Remodeling the Kitchen

Another Handy Tip

I did something today that I thought I should pass along to all who might be in the midst of a kitchen renovation or who are contemplating one.

It’s sort of a no-brainer to label your boxes thoroughly and comprehensively when you pack up the contents of your kitchen before you start tearing out the cabinets.  One thing I wish I’d done is label the sides of the boxes rather than the tops.  If you label tops and then stack the boxes, you can’t tell what’s in the lower ones unless you wiggle the boxes around (risking a collapse), or move them, and some of them are darned heavy.  If the boxes are labeled on their sides, it’s much easier to tell what’s in them when you are looking at a stack of three or four boxes.  But that’s not my main tip for the day.

Packing up is no fun, but I love unpacking and putting things away.  I love figuring out where things are going to go, and how I can best organize my space.  So before I started unpacking boxes today, I printed out the drawings that the cabinet company (Gold Run Cabinet and Door Co. in Susanville, CA) gave me when Maurice emailed me with the estimate and work-up.  When I had drawings for both sides of the kitchen on paper, I sat down with a pencil and labeled each cabinet on the drawings with what I thought I wanted to put in it.

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My boxes are heavy, and I really wanted to minimize lugging them around unnecessarily.  I also didn’t want to put a bunch of stuff in a cabinet and then decide that wasn’t what I wanted to put in that cabinet after all.  I’m recovering from an extended bout with the flu, and I’m not feeling all that up to snuff.  I didn’t want to expend any more energy than I absolutely had to.

With my doodled plan in hand, I was able to locate the boxes I wanted to unpack today (with some wiggling and moving the top ones, hence my first tip) and know where that stuff was going to go.  These new cabinets are so tall that I can only reach the bottom two or three shelves on the uppers unless I climb up on the step stool.  With the step stool, I can reach the top two shelves.  I know that only the things I don’t use often will go up on those top shelves, so today, I focused on the lower shelves of the uppers on the sink side, putting away drinking glasses, dishes, coffee mugs, tea and coffee, wine glasses, casserole dishes, and serving dishes.

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I can’t put away a lot of things in the lower cabinets because I don’t have my roll-outs yet.  I’m ordering after-market roll-out shelves for several of the lower cabinets (and for my spice cabinet which is the upper just to the right of the stove), and there’s really no point in loading stuff into the cabinets and then having to take it out again to install the roll-outs.  I also can’t put anything away in any of the drawers until the countertops are installed.  So I’m mainly focusing on the uppers, but I did put away one box of baking pans because I kept tripping over it in the living room when I’d come around the corner in the dark!

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I still have a lot of stuff to put away, but with my drawings and notes, I know I can put things away efficiently and with a minimum of effort.  And that’s important to me as I continue to recover from the flu.

If you are doing a kitchen renovation or thinking about one, keep in mind that those drawings the cabinet shop gives you will be really helpful in the unpacking and stowing away process.

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Remodeling the Kitchen

A Neat Little Trick

This will be a shorty but a goody.  Today, I unpacked the first box and loaded some of my china into the glass-fronted china cabinet in the kitchen.  I had the cabinet guys line up my cabinet shelves with the grid on the glass door, but then I realized that the shelves had no routered groove for my china plates the way my old wooden hutch had.  I started thinking about how I would support those plates, and I came up with an idea that I ran by the cabinet guys.  I got the okay, yeah, that would work, so I did it today.

First, I cleaned the shelves with some ammonia-based glass cleaner to get off any dust or grease or anything that might keep the silicone from sticking to the shelf.  Then, I got out the big plate that needed to be supported and measured where I wanted the edge of the plate to rest and marked that spot with a pencil.  Then I used a ruler to measure for a line all the way across the shelf.  After that, I got out the smaller plates that needed to be supported, and I did the same, marked and measured and drew a line.  I determined that I only needed two different support lines, but I could have put in as many as I wanted.

