Construction Journal Entry Week of 6/9/19

6/11-13/19 I went up to Camp Serendipity for 3 days: Tuesday through Thursday.

On the way, I stopped and visited with Earl. Since Dana had just turned in for her nap, we decided to stay outside and talk so we wouldn't disturb her. Earl took me down the long, uneven, rock staircase running from the road all the way to the lake. I was surprised at how well Earl handled the stairs. He said he was having a good day. I took some pictures from his dock.

I arrived at Camp Serendipity at 12:35. The temperature was a hot 80. I carried my gear up to the cabin, hoisted the flag, had my lunch and my usual nap. Then I went into the woods and opened the valves to begin irrigating the transplanted cedar trees. Since the weather was so hot, I thought they could use some water even though all of them looked robust and healthy.

From there, I went up to check on Andrew and found that the irrigation hose was dry. So, I proceeded on up over the ridge and down to the ram pump to see what was wrong. The intake screen looked OK, but the check valve at the end of the pump was stuck shut with the flapper valve being held closed by the water pressure.

I pressed the flapper valve down in an attempt to start it, but after one click, it stayed shut again. I tried straightening the pipe and tried restarting the pump several times to no avail. I decided the valve needed a light spring to push it open after it had slammed shut. I went back to the cabin to see what I could come up with.

I don't have a supply of springs at the cabin, but I took apart an old gas regulator and found a spring inside of it, which I robbed. It was a compression coil spring about 2 inches long and 3/4" in diameter. Using my handy Leatherman multi-tool, I straightened one end of the spring wire for about an inch and a half. Then I bent the straight part at a right angle and threaded it into the spring body so that it stuck down through the center axis of the spring. That was going to be the plunger that would push the flapper valve open.

Then I enlarged the radius of the other end of the spring thinking that it could wrap around the check valve to hold it in place. Since I didn't have the check valve with me, I decided to finish fabricating the spring up at the pump.

So, I went back up to the pump with the spring in hand. I took the check valve off so I could work on it, and I could see that instead of having the spring grip the valve from the outside, it would work better to screw the spring right into the threaded end of the valve. The enlarged radius I had already made for the spring turned out to be ideal for this. I just squeezed the spring enough to force it inside the threads and then simply screwed it in like a light bulb.

After aligning the plunger, it ended up poking down just enough to open the flapper without putting too much force on it. I replaced the valve on the pump, and it started working right away, which, of course, made me very happy.

On Wednesday I went back up to Andrew first thing after breakfast and was disappointed to find that the pump had stopped pumping. I then went over to the pump and found that it was stuck again even though the spring was still in position. I re-positioned the spring just a little, and the pump started working again. Then I went back to the cabin to get some work done.

The project at hand was to install the newel post on the back staircase. I used a drawknife to flatten the surfaces that needed to mate on the inside with the flanges of the CB66 that would be its anchor. Once the post was snugly held in position by the flanges, I used a pencil to outline the two holes in each side where the bolts needed to go.

Then, with the post removed, I used a couple different drills and bits to get the holes through the post so they would line up with the holes in the CB66. The tolerances were close so it took me a while to get the bolts through and to tighten down the nuts. That finished the installation of the newel post.

Next in the sequence was to build the mortise/tenon joint for the lower rail into the newel post. I started by carrying the lower rail from the front porch to the back staircase. Then I suspended it above where it needed to go using a light rope at the top and the come-along I had already rigged up to hold the lower, heavier, end. By adjusting the rope and the come-along, I got the rail suspended at the correct angle with the butt up against the newel post where it needed to be fastened.

Then I marked the newel post where the center of the mortise hole needed to be and I swung the rail out of the way.

I would have liked to have made a 3-inch mortise/tenon joint, but I couldn't find a 3-inch hole saw. Either I don't have one, or I can't find it, so I settled on a 2 1/2" hole saw. That will still be plenty strong.

Since the hole needs to be cut at the pitch of the staircase, I needed to chisel out a recess at the top of the hole so that the hole saw could get started properly. I used a hammer and a 1/4" chisel to cut out that recess. Then I proceeded on to cut the hole. Since the grain of the wood was at a severe angle, it was a little tricky removing the wood from the inside of the hole with a chisel. To make it easier, I tried using a succession of smaller hole saws, which sort of worked, but I ended up using a fairly big spade bit which worked even better.

When the mortise hole was done, I used the 2 1/2" hole saw to mark the butt end of the rail for the tenon. Then I carried the rail back around to the front porch for making the tenon.

To make the tenon, I measured the depth from the hole-saw mark to the outside surface of the rail and it turned out to be exactly one inch. Then I stuck a strip of masking tape on a hand saw so that it left one inch between the tape and the saw teeth. Since I wanted a two-inch-long tenon, I drew a line around the butt of the rail two inches from the end. Then I sawed a kerf all around that line using the tape as a gauge to ensure that the kerf was just one inch deep.

The kerf allowed me to easily remove wood to shape the tenon using a hammer and chisel. Once the tenon was roughly fashioned, I drew another line around the pole just an inch higher than the kerf. Then I used a hammer and chisel to cut a 45 chamfer. I went in for the night thinking that I had finished the rough form of the tenon.

Before I went in, though, I made a trip into the woods and was happy to discover that the irrigation pump was still working.

On Thursday morning, right after breakfast I went back up to Andrew and was delighted to find that the pump was still working. That little spring was doing its job.

After thinking about it overnight, I realized that the chamfer at the end of the rail needed to be cut at a severe angle, to match the stair pitch, instead of being cut at right angles like it was. So, I used a length of insulated copper wire as a crude protractor and set it to the angle of the stair pitch. Then, with this wire as a guide, I drew a pencil line above the chamfer I had made so that it slanted up the pole. That way, when the rail was installed, the chamfer would be nearly vertical.

With the line drawn, I used the hand saw, with the tape still attached, to cut another kerf, and then using the same techniques as before, I reshaped the tenon so that now the top surface of the tenon, instead of being only two inches long, was now about four or five inches long.

I carried the newly shaped rail back to the back staircase and slung it into position with the rope at the top and the come-along at the bottom. Then, making several dozen iterations, I tried the tenon in the mortise hole with carbon paper wrapped around the tenon, and then used Rasputin to remove wood wherever the carbon paper had left a mark. Finally, the tenon seated deeply into the mortise hole and I was done with the first of four such joints.

While I was working, I saw that a bunch of giant, black, wasps or hornets or something were building a structure right on the header of the crawlspace door. After putting away my tools, I got a can of wasp spray and put an end to their project. I left for home at 12:30 happy and pleased with the progress I had made this week.

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