Musings

Straightening Up

 

 

 

 

With the shed roof line as straight as we could get it (there was still a tiny bit of dip but I was fearful of literally tearing the building apart if we went any farther based on the screeching coming from the building itself) we began the steady process of assembling in-place the laminated post-and-beam to replace the sagging wall.

We started by assembling the posts complete from three laminae of 2x8s with the center board being off set the width of the beam dimension and notched a couple of inches to serve as the tenons so that the beams could be assembled in-place fairly simply.  This also provided good purchase for the concrete we were using as the footer ex poste.

Since the rear corner being the highest, we shot for everything eventually becoming level with it.  So as the posts were constructed moving forward, we had to dig out holes in order to make all of them the same length.   Once the structure was complete I began the gentle lifting of the front corner with a post and hydraulic bottle jack.  Even I was astounded to recognize that the front corner needed almost 16-inches of raising to get everything level-ish.

With that I filled each footer hole with dry concrete mix, and old trick I learned from a deck-builder friend of mine, who said that you could use dry concrete in holes like this and it would absorb moisture from the ground and set in fairly short order.  I have used this method numerous times in the past and it turns out he was right.

The following week I dismantled the original wall and salvaged almost all of the material to use as the new 3/4 wall.  That new configuration, along with the new structure, has transformed the space from a sagging, foreboding cavern into a robust and airy storage space for the tools and machines necessary for maintaining the homestead.  For the moment I have left the rear section of the wall un-built as we are debating the desirability of a door opening there.

Unsquare Dance

 

Back in the mezozoic era when I was in college, I hosted a late night jazz show on the college station.  My theme song was a Dave Brubeck piece (as would be the case with any civilized person in that situation), in this case Unsquare Dance.  For whatever reason this tune, or more precisely the title, leaped into my head when I first saw the juxtaposition of the new and magnificent stone wall with the whomperjawed lean-to attached to the ancient log barn behind the root cellar/granary.  I’d always recognized it was a bit off-plumb, but goodness the comparison was sobering.  My desire to get it straightened out needed to become action.

About that time my younger brother came for a week-long visit.  We are pretty much two peas in a pod, although he is a better marksman than am I.  He is an excellent carpenter and builder, so once I knew his schedule I ordered some 2x8x8′ pressure treated SYP to use in building the new wall structure.

The strategy was to assemble  stick-built laminated beam to serve as the top plate for a post-and-beam configuration, about a foot inside the original wall.  But first we had to jack up the roof to some semblance of planarity, which we accomplished with hydraulic bottle jacks and extra 2x8s to wedge the roof to the height we wanted.  It took a day of gradual lifting, but we finally had it ready to work on.  The foot worth of swale was as gone as we could get it, and it was time for the hard work to begin.

 

Arched Bridge – Finis

The final day of bridge building involved cutting, painting, and installing the decking, which was made from the same 1×6 material used for the beams.  Prior to installing the decking I mounted electrical wires to the underside of the structure.  These are the wires that 1) carry electrons from the solar panels on the cabin to the power system, and 2) will eventually carry electrons back to the cabin from the system.

Before

After

A little debris clearing, including the old plank walkways, and the job was done for now.  I’ll let the paint weather a bit, then wait for a warmer sunny day to sand it and apply another coat of paint, sprinkling the sticky paint with play sand to give it better traction.

Between the new stone wall, arched bridge, and new wall on the lean-to on the old barn (more about that later), the vista from the side deck has been transformed.

Arched Bridge – Day Two

Our task for Day Two was to complete the two structural beams of the arched bridge, so we simply continued building up the glued-and-screwed laminations until each of the curved beams got to the full 10-inch depth I wanted.

After that I affixed the cross-ribs to tie the two beams together.  The end result was something with near-zero vertical deflection under load, but a little too much lateral wiggle for my taste.  I solved that in the very end, but for now the structure was done.

Before laying on the decking I painted everything I could reach with polyurinate paint, which is actually the appropriate application for this product.

Arched Bridge – Day One

The root cellar on the homestead is just across the creek from the cabin, about 100-feet from the back door.  Well, technically, it is across two creeks, one coming from a series of springs way up the hill and the other emanating from the spring that is about halfway between the root cellar and the cabin, and used to provide the drinking water for the cabin until the artesian spring was discovered 350 feet up the mountain in the 1980s.  For the past dozen years or so the access to the root cellar was across two increasingly rickety plank bridges, and I had become increasingly concerned about the footing there as Mrs. Barn is usually the one retrieving vittles from the cellar.

The time had come for an updated structure to (re?)establish ease and safety for the trek.  Since I’ve made a number of curved beam structures before, both bridges and arbors, this was the route I chose to take here.  The total span of the space being covered was 25-feet, and one of the issues for the logistics was rendered irrelevant by the choice of an arched structure; the two end points were not level with each other.

With my long time pal Tom visiting for a few days, I decided that the time had come.  I ordered some sweet 1x6x16′ pressure treated lumber, and it turned out to be nearly “Select” grade.  We ripped each of the 1x6s in half, then used them to build the laminated arch in place.

With each end point determined by the site of the creek banks, I used concrete blocks in the center of the span to define the apex of the gentle curve and establish the form of the arch itself.  Placing dead weights on each end of the laminae as we built them up, a near perfect arch was formed and replicated with each new layer.  By off-setting the 1x3x16′ pieces when we glued and screwed them together, the arch was well accomplished.

