Tuesday, April 22, 2014


I haven't taken much in the way of photos over the past week, so I'll dig back a month into the archives for today's offering. I've mentioned my affliction/affection for antique plumbing before, and this sink was my most recent acquisition.

The sink that came with the house was an early, but somewhat plain pedestal sink that was badly rusted out.

Although I had intended to restore it, the truth is I can replace it with another antique sink much more cheaply - if it were original I'll shell out the cash, but I doubt it is. To fulfill our 203k obligations we had to make this bathroom operational, so we picked up another vintage pedestal sink with working taps on Freecycle to serve in the interim. Those taps had started to fail, and the bad refinishing job on the sink (not our doing) was only getting worse, so when I saw this sink for $50 on craigslist I jumped on it. Of course it wasn't the sink I was interested in, it was those lovely nickel taps...

The sink is an antique barber's sink, that upper middle nozzle is for a hand sprayer attachment which we don't have. Thankfully, tightening those threads shut off the water flow, although it still makes an awful whistling noise we have yet to remedy. Although the sink itself is rather plain Jane (and will likely get replaced when we decide to have the faucet replated), the soap dish is supremely awesome in that it has an integral drain that connects to the main drain. Very cool... Of course simply hooking it up would have been too simple, naturally it leaked from every conceivable spot - I almost wish I had a picture of the waterworks, but you'll just have to imagine the mess on your own. Since there is really no good tutorial on repairing these (let alone picture of the process), I'll bite the bullet and do my best to describe what we did. The article that guided us initially can be found in this Old House Journal Article - it provides the terminology that you'll need to tell your friends what you did with your weekend, you're welcome.

Remove the handle by unscrewing the screw on the end of it (yours may have a cap that needs to be popped off), then use a wrapped wrench to remove the nut.

Take pictures of what you find, usually a decayed washer and/or packing if there have been previous repair attempts.

Put the handle back on and gently wiggle/unscrew as though you were turning on the faucet to loosen the stem. Once it is able to go past the normal on position it should come out easily - this was the hardest part - looking at it you'd have sworn this was all one piece. We used pb blaster and a needle to break up and remove the grime.

Once we got the stem out we cleaned everything, and tracked down the appropriate washers/screws. Skip the big box stores and go directly to a plumbing supply if you have a truly old faucet like we did.

Place the new washer after thoroughly cleaning off the old gunk (tweezers, q-tips, whatever it takes)
Screw in either the original screw if it was in good condition, or a new brass screw

Coat the stem and threads in the lube, this will make the handle easy to turn.

Use the handle to screw the stem back into the seat
Neatly wrap the packing

Use thread dope and carefully place the nut over the packing, then fully tighten.
After the last nut has been tightened, reinstall the handle, making sure it's positioned in it's desired off positioned before screwing it back in.

If there are any other leaking connections unscrew and pack/use thread dope as necessary.

Smile, you're done. Take an "after" picture that doesn't show the item in question...

Friday, April 11, 2014

some light demolition

This latest visit by my MIL would have been the first time she was here without some sort of construction project happening, and since that's clearly unacceptable, I found some light demolition to do...

before we bought the house - the room that showed us there was hope

Of the existing fireplaces (two are missing altogether), this is the only one that had been plugged up.  We'd been curious to know if it had decorative firebacks like our others, but we feared we'd open it up to find a gaping maw of soot and collapsed bricks.  

The homasote panels or whatever they were put up a surprising fight...

But we won as usual, in the process liberating the Indian Chief.

Must be a member of the Sphinx tribe (you can see he lost his nose)

Everything else was just clean up really, a few bricks, several pounds of soot, some good slates and lots of newspapers...

WWI and...
patent cures...

1914, some of the oldest we've found in the house, suggesting that this fireplace was closed up surprisingly early - before the house had even been split up.
The back piece reads Bissell & co., a local Pittsburg (without the H), foundry and fireplace manufacturer.

Bissell & co.  not particularly legible

As for the grate, well, I knew that was there all along.  Mr. Kelly and I have a very similar sense of aesthetics, griffins, sparrows, flowers and gargoyles.


here there be dragons...

No satyrs in the house though, so I had to bring those in on my own.

All that's left to do is to finish cleaning up the fuzzy overspray from when they tried to insulate the homasote panel and the fireplace, too bad it only occurred to me after the fact that it's probably asbestos.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

green man

I am that person at estate sales with the maniacal grin clutching things she spent an hour digging out of the corners of the basement no one else wanted to go.  I find impossibly cool things.  Sometimes, they look like useless, broken things - and in order to retain my buying privileges I have to prove they're not.

