Tuesday, June 27, 2017

I can't think of a better name for a 4x4

Yesterday I saw a story on FHB about a Chicago law firm filing suit against Menards and Home Depot for selling 4x4s that are only 3 1/2" x 3 1/2". They included some tweets from people reacting to this news. I'm sort of glad I saw this hot take first because it pointed out to me how unnecessary it is to be mean about people who don't know that the name refers to the nominal rough cut size and that the dried planed 4x4 is a standard dimension of 3 1/2" square.

I see nothing wrong with not knowing that. The people that don't know standard lumber dimensions are not stupid. They probably know a ton of stuff I don't know, like how to keep score in tennis or what it's like to shovel snow.

To me this seems more of an opportunity to educate than a need to mock people who never had to build a deck before. I find the process of turning trees into studs and posts fascinating. It seems like an opportunity for watching a YouTube videos that shows how there are a lot of steps after sawing a board into a 4"x4" post before it turns up at Home Depot, mainly it gets dried, which shrinks it, and then it gets planed on all 4 sides, which gets it down to the final standard dimension.



I started an informal Twitter poll to see how many people think a 4x4 is really 4x4. More than I would've thought. 75% of respondents knew 4x4 was nominal and not the actual size. 25% really thought it was 4 inches square. (n=44, which is a lot more than the 18 questioned in the store for the original story, and they got 1/3 not knowing vs my 1/4)

I also got some comments from people saying it's not the same where they are, outside the US. I did some digging to see what people call dimensional lumber in other countries, particularly ones that use the metric system. They still call a stud a 2x4 or maybe a 4x2. Wikipedia says that they say timber instead of lumber for building materials, but I haven't been able to confirm this.

I found anecdotal evidence that Norwegians have their own lumber dimensions, 95 mm for a 4x4, which is about 3 3/4", 1/4" bigger than the American version. They dimension drawings and give the specs in mm. This used to be true for the US as well. When I did AutoCAD work for the Army Corps of Engineers in the '90s they required all architectural plans to be dimensioned in mm. According to David Luke at Merrick this is no longer the case. They dropped that requirement around 2005.

But even though the actual size may vary my research shows that all around they world they still say "two by four" to refer to a standard piece of framing lumber. (Here's an interesting pdf about Japan where they have their own standard stick frame construction but "2x4" is still part of the name. It's based on a 3'x6' panel convention vs our 4'x8' version. This sounds good to me. I might not have such an aversion to doing anything with sheet goods if they were that small. Apparently 3'x6' is the standard size of a traditional tatami mat.)

I haven't come up with any good ideas for better names for 4x4s, 2x4s, etc. It doesn't really make sense to rename them based on a round metric number since everything else is still in inches and feet. I would support a sudden change to metric though. I could learn to say 90x90 and 40x90 as easily as I converted myself from °F to °C. (I just flipped the switch on my thermostats and weather app and learned that 25°C is a good nominal summer air conditioner setting. I think of 15°C as a summer night in the UK and anything less than that I call cold.)

Anyway, back to the lawsuit. Home Depot clearly states the actual size of all their lumber on their website. And if you're in the store you can see what size it is with your actual eyeballs and get a tape measure out of your purse and measure it if you want to.

Here's the description of a Pressure Treated 4x4x8 (which they seem to have measured soaking wet). I don't think anything will come from this except that a lot of people may learn what nominal and actual mean.


Interestingly you can also learn lots of other information about lumber from the Home Depot website by reading the reviews. Yes, a 4x4 is going to twist like a bitch when it dries. Prepare yourself. I learned to install my deck railing posts long and brace them diagonally until they dried in place. Then I took off the braces and cut them to length and finished the railing.

Good luck to all the DIYers out there. It's hard enough with the names of the wood not matching the measurement without people in the trades mocking you for not knowing it. But getting mad in the Home Depot reviews because wood acts like wood is pretty mean too. Acting all butthurt when carpentry turns out to be a lot harder than it looks on HGTV is insulting to people who do this for a living so I sort of get why they turn so mean.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

An Ultimate Guide or Fair Warning

This morning I read an article about introverts that basically describes the arc of my life but it's written by a white dude and somehow his superiority over figuring it out kinda irks me. This is not advice anybody else needs, dude. To assume everybody else is deficient because they still regularly do things they don't like is obnoxious. I'm kind of jealous of them that they don't seem to mind other people telling them what to do. I wish I had that ability.

