Browsing Tag


renovation, stripping paint

Brick by Brick: Slowly Stripping the Fireplace
Adventures in Stripping


Refinishing the Fireplace Brick in Our American System Built HomeThe last time I talked about the fireplace was just after the winter holidays. I learned a very important lesson in that first big attempt at removing paint from brick. DON’T BE A HERO.

You may think it’s a good idea to slather Citri-Strip across the entire surface of the fireplace but it’s not. You’re going to have to scrape and scratch and rub and wash every last inch of that fireplace to get the paint and stripper off. It’s going to be messy. And it’s going to work muscles in your body you didn’t even know you have. And you may even end up half-assing a big section of it because you’re too damned tired to muster the elbow grease that it takes to really make a piece of steel wool work.

Stripping Brick Fireplace

For the record, I had every intention of stripping the fireplace in small sections. I had done my Pinteresting and read quite a few blog posts about the trials and travails of stripping brick. I had indeed been working in small patches when The Mister announced that he was going to help. I left the room for a little while and when I came back I found that he had spread stripper across half of the fireplace.

Now, folks, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my sixteen years as a couple, it’s to appreciate the help you’re getting. So while my first reaction was to stop The Mister I decided to just go with the flow. Um, yeah, I should’ve said something. Many, many, many hours later, we were knee deep in paint goo, my back was about to give out and The Mister was declaring the whole thing a disaster.

OK lesson learned.

Adventures in Stripping: Refinishing the Fireplace in Our American System Built HomeThe new approach to stripping the fireplace is much more methodical. First, I tape a garbage bag to the area of the fireplace that’s below where I’ll be working. I don’t want any of the stripper, paint chips or goo to drip down on the bricks that are already finished. I also tape plastic garbage bags to the floor to catch the mess. Then, I apply the stripper to the bricks and let it work its magic over a twenty four hour period. I’ve been using steel wool and old toothbrushes to apply the stripper.

After twenty four hours, the arduous task of scraping the paint off the bricks begins. The most effective tools for removing the stripper and paint are wire brushes of varying sizes and toothbrushes. And even with wire brushes, a lot of pressure must be applied to really remove the paint from the bricks. I’ve also been using steel wool and good old fashioned elbow grease.

Close Up for Stripped Fireplace Brick

By taking it a little slower and working in small sections, we’re getting much better results. Not only do the bricks get cleaner, but we’re actually even getting the paint off the mortar as well. This is actually a delightful surprise. I wasn’t expecting that we’d actually be able to strip the paint from the mortar at all.

As I mentioned in the previous post about stripping the fireplace, we were surprised to discover that the bricks are not red. When we stripped the dark gray top layer down to the white layer and then down to dark gray brick, we had an “oh shit” moment. I mean, why are we going through all this trouble just to go from dark gray to, well, dark gray? But then when you see the lintel stripped of paint and you stand back and see how the bricks have more depth and character when they’re stripped of paint, well, that makes it all worthwhile.

Images: This American House

American System-Built Home, DIY, renovation

Ding Dong The Mantel’s Gone


Ding Dong the Mantel's Gone

One night last winter, in what can only be described as a fit of exhaustion and after a long day of travel, I announced that it was time to remove the mantel.

“What?” The Mister asked. “Now?”

“If not now, when?” I implored.

And so armed with a flat head screwdriver and a hammer, we started prying the trim pieces from around the mantel.

“This will be easy,” I promised The Mister. “The mantel is a hollow box that is mounted on the fireplace. I’m sure it’ll just pop right off.”

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DIY, making do, small town life

How We Work With What We Have:
Our Makeshift Life at the Dream House



This fireplace is a perfect example of how Mr. and Mr. Blandings make the best of what we have. We haven’t been able to get the fireplace inspected due to all the snow and cold so we’re not able to build a proper fire yet. Still, that dark boxy hole in the wall is just begging for some flames! Thank goodness for cheap IKEA candles and a cordless drill.

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dream house, follies

We’re In! A Quick Update from the Dream House


In the weeks leading up to taking possession of the dream house, we wiled away the hours planning all the things we would do once we were in. We talked about everything from paint colors to lighting as we waited to close on the house. But at the very top of the list was something neither of us could stop talking about — building a fire in the wood burning stove in the basement.

When the temperatures in the Midwest drop, we’ve often complained about not having a fireplace in our city apartment. There may be nothing more comforting on a cold day than a roaring fire. So on our first night in the house, with icy fingers from unloading the moving truck, we went straight down to the basement to build a fire in the stove.

Now, I have some experience with fireplaces and wood stoves. We’ve rented a number of houses and cabins over the years specifically for their indoor fire offerings. Whenever we do have access to a fireplace, I’m always the fire starter. I was never a Boy Scout or anything, but building a fire is something I just get. Open the damper, build a little wood pyramid, light the fire and watch it go. It’s usually a pretty straight forward endeavor. So as we started to build the fire in the house’s stove, I was confident I knew what I was doing.

As smoke started to fill the basement, we knew something wasn’t right. There’s no damper on the wood stove so we knew that wasn’t the reason smoke wasn’t being sucked up through the chimney. We flapped our arms and opened windows and hoped that once the fire got going the smoke would travel up the chimney and out of the house. As the smoke got really thick in the basement we fled upstairs to escape, only to discover that the rest of the house was filled with smoke. We hurriedly opened windows, had a good laugh about the fire folly and vowed to have the chimney swept and stove inspected before we tried again.

Fast forward to the day before Thanksgiving and we were back at it again. I made an appointment with a chimney sweep but they can’t make it out until the second week of December. Impatient, and armed with some information on wood stoves that I picked up online, we decided to give the stove another try. Once again, the house filled with smoke, the alarm went off and I’m pretty sure the cat thought that we had brought her to the house with the intention of smoking her to death. She kept circling around our legs and walking toward the back door as if to say, “You silly humans! Get the hell outside before we all die!”

We let the house air out and, once again, have vowed not to attempt a fire in the stove until the chimney sweep looks at it in two weeks. Until then we’ll have to be content with tackling all the other things on our first-week-in-the-house to-do list.

The one good thing to come of the fire follies was that I got the amazing shot at the top of this post. With the sun streaming in through the old windows, the smoke filled house looked especially photogenic. I grabbed my camera and snapped a few photos before I started waving my arms around to try to disperse the smoke.

The lesson here: always look on the bright side. Oh, and call in the professionals where fire is concerned.

— J. Blandings

Image: Mr and Mr Blandings