Construction Journal Entry Week of 2/2/20

2/2-5/20 I went up to Camp Serendipity for 4 days: Sunday through Wednesday.

My schedule was adjusted this week so that I could be up at Camp Serendipity to take delivery of staircase rails scheduled for Tuesday, 2/4. The shipper said they would call me 24 hours before the delivery to make sure I would be there. That meant I had to be there on Monday to take the call. So, I left home on Sunday.

I called Earl before I left but there was no answer, so I didn't stop in to visit him. The drive over was sunny and beautiful but it had snowed recently and there was still a lot of snow on the roadway. I arrived at 12:40. The driveway had been plowed, the concrete staircase was bare, and the snow trails were frozen hard so it was easy walking up to the cabin. There was a big pile of snow, however, on the back staircase so I went in through the front porch and front door.

After bringing my gear in, I built a fire in the stove, then I went out the back door and shoveled off the back stairs and stoop. Then I hoisted the flag and went back to the truck to get my DeWalt tool bag. After lunch and a nap, I went back down to the truck and carried ten 10-foot lengths of #3 rebar up in two trips and stored it on the front porch. I figured this, together with what I already had, would be enough to complete all the balusters for the loft staircase.

On Monday morning, the trucking company called and told me that they only make deliveries to this area on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. And, they told me that the Monday truck had already left without my package. There wasn't much I could do but to schedule the delivery for Wednesday and stay an extra day, which I didn't mind at all.

Since I plan to put a roof on my garage in Seattle, I measured the width of the scaffold frames to see if they will fit between the garage and the neighbor's fence. The frames are 5 feet wide so they will work.

Next, I split one of the maple firewood rounds, first to see if they would split with just an axe instead of the big splitting maul, and second to see whether the wood was dry enough to burn well. It was a good test. The wood split easily, and it burned nicely.

Finally, I went to work on the staircase guard railing. I decided to assign ID numbers to each of the balusters because they are all different. So, I wrote the numbers on pieces of masking tape and taped them below the location marks I had previously stuck on the end grain of the treads.

There were two painted balusters left over from the loft railings so I decided to use them to start the guard rail up where the balusters will be anchored in the kitchen ceiling fascia board. I found that the balusters were the right length for balusters with ID numbers 8 and 7. I used Dr. Dick's rebar cutter/bender to bend the ends of the balusters for driving into holes in the ends of the treads, and I used it to cut them to the proper length.

This was a proof of concept because I didn't really know if it was going to work to anchor the balusters into the treads like that and into the fascia above. But I was pleased to find that it did work. I used a 7/16" spade bit for the hole in the fascia and a 13/32" twist drill for the hole in the tread end grain.

After lunch and a nap, I made 7 more balusters for numbers 1 through 6 and 9 by cutting, bending, brushing with a wire wheel, cleaning with my paint thinner dipping process, and spraying on primer and then black paint. It was too cold to paint outside, so I brought the rebar in the paint rack into the cabin and warmed it up. Then I took it outside, set it on a snowbank, sprayed it, and then brought the rack back in to dry where it was warm. I put it in the utility room with the exhaust fan on and the door closed. I split a bunch more firewood before I went in for the night.

On Tuesday morning I installed the 7 balusters, so then I had a total of 9 installed. I was very happy with how they turned out and I took a couple pictures of them.

After lunch and a nap, I started figuring out the lengths of all the rest of the balusters on the guard rail. At first, I thought there were going to be five types with all of them of a single type being the same length. So, I made a bunch of measurements and plans with this in mind.

On Wednesday morning there was a freezing rain when I got up. The day before had been sunny all day so it was a little disappointing that I couldn't have gotten my package delivered on schedule, but you take what you get.

After a lot more figuring, I learned that all the balusters were going to be different lengths so I couldn't make them in batches, and I was going to have to keep track of which one went where somehow. I already had assigned IDs, now I was just going to have to tag each baluster with its ID number somehow. After calculating all the lengths, I found that most of them are a little longer than 40 inches. That makes it hard to get three balusters from a 10-foot piece of rebar. But if you include one or two that are shorter than 40 inches, you can make it work. Anyway, I did some planning on how to cut the balusters from the rebar that I have, and I found that I have just about enough.

Just about noon, after I had had my lunch, the trucker called and said he was just leaving Leavenworth which meant he would arrive at about 12:30. Fortunately the freezing rain had turned to just a light rain when the truck arrived. And, fortunately the driver agreed to help me carry the package up to the front porch. It weighed 56 lb. and the steep snow trails made it a hard job even for the two of us, but we made it and got the package up on the porch deck. I checked the contents of the box, showed Ben, the driver, around the place, and he left at about 1:00.

