I am not to be left alone…

Ten or so days before Thanksgiving, I safely delivered Karyn and Will to the airport so they could get a head start on Thanksgiving at Karyn’s mom and dad’s home in South Carolina. Being left alone with 10 days to use before I would fly down to meet them all, I had two choices: build or refinish something or sit around depressed and dejected. So, immediately from the airport, I went to the lumber yard to purchase materials for a new project!

I have been really tired of not having a dining room table ever since we bought our house… which has a pretty big dining room! I have been lusting after several tables at Restoration Hardware for a while now but as a wood worker I could never justify the price when I know I could make the same thing for a fraction of the cost…which kept leading me to think about either finding plans to build a table or designing one of my own.

While innocently trying to get inspired on Pintrest, looking at motorcycles, furniture and the occasional packaging design innovation (product packaging has always been a fascination of mine mostly because it can sell me a product I care nothing about!) I found a table I really liked. It happened to be linked to really cool website and blog associated with ana-white.com. Ana White demystified Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware furniture into DIY style plans. There I found what would become the basis for the plans I would alter to make my dining room table!

I did not change much. Overall I changed the dimensions to be a longer and slightly wider table and then dressed it up a bit. As it was presented, the able was a little too rustic. At its heart, it is a trestle style farmhouse table however I wanted it slightly more refined so I opted for mitered corners instead of the butt-joined corners in the plan for the table top. I also added some stain-grade moldings to both the table top edges and to the bases… again, to dress it up a little. True to a farmhouse table, I added bread-board style ends to the two main panels of the table top effectively turning a 108” table into a full ten feet or 120” long. By the time I added the molding edges to the top the finished dimensions turned out to be 122” long by 42” wide. Perfect for our dining room!

The neatest thing about this project is the materials. It cost less than $200 of construction grade pine (yup… 2×4’s 2×6’s and some 1×4 and 6’s from Lowes), a little glue, a ton of sanding and joiner work and then about $30 in stain and polyurethane. So for about $230, I ended up with a table that would likely cost 8-10 times that at Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware!

Here are some pictures I took along the way:

Tops and Bottoms for the 3 Pedestals
Tops and Bottoms for the 3 Pedestals

I first started by building the 3 pedestals. Above are the pieces for the tops and bottoms of the pedestals and below are the upright columns for each pedestal being glued and clamped. Each Column has the mortise in the center which will accommodate the stretcher bar creating the integrity of joining all three pedestals.

Pedestal Columns
Pedestal Columns

And here are the 3 pedestals assembled before any sanding and fussing!

Pedestals in the Rough
Pedestals in the Rough

I added the molding touches to dress up the pedestals a bit:

A Little Molding
A Little Molding

Then on to the table top! I started by laying out the primary boards that will show the most. I selected the best boards I could find at the lumber yard, cut them to rough dimensions and then played with the grain and pattern until I felt I had them aligned and oriented to one another nicely.

Choosing Boards
Choosing Boards

Assembly of the table top was done in many steps. Here I am showing the top mostly done and highlighting the mitered corners I chose to do over the butt-joined corners the plan called for. You can also see the addition of the molding surrounding the entire table top… another addition I included to dress up the table top.

Table Top Corners
Table Top Corners

Bottom Side Up!

Above picture shows the underside of the table top and here below is the top correct side up, clamped and getting ready for more work!

Top Clamped
Top Clamped

Here is the top sanded and ready for finishing:

Sanded Smooooth!
Sanded Smooooth!

While so many woodworkers report feeling the most anxiety when gluing and assembling their project, I feel the most nervous while staining. While staining, each and every blemish, sand mark and glue mistake shows itself! I always approach staining  praying and swearing…

I used a water bourne polyurethane to limit the odor in the house. I dislike most water polys but the one I like the best is the Varathane floor finishes. I’ve done a great deal of testing these finishes and they perform better than most. They absolutely look like plastic which is why I do not like them compared to oils or aromatic polyurethane… but they have nearly no odor while drying and they are easy to apply and use.

Staining
Staining

In the end, we had a table ready for Christmas Eve dinner (Picture is dessert, the best part of every meal!)

