What I need to do is to figure out where to punch holes in the sandpaper, and then get a dust collector bag for it, so I don't end up sneezing my nose off my face. But that's a detail; the important part is, I was able to sand away at the patches on the wall without ruining my arms, and I'd say I'm probably about 90% done with the family room's patches. A couple spots need touch-ups, but they'll be ready for that soon.
Took some time to replace the other two outlets in the family room, as well, because I had to pull the cover plates to fix the drywall surrounding one of them.
Moved on to the front hall, and was making good progress until I got to the part over the stairs; and that is what elicits the title of this post.
Sometime in the 1980s Dad decided there needed to be a wall between kitchen and family room. It was not a big wall, but it spanned the area from the front hall to the outside of the kitchen cabinets on the west wall of the kitchen. The front hall is where the stairs down to the basement are, and the stairwell is separated from hallway by a wrought-iron railing which curves 90 degrees. Formerly, that was the only thing separating the family room from the stairwell, until this wall went in.
So as you're facing north, standing in the family room: left (west) of the kitchen's west wall there was a railing; now there is a wall about 4' high with a planter on top of it, behind which is the railing, still in place. Right (east) of the kitchen's west wall, there's a wall that goes floor to ceiling.
There's nothing wrong with the carpentry; that part's fine. The electrical installation is competent, too. Even the drywall was installed correctly--but it was taped like shit.
You see, when you install drywall, there are inevitably seams, because it comes in 4x8 panels, and dimples where either nails or screws are used to secure it to the wall studs. These defects are covered with paper tape and "mud"--joint compound--which hide the seams and fastener heads. Like the men who plastered the older lath-and-plaster walls, it takes some skill to do it right, so that the seams are invisible once mudded, sanded, and painted. And Dad really didn't do too bad a job on the seams and nail heads.
But the corners....
There's a special bead you use for corners. In this house, they used metal corner bead. You can get plastic corner bead now, too, if you want. They make it for both inside and outside corners. It takes a special tool to seat the metal kind; it looks like the plastic kind is just held in place by the mud.
Dad used tape.
He creased the tape and laid it over the corners, and mudded it in place. It looked...okay...but not great, and now (some twenty-five, thirty years on) the tape is breaking down and the mud is flaking away, leaving obvious cracks where the paper and mud are separating from the drywall underneath.
To make matters even more entertaining, the north side of the wall, over the stairwell, was never primed or painted, or even mudded, because the railing is still in place. There's a single line of nails holding it on near the top of the wall, and no others. It's held in place pretty solidly (I'd wager there's another line of nails near the bottom, hidden by the wood molding) and there's nothing wrong with it...except that the top was damaged by the installation of the planter box. The drywall is flattened and the paper curves outward; it was a little proud of the top 2x4 that makes up the wall there, and the planter crushed it. It's damaged far enough down that I think I'm going to have to replace the drywall there.
Where the new wall blended into the big wall by the staircase, it's also a craptastic job. I'm not sure what, yet, I'm going to have to do about it, but I don't think it's going to be a simple 1-2-3 job to fix that. The joint taping went famously there; it looks good enough--right down to where the planter was. That planter hid an awful mess.
So here's what I'm thinking I'm going to have to do:
1) Strip the tape from the corners and apply corner bead, preferably metal, and re-mud them.
2) Remove the railing, replace the chunk of drywall with the damaged top.
3) Figure out if the planter is going back, or if I'm just finishing the top of the wall with drywall, and do it. Regardless, once I've finished the work, prime and paint the whole thing and reinstall the railing.
The railing appears to be held in place with lag bolts. I pray that is the case, because otherwise removing and reinstalling it will be an epic nightmare. And I'm not too happy about having nothing between the main floor and a 12-foot drop while I fix the stupid wall, so I'm considering the 2x6 idea again.
And if we don't put the planter back in, how do I do the top of the wall? Corner bead, probably.
I've approached this entire project from the standpoint of not cutting any corners. I want to do everything the correct way. I could half-ass this wall and it would look fine, but I'd spend the next twenty years looking at it and wondering when I'd have to wade back into it.
Incidentally, that chunk of drywall I put in last week--it's nice and solid. Apparently I did that patch correctly, because while there's a bit of a wave where the joints are, it's still a pretty solid piece of work. I'm glad I did it the hard way, instead of just slathering spackle over the hole. Ultimately, I'll be glad I did this job the hard way, even if it takes more time.
I just wish I didn't have to. Well, I'm learning useful things, so WTF.