Pennsylvania Limestone Farmhouse Renovations to an 1863 farmhouse built of limestone

April 25, 2014


Filed under: Dining Room,Living room,Stone house restoration — Duane Diefenbach @ 8:37 pm

Ok, so after paving the front porch in bricks, finishing the floors and painting the walls in the future living and dining rooms, and putting a coat of paint on all the trim, we then declared that we needed to live in this space once again!

Here is a taste of what we have accomplished… details to follow!

(as for most photos in the blog, click on the image to get a better view)



The living room still needs a second coat of paint on all the trim and some finish carpentry around the window sashes. Otherwise, it is pretty much finished (except we have some new furniture needs with all the space).


The dining room needs a new front door (to replace the 1950s vintage door) and a door to the basement installed.


Also, we think we have figured out the colors for the stairs. The trim will be a paler shade of yellow with the newel post and balusters matching the trim and walls, respectively.  The steps will may become a slightly darker shade of blue depending on how the second coat turns out.  Thank you Liz for your help with colors!

A lot has been accomplished the past week or so and we’re not sure where to direct our energies at this point. It might be some furniture (like an entryway pieced that will hide our dog food, recyclables, and charging cords for multiple devices!).

April 15, 2014

Finishing Walls and Floors

Filed under: Dining Room,Living room,Stone house restoration — Duane Diefenbach @ 9:05 pm

Doing the plastering (actually, joint compound to be technically correct) took a lot of time. Not only did drywalled joints have to be finished but all the plaster required multiple skim coats to patch cracks and holes and smooth the complete surface. I have great admiration for the plasterers who did this house because with plaster you cannot sand out your mistakes – you have to finish it perfectly smooth. And they did just that because I never found a single mistake in the ceilings.  Plus they did not have halogen or LED worklights to help identify imperfections.

Here is a photo of the living room with the plastering almost completed. You can see the wall where I repaired rather than replaced the lath and plaster.  The ceiling has drywall installed to cover the opening for the former stairs and those edges where it met the original plastered ceiling had to be feathered to match.



And here is the living room with the walls finished and the floor sanded. I am pleased with the results but don’t look too closely in the corners and around the windows (especially the window on the left where it meets the wall).


In the dining room every single plastered surface had to be skimcoated.



Once the walls were finished and primed I started sanding the floors.  The rest of the house was white pine but this room had the floor replaced sometime in the 1930s or 1940s (I’m guessing) with 2″ wide strip flooring. As you can see, this floor was never sanded or finished and was a dark brown. I assume the original floor just plain worn out because this was the kitchen in winter, the main entrance, and probably where baths occurred (we found razor blades behind the wainscot that was installed probably around the same time).

I expected the strip flooring to be yellow pine, but I think it is actually red pine because it has a lot of resin and a deep red and yellow coloring. It is also hard wood and seriously cupped such that sanding with my 8″ random orbit sander was slow going and I was running out of sandpaper!  So I rented a drum sander to level the floor using 20 and 36 grit paper. It took several hours, but I was able to level most of the floor and the edge of the room and other areas I could mop up with my belt sander and 8″ random orbit sander.


Here’s the floor completely sanded and ready for the finish. It doesn’t look that great, but actually all the abuse over the years leaves a patina that looks great.  The abuse includes hundreds of nails and nail holes (literally, hundreds), stains from spilled fuel (?), scratches, and dents.


The finish I apply is 4 coats, beginning with 1 coat of sanding sealer (dewaxed shellac), followed by 3 coats of an oil-based polyurethane. The polyurethane has a golden tint (as does shellac) that gives the wood a warm color. The first two coats of polyurethane are gloss because it dries hard and fast. The last coat is satin but takes several days to dry before you can move furniture into the room. Below is the room with the first coat of gloss applied.  The red pine has great color that does not show up well in the photo.



The greatest thing about being at this stage of the house renovation is that we remove the plastic zippered “door” between the new and old part of the house! Below are before and after views from the new to old part of the house.


The other task downstairs was deciding what color to paint the stairway.  We decided to continue the wall, baseboard, and trim colors from upstairs to the dining room. And the living room will have the same colors as the upstairs guest bedroom. But what about the stairs?  The olive green of the baseboard would be too dark and I think a different color for the steps and risers would accent the stairway. With the help of our friend, Liz (a self-described frustrated art major – her words, not mine!), we decided on a deep blue that has some shades of gray/black (I think – anyway it looks “colonial”). The photo below shows the stairs with the paint job only half completed – the diagonal trim under the steps will be the same mustard color of the other vertical trim.  The stairs need 2 more coats of paint (I used a urethane paint for stairs that does not require a primer, but that means more coats to finish).


