Tuesday, November 24, 2009


This post will be about fireplaces, but I thought I’d start with a quick update on things…

We finished the stucco work.  We were very lucky to have some warm weather in the last few weeks and the mason who did the stucco work made good progress.  We decided to not press our luck with painting the finished work (we’ll do that next year), but he did manage to fix all but 3 panels that were too difficult to reach without moving the scaffolding (which we didn’t have time for).  I’ll post pics shortly.

We met with our architect who is helping to design our renovation to the rear school buildings.  He came up with some good design ideas regarding our kitchen and how to open up some walls while keeping true to the historic elements of the house.  We’re going through some revisions now, but when we are further along, I’ll post the plans (or a portion of them).

We also finally had the plumbers back to hook up three radiators that have been disconnected for a year.  They managed to gouge one area of our dining room floor, leave a radiator leaking (it still is), rip one wall-mounted radiator off the wall, and come close to destroying another one by tightening the vent too tightly.  Not a great experience.

Now, back to fireplaces.  Our house originally had four fireplaces.  Two coal inserts, and two electric fireplaces.  That’s what we’re guessing.  There was one remaining coal insert in the parlor, and one electric in the 2nd floor den.  All that’s left of the other coal insert is the hearth tiles in the bedroom it was originally located in, and all that’s left of the living room electric is a very obvious patch in the hardwood floor which more or less matches our neighbour’s location of their electric fireplace.

Our eventual plan is to have five fireplaces when we’re all done our renovations.  One in the parlor (existing), one in the den (existing), one in a 2nd floor bedroom (hearth remaining), one in the master bedroom suite on the 3rd floor (at least a few years away), and one in the rear building’s renovated area. 

We had hoped the existing coal insert could be converted to wood and had mixed opinions from the W.E.T.T. certified inspectors we had come look at it.  Well, after getting smoke coming out of the bedroom floor above the parlor, we’ve decided to forget about wood (it’s just too expensive to repair the 40’ of flue) and are now looking at gas models.  Here is one we’re considering:


The styling is older that our house (more Victorian), but it’s the closest we’ve found that looks like our old coal insert.  We are still looking into pricing and it won’t happen until at least January, since all the fireplace installers are booked until at least Christmas.

The electric fireplace in the den was wired with knob and tube and we can’t find bulbs for it so we’ve decided to replace it as well.  We’ve been looking into electric and gel fireplaces and even ordered a cheap gel insert (from Costco!) that roughly fits the space, but after two fires with the gel fuel, we’re thinking electric.  The gel fuel gave off a weird smell and both of us had head-aches the next day.  Not ideal.  Here’s the electric fireplace we’re considering:


This is the closest we could find that will fit and has a coal-bed and looks reasonably realistic.

If anybody has any suggestions/ideas for gas and/or electric fireplaces that look/fit the era of our house (c1914) I’d love to hear from you.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Scaffolding is up!

I helped our mason erect the scaffolding.  We ended up erecting enough to just reach the peak of the roof on the side dormer.  In order to do the stucco work, we didn’t need to go that high, but there’s a loose piece of trim that some birds are getting access to our attic through, and I thought I might as well fix that at the same time.  Here is a picture of the scaffolding.


We only needed 35 ft in height (7 sections).  The scaffold is tied to the house in 8 different places, all with heavy gauge wire to bolts either screwed into wooden members or screwed into expanding lag nuts in between masonry.  For extra support, we have some sand bags placed around the bottom (so it isn’t too top heavy).  The structure barely moves when you’re at the top.  The mason has a safety harness with lanyard and he has spent considerable time working from heights (rebuilding chimneys from above the roof line).

Here are a few pictures of our neighborhood taken from the top of the scaffolding.

The old Ottawa Women’s College (now a condo development):


Our roof (you can see the old and new portions) looking over to the United Church nearby:


  A nice picture of the new portion of our roof:


A picture looking down onto our new standing seam metal roof over the side sun room:

IMG_1506  The top peak that needs to be repaired to prevent birds from entering our attic (it’s worse than I thought):

IMG_1507 Here are a couple pictures of the stucco that needs repairing:

IMG_1510IMG_1511 IMG_1509

Here’s a picture of a window sill that I repaired (see previous posts) using a wood epoxy and filler.  You might notice that the storm is installed but the interior double-hung window is missing.  It’s in my workshop awaiting repair.  The sill is just primed for now, it will be repainted at a later date:

IMG_1512 Here’s the other window sill that has been epoxied and filled, but not  sanded or painted yet (it’s on the list).  The storm for this window was just reglazed and is awaiting installation so I can remove the double-hung for additional repair:


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Foundation (Before and After)

As promised, here are a few pictures of the before and after of our foundation.  The mason completed the foundation work last week.  The before pictures were taken during our original home inspection.


