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When understanding a design brings a new appreciation

LizzieMaine

Bartender
Messages
30,772
Location
Where The Tourists Meet The Sea
Most of my life has been spent in plaster-walled houses, and every one of them has had a spackled spot on the kitchen wall about the size of a half dollar. It is, of course, the spot where the family calendar was always tacked up. My own kitchen has its own such spot, and after twenty-two years at the same stand, it's getting to be hard to find a place where the tack will actually hold.
 

Cornelius

Practically Family
Messages
715
Location
Great Lakes
It's not the damage to the watch that workers are concerned with - it's the potential SERIOUS damage to themselves. If a watch, ring, gloves, tie, sleeve, or hair gets caught in a lathe or milling machine or any other powerful machine the result is that you get pulled into it. The damage can be severe or even fatal.
During WWII the defense plants had a very strict no-Veronica-Lake-hairstyles rule for that exact reason.
In more recent times a Yale student was killed when her hair got caught in a lathe.


Returning to my natal region in mid-20s, I discovered that an old friend with whom I'd gone to school from age 5-18 had died tragically on the job a couple of years prior; the drawstring which ran through the hood of his sweatshirt got caught in a power auger while trying to clear a sewer line of roots. Choked to death before his partner at the other end realized anything was amiss. Ever since then I've always worn "tube-scarves" while working with any kind of power tool or motor in cold weather.
 

tonyb

I'll Lock Up
Messages
9,739
Location
My mother's basement
Most of my life has been spent in plaster-walled houses, and every one of them has had a spackled spot on the kitchen wall about the size of a half dollar. It is, of course, the spot where the family calendar was always tacked up. My own kitchen has its own such spot, and after twenty-two years at the same stand, it's getting to be hard to find a place where the tack will actually hold.

Repaired plaster walls and ceilings often have a desirable sort of character gypsum board never will.

Thirty-plus years ago I helped a friend spiff up an old Craftsman that was decidedly down at the heel when he found it. We refinished the oak floors, had the five-panel interior doors dipped to remove several layers of gloppy paint and filled in cracks and gaps in the plaster walls and ceilings ahead of painting. The repairs showed, if you looked for them, but it all still looked “right.” We did a perfectly acceptable job, both aesthetically and functionally.

“Don’t fight what you have” is among my mantras. Let an old house’s age show.
 

LizzieMaine

Bartender
Messages
30,772
Location
Where The Tourists Meet The Sea
Yep, when I moved into my house there were big chunks missing out of the living room wall and you could see the laths showing underneath, like you'd see an old comic strip. I actually left it that way for a while while I dealt with other things, but eventually I got tired of the "Emmy Schmaltz's Boarding House" aesthetic and I patched the holes myself. I don't hold a card in the Plasterers' Union, and it shows, but the result has, as we say in New England, "plenny 'a chahm."
 

tonyb

I'll Lock Up
Messages
9,739
Location
My mother's basement
^^^^
We used modern materials (mesh tape, joint compound, even scraps of drywall to fill where chunks of plaster were missing and the lath clearly showed) and managed to blend it all in well enough. I recall actually widening some of the cracks to get to solidly affixed plaster before filling with joint compound and cut-down strips of mesh, so it all had something to bite into.

Another friend did a big-bucks restoration on a large turn-of-the-last-century house. He hired a fellow who specializes in repairing old plaster walls and making new gypsum board walls look like old lath-and-plaster walls. Nice work, for sure, but the house itself is far grander and fancier than that other friend’s house, which may not be a sow’s ear, but it’s certainly not a silk purse.
 

Haversack

One Too Many
Messages
1,192
Location
Clipperton Island
In a couple of the houses I designed the clients went for veneer plaster for the interior finish. Its sort of a hybrid between traditional lath-and-plaster, and drywall, tape, and mud. It uses a gypsum sheet good similar to drywall but with untapered edges and absorbent paper. (Its sometimes called blueboard because of its blue-grey color). Once the board is up, a plasterer then applies a finish coat of plaster about 2 mm thick over the entire surface. Although it takes more labor-time than tape-and-mud drywall, it takes less overall time due to it drying quicker. Plus there is no sanding. You end up with a hard, moisture-resistant plaster wall not very much different than traditional lath-and-plaster. Its not much used however because it does require a skilled plasterer.
 

tonyb

I'll Lock Up
Messages
9,739
Location
My mother's basement
^^^^
If I’m remembering correctly, the wall restoration fellow I alluded to above had a tool that perforated gypsum board to give the plaster coat something to bite into.

I recall doing something similar to the drywall pieces that other friend and I used to fill the larger sections of missing plaster in his place. We screwed the drywall pieces into the lath. And then we scuffed it up.
 

tonyb

I'll Lock Up
Messages
9,739
Location
My mother's basement
... I've also found the picture rails a handy way to run ethernet cable around the flat. (Wi-fi doesn't work too well when the wall cavities are full of pea gravel - done for sound deadening.)

How common is that pea gravel in the walls thing? Was it typically done when the structures were built? Or?
 

Cornelius

Practically Family
Messages
715
Location
Great Lakes
How common is that pea gravel in the walls thing? Was it typically done when the structures were built? Or?

I've never come across it working on old homes in both Illinois & Louisiana (in the latter case, going as far back as timber frame structures with wood pegs). Perhaps it was a New England-only regional practice?
 

Haversack

One Too Many
Messages
1,192
Location
Clipperton Island
How common is that pea gravel in the walls thing? Was it typically done when the structures were built? Or?

It may have been a West Coast thing. When I asked around the SF Bay Area among people I know in the trades, I was told it was not uncommon locally in the first few decades of the 20th C. A little more digging and I came across mentions of it having been used further north for thermal mass in walls adjacent to wood stoves and fireplaces. (The idea is also apparently being revived as a way of making walls bullet-resistant). The caveat is that this practice adds a lot of weight so the wall needs to be structurally supported and that drywall by itself will likely bulge out at the bottom over time.

