Friday, July 29, 2011

End of July

End of July

It has been a difficult month. The weather has refused to cooperate. It has given us only a couple of suitable days to work on the foundation. Either it has been a soggy mess at the site or the dew points and temperatures have made it feel like the Amazon and put us at risk for heat stroke. On one of the recent good days we worked 10 hours. I think Sam finally believes that you can accomplish more in one good day than you can in three bad ones. One good week would bring our foundation up to ground level but that will come in time. The weather here always has a flip side and maybe nature will grace us with a long cool fall. It has been amazing to see how much of the piles of stone and other building materials have disappeared in the last several weeks. Yet, the limestone from the old shed foundation is still holding out and it feels a bit like the Biblical story of the loves and the fishes…the more we use up, the more there seems to be for us to use. The first tomatoes from the garden are ripening up and yesterday for lunch we had Sam’s home-made bread with slices of fresh cucumber, Havarti dill cheese and fresh sliced tomatoes with Parmesan and olive oil. There are some parts of summer that are definitely OK!

Today the sawmill called. Rather than wait for the weather to improve, John at the mill decided to get ‘er done if we didn’t mind sweating a little. We started about 1:30 and finished hauling the last load in by six. Hot, dusty, but the oak for the central staircase is all cut and has to be stickered up tomorrow so it can dry. The eight sided six by six for the stair turned out beautifully in spite of a few carpenter ants in the log. The log was a donation from Harley. They had a storm move through their woods that took out the tops of a number of stately oaks and he offered us one if we wanted to go to the trouble of hauling it. Thank you Harley! We should have all the wood we need now to finish the interior of the first floor and when we are ready in a couple of years it will be dry and ready to use!


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

One more busy day ended

It is the end to another day. In many aspects it has been the busiest of work days. We added a lot to the foundation walls, while mixing six(!) batches of mortar. After finishing around 7:45 pm I biked to the post box to drop off two letters. On the way back I was stopped by a number of interesting houses. I am ruined by even the little bit of work that I have done on the octagon house. Everything I look at I see in the light of how much work is involved. Architectural details, stone work, symmetry, and so much more that is hard to put in words places the few houses, most built one hundred years ago, as gems in the landscape of vinyl sided-wafer board houses. This project has certainly been more work than I ever imagined, and even more joy than I ever imagined. One more busy day ended, with many more on the horizon.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Too hot outside

July 19

Another day of 90+ temps and 80 degree dew point s. That ends up in a feels like temperature of 115 or there about. The construction season here so far has been disappointing. It has been either sunstroke weather- too hot to even work early in the morning- or raining and so muddy at the site that it is impossible to work. The crew who put in the sewer and water for the house and who work large construction projects indicated that they worked only 5 days in the entire month of June because of weather conditions. (We’ve done a little better than that but not by much!) It is even too hot to strip woodwork intended for the house as the remover tends to gum-up and not work well. Thankfully, I stripped a lot of it on the wet days so that Sam can sand it in the basement where it is cool. The weather doesn’t look too promising a week out either. A cool front is expected by Thursday that should lower the temps to the lower 90’s but the dew point will determine if we can do any outside work.

I did have some success in the locating of some limestone for the terracing and eventual landscaping around the house. An old student and friend discovered it for me, and it will be delivered in the late fall. We can only hope for a long dry autumn to play catch-up on the project. The goal is still to have the masonry walls up to the second floor before freeze-up, but even that may prove too ambitious to realize. Nature is teaching us patience!


Friday, July 8, 2011

Learning a wall

We mix cement and lay stone for today. The stone will lie for eternity or until humanity tears it down. Our work could be done much quicker if we built by today's methods. The structure would not be built to last. In a society of quick results, efficiency, and time saving devices we build to these standards and reap the rewards; little houses made out of ticky-tacky. I can lay a stone, I did not start with this skill, but am slowly learning.

