Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sad story

Not to ruin John's triumphant tale of roof rackery, but I must report that we are drooling idiots and last night when we cut that diagonal piece to go in the ceiling by the bathroom door--a 90-minute process--we did it backwards.

In atonement, we cleaned out the tool room.

That is all.

- Erika

John here: Let's not forget that also last night while working on that piece, I accidentally cut into part of our kitchen floor and part of our "temporary" floor. Whoops!

Rack Rabbit

I left the house for work with the following items: battery powered circular saw and drill, brown bag of 3" decking screws, square, tape measure.

With the van down, we've had to have our building materials delivered: lumber, insulation, drywall, beadboard; three or four times now. It adds up, and we fully expect there to be more.

So, on my lunch hour yesterday, I sped up to the big box with plans to build a guerrilla roof rack for the GTI. Nothing fancy, just enough to be able to transport 4x8 sheets of ceiling material home when we need to.

I purchased some 2x4s and a couple of come-alongs and laid them out in the parking lot. Using the circular saw, I cut three pieces at 4'3" to function as cross members, and I used two 8' sticks for the front-to-back runners. People walked past. I spaced the runners so that they'd fall along the roof corners (most rigid part) and laid the cross members over them and squared it all up. Screwed in two screws per joint.

Placed it atop the Rabbit. Ratcheted it down with two come-alongs. Drove back to work.

The front strap vibrated in the wind and made a very loud reedy buzz. I was able to quiet it down a bit, but it's a pretty noisy roof rack. That's okay, it's a pretty noisy car.

Later, we stopped to pick up our next order of beadboard and carefully loaded it onto the roof, tied it down.

Success! It really worked great, nothing shifted. So now we can use the Rabbit to bring home lumber for a while. Cool.

- John

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


We went home for Thanksgiving with four full sheets of beadboard on our kitchen ceiling. This left some partial pieces to be installed along two sides of the room, plus the entire "nook" area (the flat ceiling outside the bathroom). The last night before our vacation, I'd had a brief moment of insanity in which I proposed staying up all night and finishing the entire ceiling. My thinking was, this is just like when you're in college and you have some paper to write before you can leave for spring break, and you get it done at 6:30am and hand it in just as the sun is coming up and then go home exhausted and there's something weirdly fun about it. Well, this little dream ended 20 minutes later with a measuring mistake and a ruined sheet of beadboard. So much for that.

So, Monday night, we jumped back in. Got the two long pieces in along the highest part of the ceiling, then two short ones along the bathroom side. This only left a small empty square up in one corner. We've developed a habit of just circular-sawing this stuff right on the kitchen floor, so every night when we're finished working there's a big pile of sawdust to be swept up.

Tuesday we started looking at the nook ceiling. We'd already shimmed and put nailers in, but now when we looked at it we realized that the pieces we'd planned to use were not quite long enough. This caused some consternation. Ended up deciding to measure the bedroom and tool room to figure out how many sheets we'll use in there, then see if we could piece together scraps to fill that nook.

The tricky thing is that the sheets of beadboard come with "lap joints" on the long sides, making for nearly invisible seams. Once you cut into a sheet, you no longer have lap joints; you just have square cuts. When we decided we didn't care, and also that we officially didn't mind redoing our nailers, the puzzle of putting scraps together got much simpler. Or at least possible.

John's getting awfully good at freehand circular sawing; we measure super carefully, tape along the cut to avoid splintering, and set the beadboard up on 2x4 blocking so he can cut and I can aim the droplight at the blade with a finger in one ear and the other one pressed to my shoulder. (Why don't I just wear earplugs, you might ask? Good question.) We got three scraps into the nook, leaving only the hardest part where the diagonal bathroom wall is going to make us do a tough cut at an angle across some unlucky piece of beadboard. Ha, I first typed "beardboard." Picture that.

We'll do that tonight. We're also looking ahead to painting this stuff, insulating the bedroom and putting up the ceiling there, installing our stove vent through the side of the house, getting the drywallers in to finish the kitchen walls…lots of stuff coming up. Say it with me: "WE'RE GETTING THERE."

- Erika

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Art now

It's time for another photo essay, everybody.

