With the days getting shorter and the exterior trim on the house getting more weathered, we decided to tackle the most vulnerable features of the exterior before the weather changes.

Jim is working primarily on the porch and I’m working primarily on the bay window. In the course of our first efforts, we kept running into the same wood molding used in various ways… a versatile rabbeted design intended for panel and base molding.

It’s all secured with square nails and when it is necessary to temporarily remove some pieces, we take care to re-use the nails when the pieces are replaced. It’s going to be time-consuming, but fun and eventually beautiful.

Similar molding profiles were offered by most millworks in the 1880’s — they were popular for decades. Molding number 467 in the upper right corner appears to be identical to the molding profile used liberally around the house, both inside and out. Image source: Roberts & Co. Millwork catalog courtesy of archive.org

On our first visit to the house I was captivated by the way the molding served as a back band for the door casings and then continued onto the baseboards to serve as a cap, and took this photo. Most intriguing is how on the left side of the door, the casing wraps onto the adjacent wall; the carpenter wanted the door to have that molding all around the casing even if there really wasn’t enough room on one side to allow for it! That extra bit of effort gave the door much more dignity and substance.

Outside, the same molding was used to detail the outside corners by placing two pieces of it back-to-back between window casings (and the panels above and below them).

The same molding appears on the porch supports. Here it is seen beneath the cap of the pedestal base, under flaking blue paint. Below that, the base of the pedestal has been patched and modified numerous times in failed efforts to reinforce it. The added layers of rectangular trim likely made the problem worse by trapping moisture.

On the side porch, our favorite molding still serves here as a cap for the plinth. I removed layers of rectangular trim (like the stuff added on the front porch) to reveal the intended appearance (the “ghost” of the aforementioned trim is still visible on the concrete floor). This plinth is now the correct shape and size, but is itself a replacement (note crude butt joints and round nails).

The ubiquitous molding profile appears again on the lower part of the capital on each porch support. It appears that the flanking Gothic brackets were installed after the capital moldings were attached; the bracket corners are cut near the quatrefoil piercings to avoid interfering with the capitals.

A similar, but not identical, bracket of Gothic design is seen in this millwork catalog selection. Were the porch supports ordered from a catalog or were they made on site by a carpenter?

Because of the molding used on the capital, pedestal cap and base I am inclined to think that the porch supports were possibly made on site. But they were surely designed elsewhere; I doubt that any of the locals in 1885 could come up with a design like that independently. My guess is that the vine tracery which graces the porch supports is from a published source (Downing? Davis?) or that it was ordered from a millwork company catalog.

Which brings up another question… who designed the house itself? Is it a plan book design or influenced by one?

Image source: 1888 Carlton and Foster Co. millwork catalog courtesy of archive.org

The porch supports have been deteriorating for some time. Things got a little shakier when a vehicle used to remove the former owner’s possessions backed into the porch (no; neither Jim nor I had anything to do with that)! Jim braced the porch and removed affected portions. They will go to our workshop to be given lots of TLC.

The rot hidden by the multiple layers of new base molding is quite evident here. Jim will build new bases identical to the originals.

Hideous vinyl soffit pieces were removed to reveal the actual soffit and its advanced state of decay. Vinyl doesn’t fix problems, it just hides them and allows them to get worse.

Also suffering from neglect is the bay window which, fortunately, was not wrapped in stifling vinyl. This is the west side of the bay. I’m going to start on the east and work my way around, one section at a time. Each section will be primed as I finish it so that no wood will be left vulnerable to further weathering.

I started with the center panel to get an idea of what’s involved and just how bad it will be. I’ll do the small panel (below) and the cornice section (above) on another day(s).

First, I scrape off all of the loose paint. I’m intentionally leaving the secure paint attached for two reasons: 1) it retains much of the historic record for any theoretical future historians and 2) I believe that the accumulated layers of paint offer an authentic patina which can not be realized when paint is entirely removed. The bay will then look as if it has just been well-maintained through the course of time rather than appearing over-restored.

This photo shows the large gap between the panel molding and the adjacent stile… that will have to be dealt with.

I remove the panel molding to clean it. Both the panel and the surrounding molding had built-up globs of paint which were preventing the molding from laying flat.

This is the bottom molding. It’s similar to the molding seen on the porches and inside on woodwork, but has a flattened area rather than a bulbous bullnose. I’ve sanded the piece lightly in preparation for applications of wood hardener and primer. All the paint had already come off of it due to weathering.

Clean and free of gunk, the moldings are reattached using their original square nails. When they went back on they bit into new holes — making everything align they way it was intended (because things have subtly shifted since 1885). The freshly (and lightly) sanded exposed wood is then saturated with a wood hardener prior to priming.

The primer highlights the nail holes and slight gaps that remain. These are filled with caulk prior to touch-up priming.

Much better. There are a few spots that are too big to be filled with caulk. These areas of rot were exacerbated by the vinyl installation. They will be filled with epoxy and shaped before painting. For now, everything will be white. The fun colors won’t begin for a year or two. There is lots of research to do! I’m not certain, but from what I could see while scraping it appears that the original colors on the bay included yellow on the flat areas and dark
green on the moldings. Hopefully I will find more information when I start scraping the cornice area.

Detail of metal shingles in the gable ends. I’ve not seen this pattern before, so was some what intrigued with them. They are the one feature of the house that I am not completely in love with; they strike me as stylized trees, perhaps being abducted by a spacecraft. They just don’t scream “1880’s” to me. Yet they are from the 1880’s, so I will learn to love them. Perhaps it’s the blue that annoys me. Paint will help.

The same or similar steel shingle seen here, though shown in a different (staggered) configuration.

The notation at top reads “Patented April 1883 and November 1885”

Maybe the ones on the house would look better if the carpenter had had installed them like this instead… I guess people screwed up back then, too. It’s sort of like when porch lamps or doors are installed upside down — something that happens all too frequently today.

Image source: Metallic Roofing Co. catalog courtesy of archive.org.
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