Saturday, August 25, 2012

Letting the Stairs Dry

It's a waiting game now, waiting to see how time and the traffic of doggy toe nails will treat the stairs. I can tell that the finish is getting a little harder each day as it dries out. I'm using that same varathane that I put on my office floor a couple months ago, and my floor is as hard as a rock now.

So during this hardening phase we only allow the dogs to come upstairs once or twice a day. Of course Willow had to supervise, approve and take credit for the finished product.

The air conditioner guy stopped by on Thursday and, literally, walked into the house without knocking. He had called to let me know he was coming. But I had never met this guy. And who just walks into your house without knocking? He walked in wearing heavy work boots, then started to approach the stairs to get to the ladder on our balcony, and I yelled at him to stop. No shoes on the stairs! I made him get up to the roof from the outside. We did not establish a friendship.

Life is all about learning new things. For me, using stain on the stairs was a new thing. I've always avoided stain because natural wood is usually beautiful on its own. And stain can be a problem with damaged wood because the pigment can soak into deep scratches and darken them. But I was able to sand away most of scratches before staining.

If the stairs have lost any character as a result of the severe sanding I gave them, I don't really feel it. Plenty imperfections remain, and I'm not sure whether to brag or feel shame about them.

We're waiting now for more tile samples for the stair risers. More later.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sanding the Stairs

With Cheryl away this weekend I had time to make a huge sawdust mess, but this time I covered the furniture and my piano with plastic first. I was committed to sanding down the stairs. No more hesitation. No girly half-measures. There would be much sanding and much sawdust in the air.

First step was to remove the spindles. I was assured on-line that spindles are difficult to remove and that I should be prepared to break a few.

So I gently encouraged the spindles to come out, getting to know each one individually, and they obliged me by not breaking, such is the nature of patience and common respect.

Time to sand, but after a few minutes with my orbital sander, it was clear that I needed more power, which meant a trip to Home Depot to rent an edger sander (a powerful tool for sure), except that Home Depot did not have one. The news could not have hit me harder. I wandered the aisles in a daze, not unlike that day almost 15 years ago when I was laid off from work and stopped on the way home to wander around in the grocery store looking for dry rice and beans and whatever food that my desperate position would allow.

In the power tool aisle I explained my situation to a man who was about my age. I was desperate about sanding these steps--today, it had to be done today. He looked a little sorry for me, but not really sorry. I'm sure he has his own troubles. I remembered that I had an old belt sander at home, a primitive awful tool that always leaves gouges in the wood, so much that I swore never to use it again, but now I had no choice. He agreed that I had no choice. I bought two new belts.

More later.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Not Like a Violin

After several days waiting for this stupid cough to go away, it's time to finish up the stairs, no matter how I feel. But no more chemical strippers and gooey mess. The stairs need a really good sanding, even though I will be sanding away whatever character remains amid the ugly scratches, dings and black spots.

I had this same feeling with the bathroom. After all, I could have replaced the broken tiles and made a huge patch job of it all. Then we could have said the bathroom was still "original." I wonder and worry about these things, still. Sanding the stairs will change the way they look, and I can't predict the outcome.

I faced the same dilemma years ago with my violin. Its finish was in terrible shape, and it literally fell to pieces one night as I was playing it--the neck separated from the body, which flopped around like a puppet. I was able to glue it all together, and then, impulsively, I also stripped away the finish. I stripped away the 100-year old finish. In retrospect, this was a mistake.

The stairs aren't like a violin, though. I tried doing a restore a few years ago, but it didn't work. I need to sand down to the bare wood. And to do this right I need to remove the spindles from the railing, otherwise I will have to sand in little circles around them, using my pinkie finger or something equally as small, and I don't have the patience for it.

Luckily I was able to remove one of spindles already, though almost by accident, so I believe I see how to get the others out.

More later.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

If Ants Wanted To

Working at home, I am cut off from the normal daily flow of human traffic experienced by most people. I see the mail man, our house-keeper, some contractors, and a few others, and I'm always delighted to meet someone with fresh ideas.

