WELL. It’s December 16th, which is just a little crazy. I feel like we haven’t talking in forever. Hi! How are you? You seem well. Did you get a haircut? You’re glowing.
I know pretending to be shocked about what month we’re in is hardly an original way to dive into a post, but mid-December (oh my god, “mid-December”) feels particularly remarkable right about now because—as of this writing—I still have not wrapped up work on the back of my house. Usually we’re buried in snow by now, but ye olde mercury has been hovering right around freezing at night and in the 40s and 50s during the days, so I’ve been able to continue working on this project (and so many others, good lord) despite what the calendar is saying. This kind of weather is supposed to hold for another few days at least, so if I can keep squeezing some work into those precious few off-hours (when it’s actually light out! it gets dark around 4:30 nowadays), I should be able to get it all finished before winter really hits.
I’m so grateful for the weather on one hand, but to be honest this whole rush-before-winter-thing is getting wearing. I’ve been in that brand of crazy-mode since early September, and all I really want right about now is an excuse to curl up on the couch and write some blog posts and…I don’t know, do winter stuff. Basically, I’m losing my mind. It’s all good.
So anyway, exterior painting in December in upstate New York. That’s happening.
It’s been a while, so here’s where we left off with this whole endeavor. I ripped off all the clapboard on the back of the house, poached the old kitchen window sashes for reuse, replaced the kitchen window (yes, in fact that ladder is leaning right on the new one’s glass…whatever, everyone survived including the window), tore off all the original clapboard, removed all the brick nogging between the studs, replaced that with new rigid foam insulation and spray foam, ran the original clapboards through a planer, and then began the fun and exciting process of re-siding with the original boards. That all sounds like a lot of work, right? Yeah, well, it was.
Guess what’s difficult? Standing on a ladder, 12 feet or so in the air, holding a 10 foot long piece of clapboard in one hand and trying to position and nail it correctly by yourself with the other. So until one of you people finds me a husband*, I’ll be forced to improvise…and on this day, that took the form of erecting my own scaffolding. Scraps and leftovers! It looks like garbage but I swear it was shockingly solid and stable. This made things slightly easier…at least easy enough that I was able to do the entire first level solo! Boom!
*preferably super handsome, rockin’ bod, my mother would prefer Jewish and a doctor/lawyer/both, around my age, likes to be bossed around.
A few days later, I got Edwin and Edgar to come by and help me out with the top half of the wall. I’d already gutted this wall from the inside upstairs, so this top half had to happen relatively quickly since the house was literally wide open to the elements/animals/bugs/zombies. This part of the job was also a little more complex than the lower half since we also had to remove that door, frame in two windows, install the windows, patch the rake frieze, insulate, and install all the trim and siding. Obviously this was also happening high above the ground and all of those boards from the eaves returns upwards have to be cut at angles at the ends…this would have taken me FOREVER by myself and I probably would have died.
While Edwin and Edgar worked on pulling off the old clapboard and removing the old door and window, I built window jambs! I wish I had more and better pictures of this, but I can’t seem to find any. The original frame for the old kitchen casement window was still intact, so I took the whole thing apart and used pieces of it to create the jambs for the two individual casement windows. There was some trial and error but I figured it out and I think they ended up looking pretty good!
I also had to make the casings to trim out the windows after installation, but before the clapboard went back up. The casings are 5/4″ thick (1″ in actual dimensions) x 4″ pieces of wood that were easy to just rip down to size on the table saw, but that little drip cap on top of the casing took a little more effort. This is the kind of thing that tends to get hacked off when vinyl siding is installed, and my house is no exception. Argh! I was able to replicate them pretty easily with my table saw, though—first by ripping the board to the right width (I think it ended up being 2 inches?), and then by adjusting the angle of the blade and running the board through again.
Meanwhile, Edgar and Edwin put their brains together and figured out how to patch in the missing parts of the rake frieze—the restoration of which was a big part of why this project happened in the first place. They used scrap 5/4″ lumber (which was slightly thinner than the original board, so they had to be shimmed out a little bit) and somehow got the angles just right and fit the pieces into place. Those guys…they make me so happy.
How ya like them apples? Things were looking pretty nuts at this point, but look at how good that patch job is up on the rake frieze! The patches are nailed to the studs and screwed into the original boards—the whole installation seems very secure. After patching and paint…well, just wait!
While Edwin and Edgar worked on framing out the rough openings for the window jambs I’d just made, I planed more clapboard! I know we’ve been through this, but man…pre-planed board above, planed board below. SO. SATISFYING.
In case you’re wondering why I didn’t just flip the boards around and reinstall them with the painted side facing in, the backs of these boards are finished totally differently than the fronts—all rough and splintery and not made to be reversible. Many of the boards that came off the mudroom appear to come from the 1930s or so and those are finished on both sides and could have been flipped, but not the originals. I just went ahead and planed all of them, because whatever.