Then I got a tube of clear silicone sealer, and I ran a bead of silicone all the way along the shelf, starting with the line furthest from me, closest to the back of the cabinet.  I ran the second bead, closer to me, along the shelf as well.  I went slowly and made sure I had a good, thick bead of sealer laid down.  I went back and filled in any spots that looked a little thin. Then I left the cabinet doors open and waited two hours, until the silicone sealer had set up firmly and was transparent.

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When I thought the sealer was dry, I tested the strength of the silicone lines with my finger to see if they had actually adhered to the shelf.  They had, so I placed the plate and watched to see if the weight of it was going to dislodge the silicone bead.  It didn’t.  I left the plate in place, put in a couple more plates, and then filled the shelf.  I put a large teapot in front of the big plate, just in case it did dislodge the silicone line.  I don’t think it will, but I thought “better safe than sorry.”

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The silicone dried clear, nearly transparent, and is invisible with the shelf full.  I’m pretty happy with how that little project turned out.

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That’s it!  That’s my neat little trick that requires no power tools to make a plate groove out of any shelf.  All you need is a pencil, a ruler or tape measure, and a tube of clear silicone sealer. Now go out and stand up those plates!

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Remodeling the Kitchen

Cabinets Are Here!

This post marks Day 2 of the cabinet installation.  By the end of today, the cabinet install will be finished!  Oh, no, I’m not excited or anything like that.

On Friday, the cabinet shop guys set all the cabinets in place.  Today, they are working on getting the soft close door apparatus installed, all the shelves in and the doors adjusted and leveled, the holes drilled for the pulls and knobs, and the trim nailed in on top and bottom.

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I opted to forego crown molding on top of the cabinets for two reasons.  One, I chose a really plain style of cabinet door, and I thought crown molding would be too fussy.  Two, it would have added significantly to the cost of the job, and that added expense wasn’t covered in my budget.  So I’m getting just a small strip on top to hide the unlevel ceiling (absolutely nothing in this room is square or truly level) and the usual toe kick on the bottom.

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When the guys were here Friday, we still had a small patch of floor in the corner which we hadn’t finished.  We just ran out of time, but we made sure we had finished the places where the cabinets had to go, and we’d finished the inset spot by the door.  After we had a bite to eat Friday night, we decided to finish that patch in the corner.

That small spot in the corner turned out to be the most difficult and time-consuming to lay because of the way we had to butt it up against the vertical inset, and the angle that Dennis had to use with the nail gun once we got too close to the wall to use the staple gun.  We had several mishaps with the nail gun that cost us a lot of time (and ripping out of ruined boards) before we got within one run of the wall at 11:15 that night.  We decided to hold off on the last run and and fill strip until the next day, when there was daylight to cut by.  That proved to be a good decision, because the last run required more delicate cutting, and the ¾ inch to ¼ inch along the wall that was a result of the room not being square needed to be cut precisely to fit properly.  And my hero came through and did a really good job on it.  I am in love with the floor.

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I can’t wait to uncover the floor and get a good look at the cabinets juxtaposed with that beautiful new oak.  Right now the floor has to stay covered because it is snowing outside, and the guys have to go in and out from their big chop saw which is set up outside under the overhang.  I was going to uncover the floor tonight, but the granite fabricators are coming tomorrow to measure for the countertops, so it’s best to keep a cover on them until no more wet work boots are going in and out of the house.

 

 

 

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Remodeling the Kitchen

Floored, Continued

We have been working on putting the hardwood down on the kitchen floor this week.  Our son, Joel, came over and helped us decide how to lay it.  We can’t lay it vertically as I’d planned, because as Joel and Dennis discovered, the room isn’t square.  In fact, it is so out of square that if we laid the wood vertically, we’d end up with more than an inch gaps on either side against the walls that would have to be filled in, and would still show when the baseboards were put in.

It took two hours of measuring and discussing before we decided we had to lay it horizontally, across the width of the kitchen.  It doesn’t line up with the living floor, which is a shame, but there was no help for it.

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There’s one good thing about laying the hardwood horizontally.  It will give the kitchen the illusion of more width.  The room is not especially narrow, but certainly it’s longer than it is wide by about 9 feet, and when the cabinets go in on the side walls, it’ll narrow the room visually even more.  How the horizontal strips will look with the backsplash laid in a vertical pattern on the side walls, I have no idea.  We’re just going to have to see.

