The Fourth Dimension

I finished assembling the last window sash from my adventures on Monday. Last night I primed a single stick of window trim to be ready this evening. It went together super easily, super quickly and, thank goodness!, no more broken glass panes. After the assembly part, I caulked the 4 sashes to seal up the window trim.

A side note on technique: I used latex gloves for the first time tonight. They made the job of caulking much less messy and did great things for my caulk-spreading-finger technique. The only down side was the lack of breathability. By the time I was done, my hands were drenched with sweat inside the gloves.

The work tonight seemed to have more the right feel and timbre than this last weekend full of frustration.

DeShawn has stayed with Carole and his mommy, my daughter, Elizabeth in Columbia since Saturday. They went to the beach in Charleston overnight on Monday and from all reports, had a wonderful time. While they were at Fort Moultrie, Carole read the rules from the park signs to DeShawn. One of the rules was that there was no climbing on the cannons or the great earth embankments that shield the gun emplacements. It’s very easy for me to see in my mind’s eye, DeShawn listening seriously to the “rules” and trying to make sense of them. Carole related how, upon seeing the first embankment, DeShawn immediately began running down the steep grass slope. When reminded not to climb on them, DeShawn retorted, without a break in stride, “I’m not climbing on them. I’m going down them!”

This time he’s spent with them has, besides a great emptiness, given me loads of opportunity to work on 118 Henry Street. In retrospect, this probably contributed to my haste and urgency this past weekend.

The rhythm and pace of my work on the house changed when DeShawn began living here. Before, I might go days without doing much or maybe only work on the yard. Then, as the motivation built, I would work, more or less obsessively, for a few days or a weekend, accomplishing large, quantum changes in the house. Finally, again reverting to a less active stage for a bit. This timing allowed me great flexibility to procrastinate or activate as my moods colored the days.

Since DeShawn came, such motivational laziness has not been possible. Although I have, every day, some time to work on the house, the total amount is smaller. These everyday, compact intervals has caused me to be more journey oriented than goal oriented. Planning has replaced daydreaming and, generally, I’ve been better organized. I’m less manic and more careful, making sure each hammer blow or saw cut or tape measurement is quality.

So, like a kid on Halloween, bag filled with candy, this weekend I was given way too much time. I established goals instead of milestones and, of course, hurried to meet them.

I very much have missed him and am very excited he’s coming home tomorrow!

Thick as a Brick

Not every day of work on an old house like 118 Henry Street is a calm smile of serenity. Like a man walking 50 yards with a broken back, a sprained ankle, and some broken toes, I made it to the top of the road and back today. That is, very slowly with great effort, pain, and difficulty.

I continued to work on the upstairs study windows. Generally, the morning was going well replacing the glass panes in the first of the last two sashes. After much obsessing..ehh..analysis, I figured out that some of the broken glass panes from the last window were caused by the nail brads completely penetrating the mullions from one light into another.

These last two windows face westerly and take the brunt of all the spring rains and the winter storms. They were more “experienced” than their south facing counterpart. After all the old glazing and paint were removed, these two had much more epoxy repair and restoration before being rebuilt. The extra wear and weather damage was most evident on the thin mullions between the glass panes. When freshly built, the wood between the panes is only 1/4″ thick or so. After mildew, mold, weathering, paint removal and sanding, many of the mullions lost lots of their thickness.

A 1/2″ brad driven into the 1/4″ window trim at approximately a 60 degree angle stays inside a 1/4″ mullion. However, if the mullion thickness is much less, the brad sticks thru the other side and presses on the adjoining glass pane. The solution was as effective as it was simple: cut a bit off the end of the brads. With the total margin of error being about 1/16″ of an each, clipping the point off the brad was enough to suffice.

Even with obsessing..ehh..analysis, solution derivation, and having to prime more trim, things were making headway. With only 3 panes in the sash so far, very slow headway, but headway nonetheless.

Maybe it’s because these last 2 windows are not in as good a shape as the others, maybe because I’m trying too hard (read “obsessing”), maybe because the weather’s right for yardwork not indoor work, maybe, maybe, maybe….Anyway, this afternoon was an exercise in perseverence and frustration management.