I packed up my gear and left for home at about 1:10 very happy to have those railings and eager to start installing them.

2/7-9/20 I went back up to Camp Serendipity for 3 days: Friday through Sunday.

On the way I stopped and had a nice visit with Earl and Patty for about an hour and a half. I arrived at Camp Serendipity at 1:30. There was a light rain but no new snow. I brought my gear up to the cabin, hoisted the flag, built a fire in the stove, and had my lunch and a nap as usual.

When I got up, I split a bunch of firewood and then did an experiment on the new rails. I wanted to test the lateral bending strength to see if I need an intermediate newel post or not. The rail needs to withstand 200 lb. of force laterally. To test it, I propped the 16-footer up at each end, turned it sideways, and then stood on the middle of it. It bowed a little, but I was pretty sure it was nowhere near failing. I weigh about 180 lb. with my clothes on, so for the extra 20 lbs. I pushed up against the staircase above me with a force I am sure was over 20 lb. That was enough of a test for me and I am happy that I don't have to add a newel post.

On Saturday I started by cleaning up the packing materials from the rails. I filled two big garbage bags with the foam padding from the box and I tore the cardboard box into a bunch of smaller pieces. I brought the cardboard into the cabin with the intention of burning it when it dries out completely.

I had made a spreadsheet that calculated the lengths of all the balusters for the guardrail and I made a separate section of the sheet where the balusters were sorted by length. I wanted to check that those numbers were reasonable, so I selected two balusters that were sort of extreme and which were also in positions where I could see how they would fit. Those were balusters 13 and 16.

Next, I cut rebar to the lengths of balusters 13 and 16 and made the balusters from them by wire brushing the rust off the rebar, then washing them in paint thinner using my dipping tank, and then by bending the ends for driving them into the treads.

I took the two balusters and installed them in their positions by drilling the holes into the end grain of the treads and then hammering the bent ends into the holes. With the two balusters temporarily installed, I could measure to see that the tops were in a line that was an acceptable height for the rail. Being satisfied that my numbers were correct, I cut the remaining 15 baluster blanks and went through the same process of wire brushing the rebar.

By then it was time for my lunch and a nap. When I got up, I dipped and cleaned the 15 blanks, and then I bent each one using Dr. Dick's rebar cutter/bender. Then I placed the balusters in the paint rack sorted by size. It was easy to sort them because I stood the bundle on the floor and picked the tallest one. When that one was placed in the rack, I chose the next tallest one, and so on until they were all in the rack. That is the way I intend to match the balusters, which are all different lengths, to the locations on the stairs where they go. I'll just read the ID numbers off my spreadsheet as I go.

With the balusters all in the paint rack, I took them outside, set it on a snowbank, and sprayed them with primer. Then I brought the rack into the utility room, turned the exhaust fan on, and shut the kitchen door.

On Sunday morning, I saw that the bright full moon was just setting next to Mt. David and I just had to take a picture of it before it disappeared. The temperature outside was 25° and the sky was clear.

Next, I set the sawhorses up in the cabin and set the two new rails on them. Then I spread the pieces of cardboard from the shipping box on the floor to act as a drop cloth. Then I peeled off the labels that were stuck on the rails and washed off the glue with paint thinner and a rag. It came off real nice. Then I wiped both rails down with a clean rag and removed the fine sanding dust that was on them. They had been sanded very smooth and were ready for varnish now.

Then I reconfigured the wire retainer on the paint rack. The retainer was set up to hold the very tops of the rebar balusters for the loft railing but since the stair balusters were longer, the retainer was clipped around the balusters lower down. Since that would leave a mark if I left it, I decided to raise the retainer so that it could grip the balusters at the very ends. The balusters were standing in the rack with the bent ends up, so the retainer gripped them where the rebar would be embedded into the tread so the mark couldn't be seen.

Next, I tied up the two garbage bags of packing debris and carried them and my tool bag down to the truck and loaded them for the trip home. Then I began packing my bag for the trip home. The idea was to be ready to leave for home as soon as the varnishing and painting were done so I wouldn't be breathing the fumes.

When everything was ready, I took down the flag, had my lunch and started painting balusters. I painted them outside on a snowbank again, and then brought the rack up into the utility room. Then I opened the varnish and applied the first coat to both of the rails. Then after cleaning my brush, I took off the respirator, locked the place up, and left for home at 12:30. I felt good about my progress on the rails. On the way out, I saw Ron Sideritz walking down the road so I stopped and chatted with him for a while.

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