Many parts of the porch at 150 S. Gifford were rotten or missing as seen at right. The owner was given several code violations forcing him to repair or rebuild it.

I proposed several different actual designs for the new balustrade.  The one below came from a porch on Laurel St.

This is one from Gifford St.

This is one I saw in a magazine



Here is a variation of Laurel St. That Brian Anderson, the owner of one-third of the building proposed.

Christen Sundquist, the Preservation Specialist at the city made renderings of a possible design.


The owner decided to go with the Laurel St. variation.  He hired an architect, which was dictated by the city, to draw up the plans as seen below.

The layout of the stair rail is difficult so my wife and I made a mockup to visualize it as seen below.


I made a full-scale mockup of the proposed balustrade as seen below at right and placed it on the porch, bottom left, so the owner could see it and give the approval to move on. It should have been lower but since the porch is so high off the ground by city code,  it had to be 36 inches tall. The International Residential Building Code has a rule called the four-inch ball rule.  It is to prevent kids’ heads from getting stuck in between two balustrades.  If a four-inch ball can fit between two balusters, they are too far apart.  My design needed six inches between balusters to look right.  The IRC has a page that says the code can be modified for historic homes if it is not life-threatening.  The city has bought into that idea but it still took months to get the variation for the proposed design.

The old porch was completely removed and new 48-inch deep cement piers were installed.

New framing was added using treated lumber. The carpenter made it very strong.

I pummeled the newels by first drawing circle patterns on the top and sides.

I ground the wood off up to the line with an angle grinder as seen at right. A belt sander would also work.










Here is the finished porch before it was painted and after.  The finials are from Mr. Sppindle.  I primed the flat boards on both sides to reduce shrinkage and warping.  Treated lumber needs to be painted immediately or the sun and rain will make it twist and warp.  I made the beadboard by making a custom molding knife to make the beadboard beads. It was milled from treated porch flooring.  Pine beadboard is expensive and would rot away in five years.  The decking and treads are Azec which will last forever. It looks almost like 1 X 4 porch flooring. 










The owner received a 50/50 Architectural grant from the city which paid for half of the cost.  He also received a $2000 Architectural grant from the Gifford Park Association.

While I was there I noticed that a squirrel had made a hole in the fascia.  I made two pieces of custom crown duplicating the original exactly and had my handyman install them.  Here is a picture of the hole, the original molding, and the molding I made in treated lumber.

In my old house woodworking business I often get asked to duplicate old house trim baseblocks. I do not think the old timers used a molding machine or shaper to make them as you cannot mold perpendicular to the grain. I tried it once by putting the wood on a sled to hold short pieces to go thru the molder. The results were disastrous. I believe they used a bandsaw to cut them.  I have seen some evidence of that on old ones.  The only problem with a bandsaw is that it leaves a rough surface which takes a lot of sanding. I need to look into a fine-toothed bandsaw blade.  The fine-toothed blade on my scroll saw leaves a smooth surface.  I make my base blocks on a bandsaw and have spent hours sanding.  Machines can be used for parts of them.

The first thing to do is to trace the pattern on the edge of the wood.

I screw the blocks of wood to a jig/handle that keeps the wood perpendicular to the table of the bandsaw. I then slowly cut to the line.

Here are the finished products after a lot of sanding.


The original base blocks were southern yellow pine.  After a long search, I found a source for southern yellow pine. Our treated lumber is made from it but you cannot use it for interior wood that is to be varnished. Notice in the new books that the growth rings are very far apart making it kind of wild.  New growth wood today is grown on a plantation where they water and fertilize it making the growth rings about 3/8 of an inch apart.  In old growth trees, the growth rings would be 1/16 or less apart.

Here are the patterns I used to make base blocks over the past 30 years.

Here are some base blocks I have collected over the years from houses that were demolished.

Here is a base block where the trim carpenter mortised in a space for the baseboard.  Wow!  You will not find a carpenter doing that today. The baseboard can shrink slightly without creating a gap. I wonder why he did not include the base cap.

This is how the house looked in 1981. It was overgrown and not maintained. The bank holding the mortgage foreclosed several times as decent owners could never be found.  The bank asked the Gifford Park Association to oversee a rehab to make it decent to attract a good new owner.  They did it and new owners were found.

