"I love my cats because I love my home, and little by little they become its visible soul." Jean Couteau

Saturday, June 13, 2015

classing up the dining room

The same weekend I painted the planter I started another, longer project -- installing chair rail in the dining room. This is something that's been on the to do list in my mind for quite awhile, and I finally got around to doing it. I picked this one from Home Depot, ordered it online, and a week or so later, it arrived on my doorstep. After choosing a chair rail, the next most difficult decision was what height to hang it. There are, apparently, a number of philosophies on the correct height for a chair rail. Some say a third of the way up the wall, which with our 9' ceilings would be 3', or 36". Others say that's too high, that it should be put only a quarter of the way up the wall, which for us would be 27". Others say 30". When the chair rail arrived, Zach and I pulled it out of the box and held a piece up to the wall. 30" seemed too low, while 36" seemed too high. To us, 32" seemed the Goldilocks height and, since it's our house, we're the only ones whose opinions matter. The yellow mark in the photo below is at 32".

Here are some "before" pictures:

Saturday, I got all the pieces, except for the ones around the bay window, measured, cut, and nailed in. First, I measured up in one spot on the wall to 32". At that point, I held a laser level up to the wall, nudging it around until it was level and at the right point, then pushed the little button that pushed out a sort of thumbtack that stuck the level into the wall. Then I marked the laser line. I used a combination of stud finder and just looking for popped out nails to locate and mark the wall studs. Then I measured and cut the pieces, often going back to nip off just a hair more because it's always better to start out a little too long than a little too short. Finally, I positioned the pieces, got them all level with a small regular level balancing on top, and nailed them in with a 16 gauge finish nailer. Since our dining room is really made up of several small walls with a lot of doors and windows breaking it up, I did this all in cycles, marking one wall, measuring and cutting, then moving on to the next wall. I laid all the pieces out on the floor, then went back around and nailed them all in. 

For the cutting, I borrowed my friend's miter saw, which I set up on the deck. From putting hardwoods on the stairs (which you can read about here and here), I knew what a pain (both figuratively and literally, in my knees) it was to have the saw in the garage on the ground floor and have to keep going up and down and up and down and up to cut pieces and put them in. Having the saw on the deck on the same level was MUCH better. The cutting wasn't too hard, just had to keep track of which direction the 45 deg cuts had to go for inside and outside corners.

Except for the bay window. It doesn't have 90 deg angles, so I had to do a lot more thinking, plus some math. First, I measured the angles with a protractor. Three of the four measured at 135 deg, while the fourth measured at 130 deg. To figure out the miter saw cut, here is the math I did:
Divide the measured angle by 2. (135 / 2 = 67.5)
Subtract that number from 90. (90 - 67.5 = 22.5)
The result is the miter cut.

I had some scrap wood of similar thickness to the chair rail, so I used that to do test cuts of all the bay window angles to make sure I'd done the math right. I had :-) All the test cuts fit perfectly the first try! I was pretty impressed with myself. I love math.

My air compressor had a slight leak in the connector between the hose and nail gun, so a number of the nails didn't get quite all the way in. My dad had previously introduced me to the nail set (and bought me one, thanks, Dad!). This is a tool for hammering in those not-quite-in finish nails. Zach and our wonderful friend did all of the nail setting for me and then went around and filled all the nail holes with spackle. Here is where my friend and I have a difference of philosophy. He believes in smearing on a bunch of spackle and not worrying about it being neat because it's just going to get sanded off. I believe in being more careful and trying to just fill the hole, so not as much time and effort needs to go into the sanding. Either way works, it just depends where you'd rather spend your time.

So next I had to sand all that excess spackle off. I used fine sand paper, 200 grit. Even so, I still ended up sanding off the primer in a number of spots. Next was caulking. I used DAP Fast Dry Acrylic Latex Plus Silicone caulk in white. Caulk fills in any gapping between the molding and the wall and helps give everything a more finished look. I caulked along the top edge of all the chair rail. I also caulked the edges where the chair rail meets the doorway molding and inside corners. I tried to caulk outside corners, but I couldn't seem to get the caulk to really smush in the gap. I ended up going back to the spackle, which worked a lot better. I chose not to caulk along the bottom of the rail because I figured no one really sees that anyway.

Here are some pictures to show the miracle that is caulk. On the left is the chair rail meeting up with the doorway molding after first being installed. See the little gap between the two moldings? On the right is that same spot after getting a bead of caulk in there. See how much more cohesive and beautiful it looks? 

And here is one of those outside corners before spackle, after spackle, and after sanding and painting. You can barely even tell there used to be a gap in there!

After caulking, it was finally time to paint. I used green Frog Tape along the underside to protect the wall. I didn't bother on the top side because I was planning to touch that up to cover the caulk anyway. The paint I used was the molding touch-up paint left behind by our builders, so I don't know its official name, but it's labeled as a white semi-gloss. I managed to get by with just one coat. I made up for that good fortune on the next step, touching up the red paint.

I put the Frog Tape on the top of the chair rail to protect it's shiny new whiteness. I didn't get a before picture, but some of the pictures above show the line of caulk above the chair rail. It looked kind of messy, and it's paintable, so I wanted to paint it red to clean it up. I still have some leftover paint from the dining room, which is Behr premium plus satin enamel. I don't know the color name. The can has been sitting in our garage for about 4 years, so I stirred it up really well, then it was ready to go. I don't remember how many coats it took for the dining room, other than "a lot", but it took 3 coats to do the touch-up.

Here are the "after" pictures. 

I LOVE how it looks! It does kind of make me think maybe it also needs crown molding now, but I'll let that thought percolate around in my brain for awhile. I'm afraid that if I put crown in one room, I'll need to put in in everywhere, which I don't want to do. So we'll see. For now, I'll just smile at the chair rail every time I go into the dining room :-)