Monday, April 21, 2008

Friendly Fir

No, not that kind of friendly fur. Though they're cute, right?

Did anyone else learn to tell the difference between spruce and fir trees by remembering 'friendly fir'? Meaning that fir needles are relatively soft, while spruce needles are sharp and will stab at you?

Fir's not so friendly when you're working with it as your trim - it's downright ornery. I won't even begin to do a splinter count, but just know that I have a constant supply of fir splinters implanted in my fingers at all times from the paint stripping. They go right through the gloves - youch! I've even had a through-and-through - a splinter that went right through my finger to the other side. Totally gross, but luckily only through the fleshy part. They hurt like heck when they jab into a bone, though. OK, enough.

In the hallway project, we wanted to add a chair rail and hide a railing along part of it, much like this photo we found tucked in This Old House. First, we couldn't find any ready-made fir moulding. So Ken agreed to work on his router skills and he made the chair rail, with very little fuss. (Being fir, however, there were a few places with splintering that we subsequently had to hand-repair and/or live with). Can't see them in the final installation - Ha!

We were going to get some neat railing brackets - hopefully Eastlake style (aren't these gorgeous?) - but then both (a) the price (over $100 for three, even on Ebay!) and (b) the size (they would stick way off our minimalist chair rail) were obstacles. Back to the drawing board. Ken had all along been suggesting that we figure out some sort of bracket-less railing, that just attached to the moulding. Finally, I was successful finding such a thing in an appropriate, non-modern-church-looking style - of course they only seem to have it in the UK, where it seems to be fairly common. It's called Pig's Ear moulding, named for the shape, obviously.

Next challenge: figuring out how to make the thing for less than a fortune. I drew up a sketch of the profile based on the chair rail size, the size of a 2x4, and the profiles from the UK I found online, and we headed down to Viking Lumber (where I'm sure they call me 'the crazy woman who always wants to pick her own fir boards') to grab a 14 foot long fir 2x4. Pretty long, but nothing the Subaru can't handle on the roof rack.

We couldn't pull off the profile with our limited shaping tools and skills, so we took the board to Owen Gray & Sons, a local millwork/cabinet shop in Brewer, Maine that's been in business since the 1930s. We're very lucky to have them just a couple of miles away, and their pleasant, honest manner is much appreciated. They also don't treat me like a girl, so kudos for that. I have to say, this particular business has been one of my absolute favorite places to work with, so if you ever get the chance...

They gave it a shot, after we commiserated about the difficulty of fir and its likelihood of complete failure when you try to shape it. Not a problem I said, especially since we started with only about twenty bucks worth of 2x4.

It worked, they did an absolutely fantastic job and the railing is now in and finished. Perhaps friendly fir after all!


Sandy said...

Looks so nice! Your tortoise shell kitty looks like my Miss Yoda - she's a blue tortoise shell.

Derek said...

the railing looks great. We have fir floors in our house, know all about fir splinters.

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