Monday 29 August 2016

Quarry tile floor restoration

By far the dirtiest job to date has been the olivine blasting.

Step one

A glaring problem that needed to be sorted out before the Living Room floor was fully restored was where the dividing pantry wall had once stood, but had since been patched-up with cement leaving a cracked strip of grey where there should have been tiles.

I dug all of that up to reveal another couple of brick courses from the original dividing wall, which were standing on a bit of crumbled lime and bare earth. Having removed one course I filled in the resulting hole with sand and some of the old lime lumps then offered up some quarry tiles that were removed from one of the fireplace hearths upstairs... only to find that the row on the room side of the divide didn't match up to the row in the Pantry. I couldn't have made it look anywhere decent enough by cutting tiles and fitting the bits in here and there like Tetris which left only one choice... I was going to have to lift all of the Pantry tiles and re-lay them.

Trevor joined me and before I could get the kettle boiled he had the first tiles up and was setting them out so we could use them again in the same configuration. He was also clearing out the original lime mortar bed they had been sat on, which had completely failed and was totally unusable as it was because it offered no stability or reliable level whatsoever.
Grumble - less than impressed
that the rows don't match-up
The next two days saw me making tea, knocking-up plenty of 3:1 lime mortar mixes and casting an eye over the job in progress to make sure everything looked level and was heading in straight-ish lines.
Trevor levelled the earth subfloor and set the tiles on a new mortar bed, and when his knees gave up I took over and did the two corners and along the end.

It's not completely level, admittedly, and the edges kind of drop or rise by a few mm here and there, but I'm happy with that because 'working' floors like this were never perfect anyway and it looks like it has been one continuous surface all along now.

In terms of grout, incidentally, I'm not sure what we're doing. I'd quite like to brush powdered lime over the floor and let the natural moisture from the earth cure it in the joints, but that would dull the surface again... sand would do the job but it would make vacuuming tricky... leaving 'doing nothing' as the safest option for now. I might revisit it later but in the meantime, bugger it. It's Character.

Forget your underfloor heating, dpcs and insulation, this is what you want under your quarry tiles...
God's-honest-no-frills muck

The replacement tiles were from the hearth in Bedroom 1, which was causing the ceiling below to sag,
so we reused them here. The black glazing on the sides was later removed during the restoration and the colour
of the paler tiles was lifted during the final stages with a colour enhancer.

Step two

Searching tinterwebz for how to restore a quarry tile floor mainly results in links to professional firms who will either come over to do it themselves in return for a lorra, lorra money or sell you the stuff to make a half-baked job of it yourself.

The photos and videos of the pros doing it look amazing, but that's the idea. You wouldn't want to hire a team of sweaty salad-dodgers to paw ineffectually at the floor and leave it looking like nothing had happened, would you? But it's all marketing and I wanted to tackle the job myself, so my only option was to buy tins of 'product' and have a stab at it.

The very first, and arguably most important part of bringing the Living Room floor back from the dead over a year ago was to remove the carpet and underlay to start it releasing its moisture again, and that was followed by olivine blasting (top picture) to get rid of the glue and rock-solid filth left on the faces of the tiles.
After this it was left as it was for some months due to the rest of the work that needed to be done in there but for the most part (discounting tarps being laid now and then) it was allowed to breathe properly and dry out.

Freshly-mopped and dried before restoration work of any kind
Once the main dirty work was finished in the room we stripped everything out and I gave the floor a thorough powerful vacuuming, crawling around on my hands and knees to trace every joint and crack with the nozzle.
This was followed by two lots of damn good mopping with, again, me on my hands and knees to vacuum up the excess water from the faces and in the joints so it would dry as fast as possible. Anyone looking through the window would think I was playing submissive at a 'Chore'-themed BDSM party.

Dawn had already done a bit of research last year and bought a bottle of Lithofin Tile Restorer for Ceramic Tiles which was supposed to bring out the ingrained dirt and give the surface a thorough, thorough clean.
Except it didn't, really. I'm not criticising it because I don't have enough experience doing this, but even after working the cleaner in tile-by-tile with a scrubbing brush - really agitating it - and drying the faces with a hairdryer after a rinse, they didn't look any different. The only noticeable difference was the black glazing on the tiles that were laid along the edge of the Pantry. It lifted that off really well.
My two trains of thought were that either the cleaner wasn't doing its job or the floor was already nice and clean because of the attention it had already been given. I'm erring towards the latter. 

