A newly married couple buy an approximately 175 year-old farmhouse in Westchester County, NY, and work to make it home. Neither is exactly handy. But they want to do as much as possible themselves, and to keep as much character and old house charm as possible. Much to learn and do.
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:
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.