Construction Journal Entry Week of 7/9/17

7/11-13/17 I went up to Camp Serendipity for 3 days: Tuesday through Thursday.

The trip over was slow because of a lot of road construction delays. I arrived at 1:20 dismayed to find one mouse in the trap in the bedroom. That proved that I had not found the last mouse hole.

After moving my gear into the cabin, I checked on Paul and the dirt was pretty dry so I turned on the valve to irrigate both Paul and Brian. After lunch and a nap, I went into the woods and checked on all the giant sequoia trees. They are all thriving but most of them are growing slowly.

After learning about steam bending wood from YouTube, and after taking a long look at the vine maple I plan to use for the next rail, I decided to try to straighten the rail using steam. I had already done a lot of thinking about how to do it, and now I checked out the materials I had on hand and started putting a specific plan together.

I went down by the compost pile to a bunch of old 1x8 T&G cedar boards I had stacked there and went through them looking for the four longest and best ones in the pile. The boards were infested with colonies of tiny ants. I shook the ants off the four boards, brought them up to the cabin, and set them in the sun on the cliff edge so if there were still ants on them, it would be less likely that they would make their way over to the cabin.

On Wednesday, Dave called first thing in the morning. After another great conversation, I fixed my breakfast and then went to work on the steam box. I started by brushing all the dirt and ant remains from the four cedar boards and then cut them all square to the length of the shortest one of them which was 8 1/2 feet. Then I brought them up on the porch deck.

I screwed the four boards together to form a long steam box. Then I stuck the small end of the vine maple into the box to see whether it would fit or whether it would be too crooked. I was happy that 8 and 1/2 feet of the smaller end fit into the box very nicely. The butt end that stuck out didn't need any bending so it didn't need to be steamed.

The plan for generating the steam was to build a charcoal fire on the hearth that the scouts had built and used for their own charcoal cooking. I planned to make a rebar grate to hold a 5-gallon bucket directly over the charcoal fire. I planned to borrow and use the pipe nipple and flange that holds my paint thinner tank. I planned to screw the flange to the steam box near one end and have the pipe extend straight down through the lid of the bucket. The steam box needs to be suspended more-or-less horizontally up in the air over the porch.

I started work on the suspension system and planned to use ropes and pulleys fastened to chains held to the Grid F and G purlins. After doing the rigging, I tried it out with the steam box and rail. I used tautline hitches in the ropes to allow for adjustment of the height. But the box was heavy enough that it was very awkward to raise it. You couldn't just pull on the rope. In addition, there wasn't enough travel available for the tautline hitches to raise and lower the box. So, I decided to switch to come-alongs.

Since I don't have any snatch blocks and the hooks on the come-alongs can't go through the pulleys, I used shackles instead. After I re-rigged the suspension system with come-alongs I tried it out and it worked great.

After lunch and a nap, I got a steel 5-gallon bucket for use as my boiler. Next, I laid the vine maple rail down on the porch deck to figure out how I was going to bend and hold it after it was steamed. The plan ended up being to use a projecting wall log at Grid E1 to hold the small end of the rail down onto the porch deck with the rail bowing down. That would make the butt end stick up off the deck. It could then be bent straight by forcing the butt end down onto the deck. I passed a rope down under and around a deck joist through a crack between planks and used the rope to hold the bent (or straightened) rail fast. That should work for the major bend.

Toward the small end of the rail, there are some minor bends perpendicular to the major bend. The plan is to straighten those out by clamping a 4x4 on each side of the rail and drawing them together with a clamp. I got a pipe clamp and tried it . It seemed to work and it will be much easier after the rail has been steamed and is supple. We'll see.

On Thursday morning, I started out by cutting two holes in the bucket lid. Drilling a hole first and then using a tin snip worked great. I made one hole for adding water and dipping the water-level measuring tube in and another hole for the pipe nipple. I had learned from a YouTube video that you can measure the depth of the boiling water by blowing into a tube that reaches to the bottom of the bucket and then noticing, as you raise the tube, how high it gets when you stop hearing bubbles.

Next, I screwed the borrowed flange and nipple to the steam box. It just so happened that there was a fairly big knothole near the end of one of the boards in the box that was exactly what I needed for a steam port. I trued up the hole a little with a big rat tail file and then screwed the flange to the box over the knothole.

Then, I sealed up the end of the box near the steam pipe by screwing a 1x8x8 board to the end. Since there were a lot of cracks in the box that were not steam tight, I sealed the bigger ones up with duct tape.

With the steam box pretty much ready to go, I brought it over and suspended it from the come-along hooks to near its final position. Then I used Dr. Dick's rebar cutter/bender and the vise to bend a 10-foot length of #3 rebar to make the grate to hold the bucket. The grate is simply three evenly spaced 180 bends of about 3-inch radius. I used rocks to hold the grate 2 or 3 inches above the rock hearth and set the bucket on the grate. Then I aligned and lowered the steam box so that the pipe nipple went right into the hole in the bucket lid. It was almost ready. I took a picture at this point.

I left for home at 12:30 eager to get back and fire the thing up next week.

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