Construction Journal Entry Week of 10/26/08

10/28-30/08 I went up to the property for 3 days: Tuesday through Thursday.

I arrived at 1:30 and was promptly greeted by Bert and Ernie as usual. I was a little puzzled to find no evidence of mice in the cabin. I hadn't plugged up any holes since the last time they were in there, so I don't know why they didn't come back.

I rigged up the ladder and my safety harness and tools, and went up on the roof. I added three screws to the top of each panel in addition to the four that were already in them. I used the black clip screws that have a flat head. I used a short (3" or so) stout center punch with a fairly heavy hammer to dent the metal first. Then I squeezed a drop of Vulkem in each dent, and then drove a screw in the dent. There were a few cases where I think I was trying to go through three thicknesses of metal that I had to use a drill bit in order to get the screw in, but for the most part, I drove the screws with no pilot hole.

With all the vibration of pounding and drilling, a bunch of dirt and debris that had collected up under the ridge started coming out and sliding down the roof right where I was standing. With clean roof panels and with the soles of my shoes clean, I have good enough traction to be able to stand and walk around on the roof without any help from my safety rope. But with that dirt on it, the roof was super slick and I had no traction. I had to constantly hang on to the safety rope, or have my weight supported by the harness. That is what takes so much energy and makes the job so difficult.

I could have gone down and gotten a wet towel and wiped the dirt away and gotten the traction back, but since I spent so little time at each panel, and then moved on, I figured I would be spending more time wiping the roof than driving the screws, so I just put up with it. It helped to be working near the ridge so I could reach up and hang on to the other side of the ridge and support myself with my arms for part of the time. Anyway, it was a lot of hard work driving those screws.

Twice I lost my grip on the punch and watched it slide off the roof. Both times I was able to find it on the ground but I decided I had better not risk it again. I tied a string to the punch and tied that to my glove so from then on, even though I lost my grip on the punch a few more times, I didn't lose the punch.

Before I quit for the day, I had finished screwing down all the panels on the north side of the chimney. As I went, I also torqued down all the existing screws which were all a little loose. Toward the end of the day, the gray jays found me up on the ridge of the roof and I fed them a bunch of peanuts.

On Wednesday it was a cold, clear, beautiful day. In the morning, the roof was wet with dew and I didn't want to go back up there until it warmed up a little. So I decided to work on a handrail system for the new concrete staircase. I had decided that I didn't need handrails because the steps are not more than 18 inches above grade, but when Earl walked down the stairs the last time he visited, he remarked that with his Parkinson's it would be nice to have a handrail. That changed my mind and I decided to put in a handrail anyway. I had previously done quite a bit of thinking about how to make a handrail and hadn't come up with a satisfactory method.

Now, I decided on a very simple design. I would install three posts, one at the top, one at the bottom, and one at the outside of the corner on the lower landing. Then I would just string a big 3/4" rope and tie it to the posts. To tighten the rope, I will make a downhaul system. This will consist of an anchor on the outside of the concrete under the toe of the bottom step of the top flight, a shackle in that anchor, and another shackle around the big rope right above it. I'll reeve a small rope several times through both shackles and draw that up tight. That will pull the big rope down making an obtuse angle to match the obtuse angle formed by the upper flight and the landing. This will provide a handrail rope parallel to the staircase on the upper flight and a horizontal handrail for the length of the landing. If I do it right, this should provide a very tight comfortable handrail.

In order to tighten the entire length of the rope using this one downhaul, I will use what I will call a "Martin's Differential Hitch". I dreamed this hitch up myself, so if it has another name, I don't know about it. I used it on two of the guy ropes for my Log-lifting Crane so that I could adjust the tension on the guys at the bottom. The hitch evens up the tension above and below the hitch. You can see a drawing of the hitch in the insert labeled 'I' on the second drawing of the Log-lifting Crane page. I'll use a Martin's differential hitch on the tree partway down the first flight and another one on the post at the corner of the lower landing.

I got the posthole digger out and got two posts planted before lunch. For posts, I used three of the pressure treated 4x4s I got from Doris. I had used these 4x4s for many purposes over the years, from scaffold decking to structural members for part of the wheelchair ramp for Herb. Now, some of them will find a more or less permanent and prominent place in the handrail system.

I fastened the top post to the concrete by using two hurricane ties screwed to the post and two anchors hammered into the concrete. I used the Bosch Bulldog roto-hammer to make quarter inch holes for the anchors.

After lunch, I went back up and finished screwing down all the big roof panels and I torqued all the existing screws on both the big roof and the small roof. Then I put all the tools away, including the ladder and both of the long anchor ropes. I was finally done with the roof, and hopefully, it will be many more years before I have to go back up there for any reason. It felt really good to finally have the roof damage completely repaired and preventive measures taken to prevent the same thing from happening again.

One small mishap was that I lost my grip on a nut driver bit that Curt had given me when I first installed the roof. The nut driver slid down and off the roof and landed in some fairly thick brush. The nut driver is only about three inches long and it is rusty so it's hard to see lying among dried needles, twigs, cones, rocks, etc. I looked through that brush trying to find it for at least a half hour and finally gave up on it. Maybe some day it will show up. You never know.

Before I quit for the day, I was able to plant the third 4x4 at the bottom of the staircase. In order to get that post up against the stair, I had to use the Bosch Bulldog to chisel away a few inches of concrete that had spilled out and away from the forms. The chisel worked like a champ and I got the post set and snugged up nicely before it got too dark.

On Thursday morning, I worked on the middle post at the outside corner of the lower landing. The forms had bulged out at that corner so the post hole had to be out away from the landing about 5 inches to clear the bulge. What I decided to do was to cut the post that I had set, about 3 feet above grade, or about 2 feet above the landing deck. Then I would bolt another section of 4x4 to that post to make the post for the handrail. That would put the post in line with the rest of the handrail. To make the post snug against the concrete, I had to sandwich a 1" board between them.

I cut the post at an angle using a Skilsaw but since the blade wasn't big enough, I had to cut it from two sides. Before I made the second cut, I clamped a board to the 4x4 above and below the cut. That way, when I cut all the way through, the post didn't fall on me. I used the top part of the 4x4 as the top part of the new post. I placed it so that the angled cut fit nicely up against the concrete. I cut a cedar board at the same angle and used it to make the bologna for the sandwich between the two 4x4s. Then, using a half-inch drill motor and a long half-inch augur, I drilled two holes and made two bolts out of 3/8" allthread and bolted the thing together. I was very happy with the result. I'll use hurricane ties and anchors on this post and the other one at the bottom just like I did on the first one. Then I'll be ready to install the ropes and I'll be done.

The gray jays came around for a treat again when I was putting my tools away. I had to leave a little early in order to get to a scout meeting. I left for home at 1:15.

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