Tool Shed

May 15, 2012

It used up almost all of the surplus siding from the garages.

I doubt if plans for shelves will come about before it fills up with shovels, rakes, and Grandma’s garbage pail.

This afternoon Martin and I completed the cove siding project on Charlie’s garage while he replaced a muffler inside. Things were humming on a fine spring afternoon.

My 1200 bd ft. of pine ran out six feet short of the eaves on the final side of the 20X30 building. I was forced to make another batch of siding, pressing treasured 12″ pine boards into service, as well as some marginal stock, the best of which had planed 1/16″ thin for the first run of siding.

Of course there was a lot of waste while installing the first batch because I cut the boards to fit the strapping I had installed vertically.

Then out of laziness I began to nail butt blocks behind joints instead of forcing them to come together on the strapping nailed vertically to the walls for the purpose.

The scrap pile stopped its inexorable growth. Cut-offs ended up on the side of the garage as butt blocks. Without the loss of about a foot per board to fitting, the cove siding stock lasted longer, as well. Without the need for precise measurements, the installation proceeded at a good pace. On the second lot of siding I ended up with quite a surplus.

So my final word on the installation of cove siding: square the boards and nail them to butt blocks, rather than studs. It saves material and time.

The first garage went together pretty well, but I somehow hadn’t gotten around to putting the corners and window trim on after construction and painting. After I figured out the right way to trim a garage built with cove siding, I doubt if I’ll ever get back to the exterior trim on the shop.

You see, I did the siding wrong. That’s the trouble with the burnt fingers method of construction (and life, and everything): it provides lots of short-term feedback but little external guidance. And I hadn’t thought about a critical step, the construction of the corners of the building so that the siding would have somewhere to begin and end.

An experienced old guy could have taken me aside and said, “Lad, you have to put the corner pieces on first, nailed flush with the cove siding (not on top of it) and then you butt the horizontal stuff to those vertical boards. I would have argued, made excuses, checked the Internet, and eventually seen the obvious.

Instead I figured it out this winter by accident while looking at an old Parks Canada horse-stable at Chaffey’s Locks. Once I saw the corners and realized they and the cove siding were on the same plane, the whole thing made sense.

Anyway, I think I’ve corrected the mistake on Charlie’s garage. The new batch of siding is going on well, but the 12′ walls still have another six feet to go, and so from here on the project will require extra crew.

Charlie and I have agreed to cater to our puritan streak and leave the windows unembellished in the new garage, same as the previous building.

In some ways I’m a late adapter. After fifty-five years of woodworking I have finally bought a table saw. For most of that time there wasn’t room – table saws are space hogs. And there was the Sears radial arm saw I bought with my income tax refund after second year of university. My room-mate and I needed shelves and furniture for our apartment, and Dad had a large pile of lumber at the farm.

While most woodworkers shy away from the radial arm saw for ripping, I’m used to setting the anti-kickback mechanism, and can do safe, if not very accurate work, with my old Sears saw.

But the new shop is warm, with properly-seasoned lumber already inside. The radial arm saw is set up in a dark, cold shed. Love of comfort may have been the deciding factor. The tools section of Kijiji Ontario received more and more of my Internet time.

A cabinet saw is basically a high-end table saw. The motor is mounted beneath a massive cast iron table, and a steel cabinet surrounds it. Extension tables and guides protrude out at various angles, the options limited only by the depth of pockets of its owner.

Internet research on cabinet saws kept me quite busy for a week or so. A good saw in Hawkesbury sold before I had learned enough to realize that it was a fine specimen for a great price. Three others disappeared from Kijiji hours after their ads appeared.

I haunted the Internet, looking for a 3 hp Delta Unisaw or comparable General 350. One ad had no photos. The guy didn’t answer my emails. Experience told me that this saw might not have sold due to the lax presentation. More emails. Eventually the owner got back to me. I drove up to Belleville to discover that this model requires a substantial counter attachment to its right side as part of its top. Without the 48 by 27 inch sheet of laminate the saw looked pretty odd with this long aluminum arm pointing accusingly off to the right. Though paint spatters did its appearance no good, the basic components were in solid condition, so ahead I went with the deal.

We overturned the top-heavy machine onto my trailer, tied it on, and I hauled my prize, a Delta 35-457, east on the 401 and up Hwy 15 to Seeley’s Bay without incident.

A rough road is a lot more than a slight inconvenience when you are hauling a heavy and reportedly fragile machine with a hundred-pound motor suspended in space only by a set of expensive cast-iron trunions which were not designed for road shock. I couldn’t get more than forty miles per hour on that dreadful stretch from Seeley’s Bay to Elgin for fear of gutting my new acquisition. That road has got to be fixed.

