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. . .

Friday, October 28, 2011

The One Stooge

Today was one of those no-paint days; between the extreme sunniness and the breeziness, it would have been hard to lay down a good coat. So instead I returned to the west casing.

I stopped work on this casing earlier and went on to the east casing because I realized that fitting the new cap pieces would be trickier than I first envisioned. You see, I'm not one of those lucky people who came from the factory hard-wired to think abstractly in three dimensions. I've developed a serviceable level of ability in that regard through hard work and experience, but conceptualizing the end profiles of the cap pieces proved too much for me. It didn't help to look at the pieces I was replacing, because their original end profiles were lost to history:

I thought the matter through thoroughly, looking at the pieces and the place where they are to go. I took careful measurements of the angles involved. I measured twice, cut once. And here is the result of my best efforts:


For all my cogitating, I hadn't understood that the downward slope facing forward would affect the junction of the cap pieces. It wasn't even apparent to me when I held these pieces in position with the ends still cut square. It wasn't until this point, when I had cut them to the proper up-down angle, that I understood that I had to cut to a front-back angle as well.

It's humbling to find oneself confronted so inescapably by his own mental failings, but it's also instructive; you can be sure I won't make this mistake again. Just getting just the front edge to line up required precise positioning, so I realized that I needed to re-think the entire process thoroughly in order to ensure that I affix the pieces in the proper position.

That's why I moved on to the east casing: I hoped that the exercise of removing and replacing one of those cap pieces would give me a better understanding of the process. Happily, it did, and so now I think I can do a reasonably good job installing the cap pieces on the west casing.

But there is other work to do first. I want to caulk the joint between the casing and the siding along the top. In places the gap is quite wide, so before I caulk I need to insert some foam backing rod.

You can see in the illustration on the package how this works. Caulk can't properly fill a gap more than about 3/16 of an inch wide, and so one must insert this foam rod to provide a flexible, weather-resistant bed for it to sit upon.

Inserting the rod is pretty easy; all one does is stuff it in the cracks. Where it doesn't fit, it isn't needed.

At this point I ran out of day, so I'll caulk tomorrow.

* * *

. . .Its ongoing mission: to explore strange new worlds. . .

Thursday, October 27, 2011

East Casing Ready to Paint

After nearly three months and over a quart of putty, I've finally finished the reconstruction of the east casing.

Please forgive the odd angle; the pine tree is in the way, so the only way I can get a picture of this casing straight on is by sitting on the ground with my back pressed against the trunk. In fact, the close proximity of that tree is a large part of why this casing has taken so long, because it's made it very difficult for me to get a good angle on my work in the upper left area of the casing.

I was planning to show some before/after pairs of photos in order to illustrate the extent of the work done, but to tell you the truth, the comparison does not show any real improvement except for at the sill, because before it was least painted, and now the extensive patching makes it look worse in many places. I'll thus skip the comparisons for now.

There are still some shallow voids in the major patching areas, the sill and cap pieces, but I've gone about as fur as I can go with WoodEpox. Any patching material is limited by its granularity, i.e. the size of the particles of which its solids are composed; eventually, the defects become too small for the putty to fill. I'll attend to them as part of the painting work.

I'd like to discuss one detail of the patching before I move on. Because I patched the left cap piece in place, at its left end I had to patch it flush with its adjoining pieces.

Were I to leave it like this, once I painted the casing this area would look unnatural because of the lack of seams among these three pieces, especially because the seam between the apron and the backing piece opens up at the bottom end where the triple-bead figure carries through. An X-Acto knife and a ruler will take care of this:

There. Now it looks as if the three pieces are butted up against each other perfectly. Now, in general details of this size are not visible from ground level, and these tiny lines are no exception. Nevertheless, the shadows they cast will be visible, and if they were missing the eye would tell the viewer that something was wrong, even if he couldn't figure out exactly what it was. This is a small detail, but it only takes a minute or so to add, so why not?

