Wednesday, December 23, 2015

For The Birds, Part 2

To recap the story so far, our old feeder and pole had been damaged irreparably by an onslaught of corpulent doves, and after an inordinate amount of difficulty, I managed to assemble a new feeder and locate a stronger pole that needed some modification before I could use it.

The new pole was ten feet long, which meant I had to dig the existing hole two feet deeper in order to mount the feeder the required six feet above ground—four and a half feet deep in all.

The added depth was a bit of a concern. Our soil is riddled with boulders, some of them quite large. I was lucky the first time around in that I encountered no obstacles, but I was really pushing my luck going two feet further down. I hoped I didn't have to blast.

Of course, I could simply have cut two feet off the new pole and made the job a whole lot easier. I didn't do that because rigid electrical conduit is heavy, and as I mentioned last time, it has a certain amount of flex in it. With the feeder at its top, it will have a tendency to flex back and forth in heavy winds, and the flection could conceivably extend down below ground level, increasing the risk that the pole will work itself loose and start to lean. The deeper footing should prevent that.

I pulled the old pole up, and was very happy to see that there was no rust on it to speak of. This was a nice verification that six inches of rocks in the bottom of the hole was sufficient drainage, even in our slow-draining soil.

Then, I started to dig. The first two and a half feet of the hole was easy, because all I was doing was emptying the hole I'd already made. I saved the sand from the first two feet in one pile, and the rocks and dirt from next six inches in another, so that I could re-use the fill.

At the Farm House, we even recycle dirt and rocks.

From that point on, the work was considerably more tiring. I haven't done any really hard physical work since my last bout of tendinitis in January, and on top of that I had had that spell of pneumonia. My arms and lungs were thus in need of a good workout, and boy, did they get it now.

On the way down the hole, I needed frequent rest stops in order to catch my breath, and so to keep things moving I decided to alternate the hole-digging with the task of reducing the diameter of the top of the pole so that the receptacle on the bottom of the feeder would fit. I have very little experience working with steel, but I figured a file would be the right tool for the job.

I have an extensive collection of files inherited from my uncle, so I picked out the most appropriate-looking one, cleaned its teeth with a brass brush, and started filing away. I went slowly and methodically around the circumference of the pipe as far in from one end as would be necessary to accommodate the receptacle. Once I came back around to the starting point, I slipped the receptacle over the end to check the fit. It slipped readily along as far down as the pipe threads went, and then stopped. I filed around the pipe again where it was still too big, and when I checked the fit again, the receptacle progressed about a sixty-fourth of an inch further down. It seemed as if I were taking off a lot of material, but apparently I wasn't.

So I worked around the pipe once again, more aggressively this time. This yielded another sixty-fourth of an inch of progress. Something seemed wrong. I did a little research on the Internet, and learned that I was using the right kind of file, and I was using the proper technique, more or less. So I abandoned the hole-digging for the time being, and worked on that pipe for the rest of the day and well into the evening. While my arms benefited from the exercise, I didn't make much progress. Still, the project up to that point had been so full of mishaps and complications that I just accepted the situation. I was happy that I was making any progress at all. I was a hostage to fate, and the Helsinki syndrome had set in.

Wifey suggested that perhaps the file I was using was dull. That had not occurred to me. The file looked perfectly fine. There were no broken teeth, and there was no evident wear. Still, she had something there. After all, my uncle had inherited his father's tools. There was a very good chance that the file I was using was older than I was, and had been used a lot. Moreover, it had been kicking around in a tool box with a number of other files for a long while.

The next day, I got a new file of the same type and went back to work. In an hour I was done, and the receptacle slid down fully without binding or wobbling. I primed and painted the filed area to prevent rust.  

While I may not be the sharpest tool in the box, with Wifey's help I feel as if I can do anything. We make a good team.

With the pole now all ready to meet its destiny, I went out and finished the hole. There are tools made specifically for this purpose that make the job simple: the post-hole digger, and the digging bar.

I use a post-hole digger of a unique design, called The Hole Deal, and I highly recommend it over the traditional design. All post-hole diggers comprise a pair of shovels joined with a pivot so that when the shovels are brought together, they capture soil between them that is then lifted out of the hole. The traditional design joins them with a simple pivot, so that the handles must be separated to bring the shovels together. This gets progressively more difficult as the hole gets deeper, because it is hard to keep the soil in the digger when the sides of the hole are limiting how much the handles can be separated.

The Hole Deal uses a two-pivot design so that the handles and shovels move in parallel; its handles are brought together to bring the shovels together. The sides of the hole and its depth are thus not limiting factors, and it is very easy to keep the dirt captured between the shovels as the digger is lifted up. This allows one to dig holes that are plumb and uniform all the way down. Although the digger is only five feet long, I had no difficulty in taking the hole down to four and a half feet without my having to widen the top of the hole.

The other tool is called a digging bar. It is a six-foot-long iron bar with a chisel end and a tamper end. The chisel end is used to loosen the dirt at the bottom of the hole to make it easier to remove with the post-hole digger; the tamper end is used to settle and compact material at the bottom of a hole. The digging bar is also used to dislodge and break up rocks, or cut roots, as necessary.

Happily, I encountered absolutely no obstacles on the way down, so while the work went slowly, it also went steadily. I got so enthusiastic at the end that I actually went an inch farther than I needed to. Then I had lunch.

You may be wondering why I set the pole in sand, rather than concrete. While there are several advantages to the use of sand as a base, the reason I used it here is that we have no overall plan for the yard design, and until we do I don't want to build anything that I can't easily remove. If you think a concrete footing would have kept the old pole from leaning, take a look at it:

Clearly, the sand held the pole so firmly that it bent at ground level; it did not shift in the hole. If I had set the pole in concrete, I would have had to excavate and lift out a hundred-pound cylinder of it, and then I would have had to dispose of that.

It occurred to me when contemplating the pole with the socket that I could have sunk the socket in concrete in order to give it some measure of stability, but without drain holes at the bottom it would have rusted out in short order, causing the pole to move back and forth in the hole more or less constantly. This movement would dislodge the concrete plug soon enough, and the pole would fall over.

I could have put down two feet of concrete to prevent its being easily dislodged, but then I'd have that hundred pounds of concrete to remove someday. This was altogether too much work for a setup that would never have been satisfactory.

The best material to use for setting poles in sand is actually not sand, strictly speaking, but crushed granite (usually called "decomposed granite", or "DG" for short). DG is the best because its individual granules are jagged, and tend to interlock pretty firmly when the material is compacted, making it quite stable and resistant to movement. This is why it is used for baseball diamonds and "gravel" driveways; as I've mentioned, we use it for our own driveway.

