Plumb, Level, and Square (ish).

The renovation of the new shop is nearing a significant turning point as we finish up the rough framing phase.

Let me first back track, to bring y’all up to speed on this project. We have been focused on this building since last September, when it was decided that a modern workshop was going to be essential gear for the future of team Collins/Murphy.

Progression from clean-out to concrete

We spent much of the fall clearing the building of old lumber, shingles, tires, tin, junk, rotten shelving, barrels of mysterious liquids, old wagons, coffee cans full of you-name-it, machinery parts, tractors of both old and new vintage, and several hundred pounds of raccoon droppings. Oh, and a few treasures of course. The treasure we continually find around here will require their own essay someday. Excavating ten inches of  dirt floor unearthed an unending array of nuts, bolts, glass, washers, wire, ceramic insulators, tools, and the occasional alternator,  horseshoe, or gopher tunnel.  Gravel and form work was placed in preparation for the new concrete floor, and over Thanksgiving weekend the extended family gathered for a work party to help with the pour and get us up out of the dirt.

It feels wonderful to get to a point where there are no more secret raccoon latrines, no more surprise rotten boards to put my hammer through. What is going to be straightened up in this building is now, (mostly) straight. And best of all, I get to move into a cleaner mode of work, as the demolition and deconstruction ends, the additive, constructive work can begin.

The building, known around here as ‘the old machine shed’, was built in 1942 to the best of my knowledge. It was apparently born out of the need to house Walter’s (first?) new combine. At roughly 27’x48′ it contains 1,225 square feet of space, plus a loft, and a covered shed lean-to along one eave. Pretty spiffy workshop space. As is common for barn sheds, it is a pole barn, that is to say it was framed with posts and purlins, rather than vertical studs. It’s strength has relied on it’s tongue-and-groove vertical siding which has creaked, cracked, and racked through the years. The framing and siding throughout are primarily fir and that fact alone made this building worth saving.

When work began sections of the building were out of plumb by as much as two and one-half inches in eight feet. That is enough lean to spot from a passing car.

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Straightening walls

Horizontal sag between posts (every eight feet) was an inch and a quarter in some places.  I was able to coax all the walls back into what, by eye anyhow, can now be called ‘straight’. Not perfect, but straight. The bubble is within the lines if you know what I mean.
Megan’s uncle Jim has a knack for acquiring ‘stuff’. Sitting in the shed was a pile of (twenty!) 36″x36″ double-pane windows he had scored from a school or a church if I recall,  and I am liberally using them up. I punched three of them into places where the old windows were rotting out of their frames. Also, I have framed in for ten of them along the north wall of the building which will provide much-needed natural light to flood the building, as well as a view of the adjacent garden and cherry orchard.

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New entry door

All rotted framing has been replaced. Siding has been re-nailed all around. One 13′ sliding door has become a wall, with a new entry door and a window. The (previously undersized) main entry door has been replaced and it’s location moved. This required sawing the concrete stem-wall out for the new door opening, and forming up and pouring concrete into the old opening. Done and done. This move will allow us to build a set of stairs to the loft, replacing the ladder that had been there. Since there are technically no shear walls to prevent racking, there will be a 1″ layer of polyurethane foam sprayed on the inside of the siding which can technically stiffen the structure by 40%. Although we lean hard toward natural and organic, there is a time and a place for everything, and this seems like the time and place for some spray foam.

As I whittle away at the The List of Tasks it is sometimes difficult to stay focused. So many things to touch and to think about. In these cold winter months I have to consider in the morning, “do I dress for working or for thinking?” Many questions swirl around beyond the realm of engineering and execution. Do old buildings deserve new life?  This one does. How far does one renovate? Tough question, relative to one’s resources I suppose. How do history, aesthetics, ownership, purpose, and new ideas mix?  How does one (me) get beyond the romanticism of a wooden building and recognize it’s intrinsic value? Are those ideas even separable?  There is some poetry in every old wooden building and poetry is sometimes hard to comprehend.  I have no criticism, and only respect, for the carpenters who erected these buildings, but entropy is a formidable opponent. This building has weathered some 70 years. If my efforts give it half again as many years I will consider advising the next occupants on what to do with it. I believe the space it is providing to work within will be well utilized and allow for much creative force to flow in the future.

Here’s a song that accompanies my work space.


3 responses to “Plumb, Level, and Square (ish).”

  1. Steve, I enjoyed this! I know you are good and am impressed with all of that physical work, but even more, really, with all that carpentry knowledge. I bet I am not the only one who had to google entropy.
    Eager for the next update.

    Carol Clark

  2. I superlove reading about this adventure. I sure miss you people and hope I can see what you are up to in person this year.

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