Tag Archives: floors

The Best Worst Idea Ever

Well, we finally reached the point where we couldn’t avoid it any longer. I was not going to have a house floored with OSB, and especially not grubby, ugly OSB with expandable foam insulation smooging out of every seam. The inevitable had arrived. It was time.

We considered a regular hardwood floor, since salvaged lumber is our material of choice; but for one, we didn’t want to overindulge in Mike’s generosity, and for two, we didn’t want the whole house to look like one big barn fest. We needed something to break up all the long, narrow planks and dark patina. I insisted that this was very important to keep our house from looking dark and cramped, and John has given me the power of the Final Decision on all matters of aesthetics.

…we wound up using wood anyway. Of course.

Because, you see, there was this one time that I saw a thing on Pinterest (a bad idea) and showed it casually to my husband (an even worse idea) as one of those ideas that, you know, we might try someday in the quasi-distant future. I should have known that John would say to me, “Why wait? We should totally do this now. Our house is all one big experiment, anyway, and this looks FREAKING SWEET.”

Hello. Welcome to our rational, thoughtful decision making process. We are adults, I promise.

hardwood 1


hardwood 2(source)

These are the examples I showed him to introduce the concept of end grain wood tiles. We had already spent several months discussing the possibility of cordwood construction for future sustainable building projects, and we knew we liked that look for flooring, too; but we’d never considered using square cuts and arranging them like regular tile. It also just so happens that since the New York barn back in October, the shop has been saddled with a truckload of 4×6 beams that tend to rot faster than we can use them.

The internet offered surprisingly little information on how best to grout wood tiles, by the way, so like everything else, we blazed our own trail into the wilderness and made a metric butt-ton of mistakes.

Mistake #1: I had the bright idea that we should drywall all the way down to the subfloor before we put in the floors, because I figured that if the grout met up directly with the walls, then I could work neatly enough to create a seam between the wall and floor that did not require trim or baseboard. This was a reasonably successful idea. The less brilliant part of my plan was to get ahead of myself and paint, too, because there’s nothing like half an inch of floor sanding debris to make a beautifully painted interior look like the Arabian Desert threw up in your house.

Mistake #2: Do you ever do that thing where you get so caught up in one detail that you let it rule all of the other details, and it’s not until you’re almost to the end that you realize the first detail was not that important and actually made everything a lot more complicated than it needed to be? Yeah, that thing. John got so hung up on the size of the space under the front door that he was convinced the tiles needed to be well over an inch thick. Our floors could have been much lighter and required a lot less grout, but we learned a valuable lesson there, too.

Anyway, back at the beginning of March, we were so naive and optimistic – you know, like we always are right before we get in over our heads. We estimated that the flooring process would take a week or so. John spent a few evenings chopping beams, and then I stuck them to the subfloor with construction adhesive over the course of two days.



John took on the terrible task of sanding the entire floor and applying the first generous coat of polyurethane to all the tiles.


We were already a week into it by the time we even got around to grouting. Some totally reliable source on the internet (yes, that is sarcasm) recommended polyurethane mixed with fine sawdust as an alternative to regular grout, and if there’s one thing the shop has in abundance, it’s sawdust! Though, unsurprisingly, the coarse kind doesn’t work quite the same way.

Also, John discovered that one-size-fits-all latex gloves are a lie.


We started mixing our coarse sawdust with the remnants of a year-old five-gallon bucket of poly. What could possibly go wrong with our plan?


The answer is “everything”. It sucked.


The mixture was noxious and impossible to poke into the gaps between tiles, and we were burning through the polyurethane so fast that this method was already on track to cost us several hundred more dollars than anticipated. It was also going to make sanding a nightmare. I suggested that we could fill the gaps with dry sawdust first and pour the poly over it, which we did by hand for maybe fifteen minutes before John demanded that I give in to my barbaric side and dump the sawdust on the floor all at once.


I’m sorry, you want me to do what?


I have to admit that it was actually a really good idea, and broom sweeping the sawdust throughout the whole house took a grand total of three minutes. Even if there is something really wrong with making the biggest mess ever on purpose.

After that, I modified one of my furniture finishing hacks to help apply the polyurethane. We invested in 79 cents’ worth of diner-style mustard squeeze bottles, which did an excellent job filling in all the cracks as cleanly as possible. John was a trooper; he does not love fine detail work the way that I do.


I wish I could say that that was the end of the story, but it definitely wasn’t. I went through this process twice with polyurethane and then twice more with fiberglass resin. The sanding and filling and re-sanding took us close to four weeks, and I could probably describe the grain on any given tile in our house at the drop of a hat.

It wasn’t until two days ago that I finally applied the last coat of finish, almost seven weeks after we started.

Our mistakes cost us a whole lot of extra moolah in the grouting department. What we saved in free lumber, we made up for in filler. Like I said before, we learned a tremendous lesson on this one; but holy smokes, does that floor look amazing! The grain on each unique tile stands out beautifully, and you can see big, fat flecks of sawdust through the translucent amber grout. It’s really neat.


