Tackle Custom Interior Trim Carpentry in the Winter or Summer?

Our clients have been asking regularly about whether we also do interior work. This tells me it’s time to write a blog post about interior trim work to provide a small sampling of what we can do.

This is an example of woodworking with poplar we did several years ago, during the winter. It has stayed tight with no cracking or bulging. No need to keep caulking and repainting. The “white” lines you see on the crown molding joints are glare from the camera flash.

We’re passionate about all carpentry. To date, our blog posts have been entirely about exterior projects because we feel that sealing water out of the building is job #1. So, when you no longer have water vulnerability, well heck yes we should talk about your interior wish list.

If you’re thinking about moving forward on a custom trim carpentry project, displaying an exquisite vision that showcases magnificently honed carpentry skills is likely one of your goals. That makes perfect sense. And if we’re going to bring your vision to fruition, we’ll want to ensure that it looks and functions flawlessly for a long time to come.

That brings me to the part where we talk about what conditions are ideal for an enduring and beautiful product. First, let’s get the wood species out of the way. If you want a stained product, then choose the species you like. If you want a painted product, then we’ll be selecting poplar to work with, along with cabinet grade plywood and possibly other accessory products. We choose poplar because of it’s availability and affordability. More importantly, we choose poplar because of it’s stability, strength, and straight and smooth grain. Commercially available poplar is not ever suitable for exterior projects in New England though, it turns black and rots easily. But, it’s phenomenal for interior painted woodworking.

Next, wood is hygroscopic, it absorbs or desorbs moisture in effort to reach equilibrium with the relatively humidity. If your home does not have humidity controls here in New England, then we need to understand what the wood is going to do in the future, in response to the relative humidity changes of it’s environment (the home). Barring humidity controls, wood expands as relative humidity rises in the summer, and shrinks when relative humidity drops in the winter. Don’t think that you can fight the “hydraulics” of it, you can’t. You could slow the absorption or desorption by sealing all sides before installing, but this only slows the process. Alright, that’s enough of the technical mumbo jumbo for now…I’m giving myself a headache. Most importantly, proceed with your trim project when the wood’s moisture content and humidity conditions are ideal.

So, as far as ideal conditions, do we want to be building these things during the winter or the summer? Long story short, winter…conscientiously. The wood has already shrunk, in large part, and will not be continuing to shrink. Therefore, you cut, glue, nail and paint the trim during the winter; then, it’s only going to get tighter in the summer. This can be terrific, unless overdone. The wider the boards are, the more they will shrink or expand. If you have boards that are too wide and too dry, they will buckle or cause other components to buckle when they expand in the summer.

Look at this photo. I believe that this trim was installed during the moist summer months, shrank during the dry winter months and exposed a gap at the mitered joint. The gap was filled with caulking and repainted during the winter months when the wood was still contracted. Then, the wood expanded again during the summer months, squeezing the caulking back out of the joint.

How can we help this joint at this point? I don’t know, Bobby-Jo. I suppose I would probably use a better grade of adhesive caulking that stays pliable. I would apply it during the fall, maybe October when the drying has begun. Essentially, shoot for the halfway point between it’s max expansion and max contraction. Then, paint it. You could expect it to be squeezed during the wet summer, but hopefully just form a slight bulge in the paint, and then subside again in the winter, while remaining bonded. The key here is to not use a hard, unflexible product. This would pop out when squeezed during the wet summer months, every time. Hmmm. It’s October now. I think I’ll ask this customer if I may try this experiment and monitor and report back after several changes of seasons.

To wrap it all up, for the sake of your project, please choose to do your custom interior woodworking project in the winter, to ensure tight joinery all year round. For the sake of your wallet also, you’ll want to tackle this during the winter. Why? Well, you may have an opportunity to save a little bit of dough by offering a New England craftsman an interior project to keep him or herself warm during the bitter winter cold. Most elite craftsman are in a minority these days, keeping them in demand year round, but you may have just enough luck to find one looking to fill a winter time slot. Cheers to moving forward with your vision!