Friday, October 23, 2009

A Project that we shouldn’t be starting so late in the season

We found a guy who does masonry at a reasonable price (see previous post) who we hired to re-point our entire foundation.  He completed that job earlier this week and in speaking with him during the work, we decided to get him to help replace/restore some of our stucco.  We have a few sections that need replacing.  One in particular is in really bad shape (a good chunk of it has actually fallen off the side of the house).

We really probably shouldn’t be doing stucco work now.  The temperature is just holding above where we need it to be for it to cure properly.  The mason has suggested tarping the area where he’ll be working and setting up a small heater inside the tarp.  It really came down to price and the fact that he did a good job on our foundation (pictures will be forthcoming shortly on that job).

So, we decided to go for it, and are having enough scaffolding delivered tomorrow to put a platform up 10 ft wide x 40 ft high.  We don’t really need to go 40 ft high, but that’s enough to reach the top peak of the roof where I want to close a hole that some birds are getting into.  There’s a local company that rents scaffolding really cheaply and provides everything you need, including all the safety equipment.  The mason is experienced with scaffold work, and I’ll be helping erect it since it’s a two-person job.  Once we have the platform up where we need it, I’ll take some really scary pictures of our bad stucco.

In case you’re wondering, we’re going to use a traditional stucco based on the specifications from the Historic Preservations briefs.  Here’s the link for the stucco brief: http://www.nps.gov/history/HPS/tps/briefs/brief22.htm.  We’re going with the ‘Traditional Natural Hydraulic Lime Stucco’ which is 1 part hydrated lime, 2 parts white portland cement, and 3 parts mason’s sand.  A local masonry supply place has hydrated lime (yey!) at only $6.50/bag.  We’ll be applying a 3-coat application to new diamond lathe nailed to the house sheathing.  We’ll wait to paint it until the spring.

In other house-related news, we took down a 25ft tall weed tree that was growing against a fence (I used an axe old-fashioned style), and we had a gas leak at our meter.  I guess the diaphragm that is used to regulate the pressure was leaking.  I smelled the gas when I went to chop down the tree.  It was before the meter so we don’t have to pay for the leaking gas, but still a waste as we don’t go near that side of the house often so I have no idea how long it’s been leaking.  When the gas company came out to investigate they realized our meter wasn’t moving (yey for us, free gas), so they changed that too, and told us they have to come back and dig up our gas connection as the end segment is crimped and not to code.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Posts to catch up on

We’ve avoided doing any blog posts for 2.5 months.  It’s not that we don’t want to; we’ve just been busy with life.

Things we’ve been up to:

  • re-glazing storm windows
  • rebuilding window sills
  • finishing the main family bathroom
  • getting insulation added to the attic
  • preparing to have some missing radiators connected
  • getting our foundation repointed
  • getting quotes for stucco repair
  • opening up our fireplace
  • planning for the rear school-building renovation next year

The storm windows are coming along.  I’ve got about 10 of them in the back workshop almost ready to be installed.  I’m waiting for the glazing compound to firm up a bit more so I can prime before putting them up.  I still have 4 more storms to build from scratch but have been procrastinating buying the wood…

I’ve rebuilt two window sills up on our third floor.  Most of sills are stone, but the ones that are in the roof gables are wooden and in bad shape.  I used the products LiquidWood and WoodEpox.  LiquidWood penetrates into rotten wood to waterproof and prevent further rot.  WoodEpox is a putty.  I was going to do a detailed post on this, but there are a lot of other people who have done just that ('tis the season for window repair), so I won’t bother.

The bathroom is coming along, but slowly.  The tub is in now, we pretty much just have to tile.  We haven’t bought the marble yet, but will soon.  More to come on that soon-ish.

We had our attic insulated.  We had about 1” of old cellulose insulation previously.  The insulation guys came and added a lot more, so we are up to R-51.  They also filled the knee-walls on the third floor, added more to the other walls (via the attic since our house is balloon framed), and did the ceiling in the sun-deck off the den.  We’ll notice more of a difference once the really cold winter hits, but it seems warmer and less drafty already.  They also built us a proper attic hatch so we don’t have a huge gaping hole in the closet.