With the vertical trim painted it looks a little better. But with the walls and trim just primed it is difficult to imagine the final result. That should happen this week!



April 13, 2014

A Digression… Finish Carpentry

Filed under: Dining Room,Living room,Stone house restoration,Uncategorized — Duane Diefenbach @ 8:42 pm

One of the things that has slowed my progress on this house has been moving from modern power tools to the hand tools that were likely used on our home. Because of this “disease” of mine I decided to do the finish carpentry in the downstairs rooms with hand tools. This post shows what I did and maybe (partially?) explains why it took so long!  😉

This window used to be a door… from the old kitchen to the basement. Soon it will be a window again. However, the finish carpentry first required that a stool be constructed that was about 18″ deep and 42″ wide.  Then side casing was added, then head casing across the top, and finally an apron underneath completed the woodwork.



To make the stool I started with a piece of white pine about 22″ wide and 45″ long. I planed the board using hand planes. First a #5 Stanley to remove the coarsest imperfections and I finished with a #8 Stanley to smooth the surface. The underside was left unfinished.



Then a rabbet was needed to fit into the window frame so that notches in the stiles of the frame allowed the stool to nicely meet the lower sash.  To make the rabbet I used a rebate plane that I bought on eBay and restored.


I then cut the stool (using crosscut and rip saws) to fit the window so that the distance from the sash to the “wings” on each side (that will be underneath each side casing) was correct.



This is how the stool fit at this point.



Once the stool was fit to the sash then I could finish the “wings” to length and depth (with respect to the side casing).


Fitting the side casing at this point was relatively simple. The side casing is nailed to wooden blocks installed in the stonework as well as nails that come up from underneath the stool.



The next step was to install the head casing. To hide any imperfections (and later movement of the wood, or house), the carpenters for our home cut a rabbet in the head casing to join the side and head casings. See photo below. I used a different approach to hide imperfections in matching side and head casings in the new part of the house (see this post).



So here’s the window with stool, side casing, and head casing installed.



The final carpentry required is to install the apron, which is nailed to the two blocks that support the stool.



Now “all” that’s left is for the plasterers to finish the wall! (and that would be me)

The Final Push…

Filed under: Dining Room,Living room,Stone house restoration,Upstairs — Duane Diefenbach @ 5:11 pm

…to get the major work completed on the old part of the house!  Sorry there has been such a hiatus but the 2012-2013 hunting seasons stopped work (on the house) for a while as well as other things like this small end table for PASA to auction at their annual meeting.


And then there was the issue of overcoming inertia in tackling the plaster work downstairs.

So here are some pics of the upstairs. Work is complete except for:

  1. Doors for 3 closets
  2. Trim and final paint around all window sashes
  3. Shelves and racks in the closets
  4. Two storm windows

So really not that much left to do!  😉

Here is a photo of me sanding the floor. Fortunately, most of it was bare wood but all the areas near the walls had some paint – either intentional coats or drips from paint jobs.


Sanding is a miserable, dusty, backbreaking, knee-stiffening job. But the results are worth it. The patina from 150 years of abuse makes the floors look beautiful especially with all the dents, scratches, nails, stains, etc.


Currently, what will be our guest bedroom is serving as a living room. It looks like this:



And the office could be another guest room!



So the next major task(s) to complete is the downstairs (including the stairs) of what will be the dining room and living room. In the future living room I had to finish plastering around two windows because the one on the right used to be a doorway to the kitchen, and the one on the left used to be a doorway to the basement. Also, the ductwork for the upstairs had to be enclosed. The ceiling and floor in that corner of the room used to be a stairway (see the posts for July 2013). If you look closely, the wall between the ductwork and window is partially original plaster and joint compound. This is the only place where I took the time and effort (and expense, hot mud is expensive) to repair the last plaster – mostly because I wanted to see if I could do it.  I can but it was not easy.


The chase for the ductwork will also provide for another run for the central vac! (see photo)



The dining room required sheetrock along one wall to replace lath and plaster beyond repair, restoration of baseboards, repairs to window trim and door trim, and finishing trim on the doorway to the basement and upstairs. Here are some photos of what had to be, or what was, done:



After all the finish carpentry was completed I had to joint compound everything – finish sheetrock joints, fill major gaps/holes in damaged plaster, and skimcoat all the plaster in both room. That was really mental block and the major reason for the delay in progress.

So this post really updates everything that has (or has not) happened since last September. In the next post I’ll document how the finish work is going.




