Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Rather Irksome Realization

As much as I'd like to do a quick job on the east casing, its extremely degraded condition makes that impossible. I was forced to face this grim fact when I got a good look at this:

Notice that my inadvertently over-aggressive initial sanding of this piece has virually obliterated the triple-bead figure, leaving only four shallow, wobbly, mostly paint-choked grooves. Great. Since this would be noticeable from a distance, I have to re-establish some semblance of the original profile; given my skill set, the fastest way to do this is to sand it back into the wood.

The first thing to do is to deepen the grooves while keeping them as narrow as possible at their deepest extent. To do this, I needed something thin and rigid around which to wrap some sandpaper—say, something like a utility blade.

I filed down the edge enough to prevent its immediately cutting the sandpaper at the fold, and then I went to work.

I soon found that I had to use a straightedge to guide me at first, to keep the grooves in their proper place until a straight line was established. Once I started doing that, the method worked well.

In the photo above, you can see that I have re-established the grooves completely about halfway up the visible portion of the piece. You can also see that the middle two are a bit too close together, but since they are at least parallel, this will not be a fatal flaw.

Then, I used a sanding wedge with a concave profile to round off the internal edges and thus re-establish the beads:

I think this will do just fine. Although one can see in this picture that the middle bead is smaller than the others, what the eye sees from a distance is not the beads themselves, but the shadows they cast, and those will check out just fine from the street. In other words, the re-established figure will be fake, but accurate.

This is quite a time-consuming process, and it is extremely taxing of my weakened hands, but if I take my time the job will be done soon enough. Happily, I only have to do it on this one piece; the figure elsewhere is still in good shape.

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"Kenneth, what is the frequency?"

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Inch by Inch, Step by Step

Well, I haven't got much done since the last post. We had a pretty busy weekend, and since then it's been brain-damagingly hot. But I have gotten some work done.

I got the first pass of widespread patching done: the big divots, the more obvious smaller holes, and the ends of the sill. I'm going to get the top and bottom profiles on the ends of the sill struck accurately so that I can clamp the guides as I did last time and then establish the front plane and the top and bottom edges in one or two passes. You can already see at the top how the apron pieces are looking a lot more solid, but there's still a lot of work to do there. Remember, I still have to attach the patch piece and do extra work to hide the grain up there. First, however, I want to sand and prime beneath it. 

Because of the extensive epoxying I had to do, I have already reached the point where I'm going to have to put down a coat of primer just to get everything the same color so I can see where I need to do further patching. With my weak eyes and all those colors and textures going on, I need as much help as possible to see all the divots.

And by the way, I've vetoed the idea of brushing the wood with diluted epoxy to firm it up. The main reason for this is a basic work precept I've learned from experience: when you come up with a scathingly brilliant idea that you've never heard having been done before, be absolutely convinced that you're really on to something new before you try it. That's because the chances are very great that it's a bad idea. Don't ask me how I know.

Because I hate having only one picture in a post, I thought I'd give you a little background on the difficulties of working on a house that is essentially situated in the middle of a forest, and the specific difficulties of working on this particular casing.

This particular casing is especially difficult to work on because there is a massive pine tree standing less than five feet away, and an air-conditioning compressor sitting right next to it. Because of this, there are parts of the casing I simply can't get to easily, so I have no choice but to lean way off one ladder or the other at times. 

In general, working on this house is difficult because there is a constant barrage of debris falling on every square inch of the property. A case in point: I moved the extension ladder over against the house to get at the top left part of the casing, and as I began to climb it I saw this:

Gobs of the stickiest-imaginable pine sap were splattered all over the ladder. So before I even started to work, I had to go up the ladder with a bottle of paint thinner and a rag, cleaning off all this sap before I started to work. Otherwise, the sap would have gotten all over my clothes, my hands, and ultimately my work. I tell you, there are times on especially hot, messy days that by the time I have prepared everything for working, I'm already tired.

Thank goodness I don't do this for a living!

