Month: October 2014

Boiling Hardware

Our world is covered in (undesirable) paint: woodwork, walls and hardware. Sometimes it seems that all we do is remove paint –  and yet, we haven’t made a dent!

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Egg and Dart patterned door knob.

Back plates with tape residue

Back plates with tape residue

Intricate (and rusty) door set

Intricate (and rusty) door set

The door knobs and plates we picked up on our trip to the Historic Albany Foundation’s Parts Warehouse were no exception. Luckily, removing paint and grime from hardware is actually pretty easy. It just requires water, baking soda and a little time. Using a stainless steel pot (once you use it for this,  you can’t use it for food anymore, so make sure it’s marked accordingly).

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Boil up water with  baking soda. How much baking soda, you ask? Uh… a bunch? Some? I’d say  pretend you’re boiling pasta and add about 4 or 5 times more baking soda than you’d add salt (you can also substitute the baking soda for dish soap, just be careful not to let it boil over, as things will get very sudsy). Once the water comes to a boil, toss in your hardware. You’ll see the gunk come off in the foam.

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Let it boil for a little while, then check to see how your door knobs are doing.

IMG_9842Some of the items may need a bit of scrubbing. The paint will be soft and bubbly and will pretty much wipe off. It goes without saying that they will be very hot, so curb your wild enthusiasm as you grab the searing metal to admire your handy work.

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Back plates free of paint, but still looking a little sad

Once your hardware is free of paint, you may find that it’s still looking a bit shabby. Sometimes items get rusty after their bicarbonate bath, but it’s all temporary – because you’ll buff the living daylights out of it.

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If it’s good for rims and candle stick holders, it sure is good enough for our door knobs

Some metal polish, a little steel wool and an old T-shirt will get you this:

Before elbow grease and after

Before elbow grease and after

After it was all said and done, our door hardware looked like this:

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House Parts

While our credit card statements may seem to betray this sentiment, we do have a distaste for cookie cutter, mass-produced house parts. Yes, while we’re at Home Depot, Lowe’s and our neighborhood True Value hardware stores multiple times a week, there are things we need that simple cannot be got there. Like a suitable window. Or a proper door. These items require a bit more digging to find the perfect match.

Last week we took a trip to Albany to check out the salvage at the Architectural Parts Warehouse maintained by the Historic Albany Foundation.

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On the shopping list: window, door, door hardware, a claw foot tub and fireplace tile. We have been to a lot of salvage places all over the east coast and midwest, and while this not the largest we’ve ever seen, it’s certainly the most organized. You can easily find what you’re looking for. It’s heaven!

Warehouse

windows

more knobs

Chapel of Hardware

rosettes

We came home with a door, window and all necessary hardware. No luck with the tub, because we’re looking for the smallest size (which turns out to be nearly impossible to find). Also no individual fireplace tiles, although the had a full tile surround, still attached to its plaster and in great condition.

A (very long) post about drainage

Water will do what water wants to do. Water is a formidable adversary. Water seems to like our basement. Yes. We have issues with water.

After a good rain, our backyard used to look like this:

Puddle

If you are familiar with Brooklyn brownstones, you know that they were typically built over a stone cellar. You may also know that brownstones typically have only one downspout. That means that the whole roof drains to just one area. Not only our roof, but all of our neighbors’ roofs do the same. Some people have connected their downspouts to the sewer line, but most have not. This means that a whole lot of water ends up pudling in the back yards – and water being water, it will follow the path of least resistance to go someplace else (which in our experience leads straight to our cellar).

There are a few things you can do to gently persuade water to go the other way: you can improve the grading so that it slopes away from the house, for example. But given the volume of water our backyard collects, that in itself is not the solution. We needed to do more. The easiest solution is to do something like a French drain: dig a hole, line it with landscaping fabric. Place a PVC pipe, with holes drilled into the sides, into the hole. Fill the hole with gravel. Cover with landscape fabric and the surface material of your choice. Add a drain cover to the pipe. Voilá. You have made a drain.

Last spring, I dug a test drain. It was about 2 1/2 feet deep and about 18 inches wide. It improved the moisture situation in the basement by about 75%. If one drain is good, 3 more would be much, much better!

Test Drain

Armed with a brand new sledge-hammer, shovels and the enthusiasm of people who just don’t know any better, we set out to dig one blissful Saturday afternoon in July. Not 30 minutes in, this happened:

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In our eager enthusiasm, the rhythm of drop chunk of concrete/pick up chunk of concrete fell out of sync and I ended up with the raddest manicure in all of Brooklyn (I also didn’t do a damn thing for the rest of the drainage project, because I had a boo-boo).

