Construction Journal Entry Week of 2/23/20

2/28-3/1/20 I went up to Camp Serendipity for 3 days: Friday through Sunday.

After stopping and dropping off some additional tax forms at our tax accountant's, I proceeded on and made a fast trip over the pass. It was fast because there were signs advising that the pass would be closed at noon for avalanche control. The trip would have to be rather fast to make it by then and all the drivers on the road seemed to know it. The traffic moved as fast as I have ever seen it, rarely dropping down to the speed limit. I went over the pass just a little past 11:30 and arrived at Earl's at about noon.

I had a nice visit with Earl and Patty and learned that Patty's hip replacement was scheduled for next week. Patty then asked me to go outside with Earl and search for his glasses. He had taken a walk the night before, in the dark with no flashlight, and without his caregiver knowing he had gone out. He had walked the road past four or five houses and then gone down the bank into the bushes.

There, he had fallen and needed help to get up. Meanwhile, the caregiver had called the Sheriff and she and a couple deputies went searching for Earl. They found him fairly quickly, but somewhere during the adventure, Earl had lost his favorite pair of glasses. He figured that now, in the daylight, if I went with him back over his route, we would be able to find them.

We went out on a 30-minute search, but we didn't find the glasses. I was surprised at how well Earl was able to scramble around in the bushes on the steep hillsides, but I could see how he would have had trouble in the dark.

After returning to the house in defeat, I took off for Camp Serendipity. I arrived at 1:35. I parked at the hairpin turn for the first time this season. The snow was frozen, so the trail was firm. I didn't risk stepping off the trail, so I don't know how firm it was out there. I brought my gear up in that first trip, started a fire in the stove, and hoisted the flag,

Then I went back down to the truck and carried up four 10-foot lengths of #3 rebar and a bag of paint and other supplies. Then I had my lunch and my nap. When I got up, I painted the rack of balusters black.

On Saturday, when I got up, the temperature was 26°, it was snowing, and there was about an inch of new snow on the ground. It was beautiful.

After breakfast, I touched up three balusters that didn't quite get covered in my previous paint job. I can blame the lighting.

Next, I made a decision about my firewood situation. I had burned up all the split wood I had, and I had determined that the many big rounds of maple that I had stacked under the eaves were just too green to burn well. They needed to season for at least another year. So, I decided to test the wood that was stored in the woodshed. There were some big fir rounds up there and also a lot of maple. I brought down one round of each and split the maple round to test it in the stove. I was delighted to find that it was seasoned well enough so that it burned readily and really threw off a lot of btus. I decided that that maple supply was what I was going to burn next.

Back in the cabin, I began planning my next moves on the guardrail. Before I cut or drill into any of that expensive rail material, I want to make sure that my plan is fool proof, so I am going to measure many more times than twice before I cut.

After realizing that the lag-studs that will connect the fittings to the rail and to the newel post could interfere with the balusters if they are not placed right, I determined that the joint between the bottom of the rail and the level quarter-turn had to be halfway between two balusters and that the lag half had to be pointing uphill so that the wrench on the stud side would have clearance to turn. That narrowed the design possibilities down to the point where I didn't have much choice.

The hard problem is to do the geometry to figure out how to cut the curved part of the level quarter-turn that will be slanted downhill so that it fits tightly against the more-or-less cylindrical newel post and leaves the rail in the exact position it needs to be in. I haven't figured out how to do that yet, but at least I now know some constraints that will help me figure it out. Lot's of fun work remains.

Since I know pretty much exactly where the square bottom end of the rail needs to be, my general strategy is to use that as a reference to locate all the baluster hole sites on the underside of the rail and to drill the holes. Then I can install the rail over the tops of the balusters but have the balusters bend enough so that the rail will run up alongside the kitchen ceiling fascia board.

That will deflect the top balusters only about an inch and a half which will be no problem. The next step will be to mark the top of the rail for cutting so that it will fit snugly under the kitchen ceiling and the fascia board. There will be one baluster that will go through the end of the rail and which also goes into the fascia board. That baluster is already installed but I will remove it so that I can get the rail in place once it is cut and drilled. Then by replacing the baluster, it will pin the rail to the fascia board and fix its position. That will take up all but one degree of freedom for the bottom of the rail which I will then figure out and fix by shaping the level quarter-turn exactly. The rubber will meet the road right there.

Next, I strung a tight string from the newel post, up and around the Grid B.5,2.5 column, and the top of the lowest baluster penetrating the fascia board. I used the string to figure out whether the lengths of all the balusters were correct. They were pretty much all in alignment except for one that was about an inch shorter than it should have been.

The options included going to the trouble to make a new baluster an inch longer or by drilling deeper holes in the rail so that the short baluster would work. After mulling it over and doing some measurements, I decided to take the second option. I will drill 2" holes instead of the planned 1" holes. The rail is plenty thick enough for 2" holes, but the clincher is the fact that since the hole is slanted, there is extra room. I also decided to use a twist drill instead of a spade bit to make the holes so that the entire hole is usable.

After lunch and a nap, I carefully laid out and marked the underside of the 8-foot rail for the baluster hole center locations. A double, or triple check of the measurements showed up one big error. At the location that was supposed to be at 2' 1/2", I had misread the tape and marked it at 2' 2 1/2". I will check those measurements several more times before I ever touch that wood with a drill bit.

Next, I went outside and hauled six maple firewood rounds from the woodshed down to the cabin in a sled. It worked very well; the sled stayed in the steep trail very nicely without capsizing.

While I was up getting the firewood, I walked on up to check on Paul, the giant sequoia. On the way there I saw a bunch of bobcat tracks in the snow. Paul was still buried under a foot of snow, but the snow was pretty loose, so I was able to break it into chunks and free up the little tree. It was smashed flat onto the ground, but it stood up nicely once it was freed. It is super scrawny, but it looks healthy enough. I hope this little head start on the growing season will give it a kick in the pants.

Back at the cabin, I split up four of the maple rounds I had brought down, but two of them were so gnarly and full of knots that I couldn't split them. I'm not sure what I will do about them. I think they are small enough to go into the stove the way they are, and I might try that. Or, I might fire up the chainsaw and cut them into chunks. We'll see.

I spent the rest of the day sanding the square end of the guard rail to see if I could get the dripped varnish off. That end will butt against the level quarter-turn and I'm not sure the glue will stick to the varnish as well as it would to wood. I used 60-grit paper and a flat board making sure that I didn't round the edges at all, and it seemed to work pretty well. I will probably work on all the mating ends this way.

On Sunday morning the temperature outside was 20° but there was no new snow. I took the five rail fittings out on the front porch and lightly sanded them with 220-grit paper to prepare them for their last coat of varnish. After wiping the fine dust off of them, I brought them back inside and hung them on the rack ready for varnish.

Then I went back out on the front porch with my spreadsheet of baluster lengths and cut the last 15 baluster blanks using Dr. Dick's handy rebar cutter/bender. These were the shorter blanks, so in three cases I was able to cut three blanks from a single length of 10-foot rebar. I could only get two of the rest of them from each length. But still, I had enough rebar to make them all with two or three full lengths left over.

With the blanks cut, I used the wire wheel on the porch bench grinder to clean the rust off of them. Then I brought them into the cabin because it was time to start packing and getting ready to leave after varnishing.

When I had finished applying the last coat of varnish on the five fittings, I took the rack of fittings into the utility room, turned on the fan, and shut the kitchen door. That kept the fumes out of the cabin, so I had a pleasant lunch before I left for home at about 12:40. This had been a productive week and I felt good about it.

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