Some Better Than Shoganai

The middle school where Carole teaches starts the fall semester next week. The time machine of summer holidays is about to disembark us straight toward winter. Yet, the childhood paradox persists and the individual days seem long, sometimes laborious. At work this past week, we had new org structure, new team, and new teammates. Every day filled to the overflowing. At home, we had a lot of questions brought on by a recently dismissed teacher at DeShawn’s preschool. Still, progess continues….

Using phosphoric acid rust remover, a green scrubee, and some Rust-O-leum clear laquer, I’ve come to grips with another overanalyzed application of The Restoration Paradigm (capitalized for the first time in print; signifying not so much its importance, but more to the shear amount of processing time spent thinking about every decision to be made concerning work on the house…sigh). Most of the brass fixtures such as door and window hardware at 118 Henry Street are, in reality, brass plated steel. Simply cheaper to buy, plated hardware satisfied the decorating fashion of the time across most of North and South Carolina. Only in the heart of Charlotte or Charleston was solid brass hardware more common than plated. Some of the plated versions are so well done that only a magnet knows for sure.

There is, to my eye, a beautiful patina to the aged plated hardware. Caused by variations or wear in the brass overcoat that allow the underlying steel to oxide, the surface varies in coloration from a steel grey to almost new brass. Patterns of color can be as extreme as leopard spots or marblized brass in appearance. One of the asthetic corollaries of The Restoration Paradigm is that I own an old house and it should retain the ambience and impression of an old house. Thus, having the hardware re-plated is not an option.

The problem is that the steel’s oxidation will utimately exfoliate all the brass plating if not suspended. Enter the phosporic acid to remove the existing oxidation and chemically condition the exposed steel surface. And, enter the clear laquer to prevent the steel from being exposed to the air and continuing to oxidize. A side benefit of the coating is the bright shine that brings out the colors similar to the effect of a glossy photograph. After experimenting on the window sash lifts in the west bedroom, I’ve decided to expand the program to all the hardware in the house, retro-treating the 3 sets of door hardware in the west bedroom. We’ll see how long before the doorknobs, sash lifts and other parts touched by human hands will need a re-application.

Shimming the uneven ceiling in the west bedroom has proven to be relatively easy. Only one futile purchase, a couple of failed experiments later and we are currently 2/3rds of the way toward the final drywall. Turns out, the 1/4″x2″ wood slats weren’t a completely futile purchase, I may be able to use them as replacement plaster lathing on the chimney wall in the east bedroom. For the west bedroom ceiling shims, I’ve ended up with 2″ wide strips of 1/4″ wallboard screwed along the ceiling joists. Stacked 2 or 3 deep at the high end of the room, tapering to none at the low end of the room, there is a nice gradual transistion to level. Cutting the shims and screwing to the joists has gone amazingly quick. On the geologic time scale of house restoration at 118 Henry Street, we may be doing the final ceiling drywall in a record 2 weeks or so. Blinding speed compared to 11 months to restore 3 windows!

West Bedroom ceiling shims and restored window

Last night, I realized that the sitting room downstairs (currently DeShawn’s playroom, eventually to be the library/study) has similar ceiling topology.

Lastly for the week, We had the electricians rewire the upstairs this weekend. Beginning on Friday at 8ish AM, they, the 2 of them, worked a total of 17 hours, finally calling it quits yesterday at 6ish PM. By their estimations, the job took about twice as long as they anticipated. It is very, very rare that I feel genuine ambivalence, the true conflict of emotions so pronounced that I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. This experience with electrical work generates simultaneous reactions in me of “dammit, I got screwed” and “what a great job/experience”.

Here’s the litany of darkness:
1) They misdrilled and punched a very big hole in the upstairs bathroom wall.
2) Their first plan for bringing new wires from the breaker box thru the wall to upstairs failed miserably after 3 hours of drilling, poking, and fishing.
3) Their second plan for bringing new wires from the breaker box to upstairs was devised by me after they left Friday night. This one succeeded, by the way.
4) Their wiring in the attic flagrantly violates the National Electrical Code by laying diagonally across the joists. In fact, there is nary any evidence of staples or any other wire fastener in all their work.
5) I spent an additonal $50 in materials and all the afternoon today cleaning up about 1/2 of the Code Violations.
6) They left me with a cross connected circuit. In simplest terms, one of the new circuits shorts out one of the existing circuits. Their solution: cut one of the new wires. While working in the attic this afternoon, I solved the logic puzzle that created the cross connect and will correct this week.

And, in the true spirit of shoganai, here’s the litany of light (pun very much intended):
1) Half the cost of similar work in Charlotte or Columbia, even with my 10% gratuity.
2) No more knob and tube wiring upstairs! Less than a 1/3rd of the house remains on the old wiring now.
3) DeShawn was wonderful, occupying himself throughout most of the chaos and never getting in the way.
4) Although with a dose of science, most of the effort I witnessed during the work was art. This was confirmed by code violation mitigation today.
5) Part of what I paid for was education that I got.
6) Learned a lot more about the house, specifically the internal structure and infrastructure.

The multi-hundreds dollar question: will they be back for the service upgrade and remainder of the wiring? The folowing answer from a person who has said that the best thing that every happened to him was a broken back. Candidly, I don’t know.