Stairs

It’s funny how, in nature, that we see circumstances where like things clump – certain sizes pebbles, types of shells, leaves and seeds, etc.  No doubt it’s because the processes that sweep through the reality, currents of wind and water and time even itself grab each thing by what it affords to be held and change the position and character according to their influence – or something like that – but do take note, if you haven’t, of this.

So, stairs.  I’ve not given any thought to stairs per se much ever, yet this summer and fall no less than three sets of outside stairs required some sort of detailed review and partial rebuild.  Really, dear reader, you may skip entirely the tiresome monologue which is to follow, nonetheless it is one of the sorts of things I document, for insight hides in small things and perhaps virtue in the infinitesimal, (or maybe the reverse, but I know both are scarce and elusive).

I’m sure that little attracts your eye in the picture above.  It seems, though, the facts are, that perpendicular to the direction of the step treads, on the top layer underneath the planks, run lines of nails as if the planks were nailed to joists beneath them, those presumed joists presumably perpendicular to the planks.  Oh human folly and frailty!

Now to take off the planks to examine the underlying reality requires that some accommodation be made for the ‘decorative’ column on the left.  I call it decorative because it cannot be seriously structural – no structural element worth its weight would be deployed on top of decking, but I’ll save that monologue for another time.  You’re welcome.  One could take off the planks not beneath the column, put a temporary column behind the present column, remove the present column, remove the planks and lo, at what little effort have revealed what lies beneath.  Or one could say ‘Foo’ – the just saying of it is very powerful – and cut through the three planks that underlie the column, just next to the right side of the column, and even say ‘Ha!’, for then the revealing of all that lies beneath is a much simpler task, not that one has not introduced some issues in the reconstruction, but certainly fewer than the whole column swap exercise. This later path – Foo. Ha! – is the one I took.

I realize I have not said why yet.  Facts are that it was reported, and could be verified empirically, that along the rightmost line of nails on decking, those going into the presumably perpendicular joists, that a great softness was to be experienced, as if the presumed joists were rotting.  There was sag in the planks there, and, as the problem was noted but neglected for a year or so there came to be identified a similar softness and sag along the second line of nails at the front three planks (not counting the edge plank).  Presumably more rot, now in the second presumed joist.

Men must follow their conclusions, this perhaps being the hardest of lessons, and any foo ha notwithstanding, with azebiki in hand (there is no azebiki wiki, unfortunately, or I’d link you there) (an azebiki is a type of Japanese hand saw where the blade is curved convexly and so can cut into a flat surface, really a great tool) I cut the planks adjacent to the column.  I removed the edge planks and the first three boards.  I found two unexpected conditions.

First, as you’ve probably intuited, the joists did not run perpendicular to the planks at all – that would be just to simple.  They ran parallel and then between them were inserted and nailed spanning sections of 2 x 8, <joist emulators!?> into which the planks were nailed.  There was no rot in the joist emulators, rather that two of them were barely affixed to the true joists and over time had become loose enough as to no longer provide the support expected of their role in service.  Failed joist emulators.  Bad joist emulators.  Woe unto the improper affixer of a joist emulator, may your perdition match your indolence – woe I say.  But really this turn of events was bright and rather than having to replace the whole presumed rotten joist now it was merely a task of properly affixing the failed joist emulation sections.  Frabjous.

But wait, a second condition was revealed in the frame of the platform.  The outer box of the rectangle supporting the deck was made of  2 x 10’s, doubled, faced by a white 1 x 10.  Just taking the edge planks off revealed a considerable nest of carpenter ants, mostly in the outer 2 x 10 of the left side, a little on the left side of the front 2 x 10, in each case behind the white facing board.  No so frabjous.

Therefore some careful removal of rotted/infested material followed, the usual insults to reason and rightness subtly interwoven, and then a very sound reconstruction featuring the addition of an additional joist emulator, fittingly underneath the line that first my abeniki had taken.  With grace I made addition mahogany sawdust and mixed it with epoxy resin so that when I got the planks back on I could putty the sawn gaps in a manner both strong and matching.  Then finally I re-stained the deck.  I try to regard the whole exercise as a joy.  Such a tale.

More steps, you ask?  Yes.  I asked the same question.  It was during the time that the aforementioned steps were cordoned off so that the stain could dry.  It was during that time that it was discovered that no less than all three of the bluestone flagstones were significantly loose, so loose indeed that they would tip and might even injuriously (spell-checker wants ‘ingloriously’ and that would be true as well) bite one in the back of an ankle – a very undesirable prospect.  Actions to repair followed the next day.

