Construction Journal Entry Week of 6/10/07

6/12/07 I went up to the property for 3 days: Tuesday through Thursday.

I arrived at 12:30. After moving into the trailer and having lunch, I drove up to the upper roadway and unloaded eight sacks of concrete mix. After getting the pickup back down with no incident, I went to work and cleaned out the hole. Then I built the form and installed it over the hole. I fed a couple of chipmunks the whole time I was working. I took pictures of the chipmunks and of the forms in various stages of construction.

The method I use to build forms for column pads is very simple and quick. First I select four boards, typically 1x6 or 1x8 that each have at least one square end. Then on each board I use a carpenter's square to draw a line parallel to the square end of the board and at a distance from the square end which is the desired width of the concrete pad. In this case it was one foot.

Then on the side opposite the pencil mark on each board, I start three screws half a board width farther down the board than the pencil mark. Then I screw the four boards together in a pinwheel arrangement such that all the pencil marks are on the inside corners of the rectangular enclosure. Each set of three screws goes into the end grain of the square end of one of the other boards.

Notice there was no cutting required at all and the resulting frame is rigid and very close to being square. It will be as square as the ends of the boards were square.

To install the form, I orient it over the hole so that it is lined up the way I want the column pad to be. If the ground is relatively level, the pinwheel will just lie on the ground and be close to level. If not, the two projecting ends of the boards on the uphill side will be resting on the ground and the other two will be up in the air when the form is held level.

I use two C-clamps to fasten those two projecting ends to vertical boards, typically 1x2s to hold the frame relatively level. Then I put a level across the top of the form and adjust the C-clamps and the dirt or rocks under the other two projecting boards to get the form perfectly level and aligned and oriented exactly where I want it. With the clamps tightened, and if the vertical 1x2s were hammered down into the ground just a little, the whole thing ends up being pretty rigid at this point.

Next, I select some short scraps of boards and plywood to fill the space between the pinwheel and the ground. If the hole is much bigger than the pinwheel, these boards may reach the bottom of the hole. Or if the hole is smaller, the boards will reach the ground immediately below the pinwheel. Or, the boards may reach partway down into the hole.

In any case, the boards are screwed into the outside of the pinwheel to fasten them. If the bottom of the board is touching the ground below, the addition of the board makes the whole structure even more rigid.

Since these boards are screwed to the outside of the pinwheel, the size of the pad below the bottom of the pinwheel will be larger by the thickness of the pinwheel boards. That gives the pad a sturdy step-type configuration. It also means that to get a nice corner, you either have to notch the boards that go under a projecting pinwheel board, or you have to fill that space with something like a short 1x1.

That's all there is to making the form. If you have enough scrap boards around, you can make the whole thing with virtually no cutting at all.

After the form is made, I make a hanger to hold the CB66. Without the hanger, the CB66 may sink too deep into the concrete if the concrete is very soupy. You definitely want the plate on the CB66 to end up being the highest point on the pad so that water runs off. If the CB66 sank into the concrete before it sets, it could end up making a pool for collecting water.

To make the hanger, I make a mark 1/4 inch off the center of the two sides of the form where I want the CB66 flanges to be. Then on the outside of the form, I screw a vertical board on each side so that the edge of the boards are aligned with the pencil marks and the boards are on the short side of the form, that is, on the side of the 1/4 inch offset. Then I drive a screw partway into the edge of each of these vertical boards that is the distance above the form that the bolt holes are from the bottom of the CB66 plate. Finally, I insert a 1/2 inch dowel through the bolt holes in the CB66 and rest the dowel on the two projecting screws. The CB66 then hangs exactly centered in the form because the 1/4 inch offset is half the diameter of the 1/2 inch dowel. It is easy to center in the other direction simply by sliding the CB66 along the dowel.

Before I quit for the day, I swept up the chips that had fallen from the loft during the work up there. Since I wasn't making any more mess up there I figured I might as well make the place a little more presentable.

On Wednesday I decided to use the mixer instead of mixing the concrete in a wheelbarrow like I did last week. I had nine sacks of concrete on hand which I figured would be enough since I only used seven sacks for the last hole.

It was a little hard to get the mixer pulled into position because the wheels had seized up after sitting out in the weather all these years. I did the job, though, by dragging it with brute force and awkwardness.

I was a little concerned that I would have a hard time lifting 60 lb. sacks and dumping them into the mixer. I thought about various ramps to help, but I tried muscling a sack up and dumping it and it worked OK. I turned the mixer off to do it though.

Two sacks per batch worked the best. I made one 3-sack batch, but it was hard to wheelbarrow that one up the hill. I got worried that I wouldn't have enough concrete so I scrounged some ugly rocks and threw them into the hole.

As it turned out, I did not have enough to fill the form to the top. It filled it only to about five inches from the top. That made my CB66 hanger useless but after placing the CB66 I was able to jury rig an arrangement to hold it in place. Not filling the form all the way meant that the top part of the pad that is one foot square, is only an inch high. From there down, the pad is 14 inches square. No problem. The top is also plenty high to keep it up off the ground.

