Friday, October 16, 2015

This Stupid Doorway Part 2

If you're just joining us, here's what you missed in part one:
- Demolition
- Complaints
- Shopping
- Emotional turmoil
- General grumpiness

And basically, I managed to get my hands on all the pine boards and casing I'd need to construct the doorway of my dreams.

First up, I'd need to stain everything. At some point during the lull in production since February, I had managed to test out some stain options on a spare board.
Starting from the bottom in this picture, we have Golden Oak, which was a nice color but too light (it is actually lighter in person). Then Walnut, which matches the house's orange glow finish we're trying to avoid. Next up is Red Mahogany, which showed promise. Then at the top, I thought I'd give English Chestnut another chance. While it had turned out to be too dark when applied to the window frame, it wasn't actually a bad color. When we tried it on the test board, it turned out to be a different shade than the window frame. It's magical, I tell ya.

I was leaning toward the Mahogany up until the morning I was set to stain. Then I had a change of heart, drawn to the English Chestnut.  It was clean and modern, nicely highlighting the wood grain. It looked natural. The Mahogany was purple and cheesy.

We lined up all the wood on a table outside and got to work.

Before applying stain, I rubbed down the boards with Minwax Pre-Stain, which is supposed to encourage even staining and prevent marbling on soft, absorbent woods like pine.  It was an easy enough step that did no such thing, as the stained boards turned out uneven and marbled.

Also, they were neither the color of the window frame, nor the test board, but a completely original third version of English Chestnut. But whatever. 

Once the wood dried it was time to start hanging, a task I went into with zero confidence. But I immediately felt more at ease when all of the pieces fit perfectly into place, thanks to my careful measuring and, more importantly, Tino's precise cutting.

We attached them to the frame using finishing screws, following the recommendation of DIY Dave. All of my research instructed me to use finishing nails. But finishing nails are meant to be used with a nail gun, and the nail gun I intended to borrow from our friends turned out to require, as all nail guns do, an air compressor the size and shape of an Airstream trailer. Meanwhile, finishing screws require a plain old screw gun, a power tool I already knew how to manage

I used too many screws, but in the end, I had the whole door jamb hung. Taking no time to celebrate, I moved on to hanging the casing. This is where things went wrong. The screws wouldn't go all the way through in seemingly random places, but then they also wouldn't retreat out of the holes when I determined I needed to start over, so I'd wind up ripping everything down, banging the screws out backward with a hammer, and making a bunch of excess holes. This happened twice and I gave up for the night. Then I resumed work the following evening after work, only to have it happen again.

Finally, I realized that this stubborn screw occurrence wasn't random at all. The screws only went through when they were grabbing onto the wood frame, rather than the plaster wall alongside it. Uh duh.  These plaster walls have been a nuisance at every turn, and I should've known these itty bitty screws would never be able to break through.

Once I reached that conclusion, I made sure to drill only into the wood frame and I rather quickly hung the casing on both sides of the doorway, in both the hallway and the ModLodge.

However, when it came time to hang the top pieces, I found that my "just drill into the wood frame" plan only worked if there was a wood frame to drill into. But what was I supposed to do when all I had was a hot mess of busted plaster and exposed... chicken wire?

Against my better judgement, I first tried to use nails, just to see if I'd have any luck. The nails went in okay, but then using only the slightest force, I could take the casing back off, bringing hefty chunks of plaster down with it.

If only there was another way to go about this....

Of course! Glue! Wait, no that doesn't sound technical enough... Adhesive! Yes!

That weekend I went to the store to pick up some Liquid Nails. I applied a generous helping on each top piece, hung them, and held them in place with blue painters tape while the adhesive cured for 24 hours.


By the way, I really wish I'd just hung everything with Liquid Nails. It may or may not have been a valid process, but it would have been faster and not left behind so many pesky holes.

To take care of these bad boys, I grabbed a tube of stainable wood filler, and set to work transforming the unsightly holes into unsightly spots.

I waited for it to dry, then used a q-tip to apply several coats of stain to the spots until they about matched the rest of the wood.

Certainly not perfect camouflage, but far less noticeable.

Total project time from start to finish: 8 months
Total project time since reactivation: 4 weeks
Total actual productive project time: probably 3 hours (and counting)

What's with the "and counting"? Well I still need to seal the deal by applying a few coats of Polyurethane, but that should be straightforward and uneventful, though if something does go awry I'm giving up and setting fire to the house.

For all intents and purposes, this is done!

  Looks cozy, modern, helped along by the softer paint color.

Yes maybe it's crooked in a couple of places, and there may be some gaps, and the stain is uneven, and the 3/8" reveal is more like a 1/2" reveal in some places or 2/8" in others, and this doorway still matches nothing else in the house...But deep breath, big picture, it ain't half bad. I might be turning this into a metaphor for life again. In this case, I'll take it.

Monday, October 12, 2015

This Stupid Doorway

I'm not in a great head space lately. My days are very full and very long. Devin is working absurd hours, which means that I spend most nights alone with both kids, looking on helplessly while they mess up the house in new and interesting ways. One boy won't go to bed, the other won't stay asleep. I can only hope that chasing around the pair of perpetual motion machines I have for offspring is doing a sufficient job of burning calories because I haven't seen the inside of a gym in months, and I'm eating this for lunch. 