In the case of our building, I'm pretty sure the gravel was done when the house was originally built around 1910. Although it was subsequently moved a couple blocks around 1950, we still have full lath-and-plaster walls and ceilings. (With the exception of the kitchen and bathroom).
 

tonyb

I'll Lock Up
Messages
9,739
Location
My mother's basement
As to West Coast house features, and in keeping with the theme of this thread, how about California coolers?

I’ve seen them in old houses as far north as Seattle. What they are is a shelved compartment in a kitchen wall for keeping vegetables relatively cool for a few days. A cabinet door in the kitchen opens to the exterior wall cavity. The outside of the cavity has either circular holes cut through the sheathing and the siding or a section of louvered slats in place of the sheathing and siding, and in either case covered from the inside with a screen, to keep the bugs out, They were typically placed on the east or north walls of the house.

They’d be highly impractical in colder climes.
 
Last edited:

Haversack

One Too Many
Messages
1,192
Location
Clipperton Island
You see them in a lot of pre-WWII houses and apartment buildings in California. These cupboards that have screened shelves and exterior ventilation at the top and bottom replaced root cellars and basement pantries. (Most houses in California do not have basements as foundations do not have to be dug deep to get below the frost line.) While nowadays most of the vents to these cabinets have been closed off, you can still see the framing trim around them on older houses and apartments. They come in pairs, tend to be square, and are spaced about 4'-6' apart vertically. Ideally they were located on the north or shady side of the building. Sometimes, as on my grandparents' house on the ranch, the lower vent opened into the crawlspace and the upper was piped through the roof.
 

tonyb

I'll Lock Up
Messages
9,739
Location
My mother's basement
^^^^^
I use the “windmill palm test” to gauge the suitability of things such as California coolers. If a windmill palm will survive the winters, it’ll probably work there. I’ve seen windmill palms in Vancouver, BC. But I doubt I’d see one more than 50 miles or so inland.
 

LizzieMaine

Bartender
Messages
30,772
Location
Where The Tourists Meet The Sea
As to West Coast house features, and in keeping with the theme of this thread, how about California coolers?

I’ve seen them in old houses as far north as Seattle. What they are is a shelved compartment in a kitchen wall for keeping vegetables relatively cool for a few days. A cabinet door in the kitchen opens to the exterior wall cavity. The outside of the cavity has either circular holes cut through the sheathing and the siding or a section of louvered slats in place of the sheathing and siding, and in either case covered from the inside with a screen, to keep the bugs out, They were typically placed on the east or north walls of the house.

They’d be highly impractical in colder climes.

There are houses here with air-lock type arrangements cut into the walls near the back door designed to open to the outdoors and into the kitchen. That's where the milkman would leave your milk so it wouldn't freeze on the stoop on a cold morning. They weren't as common as the little insulated galvanized-tin boxes, and when you find one today the outside door, at least, has usually been sealed up.
 

Cornelius

Practically Family
Messages
715
Location
Great Lakes
There are houses here with air-lock type arrangements cut into the walls near the back door designed to open to the outdoors and into the kitchen. That's where the milkman would leave your milk so it wouldn't freeze on the stoop on a cold morning. They weren't as common as the little insulated galvanized-tin boxes, and when you find one today the outside door, at least, has usually been sealed up.

These same rear-porch Milkman hatches can be found on older apartment building all around Chicago. Sometimes the tin boxes, though few of those have withstood the test of time.
 

Bugguy

Practically Family
Messages
510
Location
Nashville, TN
In a couple of the houses I designed the clients went for veneer plaster for the interior finish. Its sort of a hybrid between traditional lath-and-plaster, and drywall, tape, and mud. It uses a gypsum sheet good similar to drywall but with untapered edges and absorbent paper. (Its sometimes called blueboard because of its blue-grey color). Once the board is up, a plasterer then applies a finish coat of plaster about 2 mm thick over the entire surface. Although it takes more labor-time than tape-and-mud drywall, it takes less overall time due to it drying quicker. Plus there is no sanding. You end up with a hard, moisture-resistant plaster wall not very much different than traditional lath-and-plaster. Its not much used however because it does require a skilled plasterer.

Growing up in Chicago, my house had plaster/lath walls - that's all I knew. When I had a house built in Wisconsin, I specified a sanded plaster skim coat over the drywall for the entire interior. First, my contractor complained that only folks relocating from Chicago requested plaster. Second, and most critical, I showed up to find I didn't have a smooth coat, but plaster with the sand texture - like sand paper throughout the house. You couldn't brush a wall with cloth without a snag. Being then one step away from divorce court, I paid to have a smooth skim coat applied over every wall. There's a life lesson in there somewhere.
 

Harp

I'll Lock Up
Messages
8,508
Location
Chicago, IL US
Growing up in Chicago, my house had plaster/lath walls - that's all I knew. When I had a house built in Wisconsin, I specified a sanded plaster skim coat over the drywall for the entire interior. First, my contractor complained that only folks relocating from Chicago requested plaster. I paid to have a smooth skim coat applied over every wall. There's a life lesson in there somewhere.

In Chicago, it's all kept smooth as a cat's ass. :cool:
 
My grandmother's house had what I guess was a sort of a root cabinet. It was a separate little cabinet screened on three sides, but it didn't open to the outside. There was no air conditioning in Florida in those days, but I guess just having the air circulation helped keep things for a few days longer than they might otherwise.

And apropos to nothing...I've lived almost my entire life on the Gulf Coast, and I've never seen a basement, except in a picture. All houses I've ever lived in were a slab-on-grade foundation.
 
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