Sunday, November 25, 2012

The stone walkway

Loading the cart

Unloading. Why the cycling jacket? Its hunting season.

Waiting to be placed in the ground

During construction of the house, we put aside a really nice big flat stone. Sometime this summer I got around to setting it in the walk as the first in a series that will become a stone walkway to the driveway. The stone is lovely and it is a really nice first "step" on this little project.

Nancy and I frequently take a walk through the most beautiful wooded area that happens to just be out our back door. It has dramatic rises and falls, an impressive brook running through it and portions of gentle wooded paths. Part of this walk is on my parents land and over time we've noticed a few choice stones that would make welcome additions to our evolving stone pathway. The challenge is that these heavy stones are out in the middle of the woods and how would we get them back up here to the house?

Luckily we have the most amazing hand cart built to plans created by David Tresemer. We are fortunate that the rocks were located uphill from an access way that we were able to back a truck into. I easily walked the cart down through the woods to the stones and then Nancy and I were able to muscle them into the cart and roll them down to the truck. More effort got them into the truck bed and they are now laying on the ground waiting to be laid in the pathway.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Stair Railing, Pt. 2

I started off wanting to install a railing down the stairs from the second floor to the first, but was delayed slightly by needing to rebuild a section of upstairs railing before I could start to piece together the actual stair rail. With that now complete, I spent some time crafting the railing.

First off I needed to pencil  the height of the completed rail on the wall and then mount the handrail brakets that the railing will sit on when installed. We purchased some nice vintage reproduction brackets from Lee Valley.

One of the rail brackets. I find them really beautiful, but as is the lot of a rail bracket, it is mostly hidden from view behind the railing itself

With the brackets installed I then built up the rail pieces themselves. I had planned to continue the railing detail around the opening on the second floor down, but Nancy said it was way too big.  I then  sized the whole assembly down and it is much better now--easier to grasp and a gentler profile all around.

The junction of the two runs of rail where they meet at the landing

This is where the (newly extended) section of stair opening railing meets the rail that goes downstairs. I'm still not sure how these two are going to connect

The intersections where the railing sections meet are the challenging part since they are coming in at an angle and then making a turn or (in the case where the upstairs railing meets the stair rail) turning, dropping, and then turning again.  I knew the only way I'd be able to work this out was to build everything long and then make fitting decisions where I could actually see the relationships.

That is the next step: work out the connections between the two runs of rail and then sort out how I want to finish it where it enters out into the living room on the first floor. Should it be simple and unadorned and just end at the opening? End in a decorative curl atop a post? Hmm... I enjoy visualizing this kind of thing.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Stair Railing

Nice morning light coming in on the section of upstairs railing I'm rebuilding

Its become apparent to me that we need a railing for the stairway between the first and second floors. Any time kids or older folks are visiting I notice the subtle search for support as someone goes up or down the stairs. We are plannng to have a full house here at the end of the year with both young and old alike, so I'm working to get a railing in place beforehand.

This is a somewhat complex project for a couple of reasons. Railings often look simple because they seem to seamlessly wind down the stairway passage, but in fact there are sometimes odd drops and levels that require some creative woodworking and joinery.

The newly rebuilt section of railing that now extends about 6 or 7 inches further along the stair opening. The circle indicates where the post used to be

Additionally, joining the rail to the existing banister that runs along the stair opening on the second floor has required rebuilding a section of the upstairs banister. I resisted making this effort at first since it meant doing some careful deconstruction, but once I committed myself to going that direction it became clear that the project will be much more satisfactory in the end.

As you can see in the photo above, the original banister did not quite reach to the end of the stair opening, as indicated by the light colored circle where the post used to be. I considered various ways that I might extend the existing structure, but in the end decided that the best way to "stretch it" was to rebuild the whole section.  A really nice bonus to result from making this decision was the opportunity to do a better job positioning the vertical wooden posts that sit in groups of three along the span of the railing. When I built the section the first time I didn't really work out a satisfying positioning between the two metal posts and now I have the opportunity to correct that. You may not be able to see it too well in the photo below, but each grouping of three wooden posts now sit nicely centered in the run. It used to be off kilter and it bugged me.

New section of upstairs railing in place with newly positioned vertical posts

With the section of railing rebuilt and extended, now I can get on with my original goal to instal the railing down to the first floor.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Solstice paint

I've continued work towards completing our second coat of paint and am nearing the end. Once I reach the end of the wall under the lower roof on the right I will be done.

Tomorrow is the solstice and I thought it would be fun to (nearly) capture that moment when the sun is at it's highest, casting it's near complete shadow over the sun pattern on our south wall.

Monday, March 12, 2012


This warm weather is presenting an opportunity to finish the painting work that I didn't quite get to finish last fall. It is basically the portion of the wall under the lower roof over the kitchen.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Desk

The new desk

The storage cabinet closed. Inside is the printer, modem and power strip

The inside of the storage cabinet

Note the arrangement for holding the various cables in place under the desktop. They are easily disengaged if need be.

Detail from one of the cabinet side panels

The office desk is nearly done. We are waiting on a little more hardware and there are a couple of tweaks here and there, but the big stuff is done and in place. I used cherry wood throughout.

You might recall from a previous post that Nancy and I came up with the design by creating a mock-up to test out the arrangement. From there I translated that into a plan for two cabinet bases, a large desk top and a "wing" that slots into the desk and provides good work space and views for Nance, who spends lots of time working at this desk. She's managed with some pretty rudimentary set-ups in the past, so its nice to create something that sets her up well.

The right hand cabinet is a conventional set of drawers; the top one is a simple drawer and the bottom one is a file cabinet sized arrangement.

