We got a kitchen remodel (more of a facelift, really) started a couple weeks ago, and it isn't a massive undertaking...except in a lot of ways, it kind of is. We're dealing with a house that was built in 1890, which not only means dealing with the standard issues common to older homes (settled foundation walls, sagging floor joists, etc.), it also means dealing with multiple layers of previous renovations.
The house where we're working is sort of a unique structure, and shown below in a map from 1909. The building is a shotgun/townhouse-style 2-family, although the individual units are separated by a gangway running between them. We're working in the southern unit, and the kitchen is in the eastern end of the unit, which at one time appears to have been almost detached from the rest of the house.
Any time I get to work in old houses, there's always a point where I try to play detective and figure out the original layout, or what the rooms were originally used for, or why certain construction exists in certain places. This house is no different, although I'm still stumped by it.
In looking at the 1909 map, the building wasn't big enough to have been a 4-family, with 2 units on the bottom and 2 on top, so I'm pretty sure it was always a set of 2-story shotgun-style units. The pink areas in the map indicate masonry (brick) construction, while the yellow indicates wood framing, so there appears to be some kind of covered deck or balcony at the rear of both units In fact, in spite of some massive renovations over the years, the underside of that wood structure is still visible in spots.
What's really interesting though is that little chunk that sticks off the back, the area we're working in. There's a full stone foundation undernath it, so I have to think it was either original or, at the very least, an addition sometime between 1890 and 1909. To access that part of the house, one would walk through the front door, through the house, then exit the house (this doorway still exists, and was very clearly an exterior door at one time), walk a few feet past/under the covered deck thing, then through another exterior door to get into what we now call the kitchen. In short, that little room we're working in, one would have to enter the house, go through the house, then exit the house in order to enter that space. The stairs to the second floor, which aren't original, are now located in the space that was essentially between the main house and the back room.
Another interesting thing is the basement access; the basement can only be accessed from outside the house. There are no interior stairs to get to the basement, which is a full basement (not a crawl space). I can't believe that was the original layout, but we can't find anything, anywhere, that indicates that there was ever an interior staircase to the basement. In some tiny way, it sort of bothers me to not be able to identify the original layout.
Anyhow...it was impossible to really discern, up front, what we'd be getting into in terms of what was underneath the existing floor; the only accessible floor register (removing that generally allows for a good view of the cross section of the floor...or layers of flooring) wasn't really all that accessible. Long story short, while demo'ing the floor we removed the existing ceramic tile, a layer of 3/8" playood, 1 layer of peel and stick tile, 1 layer of glue-down tile, and then another layer of 3/8" plywood, all of which was on top of the original pine floor. I generally don't enjoy demo, and this one was especially nasty because we had to do it in two rounds; we got the top couple layers removed from the entire floor (which is about 250 sq ft), and then went back and did it all again to get the remaining layers.
What we uncovered following the floor demo was that the kitchen previously had a bathroom in it, or was a bathroom. That was obvious; there was a large, squarish ghost mark on the floor where walls had formerly been located. The floor in that area, under the modern day kitchen sink location, was garbage (water damage). There were very obvious holes in the floor where toilet and bath tub drain plumbing had been, and holes in the floor where water lines had been located.
The client had hoped to salvage and refinish the original floor, as the rest of the flooring on the first floor is the original 3/4" pine. Unfortunately, on top of a large amount of waviness, the floor in the kitchen area was too destroyed and flat out rotten in spots to be refininshed. Instead, we 1, solidified the original floor (patched holes, sistered joists, drove screws, etc.), 2, glued and screwed down down a more solid, modern subfloor on top of that (1/2" OSB), 3, mortared and screwed down 1/2" cement board on top of that, and 4, set 12"x24" slate tile on top of that.
In between all those steps, we did whatever we could to get the floor as close to flat as we could. In some spots that meant using self-leveling underlayment. In other spots, that meant additional layers of subfloor material. It was an arduous process.