YAY! Placing the windows wasn’t too difficult—it was just a matter of figuring out how large they’d be—including the exterior casings—and leaving enough room in the top corners that everything would fit nicely under frieze we’d just patched in. These windows need some restoration work, but they’re easy to remove (hinges just unscrew) when I have a second to do that later on.
By the way, I decided to use these sashes instead of the ones from the window that was already up there because these were a little bigger—a few inches longer and about an inch wider—and I thought that scale seemed better. These windows had to be relatively small but I didn’t want them to be too dinky. I still want that room to feel really great when it’s done. I’ll do another post on how that room is looking from the inside now, but I really like it! The little windows really change things but it feels very cozy and authentic to this whacky old house. There’s a big dormer on the other side of the room, too, so it still gets plenty of natural light.
Moving right along! Edwin and Edgar installed the casings that I prepared and everything fit so nicely. Then they went about insulating the wall using the same method I’d used downstairs—2″ rigid foam insulation with spray foam around the edges.
And then, clapboard!! This went pretty quickly between the two of them up there and me on clapboard cutting duty down below.
This kind of goes without saying, but I’m so lucky to have these dudes in my life. I love that I can ask them to re-side my house with 150 year old splinters and they don’t even try to talk me out of it. That they also do nice work is a bonus! Cutting those angles at the top and getting the boards to fall with the right exposure (5.25″, if you’re curious) was sort of math-y so I’m glad Edgar was on deck for this part.
Look at all that glorious siding! Next, the guys worked on patching the rake frieze and the notched out components of the soffit. They nailed smaller pieces of wood into the notched areas and then approximated the curves of the molding with patching compound, which was contoured further with some artsy sanding work. The patches aren’t perfect up close but you can’t tell that from standing on the ground, so it’s all good! Short of prying the moldings off and getting them replicated, it’s about as good as it gets.
We used Bondo for all the patching, by the way. There are better products out there for wood patching (Abatron’s line of products is kind of the gold standard now, as far as I know), but Bondo is cheap, easy to work with, and I had it on hand. I’m curious to see how it does—I’ve never had a problem with Bondo repairs and any old-school contractor/carpenter I’ve talked to about it (yes, I’m that guy that strikes up that conversation) hasn’t either, so I hope it all holds up. Worst case, I’ll spend a few days scraping it out and cursing my life and using the fancy shit in its place. Best case, I spent about $12 on Bondo instead of $150 on Abatron.
So we were all rocking and rolling as your dad would say, and feeling overly confident about our progress. Edwin asked me why we weren’t just doing more walls like this, and started picking at the vinyl siding on the adjacent laundry room wall. I reminded him that this was November in upstate New York and the weather could change and I did NOT need to make this job bigger, and he countered with pointing out how fast things were going with he and Edgar there, and that we were all wearing t-shirts. I reminded him that he was only planning to be there through the end of the day and then I’d be on my own with another mess on my hands, and he told me he could let me pay him for another day or two of help.
Then he batted those beautiful brown eyes and we decided to rip the vinyl off another wall. I mean, just look at that gorgeous man. He just does something to me.
Damnit. What’s wrong with me? Good news was that this wall was neither much better or worse than the other wall—no super nasty surprises. Ya never know what you’re gonna get!
I went about removing the clapboard, tearing out the brick nogging, and cutting my insulation to size for the laundry room wall. I was already kind of regretting this move but the damage was done and Edwin had promised me another day or two so I tried to calm down. It’s not that fixing this wall was particularly hard—it’s all basically straight cuts and the whole thing is less than 7 feet wide—but it’s just more work. I still have to patch and caulk and prime and paint this thing!
Edwin and Edgar did not return, by the way. I can’t fault them because they were off doing another job for me elsewhere (different day, different post) but I still like to pretend like this was their fault. Jerks.
Check it out! Primer! Much to the chagrin of Edwin, I wanted to use oil-based primer on the clapboard. Pro painters seem to agree that it performs better than latex in terms of adhesion, durability, and stain-blocking, but it’s a little harder to work with and clean-up sucks. I like to skirt this issue by wearing latex gloves and using cheap brushes that I can throw away at the end, but it still takes longer to apply than latex.
ANYWAY. It was really, really exciting to see this finally coming together. I tore off the mudroom back in June (!) and hemmed and hawed over this wall before deciding on a plan around early October, so seeing those windows in place with the clapboard restored and the rake frieze patched in…well, that was some gratifying shit right there.
And this is where they left me! I’m guessing some people will think this looks like a horrific mess and some people will think it looks like it’s almost done, and you’re both right! It’s amazing how long the additional patching, sanding, scraping, priming, caulking, more patching, more caulking, finally painting, then painting the trim, then final touch-ups really takes, but I’m finally ALMOST THERE. Give me good weather tomorrow and I think I can wrap this sucker up!
I’m having trouble figuring out how to end this post, so why not—it’s not a full before and after (yet) but it’s still fun to see the change! Almost there. Almost there. Almost there.