Unfortunately, DG is generally not available in smaller than half-truckload lots, at least not hereabouts, so instead I use paver-base sand, which is readily available in 50- to 70-pound bags. Paver-base sand is silica sand of a uniform fine grain; it interlocks to a lesser degree than DG, but it is more than stable enough to serve nicely for setting poles. Building sand will work if necessary, but not playground sand, which has no silica and offers insufficient resistance to movement.

A word of caution: never handle any silica-containing sand when it is dry without breathing protection, because silica dust acts like sandpaper in the respiratory tract. It is best and most convenient to work with it moistened enough to prevent dust from kicking up.

After lunch, I screened the two piles of the material I'd removed from the original hole in order to remove debris and reclaim the stones that were in them. 

I put a layer of larger stones down as evenly as I could at the bottom of the hole, put the rest of the stones back in, and tamped them down with the tamper end of my digging bar to minimize any settling when the hole was filled. I ended up 3/4 of an inch higher than I wanted, but that is close enough for my purpose, and the extra drainage won't hurt. I put in water to just above the level of the rocks, and let things settle overnight.

As I mentioned, our soil drains very slowly.

But I was not yet done for the evening. I drove four three-foot wood stakes into the ground, each about two feet away from the center of the hole, two of them situated roughly parallel to the back wall of the house, and two perpendicular to it.

When tomorrow came, I lowered the pole into the hole slowly, taking care to land the pole somewhere in the center. Precise positioning is not crucial, but a position near the center ensures that the pole is supported evenly around its circumference, thus increasing its tendency to remain plumb as the sand settles. As it happened, the pole found a nice little niche within a half-inch of dead center. This positioning is ideal, for it locks the bottom of the pole firmly in place, further enhancing its tendency to remain true to the earth.

Having achieved this, I carefully moved the pole over to rest against the side without knocking it out of its niche. I took a length of sash cord (any rope will do), tied one end to one of the wood posts, looped the other end around the pole and tied a taut-line hitch around the cord. This is a knot that I learned back in Cub Scouts, very useful when you need to adjust the length of a rope under tension. I use the knot shown on Wikipedia as #1857 (the third one listed at the link).

I did this for all four posts, all the while moving the pole gently to avoid dislodging its bottom end. Then, I attached a post level to the pole at eye level, oriented it so one side was parallel to the rear wall of the house, then I adjusted the length of each rope by sliding the taut-line hitch towards or away from the pole until the bubbles in both horizontal vials were centered. indicating that the pole was plumb (i.e., perpendicular to the ground). I tightened the cords just enough to ensure that the pole stayed plumb, and no tighter.

This reminds me that I have forgotten to tell you about the post level, one more specialized tool used in this job. It has two spirit vials positioned horizontally at right angles to each other to check for plumb, and one positioned at a right angle to the other vials vertically to check the top of a post or beam for level with the ground. 

This gag with the ropes and wood posts was something I whipped up this time around, so I would be free to work with both hands without undue worry about keeping the pole plumb. I've put poles up several times before without doing this, and it was quite awkward filling the hole with one hand while trying to keep the pole plumb with the other.

I worked with the posts and the level oriented to the house's footprint because the feeder would most often be viewed from the house. Theoretically it doesn't really matter how one orients the posts or the level, but a post level is not a terribly precise instrument, and orienting things the way I did maximized its precision along the most-used sight lines.

With the pole thus secured, I filled the hole back up, starting with the screened sand I took out of the old hole and continuing with some new sand. I put it in a trowelful at a time evenly around the pole, stopping every six inches or so to wet the sand evenly, putting just enough water in to cover the sand and then letting it drain in order to eliminate any little air pockets and to get the sand to settle evenly and firmly.

At eight inches below ground, I switched from sand to decomposed granite, which I stole from my supply that I have for filling divots in the driveway. I put in six inches of it just to help keep the pole on the straight and narrow path. I topped up the last two inches of the hole with screened dirt to give the installation a finished appearance, then let the whole hole settle overnight before I put a load on the pole.

Early the next morning, I put the feeder in place, and Wifey set a table of tasty comestibles for our little pals. As is always the case with a new feeder, it was greeted with great skepticism at first; the little creatures of the forest are rightly skeptical of change. By mid-afternoon, however, we had our first hungry customer.

This reminds me that my next job is to clean the gutters.

Our feeder is open to all our little woodland friends. But as for the company that sold us the feeder with its crappy screws and instructions as well as that pathetic excuse for a mounting pole, the company with the buncombe-laden product descriptions, the company that through its malfeasance turned a simple task into a major project—well, that company is strictly for the birds.

* * *

"My client is prepared to plead to one count of PC 481(a)(2), Knocking Non-Glass Ornament Off Christmas Tree, if the count of PC 666(e), Grand Theft Bird Ornament, is dropped."

Monday, December 21, 2015

For The Birds, Part 1

We have more than our share of wildlife here at the Farm House. While this can occasionally be troublesome, our pups do a great job of keeping the predators at bay. Nature is a fine thing, but we want our yard to be Daktari, not Wild Kingdom.

The first summer here, I put up a big platform feeder on a 8-foot galvanized-steel pole that came with it. It was a simple feeder, just a wood frame with a perforated-metal insert to hold the food and provide drainage, but it served our needs quite well.

June 2007, about a year after I installed the feeder.

I set the pole in a sand base two feet into the ground. It did just fine for nearly a decade, serving all comers with no problems. I had to tighten up the joints of the feeder occasionally, and eventually replaced all the screws with better ones, but the pole remained serenely unchanged by the passing years.

Then, a few years ago a new species began to appear, some sort of dove or pigeon that is larger than a rock dove (the common street pigeon), with a generally pearl-gray body and a dark collar on the back of the neck. As nearly as I have been able to determine, it is the Eurasian collared dove, although our birds are larger and of a more substantial build than the breed description.

For a long time, there was only one pair of the collared doves. Eventually, another pair appeared, then a third. Then, before we knew it, the feeder was covered with them. It was much like that sequence in The Birds wherein one bird lands on a jungle gym, then after a while the scene cuts back briefly to show a half-dozen, and after a while the scene cuts back to the same shot a third time, only this time you can't see the jungle gym for all the birds on it. Soon thereafter, the birds start breaking things.