So not wanting to waste the bottle I tipped it in the mop bucket and threw in a couple of litres of brick acid, hoping that a chemical reaction wouldn't make it explode in my face, which fortunately it didn't.
That was mopped liberally on the floor in the hope of obliterating any proper ingrained muck (destroying the mop head) and it was washed off with clean water a couple of times, followed by me on my knees again.

I had been doing some research myself in to what to do next, if anything, and I discovered Tile Doctor Colour Grow which promised to deepen the colour of what, essentially, were unremarkable matt pinkish tiles, while protecting them from spills but still allowing them to breathe. And that was everything I wanted in one £40 container.

The instructions suggested up to five coats on quarry tiles with no damp-proof course (dpc) beneath, and we applied the first coat easily in just half an hour with a couple of new, clean paint pads... which is when the container ran out.
Unfortunately with 95% of the tiles having no glaze they were very porous which meant they pretty much guzzled up the Colour Grow, but to be fair the transformation was incredible by morning. The red was deeper and the particularly-pale tiles, which contrasted starkly with those surrounding them, had blended quite well so I ordered another bottle and hoped that two coats would be enough.

Again the floor remained this way for a couple of weeks during more work and when everything was shifted back out and more rounds of mopping/vacuuming had taken place (using Tile Doctor Neutral Tile Cleaner) we gave the floor another two coats of Colour Grow from the new tin, because the first coat had made the tiles less porous.

The finished floor. Sorry to use this picture yet again but I forgot to take a specific 'restored' one.

Again, the results were great with the red deepening a bit more but our mistake of forgetting to dab up any excess liquid while were going meant that in the morning the few patches of tiles which had a hint of glazing were still tacky to the touch even through they weren't wet, as such.

The sticky patches on tiles with a hint of prior glaze
are already starting to reduce
I tried to remove the stickiness with everything from water to - you guessed it - brick acid but because the surface was also more resistant to liquid now nothing would touch it and I eventually gave up the ghost.

So we left it and hoped for the best but now after 36 hours it seems to be improving, meaning we won't have sticky footprints all over the rug, which looks better without that kind of thing, frankly.
And speaking of footprints we're trying to get in the habit of leaving our boots at the door now but that's already showing signs of falling by the wayside...

Re-pointing the chimney breast with lime mortar

I'd like to start this post by saying that there aren't many jobs in The Lodge project that daunt me.

Sadly that wouldn't be strictly true because most jobs that don't simply involve destruction or easy mind-numbing repetition daunt the hell out of me and I usually find a reason to fear it and avoid it for as long as possible.

The old mortar was cracked and failing so
I chiselled it out to a depth of around 10mm or so
One of those jobs was re-pointing the Living Room chimney breast with lime mortar.

The first parts of the job were easy repetition and destruction - chiselling out the old lime pointing, which had been damaged by the mechanical removal of previous coatings and blasting, and cleaning up the faces with brick acid, which so far has been one of my favourite consumable DIY products of all time, along with Gorilla Glue, Frog Tape and disposable pencils from hardware stores.
But I had been procrastinating over the actual re-pointing job because my one and only previous attempt had been on the front wall where we put the new house sign, and I needed it done in a rush. It was (and still is) a bit of a mess because I hadn't really read-up on how to do it and I had used some left-over mortar from someone's else's job up on the roof. I had never even mixed-up mortar - of any kind - before.
So to do a job that could result in an ever-lasting mess that made me hate my clumsy hooves and over-ambition was, you know... daunting.

That was one of the reasons we wanted to go on the lime course at Ty Mawr, where Dawn could pay attention to the details and get to grips with some practical stuff while I, as Primary DIY Monkey, would get annoyed at my inability to learn any new skills absolutely perfectly and absolutely immediately.
The plan worked and back home we put our heads together and came up with a plan: I just man-up and get on with it.

