Steampunking my Bathroom I

grab bar
grab bar

This all started because the towel bars kept falling off the wall. Those silly micro-screwdriver pegs to tighten the bar ends onto the cleats never quite properly grip into the drywall. It was alway a gamble whether or not the towel was going to hang or fall. Things came to a head when Bethann used my bahroom for a month while I was renovating hers. She said I needed a “grab” bar for the tub. I have a clawfoot tub. We are now 60 and washing our feet standing up in the shower can be a dangerous thing. She found it precarious just climbing out of the wet tub onto the floor with the added height of the claw feet, with nothing solid to hold onto.

towel rack with wrench still tightening
towel rack with wrench still tightening

If you know me, you know I generally jump in all fours. It will not just be a grab bar and towel rack. I want the whole theme! I loved Warehouse 13. I want that computer keyboard! I am typing on a keyboard with six keys missing because I melted them off attempting to dry them off, after spilling my water on them when falling asleep one night. This is one the $100 replacement computer after I fried a better computer the same way. That steampunk mechanical keyboard would so solve my problem! So, I started with the grab bar and the towel bar that was falling off. Then I moved on to the lights and the medicine chest/mirror. Next, I will take on the toilet paper holder and the shower curtain rod. Ther bigger challenges will be the sink, the toilet and the shower control. I have ideas for those.

Medicine chest made from an old 99 cent suitcase, LED Edison lamps & towel bar. Medicine cabinet is lit inside, as well.

A more extensive article or articles will follow explaining the process. I’m just posting this to share some photos for now. I need to clean up the bathroom and steam this punk, now! I stink.

If you like what you see and you want to continue seeing progress reports, please help us keep our home.

Our house is not just our house. It is also the base of operations for The King’s Jubilee to which we have dedicated our lives and resources for three decades. It is also a small native plant refuge for birds, insects, butterflies and small mammals in the middle of an old borough in part of the urban sprawl outside of Philadelphia. If you want to help us save our house you may make a donation via The King’s Jubilee using the Paypal button below or go to GoFundMe and help us out there. Thanks!

My 11 Step Program

Measuring pad to mark for center
Measuring pad to mark for center

It started with my wife and I deciding to change the color of the living room as our Christmas gift to each other. It is the gift that keeps on giving. The living room color determined the stairway color and upstairs hall, that is, since we changed the color of the woodwork. I had painted the steps before. I wanted them to hold up better this time. Bethann thought it would be nice to soften the noise a bit and make them easier on stocking feet.

Step painted & taped. 1 strip of paper to be removed yet.
Step painted & taped. 1 strip of paper to be removed yet.

Our house is old. Of course, this staircase is in the “new part” which was built in 1845 to be the hotel for the railroad when it came through Souderton.
It is narrow at 30″ at the bottom and less than 29″ at the top, in just 11 steps. We have 7′ ceilings. I had painted the first coat on the floor, before I decided the ceiling needed repainting. That white paint really drips! At any rate, I found a simple and economical solution in carpet pads at Home Depot. A pack of 13 sold for under $11. They came with no installation instructions. They were being sold near the large area rugs and window treatments, not near the stair runners. I found a pack. I wasn’t sure if they were dark olive or gray. The Home Depot is only a mile and a half away, so no big deal, if they ended up not looking right in the stairway. (It turns out, in context, they appeared to be dark olive.) Almost all of the tape at Home Depot or Lowe’s is in their paint departments, with certain exceptions. How consumers are supposed to keep track of all the ins and outs of capitalist, retailer, marketing manipulation, I don’t know. Half of the employees don’t know. They learn as they go, as training is minimal. So I went to the paint counter to ask where I could find a fairly agressive, double-sided tape. The man showed me to that expensive, thick 3M stuff, that never comes off, leaving a foam residue, or removing part of the substrate if ever removed. I told him that was too aggressive. I was taping down carpet pads. Gravity and regular foot pressure were on our side. He begrudgingly told me they sold carpet tape two aisles over, with the flooring, but that it was thin and not very aggressive. You could easily remove and reposition the carpet pads with that. He was disgusted as he said it. I said that sounds like just what I need!

While others were sleeping, I started at the top and worked my way down. I centered a pad and marked both ends’ location on the step with pencil. Then I painted up to those marks and roughly just within where the pad would go. Next, the tape was applied to the step. Then the pad was pressed into place. I did five steps one night and the remaining six a few days later.

Completed Step
Completed Step

My 11 Step Program was completed for a total cost of just under $20 plus the paint.

I am working on our house against hope and professional advice. We are facing foreclosure. If you want to help us save our house you may make a donation via The King’s Jubilee using the Paypal button below or go to GoFundMe and help us out there. Thanks!