I'm now going to give the casing a coat of primer to protect it, but I will then go on to the rest of the trim patching. There's no sense in putting the finish coat on and then covering it with sanding dust from the belt course directly above. 

* * *

These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. . .

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

TV Time!

One of my favorite corners of the World Wide Web is the Internet Archive. If you've never been there, it's a massive repository of all sorts of public-domain media. One can even view old iterations of Web sites via their Wayback Machine, should you be nostalgic for the comfortably clunky look that even the biggest sites had back in the last millennium.

Our main interest in the IA, at least thus far, is in their "Moving Images" archive, wherein repose thousands of films and episodes of TV shows that have fallen into the public domain. Many, many good Netizens have taken the trouble to transfer these shows into digital form and post them for us all to enjoy, and Wifey and I are quite grateful for this. We have a strong yen for the old and the obscure, especially if it involves familiar actors, and we have found some real gems at the IA.

One can stream all IA content directly from the site, but we prefer to download things and watch them on our TV. Thus, when I am otherwise idle, I am often rummaging through the IA listings, downloading promising items to watch later. We view them using a Boxee box, which is essentially a little specialized computer that aggregates audio-visual content from the Web and from your own local network files and presents it all (well, mostly all) in a neat, menu-based format, accessible from your TV or networked computer.

Tonight, we watched a real gem, as obscure as they come. It was the premiere episode of Diagnosis: Unknown, entitled "The Case of The Radiant Wine." We enjoyed it so much that I resolved to present it here for your enjoyment.

This show was a summer replacement show (remember those? then you're older than me, Dearie!) for The Garry Moore Show (remember Garry Moore? then you're older than me, Dearie!). Summer replacement shows usually ran thirteen weeks, but this show was interrupted twice, two weeks each time, for the Presidential conventions (remember when the networks covered those like a blanket? okay, the bit's played out). That's a shame, because based upon this episode, if the show had run the full time, it might well have been picked up for a full season.

Diagnosis: Unknown starred Patrick O'Neal as a research physician with a strong sideline in homicide investigation, and co-starred Chester Morris as his contact on the police force. This episode guest-stars Tom Bosley, Larry Hagman, Murray Matheson and Patricia Barry. The first two you know, the third you will recognize, and the fourth--well, if you are a fan of Columbo, she was the gallery owner in the episode starring Peter Werner, "Playback". Oh, and keep an eye out for what I think is a brief cameo by Garry Moore himself, in the delicatessen scene.

The quality of the video is pretty good, actually excellent by IA standards, given that it obviously didn't look great in the first place; it appears to have been shot like a soap opera, live with just general lighting. It may have been televised live, then re-broadcast on video for the West Coast, although this print looks as if it were shot directly on film. Quien sabe?

Enough of the technical stuff. Watch, and enjoy a slice of TV the way we watched it back in the day. I mean, the way they watched it.

UPDATE: I watched it again, and confirmed that it is definitely Garry Moore. He's at the end of the delicatessen scene, the man standing talking to someone in a booth that Bosley touches on the shoulder as he walks by.

Also, I forgot to note that the much more recent show Diagnosis: Murder, starring Dick Van Dyke, bears more than a passing resemblance to this show.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Regaining Focus

The next day, I took stock of the progress on the rebuilding of the east casing sash. 

Uh, did I say "progress"? Man, did I make a mess of things! I guess I was just in too much of a hurry. I had tried to use the forms before I had built the sash up enough to provide the proper support for them. I realized that I couldn't determine how to fix this until I had smoothed things out a bit. I filled in the remaining large voids in the top. sanded out the wood remnants and the rough spots, and took some measurements and levels.

As it turned out, the situation actually wasn't bad; the only problem was that I had built the top front edge out too far in places, which was throwing off all the other angles. So I rehabilitated my wood forms by flipping them over and scraping off the remaining epoxy, made sure they had a good coating of mold release agent, and carefully re-clamped them, matching the dimensions of the completed west sash. Once I had sanded off all the putty that projected beyond the forms, it became quite evident where I needed to apply more putty.

