This Old Erie House
By Linda Martin Community Blogger
Owners of old houses have so much in common that house talk comes easy between us. Please join in the conversation as we try to fix, restore and update our old Erie houses.  Read more about this blog.
Archive for the ‘baseboards’ category
Posted: October 27th, 2010

I love my Paslode angle nailer.  It makes short work putting in the quarter-round molding along my baseboards.  I was just a couple of feet from finishing the installation of the molding I had refinished for one wall when it quit working.  The battery hadn’t been charged for about a year so I put it into the charger. It still didn’t work after letting it charge.  I checked for jammed nails, nothing.  Oh, oh, that meant it must be the fuel cell. I remembered having problems installing it before.   I rummaged through the drawer where I keep the Paslode nails, charger, etc and found one fuel cell can.  It didn’t look used but the date on the bottom said to use by 2004.  Well, what difference would 6 years make with canned gas?  My problem has been putting the little top on the cylinder and then putting in the nail gun.  I had one shot at this because I only had one can.  I pushed the cap on the can and to my surprise (but a similar recollection came to mind from the last time I replaced the fuel cell) the can sprayed an explosive spray of ice cold gas and practically froze my fingers.  Well, dang it!  The cylinder emptied before I could get the cap back off.  I looked at the fuel-cell can and saw there was instruction there.  You push the nozzle side down first and then push down on the other side and it will snap down.  I did it opposite and I’m sure that is why it blew out of the nozzle. But the can was still good even 6 years past the use-by date (had I not installed it wrong) and that’s good to know.

There was a tornado watch issued but I needed another fuel cell to finish the job.  I looked at the sky and it wasn’t too bad so I drove to Lowes up on Peach.  The walk from the parking lot into Lowes was wonderful.  It was warm and the wind was blowing.  I found fuel cells made for my Paslode nailer and a $30 digital thermostat, a couple of chip brushes for a new project I started (stripping doors) a pack of sandpaper,  and some shellac sealer.  $100!  Whoa, let me look at that receipt.  It turns out 4 little cans (about 4 inches high) of that gas (I believe it is butane) was $27.  I just couldn’t believe it could cost that much.  And I had just wasted a whole can installing it wrong.   Each can will last for about 1200 nails.  There are 4 cans in the box.  With 3 cans still left I’m sure they will be around still until 2016 because who uses that many nails?  I wish they would sell those individually at the box stores because it is a lot of money when you only need one can.

By the time I left the store there was torrential rain and the strong winds drove the water through my clothes to the  skin.  I never loaded my car so fast before.  By the time got in I was absolutely soaked with rain dripping off my soaked head, and I couldn’t see out of my glasses. It was hard to believe the weather could change in that short of time. That’s Erie.

I followed the instructions carefully and installed the fuel cell successfully this time and sure enough, my nailer worked again and I finished up the job.  I love that nailer even though it sounds like a gun blast causing my cats to go scrambling for cover.

Next Projects:

  • I’m hoping to have the last coat of Waterlox on the floor by Friday and hopefully this time the sheen will match the rest of the floor.
  • We took the upstairs landing door off and I have started stripping it.  The finish was pretty awful.  I’ll be stripping the door jam, too.  I’ll be so glad when that is done.
Posted: March 23rd, 2010

I’m done refinishing the baseboards for the living room.  It was a really big job.  To get the right color took about 10 coats of garnet shellac with a lot of sanding back to get the grain right.  But that’s done now.  I have boards laying on the floor, on top of furniture, boards everywhere!  Now that they have had about a minimum of 2 weeks to dry, I am rubbing them out with black wax.  I bought some Satin Waterlox that I was going to use but it looked streaky no matter how much I stirred it. There were subtle dull streaks from brush marks even after it leveled out and dried.  It’s clear but the stuff in the product to make it satin (silica, I believe) doesn’t stay mixed. It would probably be fine for chairs and floors but a wide, long expanse of the baseboard shows everything. Instead, I’m putting on black wax with 0000 steel wool. The black wax looks really good and cuts the shine to a pretty satin finish because of the fine scratch pattern of the really, really fine steel wool.  Lots of elbow grease, though, but this should be the last time in my lifetime that I’ll have to do anything to them other than touch up wax. I don’t know what ingredient in the black wax smells really good but it is wonderful.

