Monday, October 31, 2011

I Am Curious (Stupid)

Yesterday, I caulked the gap between the top of the west casing and the siding.

Not at all pretty, but the joint will be covered by the cap pieces, so who cares? I am phenomenally inept at wielding a caulking gun; under absolutely ideal conditions, I can lay down a pretty good bead, but most of the time it ends up glopping out, and I just smear it into place with my fingers, wasting about 60% of it in the process. For my purposes, it might as well just come in a tub like spackle. And as if caulking itself were not enough of a challenge, I'm using a super-duper 90-year guarantee urethane caulk that starts to cure immediately, making it difficult to clean up all the caulk that gets where I don't want it to be.

Once this task was done, I returned to the thorny matter of fitting the cap pieces. I'd taken the needed angles from the restored right cap piece of the east casing, but that didn't get me a lot closer to understanding the geometry of the situation, and I wanted to understand it. Whenever I am confronted by a distinct lack of ability in some area, my first impulse is to try to develop this ability, as one would exercise a weak muscle in order to strengthen it. 

I realize this flies in the face of common wisdom, which instructs us to play to our strengths, so perhaps I'm just a dope. Still, if I weren't this way, I wouldn't be doing any of the work that I am writing about in these pages, because not too terribly long ago I couldn't do anything more complicated, home improvement-wise, than to change a light bulb. Whether this is an argument for or against my way of doing things is a conclusion I leave to you.

So, I measured every pertinent angle on the restored east casing, wrote them down, and stared at them as I tried to retrieve my high-school geometry and trigonometry lessons from under the huge piles of baseball stats, movie trivia, and BMW chassis codes in my disordered brain. I was able to figure out the theory behind the side-to-side angles, and I used that understanding to verify the accuracy of the angles I had measured for that direction.

But the front-to-back angles continued to baffle me. I couldn't understand why there was a need for an angle in this direction of the end profile, and what geometrical rule dictated the size of this angle in relation to the other angles involved. I could have simply cut these angles and hoped they were correct, but I really wanted to understand the whys and wherefores first, so I could verify the accuracy of these angles as I had the side-to-side angles. I felt that verifying the angles was important, because I was not at all confident of the accuracy of my measurements, given that they were taken from a 126-year-old house that had seen a lot of living. At length, I decided to sleep on the matter.

Sure enough, I woke up with a start in the middle of the night with the answer I was seeking. I'll spare you the details, because I imagine it's obvious enough to you already, but let's just say that I had cleared my mental clog, so that my thoughts could now flow freely down—okay, let's not say that. Let's just say that I figured it out.

And so, I strode out to the garage the next morning confident that a few minutes' time would see this perversely difficult task at last behind me.

Forty-five minutes later, I was standing in front of the miter saw holding one of the cap pieces, completely baffled. I knew what angles to cut, sure enough. Now, the big question was this: what combination of saw movements and stock orientation would yield said angles?

The reason this was difficult for me to comprehend was that while the miter saw can be adjusted both to the left and to the right horizontally, vertically it can only be pivoted counter-clockwise. I really needed it to move clockwise. Everything would have been so easy if it could only pivot clockwise.

I rotated the piece one way and the other, and I just couldn't make the angles come out right. At last, I decided to make a test cut on a spare piece of stock and check it out. It was wrong, but at least it led me to figure out that I had to orient the piece with the long dimension vertical, so I got the proper cut on the next try.

The next problem was how to cut the other piece to match. By then I realized that the fastest way to figure it out was simply to try every possible way until I hit upon the right one, so I found two identical scrap pieces of wood, cut one the way I had cut the first piece, then tried cutting the other piece turned 180 degrees from the other and on the other side of the blade. This time, I got it on the first try!

I then duplicated this cuts in the actual cap pieces, and put them in position on the casing to check the fit.


It's not quite evident in this picture, because it was impossible to hold both pieces while taking the picture without some movement of the pieces, but the fit is, as a practical matter, perfect. At least, it will look perfect after some judicious patching and sanding. Reconciling the measurements I made to the geometry involved really paid off.

This excruciating lesson in geometry may not lead to an increased ability to visualize in three dimensions, but at least next time a problem involving compound angles arises, I'll know how to handle it.

* * *

. . .to seek out new life and new civilizations. . .


  1. Well looks like you hit one out of the park! A real win-win; no wait, a home run:-)

  2. The phone affect after it's polished is simply stunning. Nice to see something old brought to life again.


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