Monday, May 15, 2006

My recipe for lime putty and lime plaster

You asked for it . . . here it is!

I bought Type S Hydrated Lime at my local masonry builders' supply. Since this was my first time making lime putty I really wanted to go with a true quicklime or similar product, but the Type S was available, and from what I'd read it seemed as though it'd work. (note: finding plaster recipes is really hard, but if you look for fresco plaster you'll have much better luck, at least I did). So I took a 5-gallon bucket, filled it about a third of the way with water, then began adding lime and stirring until it was all well mixed. I continued to add lime and to mix well until my putty had the consistency of a thick yogurt. Then I covered the whole shebang with about an inch of water so the lime wouldn't begin to carbonate, and let it sit for a while. Funny thing about lime putty, it's actually better the longer it gets to sit, but I didn't have time to wait too long. My next batch of plaster will have great putty because I mixed it all at once and what I didn't use in our bathroom is happily sitting in 5-gallon buckets, covered with water, continuing to slake and get completely hydrated.

Getting good, sharp sand was not easy either. I ended up using general-purpose medium builders sand. Probably a little coarser than what I really needed, but so far (knocking on wood) it's holding up. I did NOT use any gypsum ("guaging plaster") because it does not hold up well in a moist environment, and let's face it: a bathroom is quite a moist environment. So we sent lime, sand, hair only.

Mixing the plaster went as follows:

  1. Slop out some lime putty (keep track by volume of what you're using) into a mixing tub
  2. Add sand: I found my recipe in a 1920s era encyclopedia. They suggested using a mix of one part putty to three parts sand for "coarse stuff," one part putty to three parts sand for the second coat, and putty alone or one part putty to one part fine sharp sand for the skim coat.
  3. "Knock it up" by mixing, beating, mixing, beating, mixing again and it will become more and more plasticized
  4. Add the hair. The amount of hair is kind of a judgement call, especially since I was not making much plaster. I added and mixed until it seemed like things were fairly "hairy" and then put some on a trowel and hit it sharply against my bucket. I ended up with about a 5-inch glob of plaster with lots of hairs visible hanging down. A fabulous, fabulous session at the Traditional Building Conference taught me that little rule of, hair. My old encyclopedia notes that the second coat can be mixed minus the hair or with the hair in halved amounts, and straight putty or one part putty to one part sand for the final coat.

After I had what I thought was a reasonable mix, and after thoroughly wetting everything and spraying with a bonding agent, I started troweling it onto the walls. I have no shame when I say it's HARD to get plaster nice and even. HARD. Luckily, since this is the bathroom (which is the experimental room anyway and will be changed extensively at some point), I did not worry too very much. Figured if it stuck to each other and to the walls, we could sand down where necessary and make it all shake out.

All my plaster notes made mention of slopping the plaster on, then letting it sit for some time before "working it up" with a wooden or plastic float. This "working up" is apparently not my strong suit. The first time I tried it, a lot of my plaster stuck to the float. Uh-oh. Must have not let it set up long enough. The second time I tried, maybe things had been allowed to set for too long, because it didn't really feel as though I was doing anything. Time will tell, and I'm sure I'll get better at it with each new project. After all, plasterers used to apprentice for months, even years, before they were allowed to do any plasterwork in a visible location! :)

Friday, May 12, 2006

A suitcase full of goodies, indeed!

A few days ago the folks who sold us the house contacted us to let us know they were coming up our way, and would we be able to get together? They had, they said, "a suitcase full of goodies" for us. Well, fast forward to yesterday...we got together for dinner and then went back to the house to visit. They're extremely nice people who obviously love the house, and they seem happy that they've chosen us to continue its legacy.

But on to the suitcase full of goodies! V and I are now the proud caretakers of wills and deeds dating back to the late 19th century, marriage licenses for some of the former owners, letters written to several of the inhabitants across the history of the house, pictures from every era one can imagine, tax records going back to the 1800s, and assorted other fun stuff! It truly was an amazing evening going through it all with them.