I think what really got under my skin was his unrecognized privilege. Just delegate anything you don't want to do; profit! If my blog comes across like that then I'm mortified. I try to write stuff less as advice and more as a reminder to myself of how freaking hard it was. I hope I don't sound like I'm advising other people to be like me. I guess since I often put more than one sentence in a paragraph I'm probably not at risk of being another James Altucher, even though I am the exact same age and have similar introvert coping strategies.
From The Ultimate Guide to Being an Introvert by James Altucher: (highlights)
Notations by me
How I Deal With Being an Introvert
#1 — FIRST “Quiet” by Susan Cain is a good book. 
This is a book, not a coping strategy.
#2 — CREATE A LIFE WHERE YOU CAN HAVE MORE TIME BY YOURSELF
Done. Most days I wake up and can't wait to go to my lab to do whatever I feel like doing that day, all by myself.
#3 — ONE PERCENT RULE
Every day I want to make more choices for myself, instead of letting other people make choices for me.
I'm up to 99.9% on #3. I take commissions but they mostly tell me what to make, not how to make it. This is the most important part to me.
#4–15 YEARS, GIVE OR TAKE TEN
It took me a long time to realize I wasn’t shy. I thought the reason I had trouble talking to people in groups was because I was shy or insecure.
Nah, I just thought it was because they didn't like me.
That’s the ten years part. I was so deluded about my strengths that it took me ten years. Maybe it will take you fewer.
Or maybe I'm not deluded, I just lack the white male privilege to get away with treating people like they don't matter to me.
#5 — NO MONEY REQUIRED
It requires asking yourself throughout the day: is this activity giving me energy or draining me?
Energy is everything in life. At night we have little of it, so we need to sleep.
When an introvert is around a lot of people, it drains quickly.
When you are around people who put you down, it drains instantly.
When you aren’t creative, it drains.
When you aren’t happy with your current moment, it drains because anxiety and regret are leeches on our energy.
When you are with someone you don’t love, it drains.
When you are at a job you don’t like, it disappears.
Note that none of the above has anything to do with money.
Energy is more important than money. Energy is what makes you live a long and productive and happy life.
If I wanted a billion dollars I wouldn’t sit around writing and reading and podcasting a good chunk of the day.
I wouldn’t hire people to help me run the various businesses I’m involved in because it’s hard for me to meet with employees and do “business things”.
I’d run a hedge fund, or directly run my businesses, or buy a company and become a CEO. I’ve done these things before and failed miserably.
Not because I don’t have the knowledge. But because it doesn’t make me happy. And those activities drain me.
If I could hire people to run various businesses I'd be a white man and not a woman who has to do everything her damn self. If I was a white man people wouldn't ask me to do shit that hurts my hands and back because I have seemingly endless free time and lady skills like dusting, vacuuming, laundry, dishes, and a unique skill at restoring plumbing fixtures. If I was a white man could I get four figures for couture knitted items and sci-art instead of getting orders from relatives who want to pay the same thing they would pay for clothes at Target?

Also he forgot to mention the importance of arranging your life so you can live without a lot of money. None of this works if you have a mortgage and two kids to put through college. I guess if you're a white man it works out for you because people will still give you a lot of money for trivial effort instead of expecting you to do complex tasks or pennies per hour.
#6: HUMILITY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN SELF-ESTEEM
Be humble enough to realize what you are not good at.
I have never been afraid to try something I've never done before. It was sort of my professional speciality back in the day. I'd come along as a consultant and figure out the new thing and then when it didn't turn out to be as profitable as the management thought (because they assumed it would be easy) I'd leave and they'd blame the whole thing on me. Everybody goes on with their life.

I don't think I'm very good at anything. I'm a generalist. Sometimes I find myself thinking, "That was easier than I thought it was gonna be." But I NEVER say "That was harder than I thought it would be." I am happy to go into a new task with open ended expectations. It takes as long as it takes. I try to plan stopping places to accommodate my physical limitations. But it would be an insult to people with experience and skills to presume anything I don't know how to do is going to be easy.

An ex-boyfriend of mine called me recently and asked how to build and insulate walls and a ceiling inside an airplane hangar. I told him. I sent him YouTube links to Fine Homebuilding videos to watch to learn techniques. He called me a few weeks later and said it was a lot harder than he expected. So many layers! Yeah, I know. He lived with me while I was building an addition on a house in Atlanta and we still dated for a year after I had to move away and build a whole other house from scratch where I could live on less money. But I guess mainly he wasn't paying attention. Not sure why he assumed it was easy. I was a little insulted. It was only slightly gratifying that now he understands that carpentry is damn hard. His room doesn't even have to be weatherproof or survive live loads and he thought it was hard. You think that's complicated layers, do it again to stand up to wind and keep out rain. Good grief.

