Paint & Stainathon, Time-Compressed

Jeff’s taking it easy this week–as he should!– and as my mom’s jetting off for a b-day trip soon and has a lot on her plate, the large bulk of the work this week has been done solo by yours truly (and of course, Nellie and Widget, General Contractors). Most of the stuff I’ve done has been related to turning things from one color into another, and that does not always make for scintillating reading, so I thought I’d compress all of my projects from the week into one post and show you the before/afters.

Project One: Finish the PaintDone and done! Two coats of Benjamin Moore Atrium White are up on the walls and the ceilings (and the ceiling paint means that I also have two coats of Benjamin Moore Atrium White on all of my clothes, my contacts, my dogs, etc.)

It looks really good. All of my fears about white on white have totally evaporated.
Interior painting

Interior painting

One minor caveat follows my fondness for this paint: BOY, it is easy to scuff a whole lot of matte white paint! This is something I totally should have thought about before but did not something I definitely gave a lot of serious thought to beforehand, so why don’t you go look at the other pretty pictures while I emergency-buy a whole bunch of AFM Safecoat to slap on everything? I am for sure going to have to do a little touch-up coat, especially after the trim painting/wood staining I’ve been doing (more on that in a sec.)

Completion rate: 90% done. I’ve got to do touch ups, and somehow I totally forgot that I needed to paint the bathroom ceiling (since I’m not painting the bathroom walls), so I’ve got to do that probably tomorrow. Everything else is looking solid, though.

Project Two: Paint the Horrible, Horrible Trim

Note: the trim itself is just fine. I have discovered, however, that I totally hate painting trim: apparently my skills as a painter veer towards “get lots of paint on stuff quickly and efficiently with a roller” and not towards “do anything that requires a modicum of precision”. This is quadruply true of quarter round, which is SO ANNOYING to paint, because it is, as the name implies, ROUNDED. And that means no using the paint pad, no using the mini roller, no using any useful tool beyond a teeny tiny angle brush and a lot lot lot of painter’s tape. This is emphatically not my skill set, which I learned as I was putting a terrible, uneven, drippy layer all over the trim. Thankfully, my mom is totally that kind of detail-y painter that I am not, so she came over yesterday, scraped off all my drippy mistakes and made the trim look gooooooood. (Trim paint, PS, is Benjamin Moore semi-gloss Decorator’s White).


Completion rate: About 10%, tragically. Mom came really close to finishing everything that was up already when she came over yesterday, but there is a ton of trim that isn’t even up yet (Jeff needs to come down and sit in a chair and tell us where to nail everything up: he precut it all.) See all those raw-looking edges with bits of vapor barrier poking out in the picture above? Yeah, that all needs to be trimmed, and those areas are basically everywhere (+ floor molding all around the house.)

Project Three: Stain the bathroom walls and beams somehow

This has been my favorite project of the week, and the way it worked out is what I would call an excellently happy accident. My working plan was to put some kind of poly or other sealant on the bathroom walls, which I am leaving unpainted (just to have a little change of pace and leave some of the super pretty plywood intact: I’d initially planned to put cedar closet lining all over the bathroom, but the ply accomplishes the same goal aesthetically). I also had planned to do some kind of darker stain on the beams. Well, in the course of looking into how precisely I was going to do that, I came across a couple facts:
a. nearly all wood stains are very drippy, and thus it can be really challenging to use them on an overhead application
b. Wood stains in general are about as chemically and VOC-laden as you can imagine, and even though there are a handful of low-VOC stains, they are a touch obscure and definitely not carried by any of my little town’s three hardware stores.

