Rust sucks. Let’s not sugar coat it. Nobody wants to have rust on their metal tools or steel windows. It’s wood rot but on a different surface and it will slowly eat away the metal things you treasure most. But what if there was a way to make rust disappear? Sure it will come back if you don’t take steps to prevent it, but if you already have something that is seriously suffering from rust what can you do?
I’ve been fighting rust for years in the historic preservation business. Sometimes with great success and sometimes with huge fails. And since I like to pretend I’m some kind of crash test dummy for preservation I have been doing some testing in my shop to see how I can stomp on the head of rust and claim victory once and for all.
I’ll show you a couple of different options today. Some of them cost only a few bucks and others will cost about the same as your new Tesla. But all of them are rust destroyers in the truest sense. They each have their place for different projects and materials so it will depend which works bet for you. We’ll start with the simplest first.
Ospho is a readily available liquid you can find at most any paint or hardware store. It is mainly phosphoric acid (yes the same thing in Coca-Cola) which when it comes into contact with rust (iron oxide) it chemically converts it into iron phosphate which is completely inert. Once the rust has been converted it can be primed and painted or otherwise sealed.
Ospho is caustic so you’ll want to make sure have eye protection and plastic gloves on when handling it. Also wash any spills off your skin promptly. Application is simple usually just using a disposable chip brush does the job and then wiping off any excess puddles after an hour or so of working time.
This works well for steel windows and other larger metal projects, but a lot of the time you’re looking to have the rust removed not simply transformed, right? Well, there is a way to use Ospho to completely remove any trace of rust.
The Ospho Bath
Pour enough Ospho into a plastic bucket (not metal) that is deep enough to completely submerge your rusted piece under the surface. Go watch a movie and come back. After a couple hours (depending on the severity of the rust the Ospho will have moved past converting the rust to iron phosphate and will have eaten it away and caused it to slough off. Any remaining rust can usually be cleaned off with some steel wool and mineral spirits.
Take a look at the old glazing point driver I restored with this technique. This required no scraping, sanding, or any physical labor other than wiping the surface clean at the end of a 4 hr soak in Ospho.
Sand blasting gets a bad rap in historic preservation circles, but that’s mainly because people use it the wrong way on the wrong surfaces. Used properly sand blasting is one of the best ways to clean and protect old metal. If you have rusted steel or iron then taking those pieces to a sand blaster can be just what the doctor ordered.
Softer metals like bronze or copper are usually not good candidates for sand blasting, but for steel and iron the process thoroughly cleans the metal of any rust, dirt and other contaminants. The other advantage of sandblasting is that it creates a uniformly rough surface on the metal which is a much better surface for primer and paint to adhere to rather than a super slick metal. This can greatly improve the adhesion and therefore lifespan of your paint.
You can get your own blasting equipment and try sandblasting things yourself, but in my experience it’s not worth the expense or hassle. Find a local sandblaster and drop it off with them because the cost is usually pretty cheap.
Much better than Dr. Evil’s sharks with lasers on their heads, this laser can obliterate rust or paint on top of any metal. Using 1000W of laser power it creates so much heat that whatever you aim it at turns directly from solid to plasma or vapor. It is literally like those old sci-fi guns that vaporize things!
How’s it work? The system uses short pulses of laser light. When aimed at a metal surface, “the dirt layer and any oxides underneath will absorb the energy and evaporate.” The metal underneath will not absorb the laser energy, leaving nothing but a clean surface ready for welding or painting.
How much does it cost? Glad you asked Warren Buffet. You can pick one of these handy 1000W lasers up for only $480,000 or you can also get one of the little 20W lasers for only $80,000! Maybe it’s not for the rest of us, but maybe my kids will be able to afford one.
So, now that you know how to make rust disappear you may want to follow up by checking my previous post How To: Stop Rust For Good. Between these two articles you’ll be armed for the battle of your life until you get to heaven where you can safely store up your treasures because there rust and moth do not destroy.
I see way too many old houses with a front porch that has been bound and gagged. The front porch was closed in with jalousie windows or cheap aluminum windows and plywood siding almost as an afterthought. It looks so out of place to me like a straw hat on a woman in a formal gown or sneakers with a tux.
The front porch was key to the design of an old house and closing it in to gain a few extra square feet may improve your standings in the tax rolls but, but does nothing but give your house a black eye. Even a nicely done front porch enclosure creates a jarring and disjointed entrance into the home.
In his epic treatise on architecture and planning called A Pattern Language Christopher Alexander discusses the natural flow of the different types of spaces we encounter when approaching a home and how transitioning through each is imperative.
Enclosing the front porch cuts off this normal transition from one level of access to another and causes the visitor to jump directly from semi-public right to private. This may seem like feng-shui non-sense but I can assure you that though it may not be noticeable in a conscious way it does matter.
The inside of our homes are built with much the same principles. You enter the front door into the foyer then proceed into the living room and as you continue further into the home you encounter more and more private spaces like the kitchen and bedrooms.
