Tag Archives: Construction

The Fence

The fence has been a long-standing source of frustration, ever since the previous neighbors knocked out numerous slats. (Before that, a random teenager running through backyards also destroyed half a dozen slats.)

But we’re on the move! New neighbors bought the previously condemned crack house and have spent the last couple months working around the clock on it. They essentially gutted the interior – save for the gorgeous hardwood floors and woodwork – and are replacing just about everything, including the plumbing, electrical and roof. Though they’ll keep it a four-unit for now, they’ll live in a couple of the units and thus have a vested interest in screening tenants when they’re ready. I talked to them about the fence, and they assured me they value their cars too much to slam into our fence.
So I started watching for sales and tried to figure out the logistics. My sister called and asked what we planned to do with the old fence, then offered to haul it away to use in a bonfire. I took her up on the offer, and came home one day to find her with a crowbar, pulling down the old slats. The old stringers were so rotted that they crumbled into dust as soon as you pulled on them.
Since then, we’ve had an army of solitary posts left, which is just odd. Upon further inspection – and confirmation from our jack-of-all-trades neighbor, who witnessed the original installation – the posts are fine. They’re still solid in the ground, no signs of rot or decay, and the concrete beneath is fully intact. So we decided to just replace the panels themselves.
Three weeks ago, Menards ran a sale, which I price matched at Home Depot (to get the extra 10% off). Originally my sister had thought we could fit the new panels in her pickup, but we quickly realized that while we might fit 3 or 4, hauling 17 required either multiple trips or renting a HD truck. We went with the rental.
Since then, we’ve been plagued by a ton of rain (October was one of the wettest in history!), illness and the logistics of trying to remove the evil mulberry tree. When we removed the old fence, we discovered metal stakes long the property line – and the tree proved to be 100% on our side. I signed the death order that day.
All 17 panels are still stacked up against the garage, ready to go. Our neighbor has said he’s happy to loan us his nail gun to speed things along.
We’ll get the new one installed very soon, especially given some crime in the house behind us last week.
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Crysta the Carpenter

“We’ll make a carpenter out of you yet,” my dad said as I knelt on our makeshift saw horse, carefully lining up the saw against the line I had just drawn with my new T-square.

Yes, folks, Saturday was finally Sawdust Day. Still trying to finish the trim for the new door we installed over a year ago, my dad arrived bright and early with his miter saw, wood and numerous other tools to put up the trim. He had come over last Saturday, too, and left when we realized it was far more complicated than we had anticipated.

But this past Saturday, everything went to plan with no real complications. I made all the miter cuts myself, and we set up a makeshift workbench (empty driveway asphalt barrels with a heavy board across the top) to make the necessary traditional saw cuts. After starting my day with a kettlebell workout, my arms were jelly by the time Dad left. My knee has a nice bruise, too, from pressing against the boards as I cut them.

We had to cut some trapezoids (seriously, my house is FAR from square!), and some of the more interesting cuts left the boards looking like skyscrapers, due to fitting around the concrete slab of the foundation, existing trim and tight angles. In fact, the right side looks like the Sears Tower and the left like the Hancock Center.

But everything fits. We put the puzzle together at least three or four times, finding the right sequence and angles, drawing arrows on the backs so we knew which side had been cut an 1/8 of an inch smaller than the other end to appease the house. And, dagnabit, it FIT.

So Dad left, leaving me with everything I need to finally finish the job. I did the first two coats of stain Sunday and will finish the staining process this week. I went to the Depot this evening and bought one more board – a 1×4 would fit above the door, but to mesh with the existing trim, a 1×6 is in order – and some fresh wood putty, but other than that, I am all set.

I’m almost excited about next weekend when I’ll have the time to install it all. Of course, fingers crossed!

The Door, Part 736

I installed a new back door last summer (Independence Day, to be exact). My parents, Don and I spent an entire day making the perfectly-square, new door fit with the settled, off-kilter, old house. It took lots of shimming and adjusting, and Dad left me tasked with getting the wood for the trim, staining it, and calling him over to make the perfect miter cuts and install.

Busy schedules, multiple job changes, travel and winter got in our way. Finally, a full year after I bought and stained the wood, Dad came over with his miter saw. And we quickly discovered just how not-square the areas to be trimmed are. In some cases, there’s a full half-inch difference between the top and bottom measurements! So some of the boards fit, but others don’t. Dad and I took very careful, precise measurements, and he went home to make the final cuts.

