Construction Journal Entry Week of 2/26/17

2/28-3/2/17 I went up to Camp Serendipity for 3 days: Tuesday through Thursday.

This week I returned to my normal schedule. I arrived at 12:30 and found a couple inches of new snow on the ground which caused me no trouble in getting parked. When I brought my first load of gear up to the cabin, using the concrete staircase which was completely clear, I found one mouse in the trap at the foot of the loft stairs. I threw it outside, reset the trap, hoisted the flag, made a fire in the stove, and went down to the truck to get the rest of my gear.

Then I had my lunch, split a bunch of firewood, and finally had a nice nap. When I got up I did my exercises by lifting the buckets of rocks, and then went to work rasping the rail to form the seat for the central bracket. It was a little tedious because I could only move the rasp in short strokes.

On Wednesday morning, after building a fire, hoisting the flag, and starting my breakfast, Dave called. We had a nice chat while I finished my oatmeal and coffee.

Then I went out on the porch, lifted the buckets of rocks, and went back to work on the bracket seat. The rasp was too slow so I switched to a hammer and a 3/4" chisel for part of it. That went quicker and I finished the job.

Then I started fastening the rail to the upper newel post. I tightly lashed the rail to the post and used a short pencil to scribe the post for the receiving notch. Then I undid the lashing and cut the notch.

I started by blackening the scribe line with a pencil. Then I used the sawzall to cut three kerfs the long way for the notch. They not only gave me a straight reference for the deepest part of the notch, but they made it easy to chisel away the wood between the kerfs and from the scribe lines to the kerfs.

I used a gouge and Rasputin to form the inside of the notch. I tried carbon paper to show me where more cutting was needed, but the marks didn't show up very well. I switched to an aluminum strip which worked a lot better.

When the rail fit nicely into the notch, I fastened it with two 4-inch screws. Then I used the sawzall to trim the end and I made it smooth with Rasputin. Finally, I stained the new work and took a picture of it.

After lunch and a nap, I split a bunch more firewood. I have decided to split the wood into smaller pieces for a couple of reasons. First the wood is not very dry and the bigger pieces don't burn very well, and secondly, I have found that I only need to build a small fire in the stove to heat the cabin up. The bigger fires I used to make drove the temperature up to near 80° in a short time which is just too hot and wastes wood. I have to add more wood more often with the small fires, but on the whole, it works better. It uses less fuel and keeps the temperature a little lower.

The next step on the stair railing is to install the balusters. I had prepared an elaborate plan on 12/29/16 for precisely locating the baluster holes in the stair treads so I got that plan out and studied it. It's one thing to theorize about how to do something, but when it comes down to actually doing it, sometimes the plan doesn't match reality very well. I was reminded of General Eisenhower's quip: ”Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable". My plan was just too complex.

My plan had assumed that the bottoms of the balusters would all meet the surface of a tread. But since I had recessed the rail into the newel post and moved the newel post further into the porch deck, some of the balusters hit the porch deck and others hit the Grid F.5 porch beam. That fouled up my nice plan.

After a little fiddling around, I found a simple way of locating the baluster sites. First I established a line on each tread and on the beam and porch deck that was directly under the center line of the rail above. To do that I used a plumb bob supported by a loose loop of string tied around the rail. With the plumb bob pulling down on the loop, it formed a bridle that centered the plumb bob string. By moving the loop up and down the rail with one hand and raising and lowering the plumb bob with my other hand, I got the bob to settle on the correct point on the tread. After making two such marks on each tread, I used a yardstick and drew a continuous line on each tread directly below the center of the rail. I went in for the night happy to have figured that out and getting those lines drawn.

On Thursday morning, after breakfast, I went out on the porch, lifted the buckets of rocks, and did an eyeball check of my center lines. One of them looked bad and sure enough it was. I re-did that one and then rechecked all the rest which turned out to be OK.

Then, starting at the newel post, I marked the site of the first baluster on the center line at 4 inches. And then the second one at 8 inches. Those were on the porch deck but the next one dropped down to the beam. So, I simply held the plumb bob string on the 12-inch mark on the yardstick, held the yardstick on the deck registered along the first two marks, and lowered the plumb bob keeping the string on the 12-inch mark until it touched the center line on the beam. That located the next baluster site.

By using the yardstick in this way, registering it on previous marks and hanging the plumb bob from the correct mark on the yardstick, I established a series of marks on the center line for each of the baluster sites for the entire staircase. Next week I will use a plumb bob by itself to find and mark the sites on the underside of the rail directly above the marks I just made. Then I will drill the holes in the rail and in the treads to hold the balusters.

I left for home at 12:45 happy to be making progress on the building again.

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