- Erika

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The truth only costs 75 cents

Feeling pretty beatdown after last night. We did a lot of figuring, a lot of head scratching, and just couldn't figure out a way to square up the existing ceiling frame of what we're calling "the nook." Basically, it's an area of flat ceiling adjacent to the vaulted one, dropped between the bathroom and the kitchen. Actually, I don't even want to talk about it. Erika suggested we quit and let our subconscious sort it out. I can get behind that. So we did. After we cleaned up and got the pasta in water, we did in fact realize how we could make it work. And this morning we figured just how we could build it.

And with that I confidently declared, "well, once we figure this out I'm pretty certain that there will be no unforeseen challenged or obstacles while putting up the ceilings throughout the rest of the house!" and we felt better.

* * *

Cutting into the house, stuffing it with cotton, and encasing it all: It displaces. Like borate to a rat, it repels you, its trillions of tiny particles coat our nest. It has not been a pretty week.

what greets us at the front door:

the same spot last week, for contrast...

- John

Monday, November 19, 2007

More than a ceiling

Let's fill you in on what we did last week and over the weekend. Ready? Okay.

It took several nights and some weekend time to finish the framing in the kitchen so that the ceilings and drywall would go up properly. At the front wall of the kitchen, where the now-vaulted ceiling reaches its highest point, there are short 2x4 studs that support the kitchen roof rafters at about mid-span. These things are not plumb and usually don't line up with the wall. Rather than try to repair them, we decided it would be easiest to just cut all new studs and attach them to the existing ones, only aligned correctly. We did that Tuesday or Wednesday night, I think.



Next, we had to deal with the ends of the kitchen high walls. These wedge-shaped sections of wall up above needed all sorts of work if they were going to be turned into walls. On the sink-end of the room, we had to remove a mysterious electric receptacle and then cut away the 1x6 plank that runs the width of the kitchen so that it would be flush with the wall. This was done by standing on the counter and running the circular saw at eye level. I cut what I could and then the rest was handled with a chizzle (sic). The wood split easily this way and I was surprised by how quickly the work went.

With that board trimmed back, we cut and installed studs along that wall to use as drywall nailers. Then, we ran ten feet of 2x4 along the top of them, flush with the existing rafters, to use as a nailer for the ceiling.

Erika had also managed to cut and repair window trim in the dining room that was altered many years ago when someone needed to fit a window-unit air conditioner.

Erika here. Friday, I worked on bathroom window trim (it's now all puttied, primed and painted and looks amazingly good considering how crappy it was when we nailed it up), helped the delivery guy unload our beadboard and drywall, put up a couple small pieces of drywall around our replacement kitchen window, and finished
screwing down the porch steps. And took some pictures (more on that later).

John again. Friday night we would work on the opposite wall of the kitchen. This section, another wedge end, seemed the most daunting to design. But, being the experienced framers that we've become, we got it done that night. First, we had to trim an inch or so off the depth of a horizontal brace that crossed the lower plane of the rafters which if left untouched, would result in a lumpy ceiling. Done with the Sawzall and chisel. Needed to touch up another brace in the same way, though it wasn't as severe.

Then we ran an old 2x4 from the back wall to the kitchen beam to serve as the corner of the nook ceiling. Once it was wedged and screwed into place, we cut and installed vertical studs for drywall nailers. A successful Friday night.

Saturday, we called our local builder's supply store to ask about renting a nail gun but they had rented their last one for the weekend. We'll deal with that later. I dug out my notes from when I removed all the wiring and lighting fixtures from the kitchen. Erika painted window trim and windows in the bathroom while I installed junction boxes and re-assembled the kitchen electric system. We installed a box for a light above the sink, one for a central light/ceiling fan, and one that will be uncovered at a future date when we remodel the kitchen - not in use now, but we thought ahead the best we could. Of course, this took half a day.

Saturday, late afternoon, time to insulate! This didn't start off well. In order to get the properly rated insulation for our kitchen ceiling (R-21), we had to settle for 16" batts when we really need 24". We just ordered more of it and resigned ourselves to tearing the stuff lengthwise to fit into our old style wide rafter bays. The first couple of bays are oddly sized, so the flexible metal rods that we use to hold the stuff up weren't working well. It was uncomfortable and frustrating work, plus our friends' party was getting started around that time and we knew we were going to be late - really late.