So it went with us. The collared dove population kept increasing until by the start of this past summer, they had become a genuine nuisance. Scores of them would appear each day, occupying every square inch of the feeder. When they'd eaten all the food, they'd just hang out on the feeder like a street gang, blocking all other customers. We'd shoo them away, but they'd return in short order.

After a month or so of this, we looked out one day to find that the pole had actually bent under the weight of all those doves. Not only that, but they'd bent the feeder's mounting plate and the metal insert, and loosened all the joints badly. As a result, the feeder was pretty much useless.

Great, another unscheduled job. Well, at least it would be a quick, simple one. The hole was already dug. All I had to do was get a new feeder and a stronger pole, take out the old pole, empty the hole, put in the new pole, fill the hole up again, and put up the new feeder. It was a day's work at most, once I found a new feeder and a stouter pole.

I surveyed our usual online sources. I found a half-dozen or so feeders that would serve, but no poles long enough to suit me. I needed eight feet at least; we'd learned from experience that this pole length was necessary to place the feeder high enough to keep our invited dinner guests safe from our canine security detail when the pole was sunk to the proper depth. Anything less than 8 feet, and either the feeder would not be high enough, or the pole would not be stable enough.

At that point, I came down with a pretty bad case of pneumonia, and was out of commission for about six weeks. When I recovered, I was wholly occupied with the task of catching up on all the general maintenance that had gone undone during my illness. I was desperate to get back to my raison d'etre, finishing the exterior restoration.

In order to defer replacement until I had the time to find a suitable new feeder and pole, I reset the old pole in its sand to counteract the bend somewhat and did what I could to fix the other damage. This made the feeder marginally usable. To discourage Las Palomas Gordas from wreaking further damage, we put out only peanuts, which are too big for them to eat. This would at least take care of the squirrels, jays and crows.

After resetting. The feeder was pretty wobbly on the pole.

November rolled around, and with the Christmas season fast approaching, I abandoned hope of getting back to the restoration anytime soon and began my usual seasonal preparations. Then, the weather turned decidedly colder, and Wifey, concerned for the winter welfare of the little birds such as finches, nuthatches, and sparrows who needed actual seeds to eat, took matters in her own hands. She selected a rather pretty new feeder with a roof, and brought her choice to my attention.

This brought the feeder project suddenly front and center once again, and so I put everything else aside in order to resolve the situation as quickly as possible. I liked her choice; it was somewhat smaller than the old feeder, which would lessen the load on the pole, and the roof would, I hoped, make the feeder less accessible to the collared doves, who were too big to fit easily under it.

I wasn't so sure about the pole that was intended to go with the feeder. It was one of those that I had rejected earlier. I didn't like its base: a foot-long socket that was to be buried in the soil. The socket was just a length of pipe with one end squashed. The pole itself was probably okay as far as it went; it was 80 inches long in three segments, and it looked like it could stand up under a load. I figured that at most 10 inches would slip down into the socket, putting the feeder at the absolute minimum height, which was fine. But that would put only one-eighth of the pole in the ground, which is not nearly enough. Good building practice dictates that at least a quarter of a pole or post's length should be in the ground, so that it can carry the load and still remain securely in place.

At this point, however, I was beginning to get desperate. As skeptical as I was about this pole's suitability, it was the only possibly suitable one I had found. Moreover, the company selling the pole is reputable and has been around for longer than I have. The pole's description specifically promised "super stability in any soil."

We've had a pleasant relationship with this company for over twenty years, and in all that time we'd never received a product that did not live up to its description. So I ordered the feeder and the pole. I wished, rather than believed, that the pole would come with a way to embed the socket securely enough in the earth to support the pole, feeder, food and birds.

In due course the order was delivered, but when I unpacked the pole I saw to my great dismay but utter lack of surprise that it came with no instructions, no revelation about its installation that would somehow render it usable. The pole was stout enough, but it was too heavy to be supported by that short socket once the feeder was mounted upon it. In any soil.

Self-evidently inadequate.

Perhaps the most irksome thing about the socket was that it had no drain holes in the bottom, and although the pole was advertised as being powder-coated, it appeared from the thinness of the coating to be merely painted. Thus, even if it were somehow possible to arrive at a stable mounting for this pole, the socket was doomed to rust fairly quickly from the unavoidable accumulation of moisture sitting in it constantly.

Not willing to give up just yet, I thought it might get us at least through the winter if I could drive it directly into the soil, but I had to give up on the attempt before I'd managed to get the socket more than two inches in; our ground is so dense that at that point the top of the socket was already beginning to flatten. It would be unusable before I got it halfway in. If I had tried to sink it in sand, it would slip to one side as soon as I put the feeder on it.

The pole purchase was nonetheless necessary, because I needed the feeder mounting plate that it came with; it has a nice, sturdy socket on the bottom that slips onto the top of a pole and tightens securely with a thumbscrew. I could work with it, if I could find a suitable pole it would fit upon.

If. This put me back at square one. It didn't matter that I had a swell new feeder, because I had no suitable pole for it, and my muse had thus far failed to guide me in the proper direction.

Getting increasingly anxious to put this task behind me, I decided to put the feeder together while I awaited divine inspiration regarding the pole. It was a very pretty feeder, made of solid unfinished cedar with iron roof supports. The stock used was even 7/8 of an inch thick, just like the 4/4 S1S stock used throughout the Farm House. Wifey had chosen well, it seemed.

My job was to screw the supports to the base, then the roof to the supports. It seemed simple enough. They had even put little dents were the screws were supposed to go. The instructions said to line up the holes in the supports with the dents in the wood and start screwing away. They even said it was "OK" if some of the screws didn't go in straight.

Well, skewed screws may be okay with them, but certainly not with me. Furthermore, as I've pointed out more than once, it's never good practice to drive screws into wood without pre-drilling the hole first; either the wood will split or the screw will break.

I became rather annoyed when I looked at the provided screws; they bore a thin yellowish finish that was unsuitable for outdoor use in any event, and especially unsuitable for use in cedar, which is readily and deeply stained by such screws. I briefly considered going out to get the proper stainless steel screws, but at that point I just wanted to get the job done as quickly as possible. Besides, no one else would likely ever see the screws, or the ugly black stains they would make. So, I forged ahead.

Before pre-drilling the holes, I checked the alignment of the guide dents. Fully half of them were way off the mark. I was beginning to suspect that these people just didn't take their business seriously. This was a very expensive feeder, and these blackguards couldn't even be bothered to put their dents in the right place. No wonder it was OK with them if the screws didn't go in straight; once you reject pre-drilling, it's a slippery slope.