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It took some finessing to even start putting the wood down against the transition strip that deals with the change in level from the living room to the kitchen elevation.  But Joel got us started, and we’ve been creeping along every evening after work.  Dennis does the nailing; I do the layout and cutting on the chop saw.  I’d never used a chop saw before, but Joel gave me some basic training, and now I’m good to go.  Who’d a thunk it, me using any power tool other than a sander?

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Last night, Joel came over and helped us handle the tricky section by the door, where the room goes badly out of square.  We decided we had to do a little inset pattern by the door and run the flooring the opposite way.  None of us were sure how it was going to turn out, but I love it.  Joel is going to notice where it isn’t square every time he comes in the door, but I really doubt anybody else will notice it.  I can’t really see it myself!

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We had to have most of the floor done by Friday, because that’s when the cabinets are being installed.  We have the floor done to the corner where the table goes, so we opted to stop there for now, so Dennis can work on the electrical outlets tonight that have to be moved/installed before the cabinets go in.  If the cabinet guys can’t finish on Friday, they’ll come back on Monday.  Countertops are being measured and templated on Tuesday.  We’ll probably finish the floor sometime this weekend.  We are getting there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Remodeling the Kitchen

Buttoning Up

The last couple of weeks have been all about the floor in the kitchen.  Last time I wrote, Dennis was getting ready to pull up the subfloor in one area to repair a rotted support piece, a sill plate.  The sill plate that was rotten was in direct contact with the old concrete foundation that would have been on the outside (before the kitchen addition was done). For a couple of days, the floor was open down to dirt while he pulled out the rotten piece and another piece that was resting on it but not rotten, replaced the sill plate, treated the piece that went on top of the sill plate (I think Joel called it a drip plate), and replaced it as well.

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Then Dennis replaced the plywood subfloor over the addition in the kitchen.  With the top flooring off, you can see the kitchen addition clearly.  We don’t know exactly when the kitchen was added to the original “cabin,” but we think this addition to the kitchen was done in the ‘70s, when the back part of the house that contains bedrooms and bathrooms was added.  A new foundation was poured at that time, and new floor joists were laid.  The builders didn’t use the same building techniques of laying planks for the subfloor.  They used plywood, so the addition becomes visible when the subfloor is exposed.

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When that was all replaced and the floor closed up again, Dennis began laying the ¾ inch tongue-in-groove subfloor over the plank floor to level the entire floor so the hardwood can be nailed down. In the photo below, the floor is almost buttoned up.

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Soon, hardwood!

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Remodeling the Kitchen

Clean Slate

Writers are urged to avoid clichés, to find fresh ways of expression.  But with my interest in history and language and the history of language, I’ve always loved clichés. Buried in them are remnants and glimpses of the past.

Take, for instance, the phrase, “clean slate.”  I once thought the phrase went back to school children who must have been told by their teachers to start a new lesson with a clean slate, the only form of writing material many frontier children had.  Most of us are familiar with this from Little House on the Prairie, either the books or the television series, and from other books and movies, like Anne of Green Gables. But the phrase and its antecedents are much older than that.

“Clean slate” is actually a term used for a grade of slate, a type of rock that breaks relatively uniformly along a straight plane.  It was once prized for roofing material, and eventually, small, reusable writing tablets as well as larger, wall-mounted chalkboards. I couldn’t find a reference for the age of the expression as a builder’s or geologist’s term. But the metaphoric concept of a clean slate is embedded in the Latin phrase, tabula rasa, which means “erased tablet.”  This expression comes from the way wet clay tablets were used in accounting in ancient and paperless cultures, scraped clean of marks while still damp and used over and over. (If the clay tablet were allowed to dry, it would form a permanent record.  Cuneiform writing on clay tablets tells the story of ancient Mesopotamian life five thousand years ago.)

Apparently, the term “clean slate” also comes into common use in English as an accounting expression, and derives from tavern owners’ habit of using a slate to keep account of a customer’s “tab.” When the tab was paid up, the customer’s line on the slate was wiped clean.  But I digress, as usual.