Could you imagine walking right into a friend’s house where the front door opened into the master bedroom? It would be plain weird. Just like our bodies acclimate to different temperatures our psyches need to acclimate to increasing levels of intimacy whether it’s in our homes or our relationships. Think about how your relationship with your significant other has progressed. Were you as intimate on date one as in year 10 of your marriage? Doubtful.
The Purpose of the Porch
The design of old houses is full of examples of form following function and the front porch had plenty of function. It was more than just a place to store a bicycle or drop packages off. Much like the television is the center of our homes today the front porch was the place to be before radio, television, and air conditioning trapped us inside.
The front porch was the place to talk with your neighbors and develop relationships. It provided shade on those hot summer days, and kept us dry on rainy nights. The front porch protects visitors at your door from mother nature and gives them shelter from the storm. It allows you to sit on a porch swing with your sweetheart and enjoy the final cool breeze of spring before summer barrels into town.
If this sounds like nostalgia it’s only because you’ve chosen to not exploit all that your front porch generously offers. When neighborhoods start opening up their front porches again residents realize that what they loose in square footage they gain in freedom of spirit. Neighbors talk again, flower boxes and flags dot the street, homes are restored, and quality of life rises right along with property values.
If you have a home with a front porch that has been kept captive for decades I hope you’ll considering setting your porch free. Unburden your old porch and let it breathe again. You’ll be glad you did and so will the neighborhood.
We are working on an exterior restoration project right now where the client wants to remove all the original paint from the siding and trim. So that means chemical paint strippers because infrared is too slow and hand scraping is too exhausting for a whole building.
Dumond was nice enough to send us one of their test kits that comes with 4 different types of paint stripper so we can find the right product for the job. Every coating responds differently to chemical paint stripper and we wanted to find the product that would remove the paint the most effectively before we start work on thousands of square feet of drop siding.
So, I thought what better time to do yet another test of different products my readers might find useful. I documented the process and results below so you can find the right chemical paint stripper for your job. Let’s get started!
Paint strippers are no joke to mess with so you always want to be safe when handling them. Put down a drop cloth to keep any drips from damaging the floors or spilling into the dirt. Also be sure you are wearing safety glasses and chemical resistant gloves. Ordinary nitrile or latex gloves can be dissolved by certain strippers so you’ll want to use chemical resistant gloves if you aren’t sure. All the products we tested are biodegradable and ordinary latex gloves were sufficient.
The siding we were working with was long leaf pine novelty drop siding that was installed in the mid 1880s. It had approximately 6-8 layers of paint on the surface, some of which had chipped off in places and you could see bare wood that had only received one layer from the most recent paint job. The paint surface was moderately dirty and I setup my test patches under the front porch wall. The weather during the test was in the low 90s during the day and mid 70s at night with very high humidity and a rain storm during the night. The test patches were in a covered area so the rain wasn’t directly a factor.
I tested four products for this post all made by Dumond. Here’s the description of each product from the manufacturer’s website.
This is an eco-friendly 100% biodegradable, water-based, and odor-free paint stripper that is extremely effective in removing multiple layers of architectural and industrial coatings from virtually all interior and exterior surfaces. Removing paint from wood, brick, metal, concrete, stone, plaster, and most fiberglass and plastics does not require caustic, toxic chemicals.
A water-based paint removal product that delivers the superior performance professionals require when removing even the most difficult coatings. Multiple coats of varnish, oil-based, water-based, lead-based, acrylic, urethane, epoxy, and elastomeric paints are no match for Smart Strip PRO. It removes paint from an interior or exterior surface, such as wood, brick, stone, concrete, plaster, metal, fiberglass, plastic, glass, etc.,
The PeelAway 1 system is excellent for removing paint from inside intricately carved areas and is highly recommended for historic restorations and other projects involving lead-based paint abatement. It can remove more than 30 coats of paint from a wide range of surfaces, including, wood, brick, concrete, stone, stucco, plaster, cast iron, steel, marble, and fiberglass and is also biodegradable.
PeelAway 7 can be safely used on virtually all interior and exterior surfaces. It can remove most varieties of architectural paints, varnishes, and high-performance coatings such as epoxies, urethanes, acrylics, elastomerics, chlorinated rubber, aluminum, mastics, and automotive or marine bottom finishes.
None of these paint strippers were difficult to apply but they each had their quirks. For the application I used a new disposable 2″ chip brush for each stripper to make sure there was no mixing of the products. Each section was also covered with Dumond’s Laminated Paper after application which covers the stripper and keeps it from drying out so that it can be more effective.
Application was fine. It stuck to the vertical surface without issue and applied like whipped cream or thin sour cream. It was a little difficult to get a layer much thicker than the recommended 1/8″ because it wanted to move around on the surface with my brush though.
Smart Strip PRO
Very much the same feel and consistency of the Smart Strip though it had an appearance of curdled milk. Getting an 1/8″ layer with the chip brush was challenging as well since it moved around like the Smart Strip.
Peel Away 1
This product was more of a light grey paste which made it very easy to get a nice thick coat as recommended. It smoothed out and applied very similarly to premixed joint compound and was wonderful to apply.
