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.

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