We split the tile work, which not only includes the kitchen but also a 1/2 bathroom and hallway, into a couple separate phases. Getting the kitchen area knocked out first allowed us to get going on setting the cabinets, while the remainder of the crew could conitnue on with the tile work. We aren't quite finished yet, although we should be close by tomorrow...and I was reminded, as I have been so many times in the past, that there's a price to pay for using charcoal-colored grout.
I spent the past week away from the shop so we could get a kitchen remodeling project underway, but this weekend I was finally able to put in some hours working on the reclaimed wood laundry room island counter top. I've had the lumber stacked up in the shop for what seems like forever, and now, with the counter top glued up and in the clamps, it's pretty nice to no longer have that giant pile of 19th century lumber screaming at me to build something with it.
I almost always deal with the construction of big reclaimed wood counter/table tops by using hand tools. The reasons for this are twofold:
For this counter top, I thought I'd get cute and go straight to the power tools since all the wood was (seemingly) pretty close to being flat. I first ran the counter top boards through the planer (I skip planed them), which worked out pretty decently...for a while. I would have run them over the jointer first, but my jointer wasn't wide enough, long enough or powerful enough to handle some of the larger boards. Anyhow, after a pretty rigorous workout for the planer, it decided it had had enough and started shutting itself down. That was a first, and the instant it happened, all I could hear was the sound of a cash register opening (but don't worry, she's not broken...just needed a nap).
Once I solved that little issue, I ran the lumber through the table saw to get everything straight. I have a 7' long jig I use to cut straight edges, which in effect works like a jointer. Unfortunately, I don't have a big enough shop to have really long, dedicated infeed and outfeed tables, so I have to do some shop rearranging before I can use said jig. Much like the planer operation, this worked out reasonably well...
...until I set everything on the sawhorses and got ready for the final detail work. There's a saying about horseshoes and hand grenades, and my power tool work fell in line with it; the end result of the planer and table saw got things close...but not close enough. I still had to get out the #4 bench plane (luckily I have 2 of them, because I definitely broke 1 of them yesterday in a minor shop avalanche) to flatten a few boards, and I had to plane the edges on quite a few of them as well. I suppose to could have just cranked down the clamps to tighten up the joints, but that's always a recipe for bad things.
Anyhow...the hard part should be done; the boards are now glued up and in the clamps.
The boards are out of the clamps, and after another round of planing (and a little sanding thrown in for good measure):
I still need to do some planing and sanding, and I'm going to throw in a few dutchmen in the board that's 2nd from the right to make sure the split doesn't get any crazy ideas, but I'm never not really, really amazed at how rad these boards, so many of which get tossed out during rehabs, tear-downs and general demolition, look after a little bit of work to clean them up.
I have. Crazy busy. Stupid busy. Good busy...but still...busy. Where'd I leave off, the reclaimed door scrap wall hanging? I have to make another one of those ASAP - and a hair bigger - by the way. I never thought it'd happen, but I think my stockpile of old doors, door parts and door scraps is running a little low.
...like I said, over the past few weeks, it's been sort of hectic.
I've been sitting on a pretty healthy supply of air-dried walnut, so I milled some (I made some very, very rough boards very, very flat, straight and shiny) and donated them to Perennial, where I'll be teaching a few cutting-board-making classes in a month or two. As I was milling the lumber I wished I'd have grabbed some different boards to donate; the donated lumber was spalted, figured, and looked pretty cool in general. But...a donation needed to be made, and there's not exactly any shortage of walnut in the shop. They got some good stuff from me.
Then there was a variety of things tied to a client I have in Kirkwood, MO that's renovating a house built in 1858 (and adding on to it, but that's a conversation for another day). I've mentioned this house previously, yes? No? I'm sure that I have. The laundry room island, that's for the Kirkwood, MO client.
