Refinishing an old clawfoot tub

There are a few things that we’d really liked in our 102-year old Craftsman character house that we’d sold prior to building our eco-house. One of the things we knew we would miss was our old cast iron clawfoot tub. It had been refinished some years prior, but was not “original” to the house, even though it was still pretty old. We could tell because it didn’t have the original “claw” feet (some fancy-pants tub designer must have thought the brocade and ball looked better?), but it was still beautiful and comforting to have. I’m generally not a “bath-guy” but I do love a clawfoot tub. If for nothing other than it’s iconic design (most other tubs I could do without – with the exception of the Japanese-style deep soaker tubs, which are amazing and would go in our basement bathroom). So when designing the bathrooms we really wanted to try and find an original cast-iron clawfoot tub (with clawed feet) for the master bathroom.

After some searching on Kijiji, my wife eventually found one in a small town about 2.5 hours away. Most the clawfoot tubs that you’ll find are usually being pulled out of old houses being renovated. Even though some people don’t want them in their house anymore they still want a pretty penny for them – usually in the range of $400-500. This one was only $150 and we were able to talk them down to $75 for it! Ha!

I do wish I had a before photo of it, but at the time I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture of it – it was just so gross. You’ll just have to use your imagination. Picture: Rust around the drains and running down the enamel under the taps; it had been painted a nasty bluish-green colour on the one side (apparently the side you’d see?); and it must have later in life been built into a surround (when people thought clawfoot tubs were ugly – WTF) because there was CAKED on caulking around the sides and edges.

It was going to be a serious project to refinish this tub. We followed the steps from This Old House blog.

First, we had to scrape all of the disgusting caked caulking off of the perimeter and sides of the tub with a razor blade. We weren’t too worried about scratching it because it would all be stripped and recoated later.

Second, we used a hydrofluoric acid product from Home Depot, it’s in the paint section, to etch the enamelled surface. Make sure to wear protective gear and a respirator with this. This is toxic stuff. We didn’t worry about stripping the outside of the tub because we planned to simply paint over it anyway.

Third,  we used our Dremel tool with a grinding bit to grind off the rust spots of the tub. The dremel worked very well in getting in and around the faucet and drain holes.

Fourth, my wife used an auto body filler compound to fill in the areas that had been rusted and ground down. This stuff works like a charm. She then lightly sanded the compound with a high grit sandpaper to smooth out the filler and the cast iron.

Fifth, was to paint the outside. We wanted this to be a bad-ass black clawfoot tub. We used Rustoleum spray paint in a semi-gloss black. I was impressed at how well this well on. We ended up using three cans of spray paint – pretty well one can per coat.



The sixth step was the one I dreaded the most. Spraying the epoxy enamel paint on the inside of the tub. This is the part you really don’t want to F-up. If you do, you basically have to start back at Step 1 and repeat. We purchased spray gun (high-velocity, low-pressure) for this job as really there is no other way to do it. The spray guns are less than $100 and you will use it again if you have it. Once again Home Depot carries Rustoleum Tub and Tile epoxy paint that is ideal for refinishing the enamel coat. One pack is not quite enough to do the tub so we purchased two packs and used only a small amount from the second (we would end up using the rest of the paint for two cast-iron sinks that wifey refinished in the same way later). Each pack comes with two cans that are both super toxic poison that you mix together. Pour a small amount into the spray gun, hold it steady and on the mid-range spray (not too light as then it will be speckley and not to heavy as it will run), pray to your God, and proceed with even coats of the paint. I started at the bottom of the tub working my way side to side along the long end. For the sides of the tub I used an up and down motion that seemed to give good control. And finished by doing the top and lip, but be careful not to ‘mist’ too much into the tub as it will make it speckled. We let this dry for a day and then applied a second coat in the same fashion (the This Old House blog recommends three coats). The sides and top of the tub came out with a very nice smooth finish. The bottom was a bit speckled to the hand though looking at it you could not tell anything was different (I think I probably misted this too much when doing the top/sides).

All in all this was a time consuming process, but taking it from looking like a piece crap trash to a beautifully refinished, gleaming and BADASS  tub was extremely satisfying. Seeing it installed in the bathroom, waiting for its first soak is such a good feeling.



Custom eavestroughs, fascia and rain chains: A new adventure in house building

Because of the atypical pine soffits we installed, we needed to do something a bit different for the fascia as well. For people who don’t know what the difference of fascia and soffits are (as I did not):

I really hadn’t given it much thought at all to the eavestrough and fascia until I started to consider how we would divert water away from the house. The natural thought, of course, would be to have downspouts that lead water away from the foundation.

