Thursday, July 25, 2013

After the Hiatus

It's been too long since hitting 'publish' on a blog post. I haven't actually fallen off the face of the earth, though it might seem like it. A brief summary of recent happenings:

 - work on the Chinese wheelbarrows continues, albeit at a slow pace as I experiment with different oil-based finishes, and given the lack of any deadline. The weather has been extremely humid in the past month or so, and that has seemed to slow down the cure rate of the oils I am using.

 - a large project looms, and I should have more to say on that in the next couple of weeks.

- I've been in communication with a German guy who pulled a 2-micron shaving at a German Kezurō-kai meet in the past 12 months. He's been willing to answer my questions about plane set up and sharpening in detail, so I have been learning a lot of interesting things about the work of obtaining ultra-thin shavings. Getting a plane to perform at such a high level is a real trip down the rabbit hole, every bit as fascinating as the world of metrology in general as one tries to get things ever flatter and straighter.
An interesting note related by my new friend Werner is that the plane set up which allows such a thin shaving as 2-microns is only a fleeting thing - the dai stability is good for about 30 minutes and the plane needs to be re-sharpened after but two passes. I don't think I'm quite interested in doing what it takes to produce such incredible results, however I am convinced that coming to learn what is involved in getting a plane to perform at such a rarefied level will benefit more mundane planing, where the aim is surface quality and flatness, you know, at 20~30 micron shavings, say.

I've found from measurement, uncertain an area as that turns out to be despite the digital calipers, that I can pull 20 micron shavings without much fuss, and at that can obtain a surface I'm quite happy with.

- Part of the learning and thinking about planes and sharpening over the past months has resulted in a shift tool-wise. I've decided Stanley planes will work for me now. Well, okay, just kidding! No, I'm moving into white steel blades more and more and have acquired several new finishing planes in recent weeks. Of course, I'll leave them alone in my shop to acclimatize for several months (at least) before proceeding to do any set up, and am keen to see how they perform.  I've also obtained a nice natural finishing stone from Japan, and am liking how it works so far on my tools.

-also, my wife and I took a short 1-week vacation recently, heading to Colorado for a look-see. I've spent a week in Colorado, some 13 years ago, and my wife has visited a couple of times at least, and has friends in the Boulder and Denver areas. We spent four days in Boulder, where it seems like everyone is a hyper-fit world class triathelete or cyclist, and a couple of days in Denver too.  I sampled some nice micro-brews and got in three rounds on the fabulous disc golf course in Conifer Colorado, about 1/2 an hour by car from Denver. We also drove up Mt. Evans, which tops out at over 14,000', making it the highest road in the US, and a good place to see how scared some drivers get when there is no guardrail....

While in Boulder I snapped some photos of houses with interesting detailing, and thought I'd share them with readers here.

Many of the houses in this area, close to Chatauqua Park, have early 20th century 'Craftsman' style detailing, with exposed rafter tails and plant-on bracketing being fairly common:

As is often the case, rafter spacing on hip/valley roofed buildings is not well-considered in North American construction, as seen above if you look at the pattern of rafter tails.

Next, some eave brackets, and a pleasing assembly of posts and lintels holding up the corner of the this building:

Here's a house taking the elliptical transom to a new level - too bad the transom shape is not smoothly formed, but it is still okay somehow:

Another example with knee-brace bracketing on the eave and decoratively cut rafter tails:


This house below has an unusual arrangement of joist ends poking out on the gabled porch end, and simulated purlins on the eave:

That's a very long span between posts though, kind of defying gravity really.

This house does a play on the Tudor style with apparent brick nogging and has a pleasing form in terms of massing and the sinuous roof shapes:

Faux timberwork of course, almost entirely implausible, but not overdone, and the lamp up near the peak is attractive:

Here's a house which seems to draw a cue from American 19th century railway station architecture:

Not sure that scalloping out a chunk of rafter is such a good idea just for the sake of decorative effect.

As a form these red brace assemblies are interesting and all, but largely superfluous in terms of supporting a porch roof, and given the geometry of the brace, one might expect the middle tie to be under rather a lot of tension if it were actually loaded:

Interesting too how long the span of the red eave beam is between the supports - I suspect it uses the rafters in the middle as a point from which to hang:

A cute bulge-out on a gable end to provide some coverage over a window with diagonal muntins:

Not too many examples of the Gambrel roof form, or two-sided Mansard, were to be seen. This example I came across had a sweet little elliptical window up top and a soft flare at the eave:

In the next shot, I worry a bit about the long term effects of allowing the vegetation to grow so close to the house, as this usually results in accelerated wall degradation, but the house is cozily positioned on the lot:

Next, an intriguing little 'window' decoration on the chimney stack's outer wall:

Lastly, an unusual bay window with a tapered form and fake timbering above:

Love how the diagonal strut above the bay window roof does not continue down to meet the beam.

