Be aware that many details and aspects of design
on old houses vary from place to place. A detail
that's commonly found in your area is perhaps the
legacy of an architect or builder who had a
particular way of doing things. These details may
relate to fences, exterior timber decoration,
gables or other features. Look out for these quirks
& ensure that they are respected &
preserved in any work you do on the building.
Importing ideas from somewhere else or ready-made
joinery items from distant workshops should be
avoided if their use will replace original features
on your house.
hard to find?
Choosing the right screws for your house is an
important detail. In most cases, you'll need steel
countersunk screws, the old-fashioned kind with a
single slot across the head. Don't use Phillips
head or pozi-drive screws on houses that were built
before these gadgets were invented. It's a rule
that you might break in the case of an obviously
modern addition to an old building. Be aware that
the hardware industry is phasing out old-fashioned
screws - particularly those made of steel. If
you're going to be working on old houses for a
while, put away a stock of good old-time screws in
various gauges & lengths. Discard modern screws
which often come with so-called reproduction locks
& other hardware.
Need someone to paint your house or build a new
garage? Instead of ringing up companies or
tradespeople & asking them to come and quote
for the work put your own advertisement in the
newspaper which has the best classified
advertisements in your area. This puts you in
charge: people will be coming to you for work. You
do have to check any unknown tradesperson or
company very carefully but this is a technique that
can work very well. Use it to find good
tradespeople who are in between major jobs &
perhaps have time to fit yours in.
for original finishes in your old
There are various techniques you can use to find
out how your old house was originally painted and
decorated. On the outside, do paintscrapes and look
in sheltered areas - for example, underneath
windowsills or behind meter boxes or anything that
might have been added some time after the house was
built. Inside, original finishes on doors can
sometimes be found underneath door hardware such as
fingerplates or rimlocks. Sometimes houses were
wallpapered before the architraves were put on. Use
an oblique light (from a powerful torch or lamp) to
search for stencils, dadoes and friezes.
your old house with a pencil
Here's a trick well-known to old-time painters.
The stucco coating on the exterior wall surfaces of
nineteenth-century masonry houses was marked out to
look like blocks of stone. Narrow horizontal and
vertical grooves were impressed into the surface of
the stucco coating to give the walls the appearance
of the regular blocks of stone known as ashlar.
After repainting the outside of your house run a
carpenter's pencil along the grooves. This sharpens
up the appearance of the building and reinforces
the impression of 'stone' blocks. The impression
works best if the paint chosen is in a stone
badly tarnished brass
Major brass cleaning tasks are best sent out to
professionals but if you have a few pieces that
need cleaning it's satisfying to do it yourself.
Badly tarnished brass can be soaked in lemon juice
and salt overnight. Start off next day with another
lot of lemon juice and salt, rubbed on briskly with
a soft cloth, and then use the brass polish. I'm
told that cheap vinegar is a good substitute for
lemon juice but haven't tested this suggestion.
shine on polished brass
Polishing small pieces of old brassware once can
be a pleasant pastime. But few people want to spend
their time polishing it again & again. Some
brass polishing tasks are so complex and large that
professional help is required. A brass gaslight is
something that should be polished once & then
forgotten. The best way to keep polished brass
looking good is to have it clear powdercoated. The
cost is small & the results are well worth it.
Brass which has been clear powdercoated will retain
its appearance for many years.
before painting a metal roof
Most people know about galvanic action, the
corrosive effect that occurs when incompatible
metals come into contact. But few people are aware
of the damage to galvanised iron gutters &
downpipes that can occur when an old roof is
replaced with Zincalume, glazed tiles or painted
metal sheeting. These materials, unlike roofing of
galvanised steel, unglazed tiles or fibro, do not
deposit metal salts and minerals as a protective
coating on the inside of the gutter. Pure rainwater
flowing from a chemically-inert roof may wash away
the protective film on the inside of the galvanised
guttering, causing rapid early gutter failure.
Scratched & worn decorative tiles can be
made to look as fresh and bright as the day they
were made. The tiles are placed in a kiln &
refired at about1120 degrees C, so that the glaze
melts slightly. Superficial scratches on the glaze
are dissolved & the glaze creeps back over
areas where it has been chipped off. The glaze will
also cover badly worn high spots on embossed tiles.
You will have to decide whether a century of wear
and tear on a tile forms a pleasing patina which
should be retained or whether it is unsightly
blemish which can be cheerfully removed.
Refiring burns out organic impurities such as
charcoal. The result of fires long ago, this is
often deeply embedded in cracks & crazes &
cannot be removed by bleaching or scrubbing.
Refiring also incinerates any cement or mortar
attached to the tile. It can be rubbed off with the
fingertips after firing.