Peel Away 7
Almost identical application experience to the Peel Away 1 except that this stripper has a beige color to it. The different color against the white siding made it really easy to see if I had a consistent layer or there were some holidays which was really helpful. But that would only really matter if I was stripping white paint. Overall application was almost identical to Peel Away 1.
I let the paint stripper do its magic for about 20 hrs which was on the long side of the 6-24 hrs recommended by Dumond to make sure we had good penetration through all the layers of paint. I first peeled the paper off which came off without removing any paint on any of the test patches then grabbed my steel triangle pull scraper and set about gently scraping the surface.
The Smart Strip removed about 95% of the surface paint pretty easily but there was still some paint remaining deep in the wood grain. For a repaint this isn’t an issue at all since the surface was now free of all the coatings. It did cause the wood to darken and “fur up” which would require sanding before priming and painting later.
Smart Strip Pro
I was surprised at how spotty this was compared to the regular Smart Strip but in this scenario the Smart Strip PRO would definitely be a poor choice. It removed maybe 70% of the paint and resulted in a very mottled surface. It also required more effort to scrape the paint off. I was not impressed.
Peel Away 1
This came off like a dream! And just like the name it literally peeled off which was a nice change from the gooey way the Smart Strip patches came off. Almost 100% of the paint was gone and it required the least effort to scrape. Just like the previous 2 strippers it did darken the wood and cause it to “fur up” which is just an added step in the restoration process later, but as far as stripping paint this one was a rock star!
Peel Away 7
Another winner here though not quite as dramatic as the Peel Away 1. It still removed about 95% of the paint but unlike the Smart Strip it came off a little easier and in bigger chunks. I did notice that the upper section came off better than the middle which may have had something to do with some inconsistencies in my application thickness so I think with some tweaking I’d probably get closer to the Peel Away 1 results.
All of these products are biodegradable and relatively gentle compared to the old school paint strippers that will burn your head off which is a great modern feature. And the only one which requires neutralizing is the Peel Away 1 which can be neutralized with either Dumond’s Citrilize neutralizer or white vinegar. The others simply need to be washed clean with water.
If I’m going to use a chemical stripper then it better get rid of all the paint otherwise, in my opinion, it’s not worth to mess and hassle. For this project we’ll definitely be using the Peel Away 1 and what’s even better is that Dumond was nice enough to donate all the paint stripper we’ll need for the project since the work is being done for a non-profit historic museum. My restoration company is donating some of the labor to the project as well so soon this amazing piece of history will be back to her former splendor.
I hope this test has helped you make some decisions on using paint strippers on your next project. There is definitely a place for them and while using them appropriately is important it is even more important to use the right product for the job. If you’ve got some paint stripping to do grab one of these test kits and get to work. You won’t be disappointed!
From time to time I like to do product testing here on the blog because it helps me find the best products out there and share them with you. You can check out my most popular test to date the Wood Filler Test (Year 1 and Year 2) for some useful testing. Today I thought it was about time I did some head to head testing on glazing putties.
In my shop we glaze about 600 LF of putty every week so making sure we are using the best putty that is not only easy to use but performs better than the other products on the market is of vital importance. I’ve written about Which Glazing Putty is Right For You previously, but have never done head to head testing of multiple products. Plus I’ve included some additional putties that I don’t have experience with but are readily available so I’ll be learning right along side you.
For this test I have glazed a 3-lite sash with the various putties and left the sash in my shop for approximately 4 weeks before taking it outside and leaving it exposed to the elements unpainted. Here’s what I’ll be looking for in the testing and will rank them on a scale of 1-10 (1 being the worst and 10 being the best)
Below are the products that will be a part of my glazing putty test. I also snuck in my own glazing putty recipe to see how it performs with the rest. Soon we may have some of our own glazing putty available for you readers too! Test points 5 and 6 won’t be evaluated this year but in the upcoming years we’ll be able to see how the putties perform on these items.
This a new putty to me that I have seen on the shelves at paint stores but never tried until now. This is a linseed and calcium carbonate putty with titanium added. It’s a natural product with no harsh chemicals and very similar to the traditional putties of the old days.
The putty comes in a sealed metal can and has a layer of water on top that needs to be poured off and blotted dry with a rag before digging out some putty. The water keeps the oxygen off the putty and prevents it from developing a skin on top which saves you from loosing a layer of cured putty which is nice.
Right out of the can the putty was simple to work in my hands and tools pretty nicely. I didn’t have any problems with the putty sticking or clumping and it was easy to work with my glazing knife. It is oil-based so clean up really consists wiping it off your hands with a rag and then washing a couple times with soap and water, but in the end it does come off.
As far as the cure time, I was impressed that after only about 1 week the putty had developed a good enough skin that it was ready for paint.
This is an old standard for a lot of window glazing. I’m not a big fan of it from past experience, but I decided to give it another try for this test since it had been a few years since I last used it. In my opinion the greatest strength of DAP 33 is that it is available at almost every hardware and paint store in the country.
