Wednesday, December 12, 2012

the floor from he11

Apparently my grief over the cell phone has made me into a blog recluse. 

(No, I have not replaced it yet.  Yes, I am serious.) 

Or it could be my floor.  You see...I promised myself that all of my big kitchen projects would be done by the end of November, except the floor - because then I would just have one thing to focus on for the whole month, and I would be done well before Christmas. 

I have tried not to be one of those people who finished 95% of a project in a week and then takes two years to do the last 5%.  I really have tried, because I am willing to work hard, and it would make me upset to do all that work and then not be done.  But despite coming back and fixing and re-fixing and re-re-fixing aspects of the kitchen (ask me how many weeks I spent working on the doors for cabinet #2 after I hung it), I have a long, long list of catch-up work.  That includes making a door - any door at all - for the sink cabinet; making the framing for said door; installing the last lower cabinet (but I am waiting to do the floors first); putting up the last of the beadboard (the last of the chair rail is done as of this week!!); caulking the rest of the beadboard and painting it; finishing the paint job in the rest of the kitchen; adding a strip of molding to one lower cabinet that has a funny gap with the wall; sanding down the doors on cabinet #1 so they close entirely correctly; coming up with a permanent attachment solution for the faucet; repairing the casements that previous owners attacked with sharp objects for no decent reason; finding a dry sink that will hold my microwave and take up that one blank wall that turned out to be too small to have the refrigerator on it; and installing the baseboard. 

Oh, did I mention the floors? 

And I invite you to take a glance at today's date, just for reference. 

So...the floors.  Late on Thursday, December 6 (so, early in the month - I was nearly on schedule!) I began the floor demolition.  The previous night, I had gone to Home Depot to acquire materials I would need to lay the slate floor.  I bought sixteen pieces of cementitious backer-board (a pretty hefty purchase, in both pounds and dollars), two fifty-pound bags of thinset, and various other items.  I borrowed a full set of tiling tools from a coworker who had just finished her kitchen floor.  I had done much reading on the subject of tiling, so I knew that the paramount consideration was whether my subfloor would prove to be 1 1/4" thick.  If not, I would have to reinforce the subfloor before I could even add the backer-board.  Which would mean another trip to the store.  And more money for material.  And more time.  You see, I planned to rip up the entire floor on Thursday night, and start with the backer-board first thing Friday morning. 

Two hours into the demolition Thursday night, I had cleared about a four foot by four foot area of floor.  And learned some interesting things.  First of all, the uppermost floor in my kitchen is sheet vinyl.  The previous owners (who installed it) did not even glue it down.  While this is particularly stupid, it is an advantage for the demolition crew (i.e., me).  They decided it needed a layer of 1/4" fiberboard under it.  I don't know what it matters what material goes below it if you're not going to glue the vinyl to it, but this is what they thought necessary.  As I soon learned, they had made up for their insouciant approach to adhesion on the vinyl step in the laying of the fiberboard.  They elected to attach the fiberboard with brads - you know, the flimsy flat L-shaped nails used in nail guns. 

You know the saying about giving a monkey a gun?  Well, that goes double for giving a DIYer with poor judgment a nail gun.  I would say that maybe one or two dozen (total) nails around the perimeter of each piece of fiberboard would have done the job admirably (again, if you assume the fiberboard was necessary to begin with).  This is not the approach they took.  That approach seems to have been governed more by a "we bought this five-pound box of nail-gun brads, and by golly, we're going to use them all!" philosophy.  They set most of the brads generally about two inches apart - and I don't mean around the perimeter of the pieces of the fiberboard.  I mean all the way across.  It's like a patchwork quilt, except that there's no regularity to the brad placement.  So I guess it looks more like a sort of low-paced swarm.  And the closest pair of brads I have found (so far) were only 1/4" apart.  Remember, we're talking about a surface where your material is fairly reliably held down by gravity.  Did they think the floor was going to escape? 

That was the uppermost floor.  The floor layer below it is linoleum.  Based on its style, I would estimate it dates from the 1950s or 1960s.  It is unlovely.  Its color indicates that it is a contemporary of the seafoam green tileboard, and I harbor about the same feelings for both of them.  Except that the linoleum is much more difficult to remove (and may contain asbestos, but I am finding that minor in comparison to the other provocations at this point).  Actually, the linoleum itself comes up fairly readily.  But under it is a layer of tar, which is somewhat time-consuming to remove.  Under that is a layer of heavy paper, and even with diligent scraping, that won't all come up.  Under that is another layer of tar, and that is holding on for dear life.  Removing all of these layers (but not the aforementioned brads) took, as above noted, about two hours - for a four-by-four area of floor.  (Happily the floor is not large - about ten by eleven, total.) 

