Friday, May 29, 2009

Deeper Down the Rabbit Hole

Other than color, you could be forgiven for believing these two pieces of beadboard are the same. I would be a hypocrite to fault someone for the same sin I committed.

The darker piece of wood is the original soffit beadboard. The lighter piece is a sample piece I picked up at a local millwork store. I called them several months ago and asked them if they had beadbeard. "Oh yes. We have traditional yellow pine bead board. It's three and a half inches wide and $0.85 a linear foot."

Knowing that I had sourced the beadboard, I tore into the soffit on the south side of the house, scraping away loose paint and removing rotten beadboard, until things looked like this.

When I went to get the new beadboard at the millwork store, I took the darker piece with me, just to be sure they matched. I found out what I should have known all along. Today's beadboard is 1/8" of thinner and an 1/8" narrower than beadboard from 1921.

I could get around the thinner bit by using shims, but the reduced width is a real problem, especially as row after row of beadboard is placed next to the original. First I'm off by an 1/8", then a 1/4", then 3/8", etc.

My options here are neither great nor cheap, but what I'm leaning towards is getting this, which would allow me to create my own beadboard.

Suddenly my quick project of scraping, repairing and painting the soffit is looking like it could take all summer.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Last night I put in a half dozen yews we purchased to act as a hedge. And the soil - Oh the soil! I have the kind of soil that makes me want to knock on the neighbors' doors and ask them, "Have you seen my soil? Come marvel at the crumb, the dark inky color, the ease with which I can move it."

I want to invite my gardening friends from Minnesota over so that I can dig a hole and we can all stare at it in silent appreciation. Nothing would need to be said as we all stood there, because we would all know that this is what soil is supposed to be like.

If I ever fall to my death while cleaning the gutters, I can only hope that I land face down in the dirt.

Friday, May 22, 2009


I feel so...invaded.

The house originally belonged to a family that owned a greenhouse business adjacent to it. The greenhouses are long since gone and the previous owner (an architect) clearly did not inherit any sense of gardening from his progenitors.

When we purchased it, the property was seriously overgrown. We have buckthorn, tartarian honeysuckle, creeping charlie, burdock and garlic mustard. There are other plants on the property that I haven't identified yet, but I have a sinking feeling that they are also listed as invasive species. America is a melting pot, but I'm not sure that should apply to plants as well.

The soffit work continues, albeit slowly. Our youngest has been sick most of the week, and still is not fully healthy. This has taken away a fair share of my working time. But at this point, I can stand in the attic and look down through the floor, through the soffit and see the outside. I'm hoping to use the new Rotozip to finish cutting out the rotten bead board and get the south soffit sealed up this weekend.

There is some concern that so long as the soffit is open, we are subject to all manner of animal invaders too - bats, birds and wasps. Yesterday Ms. Huis called me to say there was a bat crawling up the side of the house in the middle of the day. And I know that one of the sizable holes in the soffit has had a lot of wasp activity. Last year's wasp nest in the soffit ended up being about several cubic feet in size, and I don't want a repeat of that. We came across the under-the-floor nest this spring, when my dad and I put in the cross pieces to try and stop drafts from entering the house under the attic floor. Thankfully, it was empty and a darn cool thing to show our eldest to teach her about wasp nests and the six sided shape of their cells.

We've also caught two more mice in the last few weeks, bringing the count up to 52. Here's hoping all the Americans out there have a safe and happy Memorial Day.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Vegetable Garden

A nice day spent working outside in the yard is about the closest thing there is to heaven. The kids play in blissful ignorance of the trials of everyday life. I can focus on simple, repetitive tasks that have visible results. And it helps bring balance to my life now that I spend days and days working indoors with technology.

We'll be putting in our vegetable garden this weekend. We have a twenty food wide strip of land on the north side of our property that receives sun most of the day. Unfortunately, it looks like that area may have once been a gravel parking lot for the greenhouses. The top three inches or so are black dirt, but beneath that is a two inch layer of crushed, hard packed gravel. Underneath that is more good soil. The gravel was impenetrable to our little tiller, so I don't know how the vegetables are going to deal with it. If they can get through the gravel, they should have access to all kinds of great nutrients.

Tilling did dislodge a large crop of egg size rocks, meaning we'll be picking rocks out of our garden for quite some time. I've started moving our compost pile out to the garden to add some soil depth and richness. As of last night, I've moved about half of the compost pile. We'll see if it helps.

Yesterday I bought a Rotozip in hopes that it will allow me to cut out the rotten sections of soffit beadboard. After playing with it last night, I can already see that I'll need to create a jig with a straight edge. Looking at my "straight" cuts, you'd think that I had been drinking.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Storm Windows Part 2

A few comments in my previous post require a bit of clarification and comment. Christopher over at Shaker Heights mentioned that he had seen others hang their storms from their basement ceiling to keep them safe. This is indeed a great idea, if you happen to have casement windows. Many houses of our vintage would have had wooden casement windows, hinged at the top. Of our storm windows, only ten are casement windows. Based on the lack of marks in the exterior window frames, I can say that we never had more than ten casement windows, although it is entirely possibly that more have been added over the years.

Building storm windows is going to be a bit of a learning experience. It wasn't too many years ago that a person could go down to their local lumberyard and have wooden storms made. Those days are gone now though. Now that big box stores have put most of the small, family owned lumberyards out of business, wooden storm windows are a specialty market.

