Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Wheel, Lever and Crib

So, back into the fray again today.

Contractors were out on Wednesday to look at the gutters and the other numerous carpentry jobs we'd like to have done. I've always been a bit concerned about finding somebody to work on the house. There are a lot of people out there who can do the work, but without the sensitivity that I'd like to see. Many contractors fall victim to the mindset of "consumption capitalism", which is endemic in our society (and probably a topic for another post when I feel like I need to get on my soapbox). If something is broken, throw it away and replace it with new. Its cheaper to find a new item and install it rather then spend the hours required to fix the old item. In our current society, materials are cheap. Labor is expensive. Use materials, avoid labor.

There is another argument put forth by contractors, which holds more merit. Over time, there have been improvements in the way things are built. My gutters are a perfect example. Integrated gutters, like I have, are not a great idea, compared to modern day gutter solutions. But they were a huge improvement to the gutters most if its peers had, which is to say, none. Maintaining a poorly designed feature (compared to modern solutions) puts me in a philosophical quandary. Is there sufficient historical value in maintaining poorly engineered gutters, or is it better to re-engineer them to better protect the other materials of the house? Will that re-engineering cause unintended irreparable damage? Will it change the look of the house so that it no longer appears as it did? And what age are we trying to make the house look like? When it was built? When the previous owner had it? Or the owner before him? All of those owners are part of the history of the house, just as we will be someday. And to say that the only valid view of the house is 1921 is to ignore the lives of all those who followed. I think a lot about these things and hope that someday, future generations won't judge me too harshly for the choices I made with the house.

But I digress. We contacted the previous owner, who is an architect and currently living in Sidney, Australia. And he came forward with someone that had worked on historical restoration projects with him while he was designing in the area. The contractor, Matt, seems good, but then again, I though the plumbers would be good to. And that did not turn out nearly so well as I had hoped. At present, here is an overview of the projects we're having Matt bid on:

  • Replace the gutters around the top of the house and the front entryway.
  • Repair the gutters over the back porch.
  • Rebuild the gutters over the front porch, which were removed sometime in the past. At present, the water just drips over the edge and drains next to the foundation, which increases the moisture in the basement.
  • Possibly increase the number of downspouts. There are only two downspouts draining the roof. That's really not enough.
  • Replace the roof on the front entry.
  • Replace rotten soffit, fascia and framing over the main entry.
  • Replace rotten soffit and fascia on the main roof.
  • Reframe two basement windows, including putting in a dryer vent in one.
  • Jack up the back porch and re-level it. Water has been channeled by the support post, which caused it to sink.
  • Replace the back porch roofing.
  • Replace the rotten portions of the back porch upper railing.
  • Replace rotten soffit and fascia of the back porch roof.
  • Remove and replace the plywood soffit on the front porch with beadboard soffit.

We got the quote back on Friday for all but the gutters and it was only about twice what I expected. I guess we'll just have to do about half as much. We also have a mason lined up to re-tuck the brick next summer, and we'll need to get the house re-roofed (more on that a different day).

Then there was the trip to the sawmill. This turned out to be a very disappointing end to a lot of work. It started when we bought the house. There is a beautiful oak tree in the backyard whose branches rubbed on the roof. We had tree trimmers cut the biggest limb into four, six foot lengths. They ranged from eight inches in diameter to over a foot. And to my eye, they were mostly straight. The limb alone of that tree is 150 years old, so I figured it would be great to turn it into old growth, white oak lumber.

Newly cut white oak weighs a lot, to the tune of 400+ pounds for the biggest limb. So taking my inspiration from the ancient Egyptians, I rolled the largest log on rollers to the trailer and then used cribbing to lift the log to the height of the trailer. Once there, I put more rollers underneath it and just rolled it into the trailer. Thanks to numerous interruptions, this entire process took three months.

When I pulled into the sawmill, I immediately felt a bit of anxiety. This guy had serious logs stacked outside. Logs that were easily three feet in diameter, twenty feet long and straight as an arrow. Those trees had to weigh several tons. My puny six footers looked like toothpicks. When I showed him the logs, the prognosis was grim. The conversation, summed up, went something like this.

K: So, I've got these old growth oak limbs that I'd like to convert to lumber. What do you think?
SG (Sawmill Guy): Limbs sway a lot in the wind, so the grain is usually twisted. Once the wood is kilned, the boards will twist and warp. That one there (pointing at the biggest one) has a bend in it. I'd have to cut it into two, three foot sections.
K: What would it cost to make them into lumber?
SG: Its $60 an hour for sawing, and that's the minimum charge, plus $0.30 a board foot for kilning. It'd probably be about $200 for all of it. But I'd hate to see you waste your money. I'd just cut them up for firewood.
K (crushed): So in your professional opinion, what's the likelihood that I could get some usable lumber out of this?
SG: Pretty low. What were you planning on making?
K: We were hoping for a chair or some bookshelves.
SG (snickering): Well, maybe if they were little enough. No, they're probably pretty twisted. You might be able to do some craft stuff with them, but I'd just cut them into firewood.

So I left. I could have pushed the point. He would have been happy to take my $200, but I took the expert at his word. So now I'm going to have to unload all that white oak and figure out what to do with it. I'm open to suggestions. It pains me to burn it. It has beautiful grain and is more part of the land than the house itself. For now, I'll store it somewhere, make sure it's out of the sun and rain, and hope something comes to mind. Maybe it could be door and window lintels for the tower I'm going to build someday...

I also discovered within the last week a new piece of exercise equipment. It's called a splitting maul. I've been splitting wood over the last week and thoroughly enjoying it. It's good exercise and it needs to be done with all the wood that we had cut in the fall. I had been planning on getting up at 5:00 am most days to go out for a walk for exercise, but it didn't really excite me. For some reason, splitting wood does. I suspect that it's because I can see progress in what I'm doing and that splitting wood isn't a chore I need to do to heat the house. If I HAD to split wood, I would probably grow to hate it. For anyone that knows me, I'm sure that next time you see me I'll have lumberjack pipes. :)

The last of our lights should be delivered today. This is the last thing the electrician is waiting on. Steve only has about one more day left at the house and then the electrical work is done. Hooray! We're also getting our guest bedroom set delivered today. So fun new new toys when I get home!

I don't know how regular the postings will be for the next two weeks. I'm off to warm, rainy Ireland on the 20th, returning on the 31st, for a business meeting. I'm hoping to get quite a few posts up, but no promises.


Allknowingjen said...

Oh no! I am so disappointed the oak couldn't be made into lumber. There has to be something it would be good for...

Mary Beth said...

I understand the agony of decisions like your gutters. My parents just went through it trying to decide whether to put in new window or keep the older ones that are so much beautiful but let in the cold.

Mr. Kluges said...

So what did they decide?

Syl said...

Treehouse or play house for the girls? Frame out a mirror or pictures? Kid's table set? Wooden swing seat? Decorative pieces to attach to a cedar chest, headboard, screen, or outdoor bench? Rustic legs for a tripod table on the porch.

Jaysan said...

Don't forget that you know a guy who has an Alaskan Sawmill who also uses smaller pieces of stock to make handles and model trebuchets.....