This is how it looked after rehab.


A year ago the new owner decided he wanted to add appropriate details to the porch and paint it.  He chose details from a similar house in the neighborhood:


I made the mockups of the new frieze, brackets, and balustrade to show the owner and the city. The square balusters are turned 90 degrees to make them look bigger.  It was often done and is a nice feature.

The bracket design was taken from an actual old house bracket as shown below:

The Preservation specialist at the city drew up the proposed changes for the homeowner and the Design Review Committee.

I made the new frieze and balustrade and a carpenter installed them.


The city Preservation specialist made several computer renderings to show different paint schemes. Two are below.  Notice one has brackets in the eves.  The homeowner requested them so they were included in the rendering for the Design Review Committee. Although appropriate for the house there was no evidence that they were ever there so the Design Review Committee denied them.

Here is a picture of the finished project before the bay and windows were painted:

The back porch was in bad shape:

I made new treads, rails, and balusters for the porch.

To reduce cupping the new treads had to be painted on all four sides with deck enamel  before installation:


About 10 years ago I made replacement porch rails for 722 Douglas in Elgin. It is an intricate rail so I had a knife made to duplicate it exactly. Below is the profile. luckily I kept the knife so I could make the rail again. It is made in two pieces and then glued together.

At the time I used cedar wood. Cedar has good rot resistance but it will still rot.  After only 10 years the new rails rotted on their ends. A tree is designed to suck water up its length.  If the end of a piece of wood is allowed to get wet it will suck the water into it. Once the water is there it will stay there and the wood will rot or attract carpenter ants.  Below are the ends of the rotten rails. Once the wood is wet carpenter ants will eat it. They actually bored a one-inch diameter  tunnel that is six inches deep in the one at the right.

The 10-year-old newel posts also had exposed end grain and rotted badly, as shown below.  Where two pieces of wood meet the joint has to be caulked and painted or it will rot. These posts were not maintained. The joint between the stair tread and the newel post was not kept sealed allowing water in and the wood to rot.

I made new newel posts to match the old exactly  I used treated wood for everything.

About three years ago I replaced a 6 inch section of the turned post because it was  rotten and it broke. They did not seal the end grain when they installed the new piece so more of the old post rotted above my new section as shown on the right. I made another new turned section which was inserted into the post as shown on the left .

One of the big posts had a rotten bottom.   I cut off about 10 inches and replaced it. I duplicated the bead and stop chamfer exactly.

The sawed apron boards have a framing board on the bottom. The seam between the frame and the apron boards needs to be caulked and painted.  The owner did not do that so the open seam allowed water in trapping it between the boards so several of the apron boards were rotten and had to be replaced. I duplicated them exacctly.

If you have an old house porch and you see a black line showing a seam is open anywhere on the porch you need to caulk it then paint it.  Use a minimum amount of caulk and make the seam neat. The best tool to spread caulk is your finger.  I  carry a can of water to lubricate my finger and scrape the excess caulk off of my finger after spreading it.

The owner wanted to change a plain window into one with embellishments like two others on the house.  I was hired to duplicate the elements from the old window.  On the left is the original old window which is to be duplicated on the right.  The framing is finished on the right but the details have not been added.

Here is a view of the old brackets and casings that are to be duplicated:

Here are the brackets I made for the new window:

Here are the brackets and casings primed and ready to go.

Here are the casings I made for the window.


Stay tuned to see the finished window.



Porch reconstruction at 327 W. Chicago

W. W. Abell, a prominent Elgin architect, designed the house at 327 W. Chicago.

A contractor friend was hired to rebuild a rotting porch and he asked me to make the details.  It was very satisfying working on a porch of that stature.

It needed a new porch apron.  Abell had designed it to have the horizontal and vertical pieces interlock.  I made it exactly the same.

The gooseneck rails were simply bandsawed from a 4 X 4 so I did the same.

I turned all new balls for the balusters and the finials for the newels to exactly match the originals.

Here is the back of the house:

Here is one of the fireplace mantels and stained glass windows.

Click here for more info about W. W. Abell.


Click here to see an old listing with interior pictures.

Abandoned Italiante home on Lake St in Hanover Park.


We drove past this wonderful old house hundreds of times going to and from work in the 70’s and 80’s. We so wished that someone would rehab it. The dormer in the roof is unusual for this style of house.


