Mailbag Q&A: Bathtub Magic and What's in My Toolbox?

7:53 PM Katy 3 Comments

Reader questions today!

#1:    Hi Katy,
 Thank you so much for your information that you posted about cleaning an old porcelain tub/sink! I can't tell you how many things that I have tried.  So far, I am about 95% there after using the toilet bowl cleaner.  I'm sorry to bother you, but I have a couple of questions:  Do you think that I should try the toilet bowl cleaner again or just go for the MaryKate?  Also, what does it mean to wet sand and what type of sandpaper did you use on the sink?
First - you're not bothering me. :) Second, y'all can read the bathtub refinishing post for background - but to answer this question let's talk about what acid does. Acid eats away at material. So every time you apply acid to a porcelain surface you are removing some of that material. Sometimes that's the only way to get rid of the stains, but it does put a limit on the number of times (or length of time) you can apply it. It also means you might need to seal the finished surface with a clear coat. I had to really work hard on that bathtub to get it pristine, so now I will be spraying on a clear coat to protect the porcelain from further staining and/or etching.
(I've heard from another reader that using a Magic Eraser block can get stains off an old cast iron/porcelain bathtub as well.)

Toilet bowl cleaner is weaker acid than the MaryKate stuff, so you could keep applying it until the finish is perfect - run your fingers over the surface and see how "rough" (etched) it feels. Also you can tell when you are wearing down the porcelain too thin because you'll be able to see the dark shadow of the iron casting behind it.. the porcelain starts to look faintly "see through".  You don't want to get down that thin. If you've used the toilet bowl cleaner and it's still not perfect, you can try the MaryKate and it will surely do the trick. Just make sure you've got enough of the porcelain surface left. {EDIT: I am concerned about pouring lots of MaryKate acid down your plumbing pipes and potentially causing yourself worse problems - that's why I recommend the toilet bowl cleaner when your tub is installed in your house already!! Do not sue me if you melt your pipes!}

"Wet sanding" is just like it sounds -- it's the process of using fine sandpaper with water to get a smooth surface (over porcelain, metal, and fiberglass - not wood). You have to be careful with this, because you will very quickly wear down the porcelain. I let my dad do some of this wet sanding when I was working on the sink, but he was too enthusiastic and now the porcelain is almost see-through on the front edge. Sorry, dad. :) (He's accustomed to wet sanding his antique steel outboard motors, not delicate porcelain bathroom fixtures.)

#2: Dear Katy,

Could you please post something about the tools you use?

I have looked and looked and it seems most of the tools,  palm sander, belt sander, drill, are too big for my hand.  I am not overly petite and find it frustrating that all the tools are unmanageable.

Oh sister! Let me stand up on my toolbox and preach, since this is a huge issue for me! I am a small person. My hands are very small (ring size = 4.25 ~ 4.5) I don't have many tools that are easy for me to use. I currently own the following:

DeWalt drill (not cordless I hate cordless)
Miter saw
circular saw
table saw
jig saw (I don't like this one at all)
reciprocating saw
oscillating saw
orbital sander
Mouse sander
Porter Cable router
router table and secondary router
nail gun and pancake compressor

to name the main ones. I have lots of other equipment and attachments, plus the Shopsmith. I have pretty much every saw a carpenter needs - and the only one that I consider "easy" to use is the miter saw. The rest of my tools require a LOT of arm/hand strength to keep it under my control. Every time I use the reciprocating saw to take apart a wood pallet I pray to Jesus that I don't cut off any of my toes or fingers. :/ That is the saw that I would not recommend to another woman unless she's built like a ball player and knows what the hell she is doing! (I am clearly insane)
Even the orbital sander has too much horsepower - I can hardly keep it steady and moving in the right direction. It's fine for working on large surface areas.
The only sander I own that I would recommend (without qualm) to another woman is the Mouse -- its small and fits in my hand with a place to grip it, the horsepower isn't too insane, and it vibrates rather than spins -- much easier to handle.
Here's my hot tip for using a belt sander: mount it to the edge of your bench on its flat side with clamps. That's the only way I could use mine. I would use a little clamp to keep the switch in the "on position" too, so that I could just hold the piece of wood up against the belt and watch it go. :)

This is one of those times when being a woman sucks (the other being childbirth, natch). Because in order to get a tool in the horsepower that I need want, it will be more powerful than I can easily master. I'm sure that I need to start lifting weights because my arm strength is practically nil - those of you who have played fastpitch softball know that female power is in our hips - not our upper body.

Maybe someone will invent power tools that can be controlled with our hips. But until then, you've got to brace yourself against the bench and hope for the best. :/

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  1. just a note: Nicole from the show "Rehab Addict" is very small and I'm sure she uses a reciprocating saw. It's manageable if you've got enough leverage and you're cutting into studs in a wall, for instance. I've found it a nightmare to wrestle with it on things like pallets, though.

  2. hey, i am such a gadget nerd...just reading about logistics and tools fascinates me. and for the record (and tadah!) whitewash and co has its first power drill! yes! and it is not cordless. and it is a cheap drill, but still- we are feeling empowered!

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