June 2009

I don’t follow any of the rules of putting a finish on wood but it all seems to work out OK.  Which goes to show you how important it is to do it by the book.

 And I bought the book too:  Understanding Wood Finishing by Bob Flexner.  It’s a good book but I still break the rules because I’m lazy.  I don’t like to clean up and so I find ways to cut corners.  Like saving my old socks.

Let me back up. 

Generally speaking I like to “seal” the wood first to keep it from absorbing any stain unevenly which makes it look like crap.  I use shellac for that since it dries almost instantaneously.  That supports my impatience habit.

Then I usually have to stain it to match whatever else is nearby.  I use whatever I can find that matches the color – usually something that says “MinWax” on it.  It’s all about the same. 

Then I put something shiny on top of that so that it will look shiny.  I like shiny.  For that I use MinWax Wipe-On Poly.  I like the wipe-on aspect of it because it doesn’t take a brush.  That way I don’t have to clean a brush.  Again…lazy.

Let me make a quick aside on the subject of shellac.  The stuff in stores is reputed to be not so good since at any given point, it may be near the end of its shelf life.  Shellac that is old will never actually dry; it will remain sticky until the end of time.  So I mix my own.  The book says it will take about a month.  Well I say BS to that.  I put the flakes into the food processor and grind them to dust.  I add the alcohol and then put that (with the lid on) in a pot of warm water until the alcohol is near its boiling point.  I then let that stew for awhile, shaking the jar frequently.  After half an hour of that, it will usually dissolve by the end of the second day.  The book says you should strain it after that.  I don’t but I agree that I should.  Anyway…

The book says you have to use the finest brush money can buy when doing all this.  That’s fine but since it’s expensive, you have to clean it and that takes forever.  Plus, the last time I used a brush with polyurethane it produced a bunch of confounded bubbles on the wood that had to be sanded out.  Grrr. So I don’t even use a brush.  I use an old sock to wipe everything on.

The book makes reference to using a wipe-on technique in certain cases but it says to only use a clean, new, lint-free cloth.  They sell those at the home center too and they’re not cheap.  But my old socks, after going through the wash hundreds of times have got no lint left – they work fine.  It doesn’t seem to matter a great deal whether they’re clean or not either.  I keep them in an old trash can that is uncovered and it gets lots of sawdust in it.  I shake the sock off and use it.  I’m not sure what harm wood chips would do anyway unless you’re working on your final coat. 

So I do this:  put on a rubber glove, pull the sock over my hand, pour the finish (shellac, stain, or poly) into my hand and wipe on.  When done, I shuck the glove like a surgeon and pitch it.  Quick work, no brush marks, no cleanup.

I will admit that using something that wipes on, which is typically pretty thin, takes more coats but each coat is so fast that it seems worth it to me.  Especially since I never clean anything – I just throw it away.  The only problem is when I run out of old socks.  But I can always go buy new ones and retire the current crop.  Sometimes I’ll use an old washcloth or dishcloth.  No color has ever bled out of the cloth and onto my projects. 

So there you are.  Wood finishing heresy!


I never made an entry here to chronicle Erin’s return.  I’d better watch it – I could lose my Dad’s license for that.

She was due back at around 6:30 pm last Friday but it was closer to 9:30.  Thunderstorms at LaGuardia, and thunderstorms halfway between made for some delays.  Actually lots of delays.  I kept getting text messages from her saying “I want to be home.  NOW.”  They eventually made it.  As I told her, nobody has ever been stranded in an airport forever because the airline gave up on getting somewhere.

We went out to get ice cream and sit and chat where she told many stories and showed us many photos on the teeny camera screen.  Then she went home and slept for 15 hours.  It was about 3:30 on Saturday before we saw her again.

The trip was a huge success.  We’ve been looking at the photos and hearing the stories ever since then.

I always enjoyed reading Doyle’s series on Sherlock Holmes.  When the BBC produced the series starring Jeremy Brett, I greatly enjoyed those too.  In fact I enjoyed them so much that I recently bought the entire series on DVD.  We’ve been slowly plowing the 12 DVDs one episode per day.

I have discovered one trait that Holmes and I share.  (That’s probably one of the reasons I like the character so much.)  That trait is:  I like the fun parts of a job but lose interest when it comes to the follow-up.

Holmes was only happy when he was on the trail of a criminal – as soon as he got bored, he turned to narcotics.  He had the luxury of doing the mentally challenging parts of the jobs and then letting the police take over when it came to the arrest, booking, trials, etc.  In other words he let the police do all the boring parts.  If he had been employed by the police, he probably would have gone mad from the boredom of the inevitable paperwork. 

I’m the same way.  I love buying, for example, a new lawn mower.  I love putting it together, adjusting it, figuring out how to make it go, and tuning it up.  I just hate actually mowing the lawn.  That’s just walking back and forth in the heat. 

I think it’s a guy thing.   We love solving problems but we don’t love the day-to-day grind.  We like new, stimulating things.  We don’t like the same thing over and over. 

I guess it’s time to call the kid down the street who wants to mow my lawn for money.  Sounds like a win-win.

Here is an example of some unexpected goodness:  my attic stair broke again and they are replacing it for free. 

Saturday, I took the replacement hinges they sent last week and installed them, only to discover that one of the upper hinges had broken to such an extent that folding the ladder was problematic.  I was a bit annoyed but they had cheerfully volunteered to replace the last one free so I called them back.  Well, they volunteered to send me an entire new one.  More than that, it was a newer model where, presumably, all those weak points had been addressed.  There is the downside that I will have to spend several hours taking down the existing stair (which is mucho heavy) and re-installing the new one but hey, new stairs.  At least I don’t have to pay for an all-new setup.