The plumbers are coming next week to re-attach three radiators that we’ve had off since last winter and replace a pipe that looks very close to springing a leak due to rust.  The rads are for the main family bathroom, one in the butler’s pantry, and one in the dining room.  Two were removed due to having to demolish the walls around them when the plumbers did the replacement of galvanized supply piping.  The one in the dining room was taken off because the flooring under it had to be replaced (it was rotten from a leak).  It will be interesting to see what this winter will be like with those three working again.  We found those areas too cold last year.

I found a guy on craigslist.org that was offering masonry services at ‘reasonable’ rates.  We weren’t planning on having our foundation repointed this year due to the cost, but I figured I’d have him come out to give us a quote.  His quote was 75% cheaper than the next best quote, so I hired him and had him do a small section first so I could inspect his work.  He showed up with the correct mortar for the period of our house and his work was clean and well executed.  He also offered to repair sections of our stucco with a traditional lime, portland cement, sand mixture, so we’re preparing to have him do that before the really cold weather hits.

We removed the coal insert from our fireplace to expose the firebox.  We had installed a lock-top damper on the fireplace flue earlier this year (since we don’t have a damper or smoke shelf in the fireplace).  We had conflicting opinions on whether the fireplace could be used.  We had two WETT-certified fireplace professionals come in earlier this year.  One of them said that they didn’t think we should use it because the flue didn’t look in good shape and then he tried to sell us an expensive gas insert.  The second guy said it looked in good condition but suggested a smoke bomb test to verify that the smoke was well contained in the flue.  We had some smoky smells in the bedroom above the fireplace when we had our first fire.  We’ve decided to open up the closed fireplace in that room (it’s been closed off for many years) and do a complete smoke bomb test before using the parlor fireplace again.  If it’s not completely safe, then we’ll have an insert put in and try for a wood fireplace on the second floor or in a future renovation somewhere else in the house.

This post is getting long, but I wanted to throw something in about our planned renovations for the rear school buildings.  Our son is getting to the age where we want him to have a yard to play in.  If you’ve been following our blog, you’ll know that the entire back of our property is filled with two large buildings.  The total dimensions are 53’ wide x 30’ deep.  So, we currently have no backyard.  One of the buildings is the original 2-story coach house and is in a terrible state.  The roof needs replacing and there is some mold in the wood framed walls.  It’s damp and there are animals in the upper level (raccoons, squirrels).  The other building is a single-story flat-roofed concrete ‘bunker’.  It’s in pretty good shape, has its own bathroom and furnace (disconnected currently).

Our plan is to take down one of the structures at the back next spring so we can restore half our backyard.  The other structure will stay and be converted into usable space.  We will need a demolition permit from the city and permits to properly renovate the remaining building.  So, we hired an architect to do plans for us and had a survey done of our property to make sure we didn’t need to apply for any variances.  The survey went well, no variances, yey!  And the architect is busy working on plans and coordinating with the city (which seems very supportive of our plans so far).  I’ll refrain from posting our plans until we get city approval, which will hopefully come later this year or very early next year.  Our plan is to apply for permits for the demolition, work on the remaining building, and some kitchen renovations all at the same time, with the expectation that we’ll just do the demo-work next spring and see how the budget goes on the remaining items.  It’s easier to get all the approvals in place at once, and the city is ok with work being done slowly as long as there is some progress to report on every six months.  With any luck, next spring (once the snow clears), we’ll have a sizeable yard to enjoy!

I’ll get some pictures up when I can.  We’re in rush mode now until the snow hits, then I think things will slow down enough to sort through the photos and do some more detailed posts.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Making Windows… Part 2

This is a continuation of my previous post.  In this post, I will complete the window up to the point of dry-fitting.  When we left off, we had four 25” long 2”x1 1/4” pieces of wood.

After cutting to size and marking which pieces were to be used for rails and which for stiles, the next step is to mark the tenons on the rails.  When doing a mortise and tenon joint in a corner joint, such as a window or picture frame, it is important to cut an additional shoulder in the tenon.  This is referred to as a haunched tenon.  If you don’t do this, then the entire side of the tenon will be visible on the outside edge of the window, which reduces strength and looks bad.

Here are the haunched shoulders marked on the rails:


Now, we’ll setup the table saw for cutting the tenons.  Here is my table saw with the supplied miter attachment:

IMG_1381 We remove the miter attachment and put in my home-made t-groove track attachment:

IMG_1384 This is a 28” x 8” 3/4” thick piece of MDF left over from a previous kitchen update.  I plunge-routed the groove for the t-groove track and two bolts.  The t-groove piece I bought from a local tool shop.  Now we mount the tenon jig:

IMG_1386 Here is a pic of the tenon jig showing how it holds your rails:

IMG_1389 This would be an incredibly tricky cut to do without a jig.  The jig has settings that allow you to align everything so you get precise shoulder cuts.  Here are the rails with the shoulders cut:

IMG_1392You can see  how poor my saw blade is.  I need to get the new finishing blade on soon.  Next we mount the rails back in the jig to cut the haunched shoulder:



Now, we remove the jig, and setup the blade to remove the shoulder material.