So anyway, blah blah blah, I eventually found a couple of good products, and looking at their website’s Dealer Locators, I was led to an awesome hippie building store in the teeny, funny little warehousey Tucson arts district. Somehow I did not know about it previously, which was an oversight: they have been there for ten years, and they source all kinds of awesome hippie building material (denim insulation! All manner of expensive-yet-gorgeous recycled countertops! Wall paints made out of milk that you buy in powder form, tint with the addition of various dry clays and then just add water to yourself! Kelsey heaven, is what I’m saying.) Anyway, when I told the lady at the store my stain thoughts, she was like, “Well, we’ve got those, but they are about $40 a quart (!!!!!!) and if you’re doing an entire bathroom…..” She must have seen me going a little green, because she pulled me away to another side of the store and suggested that if she were going to do such a project, she would just use tung oil and forgo stain altogether. Tung oil, it transpires, penetrates just like stain, seals everything very well, is so water resistant that it’s often used as a boat finish and is totally nontoxic (downside: it takes a while to dry, but as I am not actually living in the house, I figured NBD). Plus, big 32 oz bottles were only $16 each. Normally I would have gone home and done some research and then come back, but I was still so dazed by the whole $40/quart stain that I was just like, “Yep, sure, tung oil, sounds awesome, sell me some of that” and bought two big bottles, one dark and one clear. It’s actually made by the company that makes dry paint out of milk, and the bottles it comes in are very reminiscent of Dr. Bronner’s.

So I brought it back to the house, got some good brushes for putting it on and some disposable microfiber cloths for wiping off the excess, and started slapping it up places. And you know what, guys? Tung oil turns out to be AWESOME. First of all, it smells nutty and nice, and it wipes off your hands without any big deal (unlike tung oil-laced varnishes like the one Minwax makes, which are a bear on your hands). Second, it goes on really easy (very much like paint) with very little dripping; like stain, you put some on and then wipe off the excess with a cloth, so it’s not the fastest going, but it’s no more complex than stain. And third of all, it is gorgeous.

Here’s some of the bathroom ply once I’d put the first coat on:DSC00553


The irregularities in the picture are partially the light reflecting on the walls, but partially because the wood just absorbs the stain in different ways and at different rates (makes sense: it’s ply). A second coat totally smoothed that out, though.
[note: those gaps in the ply will also be trimmed]

[took the picture while the oil was still drying; that’s why it’s shiny]

Then I got some of the darker stuff and tried it a few places: the edges of the staircase, the beams, and the frame around the loft window. And oh man, do I love the way the dark oil looks. To wit:

Hubba hubba

Stairs (the uprights are going to be turned into drawers and I am probably going to put leftover flooring on the treads, so don’t worry about the bleedover)

Loft window (one coat in the picture: I’ve put a second coat on since)

Starting the beams

First coat on

Second coat on

I LOVE the way this looks, especially against the white ceiling. I am a total tung oil convert now. One of the things I really love is that it’s not totally opaque, which means that in my case, you can see the stamping and other lettering on the wood through the oil.


I know this is not for everyone, but I really really really like it. I am down with some touches of industrial scattered around (I’m making towel bars and such for the bathroom out of galvanized plumbing pipe, and if I can swing it, the stairs are going to have a bannister that includes some rebar). Also, my inner minimalist enjoys having the actual building materials be evident: if this house is made from trees, and those trees are processed in a semi-industrial way, I would like for that not to be obscured, at least to some extent. The other upside is that the tung oil DID cover the blackish discoloration on the beams, which I thought was a lot less cool looking.

(Messy) tools of the trade

Completion rate: Depends: I think 100%, unless the oil soaks in all weird tonight and I need to do another coat at some point.

Project Four: Scrap porch!

Step one was locating some good scraps, which I did last week. Step two was figuring out how to arrange them into something porch-shaped. I already decided that for the bottom porch (the part that supports the second stairstep), I wanted to make some panels of the same size that I could connect with mending plates (which could come apart when I have to move the house.) So last night, I laid them out on the floor in my mom’s house and played around with them until I had some good panels (yay for a Lego-filled childhood!).

Not totally done, but you get the idea

Currently, there are some little spaces in the panels, which I think are feature-not-bug, as they will let leaves and water and such fall through the porch. That said, I may end up having to put ply below the panels (just depending on how structurally sound they are when I’m done putting them together), in which case, that benefit is nullified and I end up filling in the holes with offcuts or shims.