Enter this broken pressed oak chair back,  I think I paid 50 cents.  I convinced myself that if nothing else I could make a picture frame out of it, which would have worked fine, but I came up with a better idea.  In an effort to continue my reign of terror over my houseplants, and to make up for the devouring of the big staghorn we brought with us from Miami, this project was born....

The timing was perfect, as some good friends of ours were driving up from Miami and willing to bring staghorn pups from my MIL's 6 foot diameter ball of fern (they also brought up their adorable son who gave our kitchen sink the baby bath seal of approval).  The first step I expected to be the easiest, removing the fabric and tacks.

Not so much...

This took hours.  There were multiple types of tacks on each side, and far too many of them - about 20 per square inch, and many of them were hopelessly rusted.  So this quick project spanned a few days just in tack removal.  Once that was done I scrubbed the whole frame in the sink because it was filthy.  After it was cleaned I glued and clamped the broken bits.

I then traced a piece of aluminum flashing to fit on the back where the fabric had been, and glued this on with super glue (and let me tell you, if you don't have rolls of pennies to serve as weights you're missing out)

Turning it over, I started fastening hardware cloth to the edges with an upholstery stapler, cutting to fit as I went.  When two sides were done I used a spatula to stuff moss in between the wire and the flashing.  Then I wired on the staghorn pups and finished stapling.

Only then did it occur to me to restore the finish...
just good old Howard's and their wax

Better late than never right?  Some hanging hardware, and I'm done.

The only things I would have done differently would be to clean the finish before putting on the flashing and wire, putting on the hanging hardware before the plants, and maybe painting the hardware cloth green.  But it's done now, and I have a great spot to watch this well-traveled fern die a slow and horrible death....

Friday, April 4, 2014

the undiscovered country

In our three years in the house I've made a point of never fully cleaning out the shelves in our basement. They were to be our last great hope, our rainy day fund, the last of the discoveries after finishing the rest of the house. For a person like me, living in a house like this, facing the fact that at some point there will be nothing left to find is a terrible thing - I relish the possibility and decrepitude far more than any finished room, which is perhaps why there are far more befores than afters on this blog.

no, this wasn't staged...

However, for work to proceed, sacrifices have to be made - in this case, for the electrician to work on the wiring mentioned a few posts ago, things from the sacred shelves had to be moved out of harms way. The shelves in questions are in the first room of the basement. This room includes such charming features as the "keep out room," (created in part from what we think are boards from our butlers pantry), suckers and stems from the now removed sassafras tree that refuses to go down without a drawn out battle, and a hefty helping of cobwebs and compost from decaying who-knows-what on the shelves.

The green thing is actually an antique oak pie
safe, I found part of the door frame while cleaning

On the other hand, the shelves did not disappoint. There were pieces of gas light sconces, 20 original swing arm curtain rods of different designs (no mounting brackets though, anyone know where I can get those for a reasonable price, metal shop maybe?) a copper engraving plate with the name of someone who lived nearby in the 20's, many antique canning jars, and various controlled substances - my favorite of which was a full antique bottle of chloroform.

Yes, my house plays the part of the creepy mansion to a T... While we're on that creepy note, how about this?

Yes, that would be a pinned and labeled bug collection from 1965 in a cigar box. It had been on the top shelf, and the evil monkey had just come down to see how the cleaning was going. I asked him to clear off the shelf so I didn't have to set up the ladder (he's exceptionally tall, perhaps the whole reason I keep him around). He reaches up, produces this box, peaks inside, and excitedly closes it and tries to hand it to me saying "this is so cool." To which I reply "it's a box of spiders isn't it?" I have ESP. The box has now been returned to the (much cleaner) top shelf, where it will continue to horrify owners for decades/centuries to come. Also returned to the top shelf, all the chemicals, and the hilariously labeled Fine Dry Wine from Futryk (the owners of the house from the 50's until us) Vineyards of Edgewood PA. Strange that our friends didn't want to come over for a wine tasting.....

Perhaps the most miraculous find however I have the evil monkey to thank for. Also on the top shelf, laying in the dirt in the corner (blending into the shelf well enough that I would never have noticed it while cleaning from the ground) was a piece of glass.

The glass, and also a pirate ship I stole from my cousin's
pirate themed Bar Mitzvah - it's labeled Queen Anne's Revenge,
so I clearly had to have it.

Yes, a piece of purple rippled stained glass that most likely came from one of our five missing stained glass windows (pieces of which we've been finding buried in the back yard). That folks is not the wondrous part though. The wondrous part is that the glass is an exact match to the three 5 foot long transoms I was given when I bought all those wavy glass windows a few months back.

The universe is a pretty cool place....
This is slightly better, I promise

And yes, the view from our garret remains the same, skeletal trees and mud, oh spring...