Right at that point, I was just about out of putty. Truth be told, my mind has not been on my work these past several weeks; I've pretty much just been putting one foot in front of the other and slogging through, so to speak. I've been mechanically scooping equal amounts of Part A and Part B from their tubs without taking note of how much was left. Honestly, it never occurred to me that I would go through an entire quart of putty on this one casing and still not be done, but that's what happened. 

I did have one other issue to deal with during that time: my new contact lenses. After the initial thrill, my eyes and my brain rebelled against the drastic change. These new lenses are huge in diameter, with an abrupt change in profile at the junction between the two corrections; the resulting irritation caused the lenses to cloud up frequently. The odd configuration of the corrections, with close vision coming from the middle of one lens and the mid-range coming from the periphery of the other, baffled my brain for several weeks, and there were many times when neither region was in focus. Thus, for a few weeks my working vision was actually worse than before. 

I finally had to start consciously prompting myself where to get focus from for a particular situation, actively training my brain to work with these lenses. Just this week, my brain finally caught on, and now everything in my field of vision is in seamless focus, if still a bit cloudy at times.

I had actually noted my dwindling supply of putty last Friday and had put an order in late that afternoon, but I didn't expect it to arrive until next week, because Abatron is in Wisconsin and I didn't imagine the order would go out until after the weekend. But they really came through for me; they somehow managed to ship the same day, and I got it on Thursday, just when I needed it. Yay, Abatron!

Thus reprovisioned, I puttied the front plane of the sash flush with the forms, and when I took the forms off and sanded back to profile, I found that I finally had all the lines established properly.

Now, it's a simple matter of filling in the remaining divots and leveling out the top slope. After what has seemed like an eternity, I'm just a few days away from being ready to prime this casing. That is, I am as long as the patching of the cap piece does not present any unforeseen difficulties.

* * *

Space: the final frontier.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I Haven't Got Time for The Pain

If you all learn only one thing from my efforts herein, then let it be this: don't rush. Or, as my wise supervisor used to tell me constantly when I worked at a Japanese bank, no lush! Honest, she really did, and she was definitely on to something. Now, I never got hurt rushing around dear old Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank, but I was young and ept then, and could see what I was doing. Now that I am older and increasingly eptness-challenged, and my new contacts are giving me hell, I constantly find myself outrunning my headlights, and damaging myself thereby.

The latest instance of this occurred last night, when I was rushing to do my chores and ended up (Lord, this sounds stupid) gashing my finger on a tape dispenser. Now, in my defense, it is a huge dispenser, for packing tape, and the cutting blade is savagely serrated. Nevertheless, it only happened because I was in a hurry. The irony of it is that the injury occurred when my finger got stuck between the blade and its safety guard; if it hadn't been for the guard, I would have gotten off with a light scratch, if anything.

In any event, I've had to put myself on the DL, at least for today, just to give the finger some time to stop throbbing and me some time to find my danged finger guard. So that means I can bring you all completely up-to-the-minute on the thrilling restoration of the east casing!

After installing the rehabilitated right cap piece, the next step was naturally to patch the left cap piece. Actually, I began to patch it before installing the right piece, because there was a big gap on its underside that I wanted to patch in order to immobilize it while avoiding the driving of more nails, and I wouldn't be able to do that with the right piece in. In the process, I immobilized it in the wrong position, out of vertical alignment with the right piece. 

The misalignment is most evident where the arrow points. Actually, I rather lucked out here, because the upper side of this piece at this point is so worn by time and the weather that had it lined up properly on the bottom, I would have had to raise the upper plane of the piece along much of its length by this much to make it match up. That would have involved significant amounts of time and putty. This way, the top lines up nearly perfectly, and I only have to build up the small exposed area of the bottom plane for about a quarter of its length in order to make the cap pieces line up visually. This involves considerably less work, and very little putty.