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Back on Track

Now that I've at last solved the problem of the missing trim, it's time to get back to rehabilitating the east window casing.

With the exception of the cap pieces, the east casing is in worse shape than the west one. It has taken a thorough physical thrashing. This is most likely the work of pine boughs from the adjacent tree, long since trimmed, that did considerable damage in this area of the house. Parts of the casing, notably the vertical pieces, were heavily split, splintered and shredded. The aprons under the cap pieces, as we saw in the last two posts, are cracked extensively; while some of the loose pieces have been nailed in place, several others were hanging precariously.

You can see here, where the cap piece I removed goes, why it was so loose despite the dozen nails driven through it; decades of movement in the wind and weather had enlarged the nail holes into craters.

Overall, the wood is generally soft, seemingly more from oxidation than sun damage; a light exploratory first sanding removed an alarming amount of wood before I could take notice.

This was just from one pass with a quarter-sheet sander using a medium-grit paper; it tore right through the paint and the top layer of wood. Notice how chewed-up the wood in the upper-right portion of the photograph appears, and how flattened the triple-bead pattern is. There's no real evidence of sun damage here; it appears that the last coat of paint was put down over a layer of heavily oxidized wood, which you can see clearly in the darkened area in the lower right corner (where I eased up when I finally took note of what was occurring).

So I stopped sanding for the time being in order to do some preparatory work first.  I applied LiquidWood liberally into the cracks and onto all the areas of severely damaged wood. One area was so thoroughly shredded, however, that I couldn't get enough glue in where I needed with my normal techniques, so I pulled out a new tool that I recently ordered from Abatron: a large (60 cc/2 oz.) syringe.

I've tried medical syringes before with LiquidWood, but the needles were too small to pass the thick liquid. This one, however, worked like a charm, allowing me to inject the epoxy deep into the cracks.

After clamping and curing, the piece was quite solid.

One particularly odd circumstance of this casing is that the right vertical piece is distinctly out of place:

As you can see by comparing it to the sill and the apron below it, the right vertical piece is a half-inch off-line to the right, and the same is true at its other end. As we've learned, when a piece is noticeably off-line like this, there is a story behind it. The house did offer a clue as to this story, but in the pictures I've shown you so far it's already been removed. So let me reach back a bit in the archive to show it to you:

In this detail of a picture taken just before I began work on this casing, you can see an extra board nailed in at the top of the window opening. This window lights the room Anne Wilson occupied for at least the last few decades of her life, and it seems to me that the most likely explanation is that this board was put up to shield her eyes from the direct intrusion of the sun at midday. Apparently whoever installed this board didn't have a saw handy to shorten it a half-inch, so he instead removed the right vertical piece and moved it over to make room. Now, that's a bit too ad hoc, even for me! I'm leaving the board right where it is; it's far too fragile to move.

The one part of the casing that is in relatively good shape is the left cap piece:

It's more or less sound and in its proper place; it's only chewed up where extra nails were driven through it and at the top where it was most vulnerable.  Once I patch it out to its extents, it will look just fine, and match up with the other cap piece neatly.

I'm not quite sure exactly how I will proceed from here; it will all depend upon what I find after a very careful, gentle sanding of all surfaces, If I find that the softness I've found in part of the casing is extensive, I will have to do something to harden the wood before I restore the surface; possibly I may paint it with a coat of LiquidWood diluted with an equal volume of its natural solvent, a proprietary mixture called Abosolv. I'm thinking that this will harden the top layer of the wood sufficiently without interfering with the establishment of a reasonably flat, uniform surface. To use undiluted epoxy all over would add considerably to my work.

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Woodworking for The Inept, Part Two

The next day, I took my creation out to see how well it fit:

Okay, I could work with this! I knew I'd have to adjust the inside curve, of course, and I knew the piece would be too thick. My only real error in fitting was that I cut wide to the right, although not nearly as wide as it appears here. I made some marks on the piece and took it back in for adjustments.

