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Date: 02/01/16

I'm Still Sanding

(Cap that one, Challinor!)

As mentioned here and elsewhere, my Great Winter Project™ has been, is and (or so it sometimes seems) forever will be the sanding and staining of the floorboards upstairs, i.e. the three bedrooms, the bathroom, the bog, the landing and the stairs. This is the result of all the carpets in those areas being completely u/s due to age and condition, and my understandable reluctance to spend what would likely turn out to be a four-figure sum to replace them. Not to mention the uneasy feeling I would get from having a bunch of total strangers traipsing through the house while they fitted them; I wouldn't trust myself to be able to do that properly, especially when it came to the stairs, where I think an advanced qualification in topology would be required in order to get it right.

So, having already used my brother's hot-air gun to burn the paint off the stair treads (and almost setting fire to a ragged edge of wallpaper in doing so), I set to the main job in the smallest bedroom. As you can read from the piece I linked to in the previous paragraph, I encountered a major snag in that the belt sander packed up within a few hours of starting the job. Those nice people (and for once when using that form of words, I am not being sarcastic; they've been very helpful and friendly on each of the eight or nine visits I've made to them in the last three and a half months) at the Wrexham branch of Screwfix replaced the thing without quibble, and so I set to it again.

It took a bit of time to get the sanding done, even taking into account that this was going to be a weekends-only job, and a bit of it needed to be done by hand. The 80-grit sandpaper I had bought at the outset proved to be simply too fine to take off the last of the ingrained what-'ave-yew which was left after the belt sander had gone over it as best it could, and in those places where I couldn't use the machine (odd corners, under the radiator, that sort of thing), so I had to get a roll of 40-grit, and that saw it off. One note, though: so-called sanding blocks are useless in my limited experience; you simply can't get the downward pressure with them. Wadding up a strip of the paper and rubbing away in full manual mode seems to be your only man, except that you end up with shredded fingernails and knuckles.

It was time then to fill the gaps between the floorboards, and it was at this point that I realised exactly how the Council's contractors had managed to put a whole new central-heating system in in less than seven hours back in August 2004. They had had to pull up some of the floorboards, of course, but they had put them back by screwing them into place rather than doing a proper job of it. This collective sin had naturally been covered up - literally - by the carpets ever since, and it was now my delight to discover that - in a small bedroom, mind - they had used some twenty screws to do the job. Those naturally had to come out before I started the sanding, and I hoped that filling the gaps - one or two of them fairly wide - with a mixture of PVA glue and the dust created by the sanding would hold the boards at least as firmly.

In doing this part of the work, I discovered a mystery of modern chemistry. The sanding dust (kept for the use in no fewer than three round biscuit tins) was a medium grey colour; the PVA glue is pure white; when mixed together in the old ice-cream tub which I'd set aside for the purpose with the Fabled Knife of St. Ivy, the combination was an almost metallic grey colour. Why then, when it had set and hardened, did it turn into the colour of chocolate sauce? What made things worse is that I had managed to get a fair bit of it on the boards themselves (and on the skirting), and I found to my displeasure that - once set - not even a belt sander will take much of it off. I was stuck with it - literally.

This modified my intentions in re. the colour of the stain I was going to use. I had originally intended to get a clear stain, but the chocolate ripple effect meant that this wasn't a going proposition anymore. I decided in the end to go for a light-oak colour and - as all of this work was experimental, in that I had no idea whether the whole thing would work out, and how it would work out if it did - I bought only a 1 litre tin of it.

I got down to business with the brush and found that a bit under an hour and a quarter later I had covered all areas. The verbiage on the tin suggested that it would take about 6 hours to dry. However I had really slapped it on, which meant that not only was it a darker colour than it probably should have been (although still showing the natural grain of the boards pretty nicely), it took about fourteen hours to stop threatening to do to me what molten amber did to insects in the primaeval forests.

Nonetheless, I looked upon my work and pronounced it good (which is a funny way to pronounce 'my work', you must admit).

Having moved all the stuff which had been in that room into the back bedroom, I then had to move it all back again, along with all the accumulated junk which had had its natural habitat in the back bedroom. That room was next.

Unlike the smallest bedroom, this one still had a carpet; or at least, most of it had. When we had moved in here in March 1984, we found that the carpet which had completely covered the living room of our old (much smaller) house would do for this room, except for a strip about seven inches wide by the window. And so it had been ever since.

I pulled the carpet up, and remembered the other reason why putting new carpets in instead was a no-no; the backing seemed to have been a fabric lattice of some sort, but what it now was was a torrent of fine, grey dust left behind by something which looked like a string vest. It took two whole vacuum-cleaner bags to get the piles of this crap off the floor. The carpet and the backing went straight out of the window and into the back yard; there was no way I was going to carry that through the house.

This time, because I already had tins full of sanding dust from the first room, I would fill the gaps in the back bedroom first and then sand it. This went comparatively smoothly, and I was far more careful about not letting the filler get on the boards themselves. One or two wider gaps presented a problem, however; I had no sooner filled them, turned away and turned back again than the filler had disappeared into the depths of space and time below the boards. Mixing an especially thick batch of filler was the only answer to that and, once it had all set, I too was all set for the next job: the sanding.