The fake half-timbered or Tudor look on buildings has long bugged me, partly for what is intrinsic to fakery of any kind, but more to the point that the faking of structural timber elements is not even remotely convincing in the majority of cases. It's as if the builder and/or architect didn't actually understand - or care - how a timber structure would really be framed and think that tacking bits of wood on the exterior to simulate posts, beams, and bracing is something one can do in a willy-nilly fashion. Well, since it is decoration, it doesn't really matter however there is the niggling point that a certain effect is being strove after with these tacked-on pieces, that somehow the half-timbered architecture is worthy of emulating somehow - perhaps because it conveys 'tradition' or 'authenticity'?

Of course, in some regions of the world - England, France and Germany in particular - decorative bracing on timber buildings did reach certain heights of silliness after a while, in the 'if you've got it flaunt it' tradition, but at least the core elements among which the braces were fitted were arranged to work properly as a frame. Since faux timbers are so much easier to place than real ones, I wonder why more builders do not make an effort to attempt some measure of realism? Come to think of it, I cannot recall one instance of seeing a faux Tudor that was convincing in what it was depicting. What do you think - what's behind this odd imitation without seeming to care that the imitation is as if done by a drunk or half-blind person?

I'll save the best for last. Here the builder has come up with what they must think is a 'cool' way to support the porch roof:

From observation of older buildings, fences, and so forth, it can readily be seen that placing wood out in the weather is akin to a death sentence, that roofs are vital over wood elements of any kind, and that roofs should have a minimum number of penetrations for weather-tightness. Here though, such ideas are turned on their head and important structural elements are poked right through the roof by more than a foot, without even some cursory metal capping on the exposed end grain:

Gotta love the optimism expressed by such ill-advised framing methods. It provided some humor at least, and I chuckle as I look at it now.

All for today. Thanks for visiting the Carpentry Way.


  1. I've always found it odd that here in the US most trades are regulated except for carpentry and contractors. For example, the four year required apprenticeship for plumbers, and similar for electricians. Yet anyone can go to a town hall and buy a contractor's license for a couple of hundred dollars (here in CT).

    1. Simon,

      good to hear from you. It is as surprising to me how much the regulations can vary from state to state. Connecticut, which otherwise has a high degree of regulation, does not require any form of certification on the part of the building contractors, just that they pay into an insurance fund. Vermont is similar, however Rhode Island and Massachusetts require contractor licensing, which involves passing an exam. The exam has little bearing of one's skill as a carpenter, however it does mean you know how to look stuff up in the building code book in a hurry.


  2. I finished high school in Evergreen, Colorado at the base of Mt. Evans. We used to go up to the top and hold footraces. It's incredibly difficult to win a race in such thin air. We tended to collapse. It's awful purdy up there though.

    1. Adam,

      thanks for the comment. I was stunned to see hundreds of cyclists on the road up to Mt. Evans. That's how I know I was in an unusual place. 40 miles uphill on a bike - imagine! You're right, the view from the top is stunning.

      Colorado is as blessed with natural beauty as is is cursed with wars over water rights.

      We also visited Rocky Mountain National Park, north of Boulder, during our stay and could see that the Pine Beetle has wreaked considerable devastation, with some valleys showing 30~40% of the pine trees dead and brown. I worry about what a wildfire could do to such a place if it got going.


  3. I live near Boulder, and while I agree that exposing the end grain like in the last example is poor design, the saving grace is our dry weather. We are basically high plains desert. So, while such a design would be a really bad idea in a coastal environment. It should easily last 50 years around here (with proper sealing).


    1. Russ,

      thanks for your comment and yes, it is a fairly dry climate and that does help as far as rotting goes, however the other enemy is sunlight, which causes rapid dessication and degradation of exposed end grain. One thing I saw several times in the Boulder area were creosoted ties used/re-used vertically in the ground as landscape barriers, and the end grain of those ties, well clear of the soil, had large corrugated metal staples driven into the ends of the sticks, presumably to function in the same manner as clamping dogs. It didn't seem to make much difference though, the end grain was still severely deteriorated - in fact, I suspect the metal staples accelerated the rot. If that happens in creosoted material, how is the fir/pine used in the example shown above likely to fare any better?

      Odds are that the trees used to produce those 4x6" timbers were at least 75 years old - if the material doesn't have an in-service life equal to 75 years or better, the construction represents an unsustainable use of material.



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