A blog dedicated towards architectural refinement of buildings and environments in which we live, work, and play. Chiefly this is brought about by the author with finish carpentry at heart, and many other disciplines radiating or spinning off from it.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Stained Stringers & The Application of Moldmaker's Secrets

Below is the template-cut stringer after stain and one coat of urethane varnish. We decided to rip a baseboard in half, putting the top part of it on top of the upper stringer, and the bottom part underneath the stringer that runs underneath the stairs. (It being a WM-811, in common lumbermill pattern reference, has a recurring ovallo, or "ogee" separated by a half-round bead. These are also referred to as "Victorian" baseboards.)
Here is where breaking the mill glaze on a wide board really pays off. The character of the wood really comes across without any interference. As per the owner's request the tighter grain is above and the more open below toward the treads and risers.

In working around older manufactured stairs which are subject to shrinkage, warping or twisting trying to match their contour is extremely complicated if one assumes the course of measuring each tread and riser individually. It is better to not measure them at all! How does one do this? It's easy, hot-glued plywood strips. I cut 1/4" plywood into strips. In this case I make three types: one for the tread that starts inside at the riser and goes past the nose a couple inches, another that fits inside the riser space average by a fraction, and another that rises further than the tread piece, tread to tread and places the nose's exact location. These are all hot-glued together rather simply and braced with a rigid board so the whole assembly will not distort when it is pulled off. The short version of this method (the right side of the stairway as one goes up) of patterning the upper stringer I've show below.

Trim applied to top stringer.

Side view.

Nearing completion.

The Challenge of Staining Fiberglass

Okay, the subject of Fiberglass doors and the refurbishing of their stain and exterior finish.

They are really nice for some reasons. One, they won't warp. Two, they are insulated. Three, they are not cold, hard steel.But...and this is a big "but", they so far have only faked, plainly, at being wood in texture, and are a challenge when it comes to trying to breathe soul or "life" into them that wood naturally inherits. How does one go about this, especially with one that's about twenty years old now, the finish and varnish of which is faded and questionable? First, it has to be stripped down to the fiberglass.

If you read the side of the cans of the "hard core" Ez-Strip, or Strip-eaze products it specifies that it can damage fiberglass. So, you have to make the advancement to the relatively non-toxic citrus stripper. They do work. I find that with a little stainless brush you can work the stain out all the way from the fake grains (winter annual rings). It's just brush on, let sit a while, Scotch-brite and rinse, re-apply, wire brush and rinse again. To stain these to match an existing the base color of the fiberglass has to be taken into account. Where one coat might be too light, a second coat may be too dark. It's the non-porosity of fiberglass that makes it more akin to painting than staining. One almost needs a second, lighter stain to dial it in. The joints on a door have to be broken correctly with the brush. The best stain is almost a shoe-polish consistency, and the technique is exclusively dry-brush (a balance maintained of near-exhausted content of stain on the brush). I use one of those short, thick brushes made in Turkey of late. (They have a handle that unscrews and a piece of metal that allows one to hang it over the pail the material sits in...if that pail is a paint bucket with the rim removed.)

("After" pictures to be added later. -AK Nov.18, 2007)

[Added April 6, 2008:]

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Stairway - Plain to Fancy (Part Three)

It shows how the spiral patterns in the wallpaper rhythmically recur in the wooden brackets. The last few cove pieces will go underneath the stair tread and end at the carpet on both sides.

After a little assessment it was decided that the same width for the top stringer would not work. Not only would it be unstable during the notch cutting operation, it would not give a visually proportionate buffer between the wall and stairs. We went with a 1" x 10" Hemlock Fir board special ordered. (Most of our materials have been acquired from Lowe's or Home Depot, large retail home improvement stores in the USA).

Instead of measuring and marking these out individually, laboriously I made a thin plywood template by hot gluing pieces together into one piece, reinforced by a piece of molding so it would not distort. I transferred this contour onto the board (see picture below). I used a Forstner bit to cut clean holes where the stair tread's bullnose starts superimposed on the pattern.

I give the Forstner a little help in starting accurately making a divot with an awl right on my mark. Reducing the error in locating these centers will make a great bit of difference later. The stair treads are 1-1/32" in diameter. The Forstner is 1". I will have to clean up the rest with a router and a template after a test fit.Then I took the board outside to cut the notches out up to the holes.
It's a big break to have a huge patio under an awning and really nice weather in southern Colorado to work outside in. This looks like it was August, but it was really late October.

