April 12, 2021

Episode #51: Demystifying Linseed Oil Paint with Natalie from Earth and Flax

Episode #51: Demystifying Linseed Oil Paint with Natalie from Earth and Flax

In this episode, Stacy asks Natalie Yon-Eriksson from Earth and Flax all the linseed oil paint questions she’s been wondering about over the years. Is it easy to use? How is it made? What are the benefits and limitations of linseed oil paint?...

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In this episode, Stacy asks Natalie Yon-Eriksson from Earth and Flax all the linseed oil paint questions she’s been wondering about over the years. Is it easy to use? How is it made? What are the benefits and limitations of linseed oil paint? Natalie has the answers to all of those questions and plenty more.

Also, Stacy and Alex from Old Town Home discuss the best first project to tackle when you buy an old house. 

Thank You to our Sponsors

This episode is supported byEco-Strip and The Window Course.

Eco-Strip is the exclusive US distributor of Speedheater™ infrared paint removal products from Sweden. Used properly, the Speedheater™ 1100 and the Cobra infrared paint removers reduce dust from paint scraping, and they don't release toxic lead fumes into the air. Order now and get $20 off your entire order when you use the coupon code truetales1.

The Window Course is a step-by-step do-it-yourself program that will teach you everything you need to restore historic wood windows successfully. The information is comprehensive and taught with Scott’s signature approachable style. For 10% off, visit The Window Course and use the coupon code truetales.

Mentioned in this Episode

Show Notes

(0:15) Stacy gives a brief overview of stop bead adjusters for wood windows. She explains how they can help to make sash windows easier to open and close when the wood expands and contracts seasonally. 

(3:15) Alex from Old Town Home is back for listener Q & A. The listener question is, “How do you decide where to start restoring an old house assuming that there are no immediate safety concerns that need to be addressed?” 

Alex starts by explaining that his answer to that question has changed over the years. Stacy and Alex both agree that focusing on securing the exterior of the house is critical. All systems should be in working order. However, they both note that sometimes, systems in an old house fail, and you have to address them whether you want to or not. Those items get pushed to the top of the to-do list. 

(7:36) Stacy asks Alex what he would do today if he bought an old house. Alex would refinish hardwood floors first and set up a workshop. Stacy agrees that having an organized and dedicated workshop area makes tasks more efficient and cost-effective. 

(13:25) Stacy reminds the audience of this season’s question, “What is the weirdest or most surprising thing you ever found in your old house?” From Barbies to toilets, True Tales From Old Houses listeners share their finds. 

(15:35) Stacy welcomes Natalie Yon-Eriksson from Earth and Flax to talk about linseed oil paint, a traditional coating. 

(16:41) Natalie explains what linseed paint is exactly. She also talks about pigments and color matching. Stacy wonders if linseed paint can be used over modern paints without stripping windows and doors back to bare wood. Natalie states that linseed oil paint can be used over almost anything, excluding a few epoxies. However, for best results, the substrate must be clean, dry, and stable. Failed paint and other coatings should be removed. 

(27:12) Natalie takes a deep dive into how linseed oil paint is made from flax. She talks about the process of removing the purified linseed oil from food-grade flax oil. The various stages of purification take it from straight linseed oil to paint grade to varnish.

(32:17) Stacy pauses to thank her sponsors, Eco-Strip, the exclusive distributor of Speedheater™ infrared paint removers from Sweden, and The Window Course, created by Scott Sidler of The Craftsman Blog. Exclusive coupons for True Tales From Old Houses listeners are linked here in the show notes. 

(34:23) Stacy asks for clarification on how pure purified linseed oil is after the cleaning process. Is it food grade? Natalie states that while it is non-toxic, it is not consumable. Purified linseed oil does make a food-safe coating for items like cutting boards and butcher block countertops. 

(36:07) Natalie talks about the sustainability of flax and some exciting advancements in farming flax. 

(39:15) Stacy and Natalie discuss the environmental and potential health hazards of modern materials. Lead in paint is a known toxin, but there are plenty of other hazardous and toxic additives, solvents, and preservatives in today’s building materials. 

(43:33) Stacy asks Natalie about the longevity and maintenance of linseed oil paint. Natalie explains the application process and how to remove mildew and dirt from siding and windows painted with linseed oil paint. 

(53:48) Natalie offers information about The Red List, a database of the worst of the worst construction materials. 

(55:56) Natalie touches briefly on the shift from the homeowner’s use of linseed oil paint to the construction industry. The construction industry is moving towards using more linseed oil products because they require less maintenance overall. Stacy asks Natalie if she will come back another time to elaborate on that topic. They agree to do another episode of True Tales From Old Houses sometime soon.

Thank you for listening to True Tales From Old Houses.

Until next time,



Stacy Grinsfelder  0:02  
I'm Stacy Grinsfelder from Blake Hill House and I am the host of True Tales From Old Houses. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  0:15  
Hello everyone. I don't want to jinx it, but I think it's real spring here. The honeybees that live in our tree out front are back to buzzing around full time, and when I look out the window I even see a bloom or two. I think we're good to go. On today's episode, Alex from Old Town Home and I are going to answer a listener question and my guest is Natalie from Earth and Flax, and she'll be here to talk about linseed oil paint, which I admit I know very little about. So it's going to be a good learning experience for all of us. But first, I want to mention a little piece of helpful hardware that I could never remember the name of, and it drives me crazy. It's something that I get asked about a lot and I always draw a blank. So my hope is that if I mention it here, I will finally commit it to memory, but we'll have to see about that. What I'm talking about are stop bead adjusters for wood windows. Stop bead adjusters, they look like metal grommets, but the holes are oblong instead of circular. It doesn't really matter if you've done a full restoration or not stop bead adjusters can be helpful, and I'll tell you how they work. Basically, the interior stops on either side of the lower sash, I usually put them approximately a credit cards thickness away from the sash, and that distance allows the lower sash to move freely, but it's also close enough to prevent air leaks. However, when the wood expands and contracts seasonally those interior stops can expand so much and the sashes can expand so much that they butt up tightly to each other. Then the entire window gets sticky and difficult to open because there's just too much friction. So that is where the stop adjusters can come in handy. Your interior stops are usually held in place with four screws, sometimes nails if you have nails, you will need to switch to screws. And these little metal like I said they look like grommets but the holes are oblong. They fit where those screw holes go and the screw goes into the adjuster. And that oblong hole allows you to move the window stop back and forth a little bit.