He comes back this weekend. We’ll dry fit everything (fingers crossed) and then (if all goes well), I’ll stain all the pieces (provided the hosue god consents and blesses us with a proper fit) and install it on my own (fit-pending). Then, once the trim is done, AT LAST I can paint the door and the steps to the basement.

But I’m not getting my hopes up. Some projects never end. With an old house, there are always multiple fun surprises in store.

Finally! A Fence!

I had my new fence all planned out last summer. The money was set aside and I had a detailed blueprint with exact quantities for posts and sections. I was ready to rock and roll.

Then, one of the tenants next door got a new boyfriend who drove a giant conversion van. Every time he came over and parked in their driveway, he slammed into our fence. And not just a little tap, as other tenants had done over time – this was full fledged, fence-shuddering contact. He knocked multiple slats from their moorings. I cringed every time I heard the whine of the engine pull up, because I knew it would be followed by a loud thud.

He didn’t seem very approachable, so I never confronted him. Instead, we talked to the absentee landlord, who really didn’t give a damn but said he’d talk to the tenant.

We really didn’t want to invest the time and money to install a new fence if it was going to be abused so harshly.

But then, in a whirlwind of a few short weeks, the building was vacated and condemned, and the ground began its winter freeze.

We’re ready for the spring thaw to dig holes in the ground – below the frost line of 42”, mind you – and install this new fence. Though we still haven’t determined what to do with the old fence, which is in pretty sorry shape. Maybe stick it in the garage until next year’s Spring Cleanup?

Foiled by Gravity

I had a very productive weekend! I spent yesterday doing all kinds of door-related work. I applied the first coat of stain to the trim, finished caulking all the way around the outside and inside of the door, and played with the nastiest stuff I’ve ever worked with – asphalt/tar caulk, filling the gap between the driveway and the doorframe. (The driveway is, of course, unlevel.)

I did all this while eying the clouds as they built and waned. I did all my staining out in the driveway – avoiding the fumes that would build in the basement and the darkness of the garage –
but had everything on a sheet, ready to drag into the garage at the first raindrops. I got lucky, and the sun even came out.

Then I came inside and set off to fill the big, hollow void that I discovered last week. On Dad’s advice, I had bought some Great Stuff, and had happily picked the “Big Gap” variety. I donned my goggles and my one remaining rubber glove (the other having fallen victim to the gross tar gunk), climbed my step stool, and poised to start at the top and work my way down. I quickly realized that gravity had other ideas, as everything I filled plopped its way down the shaft to the bottom. Working quickly, I climbed down and started working from the bottom up, purposely only filling about half the gap, per the instructions.

My big can of Big Gap Great Stuff only filled about half the void, so resigned, I pushed the stuff into place and packed up for the afternoon.

Two hours later, I passed through the back hallway and stopped cold. The Great Stuff had settled down from where I had originally put it. Gravity had intervened, pulling the whole mass downwards into a big blob. I tried to push it back up, but it was still sticky and malleable and I was afraid of making it worse, so I left it to solidify, hoping I could carve it up and reuse the misplaced foam. (I had used Great Stuff before to fill in some (horizontal) gaps in the basement and found it easy to work with – and once it hardens, easy to carve off the excess with a knife. Gravity hadn’t been a factor when working horizontally.)

By morning, an entire digestive system of foam adorned my wall. After a busy day (laundry, weeding, more staining, and Elgin’s Greekfest), I decided to tackle the stomach-shaped mass. I set off with a razor blade, but found a screwdriver more useful. I hacked into the stomach, chiseling off small chunks – like packing peanuts, but without the candy colors. In a way, they worked out better than the original foam, since I could easily stuff them back around in the corners of the void, whereas working with aerosol, you just point and hope. I filled a pretty good portion of the hole with the leftovers, taking off a couple chunks of paint in the process. (Fortunately, in my garage diggings yesterday, I found a third of a gallon of paint labeled “Back Entry.” It perfectly matches the paint already on the walls, which we feared we would have to repaint entirely to compensate for the slightly-smaller trim and a bit of damage (i.e. the hole we made while prying off the old trim).

One small can of Great Stuff should fill the rest of the void – and no, I won’t be getting the “Big Gap” variety again! Plus, I’ve learned that when working in vertical spaces, it may help to prop up the fresh foam while it solidifies – I’m thinking a piece of cardboard may do the trick.

Regardless, I’m closer to finishing the door project once and for all! Then I move onto the fence…