Sunday, June 14, 2015

Three Weeks In

We’ve been at this thing for three weeks now. For a few guys doing a few days a week I’d say we’re making good headway. If we keep at this pace I don’t see why we can’t wrap this thing up in another three weeks or so. First off, I need to give credit where credit is due. I’ve hired a few of my friends to help out. Without them this would be impossible for us to pull off. Dan, Mike, Nathan, and Brave have been a huge help to me. My dad is flying out tomorrow to spend the week with me. I’ve got more folks lined up ready to help also. Above all, we are so thankful we hired an expert. Mark has been at this business a long time and he has provided the critical interpretation of evidence of original features as well as his hard-earned practical/strategical wisdom.

Demo of "modern" renovation in the back half of the house

In another half day of work the second floor will be completely gutted down to rafters and roof sheathing. The first floor is currently gutted down to studs and lath nailers. Next step will be tearing off the later porches and then dismantling the large central chimney and small kitchen chimney on the back. Ready, Dad?

Julia and I are funny about our house project. With few exceptions, we would much rather know what was original than think of new possibilities for the space. We do not enjoy the designing process at all. Because the back half of the first floor has been butchered up a bit, it’s sort of a blank canvas. We have a few parameters we can be sure were original but otherwise we have to go straight to the drawing board. We spent a number of hours agonizing over the layout. For some relief after one session, I said, “Oh! Julia I was looking at something you’d find interesting.” I took her outside and showed her remnants of the only paint scheme on the exterior: bright yellow clapboards and red-brown trim. “Whew. Good.” she said. Now we don’t have to pick paint colors out here! It’s already decided for us! Told you we were strange.

Part of the mantel studs

Creative chimney bump out that was plastered and trimmed out

It's better to break the nails off at the back than break out wood at the face.

Floor prying tools

Found some neat stuff pulling the floors up upstairs. I found all these tally marks on many of the boards (both sub floor and top floor). Puzzled, I tweeted (ugh. Did I just say that?) my friend Bill Rainford about it and he fired back lots of info about how these are tally marks from the sawmill for numbering the boards. I guess the original owners decided to lay them down rough because the tally marks are still there and where there wasn’t heavy traffic wear you can see sash saw marks. I guess the upstairs was not a real elegant space at first. Pretty interesting stuff.

Sawmill tally marks on sub floor

Newspaper was all over in the walls upstairs

A few of the boards were rotted to powder. The name of this escapes me. Red rot? Don't remember.

We also uncovered an original knee wall that was assembled completely with wrought nails. That threw us off a little. That whole corner looks almost 18th century but the frame doesn’t appear to be of that era. Mark is pretty sure this house was built no earlier than 1830 and no later than 1840. So, wrought nails in one corner of an upstairs rough storage attic? Maybe they had a handful of “olde” nails from their grandfather and just used them in the least important place in the house. Who knows?

One of the original knee wall boards...coon chewed and all.

Also of note… Look at the above picture. See something off? Does the dormer hole look a little crooked? It’s not. The middle rafter is seated in the wrong spot. They must have notched it into the wrong side of the line because it’s about 6” off at the plate. I guess they knew it would still hold the roof up and they probably never anticipated me blogging about it to the world. “No one will ever know”, they thought. 

Sadly, I had to bid farewell to my most regular worker this week. Dan is going out to sea for work for the next month. We joked about how I hope I won’t have any work for him when he gets back. I’d like to be wrapped up by then but I’ll miss him at the house. We’ve worked hard side by side and talked a lot. This kind of work is a very bonding kind of experience and I think Dan and I are becoming real good friends.

Julia and I have received a lot of feedback about the project. Some of it was encouraging but most people think we’re crazy. I don’t know what this says our mental condition but we’re still convinced this project makes sense for our family and is totally attainable. I think we’re over halfway done with the disassembly and there’s no rush on putting it back up after that. We’ll take that part as it comes. In the end, we will have a totally structurally sound, raccoon poop free, well insulated, plumbed, and wired 200 year old house with most of its original material. That sounds like a dream to me. 


  1. I'm curious...are you planning to add any "mod-cons" or going total early 1800s? That is, I do have an antique chamber pot I'd be willing to gift you if necessary.

    1. Ooooh! A chamber pot? Maybe! Is it in good condition?

      Kidding. Yes, running water. Toilet. Shower. Washer/Dryer. Dishwasher even!!!

    2. Yes it is. At least it was when I packed it two months ago. A washer/dryer reminds me...I simply MUST go to the laundromat this week.

  2. Wow, that is some weathered paint! I thought the house was grey!

    1. Yeah! No one will recognize it when we put it back up!

  3. Traver KrieglsteinJune 14, 2015 at 11:07 PM

    I think it's great that you guys are able to do this project! Don't let the critics get under your skin! I'm looking forward to seeing more as this develops. :)

    1. Thanks, Traver. We are keeping our heads up. The scoffing is useful to remind ourselves to work well and work efficiently but not burn out. If we can keep our heads and finish well, I will call that success. We're on track so far!

  4. Some of the best dreams require a bit of (or a lot of) work to achieve. You will not only be leaving a legacy to your future generations but preserved for another couple hundred years someone else's from our distant past.

    Kudos to you and I wish I still lived in the Northeast - I would have volunteered for a weekend

  5. I don't think you're crazy. Sounds awesome to me. Wish I lived closer so I could offer to help.

    Great luck with the paint remnants! Keep up with the blogumentary; I'm really enjoying it.

  6. Any holes in the rotted sections? Looks closer to powder post beetle damage to me.

    You guys are making great progress!

  7. You are definitely not crazy.

    My uncle and I have been using dendrocronology to date structures in central New England for a decade or so. Does not always work, but it does more often than not. It might help you figure out some of the mystery. Maine may be a stretch, but it may work.
    I would need more than a few samples with a bark or wainy edge. Better if it comes from a cut with lots of rings showing. So if you wind up having odd bits of softwood or oak that we could compare to the "library" of samples, save them and let's talk.


    1. Jason, I think we have some good candidates. Let me know what you wanna do. I'd love to help.