Today’s Window Installation

DSC01788Today I finally installed the last replacement sash kit on the first floor. I still have to finish some of the exterior trim and install two screens. and paint. It’s kind of an involved process for each window. The sashes are painted on the exterior sides and varnished on the interior sides. I apply adhesive lead to the interior side of the glass in a craftsman pattern that I devised. On the lower sash, I add faux stained glass paint in the corner squares. Then I add the hardware. I remove the old sashes and combination storms and add wood to the sides to make the opening exactly 28″ wide. Then I attach four cleats to each side to attach the sash tracks. The tilt in sashes then snap into place.

Our house should be cooler next winter. You read right. The thermostat is in this room. It will be less drafty, so now the heat should not come on so often, and the rest of the house won’t be so hot.

Skittles, job supervisor
cleats on spacer wood
The awesome tool was used to trim the bottoms of the sash strips to fit the sill.


Rent Party at Charming House

charming gateWhen a realtor describes a house as charming, we have four words of advice: RUN FOR YOUR LIFE! Our house is charming. It is possibly the oldest house in town. The new part was built in 1845 to be the hotel for the railroad when it came through. The last owner was an Irish woodworker. He did some lovely work on the trim. He made a nice back door and beautiful window over the kitchen sink. Why he used single pane glass is beyond me. He restored the hardware to period. He did level the floor in one of the rooms. He made it into one house out of three tiny apartments. (sort of) It still had three electric meters with two wire, knob and tube and old romex to much of the house.

The oil burner was on its last. The old iron pipes to the upstairs bathroom were mostly occluded. The drains weren’t much better, but the switch plates had fairies and waterlilies on them. The wood trim in the kitchen has charming little crosses drilled in it. I have basically replaced the heat system, the plumbing and the electrical service. I am working on rewiring, bit by bit, sorting out the mess. I won’t even start on the shape of the barn. But they say the value of real estate is mainly location. It is a great location.

We were rebuilding the barn to make the ministry and the business more efficient. Then I got sick. That messed everything up. There have been a series of setbacks. Bishop Thomas really wants to see a team of college kids come here to help finish the barn. I don’t know how that is going to happen. Bethann lost her job last summer. We have to pay for Cobra health insurance out of pocket. That takes more than her Unemployment Compensation. We had the court case against the city to keep the ministry going. that put the business on hold and hurt the business. We were both sick around Christmas, so that hurt the business. I was very sick last month, so that hurt the business again. We are on the verge of being able to make some major progress in helping the homeless in Philadelphia, if we had a basic facility there and could be full time working at that, instead of being distracted by the icon business. At the same time, we are on the verge of possibly losing our house, losing our current base of operations, and joining the ranks of the homeless ourselves.

So we are making an appeal.

We are having a rent party this Saturday evening, March 16, starting at 6:30. Since it is Cheesefare Sunday next week, we will be serving vegetarian chili, “Tender Hearted Shepherd’s Pie” (vegan), some cheese and veggies, chips and dip, dessert, etc. The $10 cover charge includes the food and soft drinks. Beer and wine will be available for additional donations. If you want to play an instrument to add to the festivities, please make it unplugged. Kevin Paige is bringing his guitar and his keyboard and his great talents to make music. We are hoping that the Ackers will favor us with some music as well. We are clearing out the furniture, so if you want to dance, you may.

We live at:
27 North Front St.  (in the middle of beautiful downtown)
Souderton, PA 18964

Call or email to let us know if you plan to attend, so we know how much food and drink to prepare.
phone: 267:497-0267  (If you can’t attend, but want to help, you can Paypal gifts to this email. If it is designated as a gift from one Paypal account to another, neither one is charged fees. Thanks! God bless you!)

Here is the link to RSVP on Facebook.

It’s a cheap date for a good cause. We are going to try to have green beer in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. Hey, I was tickled that the first one to RSVP to say that he was coming was Philly rock legend Kenn Kweder! Please come join the fun.

New Front Door

Well, just three and a half years after I started it, the new front door has been installed. Hopefully, it won’t take me that long to finish the outdoor trim. There were some design changes made prior to, and during, manufacture, from the original design. We decided to abandon the idea of an operable window. There are enough windows that open, already. I also went with matching trim around the window, sanded flush. The three ash panels ended up being three different widths. I should claim some grand asthetic reason for this. The truth is that I goofed when I cut the first panel, so I had to figure out how to salvage the situation, using the remaining materials. I do like the new look, better, though.

Catch Plate
Catch Plate

We also decided to go with reproduction, hammered, black hardware. Bethann and I shopped at Knobs and Knockers at Peddler’s Village on one of my few good days the summer before last and each, independently, selected this lockset. It is a simple two handle, thumb lever latch with a separate deadbolt. They matched the lock to our current key. We ordered 3 heavy duty, 4-1/2″, black, ball-bearing hinges. (Even the store owner’s son was admiring them, when I picked them up.) We remembered to buy a matching black, hammered wreath hook.