Today, “a clean slate” has become so common, it’s now cliché. It’s shorthand for a fresh start, a beginning place after the old rubbish has been cleared away.  And that’s exactly what we’re finally getting to in this kitchen.  A clean slate.  I’m hoping that my brief historical exploration of the phrase demonstrates that I use it purposefully.  And if doesn’t, I don’t care.  I like clichés.

Most of the kitchen’s slate has now been wiped clean.  While I was sick with the flu this past week, Dennis finished removing all the old cabinets and the old flooring.  He’s down to the subfloor now.  God bless him for continuing on when the driving force (me) was laid low.  (Yeah, I’ll work in as many clichés as I can this time.)

Originally, we thought we were going to nail and glue the new flooring over the old vinyl, which was glued to particle board, which was nailed to the subfloor.  But we were advised by our former builder friend, Leonard, to strip off the vinyl and particle board and just nail in the new oak strip flooring.  Dennis and I were both relieved to be relieved of the necessity of applying the very messy glue (and getting it right), but removing the top layer of the old floor meant more work to prepare the kitchen for the new flooring.

And now there’s a hard deadline to work toward.  The countertop fabricator will be here on the 29th to measure for the countertops, which means the cabinets have to be in.  The cabinet shop is scheduled to install cabinets on the 25th, and if they don’t finish in one day, they’ll come back on the 28th, so the cabinets will be in for the countertop measurements.  Those dates can be pushed back if necessary, but the longer we wait to measure for the countertops, the longer it will take to get them fabricated and installed, and until they are installed, we don’t have water in the kitchen.  The sink has only been out for a few days, and already the inconvenience is, well, inconvenient.  We don’t want to be without a sink and water in there one day longer than necessary.

So, after a period of waiting for the flooring to acclimate to the humidity and temperature in the house, and working on the wall in the meantime, it’s a hurry-up atmosphere around here.  And there’s a complication.

Before we started ripping the kitchen apart, we had an ant problem.  The warmer than normal temperatures in January woke up some insect life (I actually saw mosquitoes in February), and we had an ant invasion along the outside wall of the kitchen, and where the kitchen and living room walls join, in one corner of the oldest part of the house.

This is nothing new for us. We’ve been invaded before in years past; I always tell Dennis it’s just part of the price we pay for living in the woods, and I’m okay with that, although it can be disconcerting.  Twice I’ve woken up in the morning to find a swarm of thousands of ants on the tub surround in the back bathroom.  They come in around the window, somehow. These are small black ants, and they don’t seem to be looking for food.  I’m not sure exactly what they’re doing, but I think they’re moving house.  We’ve seen them do this outside many, many times in the 35 years we’ve lived in this “cabin” in the woods.  Every spring, these small black ants go on the march.  I think their populations get too big for the nest, and off they go, looking for another place to build a new nest.  They follow straight lines that you can track back for yards and yards (to a tree or the wall of an old building, and there are several such on our property), and they don’t care that their straight line means marching through the house, although they seem to get very confused once they get inside and hit a perpendicular wall.  They swarm in a corner, maybe trying to figure out how to keep going straight, or maybe deciding if this is a good spot to build a new nest.  The swarming makes it relatively easy to spray them, wait for them to die, and then wash everything down.  (I don’t like using chemicals, especially inside the house, but it has to be done.  Dennis always says, “The label on the spray says it’s safe for inside the house,” and I always insist on washing everything down thoroughly anyway. But I digress again.)

We thought we might have an ant nest inside one of the walls of the kitchen, so after he sprayed around the door, window, and wall in the kitchen, Dennis crawled under the house to see what he could see.  He didn’t find any trails of ants or ant nests, but what he did find was a sill plate (a piece of wood that supports a beam that supports the floor joists) that has dry rot in it.  It is under the newest part of the kitchen, the part that we think was added in the 70s when the back part of the house (bedrooms and bathrooms) were built on to the original living room and kitchen.  We know that about six feet of new space was added along the back wall of the kitchen because of the way it was constructed.  Dennis was going to have to replace the rotten sill plate from underneath the house, which would have been difficult, but not impossible.  (Personally, it sounds impossible to me, but he did it once before in another spot, many years ago.  My hero.) But because we decided to tear off the old flooring, he plans to take up the subfloor in that area and replace the sill plate from above.  Pictures from that effort should be interesting, when it happens later this week.