That gets us to the bottom layer of floor.  For some reason, at this point, I was expecting to find either more linoleum (why leave one layer of hideous linoleum when you can add a second?), or a plywood subfloor.  And I was still praying to find that it was 1 1/4".  But that rapidly became a moot point.  Because as I tore off little strips of that last layer of tar, I found this:

(The normal-looking part in the front is the dining room floor.) 

If you are a home-restoration obsessive, you may just have stopped breathing (I did, when I saw it).  The normal human reaction would be, "Found what?  What the heck is that?  It looks like filthy boards.  Is that important?"  Why, yes.  It is.  It is an original, 114-year-old wood floor. 


So I will not be laying cement backer-board in my kitchen.  Or buying slate tiles (which makes me a little sad, because I love slate tiles; but which will save me several hundred dollars).  I will still get to have Fun With Tiling, because I was also planning to put slate on the sun porch, and I'm pretty sure that doesn't have an original floor. 

I will, however, be removing all those brads.  (In fact, I would have had to remove them either way.)  Because they are brads and not nails, I cannot remove them with a claw hammer.  They have to be removed with pliers.  So I bought special pliers.  Also because they are not nails, they are super-flimsy and break when you try to pull them out.  I finally perfected a sideways twisting technique that works 95% of the time.  The other 5%, I have to scrape the tar away from around the broken brad so it wouldn't trap tar under it, pound it all the way in, and then set it back with a nail set so it won't catch the sander when I go over it later. 

It took me over four hours to clear the brads from the first four-by-four section.  The next day, I managed to knock out another section just a smidge bigger.  I estimate I am now a third done. 

Of course, I still have to remove the rest of the gross tar paper.  People who refinish their original kitchen floors (who always seem to have linoleum to deal with - what were people smoking in whatever decade they started tarring over wood floors to put linoleum down?  And if I got hold of some, would it assist me in removing this crap?) always say that scraping off the tar is the hardest part.  But those people don't have my floor.  I will enjoy stripping off the tar, because it will mean that I am done with the brads.  (Also, the internet told me that if I poured boiling water on a towel set on the tar, it would come loose, and my test area kind of worked, except I had a flimsy scraper.  So I got a diesel scraper and I'm going to try again.  After the agonies with the brads and the pliers, boiling my floor is kind of cathartic.) 

We were going to host the big New Year's Eve bash, but I do not want to put a hard deadline on a project this time-consuming.  And filthy.  And physically exhausting.  But somebody better host the big bash, because I have a floor-length dress and four-inch heels that are not going to wear themselves.  And some friends have invited us to go out to their cabin and hang out by the fire, in cozy jeans and sweaters, with a bunch of other married friends who have little kids and probably don't want to spring for a babysitter at exorbitant New Year's rates.  A charming idea.  But this infertile girl DOESN'T NEED A BABYSITTER and can sit around the fire in jeans enveloped in smoke 364 nights of the year (when I am not demolishing a floor).  On New Year's Eve, I plan to be dressed to the nines, up late dancing, and singing "Auld Lang Syne" at midnight with 100 or so of my closest friends.  Even if I have to stop eating between now and then to fit into that dress.  (It really is a nice dress.) 

How's your December shaping up? 

Sunday, December 2, 2012


I got my first cell phone in the spring of 2004.  Back then contracts were one year, and I had that first phone until it completely died in the fall of 2007.  Then I decided that what I wanted was a really sturdy phone.  I got a black Motorola Razr - an awesome phone, made mostly of metal rather than plastic.  It's still working.  Even though I cracked the face in several places.

But I'd had it a long time, and I was very dissatisfied with the plan options at my long-time carrier (AT&T), and I finally made the plunge a week ago to switch.  My husband had signed up for his half of the new family plan a week previously (before that, we had individual plans.  I guess the eighth year of marriage is as good a time as any to go on a family plan!).  I had to wait because a friend had kindly agreed to give me a cell phone he no longer needed.

This adorable phone:

It has an 8MP camera (responsible for the improved resolution - if not photography skills - of a couple of the photos of my sink).  It's super-slim and adorable.  It has a touch-screen QWERTY keyboard (since I now have an unlimited texting plan, this is much nicer than my old-school keypad), and even though I didn't get a data plan, it connects to my wireless network at home.  I organized all the little icons, set the alarms, and spent hours copying over my contacts by hand.  It has good reception and call quality.  I made a comprehensive to-do list for my kitchen renovation and saved it to the phone.  It takes the same charger as my work phone, which is super-convenient.  I even found out that it will upload photos and other items straight to my work computer - which is so laden with security features it usually refuses to recognize unfamiliar devices.

On Friday, I dropped it out of the car without realizing it (it's very smooth - it slid right off my lap in the dark) and my husband ran it over as we were pulling away.  I had had it for one week.

It's going to take a long time for me to be OK with this.