IMG_1398 IMG_1400 Typically, some clean-up will need to be done once the tenons are cut.  You can use a rasp, wood file, or sharp chisel to clean up your edges.  I will wait to do that until after my mortises are cut so that I don’t remove too much material.

Now, we’ll mark the mortises.  You can assume your tenons are perfectly situated on the rails (not likely), or you can mark the mortises using the tenons (which I did).  Here are the mortises marked:

IMG_1403 Using the mortiser, I position the fence to accurately cut the mortise holes.  The mortiser will make a 1/4” x 1/4” square hole each time it plunges, so you have to move the workpiece along until the mortise is cut.  It’s a good idea to cut the two ends first with a scrap piece of wood beneath so that you avoid tear-out on the bottom with the through mortise.  Then, you can plunge the in-between holes most of the way through, flip the work piece over and plunge from the other side.  This gives a cleaner mortise.  Here are the mortises:

IMG_1405 Now, we do the first dry fit.  None of the edges have been routed yet, but this will allow you to adjust your mortises and tenons slightly (chisel, file, rasp) to get a good fit.  You want a tight, but not overly tight fit, because you want space for glue and the wood will expand with the glue.  Here’s the test fit:

IMG_1406 IMG_1407 Here you can see one of the through tenons:

IMG_1408Now, we move onto routing the edges.  We start by using the coping bit, which looks like:

IMG_1409 You align the height so that the top of the bit is just touching your tenon, with the face side down.  You then align the fence so that it will cut 1/4” into the wood, like so:


IMG_1414 After routing the coping cut on all 4 ends of the rails, you mount the sticking bit, which looks like:

IMG_1415 You align the bit so that the sticking cut will have the same reveal and the 1/4” part in the middle lines up with the coped rail edges.  The fence aligns with the front of the bearing in the middle of the bit.  You then route all four inside edges (face side down).

Once that’s done, you can do another dry-fit.   You’ll note that the tenons come through further than the outside edge of the window.  This is because of the 0.5” overlap with the cope and stick cuts on the edges.  You can use a small saw or a table-saw (very carefully) to remove these.  It’s better to have your tenons come out the side and trim them, then to have them too short.

Here is the assembled window:

IMG_1417IMG_1421IMG_1423 Next up is doing minor tweaks to clean up where the pieces fit together, removing the excess wood from the tenons, then gluing, priming, and glazing.  Some of our windows have pinned tenons, meaning that a piece of wood or nail is driven into one of the window frame faces through the tenon.  This gives the joint even greater strength.  I’m not sure if we’ll do this or not with these smaller storms.

I hope I haven’t bored too many of you.  I struggled to find good instructions on the web for building the windows, and thought it might be useful for others if I tried to do a detailed step-by-step.

If you’re curious of the work effort involved, I spent 3-4 hours ripping the wood to the size I needed (I’m very slow when I have to use my table-saw without the guard), 2 hours doing the tenons, an hour to make the mortises, and another hour to do the routing of cope and stick cuts.  So, 8 hours for one window.  I think this time could be reduced by buying pre-milled wood in the basic thickness/width you need it, and doing more than one window at a time at each step, minimizing set-up and changing/aligning bits.  I think the effort is worth it though.  The end result is a strong, well-made window.  The tools will pay for themselves very quickly as well, given the cost of replacement windows.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Making Windows… Part 1

As I indicated in some previous posts, I’m making some wooden storm windows (and eventually some double-hung sashes) to replace those in our house that are either too far gone or missing.

Here’s a list of the tools I’m using:  a table saw, a router mounted in a router table, a mortiser (similar to a drill press), a tenon-jig (for the table saw), and some specialized router bits for making windows.

My table saw is a pretty cheap model from Ryobi, which came with a removable miter attachment with a non-standard t-groove.  The tenon-jig that I purchased requires a 3/4” t-groove, so I had to make my own table saw attachment to take the place of the original one.  More on that in a later post.

Here are some pictures of my router table, with one of the special router bits installed for making the windows:


The bit as installed makes the ogee shape on the inside face of the window and the square groove on the other side for installing the glass (referred to as the ‘sticking cut’).  You can reassemble the bit for making what is called the ‘coping cut’ which is the inverse of sticking cut for where the rails (top and bottom of the frame) of the window meet the stiles (left and right sides of the frame), or you can buy an extra bit that will do the same job so you don’t have to repeatedly take apart and reassemble the bit.