Next step: glue the individual pieces together into panels with heavy duty construction adhesive. I did this today: here’s that process, with unfortunately the most boring and least patchwork-y panel showing.

My thinking is that tomorrow, I’ll put some wood screws in them to bolster up the construction adhesive, then I will edge the whole thing in 2x2s and screw on some small legs. If it’s wobbly, though, I will do something else. This is a totally improvised (and totally free) project, so I will not be too stressed if it’s a disaster.

Completion rate: Maybe 40%? There are definitely some more steps, even if everything holds together perfectly.

Project Five: Lay floating floor in loft

OK, I could not believe how easy this was, even for a click-together floating floor. First, I put down some spacers over the ply underlay (the wrong way, it turns out: when Mom saw these pictures, she told me that the spacers needed to be upright so there’s only about a 1/4″ space between the floor and wall. Oops! Tomorrow I will go change those around and then slide the whole floor over, as it’s not attached to anything yet.)

Then I laid the first row of boards down, putting the tongue of one board into the groove of the previous board and then folding them down. For the next row, I did the same thing, but when I got each board in place, I carefully pounded it in with a hammer and woodblock so it snapped into the groove of the corresponding plank in the first row.

The seam between the two rows of planks before I got the boards pounded in
[PS: I have not, as of yet, staggered the planks: I just laid them out in even rows. This is maybe a stupid idea, structurally? It seems to be working OK for the moment, though: it’s a small space, there’s only going to be three rows of flooring, and it’ll be held in by molding. And seriously, this whole thing took me about 45 minutes, so if I need to redo it, it is no big loss.]

Finished for the day. Tomorrow, I need to bust out Ye Olde Chop Saw and cut some pieces to fit between row #2 and the back wall, plus the edge pieces (the third row is not going to be quite as long as the current planks)

Yay! Tomorrow’s pre-dog class projects: finish the loft floor, start touch-up painting, paint the bathroom ceiling, maybe do a paper template for the bathroom floor so I know where to cut the vinyl.

Finally, one shot of the house exterior as of today. ❤ ❤ ❤

…and one of a cool Cooper’s Hawk I saw on the way home, when I took the dogs to run in Elephant Head as a reward for being good patient contractors today.

Build: Day Nine

First off, in the battle of Me vs Door, the current (and probably final) score is Door: 1 Me: 0. I spent three straight evenings trying to get all the old paint off the door, only to discover at the very end that there were a couple of places where it had been patched and wood-filled. This jettisoned my plan to stain it–the patched sections would have been SUPER obvious–and so after all that work, I am just going to paint it again. Boo! It’s in the garage with a couple of coats of primer on it, and I am probably just going to paint it white since I have some white exterior paint left over from doing the floor. Why yes, that is the color that the door started (at least on one side): don’t rub it in. That said, if any of you guys come up with awesome ideas for more fun door colors that would look nice with dark blue, I am all ears.

In better news, I now have rafters on the whole roof, as well as roof boards! Jeff finished the siding while he was working by himself on Monday, so yesterday we started by putting on the flashing (it’s a moisture barrier that you put at the join between two horizontal siding panels).

Galvanized metal! How can you say no? If I can get some Cor-Ten steel in there somewhere, the house is going to be a very small ode to Richard Serra.DSC00254



And hey! you might have noticed those fancy roof panels in the picture! That’s because we spent most of the day cutting the beams for the back ceiling (over the loft), schlepping them up the ladder, then covering them with enormous panels of ply, also schlepped up the ladder. No in-process pictures of this, because I didn’t realize ’till I got down there that I’d only brought my telephoto lens (not useful for close house shots) and because of the aforementioned ‘carrying heavy things on ladders’.


I climbed up the ladder to take pictures from atop the roof, but couldn’t get them with only the telephoto. So all I managed was a couple of up-close shots of the elevated living room ceiling.



Laying on my back inside the houselet, looking up at the ceiling

Always nice to see this kind of stuff on your plywood! Formaldehyde-free since 2013!