In our case though, we had two corner windows and the thought of staring at some ugly downspout from my window view was not appealing. We asked our designer, Crystal Bueckert of BLDG Studio, what she recommended. A custom house needs custom eaves, she told us. As for avoiding an ugly-ass downspout in our view, she recommended a rain chain. A rain chain, of course!

We searched out a lot of rain chain options, from the very simple chain links to the more artistic copper cup varieties. I liked the look of the simple chain links, but I wondered if it would look too boring with just a hunk of chain hanging down (although I have seen some that look very cool). We were really drawn to the pretty copper Japanese rain chain cups and decided to order two from of all places.

So gross.

As for the fascia and eaves trough, it was really amazing to me that absolutely no one in the City offered anything other than the standard gross eavestrough profile.

We wanted something a bit nicer than this.

We asked our designer to come out and draw up a plan for the eaves and fascia for us with the plan to send it off to a metal fabricator to manufacture it. I called up a place in town and after waiting a number of weeks we finally received the sample piece.

Not gross!
Not gross!

I was really happy with how it came out.

Now, I could go on a tangent here to talk about how frustrating it was waiting for the quotes (I was told “I’ll have it to you tomorrow” for 7 days in a row). Or that when they told us it was all done and come pick it up, that it was only partway done and we had to come back not once but twice to pick up the rest. Or when we thought we finally had all the material that we were in fact, 8″ short on either side. Or that when we got a contractor out to install the fascia and eaves, he looked at it and said, “I’m not installing this.” I’ll spare you my pain (this time) and I won’t go into all of that.

But that did meant that we had to figure out how to install this ourselves.

The first thing we had to do was install the fascia (AKA the stuff at the edge of the roof that also covers the edge of the soffits). I have to admit, this was one of the few jobs that we’ve done with the house that we finished and said, “wow, that was easier than I expected.”


It was pretty sketchy though on a 24′ extension ladder (standing on the top rung) holding my drill in one hand and supporting last piece of fascia with my other hand at the very top. But boy oh boy, that little bit of trim sure made a nice job giving a finished clean edge to everything.


That went so well that we decided to tackle the snow stops next. Now this was a less pleasant job and my forearms have only recently started to recover. The snow stops are meant to stop the snow (as if you couldn’t have guessed) from sitting in the eaves and potentially tearing them off the side of the house. It’s also a bit of a safety measure so that heavy snow/ice doesn’t come crashing off the roof onto someone’s head.

These things are very heavy duty though with two layers of heavy gauge steel that have to be drilled through to install on to the roof. I think I broke 8 or 9 metal drill bits for this job.

We worked late into the night, forgetting to actually eat lunch and supper until about 9pm.

The next morning we awoke to tackle the eavestroughs.  This was a bit trickier simply because we needed make sure things would run where they’re supposed to run (i.e. downhill). We used a level in each section of the gutters to make sure the angle was relatively consistent. We also decided on the south east corner (where our corner window facing the river is) that we would not put any drainage there and have it all run to Japanese rain chain at the other end (which would be just off the side of the yet-to-be-installed deck). This meant that there would be a drop from one side to the other, but once installed, it really is not terribly noticeable.


On the north side of the house we placed the custom downspout in one corner and the Japanese rain chain in the other, next to the main entrance. The downspout will lead to a large rain barrel that we will use of watering the chickens and plants around the house.

The last thing I did, at about 9pm, in the dark where the effect wasn’t quite as great, was installs the rain chains. But the next morning we got to take it in – in all its’ glory.


REAL Scandinavian white-washing and installing the pine ceiling

Wood gives beautiful warmth to any space. In our house we had wanted to use mostly natural or hand-finished products (avoiding plastics and other synthetic materials) with wood being a central focus. Our old house, although full of grand and beautiful woodwork, had been very dark with mostly mahogany, ebony or cherry stained wood. We wanted our new house to be altogether lighter – more windows, light woods, white walls. We had spent a considerable amount of time researching which woods we liked best (and were also available locally). In the end we chose three main woods for our house: Douglas fir, white pine, and white oak.

In designing the house, one feature we continued to come back to was a wood ceiling. As we were having concrete floors, wood on the ceiling, we felt, would warm the space nicely (drywalled ceilings and walls with a concrete floor seemed far too cold). And honestly, who doesn’t love a great wood ceiling?

The one major downside of pine, although it looks pink and white when it is freshly cut and milled, is that it yellows terribly with exposure to sunlight and over time. Indeed, all light woods will yellow to some degree, but pine is one of the worst for this (even white pine vs. yellow pine). Sure some people like that look, but not me. I prefer the fresh “untreated” look of the wood – but how does one preserve this appearance?