The boards here were even more uneven than they had been in the little bedroom, and I had had to remove no fewer than 41 screws from the floor (in addition to going around with the hammer, the nail punch and the pincers getting rid of any potential nasty surprises). This unevenness (not just between boards but within some of the boards themselves) now caused a problem in that the sander wouldn't touch substantial sections of them, and I was faced with the prospect of having to sand most of them by hand; this led me to knock off early one Sunday in despair at such a mind-numbing (and finger-tormenting) possibility. However, I did a bit of research and found advice to the effect that sanding the boards diagonally first would help. Well, it did; what also helped was realising that it helps to change the sanding belt occasionally. In the end, a fair bit of hand-sanding was still needed, but only to take the worst of the grime off; the stain would mask what was left, making it look like A Feature.

I was glad of this, because I was working to a tight deadline which I had set myself. I knew that I was going to be finishing work for the year on the 30th and would be away from the pickle factory (or, as it must now be called it seems, Dame Lin's Pleasaunce) for a week. This would, I thought, give me time to get my own bedroom - the largest of the three - done and sorted in time for me to begin the trudge through to Spring.

The Staining Of The First Floor Back having gone satisfactorily (except for the fact that it took a whole four hours to do, and meant having to buy a new 2.5 litre tin), I waited until I had got home on Wednesday to move the furniture out of my bedroom into the newly-fettled room. This didn't take too long, although dragging the wardrobe caused heavy scuffing on the staining which I'll have to look at later. Thursday morning found me pulling up and cutting up the carpet from the front bedroom. This went much easier once I had replaced the blade in my Stanley knife for the first time since I had bought it many years ago: I had been seriously hampered in dealing with the carpet from the back bedroom by my failure to do this previously, which I blame on my being brought up to use things as far as you possibly can before replacing them; frugality can sometimes be counter-productive, can't it? The pieces of carpet went out of the front window (I carted them around the back later; they'll be cut up further - along with the pieces of carpet from the back bedroom - once I have a dry day to do it; probably about the 23rd of July, judging by how the weather has been in recent months), and filled another two vacuum-cleaner bags to get rid of the appalling grey dust left by the disintegrated backing. I'm comforted slightly by the knowledge that there's only a small piece of carpet in the bathroom, and that - carpet-wise - will be that for this house while I have anything to do with it.

What I was then faced with was a set of floorboards which were on the whole pretty clean, which I put down to the fact that my mother had decided to use what looked like old-fashioned brown wrapping paper as an additional underlay. However, due to this bedroom also containing the tank cupboard, there were some quite substantial gaps between some of them (and 67 screws holding them down), and this was going to cause a problem, filling-wise.

Luckily, I had seen a small block of wood (about half an inch in square section and about a foot long) in the back garden a few days before and - prompted by the knowledge that the bathroom floor also had a couple of minor chasms between the boards - I had brought it in to dry, with the intention of using it there when the time came. I now saw that I was going to need it now instead, so I got hold of it and the axe and, by some miracle, managed to chop a bit off which fitted almost perfectly into the most problematic gap near the radiator; a bit of PVA on it and it sat snugly.

This was Friday (i.e. yesterday) afternoon, and I started on the filling. Unfortunately, I had to deal with some substantial empty space between the floor and the skirting along the window wall. As fast as I was shovelling the filler in, it was disappearing into the wall cavity, and leaving me with a skirting board covered haphazardly in what looked like home-made Nutella. This will have to be sorted out when I paint all the skirting boards as the final act of the whole show in a few months' time.

So, I started filling the gaps between the floorboards. By teatime, I had covered about a quarter of the total area which needed doing. It was at this point that I realised that - given the area involved, which would still need to be sanded and stained (and the stain given every chance to dry) - there was no way that I was going to be able to get it done in time to have everything back in its proper place for when I go back to work on Thursday. I tried, coach, but they were too big for me. Besides which, this is supposed to be my time for 'rest and recuperation', and by Lemmy's Immortal Wart do I need it.

I've done the rest of the filling today (which may be why I now feel as if I am ever-so-slightly speedin' ma liddle tiddies ahf; PVA smells quite nice, I think), and intend starting on the sanding tomorrow afternoon. It'll take me three or four days to do it I suspect, including the bits which will need to be done by hand. This means it'll probably be next weekend before I can stain it, and a few more days (to be on the safe side) before I can move everything back in. Then it'll be the turn of the bathroom, then the bog (which will present certain practical difficulties out of all proportion to the room's size; someone suggested I borrow a commode for the duration). Then it'll be the landing, which is likely to be the worst because of the state of the boards there. Then, finally, the stairs; these will have to be hand-sanded throughout, a truly pleasing prospect (and now I am being sarcastic).

Still, it has kept, is keeping, and will keep me occupied throughout the winter, leaving me with some time in the Spring to give the house a thorough cleaning (that bloody dust gets everywhere) before the garden starts yapping for my attention again.

Busy, busy...