Stacy Grinsfelder  2:16  
So when everything expands, you can loosen the screw and scoot or tap the interior stop away from the sash a little more. But when it's cold, you can do the opposite, and slide the interior stop closer to the lower sash. Using these stop beat adjusters, it's pretty --I think it's an excellent all season solution for uncooperative windows, I have a few; you might have a few. It's also a small modification that improves function, but it doesn't change the overall integrity of your historic wood windows. Now I'm going to link all of this info in the show notes because we are heading into the warmer months when sticky windows often do become a problem. So there you have it, stop bead adjusters. Now it's out of my brain and into yours, and hopefully back into mine again. Alright, as I mentioned earlier, Alex is back for listener Q&A. Hi, Alex, we have an interesting question to answer today.

Alex  3:26  
Great cannot wait. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  3:27  
Okay wonderful. The question we have to answer today is-- I'm really interested in hearing what you have to say you have more experience in this than I do so. But the question is, how do you decide where to start restoring an old house assuming that there are no immediate safety concerns that need to be addressed?

Alex  3:45  
Well, I think this is a very interesting question, one that I get in general conversation quite a bit too, because there's a lot of different ways that you can approach any type of a renovation or restoration project in an old house. And I think my answer for this has evolved since we first bought our house as well. So much of it has to do with what kind of budget you have, where your focus is in terms of aesthetics versus preservation. I would definitely say when we first bought our house, we didn't have the budget to tackle anything substantial. So we wanted to look at how we could make a quick impact and also start to learn so that we can further contribute to renovation projects in the future. So I think what we started out on right when we bought our house was a lot more of the superficial aesthetic repair, having to do with learning about plaster, fixing cracks, the things that were the most glaringly obvious things to us as new homeowners. Now that we have more experience and understanding about owning an old house, I think a lot of that has shifted over to making sure the envelope is in good shape--the walls, the systems, the roof, everything is good before then launching into those aesthetic items. So that's why I said this is sort of like evolved over the years. Because I think when we start a project or look at how we want to attack things now, it's definitely a much different order than when we were very young, very naive, and had very little budget to throw anything.

Stacy Grinsfelder  5:23  
Right, right. Definitely. I think, yeah, looking back, I've only been in this particular house this large of a project for seven years, and I definitely see maybe where I would have started differently than I did. I mean, I think just like anyone, I was looking at cosmetic things, but fortunately, because I'm such a practical person, we did jump in right away and just do the roof. Because it was a disaster. I mean, it had to be done. We had electrical panel and roof. So I guess those are technically safety concerns. But we also within two weeks, we clogged up the plumbing. So

Alex  5:58  
Yeah, and those are things that they present themselves so that you know what you need to take care of, based off of what's falling apart.

Stacy Grinsfelder  6:05  
Right, you can make all the lists in the world, but let me tell you, sometimes the house just says this is the problem, and now's the time to fix it.

Alex  6:14  
Yep, exactly. We had that issue with our HVAC, when when our whole house froze, it didn't matter what we had on on our list of projects that we wanted to accomplish, everything stopped so that we could replace all of the plumbing and we could replace the whole HVAC system.

Stacy Grinsfelder  6:29  
Right. And for our listeners, if you're just jumping in this season, and you haven't heard the episode that I did with Alex--Old Town Home before, definitely go back and listen to it because you had a catastrophe of gigantic proportions in your house on the water, right?

Alex  6:46  
Yeah, yeah, it was a cold snap that and a power outage that ended up knocking out the boiler and allowed the pipes to freeze. And once one pipe goes, they all kind of go after that. And we were not at the house for a couple days. And we came back to icicles out of every single radiator and every single plumbing line had burst.

Stacy Grinsfelder  7:06  
That's a story that every time I hear it, I just feel the dark cloud getting lower and lower and lower, you know, the more you the deeper you get into that story, It's like oh, no, tell me it's gonna change. Oh, no, but I see it coming, and it just, it just breaks my heart. But anyway, water, water under the bridge or water all the way through your house, whatever you want to say. Right?

Alex  7:25  
But I mean, that that is one, that experience is one major one that has probably shaped how I would approach some thing if buying a new house. Now,

Stacy Grinsfelder  7:36  
If you're, today you're going and you're going to buy a house, tell me where you'd start.

Alex  7:39  
So if I'm going to buy a new old house, or I've just bought a new old house, and I'm moving into that house, I have a much different approach. In a ideal scenario, let's say what I would really like to do if if all the stars aligned, I would first make sure that everything like you said safety concerns are in shape, roof, and windows are all of the openings to the house close, there's no way waters gonna get in or anything like that. That's number one. Number two, I would look at any necessary upgrades that I would need to make in terms of utilities having to do with electrical overhaul, if it's knob and tube wiring that I'm taking out, replacing with something modern bringing things up to code, they're potentially replacing the electrical panel with, you know, arc fault, and GFCI breakers for bathrooms and bedrooms. And just basically getting it to the point where I know the house is in good shape from a utility standpoint. Same with HVAC and plumbing. You know, one of the first things I did in our house in our new new old house was put a water cop sensor on the main plumbing line which allows a leak to be detected and automatically shut off the water to the house. And that really saved us in a lot of ways. So those are the those first things that I would like to do if I have the budget, and the wherewithal to actually attack those things. Then, once you have that done, then you go on to other things that are a lot of fun. Okay, well,

Stacy Grinsfelder  9:11  
I was gonna say, let's pretend all of that is perfect. Okay, we're living in our perfect world. What is the first fun project you might tackle?

