Construction Journal Entry Week of 9/3/17

9/5-7/17 I went up to Camp Serendipity for 3 days: Tuesday through Thursday.

The drive over was smoky, and the smoke got thicker the further east I went. I stopped at Marilyn's and dropped off some stuff. When I got to Dirtyface, the smoke was so thick that I couldn't see the top of the mountain even from right under it. And I couldn't see any part of Nason Ridge. I arrived at Camp Serendipity at 11:50. It was a cool 65 outside but it got a lot hotter as the day went on.

Happily, there were no signs of mice in the cabin. I turned on the valve to irrigate Brian and Paul, then had my lunch and my usual nap. When I got up, I went into the woods, checked on the trees, and gave Andrew a gallon or so of water.

Then I went to work on the stair rail. Some of the newly-painted balusters needed some touching up, so I got the paint can out and fixed them. Then I mixed up a small batch of Board Defense and treated the upper sixteen holes in the stair treads. Water will get into those holes so I figured it would be a good idea to treat them while I have a chance.

Before the paint or the holes were completely dry, I started installing the balusters. One at a time, I took them out of the paint rack and tapped them down into the holes in the treads. I left them standing along the outside of the rail, which was still in place. When the balusters were all in, I tied a light rope from the lower part of the rail to a hook suspended overhead. Then I used my chainsaw wrench to remove the big lag screw from the lower newel post to release the bottom of the rail.

With the rope sling holding the lower part of the rail, I worked the top of it out of the mortise hole in the Grid G2 column. Then I proceeded on with the tricky part. I shortened up the rope sling to raise the butt of the rail high enough so that when I inserted the first two balusters in the top of the rail, the tenon on the end of the rail could go into the mortise hole. That was tricky.

There were two problems: first, since the mortise hole goes up at a steep angle (the same angle as the pitch of the staircase), the butt of the rail had to be lifted pretty high in order to get the first baluster in its hole and the tenon even with the mortise hole. Second, since the rail is curved, it wanted to twist 90 from the way it needed to be.

To correct for the twist, I lashed a 5-foot piece of vine maple perpendicular to the rail and used that as a lever to rotate the rail to the correct position. With the rail thus held, I was able to tease the tenon partway into the mortise hole with the first two balusters started into their holes in the rail.

With this partial success, I lowered the butt end just a little by letting out the sling rope. That increased the angle so that I could push the tenon into the mortise hole a little deeper and it lowered the rail far enough that I could engage the third baluster into its hole.

And with that success, I lowered the butt a little more, engaged another baluster or two, and pretty soon the tenon went all the way into its mortise hole. Then I did the usual, frustrating but familiar, process of engaging whichever baluster was the highest, re-engaging those that popped out, and little by little lowered the end of the rail. It took a little persuasion from time to time with a big hammer and a block of wood, but eventually I got all sixteen balusters seated into the rail. Then I re-fastened the butt of the rail to the newel post with the lag screw. I was now ready to move on to the last sixteen balusters in the bottom of the rail.

Bill called before I took my shower and he asked me if I had heard from Dave. He was worried that Dave might not be prepared for the hurricane. I told him that Dave was at a regatta near Boston and I wasn't sure when he planned to return to Florida. I told him I'd keep him in touch if I learned anything.

On Wednesday morning, I woke up at 4:30 and couldn't go back to sleep. I got up at 5:00 eager to go to work. The air was still smoky in spite of the forecast that said it was supposed to clear.

After breakfast, I used the rest of the Board Defense solution to treat the lower sixteen holes in the treads. Then I measured and cut each of the remaining sixteen balusters using Dr. Dick's handy rebar cutter. My production process is extremely efficient, if I say so myself.

When all the balusters were cut and placed in the paint rack, I carried the rack over to the workbench and went through the process of wire brushing off the rust, and then cleaning them by dipping them in paint thinner and wiping them down with a rag. Another efficient process.

When the balusters were all clean, I carried them down to the roadway, sprayed them with primer, and fifteen minutes later, sprayed them with black paint. Then I opened the irrigation valve, went inside, and had my lunch and my nap.

When I got up, I went into the woods, checked the trees, and watered Andrew again. Then I installed the last sixteen balusters. These were not quite as tricky as the first ones had been, but they still required some ingenuity. I started by tying a tight rope around the upper part of the rail and a tread below. That was to hold the upper part of the rail down so the upper balusters wouldn't pop out when I lifted the bottom of the rail. The rail would have to bend.

Then I also hooked up the overhead sling so that I could control how high the butt would be lifted. With those constraints in place, I removed the big lag screw from the newel post hopefully for the last time. With the butt free, I hauled on the overhead sling to raise the butt as high as I could without straining it too much. That was enough to begin engaging the upper balusters. The restraint rope had prevented any of the first sixteen balusters from popping out.

Then after teasing the balusters into the holes and gradually lowering the butt, eventually all the balusters were in their holes and the butt was up against the newel post ready for the lag screw. It was a good feeling to be turning that lag screw in for the last time. I was very happy with the result when the screw was tight. I took a few pictures of the final result.

On Thursday morning, I plugged the two holes in the top of the rail that I had made by accidentally drilling the holes too deep and out the top of the rail. I gently tapered two short pieces of dowel using a drill and sandpaper. Then I coated the dowels with glue and tapped them into the holes. I also mixed some sawdust with glue and filled the holes made by wood chipping away near the dowels. Next week, when the glue is nice and dry, I'll cut off the excess dowels sticking up and smooth the surface of the rail.

Robert called and told me his plans for logging at Camp Serendipity beginning probably in October, depending on the weather, among other things. He seemed pretty upbeat. It was good to hear from him.

Next, I did a little searching and settled on a skinny log from the stack over the sewer line for the Grid G rail. That will be the final rail for the front porch and staircase. I used a rope to skid the log out of the stack and then down to the upper roadway and finally up onto the front porch deck. There I measured and cut it a little oversize and set it aside for next week.

I did a little thinking about the design for installing it and, as usual, it wasn't straightforward. There are some choices and compromises to be made which I didn't feel like working out just yet. I was happy to go home with the success I have just had and leave the next set of problems for next week. I left for home at 12:40 feeling great.

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