I made proper guide marks where they belonged, then drilled pilot holes. Then, I grabbed a screwdriver of the appropriate size and slowly drove the first screw most of the way in, at which point the still-protruding part of the screw, with no warning, twisted right off, despite my having pre-drilled the hole. One of the most expensive feeders on God's green earth, furnished with the cheapest screws I've ever seen. What were they made of, gutta-percha? At this point, I really wanted to drive these screws into my temples and have done with this whole mess. The walls were seriously closing in on me.

Not enough of the screw was left above the wood to back it out with pliers, so I went out to get one of those doodads that allow one to back out a damaged screw, as well as the stainless steel screws that should have been provided in the first place. I had to go to a few places to find these items, only to discover upon returning home that the diameter of the screw shaft was too small for the screw-extractor doodad to work. So I just left the broken screw in place and put the blasted thing together with no further trauma nor offense to my bleeding sensibilities.

I then turned back to the problem of finding a suitable mounting for the feeder. I hit upon the idea of using a 4x4 wood post; I knew the company that sold the feeder had feeder mounting plates for such posts, and this would definitely be strong enough to carry the load. They also mentioned in the feeder's description that it could be mounted on a 4x4 post.

This idea ran aground when I discovered that, in fact, the feeder couldn't be mounted on a 4x4 post, at least not with the only mounting plate the company sold for that purpose; the bottom joist of the feeder wasn't wide enough to accommodate it. I could have modified the feeder to address this problem, but I decided to look for a simpler solution.

As I mentioned, the receptacle provided with the pole that came with the feeder was sturdy enough, so I resolved to try to find a pole that would fit it that would also provide a solid mooring for the feeder. I figured Ganahl Lumber was a promising place to start, because they have an admirable selection of building materials, and they always make me feel at home there.

As usual, Ganahl came through for me. 

Thar be poles here!

I found a nearly perfect solution: a 10-foot length of 3/4-inch (inside diameter) rigid electrical conduit. Despite its name, it's flexible enough to withstand stress and snap back to straightness without staying bent permanently.  It's sturdy enough to carry the weight of a hundred collared doves, made of galvanized steel to resist corrosion, and it has an outside diameter of just over one inch. I say "nearly" perfect because I would have to reduce the diameter of the pole's top down to an inch in order to accept the receptacle.

But I didn't think that would be very hard.

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I actually get to the point.

* * *

The Wily Forest Cat lies in wait for his prey, after having hidden all the remotes.

Monday, May 4, 2015

CSI: House

I haven't written here for some time because I haven't been working on the exterior restoration. I've been taking some time to catch up on all the things I have neglected for the past several years while I concentrated on the restoration work.

In the process of doing these other things, the garage, my base of operations, fell into such disarray that when I was ready to return to the restoration work, I found that my workshop had assumed the character of an archaeological dig. It is only this past week that I have at last dug down to the stratum containing all the tools and materials I use in the restoration work, so I expect that I shall be back out on the veranda roof soon.

Of course, along the way unexpected things cropped up, as they always do with any house. One happened just last week that bears retelling here, for it touches upon a subject I have visited many times in this blog.

It was late afternoon, and I had just come back into the house from a long day out in the garage. I ran upstairs to put something in the bathroom, and when I got there I heard a noise coming from the vicinity of the toilet. It was an odd, mechanical noise, hard to describe, but it sounded something like this: whirrrrrr TIC. . . whirrrr TIC. . . whirrrrrrrr TIC, over and over, with the length of the whirr varying randomly.

As I got closer to the noise, it sounded as if it were coming from the toilet tank, but a quick check inside revealed that the noise was in fact coming from inside the wall.

This immediately put me in mind of something I wrote way back in the early days of this blog, in the post "The Farm House Speaks:"

We've all heard it a million times: "If these walls could talk. . . ." Well, walls do talk, especially in an old house like the Farm House. They tell many stories of the events they have been through and the people who have lived within them. If you take the time to understand what they are saying, you can learn a lot about the house's history;  more importantly, you may learn important things about its condition.

This particular wall, at this particular time, had an important thing to tell me about its condition: "I have a leaky pipe in here!"

While the noise sounded more like there was a time bomb in there, I knew it had to be a leak, because I knew that the only thing in the wall in that area was the water supply pipe for the toilet. I knew this because I was familiar with a photograph I took of this area from the adjoining room back when the walls were still open.

The picture is pretty fuzzy, because it was one of the first I took with the digital camera my friend Nik kindly lent me, and I still didn't know how to operate it properly, but it is nonetheless plenty clear enough to see the curved copper pipe heading over to the left and disappearing back into the wall; this is right where the noise was coming from, so whatever it sounded like, it had to be a leak.

Also clearly visible is a piece of wood that appears to have been wedged in under this pipe, and right above this piece of wood, barely discernible, is a copper strap (indicated by the red arrow) of the kind customarily used to keep a pipe in place.

That piece of wood bothered me: why, precisely, was it there? I could not help but conclude that the plumber who installed the pipe had stuck it under there, because he had reason to believe that the strap alone would not be sufficient to support the pipe. Moreover, the only reason he could have for this belief was the knowledge that he had not installed the strap correctly.

If this sounds unduly harsh or paranoid, please understand that I was merely drawing upon my long experience with this plumber's workmanship. He had a perfect record with all the fixtures he installed: he did every one of them incorrectly.

There is not one of them I did not have to fix myself or have fixed by a plumber. Every one of them developed leaks at every joint and connection, because he had failed to tighten them all the way. Every handle was loose, because he had not tightened the attachment screws. Every one of the aerators was clogged with plumbing debris, because he had not bothered to remove them and flush the debris out after installing the fixtures. The man seemed to have a psychopathic compulsion to cut every corner he could find to cut in his work.

I had hoped that his in-wall work would prove to be better, especially because it had been subject to inspection and testing, but that aberrant piece of wood said otherwise. It had consciousness of guilt written all over it.

Of course, I did all this sleuthing and deduction later in the evening. The minute I realized there was a leak I called our plumber—or rather, I called Wifey and she called the plumber, because I'd just gotten a new phone and hadn't yet typed my contacts back in (for some reason, they never seem to transfer over from my old phone as they are supposed to). Unfortunately, it was past the end of the workday, and the plumber was not immediately available, so Wifey had to leave a message.

When she buzzed me back with this information, I filled up some buckets with enough water to get us through the night, then turned off the water supply to the house. I then went to the basement faucet, the lowest one in the house, and opened both taps. This relieved the pressure in the pipes, which stopped the leak immediately. Soon thereafter, the plumber returned our call; after I explained the situation to him, he said he'd be here first thing in the morning.

