had supported a closet pole and a shelf, some of the plaster came with—a large enough chunk that he would have to replace it with drywall. Not a big deal. But when he carved out a neater shape to fill, a hairline crack grew clear to the end of the wall … and the plaster surrounding it wasn’t attached to anything. The damage went from this …

small plaster damage

To this …

closet wall plaster removed

We have recently learned about keys—those globs of plaster that ooze out between the strips of lath. That’s the base coat of plaster pushing through the lath and getting a good grip. When the plaster fingers, or keys, break off, the plaster is no longer attached to the wall. You then have a choice of removing the plaster and replacing it with drywall, or going through a whole bunch of rigmarole trying to glue it and screw it back into place. We’re not into rigmarole.

In the meantime, we (well … I) got excited about our chosen rug and could put off the purchase no longer. We started to wonder if we really needed the 8 x 10 size. By the time we put the furniture in the room, the floor space effectively will be reduced, and we want some wood to show around the border of the rug. We put tape marks on the floor where the rug will go and discovered that the 5 x 8 version is the one we want … and the one we rushed out to buy, coming home with it sticking out the car’s sunroof. We won’t unroll it until the floor is finished, but it feels good to have another piece of the puzzle at the ready. And I was not sad to pay less for the smaller size.

new rug still rolled up

Where was I? Oh yeah, the paint. We (well … I) decided to go with the Light Amber. This Valspar Signature paint-and-primer is nice and thick, like painting with yogurt. The real breakthrough came when Eric offered to tape the trim for me. I don’t tape much when I paint because I can cut in a clean, straight line (and I hate prep work), but these bumpy walls required trim taping. I have found the secret to effortless painting: Have someone else tape the job for you! (Thanks, hon!)

I knew painting a lighter color over pea green would take two coats, regardless of the paint+primer claim. (I always use two coats, anyway.) I liked the sample, but I was concerned the color would come out more yeller than amber. I didn’t want yeller. A lot of green showed through that first coat, and we stood back, tilting our heads and reserving judgment.

The second coat made all the difference, and soon the room was looking as I’d envisioned. I had to do some of the painting at night with the dim single-bulb overhead light and one work light. The incandescent lamps turned the color yeller, but it’s easy to buy color-correct LED lighting these days. Which reminds me, I have to pick out a new ceiling fixture.

It’s hard to accurately capture the color in photographs. The second one is truer. What do you think?

finished gold paint color

finished paint looking toward closet

I’m particularly pleased with the color during the day, with natural light pouring in from the windows. I pop in every morning and afternoon to admire its golden glow. It’s bright, it’s neutral, it compliments the woodwork, and it feels right in our old house. Okay, walls are done—next, we hit the floor!