Old House Handyman: Great-grandpa’s house offers new projects

A second daughter has launched into a home renovation project, which means that our tools and my aging muscles are getting regular weekend workouts.

She is working on a house that was built in the 1930s by her great-great and great grandfathers.

I learned the history of the house while riding around the countryside on hot summer days with my grandpa in his old pickup truck with its AM-only radio, no air-conditioning, and hand-crank windows. I had found a bell the size of a dorm refrigerator in his pasture near a pile of old lumber and wanted to know about it.

Turns out, it came from the one-room schoolhouse he and his brother had attended in the early 1920s. And that’s not all he got from that old school during the Great Depression. He and his dad had secured salvage rights to the building, pulled it apart board by board, and hauled the lumber to the family farm.

There, they built a second house. It would become the home for my great-grandparents and their daughter, my grandpa’s sister, who lived with a disability and needed constant care. The original house on the farm, which had been their house, became home to my grandparents, where they raised my dad and his sisters.

Later, it became a rental house to supplement my grandparents’ income, and in the 1980s, when my parents moved into the original house, they renovated the second house for a bed and breakfast, which my dad operated for 30 years.

And now, with our woodworker daughter’s arrival there in June, it is home to a family member again for the first time in almost six decades.

It’s solid but in need of updating.

Before she moved in, her sisters and my wife ripped up the carpet and underlayment on the first floor to reveal hardwood that was in good shape but needed a light sanding and refinishing. The new resident did her homework and did the work herself.

My job in all of that was to run to a rental shop to fetch the sander, which was a little bigger than an upright sweeper but weighed as much as three or four sweepers. It had four sander heads that accepted round, stick-on sandpaper disks. The rental of the machine was relatively inexpensive, but those disks were priced like gold and the job required about a couple dozen of them.

She used a random orbital palm sander to touch up and feather the finish where boards had dipped and cupped. Then she screwed down a few squeaky boards and covered the screw heads, cleaned up with a vacuum cleaner, and wiped the floor with a rag dampened with mineral spirits. The mineral spirits won’t raise the grain but will allow a glimpse of what the floor will look like when finished, and it picks up any remaining dust.

After that, no bare feet or dirty shoes were allowed — only stocking feet.

She applied the finish with a 9-inch lamb’s wool applicator on a broom stick. She let it rest 24 hours between each of three coats and then let it rest for seven days before walking on it. (She lived upstairs for a couple of weeks.)

And when the time was right, we helped move furniture back into place — in our stocking feet.

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