Worth the Work
Worth the Work

As you can see by the picture above, we’re using a mix of chairs we have which include a few folding chairs (classy!). But don’t worry Restoration Hardware! We are likely going to need to buy 12 chairs. I have no real interest in building chairs for some reason…

This will be my last blog post of the year! Whew, just made it!

Happy New Year!

Bill

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Mudroom Progress

I really dislike the term “mud room” so I needed to look up a few definitions and history origins for the term. Obviously, the term relates to an entry room meant to protect the rest of the house from dirty, wet and muddy clothes and shoes and boots. The term seems to have come into vogue in the mid 40’s in American architecture… “A repository for muddy outdoor garments, hunting clothes and in some cases, pool and swimming attire” I read one reference to suggest. I guess I want my mud room to be nicer than a place where dirty clothes and shoes will reside but truth be told, that’s just what we need, especially rearing a male child!

One of the trickiest parts of this project has been to transition from the plywood patch placed where the old servant stairs landed on the first floor to the first step. My task was to remove the 3/4 inch plywood and replace with flooring boards Floor to Stairs Transitionmaking a smooth transition from floor to first stair riser already in place. I was lucky enough to have a variety of flooring planks found in the basement and attic. While they vary in width and species, they actually worked out quite well. Of course the span covered did not work out well with the widths of the boards I had so I needed to rip one length of board and shape the edge to make a bull-nosed stair tread.

While the above sort of challenge is fun, I enjoy the finish work much more. My next steps (pun intended) are to finish the walls and ceiling (lots of plaster work) so I can move onto the final woodworking of the paneled walls, finished stairs and classic Victorian black and white tile floor we plan to install.

Woodwork in Process
Woodwork in Process

And I’m already mentally processing my guitar room above the mud room. That’s how I got started on this mud room project was needing to run electrical supply to my guitar room above first. I made so much destruction I had to start from the bottom up!

Well, “mud room” or whatever we call it, I’m attempting to build and finish a  “room” that can double as an informal entry way suitable for guests, not just the family’s messy-wear and I think I’m well on my way. As visitors see my progress they share that it’s coming along very nicely and show appreciation for my work. I never see it until it’s done and even then, I’m rarely very happy with the outcomes of my labor but there are some pictures so you can judge for yourself!

Shelf Above Entry Door
Shelf Above Entry Door
Cubbies Above, Shelf Higher Still...
Cubbies Above, Shelf Higher Still…

Servant’s Stairwell Opportunities

West side entrance
Future Mud Room Site
door leads to driveway

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a post. Lots of reasons and excuses but none more important than enjoying my family. A pretty good runner-up reason is that I’ve not done much project work worthy of a post lately. With Work and course work towards my degree, and the aforementioned enjoyment of my family, blogging has been low-priority.

However, here I am, embarking on a new project I want to at least begin sharing with you all!

Our house was built with house servants in the design. The family that built our home had adequate enough means to afford live-in help. I would assume that occasionally, additional service people were employed for entertaining and possibly some heavier maintainance of the home. Large Victorian-age homes like ours offers many levels of maintainance at a fairly constant pace.  An associate of mine who has lived in large, older homes for much of his life gave me this advice: “Old homes are not owned or simply lived in, they are operated like large, complicated vessels or systems”. He was correct. There’s always something to maintain, clean or improve in an old, large home.

Subfloor above, basement hall below
Subfloor above, mudroom below

One of the very few significant changes that was made to the house on 60 West Main Street sometime before the Berthel’s moved in, was that the servant’s staircase was removed. Karyn and I think similarly about conversation of old homes. We’re easily concerned with moderate to significant changes and when something is removed or discarded, we’re a bit saddened by that however, we’re also realistic and reasonable enough to allow changes that either help in reducing maintenance and preserving the overall integrity and value of the home. The servant’s staircase being removed is a bit sad for us however, it was removed to provide much better access to the basement while removing said access from the kitchen forward in the home to the end of the main, center hall which makes a lot of sense now that servants are not accessing the basement on a daily basis.