Those actions were very pragmatic.  The most right thing to do would probably have been to take each flag stone off, chisel out all the ‘thinset’ mortar between the field stone risers and their former treads, mix up new thinset, apply, and properly re-set each of the treads.  However, to sweep the existing thinset, to examine it and find that it was barely degraded at all, to identify that masonry adhesive might well do the trick at least for the winter if not for years … Foo.  Ha!  The job was done very directly, less than an hour of total work, and in the morning no amount of my most manful lifting would dislodge the treads from their rightful places.

This last set of steps, I know, the narrative is quite a bit to bear, has a long history, as does the cause for their repair this summer.  Briefly I had built these in the spring of 2006 from a few slabs and a few bricks, nothing special, not even cement.  This spring I noticed an unusual amount of any activity on them, even some swarming, as if a great big nest were being built underneath.  Indeed, and in my kitchen above for the first time ever in fifteen years there were scavenging ants lugging breadcrumbs and whatsoever back to their not so traceable homes.  I put two and two together.

I mixed a good measure of boric acid with a few cups of sugar in a gallon of water.  My daughter and I removed the first slab – what a trove of eggs and scurrying colony members (picture to follow).  We were merciful.  We had a wheel barrow.  We shoveled out the earth into the barrow, repeated for the next two slabs.  We took the ant earth back to edge of the land and dumped it.  Got fresh earth, and as we put each layer in laced it with our antagonistic liquid.  A clear message to ants thinking of living there again, stragglers trying to return home, etc, but a problem solved without resorting to genocide.  We are so talking ‘Foo Ha!’.

So stairs, surprisingly, have taken more cycles this season than ever I would have imagined.  Is there a unity in these experiences that transcends the unity in the one having the experience?  And there’s a little more, that thing you see on top of the steps, the orange head that looks like it belonged to a Cyclops before he was struck by a thunderbolt and a big part split off.  That story will follow shortly enough, for I think that stone has asked to become a bird.

Tribulus Terrestris

Here was a surprise visitor.  In a flower pot – never saw one before.  It was fast growing, flowered within two weeks.

Had trouble identifying it until is bore seed, which was also very fast.

Why I’ll be if it ain’t a great horny toad!  Or more like a horned devil seed, reminded be of a water caltrop seed (which I’ve discussed here before), and lo, and behold, they’re cousins – tribulus terrestris it’s called.  Not native to North America but invasive here.

It’s funny how either new things keep appearing, or one is noticing things that may have been there but never previously noticed, or both.  I’ll let the thing finish out the season, put the seeds in my horned devil seed collection, and hope that next year I don’t start seeing more of them.  I do walk around outside with bare feet and those little seeds sure look nasty.  One of the other names for it is puncture vine

Tierra del Fuego

And another time I will take the ‘not my continent’ exception against travel logging, not that I suppose there is anything so awful about a few pictures and thoughts, regardless of where they come from, but nonetheless.

Because I was in Brasil on business for a long time, and because my company would fly me home periodically, it was also true that they would fly me anywhere else closer than home if I so desired.  Tierra Del Fuego is closer to Sao Paulo than Boston is, so I took the freebie.

I landed at Ushuaia, right on the Beagle Channel, near sunset.  I want to say Ushuaia in such a manner that it rhymes with “Wish you were here”, a la Pink Floyd, but I don’t think that really it gets said that way.  Gritty little town at the end of the world.  Perfect.

There’s a nice wrecked tug in the small harbor.  Once was a US Navy vessel.  I collected shells and seeds that morning – lupines and limpets.  A few other bits that seemed interesting, even some sheep’s teeth, though I have to admit it took me a while to figure what they were, and there were a surprising number of them on the shore of the channel, makes one wonder if Cthulhu is snacking down there or something.

Normally I will never let any tour guide take me anywhere – it’s just not my thing – but here they had an eight hour cruise that got one to an island with a penguin rookery, where you could literally walk with the penguins.  On the way there were whales, elephant seals,

just some awful pretty places.  And that’s where these little devils choose to live

they were very confident, neither brash nor evasive.  One I spoke with a little but stopped as soon as I realized that he would talk back and that I should not socialize him in any way.

 

.

There were albatrosses too

a few days later after I went to the National Park that they call at the end of the world.  I guess it is as far as you can drive.

 

it was calm and beautiful.