When we lost our storm window last spring to rot, I put the pieces in the back of the car and took it to a local place that specializes in custom doors, paneling, milling and planing. It's a great place with gorgeous doors, wainscoting and fireplace mantels. But it turns out that they don't make windows. They referred me to a carpenter that they occasionally subcontract to.

I drove over to his business, which is located in a four stall garage in a residential part of town. Nobody was around so I stepped out of the car and walked into the garage, shouting hello as I went in. There were boards and sawdust everywhere. I recognized a lot of the boards - maple, oak, pine - but there were others I had no clue about. And they were stacked everywhere.

Nobody answered, so I kept walking in towards the smell of fresh cut wood and cigarette smoke. Just about the time I saw the Penthouse calendar with the pet of the month hanging on the wall, John came from around a corner and introduced himself.

We chatted for awhile and when I explained to him what I wanted, he came out to the car with me to take a look. After looking at it, it was clear he was hesitant to take the job, as he figured it would run $300 to $400 dollars and I could get an aluminum storm window at a big box retailer for a lot less than that. In his mind, it would just be a waste of money. He also didn't know anyone local who still made wooden storm windows. There was no market for it.

For $300 to $400 I should be able to get a good router, router bits and a router table. Combined with the table saw I recently received, I should have all the equipment I need to build storm windows. I'm inclined to use something like cedar as the wood, because it is rot resistant. I also need to ask a few glass places around here if I can get either double pane, Low-E glass inserts, or if I can get single pane Low-E glass. Then of course I'll need to do a mock up on some cheap pine, before I actually start.

Once I get the soffit repaired, the storm window is one of the next three projects. I've been stuck on the soffit project for the last few weeks, trying to figure out what to use to cut through the beadboard attached to the underside of the joists. Looks like I'm going to be purchasing a new tool soon.

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Perfect Storm

I hate the phrase "A perfect storm", almost as much as I hate the phrase "A 100 Year Flood/Storm/Hurricane". It is the kind of hyperbole that news organizations use now that they are more interested in making money rather than disseminating the news.

But I digress.

There are a total of 48 storm windows on the House of 42 Doors. Last year I took off all of them and stacked them in the garage. I was always terrified that they would be broken en masse by a stray ball, a runaway bike or a simple stumble.

Excluding the cost of tools, I think it costs about $100 in materials to build a storm window. Or at least that's what I'm estimating right now. I'll know more by the end of the summer, as I have four to make. Considering what a storm windows costs, it takes a long time to recoup their cost, so it only makes sense to protect the 48 that I have.

Most of them are in good shape, but there are a few that are on their last legs. We lost one last spring when we took it down from one of the upstairs windows. It literally fell apart as my dad was carrying it to the garage. The corner was rotted out and held together by a metal L-bracket that the previous owner had screwed on.

I tried to repair all the storm windows last year, but in the end I was only able to repair those in the worst shape. There are still some that need to have putty applied and some that need a touch of paint here or there. Repairing storms meant laying them on a table in the garage, where once again they are exposed to all manner of potential disasters.

On top of the potential breakage, the storms took up enough of a garage stall that the wife was unable to park her car in the garage. Once the storms went up this winter, we were able to park the wife's car in the garage. Giving this space up every summer for storm windows is not an option.

For all of these reasons, I've spent the last few weeks building this.

It is a cabinet with a slot for each of our 48 (someday 52) storm windows. There's a place for our storm windows in the summer and our screens in the winter. The cabinet isn't completely done yet. I'd like to get it fully enclosed, with doors to really protect the windows, but that will come eventually. As I remind myself daily, the house is a marathon, not a sprint.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Projects, Projects

Yesterday I walked around the house in bare feet and a t-shirt. I mention this for several reasons. First, it wasn't that long ago that I was walking around the house in many more layers of clothing, trying to imagine a time when I might actually be "hot" in the house.

Second, the outside temperature was 64, one degree warmer than the inside temperature. I know that when September arrives, 64 will require a sweater and maybe even a coat. Its amazing to me how we adapt to our surroundings.

My parents were kind enough to give me a table saw for my birthday and I've been putting it to good use over the last few weeks. In fact, based on the six inch pile of sawdust on the floor, you might think that I've taken up sawdust manufacturing.

See this picture?

Did you notice that there is a hole for a drawer? The reason the drawer is missing is that it fell apart. With the new table saw and the recovered drawer front, I was able to build a new one. All the cross pieces we put in the attic? Used the table saw for that too.

The current project with the table saw is to build shelving to store our storm windows. The storm windows come off the first week in May (starting this weekend!) and I need somewhere to store them. Last year they sat on the garage floor and I was always terrified that one of the girls would fall into them and hurt themselves. This will hopefully get them out of the way.

The other project I'm working on when the weather allows is this.

The soffit needs to be scraped and washed. Any old, rotten pieces of beadboard need to be pulled out and replaced. And of course, we need to paint it. Fortunately about 50% of the soffit can be reached easily by standing on the first floor roofs of the porte cochiere and the two outside porches.

One of the things that has me a bit puzzled though is what kind of tool to use to cut out the rotten beadboard. It needs to cut through 3/4" thick wood nailed to the underside of the joists. I need a tool that is lightweight, capable of cutting straight lines and going no deeper than 3/4". Ideally, it should be able to do plunge cuts. So what's the right tool for the job? A rotozip? Reciprocating saw? All I have are a standard skill saw and jig saw. Neither of those seems appropriate.

Suggestions anyone?

Mouse count went up one again too - 50 and counting.