After a bit of cursing and some minor lacerations, we figured it out. We insulated about 90 percent of the kitchen before we decided to just quit, clean up, and go party.

Sunday morning. Oh yeah, the nail gun. There was no way that we were going to attempt to hang 4x8 sheets of plywood on our ceiling using a hammer and finish nails. Too many reasons to list. So we took a Sunday morning drive over the mountains and bought a pneumatic finish nailer and some other supplies for the day.

Back at the house, we finished insulating. We had also realized that we were going to need nailers running lengthwise for our plywood ceiling. That meant measuring, cutting, and installing about 18 lengths of 2x4 across the ceiling, between each set of rafters. We are framing machines. We measured everything and wrote it all down on a notebook. Then we took the notebook to the basement and set up for cuttin''. Slap the board on the bench, Erika would measure and square up a line, I'd zing it off with the circular saw, repeat. We carried the armloads of cut lumber back to the kitchen, started screws in 'em on the floor, then got up on the ladders and put them in.

Ready to put up a ceiling? Almost...the ceiling here counts as an exterior "wall," so we had to staple up a vapor barrier of 4 to 6 mil plastic. We had just enough left over from the crawl space vapor barrier project to do this job with. But as we started putting it up, Erika noticed that since we were using black plastic, we wouldn't be able to see our rafters or nailers.

This would make ceiling panel installation most difficult. The hardware store was closing in 6 minutes. I flew down the road and made it just in time for some clear plastic. That was my third trip to the store since 11am.

Pop pop pop, the familiar sound of the staple gun. Vapor barrier up!

Alright, party people, now it's time to put up a ceiling!

We built our first "dead man," which is a length of 2x4 a few inches longer than the height of the ceiling, with a 3' length of 2x4 attached at the top like a T. You use this to prop the ceiling panel up, wedged between it and the floor. This tool was so necessary. Seriously. We love the dead man.

A quick note on our choice of kitchen ceiling: We wanted to use bead board, which is basically beveled and lapped narrow planks. To use "the real thing" would have meant spending about twice as much money and exponentially more time. Two things that we don't have. So, we went with "ply-bead," which is 3/8" plywood with the beads routed into the sheet, so it looks like individual planks. The long edges are still lapped, so the seams won't be visible along the long ends. For the butt ends, we'll either get creative with wood putty or we'll just use some narrow trim pieces. The sheets are 4x8.

I broke out the nail gun, loaded it up, and connected it to our air compressor. We measured the first length and cut the panel accordingly. We moved the ladders into position and visualized the process. We climbed onto counter and ladder with huge floppy sheet of plywood balanced over head. After a couple of dry fittings and adjustments, we had it in a position that we liked. Erika slowly let go as I held the sheet in place overhead so she could wedge the dead man into place. Once in place, Erika assisted the dead man with the lifting and I started nailing it up.

It went well. We've got the slightest wave in the first panel, but we'll be able to fix that. You've got to nail across the sheet so as to smooth it out. We got good quickly, though. One sheet needed two holes cut out for the light fixtures. I don't think we ever got this right on the first shot when we were drywalling, so I was really nervous about doing it with wood. We measured and transposed carefully, and the results were excellent. We did need to file a little bit off the edges, but we got a good fit. The beads and edges line up nicely, and I couldn't imagine doing this without the finish nailer. No way.

It was hard work. The wood is heavy and awkward and we're up on ladders and counters (and sometimes the stove). We were sore as soon as we stopped working. But we powered on because we knew that margaritas and enchiladas awaited us down the road. It was about 9:30. The house is trashed after this weekend. We just left it that way and headed down the hill and got our reward.

- John

Note: It just looks like plywood in the photos. But once it's painted, the grain will disappear and the "individual plank grooves" will be obvious.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Building a better box

The other night was kind of typical of our weeknight routine:

Arrive home after work. Feed cat, check messages. Eat unexpectedly large snack. Change into battered work clothes.