Alex  9:20  
Almost always and this is may seem counterintuitive to a lot of people. We would tackle refinishing the floors, before you're in the house before you're doing things before you're renovating rooms or anything like that. refinish the floors changes the entire house. It sets the tone for everything else, you have to do it more or less all at once in most situations because of the way rooms flow from one to the other. And going back after you've completed projects to then refinish the floor or trying to do them one room at a time is extremely difficult. So from my perspective, refinish the floors and then plan on buying a lot of RAM board or other flooring protection to protect each room as you renovate those individual rooms,

Stacy Grinsfelder  10:03  
yeah, oh, that's really smart. It's smart, because I've never done it that way. I've always been the one who's moving furniture from place to place behind the sander, which is not fun at all. So I recommend as well, I think we had so many safety concerns to address when we moved in here that doing the floors right away wasn't an option. Also, I don't think we realized the catastrophe that we were coming into because they had put what-- I think I've told the story, I feel like I, I feel like you know, Grandpa telling the same story over and over again. But I have --when we moved into this house, we bought it from the executors of the estate. And I think they did a little freshen up in the house and by freshen up, they didn't really think about if products were compatible with one another or not. So I think they did a nice layer of water poly over oil based poly. And then, you know, three or four years and it just it came apart. The water just popped 

Alex  10:56  
the water bubbling and flaking here and there. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  10:59  
So we didn't realize when we walked in just what we were looking forward to later. So yes, we moved lots of furniture here and there and back and forth, and I have told Andy that I will never be refinishing floors by myself again. So he's been warned. 

Alex  11:14  
Yep. There's one other place that I would definitely suggest, for the hardcore DIYer, if you really want to get into this. And you feel like this is something that you want to spend a lot of time on, and it's not just a way to quickly renovate your house. And basically, I'm describing myself here, and I didn't know this early on, I would definitely try to set up a dedicated shop space somewhere that you can make sure you have a well organized tool layout somewhere that you can store your unused paints and don't have to constantly taking taking them to the dump or anything like that. And get yourself a well organized shop area. I've not had that. And it's a when I look at it, it's a bit of a disaster, because I haven't had that. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  12:00  
Yeah, I appreciate that. I have my basement is pretty organized, actually, it's exceptionally organized. I put a lot of effort into that. I'm sorry, I'm just..

Alex  12:10  
I'm pretty jealous. I've seen it. It's pretty jealous. Jealous about it.

Stacy Grinsfelder  12:13  
My idea is always that I want to be able to shop there first. And it's helped us you know, but it does fall into disorganization sometime, and I have to redo it. So it isn't a one and done process. But having it down there laid out the way it is does save a lot of time when it comes to doing projects. I'm not searching for the tool, and I already know if I have the piece of hardware and so I yeah, good point. I concur. I concur.

Alex  12:39  
And I can it doesn't even have to be a basement. I think that's where we all go in our in our minds is either a basement or garage shop. It can even be a small extra room if you've got a nice big old house that you know a lot of people have with these Victorians that have tons of extra rooms or extra bedrooms or something like that. Set up that extra room is your shop, at least in the interim until you get to the point where you need to renovate that room.

Stacy Grinsfelder  13:02  
Right? Absolutely. All right. Well, thank you so much for doing this with me again today. Alex. It's--I said it in the beginning. I'll say it at the end. I always enjoy seeing you. So it's it's fun. I have these built in opportunities to chat with you more, and I feel lucky.

Alex  13:16  
Well, thanks. I love being here talking with you and can't wait to be back.

Stacy Grinsfelder  13:20  
Great. Well, it'll be sooner than later. 

Alex  13:22  
Sounds great. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  13:23  
All right. Bye. 

Alex  13:24  

Stacy Grinsfelder  13:25  
Now it's your turn this season. I have a question for all of you listening and it is, what is the weirdest or most surprising thing you ever found in your old house? The answers have been rolling in, and I love it. Anthony found an unopened Barbie from the 1960s in the crawlspace of his last house. And in keeping with that theme instagrammer Albany Cheyenne sent me a DM telling me that she had found stacks of fine china in her crawlspace. Several people mentioned finding used razor blades in the walls and oddly enough, if you're not familiar, that's actually pretty common. Many or most medicine cabinets are recessed into the walls between the studs and those old ones had a slot in the back specifically for use blades. The blades didn't end up anywhere. They just went right into the wall and stayed there until someone like us found them. When I was restoring the wainscoting in our big bathroom upstairs, I actually found a few too. Not very many, but I did find some. And speaking of bathrooms Amy McLaughlin left a voicemail to share what she found. 

Amy  14:29  
I found an old toilet behind a wall in the bathroom like someone reconfigured the room at some point and just walled it off and installed a new toilet in a different location.

Stacy Grinsfelder  14:39  
Crazy stuff. I love a good random toilet story. If you would like to answer this question, please visit the True Tales From Old Houses website and on the bottom right hand side you will see a microphone icon. Click on that microphone and you can leave your answer as a voicemail. Please answer in a complete sentence and you can leave your voicemail using your phone or even the computer as long as it has a microphone. Some of you are pretty shy about leaving voicemails, so you're welcome to submit your answer via the contact form instead. Your privacy is important and I won't share your messages without your permission, I promise. Thank you to everyone who took the time to answer the question about the weirdest or most surprising thing you ever found in your old house?

Stacy Grinsfelder  15:37  
Over the past 50 episodes, we've talked about modern paint a lot. However, we've never really talked in-depth about linseed oil paint, which is a traditional coating. I feel like we should have done that by now. So I invited Natalie from Earth and Flax here today to round out our paint education.

Natalie  15:56  
Hi, I'm Natalie Yon-Eriksson. I'm the creator of Earth and Flax, and essentially, I promote consult. and import traditional materials primarily from Scandinavia. And yeah, a lot of it has to do with linseed oil paint, pine tar, all that good stuff.

Stacy Grinsfelder  16:17  
Well, thank you for being here. Natalie, I've been really looking forward to talking to you because it will take people no time at all to figure out that I know nothing about linseed paint and pine tar. So I'm hoping that you will be able to educate all of us, myself, listeners, and I've heard a lot of good things about your company, a lot of good things about you, and I'm pleased to have you on the show.

Natalie  16:39  
Oh, that's wonderful to hear. I'm very excited to be here. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  16:41  
Great. All right, well, let's go basic. What is linseed paint? Because most of us are used to working with-- a lot of us, I should say, not most of us are used to working with modern paints, and I get questions all the time about linseed paint. And the main thing I know is that it's different, and that it should be treated differently. But I don't exactly know why. So start let's start with the basics. What is linseed paint?