There are a few ways to knock-up (that's the actual technical term, which I now use in casual conversation to make it sound like I know what I'm on about) a lime mortar mix but the two most cost-effective ways, without getting your hands on an expensive cement mixer for large jobs, is to do it in small batches by hand with a spade or trowel - which is pretty hard work and difficult to mix thoroughly, or to buy an electric paddle mixer and whisk-up a slightly larger batch in a big flexi bucket. I did the latter because power tools are power tools at the end of the day, and I'm a bloke.
Incidentally, if you just happen to be doing the same type of thing and end up mixing too much mortar, just tightly cover the left-overs with a plastic bag and it should be okay for a day or two. If it starts drying out you can bring it back to life with a little bit more water (less is more) and a mix. It'll keep indefinitely that way, unlike cement.

Being a bit too generous with the water the first couple
of times, this mix is a bit wet but it was still okay
Using an empty 1kg lime putty pot, which was replaced by a child's sandcastle bucket when it split, I measured out a 12:4 (3:1) mix of yellow sharp sand (red sand makes the mix pinkish and I wanted to keep it as white as possible) and NHL3.5 lime from a black bag which someone Dawn knows donated from his garage a few months ago. I mixed everything up dry with the paddle mixer first then slowly added water from a watering can, paddling as I went.

Knocked-up lime mortar should be quite a dry consistency to reduce the chances of cracking as it dries and cures, but just a single splash of water too much in the mix makes wobbly soup so it took a little while to get it right. Also, as I was mixing, I realised that for some strange reason the lime powder hadn't kept too well in its bin bag in the damp outbuilding and some of it was holding together in little 'rocks' so I crumbled the bigger ones up as I went, remembering that all of the original lime pointing I had seen throughout the building held little lumps of pure lime where much the same thing would have happened back in The Old Days. So at least it was accidentally authentic.

The process of pointing-up itself, which was the part I was dreading most, was actually pretty simple and quite satisfying when all was said and done.

It looks like a sloppy mess but 'knocking it back'
with a scrubbing brush covers a multitude of sins
Having decided to use a narrow pointing trowel (which sounds bleeding bloody obvious, but other types of small trowels can be used with equal success) and a dinky 20cm-sq hawk from Ty Mawr I simply watered the area I was working in with a garden sprayer (which slows the drying process and reduces cracking/shrinking), slopped a little of the mix on the hawk, offered it up to the chiselled-out pointing and pushed morsel after morsel in to the gaps with the trowel, trying to be as neat and careful as possible to keep the brick faces clean.
As you go along, the trick here is to push too much mortar in there so the new stuff stands a couple of mm proud of the brick faces around it, so you can 'knock it back' later on.

As I got lower towards the mantelpiece (which was covered) some of the bricks, which had already been a bit loose and wobbly before I started chiselling, had decided to pretty much bounce around in the load-bearing structure which was somewhat worrisome, so I packed (I think 'pinned' is the proper term) around the loose ones with slivers of slate and stone to stabilise them then made sure I pushed the new mortar in hard to fill any gaps.

Finally, a couple of hours after I had pointed an area, and as the mortar was beginning to go off - but before it dried too much - I went across it gently with a stiff-bristled hand-held scrubbing brush, tap-tap-tapping at the raised pointing and 'knocking it back' until it was flush with the brick faces. This way it softens up any hard edges from the trowel, blends the junctions between the horizontal and vertical lines, jettisons tiny pieces of aggregate from the mortar's surface to makes it tactile and more interesting, increases the mortar's surface area to help the structure breathe and generally tidies everything up as it knocks overenthusiasm off the edges of the adjoining brick faces. 

A couple of weeks later, once I knew that the mortar would have thoroughly dried and cured, I took a small paintbrush and some more brick acid to the faces for the final tidy-up, then once the mantelpiece was uncovered and resanded (down to 240 grit) the stove door was cleaned, we maintenance-waxed and refitted the companion set and had a general tidy-up. This is the final result:



Incidentally, because I'm planning a few posts in fairly quick succession you might have missed that we've now moved in to the house!



503 days since the estate agent woman passed the keys across her desk and about 489 days after our first night sleeping in the shed, we're finally kipping under our own roof!

Two or three blog posts over the next few days will look at some of the work that went in
to the things in this picture recently - skirting, radiators, bricks, etc. Bet you can't wait.