The putty was very thick and oily and difficult to work with a putty knife compared to the other putties I tested, but I was still able to get a smooth putty line. The clean up is much like the other oil-based putties requiring wiping off then washing thoroughly. It took just about 16 days before the putty had a sufficient skin enough for painting which is on the long side for glazing putties.
One small benefit of DAP is its white color. Since a vast majority of the sashes I paint are white it is much easier to ensure good coverage of the paint on the putty rather than with the natural tinted putties.
I’ve seen this putty on the shelf at my local Sherwin Williams store and have wondered how it performed so I forked over a few bucks and brought a quart back to the shop for testing. The putty is white in appearance just like DAP 33 and when I dug it out of the container I found it to be a sticky, gooey mess to work with. It stuck to everything including my gloves so much so that I had to take them off and use my bare hands.
The stickiness of the putty made it feel more like a paste than a knife grade putty. The stickiness did make it easy to adhere to the glazing rabbet but other than that I did not enjoy working with this putty one bit. Trying to tool a smooth finish was not an easy task and I’m a pretty darn good glazier.
Cure time was about 13 days before it was ready for painting. Even if this putty performs amazingly I would not recommend it because it was such a pain to work with.
At the time of this writing this is the putty I use everyday in our shop. I included it in this testing even though I am immensely familiar with MultiGlaze because I wanted to have a baseline by which to judge the other putties with. MultiGlaze is a linseed oil putty and has a beige/grey appearance. It is extremely easy to work with and has just the right consistency to stick to the sash and not stick to your hands and tools.
It tools easily and leaves a super smooth bed of putty. Not only that but it cures in about 3-4 days and is ready for paint at that point. The only down side to it is that it is not meant for on-site application. Sarco recommends that it be glazed in the shop and then painted before it is placed into service.
For this test I decided to add my own mixture of putty into the testing. I used a traditional glazing putty recipe of raw linseed oil and whiting. It was a little difficult to find a good mixture because when I made it thick enough that it wouldn’t sag it was then very hard to work with my glazing knife. When it was thin enough to glaze easily it was too thin and would sag.
Clean up was much the same as the other putties which wasn’t surprising. I knew that by using raw linseed oil instead of boiled linseed oil the drying time would be extended but I was surprised by how much slower the skinning over time would be. It took about 26 days before the putty was ready for painting which is crazy long!
While it was helpful to see how a traditional linseed oil putty performed compared to modern glazing compounds it was particularly helpful for my testing while I try to develop my own putty. Right now I would consider this putty a fail, but testing and learning is never a failure in the end.
This is only the first year of my glazing putty test so be watching for future posts to show how these putties perform out in the elements.
Even as a contractor myself I can’t deny that one of the most difficult things a homeowner will have to do is hire a good contractor. Learning how to find the right contractor is more of an art than a science. When you tack on the added speciality of needing a contractor who understands historic homes it may feel as if you are looking for a unicorn.
Trust me when I say that there are quality contractors out there who would love to work with you. You just have to find them and that’s what I’ll help you with today. Some of it is knowing where to look and some of it involves doing your due diligence to find the right contractor for you.
1. Looking in All the Wrong Places
If you are looking for more than a “Chuck in a Truck” contractor then there are a few places you should avoid like the plague. It’s not to say that you won’t find a good contractor here, but the chances are better you’ll find mostly bottom feeders and cheats. Hire contractors from these places at your own risk
2. Ask Neighbors & Friends
The best referrals you’ll ever get are from your friends. Ask neighbors and Facebook friends who they like and have had good experiences with. You’ll probably get a few good names to start the search with. At the very least you’ll get some names of contractors to avoid and that can be just as useful. Your friends have nothing to gain by setting you up with a bad contractor so you can trust what they say as unbiased.
3. Where Else to Look
Did you know there is a resource here on the blog to help you find the right contractor called The Craftsman Directory. It is filled with hundreds of contractors from all over the country with all kinds of different specialties like window restoration, plaster, masonry, woodworking, etc. Almost every state is represented in my directory so chances are there is someone near you.
We are constantly adding the list so if you have a local craftsman you think should be included email us and we’ll check them out and add them to the list. I’ve given each of these contractors an initial looking over to make sure the work they do is consistent with historic preservation, but I don’t know ALL of them personally so you’ll still need to do your due diligence.
4. Meet Them in Person
Once you have a few names of potential contractors you’ll want to narrow the field by meeting with them in person. A preliminary phone call is always good to start the ball rolling, but without meeting face to face your are at a serious disadvantage. Working with a contractor is very much like starting a relationship. You want to feel comfortable with both their personality and their knowledge of their trade.
Trust your gut on this one. I could give you a list of things that might be red flags or might be advantages but ultimately this is a personal decision and you need to trust your gut because it will almost always be right in this scenario.
5. Check Licensing & Insurance
Are they properly licensed by your state or city? Do they need to be? Find out what your area requires and make sure your contractor has the proper licensing. Most licensing is honestly pointless, but I use this as a gauge of whether the contractor cares about following the rules. If they flaunt the local licensing authorities then what corners will they cut on your project? If their licensing is on the up and up then that’s a good sign the rest of their work will follow suit.