The stair well where the staircase was offers some incredible opportunity. First, it must be pointed out that the stairwell goes from the landing between the basement and first floor (so lower than, or “sub” first floor) all the way to the attic level spanning what would equate to a little over 3 stories in modern architectural measurements.

At first-dream, this is where I wanted to install our residential elevator. I said dream… ok? We’re not getting an elevator but this area of the house would accommodate one quite well allowing access from te basement to the attic via an elevator car! That would be pretty cool.

But rather, we are capitalizing on the space to create a spacious “mud room” at entry level, right off the side driveway and at the second floor level, I will build what will turn out to be a very large guitar closet (or a very small music room).  Both areas will be nice to have complete and both will present a few challenges. As you can see here, the sub-floor is already roughed out for the guitar closet. This was one of the first more significant structural challenges.

Plywood shelves
Plywood Shelves Before Removal

Tearing out the make-shift shevles that were in the mud room area was another challenge considering there was no studding between the shelves and the kitchen wall. This was the space that was originally a doorway to the basement. Whomever had taken the stairs out and walled-up the kitchen access simply did so with sheetrock and no studding. They then proceeded to put shelves up over the back of the sheetrock with some paneling and plywood.  This would have been an easy demolition job if we didn’t care about the kitchen wall, but we do.

The other demolition challenge was taking out the false angled stair header. It made the space feel small and tight. Removing it meant creating new paths for some lighting wiring. Not a big deal but required some care and some very dusty work removing old plaster and lathe from above.

Fireplace

When we were searching for a house roughly a year and a half ago, there were a few “must haves” Karyn and I each had. One of Karyn’s was a fireplace. Spending most of my life in upstate NY, I was both in favor of a fireplace and also knew that many homes would actually not have one so I prepared Karyn for such discoveries and encouraged her to also consider woodstoves or coal stoves as an acceptable alternative to which she approved.

Chimney

When we first looked at our house, we quickly noticed there was a large brick chimney. Our first few steps into the main hallway, glancing into the living room, we saw that there was in fact a hearth. Much of the original tile work was intact however some tiles were broken or missing. The mantle had been “updated” unfortunately. No telling where the original mantle went, but the mantle here was likely installed 30-50 years ago.

Original Coal Fireplace

Upon closer inspection we quickly learned that the old coal fireplace insert appeared to be unsafe and likely not usable in its found condition. Worse so, the current tenants renting the house had used the fireplace with wood, which many would not know, is not smart. Chimneys designed for use with coal appliances like ours, are unlined and not suitable for wood fires which are high in creosote. The unlined brick can be permeable to creosote. A few wood fires will likely cause no harm however a heating season full of wood fires in an unlined chimney could be very dangerous. Luckily, it appeared there were only occasional wood fires burned here.

After purchasing the home, we had major choices considering the fireplace: 1. Try to locate replacement parts and fix the original coal fireplace or 2. Consider an alternative replacement such as a gas or pellet stove insert.

I researched replacement parts which was a bit like trying to find Jimmy Hoffa. I knew it was out there but finding the right parts was going to be difficult. I was able to find many parts, but not the two I needed. I had learned that the covers (of which I needed one) were often taken for their metal during WWII, leaving behind a fireplace that was usable. So finding a cover was going to be difficult and finding the exact type I needed only made the search more difficult.

In my research I found where I could purchase entire coal fireplace replacements, both original and remanufactured from original designs. Most popular were British companies offering such products. By the time I added the cost of the unit and shipping a very heavy, all cast iron fireplace from England to NY I figured out that I could build a new chimney and fireplace hearth, buy a new insert and buy enough wood to last several seasons worth of heat and still not be ahead so I quickly turned to alternatives.

Since we do not have gas lines in our village, considering a gas fireplace meant we would have to have bottled gas on site. Not being strictly opposed to this, I researched this option. While gas is much cleaner than wood, pellets or coal it is also the least efficient considering the dollar to BTU ratio. Coal being the most efficient (and the dirtiest) buys you more BTUs per unit followed by pellets and then wood. Oil comes in next and then gas according to the data I could find. Not feeling great about the dirtiness of coal, and after talking to several people who I know burn coal, I took a closer look at pellet fireplace inserts.