I’ll be insulating the areas where the outlets come through the walls with fiberglass insulation stuffed back in there and I’ll be sealing any gaps in the boards where the floor and wall meet.  That’s going to take some time. 

*UPDATE (see photo below)
The baseboards are back up on the walls in the living room. I just tacked them in place for now because I’ll be painting this room a neutral beige color when I finish the dining room and it would be easier to take them off to paint rather than tape it all off and then permanently put them back up. The outlets got well insulated. Before, a lot of air was coming through and now I don’t feel any. I also added the latex white foam (DAP) around the edges where the floor boards meet the wall. There were some gaps there. When it was dried, I trimmed the foam level with the floor and wall where the foam expanded too much. With the help of my husband we got the baseboards back up and the outlets installed and the room looks so much more finished with the baseboards installed. It’s great to have the furniture back in the places they belong.

I have to cut the nails off and refinish the quarter-round moldings that go on the floor up against the baseboards to complete the finished look. I’m also going to be working on adding another couple of coats of garnet shellac to the inside sideboards of the stairs to darken them to match the baseboards and then scrape off the finish on the treads. I want the treads the same clear finish as I have on the floor. I think it will be just enough contrast to look good and the lighter color will show the dust less. The dark color on the treads now really shows even the smallest of dust. The photo looks the same as the other ones I have posted? No! Look! The baseboards are up!

Posted in: baseboards, finishes
Posted: March 3rd, 2010

In my last post I said I wouldn’t need grain filler on the baseboards I removed from the wall because I used the card scraper to strip them of their shellac. When I sanded them lightly to smooth them out before finishing, I noticed some areas that sanding dust was setting in the grain so I decided I need to go ahead and grain-fill, which I did with Timbermate.  I let it dry and sanded it lightly, cleaned it off with a tack rag and then applied Waterlox on top letting it dry overnight.  They came out looking nice and smooth.  I put on several layers of dewaxed garnet shellac and still had to sand back to keep it smooth, though much less than if I didn’t fill the grain. I think had I used any other finish than shellac, I wouldn’t of had to sand back at all except for the final.

I have tried the Behlens grain filler (solvent-based) a long time ago and it was such a pain and dried really hard and took so much sanding that I ended up stripping it back and started over without filling the grain.

There are very little reviews out there about Timbermate wood filler as of this posting.  Charles Neil (woodworker) has posted on some message boards that he likes it and uses it.  He likes it because he says it doesn’t shrink because it uses silica as a base instead of gypsum.  I think it depends on how much you thin it down.  If there is a lot of water in it, I would think it would have to shrink some as it dries.

I was taken in by the commericals on YouTube.  I paid $18 for a quart of Timbermate plus $11 for shipping.  I thought that was really a lot.  I just checked Behlen’s water-based filler price and it was about the same.  And Behlens solvent-based is almost $24 a qt.  Wow, that’s a lot. I don’t remember how much it was when I bought it several years ago.  I’m trying to find products that do the job at a reasonable cost.  After all, we have a whole house to do. After my quart of Timbermate is used up, I’m going to try this plaster method again, below.  There are also photos below.


I read about how they used plaster of paris in the “olden days” to fill the grain. So after the bad experience with the solvent-based grain filler (this was years ago,)  I tried it on one of my window sills. It was easy to put on and squeegee off. It will clog your sink up so don’t pour leftovers down the drain.  It is super cheap and can buy it just about anywhere. I was disappointed as it dried white in the pores and didn’t take the shellac color hardly at all.  If the right amount of color or dye had been added, it probably would have worked good.  The window sill  still has light pores and redoing it is on my to-do list. It works good for these people at the link below.