Door handle
Door handle

During the course of building this door, I learned how to use many new tools. I have never had access to such an array of tools, or to such a patient teacher.  John Haggerty rescued me more times than I can count on this project. I not only learned how to properly put a door together, but why they are done this way. Don’t ask me to name most of these tools. I only know most of their names “in Elvish” as John says. He interprets pretty well, though.

For this door, I joined and planed the wood myself. John has a widebelt sander where you can feed boards through it to get them to get to a uniform thickness. That was exciting and dusty and loud. After I assembled the door, I routered the inset for the lite. I used a cool corner chisel to clip the corners. I needed to clean up a little smoother and deeper than the router bit would go into the corner, so I used a two handed knobber-do to get out the remaining scraps of wood. I think it’s a rabbet router plane. John will correct me. I will post a photo. I siliconed the insulated glass, laid it in the opening. I fastened purpleheart sticks to hold it in place. Then I sanded the whole door on a big table with a 15′ long sandpaper belt over it, known as a stroke sander. I then trimmed the stiles; those are the uprights on the door. Then I sanded it with ever finer grits with a palm sander.

Wreath Hook
Wreath Hook

I started to varnish the exterior side with water-based Varathane spar varnish and a terrible thing happened. It reacted with the purpleheart. It got gummy and bled gray onto the ash panels. I grabbed a paper towel and tried to get as much of it up as I could. Then I grabbed rags. John grabbed shellac and cut it by 50% with alcohol. I primed the exterior of the door with that. Then I varnished the purpleheart with four coats of Varathane. Then we scraped the ash panels with a rectangular piece of steel with sharpened edges, and varnished the ash panels. I flipped the door over and varnished the interior side with three coats of an interior, water based varnish.

The door is all beautiful. Now comes the scary part: surgery. I learned how to use the knobber-do, otherwise known as a line scribe. For that matter, I learned how to use a mallet and a chisel. At least, I learned how to use it a little bit better. I did end up splitting the front of my door at my lockset recess. You really need to have your wits about you when you are cutting your door for your hardware and understand how things go together. I walked back and forth several times between the shop and our house, measuring doorhandle heights and hinge placement.

New Door ExteriorBefore making any cuts on the opening side of the door, it needed to be beveled. If there is no bevel, it can’t open, or you would have to leave a huge gap. To make the bevel, I got to use the “Awsesome Tool 2″ otherwise known as the electric bevel plane. Set the tool for two degrees. Zip. Zip. And the bevel is done! Kwikset makes a tool for drilling holes for locksets. It is good for just about everyone they make and most of the ones any one else makes. You choose what your backset is for you door handle and your deadbolt are. Set the tool accordingly. tighten it to the door. It is self-centering. You use your 2-1/8″ hole saw from each side of the door and then your 15/16” hole saw through the edge of the door, before removing the jig. Easy as pie!

A door this beautiful needed a mailbox to go with it. From the scraps, I made a mailbox. It is not quite as finely crafted. I had to tell John to not watch at times. I just wanted to get it done. It does the job. I think it is quite beautiful.

Leaving Home

Saturday morning, I got up, washed up and got dressed in sweat pants and a longsleeve T-shirt. I hobbled downstairs, clutching the handrail, moving one step at at time leading with my bad knee, so I wouldn’t have to bend it much. I had a little breakfast with Bethann, before she had to leave for work. Serge Kaminsky came over to stay with me. Bethann arranged this, because I was in so much pain, she didn’t dare leave me alone. I took two Percocet at 9 and settled into the recliner. I dozed for a little bit. The pain returned before 10. The Percocet had already worn off. I was miserable. Serge was quiet and patient.

My doctor called sometime between 10 and 11 and told me to go to Grand View Hospital’s Emergency Room. They were to admit me and start treating me for infection. As I’m leaving the house, I looked around and try to take it all in. I thought this may be the last time that I see this place. I thought of my unfinished projects, the messes in the barn and my office. I looked at the garden that I had planted earlier this year, with some flowers still blooming and wondered if I would see them come up again next spring. I grieved for my family having to clean up after me.

We didn’t have to wait long to get into the ER. They tried to get blood and had a terrible time, because I was so dehydrated. After several attempts to get a line in me for drawing blood and for IV fluids, a man from the IV team at the hospital took his time and brought out his full arsenal of tricks and got a line into me. I think by this time Bethann had arrived after the half day of work and Fr. Noah may have been there, too. Serge was still there. We thanked him and finally persuaded him to go home. It was mid afternoon.