Here is an old picture of it. When it was originally built it was in Ontarioville, not Hanover Park.


Click here to read some history on the house.

Notice it originally had shutters.  I’ll bet they were green. The old-timers did not have fine-trimmed lawns like we do today. They would let it grow long and then cut it with a scythe.

In the 70’s the home was the center of a huge sod farm.  The land east of it was always filled with beautiful green sod.  We stopped there once and asked the owner if we could go inside the home as we are old house enthusiasts.  He said we could not as his migrant workers live inside.

In 1987 we were redoing our bathroom.  My wife wanted a fancy ornament for above the tub.  In driving past the home she realized their porch frieze would be ideal.  We stopped and since no one was around we just traced it.  Here it is in our bathroom.’

The porch on the east side of the house where we traced the element is completely gone as shown below.


Here is the frieze from the front porch.  

The side porch did not have the little applique on it like the front porch has as shown below. We did not notice or we might have added it to the one in our bathroom.

Here is a picture showing a wonderful medallion and plaster cornice that is still in the foyer of the house.


Here is a picture of just the very unusual and wonderful medallion.

Here is the original interior balustrade that has been removed.

Here is another view of the balustrade.

Notice the original doors were false grained. All of the trim was also false grained which is very common in houses of this era.  False graining was actually more prestigious than having actual hardwood.

The entire house was gutted some time ago.  They were going to rehab it. A transom window above a wide door between the two parlors is very unusual.

The bay window had some wonderful details in including rope twists on the corners. The brackets and window hoods are wonderful.

Every window on the house had a large hood with little brackets.

The house had wonderful panels and brackets in the cornice.

Here is a picture of some old wallpaper left in the house.

This house did not have any fancy fireplaces which most houses of this era and stature had. Our own home is an Italianate of the same era and has four fireplaces.  The house has a chimney in every room showing a stovepipe hole so each room had a potbelly stove for heat.

They have removed all of the exterior fancy details getting ready to demolish the house. I imagine they were sold to an architectural salvage. Such a crime!

706 Douglas is a wonderful house in the Spring Douglas Historic District that was designed by prominent Elgin Architect W. W. Abell. Below is how it looked a few years ago.

The elderly woman that lived there was strong-willed and opinionated.  I once told her that the wrought iron porch posts were not original to the house.  She got very upset with me and insisted that they were.  Below is an old picture of the house from the book Picturesque Elgin showing the original porch with posts and brackets.

The investor that rehabbed the home put back appropriate front and rear porches.

Their carpenter did a great job on the curved balustrade as shown below.

The second-floor balustrade was missing so the previous owner filled it in with a huge sheet of plexiglass for safety.  The rehabber put back an appropriate spindled balustrade.

I had a minor part in the porch only making the finials and brackets.

The attic windows in the little dormer on the east side were rotten as shown below.

I made new ones to exactly duplicate the original.

The interior stair balustrade is very unusual,  fancy and had some missing finials.


I remade them duplicating the originals exactly. The one on the right is an original.

The Gifford Park Association has a page on their website dedicated to W. W. Abell. He designed a home at 427 Fulton and the plans were left with the home.  The first part of the post is the plans but then it goes on to talk about the man. Check it out:

W. W. Abell, the man and his plans | GPA Elgin

The rehabbers did an amazing job polishing the home.  Check out the listing which has a lot of interior pictures:

706 Douglas Ave, Elgin, IL 60120 | MLS# 10846464 | Redfin


Great new porch for an 1846 Greek Revival home

The Historical Society is rehabbing the oldest home in Elgin. The city bought the problem property that was six units.  They are keeping possession but letting the Historical Society rehab the property for their use. The interior is almost finished so they switched to putting back an appropriate porch.  Here is what the property looked like when the Historical Society took possession. The cement steps lead to a recently and poorly built porch.

Below is an earlier picture with a different configuration for the porch.

The poorly built porch was taken off and a new concrete approach was added as shown below.

Here is what the new porch looks like.

Scott Savel of All Around Home Improvements was commissioned to build the new porch.  His Facebook page does an excellent job of describing the process.

Click here to view it  

Here is the porch with a new paint job.  The cornice still needs to be repaired.