Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Porch Column Bases 5: The Sun King, or, What, you say, those bases don't match those columns? The Farmhouse Solution

So, a quick check-in on the hapless DIYers Capel and Sherry. We got stuck late last night, after hours and hours and dare I say hours of work.

We got a lot accomplished during the day, separated the other two columns from the existing bases, scraped, filled and painted the floor underneath them (all described here), got one new base put in and then, at the end of a very long, hard day, when I was putting the first nail into the second new base by lamplight, I knelt over to see how well the nail had gone in and realized I was looking straight through a giant--and I mean GIANT gap--between the column and base, looking alarmingly straight through the whole thing into the light the 250 watt worklamp was casting into my prized azaela bush, only a teeny tiny fraction of one edge of the column touching the base. The rest angled up at an alarming crazymaking angle, enough so that I could stick my whole finger into the gap -- at least a good 5/8 inch. I almost cried.

It never occurred to me that the columns might not come out level at the bottoms. But of course. Should. Have. Guessed.

After a very little bit of discussion about it, which involved Capel's suggesting we plug the entire gap with epoxy (I envision uncontrollable goo oozing out everywhere) and my suggesting that we remove the base and saw off the bottom of the column to make it level (he envisions some impossible shenanigans causing an awful lot of swearing)--neither idea a very pleasing prospect--, I threw up my hands and said, "I'm done for the night. Let's sleep on it."

I tried to feel good about the column we'd finished. Took one snap of it and went to take a bath (in my new bathtub. Yeah!)

Though even that one has a pretty ugly gap between the column and the base, like so. It's just hard to feel satisfied when the darn thing doesn't look good at all after so much work.

And so sleep on it we did. Or, in my case,  sleepless on it, for at least part of the night.

But lo and behold, I get home from work tonight, and voila -- Sun King!

Capel has found a solution, bless his heart. Where I see images of the Sun King, he sees the lowly farmer. "It's a farmhouse," he says. "Back in the 1850's they would have said, 'It's a gap. What do we have laying around to fill it in? Oh, cedar shingles. That's good.' End of story."

I laugh. Delighted. Whichever narrative you prefer, I had come to virtually the same conclusion, and Dan, good man that he is, had called to check on us in the afternoon, and said, too -- shim, shim, shim and then caulk. So, big sigh. Looks like we will be renting the house jacks for another weekend.

Thank you Decker Rentals for a very friendly weekly rental rate!

So, to sum up, here's where we are in general:

One column base secured, waiting to be shimmed.

One column base unsecured, half shimmed.

Two columns still up on makeshift perches, the paint beneath drying, like so:

Two Decker Rental house jacks, holding up the porch roof so it doesn't collapse.

And two columns we are certainly NOT touching until spring.

I took another 30 shots or so yesterday, of the entire process start to finish of the sawing, scraping, filling and painting process and will post those another night (see Porch Column Bases 4, or the link above).

Addendum, spring 2013: The entire story with instructions for replacing bases is tagged with the label "Replace Porch Column Base Series," which you will find along the right-hand side of the main Life at Pugsley blog page.  Or, you can go to the next in the series, about how we finished securing the columns to the new bases and the bases to the porch floor here.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Porch Column Bases 4: On the Way to Done, or, Epoxy rules the day

So, it was Sunday morning. The awful day, I'll call it, in retrospect. We sit over coffee and review our plans. We've got six bases made (see here for a long post showing those), but only four of the existing bases are really rotted through. The columns bases on either end of the porch seem more or less solid enough for now. So our first decision is to work on the four middle columns and leave the two corners alone. Wise decision.

My first snaps of the day, as usual now, a review of where we stand. Here you can see the whole line. 1. Corner column 1 not to be touched. 2. House jack holding up the roof.

3. Column 2: porch floor epoxied and painted, but the top of the base is still firmly on the column and has to be removed.

4. Column 3 ready for its new base. 5. House jack holding up the roof. 6. Column 4 temporary base in place, but that one went on weeks ago and we're not sure what the floor looks like underneath. 7. Column 5 the nasty one that has completed rotted away. 8. Corner column 6 that will not be touched.

Looking to score an easy win, and move the house jacks, we get ready to install the first new base under Column 3, which is ready and waiting for its new base.

We hang a plumb line -- over which there is minor disagreement -- I'm for a plumb, Capel wants to eye it in without the plumb. I hunt up a giant rusty nail on Martin's workbench in the basement and hang a plumb, which you can see Capel adjusting here:

After much eyeing in and scrutinizing of lines near and far, the base is lined up. We decide not to secure it yet. The priority is to get Column bases 4 and 5 up and off the porch floor, so that we can evaluate the floor and deal with that. The porch floor paint takes hours to dry, and we would both like to finish the job today. (Guffaws and snickers permitted here).

We decide to divide and conquer. We lift Column 4, so that I can evaluate and work on the porch floor. Capel goes away at sawing the base off of Column 5.

