Thursday, February 18, 2010


In her grandchildren my mother has found a second generation with which to share the children's book "The Digging-est Dog". Since I've spent plenty of time with the same, both as the reader and as the read-to, I knew exactly what my mother was talking about when she turned to me during a lull in our sanding last Monday and said, "I keep thinking about reading to the kids the other night - 'My eyes and nose were full of dirt, my paws and claws and elbows hurt.' "

Yep, I knew exactly what she was talking about.

It's nearly the end of the week so I've had plenty of time to contemplate this post. I could simply say that the three day weekend just past was spent doing more sanding at the Einsel House. I could gush for a few paragraphs about the beauty of the old walnut wood. I could even devote a couple more paragraphs to describing how lovely the old wood will look once it’s refinished.

But I won’t. Instead, I have to come clean and admit it – I’m sick of sanding.

First and foremost is the dust. Somewhere, under a layer of reddish brown, is my house. It covers the floors, the walls, the ceilings. It hangs in the air. It collects on your clothes and in your hair. It causes muddy trails of sweat down your forehead, and a lingering feeling of grit in your eyes and in your mouth. It shows no respect for cleanly swept floors, nor for freshly primed walls. It laughs at attempts to contain it within one room.

Dust is also to blame for the second great annoyance of sanding – respirator masks. All I’m going to say here is that this annoyance is multiplied by ten when your sinuses are whining and you need to blow your nose every 10 minutes.

Sanding also denies you the distraction of listening to the radio while you work. Oh, I suppose you could have a radio playing in the background, but it would be pointless once the random orbital hand sander comes to life.

Which brings me to the actual process of sanding. It is work. Hours of holding the hand sander leaves a residual Parkinson-esque sensation. And the person holding the power sander must apply a constant pressure against the wood. The old finish doesn’t give in easily. It seems simple enough at first, but after a few hours you realize your entire arm aches. Still, you soldier on, and hours later when you finally kill the power to the sander the silence hangs heavy in the reddish-brown haze. Your arm hangs limp at your side, your fingers still tingling as though you slept too long with your arm at the wrong angle. And then the real work begins, because when the power sander is put down, the hand tools are picked up.

Your new collection of tools includes scrapers with perpetually dull blades and sanding blocks in multiple different shapes and angles, even metal picks that look as though they came straight from some dentist’s office. Your tired arm goes back to work, pulling the scraper against the edges and corners the hand sander could not reach. As you work you scan the wood for reminders of the random orbital sander – reminders in the form of scalloped half circles that taunt you with their sideways smiles. Each smile must be rubbed out by hand. When the smiles disappear you step back to check your work, and from your new angle you can see four new grins laughing up at you. You grab a fresh sheet of 60 grit paper and settle back down to work.

At some point you become aware that the sandpaper is having the same effect on your hands as it is on the wood. Perhaps this occurs at the kitchen sink during a snack break – the soap touches your hands and they’re suddenly screaming as though they’re on fire. Or perhaps it occurs sooner, as it did for me on President’s Day, when you drag the sandpaper against the wood for the 3,521st time that day and look down to see a narrow crimson line soaking into the wood you just attempted to sand. (Remarkably, I think this was the first time I've actually christened the Einsel House with my own blood.)

When you finally have all the old finish removed, all the edges, corners and marks left by the random orbital sanded out you get to repeat the whole process again, this time with a finer grit sandpaper. And when you've finished everything the second time you get to give everything a third go round, with a still finer grit sandpaper. And then - if you're sanding every square inch of woodwork in the entire house like we are - you move to the next room and start the whole process over.

At some point the next step would be putting away the sandpaper and scrapers; stretching your aching hands, and beginning the cleaning job required before any painting or refinishing can begin. After eight straight weeks of sanding, we're not at that point yet. We're getting closer, but we're not there yet. Soon, I keep telling myself. Soon.

In closing I'll admit that any post I've had four days or more to plot is liable to be a bit melodramatic. (Although I did practice some restraint when I took out the line opining that trying to shampoo walnut sawdust out of your hair with raw and bleeding hands is a torture worthy of at least the fifth or sixth level of hell.) In all honesty, for the first 4 or 5 weeks I actually found sanding enjoyable. It's been dirty work from the start, and I've been sore at the end of every day spent sanding, but it wasn't until the past two weeks or so that I've felt totally DONE with sanding. Still, I have no regrets. The wood is beautiful. And I suspect that the memory of these long weeks will fade very quickly once we are living in this house surrounded by the fruit of this current labor.


  1. What you say about the sardonic, insidious grins left by the ROS is so true-- and I hadn't thought of it that way. Touché!

  2. Oh my,you are all so brave and dedicated ! The "house" is surely smiling and breathing better as each day passes, and it would say "well done" and "thank you" May God bless all of you with safety and resting times. Wish I could be there... love, Aunt Barb