And, you know, I'm tired.  I don't mean sleepy. I mean tired. In that disturbing way where I don't even feel tired because I'm running on adrenaline. I can hear my brain buzzing. There's always something to wash or cook or buy or pay or plan or respond to or look for or schedule or Google or call customer service about or reassemble.  Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. And since a month-long vacation doesn't appear to be on the horizon, perhaps the better goal is to embrace the exhausted numbness and hope for a psychotic break that results in a Tyler Durden situation because I could really use the extra set of hands.

But deep breath. Big picture. The world is a crazy, messed up place, especially lately, and man am I lucky that everyone I love is happy and healthy and, aside from the impending obesity and dementia, so am I.

I warned you I wasn't in a great head space. Anyway, where was I?

Oh right. This stupid doorway.

In February, as we know, I set about single-handedly demolishing the ModLodge. To make way for the wallpaper, I was going to need to remove all trim and base boards. And because the trim in this room matched nothing else in the house, I wanted to replace it rather than re-hang it.

Shiny new pry bar in hand, I was hesitant to make the first move. This was taking apart my house! What if I couldn't figure out how to put it back together?

I was relieved when I found the trim fell gently away from the wall, like a delicate cod filet flaking apart with a fork. The pry bar may as well have been a backhoe, its involvement was so gratuitous.

As I'd suspected, all baseboards, the doorjamb and door casing were made from flimsy particle board, slathered with glossy white primer.

The finishing nails couldn't get a grip on the stubborn plaster walls, so the trim was held very loosely in place and I managed to yank everything down in a matter of minutes. HULK SMASH!

The mass destruction gave me a rush of empowerment. I was fearless. And that fearlessness guided me through the window frame refinishing, the spindle removal, and all other assorted ModLodge projects in that time period.

Then I needed to take a break to re-calibrate my work/life balance and so for, oh, seven months, the doorway looked like this.

After a while I didn't even notice it. If you leave anything long enough-- a basket of unfolded laundry on the dining room table, a 16 pack of paper towels in the middle of the kitchen-- it just sort of blends in.

From time to time I would Pinterest new looks, take measurements and make lists. I relentlessly texted my friend Dave, who is redoing his whole house, for advice and guidance. Yet while I could find the time to plan, I couldn't seem to make room in my schedule for the actual labor.

In the evenings, when the kids were in bed and the house was quiet, I would stare at the exposed wood and the chipped plaster and feel hopeless. Why did I get myself into this? Who was I kidding, thinking I could handle a project of this magnitude during a chaotic time in my life? I suck at this. I suck at everything. Why can't I just get it together and figure this out?

Then I'd snap out of it and remember this was not about life, this was about a stupid doorway and I should really refrain from making an allegory out of a simple hobby. This was supposed to be fun damn it.

After several weekends of false starts, I finally woke up one Saturday morning and immediately set out for Home Depot, supply list in hand. I brought Milo, which I realized was a bad call because it would be difficult and dangerous to maneuver lumber onto a cart with a hyperactive baby strapped to my chest. As it turns out, I would never have to take that risk because I couldn't find the materials I needed.

I was trying to do things the easy way by purchasing a natural wood (as opposed to primed) door jamb kit that I would stain to the color of my choosing. In the size I needed, Home Depot had fingerjoint pine, meaning it looks just good enough to paint over, but they didn't have "clear" pine. Nor did Lowe's. Nor did an independent shop specializing in doors, which I drove all the way out to only to find it had gone out of business. I made a few more phone calls to home and hardware stores and in short, I learned that door jamb kits can be stainable grade pine, and they can be plaster wall width (5 1/4"), but they can not be both. Why not? For no good reason whatsoever. I wanted to cry. I canned the project for the weekend.

I picked it back up the weekend after by driving to Anawalt Lumber (alone) to attempt, once again, to pick up supplies. No kits. I would need to do this all from scratch. I walked into the warehouse and immediately felt a wave of panic.

This was no Home Depot with its consumer friendly signage and "let's do this!" tutorials. This was an actual lumber yard. Everything looked so tall and heavy. Once again, I wanted to cry. The self-doubt crept back in. Where was that fearlessness that got me into this mess in the first place?

But before I could back out, an employee named Tino came to my rescue. I surrendered my sad drawing of the doorway with scribbled measurements and admitted I had no idea what to do. He took pity on me, though I'm sure he is very sick of customers who require this much handholding.

He very patiently lead me around figuring out the right materials, making notes on a slip of paper. Then he cut everything down to size, leaving a few extra inches on the pieces of door casing because I was second guessing my measurements. When he summoned me over to collect my pile of stuff, I thought he was going to wish me luck or perhaps pat me on the head. Instead he gestured over to the pile while turning away to speak to his next customer.

I loaded everything easily into the minivan (#vanlife) and drove home, hopeful, and unjustly satisfied as if I'd solved my own problem back there.

Finally I had the pieces to the puzzle, but would I be able to put it all together? Find out in part 2...