Natalie  17:11  
Yeah, I think that that's a, you know, it's important to kind of keep it in its own category. So it's a good rule to live by. And, you know, the linseed oil paint that I primarily work with has a really simple formulation. You know, when I'm researching materials, I'm typically looking for simple formulations that have a long history of use, and I prefer you know, materials that are as solvent and petrochemical free as possible. So the linseed oil paint, the ingredients are going to be basic, it's going to be a purified degummed, you know, a good quality linseed oil, it's going to have natural pigments, a lot of iron oxides, for example, it's going to have maybe chalk in the filler. And then zinc, which is a natural fungicide creates a slightly harder painted finish. And it might have a natural mineral dryer or it might have a little bit of paraffin. But in general, it's going to be four or five ingredients tops. Not--it is not a complex petrochemical formulation. So I think that that's the biggest difference, the biggest distinction to kind of keep in mind when we're talking about linseed oil paint. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  18:20  
Alright so I have a question related to that you talked about pigments, is Can it be tinted or colored pretty much in limitless ways? Or are you limited into dark colors? Or Gray's? Or you know, something? Because of pigments? Natural pigments?

Natalie  18:37  
Yeah, no, that's a great question. Um, yeah, there's, you know, I kind of recommend mixing within brands. So if you pick the Ottosson brand, or you pick the Viking brand, kind of mix within those two, or within brand, you know. They're very close in formulation, but it's just about consistency, you know, they're slightly different. And it's always good to use like, with like, even within that traditional materials sphere. So yeah, I mean, mixing, there's no limits. You know, I work with a color specialist for folks who do want to like match an existing color. We don't do any sort of, on site mixing or custom mixing ourselves. If you want a whole palette of paint, you know, then we can communicate with the factory in Sweden. But, you know, most folks either love the standard colors or do some slight, a little bit lighter, a little darker, get creative themselves, and you know, they work with their painter or they, you know, they might have an artistic side so they enjoy that kind of process. So yeah, no limits in terms of mixing. And I think one fun factor is you can also make a linseed oil stain with any of the linseed oil paints, so you add a little bit of paint, and a little goes a long way. You add a little bit of the paint to the purified linseed oil, and essentially more oil, more transparency, right, less oil, more opacity. So my gosh, that's a lot right there that you can do and you can create with very few products.

Stacy Grinsfelder  19:59  
Okay, so just to understand you sell products that are pre-mixed. We're not asking people to do the mixing of the pigment. Well, generally speaking, the powdered pigment and the linseed oil, that's it's already pre-mixed, and in some standard colors that could be manipulated according to your desires?

Natalie  20:18  
Yes, very good clarification. Yes. So there's a standard color palette, beautiful. I mean, Ottossan is sort of, you know, uses or creates a lot of historic colors. So there's a lot of options that are available that you can just order and crack open mix and paint with. And if you want to get creative, or you need to match something, yeah, my color specialist worked on some purples from like a Farrow and Ball project. That was quite fun. You know, the, the, the, you're not limited, it's just Of course, easier to use the standard color.,

Stacy Grinsfelder  20:48  
Okay, so next question would be, I guess I don't have to announce that I'm asking you a question each time. But every time you start to answer, I think oh I've got something else. But my question would be, if you have something that's painted in a modern paint, and I believe I know the answer to this, does it have to be completely pulled back to bare wood before you can switch to using a linseed paint product?

Natalie  21:11  
The answer is no. But you need to understand the limitations of that scenario. So linseed oil paint is only going to be as good as what it's applied on top of. So if you have a bare wood surface, man, you know, you, you're not really limited. You could do pine tar, you could do linseed oil stain, you could do linseed oil paint, and you have the best case scenario. If you are painting on top of an old coating, you know, let's say it's a failing coating, or it could potentially fail in the future. And you, you know, apply linseed oil paint on top, you just need to know that if that old coating fails, that will take your linseed oil paint with it. So you might have to spot treat, I've found that in many ways, it kind of acts as like an adhesive and kind of sticks that that failing paint quite well. But you know, that's it's something we always need to kind of keep in mind. And as professionals who are using linseed oil paint, I think that's a really important factor to discuss with clients. Hey, you know, maybe it's not within their budget, they can't remove all the existing coating. That's okay, linseed oil, paint sticks to any clean dry surface, but we may face more maintenance, or more complex maintenance. A bare wood surface offers really basic maintenance.

Stacy Grinsfelder  22:29  
So does it mean that linseed can go over acrylic products as well as oil-based products?It can go for either, or should there be some sort of primer bonding in between?

Natalie  22:40  
So linseed oil paint sticks to any clean, or almost any clean, dry surface, I say almost everything because, um, you know, there could be some strange epoxy interactions that we should be aware of, but yes, and in general, a clean dry surface, you're going to get adhesion, you know. It sticks to metal surfaces. It's a natural rust inhibitor. So that's becoming a more and more popular application. And you can paint plastic, I've got projects where they had asbestos siding, and you know, it looks quite terrible, but they just can't afford to be at the expense of removing it safely. So they you know, clean it and they paint it. That's that's perfectly fine application. Linseed oil paint, for sure, is sort of magical with wood, you know, something to keep in mind. Like that's the ideal scenario because of how it interacts with the substrate, but yes, you can paint over an acrylic. You can paint over a latex and oil paint. If it is a modern coating, like a caulk or an epoxy or a silicone based product, it should be really, really dry. And I would do a test just to make sure you know those modern materials are really complex formulations. And it's always best to just make sure when you before you move forward, if something goes wrong generally, with linseed oil paint, and it has a strange interaction with a modern coating, or a modern product, you'll see it pretty much right away. That's kind of nice. So do a little test. It's-- we're taking something so simple, right? So few ingredients. And then when we think about what's available at the hardware store, those products-- there's just so many of them for so many different applications, and they're so complex. And that is a potential factor we need to keep in mind when we're using traditional things with modern, and I try to encourage people to kind of keep them separate.

Stacy Grinsfelder  24:33  
Yeah, we will get into that deeper for sure. And in just a little bit, but I think these what you're describing here is is really best practices for all kinds of paints. So I appreciate knowing that about linseed because I think there is a tendency to think that linseed paint must be more complicated to use when what you're describing actually sounds simpler to me than prepping for modern products.

