Construction Journal Entry Week of 5/3/20

5/4-8/20 I went up to Camp Serendipity for 5 days: Monday through Friday.

I arrived at 11:25 and went over to check on the rhubarb first thing. I was happy to see that it is thriving and getting nice and tall. Next, I unloaded and stacked on the compost pile a load of yard waste I had brought with me. Then I brought my gear up to the cabin and noticed that the temperature was 45°. Very pleasant.

After hoisting the flag, starting a fire in the stove, and having my lunch, I went right into the woods with the vain hope that the ram pump had continued to run all through the weekend.

No such luck. The pump had stopped and there was no evidence that water had recently come out the end of Andrew's hose. I walked over to the pump and started it up again hoping that this time would be the charm. I felt a little like Charlie Brown attempting to kick the ball one more time.

Back in the cabin, I took a picture of the completed lower terminations of both loft stair rails. I had forgotten to do that last week. Then I made the bold move to cut the top of the handrail to length. I had re-checked all the measurements to make sure I cut it right. It not only had to be cut at the right length, but the angle of the cut couldn't be exactly square. The angle had to make up for an error in cutting the over-easing which was not quite square. The important thing was that the face on the other end of the over-easing needed to be vertical when it was all hooked up.

After the rail was cut, I was a little disappointed to see that the top face of the over-easing was still not quite vertical. There was still one last chance to make up for it, though, and that would be when I cut the mating 1/4-turn. That one would be the last chance and it would have to be right.

On Tuesday morning about 3:00 AM, I woke up feeling a soreness on my chest. I checked it out in the mirror and saw that I had some kind of a bite. There was a fairly bright red patch about the size of a penny with a black dot in the middle. Fortunately, it was right on my sternum so that I could easily get at it and sort of see it in the mirror.

I got my tick tweezers out of the first aid kit and poked and pulled at that black dot. It was way too small to be an adult tick, but I figured it might be a tick larva or nymph. I know those are very small.

I was able to get hold of the thing with the tweezers and try to pull it out, but after pulling pretty hard, it broke. I did that twice before there was nothing left to grab onto. I tried to save the pieces I had broken off, but they were only about half a millimeter long, so they were just little black dots on the sheet of toilet paper I put them on. I wrapped the dots in the toilet paper and wrapped that in foil so I could look at them with a microscope when I got home and then I went back to bed.

After breakfast, I drilled the holes for the rail-bolt fastener and installed the over-easing onto the end of the rail without glue. I was very happy with how it looked but a little disappointed that the end of it wasn't quite plumb. That won't really matter as long as the cut on the 1/4-turn compensates for it.

After lunch and a nap, I went into the woods and checked on Paul. Then I proceeded on to bring five gallons of water up to Andrew. I decided to give up on the ram pump and just water the tree by hand from now on.

Next, I made very careful measurements and marked the next 1/4-turn for cutting one leg to mate with the over-easing. This needed to be a double compound cut. It needed to be a little off square vertically to make up for the bad cut on the over-easing, and it needed to be a little off square horizontally in order to make it end up square with the building so that the rest of the termination structure would be symmetrical and interface properly with the Grid C2 column.

After being as careful as I could, I clamped the piece to a sawhorse and made the cut with my trusty handsaw. When I tried the fit afterwards, I was delighted to see that it worked. The 1/4- turn was level and square with the building when the two cut faces were held together.

On Wednesday morning, I cut the other end of the 1/4-turn and I cut the mating leg on the second, and last, 1/4-turn. Then I installed, dry, the rail-bolts to connect the two 1/4-turns and to connect them both to the over-easing. I was very happy with the results and the look of it. There was only one rail part left in the structure and that would be a straight rail section connecting the second 1/4-turn to the column. The structure was very close to the final look. I took a couple pictures of the result before having my lunch and a nap.

When I got up, I carried another five gallons of water up to Andrew and then stacked some firewood in the woodshed before returning to the cabin.

Now that the exact location of the rail parts was known, I could measure for the lengths of the remaining balusters. I needed eight balusters. I had five that were already painted, so I made the last three, wire-brushed them, cleaned them, loaded them into the painting rack, primed them, and finally painted them.

Meanwhile, the red patch on my chest had gotten bigger, was lighter in color, but was still very tender to the touch.

On Thursday morning, I discovered that one of the rail-bolts was positioned badly. The nut on the fastener was going to interfere with a baluster. At that moment, I regretted the decision I had made not to make a careful, detailed, elevation drawing of the rail structure. This was not the first time I had regretted not making a good drawing before beginning construction.

The solution to this problem was to cut the baluster short enough to go under the nut, and to seat the baluster in a hole I would have to drill through the wood plug once it had been glued in place. That is all workable, but it will just be an extra nuisance and something I will have to remember to do.

Next, I went to work on the first three balusters. They are special because they are seated in the top stair tread exactly like the others, but since the tread is very close to the fascia around the floor, there is not enough room to install them. To fix that, the plan was to remove the tread altogether, install the balusters, and then replace the tread. All possible, but not easy.

I had measured and cut the three balusters to length, but now in the face of the interference with the rail-bolt, that one had to be cut shorter so that it wouldn't hit the nut. I took the baluster (the wrong one as it turned out) out to Dr. Dick's rebar cutter/bender and cut the baluster shorter.