Insurance is immensely important to protect you during a renovation and making sure they are insured is as easy asking them to provide a Certificate of Insurance (COI). It usually takes a couple days but when you ask them to provide it they should comply. If they start sweating it may be a bad sign they aren’t insured.
6. Get Multiple Bids
You should always get multiple bids for your project so you have something to compare. One contractor may mention a different material than another that you didn’t know was a better choice. Information is power so more bids is more power in your hands. Also be sure to tell them you are getting multiple bids so they will really sharpen the pencil on your project. You’ll get a better price that way.
Once you have all the bids in throw the lowest one in the trash. If you get 3 bids that are $8,000 $12,000 and $13,000 you can assume that the lowest bidder is the kind of contractor that either cuts corners or is desperate for work. If the price sounds too good to be true then it probably is.
Bonus Read: Avoid the Tyranny of the Low Bidder
However if all the prices are within a couple hundred dollars of each other then you’re probably ok. You just don’t want the lowball contractor on your project. Benjamin Franklin said it best, “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”
7. Get it in Writing
If it wasn’t written down it never happened. Working with a contractor without a written contract is asking for trouble. You want a specific contract that outlines exactly what is included and what is not included and how much it will cost. You may understand what you want but the contract is there to protect both you and the contractor in case of disagreement. Make sure the wording will make sense to an outsider like a lawyer. Change orders should also be in writing as well to avoid miscommunications.
Look in the right places and do your due diligence and you will come out on top in the search to find the right contractor. Once you find a company you like and trust stick with them and share their name around with your friends so you can help not only your friends but that great contractor to keep busy with great clients.
Decorating with shiplap seems to be all the rage these days thanks to Fixer Upper and other popular TV shows. Consistently the most popular post on this blog right now is No Joanna, That’s Not Shiplap which I wrote to poke a little fun at Joanna Gaines for her seemingly constant diagnosis of shiplap whether a wall is true shiplap or not.
It’s all in good fun, and because of her and Chip the world has gone shiplap crazy! People ask me all the time where they can find shiplap or if this or that qualifies as shiplap and most commonly how to make shiplap. I figured answering this last one would help my DIY readers with their shiplap needs the most.
In this post I’ll show you exactly how you can make shiplap from almost any piece of lumber old or new. You need only have the wood and a table saw. Even if you have only minimal DIY skills you can make shiplap on your own.
How To Make Shiplap
Select Your Stock
Depending on the final look you want there are a ton of wood options you can use to make shiplap. Almost any 1x material (nominal 3/4″) is a good choice. You can use select grade for a super smooth look or common grade boards, pine, cedar, really any type of solid wood that suites your needs.
You can also use salvaged boards for that awesome rustic look we love. You can stain or paint or leave it raw. This part is completely up to you and only you. I will say that traditional shiplap is usually between 5″ and 8″ wide so using boards in that range will yield the most realistic looking results. For these pictures I used some salvaged 1×6 pecky cypress boards around my shop.
Set Saw Depth
You have to set both the height of your blade and the rip fence to make the 2 cuts necessary for shiplap. Usually a depth of half the thickness of the board is best. So for a 3/4″ thick board that would mean setting the blade height to 3/8″ as well as the rip fence to 3/8″.
If you have a dado blade then you can do this in one pass. It’s not necessary though it does make it much faster if you have a lot of shiplap to make. To use a dado just set the thickness of your dado to the same 3/8″.
Lay the board flat on the table saw and rip the back face once. Then flip it over and rip the front face on the opposite end of the board. You should be left with a single saw kerf on opposite sides and faces of the board.
Rip on Edge
Now stand the board up on its edge and without changing the settings on the saw rip both edges of the board. A 3/8″ sliver of wood should come off of each edge. Your board should now have two 3/8″ rabbets on opposing sides and will resemble the letter “Z”. For the wood dorks like me this joint you have just created is called a half-lap joint.
Depending on the look you want you can space your boards right up against each other as this half-lap joint will allow them to self-space tightly. Or you can get that joint to show a bit more if you’d like by using a spacer.
What spacer should you use? Good question. I use a nickel. Raid the coin jar and grab a handful of nickels and place them in the joint so that there will be a small gap between the joints before you nail things in place. This helps give the wood some space for expansion and contraction with the weather as well as adds some visual interest to the wall. Really you can use any thickness spacer to attain the look you want.
Nail it Up
Start at the bottom which is easiest, and make sure that first board is perfectly level otherwise the whole wall will be askew. Plan your layout as best as you can to avoid awkward small pieces. The top most board will not need the top rabbet cut out of it so that the wall looks uniform.
I prefer to nail with 15 or 16 ga nails since they have more vertical holding power to keep things from sagging. Make sure you are nailing into the studs just like when installing beadboard and you’ll have no problems. If you have trouble finding the studs try these tricks. Don’t forget to set the nails back behind the surface so you don’t get any snags or scratches.
Now you know how to make shiplap on your own so there’s no reason to not add some to your house if you don’t already have this stylish wall covering. Shiplap adds a ton of character and warmth to a room and with this technique you can make more than enough shiplap without having to comb through salvage yards for hours on end.
