Monday, May 2, 2011

My Dad Said It Would Be Like This

My Dad told me a lot of things. Some of those things seemed odd, improbable, or just plain factually wrong. As I've gone along, however, I've found that virtually everything he told me was true.

One of the seemingly odd truths he imparted to me was, "Once you get pneumonia, for the rest of your life every cold you get is liable to develop into walking pneumonia." I did have a pretty bad case of pneumonia when I was 18, and sure enough, since then more often than not any bad cold I get culminates in walking pneumonia. It's the bane of my existence.

"Walking" pneumonia is a mild case of bacterial pneumonia that comes on so gradually that it can be months before its unambiguous symptom set becomes evident. Up until then, you're never really sure whether you've got it or you're just suffering from allergies. As it gains strength, you just start to slow down like a hand-cranked Victrola, and as you wind down you naturally push harder and try to work through it. Sometimes you do, but most of the time you don't, and by then you may be down for a good long while.

I had a bad cold that was over by the end of February, which in case you were wondering is how the foregoing relates. That explains why I've gradually been slowing down over the course of the past few weeks, despite having been highly motivated to get a move on. It was on Wednesday of this week that the illness finally became obvious; I looked down from the top of the ladder after having stared at the same point on the west window casing for—actually, I don't know for how long, but it must have been at least a few minutes—and wondered how all my tools and my cell phone had ended up on the ground without my having noticed. I got down right then before the same thing happened to me!

I've gone through this kind of thing a dozen or so times, but each time it comes on a bit differently, so I never know quite what to expect as it's coming on and after I figure it out. Sometimes I become quite ill when I start the antibiotic, and I am down for a long time. This time, I felt better enough when I woke up on Thursday that I managed to get some work done, so I'm thinking that this time I dodged the bullet. At least, I hope so. Nevertheless, I have that gauzy disconnectedness that always comes with pneumonia at this stage, so the following is likely to be a bit gauzy and disconnected as well.

This week, I've been working on getting the west window casing ready to prime. This involves more than the usual stripping and sanding, because there are many distinct problems to correct, many of them having to do with badly-done repairs. I haven't had to deal with much of that kind of thing at the Farm House, but there's a lot of it on the south side.

Let's go back to that crack I discussed earlier when I took off the caps and the scalloped aprons.

Previously I blamed the crack that you can see in the picture above on the backing piece having been exposed in the rear. I was wrong. The exposure was a contributing factor, but the direct cause of the crack was the hammering of two big framing nails through the wood at the locations noted by the arrows. I'm guessing the nail at the green arrow was first, because it's dead-center on the crack; the unfortunate placement of the other nail along the crack opened it up to the left.

Whenever you nail within a few inches of the edge of a piece of wood, you run the risk of splitting it along the grain. The risk becomes greater as the wood ages, and it becomes a virtual certainty when you use big six-penny common nails, which is what were used all over the casing, with predictable results.

Here's one cascade of mishaps, as nearly as I can reconstruct it: the nail at the green arrow was hammered in, causing a crack to the right edge which slants upward towards the back. The nail at the red arrow was then hammered in to secure the part of the piece that became loose because of the crack, which because of the upward slant of that crack forced the wood below the crack down and outward, causing the damage to the piece below indicated by the blue arrows. Mercifully, at that point our Unknown Workman decided to cut his losses; he stabilized the blue-arrow damage with some appropriately small nails in the side of the piece so it would not get worse, and then just put paint on it.

I'm so glad he did that. From a restoration point of view, it's always desirable, when faced with a problem one cannot fix at the time, to stabilize it in a way that is reversible later. In that way, further damage is prevented while still allowing for a proper fix at a later date. I pulled out the stabilizing nails, removed the splintered pieces, and put them aside for later reassembly.

That big nail at the red arrow, on the other hand, was not so easily reversible. It had to come out so I could move the part it was holding down back into its proper position, but it was in deep, and the wood had pushed against it for so long that it had worked itself partially in front of the nail. I had to cut a clear path to the nail with an X-acto knife, then pull the nail out with a pair of alligator-nosed vise-grip pliers far enough so I could safely pry it out the rest of the way with a cat's-paw.

Besides all the errant nails, a lot of the wood, especially in the lower half, was soft from sun damage. I wanted to come up with some visual indication of what happens to sun-blasted wood, so I did this:
There you go. The surface 3/16" of this wood is as soft as styrofoam. It needs a good soaking with LiquidWood.

And so, after a careful inspection of the entire casing and some prep work, I epoxied everywhere it needed it. Or so I thought.

It is evident from the picture on the right that I've gotten the upper piece out of the way of the lower, so that I can replace the splintered parts. But freeing up the lower piece also freed up a crack, indicated by the red line in the picture to the right, that had been held tightly closed previously. Drat! DRAT!


Well, folks, in the process of imparting what I know, I'm also showing you how I learn, largely with copious amounts of Drat. My inspection may have been careful, but it obviously wasn't thorough. It occurred to me once I discovered this crack that I should have sounded the whole casing thoroughly, by tapping with a light hammer and listening for rattles. This I did forthwith. No more hidden cracks. But this new crack has to be added to the cascade of mishaps I described above. Two misplaced nails caused all this destruction.

It's a demonstration of how weak wood is where the end grain is revealed.

Well, as I warned you, this has been rather a gauzy and disjointed post, but it's Publish or Perish here at the Farm House!

I hope that I am well enough for some plain and fancy puttying tomorrow, as I wait for the epoxy to cure in this latest crack repair. It looks like it's going to be a perfect day for it.

1 comment:

  1. My Dad always said there would be days like this, but never weeks turning into months. Clearly, it has not diminished your eye for detail. The end result because of this will be magnificent.


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