Thursday, May 12, 2011

365 Jobs, Day 132: Old Marble Sink

May, 1981

At a garage sale in Woodside there's a lovely marble countertop with attached sink for sale.  It could have been lifted from some ancient Roman bath.  It certainly looks that old - and beaten.  The man is asking $45.  The day is late; it hasn't sold.  Rose, my wife, wants it.  So do I.

I offer $3.  The man says he could come down some, but $3 is ridiculous.

Rose asks me if the stains will come out.  Also, she asks if there's a way to smooth the rough spots on the surface.  And how do you fill those pock marks?  There's a chip on the edge.  And how can we make that crack go away?

I say I don't know; it would be a gamble to buy it but I'm willing to try.  Rose shakes her head skeptically.  

Turning to the man, who has heard every word, I ask, "Will you take four dollars?"

This is a wealthy house in a wealthy neighborhood.  They don't need the money.  The man is probably under orders to clean the crap out his garage.

We settle on $5. 

Rose and I are still constructing our new home, one room at a time, in a most unwealthy town.  While building, we are living in it - camping out, really - with two small children.  We have no money but oodles of energy.

In the library I read some books about how to restore marble.  Baking soda, then hydrogen peroxide, then bleach, with complete drying between each solution, removes the stains.  Blending white and black epoxy, I find a shade of gray that looks good for filling pock marks.  Slow, careful work.  With more work, sculpting the slow-drying epoxy, I fill the chip at the edge.

When the epoxy dries, I sand it by hand. 

The hand-sanding is tough work.  In a hardware store I find little discs you can attach to a power drill.  They work beyond my expectations.  They actually erase flaws.  

There's a hairline crack we'll just have to live with. 

If I were paid for the labor I put into this sink, it would cost a fortune.

These low-dollar, high-labor salvages make the house a somewhat odd and eclectic place.  They make it our home.  They won't appeal to the next owner, who will tear them out and eventually hold a garage sale including an old marble sink.  But that won't happen for a long time: we plan to raise children, grow old, and die here.  As of 2011 we've accomplished two thirds of that plan.

It's a common story, sweat equity.  Being children of the Sixties, homesteading had a particular appeal.  But in any era, many have done the same.

A year after finishing the sink, our new, third child takes a Roman bath:

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