I'm trying a new method of patching when I must re-establish missing edges. As I've mentioned, this kind of work takes several passes with the putty, because the edges must be built up along the intersecting planes that define them. Up to now, I've sanded after each pass in order to see clearly where I must patch further. When I was less experienced at this task, I needed to do it this way in order to keep track of where the edges were; as I gained experience, I kept doing it this way because I thought it used less putty. 

I have however begun to suspect that I'm not really saving that much putty this way, and I am sure that repeated putty/sand cycles take a lot of time. I am thus experimenting with making successive putty passes until I've substantially completed the task of building the piece back up, and then sanding back to the desired profile. In this way, I hope to limit the sanding passes to three at the most. I expect this will save time because I won't have to wait until the putty is completely cured before doing the next pass, and because fewer sanding passes will take less time as a matter of course.

Here is where I'm at with the left cap piece using this method:

It's substantially built up, but not completely so. At this point I need to sand back to profile in order to ensure that the lines are established so as to line up properly with the right cap piece. Note that I've masked off the right piece in order to prevent altering its already-perfected profile. I'll have to sand with great care at the junction.

I've also been working on the sash, and that hasn't been going so well. This time, I planned from the start to use the guide form method I devised while patching the sash on the west casing. That time, I had both ends and the middle established, and only had to fill in the divots and establish straight edges; this time, I foolishly only established the ends, and applied the forms with no place in the middle to apply a clamp. This allowed the forms to bow outward in the middle, so I had to hold them in more or less the proper place as I did the first pass, let this pass cure fully, and then clamp in the middle for the second pass. This worked amazingly well, considering how ad hoc it was.

Nevertheless, I could not avoid the consequences of another error I had made: forgetting to coat the forms with mold release agent before putting them in place. The bottom form came off with some tugging, but I had to coax the top form off with a stiff putty knife and a rubber mallet. This didn't go too badly, because the epoxy was harder than the wood of the form, but it did leave something of a mess.

All I can say here is, no lush!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


The blog has lagged behind the work, so in the next few entries I'll catch you all up.

We left off with my re-establishing the triple bead pattern. Besides the one major divergence I showed you last time, the work went pretty well, although I discovered that I had to do the upper third of the other side as well.

After that, I returned to the replacement of the missing piece of trim at the top of the casing. To review, this was the condition of the area in question when I began work:

As I've mentioned, I faced this situation with dread, because it necessarily required my fashioning a new piece out of wood to replace the missing part. I'd not had much success with freehand cutting of curves in wood, and here I was faced with a piece of complex shape that had to match up at least well enough so as not to attract the eye.

That actually went pretty well, as you know, but now I had to put the piece in the right place and patch up the seams. First, however, I had to prime the back of the piece, and sand and prime the wood that would be behind the piece.

I primed the whole apron piece after patching and sanding it, just so I could see at that point where I had to patch it further. I also primed behind where the cap piece was to go (and I primed the back of the cap piece, too). It's always a good idea to back-prime; not only does it provide extra protection, but in the case of trim pieces, it helps to avoid the cupping that can happen when more moisture gets in the back of the piece than the front. 

I was determined to take every precaution to make sure the patch piece went in exactly the right place and stayed there, so I glued it in with one-minute epoxy and then nailed it in (after pre-drilling, of course),

There's that danged mis-matched grain again! Well, at least it's in the right place. From here, it was a simple matter to patch it in with epoxy putty.

So far, so good! It looks as if I've aced this job. We can't be sure until I've primed it again, but I want to finish all the patching first.

I'd like to show you just how effective the LiquidWood is at thoroughly re-integrating fractured wood, and I think this picture should do it:

I needed to pull this piece back level with the casing, and the screw is in the perfect place to get that done. Notice that I was able to place it right on the repaired crack with no fear of opening the crack up again. LiquidWood is designed specifically for wood; it penetrates on both sides of the repair, so that when it cures it locks the two pieces together, making the piece stronger than the wood ever was on its own. The piece may in time crack again, but certainly not where it cracked before!

