Construction Journal Entry Week of 11/10/19

11/15-17/19 I went up to Camp Serendipity for 3 days: Friday through Sunday.

On the way I stopped and visited with Earl and Patty. Patty insisted that I stay for lunch, so I did.

I arrived at Camp Serendipity at 1:15. There had been a lot of rain all the way over the pass, but it was sunny on the north side of the lake. That changed, though, as I was carrying my gear up to the cabin. I just missed the start of the rain. It was raining cats and dogs by the time I moved in, and it didn't let up all the rest of the day and all night too.

I hoisted the flag, built a fire, and since I had already had lunch, I went straight to my nap. When I got up, I went to work drilling the new tread for bolt holes. Since I planned to drill the holes from underneath to make sure that the holes aligned with the holes already in the stringer and the subfloor, I wanted to make sure that the tread didn't move while I was drilling. So, to make it more secure, I set two concrete blocks on the tread. I figured that would hold the tread down and keep it in place.

To keep the tread from sliding down the stringer, I had inserted a strut made of two 1x2s clamped together between the nose of the tread and the log wall under the window in front of the staircase.

When I was ready, I went down to the crawlspace and drilled the center hole, then came back up and cut the square hole for the carriage bolt shoulders using a hammer and a 1/4" chisel. Then I hammered the bolt into the hole. Back down in the crawlspace, I put the nut and washer on the bolt and tightened it up fairly snugly. I went back upstairs for the night happy with the progress.

On Saturday, after breakfast, I went down to the crawlspace and drilled the last two holes. Then, back up in the cabin, I used the 1/4" chisel again to cut the square holes for the shoulders on the carriage bolts. Then I hammered the two bolts down into the holes.

Back down in the crawlspace, I screwed on the two bolt extensions to the ends of the bolts I had just driven through the subfloor. Then I tackled the hard job of driving the big wood block up over the bolt extensions and between two joists so that it went all the way up to the subfloor. The hard part was that there was so much friction between the block and the joists, and also the bolt extensions, that I had to use a small sledgehammer to drive it up overhead.

To make it worse, I had bored big holes at the top of the block to accommodate the two couplers joining the bolts to the extensions, so the bolts got hung up on the shoulders of the bored holes. I had a hard time coaxing them to enter the 1/2" holes without being able to see what was going on and having to deal with two of them at once.

It took a lot of fiddling around with various levers, before I was able to drive the block up past the problem. Then it was just simple hard work driving the block all the way up.

Then the final problem was getting the steel strap and the block to line up so that I could drive the joist-hanger nails into their same holes. It took some doing but I got it done. I happily carried my riser back up to the front porch and I was done in the crawlspace, at least for this job. I went back into the cabin a very happy man now that the job of installing the replacement tread was done.

The happiness was short-lived, though. I rechecked the alignment of the tread and to my great disappointment I discovered that the tread had moved when I had done the drilling and so it was no longer aligned correctly. I was really unhappy and tried to figure out what to do about it. I think my mistake was depending on only a single strut braced against the wall to keep the tread from sliding. I should have had two or three such struts.

One side of the tread had slid down on the stringer, so on that side, the tread was now unacceptably low. I was able to fix that by inserting another shim under the tread on that side. But the nose of the tread on that side was still sticking out a half-inch or so more than it should.

Without figuring out what to do next, I stopped for lunch and a nap. I got up feeling really bad about my error and spent the rest of the afternoon splitting wood and stacking it, pondering my limited options all the while.

I was still stewing about it while I put away all the tools and cleaned the cabin up. I went to bed that evening resigned to just living with the error and explaining it to anyone who noticed the misalignment, or who read about it in this journal entry. I didn't feel good about it.

On Sunday morning, I felt a little better about the situation. I latched on to the saying that the perfect is the enemy of the good, and I decided that the tread was good in spite of not being perfect. None of the rest of the cabin is perfect either.

After breakfast, I turned my attention to the next phase of the project, and that is to install the two newel posts in the tread. That will be a fun challenge and I was optimistic that I could do the job without screwing it up. Even if I did, the newel posts are a couple feet longer than they will finally be, so I can screw up a tenon or two and still have plenty of post left.

Since the mortise holes were already bored into the tread, and the tread was now locked in place, the question was how close to being plumb were those holes. I used a bubble level held against a yardstick with the bottom of the yardstick down into one of the holes to figure it out. By keeping the yardstick against the inside of the hole and centering the bubble, I could see how far out of plumb the hole is and which way it is leaning away from vertical.

On the hole I started with, the hole was 1/4" out of plumb in the four inches of the tread thickness. My plan was to angle the tenon by that amount when I fabricated it. To do that, I first found the center of the post, which is about 5 inches in diameter and marked it on the bottom of the post. The mortise hole is 3 inches in diameter, so there will be a roughly one-inch shoulder on the post above the tenon.

The plan is to have the tenon centered at the shoulder but 1/4" off at the end. So, I made a mark 1/4" off from the center mark I had found and used that as the center for a compass which I used to make a 3" circle on the bottom of the post.

I used a couple sheets of paper towel wrapped around the post as a gauge for the shoulder cut. I drew a line around where the shoulder cut should be made and then used a hand saw to cut a kerf 7/8" deep all around the line. Then with a 16 oz. hammer and a wide chisel, I removed big chunks of wood to rough out the tenon by chiseling from the end of the post toward the kerf. I stayed a quarter inch or so away from the circle on the bottom of the post.

Then I used a drawknife to take wood off the end of the post all the way down to the circle, and then I brought the post over to the tread to try the first fit.

As expected, it didn't go into the hole at all. I brought it back, and with the drawknife again, I cut away all of the sharpie mark of the circle, so no black was visible. Then I tried it again and it just barely entered the hole.

From then on, I kept cutting a little more, and trying the fit. I kept rubbing a pencil around the rim of the hole so that it would mark the tenon to show where wood needed to come off. By working this way, I got the tenon to enter the hole about an inch and a half before it was time to stop for lunch and then go home. I took a picture of the post stuck in the hole and then left for home at 12:30.

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