Here’s the litany:

1) The millwork store had sent me some 3/8″ window trim mixed in with the 1/4″ I ordered. When I primed just enough plus 1 stick to finish this window, of course, I didn’t notice. With caulking setting up on a glass pane and a mitre cut almost done, it hits me!

2) After finishing one sash, I set it next to the already finished ones. A pane on a sash I assembled Saturday is cracked! How did it crack!?! Unknown, but it has to be replaced.

3) The upper sashes on all the windows have slots on the top row of lights wher the upper edge of the glass pane inserts. On this particular window, the wood above the slot is thinner than the others. Net result: 2 broken panes (!!) from brad penetration syndrome despite cutting their tips.

4) With all those glass panes breaking from brads, bending, and spontaneous cracktion, I had to mix old “wavy” glass and new “shiny” glass on the same sash. Argh! the shortcomings of today will be forever immortalized.

At ten to six, I’d had all the character development I could stand for one day. The last sash for the room sits on the work table upstairs waiting for me to prime one last stick of trim and finish it.

Maybe tomorrow night, I’ll mow the grass.

Out from Under the Weather

But not the clouds.

Got a fair amount of work done on the (planned-to-be) upstairs study this morning. I got up about 6:30 in hopes of getting a jump on the day. It’s rained 3 or 4 days of almost every week this spring and been unseasonably cool. We don’t so much mind the temperatures in the high 60’s to low 70’s but the lack of sunshine has everyone a bit stir crazy. The rain for this week stopped last night. Today, though cloudy, has been pleasant.

Of the two windows remaining to be restored in the upstairs study, I got the glass panes back in one. Each glass pane takes 8′ linear of caulk, 4′ of window trim, and 10 1/2″ brads. For a complete 6-over-6 window that’s 96′ of caulk (almost a half tube), 48′ of window trim (6 8′ strips) and 120 brads. It doesn’t seem like that much when it’s all put back together.

The bad news for the day is that I’ve shattered (pun intended) my old record for breaking panes of glass.

The rules for constructing new houses rarely apply to an old house like 118 Henry Street. Floors are not level, ceilings aren’t parallel to the floor and corner angles are not increments of 90. When reading books on the various techniques involved in house restoration, you must learn to translate before applying. For example, if you read “Measure the distance….”, that means “Cut to fit”. Don’t worry about the numbers on the tape measure, use an old piece of trim or rig up a caliper out of scrap wood to get the right length. If you read, “Insure that the line is level…”, that means “Make all the lines in the room visually parallel”. Lastly, if you read “Mitre the corners…”, heaven forbid do not assume 90’s. “Split the corner angle” is what will work the best.

Almost any “science” used in new construction will be magically transformed into an “art” when applied to work in an old house.

So it is with the window sashes and the panes of glass. The glass “lights” of the windows are approximately 9-7/8″ by 13-7/8″. The word “approximately” most definitely applies to the original wavy glass from 1921 with the side measurements varying by up to an 1/8″. Don’t even assume that the panes are rectangular. Similarly for the openings in the sash: approximately 10″ by 14″ and rectangular only in theory.

On other days and other windows, I’ve test fitted every pane on a sash before starting the assembly. This is important because the panes may fit partially down into the rabbits and look like they fit. But, when the trim is nailed in place, it puts extra pressure on the trying-to-bend pane and cracks a corner or side. My old record for broken panes was 2 on a window.

This morning, I forgot this step and before I knew it, 3 panes were in with no problem! Why do we assume good luck will continue? By the time I’d finished, I had cracked 5 panes of antique wavy glass. My haste and hubris had destroyed almost a complete sash worth of the old glass. Ah well. Of the glass panes I cracked, 4 can be trimmed and used in the downstairs windows as replacements.

Before stopping work upstairs, I gathered all the remaining old glass panes, the new ones I use as replacements, and the remaining window’s sashes. After clearing the table, I carefully test fit every pane.