Then I set to work removing the top tread. To start with, I had to set up a big sawhorse and a stepstool in order to reach the nuts that fasten the tread to the stringer.

Removing the nuts was easy and straightforward. But getting the bolts out was another matter. The bolts are 1/2" carriage bolts about 18 inches long. I tried driving them up using a three-pound hammer and a block of wood, but I could only get one of the three to budge. I drove that one up about an inch before the end of the bolt disappeared into the stringer.

Then I brought a big crescent wrench up the stairs and was able to grip the square shoulder of the bolt beneath the bolt head. The wrench handle was barely long enough to give me enough leverage to turn the bolt at all. But I was able to turn it a quarter of a turn. Small progress with eighteen inches left to go.

As I turned the bolt, little by little, gradually it got easier to turn, even though it was still a lot of work and I was working up a sweat. Eventually the bolt came up high enough and got easy enough to turn that I could turn it about a half a turn with each pull. Then, later, when the wrench was high enough to clear the loft floor, I could turn it a complete 360° and from then on, it was pretty easy to get the bolt out.

With that first bolt removed, I went back under the tread and hammered up on the other two bolts to see if either of them would move. One of them did and I drove it up about a half-inch. That was enough to get the crescent wrench under the bolt head which allowed me to laboriously unscrew that bolt just like I had done the first one.

Finally, the third and last bolt yielded to the same actions and eventually I got that one out as well.

With the bolts out, I lifted the tread out of its place and brought it into the loft for drilling. I used the same 25/64" bit to make the holes and used the rubber hammer to drive the bent ends of the balusters into the holes, just as I had done for all the other balusters in the staircase.

Then I measured each one for square with the tread surface and found that all three needed to be adjusted. Fortunately I had not put the pieces away of my rebar angle adjusting jig, so I set that back up on the front porch and proceeded to adjust the bends on the three balusters so that they ended up sticking up perpendicular to the tread surface.

Then I replaced the tread on the stringer and drove the three bolts back down into their holes. Fortunately, I didn't have to screw them back down. Instead I simply drove them down with my three-pound hammer.

It was when I was admiring the results of this work that I realized that I had shortened the wrong baluster. Fortunately, the one I had cut was not too short. It would still penetrate the rail about a quarter of an inch. After thinking about it, I decided that would be enough. Now, I will have to cut the one that I should have cut, and with the baluster locked in place, I will probably have to use a hacksaw to do it. I felt pretty stupid for making such a mistake.

After having my lunch and a nap, I took another five gallons of water up to Andrew. I guess the exercise of lugging that water up the hill is good for me. When I got back, I replaced the washers and nuts holding the top tread and tightened them up. Then I put away the scaffolding I had used to reach them. I also retired my rebar angle adjusting jig and put those parts away too.

Of the three balusters in that top tread, the shortest one was the correct length, the middle one was the one cut almost too short, and the longest one was the one that still needs to be cut. I decided to seat the shortest one, which seats into the rail itself. To do that, I removed the two screws holding the rail bracket to the rail which allowed me to lever the rail up enough to seat that first baluster and yet not unseat any of the balusters down the rail. I was happy about that.

When the baluster was in its hole, I used my hands to push the rail back down onto the bracket and then I drove the screws back up into the rail to finally fasten it in place.

For the final piece in the structure, I had the remnant I had cut off the long rail and it looked to be the perfect length to span between the last 1/4-turn and the column. I clamped it to the 1/4-turn in a position to scribe it and I was startled to see that the structure was not aligned square with the building. That straight piece was not going to meet the column correctly.

All of the joints, not being glued, can swivel a certain amount and, from time to time, I would deliberately swivel them just a little to get them to match up as closely as I could. But I couldn't see how any of that swiveling could have mis-aligned the parts as much as I could see they were. I couldn't imagine how my cuts could have been that far off.

But they obviously were, and there was no option but to re-make one of the cuts to bring the structure into alignment. The joint between the first 1/4-turn and the over-easing was the one that needed to be fixed, so I dismantled that joint and proceeded to re-work the cut on the 1/4-turn.

It took a while, but when I was satisfied, I put it back together and was gratified that now the structure was perfectly level and square with the building. And now, the straight piece could be clamped in position for scribing and I could see that it was not only the exactly correct length, but it would meet the column at a tangent on its outside edge. It couldn't be more perfect. I scribed the part for cutting.

In the evening, before I went to bed, I called Earl. I had a nice conversation with both Patty and Earl.

On Friday morning, Dave called first thing and we had our usual great conversation. Then after breakfast, I applied the tub of Ready-to-Use Floor Patch to the floor directly below the rail termination. For some reason, the floor was not flat in that area and it needed to be built up. Since next week I will probably be building the 2x4 structure to anchor the balusters to the floor right there, I wanted to make sure that the patch was going to be completely cured when I did. This would give it at least the entire weekend to cure which should be enough.

I took a picture of the work in progress on the rail termination, and then I brought the last five-gallon bucket of water for the week up to Andrew. I left for home at 1:20 very happy with the progress but a little chagrined with my many mistakes.

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