Shangri La

Shangri La

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Cost of Being Hip(ped)

It was just after noon on Saturday when I reached my low point. While my father and Mr Big created knee walls for the back loft, I stood in the [future] living room and considered a declaration of defeat. I just couldn't see us calculating, cutting and installing all of the angles a hipped roof requires in anything like the time left, and building the porch roof alone on a subsequent weekend was an overwhelming prospect.

The work had begun just after noon on Friday, when my father and I arrived to find the materials that LaValley's had delivered that morning, and the first order of business was to create a 2x6 'box' between the deck joists over the beam to ensure that the porch posts' load transferred directly to the ground rather than relying on the strength of the decking and joists alone. That having been done, we turned to the decking.

I considered composite material, but - at over 3 times the cost of pressure-treated ($400 vs. $125 for a 6.5'x14' deck) - it was out of my budget. I think of decking as being 'quick work', but the process of ensuring uniform spacing both 1) of all boards and 2) over the length of each individual board required that one of us gauge the spacing and insert the screws while the other pushed or pulled on the end to compensate for each board's bow. We had just finished when Mr Big pulled in just in time for beer and steaks. Uncanny timing.

"If we were taller we'd be able to touch the top of this post."
 The next morning was spent erecting the porch posts and building the 'box' they supported: A ledger board (lag-bolted to the cabin just above the front window trim) and 3 sides of doubled 2x6s to support the rafters. By lunch, we were ready to frame the roof, just as soon as I figured out the angles needed. And here we ground to a halt. Or rather, I did. They quickly bored of watching me scratch my head and began building the knee walls for the loft.

In retrospect, here's where I went wrong: For some reason, I constructed a Byzantine process for holding the boards in place and marking the cuts by eye rather than simply doing the math and laying the rafters out with a carpenter's square. I let myself be intimidated by the fact that -- unlike the cabin roof -- I was dealing with a hipped roof that would require multiple compound angles. After futzing around for a couple of hours and finally losing all hope (maybe I should just build a pergola?), I pulled out the carpenter's square and did it the right way.

Its a miracle!

And wouldn't you know it worked perfectly better than expected. By 5 PM the porch roof framing was up -- all 15 rafters in all of their compoundy-angle glory. We had only 3 problems:

  1. The Paslode would periodically decide to go on a 15-20 minute holiday, its indicator light mocking us in green or red and refusing to respond to any of the manual's remedies until it was good and ready.
  2. I swear to God every other sentence uttered that afternoon was "Where's the pencil?" Why did we have only one pencil? Why didn't one of us keep it in a pocket? In the future, I'm bringing at least 5 pencils to the job site; one will be tied to the mitre saw, and another is going to be Velcroed to my hat.
  3. We forgot two ancient pieces of advice: 'Measure twice, cut once' and 'quit while you're ahead'. Rather than resting for the night on our framing laurels, we cut the first piece of sheathing into a shape that was breathtaking in how poorly it fit the roof. Breathtaking, I tell you.
On Sunday the team showed both determination and ingenuity in managing to sheath the entire porch roof despite being sure we had only enough material for about 80% of it. The tar paper, roofing shingles and -- as always -- the siding were left for another day.

"That's what all those games of Tetris were for..."

 While all of this was going on, Dan and Tom -- of Taylor Excavating -- were hard at work on the septic system. They began work on Friday morning, and were essentially done by Saturday night. The work will be inspected by Marquise and Morano early this week, and then Dan will finish covering, grading and seeding in about a week. He's also going to set the Sonotubes for the back deck, and -- depending upon the final costs -- possible topsoil and seed the east side of the cabin as well.

Our beautiful new septic tank in situ
 My father, Mr Big and I passed the evenings in the Saxtons River Inn while the LSW selflessly dealt with wrestling The Boy to bed. She felt that we might enjoy a 'guys weekend', and it certainly was appreciated. I owe everyone a debt of gratitude - this porch is one of my 'must haves' for the cabin, and without them it likely would have devolved into a simple deck with a pergola, an arrangement I would have grumbled about for years.

The first official beer on the porch.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Slow but Steady Progress

Interior, looking toward the bathroom and kitchen area
The cabin already lives in my mind as something we've been doing forever, so I was surprised to be reminded a few  days ago that we only started the work last May. Amazing.

My confusion probably stems from the fact that we were working almost every weekend last year, whereas this year we've only been up a handful of times. Last year we had a lockable shell to create before winter, and the process of framing a house yields dramatic results rather quickly. This year, the focus has been on the well, siding, and electrical, and the work is decidedly less glamorous.

The siding especially is monotonous work, made worse by the fact that my trim work is flush and needs to be cut around. I only have about 4 boards left to go (if you don't include the front, which I can't side until the porch is on), so we should be able to finish it next time around. Here's what I'd do differently next time:

  • First and foremost, I'd make sure that the trim and siding is not flush. This would allow me to rabbet the trim so the siding can tuck under it, eliminating the need to try and get every cut 'just right'.
  • I'd have gone with my first plan for window trim: Create a 'ladder' of trim that includes the window in the middle with sections of singles above and below it. The trim boards on each side would go from the bottom to the top of the wall. This would prevent me from having to cut around the windows at all, and would have tied the sides into the front (which I've now decided is going to be all shingle).
  • I'd have gone with my original plan to do the rear gable in shingles. Trying to work with 16' boards that have to be trimmed to the angle of the roof, cut to fit around windows and held in place vertically while trying to get the spacing right is a real pain in the @ss.
  • I would have sealed the back as well as the sides and face of each board. With the gaps I've got around the trimwork - small though they may be - I can't help but fear that they're going to rot before their time.
Almost done with the west side!