Summer in Sao Paulo

A summer in Sao Paulo could be so many things.  Mine was so few of them, as it was mostly business, but there was much that I saw and learned of the people and in the nature.  A few pictures and remarks, not that am a travel blogger, but since I was off my continent I figure an exception is permitted.

A tree eating a wall – a wall upon which the verb ‘to see’ is written.  This is one of the first things I saw, right outside the Pullman Hotel in Via Olympia.  It spoke to me.  I would wish the tree/all trees to succeed in tearing down as many walls as it/they wished to tear down, but to tear down the power to see, if that was the consequence, I hesitate.  Would a nature that was blind but vigorously growing be a superior nature?

I didn’t get around much initially, the fact-based rumors of the danger of the city had retarded my natural tendencies to wander.  Pushed them into a stealthier place.  I brought with me top-siders that holes in them.  Subtly inconspicuous t-shirts.  Sweat pants.  I carried an expired driver’s license and R$300.  Hey-eyes!  Hey eyes, you say?  Yes, because the Real (rhymes with See Al) is the currency, but you must know that when an R leads a word of course it changes to an H (is that not obvious!?) and that when we pluralize the Real it becomes Reai.  Really, such that we say ‘hey eyes’.

There are almost no bar stools in Sao Paulo.  My normal approach when manually discovering a new city is to have a few beers with the locals, talk, ask questions, listen to stories.  No go here.  All tables.  I could listen, but my listening in Portuguese was very weak.  I felt like a dog – I could understand some, perhaps even the important gist – happy, sad, etc, but specificity was not happening.  It feels very lame to get out the cellphone and do the Google Translate thing and point at it.  Google translate does have a cool thing I discovered though, on this trip, that you can point it (via cellphone) at a newspaper, for example, or any text, and it will substitute the translation for what it is seeing.  Bad ergonomics though for consuming much data.

\

I did go to the Botanical Garden one Saturday.  Leaf cutter ants were fun to watch. Sloths and monkeys were advertised as lurking in the forest too, but perhaps it was a shy day.  I did also go another Saturday to the Ibirapuera park.  That was very nice, teeming with humans though.  Took a long walk to get there.

I did read the paper every morning.  The staff at the Pullman was very nice.  They’d help translate things and make sure I tried all the special things.  Beware the shell of the cashew, says the man who tried to chew through one.  Lip burns that only took a few days to heal, no big deal really.  The cashew fruit though, and the juice – most delicious.

I could say a thousand or more things about my time there, probably much more, but this really isn’t a travel blog.  Looking out the window of the Mercure, where I also stayed for a time, was what ultimately became the sense of Sao Paulo for me

this overwhelming density of urbanity, people packed and stacked high, thriving, perhaps, but certainly bustling, bustling beyond my ability to comprehend.

 

Workshop Video +

Here is a video of my workshop as of late May: Workshop Video.  It’s a full-on place now, layered in delightful smells of all different cut woods, and cut stone, and metal, with nooks and crannies where all manner of potentially useful or rare/unique items dwell, and of half spun ideas too.

For example, and this is a good example,, you can see the Hotei Buddha there on the right – you know, the joyous one, almost always has his arms up in the air, exultant – all that.  And you know I’ve been wanting to make my own wooden Hotei Buddha forever, or at least since I’ve been dragging this guy along since has to be 1985 or 1984.  Even been gathering up suitable pieces of wood – sizing them up.

And then if you click on the picture you’ll notice in the center right that there’s something of a compound puck there.  And that’s indeed what it is, no need to ask why.  I don’t ask why when the need to do something comes over me.  Anyway, then I balanced the puck on the upraised hands of Hotei and I liked it.  The idea that he is still exultant, that now it is not perhaps his freedom that is animating his exultation, but rather his strength, his work.  That I liked a lot, enough to start carving.

Turns out I had a beautiful piece of live oak just waiting.  Probably been drying in the shop for two years, and it came in supposedly dry.  Barely a crack in it.  A knot or two, ok.  Removing big material gracefully is the first challenge of carving.  Angle grinder?! Engine of danger and terror?  Extreme concentration is mandatory.  Look to the right of the Buddha and you will see the fearsome teeth.  Expand the picture.