 It has been a heavy-going past two or three weeks in the Living Room with some moderately early mornings and a good few post-9pm or even 10pm finishes. Terminator Trevor, my Father-in-Law of Unstoppable Perpetual Motion, has been largely leading the charge with jobs which need his prior knowledge and experience rather than my panicked Googling, followed by mortal terror, ultimate failure and swearing, topped-off with a telephone call to Trevor to ask for a loan of his knowledge and experience. So because living in a sodding shed has been wearing a bit thin for Dawn and I for a while now, I/we wanted to cut out the middle man and just get stuff done pronto. Enough faffing about.

Other blog posts are going to be published in the next few days about some of the main jobs that were done to get to this point (I've been too busy/tired to write anything as the work went on) but I wanted to mark this milestone day with a post to remind us of what the Living Room looked like before it got full of pizza boxes, dog toys, clumps of cat fur and piles of washing.

The shiny floor tiles are caused by a layer of breathable sealant which hasn't been fully absorbed.
It's not wet - just still a little bit 'tacky' - and brick acid won't even shift it so we're leaving it
in the hope that it soaks in over time.

Meanwhile the living arrangements are in flux as I write this. Dawn is in bed in the Pantry dog-leggy-bit while I sit on the settee with the TV on mute and the lights low so I don't disturb her; the dog is asleep on the rug right where I can fall over him (he's gurgling in his sleep) and a stairgate isolates the room from the rest of the house in the vague hope that SausageTheCat realises that the shed is now out-of-bounds and gets brave enough to come in and risk becoming supper. 

So things are a bit up-in-the-air in terms of family harmony but hopefully it'll work its way out without bloodshed or weapons over the

Aaaaaand that's where I fell asleep last night. Dawn woke me up at 3am and told me to get to bed.
It wasn't far. And nor was the loo at 5am.
I like living in a house.

Here are some ever-popular before/after photos:

The highlights of the chimney breast were a 30s open fire, a stone pillar facade,
cracked slate hearth and damp patches on the wallpaper.

The whole room, particularly the Pantry, felt damp and unpleasant

The cement and gypsum plaster walls were affecting the breathability of the Living Room and
as a result moisture from the floors and everyday living was settling in the coldest spots,
making the mouldy wallpaper crinkle and peel. The wall on the left was also covered in
corrugated bitumen sheets for reasons we've never worked out.

The carpet/underlay combo was one of the biggest offenders, trapping moisture from the tiled
floor beneath and keeping the humidity levels up.

And once it was dumped we found that the underlay had been glued to the quarry tiles, making
things worse all-round.

By the mid-point everything had been ripped out and the fireplace was opened up.

The furniture is elderly but it fits okay so it'll do for now.
Hopefully the curtain will be hacked in two soon so we can have half either side of the window.

The oriel window at the front of the building is the next major job because it'll have to be replaced
with something bespoke and the sandstone sill will need to be repaired at the same time.

Monday 22 August 2016

Brexit - what a load of limewash

Everyone knows what they were doing on the day they heard that Boris and Nigel and all those other loons guaranteed that Britain would get its bendy bananas back and that dirty rotten forriners would be surrounded by a huge brick wall and barbed wire. Or something. 

Boris arrives at the office for his first day
as Foreign Secretary
For us, we were in the badlands of Wales on a two-day practical course all about the joys of lime and where to stick it. You would have read a blog all about it by now if Dawn could be bothered to write it, but she can't. It's not even like she's got anything better to do, like earn a living. Sheesh. 

Anyway, one thing we learnt on the course at Ty-Mawr, which is one of just a few reputable lime product manufacturers and suppliers in the pre-anarchic UK, is something we'd been wondering ever since we first started on this magical journey of marvel and mishap - how to pronounce Ty-Mawr. The best way to write it is that it rhymes with See Flower or Flea Power or Tree Hour.

It's Ty (like 'tea') and Mawr (like 'sour' but with an M). It's Welsh, innit. 
So now you know. Accept no substitutes and feel free to correct people with confidence and authority. Tell them we told you so. 

One of the other things we touched on was limewashing.
Limewashing is like painting but much, much more annoying.

Remember the last time you decorated your bedroom with one or two coats of your favourite shade of matt avocado and lost the will to live as you glossed the skirting? It's nothing as joyful as that. Not even close. 