Once the work under the house is done, he can replace the subfloor, top it all off with a layer of plywood to level the older part of the kitchen floor with the newer part, and then we can finally start putting down the new oak flooring.  It should go fairly quickly at that point, because we don’t have to mess with glue, just nail.  Phew!

It’s been a long process, with a lot of hurry-up-and-wait, getting to the clean slate.  We’re not quite there yet.  But once we are, we’ll be able to start writing on the slate again.  And I’m getting so excited for that day! (I think Dennis is too.  He misses his cookies. I can’t really bake in the trailer oven.)

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In the meantime, it’s chaotic inside and outside the house, with all the kitchen appliances and furniture and boxes of flooring and cupboard contents stacked in the living room, and the old cabinets stacked on the patio under the overhang, waiting to be moved and installed as storage in pumphouses, sheds, and “barn.”

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I have my tea station set up in the small hall bathroom, the microwave and Dennis’s coffeemaker in the bigger master bath, and Dennis has moved the travel trailer down into the driveway, closer to the house, so we can wash dishes and cook out there.  It’s chaos, but controlled chaos.  Another cliché.  Yep, I just love clichés.

 

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Remodeling the Kitchen

Down with the Wall

One of the changes we are making to the kitchen concerns the wall between the kitchen and dining area/living room.

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There is no dining room proper in this house. The living room is a large room, what might have been called a great room in the 80s or 90s or whenever it was that term was popular. I’ve always had a dining table in the area next to the kitchen, even though when it was just the four of us at home (Dennis, our two children, Joel and Amy, and me), we ate in the kitchen. I grew up with an eat-in kitchen, and I prefer it to a dining room, but there are times when there are too many of us now to eat around the small kitchen table. So we do need a dining space large enough to accommodate the whole family, which can number up to 13, 14, or even 15 when all the in-laws are here. I’ve had my mother-in-law’s table in that space for many years. It’s going to be moved to the kitchen, and I’m planning a new table for that space. More about that later.

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When we remodeled the kitchen twenty years ago, we widened the opening in the wall between kitchen and living room. There had once been a door there, before we bought the house. I think that wall was an exterior wall, and that was an outside door. Probably the one large room that is our living room was the whole house at one point. Some time later, what is now our kitchen space was added on, and the door was removed. The original door jamb with the marks and holes of the hinges was still in place when we bought the house. When we remodeled the kitchen, we more than doubled the width of the opening and cased it. Now, it’s being opened even more.

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I didn’t want to take the wall between the kitchen and dining room down completely. I would lose too much cabinet space on the kitchen side. I wanted to create a peninsula with a redwood burl bar slab extending out into the dining space. Well, you don’t always get what you want. There’s just no way to make that work with the burl slabs we have without ruining a beauty to make it fit. I won’t do that. So, I’ve come up with another solution. More about that later when I’ve got all the details nailed down.

The solution involves creating a pony wall between the kitchen and living room. The original wall is being taken down to about half its height to open those rooms up to each other. This has not been an easy project for my long-suffering husband, because of the way the wall was constructed.

When the living room was framed in, ¾-inch wormy cedar boards were laid horizontally across the framing. I don’t know what sort of siding went on the outside, but maybe an asphalt shingle like what is on the older house on the property out back. There’s nothing there but wood, now. On the inside, this beautiful (to me) knotty cedar tongue-in-groove paneling was laid. All of this had to be cut and removed from the section of the wall Dennis was working on so that he could take out the upper section, install a header all the way across the opening, and reroute electrical wires for outlets and light switches.

