Wax Trax

At the end of the last post, we were rinsing and scrubbing, scrubbing and rinsing, after acid-staining the floor. According to the instructions, we had to keep rinsing until no more residue remained. This turned out to be a LOT of scrub-rinse-repeat. Our test patch took eight cycles, and, as it turned out, the entire floor took at least that many.

Cleanup in aisle 7...

After seven or eight times we were bringing up a lot less residue, so we switched to sponge mops thinking it would be easier. Although we spent less time emptying the shop-vac, it still took a long time to mop and rinse the floor, and we had to do so at least four times. We started to wonder if any color would be left at all! Finally, we got all the residue up that we could, and it was time to seal the floor. We got the sealer from the same company as the stain – everything I could find said it’s important to use the sealer specified by the stain manufacturer. The sealer went on with a paint roller:

Signed, sealed, delivered

Notice how much lighter the floor is after scrubbing away all the residue, but before applying the sealer:

I think this sealer really brings out your variegations

Per the instructions, I waited a day or two for the first coat to dry, then applied another. The sealer was pretty easy to apply, but it smelled unbelievably horrible. It smells like one of those silver permanent graffiti markers that make you feel lightheaded, only much much more intense. Had I not been wearing a respirator, I woulda conked out after about two minutes. As it was, when I got back home both nights, I had to head straight for the shower and throw my clothes in the laundry, since the smell permeated everything. It took about a week after that for Nerdwood to be habitable again.

Sealing should only ever need to be done initially, but in order to further protect the finish from scuffs and scratches, a couple of coats of floor wax are in order. This will need to be reapplied at some interval depending on how hard we are on the floor. We’ll probably institute a strict “No skateboards or ice skates” inside the house. Oh, and no golf shoes either (Dan, I’m looking at you). Once again, we got the wax from the same manufacturer as the stain and sealer:

That oughta wax your floor but good!

This stuff I like – doesn’t smell bad, dries within half an hour so I could apply both coats in one day, and easy to apply with a microfiber dust mop.

More curling practice

Whew, what a lot of work! But we’re pretty happy with the way it looks. Even better, it matches the color of the mud here at Nerdwood.

The view from upstairs

All ready for sliding around in our stockinged feet!


A Song From Under the Floorboards

The view from below

Time to put in a real second floor, one that doesn’t have bits sticking out or weak spots that startle you when you walk on them, like the temporary plywood floor did. Temporary, as in it was only there for eight and a half years (!). Since the floor will be visible from below, between the joists, it has to look good on both sides, top and bottom. We had originally thought we would use a single layer of inch-and-a-half-thick planks, but none of the millwork places around here could do that unless we bought them knives for their milling machines, at a price of many hundreds of dollars. Instead, we decided to do the floor in two layers – a bottom layer of local aspen, the exact same stuff as we put up on the ceiling, and a top layer of local maple. Each layer is three-quarters of an inch thick, giving us the same total thickness as we had originally planned.

The aspen on the ceiling came to us pre-finished, so I asked the folks we got the ceiling from, Keweenaw Specialty Woods, for more of the same. Unfortunately, they told me they no longer provide finishing services, apparently the one guy they had who did that has left! I was pretty bummed at the prospect of applying multiple coats of polyurethane, sanding between each coat, before putting down the boards. Then Clare asked why we didn’t just use more linseed oil, since we were not going to be dancing on the ceiling (sorry, Mr. Ritchie). This worked out great – it’s really easy to roll the stuff on, no sanding needed, one coat does the job.

Once we had some of the boards finished, I ran a string line from one end of the house to the other, and screwed in the first “baseline” row, lining one edge of the board up with the string.

Level tear us apart, again.

You may notice in the picture above, some of the joists are weathered on top, and some look freshly cut. Since they were not perfectly level with each other (probably a combination of ‘rustic’ building techniques and sitting there for 9 years), I had to plane some down, and shim some up, to achieve some semblance of level.

Once the baseline was in, and we organized the boards by size, it was time to start slappin’ ’em in, and nailin’ ’em down with the trusty “Airstrike”:



The joists are in a spiderweb-like radial pattern, so we had to put the boards down in sections, the ends overlapping a joist, then cut a straight line down the center of that joist with a circular saw. Like this:

That old line again!

Did we miss a spot?!

Then we butted up the next section’s boards against the line we just cut, and did the same thing all over again.

Seems I've seen this seam in an unseemly scene

Soon, we had enough floor in place that we could use it to finish the rest of the boards in insect-free comfort. Note that we are only finishing the downward-facing side of the boards, which is why they are yellowish, and the top of the floor is not:

Knot much room to walk here...

After a couple of weeks, working nights and weekends, we have a delightfully flat, smooth floor upstairs. Still need another layer, but it really is starting to look finished upstairs:

Ready for clams on the half-shell, and roller skates. Roller skates.


Duke of Oil

Rustic Venture

Now that all the framing members are sanded, it’s time to finish them. Clare and I have been looking into natural finishes for Nerdwood, and rather than use polyurethane, we decided to use linseed oil, which is an oil derived from flaxseed. It’s a drying oil, meaning it soaks into the wood, then dries slowly to a hard finish. It also yellows and darkens somewhat over time, which is desirable in a semi-rustic house, in my opinion. The only real drawback we’ve read about is that it’s not a very tough finish, and doesn’t resist abrasion very well, which makes it unsuitable for finishing, say, a floor, or your in-home bowling alley. That’s not really a problem for the posts, beams, and joists we are using it on; we’ll be unlikely to be doing balance beam routines or walking on the ceiling.

