Monday, August 27, 2012

Martin's Inventions - Coat Closet Light Pull

The former owner lived in this house for 60 years, and lived within a mile of the house his entire life. He and his wife and children loved the house and their love of the house is visible.

I never met Martin. He died before we bought the house. But his care of the house is so present that I often feel that he and his wife Marguerite are just around the corner.

Writing about the porch today -- they had the porch floor replaced with mahogany, one of the reasons it is in such good shape -- made me think about the other lingering presences in the house. I call them Martin's inventions. They're whimsical, smart, inventive, funny. They make me feel as if I knew him, just a bit.

Here is one of the best -- the light pull in the coat closet.

Of course the house is so old that most of the closets have old-fashioned chain pulls, rather than switches. The coat closet is deep, though, and impractical to step into, given the piles of shoes and other stuff that always seems to clog its doorway. But no worries, here is a handy lightpull:

It's raining - time to replace porch column bases

It's raining. A good time to write a post.

A lot has been going on, and we are in the midst of several projects.

We made wooden screens for the front windows in the early summer. I have photos and will do a post.

A good part of the ancient rhododendron died this year, and after it bloomed, I pruned it fairly hard. Then I did soil tests underneath it, which showed that the soil is only borderline acidic, so worked on acidifying and amending the soil. There's a story there, too, at some point.

I am barely keeping up with the crabgrass in the gardens and patio.

We designed a new family bath. We are only just ordering materials for that. Much more to come on that front -- though we're using a contractor for most of it. A MUST for us with all that plumbing and electrical.

But -- the latest -- this weekend, we started work on the porch columns. I love a good porch when it's raining. Ours is divine and we spend most of our time out there -- coffee with the paper, dinner by candlelight -- anytime the mosquitos aren't snacking, that is.

This porch is not original to the house. The original porch went around two sides. But this porch dates back to the mid-to-late 19th or possibly early 20th century.

Three of the column bases had been replaced -- incorrectly, it turns out -- some time ago, perhaps when the porch floor was replaced in the 1970's. Here you can see the tacky replacement bases someone installed by cutting two 2x4's and nailing them down side by side. Ugh. This is not something Martin would have done, I say to myself (Martin, our do-it-yourself hero and former owner of the house for 60 years).

By contrast, the older bases are mitered on the corners -- producing an entirely different and elegant effect, despite the rot.

In the intervening 40-odd years, the remaining three column bases have rotted, and they're bad enough that they've made it to the top of our priority list to replace before winter.

Yesterday, we started investigating that further. We rented two house jacks and bought some 4x4's tall enough to reach the porch roof beam that runs along the tops of the columns.

Here you can see the jacks next to one of the columns.

This one is the worst -- not only is the square part of the base rotted, but the round disc that sits on the square base has collapsed in and parts of that are also rotted.

We decided to start with the rotted column that looked the best, presuming that we'll have to replace the least amount of wood there.

We put a jack and 4x4 on either side and jacked up the beam a half turn. It really didn't take much, and the column was suddenly swinging free.

Fortunately, there were only 4 nails holding the square base to the porch floor, and the wood was so rotted, we could dig the wood out around the nails and pull them. It was amazingly easy to remove.

Turns out that the base was actually constructed like a picture frame, and was hollow inside.

We were surprised, because we assumed the bases were solid, to hold the weight, as the 1970's era replacements obviously are. So in the morning, before renting the jacks, we'd created our own mitred replacement bases out of pressurized wood, from four pieces cut in pie-like sections. Took quite a bit of work to get those pieces cut.

Once we'd cut the wood, the installation went really fast and looks pretty decent. Here you can see our new base installed with the jacks and 4x4's on either side.

That was the easy one, though. The worst has rot through much of the round disc that sits on the square base, and then up into the slightly more decorative next ring, like so, with rotted parts dug out.

I figure the upper ring is not too badly damaged, and I can epoxy that. But we'll have to replace that round disc, and making it doesn't really fit into either of our skill sets, at least not without a lot of trial and error. Today, I went online, trying to find a small woodworking shop that would mill the second, round element.

So, short story -- I did some associated reading and learned -- alas -- that it is important to let columns breathe, and the column and all elements need to be hollow. And, that pressure treated wood is not the way to go, because it will warp and split.

Unfortunately, we'll have to go back to the drawing board and re-create those square bases. I'm sure Capel will be very happy to hear that I did my research AFTER starting the project!

Good news -- the square bits will be easy peasy to make. No answers yet on the discs.

More as we figure it out.
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 finding replacement bases, here.