An orderly came to take me for some x-rays. I make it a practice to ask people their names. Ages ago I worked in a hospital and I observed how people who push gurneys around all day or deal with one specialty or another can treat the bodies they are dealing with as just so many widgits. By the same token, I have seen patients treat orderlies and nurses aides as if they were just worker drones. So if I engage them by asking their name, it serves as a gentle reminder that I am a person, not just a gurney that may have uncooperative wheels at times. It also reminds me that these are people at work. If I show them human respect, both of our days will go better. At any rate, I asked the orderly his name. He told me it was Kevin; then asked why did I ask. I told him it was so I could yell at him if he messed up. Without missing a beat, he said, “O, my name is Steve.” Later I thanked Steve for not banging me into any walls.

Sometime that evening, they moved me up to a private room on the third floor, with a window facing North over the main entrance, with a view of the fields across the street and Sellersville, Perkasie and the Delaware valley off to the right. They gave me better pain meds. I still had pain, but I was sensing progress. Movement had started and recovery became thinkable.

Cranford vs. the Oil Burner

The first two houses we bought were obvious handyman specials. Our third (current) house is, too, but we just weren’t aware of it, since we were bamboozled by its charm. (Note to self: Never buy a charming house. Buy an ugly one and make it charming enough to bamboozle the next owner.) Our first house was a frame bungalow with gas, gravity flow heat. This means there was basically a slightly oversized stove burner inside a giant tin can in the basement with big, round duct arms stretching out to the perimeter of the house. One of these was right over the workbench. I bumped my head into it regularly. At least that spot was a little bit cushioned by the fiberglas patches the previous owner had placed there. The heat came up through a grate in the center of the house, the living room floor. It was not very effective for heating the house on -20° days, but we were newlyweds, so it hardly mattered.

Our second home had oil heat with hot water radiators. The summer-winter hook-up had been disconnected and we had a gas water heater. The first winter we lived there was fairly mild, and neither of us had grown up with oil, hot water heat, so we didn’t notice any major problems, other than it seemed pretty expensive. The second winter was a different story. It was cold and no matter how we set the thermostat, the house would never get above 52°. We invited friends over quite a bit. The added bodies would warm the house, or, at least, we would be distracted from how cold it was. Our friends would say to each other, “The Coulters invited us over. Time to visit the refrigerator.”

I had this theory about hiring professionals. I didn’t think it was worth it to hire somebody to do something who made more per hour than I did. Of course, I was making very little working in a poultry meat processing plant. I didn’t understand things like overhead, liability insurance  and transportation costs. I also didn’t appreciate the efficiencies involved when someone truly knew what they were doing, as opposed to someone who was reading the totally misnamed The Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual, such as myself.

The house was cold. I was ready to try anything. An old plumber had told me that one could clean the electrodes in the burner by pouring a tablespoon of salt over them as it was firing. I figured he was old. He must have done this any number of times and survived. I would give it a shot. He had failed to mention that one should not use an electrically conductive, metal spoon.

So I get a tablespoon out of the silverware drawer and fill it with table salt. I go down into the basement. I gingerly set the spoon on a shelf while I remove the shield above the burner gun. I pick up the spoon and carefully empty it, so that it falls through the arcing electricity between the electrodes or cathodes or whatever you call them. Oops! The spoon made contact with one of them. The electricity travelled up the spoon and threw it against the opposite wall of the basement, with my arm still firmly attached to it.

Bethann heard me crashing against the shelves and various tools falling. She hollered down to me, “Is everything OK?” I answered weakly, “It’ll be fine.” Then I put the cover back on the oil burner and went back upstairs.

That did not solve the problem. In fact, it got worse. I looked at the situation again on another evening. I noticed the boiler was hot and the basement seemed warm, but it wasn’t circulating to the radiators. I surmised that the circulating pump was shot. I drained the system and took off the pump assembly. Sure enough, the impeller was totally shot. I replaced the pump assembly and filled the system. I turned on the heat, expecting a toasty warm house. No such luck.

I was about to give up and call a plumber. Just then, my friend, Jim, stopped by and offered moral support. Bethann said, “Why don’t the two of you go down and take one last look? You know, another perspective and all that.” Jim thought to bring a flashlight. We look around. Everything looks normal. The thermostat is set properly. The fuses are good. Then he shines the light toward the ceiling joists where we see this big valve painted bright red. It had a lever on the side of it and words cast into it to mark three positions: “OPEN” “RUN” “CLOSED”. The lever was in the closed position. I moved it to “RUN” and voila, we had heat in the house. It was the valve to set it on summer or winter for the water heater that used to be attached to it. This explained the smashed impeller. It had been pushing against a closed circulation valve for two years.

So once again, my mom was right. Reading is the key that unlocks every door.