I use a Japanese style pull saw to cut the rest of the way through. This one is about worn out, not from use, but from not having an appropriate cover or scabbard.The test fit causes much anticipation because of all the things that can go wrong either in not measuring correctly, and the degree of errors that can compound. This took me four hours, going from setting up everything, marking, drilling and sawing.
It's pretty close. Just some tune up with a router and a template. Then it's just a matter of sanding, staining and varnish.

The Stairway - Plain to Fancy (Part Two)

Below details the method of treating the end of the stair treads along the lines of traditional approach. First the end board was removed, exposing the treads. It's at this point one can see what sort of problems will be encountered in contouring to these. Done a couple decades ago in solid wood, glued into planks there has been some movement. New manufactured stairways have made improvements in both laminated supports, risers and treads that practically eliminate warpage, shrinkage and squeaking. Since a decorative application is going over the stringer there is somewhat of an allowance for a gap. Some of these treads deviated from level several degrees one stair to the next.

There was some discussion over whether the decorative scroll work would be set flat against the stringer. The owner opted to avoid any further cutting into either the treads or the risers. It then leaves a small space open in between them and the stair, creating a shadow. This only meant an adaptation to the returns of the store-bought tread returns. I would mitre the front side and leave the back side alone, butting a small trim piece onto it underneath.

The picture below perhaps best illustrates how this would be accomplished. The warpage out of squareness was compensated for by marking and chiseling off the deviation. The risers were capped off with stained oak cove molding, square cut on top of the tread returns, and mitred at the top to cover a spacer which turned the tread return into a classical profile underneath. It then made a short return and butted into the stringer.

This gives an impression of what it will look like to whomever buys the house when just coming in the front door. I can additionally imagine maybe a side board with some kind of vase and flowers or sculpture on a small pedestal.

The Stairway - Plain to Fancy (Part One)

When I first arrived on the jobsite and came in the front door the first thing I noticed was the notched board covering the stairways. The balusters and rail seem done well enough, but here it seemed like the carpenter had given up, or was forced to merely cap it off. It was asked if there was anything that I could do with it. My answer must have been an understated, "Yes." Over the weeks of taking care of all the trimwork all the traditional approaches were discussed. Nearing the end of the project and almost as if I were heading backwards out the same door that I came in, here are the results:

Before. Carpet ran up to the wall which had a wallpaper. One can just notice the plank covering the end of the treads. I mistakenly forgot to take pictures of the front.

Here it is mid-way. The inside end has been stained and varnish and was ready for the new wallcovering. As it turns out carpeting was done before that. It was probably a wise decision not to install wallcovering at that stage, when a lot of traffic was still occuring up and down these steps.
Below with wallcovering that the owner did quite capably by himself with assistance from his wife.

Fireplace Surround, Staining and Re-sizing

I had two fireplace surrounds to work on. One just needed a little trimming tune up on the bottom of the sides, again only to accomodate the house's settling and the desire of the owner to make the focal point seem more level. Both have an angled ledger to draw them towards the wall tightly when they are set onto them. All I had to do was find wall frame and achor these into it level and very close to where the heights matched. First I stained these inside the garage (along with the carefully notched stringer that was to go under the stairs). One was a three-piece assembly. Broken down, here are the sides.
The one-piece surround was also stained to enrich the color and make the mahogany more uniform and deeper in tone.
Illustration below of the one that had to be re-sized. I had to take it to a cabinetry shop to get a more accurate table saw cut. It was installed on an octagonal angled wall in the master bedroom.

In the above picture one can see the angled ledger strip in between the halves before I put dowel pins in and clamped them together with glue.

Almost done. Taken before clamping and interior valances nailed on.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Wood Panel Jacuzzi-bath Access Cover

A simple access cover for the Jacuzzi-bath in the upstairs hall was called for in the same stain match. I used marine-grade plywood, 1/2' thick made of Douglas Fir and pine cabinet facing.

A continuity of decorative application was called for there, adapting to the retro-fit of bathtubs in two hall bathrooms, and the accompanying new diagonally patterned tile and bordering. (It seemed to make an odd framing appendage seem like it was done on purpose.)