Close up of sawing the base from the column. We're actually sawing through the 9 nails that hold the two together, and aiming NOT to saw any of the column off. In this case, it was actually relatively easy. This base was so rotten, that while the nails were still firmly holding, there was a lot of give between the column and the base and it was easy to identify the nails by pushing the saw up against them, and then switching to the hacksaw and sawing them.

Four minutes later, base is off. That was a record.

Here you can see the underside of the base. The square base was made with 1-1/2 x 2" wood. We've replaced it with 1x3 cedar, propped on 3x3x1/2" feet. 

The porch floor wood underneath it looks surprisingly ok. I like the paint color that the floor used to be. A light aquamarine. Capel hates it. Oh well. I guess we're not going back to that color.

The porch floor was last replaced in 1989. We know, because we've inherited a bottle that was found under the foundation when the porch was replaced, with a note and date.

Anyway, I say the porch floor looks relatively ok. 

It can be deceptive. Once I start in with the screwdriver and chisel, the soft, punky wood yields.

There are places, particularly where a nail was driven into the tongue of the tongue and groove (thus, hidden under the groove of the next piece of wood), where the water seems to penetrate down into the interior of the wood and sits in little puddles, mostly underneath the lower corners of the square base, like here:

And here:

You can see how the water formed little channels through the wood and created rot, which I've carved away. Fortunately, the rot doesn't go through entirely, or we would have had to take up pieces of the floor. Since the bottom layer of wood is fine, I just carve away the rot and any punky wood.

Then I sand and scrape the rest of the floor that will ultimately be painted, and wood hardener onto any exposed wood. Actually, since I can tell that the water has found channels through the wood, I pour the wood hardener into the pools and let it sit. It penetrates through, and drips out the bottom of the porch floor in a few spots.

Then I work on the other base of Column 4. Even less rot there. Really very minor.

Before I lay in the epoxy wood filler, I get curious about the inside of the column. The camera can sometimes see what I cannot. Here is the interior. Way cool!

And a shot of the underside.

While the wood hardener is drying -- 2 hours minimum -- I go plant bulbs. Maybe this winter, I'll start some threads about gardening, we'll see. But I'm keeping this post focused on one thing, for your sanity.

It was a pretty day, and the gardening was a welcome respite.

Then it is back to the grind. The epoxied wood filler is my least favorite thing. Even with the mask, it's noxious stuff. But here it is, all laid in.

After that dried about a half hour, I painted the porch floor. [**See note below on wood fillers and epoxies.**]

Then it was back to securing the other two column bases. This was not fun at all. And there are few snaps to show it. But here, if you look closely, you can see 9 nails, one for each slat, poking out of the bottom of Column 3. It was not an easy job, because they have to be hammered in at an angle through the column and into the base and then countersunk. More on that to come.

**March 11, 2013 Update: Over the winter, I have done some more research on wood fillers and wood epoxies. I am seeing some reviews that the Minwax two-part wood filler is not a true epoxy and doesn't hold up well over time in exterior uses with northern winters. Abatron seems to be the most used epoxy. A good explanation is on the Minnesota Window Restoration blog here.
Addendum, spring 2013: The entire story with instructions for replacing bases is tagged with the label "Replace Porch Column Base Series," which you will find along the right-hand side of the main Life at Pugsley blog page.  Or, you can go to the next in the series, about how we secured the existing columns to the new bases, here.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Porch Column Bases 3: Making and replacing the bases

I haven't written much in the past few weeks because we've been on a tear trying to get a few outdoor projects done before it gets too cold to paint. I was working so hard I didn't even take any photographs of our attempt to patch a rotten fascia under the gutter on the studio addition, and then put up a run of cedar shingle siding between the fascia and window frame. That was one long couple of days and I have no idea if the patch will hold.

But, off and on, I've been working on the porch column bases. I say I. We've actually been working on this one together. And we've been forced to work somewhat backwards, because of the rainy, cold October we're having. In any case, it's been so long since I started this project, let me remind you where we've been.

Here I described the very first day of work, which resulted in one column with an incorrectly replaced square base, like so:

Here I describe the day of work that ended in the removal of a sample round base, to be sent off to a millworking company for reproduction as sextuplets.

And, the enormous amount of work it was to remove all 9 nails that had been countersunk in the 9 vertical elements of the column, which resulted in 9 big ugly gashes in the bottom of the column, like so:

Now, you're caught up. While we were hard at work on the bathroom, the sextuplet clones arrived, along with the original base I'd removed:

And, there they sat for several weeks, while the weather got more and more refreshingly colder and the bathroom got renovated.

We were very pleased with them -- they look just like the original. True clones. Except that they're made of cypress and the originals were cedar.

And, I had the reproductions made with a hollow core, to allow air flow, hopefully lengthening the time between this replacement and the next.

The original, bottom round ring shows a band of blue paint. And I've been pondering whether to pick out that ring in blue or some other color. No decision yet.

