Cape Cod girls ain’t got no combs
Heave away, haul away!
They brush their hair with codfish bones
And we’re bound away for Australia!
What better way to begin than with a rousing sea chantey! Wikipedia says that “a sea shanty, chantey or chanty is a type of work song that was once commonly sung to accompany labor on board large merchant sailing vessels.” So, if you were a sailor back in the day, these cheery songs made your heaving and hauling much more pleasant. And distracted you from the fact that you were homesick, seasick, suffering from scurvy and forced to pound your bread on the table to make sure the weevils fell out before you ate it.
I could have used a chantey these past few weeks as I labored on my little Cape Cod house. Unfortunately, much of this labor was in vain. I had big plans for the kitchen floor, and spent hours affixing tiny little paper squares to ceramic tiles before I realized (duh) that the tiles were about 5 times the height of the hardwood floors I’d already laid. I toyed with the idea of simply building a slant into the kitchen tiles down to the hardwood to convey the squirrely floors of an old house. But I was only kidding myself. My tiny inhabitants would have to climb Everest-style with pick axes and crampons to get from the front door to the refrigerator. I then spent more hours affixing even more little paper squares to illustration board to cut the height, but they turned out very wonky when laid down. As if the mason was drunk at the time. So, I cut my losses and bought some pretend linoleum from Earth and Tree. It’s NOT what I wanted, but I know when I’m licked.
I wisely moved on to the fireplace and its chimney. I cobbled together a mantelpiece using thin basswood on which I glued bits and pieces of wainscoting, chair rail and other trim. Trying to get the lean, clean lines of a Federal fireplace. Like this real life one:
When I was satisfied with that, I turned to the actual firebox. That’s when genius struck. Or madness, as I think my husband would describe it. I decided that the the firebox had to go from the mantel in the living room through the wall into the pantry/utility room next door and connect with the chimney. Why? Because I hate looking into a shallow fireplace and seeing that it goes nowhere! Granted, as you will see, my firebox doesn’t really connect with the chimney, but it looks like it does. I left the house while my husband used some screeching power tool (shudder!) and when I came back there was a (not so) neat little hole between the two rooms. OK, there was a crack in the wall – well, two, actually — but he did the best he could and I’m passing it off as the natural deterioration of an historic house.
I was now overwhelmed with this (gaping) hole and it took some time to figure out how to do what I needed to do. I finally decided I needed 4 pieces for the firebox – two angled sides, a nice deep back, and a top. My husband pointed out that no one could look up into the fireplace to see the top, but I pointedly ignored him. I was on a roll! I had to resort to using a ruler, which was excruciating, but managed to show him how I needed the pieces to be cut. More banshee squealing of power saws, and I had my pieces! I glued the sides to the back and prepared my bricks.
I spent a few days binge-watching horror movies while I cut approximately 1 million 7/32 x 1/2 inch bricks. Horror movies are perfect for this because you can follow the simplistic dialogue like a radio program and only have to look up when the screaming starts. I followed the tutorial on The China Doll site, which recommends slightly snipping all 4 corners of the brick to give it a more realistic look. This takes on the flavor of medieval torture after a while, but I think well worth the misery. I used 1/8″ graph paper to line the inside of the box to help keep the bricks straight and set to work.
The bricking went fairly quickly and was actually fun!
Using sponges, I blotted on raw sienna, burnt sienna and yellow ochre acrylic paints (as per the tutorial), but I’m no da Vinci, so was unsatisfied with the result. I scraped some gray and black chalk sticks and used the powder to darken the interior of the fireplace to suggest the bricks had darkened with soot.
I bricked the top (that no one will ever see) and tested it with the box. I then put down 3 coats of Ceramcoat varnish to protect the paint from the mortar. I had some scary moments wiping the excess off, but none of the bricks peeled up, so I got away with it!
I recycled some of the failed kitchen floor tiles that I had made from illustration board and slapped them onto the front of the firebox to simulate a sort of slate surround. Then, I bricked the outside rear of the box. Finished!
On to the hearth and the inside floor of the fireplace! I now had a use for the ceramic kitchen tiles, using them to fashion the hearth and the firebox floor by gluing them to paper.
I then glued the firebox floor onto some thin basswood to raise it to the level of the living room floor, and mortared the sides, making it a slab for the firebox to rest on. Glued that to the utility room floor.
I glued down the hearth to the living room floor and mortared both hearth and firebox floor together.
It took some fiddling and filing and sanding to get the firebox through the hole in the wall. I had left one side bare of brick – the side which won’t be visible once it’s installed – for a particular reason, which I’ll come to later. And a good thing, too, or I would have had to have my husband bust out more wall.
The moment of truth came when I attached the mantel to the firebox. I had to turn the house on its end so that the mantel was lying flat, and then weighted it with a big can, appropriately enough, of Boston baked beans! When I righted it, the mantel didn’t fall off and I counted that as a success. But I don’t breath too hard on it.
The chimney came next. Again, I gave my specs to my carpenter and he gave me the pieces. I ditched the original chimney, which was a solid block of plywood. Not only was it dangerously heavy (I found out just how heavy when I dropped it on my foot), I realized that I would have a fit aligning it through holes cut in the second floor and the roof. Forget it! I got basswood and made a hollow, 3-sided box, just the height of the first floor, with some stabilizers tucked inside to give it some strength and a little give.
I bricked one side and the back.
The chimney sits on the firebox, but not secured to the wall.
It sort of plugs into a smaller block of wood covered with painter’s tape to keep it tight.
Here’s the plan with the chimney: I hate round wiring, so my plan is to light this house with LEDs inserted into lamps that I’ll make myself (hah hah). Which entails hiding the battery and the switches. I want sconces on either side of the Captain’s portrait over the mantel, and realized that the chimney would be the perfect place to tuck the batteries and switch!
I’ll cut slots in the bare side of the chimney for the switch. The battery will go on the wall inside the chimney. Which comes off so that I can change the batteries if I ever need to, or get to the wiring for the sconces. This is the plan. We’ll see how it works!
So the fireplace is finished!
And the Captain tried out his spot over the mantel.
In other news, I selected some Sherwin Williams paints at Home Depot and purchased little sample pots of each color. I used Clean Canvas (sounds nautical, like a new sail!) to paint the pantry/utility room and did the floor in gray, as befits a storage space. I used Oceanus for the living room.
I also finished the hardwood floor of the front entry, extending into the kitchen.
And put down the linoleum. Sigh. I pouted for a while about my ceramic tile tragedy, but life moves on even though it’s more comfortable to wallow in self pity.
Next up: the staircase. I had one lying around from another kit and it’s so narrow that in real life you’d have to turn sideways and suck in your stomach to squeeze up the stairs. I have a plan to make it passable by even broad-in-the-beam mini people using bits and pieces from my shocking stockpile of miscellaneous stuff. A mountain of epic proportions that makes me look like Smaug the Dragon sitting on his treasure trove!
And after that, 12 over 12 colonial style windows, made from scratch.
How about another round of a chantey to get me going?!
Cape Cod cats ain’t got no tails
Heave away, haul away!
They lost them all in the northeast gales
And we’re bound away for Australia!