Tuesday, July 3, 2012

4/4 Blues

After a good overnight curing, I removed all the clamps and bracing pieces, and found that I had done a pretty good job of gluing the bracing pieces to the siding. I thought they were well out of glue range, but some of the epoxy crept out and seeped between the siding and the bracing pieces, causing a little damage to the plywood backing in a few places when I pried the pieces apart. 

It won't make a difference in this case, but I should have wrapped the bracing pieces in plastic wrap or coated them with mold release compound. Well, this is how I learn.

I mixed up another batch of LiquidWood and brushed it on the backs of the pieces and all of the end grain. After seeing the long-term damage moisture inflicts upon wood, sealing end grain with epoxy is a step I will always take from now on with exterior wood.

The cured epoxy. Notice that it mostly stayed on the surface. This is fine, because I only applied it to seal the grain against moisture, but in retrospect I could have used much less epoxy, because I'm just going to have to sand most of this off. I shouldn't have been surprised, because for one thing, the plywood is only 5 mm thick, and for another, I'd already saturated the other side. In any event, these pieces are ready for patching, sanding and priming.

So, on to the next task: rehabilitating the window casing boards.

What a mess. Weathered, warped, and all chewed up at the bottom end. It's going to take a lot of work to get these boards looking right. It would be so much simpler just to replace them, but there's just one little problem with that: you can't get boards in that thickness anymore.

That's the dark secret of restoring a Victorian: they don't make lumber like they used to.

It's a very complicated story, the history of lumber standards in America since the Civil War, and after some study my understanding of it is yet incomplete. Still, I'll do my best to explain the situation, over-simplifying a bit for the sake of clarity.

At the time the Farm House was built, boards were sold on the basis of quarters of an inch: 4/4 boards were nominally an inch thick, 6/4 boards 1 1/2 inches thick, and so on. I say "nominal" thickness, because boards have never been as thick as billed; the reason for this stems from the fact that way back before the Civil War, sawmills served a largely local clientele; they provided rough (unfinished) boards sized according to local standards, and carpenters finished them by hand on site.

After the Civil War, with the spread of rail transportation, sawmills began to cover larger regions, and with this development arose the need for more uniform standards of lumber sizing, and the increasing speed of development led to calls for pre-finished lumber in order to speed construction.

According to the uniform standards in place in 1885, the rule was that the dried, rough board started out at the stated thickness, and 1/8 inch was deducted for each surface that was smoothed; i.e., sanded or planed to flatness. Virtually all of the boards used in the Farm House besides the framing are 4/4, surfaced on one side ("S1S"), so they are 7/8" thick. So it is with the window casing boards.

Simply put, 7/8" thick boards are not available as stock pieces today. Boards of one inch nominal thickness are now 3/4", or even 11/16". In fact, the stock used to make the new shiplap was 11/16", which is why I needed 3/16" plywood to match them with the old shiplap. The boards used to make the window casing caps on the sides of the house were 4/4 S1S as well; in that case, happily, I had plenty of old beadboard, which was also 4/4 S1S, and plenty wide for my need.

The problem I have in the present case is that the window casing boards are 7 1/2 inches wide, and I have no old stock to accommodate that width. Moreover, shimming new thinner stock out with plywood isn't a viable option, mostly because the edges would in that case be exposed and I could never satisfactorily disguise them.

So I must rehabilitate the old boards, or spend an inordinate amount of money to have new ones specially milled. Yes, time is money, but my time is not that much money. So, as Joseph P. Kennedy (John F.'s father) said, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."

Of course, he also said, "Don't buy a single vote more than necessary. I'll be damned if I'm going to pay for a landslide." Joe Sr. was no Vince Lombardi. But no matter; I'll take the truth wherever I may find it.

* * *

"Open open open open open open open open open. . ."


  1. The stain is beautiful , too bad it will be inside not out. This house is going to look like a million bucks n your worth every penny of it!

    1. Ah, my number one fan! You know, that isn't a stain; it's just the natural patina of 126-year-old redwood. Craftsman designers did their best to emulate that look with what was called "fumed" redwood, wherein they exposed the redwood to ammonia fumes in order to oxidize the surface.

      It's a shame that this beautiful wood will be facing inward, but it's just another of the Farm House's secrets. A lady must be allowed her secrets, after all. Happily, it will be discoverable to anyone who opens one of the weight pockets!

  2. Who knew fumes could produce such a stunning canvas. Can't wait to see those pockets.

    1. You'd be surprised. Quite often, I find fumes so stunning that I end up on the canvas.


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