Then, because the forecast calls for freezing rain (*shakes fist at sky), we tarped the top: Jeff said that if it rained, he’d just come down and work on the electrical indoors, no big deal. To which I responded, “Or you could just stay home and NOT be out in the freezing rain!”, but he just laughed that off because he is a crazy person.


Still stressing over paint color. What I found today is a) the Benjamin Moore paint covers beautifully and dries to a really pretty matte finish: definitely my leading contender for Brand of Paint, and b) the color, which is my favorite on the light side of the house, looks very grim on the dark side of the house. I still love it, but seeing it dry and on the shaded side gave me pause.

I don’t know if this will translate on your screens, but here it is on the light side:
DSC00250My shaded side comparison shot didn’t really turn out: I’ll try to get another today. But suffice to say, the warmer colors hold a lot more light on the shaded side (duh, I guess, but it took seeing it in person for me to really get that) and are a lot prettier in the shade, though I still contend they look too bright on the light side.

All of this stressing is because I am going to have to paint SOON, probably Friday if the weather is OK, because Jeff wants to get the trim up and that is going to be a lot easier if I paint first. Jeff, by the way, hates all the colors I’m considering (“they’re all so dark!”), and I can tell it’s going to break his heart a little to see his baby all clad in what he considers unsuitable colors (he says that if it were him, he’d go with a baby blue with white trim. Sorry, Jeff.)

Scrap pile! Still not enormous! Still lots of useable bits!

Rafter scraps. So pretty!

Fauxlarium, sided


Build: Day Six

Now that I have (nearly) all of my exterior walls finished up (waaaaaalls!), today was the day to start on the ceiling framing (we just did the front section of the house today). This was weirdly fun, even though it involved a LOT of sawdust in the eyes.  I have learned a ton from this build, but today was especially like OJT Woodworking School; this was in part because almost everything we did today had an identical copy of (we were framing two identical small ceiling sections), so the way things evolved is that Jeff did one thing, then I watched him and tried to duplicate what he did for the second thing. Fun! Jeff and I talk very little during the build (Jeff, who is a very nice guy, is nevertheless not a talker). Also, the generator is loud, and makes it hard for anybody to hear anybody. So we conducted a lot of today’s Intro to Ceiling Framing in mime: Jeff would do something, and then he would mutely hand me some wood and a pencil and a power tool and I would copy it. It was in this manner that I learned how to make rafters.

But before we even get to rafters, let’s talk ceiling beams! (sorry! FUNNEST BLOG EVER, right?)[Oh, PS: Sorry for the picture quality today: I realized when I got there that I’d left my camera’s battery in the charger at home, so all of these were taken with an elderly iPhone that features a half-busted LED.]


So apparently there are two ways you can go with beams: you can either get huge, heavy thick cut pieces of wood like you might see in a mead hall of the sort featured in an early Anglo-Saxon text called “How To Slaughter A Thousand Men in a Mead Hall”. Orrrr, if you’re working in primarily 2x4s (like we are), you can take two 2x4s, glue them together with hard core construction adhesive, fire a bunch of nails in them, and boom! instant beam! This has the benefit of still being strong without being so heavy that it takes out your entire ceiling (though they’re still pretty heavy: I was lifting them over my head all day and now my shoulders are mad at me.)

Step one: glue (this is Beam #1, which Jeff is doing, but I built Beam #2, go me!)

Step two: Nail

Step three: cut a little notch in the wall framing on both sides and slot the beam into that.



Step four: profit!

Dos beams (and one thumb)!

Actually, there’s a step 3.5 in there: cut down the temporary lintel over the door that held everything together, pre-beams. Once we cut it down, I put it to the side and said to Jeff, “I’ll just put this over here in case we have to fight any orcs”, which I am telling you about now because it ACTUALLY GOT A CHUCKLE OUT OF JEFF! This was the greatest accomplishment of my day.


Next, we cut the rafters, fourteen little ones that sloped down just on one side (for both eight foot ceilings) and seven bigger ones that sloped on both sides (for the 10 foot ceiling). Cutting rafters is so fun!