Also, while Dan was here with his knowledge of construction and his nifty miter saw (I want one of those!), I picked his brain for the best way to fashion hollow square bases. We decided to go with 1x3 cedar, and underneath that, 1/2" thick 3x3 feet, to lift the square base off the porch floor and allow for total air circulation.

We got the wood when we went up to the lumber yard for the bathroom trim, and one day, when Dan had the miter saw set up, I whipped out pieces for six square bases.

After he'd gone, and the bath was (more or less) done, I turned my attention back to this project, and, one evening after work, glued together the six bases on the dining room table:

Then, another evening two weeks ago or so, we nailed them together, one nail on each corner, just to keep the mitered ends from splitting apart from the weight of the columns.

Then, we glued and nailed the six round bases together:

You can see I only used two nails. I don't want to put someone else through the agony I've had of trying to pry these things apart, when they need to be replaced next time. I have NO intention of being here when that happens, but still (or just in case, that is!).

Then, one night, we glued all the little feet onto the square bases.

And, then, the next night, we tapped in very thin nails, to keep the feet in place and provide a little extra solidity to the miter.

And then, last weekend, while we were working on repairing the fascia under the studio gutter, I took some time to caulk the round bases, where the two pieces are joined with glue. Also, I don't show it, but on the square bases, I counter sunk and puttied the nails.

Then, last weekend, I started priming. One side and then the other.

While Capel went riding in the neighbor's borrowed Ural.

Well, that's not all he did. After we'd finished patching the back wall of the studio, we spent the entire afternoon and evening on Sunday scraping and painting the columns (not the bases), because I am worried that we're running out of good painting weather. And I epoxyed, sanded and painted the column with the 9 ugly gashes from digging out nails. It looks as good as new.

They all look great!

Then, during the week I started priming the tongue and groove mahagony we'd ordered to replace any rotten porch floor under the column bases.

And, finally, the round bases have a first full coat of paint, ready to be installed:

And three of the square bases are ready, too. The other three have miters that were not quite exact and need to be filled before being painted, so that waited for this weekend.

This morning, Capel  put screening on the bottom of the square bases.  I saw this somewhere online, as a recommendation to keep insects and wasps from crawling up inside the columns and making their homes inside.

And, then we nailed the round bases to the square bases.

Again, a conservative two nails, to make life easier for my future self, or for the next owner.

And, here's where we started this morning. Columns up again in the air. After an hour and a half of sawing through an existing base, we managed to pull it by sawing through the 9 nails, rather than digging into the column for them.

That was a chore and used every hacksaw we had in the house, old and new, and we have quite a collection that Martin left us. You can see that we half demolished the round base trying to saw through it and the nails while preserving the column. But it worked!

Then I pried up one of the original rotted square bases from another column. That went much faster, but we didn't have time to remove the round base. We just got it up and swinging, so I could work on the porch floor underneath.

So, while Capel went to do some work in the city, I spent the afternoon digging out the rotted wood in the porch floor. We got lucky. None of the boards had rotted all the way through, so I just spent several hours digging out bits of shredded, wet wood, scraping down to the solid wood.

It can be deceptive, above -- looks ok, until you dig and poke and dig and poke, and soon enough, you've got a bunch of shredded wood piled up on the porch and a lot of holes.

Then, I poured consolidant into the holes, and brushed it all over the spots where I'd scraped and dug away any rotten or punky wood. I use Minwax's wood hardener and a disposable brush. It takes several coats, more than several, actually, until everything is coated and glossy. Then it has to sit for at least two hours.

It's important to note that this column was resting on one of the previously replaced column bases that had been made of two solid 2x4's sitting side by side. It caused 4 times more rot underneath than the seemingly much flimsier hollow square base that was obviously much older. 

Hollow is the way to go.

In any case, then it started getting late, and I forgot to take any more photos. I filled the holes with epoxy. I use Minwax High Performance Wood Filler.** [See note below on epoxy.] It's not a putty, it's a two-part wood filler that has to be mixed, and then you have to work very fast, or it hardens and becomes unworkable. With holes this deep, I had to go over it several times. And then let it dry and go over it again with a skim coat. And then sand. And then let it dry. And then paint. Finally!

And, as I write, this is what it looks like. Still far from finished, and I don't think the porch paint will dry overnight, because it will be cool tonight. But it is what it is. Tomorrow, we'll work on the other two. Looks like the last two--the ones that seem relatively whole--will have to wait for spring.

**March 11, 2013 Update: Over the winter, I have done some more research on wood fillers and wood epoxies. I am seeing some reviews that the Minwax two-part wood filler is not a true epoxy and doesn't hold up well over time in exterior uses with northern winters. Abatron seems to be the most used epoxy. A good explanation is on the Minnesota Window Restoration blog here.

Addendum, spring 2013: The entire story with instructions for replacing bases is tagged with the label "Replace Porch Column Base Series," which you will find along the right-hand side of the main Life at Pugsley blog page.  Or, you can go to the next in the series, about installing the new bases, here.