The trunions survived the final fifteen miles to Young’s Hill, and I dragged the saw off the trailer and into the shop, plugged it in, and it ran beautifully. So I shut it down and cleaned off the road grime.

O.K. I admit it. I was afraid of the thing. All these years with a radial arm saw and I was used to having anti-kickback fingers constantly touching the board when I ripped it. I had never worked without them. And this thing didn’t have any kind of guard, not even mitre gauge, just a fence for ripping. It was a commercial saw, used exclusively for cutting laminates, to judge from its blade and the dust accumulated inside.

So with great trepidation I selected a substantial board (more to hang onto) and ran it through the saw. It ripped beautifully, without any drama at all. I discovered that I could, without ever releasing my grip on it, push a board through half-way from the front, then step around the left side of the saw, reach back and grasp the board at the end of the fence and pull it on through from behind the saw. After the first few cuts, my fears evaporated.

I had glued up a number of boards into 1 by 17 inch blanks for door and drawer panels in a large bedroom cabinet. Ripping these relatively rough boards down to the width my planer needs proved laughably easy, compared to the tricks I had had to play on the radial arm saw for the same job.

Because George Sheffield sold me this white ash already dried, there has been little movement in the material as I sawed it. Nonetheless I was ready for the unguarded blade to pinch at some point. The first time it did it, though, the 3 hp motor just burned its way on through as I held the end of the board. Sometimes there’s no substitute for horsepower.

After a week in a shop now dominated by the Unisaw, I have become a believer. The machine’s no beauty, with coffee stains on the cast iron, paint oversprays and drips all over the cabinet, and my jury-rigged extension table of scraps of plywood supported by a pair of unsanded ash legs. But the thing is solid, smooth, and accurate. What’s not to love?

The Garage Door Spring

December 27, 2010

The design for the new garage featured a single ten-foot garage door. It needed to be that size because I have a trailer almost eight feet wide.

But it couldn’t be just any door. It had to be a bit special. Internet searches proved fruitless until I finally spotted the perfect 10X7 in a Kijiji ad in Lakefield. It claimed to be a mahogany-paneled door, but the two-tone photo made it clear that it had luan panels and some white wood I couldn’t identify for its rails and stiles. Nonetheless, it looked good, though the price was steep.

We towed the trailer to Lakefield and bought the door from a custom house builder who had it left over after a change in plans. Considerable research traced it from Stewart Garage Doors Ltd. to its original builder, a small factory in Toronto. The wood other than “mahogany” turned out to be hemlock, admired by the builders for its strength and resistance to rot.

I spent two weeks applying the latest opaque stain to it in preparation for installation day. But then came the sheetrock which dragged on until Roz fitted and screwed the bottom foot around the walls on Christmas Day.

So yesterday we began. The door went together quickly and well until we came to the spring-loaded gizmo that mounts above the door to serve as a counterweight.

The instruction booklet from Stewart’s was obviously never intended for use.

“Professionals install these doors,” the builder had told me. Nonetheless I resolved to rely upon the burnt-fingers method and twenty-five years of experience repairing an ancient 17′ plywood monster. It didn’t have this spring-around-a-shaft mechanism, though.

The Internet provided several good videos on the subject, most of which emphasized the sheer insanity of torquing the spring with anything except a pair of purpose-built 1/2″ steel rods. Pieces of rebar and screw drivers were uniformly dismissed as insanity likely to maim, if not kill. I took that part seriously and made two fine bars, even marking the ends with tape to indicate when they were fully inserted into one of the four holes to turn the end of the spring.

Stewart’s let us down at a critical point. By following their instructions to the letter, I was doomed to fail. When I tightened it, the spring eventually gave a terrifying lurch and crawled up both of its hubs, jamming against the adjusting mechanism on one end and the stationary support on the other. Now what?

Charlie and I managed to pry up the door and escape the garage, but a night of worry produced no real alternatives. By morning, though, contributors responded to my plea and explained that I had probably assembled the thing backwards. They suggested a couple of websites which provided good information. Charlie returned and we went from there.

The spring was partially blocking one of the four holes into which I needed to insert the two winding bars in turn. A couple of seconds at the grinder created a flat 1/8″ deep area on the other end of a winding bar. This allowed it to slide by the offending spring and deep into the hole in question. We were back in business, only this time on the right side of centre, rather than the left. (Conservatives reading this will no doubt clap with glee at the irony.)

