Monday, March 7, 2011

I'll have an epoxy sandwich, with a little 18th century sill on the side...

First of all let me apologize for the spotty nature of my blog posts over the past couple of months. And being the mature adult that I am, I am going to shift the blame to someone else. Actually, something else. The Restoration Project itself. (Did I just blow your mind? I’m blaming the Restoration Project for the fact that I am not posting weekly on the Restoration Project. Trippy!) Allow me to elaborate. I’ve learned that as time has gone on in this restoration project, the restoration project and I are becoming one entity. The following examples illustrate my point – the project is behind deadline, I myself am consistently missing all of my deadlines. The project has been hampered by the weather, my work has been hampered by weather that has forced me to vacate my office. The restoration has lost Big D, and Joe the Hammer from the project, I’m pretty sure that I have misplaced one or two kids during the course of this project (not to fear though, I still have a couple more at home so I’m good). Work does not occur on the project every week, I do not write posts for the blog every week. So you can obviously see that the restoration project is to blame. Nothing at all, whatsoever, to do with me or my time management skills. (As an aside, I also learned very quickly during my freshman year that philosophy was a discipline for me.)

Now that that bit of business is out of the way – I will bring you the latest. As I mentioned above, Joe the Hammer is no longer working on this project. We the staff have learned to deal with his loss as best we can. I myself am particularly upset at The Hammer’s departure because, while he may have thought I was in need of medication or, conversely, medicating too heavily, he was used to my presence and my (many) questions. I had lost my embarrassed shuffle when approaching Joe with a request for clarification on something. But now I find myself starting all over again and sadly, I am no longer the eager young blogger, full of energy and enthusiasm. Now I am a jaded version of that naïve little chit from last summer. I understand now that during a restoration project there is one thing a person can count on, and that is that there is nothing a person can count on. That goes for workers. So for The Hammer’s replacement, I can only call him Worker #3 (#3 for short). Anything else would expose my poor little heart to more disappointment. While this may be unfair to Worker #3, it is easier this way and in the long run, he’ll thank me. (Who am I kidding? He’s thanking me right now that he didn’t get pinned with some ridiculous nickname.)

So far, things are good with #3. The Curator and I took the opportunity recently (read – ambushed him) to have an open dialogue with #3 about the specifics concerning the south sill repair work (read – pepper him at a rate of 3 questions per 30 second increment of time). It was a great learning experience and a way to welcome #3 to the Cherry Hill family (read – a way to terrify and make him second guess his current employment status). During this “conversation” the Curator and I were working off a sketch that outlined the projected sill work. (I have no wish to mislead the reader, this sketch was lifted off an email sent from (Hey) to the architects which the Curator printed a copy of and which we had spent some time trying to decipher ourselves.) Looking at (Hey)’s sketch made things immediately clear for me – I had no idea what the heck Western was proposing to do with the sill. Getting that realization out of the way made things so much easier when we talked with #3, I was coming at the topic with a completely open, empty mind.

It doesn't matter if you can't see this image that well - it's still not going to make sense.
 First things first, #3 provided us with a mini-sketch that helped me immensely. He explained that the badly rotted sill which must be removed, will be done so using plain old fashioned hand tools, like a slick. (So take that Bob Villa – we don’t need no stinkin’ electric power tools.) A slick is a large chisel, characterized by a wide, heavy blade and a long, frequently slender, socketed handle. In practice, the slick is pushed, not struck and it is used to make fine paring cuts. Slicks are used typically by shipwrights and timber framers. And no I don’t store information about hand tools like a slick in my brain for moments just like this, that is what the Internet is for (thank you

A drawing of a slick

In case the drawing was not enough - an actual image of a slick

Using chisels like a slick, #3 will carve out the rotted portion of the sill in preparation for the new oak. But before all the sill work can begin in earnest, #3 explained that the floor boards in the South Parlor will have to be removed – which can be a tricky process because the goal is to pry up the floor boards with the nails still inside, without the nails themselves ripping out of the boards. Sometimes that proves too difficult a task to accomplish so a second option would be to drive the nails down through the wood boards to remove them. When the flooring is removed safely the sill work can commence.

#3's drawing of a portion of the original sill.  The dotted line indicates the area where rotted wood will be carved out with the slick.

In my last post I threw around the words “epoxy” and “laminated wood two-bys”, like a child throwing knives around pretending to be a juggler. I didn’t know what I was doing, and my lack of knowledge was dangerous. (Consider this my public service announcement for the month – Do not encourage a child’s dream to be a circus performer who juggles knives. No good can come of that for anyone involved.) Thanks to #3’s sketch I now have the confidence I lacked before, not only to throw around knives, but to talk about the work to be done on the sill. After the rotten part of the wood is removed by hand, step one of the sill repair includes the application of an epoxy-like consolident, (a kind of glorified wood hardener), to the old sill and the new oak wood will be fit in to the space where the old, rotted wood was carved out, (as demonstrated in the sketches below). The consolident will bond with the wood and strengthen it.

This is about when things began to make sense to me.

In step two, another piece of new oak will be epoxied to the sill where step one left off and bolted to the original sill. This second step is kind of like an epoxy sandwich for the sill. This type of repair will be carried out in the different areas of the sill where, as indicated in the sketch, repairs are necessary. The entire process will make the sill load bearing once more. Confused? Questions? Then I’ve done my job well.

Is a caption here really necessary?

But what about the charred wood you ask? I’m glad you brought it up. Turns out that little puzzle, which truly had the Curator and I stumped – may not be a puzzle after all. Speaking with #3, and taking into account a previous guess made by The Hammer, that “charred” looking wood probably isn’t “charred” at all. A fire in that location of the house has been pretty much ruled out based on the lack of documentary and physical evidence. If a fire had raged there, the mortar work would show residual signs of damage, and there are none. As to the possibility of a charred sill being recycled into the construction of the house – the closest the house’s builder probably got to the “green” movement, was standing next to a tree with green leaves rustling in the wind. #3 has hypothesized that the “charred” appearance is just the result of badly rotted wood. He explained that the wood is completely normal in appearance under the surface of the “charred” part. The Hammer had hypothesized that perhaps during an earlier repair to the sill in the museum’s history, some agent was sprayed on the sill to retard wood rot that may have been detected. The real reason for the appearance of the sill may not be known exactly but all signs point to something other than a fire.

There we have it folks – a plan for repairs on the southern sill in the east façade, and a probable explanation for a "charred"-looking sill!

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