With me out of commission, the Mr pushed on. The first thing we learned is that our backyard is made up mostly of rocks. This sort of makes sense, since these seem to be left over rocks from the foundation. I suppose whatever didn’t get used, just got left behind and eventually buried. This is a small sample of the huge pile of rocks we dug up:

Backyard rocks

The plan was to dig 3 separate holes, but they quickly morphed into more of a trench because we had to un-earth SO.MANY.ROCKS! We found this super giant rock, which could have been an awesome addition to our landscaping, but too damn heavy to move.

Giant Rock

This is the mess we made, put into perspective.

Big Mess

Making the drains is quite simple: Dig a hold about 3 feet deep and line it with landscape fabric. Place a couple of inches of pebbles at the bottom. Take a PVC pipe and drill holes all up and down the sides (we used a 3 inch pipe), and place the pipe vertically into the pebbles. Fill the rest of the hole with pebbles/gravel, then cover with landscape fabric.

Drain schematic 1

Place whatever surface material on top (soil, pavers, etc), and put a drain cover on the pipe. Ta-da! You’re done.

Drain schematic2

This is what the test drain looked like, half way done:

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Test drain almost finished:

TestDrain in Progress

Instead of gravel, we crushed up the concrete we removed to dig the drains. That solved two problems: what to do with the concrete, and having to buy gravel and then carry it through the house to the back yard. Also, it’s immensely satisfying to bust up things with a heavy sledge-hammer (so long as you are careful not to smash your thumb).

The drainage project has been finished for a few months, and our basement has been dry ever since. Unlike many of the projects we take on, this one was relatively quick and simple – but it was hard work (I’m told…)

IKEA Table x The Elements

Our outdoor Ikea table was looking a little rough after a couple of years out in the elements. The sun/rain/heat/squirrels were definitely getting the best of it. We decided this was an easy enough thing to do over the course of one Sunday afternoon  – and while we frequently grossly mis-calculate how long something will take to finish, this one was spot on.

Table Before
We sanded whatever was left of the original finish to expose the wood, finishing it off with a super fine grit paper.

Table sanded

After wiping off the dust and giving the table a good cleaning, we followed up with about 4 coats of Tung Oil (24 hours between applications). This photo was taken after the first application.

Table after

I like how the oil brought out the natural variation of the wood, previously hidden by whatever tinted finish Ikea uses.  This is our first attempt at using Tung Oil outside but I figured since water just beads off, it would be a good choice. It has worked OK thus far, but I find myself re-applying it in spots here and there.  On the plus side, it’s absolutely non toxic and you don’t have to worry about fumes or residue.

A note on Tung Oil: I used pure Tung Oil, not the stuff from the hardware store (which usually has other chemicals added to it). The Milk Paint Company stuff is a bit hard to find in a store (the place where I bought mine has since closed). You can order it online or Google your way to a local store that may sell it.

Black Doors

Things have been a bit sluggish over the past few months, but a few projects did get crossed off the list. First up: front doors.

The doors are not original, but they are close enough. The previous owner installed these and overall, we’re really happy with them. They are a close match to what the original doors looked like. The problem was the finish – or lack thereof. Our house has southern exposure and it gets quite a bit of morning sun, which was unkind to the varnish.

Here is a before/during shot (of course I forgot to that a proper before photo). Both sides used to look like the one of the left.

Door (before)

Removing the finish (with ZipStrip)

removing the finish

Once free of the varnish (and whatever else coated the door), we gave it a light sanding and filled in some holes with putty.

sanded and puttied

The wood was quite damaged in some spots, and we decided it would be better to paint rather than stain it.  We decided on black with just a tad of shine (which is a fun thing to go buy at the Benjamin Moore paint store).

– You just want black?

– Yes.

– We have this new onyx color that has a little bit of gray…

– No thanks. Just black.

Anyway, here is what it looked like with one coat of paint:

painted

And this is what the doors look in place. Of course, we forgot to paint the outside of the trim holding the glass. We also learned that entry door hardware is absurdly expensive (particularly the period appropriate kind I want), so the full makeover of the door will have to wait a little longer. Considering I’ve been slacking on the façade job, pretty sure no one will notice the unpainted trim…

(almost) done