After cleaning up all the equipment and tools, I went scouting for timber to make the short beams for the deck. I checked a huge log in the saddle by the privy and it seemed to be sound. It was long enough for one of the beams, so if it turns out to be sound I will use it for the beam at the head of the stair. I also found a good sound log on the upper roadway which is long enough to make both beams if the huge one doesn't work out. This log is oblong in cross section with a 10 1/2" diameter one way and a 9" diameter the other way. That will work great because I may need to notch pretty deep to hold the deck planks and there isn't much freedom for the placement of the tenon on the end going into the sill log.

Since I had the timber for the beams, I could use the remaining 15-foot log I had just harvested as the two columns, providing it was long enough. I measured the requirements for the columns and found that I could easily make both columns from the log. I used the smallest of the three logs for the columns and decided to use the two bigger ones for the stair stringers. I cut the log in two pieces for the two columns and dragged them to the building using a chain.

I used the chainsaw to fashion the end of the shorter of the two columns so it would mate with the CB66. It started to rain lightly so I covered the newly poured column pad and went in for lunch.

The rain didn't amount to anything and stopped for the rest of the day. After lunch, I climbed to the top of the north corner of the cabin and rigged up a pulley and a rope. I attached a come-along to one end of the rope, and tied the other end to the top of the column log. The pulley was high enough so that with the log hanging from the rope, it was easy enough to push it over and into the CB66 and get it seated. Then I tied the long slack end of the rope to a tree to pull the column nearly vertical. Then by adjusting the knot and the come-along, and by using a stick propped up against the column, it was easy to plumb the column.

As I was aligning the column, Earl stopped by and we had a nice visit. He looked good and he told me that his doctor had told him that his Parkinson's was better than it was last year. It seems that his medications are working. I was happy to hear that. I took some pictures of Earl. He hadn't seen the place for a year, so he took a look at what I had done since then. He asked me about my struggle against the mice and I proudly told him that the peanut had been undisturbed on the floor for many months now. When I tried to point it out, I noticed that it was gone. It had been there the day before, but now it was gone. I got that sinking feeling. After trying to figure out what happened, I told Earl that I had swept the floor the day before and probably swept up the peanut without realizing it. That satisfied Earl but it didn't completely satisfy me. I put another peanut on the floor.

After Earl left, I plumbed the column, drilled the holes, and installed the bolts to secure the column. I was very pleased with how it turned out. I took some pictures of it.

I got the chainsaw out again and fashioned the end of the second column to fit into the CB66. I decided not to install it until the concrete has cured for at least a week. It had cured enough that I could strip the forms though. When I dismantled the forms, I was not happy with the look of the pad. The concrete had been pretty stiff and there was a lot of exposed aggregate and air pockets on the outside. I had used the hoe to vibrate and get the whole mass of concrete moving as I filled the form, but it evidently didn't flow into all the spaces next to the form. I'm sure the pad is sound inside, but the outside looked bad.

On Thursday morning I checked a part bag of mortar mix I had left over and found that it was still pretty soft. I got out the mortar mixing pan and mixed up a small batch of mortar. I used it to stucco the outside of the new column pad to give it a nice smooth finish and cover up the rocks and holes in the pad. It ended up looking very good, if I do say so myself. This gave me a chance to carve a "2007" in the fresh mortar as a permanent reminder of the day.

All during the work, two chipmunks and a flock of gray jays pestered me for peanuts. I was happy to oblige them. Once, when I came out the crawl space door, I heard something in the brush. I thought it was the jays, so I stopped and held out my hand with peanuts. As I was standing there, two quail came out of the brush toward me and hopped up on some old logs. They sort of knew I was standing there, but they didn't seem to mind. I watched them for quite a while as they hopped around on the logs and then went back into the bushes. They were only about 10 feet from me so it was a neat experience to be able to watch them from so close.

At one point, I went into the cabin and noticed that I had caught a mouse in one of the traps. The new peanut was also gone from the floor. Now What!!? Either a mouse had gotten in while the back door was open, or there is some new hole I have to find. I had been leaving that back door open so I could reach tools inside the building and so I could hear the radio while I was working outside. I hoped that the mouse had gotten in that way, but I guess I'll find out next week when I check my peanut and traps. This war may never end.

I had noticed that some of the lag screws holding the front stair treads were loose. The stringer logs were installed green so they were evidently shrinking as you would expect. I got a socket wrench, cleaned out all the counter-bored holes, and tightened all the screws. Each of them took at least a full turn.

I measured for the length of the short beam for the north end of the back deck and cut the log on the upper roadway to length to make this beam. I was pleased that the wood was sound. I also used a drawknife to see how the outside surface looked, and it cleaned up very nicely. I was happy with the log. It will make a nice beam.

Finally, I measured and marked the spot on the sill log where the beam will be mortised into it. I left for home at 1:30.

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