Here are some pictures of a simple test frame I made out of some scrap spruce 2x4s:


For a simple frame that doesn’t need to stand the test of time (like a picture frame, or small mirror, or something similar), this sort of construction would be sufficient, but the only thing holding it together would be the glue where the pieces fit together.  This would not be strong enough for a full-sized window that has to withstand both the challenges of weather, temperature differential (inside of house vs. outside), and being continually opened and closed.

For a strong window that can deal with all of these conditions, you need a mortise and tenon joint (or something similar).  There are other joinery methods that use dowels, biscuits, etc…, but one of the strongest joints is the traditional mortise and tenon.  Those terms sound fancy, but they just refer to the hole (mortise) and the thing that goes in the hole (the tenon).  There’s a really good reference on this type of joint here.

Here are some pictures of part of a test frame I built using a mortise and tenon:

IMG_1369IMG_1373IMG_1374There are several methods for making the tenon, including using hand-saws, a jig for a table-saw, or using router bits.  I opted for a jig to assist with making the ‘shoulder-cuts’.  Then you use the table saw without the jig to remove the rest of the material.  I’m going to do a more detailed post on making tenons later on.

For making the mortises, you can use hand tools (a special chisel called a mortising chisel), or you can use a plunge router, or a dedicated mortising machine.  The plunge router (or drill if you’re careful) don’t give you a nice square holes, so if you go with that option, you have to square the mortise, or round the tenon.  A dedicated mortiser gives you the nice square holes and is the ideal option if you’re making a lot of mortises (which I’ll be doing).

Here’s some pictures of the mortiser:

IMG_1354 A close-up of the bit:

IMG_1355 The bit is actually two pieces, a hollow square chisel, and a drill bit that removes the material inside the chisel:

IMG_1356IMG_1357 The bits come in standard sizes.  The mortiser I bought came with 1/4”, 3/8” and 1/2”.  I’m using 1/4” mortises for our storm windows.

Now that I’ve reviewed the tools involved, I’ll lead you through my first real attempt at making a small storm window that is 22 1/2” (height) by 21 1/4” width.  It is a single-lite storm, so I don’t have to worry about muntins (I’ll do a post on those when I get further into making my windows).

I’m going to make this storm out of a spruce 2”x8” purchased from the local big box that I had lying around from another project.  Normally, you would purchase good quality wood from a proper mill.  My 2”x8” has some knots which you really want to avoid and it’s not the best quality wood.  A lot of wood windows are made of spruce, pine, or cedar.  Spruce and pine are fine for painted windows.  You can also use Mahogany or other finer wood species if you are staining the windows instead of painting.

Here is my 2x8, cut into 2 25” pieces:

IMG_1353 I used my table saw to rip the raw lumber into 2” wide pieces, trying to avoid the knots in the wood wherever possible.  This gave me 4  2” x 1 1/2” pieces 25” long.  My storm windows have to be 1 1/4” thick however.  My interior windows are 1 3/4” thick, but the storms are a little thinner.  So, I had to rip 1/4” off of each piece.  This requires you to remove the guard on the table saw, which I hate doing, but I used protection for my eyes, stood to the side of the blade rather than right in front of it, and used push sticks to keep my fingers well away from the blade.

Here are the final pieces waiting to be cut to length:

IMG_1375 To give your wood the nice clean, straight, square edges it should have, you would ideally use a jointer/planer.  I don’t have one and have opted not to purchase one at this point.  For this window I am using a cheap ripping saw blade, but I have purchased a better quality finishing saw blade that should reduce the appearance of saw blade marks.  I may make a home-made jointer jig for my table saw as well depending on the results I get from the new blade when I get around to installing it.

Sizing the pieces for your frame is pretty simple.  The stiles (left and right of your frame) are the full height of the window (they will have the mortises).  So, they will be cut to 22 1/2” – 1/8” (you have to leave some room in the frame so the storm isn’t too tight), so 22 3/8”.  The rails are the width of the window (21 1/4” – 1/8”, same reason as above), minus the width of the stiles (2” x 2), plus the length of the tenons (2” x 2, since I am doing through tenons, meaning they pass all the way through the stiles), plus a 1/2” for the coping cut (where the cope and stick routed edges overlap).  So, the rails will be 21 5/8” in length.

I’ll end this post here.  My next post will show how to make the tenons on the rails, and I’ll follow that with the mortises, routing the cope and stick cuts, and then moving on to dry-fit, gluing, and eventually painting and glazing.