Karyn and I try to be reasonable and practical while also being conscious of aesthetics. Pellet stoves and fireplace inserts are notorious for being safe, economical and very plain or downright ugly in appearance. Our hearth is in our living room, a centerpiece of the house so we were only interested in something that looked authentic for the house.

Out With the Old

We found that in a Harman pellet fireplace insert, so out came the old fireplace insert to begin the needed hearth repair.

New tiles were needed so off to the tile store!

Choices became much more difficult however for those of you that have either done tile work yourselves or had the task of picking out tiles for a project and had the limitations of a realistic budget, you know that price starts to reduce your options. In other words: tiles are not cheap!

Our first tile choices by aesthetics alone would have caused us to sell one of our cars and one of my kidneys to afford so we regrouped and found tiles we liked, looked somewhat like the originals and at the same time, updated the hearth but maintained a neutral and authentic appearance for the room.

We did all the tile work ourselves. From leveling the substrate to sealing, all the tile work was handled by B&K Sweat Equity, Inc.

New Cement for Hearth

We started by adding a layer of cement board to the already present cement slab suspended by the floor joists and chimney which goes all the way to the basement floor. The cement board was then topped with a cement mixture allowing me to perfectly level the surface. I had to build mini forms around the hearth to contain the cement as it dried and cured.

Poured Cement Hearth

Once the cement was cured we were able to lay the tiles out and mortar them in place. Karyn measured and laid the pattern, a very nice harlequin diamond pattern with an antiqued glazed off-white boarder.

Karyn Carefully Measures for Tiles

Once all of her measurements were set and chalk lines were drawn I cut the tiles that needed cutting on my tile saw. We “dry fit” each piece before committing to mortar.

I had done many tile projects in the past including whole room floors, walls and countertops. I had done one other fireplace and hearth so I felt totally confident however knew from my experience that every project provides lessons as well. Our major lesson this project was around sealing and timing. The insert delivery and installation did not go smoothly. That is a story unto itself. However, because of the delivery and installation going less than well, it affected our timing of sealing. I decided to seal the tiles knowing the delivery and installation would happen shortly after so long story short, the sealer was not fully dry and got… well, effected by the work needed to install the insert. I had to clean and reseal the tiles later. Lesson learned: don’t rush things, there’s usually enough time later to do it right.

Tiles Cut and Set

Still not finished, our next tasks considering the fireplace will be to refinish and reset the mantle. The mantle width works perfectly with the new fireplace however the depth does not. The mantle is too shallow and will need to be extended towards the wall by about 6 inches. This will pose a nice little woodworking project for us soon!

Pellet stove inserted and toasting our home

Refinishing Floors

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post, mostly due to my spending my time more focused on the house work and the fact that I am actively working on my degree. With a baby on the way, the master bedroom and adjoining nursery-nook are of the highest priority!

Most every floor in our house needs refinishing. All of the first floor has worn finish and some slight damage due to years of neglect. The second floor has a mix of things going on. THe hall is very worn, the bathroom we have already refinished and the bedrooms are all at different degrees of “bad”. Worse of all the rooms in the entire house is the master bedroom. With heavy paint on the perimeter 20 -24 inches of the room and the entire niche painted with what is at least three coats of porch enamel there’s major sanding and work to be done on this room’s floor!

Refinishing floors is something any energetic DIYer can do. It involves renting some equipment and being fairly organized but more so, it requires muscle and energy. Sanding a wood floor is hard, dusty work. The sanders are heavy, operating the sander requires upper body strength and you’ll feel like quitting well before the job is done.

Drum Sander

Here’s a picture of a typical drum sander rented from the local hardware / rental center. We’re lucky enough to have a rental center 15 minutes from our house in the next village south of where we live. Their prices are reasonable and better yet, they are very encouraging and nice people.

Without going into too much detail about the sander, know this: The whole unit weighs about 180-200 pounds so get help if you need to carry it up stairs!

Taking the Sander for a Walk Floor sanded before edging completed

The sander is essentially a large electric motor that spins a single drum that the sandpaper is attached to. This drum spins at a very fast rate of speed tearing whatever it comes in contact with into dust! And speaking of dust, 90% is captured by the suction the machine generates and deposits into the attached dust bag. The master bedroom being roughly 400 square feet of floorspace generated just under a full 30 gallon garbage can of dust when all said and done. Good thing the sander has dust collection. Could you imagine having to sweep all that dust!

