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How do you know what you know about old houses, etc?

13 years ago

Hello old house forum friends,

I've had the pleasure of using this forum for a few years now, and the more I read, the more I admire the contributions.

It seems to me that some of you have come by your knowledge by way of the school of hard knocks, aka trial and error. Some of you are in the trades/master craftsmen or specialize in certain types of restoration. Some are clearly polymaths. I suspect a couple of you are architectural historians. Some have restored their houses by hand lovingly over the years. That is what makes this forum so great!

So, please don't be shy, what's your story, how did you get on this forum and what's your favorite thing about it? How do you know what you know; what other sites/forums do you frequent? What projects/career opportunities taught you the most? Because I keep asking myself that every time I read a post, for example, that tells me how to temper electrician's fishing wire to fix an antique mortise lock (you know who you are :-): how the heck does he know how to do that?

I'll start, even though mine is a bit dull:

I'm an old house novice. My 120 year old victorian is slowly teaching me. Through online research, including the woodworking forum and sites like Popular Woodworking, especially the Bob Flexner articles, I'm becoming less of a hazard to the wood in my house and working up the nerve to restore it. I once spent two weekends trying various steps and finishes to replicate the original finish of the poplar in my house. I've taken apart a few mortise locks and put them back together again, and I've read Working Windows and poked around a few of mine. I'm hoping to do a full restoration of one window this summer (they are 120 years old), and then hopefully do two or three a year after that. We have something like 35 windows needing restoration.

My grandmother taught me to sew when I was very young, and the confidence that gave me with fabric and sewing implements gave me the boost to work with wood. I am pretty fearless in just about any type of fabric or upholstery project. I have a long way to go with woodworking, but I will always be grateful to the woman who found a subversive way to teach a little girl to use tools with confidence in a time and place where hammers and screwdrivers were "men stuff". I am glad those days are over!

I've learned the most on gardenweb and I just love the community of posters and the endless great advice and feedback. I also just do internet searches. For hanging doors, I watched about 15 videos on youtube and took what seemed most applicable for my situation. I also like reading old house blogs--this old crack house, the petch house, and craig and yvonne's have some great technique details (like Craig's posts on faux graining or Gary's (crack house) posts about restoring original plaster and lath). For pure heart and agony I loved reading the devil queen and this old crack house at (yes there are multiple crack house blogs out there). On a totally different subject, I have a weakness for Cote de Texas, which is purely interior decorating, even though it's a bit too slaved to trends for me. Joni is a brilliant writer so I'll forgive her for the seagrass fetish though. I've heard a lot of good things about oldhouseweb and I'm trying to spend time poking around over there as well.

In my other life (9-5), I started out, after getting an urban studies and planning degree, working in infrastructure management with a lot of state departments of transportation. Civil service engineers are some of my favorite people in the world to work with--it was great to go from state to state meeting so many competent dedicated people spending their careers keeping the underpinnings of civilization safe and functional. I talked to an old colleage about the bridge collapse in MN and he said all the engineers are mad as hornets because of chronic underfunding of maintenance. Something to keep in mind on my next road trip--yikes.

I took a long breather to stay home with my kids and homeschool them. I've worked part time in our family business for a few years, first in marketing and accounting, then quality assurance, and lately I've added lab technician to my duties. I've really enjoyed getting into the quality assurance aspect of my work and all the failure analysis and prevention stuff, it's very interesting to me. I'm thinking of either going further with that specialty, or else getting a master's in architecture so I can work with buildings, especially old ones, even more. But it seems no matter how long I spend fiddling with my old house, I'll never learn all the things some of these posters know, so please share--how did you get to where you are? Not as a brag, but more of a roadmap for the rest of us.


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