The husband (we'll call him "P") mentioned that he had been adopted, and that he'd been in several orphanages and/or foster homes before he came to live in the house. To him, he said, the house was the first place that actually felt like a home. This is why he was so determined that the "right" people bought the home.

Yeah, that made me get all misty, too. I'm misty again just thinking about it.

As they were leaving, I told him that this is the house V and I had searched for for a very long time and that we had stopped believing it existed. I think that pleased him; I hope he realizes just how important this house is to us and that he's happy with his decision to sell to us rather than some of the other would-be buyers who expressed interest.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Looks like I'm not a bad plasterer--I hope!

So far, the plaster in the bathroom is holding up nicely. It has not cracked, it's all still on the walls, and it seems as though it's curing well. Time will tell, but for now I'm just ecstatic to not have rusty, cracked walls with big holes in them. Our bathroom makeover was nearly total, but thankfully it was not super expensive. Here's what we did (pictures to come soon--just need to download that memory card.....)
  • wet-scraped paint until I was blue in the face
  • knocked rotted plaster off the walls by the bucketfull
  • replastered walls (made my own lime putty, mixed the plaster, and installed it too)
  • painted the walls a beautiful russet color (if you can't beat the rust, you might as well join the rust!)
  • removed all the old caulk and recaulked the tub
  • removed the bookcase that had been serving as a repository for assorted toiletries and extra towels, washcloths, etc.
  • bought some baskets (thank you, Big Lots!!) and transferred all the above-referenced stuff into them
  • put said baskets onto the over-the-toilet etagere to dress it up a bit

Once the plaster is completely cured, we'll sand it a bit, then paint the patched areas. Hopefully when all is said and done, the patches won't be horribly obvious and we'll have a lovely bathroom. Hey, it may not be Architectural Digest material but we love it all the same, and I'll be mightily proud if that plaster continues to hold!!

It looks like a completely different room. Boy, I really do need to get those pictures up.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Things I'd forgotten we had

Have you ever noticed that when you move, you pack away all sorts of things that you promptly forget you have? We have duplicated many a home improvement whatchamacallit because we forgot we ever had one to begin with.

Case in point: painting materials. Last night I went down into the cellar to retrieve a respirator and our 6ML dropcloths so I could create the "air-lock" for the bathroom to protect the rest of the house against lead paint dust. We have more brushes, paint can openers, roller frames, roller covers, roller handles, hats and shoe covers, and other paint paraphernalia than you could ever imagine. It's because we never bothered to look at what we already had....or, we'd get to the store and impulsively decide to paint something without any idea of what we had in the way of supplies, so we'd buy all new. Not so smart! At least we're ready if those walls are ever fully plastered, cured, and ready to paint.

I shudder to think of what else we have several of. At least we stopped with one house!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Let's get plastered!

The lime putty is curing, the sand is ready to mix in, and I'm super gung-ho about this whole plastering gig. All I need is hair--in my case, I'll use horse (readily available at the stable where I ride) although cow is what's probably there now.

The bathroom is going to be scary and creepy no longer. I don't even know if I mentioned just how scary and creepy it's become. The paint is peeling dreadfully because of all the moisture, and the plaster, which I suspect has a high gypsum content, is not happy at all when moisture gets into it. That's why I suspect the gypsum. True lime plaster would handle moisture much better.

We'll be without a shower until the plaster cures, which could be as long as a couple of weeks. Thank goodness for that membership to the gym! Get fit and take advantage of shower facilities...nothing says "I'm restoring my house" like strolling into the gym covered with gook and dust, just to use the shower because you're too tired after working on the house to work out. Yep, that's us.

Before, during, and (eventually) after pictures coming!

On an unrelated note, V and I finished the next boxes for the hens. I'm getting some bedding tonight, and we'll put the boxes into the coop to see what kind of reaction we get. We've got golf balls all ready--to put into the nests so they know it's OK to lay their eggs there. I sure hope they start laying soon!