As you can also see in the picture, we had paint to remove from the master bedroom floor. It appeared to be a porch and deck enamel type paint that was still very well adhered to the floor. Luckily it was only painted around the perimeter of the room … what appears to have been a painted border around a centered throw-rug which was stapled to the wood. To efficiently remove the paint required that I start with 26 grit paper. For those of you that have not seen 26 grit before it’s similar in texture as asphalt roofing shingles. Needless to say, this floor has some irreversible damage not even this heavy-duty sander can remedy but the floor will be massively improved no doubt!

The sander has an on and off trigger. It’s as easy as that. You plug it in and pull the trigger and hang on! The sander wants to move forward due to the rotation of the spinning drum as it gets traction on the floor. The only “rule” is do not allow the drum to be in contact with the floor while standing still. If you keep the sander moving forward or backwards, the finish will be good. If you stop, even pause, the drum will create a “swail” in the floor.

The painted floor was in such poor condition it required 5 full passes starting with 26 grit and ending with 100 (26, 32, 60, 80, 100). With so many passes on heart pine flooring, I surely got a few “swails” in there. Although not pictured, I rented a “pad sander” that allowed me to remove many of the defects of the more harsh sanding process the drum sander left behind.
Also not pictured is the edge sander. As you can barely see in the picture, the drum and pad sander cannot quite get closer enough to the baseboards so an edge sander is required. The edge sander is a heavy-Floor sanded before edging completed duty disc sander that allows you to safely sand right up to the baseboards. I removed and discarded all of the shoe molding since what was used was quarter-round. I’ll digress here but it really bugs me when carpenters use quarter-round instead of real shoe molding. Quarter-round lacks the slight vertical gain you get from shoe molding which makes the profile a little more elegant but more so, makes sweeping the floor, up to the edges, more easily done!

After all the sanding was complete and I vacuumed and tack-mopped the floor to rid it of all dust the finishing could begin! We chose to stay true to the period of the house and used an oil finish. To be specific, I researched oil finishes for 1880’s era homes. Most commonly used were tung oil finishes; sometimes simply tung oil alone. Waterlox still makes their “Original” formula just as they did in 1910, only 25 years later than our home was built. As far as commercially available floor coatings go, this was as close as we were going to get to “original”.

The oil accepts up to 25% oil based stain added directly to it or the floor can be stained first. Since we only wanted to add subtle tone to the already well aged heart pine floor, we added 25% Minwax Early American stain directly to the first coat of oil. I pad-applied the first coat and vented the room. One nice feature about tung oil is that it dries and cures by oxidation meaning all you have to do is supply fresh air to the room. An open window with a window fan does the trick… even in the middle of the winter with temperatures in the 20’s.

The entire finish takes 4 coats to complete. The first coat with stain mixture (which soaks in dramatically) and then three subsequent coats of the oil alone to build up a durable, semi-gloss finish. Allowing at least 24 hours between coats to dry, an entire floor takes just under a week to complete however with the busy schedule of everyday life and trying to optimize the warmest days to vent and circulate air had us done in about 2 weeks.  

Putting in the base molding

I’m sure we’ll write one last blog post on the mast bedroom to show the room in it’s finished state but here I’ll share one last picture that gives a decent visual for the finished floor. There are a few tools on the floor due to my putting in some extra base molding. The living and dining rooms have double stacked bas moldings so we took that design element upstairs into the master bedroom as well. This allowed me to make a new, clean line of base molding which framed the newly refinished floor nicely.

Every project thus far has taught us new lessons. The major lesson I’m taking away from refinishing the master bedroom floor is to never use a lamb’s wool applicator pad again. I brushed the last coat by hand due to the fuzz left from the “lint free, fuzzless” pads we bought. I washed them before use as directed and “delinted” them too. Oil floor finishes do not require any sanding of the oil but due to the pad leaving fuzz on the third coat, I had to sand the third coat, mop with mineral spirits and then proceeded to brush apply the final coat. It came out nicely considering where it began!

