Archive: » 2015 » August

Tinkering With The Hydroelectric System

With my brother and nephew “in the house” we took a walk up the hill to do some noodling about the penstock (pipeline) for the hydroelectric system.  Since it froze last winter I had awaited its thaw and repair, the former occurring in late April and the latter after I returned home from the Studley exhibit.  I did not complete the penstock all the way to the original capturing basin as the last 400 feet or so were quite difficult and gained very little additional head (the amount of water fall in the system) — only about 2 psi.  For the mean time I had simply immersed the end of the penstock into the creek bed.


With the three of us in hand I located a near perfect location for the penstock head only about 40 feet upstream from the temporary location.  It was a place where the creek narrowed and one bank was a huge rock and the other bank a movable pile of rocks that could be configured to a width of just a couple feet.  With a little bit of bed and bank reconfiguration it seemed like a darned good place to construct a new diverging and capturing dam.


To test the idea I went to the hardware store for a couple hundred pounds of sand, and grabbing a handfull of feed sacks to use as sandbags, backed my trusty 4WD pickup up the hill to be adjacent to the location.  In short order we had a less temporary but fully functional sandbag structure in place and the system was up and running with excellent performance.  To enhance the new basin I built a debris catcher to place over the spot and reduce the amount of leaves and sticks to clean from the intake.  My hope is that the new basin needs housekeeping only every month or so.  Once I am back on my feet I will fabricate a little more functional debris trap for the end of the penstock, but that will have to wait another six weeks or so.

With Apologies to The Talking Heads

…tearing down the house…




Recently my younger brother and his son visited White Run for a week of vacation, during which we tore down a shack that had been a blight on the front hillside corner of the property.  My local pal Tony said he thought it had a lot of chestnut in it and I needed some chestnut to make battens and some trim for the shed over the root cellar, so that was all the impetus we needed.


Day One was marked by the removal of the roof and much of the siding, yielding indeed a very large quantity of chestnut boards from the roof sheathing and ship-lapped siding.  So we tore into it with enthusiasm, first peeling off the standing seam metal roof and underlying tar paper.


While my brother and I were working on this my nephew stripped all of the ceiling boards out of the one room inside.  These ceiling boards were among the treasures of the project as the were long, straight pieces of 6″ wide by 3/4″ thick chestnut.


Unfortunately like all of the interior surfaces, they were plastered with numerous layers of newspaper and cardboard, affixed to the surfaces in part with flour paste, easy enough to remove, augmented with literally thousands and thousands of tiny upholstery tacks.  We removed as many of these as we had time for, but I will have to go over all of these boards with metal detectors before I use them.  Still, these are magnificent boards.


It turned out that all of the roof sheathing and almost all of the structural lumber, run-of-the-mill 8/4 stock, were chestnut, which back until the early 20th century was a dominant local material.


It was pretty warm that day, probably about 80, and we took frequent breaks for refreshment.


By five o’clock we were done for the day.


Day Two pretty much finished the deconstruction phase of the project, harvesting an even greater stack of oak sheathing from the walls.  Most of the sheathing boards were 5/4 white oak, 7-1/2 feet long.  Some of these boards were in excess of 16″ wide.  Our stacks of salvaged vintage lumber that had been air drying for a century kept growing throughout the day.


I started the task of loading the salvaged lumber into the truck and the unloading and stacking it in the log barn.  I think this load was all chestnut.


The second load was a mix of the long chestnut with a mound of white oak.


Oak stacked in the lumber barn.


Chestnut roof sheathing stacked up.


More chestnut, including a lot of 8/4 structural material just awaiting me to do something with it.

On the next day in my quest for new experiences I decided to break my hip.   I cannot recommend it as it is much less amusing than I had been led to believe.

Thus endeth this chapter of life on the homestead.

Not exactly a project worthy of Joshua Klein (and huzzahs to Joshua, Julia and company for getting the house down without any injuries!) but it made us pretty pleased with ourselves.


Salvaging the Root Cellar III

Once the contractors departed I jumped in and replaced the original floor of the shed.  The building had settled enough that I wound up shimming the joists at the new wall about an inch prior to laying the new 3/4″ CDX flooring.  Once that was done I retrieved some of my stash of rigid foam insulation from the barn fourth floor and cut and placed three inches of foil faced polyisocyanurate rigid insulation in between the joists from below, in essence turning the root cellar into a super-insulated chamber.

The winter set in about then and I abandoned the project for eight months while we coped with winter and the all-consuming Studley projects.



Finally on my return from the MJD tool auction I turned my attentions to finishing this project.  This included first clearing the path across the creek to the entrance of the root cellar and the construction of a temporary walkway bridge to hold sway until I build the permanent arched bridge there this fall or next spring.