Winding this spring is difficult and dangerous. Fastening the little gibs on the hubs is equally stressful, as they must be torqued with a tiny wrench to between 22 and 44 pounds, but the hollow jackshaft keeps collapsing underneath them, so it’s very hard to know how tight to make the screws. Then try it with the end of a large spring up against the square gib so that it makes a loud “sproing” every agonizing quarter-turn.

Part of the burnt-fingers methodology involves frequent stops for feedback. This meant many attempts at raising the door to see if the spring was tight enough yet. Each time we had to fasten the shaft again with the vice grips, inserting a rod to hold things, then back out the gibs and torque the spring yet another turn or two. Force required and stress created increase exponentially throughout this process. Misadventures with these springs resulting in amputation or death are widely reported on home improvement sites.

By the middle of the afternoon, though, Charlie and I were still very much alive with all of our fingers, and the door operated acceptably. On we went to the remote opener. Charlie had never installed one of these before, so he watched a bit bemused as I whipped the familiar parts together. I had installed two.

But he was on hand for the heavy lifting. The simple way to install an opener involves assembling this long beam, bolting one end to the opener mechanism and the other to the garage wall above the door. Then you lift the unit into place and fasten it with metal straps to the ceiling. This is a breeze if you have someone to hold the unit in place.

After the stress of the counterweight, the electronics can wait for another day. The safety beam can be tricky, and training the cars to talk to the opener requires Charlie’s brand of patience.

As for that infernal spring, by the time we’d figured out how to deal with it, the job was done.

Putting up the trusses

September 6, 2010

Instead of a tale of foible and error, I offer this week one of sore muscles and fatigue. Putting up trusses is strenuous work for an old guy who thinks twice about a trip up the stairs, let alone an excursion across wobbling trusses at the top of a roof. But Martin and Charlie were available, and it was the best chance we would have to get the trusses installed and keep the project moving.

The last time I hauled trusses along a top plate was in the summer of 1974, and I was flat-out terrified. We were building the house on the hill now owned by Joe and Elaine Laxton, and all I can remember is that the huge trusses were on a tractor-trailer bed at one end of the house, and I had to pull one end of these thirty-foot monsters along this narrow, wobbly top plate, the full length of the house while staring down sixteen feet to rocks and concrete below. I hadn’t figured out how to backfill at the rear of the house, so things were a bit ragged down there. Falling was not an option.

The worst of it was that my dad was fearless around heights. My nephew Jonathan picked up the same gene, but it skipped a generation with me. But it wouldn’t be manly to show fear. The house wouldn’t get built, either. Better to risk a fall. So off I went, dragging this truss across the tops of the interior partitions of the house, my dad on the other side, cheerfully picking his way along. Then came the the living room/dining room with no central partition, and the top of the truss dropped into the gap. Yikes! Turned out it was easier to carry in this position, so on we went, tiptoeing down our parallel tightropes.

I was very pleased to complete that day’s work with all my limbs and some of my dignity intact.

But that was then. Today’s trusses seem a bit lighter in construction. And there are no partitions inside a garage, so we were able to bring them in through the opening for the wide door, push one end up onto the far wall, then combine our efforts to gain the other wall. Then it got tricky. The guy on the bottom, usually Charlie, hooked a 2X4 into the top of the truss and pushed while Martin and I reached down and grabbed.

It looked risky but it worked. Nobody had to walk the top plate. Martin was even able to lounge on a rolling scaffold unit. Equipment has improved since the seventies.

Unfortunately the nail gun didn’t seem all that good at driving spikes through the plates holding the ends of trusses together. The hammers came out. Charlie started a strong, steady routine with the spikes, but Martin’s taps showed great effort, reasonable accuracy, but little skill or effect. Charlie explained what his grandpa had taught him, and Martin immediately improved his swing.

My job was to crawl around in the middle with the nail gun, installing braces as needed to keep the whole thing from falling down. Hurricane Earl had sent a few tentacles northwest, and we found it wasn’t hard to tip the trusses up — just let the wind get under them — but bracing needed to be quick and sure.

Gradually we ran out of space inside the garage for the nine-foot-high trusses. This meant hauling them up over the end of the building, but that went pretty well until the final truss, #13. Have I mentioned how the number thirteen seems to have it in for me? I could hardly wait to see what was in store.

Just to play it safe I lifted the heavy end-truss onto the top plate with the tractor. No disaster, despite Charlie’s worry and Martin’s objection to the slowness of the machine. Everyone’s back was still intact. We slid it into place and tacked the ends. And then the air strike hit. A sudden downpour of water and hail pummeled us as we struggled to brace the truss, but one shot from the nail gun connected with a 2X4 in the right place and we dashed for cover. They were up.