Natalie  24:57  
I yeah, the fact that it doesn't need or require primer--Some of the manufacturers have, you know, various suggestions in order to prep a surface, but yeah, I mean linseed oil paint is its own primer. it's very, I think it is very easy, but I think what the challenge is for folks is that it's just not what we're used to. Not even just your average homeowner, but even those in the professions. We're not really used to using real oil paint anymore. And there's some, you know, really basic things like applying thin coats. You shouldn't really be painting in the winter, even with modern coatings. You really shouldn't be doing that, but, you know, we want relatively warm ambient temperatures for a good dry time. You know, these small, small things that, you know, we kind of take have taken for granted with these modern coatings that dry so quickly. But part of that is why they might not work as well as some of the traditional coatings. So yeah, I don't think it's rocket science. It's not nothing wild and crazy. You don't need a degree to use these materials in any way, but I do think that there's some some difference in skill, some difference in kind of the common sense of painting that that makes it seem scary, if that makes sense. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  26:10  
Yeah, it does. It does. Alright, so let's talk about, I think-- we just had this whole show about modern paints and modern alkyds, and so I think if the listeners have heard that episode with Scott Sidler then they're really familiar with some how some of the modern products are made today and how they're used and formulated. So my question, I guess, would be, how is linseed oil paint different from oil paint or alkyds? They used to all be called alkyds. Are they the same thing? Are they different? I mean, what makes them different from each other or similar?

Natalie  26:46  
Sure. Um, you know, whenever you see oil paint now, in stores, it's going to probably be I mean, I almost want to say 100%. If it's not a linseed oil paint, it's going to be a petrochemical oil paint. So the biggest difference is, and I don't know if you're ready for this, but we could nerd out about linseed oil a little bit. What do you think? 

Stacy Grinsfelder  27:08  
Oh let's do.  Okay, absolutely. Let's go for it. 

Natalie  27:12  
Yeah, I think one of the biggest Well, one of the factors that I think is important to make distinction between not just what we think of as modern oil paint, but also what we think of linseed oil. As you may imagine, it's a bit challenging sometimes to talk about linseed oil paints and linseed oil products, because everybody thinks they already know what linseed oil is, right? It's available pretty much in every hardware store across the country. And so I think it might be worth just going back to really, really basics even before paints, and just chat about linseed oil, because it's this base for all these other things. So as you know, right linseed oil is from flax oil. flax oil is typically grown for the health foods industry. So we might have seen that at Whole Foods in the you know, refrigerated section. So something has to happen to turn that health food grade product into you know, linseed oil, designed for architectural applications, right? Most conventional linseed oil is kind of a dirty oil, the Swedes would call it like a dirty oil. You know, it's in a metal cam, this is like the clean strip variety, right? I'm sure so many of your listeners listeners are familiar with that. The the difference between that and sort of a purified degummed linseed oil is the the process that that has taken to remove the food value. You know the proteins, you know, flaxseed oil is known for its omega three fatty acids, right? These aspects of flax oil that really are not helpful, almost negative for putting it on wood surfaces. So a lot of that conventional linseed oil can go rancid. You know, instead of undergoing sort of a natural purification degumming process, they're adding solvents and fungicides and mildcides to offset that protein that's in the oil. So yeah, so you know, maybe you've had this happen to you, but you open a can of, of old linseed oil you've had sitting around and it actually smells bad. So it's gone rancid. This kind of product can propagate mold, mildew, right? It can attract bugs, so we put that kind of conventional linseed oil on one side of the one camp all by itself, and then we're going to come back and talk about you know, how do you get a nicer higher quality linseed oil, and that kind of process is fascinating if you're a little bit of a linseed oil nerd like I am. And you know, you get this flax oil, you can let it settle out naturally, you know, just leave it outside in a big tank. You can agitate it with water to speed up that separation process, and in general, in a season or two, you have, you know, a pretty decent separation The proteins and impurities settle out in the bottom and this kind of gross gunge and you can siphon off the clear oil. And if it's been out, you know it's been sitting in the sun, so it has undergone a natural heating process at this point. This is kind of the traditional Swedish raw linseed oil. It has a small molecular structure, incredible penetration, but it takes a long time to dry, then you can take that oil and you can heat it. So if you take our Viking linseed oil, for example, it's kind of heated once to a really, you know high degree and still maintains its smaller molecular structure. It's a very versatile oil, this beautiful pale but drying linseed oil, so you can make a stain with it, you can use it with the pine tar, you can, you know do quite a few different things. A lot of furniture makers like using it as a finish just solo. So that's a great option. But it's still it's a little bit of a slower dry time in comparison to your traditional boiled linseed oil, so you can continue to heat it, the molecular structure of the oil is going to get larger, and that's what you would make linseed oil paint with right? Ottosson boiled linseed oil is what the Ottosson linseed oil paint is made with. A little faster dry time, larger molecular structure, so it sits a little bit more on the surface of the wood. And then as you continue to heat the oil, you are going to get a standard oil--linseed oil varnish, right, a larger and larger molecular structure. So that might be a little a little deep dive. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  31:33  
No, this is fascinating.

Natalie  31:34  
I hope it's kind of --Okay, cool. Cool. Yeah, it's, um, I find it you know, pretty amazing that one base material can then be used to create all these different products. And there's something kind of beautiful about that. But again, such a different, you know, I think you can get a sense of why that's not super common anymore, because it takes time. It takes effort. A lot of conventional larger companies aren't going to bother doing that, especially if it's, you know, not something that consumer necessarily realizes is is a value. So yeah, you see this done in Scandinavia, but something that is coming back, shall we say to North America.

Stacy Grinsfelder  32:17  
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Stacy Grinsfelder  33:24  
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Stacy Grinsfelder  34:23  
Now I'm curious. I wonder two things. One of them's a quick question. The other one not so much, I guess, but the first one is--Now do I understand this? These are all architectural grades. I mean, obviously I don't make anybody sign a waiver or anything that we're not going to eat or taste our linseed oil, but the way you're describing these, these are all architectural grade correct? Not-- one doesn't start out food grade then become  or or I mean, are we foraging in the basement for linseed oil?

Natalie  34:51  
Don't-- Don't drink your purified linseed oil

Stacy Grinsfelder  34:54  

Natalie  34:54  
Well, yeah. Yeah, I mean, I think we had a customer whose dog drank a bunch of it. It's non toxic, there's nothing in it. There's no additives, especially the Viking linseed oil doesn't even have a natural, like, mineral dryer. So it's a great product to use on, you know, butcherblock countertops or cutting boards or so on. But yes, it's it's not

Stacy Grinsfelder  35:17  
It's not a supplement. 

Natalie  35:18  
I can't even imagine the process, right. I can't even imagine the certification process to make architectural grade, food grade. And we don't we don't need to right? 

