Friday, August 15, 2008

Stripping on Deadline

Now that I have your attention … I’m talking about stripping woodwork. Twenty-eight years ago I bought a 1925 Spanish bungalow in south Minneapolis. The combination living room/dining room has wonderful woodwork, but some previous owner applied a muddy, greenish finish that was so thick the grain was barely visible.

In 2005 I began to refinish this woodwork. I started with two radiator covers (pictured left) and beautiful red oak emerged. The results were exciting, but stripping, sanding, staining, and applying polyurethane is hard and tedious work, and I realized this would be a multi-year project. After taking 2006 off to finish writing our book, last summer I tackled the two ceiling beams, the fireplace mantel, and the stained glass window.

This summer Nancy & I decided to buy a new chair for the living room, a wedding present to ourselves. For all our years together, our hand-me-downs have served us well, but my dad’s old chair with the broken spring and dangling bottom cloth really needed to be replaced despite my sentimental attachment.

Well, the cascade began.

We found a chair we loved (they’ve gotten big over the years!) and as Nancy & I took turns sitting in it at the store, we thought maybe we should get two because our old swivel rocker would look pretty crummy next to it. From there it was a small leap to buying the matching sofa.

A few days after we ordered the furniture, we realized that the sofa would not fit through our narrow doors. So we called our handyman, who said he could remove two adjoining dining room windows, and bring the sofa in through them.

But what would happen when we needed to replace our 16-year-old carpet? We’d have to take the windows out again to remove the furniture. Might as well get rid of the carpet now and go to bare wood.

We called a neighborhood business, Earl’s Floor Sanding, for an estimate. Earl said that if we intended to refinish more trim, especially the base boards, we should do it before they began working on the floor. No way, I told him. It’s too much work for one summer.

Then I reconsidered. Refinishing creates such a mess. I didn’t want Ready Strip or Spanish Oak stain to drip on our new floor.

So for the last three weeks my helpers Nancy and Bill (Nancy’s brother who lives with us) and I have stripped, sanded, stained, and polyurethaned the living room/dining room baseboards, doorways, window frames, and built-in buffet. We put on two coats of poly before Earl and crew arrived on Monday. Now I’m in the garage refinishing the built-in buffet drawers and the door and window frame strips we pried off.

As the final coat of poly on the floor cures, I am sitting at the computer nursing sore arms, wrists, thumbs, fingers, elbows, back, you name it. But the living room glows with the natural beauty of rich red oak. It’s amazing what can be done under deadline.

Next summer, I’ll tackle the remaining removeables—three heavy doors, four paned buffet doors, and five casement windows. It will be my last summer of refinishing. After all the sawdust, sweat, fumes, and aches, my family will have a rich Northwoods lodge living room that will bring us much pleasure…and an occasional moment of marvel at how we did it all!