Work notes 2014, I.

I’ve achieved, or suffered — a question of interpretation, there —, a nice diversity in work taken on this year. This will be the year that stands for the failure of the several previous years’ efforts to channel myself in a single field by jumping aboard the old new green economy. Or the apparent failure of those efforts, let’s say. I don’t think it amounts to failure entirely.

For the present post, I’m going to keep things easy and look back at a project from spring. Last year, I helped a friend with one of his air-sealing & insulation jobs on a house outside Washington, D.C.; I was there to cut the access holes where his crew went into attic spaces to work, and to patch up the holes with dry­wall afterward. While we were there for that job, the owner asked about hav­ing a closet built into one of the attic spaces we were accessing. So I went back in spring and did that. It was a nice little project with a bunch of parts — sort of a micro-remodel. And a real functional improvement to the home to boot. In a hun­dred-year-old house, too! Call me crazy, but I like old-house work.

Before & after. In the ‘before’ shot you see the patched-up access hole I’d made a few months earlier, when insulation was installed.
In between these two shots, the whole area gets enclosed with plastic, sealed to ceiling and walls, for total dust control.
The sharp-eyed reader may notice that there’s some wall repair still to be done above the door in the ‘after’ photo. That and a lot of other issues like it around the room were excluded from this job. I was told to stick to the closet — something I was happy to do in this case.
Inside the sheet-plastic tent, here — old wall opened up and our as-yet-unused third-floor space exposed. Cutting the plaster (with a diamond wheel on an angle grinder) is where the really big dust event happens, of course. Thankfully, the plaster in this house is in pretty good condition — not without cracks here and there, but fundamentally sound.
White stuff up in the rafters is some of the foam insulation installed in 2013.
Pre-hung wasn’t an option if I wanted to give the homeowner maximum opening height and keep the doors look as near normal, not awkwardly chopped, as possible. So the double door had to be built by me. Here we’re in the shop with my setup for routing hinges on doors and jamb legs together at once. I hadn’t tried that before. My setup for it was a little flimsy, but it worked. On this job, it definitely didn’t save me any time.
The door slabs were $99 ‘stain-grade pine’ product from H.D. They had to be wood or solid-core, since I was taking a considerable chunk off the bottom (and some off the top, too). I can’t remember why I didn’t end up going with solid-core instead of these low-quality pine doors. Keeping price down was what was asked for, though, this being a third-floor guest room.
It’s hard to tell at this size, but at left, the center gap between the doors is wider at top than at bottom. That’s because I did something I knew very well not to do: I was so impressed with how square and plumb I’d framed the door opening that I built the door tight to the framing. (For what it’s worth, there was actually rationale for this, in that I’d save some trouble with trim on the inside of the closet.) You should never let yourself be too impressed with how square and plumb you’ve framed anything. In the end, all worked out nicely, but not until I’d dismantled the door, cut the head jamb down a little, and put it all back together. I’d had the basic sense not to nail it all in place thoroughly until the doors got a test hang; so at least the re-do didn’t cost too much time.
At right, the doors still look slightly misaligned. One of them was warping a little already, cheap stuff that they are. (I had the flattest two I could get off the shelf at H.D., I assure you.)
Casing is 2-1/4 in. ‘colonial’ because matching original trim was felt, again, to be unimportant in a third-floor guest room. Other options were discussed and rejected.

It would have been a great little job if it hadn’t been deep in old Chevy Chase, near the D.C. line. It’s nuts to drive there from Baltimore on a weekday morning. (Nuts to drive anywhere in close to D.C. on a weekday morning; really nuts if you’ve already got a 45-minute minimum to get to the area to begin with.)

But I can deal with that miserable drive for a little while, to tell the truth. I’ve done a lot of work in northern suburbs around D.C. in the last few years. I know what’s involved with the traffic &c. The trouble wasn’t just the location, it was that I took on a job with a considerable built-in drag like that without being well organized and fully focused. I was organized and focused enough to do the job right, as I generally am — but not enough to do it efficiently. I was, as I have been throughout this year and a good deal of the year before, burdened with the prob­lem of where my work is going from here, and I was distracted with other con­cur­rent pursuits. I ended up straining the homeowner’s patience — something I really don’t believe in permitting to happen. Maintaining things so as to work as efficiently as circumstances allow once a job is under way has to be priority. It’s just a self-employment norm. I can hardly claim to be ignorant of it at this point.

4 Replies to “Work notes 2014, I.”

  1. Man, if you’re really that crazy about old house work, have I got the project for you: the original bathroom. It seems to be the one room the original owners were least concerned with, and there are spots where the wall is made of cardboard. The owner before us was a shops teacher, and even he didn’t address the matter. Lots of weird angles to wall, alas.

  2. Pretty sure I recall seeing pics of this bathroom. It’s tiny! — if I recall right. Tiny spaces, weird angles, old houses: I do love that shit. Tough to come out profitably from work like this, though, if you care about getting it right and the client isn’t in a position to decide what they’re going to spend after everything is well under way.

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