When researching online, I found this website that finishes pianos in the UK.
They use plaster of paris as a grain filler but color it.  Boy, would that be cheaper to use.  Of course the secret to using that would be getting the color to be a little darker than the color of the finish so it would look natural.  That would take some experimenting because it wouldn’t show the end result color until it was dried and the finish put on.  You’d have to buy some kind of water-based tinting pigments to add to it.

Here is my experience with the plaster of paris.  I only put the plaster on the bottom sill.  If the color had been right, it filled the grain nicely.  You can see the open grain on the sides of the window woodwork. I enlarged the areas where the arrows point for detail.

In this detail photo you can see the pores and grain are not filled. (above)

Here the pores and grain are filled but they appear light because I didn’t add dye to the plaster. It looks almost like the effect when you put on a “pickled” finish.  I think it would work well if the color was right as you can see how well it turned out in the photos of the piano maker in the link above. And best of all, I remember it as being easy to do.

Posted in: baseboards, finishes
Posted: February 23rd, 2010

I was going to fill the grain on the boards we just took off just the other day but these boards hadn’t been stripped with stripper. After seeing them in the light I realized I had scraped them with a paint scraper and card scraper. Some of the other baseboards I had used stripper but not these. My memory is shot but it was a long time ago because I started too many projects at once and it’s taken a long time to get back and finish some of them. So I won’t be using the Timbermate filler on these like I had planned except on the very top that has the round-over detail and some frayed parts on the end cut. When you use the scraper method instead of stripping to get the old finish off, the pores mostly likely will still be filled with finish so you won’t have to fill the pores. I’m becoming a big fan of scraping the old finish off instead of using strippers.  Even the safe strippers are a big mess.
Look at all those long nails. It made it so hard to get these off. The big board is the 8-inch wide baseboard, the other the window bottom trim board. Note the two grooves sawed into the back of this board.  The reason is because they are wide and by cutting into the back, it cuts the grain tension so the board won’t warp with the differences of humidity.  Much like cutting the edges of a pork chop or bacon to keep it from curling up when you fry it (that’s what I read somewhere.)

When we got the bottom trim board off of the window we were amazed at the beautiful quarter-sawn rays (tiger oak) that was on the unfinished back of the 4-inch wide board. Quarter-sawn is the way they cut the board.  It is more expensive and gives you these beautiful rays going across the grain of the wood.

The board also has a beautiful aged brown (almost like fumed oak) color to it which makes the rays stand out even more.This part of the board the rays aren’t as perpendicular to the grain as other parts of the board.  The board is 8 ft long so there is going to be variations. It would make a pretty piece of furniture but it is going to be refinished and put back to its original spot under the front window.

Below…This is the front of the board in the photo above. The front finish was so bad that it hid the rays. The light areas is where the finish separated and it is peeling up like dried egg whites. I’m assuming someone, at some time, put another finish over the shellac and it wasn’t compatible over the years.
Most of the woodwork in the house had the same bad finish, some more than others so I decided to refinish all of it.
The board is also blackened on the edges where air must have passed over it over the almost 100 years. I noticed this with most of the baseboards we took off. Some kind of soot. The original heating source is radiators heated by a gas boiler and still is. Our kitchen had a wood-burning stove. We can tell by the covered circles of where the stove pipe used to run through the wall. I suppose after time soot builds up behind even the tightest areas where air may get to. In this picture you can see the soot (it’s not mold) where the boards were behind the radiator. I never got the old wallpaper off back there. After we got the boards off I started scratching at it again. There is only about 3 thick layers here. There were 5 on most the other walls but they are really glued on good. Maybe they skipped a couple of applications of wallpaper back there because it doesn’t really show. The photo makes it look like a lot of room back there but there is about 6 inches between the radiator and the wall.

As I looked at our board, I started wondering how much a board like this would cost today.  It’s old-growth, quarter-sawn white oak but only in the real visible areas did they use the quarter-sawn oak in our house.. I looked it up and was shocked. It is not uncommon to cost $30 a board foot for the old-growth QS white oak. Woodworkers making the craftsman and/or arts and crafts-style furniture pay high prices for such wood. I shutter to think people actually would PAINT over this increasingly rare old woodwork because they don’t want the hassle of refinishing it. Worse, some have just torn it out and thrown it away.  Their loss.

