Monday, October 1, 2007

The Beam Team

Every time someone would say "O.K.," all I heard was "oak."

Sunday morning, the sound of the circular saw scoring beam notches was my snooze alarm. It was sounding from the side yard by 7:45 in the morning. By the time I made it outside with a cup of coffee, the notches were already chiseled out of the beam.

Breakfast was an unbelievably tasty mound of scrambled eggs with a side of fresh apple pie. And more coffee.

Erika and her Dad measured, cut, and assembled the supports for the beam lifting. Last weekend, Erika would screw a 2x4 block to the outer frames with every lift of the beam, so that we could rest between hoists. An idea born out of one part experience and one part necessity, they constructed stilts this time. Basically, you'd have a length of 2x4 (about 4' to start), with a 14" protruding top, supported by another 2x4 block. It looks like the number 7. We had something like 5 of them for each side. Each one was brought inside, held in place, and yet another block of 2x4 was screwed in (this time to the studs of the support wall) to support the "arm" of the 7. This way, we could lift the beam, insert the support (which functioned like a ledge), and rest the beam on the support. Each support was 12" higher than the last.

Have we mentioned how great our temporary wall frame was? Strong! It's amazing how quickly we can frame a strong and plumb wall these days. The night before, Marty was commenting on their strength and actually bouncing his body weight off one of the studs. It bowed back and forth, but nothing (including the ceiling that it was holding up) even flinched. Well, I think Erika and I may have flinched just a tiny bit.

"Clear the decks," he said, and we cleaned up the rooms of anything we might trip on, and organized our fleet of supports. We decided to carry the beam in before the rest of our Beam Team (Alex and April) arrived. Marty, Susan, Erika, and I went outside and gave it a lift. We carried it in, slowly, and set it down perpendicular to where it needed to be. We rolled it the rest of the way and into position by way of four one-foot lengths of PVC. We didn't stop there. The four of us lifted it onto its first set of blocks, a couple of 24" high chunks of beam scrap. We got a couple more lifts in before Alex and April arrived and Black Sabbath hit the Hi-Fi.

We briefed Alex and April on the strategy and took our places. Alex and I would lift from the sides using a length of 2x4 as a handle, Marty would lift from the end, Susan would stabilize the far end, Erika would unscrew the previous support and then screw in the new support, and April would assist Erika by kicking out old supports and positioning new ones.

One thing that made this lift a little more awkward was that about halfway up the chimney is a brick protrusion, like a mantel, that we had to clear. So not only were we lifting up, but we had to swing out as well. It all went really smoothly, with only one or two instances of an audible crack from a support block or forward slip of the beam. We took 15 second breaks every couple of lifts, keeping the momentum, but pacing ourselves so as not to forget that we were hoisting a massive beam.

The beam was now only a couple of inches from where we wanted it, and it was sitting soundly on the top supports. Out came the jack. Marty jacked the south end of the beam up into place. It met with the first three sets of ceiling joists and the lovely creaking sound of resistance from the ceiling was heard. Clamped it up and move the jack to the north side of the beam. The ceiling joists were riding lower on that side of the house, something we were made aware of as that side of the beam was jacked and it kept forcing the other joists up higher until the beam met with the rest of the joists. A nice tight fit. Clamped that side of the beam up. Time to bring in the posts.

The posts were intentionally left a 1/2" long so that we could measure them against the actual height of the beam just minutes prior to installation. Marty marked the length and took the post back out to the porch and chainsawed off a 1/2", or 1/4 inch, or whatever was needed. The first post was tough to get in, and required some spirited whacks with the sledge hammer. The entire house resonated. No one spoke for about 5 minutes as we watched him work this thing in, the notches coming together nice and tight.

At one point, we jacked the beam on that side just a touch more, but noticed that the jacking post was right over a weak spot in the floor frame and it was just pushing the floor down rather than the beam up. So, a plank was placed there to help distribute the weight. Success, of course.

The second post went right in, with just a few taps. Look!

And we cheered!

Like a busy little hive, we dismantled the temporary wall frames, pulled out the supports, moved the tools and scraps out of the room, and swept up. Beam number 2 installed!

The Beam Team

We said goodbye to our helpful and dependable friends who had taken time out of their weekend day, on which they had plans to paint their own house.

We lunched on pizza, and it was good. After lunch, some straightening up, and some distributing of plant cuttings, Erika's mom and dad hit the road for their long journey home. Once again, we couldn't have done this without them and we were just both feeling great after a super fun weekend, and missing them with the house gone quiet.

We took a short walk, tended the compost pile, and then Erika set to painting the porch ceiling that she and her mom had prepped the day before. I did a comprehensive cleaning of the house, which had amassed a tremendous amount of construction dust on most surfaces. The house now clean, we could really kick back and relax and admire this latest transformation.

- John

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