True to his word, he was. His dependability is one of the reasons why he is a valued member of the Farm House maintenance team; another is that he really knows his stuff.

We turned the water supply back on. Once the pressure built back up in the pipe, the noise returned. He was as baffled by its mechanical sound as I was, but he agreed that it had to be a leak, so he opened up the wall from the adjoining room to expose the area where the noise was coming from.

Sure enough, there was water bubbling out from under the strap. And just as I had suspected, the strap was not installed correctly. It should have been attached firmly to the wall with screws driven in all the way. This strap was only loosely attached, with the screws driven in only partway and at an angle. This is contrary to code, but I have already described how curiously tolerant the City inspector could be of our contractor's distinctive mode of operation at the darndest times.

It was easy to see why the plumber did it that way, because he screwed directly into the beadboard wainscoting of the bathroom, and if he'd driven the screws in snug they would have broken through the other side. What he should have done was to affix a small 3/4" thick piece of wood to the back of the wainscoting and then attach the strap onto that; that way, he could have secured the pipe properly without breaking through the beadboard. But that would have taken more time, and time is money, the kind that bites into a contractor's profit.

Having found the problem, the plumber was able to fix it in short order. After shutting off the water and draining the line, he removed the strap and the block of wood, cut out the damaged length of pipe, and spliced in a new piece of rigid copper pipe with soldered joints at each end. This gave the pipe enough structural rigidity that it no longer needed to be strapped to the wall.

It may be odd to consider any leak a fortunate one, but if there ever was such a thing, this was it: a mere pinhole, covered by the strap so that it did not spray onto the walls. Instead, it just bubbled out and dripped down onto the end grain of the wood underneath. The wood acted as a sponge, absorbing all but a very small amount of the leaked water and preventing any water damage. So that wood performed an essential function after all, although certainly not one the original plumber intended.

Why did the leak occur? The answer to this was immediately obvious to the plumber. It had to do with the incorrect way the strap was attached. The reason a strap must be securely attached to the wall is to prevent the natural movement that occurs in a pipe when it expands and contracts in response to temperature changes caused by the passage of water through it. The fact that this strap was loosely attached caused the copper supply pipe to move constantly with every variation in temperature over the eleven intervening years, eventually to come into contact with one of the steel strap screws.

One of the cardinal rules of proper plumbing procedure, and the reason why a loose strap is a code violation, is that copper-containing metals should never be allowed to come into contact with any ferrous (iron-based) metal such as steel. When this happens, corrosion occurs at the point of contact, which weakens both metals and eventually results in a leak. That is just what happened in this case.

All in all, this was a happy ending to what could have been a disaster. Of course, now I have yet another unexpected task, that of patching up the hole in the study wall.

I've taped plastic screen material over it to discourage feline exploration while the residual moisture evaporates.

But I'm certainly not complaining. This could have been a major disaster if the leak had been worse, or if I had not taken immediate action to stop it.

So, with this little incident in mind, always remember that the stories a house tells are not always historical in nature. Sometimes, they are breaking news flashes. Or, as I put it way back when:

Listen to your house, and it will keep you snug and safe for a lifetime. Ignore it, and it will surely find a way to get your attention.

For my part, I am now going to look back at all the other pictures I took when the walls were still open, to see if I can find any advance tips on breaking news flashes yet to come.

* * * 

There are some stories only cats can hear.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Victorians And Their Grand Schemes

I hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving. Wifey and I certainly did. We spent ours in the company of some very good friends, at their lovely home in Windsor Square. Windsor Square is one of L.A.'s oldest, most well-preserved neighborhoods, but its name is not familiar even to most native Angelenos, because it is usually lumped in with its neighbor to the west, Hancock Park.

Windsor Square was established in 1911, when the area was at the western extent of the developed city. It was designed from the first as a top-drawer development, with large lots, private streets, underground utilities (the first in L.A. to have them), and a deed requirement that each lot contain a single-family home valued at a minimum of $12,500, a significant amount for the time.

The residents soon learned how expensive street maintenance was, deeding the streets to the city in 1920, but otherwise steadfastly maintained the original character of the neighborhood in the face of rapid urbanization and ever-increasing population density. Their successful efforts to this end blazed a trail followed decades later by the Farm House's own neighborhood, Bungalow Heaven.

After dinner, we took a walk around the neighborhood, and our friend pointed out some of its most lovely homes. The one that really fired my imagination was a massive old Victorian mansion, a Colonial Revival that, while less ornamented than a Queen Anne, still looks plenty fancy. It has the familiar late-Victorian asymmetric massing, shingled siding over a masonry foundation that extends up through half of the first story, dozens of lovely leaded windows, and a big round tower at one corner.

The only sour note for me was the painfully inappropriate color scheme the house bears: brick-red paint on the foundation, cream yellow on the shingles, and white on all the trim. I fell in love with the place nonetheless, but I couldn't help but think that the house would be even lovelier in proper livery.

When I got home, I looked the house up, and learned that it was built in either 1890 or 1898 (my guess is the earlier date) much closer to downtown, and it was moved to its present location in 1915. This was a common procedure in those days, moving mansions westward as the city expanded.

When I saw a picture of the house from 1910, in its original location, I was satisfied to see that back then the masonry foundation was unpainted, and the shingles were dark—apparently also unpainted, as was often the custom then (the Farm House's own shingle-sided areas were also originally unpainted). The trim color was very light, as was fairly typical of Colonial Revival Victorians back in the day. It was the same house, all right, but it looked a lot different with that scheme. It looked a lot better.

I knew my brother Jon would be interested, so I told him a little about the house and sent him the 1910 picture. When he responded favorably, I followed up with more information and a current picture of the house. When he saw the second picture, he was quite disappointed. He saw a house in poor repair, one that desperately needed extensive restoration of missing elements.

This reaction baffled me at first, because the house is in great physical shape. Indeed, in that neighborhood it would have to be. Then I looked at the current picture again, and compared it with the 1910 picture, and I realized how he had gotten that impression. The house in the current photo looked truncated and washed-out compared to the house in the old photo. If I had just seen the photos, and not the house itself in person, I likely would have come to the same conclusion as Jon.

The thing is, Jon was fundamentally correct. The house as it stands now is lacking something essential. It is lacking the proper paint scheme, the kind of scheme the house was designed to bear. I know this to be true because I've seen this phenomenon at work before, right here at the Farm House.

