Respect local traditions

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.

Good screws 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.

Looking for tradespeople?

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.

Searching for original finishes in your old house?

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.

Decorate 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 colour.

Cleaning 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.

Keeping the 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.

Check 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.

Rejuvenating decorative tiles

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.

Drawings © Ian Stapleton 1997 Text & Directory of restoration products & services © Ian Evans 2007