July 9, 2013

4th of July Marathon

Filed under: Living room,Stairs,Stone house restoration,Upstairs — Duane Diefenbach @ 9:50 pm

It’s felt like a marathon but with not much running involved. Just lots of dirt and sweat beginning on the 4th and continuing through the long weekend. And lots of sweat is an understatement because it was in the mid-80s the whole time with high humidity. I began with removing the stairs that were installed in the 1950s.  Two joist were cut from the second floor to make a space about 48″ wide to go from the first to second floor – and a joist was removed from the 1st floor to provide access to the basement.  The stair treads were solid oak and trim was pine all finished in stain and then varnished.  Removal was not difficult but took time because when I finished you could fall directly from the second floor to the basement!

Here is a photo removing the treads.



When I got near the bottom of the stairs I pulled up a tread and found a 1952 nickel, which would be right around the time the stairs were built. I like to think the contractor left that there to be found by someone.  All in all I found $0.49 in quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies.



After removing the treads I removed the drywall that then exposed the window that until now provided light to the basement (it used to be the entryway from the old kitchen in the 1950s addition to the basement – you can see a photo of this window as a doorway in this blog entry).


Once the last of the stairs were removed I found that there was even a linoleum “rug” on this floor with newspapers underneath.  When they built the stairs they didn’t bother to remove the linoleum!



So when all was said and done this is what the living room looked like. Much bigger with 2 window openings to the front of the house.



The next step involved reflooring the 1st and 2nd floor openings.  I started by installing a joist (with the help of Ethan).



And then we used flooring from the attic (and left over from what was used in our master bedroom). However, we cut the flooring to width to match the original existing flooring that was removed in the 1950s.  This meant we had to mill tongues and grooves in the flooring. I think the end result will look good, but right now the rough, dirty attic boards look horrible next to the refinished original floor.



Part of the difficulty of replacing the flooring was that they cut the floor next to the joist (and non-load-bearing wall). To install the new flooring I had to chisel out a short piece of old flooring and then hammer in place the replacement section. This took a lot of time, but we have everything installed except for a space for the geothermal company to install a chase for ducting to the second floor.

The second floor was a little easier, because Ethan and I had experience installing the joist and we didn’t bother matching board widths. The space on the 2nd floor is going to be closets so no one will really see the mismatch in floorboards. Updates on this work is forthcoming. I’m too tired right now to finish this blog entry!



June 29, 2013

Moving Out

Filed under: Basement,Dining Room,Living room,Stone house restoration,Upstairs — Duane Diefenbach @ 8:37 pm

We spent today moving everything out of the old part of the house. Where to put it all? The barn really is not a good storage area because it is so damp.  So here is where things went: (a) the old classroom in the barn has become the TV room with air conditioning, (b) our neighbor has (had) an empty spare bedroom, (c) the attic, and (d) various places in the addition.

Right now I am sitting at my desk in our bedroom. The bathtub is full of antiques, and Molly and Lisa are watching TV and eating popcorn in the classroom with the dogs



The stone house is pretty much empty, full of echos, and ready for deconstruction.  In our old bedroom the paneling has to be removed, and the linoleum “rug” will have to go.


Pitching the rug was a somewhat difficult decision because it was installed about 1951 and underneath was lined with newspapers.


In fact, there was a March 18, 1951 funnies section from the Philadelphia Inquirer that looked like new!



In Ethan’s old room we have to rip out the door frame to the old closet and make it smaller to accommodate the stairway ledge. Also the ceiling tiles will be removed and the particle board that covers the original pine flooring will be removed.



Then we have a lot of 3/8″ sheetrock to remove and find out if the wall dividing his room from the hallway is original or was installed in 1950. I am not quite sure if the wall is original because the doorway trim is modern dimensional lumber, but maybe they just moved the door like they did in our old bedroom.  We shall see.



Downstairs in our living room (that was partially restored about 5 years ago) we will be removing the stairs that were installed in 1950. This will make the room much bigger and restore access to a window that used to be the doorway to the basement from the kitchen, but it will take a lot of work to undo everything. Removing the stairs will involve restoring floor joists and flooring.  I am going to mill some leftover pine boards we took out of the attic (and used in our master bedroom) to fill the space in the living room.



The dining room does not need much deconstruction, except to remove some lathe where the plaster failed.  I plan to replace the lathe with sheetrock and then plaster over to match the remaining plaster.  There will be a lot of plastering to do in the house so I bought an electric sander that has large sanding discs and can be hooked up to a vacuum to minimize dust.