In the post "An Instructive Transformation," I presented a rather dramatic before-after comparison of the middle front dormer, showing how the application of the four paint colors put the dormer in the proper context, both within itself and with the entire house. That has been the most commented-upon post, both on the blog and off, in the blog's history.

The transformation that the pictures revealed was so startling that it seemed to defy rational explanation. Nevertheless, as with most things Victorian, there in fact is a rational explanation.

* * *

My intention from the very beginning was to give the Farm House the proper livery for its vintage. Since I had no clues back in the early planning stages what the original house colors were, I undertook to formulate a paint scheme for the house that I might have chosen had I been the one to give it its first painting, one that was tasteful and appropriate for 1885 Pasadena.

I had no idea what that might entail, so I began to research the matter. I soon found the definitive book on the subject: Moss, Roger W. and Winkler, Gail Caskey, Victorian Exterior Decoration: How to Paint Your Nineteenth-Century American House Historically (1987: Henry Holt & Co., New York). It's out of print, but it's available used at Amazon.

This book is a thorough tutorial on the way Victorians painted their buildings, as well as the reasons behind their choices of color and placement. Most of the following information comes from this book, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Even if you are not planning to paint a Victorian yourself, it will greatly enhance your appreciation of Victorian architecture, and give you some insight into the Victorian mind as well.

For the sake of clarity, I am going to simplify this discussion by focusing it upon the way Victorian views acted upon the decoration of Queen Anne Victorians in the Pasadena area. Rules have always been made to be broken, but the rules I set forth in the following were broken less often here than in many other areas.

The authors divide the body of observed Victorian paint schemes into three types: Scientific, Historical and Boutique. Scientific schemes are the result of a thorough forensic analysis of all available evidence to construct a complete history of the colors a structure has worn; this is typically done with other people's money, and is thus obscenely expensive. The book tells you how to do a rough approximation of this analysis yourself, but at the time I could find no evidence of any previous colors (as it turned out, I was looking in the wrong places).

Boutique schemes are more commonly known as "painted lady" schemes, the wild, multi-colored schemes that reached their zenith of popularity in '60s San Francisco. This was definitely not what I was after.

That left us with a historical scheme, which the book defines by the observance of two simple rules:

"1. The colors applied to any building should be selected from those that were available and considered appropriate for the date, type, and style of the building at the time of its design and construction.

"2. Those colors—whatever they may be—should be applied to the structure to enhance the design in the manner intended by the original designer, builder, and owners." (Ibid., pp. 7–8)."

This described my original intention precisely; the rest of the book gave me the information I needed to carry it out.

I am no expert in architectural history, but I know enough about Victorian styles to be confident in stating that the Farm House is decidedly a Queen Anne Eastlake, even if its symmetrical layout makes it rather a distinctive one. I believe the completeness of its ornamentation raises it well above the level of a merely vernacular structure, especially now that we know the front dormers originally had bargeboards. That and its 1885 vintage mean that a High Victorian paint scheme is by far the most appropriate.

As the name suggests, the High Victorian era was the ultimate flowering of Victorian aesthetics, a time when all the various theories advanced during the era reached their widest acceptance.

As I wrote in the Journal, the Victorians had a complex definition of architectural beauty: "Victorians viewed architecture as above all an expression of beauty. Andrew Jackson Downing, perhaps the single most influential American Victorian architect, separated this expression of beauty into three aspects: beauty of utility, or fitness; beauty of propriety, or expression of purpose; and beauty of form and sentiment, or expression of style.

"Fitness in a dwelling refers to its primary function, that is, to provide shelter from the elements. Beauty is found in this regard in the utility and comfort a dwelling affords its inhabitants. . . .

"The Victorians found a certain beauty in a home that by its outward appearance expresses its purpose as a habitation for humans, as opposed to one for animals. It does this by its chimneys, its verandas, and the number and size of its windows, features that declare to the world, 'This is a proper place for humans to live.'

"While the beauty of a house's fitness and propriety may be said to appeal to one's mind, the beauty of its appearance should appeal to one's soul. Victorians saw beauty in a house that conveys a sense of unity, of consistency in its form, style and ornamentation. They derived this concept from the forms of nature. A tree is composed of a trunk, branches, foliage, and (depending upon the season) flowers or fruits, yet one naturally views these various parts as a single entity, an organic whole, because its parts have a relationship that to the eye is innately appropriate. A house should present itself in the same manner, with a logic and consistency to its various parts that induce the beholder to view it, too, as an organic whole. Moreover, just as different trees may by their natural design radiate majesty, or friendliness, or whimsy, so may a house by its design and details radiate a certain personality. It is these qualities of organic wholeness and personality that appealed to the Victorian soul."

The High Victorian practice regarding color selection and placement completely incorporated this tripartite definition of beauty, as I shall soon strive to make clear. First, however, I need to discuss the particular way in which Victorians viewed color during this period.

High Victorian color theory was based upon physiological perceptions of color. No doubt as a child you did the old experiment of staring at a color on a printed page for a while and then quickly looking at a white wall, discovering that what you saw through your eyes on that wall was a completely different color. The color you saw on the page and the afterimage you saw on the wall are complimentary colors; based upon this observation, they arrived at a color wheel based upon red, yellow and blue as the three primary colors, with their respective compliments green, purple and orange as secondary colors and the various pairings of secondary colors as tertiary colors.

Victorians knew, because of the afterimage in the eyes, that complimentary colors placed next to each other would increase the perceived intensity of both. Also because of the afterimage, colors placed adjacent to each other that are not complimentary will be perceived differently. For example, when red is placed to orange, the red will appear more purplish and the orange more yellowish.

Thus, Victorians understood that for a house to appear as an organic whole, as dictated by beauty of form, the choice of colors was crucial. No longer was color selection considered purely a matter of personal preference; it was to a certain degree dictated by human physiology. In other words, the house's color palette had to be considered not as a mere collection of pleasing colors, but rather as an inter-dependent system of colors that played nicely with each other.

There were two ways to approach the issue of color harmony. One was harmony by analogy, employing colors adjacent to each other on the color wheel; the other was harmony by contrast, employing colors opposite (complimentary) to each other. In this way, one would ensure that the afterimage effect would enhance the colors rather than cause them to clash.

Of course, this only describes the relationships among the colors used; it says nothing about which colors to use. Ah, but the Victorians had something to say on that subject as well.