Refinishing the Cherry Storm Doors

Luckily, the original solid-cherry storm doors were both intact and still in use protecting the front doors of the house. The front doors are solid cherry as well and need refinishing however are in much better shape being protected. Being well covered by the large front porch had the storm doors in relatively good shape although the finish was practically all gone. The cherry had a very heavy “patina” on it that needed to be sanded off before any accurate assessment of the doors could be made.

Unfortunately, there was some ireversible damage to one door due to a dog or two that appeared to try to paw his way into the house several times. By the size of the scratches, the dog was big and claw-marks ran deep … too deep to completely sand out but not so deep to give up on these beauties! Neighbors tell us that previous owners had several large dogs. Our mailbox is at the sidewalk becasue the dogs were allegedley sgressive.

The hardware was not very special although the hinges did have nice finals on the pins. They were at one time copper plated. Someone had painted them and it would appear that the paint was strong enough to attack the thin plating and reach the steel … causing major rust. Not really a big deal. We’re very fortunate to have much of the original hardware in the house and for what is either missing or absolutely must be replaced (like the rusty hinges) there’s Van Dykes Restorers!

One Clean and One tarnished Door Knob

Van Dykes is a pretty decent resource for anyone in need of hard to find replacement hardware and fixtures. They have very reasonable replacements, many perfect matches, for Early American, Victorian and Golden Age homes. They have added more Arts and Crafts style items too.

But I digress and am not endorsed or compensated by VanDykes so back to the doors!

The door knobs seen in the picture are recycled from an old door we found saved in the garage. Karyn cleans them with fresh lime juice and salt! They come out very nice … not looking brand new and artificial but very much improved and authentic! These two will be repurposed on the storms after refinishing.

You have to love sanding if you’re going to refinish wooden items or do any serious woodworking. Lucky for me, I love sanding! It’s both therapeutic and extremely rewarding. Karyn loves vacuuming like I love sanding. They are similar in a way, both create newly cleaned surfaces however my sanding always requires vacuuming afterwards!

Before and After
Shown here in the image captioned “Before and After” you can clearly see why sanding is a love of mine. after sanding the doors with three subsequent grits of sand paper (120,180,220) I then applied one coat of Red Oak Minwax Stain. Allowing the stain to dry for 48 hours, I followed with two coats of semi-gloss Minwax Helmsman Spar Varnish. The results are quite nice and the varnish will last a solid 2 decades outdoors, likely more considering the porch protects these doors very well. Modern Spar Varnishes are very flexible yet wear-resistant and have UV inhibitors in them causing them to outlast older formulas.
Here I am in the garage with the window inserts for the doors.
Window Inserts

The glass and frames were in decent condition only needing sanding, stain and varnish. This picture was taken about 3 weeks before my father-in-law cleaned out our garage. If you saw the after pictures of the garage, you know he actually vacuumed our garage leaving it practically clean enough to live in! Now I know Karyn’s love of vacuuming is genetic 🙂

Hung in their final place, the front doors are now well protected. Next spring I will need to refinish the front doors (as you can see the actual front door on the right is not as nicely finished as the newly refinished storm door on the left) but for now, these storm doors enhance the appearance of the front of the house nicely!
Refinished and Done

The Basement

I never thought of myself as a writer … and perhaps I’m still not one but blogging is addictive and quite fun! It’s not as much fun as working on the house but it makes for a really nice departure when I’m physically tired and worn out! 

Since Karyn had previously written about the attic, I thought it fitting for me to write about the basement. Karyn tells me that the basement will be interesting to some folks, especially friends and family in the southern states who typically would not have basements. That’s just bizarre to a “Yankee” like me (Note, I am not a Yankee fan … I really don’t understand most organized sports) who grew up with New York basements all my life. 

I mean … where else do you keep your monsters, boogie-men and goblins to scare the kids with? 

Almost half the basement

As a very young child I was fascinated with my grandmother’s basement. Some of my earliest memories as a toddler was of my Uncle Conrad and Aunt Donna telling me that I couldn’t go down there because there was a huge lion living in the basement. This of course made me both afraid and curious wanting access to the basement! I can remember looking for the lion and never seeing it … 

I wonder what they did with that lion …. 