Stacy Grinsfelder  35:28  
No, again, I was just, yeah, I was just curious about how far away from food grade were we at this stage? But my follow up to that would be is this: I mean, you have to grow a lot of flax seeds to make oil. So is this a sustainable? Like, let's say we all decided, we're gonna use linseed oil point-- linseed oil paints. Now, is it a sustainable crop? Where does this grow, and how do we get enough flax seeds to create linseed oil? And I wouldn't ask that question about any sort of harvest, but since this is a little skewed,  towards modern paints versus linseed, you know, for making a shift, then we have to think about where that will shift.

Natalie  36:07  
No. I love that question. It actually comes to--our conversation--and that question comes at a cool time because I had just talked to-- We're located here in Philadelphia, and I just talked to a a group of female entrepreneurs, one of them being a farmer, and one of them being interested in reintroducing flax, flax production for making linen. And so we had this really amazing call because they are growing flax for textiles, but they have they will have oil as a byproduct as well. And, you know, it's just interesting because flax has grown all over the country. We purchased--The Viking oil comes from North Dakota. So flax has already been-- being grown on scale, and it's a great for what they call it, like turnover crap, you know, between 

Stacy Grinsfelder  36:11  
like a cover crop?

Natalie  37:01  
I think it's more of like a cycle crop. I don't know if it's considered a cover crop. And there are various varieties of flax. Generally, textiles have been made from the taller flax variety. And linseed oil for the oil is produced from the smaller, shorter flax plant. What was interesting about this call, and again, it's always good to admit where your specialty ends and somebody else's begins, is that they're hoping to breed a variety of flax for Pennsylvania, for the Pennsylvania climate, that will be very versatile. So it can be for textiles, or it can be for oil. So, you know, I think what folks don't necessarily realize is, flax has already been grown on quite a scale. It normally is designed for cooler climates that have a cold, cold seasons. It's grown in Saskatchewan. It's a huge crop in Canada, northern Canada. Yes, just Canada. It's not necessarily northern Canada. But you know, again, Saskatchewan is sort of that perfect climate for it. So they get a good cold season. And that cold snap also helps the oil settle out in terms of that purification process. So yeah, I thought it was just really amazing to kind of cross paths with somebody here in Pennsylvania, or several people who already had in their minds of these circular economies, you know. Can we grow a crop sustainably make these kind of products, source them locally? And you know, we're talking about Oh, if we were gonna make linseed oil paint, can we source you know, linseed oil, closer to home versus having it trucked over from North Dakota? All these kinds of things are not necessarily the focus of the paint, and restoration and preservation industry, but  they're very fascinating to me. Because I love, you know, just materials and understanding how things are made what what they're made out of, where do we get them. How do they impact the homes that we live in in our built environment? We spend so much time indoors, we put a lot of love into our homes, and where does it go when it becomes a waste product? So this sort of cycle is not talked about too much in terms of architecture, building, preservation, but it's becoming more and more a source of interest. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  39:14  

Natalie  39:15  
Yeah, I wanted to bring it up at some point. But if if your listeners are interested, the Healthy Materials Lab at Parsons New School in New York, is creating a database for architects and designers and anyone. It's just on their website, and it's essentially trying to look at materials or somebody is doing some research. Somebody is asking some questions and putting together this database of products and materials that are safer, healthier and and analyzing it a little bit and trying to impact the market. So they're doing a lot with like hemp, hemp, lime, you know, lime-based material. So, you know, again, that's a little nerdy, maybe for some, but I think it's really

Stacy Grinsfelder  39:57  
just nerdy enough for others. Yeah, yeah. Just nerdy enough for others. I'll link to that website in the show notes if anybody wants to check it out. But let's dig a little deeper on the impact of of paint, the modern paints versus linseed paint on human health and the environment. I'm curious. What can you elaborate on about human health and linseed oil paints?

Natalie  40:18  
Sure. You know, I think that there's been a lot of focus on obviously lead, you know. The industry knew that lead was dangerous and continued to use it for a long time. You know, there's a lot of documentation that that was, it wasn't a wild surprise, but it worked really well, you know. Here we are kind of paying the price a little bit for those decisions. And there are ways of creating traditional materials without using solvents, without using lead, without using dangerous pigments, for example, right? So it's not necessarily I guess, I'm expanding on your question, and then I'll return to it. It's not necessarily about reproducing what was used in the past exactly, but learning from that, and still using the materials and principles to great sort of a modern linseed oil paint industry. So I think the biggest challenge with petrochemical formulations is they are really complex.They have a lot of different compounds, a lot of different ingredients to produce something that may or may not work that well. I mean, you'll talk to most painters, professional painters, who are, you know, old now, and they will always say the oil paints worked better. Those materials were pretty dangerous, right? They had solvents. There's a reason why they've been phased out. It is good for our fatty little brains, that we aren't working with them. But you know, the move towards synthetic replacements, I think are sort of, arguably not that successful. You know, yes, you can use them correctly, but we're still talking about painting every five years, you know, the the, the strategies of you know, encapsulating wood completely, you know, painting it on all sides. And this is how we're going to protect that material. It's a little bit fighting against nature, in many ways, moisture always gets it. So we're talking I guess-- that's a little bit the practical aspects are the, the troubling aspects of where the modern industry is struggling. And the health aspects is simply, do we know what they're made out of? I think the sort of touchstone of like the Healthy Materials Lab, for example, the first question is, what is it made out of? and often, they don't need to tell you, right? Often linseed oil has to be listed. It's more of a regulated material, than, you know, all these other potential hundreds of products, or ingredients that go into one gallon of paint. And again, I think a lot of people are thinking about microplastics. Now, all of a sudden, in the last couple of years, and that impact of using plastic paints like latex and acrylic, and so on. So I would almost say the environmental and health impact is almost unknown. And that's why, you know--we knew about lead. Now we know about the danger of solvents, and, you know, when we're talking about like paint removal, yes, lead is a huge factor, but what about that kind of concoction of so many other ingredients and all those other layers of paint? I think that that's something to be aware of, as well, as we work on old home. It's not as if there's just one bad guy in there right? We need to approach it with just caution. You know, I don't think that my intention is ever to just scare the pants off people.That isn't very helpful. It's simply just use some caution. Be aware that materials impact us and the places we live in our families when we're working on these projects, and how can we, you know, work around that in the best possible way. I would love if like, the environmental and health aspect was like the biggest selling point of linseed oil paint, or the traditional materials, but it really isn't, you know? Health and the environment is sort of lower on the list. When it comes to this industry. It --The reason, you know-- if if modern coatings worked really well, and there was just no need for traditional materials, Earth and Flax wouldn't exist, right? I'd maybe have a small business that would be geared towards the environment and the health aspect, but it's really in terms of how the material works. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  40:51  

Natalie  41:53  
You know, how it interacts with the substrate. So that was the long answer to a short question.