January 26, 2013

Back to the Old House

Filed under: Living room,Stone house restoration — Duane Diefenbach @ 5:57 pm

Holidays and other projects in the shop have stopped any progress on the new part of the house. Although now that it’s a cold, snowy day we decided to tackle preparations for restoring the original staircase in the house.  This involved first cleaning our the remainder of our “junk” out of 2 closets that were created in the 1950s (where the staircase used to enter the second floor) and the upstairs hallway. This area has pretty much been a disaster since we gutted the downstairs room that contained a bookcase where the stairs used to be (see this post).

So the task was to remove the floor installed upstairs (see photo below) as well as the interior walls and cedar-chip paneling from the closets. Then we needed to put a header and supports in the basement under the first floor, and then a temporary header with jacks to raise the the second floor – because when the staircase was removed they also removed the load-bearing support for the second floor. It was why Ethan’s old room and the hallway was like a trampoline and it had about a 1″ slope over 6 feet.



Below is a photo where the staircase used to end at the second floor. We (Ethan and I) have gutted the interior and started removing the floor. The musket leaning by the doorway is in case the Rebels attack (this house was built during the Civil War). And after everything was removed and you can now drop from the second floor to the basement, if you want.  Something we need to fix before guests with little kids visit.




There is actually a remaining top step, which is simply 1″ pine that is well worn. Also, I discovered a piece of original woodwork used as a ship for the framing installed in the 1950s. I am not quite sure where it was used in the house but it is only 1″ pine that had mortises cut in it along with a dado and a bead trim.  I am thinking it was part of a door frame. But the mortises are quite delicate for a doorway.  Anyway, when we peel more of the 1950 changes to the house we might be able to figure it out, but it is the first piece of woodwork in the house that actually has an embellishment to the trim.


So now that everything had been gutted and hauled outside into the back of the truck, we set up a header and jacks to remove some of the slope in the 2nd floor. We won’t be able to make everything level but more importantly we can restore some support and remove much of the bounce upstairs.Right now there is only about 1/2″ of slope over 6 feet!  Over the next few days I may each day jack up the floor a bit more, but not by much.




So that’s where we stand. Now we are hoping to get Lee Cowan to come back and rebuild the staircase.

April 3, 2011

Not Sure That We Should Have Done This…

Filed under: Living room,Stone house restoration — Duane Diefenbach @ 8:19 am

So this weekend we started on Phase III of our project even though Phases I & II are far from completed. We gutted our old living room in the stone part of the house (it will become our dining room). The reason for this was that a trailer for refuse was available to take the gutted materials. Also, if I am going to restore the windows and front door I need to have them fully exposed from both inside and outside the house.

The interior of the living room was insulated and covered in sheetrock by building a wall with 2x4s inside the room (making it about 8″ smaller in its interior dimension.  When we started it looked like this:

As you can see, some demolition has already occurred. In previous posts you can view the exposure of the original passageway to the basement (see February 2011) and the making a window into a doorway to the new addition (see March 2010).

Work started by removing the tile ceiling and ripping of the sheetrock to remove any insulation and then removing the framing.

When you take apart a house you start to better understand what happened to it… like how did they wire this place if you shut off a circuit to the living room and some of the lights upstairs also go off? It’s because things are linked together in very strange ways.

When the house was “stabilized” in 1989 (and the rooms were framed, insulated, and covered in sheetrock) a lot of the wiring was “updated” by routing new wires behind the ceiling tiles and routed back into the original wiring. I believe I have now removed the last of the old wiring in this house.

You can also figure out other older changes as well.  This room had wainscot about 4′ high around the room based on photos from the 1950s and 1960s. However, the “updating” in 1989 ripped out this wainscot but it turns out it was not original to the house. It was probably added sometime before the 1950s (?) because underneath is wallpaper and original milk painted baseboard. The 4 layers of wallpaper had some printing on the borders that I bet I may be able to date.

The top layer had this design and the label “York Paper”

The layer below was labeled “Art Wall Paper Mills, Chicago” with perhaps a pattern “R1065”

The third layer down was labeled “Richard Rose, Beverly, New Jersey”

The bottom layer had no label but was a fleur-de-lis design

I am guessing that the top layer of wallpaper is from the early 1900s, however, because one section of the wall (what would have been below the wainscot) had boards nailed over the plaster lathes, along with cloth “wallpapered” to the wall, and on top of everything was wallpaper. I also suspect men shaved in this room and dumped their dull blades down behind the wainscot because we found a number of old razor blades in this part of the wall.

We now also know that some plaster repair was done sometime after 1930 because I found a 1930 Pennsylvania license plate in the wall. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remove it because it was on the side of the wall facing the other room.

So now the former living room (to become our dining room) is, for the most part, gutted. Thus endeth the beginning of Phase III and we return to Phase I & II. Here’s what our new dining room looks like, and will look like for quite a while…

Powered by WordPress