Being a bit of a Pinterest junkie while planning the house, we had found a lot of inspiration from Scandinavian cottages and cabins (leave it to them to have the coolest stuff). Many of which had beautiful light woods running through the house – woods that were white, pink or creamy browns – but not yellow. How do these Scandinavians do it?! Tell me your secrets!

But try as I might, I just couldn’t seem to find any information about it.

I briefly read a bit about the North American (read: ugly) way of “white-washing” wood. Which involves basically watering down white paint and then painting it on. It really looks as good as you might expect, which is really not good at all.

Mjolk Douglas Fir floors
Mjolk Douglas Fir floors
However one house that we have come back to time and time again for inspiration is the Mjolk House in Toronto (they had inspired our choice for Cloud White walls as well). I had taken special note of their insanely beautiful 10″ Douglas fir plank floors that were light and clean and not yellow in the least (Douglas fir is another wood that turns very yellow with time). I assumed these Mjolk people must have received special access to the Scandinavian secrets given that their design store sells Scandinavian and Japanese decor.

One day, though, as I was looking through articles about this house, I came across a tutorial they had written for Remodelista on called “101: Easy Whitewashed Scandi Floors” (admittedly the terrible title was less than appealing and I almost skipped past it).

“First, we applied a coat of Woca Wood Lye to bleach the boards”

Eureka! That was the secret I’d been waiting for!!

Where to find this magical product and how to get my hands on it was the next question.

After much searching, I eventually came across Woca Direct, who supplied Woca Wood products from Denmark to us lowly North Americans. And there it was: Woca Wood Lye (Picture: the heavens opening and the angel singing)…

WOCA Wood Lye is a mild, non-corrosive form of bleach, which may be used whenever a whitewashed or driftwood appearance is desired… Wood lye bleaches the wood and prevents the yellowing process of the wood.

I immediately ordered a tonne of this stuff, as well as the natural soap in white (which is used to clean the wood after treatment to reinforce it or as the Mjolk folks did, as your actual finish), the wood cleaner, and the master oil in white, which is what we intended to use as our finish coat.

I made up a test piece of white pine using the Lye, Lye with White Oil, and No treatment and left it out in the sun for a couple weeks to see how the colour changed.


I was as impressed as I had hoped I’d be with the change that the Lye made. Within moments of applying it the wood lightened, highlighting the pinks, whites, and browns of the wood. After leaving it for two weeks, you could already see the untreated pine (to the far right to the photo) turning yellow. The Lye and Lye with oil (on the left and middle) did not fade or yellow at all. I found that the White Oil really didn’t change the colour of the wood further, but simply helped to smooth out the grain and give a nice hand to the wood.


During the summer, while the house was still at the framing stage, we and our amazingly awesome neighbour spent the weekend treating the tongue and groove pine (by the way, we ended up choosing 1×6″ tongue and groove over the narrower 1×4″. Less lines with the wide planks looked more modern and attractive then the narrower stuff, in my opinion).

As was recommended, we first cleaned each board, as they were pretty dirty from the drive out on our gravel road, with the Wood Cleaner.

After drying for a couple days, we began the Wood Lye application (photo) with a simple nylon brush. It is pretty watery stuff so it goes on fairly easily, but you have to make sure you cover the boards fully as any areas that you miss would yellow in time. The wood lye dries quickly within an hour so we were able to get a good system going with two of us applying the Lye and my wife oiling the boards after a minimum hour of drying.

The oiling process was quite lovely. We simply used a cotton rag and hand rubbed each board. The finish it gave was beautiful. The process was lengthy though from start to finish, probably in the range of 30 hours for the 900 sq. ft. of pine.

It would still be a couple months before we would eventually be able to install this stuff (this is the beauty of having a big shop to store all of this stuff in – highly recommended). But after the nightmare of the concrete floor finishing, we were excited to finally be able to have some pleasure in seeing the ceiling installed.

Both myself and my good friend (who will be doing our cabinetry, stairs, window sills and doors, and runs Rhine Artisans) highly underestimated the time it would take to install the ceiling though… we naively thought, a day, maybe. Well it would be four full days total to complete the work, largely due to the precise cutting required around the light boxes (our fixtures had less than 1/8″ of clearance around the 4″ round boxes) and the hand planing required at the ends of the walls and hallways (apparently drywall isn’t straight, who knew).

But, in my humblest of opinions, this looks damn sexy…