Stacy Grinsfelder  44:30  
No. You're here for long answers. We're good. 

Natalie  44:33  

Stacy Grinsfelder  44:33  
Yeah. I'm curious about the longevity of linseed oil paint. I know it can be touched up. So if we're talking about it's better in some ways, and it lasts a little longer than what are we talking here? You know, are we just going to get a couple more years out of it. Ten years? What's the scoop?

Natalie  44:47  
Sure. Um, you know, I think everything kind of depends on the wood and how it's used. But let's say you know, it's used you know, by somebody who's really familiar with the materials. The, the, the maintenance here is just so different. You're you're talking about. And again, this is not--We talked, we touched on painting over an old, like, say acrylic coating. You're always gonna have to touch that up, you know, in all likelihood. But let's say you got a bare wood surface, you know what you're doing, you painted, and you now have paint on the wall, and you are going to be re-oiling that over time. There's no harm of changing paint colors, or repainting. It's just our goal now is to maintain the binder, which is the oil and the paint in the years to come. So instead of constantly repainting, as our paint fails, we're saying oh, you know, that was starting to look really dry. In the next couple of years, I should get a maintenance coat of oil on there. You can think of it as putting, you know, hand cream on your dry skin. So the the life cycle of linseed oil paint is going to be, you know, semi-gloss finish. For the most part, I do have some matte interior options now for drywall and plaster. But in general, it's going to be a semi-gloss finish. And then it's going to matte out over the years. A matte finish will offer a lot of protection for many years to come. But when you see that and it's a visual, something you will see. You'll say okay, the wood starting to dry out. You go and re-oil and the original color, that original luster of the original paint color comes back with that re-oiling, and then that process continues once again. So you know, very sort of a different set of steps than you would see with with a modern coating. You know, there could be damaged, right? weather damage, human-incurred damage, weather related damage. Maintenance is always going to be key with all of these materials, but it's what type of maintenance? Are we having to strip down to bare wood? Again, you know, are we taking on layers and layers of paint? you know, when we see failure and try to seal up these cracks that are forming. You know, again, it's just so it's such a different set of expectations in terms of maintaining that surface, if that makes any sense. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  44:58  
It does. So let's talk about mildew and organic growth, because I know that can be a factor with these types of paints. Tell us more about that.

Natalie  47:16  
Yeah, it's a tricky topic, because I don't want to ever write off the fact that organic growth can occur, especially with paints that don't include zinc. Right? So the first introduction of linseed oil paint in our modern day was about 20 years ago. And you know, some climates just don't need the zinc. It's just never an issue. Organic growth doesn't occur. And then some climates, it seems to be a really important factor. So if you go on our website, you'll see that we are focusing entirely on two brands that formulate all their paint colors with zinc. Zinc, again, is a natural fungicide, it creates a slightly harder painted finish, it kind of does, you know, certain things that lead used to do. I have some old guys who still love lead, and I've got one, he has like a 55 gallon drum of lead paste in his barn, and I'm like, please don't use that. You know, we're not going back to this, this material in any way. It's not going to be a part of our lives moving forward. Let's look to how we can use safer ingredients, right? So yeah, zinc is very effective, but, and I encourage, you know, just in terms of consistency, no matter where you are in the country, you know, use a linseed oil paint that is formulated with zinc. We've seen that it makes a difference nationally, because the US has so many different climates, but I also want to make an important observation that, that doesn't mean that organic growth will never exist. It really is based on design scenarios for the structure, right? How are the gutters working? You know, how's moisture moving away from a structure? Do you have standing water when it rains? Do you have, you know, trees up against the house? You know, these are things in the environment that still will play a factor. And I guess I would argue that it's more important that moisture can move back and forth between in this in this substrate versus getting trapped behind a coating. So at least you're not going to have the conditions that create rot and deterioration. But of course, we want to find that middle ground, right? We want it to look good. We want it to work well. And I think that that zinc really plays that important part here in our climate and the US.

Stacy Grinsfelder  49:32  
How do you clean it then if you have something like mildew on it, how would you clean a surface?

Natalie  49:37  
Linseed oil soap is very effective. What's actually, you know, I would say that linseed oil soap is probably the--It doesn't get the attention that it deserves. It's a simple product. It's just saponified linseed oil, so it's just undergone using linseed oil in the process of making soap with why very basic, nothing else is in it. And it's actually what you use for cleanup. So linseed oil paint doesn't require any solvents for cleanup, you can use linseed oil soap. It can be a solvent free process, right. And you can also use linseed oil soap for, you know, cleaning a dirty surface, like-- a good example of this is like splashback, right? an old structure, a new structure doesn't matter about rain that's hitting the ground jumping up on the siding, you might have some visual growth for the first two, three feet from the ground. And this is a great option of once in a while, taking a little linseed soap and some, I would say a softer scrub brush or a deck brush, and just doing a little light cleaning. Again, it hasn't really been a factor for the paints with zinc, but this is also aspects we should always be aware of. So we can be prepared, you might have a tree that you don't want to cut down, it's really kind of close to the house, and that side of the house is shaded and you're always going to have no matter what coating you use, you're going to have some discoloration from that I think the goal is always going to be preserving the wood and its integrity. The linseed oil soap is certainly a good solution. There's a couple other--There's one with borax. It's great on like when there's air pollution build up like carbon from the air. So there's a couple of different safe petrochemical-free cleaning products. And if you've got an old porch or an old deck, or you know, just dirty old wood, it's also a great way to prep a surface. So instead of power washing--I really kind of discourage power washing, it just introduces so much moisture into a porous wood surface--use hose water, use a stiff deck brush, clean that porch, clean that deck, rinse it off, let it dry, and then you've got a surface you can do so much with.

