Sunday, February 27, 2011

Stair carpeting

This project only took an afternoon - a few hours, really, not counting picking up materials - making me wish I hadn't put it off for so long under the assumption it would take forever. Like so many other things in my house, such as that bathroom rewiring project, or learning Spanish.

Learn from my mistakes/laziness and, if you have a set of bare wooden stairs of your own, don't wait to get them covered with a runner. It reduces noise by a ton and cuts down on wear to boot.

I'd picked up a roll of carpet remainder for $15 at Home Depot a while back - the color matched what I was thinking of doing upstairs, and the width was less than the width of the stairs. All in all, it was a serendipitous find, but you should be able to locate a strip of carpeting that meets your needs by heading to any floor-covering store. (Yours, for example, may even reach all the way to the bottom of the staircase. I wasn't concerned about that because most of the creaking noise I wanted to muffle came from the top of the stairs, and this is definitely a semi-permanent renovation, much more functional that aesthetic.) A floor coverings store is also a good place to pick up the carpet padding you'll need:

Get the heaviest type they have to muffle the most sound. A good set of shears (I still use a pair made by Chicago Cutlery for this and many other projects) will cut through the padding without much problem.

A note on amounts - the way I did this project, I only put padding on the stair treads, not underneath all the carpet, not even on the risers which some online plans suggest. As a result, I had bought enough carpet padding to go beneath the total square footage of the carpet runner, but wound up using less than half of it. To follow these plans, you're only cutting out rectangles that are roughly the depth of the tread minus one inch and the width of the *carpet* minus two inches. You might consider buying less padding as a result.

A measuring tape, sharpie, straight edge, and shears are all the s-based tools you should need to cut out the sections of padding.

Cut, place, measure, and remeasure before applying any fasteners. You may have a fun situation like I did where the runner grew wider along its length, almost an inch-and-a-half from one end to the other. You can compensate by cutting a few of the padding rectangles wider to match, or you can not care like I did. Either way, you're simply centering the padding on the tread, 'grid' side up:

A staple gun with 10mm staples was enough to hold the padding in place. I put at least 10 staples into each piece, four each along the top and bottom, and one additional centered on the sides.

Next came the part where I learned why most online guides to carpeting stairs encourage you to have some specialized tools, like knee kickers and stair tools. This project is far from impossible to complete without them, but it likely would have gone much quicker with them. It also might have gone faster with a partner, but the wrong pair could just as easily get in each other's way. Again, I did this myself with just a hammer and tacks, and it's holding up fine.

Start at the very top stair, back of the tread. Line the carpet up as squarely as appropriate so the runner doesn't veer to the side down the stairs - you're going to wind up straddling the runner a little awkwardly, especially at first, but once you have the first riser's worth nailed down it gets a lot easier to manage. I started with just a nail in each back corner to hold things in place while I double checked that everything was positioned the way I wanted, then sank several more at the back of that first riser. From here on out, I followed a simple two-part formula:

1) Work small, work tight. Pull, push, smooth, and hold (with your free hand) each section of carpet on which you are working, generally about a riser and a tread's worth at a time. Look ahead and behind to make sure you're not bunching the carpet, and once you're set, hammer it down:
2) Work from one side of the stair to the other. This will help with the above. I wound up with a nailing pattern very similar to my stapling pattern, generally with one fewer nail across and one more nail along the depth.

Lather, rinse, repeat, repeat, repeat, and if then get out the utility knife and/or shears to trim the very bottom.

One other note - keep all the nails to the edges of the carpet. The padding should already be affixed to the stairs, so worry about keeping the carpet from moving - and avoiding any partially sunk nails in areas where feet are more likely to fall.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A really old project

I just found these photos from a project I completed in winter 2008-9. The downstairs bathroom was largely complete when I got the house, just missing trim:

This was a pretty straightforward project. Given that nothing in this century house is quite square, the only thing I would have done differently if I could go back was the order of cuts. Actually, just the measuring, not even the cuts themselves. I'd recommend starting with the door - it will probably have a different trim pattern than the baseboard, so it's a self contained project:

It also will dictate - minimally, in all likelihood - the actual lengths you'll need for abutting pieces. Especially if your house isn't quite square, like mine, you might find the door trim in the above picture is forced to drift a little from true, thereby altering the baseboard piece to its right.

This trim, incidentally, is a composite from Home Depot, attached with Liquid Nails and a couple of very small brads for insurance. While I'd normally go with real wood in any project, this was one of the first house projects I was trying to complete, and I wanted a low-maintenance solution, something that wouldn't react badly if I missed a bit of paint or sealant. If this bathroom ever gets redone, it would be a top-to-bottom approach and you can bet reclaimed wood would be used for the 'new' trim.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

No more squirrels!

Repeat readers of this blog will find in this post not only an alliterative description of themselves but also a long-forgotten project completed with help from a remarkably recurring source.

The gift that keeps on giving: 1-inch square scrap wood.

After removing the temporary covering (particle-board - a bad idea in retrospect since water can, and does, sneak under the eave) I took my saws-all to the eave to remove the worn or rotted board sections and create a fairly square opening:

Now for the return of the scrap wood. As you can see, the beams - and some of the plywood under the tar-paper - were also suffering from rot and wear. The 1"-square sticks made for great extensions on which to attach the new eave board, and the backing board behind the gutter. I miter'd the near end of the sticks at a slight angle to roughly match the slope of the beams and allow the backing board to sit straight.

Now came a long series of cut-to-fit measuring, remeasuring, cutting, positioning, recutting, and so on. I would have liked to do this with only two boards - eave and backing - but the eave is at least 8" deep. While I could have bought a wider plank, I decided to rip two pieces of one-by as needed, miter the right end, and cross my fingers. This took a little longer than it might have otherwise, but it saved me four bucks and a trip to the lumber yard.

The backing board was more of a challenge. I don't know how the original board and the trim on the peak to the right of this hole originally fit together - the boards were rotted and/or worn back several inches - so I needed to dig out a tool I hadn't used in years - my trusty grade-school protractor:

Remember, this is all cut-to-fit, so make a cut, see if it fits, then cut more - I made the longer 45-degree cut (from the top of the board heading down towards the right) first and, after wrangling the piece up and down the ladder several times, decided there was no need to make the second, lower, shorter, 45-degree cut; doing so might have exposed a bit of the eave boards, actually.

Some Abatron putty to smooth out the transitions:

Paint it, and let the squirrels roost somewhere else:

Only (only!) two things left to do on the porch - rehang the gutter (that's going to be a big post) and finish painting the ceiling. This is gonna look so pretty...