I can’t share a photo of the whole floor, though, because that would spoil the big reveal on its way this week…

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There are two main reasons for avoiding your blog like the plague, especially when you’re attempting to chronicle such a behemoth undertaking as, say, the building of a house. The first is that nothing is happening – or rather, so little is happening so incrementally that Tolkien himself would be hard pressed to write a scintillating narrative around the week you spent stapling insulation to the ceiling and trying to scrub fiberglass slivers out of your tongue; and the only thing worse than having folks clamor for a blog update (because they’re too nice to straight-up call you a slacker) is the feeling that you’re throwing junk at the wall to see what sticks, and the end result seems to be a sort of chronic, unforgivable dullness.

“Yesterday, we cut drywall. Today, we cut some more drywall. Tomorrow, we will continue to cut drywall…” and on and on, ad nauseam.

The other option is that everything has suddenly started to happen all at once, and your life is such a constant landslide of insanity that it feels like there’s no point in sitting down to write about where the project is at, because it will change again in, oh, about 3 minutes and 18 seconds. Plus there’s that nagging fact that you’re busy working on the house. Every single day and night. Friends? Hobbies? Dates? Parties? I remember those things – vaguely. What I remember more vividly is having lived with some combination of 12 different people in the 8 months since John and I got married, and as much as I love all of them, I really just need my own kitchen and a cast iron skillet that doesn’t always taste like soap. So we work, and we sleep, and then we work some more.

Hey, I never said they were particularly good reasons, but it happens.

On the flip side of things, when I visited this blog to see where in the timeline I needed to pick up my narration, my jaw dropped. The woodstove? Was that really the last development I took the time to mention? Embarrassing. I guess I could feign alien abduction, I could play the chronic illness card, I could point out that feeding a blacksmith is practically a full time job and having a roommate who’s newly addicted to musical theatre causes amnesic brain damage; but really, I just let one of my favorite activities slide through the cracks, and I’m sorry. I will do my best to catch up.

We did spend several days putting up insulation, which was a really bad idea without a respirator. Working with your face tilted up toward the ceiling, combined with that irritating biological compulsion to breathe, will leave a fine layer of itchy slivers all over your mouth the inside of . You’ll cough and feel like you’re suffocating for days. I don’t recommend it. However, if you have to insulate in a tiny space during the dead of a disgusting winter, what I do recommend is working with someone who makes you laugh.


Also, naps. They are good for you.


And strange friends, like James, to keep you from taking your life too seriously.


We were hugely blessed by the donation of some free insulation by Tom, a dear friend and coworker. In fact, across the board, the support we’ve had from our friends and family cannot possibly be overstated! When it came time to drywall, which is the bane of every home builder’s existence and with which we had desperately little practice, Wyatt brought his many years of contracting experience to the table without batting an eyelash. John’s older brother, Jake, also volunteered an incredible amount of time during the drywalling stage, which even included coming straight to the house from karate class.



Drywall was a huge turning point in making our weird little shack look like a home on the inside. Talk about a morale booster!



The psychological trauma of drywall mudding was not captured on film. To be honest, we did a very poor job, both for lack of experience and lack of time; and that was one of several compromises we made in an attempt to keep perfection from being the enemy of good. Our walls are a little lumpy and a little bumpy, and from certain angles, it’s all too easy to pinpoint the truly awful spots. For a little while, that made me feel bad. I don’t like doing substandard work. Neither does John.

Then it occurred to me that WE ARE BUILDING OUR OWN HOUSE. We’re on track to own our first home for under $10,000 before either of us turns 25. And whose living space is picture perfect, anyway? That’s the point – it’s for living in!

Anyway, after the abject misery that was drywall mudding, Jake and his wonderful fiancée, Melanie, helped us to prime the walls and ceiling.


I had originally planned to leave the entire house a delicate shade of off-white. It’s a popular color for tiny house interiors, because the increased reflection helps to maximize natural light and make small spaces look bigger. John was not on board, but I was persistent. He complained that he wouldn’t be allowed to breathe inside, much less touch anything; but again, I was firm.

Until the first time his shoulder bumped a wall as he was climbing to the loft, and a dirty smudge followed his progress like a black eye on my beautiful ivory paint. I relented immediately. We compromised on an attractive shade of blue for the walls, called Thundering Clouds, and decided to leave the ceiling white to make good use of all our ambient natural light.

And that, however briefly, concludes the major milestones of January and February. Much of the last month has been focused on our floor, which looks frankly awesome, but which also took a great deal more time and money than we expected, because – like most things – we had no idea what we were doing. It all worked out in the end, though, and we love it. Seriously. Love it.

For now, I will leave you with a glimpse of that charming madness:


…as well as a fervent promise to write the next chapter of our story very, very soon. We’re in the home stretch now, folks. Stick with us – it’s going to be a wild ride!

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