I'm also going to build a mantel and fireplace surround for the new fireplace in that Kirkwood house. That's on hold for a bit for a number of reasons, but I made a site visit (it might have been two, actually) to talk through design, scheduling, etc. I don't want to give away any details of just how rad this project is going to be or turn out, so...you'll get this instead, some brick and a tape measure. The next time you see this, there will be massive hunks of wood covering some of the brick, and I get to put it there.
A lot of other stuff related to the Kirkwood house took place as well.
I went by the glass place and picked up the glass I ordered for the reclaimed wood laundry room island bin fronts. I'm not off-the-charts thrilled with it, but it's tough to find new glass that looks exactly like the old stuff (because almost nobody makes it now like they did 100 years ago), and realistically, it does look pretty neat. Different, for sure, and it's got a bit of the wavy effect goin' on that vintage/antique glass has, so it'll be a good fit.
I think my favorite part of these face frames is the bridal joints used to connect the rails and stiles. I still need to trim some off the edges of the frames to get exact fits; the protruding joinery will end up flush and smooth, but the joint will still be plenty visible. If you've ever seen an antique/vintage door that hasn't been painted, on the sides you can see the mortises, tenons and wedges used to join the rails and stiles...and these frames will look pretty much the same way. Long story short, I could have gone quick and easy and used pocket hole screws to hold the frames together...but the old-school method is way stronger and looks way better. And I abhore pocket hole screws.
Here's what the bins looks like with the actual bins attached (dry fit, no glue yet) to the face frames. They'll be hinged at the bottom and tip forward.
In the past few weeks I also made a cutting board that was ordered from a client in Florida. It wasn't just any old cutting board though, she requested one in the shape of a Fender Stratocaster. To be fair, the design used was not mine, the client sent me a pic to follow. Construction was a little bit of a challenge in terms of the "strings" portion, but it all turned out pretty well.
I used walnut, maple, cherry and red heart, all of which I had laying around the shop except for the red heart. Want to know what I found out while making the board? Red heart, when freshly cut, smells like a giant heap of buring tires. It's horrible. But, it makes pretty cool sawdust and shavings...bright red.
The board looked like this before everything was glued together:
And then following a little work, and some oil, she looked like this:
What else have I been up to...oh, I started hunting down hand hewn beams for another mantel project. I swung and missed on my first outing, but I did come across some lumber that I thought was pretty cool. I've never before seen notches like the diagonal ones in some of these beams:
And the other project...which was both a lot of fun and a lot of frustration...was back at the Kirkwood client's house. The client opted to keep the original front entry doors - the right call, in my book - but they're pretty beat up and needed a new handle/lockset. Before putting on a new one, which is simple enough, all the holes from the previous lockset and torn out chunks of wood had to be patched with matching lumber.
Luckily, the doors are douglas fir and I have plenty of that in the shop, but man...the patching...LOTS of chisel and plane work. I didn't want to take the doors off the hinges, and the house isn't exactly buttoned up entirely just yet, and it was COLD both days I worked on the doors, so getting the glue to dry was borderline impossible. In the afternoon sun, everything was fine but first thing in the morning and late in the day...total fiasco.
I think the doors, and new lockset, turned out pretty well all things considered. Once the patches were glued in place I was able to plane and sand them flush with the door, and the lockset went on without a problem (this is a total fabrication; I had to put the thing on, take it off, make minor adjustments, reinstall it...literally 2 dozen times to get it just right...it wasn't fun).
It was too late at night both days I left work there to get any decent pics so you're just gonna have to take my word for it...the new lockset looks pretty good, as do all the patches (there were 9 of them, if I remember correctly). And it works perfectly, which is probably the more important thing. A week later, I've still got both blood blisters I gave myself while working on the doors, so I'm still sporting the battle scars from that project.
Next week we start a kitchen remodel, I've got to bang out a couple smaller projects and when it gets closer to delivery time in a week or two, finish the laundry room island. Usually this time of year is pretty slow...not the case in 2016.