Consider our bamboo. It has a case of scale, which is a sticky, ugly brown substance on the surface of the culm. Scale is perfectly normal on this type of bamboo; it is produced by aphids that live in the tops of the branches, 50 or 60 feet off the ground.

But here's the weird part. Ants loves to eat the scale, so they "farm" out the aphids--they bring them down to the bottom of the plant and make them crawl back to the top, leaving the little deposits along the way. To control the scale, as I understand it, I need to first get rid of the ants. (The bamboo lady says I should leave it alone because ladybugs like it.)

As luck would have it our pest control guy came by yesterday for his annual visit. He specializes in pet-safe and environmentally safe methods. I remembered from the past that he is a scholar in the subject of ants, and he loves to talk about them, so I took him outside to the bamboo.

"Those are fire ants. See that guy, there," he said, pointing to an ant that was several times bigger than the others, all of them marching in a line upwards. "He's the soldier. It's his job to protect these workers."

We had a nice talk about the ants. I noticed, though, a cloud forming in his eyes. Something was troubling him, and he needed very much to tell me. "No one really knows this," he told me in a whisper, "but if these guys ever figure out that we are a threat to them, they will take us out overnight, and there's nothing we could do to stop them.

"There are millions and millions of these guys in your yard alone. If they wanted to attach us, there's nothing we could do and nowhere we could go."

"Is this possible?" I said back in a whisper, hoping to prolong the discussion.

He looked at me as if to determine my trustworthiness--could I handle the truth?

More later...

Thursday, August 9, 2012

To Sand or Not To

I'm sitting here in a sweater and heavy pants, overcoming another bout with the flu or whatever. I spent all Monday and Tuesday in bed with a fever, thinking some crazy abstract thoughts, or maybe dreaming, about how to finish the stairs, but there was never an answer, just me working with bizarre fuzzy tools that might have been alive. After awhile I didn't need to take my temperature--I could judge it by the weirdness of my daydreaming.

Of course, this happened after I was half finished stripping the wood.

So even after these 3 or 4 days of meditation I still don't know what to do: strip the steps and finish them (to capture the patina and character of this old wood) or sand them down (because they really look like crap).

I put chairs and the top and the bottom and connected them with a rope. I don't know why--I guess to keep Cheryl and the dogs off. But immediately after doing so, Cheryl knocked over the chair at the top and it crashed to the bottom, breaking its top rib. Like usual, she was mad at me because this happened. I am the cause of every unfortunate event in this house.

The steps even have some rotten spots, where rain has dripped over the years and turned the surface to a soft feathery fuzz that will never hold varnish. I close my eyes but the solution doesn't come to me. At least for now, I can sit and rest, because I'm recovering.

Friday, August 3, 2012

It's On Now

But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone

Emily Dickinson has a famous poem about a snake and her sense of horror at seeing it. But instead of pursuing the typical overheated notions of fear, of racing hearts and flushed red faces, she leads the reader to a cold, internal horror: zero at the bone.

I felt such a horror last week when, following a rain, I noticed some spots forming at the top of the window frame in the guest bathroom. The roof or the gutter--something--is still leaking and is now threatening my bathroom.

My heart must have stopped for a minute or two.

So now I'm talking to a new contractor, and I'm determined to stop the leaks once and for all. We're going to rebuild the gutter boxes and seal every possibly crack if I have to cover the entire house with a thick coat of sealer. Oh yes, it's on now...

Willow seems encouraged about starting a new project.

Here's the entire poem: The Snake, by Emily Dickinson

A narrow fellow in the grass
Occasionally rides;
You may have met him, -did you not?
His notice sudden is.

The grass divides as with a comb,
A spotted shaft is seen;
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on.

He likes a boggy acre,
A floor too cool for corn.
Yet when a child, and barefoot,
I more than once, at morn,

Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash
Unbraiding in the sun, -
When, stooping to secure it,
It wrinkled, and was gone.

Several of nature's people
I know, and they know me;
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality;

But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone.