Saturday 5 December 2015

Door-dipping and installing a reclaimed oak beam

The boring work has resumed at The Lodge on the run-up to our Grand Designs-esque moving-in date of 'Christmas' (which will never happen) so I have amused myself by writing a list of things that need to be done in the Living Room.

The items above 'LIME PLASTERING' either need to be done before the plasterer arrives or at any time in the future, and the stuff below it has to wait until we're plastered - so we're a bit stuck until he gets here and we still haven't got a date.

Italics = must be done before we can move in!
  • Fill, strengthen and level fireplace where I've been digging it out
  • Buy/size/install solid slate hearth (to regs)
  • Install log burner with stove pipe (also to regs)
  • Tidy up internal oriel window WoodWool-boarded roof
  • Decide how to deal with exposed cabling - Conduit? Make a feature?
  • Repoint and stabilise (against dust, not falling down) chimney breast
  • Insulate and cover oriel window's massive sandstone heatsink sill
  • Fit curtains/blinds/shutters (I want shutters but Dawn isn't fussed on the idea)
  • Fully restore and protect quarry tile floor
  • Buy/fit/raise 2x radiators by 2" and renew pipework
  • Move one of those radiators to a different wall entirely with new pipework
  • Scrape out cracks in ceiling and face-up with lime putty
  • Renew doorway architrave and refit door
  • Make and fit 6" Victorian skirting boards
  • Limewash/paint/wax/oil/garlic butter the walls/ceiling/woodwork where applicable
  • Buy or clean/move furniture in from upstairs, the Dining Room, the shed or wherever we've got it squirreled away among piles of dusty tat boxes 
  • Set that furniture on rugs that we've neither decided on or bought yet to protect the floor, keep it breathing and help retain heat
  • Buy/fit new sockets and switches
  • Buy/fit new lighting
  • Make and fit oak windowsills
  • Set up our new 4k TV
  • Buy a Playstation 4
  • Never lift a finger again (unless it's to shoot baddies on telly or change channel)
But a couple of things which were originally on the list have been sorted out in the last few days and they have made us very happy:

Restoring the Living Room door

Other than the uPVC front door, all of the doors in The Lodge are wooden (probably pine), old (most appear to be original) and covered in layer upon layer of elderly white gloss paint.
All of the knobs were missing when we moved here, but many internal doors still have old locks (sans keys and also thick with paint) and hand-forged hinges which are partially hidden behind painted architrave. Scuffs, scrapes and chips are pretty much the norm and overall they're quite grubby.

We'd been wanting to strip a door to see what surprises lay under the paint for ages, so the Living Room seemed like the best place to start as we're concentrating on that room at the moment.

I found an antique restoration place a few miles away and, after removing the door from the frame, I carted it over there in the car. As soon as he set eyes on it he estimated "early 1800s", so that's enough for us to assume it's original.
Over the next week it was dipped in hot caustic soda in a giant bath, complete with lock and hinges, then blasted with a steam jet and hand-scraped with a Stanley knife...

...and when it came back it was bloody lovely.

The body of the lock is a little
damaged, but that's known as 'history'
I'm not a fan of pine in general, probably because I'm used to seeing cheap mass-produced pine furniture in TV ads, but this was something different. The years had seen it age wonderfully, with bumps, little divots and scorching from previous paint-scraping attempts adding to the look.
The rim lock was silver underneath all of that paint and the rough detail of the hinges, where they had been hand-worked, was imperfectly perfect.

The first thing that needed doing was to remove the lock mechanism and take it apart for a further clean inside, then bash it about a bit until the catch started working. WD40 is great stuff!

...using the BACK
of the blade...
Next came the time-consuming job of finishing off scraping out all of the joints between the planks, from under the braces and from the tiny holes and cracks all over. Even though the restorer had done some himself there was still a lot left behind and it wasn't finished by a long chalk, so out came my own Stanley knife and I got to work for a couple of days.

Dawn calls me a 'perfectionist' whereas I prefer the term 'fastidious' (some may say 'anal' but they can bugger off) - but this is the kind of work I love.

It gives me a chance to be as picky and detailed as I want and I work on the theory that the more I do in preparation the better the end result and the more satisfied we'll be. So I took my time.

The whole door was then given a light sanding with 180 grit paper to get rid of the splinters and 'woolly' bits, then vacuumed to make sure all of the dust and loose paint was out of the cracks and wotnot.

Having got used to the new look over that time I was a tiny bit reluctant to do anything else to the door, but the plan had always been to wax it to finish it off.
So I used a tin of 'Antique Pine' wax that was recommended by the restorer and roughly paintbrushed it in to all of the visible surfaces, making sure to get it in to every nook, cranny, split and gap.
After that it was buffed with a circular brush attachment on a high-speed drill which brought up a satisfying (but not OTT) shine, then the lock was refitted... and that was it.

It's a door, yes, but we love it. All it needs is a new latch to replace the one which was obviously removed in the Olden Days, and it'll be done. Oh, and a new knob to swap for the temporary one we've got on there at the moment.

The plan now is to match the skirting and new architrave to the door to tie the whole room in with it rather than have a hotch-potch of different finishes in different places. It should look amazing when it's done.

Can't wait.

Fitting a reclaimed oak beam mantelshelf

Having stripped all of the chimney breast back to bare brick - and finding hints of past adornments - it was obvious that there was something missing.
It needed just a little touch to finish it off... something suitably big and grand without looking ridiculous. Understated but impressive. Simple. Nothing fancy.

It needed a reclaimed oak beam as a mantelshelf.
Not a stick-on fascia as had been suggested to us a few times, which would have annoyed the hell out of us because it wasn't real, but a bona fide structural oak beam set in to the wall. No half measures.

We're not sure what this was originally but you can just see a chamfer
along 90% of the lower edge and there's a matching one on the other side, so
maybe a post or some kind of plinth?
The chamfers will be hidden at the back when installed.
Our first visit to a reclamation yard didn't fill us with much hope. "Take us to your oak," resulted in us staring down at a soaking wet and filthy black pile of what was presumably wood, left out in the open for eternity in a giant muddy puddle.
I'm sure there were some nice beams in there but there's no way we were going to clamber around all over the pile, dragging the manky stuff out only to drag it back again. And that was despite being told "it'll all clean up lovely".

The next yard, which is quickly becoming our favourite one (where we bought the chimney pots from), was much better.
Their oak beams were set out under a corrugated roof on three- or four-tier sturdy shelving, and there were lots. Not only were they bone dry but they were also visible which, as a potential buyer, is quite handy because it means you can actually look at them.

Our new old beam gets a short back and sides
Our idea at that stage was just to get a general feel for what was available rather than buy one straight away, but we saw one that looked to be roughly what we were after so we went back home, did a bit of proper measuring, discussed it for a while, slept on it for a few nights then went back and bought it for a grand total of £108 on Sunday gone.
I have no idea how much oak beams usually cost these days, but included in the price was the very welcome personal service of staff member Big Verne who is one of the hardest-working and friendliest 'older' gentlemen we have met other than Terminator Trevor, my dad-in-law. When the place closes I imagine that the boss has to kick him out and send him home.

Given that we (Dawn) name(s) many inanimate things here at The Lodge for
no reason whatsoever, I've decided to call our beam 'Big Verne'
We didn't really want to waste anything from the beam, given that it's old and needs to be treated with a kind of respect, so we had chosen one that was more-or-less exactly the size we needed. Verne trimmed the ends off (giving us a decent lump of oak to use somewhere else at a later date) and took off a thin slice of what would be the top and bottom faces. The front face was in reasonable condition and just in need of a good sanding-down.
Then we struggled the beam in to the car and whisked it off to its new home for the next 100+ years.

My first slight regret with The Lodge project is that we didn't fit the beam ourselves.
Being such a big eye-catching piece in the house, it would have been nice if we could have done the whole thing together, but with the chimney breast being a vital part of the overall structure, we didn't want to risk knocking the house down and living in a shed forever, so I arranged for Roofer #2 (who contracts work out) to make a return visit with his minions and get it over with.

Before being sanded down.
Measuring-in at roughly 9ins x 9.5ins
and 4ft 3ins long
Unfortunately I only managed to get a day to do the sanding, because they turned up days earlier than I expected and Trevor and I hadn't even had time to sort out the over-long flue liner that has been gracing the quarry tiles for months. The register plate was going to be fitted at the same time, so we needed to do a little prep work first, which didn't happen.

So the fellas turned up and Trevor and I were relegated to 'audience' for the most part as they hammered, chiseled, swore a bit, and got everything done and dusted in just a few hours. I trimmed the liner down with an angle grinder and helped to heft the beam in place, but that was pretty much my whole involvement. Never mind - there'll be other chances to do important stuff.

But the end result is... fantastic. I can't even put in to words how great we think it looks.
We're keeping the edges sharp and clean and square rather than round them off or chamfer them, because the stove we've ordered is quite square and boxy - modern rather than fancy Victorian, which we're not keen on - and we want to keep the theme. The slate hearth that we haven't even sourced yet will also have sharp, square edges and will be exactly the same width as the mantel, keeping enough symmetry to sate my self-diagnosed OCD.

Once the lime mortar that was used has had a chance to go off I'll be sanding the visible faces down to 180-or-so grit, then we'll find a final treatment of some kind to finish it off and bring out the grain. From what I've read, using finer sandpaper might result in the final finish not taking properly, because the pores in the wood that hold the wax/oil/whatever would be too small.
I need to do some Googling to see what is most suitable, but a wax finish similar to the one on the door would be ideal.

I just don't know if it'll all melt like a candle when the stove is on...

I've run out of words now so I'll just show you some more pictures, complete with the final result!

Fitting the register plate (right).

The beam will replace the two rough brick courses above the opening, where a mantelshelf 
seems to have been before, and will also come one course lower - effectively the course starting at the white brick.
This is to preserve a small 'step' feature in the wall which begins above the third course above the opening. It's basically a quarter-inch lip which runs across the entire chimney breast wall for some reason.

Above the register plate is now an adapter which fits the 5" stove outlet pipe at the
bottom and the 6" flue liner at the top. When the stove arrives it'll be attached to the
5" end with the help of a 5" black enameled pipe to make it all pretty. The register
plate will also be painted black with heat-proof paint.

The chimney breast is two courses-plus deep here, with the second of those forming part of the actual flue as it sweeps upwards and inwards. I'm sure there must be a name for it.

Because taking the second course and more out would prove way more expensive and difficult, with greater risk to boot, we decided to use the beam to support the bricks in the front course which, at the central point, are only one brick deep in any event. You can kind of see them sagging a little in the pic. Shards of slate were packed in to the mortar joints between those bricks to strengthen them and make the whole thing less saggy. You can also see that in the pic on either side of fellamelad's head.
So it's partly structural and partly not, which is good enough for us.

A very odd angle - Trevor just isn't that long...
The beam is a pretty tight fit, which means it shouldn't tip forwards given that it's
4.5" in the wall and 5" out, and it has been limed in place with slate packing to
strengthen it even more.


After, complete with our first Christmas card - AT THE START OF DECEMBER
All we need now is the hearth and the stove!


  1. Oh wow. Definitely worth it. Beautiful fireplace.

  2. Thanks Olaf!
    After a false start thinking we could get a slate hearth slab cut to size at a reclamation yard (the biggest we could find was 80mm too short) we've eventually ordered one from a specialist stone mason today. It won't be done before Christmas, but it should look awesome. We'll get more pics up when it's in and the log burner is fitted.
    Thanks for popping in.

  3. Regarding the shutters/no shutters debate, what about having both? Dunno if you remember or not when you came to visit but that's what we had in our big house up in Scotland. Shutters are excellent in the summer when you want to sleep but it's still daylight, and they're also quite handy for helping with hangovers - curing, not creating them! Or, indeed, any time you're ill and need to sleep when it's light outside. Plus the fact that they offer good insulation too, which is dead handy in a drafty, old house. ;)

    HTH :)


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