At the beginning of the Victorian era, people typically used white for a house's body color, using whatever contrasting color they desired for the one trim color that was used. This was due in some measure to the fact that at that time painters had to mix paint on the premises, and white was the easiest color to mix while avoiding color variations between batches. Even so, white was a popular color then as now because it is bright and it goes with everything.

Then, along came our old friend Andrew Jackson Downing, whom I quoted at length in the first volume of the Journal. He was the preeminent tastemaker of the Victorian era. In his 1842 book Cottage Residences, he assailed the practice of painting a house white as being "entirely unsuitable, and in bad taste" (Andrew Jackson Downing, Cottage Residences (New York, 1842), p. 22). He held that a white house stood out in glaring disharmony with its surroundings. He mounted a crusade, in his books and in magazine articles, to stop the practice; with his considerable influence, his effort was eventually quite successful.

He in fact discouraged the use of any pure hues. He believed that a building should be in harmony with nature, and as such he promoted a palette of muted shades reflecting in a subtle way the colors found in nature.  For a time his prescriptions were followed faithfully; but the color genie was out of the bottle, and while his concept of keeping the colors harmonious with nature was maintained, the specific colors used grew ever more assertive as the years passed.

The ebullience of the post-Civil War reconstruction period, combined with the integration of contemporary color theory and the advent of ready-made paints, brought on the rich colors and complex color schemes of the High Victorian era by the late 1870s. These schemes were an integral part of the Queen Anne style that was predominant in Pasadena during its first few decades of existence.

As I mentioned above, High Victorian color schemes were devised so as to reflect the tripartite Victorian definition of beauty. Beauty of utility, of a house fulfilling its primary function of providing safe harbor, is emphasized by the trim color and the way it is applied. More often than not, the trim color is darker than the body color, and it is applied so as to outline the structural elements and provide a visual indication of the way load is  transferred to the foundation. The body color of the foundation, if not unpainted stone or masonry, is always dark to emphasize the structure's firm anchorage. Quite often the color used is dark brown, suggesting a connection with the soil.

Beauty of propriety, of a house's fitness as a human habitation, is also conveyed largely by the first trim color, which outlines and thus emphasizes the windows, verandas, and other such features that make the structure a fit place for humans to live. The second trim color, generally applied exclusively to the sash (the parts of the window holding the glass) and the doors, further emphasizes these features; proper ventilation was a crucial feature to the Victorian mind, because before that these features were considered luxury items in numbers beyond the bare minimum, and were often insufficiently provided in more modest homes.

Beauty of form and sentiment, of the style expressed by the house, is analogous to what we would call today aesthetic or artistic beauty. This is conveyed in the color scheme by the body colors used, how they are deployed, and how they harmonize with each other, the trim colors, and the surrounding environment. The body color is always lighter than that of the foundation (unless the foundation is unpainted masonry or stone), and shingled tympana (the triangular areas under gables) bear a lighter version of the body color if not simply left unpainted. This upward progression in body colors from dark to light is intended to reflect the transition from earthly darkness to heavenly light.

Another element to consider here is that Victorians fancied windows as a house's eyes, which is why the sash (the frames bearing the window panes) are picked out in a second trim color. In pursuit of this fancy, one often sees the putty bevels around each pane painted scarlet, a bit of stage makeup that makes the "eyes" really pop!

Queen Anne homes are always ornamented, and while the ornamentation may be whimsical, it is, when properly executed, never arbitrary. There is a consistent logic to its use.

Think of a Queen Anne house's ornamentation as the accessorization of a well-dressed woman's outfit. She's not going to wear a necklace around her shoulders, or a brooch on her ear. Each accessory is designed to highlight and beautify a specific area, according to a logic that is self-evident when seen.

Similarly, the various spandrels and corbels and bargeboards—the "gingerbread"—of a Queen Anne are designed to highlight and beautify specific areas. The difference here is that the logic is not self-evident—unless rendered so by the proper selection and placement of colors. Queen Annes are specifically designed to bear a High Victorian paint scheme, and aesthetically they don't make sense without one.

Generally speaking, the gingerbread was painted the trim color to associate it with the house's structural framework and to set it off from the body of the house. And of course, the relationship between the trim and body colors was crucial. Based upon the two methods of insuring color harmony, the trim and body colors were either complimentary (e.g., red and green) or adjacent (e.g., red and gold).

Veranda floors and the tops of steps, when made of wood, are traditionally painted some shade of gray, usually in the medium range. This color is practical, because it hides dirt and it goes with everything.

There was one place on the Victorian exterior that was traditionally painted one particular color no matter what colors were used elsewhere: veranda ceilings, which more often than not were painted sky blue. This was done to emulate the sky, and was intended to heighten the feeling of spaciousness in the veranda and the interior rooms that looked out upon it. Sometimes, fluffy white clouds were added to carry the effect even further.

This may all seem far too complicated a regime to have gained such wide acceptance, but it is merely one example of how Americans of that time approached life.

The post-Civil War period was a time of rapid scientific and technological advancement. A steady increase in productivity meant that no longer did the vast majority of Americans have to spend most of their waking hours just to feed, clothe and house their families. Land was cheap and plentiful. A growing belief in the future led Americans to start exploring life's expanding possibilities.

It is no surprise that people of this time would put a high priority upon, as Andrew Jackson Downing put it,
. . . bestowing upon our homes something of grace and loveliness--in making the place dearest to our hearts a sunny spot, where the social sympathies take shelter securely under the shadowy eaves. . . . (Downing, Andrew Jackson, Victorian Cottage Residences (1981: Dover Publications, Inc., New York), pp. viii-ix.)
For the first time in our country's history, ownership of a stylish, comfortable home and some land did not require significant wealth, so it was only natural that this was the first of life's exciting new possibilities a great many Americans explored with great zeal and dedication.

* * *

Now, I'd like to use the example of the remarkable transformation of the Farm House's central front dormer to illustrate in a small way the logic of a High Victorian paint scheme in action.

Here are the before and after pictures from the earlier post:

Of course, merely repairing the dormer's skin and giving it a good coat of white paint would have been a considerable improvement in itself, but those improvements alone do not account for the transformation evidenced by a comparison of these pictures. While I believe these pictures speak for themselves, for the sake of discussion I'll put forth the general consensus opinion of the various commenters.

In the Before picture, the dormer appears to be an appendage plunked down upon an unsuspecting roof. The scalloped shingles and especially the lace-like appendage just beneath them look like silly, corny, pointless afterthoughts, like a vinyl roof on a Sixties land yacht.