I enlarged the inner curve with a drum sander on a Dremel, and smoothed the outer curve with a sanding block. I cut what amounted to a small wedge off the right side, and then took the piece out to re-check it. It looked okay, but it was hard to be sure because it was still too thick. So I took it back in and sanded the piece down a bit from the back, being careful to keep the front and back sides parallel.

Sadly, I was so busy keeping the front and back parallel that I allowed them to get just a bit too close. I really should have stopped halfway through and checked my progress against the existing piece, but I was so eager to get it done that I ended up letting myself in for more work. I'd overdone it by less than one-sixteenth of an inch, not much, but enough so that I had to shim it out to the proper level. I didn't have any 1/16" stock handy, but I did have some nice stout paperboard.

This is archival backer board, designed to keep things like pictures and comic books stiff in a plastic bag. It's rigid and fine-grained. Plus, it's just under one-sixteenth of an inch thick. Ad hoc!

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while will no doubt be shocked at my proposing to use a paper product as part of a long-term repair. You may be asking: Is he really under that much pressure to get this done? Has he lost interest in the project? Where's the danged lolcat already?

The truth is, I'm not proposing to use a paper product. I'm proposing to use an epoxy-impregnated paper product. I've learned from experience that when you impregnate a material with liquid epoxy, the material becomes nothing more than a vehicle for the epoxy. It wouldn't be a good idea to put it where it would be exposed on its face, because it would still look like paper, and would be subject to abrasion over time. Laminated to the back of a piece of wood, however, and with only its edge exposed, it would as a practical matter serve as well as an equivalent volume of WoodEpox.

Plus, I had to mix up some LiquidWood anyway. You will recall that last time I mentioned that the plywood I'm using for the new piece is not weatherproof. It's interior plywood, so the glue holding the plies together is not waterproof; the wood is thus subject to delamination over time. To forestall this as long as possible, I was planning to give the piece a good epoxy bath, so it was a simple matter to slip the paperboard in there at the same time, getting the impregnation and lamination done all at once.

After all the hoops I had been jumping through unsuccessfully to get the epoxy to cure thoroughly overnight without needing further heat-curing, this time I just followed the basic procedure, letting it induce for ten minutes, letting the piece soak for about a half hour, then taking it out, wiping off the excess, and letting it sit at room temperature overnight. I figured since there would be very little penetration, and thus very little epoxy mass, the need for further curing would be inevitable.

The next morning, the piece was fully cured, with absolutely no hint of stickiness. Ah, irony.

I couldn't help noticing the effect the epoxy had on the wood: it looked varnished. I filed the observation for future experimentation. Now that the varnish I used on the kitchen cabinets has been outlawed here in California, I'm going to have to find some reliable substitute. The junk that's available now certainly won't do.

Cutting the impregnated paperboard to shape convinced me of its resilience; I couldn't cut it with an X-Acto knife. I had to bear down on it hard with a bare single-edged razor blade to get it to cut cleanly. That indicates that it's harder than birch or poplar.

Once it's painted and part of the casing, the impregnated paper will be indistinguishable.

It was time for one final check for fit:

As the kids say, woo-hoo! The profile and height are now perfect. It still looks wide on the right, but that's due to the perspective. With all that's going on with this piece already, once I've puttied up the gaps, it'll blend right in. . .uh, except for one little detail.

The grain on the new piece is going the wrong danged way! It would have been simple enough to orient the piece so that the grain lined up, but it never occurred to me. Well, as I said, I've never done any real woodworking before, and this proves it. You can be sure that I won't make this mistake next time this kind of thing comes up.

Not that this is a truly harmful error, not with all the other things going on with the casing. Still, I will have to take extra steps to ensure the grain difference is not readily apparent.

I'll do the actual attaching of the new piece a bit later. First, I want to do a little work on the area underneath it. In the meantime, remember: there's no problem that a little epoxy and sandpaper can't fix.

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"Our minds are one: I feel what you feel; I know what you know."