Construction Journal Entry Week of 9/22/19

9/27-29/19 I went up to Camp Serendipity for 3 days: Friday through Sunday.

I got no answer when I tried to call Earl, so I left him a message that I would not stop to visit this time. I arrived at Camp Serendipity at 12:30. The temperature was 50° and the skies were overcast. I carried my gear up to the cabin, hoisted the flag, and built a fire in the stove. The temperature inside was 60°. There were no mice in the traps but there was plenty of mouse poop all over the place. They were evidently too smart to take the bait from the traps. It occurred to me that maybe the traps smelled like dead mouse carcasses from the many that I had caught and maybe that repelled the mice. Anyway, I had to figure out something else.

I had my lunch and then went into the woods to check on the trees. They all looked good and healthy, ready for the winter. The ram pump was still running but the output from the hose was really slow. It was enough to irrigate the tree, but it was a lot less than before. The hose had come out of the dribble bucket, so the bucket was empty. I put the hose back into the bucket and watched the water accumulate in the bottom ever so slowly. Then I hiked up to the pump and it was pumping away steadily so I really can't explain the slow flow. Maybe some animal bit holes in the hose.

After returning to the cabin, I had a short nap. Then I went on a serious search for the mouse hole that was letting mice get into the cabin. After checking out a few possibilities, I discovered what I think might be the real hole. It was in a 4-inch drainpipe that goes through the footing at a low point in the crawlspace to discharge any water that gets in there. This pipe also has a 1-inch copper pipe running through it. To keep the mice out, I had made a barrier from 1/4" hardware cloth that wrapped around the copper pipe and covered the end of the big pipe.

I could see that a seam in that barrier had been opened up and it was big enough for a mouse to get through. Any mouse that entered the pipe from the other end could crawl up the pipe and find the opening. I was delighted to have found this because it gave me my first glimmer of confidence that I could win the mouse wars once and for all.

It made sense to me that the barrier had been opened because the end of the pipe is at the bottom of a hole in the floor behind a big wooden toolbox. I have had to get back there to work on various plumbing problems and it is easy to slip down that hole so your foot hits the pipe and its wire barrier. It could also have been hit by a board or something else that pushed the seam open.

In any case, I decided to fix it by stitching the seam back closed using rebar tie wire. It was very awkward doing the work but the potential reward was well worth it, so I was motivated. I felt renewed after getting the job done.

Now the problem was the mice who were now hopefully trapped inside the building but who were also smart enough to avoid getting caught in my mousetraps. To solve the potential bad-smell problem, I decided to overpower it by covering the peanut bait with really nice smelling peanut butter. All of the traps still had a peanut in place for bait, so I just smeared peanut butter over the tops of the peanuts.

Then, to show that I am smarter than the mice, I decided to build another trap that they wouldn't be familiar with. I put about two or three inches of water in the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket and set the bucket next to a chair. Then I got a 3/8" dowel that reached across the top of the bucket and set it there. Then, after a lot of deliberation of what to use, I made an aluminum foil platform by corrugating half of the sheet and folding the smooth half over the top of the corrugated half. That made a very light weight but sort of rigid platform that I set on top of the bucket rim on one side and on the dowel near the middle. I taped the aluminum platform to the dowel and had it off-centered so that it left the small half cantilevered out over the dowel and above the water in the bottom of the bucket.

The idea is that if a mouse walks out onto the cantilevered part of the platform, it will dump him down into the water where I don't think he can get out. To get the mouse to walk out there, I spread some oatmeal grains in a line across the platform and also on the chair that was next to the bucket. I was pleased with my cleverness and tried to put mice out of my mind for the rest of the day, which was about over.

On Saturday morning I got up eager to see the results. I was very disappointed. None of the traps had sprung, including my clever water trap. There was new mouse poop here and there showing that they had been active. The oatmeal bait on the water trap was undisturbed, but the peanut butter from all the other traps, upstairs and down, had been licked away clean as a whistle and none of the traps was sprung. These are clever adversaries. Now, again, I didn't know what to do.

Forgetting about mice for a while, I went out on the porch and sanded the tread so that it was ready for varnish. Then I brought the tread inside to warm it up. I intended to varnish the tread out on the porch even though the temperature out there was below 60°. I figured that if the tread and the can of varnish were warm, then it would be ok to varnish outside since the temperature was bound to go up as the day wore on.

Next I went outside and split and stacked a lot of firewood. Then I took the warmed-up tread out to the porch and varnished it. And then I cleaned out my brush. By that time, it was time for my lunch and a nap.

As I was waking up from my nap in the loft, I spotted a wasp emerging from the grill at the peak of the ceiling. It dawned on me that wasps could get into the building by entering the duct from the outside, making their way through the ducting and the fan, and eventually get up to that grill in the ceiling. I had wondered how wasps get inside the building and this was my first clue.