That’s where we ran into some serious trouble. The cedar paneling is old. We think this part of the house might date from the 50s. That means this wood is some 60 years old, and it is dry. Our climate is very arid, and this wood has been inside the house, subjected to heat from wood stoves every winter for 60 years. When Dennis tried to remove it from the wall, parts of the boards began to break and splinter.

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One day, I came home from town to find Dennis working on the wall. On the kitchen floor lay a pile of paneling boards, some of them broken. When I saw them, my heart sank. Where in the world would we find any replacement boards? Nobody wants this stuff in their houses any more. Most people would come into my house and wonder why we didn’t take all that wood down and replace it with sheet rock. And the designers on those DIY and makeover shows I like? They paint the stuff. It kills me every time I see paint applied to beautiful wood, but as I said, nobody wants this stuff. Except me. I want it. And I did not want to take down every board in the living room because we couldn’t match the damaged ones Dennis had removed.

I didn’t sleep for a week. Literally. I’d lie in bed and see that pile of paneling on the backs of my eyelids. I just kept thinking, “What are we going to do?”

Last Saturday, we attended our grandkids’ basketball games in town as usual. We had a couple of hours between games, so we decided to run some errands. That morning, I’d told Dennis I wanted to go to the lumber yard and see if we could match the trim we’d taken down around the cased opening. If we could match it, we could reuse some of what we’d taken down, and that would save us some money, time, and effort. He said, “I think I’ll take a piece of this paneling along and see if they have anything close to it.” I thought it was futile, but what the heck, right?

When we got to Payless Lumber, we asked about the piece of paneling first thing. “Oh, yeah,” the guy working the yard says. “I can get that. We just have to measure the width, tongue, and reveal.” We went into his office to look at his supplier’s catalog. I was holding the small piece of paneling in my hands, turning it around and looking at the finish, when I noticed a stamp on one end. Collins.

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The light dawned. “This was milled by Collins Pine,” I said. Collins Pine is a mill in Chester, about an hour west of us. “Oh,” said the young man, when I showed him the stamp. “If it’s a Collins Pine product, you can just take it over there and see if they have any or can make some for you. If not, I can order some for you.” Simple as that.

I was floored. I’d never imagined that the wood was milled locally, although of course it makes sense. When this house was built, people used local products. Stuff wasn’t trucked all over the country and shipped out of it and brought back again. Probably all of the wood in this house was cut and milled in Lassen or Plumas counties, at lumber mills that are no longer operating. I’m guessing that the Susanville mills didn’t do fancy stuff like this tongue-in-groove paneling, so whoever built the house either got it from Collins Pine in Chester, or the lumber yards in Susanville stocked it.

Dennis and I drove over to Chester on Tuesday to see if we could get some replacement paneling boards from the Builder’s Supply/Collins Pine lumberyard.  Unfortunately, the answer was no, they don’t stock those paneling boards.  And it would be very expensive to have just a few boards milled by Collins Pine.  If we were building a whole house, they’d waive the fee to set up for that particular kind of board, but for just a few replacement boards, nope.  I’m pretty bummed.  It would have been really cool to be able to get cedar paneling boards from the same mill that produced the old ones.

So it’s back to Payless Lumber in a couple of days.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we can order what we need and make it work.

But then it will be my task to try to match color and finish on the new boards to the existing boards. At the time these boards were finished, the finish of choice would have been varnish or shellac. I don’t believe they were stained, and I can tell from the slight drips and runs on some of the boards that the finish was applied after the boards were put up on the walls.

Finishes have changed a lot in 60 years. Because of new rules about toxicity and safety, I won’t be able to get the same product that was used on these boards when they were finished. Even if I could, it still wouldn’t match. Varnish darkens in time, and cedar yellows. These boards are not the same color they were when they were put up on the walls and finished. So my task will be to try to match the color of the existing boards by using stain on the new boards.

I’ll also have to try to duplicate the sheen of the existing paneling, and that might be harder than matching color. Stains can be mixed and matched until you get something pretty close, and I’ve done that before, but the sheen of polyurethane is different than the sheen of varnish. All I can do is try to figure out what will come closest. And this is all moot unless we can find the replacement boards we need.

 

 

 

 

 

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