Some scraping over the heavy impasto texture had to be done in order to lay the moldings flat it the front and back sides, hence the plastic masking to keep stuff out of the tub. The top board, once contoured to the tubs rounded ends, was screwed down from underneath preventing water entry from the top.

Decorative Casings

In the bathrooms decorative casing was called for on a peninsula wall between the Master Bathroom's double shower and the toilet. This was done at first by butting the back and sides of stained to-match existing Anderson-style window/door casing.

The owner then decided to accent the middle in between these moldings and was re-done accordingly with a trim molding of his choice. (This required re-sizing the plinth block below it, hence the baseboards were left for the last until final size was determined.)

Monday, September 3, 2007

Stained Tongue And Groove Panelling In The Breakfast Room

Before the weekend I managed to get the tongue and groove panelling done in the breakfast room off the kitchen. I had to mold one piece of casing over the granite countertop but it wasn't too hard. They sell these at Lowe's in 8' long packages, the pieces themselves being only 1/4" in thickness. They do go with the theme upstairs in every bedroom but the Master bedroom. I get the impression that they make the room a little cozier, warmer, or more defined. I'd put some up in my house.

The trick with the lenth that they come in is to use three cuts at 32" and use all of the board with no waste. To do this one has to set the panelling bottom line at least below the top line of the base board. Luckily the baseboard here is 4-1/4" high. The top is finished off with a chair rail the same height of the belly of the granite countertop's profile, at 34-1/4".

The backside of the kitchen cabinets was kind of flimsy. Shooting some longer trim nails into the carcases seemed to tighten this up. I glued the back of the panelling with a bead of Liquid Nails - Wood Molding grade and used only 3/4" nails to fix them where I wanted them. After that it was down to the baseboards, a stained quarter-round to hide the corner joints on top, the same in a corner protector at the kitchen side, then the chair rail.
before - where casing piece needs to be molded to countertop.


before chair rail, corner 1/4 round and base.

Over the years in learning and adding little things in my trade that make a difference in the quality of the finish I have found one technique which is pretty simple to use. Most "blow and go" contractors will not take the time to use it, and so it falls to people like myself, or homeowners who will make the time, or pay to see the improvement.

During the process of milling moldings the blades on the molder get dull. If they get dull enough the wood is not cut as well, and instead gets beaten. The heat from this action hardens the wood wherever the blade would have sheared the fibers off cleanly. This is called "mill glaze". Although it is not good to get any wood wet that has been kiln dried - which will make it lose it's dimensional accuracy - you can moisten the profiled surface with a damp rag. This raises the grain ever so slightly. Although it is no remedy to reverse severe mill glaze it will allow easier sanding of the the wood where it has not been heated and softening of the areas that were and allow more even stain penetration. One lets the wood dry a half hour or so and then sands it before staining. Gel stain also decreases blotchiness in pine or troublesome woods like birch. I tend to disapprove of severe staining of light woods to simulate darker one because of the lack of control, some of the results of breaking the mill glaze are worth the try in situations in which this is done. In that situation a wood conditioner is required, adding on even more laborious steps that almost makes it worth while in total cost to simply buy darker woods, like walnut or alder and just varnish them a couple coats.
Above photo features the author spraying water-borne urethane over stained baseboard moldings. I use a two quart pressure pot around 33 psi on a high volume, low pressure sprayer (HVLP rig).

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Trim Carpentry - Getting Near Completion

I have made a defining terminal at the bottom of the stairway, after a hinted at what my client wanted with a piece of pre-primed, fiberboard fluted casing. I had to get the side pieces in a plain stock of the same width, but they did not sit at the correct depth when meeting up with the crown moulding. I had to use a planer and do each one to a different depth, then wrap an additional piece of wood around at the top aboveupon which I put a half-round moulding to simulate a torus or terminal. Pictured below are the results.



and at the base on top of a 1/2" piece of pine to offset it all the way around well.

Additional stained baseboards were applied throughout the first floor and more was prepared for the Master Bedroom and its bathroom.

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About Me

Sculptor, Residing in Southern Colorado, USA. age 58. Interested in mould-making, public or outdoor sculpture presentation, and space or environments in which to present them


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