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.

Douglas Posts

The porch columns on this building were coming apart and some of the tops and bottoms were rotting with the beam sagging.  The owner took it apart, put in a new beam and I repaired the posts and remade the tops and bases.


The coopered columns on this apartment building are 18 inches in diameter. Coopered means they are made from many pieces of wood like a cooper makes a barrel. Two of the posts came apart.  I cleaned the edges and made special clamps to pull them together while gluing. The clamps are metal strapping attached to blocks of wood.  the strapping allows you to make them any diameter you want by screwing pieces of strapping together.  The pipe clamps can pull very tightly.  A typical band clamp is not strong enough so I made the special ones and have used them several times.  I have not seen them anywhere else so I think it was my original idea.

Here is an adjustable band clamp that I made out of strapping and blocks of wood.


I made cradles to hold the columns while gluing.

Several of the bases and tops were rotten. 

They were originally made using a shaper with a huge custom head. I don’t have a huge shaper and custom heads would be very expensive so I used a lathe to turn them. They are 20 inches in diameter so I had to use the outboard side of the lathe.  The wood is glued up cypress.  Make sure the pieces are from the same board. If one board is denser than the other it will jump so badly that it will not turn nicely and may fly off. A very low speed is also crucial.

Here is a finished base and top.

Here is the building back together.



The people that rehabbed this porch used balusters designed for interior use. Had they painted or caulked the end grain it would’ve helped them last longer.  After installation, they needed to have the edges of the bottoms caulked so that water can’t get into the end grain. You always have to seal the end grain of wood on the exterior of a house.  A tree is designed to suck water up its length through the grain. If you let water hit the end grain it sucks it into the element, stays there, and rots it.  The end grain of the rails needed to be sealed also so they would not rot as shown below.  Also always use treated lumber on porches.

On seven spindles I cut off the rotten bottoms and made new ones.

Here are the spindles with new bottoms. I did not cut them to length in the shop.  I let the carpenter do that on-site in case there is some variance.

Four spindles had gotten lost so I made new. The wood is cypress which has great rot resistance but I still covered them with preservative.

Here is the balustrade repaired.

The young couple is new to old house living and the neighborhood so I did the project at no cost to them.