Cover Up

Island Life


I have been staring at the floor now for years, even though it has not been a pretty sight. While the collective sprawl of white pine decking came along to replace the pressboard sheets that had made up the first floor in this house just about thirty years ago, the wear and tear of garden shoes and scurrying dog feet did not appear to wreak total havoc upon the finish until a few years ago. At that point the decline was swift, and I have been repeating the “I need to do something about that” mantra for quite some time now. In part, it seems that a vast accumulation of these musings are what it takes to finally act on something of this nature around here, as there are many such points of disinterest that are now begging for attention these days. What seems to help to get something onto the action item list here is disgust, embarrassment, alignment of the stars and moon and a lack of too many other choices of things that need to be done now. One must also consider the magnitude of challenge factor when attempting actions that don’t fall within the realm of previous experience- it is always daunting to face the slippery slope of yet another learning curve.

Fortunately for this project and proficiency test, I had just completed a fairly successful go at tackling a small corner of the white pine yardage as previously noted here regarding our recent bathroom rebuild. Following that experience, confidence was fairly high that yet another round of sanding, scraping and finish spreading on the floor in the kitchen expanse would result in yet another vast improvement in the list of things here that have slowly but surely gone to hell. What also helped was that the wall calendar in the kitchen was about to undergo a complete and total makeover, so it just seemed like a natural flow of events that before one could rightly replace a year’s worth of spiral bound days and months with a new one for counting down 2018 that one should be able to walk across a smooth and gleaming floor space in order to poke another thumbtack in the drywall to support the new book of days for the new year. This lack of a renewed floor surface, of course, had not prevented previous wall calendars from being changed on time and without much fanfare, but it does point to a certain theory of inertia that has sway around here, and that is the quantitative obstacle theory.

Perhaps more than waiting for proper moon and stars, having to find a place for other things tends to delay or squelch certain efforts at making relative progress on the to do list here. As it is, there is always at least one thing that needs to find either a new or temporary home here before the go card can be handed to any given project in these parts. More often than not, it is an entire regiment of things and stuff that winds up needing a serious shuffling before anything can happen. What life often feels like is one of those plastic game frames with side-slotted letters and one available open space, and everything has to be shifted back and forth, up and down, before anything can proceed. With no basement or garage or accessible attic, the open space needed to work in needs to be carefully manipulated within the confines of what is left of available living space in order to both do a project and live within redefined parameters. Sometimes that just seems like too big of a sacrifice to allow for progress or improvement. The proper position of stars can be way more easily ignored than temporary piles of shuffled stuff.

As was the case in the kitchen, the daunting task of moving various counter residents, like the forest of antique bottles gleaned from the former residential dumping ground out in the backyard or the ever expanding collection of rocks, seashells and transient knick-knacks on the windowsill, had for a long time been one of those malingering obstacles to doing anything in the kitchen. But as is the case with many a project, the appearance of a fresh perspective in coping with obstacles brought about a solution resembling a modified version of Christo’s Running Fence, combined of course with a heightened sense of disgust and embarrassment and a new year. All of this conspired to move the project forward to the imminent stage. Instead of moving everything out of the kitchen, it was decided that sheets of thin plastic be hung from the ceiling to the base of the cabinets just above the floor so that the massive amount of sanding and resulting sawdust would theoretically be contained within the nearly square, visqueen bubble. This, combined with the dust capturing device on the belt sander that I was using, seemed like a good way to avoid the grand shuffle blocking obstacle, whilst aiding and abetting the advancement of the brighter kitchen floor concept. As it is, sometimes these work-arounds allow for a certain suspension of reality so that projects can blunder ahead. I have no doubt that the dust factor would have been much worse had I not poly-tented the kitchen, at least that’s what I tell myself.

It should be stated that sanding like this is hard. Following a belt sander around the floor for hours at a time seems to be tiring. One also has to switch at times to the smaller, square, orbital sander to get at the more difficult to reach areas. And coming into the kitchen there is the one step, and two back risers, that mostly had to be done with a manual sanding block. There is also the stopping to shop-vac, and the chasing out of the way of the curious and helpful puppy and the curious and indifferent cat. There is the occasional changing of the dust mask and the necessary ritual removal of sound-quieting earmuffs between power tools, as well as the realization that no matter how soft the knee pads are that one is wearing, there comes a point where the pain can only be relieved by clawing oneself to the standing position and trying as best one can to reach for the ceiling and side to side to gain whatever stretch is required so you can get back down and do it again. There was the 36 grit sand paper to level the worn wood grain to a flat surface, and the progression of 80 and 120 grit to smooth the surface to a fine plane. And since the spirits could not do this all in one night- or day- there was the daily repair of human tread and dog play to gain back the advantage one had sanded for the previous day. I think it took two four-hour days, and then a marathon of six to seven hours of hand sanding to finally be able to say, “let the staining begin.”

While I used the oil-based polyurethane in the bathroom, it was decided we would try the water-based version in the kitchen. It seemed that the quicker drying and the odorless nature of this formula would be better suited to life in food land. As it was, the three coats went on within a few hours and all appeared to be right with floor world. It was noted that while the bathroom coating had slightly darkened the wood there, the kitchen coating was clear and barely changed the light color of the pine at all. It was noted however that it seemed to be a bit more slippery than the bathroom floor, which proved to be a bit of a challenge to slidey dog pads. The enthusiasm with which the dogs had been used to bringing it to the kitchen proved to be a test for their stopping and turning capabilities, and a few times made for some comical maneuvers. What I didn’t notice at the time, and what changed my perception of their comedic actions, was that the trade off for chemical odors and quicker drying was much less resistance to scratches. As I looked closer at the floor, where all that fine sanding had left a smooth surface, there now appeared a disappointment of fresh claw marks in the wood. We were soon off to the paint center to see if oil-based floor coating could reside over a water based one.

The internets said that this was a possibility, so we got a can of the tougher stuff and came home to give it a go. After a light sanding and vacuuming, a fresh coat went on, and we waited, and waited, and six hours or so later it was a sticky, glossy “dry”. The next morning it was not much better, so I put the hand sander to the floor and came up with a weird mix of dry paint dust and these odd, dark strings of material that apparently was made of the not totally dry floor coating which had congealed together while being rolled under the hand sander. The belt sander was rolled out and I began the process of the undoing down to bare wood. And then I remembered I had to write this. And so it is that I cannot say yet how this turned out- the slippery slope of this learning curve has turned a bit slicker and steeper, thanks to dog claws and a need for speed. Hopefully this will fix things, since there is that porch railing project that needs to get done before the insurance adjuster comes back for pictures.