The following day Charlie and I faced the sobering challenge of the package of “ladders” which had come with the trusses. The end units are smaller than the others by the thickness of these ladders which fit over the ends and nail to the side of the next truss in. The 16″ of the ladder which hangs over then becomes the overhang for the roof.

I had no idea how to put these things up. Charlie suggested a scaffold, so we set up three lifts at the west end of the building. Some of my climbing planks are a bit old, so I grabbed a 10 inch oak plank off a pile of new lumber in the yard. My goodness, a chunk of green oak is heavy to place up 15′ on a scaffold. On the other hand, once it’s there it doesn’t move.

By the fourth section of ladder we had the system figured out and the only question remained, “How will we get the scaffold down now that we have built the eaves of the garage over it?”

Turns out each of these is a tall order. My usual crew members have departed for B.C., one on vacation and the other to a conference, but the trusses for the garage arrived a week early. With thoughts of the pristine trusses turning to pretzels in the August sun, I made a quick call to former student Dale Edwards at Rideau Lumber and soon had materials for the walls to hold the trusses up.

Years ago when I worked in the shop at Rothwell-Perrin someone else did the layout on the panels we banged together all day. The houses seemed to assemble at a fairly quick pace. It’s another matter entirely when there’s just one old guy, a pile of new, straight 2X4’s starting to curl in the heat, and the Ranger to serve as cart and workbench.

The first task on the first panel was to fit the treated-pine 2X4 which sits on the concrete pad. The anchor bolts looked a little snaggle-toothed when I approached them with a drill. How would I get all of those angles correctly copied into the bottom of the wood?

I placed the green scantling on top of the row of bolts and gave each a firm tap with a hammer to mark the spot. Then I guessed. I drilled the holes out and the 2X4 fitted over the bolts neatly, so it was on to the layout stage.

I pressed the Massey-Ferguson into service to lift the panels with the loader. I’d left off the last foot of sheeting to create space for a chain. This worked.

But then it got tricky. Do you know how many ways there are to foul up the arrangement of two 2X4’s lying beside each other on a bench? On that third panel I think I discovered all of them. Two attempts at a very simple wall were abandoned to confusion on the first day. The following morning I laid it out again, this time with a black magic marker. I’d reached the point of no return.

The tractor lifted the panel onto the anchor bolts, two in this case. They went on fine, but one end of the panel now hung over the yard and the other was dangerously close to the centre of the garage. What?

It’s all about knowing which way is up. I had figured out how to nail up the panel without having to turn it over or reverse it, but in the process I lost track of which surface of the bottom plate had to be UP to fit over the bolts. It cost a few frenetic minutes with a hammer drill and what had been a pretty good woodworking bit to set this error right. Bet’s confidence in my abilities as a carpenter did not increase that morning.

What’s worse, I wasn’t sure the same thing wouldn’t happen on the next wall.

Then comes the second half of the woodworking prescription: the ability to read. An email from a truss manufacturer which promises delivery before September 3rd may mean the truck will arrive without warning on August 25, so it would be wise to have the space ready well in advance. I had to make the guy wait while I leveled 18 yards of gravel to make a semi-flat surface for his load.

But that’s not the only kind of reading required of a framing carpenter. My dad always put great faith in his square, but I’ve never trusted the thing. Unless you’re an expert it’s too easy to build a cumulative error into layout with one.

I remember in the mid-seventies when a group of us put up the trusses on colleague Robin Fraser’s garage. Paul Smith went down one wall with a square and I shinnied down the other. Nobody thought to check if we ended up with the same number of spaces at the end. Brimming with testosterone, the gang of young teachers on a Saturday morning had the things up and braced before anyone could look. Robin told us later that Paul and I did, in fact, end up with the same number of trusses by the end of the garage, but he had to cut every sheet of plywood they installed on that roof because of the errors accumulated over 30 feet with coarse marking crayons.

The same thing happened when I tried to transfer the marks around to the other side of 2X4’s after laying them out upside down. Factory-machined dimensional lumber has rounded edges and every line requires guesswork to transfer from one surface to the next. Things just didn’t line up right on the panels. Window frames were a little crooked. I compensated by making the openings a little larger and soldiered on. There’s always foam, and for really big gaps I can cut shims with my band saw.

What I had thought would be an easy woodworking job has turned into a real challenge because I keep losing track of which way is up. But this is the easy part. Wait until those trusses go up.