Anyhow, so angle grinding and table-sawing I go for a half an hour or so, recognizing that this is not going to be a quick and easy thing at all, when suddenly the Assyrian emerges.  I’m not joking.  They say how things are revealed when you carve, or how you reveal something.  I’m not saying that I saw the Assyrian and in a collection of masterly strokes revealed him, rather that by random happenstance he appeared.  What Assyrian you say?  Look at the picture again.  Before you expand it, imagine a 3/4 profile nose right.  See the knot as the eye.  See the lighter area in the center right as the nose.  See the little jut 2/3 down on the right as the chin and likewise the jut on the left as the hair or helmet.  A fierce fellow indeed!

I do not think I have a duty to change direction and abandon the workful joyous Hotei for this Assyrian, but I do think he deserved mention and that the question of when to change direction in a representation also deserves consideration.  Hopefully I will check back in here with images of the completed Buddha.

This post really was about the workshop video, but in a way this story of the things that happen in the process, and the things that happen before the process, these things really explain the workshop better than any attempt to do so directly.

September Frogs

Neil Diamond rejected this title.  I had considered “Foss Farm Frogs” because of its alliterative value, and because the frogs indeed were found and Foss Farm, yet also it was September, and a wet one at that, for often September finds frogs chasing the receding shorelines of their habitats, nowhere near, where I was, the edges of a corn field – albeit the edges of a cornfield at Foss Farm which is next to the Concord River.

Makes me wonder if it’s just the light or differing undercover but doesn’t it look as if the frogs have a bit of a chameleon thing going on, that perhaps they emphasized different hues of themselves in different circumstances?  Funny frogs – prove it’s not true, they say.

I was gathering seeds that morning, among them a giant Cleome.

two inches almost in diameter at the base of the stalk, five feet in height, multiple arms, quite the strange alien really, the way it’s seeds pods hang below the flowers like some sort of antennae.  This inclusion of the Cleome is not in any way to suggest it has a logical affinity with frogs.  Nothing more than a coincidental association, that I saw them on the same walk.

All of these pictures are quite high-def and clicking on them should afford satisfying detail.

Box 18 Live Oak Tombstone Stress and Warping

which is a lot to say, kind of.

This box is the eighteenth.  It is made of Live Oak, a wood that I have never worked with.  Like Box 6, it is a tombstone planter, which is to say that two ends of it are shaped like tombstones, and not that one plants tombstones there.  Unlike Box 6, which was of a scraggly Oklahoma white oak and held together with metal screws, this one has no metal, is held together by dowels and glue.

You see the trouble, of course.  The rectangular walls were flatly affixed to the tombstone walls.  Dirt was added.  Was the dirt causative of the warping, or the dirt in combination with the subsequent watering?  A simple theory is that the wetness on the inside caused that side to expand and thus the warping.  I was surprised at the strength of the process, though, that it broke the glue bonds on the dowels.  If I should ever perpetrate this design again I’d be inclined to put more dowels in, and at angles, to see how much power the warping has relative to a fastening method designed to prevent it.

The box is quite heavy, as live oak is just heavy, as compared to conventional oaks.  The janka hardness is 2680, nearly twice that of white oak (1360).  Supposedly America owes its successful birth partly to live oak, of which the USS Constitution was made and off which canon balls bounce.  That’s a game changer.  Assuming this planter does not tear itself apart with these powerful stresses, and that some unforeseen bug nemesis does not appear, it could be that these design mistakes will stand illustratively for a considerable time.

It was a nice wood to work with.  A lot of curves in the grain but a very nice smell, a reassuring strength and density, all bringing a sense that one must be doing something serious.

Spoon 5

Cumaru was the driver here, that I’d never worked with it (as true of most woods) and that, having designs to make a few other things with it, to make a spoon would be a good way to learn how it responds to tools.

Spoon 5 Rough 1 Spoon 5 Rough 1 Detail

I cut the shape with a jigsaw and a Ryoba.  The bowl I did as a tiered excavation with a router, later to be smoothed with a few different bits via Dremel.

Spoon 5 Up Spoon 5 Down

Sanded to 220, standard finish of tung oil cut 50/50 with limonene.  The wood was delightful to work, heavy, holds detail, beautiful smell.

The Death of Little Dragon

So often we fail to appreciate what we have until it is gone.  We vow to cease being distracted from things that really matter.  We vow to forswear our insularity.  This lasts a little while, maybe.

This morning I saw the tower shake.  I saw him fall.  It was not pretty.  His youthful plasticity was not there to save him.  Caution for younger and sensitive viewers: the image which follows graphically depicts fatal injuries.

Little Dragon Dead

It was the sort of thing that doctors shake their heads at – no fixing that.  Right through the heart, the ribs, torso split in two.

