Category Archives: coats and finishes

Door decor

There are a couple of tasks on this project always lurking in the shadows, following you around no matter where you go. One of them is stripping generations of paint from precious items.

I am not telling the story of paint stripping the original doors again, instead let’s talk about the delightful hardware that came with the doors. Well, delightful if you have enough creativity to look through the layers of paint.


The hardware got dismantled and stored without much thought – we had bigger fish to fry at the time. But thank God we we had the mind to save and store it. Looking at the pieces now, we began to realize that these were small, unique treasures.


How do you get the paint off of them? I was told its simple. Find yourself an old crock pot, throw in the paint covered hardware, cover it with water and let it simmer for a day. Once everything has cooled down, the paint flakes right off. A few strokes with a wire brush takes off any remaining residue.


This is one of those “too good to be true” moments, but it actually just worked that way. Marvelous!

Did I mention that we saved everything including all the brass screws? That enabled us to put the plates and knobs back up just the same way we took them down.

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Now, we not only have beautiful 100+ year old solid wood doors, but we actually can open and close them. One step closer to make the 1st floor feel like a home!

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Lacquering what I like

The paint has come off, and now needs to get back on. Although it won’t be paint – it will be clear, VOC free lacquer.

Having gone through a couple of tubes of wood putty and many sheets of sandpaper, I was ready to dust off the vertical trim and start lacquering.

Two coats, with a drying time of six to eight hours between each coat. The lacquer brings out the beautiful warm white oak color and adds a nice sheen to the trim.

I stay mindful about our health and safety as well as the immediate and long term indoor air quality (IAQ) and kept using the VOC free Acrylacq by SafeCoat. No solvents, no nasty fumes or smells. Why would I ever want to use the conventional, VOC based paint products?

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Paint removal – Part 8: Sustained sanding

Imagine yourself being on a repetitious job, daydreaming away. What would you do if you turn around and face this:


  • Realize that your day dream turned into a day nightmare?
  • Question whether all the sanding had a negative impact on your sanity?
  • Debate the sanity of your co-worker?

Well, I have to say that Drew isn’t shy about being comfortable at work. I bet he put those goggles on just to freak me out. A little bit of fun goes a long way during a monotonous job!

I don’t know how many linear feet of vertical trim we sanded and then sanded again.

The good news is that we got that pile moved out the way. The bad news is, there was another pile behind the vertical trim waiting for us – the architraves or entablatures that sit over all the doors and windows.

They are composed of a main board, with a little ornamental bead at the bottom and an elaborate crown molding at the top.


The crown moldings are pretty delicate and a lot of them haven’t survived. All that was left are the bead and the board – although it is sometimes hard to spot the bead under all that thick paint.


I removed the layers of paint a couple of months ago. Drew now took on the task of sanding the boards and beads.

Yes, it is a lot of work. And yes, we think it is worth it. Re-using the original trim and moldings does fit right into our salvaging philosophy and enthusiasm. And the reward will be very gratifying, as we have experienced with our 1st floor unit front door.


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Paint removal – Part 7: Vertical trim

The restored baseboards look beautiful – but are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There is a lot more trim waiting in the wings – a whole lot more!

Cathy once explained how the manages overwhelming projects like the trim cleanup and restoration. She breaks it up in small manageable chunks, and focuses on one of those chunks at a time. I came to find out that this really helps. Plus there is our friend Drew, who earned the master sander badge!

I finished the paint removal on the vertical trim that flanks the windows and doors earlier this fall. From here on, the tasks progress (or degenerate) from tedious to ultra tedious.

It starts with picking off any small blobs of paint, followed by a first sanding with rough sandpaper removing any residue. The trim has lots of nail holes, all of which need filling with wood putty. Sometimes there are splits that we have to glue back together or small sections of trim are so beaten up that I have to cut them out and patch.

Once that is addressed we went back with rough sandpaper, hitting all the spots we fixed, and finally got down to adding a nice finish with fine sandpaper.

It turned out that I enjoyed this work more than I expected, despite its tediousness. Every step in the finishing process revealed more beauty of this 100+ year old trim. With every step in the process, you realize you are working on something special.

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Adding a touch with tiles

If you read the recent posts about the kitchen backsplash installation, you may have noticed that we left a gap at the stove location. That gap was reserved for something different – a special kind of backsplash tile.


During one of our many excursions hunting for salvaged materials, I came across a handful of beautifully painted Mexican style tiles. At the time I didn’t know where I could use them, but I bought them anyway, certain that there would be just the right place for them.


The backsplash behind the stove has become that place. Another place that tells a story about frugality and the charm that some salvaged materials have to offer.

Why did I wait this long to do the installation? I needed to wait until the range hood was installed. The bottom edge of the hood was the starting point along which I lined up the tiles.

I often observed and admired artful ornaments, such as hand painted plate hung above the stove. In this case, Cathy and I decided that the whole backsplash behind the stove could become artful with these unique tiles.