Jeff did a little measuring, then drew out a the shape he wanted the rafter to be on a 2×4 (you can just see that in the picture): he cut that shape out and then used it as a template for the rest of the rafters.


This went very fast. Here’s our pile-o-rafters:

Then we arranged them from the side of the house to the beam and nailed them in.

This all was done up on the ladder: when Jeff was installing his side, instead of putting one rafter up, coming down the ladder, moving the ladder, going back up with another rafter, etc., when he was done, he just kind of did a pull up on the ceiling beams, then I moved the ladder a few feet, then he pulled himself over a few feet monkey-style until he could get his feet back on the ladder. When it came time for me to install my side, I just went up and down the ladder a lot, because I found that that shit was way beyond me. Jeff is kind of a superstar. I didn’t leave him hanging on the ceiling so I could get a picture–that would have been unkind–but here’s some more monkey stuff up in the ceiling.


I believe in that picture he is tiptoeing on one foot on the ladder and has the other foot just braced somewhere in space. BEST CONTRACTOR/MOST INSANE CONTRACTOR!

Right set of rafters installed

Left set of rafters installed! (that is MY SIDE!)

Next, we had to build  the inner edges of the eight foot ceilings up a bit, so the rafters for the ten foot ceiling would have something to rest on. One of the best lessons I learned in Woodworking School today was that if you have a complicated section to frame out, especially if it’s anywhere higher than at eye level, it makes the most sense to build the section on the ground and then just lift it up and install it.

…which is why Jeff is building these little hold-the-ceiling-up boxes on the ground

Once that was built, we lifted it up above the eight foot ceiling (harder than it sounds!) and nailed it in

After that, we had a level base on which to place the bigger rafters (the ones that go over the ten foot ceiling.) See how they’re resting on the new box we built on the ground? Incidentally, I don’t know WTH Jeff is doing there, but it apparently involves some epic veins.

All three sets in!


[Does the ceiling make a little more sense now? I was having trouble really explaining it yesterday]

The whole shebang

And then we called it a day, because come on, that’s awesome.

Oh, also: I have had another failure in The Battle For Denim Insulation, which is that the lady from Craigslist that had a bunch of extra denim wrote me today and said they’d run into problems with their build and were actually going to be using all of their insulation after all. And of course, I could just buy it from an actual store, but that starts getting somewhat spendy. We’ll see how it goes; right now, I am trying hard to convince myself of the merits of rigid foam board. The labeling on the side is trying hard to convince me that it is awesome!

Which, whatever, foam board, I know that you are functionally non-recyclable and I do not care for that, though I do appreciate your relative paucity of toxic chemicals.

After the day’s fun ceiling action was over, I ran home, let the poor dogs out, threw some dogs in the car and headed up to Lumber Liquidators to help resolve my floor dilemma. I got lost in some crazy construction-related detours, ended up getting there five minutes after they closed, somehow persuaded the nice salesman to give me some samples anyway and then came home. I got samples of strand bamboo in dark, medium and light (I don’t know which specific finishes they are, since I didn’t want to make the poor guy hunt: I just asked for the first things he saw in dark, light and medium.) Had I gotten there on time, I also would have picked up some cork (which I’m considering for the floor in the loft), but as it was, I didn’t want to press my luck. Tomorrow, I am going to brush all the animals and see what their hair looks like on each of the floor samples (I may try to figure out how to get them to dig at the board too, just to gauge scratchability). Also, while the nice guy was getting me samples, I took a look at that tiger-stripe bamboo, which turns out to be a lot more subtle and pretty in person (it is interesting, but not nearly as HEY LOOKIT ME, I’M A FLOOR! as it appears in the picture.) Strong contender, I think!

Tomorrow is the last build day before Thanksgiving, which Jeff is remarkably taking off: we’re only working in the morning, but the plan is to frame the rest of the ceiling out (over the loft/kitchen/bathroom.) Yay house!