Little Dragon was born in San Francisco and flew here to Massachusetts when but an infant.  He spent the most of his days in happy simplicity of Wood Block City.

Little Dragon Wood Block City

He was a carefree youngster, given to perching on wood blocks

Little Dragon 4 Little Dragon 2 Little Dragon 3

though sometimes a book would do, especially if he wanted to take a rest.

Little Dragon 1

That striped tower arrived in the city after he was born.  He took a fancy to perching upon it, though it was a little small for his feet and a little shaky, as compared to the other wood blocks.  Just the other morning – I wish I had a picture – he was perched atop this tower as the sun rose and cast a gentle and golden light on his mysterious dragon smile.  He looked very happy, clearly not realizing that this would become his tower of Doom.

Little Dragon that Dreadful Tower

Some say that everything should be understood as an Act of God, but this morning there can be no question that there was an Act of Dog.  The dog, attempting to impress upon me the need to take a walk in the woods, bumped the table.  I saw the tower shake.  I saw him fall.

Oh fleeting quick, we cannot capture thee.Little Dragon 5

Four Fixes

Little things accrue (of course they disappear too), little things we mean to do.  Here gathered as some sort of existential exhibit are four, all sharing a wood and glue theme.

Fix #1 – A Vase of Wormy Pine had a broken rim.  A small break really.

Fix batch 1 - Wormy Pine Vase

The good part of this repair was that I was able to find a similar softwood and pretty much closely match both color and grain direction.  The less than good part was that all the curve fitting, to get the inserted triangle to match the fluting curls top and bottom, had obvious failings.  Overall a useful lesson in how easy it is to fail at something with no conceptual challenge.  The execution was more demanding than I had patience for, and the benefit of approaching perfection (other than aesthetic) not high at all.

Fix #2 – Second beak break requires more substantial address

This concerns the original war spoon, the progenitor, a spoon that sits on my desk and doubles very nicely as my back-scratcher, and as such the availability of the beak is a functional requirement.

New War Spoon Archetype

Sometimes the war spoon falls off the desk and twice now his beak has broken off.  This happens right where the beak joins the spoon head and it is made the more likely by the grain being perpendicular to the direction of the beak.  Reconstructive surgery!

Fix batch 1 - War Spoon Beak A

Gruesomely the patient lay without anesthesia in the operating vise for over 12 hours.  I used saw and chisel and drill to form a half inch deep base in the center third of the spoon bowl side.  Similarly I dug such a trench at the base and top side of the beak.  I reattached the beak –

Fix batch 1 - War Spoon Beak B

And then inserted a fitting piece of mahogany (the same wood as the spoon) into the trench, in this case with the grain perpendicular to the direction of the beak.  Instead of the wood glue that I had used in the previous ‘stick it back on’ repair I used epoxy-resin, and mixed up a batch that I laced with sawdust from the mahogany.  This would give the right color to any hardened glue exposed in the final joint.  Came out great – remind me I have to return here to get a picture of the result.

Fix #3 – Kitchen stool had a broken stretcher.

More like obliterated.  All that remained was about fifteen percent of the original, not at all re-usable.  The wood seemed to be a maple with some sort of half-washy finish.  By that I mean a little milkiness, but some grain visible.

I had no maple lying around, nor any half-washy finishes, but I did have a piece of red oak that upon which I had been testing a draw knife.  I decided that to use a draw knife to fashion anything that would experience utility was a rare notch for a modern belt.  Thing was, it’s such an intuitive and satisfying tool to use.  Took no time.  Easy to zoom right to target, with opportunity for subtle and creative nuance.

Fix batch 1 - Maple Stool AFix batch 1 - Maple Stool B

Fix #4 – Dining room chair has two dislocations of the leg

The back right leg no longer goes into the seat nor into the stretcher

Fix batch 1 - Cherry Chair A

This had been fixed before, but before I knew anything of glue.  I think I used something soft and rubbery – not really very much adhesiveness – and as you might expect, it did not hold under the stresses a chair would naturally experience.

This was therefore a straightforward fix.  Use a glue with high adhesiveness and great strength.

Fix batch 1 - Epoxy Resin BeforeiFix batch 1 - Epoxy Resin After

Epoxy-resin.  This is the same stuff I used for the beak repair.  Notice the dried and darker smudge on the left.  That is where I mixed the beak batch with the sawdust.

Fix batch 1 - Cherry Chair B

Now it sits drying.  I expect it should be stronger than new by tomorrow.  If not I will report.

Please have a happy and effective day.