I found this website article really interesting. It tells you how you can tell the old-growth oak from the new oak with photos.

Posted in: antique, baseboards
Posted: February 22nd, 2010

Since today is the 30th anniversary of the “Miracle on Ice” at Lake Placid, I thought I’d share a photo of the Olympic champion (by default) of restoration in our house. I’ll have you know we broke away from the Olympic hockey games yesterday long enough to get that last baseboard off in the living room and one of the trim boards that didn’t get finished when I was working on the front window.

Today I’ll be running back and forth from scraping and stripping the boards to watching the USA vs Sweden and Canada vs Finland womens hockey games on TV. Maybe I’ll just work on the boards during commercials.

I remember the “Miracle on Ice” like it was yesterday. When we had a vacation in the Lake Placid area of New York a few years ago, we made it a point to stop in and see the actual rink where the miracle took place. On the way in, there was one of those picture-taking set ups where you put a helmet on and put your head in the hole. For that short minute, I felt like a champion goalie. I think I missed my calling.
For the record, I was trying to look mean. :-)

Posted in: baseboards
Posted: February 18th, 2010

So far I’m a bit disappointed. I mail ordered the Timbermate Wood Filler because it sure looked like it worked really well in the YouTube commercials. It’s water based and no waste as you can add water to the sanded off powder and reuse it.

I first tried it on about a 6 ft piece of 8-inch wide, old-growth white oak baseboard.

I diluted it down to the consistency of thick paint and smeared it on the board. I left it proud of the surface so I could sand it down flat and smooth. When it dried I started sanding it off with 120 sandpaper. The directions said not to use coarser than that. It sanded pretty easily and turned into a powder like corn starch. You can save the powder and add it back to the bucket and reuse it. It sanded off nice and smooth. Then I brushed on my first coat of garnet shellac. The white-oak colored Timbermate took on the color of the garnet shellac and looked good. But the grain and ridges still started to build like it does when I don’t use wood filler. You can really see it in the raking light.

Shellac has that tendency to “pucker” up along the ridge lines because of the surface tension of the quick evaporation of the alcohol in it. I ended up having to do just as much sanding and rubbing back as I normally do. Maybe I sanded it down too far.

In the next try I made the mixture a little thicker and this time I sanded it off using 320 sandpaper and didn’t sand down all the way down to the wood. I could see the grain but I didn’t feel the grain. It took a lot longer to sand with the 320 sandpaper. I thought that would work better than my first try. It did, but I still didn’t get that nice smooth surface you see on the commercials. I think perhaps it was because of the nature of shellac. I did get my final smooth surface with no grain showing with less rubbing out. I guess I was looking for miracles.

I have more baseboards to do. My next try will be to put Waterlox Original on top of the grain filler as a first coat and let it dry overnight. Maybe if I can keep the the shellac from soaking into the grain filler, it won’t pucker up on the ridges. I’ll let you know how that works.

Posted: February 12th, 2010

Thursday: Feb 12, 2010

I’m having a heck of a time refinishing the woodwork in my house because it is oak with deep grain and pore patterns. Either you have to use a grain filler or you have to put on lots of coats of shellac and sand it back until the pores are filled or it looks really cheap. I’ve been doing the latter. It’s been a battle on all the window woodwork, the colonnade, and the stairs. I tried grain filler before and it was so much more work because it dried like cement. I even tried using a watered-down plaster mix for the filler but it didn’t take the stain well and the one window has a “pickled” look to the grain. It would work well for something painted that needed the grain to be filled and it certainly was cheap! I’ll have to redo that one at some point because it isn’t painted.

I saw a commercial for Timbermate on YouTube and ordered some. It came yesterday and was frozen solid and hidden in a snow drift that developed on my porch. I didn’t hear the doorbell ring. But right on the package it says it is not affected by being frozen, thank goodness. Hopefully I’ll get to another of the baseboards this weekend so I can try it out. I’m moving right along on my projects but at a snail’s pace.

