Friday, December 27, 2013

Ranch Estate Entry

Shame on me! Letting a promising blog die on the vine is so tacky. It may be common as hell but but still tacky. 10 months between posts is a bit much. So now what? Give in to inertia or fight to get back on track with a new post or two. I'm going to keep at it (NOT DEAD YET) and try and resurrect my smarterthanthewood thought stream So here goes...

As a designing builder my focus is usually on the next new home but occasionally a small side project comes along that provides a real creative challenge. The opportunity to do something we haven't tried before gives that project a little more buzz than it's size might typically impart. We got a chance to design and build that 'new thing' earlier this Summer in what I will call an estate entry for lack of a better description. The owners of a home we had finished a couple years earlier had been wanting a way finish off their project with a more formal property entrance. We were between new homes at the time so I jumped at the challenge of creating this new grand entrance to their place.

 Most of the construction here in the Methow Valley is in the rustic mountain lodge or western ranch vernacular. Typical driveway entry's are modeled in the old west working ranch style. Two log posts with a horizontal log across their tops and maybe a 'Bar S Ranch' type sign hanging from it. In that this home is in a slightly more developed neighborhood of 5 acre ranchettes with irrigated pastures we wanted to do something a little more refined without being stuffy. Our design started with a truncated base of concrete and river rock supporting a pair of columns, each made up of four 8x8 posts, one on each side of the drive. A larger 6x12 horizontal beam tied the two columns together fifteen feet in the air. It looked good on paper but a little ordinary to my eye. Drawing on a design element we had used on the exterior of the home, I converted the horizontal beam into a gable truss to mimic the homes primary entry detail. When I showed the two options to the owners they immediately chose the enhanced version.
Chief Architect rendering
With the basic design established it was time to engineer the 'nuts and bolts' of its construction. The hardest element in making the whole thing come together was the necessary fastening required at the transition between the river rock base and the 8x8 posts. Just burying the posts in the concrete was not an option because it would just be a matter of time before the posts would begin to deteriorate where they contacted the masonry.

Massive steel tiedowns embedded in concrete
Working with a local metal fabricator, Mark Edson, we put together a pair of structural tiedowns that would effectively link the stone base columns structurally to the vertical 8x8 posts. A key focus in our design was to keep the steel fasteners hidden so that the stone and heavy beams would be the dominate visual elements.
Beam truss ready to set
Using only kiln dry FHC (free of heart center) fir to minimize wood movement and shrinkage, we then fabricated the beam truss and vertical posts. With the custom steel tiedowns firmly embedded in the masonry bases we created a 4 post 'sandwich' support for each end of the horizontal truss. A crane was then able to set the finishing touch across the drive entry.

Completing the picture
Our stone mason, Eric Claussen, went to work soon after, carefully crafting the stone to our concrete capped base columns. Standing back, the new entry beautifully frames the mountain views creating an inviting welcome to the now more 'finished' family estate.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Time Fly's :)

It's been a month again since my last post. What's that about? Winter blahs? Sore back blues? Whatever it is, I need to snap out of it.

We are currently finishing up the Timber frame addition /remodel we started last Fall. The shingle panels for the upper walls of the project are now done. I have to say the lack of waste for this product is really great. At over $25 for an eight foot panel I tried to order the bare minimum, without a waste factor of any consequence, and still ended up with 2 panels left when we were done. Nice! High quality material put together with high fabrication standards equals excellent results.

Next week we will be installing stair treads and risers made from recycled and salvage Tamarack (Western Larch). The material comes to us with the 2 primary surfaces planed and each edge rough sawn. With an 8' straight edge against the table saw fence we true up one edge of each tread then with just the standard fence true the other. A portable planer smooths up the table saw cut and then a couple passes with a 3/8" round over bit in the router gives us the nosing of a finished tread. We usually pre-finish the treads and risers to save time at installation and to give them protection from the reality of on the job use. A final coat of finish when we are done and everybody is happy.

This project boasts a nice 5' shower with glass on 2 sides and frameless style construction as well as a 66" double ended claw foot tub. An old man with a bad back and claw foot tubs on the second floor don't go well together. I'm going to need to come up with a couple more young backs (young bucks) to get this beauty up those stairs without further injuries to the crew. Anybody want to help? The before mentioned stair treads are waiting patiently for the claw foot to make its way up before they can be safely installed without getting brutalized by a 400 pound tub.

I'll post this now so I can say I've at least done one blog post this month and maybe add a couple pictures this weekend to fill it out. Okay, this is kind of cheating but I think I'm okay with that. Bye for now, Don

Monday, January 28, 2013

Dumber Than A Stump

I chose 'Smarter Than The Wood' for the name of this blog because it had a sense of humor but could also be thought provoking. I hadn't really considered how it might come back to bite me. There's a little bit of a 'up on a pedestal' reality to this claim that might call for getting 'knocked off it' on occasion. I had no intention of getting on 'my high horse' about this when I started but I'm afraid I might have set myself up for a fall.

This came up first in a conversation with a client about a particular detail we were working on. I got a "someone smarter that the wood wouldn't do that' response, implying that my solution was less than 'perfect'. I never said I was perfect, damn it, but I guess suggesting that my insight into problem solving might be 'smarter' is more dangerous than I thought.

Another example came during simple day to day operations. This is embarrassing but the door is open now. On one particularly hectic day I tried to do one more thing than my apparently feeble mindedness could handle, installing a temporary toilet in the house where we were finishing up the framing, trying to save a little money on sani-can bills. This was late in the day (a theme we will revisit next). When it didn't flush properly I left for the day thinking it could be dealt with in the morning. The next day the plumber was on the job taking care of another issue so I mentioned that something was wrong with the toilet. Big mistake. The first thing out of his mouth was " did you remove the knock-out?" Damn. I'll probably never live that one down. 30 some years of construction and I'm smarter than the wood but forget to remove the seal from a new toilet rough-in? At least I should have keep it to myself by fixing my own mistake. Now the whole world knows!

But the reason I'm writing this post is because of an accident I had last November and it's not really funny. Late one day as it was getting dark I decided that it was important that I get a tarp up onto an area of the roof so that we wouldn't have to worry about snow in the morning. Everything was fine at first, my hammer in one hand, the tarp in the other, when for some reason I took one more step onto a patch of ice. There is one safety rule that always sticks with me. Most accidents happen at the end of the day when you might be a little tired, in a bit of a hurry and maybe not thinking about the next moment. 'Dumber than a stump' was one of the first things in my mind as I tried to get up off that hard frozen ground. My first thought was I'm alive but it hurts more than anything I have ever experienced. But second was "you know better, you've been telling others for years not to take that chance but here you jolly well are, aren't you". Two months later I'm still not fully recovered but I know one thing for sure. A moment of 'Dumber Than A Stump' lasts way too long.

So, what should one take away from all this. How about 'stay humble, my friend' and maybe, beware that a 'karmic payback' may be waiting in the wings.