This picture shows the difference between finished and unfinished wood; the beam on the right has been finished with linseed oil:

Before and Rafter

It’s still much lighter than before we sanded, but the grain is really accentuated. The can of linseed oil contains dire warnings about rags soaked with linseed oil spontaneously combusting, since the drying process is exothermic. I’ve taken precautions with the rags I’m using, but it doesn’t seem like they get any warmer than room temperature. I am mostly using a paint roller to apply the stuff, and a brush to get into tight areas.

Burstin' into flame like a Donkey Kong barrel

Although my rolling arm is just a blur, it still seems to take forever to finish...

You may notice that I am once again using a respirator. The linseed oil itself smells very pleasant (think Murphy’s oil soap, which is also flax-based), but it’s fairly thick and needs to be thinned with mineral spirits before applying it. I’m using “odorless” mineral spirits, which are anything but – not only do they smell, they can make you lightheaded if your ventilation isn’t sufficient. This respirator is rated for VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and I can’t smell a thing when I have it on.

After a number of days sloshing oil on wood, I’m done finishing everything. The picture at the top shows how nicely the saw marks and grain are brought out by the oil. Each joist and timber has it’s own character, just like every log in the walls is different.

The next thing to do is some carpentry necessary to install the floorboards on the second floor. Meanwhile, Clare is working hard on the garden and the harvest has been very good indeed, not to mention the blossoms cheering up the place.

A sickening amount of vitamins

Together, we shall rule the cosmos!

Demanding Sanding

Spring/early summer of 2016, and I’ve been doing some sanding. OK, a LOT of sanding. But before I get into that, here are a few things Clare’s been up to while I kick up the dust.

When I mentioned to Clare that I thought we should make all the duplex electrical outlets (okay, receptacles!) into quads, she took it in stride and commenced to wiring up a storm. Now, there’s no way we’ll ever run out of places to plug things in (ha!). Then she took care of some more lighting fixtures. Installing lights over the doors makes the outside look even more finished:

Code requires a light over every exterior door... ...fortunately, code lets you pick nice-looking fixtures!

And, since it’s spring, time to start lots and lots of seeds. Every year, I’m very concerned about the basil. Because basil is very, very important.

mmmmmmm... futurepesto

When we framed Nerdwood, the timbers sat out in the elements for many months before they were covered by a roof, and many many more months before the outside walls were done. This caused them to weather to gray and/or brown, which looks pretty good on the outside, but on the inside, we thought it would brighten things up to sand and finish the exposed framing. Of course, there is lots and lots of exposed framing.

After doing some research, I ordered a 6″ random-orbit sander made by Bosch that got very high marks for usability and durability, although some said that using it on the highest setting was like wrestling an angry badger. Or robot. This turned out to be true. I started by sanding the posts and beams on the second floor, then finishing them with linseed oil. Linseed oil is great to work with, you can use one coat, and it will last a very long time if the wood you are finishing will not be subject to much wear.

Guess we can't dance on the posts

Once those were done, we cleared everything off the second floor and removed the temporary plywood decking:

The deck was stacked - behind the house

Careful where you step...

Now it was time to fire up the ol’ Bosch. Well, the new Bosch. Good thing the weather was cool for the vast majority of the sanding, because I had a lot of gear on my head:

All Clare heard me saying was "Mrrrffllf flrrml flooof bloofin."

The posts and beams were cut with a bandsaw (portable sawmill), but the joists were cut with some kind of buzzsaw – in other words, a circular saw. Sanding really brought out the saw marks, which we really like the looks of:

It's rustic!

They’ll be a bit darker when they are finished, but the saw marks will still be accentuated. All this sanding took quite awhile, especially since I couldn’t do it for more than a few hours at a time without getting the “Vibrating Palm of Death.” But eventually, every post, beam, and joist was sanded.

One morning in the middle of all this excitement, we showed up at Nerdwood and our neighbor Diesel was there to see what all the fuss was about:

"Hey, guys! Mind if I snack while I watch?"


The Light Pours Out Of Me

Once we finished cordwooding the house, it was time to start working in earnest on the interior. Clare and I decided it would be best to start the finish work upstairs and work our way down, so that the mess would fall into the as-yet-unfinished first floor, rather than on stuff we had just finished. During the fall and early winter of 2015, our friend Matt had some time to give us a hand (fortunately for us!), and he framed out the area above the second-floor cordwood walls. He then drywalled the whole area, aside from where the second-floor bathroom will be – since we decided not to put any cordwood walls in the bathrooms, we’ll be finishing that room separately.

Clare and I took over at this point, painting the drywall, and putting up trim that I made from leftover cedar boards. Most of the second floor looks pretty well done at this point, as long as you don’t look down at the temporary plywood flooring on the second floor.

Clare's storied windows

Trim me! Trim you!

While Matt was working, and throughout the winter, I installed ceiling light fixtures on the knotty aspen ceiling, covering both the great room and the second floor.

Let's pretend those bundles of wires aren't there...

They had to brush a lot of nickels to make these fixtures

Working on Nerdwood after work during the previous winters was always a bit spooky, since it gets so dark out there so early, and the couple of portable work lights we have just light a small area, casting mysterious shadows throughout the rest of the house. The track lights and second floor ceiling lights really light the whole place up, and make it more homey to work in. Plus, they are LED bulbs, so they use a tiny amount of juice compared to the energy-hog halogen work lights.

As you can see above, I also put in a ceiling fan over the great room. In addition to having a light in it, it really moves a lot of air, helping keep the whole house an even temperature, even though all the heat is coming from just the floor and the masonry heater. We chose a fan with a DC motor, which is pricier, but is completely silent at all but the highest, “It’s a twister!” fan speeds.

On Christmas Day, the temps outside were hovering just around freezing, so water kept dripping from the roof, then coating the vegetation with ice:

Ice attack!