I also received my quart of satin Waterlox so I can top coat my baseboards to cut the (garnet dewaxed shellac) shine to a satin finish. I have “Shellac Flat” but I like the way Waterlox dries so slowly and evenly for my top coat plus the extra protection it will give for spills and other accidents that may happen (we have cats.)

Hopefully soon, I’ll have some photos to show you how good it turned out (or not.)

Posted: February 9th, 2010

In my last post I said I was refinishing the baseboards…still a work in progress. This post is about getting them removed so I could refinish them.

Before finishing the other half of the living-room floor, I needed to finish removing the baseboards. I started that project long ago but because of the damage I did to the wall, I stopped, plastered the damage and never got back to it. It was now necessary to finish the job and I couldn’t do them in place because I have an injured knee. My husband volunteered to help (he actually did all the work and I filmed.)

Back when I removed some of the baseboards I remember my husband coming home and asking what I did that day and my reply was that I took off some of the baseboards. That doesn’t sound like much. It was hard to explain the amount of work it involved. Oh well. But now I think he has a new appreciation for the sweat that was involved as I removed them during the hot, humid summer without air conditioning. I damaged the wall because I didn’t put the crowbar only where the baseboard was nailed. That is where a stud is in the wall behind and it gets support. Nor did I use some kind of backing to even out the pressure on the wall. I pried the boards off all along and cracked the plaster which made a whole ‘nother project to do.

One question I kept asking myself was why did they think they needed to nail those old, wide baseboards on with so many 3-inch nails? It wasn’t likely they’d fall off if they even used those thin finishing nails like they do today. I figure the reason was probably that the boards are so wide (about 8 inches) and with high humidity where we live the baseboards would likely warp otherwise. Now there is the question of using big nails to put them back on and if I don’t, will they warp? And why is everything harder to do in an old house? The answer to the last, of course, is because they used quality, strong materials and wood. You have to love these old houses.

Here is a video the removal.

Posted: January 20th, 2010

Today my floor finish arrived by UPS. I ran out doing the living room and wasn’t able to start on the dining room. It’s taking more than I thought. In the meantime I’m working on the baseboards that are removed. The big 14ft x 8-inch oak baseboard is now in my dining room on some plastic-covered furniture being finished in garnet shellac. It’s taking a lot of coats to get the deep garnet color to match the woodwork I’ve already done. I’m having lots of problems keeping a wet edge because of the length of the board. It’s too bad I like dark woodwork because using clear would be so easy. I have to let it sit a day after several coats to sand it level to get rid of any “mistakes” that happen, then apply some careful top coats. I’ll sure be glad when this big one is done. I’ll be glad to just get this one room done. I’m not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel yet. But does it ever get done? I keep changing my mind of paint color and putting in more electrical outlets, maybe a new mantle because this one isn’t the original (there are ghost lines of where the original was.) I fear I’ll be too old to enjoy it when it’s done.

Posted in: baseboards
Posted: January 1st, 2010

I spent New Years Eve day putting the 3rd coat of Waterlox on the second half of the living room floor. I changed over from the lambswool applicator to a short-napped paint roller. It had been used and washed before and most of the loose fuzz was gone. To be sure, I vacuumed it. I found that the lambswool applicator soaked up too much of the finish and I wasted so much during the clean-up. The roller put on a really nice even coat. I was a little worried about all the bubbles that it made on the surface, though. I kept watching it and they slowly, over a couple of hours, went away and the finish leveled out before it turned tacky which took longer than normal because of the cold weather. The roller was easy to scrape the excess finish from and I saved it in a jar for the chairs I’m working on.

I have 3 of the baseboards completed with finish. I added some Shellac Flat to the last 3 coats to give it a satin sheen. After a week, I’ll take some steel wool and give it a layer of paste wax to finish it off.

After the 4th coat of the living room floor I’m taking a week or two off of working on the house to get my back and knees rested (they hurt!) before attacking the dining room. We went to see Avatar for New Years Eve and I had to limp in.