The Tongue and Groove

First, get your mind out of the gutter. Otherwise, the rest of this post will get awkward.

Installing hardwood flooring (correctly) is a SLOW job. There’s a lot more involved than meets the eye. It’s playing chess and there’s a lot of machining to do.

The box of wood flooring says “Assorted Sizes”. If true, that would have saved me about 50% of my time, but it’s not. Each box is full of 48” pieces, except for one 36 inch board and one 12 inch board. Those three sizes are not adequate for creating a random joint pattern on the floor, so I have to cut boards to random sizes. My bandsaw only has a 14 inch throat, so I am hand cutting random sizes larger than that and trimming them up on the bandsaw. But each board has a tongue on one side and a groove on the other, and I don’t want to waste wood, so when I cut off a grooved edge to use the tongue side to start a row, I have to figure out where I can end a row with the grooved cutoff. Also, I look at every single board and pick out specific boards to cut, picking boards that look good but might have a flaw somewhere in the middle. I also have to make sure that I don’t cut a board too short. It looks stupid to have 1 or 2 or 3 inch boards finishing out the row. I know, since this was done two dozen times on the old floor.

Then it gets difficult when I’m laying boards perpendicular to a threshold board, such as the 48 inch long board going into the living room from the foyer, and the footer at the bottom of the stairs. I want each board’s groove to go into the threshold board’s tongue side, but again, I have 3 standard sizes. So, to randomize the layout, I cut random sizes and keep the tongue side of the board, then I stand up the board on its teeny tiny edge and try to keep the board perfectly in line with the blade as I push it against the bandsaw, making 3, 4, or 5 cuts (depending on the bandsaw blade wandering and the steadiness of my hand) to hog out the new groove (see what I mean about being awkward?). I finish the groove with a tiny chisel, then I bevel the top side of the cut to match the bevel around the perimeter of the rest of the board, then stain the new beveled edge with a super secret black coating (Sharpie) to maintain a uniform look. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

There are a lot of crap boards in the box. Way more than I would have anticipated. Actually, some boxes have near perfect boards, and some boxes are almost pure crap. Some boards just don’t have a pleasing grain pattern or have an unusual streak or something, but a lot of them have ugly splotchy spots where the stain didn’t take. It’s not a big deal, since the hardwood flooring is going under the new cabinets.  However, sometimes one of the two shorter boards looks bad, so that takes away a finished short board and adds more machining time to my schedule. I bought spares, but not too many. I’m a bit concerned about it, actually.

So them’s be how you put in a new floor, and I assume that kind of attention to detail doesn’t come with a standard $2.99/sq ft installation cost. I know where every corner can be cut, both because I can imagine that it takes less time to cut off a tongue than cut in a new groove, and because I ripped out my old flooring. My builders didn’t take 2 seconds more than they needed to completing anything in the house. Today, however, I spend 12 hours installing four boards. 4. F-o-u-r. Actually, I machined a fifth. I should give myself more credit.

Weekend Update

Well, I haven’t been blogging in a while, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been getting anything done. Quite the contrary.

This weekend I had a great time with some fraternity brothers in the mountains, so I didn’t get a lot done on the house. However, it was a much needed break, because…

The subfloor had to be replaced. That was a crap job. About 20% of the particle board was absolute trash. In the worst spots, I was able to remove the majority of the subfloor with just the shop vac. What garbage. So, most of last week was spent replacing all of the subfloor, and most days I worked until past midnight. There wasn’t much room for blogging, as I was dead tired. However, last night, I finished replacing all of the subfloor with new 3/4 inch OSB. I learned a few things about subflooring, though. It’s very easy to do a crappy job, but it’s quite difficult to get everything right. And I know it’s just subflooring, but like the idiots that built this house, they saw the concrete they were pouring as “just the foundation” and now I’m having to repair it, too. So, I did a quality job and the floor is absolutely rock solid. No creaks, no squeeks, no mushy spots on the floor. That’s what you should expect with new subflooring that was screwed (and not nailed) into the floor joists. For those wondering (probably nobody), I used 7 pounds of screws. I also installed a 6 mil moisture barrier under the subflooring instead of 15 pound roofing paper. I’ve got Rosin Paper for the actual hardwood.

I’ve got some pictures of the job in progress, but since these pictures were taken, all of the subfloor has been put down.

I installed the floor jacks a few days ago and have already lifted the floor about a quarter of an inch. The kitchen door latched for the first time since we moved in!


I also fixed my air conditioner in preparation for the big weekend in the mountains. I’ve got a Delphi compressor that blows in the high 40’s on hot days. Comparing my car’s outdoor thermometer to the barista thermometer I Shanghai’d for my A/C vent, when I’m crusing at a decent speed I can get near a 50 degree drop. That’s just amazing to me.

I just finshed cleaning out all of the cabinets on the refridgerator/stove side of the wall. I can’t decide if I will rip them down next or clean out the other cabinets, but I am excited about ripping out my POS vent hood. I can’t wait to tear that thing up and I may take a few extra minutes to wail on it with my Engineer’s Hammer (An Engineer’s Hammer is what Lowe’s calles a 4 pound sledge. I had to buy it and I’ve used it many times.) Trash day’s tomorrow!

But for now, I’m going to take a bit of a break. It has been a very hard, absolutely draining day. We hope that Jay is in peace, and all of our love is with Susan, Virginia, and Elizabeth.

Party People: Get on the Floor!

Particle board ought to be illegal.

 I was not planning to replace the subflooring, even though it was particle board, until I came across this nightmare. This was my subfloor – much of it could be removed with no other tool than the shop vac. It doesn’t take many years of study to learn that a floor that can be swept away does not add much structural integrity to your house. What’s worse is that rotten particle board would not hold any of my hardwood flooring nails, so new kitchen floor would creak and the cabinets might not feel as solid as they would on new subfloor. As much as it sucks, I would hate to install a new kitchen on rotten subfloor just to save $200. Therefore, from that mess, I decided to rip it all out.

