Well, That Was A Blast!


Do you remember the pictures, which crop up in documentaries from time to time, of a house being slowly consumed by sand? Those images most likely came from Kolmanskop, Namibia (here). It’s an old diamond mining town, long since abandoned in favour of more lucrative sites and now being reclaimed by the desert once more. Funny how these things have a way of coming back to you..



The sand blaster doesn’t clear up.

He says we pay him for blasting, not cleaning, and I suppose when he charges £100 per hour it is just as well.



It took us the best part of a day, shovelling and brushing, to get rid of all the sand. Bags and bags of it. But at least our time is free. And just look at those glorious ceiling beams. So much better than the black?



A beetle, sometime in the middle of the night, has taken a moon walk.


The bolstered defences in the bedroom did a reasonable job. The dust sheets, masking tape and planks (acting as weights) kept most of the dirt from flying up into the room. A dreadful sight underneath as we peeled it all back yesterday morning but nothing that couldn’t be hoovered up. What we didn’t reckon on was the inability of the carpet in Mike’s study and on the upstairs landing to provide an equivalent barrier. When I ventured that way during the blasting I didn’t just see dust in the air, I saw swirling clouds of dust in the air. Even the bathroom, which theoretically should be airtight being floor to ceiling tiled, ended up with a fine coating of black. In all our years of renovating we’ve never had to deal with this much mess.



There are different methods of blasting and I’ve investigated them all. The newest kid on the block, and the least abrasive, is dry ice blasting using pellets of frozen carbon dioxide. Its huge advantage is that it leaves virtually no mess. The carbon dioxide sublimates (from a solid to a gas) straight back into the atmosphere from whence it came. All that falls to the floor is the paint or whatever it is that the process has been commissioned to remove. The downside is that few companies offer it as yet (the nearest to us was 200 miles away) and it’s eye wateringly expensive. It’s also extremely noisy. At 125 decibels that would be the same as standing on the runway at Heathrow when a jumbo jet takes off. This is the point at which sound starts to cause actual physical pain. And with all the glass in the new bathroom directly above? No.

Next up in terms of kindness to beams is soda blasting, using bicarbonate of soda. It’s the method favoured by English Heritage but try finding anyone down here who will do it. We’ve held the project up for weeks while we tried. The drawback for contractors is that it’s slow. Our couple of small rooms would have taken three days. Every avenue we explored eventually closed down until all that was left was the nuclear option. Sand.



But as it turned out it’s actually been OK.

In the dining room too, some of the beams now uncovered are full of character. If a piece of wood has been around for hundreds of years it has almost inevitably had an encounter with woodworm. If a beam is then aggressively blasted the numerous worm tunnels near the surface of the wood break down, leaving a heavily pitted surface. There’s been a bit of that, but not too much.



In other places the result is not so great.

But we expected this. Even when these beams were black we could see that they’d previously had extra lengths of wood nailed to their sides.. box store pine skirting board as it turned out! And of course now the beams have been stripped these additions are a completely different colour. We can’t remove them as they could be adding strength. The white areas, between new wood and old most notably top left almost out of shot, are filler. My backstop solution is to apply a very light coat of limewash to each beam but I hate the thought of repainting the original wood. First I will try staining the pine to get a closer match to the old oak.



As well as the beams we had the floor bricks blasted, removing the red paint which previously covered them.

The original floor is now a thing of beauty. The disappointment perhaps is that the reclaimed bricks we added, to replace the strip of concrete at the left of the room, still look too ‘new’ in comparison to the old. There’s also more variation of colour in the old, which of course we couldn’t see underneath the paint. But it will be far less noticeable when the furniture is back. And after all, isn’t this how character in old buildings evolves? Successive generations all leave their mark and the visible record leaves the stories to be told.


And finally. The inglenooks.

The fireplace in the sitting room was given a quick once over by the blasting man and looks all the better for it. But it’s in the dining room that the real transformation has taken place..






And after.

It needs some re-pointing, especially on the upper back wall, but that should only serve to brighten it up still further.



What we hadn’t realised, until the black paint was removed, is that the inglenook beam is studded with old nails.

Who put them there, how long ago and for what purpose? The mind boggles.