Begin clearing out kitchen of breakables and exposed foodstuffs. Bring in ladders, mallet, hammer and chisel, two sizes of wood screw, battery drill, other drill, circular saw, workbench, level, square, pen, Sawzall, Skil saw, goggles and gloves.

Remove last ceiling joist but not before dealing with junction box screwed to it. Measure existing short studs where the new top of the wall will be. Go outside, find used 2x4s from the beam project, clean them up and cut them to length so they'll sister with the old studs. Bring them inside and realize half of them need to be recut. Recut them. Chase panicked sparrow out of house. Standing on ladders, countertops, and refrigerator, with drop light clipped to rafter, attach main rafters to beam and topplate; clean up gnarly blocking with various power tools; shower sawdust all over kitchen. Discover dead termite in tiny hole in one piece of blocking.

Start screws in sister studs and then attempt to fasten to old studs while holding perfectly plumb and flush with topplate of wall so as to provide nailing surface for drywallers. Gaze around a lot at trim, electrical rerouting, and other miscellaneous tasks that will need to be done, some other night.

Begin cleaning up just after 10. Straighten up, put tools away, sweep floor and bring breakables back into kitchen. Open beers and heat oil for leftovers. While dinner warms up, measure ceiling and wall area for ordering beadboard and drywall next day. Eat. Brush teeth. Bed.

- Erika

Monday, November 12, 2007

Shed your extras

Brief dispatches from the weekend times:

Thursday night: We discovered that wood putty, though stinky, is a miraculous material. It covered our window-trim troubles nicely. Filled holes and cracks with that stuff, put some primer on it after it dried, caulked some gaps, and already our trim looked much much better. Just imagine it with a finish coat of paint! Yes'm.

Friday: I did some cleaning to get ready for a big family weekend, then dug two holes at the base of our porch steps so that we could put posts in there below frostline. Also, I received a delivery of more insulation (including R-21 for the kitchen ceiling) and a bunch of borate-treated lumber for the new porch steps. What's that white stuff? Oh yes, it's the borate. The guy told me we could wait for it to wash off in the rain, or scrub with a plastic scrubby.

John came home a little early from work and soon after, his parents and sister Sarah arrived after a day-and-a-half trip from Florida. My dad and brother Seth followed shortly after that and we all feasted on pasta and the usual libations. Then we did an art project where we filled every square inch of available floor space with air mattresses and futons and sleeping relatives. I'd say it was a success, but the
critics seemed ambivalent.

Saturday: While the stair crew tackled the front of the house, my dad and I returned to the scene of our earlier crime, where the shed was resting on temporary supports and, we thought, needing to be rotated until it was square with the house. Later Saturday night, looking back on our day, we would agree that basically what we had done was to lift the shed up and put it back down. But Saturday morning, full of coffee and ambition, we didn't know this. We thought we were going to pivot the shed.

Massive calculations ensued. For a four-cornered building to rotate on one of those corners until the other three land on predetermined points is more complicated than we thought. It's simple if you're just taking a piece of paper to represent the building and rotating it on the table. It's not simple when you have to set up skids and rollers on which the building will move, and jacking and blocking and dirt and
grass and a winch hooked to two young trees are involved. We sketched and jacked and visualized and winched, and this went on until lunchtime or beyond. We'd rotated the shed about 3 inches along a 3-foot proposed path, and the prospect of simply leaving the shed facing the way it was became more and more attractive. And so that is what we did.

It's not square with the house, but it does follow the line that marks the edge of our yard, so it actually works perfectly well aesthetically. Why torture ourselves? Building posts under the corners will make it official. We dug two holes under the front and then joined the stairs team. Welcome to your new home, Snoopy.

Sunday: We didn't have much time until Dad and Seth had to leave, especially after we took a nice leisurely walk and had breakfast. We did use Dad's truck to move stones from the old shed foundation up to its new spot, and I started to construct one of the new posts. Won't be a tough job to finish this up.

And meanwhile, as you can see in John's post, the porch stairs were really coming together. What a feeling to have another major item on our list mostly finished in one blur of a weekend! Thanks to all our wonderful helpers.

- Erika