Stacy Grinsfelder  51:42  
I think all of us who own old houses know now that there's no such thing as maintenance-free. So what you're describing is pretty much all house maintenance, you know, at some point or another no matter what product we use, we need to wash the house off. We need to wipe the windows. We need to mitigate mold and mildew and other places. So it all sounds very reasonable to me. I-- let's go ahead and tell listeners real quick where they can find you. We've been talking for a while this morning, I have a feeling that I'm going to have to have you come back at some point. I feel like we've just made a first pass at all of this, and there's so much more that we can talk about in the future. So hopefully you might be willing to come back at some other time. And we can really pick a specific topic and just get into it.

Natalie  52:29  
Sky's the limit. I mean, it's it's fun once you get rolling. There's so many applications that you can can dig into. So your listeners can always find our website EarthAndFlax.com, and then our customer, you know, email is info@earthandflax.com. And yeah, I mean, we we're always here to offer, you know, basic questions. We have consulting, we want to dig deeper into a project. But in many ways I see the questions. There's no silly question, and this is really just familiarizing people with the basics. It is pretty as you mentioned, it's pretty simplistic when you get down to it, but these series of steps and just some, yeah, that common sense of you don't want to paint on a dirty surface. I know that sounds you know, elementary, but you know, it's not necessarily. So feel free to reach out to us. We're here. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  53:24  
So to clarify, it's Earth and Flax, all the words not an ampersand or anything that's Earth and Flax. And they can also find you on Instagram @earthandflax, and you had a few other interesting things we might be-- or to put on the show notes. You mentioned The New School Parson's Healthy Materials Lab, and then something called LivingFuture.Org. And the Red List. Do you want to quickly tell us what those are? Just in a few words?

Natalie  53:48  
Sure. Sure. Um, yeah, the red list is kind of the worst of the worst materials that are in the building and construction industry. Early early on, you know, I was asked like, Oh, you know, is-- Do you have any products that have these materials? And you look at that list, it's really like the worst stuff possible. But a lot of it you know, formaldehyde is very common in, you know, the hardware store, the, you know, Home Depot, Lowe's, it's in plywood, and chipboard and so on. So, you know, it's, I think it's probably of interest for those who have, who are kind of going down that rabbit hole. It can be a little overwhelming. And you know, I think that in a lot of ways in the healthy materials lab, or like what I'm doing at Earth and Flax is to try to do some of the legwork for you. The industry is not-- it's it's pretty confusing in regards to what is safe, what is non toxic. What does voc VOC-free mean? Those kind of aspects. So my goal in many ways is to simply focus on what seems to work well, how to use it, offering education so you can move away and see the economic benefit of using something that is certainly more expensive. It takes a lot more effort to make linseed oil paint than it does to make a gallon of conventional acrylic or latex that uses chemical dyes. You know, in a in a base.

Stacy Grinsfelder  55:12  
How about livingfuture.org? Tell me more about what living future.

Natalie  55:15  
that's the Red List.

Stacy Grinsfelder  55:16  
Oh, that is The Red List. Okay, I'm sorry, Perfect, then I will link those on the show notes. And I think

Natalie  55:22  
Yeah, it could be fascinating for folks.

Stacy Grinsfelder  55:24  
Yeah, I was going say whether or not that someone's full intention is to live, you know, with the smallest amount of environmental impact as possible--I mean, we are all different people on a different path, but I think it could be very useful for everyone to know about, and maybe it will help them make some different decisions in the future. I know here at my house, I don't do everything perfectly by any means, but I do lean towards the environmental aspect, the environmental impact rather, and health benefits of the items that we use here.

Natalie  55:56  
Yeah, I think that that's actually a really interesting point to bring up. Because, you know, in the last, the beginning of reintroducing linseed oil paint to the US, it was homeowners, primarily those interested in, you know, who had old homes, who were DIYers, who are doing a lot of the work themselves or overseeing work themselves, who were kind of pushing the agenda of, of using the traditional materials. And it's been really interesting to see how the modern, you know, construction and building industry has now really picked up, you know, pine tar especially is a big one, but also the linseed oil paint and linseed oil stain. So I think that that's a while it's a small scale, right? We're not competing with, you know, these large Ben Moore, Sherwin-Williams, and we may never, but I think what's really interesting to see is that uptick in modern construction, looking at options in terms of coatings, maybe for health and environmental reasons. But for them, I think it's mostly maintenance. They don't want to come back in five years and have everything peeling, because it's not as if it's not as if that that failure is easy to address. So I would argue that modern materials, you get it on there, it looks good day of-- it might last a good amount of time. But when it does fail, it's dramatic. And then where are we? You know, I think that that's the point where the homeowner has noticed, but to see that switch in new construction has been really fascinating.

Stacy Grinsfelder  57:25  
Well, I think we're gonna have to save that topic for another day. But I would love to know more about it. You've given us so much to think about already. 

Natalie  57:33  

Stacy Grinsfelder  57:34  
It's been so nice to have you here today. Natalie answering these questions. I feel like you've unraveled a mystery for me in a lot of ways.

Natalie  57:40  
Good. It's not a magic. It's not a mystery. It's good. I'm glad we've kind of you know, pulled the cover off of linseed oil paint a little bit today.

Stacy Grinsfelder  57:48  
It sounds kind of magical.

Natalie  57:50  
I mean, obviously, I'm quite enamored with it. But yeah, I think it's, it's the simplicity and sort of the the basic nature of how what it's made of and how you use it is beautiful and magical, but in terms of basic, everyday application, we shouldn't be afraid of that right? We should crack some cans play around with it. Do a small project. Don't get thrown into something massive right away. Test the waters gain your skill, and I think you're gonna you know, you're gonna be pretty excited about it.

Stacy Grinsfelder  58:24  
Great. Okay, so thank you, Natalie, from Earth and flax. Again, you can find her at EarthAndFlax.com and @earthandflax on Instagram. So thanks again.

Natalie  58:33  
Thank you so much, Stacy. It was a pleasure.

Stacy Grinsfelder  58:34  
Great to have you here. Bye. Thank you for listening to today's episode. To continue the conversation follow True Tales From Old Houses and Blake Hill House on Facebook and Instagram. And for more information about this episode, including show notes, transcripts, merchandise, and to sign up for a monthly newsletter. Visit TrueTalesFromOldHouses.com. Until next time,