The next step was to excavate the rubble on the entrance path to the cellar door in order to find a place to put the huge stones left in place by the concrete contractors who managed to leave the collapse rubble in place.


One special treat was removing a several hundred pound mass of poured concrete slag that was simply left in place.  The wrong place.

The moving of all these hunks of stone and concrete was achieved through the judicious use of horsepower in the form of my truck, placed across the creek directly opposite the cellar door, with the stones lashed to the tow hooks on the bumper with rope.  Gently I pulled the stones out, then placed them with iron pipes and other leveraging tools.



Once that was done and the space was cleared enough to actually work I undertook the finishing of the masonry so that the doorway could be rebuilt, along with some repointing of the stonework inside.



The last big construction task was to fabricate a bear-proof door for the cellar, which I did with two layers of pressure treated 2x construction lumber with the two lamina assembled cross grained with a box of decking screws.

The final steps were cleaning up, clearing out, and moving in the new gravel to level and smooth the floor in order to fit the door bottom and threshold.  And that is when I suffered the debilitating attack by the gravel laden wheelbarrow.


This is how I left it, the final details will have to wait another month.

To Paraphrase Crocodile Dundee…

… now THAT is a well-tuned hand plane.

I can sit and review Roubo for only so long, and when my computer wanders  the internet it finds amazing things.  You might be familiar with this particular video — I am aware of the Japanese planing contests but had not seen this one before — but I certainly got a kick out of it.

God bless the Japanese, they take any manifestation of excellence and turn it into an all consuming monomaniacal pursuit.

Salvaging the Root Cellar II

With the shoring in place we had a bit of time to think through the ultimate resolution to the problem of the collapsed root cellar wall.  The options ranged from reconstructing the original wall with the original materials strewn on the floor of the cellar, building an all weather wood foundation to replace the original wall, constructing a concrete block wall, and finally the option we went with, pouring a new monolithic concrete wall.  This technology has been making serious headway in places like here where the providers of skilled trade are pretty scarce.





One of the first orders of business was to replace the wooden sill plate on the shed wall.

Fortunately I have a substantial inventory of large timbers.  These were mostly being compiled for the eventual building of workbenches, but this need trumped that one.


Once the new sill plate was in place it allowed Tony to remove the poured-in-place rock wall top beam that was part of a 1953 rehab of the original building.  Under Tony’s direction the ground adjacent to the previous wall was excavated fully in order to provide access to the structure for some repair and new work.




Once the new sill plate was in place it allowed Tony to remove the poured-in-place rock wall top beam that was part of a 1953 rehab of the original building.

Then the concrete contractor moved in to set the forms and rebar/wire mesh for the new poured wall, followed by a new poured inner wall on the opposite wall to make sure that wall didn’t collapse also.  Some remedial stone work to finish off the corner you see here, and the crews cleared out leaving the rest to me.

It took 14 months but I finally got back to it last month, which I will recount next time.

Salvaging the Root Cellar I


The Spring of 2014 was a hectic time as we were trying to get moved from the house in Maryland in order to take up full time residence in the holler by the barn.  We found ourselves taking frequent overnight and even out-and-back trips with the truck loaded with possessions to relocate.  The pace of these trips meant that at times we would swoop in, unload, and leave.  Well, in this one particular day we were just walking around for a minute before jumping back in the truck and heading to Mordor on the Potomac.


As I rounded the root cellar/garden shed I was struck by something in the corner of my eye that didn’t look quite right.  On closer examination my heart sank, as the catastrophic damage to the building was readily apparent.   A look underneath from inside the root cellar confirmed that decades of frost heave and the spring snow melt caused one wall of the root cellar to collapse with a couple of tons of debris scattered about inside.

With zero time available I departed for home and called my pal Tony to ask him to take a peek at the problem and offer some counsel.  Tony is a local contractor and amazingly inventive guy.


He reported back a couple days later that he had shored up the building with some of the timbers in my lumber storage and hydraulic jacks from the barn.  That would hold stasis until we decided what to do next, which I will recount in the next blog post.

honkin’ big lag bolts save the day, again‏

I had an excellent report at the surgeon’s this morning.  Everything is progressing nicely, (virtually no discomfort unless I move the wrong way and then I get a little pinch), mostly sleeping well, can maneuver through the cabin fine.  Now all it takes is time and inactivity to fuse the break back together.


The lag bolts make sure everything stays put in the mean time.  I also got permission for VERY limited activities in the shop, provided I am always sitting down or using my walker to stand.  I’ll probably begin to spend a little time there next week.  Still plowing ahead with reviewing the edits and adding essays to R2.