There's been two trips up since I last wrote: The first was a 2-night trip with the LSW and The Boy. Our primary goal was to flush out the well and test the water (everything checked out perfectly), and while this was happening we worked on the siding. By 2 PM on Saturday, we were exhausted and closed up shop when friends came to visit.

The second was a day trip with a friend. After a few beers the night before, he volunteered to accompany me the next day, and I'm guessing he was wondering what the hell he had been thinking when I pulled up at 6 am the next morning. I appreciated the help and the company, though I feel bad that I set him to work staining siding. We hung some additional siding and framed two knee walls for the front loft before packing up, hitting the Top of  the Hill BBQ joint in Brattleboro and heading for home. Thanks, Nick!

I should note that we had a little excitement during the day when the nail gun 'hopped' during firing and took a small chunk out of my right thumb. There was a lot of blood, but it turned out to be little more than a flesh wound. I can't really blame this on the gun - I was holding the boards together at an odd angle and without good bracing. While my thumb pulsed and ached the rest of the day, I realized that it was one of the very few accidents we have had so far in the building process - knock on wood.

The next trip up will be next weekend; my father is looking to lend a hand this year, and he's arranged to drive up on Thursday. We'll all head up to Shangri-La Friday morning, and Mr Big (my brother-in-law) will meet us there for 2 nights and 2 1/2 days of porch framing, front siding, and finishing what is left of the side/back siding.

Somehow I've got to fit a porch roof between the top of the door and the bottom of the gable window...

We've also decided to move forward on the septic system. Estimates on the system came in at right around $6,500, and once again we've decided to use Taylor Excavating. The work will include clearing the remaining trees, excavating, all materials, topsoil and seeding. I've asked Dan to estimate an additional load of topsoil and seeding for the rest of the property, and he noted that he would give us a credit for the pile of topsoil he saved during the initial land clearing. The work may begin as early as next weekend.

I hadn't expected to be able to do more than the well, electrical and siding this year, but it turns out we've run into a small annual inheritance in memory of my father's late wife. While this means the funding for the rest of the work is assured, the circumstance by which we receive it are sad. We'll think of her as the work completes, and she'll be a presence each time we use it. Rest in peace, Judy - you put up one hell of a fight.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Book Review Tuesday!

LSW here. During these times of trial cabin-building days, we've often turned to the local library for advice, instruction and 25 cent coffee. One book that the Vermonster has found to be invaluable was this:
He's renewed it so many times that the librarians know him. And the book. It's been out of circulation for a few months now. Apparently it was pretty helpful, because we now have power in the cabin.
That was the book he found most informative.
I, on the other hand, was excited to find this at the library booksale:
I found it on the last day of the five-day booksale, and I have no idea how it didn't get scooped up way before I got to it. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but flipping through it, I was excited to see that it truly is a manual with instructions on how to dig and where. I just noticed that it's written by a woman. For some reason, this surprises me. Some feminist I am.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Put Out the Welcome Mat, Pa! We Gots Us Some Visitors

LSW here. We had guests a few weekends ago! The Vermonster, The Boy and I headed up to Shangri-La on a Friday night and the next morning we were up early and hard at work on the siding. The first thing we did was remove two wasp nests that were in the process of being built into the eaves of the house. Then we proceeded to work on the other side of the house, since there were some pretty pissed off wasps flying around. In all fairness, if some giant alien came and knocked down the cabin as we were building it, I'd be looking to blow off a little steam, too.
So we were hard at work on a beautiful, albeit humid day. Our strength was just starting to wane as our friends Susan and Bob and their kids Will and Alexandra pulled up. Thank God. We jumped in our cars and headed over to Grafton, to find what one guide book described as an "off-the-beaten path swimming hole with sanitary facilities."
(Bob and Alexandra checking out the guest room)

I was so ready to jump into a cool, refreshing pond,  but what we found was less like a Little House on the Prairie swimming hole and more like a cess pool. And the facilities? A knocked-over Port-a-Potty. We didn't even get out of the car. Instead, we headed back to Saxton's River (stopping along the way for some ice cream) and discovered a fantastic swimming area in the river. Let me tell you, nothing beats jumping into a cool Vermont river after working your butt off all day being pursued by angry stinging insects.
Then it was back to the inn where the kids had fun and, I'd dare say, the adults had an equally enjoyable evening. Shades of things to come, I hope. It can only get better as we get closer to finishing this damn thing.
I have to admit, it's kind of weird to have "visitors" to the cabin. I guess it's just human nature to wonder if they think we're absolutely off our rockers for A) building a cabin ourselves and B) building a cabin in a town with nothing in it. I mean, it's not like it matters to anyone but us, but of course, I also don't want to give the impression that I'm planning on a future of bomb-making and manifesto writing.
In other news, the Vermonster went up to Shangri-La today with his friend Nick, whereupon the first (and hopefully last) nail gun incident took place. I'll let him tell you all about that. I can't stand the sight of blood.