In the After picture, the dormer appears to be an organic part of the structure. The shingles and "lace runner" (my own non-technical term for it) no longer seem de trop. The entire dormer now seems to be pulled together as a single unit, rather than a mere assemblage of house parts. The dormer looks warm and inviting, evocative of an earlier, more graceful time.

The reason the dormer now looks like an integral part of the house is because of the uniform, contrasting color of the trim. It pulls the dormer together visually and anchors it to the rest of the structure. The anchoring effect is strongest at the top, because the color highlights the fact that the house's roofing material is continued onto the roof of the dormer.

The trim color pulls the dormer together visually by dint of the relationship among the colors. The colors of the side shiplap and the scalloped shingles of the tympanum, as well of that of the sash (the window frames), are complimentary to the trim, a relationship that naturally makes sense to the eye on a physiological level. The fact that this is a physiological observation, requiring no conscious thought, is I believe what makes the transformation seem to have a bit of magic about it: the viewer already knows the color scheme suits the structure well before he even has a chance to ponder why this might be so.

The reasons why the paint scheme makes the scalloped shingles and lace runner relevant to the structure are considerably more complex, but here I'll just hit the high points.

The simple reason why the shingles are made relevant is that they are picked out in a different color from the rest of the dormer. This highlights the fact that they represent a different texture from the rest of the dormer. The texture is visually pleasing in itself, and doubly so because it spices up what would otherwise be a flat, boring front. The shingles provide visual interest, and the lighter body color intensifies that interest.

Similarly, the lace runner breaks up what would otherwise be a flat, featureless casing surrounding the windows, and adds a touch of grace. Yes, it self-evidently provides no function other than decoration, but that is why it is not picked out in a different color. In a much larger house with a great deal of this sort of decoration, it might well be picked out in the first body color, but to do this in a house built on the scale of the Farm House would just be the tarting-up of an already-lovely lady.

I almost forgot to discuss the windows! At first, I thought the practice of painting the sash a different color from the trim quite odd, but it makes perfect sense in a Victorian context. I've already mentioned the eyes angle, which goes to the beauty of form and sentiment. I've also mentioned that drawing attention to them in this manner goes to the beauty of fitness, because a house fit for human habitation must have plenty of light and ventilation.

What I had not previously considered is that the practice also goes to the beauty of utility. Recall that under that precept, the trim color is supposed to show the transfer of the house's load down to the foundation. Windows are self-evidently not a part of that. So it's a triple play for the windows' bearing a different color.

While I'm at it, allow me to present the long-promised Before And After of the north dormer:

I think the comparison here is even more dramatic, because the dormer is much larger and was in far worse condition than the middle dormer. Oh, and you can also see along the left half of the roofline that in the interim (just a few months ago, in fact) we had the damage from the Big Blow of November 30, 2011 repaired. That was when a massive windstorm brought a large branch of the oak tree crashing down upon the roof, damaging the shingles on this dormer and up near the north chimney. Mercifully, the house was otherwise spared.

As I said at the start of this discussion, Victorians believed that a house should present itself with a logic and consistency to its various parts that induce the beholder to view it as an organic whole. The above comparisons show how indispensable a proper paint scheme is in putting that across, and why such a scheme should be considered an inseparable element of a proper Victorian home.

* * *

As nice as the dormers look now, imagine how much prettier they would be with their original bargeboards in place! In case you don't recall what a bargeboard is, here's a picture of the one in the north gable:

The bargeboards in the front dormers were, without a doubt, scaled-down versions of this one. When I'm done painting the house, I hope to be able to convince the Cultural Heritage Commission to let me replace them. I may be biased, but the Farm House's bargeboards are the prettiest and most graceful I've ever seen. They suggest to me a fringe of curls peeking out of a pretty girl's bonnet over her forehead. I imagine that this effect was even more pronounced when the shingles were unpainted.

Before I sign off, let me pull the camera back and show you the effect of the proper paint scheme on the middle dormer in relation to the whole house:

Notice how more firmly attached to the house the middle dormer appears compared to the others. Notice also how the eye associates it with the completed south side. Also, note how nicely the new colors harmonize with the house's surroundings.

I guarantee that when the whole house is painted, the effect will be profoundly mind-blowing.

* * *

Red Wolf also harmonizes with his surrounding environment.
Meanwhile, the Wily Forest Cat and his protégé 
formulate a grand scheme of their own.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

My Cool Brother Bill

It is with great sadness that I take a step away from the Farm House restoration to relate the news that my oldest brother Bill has passed away at the age of 69 from heart failure. With your kind indulgence, I'd like to set my nom de blog aside for today, and tell you all what Bill's little brother Rob remembers about him.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Video: Rough Patch of The Casing Boards

I've done the first pass at patching and sanding the casing boards, a major step in the restoration process that I discussed in detail when I restored the casing boards on the north dormer. It occurred to me that a brief video showing the results of the first pass this time might be effective in clarifying some of the details of the work that were left unclear the first time.

I've been planning since I started this blog to use video from time to time to illustrate processes, but I learned early on that making a decent video is harder than it seems. Thus, while I've made dozens of video presentations for you, most of them have stunk for one reason or another. 

I think I've come far enough along the learning curve now to start using this method more often, and so, here you are. I'm afraid that I left a few details out of my narration, however, so let me add them now.

Patching to this extent is a complicated process requiring several passes, and with this first pass my intent was to fill in the major voids and irregularities on the front of the boards, including the re-building of the edges. While I subsequently sanded the sides back all the way, the fronts I only sanded far enough to remove the rough edges and ridges and begin to establish a flat surface. 

I left the putty somewhat above the eventual plane of the finished board so that there would be enough depth in the remaining voids to allow the putty to take hold in them. If a void is too shallow, the friction of the putty knife will pull the epoxy right back out as it passes over, and if I pass the putty knife too high, all I will do is replace the divots with bumps that will be a pain to sand back down. By sanding high with this first pass, I will be able to fill in more of the small divots successfully, and then sand the entire surface down at the same time to the proper level.

One more thing I forgot to mention: while I previously discussed my intention to use Bondo for this first pass, I subsequently decided against it. While I did use it successfully on our Culver City home, and the work has held up for over 15 years, that was in an area with little exposure to the sun. I don't know how it would hold up in full sun in the harsher Pasadena environment, nor do I know how well it would get along with the WoodEpox I would have used for subsequent passes. Given the prominent position high in the front of the house, I didn't want to risk the failure of the patch down the road, and the virtual impossibility of effecting a permanent fix if it did. 

Now, without further blather, here's the video.

* * *

"This video stinks, too."