If there is any other way I can help you get your shiplap on leave me some feedback in the comments below.
What is picture rail? It’s common in older homes built before WWII and more common the older the home is. A lot folks don’t understand this simple piece of stock molding that is sometimes mistaken for crown molding or other things, but picture rail has a very specific design and function.
Maybe your old house has a picture rail and you want to know how to use it properly. Maybe it doesn’t and you are thinking about adding one for some style and pop to your walls. In this post I’ll tell you what it is and what it isn’t, how to recognize it, and more importantly how to use it.
What is Picture Rail?
Picture rail is a small molding usually about 1 1/2″ to 2″ wide installed horizontally on walls within the top couple feet of the wall. Sometimes it is installed right up against the ceiling only being spaced down from the ceiling about 1/2″ which can confuse people into thinking it’s a very small form of crown molding. But crown it is not.
Picture rail is not just a decorative molding, it actually serves a very specific function. It is designed with a small lip on the top of the molding in order to accommodate a picture rail hook. The picture rail hook is by far the best way to hang things on a wall without causing any plaster damage. When installed properly by being nailed into the wood studs with larger finish nails picture rail and support heavy loads being hung on walls like large mirrors or paintings that normally require drilling holes in the plaster and installing anchors.
While it might work for mirrors I don’t think I’d try hanging a flat screen TV so don’t blame me if you try that one! If you do need to install other items on your plaster walls but don’t plan to use picture rail here is a good post to guide you to success: How To: Hang Things on Plaster Walls.
One of the great things about picture rail is that it makes the relocation both in height and position on the wall amazingly simple. To move something left or right on the wall you just slide the hook to wherever you want it positioned. If you want something to be higher or lower you can simply shorten or lengthen the wire on the back of you picture. No more trying to find a stud or drilling another hole.
The Wrong Way to Use Picture Rail
There’s a right way and a wrong way to use anything and picture rail is no different. There are two big mistakes I see when using picture rail and both can spell major disaster. Don’t make these mistakes unless you like the sound of things breaking.
Don’t Nail the Rail
I’ve seen people use picture rail in a way that I can only assume they learned from seeing pictures of it on-line. It’s hard to notice the picture rail hook, but this is the linch pin for a successful installation. If you try to hang pictures by putting a nail into the picture rail and then hanging the wire on that nail you’re in trouble. Picture rail is a small piece of molding and nailing through the face of it can easily split the wood enough that your picture may eventually come crashing down when the molding breaks.
Solution: Always use picture rail hooks and never use nails.
It’s NOT Plate Rail
Plate rail is a whole other type of molding designed to hold and display plates along a wall. Plate rail is not a specific design of molding but rather an application of trim to create a very wide shelf that can display things. If you try to display plates or other collectables by setting them on top of your picture rail you are one bump away from shattered china. Picture rail is far too narrow to have anything displayed on top of it with any sense of security.
Solution: Install a wider molding to use as a display or plate rail.
Picture Rail in New Houses?
While picture rail is typically found in old houses with plaster walls it can be a fun way to dress up plain drywall and give it a fancy old-world feel for very little money. If you plan to install new picture rail whether you have a new house or old house make sure you install it with strong nails. I recommend installing by nailing to every stud with a 2 1/2″ 15 ga. nail if you plan to hang anything of significance on your picture rail. 18 ga. brad nails, no matter how long, just won’t have the holding power you need for this hard working molding.
In my last renovation update post, I shared our DIY plastering. But one thing we didn't plaster (did you catch it?) was the ceiling. Why? Well, because after my not-so-great attempt at the bathroom ceiling and some of Grants imperfect walls (although once painted looked fine!), we were somewhat worried. Unlike walls, there's something about ceilings that just shows up every imperfection. We spent some serious dollar on getting a roof window in this room, which we wanted to be the feature of the ceiling, not a bazillion plaster imperfections. In short, plastering a ceiling is so much harder than plastering walls and we just weren't sure we could pull it off to the standard we really wanted.
And of course, after spending money on a DIY plastering course, we obviously didn't want to fork out on a professional plasterer either. So the alternative was a cheats solution. To not plaster it. To totally cheat-out!
Modern new-build homes are the masters of cheating, because they're all about little cost, fast turnarounds and maximum profit. And one of the techniques many new-build sites use, is to not plaster walls. It cuts out the cost of a plasterer, the time plaster takes to dry and the time it takes to plaster as well. It's basically a win win situation (although the finish is a little more matt and never quite a match to plaster!) and we thought we'd give it a go.
So basically (in-case I sound mad!) the idea is that the plasterboard is prepared in such a way that it can be painted straight onto. Instead of plastering, all the joins are carefully filled and blended out so that it should look completely seamless. It sounds easy, but actually there is still a lot involved to get it to look good and there's still plenty of dust - my renovation nemesis.
But it was so worth it! The finish is great - you'd literally never know - and it was well worth the effort. So if you're interested in cheating out on plaster costs, keep reading to see how! If you're new here, you can read how we boarded the ceiling in this post as well.
