These incidents are cited simply to impress upon the reader that ingenuity and close study of his problems are bound to bring solutions. Never get in a panic over interior repair work on walls, ceilings or floors. Take your time about them. Study them out. Look all around for suggestions and smart ideas, and profit by what others have accomplished.
Cracks in the plaster of walls and ceilings are easily taken care of if you will go about the job properly. Every hardware store in the country sells prepared plaster to which you simply add water, and it is ready for use; but before using it you have some preparation work to do. In the first place, you must cut out the crack so that it is about 1/4 to 1/2 inch wide. Then you must brush it out so that it is entirely free of dust or loose particles. Next and most important, you must wet the edges of the crack thoroughly. Then you are ready to trowel in the prepared mixture and strike it off even with the surface on both sides of the crack. Most of the plaster repair jobs done by homeowners fail to work out properly because they do not wet the edges. Old plaster is as dry and absorbent as blotting paper, and when you trowel in the new mix, it sucks every bit of moisture out of it unless you first let it have all it wants. Robbed of its moisture content, the new mix will never bond with the old plaster. When you use prepared plaster for patching jobs, always allow at least three days for drying before you attempt to paint or paper over it. If the weather has been damp or cold, allow at least a week. After that time, if it does not appear to be perfectly dry, give it one light coat of shellac.
Ceilings have always been troublesome to homeowners, and as most of us know, the repairs to them run into real money. Many times a ceiling has been patched and patched, and often, almost entirely rebuilt without definitely good results. However, in these days there is an easy remedy for most ceiling trouble. If you have a bad condition which indicates that the old plaster work is about done for, the best and most economical thing to do is to recover it at once with a good substantial composition board. It will not be necessary to take down the old plaster. These boards are made by several reputable manufacturers, who also give complete directions for applying them. They come in large sheets but are not too heavy to handle. The best procedure is to measure your floor area (which is exactly the same as the ceiling) and make a rough sketch of it. Then go to your local lumber yard and see what size board is on hand. By very elementary arithmetic, you can figure out how many boards, so long and so wide, you will need, and how you will cut them to cover the ceiling completely. The actual applying of the board must be done so that you nail right through the plaster and into the beams above the old plaster. You can locate these by driving a long thin wire nail, and once you have located one of them, you can count on another being sixteen inches to either side. The joints where the boards meet can be covered with narrow wood strip, or with special tape which is glued over the joints.
A beamed-ceiling can be made the answer to the problem of continued ceiling trouble in any particular room. The work is not too complicated for the average amateur carpenter to undertake.
There is still another method of taking care of a bad ceiling, and it consists of converting it into a beamed ceiling. This may sound like a tremendous undertaking but actually it is nothing of the kind. The job consists simply of nailing one-by-three or one-by-four wood strips across the ceiling at correctly spaced intervals. These must be spiked solidly up through the plaster into the beams above. You then make plain wooden troughs of the same size strip and set them up against the ceiling so that their sides slip up past the edges of the ceiling strips. You then nail them into the ceiling strip edges. This job requires nothing whatever except careful measuring and plain cross-cut sawing. When it is finished you have a splendid looking ceiling, and one that is there to stay. You should arrange to have the beams run across the ceiling the short way. In other words, if your room is twelve by twenty feet, run the beams the twelve foot way.
The floors of the average house are made of wood strip which is tongued and grooved so that the edge of one strip locks into the edge of the adjacent strip. It is commonly called "flooring" and comes in oak, maple and pine woods. The oak and maple are the superior floorings. In the chapter on painting, we have given directions for refinishing floors. The following has to do with repairing them.
All decent wood floors are composed of two layers, with a sheet of either felt or building paper between them. The first layer is called the "rough floor" or "sub-floor" and is made of rough planks nailed into the floor beams. The floor you actually walk on is the "finished floor" or top layer. As wood is bound to shrink with age, the nails which attach the finished floor to the rough floor often become loosened, with the result that when you walk across the floor it squeaks. Invariably you will find that the squeaking comes not from the edge of the strips, but where the end of one strip joins another and where they are nailed. There is no use in sinking the old nails further into the floor to cure this. The remedy lies in driving new nails in the ends at an angle, so that they are "toed." In other words drive them at a forty-five degree angle, and not straight up and down. You can go over a floor, testing it with your weight until you hear the creaking, and nail at that point. You should use two-inch small-head wire nails, and drive them slightly below the surface. When the flooring was not well seasoned in the first place, the strips may shrink enough to leave quite a wide crack between them. This can be filled by using a paste called a "filler." It should be troweled over the crack with a putty-knife, and the excess scraped off immediately. It should be allowed to set for three or four days before the floor is shellacked or varnished.