Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Now that I have most of my flooring and walls in place, I have a much better picture of the space I have to work with. While I really like my original idea for a combination bookcase and folding spiral staircase, I realized that it would not work out in the space I have. Here is another option though- it still fulfills my goals of being space efficient and multi-purpose. It will look like a normal book case against the wall just under the edge of my loft. When I need stairs, it will pivot against the bottom shelf and the top will pull out against the edge of the loft. I will install pulleys with a counter weight (similar to a sash window) so it will not slam open. The construction should be fairly straight forward with this one. I will make each shelf/step out of wood, with some sort of bearing or low friction slide on the top. A set of steel slides will hold the unit together and keep each step plumb as they slide.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Classic Thought vs. Box Store Employees

I am going to start keeping score. Surprise surprise, 1 to 0, Classic Thought in the lead.

As I prepared to lay my floor, I went out on what I thought would be a quick errand to pick up flooring nails. Both of my preferred hardware stores knew exactly what I was looking for, but sadly admitted that they didn't carry those nails anymore. Reluctantly I went on over to Lowes thinking that in their extensive selection I could find what I needed. Ten minutes of staring at the wall of fasteners yielded no results. After another ten minutes I finally captured one of the employees (I'll call him Bob) as he was scurrying off to what must have been an impending emergency in any isle except the one I was in. After walking up and down the store looking for the nail isle (as if he didn't know where it was) we looked through the selection. When Bob finally realized that no, I wasn't going to be using a pneumatic flooring nailer he said,  "Wait, you can't do that by hand! you'll have to drill every single nail- and the heads have to be countersunk! You need a pneumatic flooring nailer- we sell them in isle ten".
Not wanting to get into a philosophical discussion on why sometimes I don't mind doing things the "hard" way, I told him "It's only one-hundred square feet". Bob replied "A hundred square feet- that's ten by ten(apparently he can multiply), you can't do that by hand! You'll need to nail it every six inches- it'll take you forever!" Just as I was about to give up, another employee, who we can call Bill, appeared seeing that his coworker was in trouble. Together they tried to sell me every nail they had as I retreated backwards out of the store in defeat.

   I drove across town to Home Depot, darted inside, made a b-line straight to the nail wall without making eye contact with any of the clerks, found two boxes of 2 -1/2" spiral-shank conical head flooring nails, paid and left before the army of pneumatic-nailer toting salesmen could amass. It was at this time that I realized that in my haste I had forgotten got to pick up the insulation while I was at Lowes. When I walked back in the door, Bob and Bill were right there, probably reveling in their victory. Feeling confident after my own victory at Home Depot, I showed them the nail. Bill said, "Oh yeah, that's a flooring nail. We have those in isle four." I didn't even know how to respond. I crept off to the insulation district, out of Bob and Bill's jurisdiction and finished my shopping in peace.

One thing that I have really enjoyed about this project has been taking my time, thinking things out and focusing on enjoying the process. There are some things that would take prohibitively long to achieve the results I am looking for. For example, planing and shaping my flooring could be done entirely with unpowered tools. It would take a long time and I would probably cease to enjoy it along the way. While the noise of a power planer and router are obnoxious, they achieve excellent results quickly. Without these tools I would probably have installed a much more rustic looking floor, skipping the planing and shaping process all together. It would be a functional floor, but would not have the style and strength that I want. Using the power tools has allowed me to achieve a result that I would otherwise have not been able to reach. This is great application for technology. When it comes to nailing the floor down, It did take me longer to do it by hand than it would have with a nailer, but it was an enjoyable process and the end result is basically the same as it would have been with the nailer. After this I know every board really well; I can point to the spots where I had a bent nail, or the location where I bloodied my thumb. With power tools it is easy to zone out and not pay attention to and enjoy the process. I know that this work will pay off in the form of enjoyment when I am sitting in my finished house, enjoying the memories of the construction.

Now it's time for a quick update and more photos:
The lower section of the floor is finished and I framed up the east wall- I can now gaze out of the R.O. for my kitchen window. I laid about half of the upper level floor before running out of finished boards. Today I want to build the north wall and cut some more flooring.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Flooring, Sunlight, and a beer before noon

This is the first warm weekend of the year! I was able to open the big doors and blow some of the dust and stale air out of the shop. All the sun and fresh air caused a flurry of activity on the house as well.

This morning I went out to visit Larry, the sawyer, to pick up the 2x4s I will need to frame up my floor, walls and roof. My friend Stephanie and I arrived at his farm to the most pleasant morning imaginable. It was sunny and warm, in the high 60s with a slight breeze. From Larry's hilltop mill, we enjoyed the sight of the smoke from two brushfires in the distance and the silhouette of the Prudential Center in Boston, over 50 miles off on the horizon. Once again Larry quoted me prices I couldn't believe- 2"x4"(actual 2 by 4 inches, not nominal 2x4) by 8' boards for $1.10 a piece! When I say 8 feet, I actually mean something closer to 12 feet since that is what he happened to have on the top of the pile. We loaded the truck with the lumber before enjoying a celebratory Miller Highlife and swig of blackberry brandy with Larry (apparently if you wake up at 5am it is okay to have a beer before 11). After the beer we begrudgingly peeled ourselves away from the scent of warm earth and sawdust to return to Worcester.

After unloading the lumber and soaking up some more sun, I coaxed one of my housemates, Dillon, to help me finish shaping my flooring. To cut the tong and groove I ended up buying a cheep set of router bits for the purpose. I was a little worried that a standard router would not be powerful enough to cut through the oak. Cutting the tong was definitely slow going, but it worked out in the end- about three hours of labor. The groove went much faster though. We had already made all of the decisions on the orientation of the boards during the previous operation and since there is much less material to remove, we could feed the boards through faster. The groove only took us a half hour.

Finally I am set up to really get some work done. Check back to see the floor get laid, walls framed, and a big window installed!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

I need a skylight

There has been something missing from the past few places I've lived. I grew up in a room with a skylight over my bed, but I have not had one since I moved out of my parent's house. There is not a better way to wake up than to the bright morning sunlight steaming in from above. At night, it is comforting to see the stars and moon. The sound of rain pattering on the glass over the bed is second only to the sounds of a creaking sailboat for inducing relaxation. Finally, it is nice to wake up and have your first realization be that it has snowed during the night. I could go on and on, but the point is that I need some sort of window over my loft.
Before I gave it much thought, I just assumed that I would install a standard skylight in the roof. Now that the time to build the roof is approaching, I have given it more thought. Why make it easy on myself? I certainly haven't given into the easy way out yet. I want something bigger and more open feeling that a Velux skylight. I love the look of the large steel-framed glass roof windows that I see installed in some of the mill buildings in Worcester. Often they need to provide light into a room in the center of a building with no exterior walls or windows. The construction is similar to that of a greenhouse- but without a floor. I would love to incorporate this idea into my house. The trick is to style it to match the rest of the house. Right now, I am tossing around the idea of building it as a shed dormer on both sides of the roof in the rafter bay over the loft. I want to make it 5 feet wide (the width of the bed) with 18" of vertical rise above the main roof. The glass roof would continue up from this vertical section to meet the main peak of the roof. This will add a lot of light to the house, opening up the small space in the loft, hopefully without looking obtrusive from the outside. I did a rough Sketchup model of it to get an idea of how it might look, but I think that I still need to make some changes to make it look right.

Before someone else points it out, let me say that I know I'm asking for leaks by building my own skylight, but I think it will be worth it!