Tools/Materials Required:Scrim Tape (The sticky kind is best for DIYers!)
Pre-Mixed Plaster Skim
Wide Jointing/Taping Knife
Lots of Sandpaper
Dust Mask and Eye Protection
Step 1 - Apply Scrim Tape over Joins
After having boarded up the ceiling, the next step is to apply Scrim tape over all the joins. The sticky mesh kind of scrim-tape is far better for DIYers - I made the terrible mistake of using the professional non-sticky stuff in the bathroom - it was a bloody nightmare and bubbled like hell. Sticky mesh all the way here! Try not to overlap the tape too much, but make sure all joints are completely covered. The idea of this tape is to give strength to the joins and make sure the boards wont crack along them, should there be any movement. Obviously you'll want to make sure any screw heads are fully sunken into the boards as well ;)
I've also used some scrip tape over the angle bead around the window as well, as we'll also be using the same non-plastering technique there too!
Step 2 - Apply a Jointing Compound
Jointing compound is basically a very tough version of poly-filler and specific for using in the gaps between plasterboard joins. I've only used the Wickes own-brand jointing compound so far, which is sandable but bloody hard work with. It's formulation is much thicker than filler and it sets crazy fast, (so make sure to mix a little at a time!) but it really does a good job. The key here is to use the right tool to apply it! and I cannot recommend using a wide taping knife enough. It's a very wide filling knife, which is perfect for spreading the compound out over a larger surface area. I use a process of applying the compound, taking any excess off the knife and then going back over the join, to then take off any excess from the ceiling as well. Although the compound is sand-able, it's not the easiest thing to sand and if you leave too much excess up there, you'll be having nightmares! I've also used this compound on the angle bead around the roof window too.
Step 3 - Sand Jointing Compound
Although this stuff is "sandable" don't over-estimate the use of that word - you really don't want to be leaving oodles of excess on the ceiling/wall. TRUST ME. It's sandable yes, but it takes a lot of work to really sand down. So be sure to remove excess as you go! That being said, it will obviously still need a sand as it needs to be smooth, not rough. Here comes dust-mania part 1! If you're working on a ceiling, I thoroughly recommend using a hat to protect your hair from drying out - and a dust mask is essential too!
Step 4 - Apply a Pre-Mixed Plaster Skim
So I know some people would go back over with more jointing compound, but I prefer to use something a bit lighter and pre-mixed plaster skim is my new best friend. Again, it's much like poly-filler in many senses, but it's designed to be spread out in large amounts at once and act just like plaster really. It's the perfect consistency to work with and much more sand-able than actual plaster - which is another reason I've chosen to use this over another layer of jointing compound.
This top layer needs to be really well blended out and personally, I just don't think the Wickes jointing compound has the right finish to be painted straight onto. This stuff is great, no mixing required and it's essentially like adding plaster straight over the jointing compound - much like you would do if you were to plaster, but you can feather the edges properly so it's completely invisible! I used the same taping knife to apply this stuff and it worked a bloomin' treat!
Step 5 - Sand (Again!)
Yep, again! Unlike normal plaster, the pre-mixed plaster skim is waaaay more sandable. The key this time is to really focus on the edges where the plaster skim meets the board. You don't want to be able to feel any bumps or lines with your finger. Expect much more dust as you really need to go to town on getting it perfect. You may also need to touch up with plaster-skim on any areas that aren't quite perfect. Don't scrimp on being a perfectionist on this step!
Step 6 - Paint
And just like that - you're ready to paint! There are plasterboard primers out there which you can use, but I've just gone straight on with paint to keep costs down. The primer may well give a slightly less matt/rough finish, but for a ceiling - you're never going to be close enough to see the paint finish when dried, so we haven't bothered!
And that's it! Six steps, low cost, bit of effort, but so bloomin' worth it! The less plasterboard joins you have to do, the easier this would be to do. So in hindsight, we probably should have used bigger boards! But nevermind. The finish is pretty darn bob-on! There's probably only one join that's ever so slightly noticable in certain lights, but I certainly don't think our plastering skills would have been any match for this finish!
I love how the roof window really is the main feature. No imperfections, no messy hanging pendants in the center of the room - it's just solely the window on show. Which I freaking love! I have to say, although it does let heaps of light in - I do also worry slightly about being spied on by neighbours in the evenings, so a roof blind may also be an option for us in the future. I think a remote control system for blinds (like these!) particularly velux blinds, would be pretty cool stuff - but I'm not sure our budgets can reaaaallly allow for that. We'll have to see! Let me know if you have any suggestions or experience with hard-to-reach roof windows and privacy though!
So here's a snap of the newly painted ceiling with the roof window as the main feature in all its glory!
New Tools Purchased:
Jointing Knife £7
Scrim tape (free from previous jobs!)
Jointing Compound (free from previous jobs!)
Pre-Mixed Plaster Skim £16
Historic wood windows are kind of like the rock stars when it comes to preservation and restoration. Everybody talks about them, most people understand the need to preserve them and you’ll find dozens of workshops around the country where homeowners can learn to restore them on their own.
