Thursday, August 26, 2010

Long live the camera

Meijer had a great clearance on $40 GE cameras. I love the technology curve - I spent $100 on my last clearance camera and it was nowhere near as good as this one.

Anyway, the plaster patches on the back stairs are dry now - well, they were effectively dry even as I was putting them on the wall - and you can see how rough they are. A lot better than the holes they replaced, granted, but a disappointment.

The new camera can only hold ten pictures at a time (I haven't bought memory yet) so I needed to get this out of it to take pictures of today's plaster triumph. I started patching the front room in the carriage house. Here's what it looked like after removal of the previous owner's drywall mud. Click for the bigger picture, of course.

The upshot is: you can't really effectively patch cracks in plaster and brick with tape and drywall mud, so the patches are cracking, roughly three years after they were applied. I'm stripping off the worst of them and patching properly with plaster.

To mix the plaster, I started with a clean container: a Teflon-coated breadpan that had already been repurposed for geode cleaning. No stick = no crystal formation. I also added a splash of vinegar to the mix. The upshot was that it took a good half-hour for the plaster to start hardening in the pan, which was enough time to actually, you know, use it. I also cleaned my painter's knife and plaster trowel thoroughly before starting (and again after finishing).

And it worked! I've been scared of plaster's reputation as being a lost art mastered only in historical times by towering giants of the construction industry. It may very well take years to get good at it - but it took me two tries to get acceptably OK. I think some more tries will make me confident.

Pictures later. I'm going to go take them now.

Monday, August 23, 2010

How not to apply top coat plaster

Well, the camera is officially dead, so no pictures until I get a new one, but I took my first stab at applying top coat plaster to some of the patchy areas on the back stairs, and I have some recommendations about how not to proceed.

First: I'm using plaster of Paris. Here's the thing - if there's prehardened plaster (i.e. something with crystals already in it) in your bucket? The crystals will catalyze the new plaster into hardening really, really fast. So I mixed up just a little - and it was too hard to apply within five minutes, I kid you not. And that doesn't leave much time for smoothing. Of course, on that wall, any amount of smoothing is an improvement, and nobody says I can't take several stabs at these patchy bits, either.

After seeing how well that didn't work (well, it was exciting to try my new big steel trowel, and it was my first top coat attempt, and that was fun) I went back to the Google drawing board. The chaps over at have some nice information about plastering, and bucked up my courage in thinking maybe this is something I can manage. And the guy at swears by his Magic Trowel, so maybe I'll try that - but he also adds a little vinegar to his plaster of Paris to keep it softer longer. That's a good idea.

But one thing everybody says - keep your bucket and tools as clean as humanly possible. I didn't. For mortar or basecoat it just doesn't matter - but plaster of Paris cares.

More later, after I have time to experiment some more. I'm going to need the practice, because after I started peeling the paint off the walls in the upstairs sunroom, huge patches of the top coat came off, too. So I have most of a wall to do in there. And of course there's lots of top coat repair in the dining room, too, and I'll be seeing any flaws there for years.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I'm back!

Well, I kind of expected to blog a little about the architecture in Budapest, of which I have copious photographic evidence, as you can well imagine. But (1) I ended up being pretty busy with work this summer and thus never got around to writing much on architecture, and (2) I've been writing more about software instead.

But, exhausted, we rolled in today after a marathon drive back from JFK (itself following 8 hours in the plane from Geneva after a three-hour drive from Zurich, where the train delivered us in only 12 overheated, poorly air-conditioned hours between 7 in the evening Monday and 7 in the morning Tuesday). Rewind the chronology on that, and you'll see it was planes, trains, and automobiles for three days, one of which was a 30-hour day.

Anyway, we got in, stripped two months' worth of spiderwebs off the front door (seriously), managed to remember the alarm code (whew), and walked into the carriage house. Except for mold in the fridge, there was no damage from two months' disuse, and the air smelled clean. This is literally a first for us; we've had horrible things happen during these summer absences; once the entire house sprouted mold - different colors of mold, including in the carpet of the car in the garage. We sold that house at a ridiculous profit in 2004, and laughed all the way to the bank. I miss the tree house there, though.

All summer long we've been thinking seriously of selling the place and getting something in a little less grungy part of town. It would kill me, but the family would like it. But you know? A house that doesn't get moldy when you leave it alone for a couple of months is kind of a keeper.

The big house smells a lot better now, too, now that the gutters are fully functional. The basement is still damp; the dehumidifier will only run for a few weeks before its bucket fills, no matter how tightly I tighten the hose. Not to mention a lot of the basement floor still has its plastic vapor barrier on it, which I really should remove soon.

Anyway - we're back. I was surprised how glad I was to see this place.