 

By John Bradshaw

 

Alternative Paint Prep for Lead Paint

We recently set up in South Berwick to paint 2 sides of this beautiful Queen Anne Victorian that we handle all of the maintenance and improvements for. Painting is not typically what we are called upon to do, but we can certainly provide a quality job.

The best thing to do, of course would be to scrape or grind the paint off down to bare wood. This is cost prohibitive, in this case.

This home/insurance agency is easily 100 years old, and has been very well maintained. It receives very regular exterior paint jobs, so there need not be tons of scraping. This is good news, because for the safety of all, the EPA has begun to enforce very stringent lead paint removal guidelines. Essentially, projects with a lead paint affected area greater than 3′ x 2′ are to be turned into a hazardous waste removal project. I know because we are a Lead Paint certified firm with the EPA.

This has a catastrophic impact on time and budget, but is sometimes unavoidable. The point I’m trying to make, is that if you can accomplish your goals, whatever they may be, in a manner that avoids turning the project into a “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble” type of jobsite, the sometimes stressful remodeling experience may be a bit less painful.

This is an example of a different means to the same end.

This blog post was an afterthought. Therefore, this pic is after applying the Geocel 2310 brushable sealant to it.

Our clients’ goal: To get an affordable coat of paint on the home in order to beautify and protect, for long term results. This is entirely plausible because the home has been maintained with vigilance. It receives semi-constant painting, thus never getting to the point where it needs a paint overhaul.

There are, however, some areas that could use some sort of extra tlc. This built-in bench is one such area. Can we get a durable paint job without turning this into Area 51? Can we do this even considering the alligator skin type of scaling that’s going on now? Yes, of course we can do this.

There’s a product by Geocel called 2310 Brushable Sealant. If you ask the manager, Pat, at Ricci Lumber, he’s been carrying it for 35 years. I haven’t nagged him to verify this for authenticity or exaggeration, but it’s certainly not a newfangled, untested product.

After removing any visibly loose and unbonded paint, the application of the 2310 product is this: You lay it oooonnnn. Now, I don’t mean that you lay it oooonnnn like bringing your best girl home from dinner at the 99′s, turn off all the lights but one, feel around until you bump into the ipod, and turn on a little Barry White… type of lay it oooonnnn. No, no, no. I’m talking you just brought your lady home from a catered picnic on the beach at dusk. You slip into the living room, snap your fingers and the lights going out seem to simultaneously ignite flaming candles at opposite ends of the room. A death glare is flashed, and before you even focus your Jedi mind tricks on the ipod, Barry White is smoothing himself out all over your living room… type of lay it oooonnnn.

This is the final product…and, of course, we still need to paint the decking underneath.

Buuuuhhhht, I digress. What I’m trying to say here is that this isn’t the type of thing you want to rush through. I don’t want to be doing just a little skim coat. I want to lay it on. This product is so goopy that when you apply it properly, it is rather self-leveling. It also has amazing adhesion and flexibility properties. You don’t want to “lay it on” too thick, however. We’re not pouring a bartop here. When you put just enough of it on, it will fill all those alligator cracks and bond the surface. It is not going to look like a brand new bench, but that wouldn’t fit the character of this home anyway. The disclaimer here is that the “self-leveling” and “filling all those alligator cracks” happens while it is wet and not yet fully cured. Once it is fully cured, it has leveled off some of those things, but not nearly as much as what it would seem when wet. That’s ok, though. The main objective is to bond all of the cracked paint so the new coat won’t be a waste of money.

There is another product available that performs the same job of binding the paint. It’s available at the best paint store on the planet: Central Paint in Dover, NH. It’s called “Trim Magic” by a company called XIM. It’s much easier to spread, especially on a larger surface.

Now you see why I’m called “The Michael Jordan of Painting,” and it’s not because I want you to throw me the brush with the game on the line!

I hope that the introduction of of these 2 new products into your toolbox will help you tackle some painting projects to help protect your charming New England home. Don’t forget to follow all of the EPA guidelines when working with lead paint, to protect yourself and others. Also, always wear your safety glasses, don’t forget the hearing protection, brush your teeth after meals, and put on a clean pair of underwear. By the way, why do we say “pair” of underwear?

 

By John Bradshaw