I even wrote a book to teach people how to walk through the restoration process we use in my shop every day called Old Windows Made Easy.
It makes sense why these are so popular. They are everywhere and they are simple to understand. They’re just wood, putty and glass. Well, steel windows are not much different except instead of wood you’ve got steel, so why don’t they get the preservationist’s attention? More to the point of this post, do they deserve attention like wood windows?
Are Steel Windows Worth Saving?
While not as common as wood windows, steel windows make up a huge portion of the historic windows still remaining in this country. They were used heavily in industrial buildings in the late 19th and early 20th century and then became extremely popular in residential buildings in the early and mid 20th century.
From English Tudors to Mid-Century Modern homes these steel windows were a constant fixture in a variety of designs. They are an important part of the historic fabric and definitely contribute to the original appearance of the building.
Worse even than the replacement of wood windows, the replacement of steel windows almost always looks jarringly out of place since the style of these replacement windows is so completely different from the original steel.
While the argument to save these steel windows simply for aesthetic reasons is pretty overwhelming in my mind, I want to offer you some other reasons why steel windows might be worth saving.
1. Steel Windows Are Long-Lasting
But they rust, right? Yes they rust, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t some of the longest lasting windows ever manufactured. Rust is something that can be repaired and rust can be prevented. Just like wood rots steel rusts. It’s only when you don’t provide your windows with a little maintenance that things can get dicey. If they lasted the first 80 years they can last the next 80 years.
2. Steel Windows Are Secure
The frames and sash on steel windows are solid rolled steel that is extremely strong and with the typical multi-lite designs they create one of the most secure windows ever. Security may not have been a big issue back in the day, but today having a secure and burglar-resistant window is a definite plus. The design of steel windows is essentially like having bars built into the architectural design of the window.
3. Steel Windows Are Efficient
Yes, I know the rumor about how leaky steel windows are, but it simply isn’t true. Looking at an 80 yr-old steel window that won’t close because it’s bent out of shape and caked up with tons of paint is like complaining that your Porsche which has never been washed or had it’s oil-changed is a junker. No, it’s just not been cared for at all.
Testing done by the Windows Preservation Standards Collaborative revealed that restored steel windows are incredibly efficient. That efficiency comes from the interlocking design of the sashes and frames that when closed provide exceptional air sealing (even by today’s standards).
There are weatherstripping options though they are rarely necessary, and replacing the glass with laminated or low-e options often can help steel windows make extraordinary gains in energy efficiency.
4. They Can Be Restored Simply
Just like wood windows, steel windows can be restored fairly easily by homeowners and DIYers. I’ve written an eBook called Steel Windows Made Easy that outlines the specific step-by-step process for restoring steel windows that is tailored to the DIYer.
Hopefully, I’ve been able to convince you that steel windows are worth saving through this. I cheer on these underdogs whenever I see them because it’s too often that they are torn out and replaced. America was built by steel and these windows are just one example of our fantastic history. Just like most high quality materials installed in historic buildings steel windows were meant to stand the test of time…if you’ll only let them.
You may have thought that you can only buy glazing putty from us here at The Craftsman Blog, but did you know you can make your own glazing putty in a pinch? That’s right! It just take a couple basic materials available at home improvement or paint stores and you can make traditional glazing putty just like the old timers did.
The commercial putties on the market like Sarco MultiGlaze that we sell are a little better than homemade recipes and always more consistent, but the homemade stuff can work great when you just need a little batch. Or maybe you are one of those hardcore DIYers who like to make everything yourself either way it’s a fun project.
Glazing putty doesn’t keep forever so just make a batch large enough to handle what you plan to glaze in the next week or so and then make some more if you need it later.
Traditional linseed oil putty was made from only 2 items.
You can find linseed oil at most hardware and paint stores. Using boiled linseed oil will result in a faster curing putty whereas raw linseed oil putty results in a longer lasting flexibility with the putty so there is a trade off. Whiting is a little scarce these days, but I do sell it in my store if you can’t find it locally.
You can also add Zinc Oxide to help control mildew growth on your putty if you live in a region that is particularly hot and humid like we are down here in Florida. I find that adding about 1/3 cup of zinc to 1 quart of putty does the trick.
How To: Make Your Own Glazing Putty
This is about as easy as it gets. Mix some linseed oil with the whiting until you get to a workable consistency like Play-Doh or if you are a bake, actual dough. The consistency of your putty is completely dependent on your preferences. You may want it softer or firmer depending on your needs.
Personally, I have found that the best consistency for glazing with a putty knife is thicker than you initially think. The putty should be firm enough that it won’t slump or sag when rolled into a ball.
Mix the two together in a bowl or other container to initially blend the ingredients. Eventually, you will have to pull it out and spread it on the table to knead by hand like a baker to get it all mixed thoroughly. Knead the putty and work it until it is a consistent texture throughout.
Once you learn how to mix your own putty you’ll never be in a pinch for putty again. Like I said before, homemade glazing putty isn’t quite as easy to use or as long lasting as the commercial stuff, but for the ease of making a small batch, you can’t beat this recipe. Happy glazing!