I am not entirely sure what motivates me to rise every morning and do something that no one is forcing me to do. Jim says it may be the house, I like the look of my labors at the end of the day. I know of no other twenty-two year old hand mixing cement, learning the skill of building a stone wall, and in the position to be a part of so much more. Maybe I am not looking hard enough. Maybe I am in the wrong period of history. If someone needs something done, they look for a power tool to do it. Something to be done, I ask my hands and my feet. Beyond my capacity, a machine is of last resort. Will I forever hold true to this method, only time will tell. Like the stones I laid, we have eternity or until humanity tears us down.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Taking Shape

Friday June 24

It has been a busy week. A couple of rows of block got laid in the basement and another row of stone on the back wall. The drain tile is in and the sump pit dug in. Sam’s brothers came to help for a day or two but the two and a half inches of rain on Tuesday put us out of business for over a day. The mud in some places was ankle deep and on Wed. morning there was water 4” deep in the basement where we had planned to work. The only benefit to the weather is that it settled the fill prior to the pouring of the footings for the rest of the house which I hope we will be able to accomplish next week if the weather is cooperative. We managed to get back to work on Thursday as things began to dry out but we had to use plank and sheets of corrugated tin to make a path to the site in order to work. Sam proved to be a real trooper working in the mud. I think he is beginning to get his head wrapped around the enormity of what we have undertaken.

Footing poured and the first rows of stone laid on it to begin the four foot frost footings required on constructions this far north. It seems sad to put in so many hours of effort on a wall that will be buried and that no one will ever see. The benefit is that we can use all sorts of material to make it! The limestone from the old horse barn on the property is being reused. This week Roger sent up 3 small truckloads of broken up cement sidewalk that can be laid like stone and will be used as wall material on one of the footings. We will still be short of building materials to get us to ground level all around, so I’m searching for some old foundation or other to make use of and I got a lead on one this week.

Friday July 1

The last two days have offered up 90 plus degree days with dew points in the mid-seventies. We decided to not work in the heat of the day which is fine as there is lots of stripped woodwork to sand from the stack of 120 year old woodwork we will be using on the first floor of the house. We did get lucky this week finding two three by eight foot black cherry pocket doors for use on the second floor. Got them for under $50 and they should look spectacular in one of the second floor bedrooms… either as working doors or maybe even as an actual wall dividing two rooms. That is the nice thing about having an open plan that allows for easy changes in interior walls/rooms …especially on the second floor.

We are expecting severe weather this evening with possible torrential rainfall. There is already a tornado warning to the west of here. When a building site is open care must be taken to watch the weather. With the morning’s forecast in my ears, I went to the site early before the heat became unbearable and moved all the loose stone up on to corrugated metal sheets. If left on the bare ground during a rain they get coated with dirt and require extra hours of cleaning before they can be laid. The old sheets on the ground will keep them relatively clean for when laying commences.

For the last day and a half Wayne’s son, Tom, from California was here and helped us move stone into place. He wanted to watch the process of beginning a foundation as he plans some work of his own like this when he returns west. We had a great time in spite of the heat discussing politics and religion as we worked. He got a workout…both mental and physical before he left and promised to return later in the summer to help again or at least to look at the progress. Projects like this tend to influence the people who stop by to help and they often leave with ideas for their own projects. It seems to me what most people lack is the basic confidence that folks of 100 years ago had in their capabilities. Of course, we put lots of restrictions in the way, like unnecessary codes, convincing our citizens that only experts can do the various tasks of construction. Yet, what our often “uneducated” ancestors built on their own belies this notion. I keep telling Sam that this structure will outlast by generations any of the new wafer board and vinyl palaces built today in the suburbs…both because of how it is being built and because of the charm it will have by nature of its very uniqueness!

We keep stumbling on used or discarded materials to help us along and keep costs down. This week we were promised the furnace for the house by a friend who is installing a newer unit in his house. This gas fired boiler is efficient and will only have to have new natural gas ports installed to replace the current ones used for propane. A neighbor connected us with a friend of his cleaning out an old garage on a farmstead south of here who had a pile of lumber to get rid of. Turned out to be 2x4’s 2x6’s and a pile of 1x12’s all new and stacked away years ago. We will be able to use everything and were most thankful for the pile. Sam even got the stainless steel base from an old cream separator that he hopes to use for making maple syrup in the spring in return for hauling the pile of metal junk out of the garage for recycling. The metal should pay for the gas we needed to pick the wood up!

July 5

Sprinkles in the morning so we turned again to woodwork after sorting out the largest of the piles of stone from the old building on the site. The rest of the day we stripped more woodwork. Got an oak pocket door done on one side. It really looks huge out in the light and the color was magnificent! Two good weather work days lie ahead and I hope to help Sam get some serious stone laid!