Tempis Fugit

The last week has been riddled with the paradox of a school age child’s summer vacation. The days are so long, it seems they will never end. Yet the close of summer vacation brings the strong impression that it all went by too quickly. What incremental progress we made this week working on 118 Henry Street was hard won. But, in reflection, the week has flown by.

Monday night, we broke out my camping stove to experiment with a paint removal technique. Harvested from the OldHouseJournal.com forums, this particular germ of wisdom recommended removing paint from brass hardware by boiling in TSP (trisodium phosphate) and water solution. An alternate chemical to add to water is lye. Several pairs of the brass sash lifts removed from the windows in the upstairs west bedroom still had 4 layers of paint on them. I had procrastinated about taking the paint off because of my prior (bad) experience using harsh chemical strippers.

After boiling the lifts for about 10 minutes, with some random stirring and picking at the paint, almost all the paint simply peeled from the metal. Only a few, small, paint deposits required rubbing with a green scrubee. The only drawback was a bit of rust, a result of the lifts being brass plated steel. Even still, I heartily recommend this relatively non-toxic, very rapid method of paint removal.

Most of my efforts this week were directed at the next large phase of work in the west bedroom, drywalling over the ceiling. Friday night last, DeShawn and I spent almost 2 hours making detailed measurements of the room. Not only perimeter dimensions, but also floor-to-ceiling, floor-to-top-of-windows, and ceiling-to-top-of-windows. There is a strong visual illusion in the room that causes the viewer to see one of the windows as crooked. Also, it appears that the tops of all the windows are not even. The original builders fell prey to this illusion when they installed the picture molding around the perimeter of the room, running the trim from top of window to top of window.

Results from the 50 or so measurements pleasantly surprised me. My biggest fear was that the windows were, in fact, unevenly spaced in the vertical dimension. Replacing the picture molding and adding a narrow, parallel molding at the joint of the ceiling drywall and wall would be greatly complicated by the windows being at differing heights. Making the moldings visually parallel AND linking the windows would have been a trim carpenter’s nightmare.

Turns out: 1) the tops of the windows vary in height from the floor by less than 1/4″ and 2) the tops of all the windows are level. The strong visual illusion is created by significant variations in the floor-to-ceiling height. One corner of the room is over 3/4″ lower than the highest part of the ceiling. Although it doesn’t seem like much, the discrepancies are made visually evident because of the tops of the doors and windows. Our brains don’t believe what our eyes tell us: “The ceiling’s not level”. Instead, what we see is “The windows aren’t level”.

With the detailed room map, shims can be developed between the final drywall layer and the plaster ceiling to correct the illusion. Once more, Ode to the joys of old house work.

Tuesday night, my middle son, Benjamin (uncle to DeShawn) spent the night. He was a great help in chalklining the joists pattern on the ceiling in the west bedroom. I got up in the attic and drilled small holes thru the plaster, up against the side of several joists. Returning down to the bedroom, we were able to use the holes as guide marks for the joists. Two stepladders, a tape measure, and a blue chalkline later, we have the beginnings of the covering pattern for the drywall.

To quote the Masters of Reality:

When I was young I didn’t know
Summer days seemed 25 years long.
Now I ain’t no wiser,
But I know
That it’s a drag to be alone.