I immediately went to work making a screen cap for the outside end of the duct and I went out there under the front porch and installed it. That was almost as rewarding as finding and patching the mouse hole. I'll expect not to see as many wasps inside anymore.

While I was in the crawlspace looking at the ductwork, I saw that the end of the duct was plugged only with a layer of duct tape. My plans originally called for extending the duct from the boot serving the register in the bedroom to the bathroom, where I intended to install another register. I had temporarily plugged the end of the duct with duct tape in the meantime.

But experience showed me that I didn't need to extend the ductwork because piping all the air into the bedroom was the right thing to do. So, I had forgotten about it. But now, seeing that the duct tape plug was failing and leaking, I needed to install a proper duct cap. I looked around and found one and proceeded to install it on the pipe. Another insignificant job accomplished.

Next I went into the woods to see if the slowly flowing hose had filled the dribble bucket or whether the dribble rate was fast enough to keep the water level from reaching the top. I found that the level of water in the bucket was only about 2 inches deep. That was enough to balance the inflow with the outflow, and it was enough for the tree.

Back at the cabin, I split and stacked a bunch more firewood before I went in for the night. I decided to leave the mousetraps set the way they were. I didn't want to feed the mice another nice meal of peanut butter. Since they liked peanut butter, though, I coated all of the oatmeal grains with peanut butter and left the dunking platform trap set with them.

On Sunday morning I was happy to find that I had caught one mouse in the trap under the kitchen sink. Dare I hope? In the best case, there was only that one mouse in the building and that their only way in was the hole I had plugged. That could really mean that the mouse wars are over and that I won. I realize that I have felt this way before and been disappointed. We can only see what happens from now on.

The tread that I had varnished was still tacky, so I decided that I had better not varnish outside at all any more this season. My usual plan for varnishing inside the cabin is to prepare everything for varnishing and then wait until I am about ready to leave for the week, so the building has five days to air out. Since I was planning to leave about noon today, I started preparing to varnish inside.

I had four 2x6s, two of them 16-footers, and two newel post logs that were all ready for varnish. To handle the long 2x6s, I set up two sawhorses so that the 2x6s resting on them extended from the kitchen, under the staircase and into the living room in front of the stove. Before I did, I taped down brown paper on the floor to catch any drips from the varnish.

To handle the newel posts, I discovered that they were square enough at their butt ends so that they could freely stand upright on the floor. I decided to varnish them in that upright standing position. But to make them more stable, I strung a cord from the Grid C3 RPSL, about armpit high, to the jamb on the inside entry room door. Since there was no casing on the doorframe yet, I secured the end of the cord by passing a loop through behind the jamb and sticking a stick in the loop on the other side. On the RPSL end I tied a tautline hitch so that I could tension the cord as tight as I wanted and also easily take it down to get it out of the way, which I did. The newel posts were going to be varnished last.

On the top end of each post, I drove a 3" screw into the center far enough so that it was tight. That left a couple inches of screw sticking up which I intended to lash to my cord bridle with a shoestring after I set the posts into varnishing position.

With everything in place, I went through my checklist for leaving and packed up everything I didn't need. I wound the clock, reset the thermostats, and all the other checklist items I could do. Then I put on my respirator and started varnishing.

Each 2x6 had a "good" side and a "bad" side with the intention of the good side ending up on top. The bad sides still needed to be varnished because an inch or so of the underside would be visible sticking out beyond the 2x4 they would be resting on. So, I decided to varnish all four faces of the boards. I started each 2x6 standing on one edge on the sawhorses with the bad side of the board facing me. I was standing between the stove and the boards and there wasn't much extra room there.

I started by varnishing the top edge of the board, then rotating the board away from me so that the bad side was showing. Then I varnished that surface. When I finished, I rotated the board away from me again so that it was now standing on the opposite edge and I varnished that. Then finally one more rotation and I varnished the good side.

When I finished varnishing the first board, I rotated it one final time so that it was standing on edge and as far toward the end of the sawhorses as possible. It ended up just touching the back side of a stair tread. That left room for me to varnish the remaining three boards in exactly the same way.

When all four 2x6s were varnished, I tightened up the bridle I had prepared for the newel posts and stood the first newel post up into its varnishing position. I lashed the screw to the bridle with the shoelace which gave the whole affair good rigidity. Then, after donning my kneepads, I started varnishing the post from the bottom and worked my way up. The post was easy to rotate so that I could stay in the most comfortable position and have the work in the best light.

When the first post was done, I set the second post up the same way and varnished it. Then I cleaned out my brush, went in and had my lunch, closed the windows and turned off the fans, and left for home at 1:15. I felt very good about the week, having finally gotten something done on the railing system and hopefully fixing the mouse and wasp problems.

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