In all seriousness, our basement is pretty cool … literally! I LOVE the basement because all summer long it feels like it is air-conditioned. If I get too warm I can just go down for a tool or to “check something” and cool off! We do need to run a dehumidifier on the most humid days of summer but otherwise it is perfectly cool and comfortable … just how I like it! Mold and mildew can be a problem for many basements. We are lucky to have a fairly dry, mold-free basement. There was evidence of moisture in one small section of the basement. Rain runoff was collecting near a low spot outdoors and seeping through the basement wall however that has been remedied by new rain gutters on the house. 

Indoor stairs to basement

And It of course has that old house musty smell which makes it the perfect setting for my wood working shop, storage for pellets for our pellet stove, a paint station for all of our paints, vanishes and coatings for fixing up the house as well as a small room that will someday be turned into a small wine cellar!

The original access to the basement was changed at some point in time; likely soon after owners of the home no longer had servants. The house layout was designed so that house servants could be isolated from the entertaining and living areas easily. Servants could cook and clean and navigate from basement to attic without interrupting most of the daily living space. This included a staircase from the kitchen to the basement and a second staircase from just outside the kitchen to upstairs. The second staircase going upstairs was removed which left space to create a larger and safer staircase to the basement. 

There’s also a door to the basement from the driveway making access from outside very easy and convenient for loading and unloading items. 

Stone walls surrounding my wood storage area

 

The basement wall construction is stacked stone and mortar. This is very common for the age of the house and the region. These stones were likely local stones cleared from farm fields. You can still find stone piles in hedgerows between fields here and there in rural NY. 

The original coal bin / room is still in place. Someone had removed the door and relocated it about 10 feet closer to the stairs so a new oil tank could be installed. Someday this will all be cleaned out and turned into a wine cellar but for now it’s a treasure trove of old moldings to use in the house renovations! 

Looking up at the subfloor you can see that the subfloor boards were all installed at a 45 degree angle to the floor joists. The angle makes for a very sturdy and stable floor construction. Our house is over 200 years old and the floors barely squeak! 

The absolute gem of the basement is an original copper, double walled hot water heater. While the burner portion is no longer in place, the stand and tank are and they are still plumbed and being used as a holding tank to the modern electric hot water heater. This tank is a unique antique and is hard to find one like it. Many have been scrapped for the copper. I’ve had two engineer friends over and they both have just drooled and stared at the tank. Total tank envy! 

Another antique is a double basin slate utility sink. The sink is in amazing condition and is useable. There is hot and cold water at the sink however it is not plumbed for a drain … a future plumbing project indeed! 

Never enough tools, never enough space!

My shop is in half of the basement. It’s far from being organized well so I’m a little embarrassed of the space but it’s coming along. There were odd built-in work surfaces there when we moved in that had I mostly removed to make room for tools and tables. The metal racks were here, unassembled and brand new. They are dog food racks for a pet store but work great as tool racks. While it’s not quite a furniture shop like I want, it’s perfect for the work we’re doing on the house. Perhaps much later I’ll turn it into a full-blown furniture shop. 

Table saw with outfeed rollers

The reason there were dog food racks left behind is that the previous owners owned a pet store in a nearby small city called Vestal. Much of the damage to the interior of the house was done by the store’s inventory. We’re told that when their store was closed, they had roughly 30 dogs and several caged birds left. All were brought to the house until they could be placed in homes. The dogs did significant damage to the floors and we’re just about done finding bird “artifacts”. 

Karyn bought me a new table saw for my birthday last year. I have that set up near the back of my shop space as it has a long enough opening for ripping longer boards. The saw is really great and works very well. It’s the safest saw I’ve owned and has some really great features that make woodworking more enjoyable! 

Paint and Coatings Center

Karyn made a really great little paint center out of some shelves and an old sink and countertop that were already in place. She’s so organized. The only reason there might be a little mess here is because of me! I need her help in my shop! 

So all in all, a pretty cool basement with no boogie men found yet … but we’re still hoping!