The left hand cabinet looks like a matching cabinet with drawers but in fact serves as storage for the printer, the power strip, and the modem. The side of the cabinet opens to reveal the stuff inside but doesn't look like a door.

The wing is designed to easily come off so that we can have space to set up a bed in the office when we want to make it into a guest room.

When I was working out the plan, Nancy challenged me to come up with something clever for sides of the cabinets and I was sort of stumped. After tossing around some ideas I decided to stamp the side panels with letters and numbers--the idea being that desks, cabinets, printers and the like are pretty much about generating and holding letters and numbers. The result is subtle, but I'm pleased with how it came out.

A bonus is the keyboard drawer which I picked up the at the state of Vermont salvage store in Waterbury. It is versatile, easy to use, and very solid; a new version of this mechanism would cost over $100. It was a good catch at $10.

When the drawer slides arrive I will build a slide out base for the printer so it'll be easy to load up paper. The drawer pulls will be in that same order and installing those will round off this part of the project. Yet to come are an upper shelving unit along the back of the desk for storage and such. That'll be easy compared to the desk and cabinets.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Wood Use Check-In

This week we are just finishing up burning a total of 1/2 cord of wood so far this season.

(Since our wood is all cut to 12" long, it is easy to quantify the volume of wood we stack between the posts on the porch. I have a mark at the height of a quarter cord and can easily mark the heights for fractions of that quarter cord.)

Last night Nancy and I discussed how much more we should load onto the porch. I suggested another quarter cord, or maybe an eighth. We settled on a sixteenth.

With the strong sunshine at this time of the year along with warming temps it just doesn't seem like we'll burn too much more wood.

Now that we are beginning to understand our heating requirements the information allows us to consider how we might source our wood needs. In the years we lived in the yurt we needed so much wood (about 3.5 cords per season) that cutting it ourselves was not really a consideration. Harvesting a half cord just doesn't seem so hard so its interesting to think about harvesting our own wood supply from the surrounding woods.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Joe's Step

The step with hinges in place. They hold the step and keep it from slamming down unexpectedly

The hinges and directions

Before the hinges went in

Joe's step

When we were building the step down from the main bedroom on the second floor to the guest room, Joe came up with the idea of making the step an openable storage space and it seemed like a great idea.

Ever since it was built I've cringed when kids are playing around up there because the step is a very long and heavy piece of wood and I've been worried that fingers could easily be hurt if the step were flipped down while a hand was underneath.

I recently solved this issue by installing a couple of resistive hinges that keep the step from swinging freely. You need to actively swing the step down to close it and it cannot close unexpectedly.

Meanwhile I'm in the midst of building the desk project I wrote about recently. Hopefully I'll have phase one (the desk cabinets) done soon and can start to put it all together.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Office Desk

Nancy at work. I was concerned the L would impede the passageway to the basement stairs, but its fine

The view outside is important and this arrangement works really well. Our bird feeder is outside the window on the right allowing for an easy glance over the computer

Sketches of the desk. We'll store the printer under the desk in a faux cabinet

We've been working on making the office space functional. For many months the computer has been set up on a little 3' x 3' table and we decided we needed to design a desk that would work well in the room.

This is Nancy's primary work space and she has a few priorities that we've been considering for a long time but never really figured out satisfactorily. Going way back to our original house plans we knew we didn't really know how we were going to make the space work, but we just figured we'd figure it out.

Nancy's priorities:
-View: In the yurt, she could glance just to her right and see the birds on the quince bush.
-Not having the desk run in front of the window(s)
-Proper storage and being able to spread out her work as needed

Beyond these requirements we want the room to still be useable as a secondary guest room when needed.

I spent some time playing with different arrangements and didn't really come up with anything satisfactory. As we looked at my sketches, Nancy suggested having the desk extend in an L out into the middle of the room. For me this seemed like putting a big hook in the way of the flow walking from the upstairs to the basement (something I do multiple times a day), but we decided to mock it up and to our satisfaction found that it met all our requirements. Nancy's been working on the mock-up since. Meanwhile I've been planing out the real thing and am just starting on building the desk now.

Our plan is for the wing of the desk that extends out into the room to be easily removeable. This will open up the floor space for a futon should we need to set up the room for sleeping.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Wood Use

Later on January 14, 2012...our second 1/4 cord stacked

January 14, 2012...the last of our first 1/4 cord

January 1, 2012...roughly an 1/8 cord

September 24, 2011...our first 1/4 cord

Its been fascinating to monitor our wood consumption this fall and winter.

By New Years Day we'd used just over an 1/8th of a cord which you can see in the middle photo above. Now, two weeks later we've used most of what was left. This means it's taken about three and half month's to go through a 1/4 of a cord to heat a 17oo sq. ft house.

Of course it has been a mild fall, so this may not be indicative of future use, but it starts to lay out a pattern for us to plan around. January and February are the coldest months of the year and it will be interesting to see how much wood these months require. It seems like a reasonable guess that we won't go through more than a cord total for the year, but we'll see when all's said and done.

(I've spent some time trying to figure out a way to present energy use in comparable terms and I'm not there yet, but I want to work it out so it can be presented in a way that would allow comparisons with other forms of fuel, house size, and energy efficiency.)

In dollar terms we paid $200/cord in July for the wood we have on hand now. Roughly this translates to about $50 to heat our home so far this heating season.

The quarter cord we are just finishing burning is a couple years old, so its delivering more btus/kwhs then the woodstack we are about to start using which has not had time to fully season. The new wood was (presumably) cut and split in the middle of the summer since we had it delivered at the end of July. After this season it will be easy for us to maintain a seasoned wood supply by having one dry cord to burn and stocking up a green cord each summer.