See? Total mess.

(Perspicacious readers can guess which appliance I didn’t want to move by myself.)

Turns out that ripping out the subfloor was definitely the right decission. That particle board is absolute garbage. Besides cutting around the fridge with a circular saw, I ripped the entire subfloor out with my bare hands, a small crowbar, and a shop vac. About one in 10 nails actually stayed in the board as I ripped it up, and the rest just broke out of the particle board and stayed in the floor. Some of the nails I pulled out were even hammered in straight. I was impressed.

Believe it or not, that black felt paper has been vacuumed a dozen times. The dust that you see that is still on that black paper is where the subfloor had rotted completely through, swelled to some odd size, and was totally worthless. There were other bad spots, but the big lines under the old cabinets, right near the fridge, and near the sink were the worst. They were also the only parts of the floor that were not protected by a linoleum moisture barrier. Funny that.

What you see there is the removal of 7 of the 10 sheets that that need to go. The other three are in the foyer. They are completely undammaged, so far as I can tell, but nobody makes that oddball thickness of subfloor anymore. Am I going to risk having uneven floors to save $45? No, and this is why engineers need their wife in Africa for a month to get a project done. And while I miss her terribly, she would probably be less than enthusiastic about the state of the house right now.

Dirty Little Secrets

My house has been hiding some dirty little secrets. The photos below are not for the meek.

There are years and years and years and years of spills, grossness, grime, a little mold, and some water warping.  I don’t really know yet how I am going to fix it. I cannot cut off the offending section and replace the subfloor because nobody makes this thickness anymore. If the damage here is the only damage, I will probably try to grind off the destroyed parts, glaze, and sand the floor level here. Everything is getting a coat of Zinsser. Eeew.

But check out that corner! How awesome is that. 4 Floors, all gross.

 Oh yeah. You’ve got ugly white lineolum installed with window caulk, then some ugly yellow lineolum installed with Elmer’s, then some dark brown faux parquet lineolum that was installed with molasses–and it’s still sticky, then my soon-to-be-trash oak floor installed with black roofing tar. Right now, the plan is to use the original white lineolum as the fabric barrier between the subfloor and the new flooring (which prevents squeaking), because it is not going to come off that subfloor without bringing chunks with it. It’s going to be fun going to Lowe’s and asking for the cheapest, ugliest self-stick lineolum they’ve ever carried.

Finally, here’s a quick question you’ve probably never asked yourself: How much does your kitchen sink weigh? Don’t know? Why would you… it’s not like you’ve ever picked it up, but go ahead and guess. 20 pounds? 30 pounds?… 50 pounds? Mine, was one hundred and three pounds. I’m pretty sure that it was enameled cast iron. Anyway, it looks like my dreams of a temporary sink basin might be fleeting. We’ll see how long I can survive without a kitchen sink.

Floor has arrived, fellas!

I ordered the floor on Tuesday and Lowe’s said it would be in on the 25th. I got a call yesterday that it was in. It’s not often that an order comes in two weeks ahead of schedule–especially on a 2 and a half week lead time. I know that Dalton isn’t that far from North Atlanta, but still…

Blazer full of wood.

For those that are wondering: Yes, this is the Blazer’s first pallet. It was a very proud moment (If I have to explain why, an explanation is not going to help). A special thanks to the Lowe’s employees who piloted the forklift and dropped the pallet in my car without a scratch!

So whowuddathunk it would only take 10 minutes to put the flooring in!

Flooring In Da House!

Ok, so it’s not exactly installed… Details, details. I couldn’t start on it anyway, because the instructions explicitly state that the new hardwood flooring should sit in the house and acclimate for at least 72 hours before you go nailing it down. I am not anticipating that will be a problem.

An Unstable Foundation

With my wife in Africa, it is time for me to address an inadequacy that has been plaguing us for years: much of our life is not built on a strong foundation… Literally.

Sarah and I bought our house right after we got married and we were told that our house had foundation problems in the past. I looked under the house and saw that the beam supporting the main load-bearing partition in our house was too weak. However, a replacement beam was installed that was the right size and was supported correctly. Everything was good, we were assured that all of the foundation issues have been addressed, and we bought the house. Yay Us!

Except the new beam was installed in the wrong location. Whoopsies.

So the main wall in our house—you know, the one that supports the kitchen cabinets and all of the living room electronics, as well as 1/3 of the weight of the roof—is sinking into the ground. These things happen, so I called a couple contractors to see how much they needed to fix the problem. It shouldn’t be that difficult. I got back a few quotes.

$15,000. Fifteen. Thousand. Dollars. For a beam.

Jeezus! It turns out that there’s a lot of work to be done, including a lot of engineering, and adding the word “Foundation” to any construction project automatically increases the cost 5 times. Luckily, I know a Mechanical Engineer with a couple of years experience in structures that works for cheap. I analyzed the old beam and verified that it is crap, designed a new beam and verified that it is awesome, and then made the biggest mistake since my wedding: I told my wife I could save us $13,000.

She must have heard “I will save us a ton of money on this beam, so we’ve got a ton of money to spend on something else… like a Kitchen!”

So yes, we are getting a new kitchen. At least I’m paying to have the new cabinets installed, but before that happens (which very well may be while I’m in Africa), the beam will have to be fixed, the floor will have to be leveled, the old crappy hardwood flooring will be ripped out, the old kitchen will be ripped out, and the new awesome hardwood will be installed. We also have a few design considerations left, like what countertop we are going to get.

So stop by often and check on our progress!