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Finished 1st floor front door

While we are on the subject of doors, I should post an update on the coloring book exercise.


We got a lot of comments on the various coloring options for our front door to the 1st floor unit. We appreciated every single one – thank you to all who left a note!

Your preference, but even more so the rationales for your preference helped in the decision making process. We finally opted for #3.


That leaves us with a little bit of New Mexico experience, and hopefully with some good luck.

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Paint removal – Part 6: Digging through doors

There are several aspects to time, such as age and duration. I sometimes have to wonder if there is a proportional relationship between the two.


Take the original 100+ year old doors from our building – the age component. These are solid and heavy and had salvaging and reuse written all over them. Despite all the layers of paint we got the occasional glimpse of the buried treasure.


The process of recovering that treasure is a familiar one. The Silent Paint Remover removes the bulk of the paint, followed by a layer of Soy Gel to take off the residue.


That leaves the wood clean and ready for sanding, which is quick and easy, except for the panel profiles, particularly the corners. Those required a lot of attention to detail – and are a time suck – which gets us to the duration component.

It feels like working on the paint removal has extended the duration of our project indefinitely. And refinishing 12 of these age-old doors certainly factors into that equation.


The two coats of zero-VOC lacquer helps wrap up the refinishing and restores the doors to their old glory.

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These doors will always be special to us, because of their quality, their age, and the time and tender loving care we put into them. This might just as well be the definition of salvaging.

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Paint removal – Part 5: Battling baseboards

The original baseboards in the building are quite something. Something with quite a little bit of paint on it.


There is a tall bottom piece with an ornate cap. The cap and bottom together stand about 10 inches tall and are both milled out of 100+ year old oak, most of it quarter sawn. And we have quite a bit of it, which is a blessing and a curse.


These were items we wanted to keep out of the waste stream. The quality of the millwork begged for salvaging and reuse.

But we also have that tedious chemical archaeology ahead of us – the paint removal. How far should we take the salvaging and reuse, and when would it be time to draw a line in the sand and decide it is not worth it?

The decision tipped in favor of salvaging and reuse once we realized that even if we could afford to purchase all new baseboards, we wouldn’t be able to find baseboards in this kind of quality nowadays.

Let the paint stripping begin!


The Silent Paint Remover usually removes the bulk of the paint, and does so at reasonable speed. But a couple hundred linear feet of baseboard take some time to work through. And we still had to apply a layer of Soy Gel to remove the remaining paint residue.


Sanding the baseboards took some time too. The flat surfaces were easy and fast. The more intricate profiles required a scraper, steel wool and time. But with each pass the wood grain became a notch more beautiful, until it was ready to get lacquered.


Staining the oak was out of the question! The natural color was part of the charm. Instead we stuck to our zero-VOC rule and opted for the clear, satin finish Acrylacq by SafeCoat. It made the warm honey color of the oak pop.

This was very frustrating but ultimately rewarding work. It was frustratingly slow and time consuming, but with payback in the beauty of the salvaged and refinished product – particularly when we consider what we started with.

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Backsplash grouting

It’s time to put the finishing touches on the backsplash and to move on to the next big thing.

In this case, the finishing touch is the grouting. We used regular sanded grout, which is easier on our budget, compared to the epoxy grout that we used in most of the bathroom.

This is again a durability issue, but I don’t carry quite the paranoia about moisture management when it comes to the kitchen backsplash. We are talking about the occasional splash, rather than frequent water exposure such as in the shower stall.

The combination of cement board behind the backsplash, the stone tiles, the sanded grout and application of a stone tile and grout sealer should adequately manage that occasional splash, and will allow for easy clean up.

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A (back)splash of salvage

I have to utter the word again: salvaged! Salvaged travertine stone tiles.


Someone must have dropped off a bunch of stone tiles at the Restore and I was lucky to be the first one to get his hands on them. That was late last summer.

These finds are precious! It is rare to run across salvaged tiles in sufficient quantity for a particular job. In this case, I counted enough square feet for our backsplash in the 1st floor kitchen. Plus, the color variations of the travertine matches with the limestone counter top and the maple flooring.

When I picked up the tiles, I didn’t have time to figure out the backsplash layout. This was an unexpected find and I had to postpone that decision until later.


After the counter top was installed, I did a couple of dry runs and came up with a solution that was pleasing to the eye. The disadvantage was that I had a lot of cuts – but I also had a good tile saw.

I started the installation with the top row, which I set on a pine board that I had mounted to the wall perfectly level. Starting from the bottom up wasn’t an option, because the floor isn’t perfectly level, nor are the cabinets and counter top.

The next row was the diamond tiles. I again used the pine board, this time as a guide. It would have otherwise been hard to produce an even bottom edge.

The last row of narrow rectangular pieces were cut to fit – to make up for a difference of about 3/8” over seven feet.

I do like the look! And so does Cathy.

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