Monday, January 21, 2013
Porch Column Bases 6: Just how crucial is it to secure those bases to the porch?
A big thank you to all my readers who have been so patient during this prolonged absence. We had a crazy Hurricane Sandy end to our summer season. And though we didn't know it at the time, we finished the porch column project just in time, quite literally. Another few days, and the hurricane would have blown through while our columns were unsecured, perhaps blowing the roof off the porch and who knows what else.
Who knows? All I know is that we finished the project mere days before the worst hurricane on the east coast in decades. The worst of the hurricane passed us by, and we were fortunate, very fortunate. I was sobered and saddened to see the damage our metro-area neighbors sustained.
To anyone reading this who is working on a porch or planning a porch column job, I would give some unsolicited advice. Keep an eye on the weather forecasts for especially windy weather or storms. It never occurred to me until we were in the middle of the hurricane, how lucky we were that everything was nailed down tight. When we had the porch held up by jacks, I only worried about the porch roof falling down, not about it getting levered up and off by wind. I feel very grateful that I didn't learn that lesson by experience.
In any case, enough on that. It's been months, but let's pick up where we left off. The last post is here. Capel had the bright idea of shimming the uneven spaces between the old columns and new bases with shims made from our cedar siding. This was a perfect solution, and here are some shots of him hammering the shims in place.
He'd sawed and chiseled the large slats of siding into shims narrow enough to do the job and then sat/kneeled there with an enormous selection of shims, finding the right one to fit each spot, all around every column:
You can also see, here, just below, how we secured the square bases to the porch floor with a countersunk screw in each corner. I bought special Rockler countersink drill bits for this, and it was a breeze. At first we thought we'd sink only two screws in each base, ever mindful of how hard it was to detach the originals. But then I thought to myself that backing out a screw is super easy, compared to getting nails out, and that we don't want the columns sliding around or tearing loose, and so we put four in each. Boy was I glad we'd gone with four when the Hurricane blew through the next week!
In any case, this was the first column and base we put together, that had the worst gap. In places Capel had to put two shims in one on top the other, to fill the gap:
Then, when he was satisfied that everything was solid, he went around the perimeter with a chisel and cut each shim to size. There is another photo of that below, but first here is a photo of the column just above, now with its shims trimmed:
You can also see, in close up, how we nailed the column to the base, nailing through the column at an angle down into the base with 2" (or maybe even 2.5") headless nails. This was how they were originally fastened to the bases, and after a lot of thought about other ways to do it, we stuck with the original fastening method, in part, because the columns are made up of 9 vertical slats that are only held together with these nails at the top and bottom from the column shaft into the base and capital (as far as we can tell, anyway).
But getting those nails in at an angle was a huge bear. The columns are two layers of very hard cedar and to nail at that angle, we had to use nail sets. Capel made starter holes with a cordless dremel and drill bit (a regular drill couldn't fit up against the column tight enough to get the right angle), but those nails still had to be hammered in by hand with a nail set, every single blow knocking the nail set off the head of the nail, so you'd get a tiny bit of drive and then have to reposition the nail set.
Not a very pretty job -- I'm showing you the bad and the ugly, here a bent nail that couldn't be pulled or driven further, and so got hammered up into the column. But it is what it is. As one of my bosses sometimes says: Done is done. And this one is DONE!
Here's another, showing Capel chiseling down the shims to size, after they've been well and solidly hammered into place:
And the result. In this case, the column needed much less shimming.
And, finally, the end of another long day of work, every column reattached to its new base, every base secured to the floor.
It was Capel's birthday, and in honor of the end of our second summer's work on the house, I snatched up a fortuitious haunted house cake at Carvel's for a thematic birthday celebration:
And gave him a scary mask to hand out candy in.
Next year maybe we'll decorate the porch for Halloween. It would make a great haunted house porch.
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, on finishing touches, here.