After this, I replaced the cap piece that I repaired earlier, resulting in the casing's looking like this:

There's still some patching to do, most notably the sill, but this is already a huge improvement. This casing is going to come out just fine.

* * *

It grieves me to report that our dear golden girl Nellie passed away last Tuesday. We got her full-grown from the pound a little over thirteen years ago, so by our reckoning she was fifteen. But she retained her great beauty and joyful spirit right up to the end. We loved her and depended upon her, and we will miss her terribly. 

I will write more about Nellie in due course over at the Journal. Until then, I offer a brief memorial in photographs.

Nellie, c. 1996 - October 4, 2011

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Vision Quest

You may have noticed that I haven't posted in a while. This is mostly due to our having been quite busy with various animal husbandry matters, but I have also been slowed by my eyesight.

I have abysmally poor vision. It's entirely correctable with contact lenses, but as I've gotten older, getting the right correction has been increasingly difficult. At times, in fact, my vision has been something of a handicap. A new prescription will take care of things for a while, but soon I'm back in the fog again.

As it happened, I'd gotten a new prescription, from a new optometrist, just before I started the painting project. The timing was fortunate, because he moved me to soft lenses, which handle things like sanding dust much better than do rigid lenses.

By last June, however, I had descended back into the fog, this time worse than ever. I had effectively lost my depth perception, and my mid-range vision (from arm's length out to several feet) was completely out of focus. This combination resulted in my not seeing anything in my mid-range that I was not specifically looking at; my brain simply was not receiving enough information to register it.

And so I began to go through life like a pinball, bouncing off door jambs, tripping over table legs, and stepping on our ever-underfoot pets. Climbing up a ladder or working with sharp tools required my full concentration, lest I do something stupid. This quickly became quite a hindrance, because after an hour or so of this I'd be pretty much done for the day.

I tried to work through this, because I've found that sometimes my eyes get a "second wind" with a prescription, and my vision comes back again for a while. I just didn't want to take the time to drive across town for several visits to the optometrist until I had at least finished the south side.

Then, about a month ago, circumstances forced my hand. I was up on a ladder in the garage, fetching some boxes out of the rafters, when on the way back down I completely lost track of where I was and stepped off into thin air.

Miraculously, I avoided serious injury, landing in the one soft spot within range, although both my hands got messed up when I landed and heavy things fell on them. I was incredibly fortunate to get off that lightly. Someone up there must have taken pity on me.

Of course, the immediate cause of the injury was simple carelessness; I was not staying within the limitations my degraded eyesight had imposed upon me. Still, the underlying cause was my degraded eyesight itself, and it was just a matter of time until it led me into another tight place. I couldn't count upon being so lucky that time. Since my hands were pretty useless for work anyway, I decided to take some time off to attend to my vision.

I knew my optometrist had a kinda new, kinda now plan to address my vision problems; he'd given me an experimental pair to try out along with the regular prescription. While I found that this new method completely restored my depth perception and brought everything back into focus, I didn't want to be making major changes in the way I saw the world just as I was clambering around a 25-foot scaffold, so I put the change off until later.

Clearly, later had come. Then, I couldn't afford to have my depth perception suddenly restored; now, I couldn't afford not to. Long story short, I went to the optometrist, and several weeks later, I was seeing the world with higher fidelity than I had experienced in many years.

And so I returned to my work with great enthusiasm, exhilarated by the return of the third dimension to my life. My enthusiasm was tempered when I saw what I had been doing in its absence:

Ouch. Believe it or not, before I got the new prescription I hadn't noticed the leftmost bead going just a bit wide there. Must. . .resist. . . urge. . .to. . .fix. I'd love to go back and fix the mistakes I made while in my purblind state, but I just can't take the time. It'll give me something to do the next time I paint the house.

* * *

"You want cute? I can do cute."