Each lamina was attached to the preceding one with decking screws @ 6-inch spacing, and excess Titebond III weatherproof glue.

The result was right on target.

The goal for the first day was to finish each beam to a bit more than half height, which we did.

Gonna Buy Five Copies For My Mother

About eighteen months ago I contracted with Popular Woodworking magazine to write a pile of articles, and the final one of that batch was featured on the cover of the current issue.

This article was the feature on Jim Moon’s recreation of the HO Studley tool cabinet and workbench, which was indeed masterful.

The image of that new treasure has been popping up in disparate places.  It deserves the widest possible dissemination.

Finishing Workshop @ CW – Rubbing Out

The conclusion of the finishing workshop at the Anthony Hay Shop of Colonial Williamsburg was rubbing out the finishes we had already completed.

Given that my normal routine of using Liberon 4/0 steel wool and paste wax was not an option as steel wool was not part of CW’s vocabulary, we instead concentrated on those things which were typical for that era; pumice powder, tripoli powder (rottenstone), and pulverized chalk (whiting), delivered in slurries of mineral oil, naphtha, and diluted paste wax.  The latter would probably have been some formulation of beeswax, turpentine, and tallow.

The first step was to make new polishing pads analogous to the spirit varnishing pads, with the difference that the stuffing was comparatively unimportant.

Then the work began with pumice, followed by tripoli.

The results were splendid.

Finishing Workshop @ CW – Asphalt Glazing

We are not the first woodworkers who ever wanted to tweak the coloration of our pieces; the ancients routinely augmented their work with the addition of colorants to both unify overall tonality and accentuate details.  Among the most common colorants of the past were asphalt, that useless contaminate that percolated up from the ground, and pitch, which is the residue from the fractional distillation of pine sap into turpentine solvent and colophony resin.

For this workshop I showed and the CW crew used asphalt as a toning glaze.  My source for this was some non-fibered parging tar left over from the barn basement construction.  The three gallons I have left are all I and a thousand friends need for decades.  I thin the asphalt with mineral spirits, and occasionally add a bit of boiled linseed oil.

The asphalt glaze can be applied to the surface and manipulated with bristle brushes to achieve an overall uniform appearance.  For carved surfaces it could be applied the same way with the highest points rubbed with rags to remove the colorant and emphasize the three-dimensionality of the surface.

Asphalt can be overcoated with shellac as soon as it is dry to the touch.

Finishing Workshop @ CW – Undulating Surfaces

One of the frequent challenges for finishers is the undulating surfaced — carvings, moldings, and similar.  In reviewing the historic methods for the CW crew I emphasized the problems of square-tipped brushes for this process, as the corner tips of the brushes often squeegee on the raised surfaces being varnished, resulting in excess varnish and runs dripping down the surface.  This result often causes hair pulling and pungent language.

In the past the ancients often used oval or even round brushes similar to sash brushes, and thus reduced the problem.  In our time, we not only have these brushes to rely on but also a form used by water colorists, the Filbert Mop.  The tapers oval tip of a Filbert makes varnishing a vibrant undulating surface a piece of cake.  Not only are there no brush corners to deposit excess varnish where you do not want it, but the tapered oval tip drapes the surface excellently.

The preparation for carved surfaces is essentially the same as flat surfaces; good tool work followed by scraping as necessary, and finally burnished with a bundle of fibers.

After that it’s simply a matter of applying the varnish by brush, and not too surprisingly this crew tool to this like a fish to water.

After the initial application dries, the surface can once again be burnished with the carver’s polissoir, a tool I designed for my broom-maker to fabricate along with all the other polissoirs he makes for me.  This was followed by  second round of varnishing, and the pieces were ready to be rubbed out with beeswax and rottenstone (grey Tripoli).

 

Finishing Workshop @ CW – Spirit Varnish Pad Polishing (a/k/a “French” polishing)

One of the exercises that raised the most eyebrows was the practice of pad polishing a shellac varnish over the beeswax grain filler.  The molten beeswax was flowed onto the mahogany surface and allowed to cool, then scraped off with plexiglass scrapers that were polished to a crisp square edge.  Historically this task would have been accomplished with metal blades embedded in wooden handles, but the plexi works perfectly and is easier to obtain.

The first step in pad polishing was to make a pad, using cotton wadding as the core, wrapped with flexible bandaging, all combined into a golfball-sized sphere.  This core remains the heart of the pad for many years, only the outer linen or muslin sheath is replaced as needed.

With the pads finished and the cores charged with <1 lb. shellac varnish, the padding began in earnest s the building up stage was underway.  I think some of the participants touched the face of the pad with a small bit of mineral oil on their finger tip to lubricate the process and make it easier to rub.

Before too long the shine of a padded surface began appearing all over the place.

 

As I recall everyone took a break once the varnish deposit was pretty substantial, yielding a shiny surface that was too soft to work further.  After a couple hours’ wait allowing the solvent to flash off and the varnish to firm up, they were back at it.

By the end of the day there was all kinds of shiny filling the shop.  For the Hay Shop crew this was a familiar process, but I believe for the crews from the gunsmith, wheelwright, and joiners shops this might have been new territory.