Opening the Kimono (and another resource)

There are several “must have” skills when working on an old house like 118 Henry Street. On the sunny side of this business there are the relatively quaint abilities to paint, and to clean. On the north side, there are horrible dark arts like plaster repair and shingle replacement. Between the antipodes, there is are activities like tool sharpening, estimating materials, and being able to hammer nails efficiently.

Working with wood trim and moldings is one of my personal favorites in this rainbow of talents needed to retain sanity while working on an old house. We not only re-use existing wood moldings, but, also make new moldings to match. The toe molding around all the base boards is a great example.

A simple 1” high, 7/16” wide stick of wood with a funny little bead along the top.

ToeTrim Every room has this toe molding

If you’ve ever gone to shop for wood trim, you will immediately recognize that, despite it’s apparent simplicity, this profile is no where to be found at any home supply store. Unfortunately, when trying to remove the existing, less than 40% will remain intact. Even with the most careful removal techniques, most will split or break.

The good news for us is that the original clapboard siding on the exterior of the house is exactly the same thickness as the toe molding. So, we take the clapboards that are too split up from removal to be reused as clapboards, rip them down to height. Then, using a router table, put the bead along the top. About a third of the toe molding we replace is recycled from original clapboards.

Tool-wise, it takes a table saw, a router table, and an electric sander to get the molding ready to paint. I will put on 2 coats of primer and 1 coat of final paint before installing.

The techniques for installing wood moldings are as varied as the craftsmen who do it. You can propose an installation scenario to two trim carpenters and get  four different approaches. We have several books on woodworking techniques, including trim carpentry. Without exception, these books propose different methods for measuring and cutting the final wood.

I’ve tested all the various techniques in those books and the reference that most works with my skill level and the body of this old house is Craig Savage’s “Installing Trim” book and DVD from Taunton Press.

In particular, the parts on dealing with imperfect starting conditions are extremely relevant to our house; corners are not square, walls are not even, parallel or plumb.

Reference back to the toe molding, exempli gratia, in the kitchen annex. We use Craig’s simple graphical technique for doing outside trim corners. Under the corner, tape a piece of white paper. Using the wood molding as a guide, draw lines extending from both sides of the corner to create the final trim intersection.

ToeTrimDetail  Draw the intersecting lines

You will end up with this:

ToeTrimDetail  Where the lines intersect is the final length

And the angle, mostly likely not a 90, is correct. Bisect it to find the setting for your miter saw

Here is an angle on the final corner:

ToeTrimDetail  Ready for final paint

Note the condition of the original baseboard at this high traffic corner.

More about the final finishing next time…

Lore for the Lazy

As a run up to a couple of posts about the 118 Henry Street eco-milieu, we stumbled upon a glaring omission in the “Recommended Resources”. 

Rarely considered, old houses have old yards.  Each owner of an old house puts their stamp of “fashion” on the yard with flower beds, gardens, and general property maintenance. Analogous to the layers of change discovered in old house restoration, old yards have zones of change that mark their unique progression thru time.

During the first two years at 118 Henry Street, we were exposed to a variety of flowers, bushes, and trees that would never be found in the “modern” yard of a newer house. Besides trees over a hundred years old, there were also remnants of flower beds from the first owners. This flower beds produced beautiful flowers and plants at the most unusual times of the year.

The result of much research and dead ends was a wonderful book by Felder Rushing.

The penultimate guide to our yard


Every (this is the absolute “every” not the “mostly almost every”) plant in our yard, besides grass, is in this book; from the 200+ year old trees thru the 80+ year old bulbs, to the plants we put in last spring.

In addition to his encyclopedic knowledge, Felder writes with a very easy, very southern style that encourages garden diversity and values the beauty of imperfection,  serendipity, and wabi-sabi. With all the current “green” and “eco-fashion”, Felder speaks from generations of wisdom about making your garden/yard from what’s best for your climate, soil, and your time.

To quote Felder, concerning his philosophy of “slow gardening”:

Slow gardening isn’t lazy or passive gardening – it actually involves doing more stuff, carefully selected to be productive without senseless, repetitive chores. By focusing on seasonal rhythms and local conditions, it helps the gardener get more from the garden while better appreciating how leisure time – and energy are spent. 

…it’s more about thinking ‘long haul’ and taking it easy. Life has lots of pressures – why include them in the garden?”

About a year ago

New feature added to the right side menu bar. Between “118 Henry Street Information” and “Categories”, is an item called “About a year ago” that provides a direct jump to posts made, well, about a year ago.

Thanks to Ralf Thees.