Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Forlorn Dormer

As you have already seen, the dormer I'm currently working on, the front left dormer, has required some serious work beyond the merely cosmetic. Our contractor did a sloppy job on the right side, and did absolutely nothing beyond that.

Here's the right side right after I re-installed the casing boards:

Inexcusably sloppy, really. They replaced all but the top piece of siding, which is swell, but they did a bad job of it, cracking the top piece badly, placing the inside ends right up against the shingles where they are sure to soak up water like a sponge, and cutting the outside ends haphazardly, making sealing that weight pocket a huge pain in the neck.

As a result, the new boards are all cracked and warped, with some large gaps at their bottoms which I am going to have to seal up somehow.

In their defense, however, they merely matched the previous level of work on the dormer.

Now that I've begun to work on the area above the siding, I'm learning that this particular dormer has always gotten short shrift, dating apparently all the way back to its construction. Look at this mess:

At first glance, it's a typical situation I've found over and over on the house, wood cracked and warped by age and the relentless pounding of the harsh Pasadena sun. But let's look closely at the gap between the front and side pieces:

Those nails you see in the gap did not help fix it at all. In fact, they may have caused it. They certainly perpetuated it, and cracked the wood in the bargain. Again, so far this is typical: shoddy repairs causing more problems than they fixed. What is not evident in this picture, however, is that these are cut nails, which indicates that this is a very early "repair". Cut nails became obsolete very soon after the Farm House was built, as the industry moved to the modern style of nail. That of course doesn't necessarily mean that these nails weren't driven much later—I have nails that are 25 years old myself—but these are the first cut nails I have found that are not unambiguously part of the original construction. It's hard for me to believe that this work was original, but it could be, and in any event it's probably from before the turn of the Twentieth Century.

Now let's move up and in a bit:

These are nails—cut nails—that have been driven from the side skirt right through the eave. Because the heads are underneath another piece of trim, they almost certainly were part of the original construction.

And look at this shoddy work!

See that open area next to the apron? That's without a doubt part of the original work, and it's the same on the other side. These gaps open to the inside. Shamefully sloppy.

¡Pobrecito! Poor little dormer! You've never gotten any love, have you. Well, never fear; Otis is here, and he's gonna make it all better.

The first thing I did was get out my trusty Dremel and cut off the end of those protruding nails below the surface of the eave:

There! A bit of putty, and no one will ever know there was ever a problem.

The mess at the corner will be a great deal trickier to resolve. The first thing to do was to remove the errant nails.

Here, I'm easing one of them out by grabbing it with needle-nosed vise-grip pliers and sliding it slowly back out.

There was also the problem of the lower part of the side piece, below the crack. As you can see in that picture, it has warped outwards. I tried to bend it back in and screw it back together with its upper counterpart, but the wood wouldn't have any of that.

You can see that the front piece took exception to my efforts as well. While that piece fell down and was carried off by the wind, I was able to retrieve the large chunk from the side and glue it back in place. As far as the protruding lower half, all I could do was to immobilize it, patch up the corner, then try to sand and sculpt the area so as to fool the eye into thinking it sees a nice, straight, square junction of the two pieces. Here's how I've done so far:

This kind of work is a long process of patching, sanding, and eyeballing. The side piece will have an unavoidable curve in it; the trick is to make the curve so gradual that the eye does not readily see it. I also have to come to some sort of compromise regarding the bottom edge of the junction. The pieces don't line up properly there either, but I can't curve the proud edge in because it's to the front, and from straight on any curve at all will be visible. I'll have to let it jog forthrightly at some location; the trick here is to find the most graceful location at which to do that.

At the bottom of the right side where the siding meets the roof, the shingles were riding up the siding in several places, such as this one:

This will not do, because it will trap moisture under the shingles there and rot the siding very quickly. I had to cut the shingles back neatly, so that the edit is not obvious. In this instance, the cut was simple: straight across.

In other areas, it was more complicated; I had to cut a notch that fit the shingle pattern, as in this example:

The dark area is where I cut.

This part of the work is always like this: myriad varied details to attend to. I have to admit, this is the part I like.

* * *

"I wanna see another Stooges!!"


  1. Aww Otis, All my love. I was just waiting for you to come n fix me up! Buttercup

    1. Why do you build me up just to let me down? :)

  2. Between the gaps, the cracks and the warped wood, you have done a masterful job!

    Without the Stooges, there might be tears instead of laughter to cope with this mess!

  3. Putty is the goo that helps keep it together!

    1. Boy, ain't that the truth! If it weren't for that epoxy putty, I'd really be up a creek.

  4. Where are the Stooges when you need them! They'd be great on the roof!

    1. As a matter of fact, I just hired three new men, so there shouldn't be any further problems!


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