The original brown lime surfaces were a patchwork
of new and old repairs using regular filler or lime
Of course we only really learnt that lesson back at The Lodge when we tried it. Across at Ty-Mawr - staffed by very nice, knowledgeable, down-to-earth pro-lime nerds, essentially - we were told that although it's not a decorating finish that suits everyone it's authentic, environmentally-friendly and fully breathable, which is exactly what we're after. We saw lots of examples, all in limewashed rooms at the beautiful Ty-Mawr working family home (it's a funny old set-up in a beautiful part of the country), showed the experts some photos of our Living Room, asked some pertinent questions, got our hands dirty with some excellent practical experience and left assured that we'd get the uniform, level finish we were after on the ceiling and walls with just two or three coats even though the more traditional finish is somewhat patchier, which makes it an acquired taste. 

The olds.
Absolutely clueless.
We drafted in my folks and aunt for the inaugural first coat and bought five buckets, five brushes, five pairs of safety glasses, the same amount of gloves and some party sausage rolls, in addition to a Screwfix electric paddle mixer (which later exploded) for the white pre-mixed limewash which we brought back from Ty-Mawr. 

Now the thing about limewash, and where it differs significantly to regular paint, is that at 3:1 water to lime putty (we also added casein which is a natural product made from milk and helps the wash 'stick' a bit better), it's not only thin but it needs to be applied in very thin coats so that when the wash begins to dry it doesn't leave behind a thick layer of lime which will then crack as the water disappears. It's a bit of a faff but one we had steeled ourselves for. 

The other thing about limewash is that it's totally invisible for hours. 
Four coats in... grrr...
When you're painting under normal circumstances you get your brush, roller or pad, load it with the thick coloured gloop of your choice and smear it over the wall in areas you haven't done yet. With limewash, however, because you're wetting the surface with tap water (to arrest the drying process) before brushing on your equally-wet and barely-coloured limewash you can't see if you've already done that bit or you're missing great swathes as you go. The only time it begins to become apparent is when it starts to dry overnight and the coloured pigment begins to show itself (which is a very impressive reveal in the morning, by the way). But that's when you realise you need another coat all-round. Then another. Then another. Ad infinitum.

After four coats on the ceilings and walls over 10-or-so days - and with the unwanted 'traditional' patchy, rough limewash finish still very much in evidence - we gave up because we were getting nowhere. It just wasn't worth the effort and despair. Each coat went on just as infuriatingly-transparently as the last and the whole room was taking a day or more (with at least a day in between while it dried) in return for absolutely no progress whatsoever. 

The cavalry!
Not only were the walls patchy and uneven, even where they'd been limewashed earlier, but there was lots of deep yellow staining bleeding through on the ceiling, perhaps from the old original lime that was still up there or residue left over from the Artex. Either way we couldn't live in a room that looked as though it had been a gentleman's smoking parlour for the last century so we went with the alternative - also recommended by Ty-Mawr - clay paint.

Once we knew the fourth failed coat of limewash had dried the ceiling took one coat of Earthborn 'White' - eliminating the jaundiced patches; the walls took a single coat of magnolia 'Vanilla' and the two feature walls by the Pantry took two coats of 'Cat's Cradle' grey, with delicate cutting-in around the brick detail.
And the results are excellent. The coverage was great with a pad and because the 'paint' was pretty thick it covered the patchy white with ease - and you could see where you'd already been!
The only downside was that where old, original lime plaster had been limewashed, particularly on the ceiling, the wash came away in small areas where a roller took it off and reapplied it in lumps a few millimetres away (which we quite like, weirdly, because it goes with the lumpybumpy look). A brush didn't have so much trouble though, and there were no application problems when we clay painted over the limewash on new plaster.
So at least the limewashing made for a reasonable undercoat which also sealed small cracks in the plaster, and the whole lot is breathable, too.

Ignore the skirting - I haven't written about it yet

The lesson: one person's 'perfect' is another person's 'problem' and although I get where Ty-Mawr is coming from in terms of authenticity and tradition when it comes to the finish, it's not always going to be for us. The lessons in pointing, however, were right up our street and that'll be the subject of the next blog... whenever I get it written.

Must rush. I'm building a Post-Brexit Bomb Shelter and the excavator has just arrived...

The £50 Energer paddle mixer from Screwfix.
Only buy it if you enjoy seeing smoke coming out of your power tools before the job is finished.