In the interest of capturing accurate slices of life, I must report that we watched TV all evening last night.  I’m not particularly proud of this but one must face up to reality.  There was a long movie that Mel wanted to watch and since it started early, we actually ate dinner on the sofa with our plates on our laps.  It was all very 1960s.  In spite of the unproductivity, it was actually pretty fun.  Evan was with us which indicated that probably all his friends were at work.  It is fun to contrast this with what Erin was doing at the time:  watching a broadway play in the theater district of New York City.

We’ve been driving our kids around from one place to another now for about 19 years.  We never realized how much time that took until recently.

 I don’t know why some people don’t buy their kids a car; I’m sure they all have their own valid reasons.  But after buying both our kids a car, I find I have a lot more free time.  Perhaps it isn’t all that much extra free time that I’m seeing but I am certain that whatever free time I do have is not interrupted or punctuated with breaks to drive one of the kids somewhere.  This allows me to complete many more things sooner.

Ever since Erin has started driving herself around, I feel I have been in a pleasant mode of catching up on lots of little things that I’ve generally put off.

This is the time of year where one is obliged to watch out for sunburn.  Evan never leaves the house without covering himself with sunscreen but as the summer goes on, he ends up with quite a tan since he’s out in it for about six hours a day.  He’s never really had severe sunburn.

Melissa and I, on the other hand, have indeed had severe sunburn.  That’s one reason we’ve always been so strict with the kids and the sunscreen.  If it’s bad enough, you can remember it forever as I do.

I was in graduate school.  We were always on the lookout for something cheap to do and since there were lots of other students around, somebody always had an idea.  The department secretary (who was only a year or two older than me and was putting her husband through school) hit upon the idea of going to a local lake that had a beach area that charged by the carload.  Off we went on the 4th of July.

The beach had been trucked in and consisted of blinding white sand.  Between the bunch of us, we had coolers, picnics, floating things, blankets, and sand chairs.  It was a great day.  We were in and out of the water all day and did not hold back on beverage consumption although I was then and still am a very moderate drinker.  Most of my intake was of the carbonated soda variety.  There was even a live band there that day.

At no point that morning did it occur to me to worry about the sun.  Sunscreen was a fairly rare thing back then and was not usually found in huge displays right by the door of every store in summer.  Indeed it was kind of hard to find.  Around noon, somebody began to apply some and passed the bottle around.  I applied mine somewhat unevenly.  We had such fun that day that we didn’t want it to end.  Mel and I hit upon the idea of inviting everybody to our apartment where I would grill burgers and we’d then go see the city fireworks display.

As the crowd began to show up for burgers, I began to turn a bright red color from the day’s sun.  Everybody talked about it and most began to express concern.  I brushed it off like all people will who are in their early 20’s.  I was pretty tired and starting to feel bad when we left.  We all met up at the fireworks and had more of a grand old time until the end at which point I was feeling very bad.  I thought I was just tired and Mel had to drive home.  That was not the last time that I would do something to myself that required Melissa to drive me home.  By the time we got home we were both bright red all over except for the swimsuit marks and some odd swirly marks that indicated where I had applied sunscreen poorly.  We were both burning up and while Melissa tried soaking in a tubful of cool water, I laid out on the tile floor of the kitchen.  We swallowed some Tylenol and went to sleep.

The next morning when we woke up, we were both so tender to the touch that we could barely move.  With first degree burns covering 90% of our bodies we were in such pain that Mel called in sick.  I went to the university to see how everybody else was.  They were a bit pink in places but nothing like me.  After a few minutes, I began to feel sick and nauseous and went home.  The week before, Melissa and I had bought our first piece of living room furniture as newlyweds:  a sleeper sofa and it was delivered that morning.  (This was the very one that we kept for about 20 years until it was so nasty that the Salvation Army would not take it.  We had to pay the city $10 to come get it.)  We unfolded it, laid down on it and did not move for a long time.  At some point, we took out temperature and were surprised to find we were feverish.  We headed for the doctor.

This was before we had ever given any thought to health insurance and we had to find one of those storefront minor emergency clinics.  We went in and paid our money for Melissa; thinking that whatever applied to her also applied to me.  Two for one (sort of).  The doctor had us both back to his exam room and gave us a severe dressing down for letting this happen to ourselves.  His jaw dropped when he saw us and again when we told him how long we had been out.  He strongly implied that we were a little bit stupid.  He told us to go home and rest and get ready for some severe discomfort for the next week.  He prescribed some Tylenol 3.  That was on a Thursday so we had Friday and the weekend to try and get back into some resemblance of normal shape.  Mel tried working on Friday but had to come home.

Somebody at her office who was into natural remedies clued us into the Aloe Vera plant.  At almost the same time, I was told about the same plant by a glassblower that the chemistry department employed to create their weird distillation gear.  We staggered out to a health-food type store which was the only place we could find Aloe Vera gel back then.  We grimaced every time the sun touched us as we left our apartment or got out of the car.  We bought the biggest bottle they had and went home to oil ourselves up. 

That was the first time I had ever put anything on sunburn that felt good.  We repeated the treatment multiple times over the next week and made a trip or two back to the store for more.  We were in agony for at least a week at which point we started to peel.  We each had several places on our bodies somewhere that turned a dark red/purple color which took over a month to go away.  Several places on my body peeled twice. 

Ever since that day, I have worried about skin cancer and have made darned sure that my kids were always slathered with sunscreen whenever they went out.  I have always preached the sermon that tans are bad and if you’re pale that’s just too bad – blame our British ancestry.  Evan does eventually get tanned but you can see the real color by looking at his feet where his Chaco sandals leave their pasty white stripes of untanned skin.  Since then my 4th of July efforts have always been centered on shooting off fireworks rather than water sports.  I’ve sworn off suntans forever.

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