I’m still on track to make it to WIA the last weekend of September.  Until then I can place zero weight on my foot, and afterwards only a light load until full strength returns.

Cornucopia of Learning

I reflect frequently on the multitude of opportunities we have to learn about our crafts — workshops, periodicals, books, videos — things that were either unavailable of unknown to us when I started out 43 ears ago.  Workshops were a novelty back then, we were on the cusp of the current Golden Age of woodworking publications but not yet there, and video was a concept beyond our experience or even imagination.

One of the things about my current and ongoing forced inactivity is that for perhaps for the first time I am able to browse the range of learning opportunities for woodworkers on youtube.  A lot of it does not interest me or is of marginal utility, but yesterday I discovered this video about sharpening Japanese planes.

Even without the benefit of any verbal component other than occasional chyrons, the power and skill of the visual element is such that I could follow exactly what he was doing and telling us.

I look forward to exploring this entire series, along with other treasures and dross I will encounter as I thrash around youtube.

MJD Toolapalooza Day 3

Truth be told the only reason for me to stay for the third day was to bid on a pair of magnificent new-in-the-box Japanese planes from the estate of Jay Gaynor, friend and tool maven from Colonial Williamsburg (I thought I took a picture of these, but my camera says “no”).  One of the planes in particular was simply magnificent, easily a plane well beyond my budget — perhaps as much as $4-5k new — but I hoped that perhaps in this crowd of vintage toolaholics this might slip between the cracks, bid-wise, and I could pick it up for a pittance which sometimes happens for tools that have little interest to the crowd.  So I  settled in to watch the entertainment that is a superb auction of things I like.


In the mean time we waited with anticipation and encouragement for Sharon to bid on a vintage printing press she had developed a crush on.  When the time came we all cheered as she got it!  The smile on her face was so big it enveloped her whole body.  Truly, her delight was infectious.


In the aftermath of that she saw a small lot with something she wanted to get for her husband who was unable to come with her.  Part of that lot was a very fine file-maker’s hammer, which we discussed when previewing the box.  I have no real need for a file-maker’s hammer, but when she won that lot too we made a deal for it to go home with me.  Perhaps I can figure out a good use for it, but for the immediate future it will just be something to show off.

Then came my Japanese plane lot.  The bid started low, indicated little interest in the absentee-bid sector, which I took to be a very good sign.  Unfortunately there was in the tent a fellow who came down from Canada for the simple and singular cause of going home with those planes, and he did.  I ran into him as we were checking out, and he is committed to putting the plane to use in his studio, which I admire.  I was going to do the same thing.  Since I didn’t get this one I now have the inspiration to get all of my Japanese planes tuned to perfection.


Disappointed but not distraught I immediately sought out the flea market vendor who had the infill miter plane I had looked at frequently through the weekend, and we made the deal for it to come home with me.  It was little-used, and with some sprucing up it will become a centerpiece of my working plane set.  I will use it as a dedicated plane for my shooting boards, and may make some new ones in celebration.


Though unmarked, the vendor thought it might be from the renowned British maker Robert Towell, an attribution I find persuasive.  My friend Raney Nelson used a Towell plane as the model for his full-sized infill planes, so when I see Raney next month I will ask him to look at it.   You can see the old Towell next to one of Raney’s petite miter planes on my bench.


Thus endeth our time at Toolapalooza 2015.  We bid farewell’s all around, and headed for home with thought of next year.  Perhaps it is time to cull the inventory of surplus tools and set up our own table out in the flea market.


MJD Toolapalooza Day 2

The second day of toolapalooza was slow for me as I bid on only a couple of lots and won one, a box full of infill planes that were by almost any definition, stragglers.cIMG_0283

I’ve been wanting to play with infills in preparation for making one or more this coming winter, and getting a box full of them for a few bucks apiece was irresistible.


The three full-sized smoothers came with five smaller planes, including two dandy chariot style planes that should clean up very nicely.


The smoothers themselves were clunky at best, and for the purchase price and current non-functionality I have no qualms about wading into them with a heavy hand.  The first one has a nicely spacious opening in the handle, well within the needs of me wrapping my fingers around it.  I am pretty sure the Stanley lever cap is after market, ad it will go into my parts drawer immediately.


The second handled smoother is cursed with a far too small opening for my fingers.  I have not yet decided whether to enlarge the current hole or replace the entire infill.  Ditto the front knob infill.




The third pane, sans tote, is the most intriguing to me as it has the possibility of being transformed into something pretty special.

The day ended with Martin’s traditional Friday Night Pig Roast followed by the circle of bloviation and lie-swapping, er, fellowship, around the magnificent fire pit.  After a few minutes we left to get a good night’s sleep.