I made a video last week that is over 17 minutes of showing exactly how hard it is to ombré dye a heavy cotton sweater. When I finished the project I didn't really know how to show the end product. I decided to try the Facetime camera on my monitor to record straight into iMovie. It's great to have an articulating arm on my monitor. I did the rest handheld with my phone. I would normally never do anything with such low production value, but the bar is so low now for how-to videos on YouTube it would seem like topping it the knob to use a tripod and a real camera. I was surprised how good that dot on my monitor works as a camera. Free with $1000 monitor. Why didn't I try it before? Probably because I was horrified at the idea of actually appearing on camera. I think I have passed a Fuck It threshold. It must be this Nazi Youth haircut I got by accident at the walk-in barbershop a few weeks ago. (FYI, fashy is short for fascist, not fashionable.) I had the Facetime camera intentionally chop off the top of my head so the place where they shaved off my cowlick isn't so obvious. Thanks to being an always-alone introvert it's not a big deal if my hair looks stupid. I only go out in the daytime and it's perfectly acceptable that I always have on a hat. I started to do the video in a wig AND hat but I thought it would be draw the eye away from the flaws I was pointing out in the sweater.

I really never meant anybody to see this video but me and my niece Kara who is into crafty stuff. She said it was a good video. She wants me to dye a hat next. But I might as well put it on here since it's thematically valid. This is not a how-to, it's for me, and for people who were thinking about trying to dye a sweater and need to be talked out of it. Maybe that's the Ultimate Guide we all need. You have a fun creative idea and you look for tips on YouTube and wind up saying fuck, that's a lot of work and what would I even do with that? Never mind. (I'm looking at you, making a hollow concrete sphere with fiberglass and a yoga ball.)

Friday, March 10, 2017

How I made a minisplit line chase out of vinyl gutter

When I decided to recaulk and repaint my lap siding I thought it was finally time to do something about this eyesore on the north side of my house.

Refrigerant lines, condensation drip, and control power for my
minisplit air conditioner inside wall unit
Because of my rigid frame construction I didn't have any way to run these lines inside the wall. In a tiny house the only wall is the outside wall and it sits right on top of double 2x12s. I can't exactly hog out a place for a fistful of copper and vinyl tubing to go up in there. And there's a beam over the plate glass windows with the same issue. So I made the air conditioning installer run the lines on the outside of the house.
This is the penetration through the wall
If memory serves I had him install this before I put up the siding. It's got spray foam all around it. With the refrigerant lines, wire, and condensate tube already coming through the 1x8 sheathing and house wrap I fashioned a kind of flashing around it when I put on the shingle siding. And I used caulk liberally all behind and around the pieces involved. It's not just put on at the end. And after 11 years it looks pretty waterproof at the penetration point.

The rest of the situation is pretty abominable though. I screwed something to the wall like a giant hook for storing ladders for the technician to secure the lines to when he installed them. Then when I put up the siding I replaced it with a small Simpson Strong Tie bracket and wired the lines to it. The algae growing on the insulation is pretty embarrassing.

This L bracket fiasco is my own doing
Clearly that pipe insulation needs to be replaced. And as long as I'm painting I should remove the insulation and paint underneath with less junk in my way. And then I should put the whole business inside some kind of enclosure.

I tried to figure out a way to do it with round aluminum duct. I was thinking of that kind that has a crimped seam on the long edge that you push together to make a cylinder. It would look cool, but I couldn't figure out how to do the L bend at the top.

So I went to work figuring out how to do it with vinyl K-gutter. This stuff is stupid cheap. 10' sections are less than $4. I bought one piece and brought it home to play with it. I was thinking I could just put it over the lines with the flat side against the house. But it wasn't deep enough. So I decided to figure out how to make a clamshell out of it. I got a preformed inside corner and an outside corner and some joiners and started figuring out how to cut it. 

Cutting PVC gutter

To make the clamshell work I had to cut the folded over parts off the bottom half of the shell. This is a two step process and takes two different tools.

To cut off the lip on the flat side I used a 4x4 clamped to a table as a rest for a jigsaw. I pushed the saw through the vinyl, then slid the whole business back, repeating until the whole length was cut.
Use a jigsaw and a block to cut the lip off the straight side
To cut the lip off the curved side of the gutter I used my fiber cement siding shear, the tool that caused me to be working on the house in the first place. Where it makes a dusty, un-caulkable cut edge on siding it makes a perfect edge on PVC gutter. No dust at all, unlike the jigsaw.
The fiber cement siding shear is the perfect tool for cutting PVC gutter
I had a formed corner piece for the outside of the clamshell, but for the part against the house I decided to just cut a miter. I left the stuff in my car too long and it got hot and warped. I had to clamp the flat side to the fence of my chopsaw with a piece of scrap wood to get it to stay straight while I cut it. I cut through the wood and the plastic at once. Worked good.
Clamp the flat side of the gutter to the fence of the chopsaw if it's warped
Once I had my two back pieces modified with the rolled edges cut off I had to figure out how to get the top part around the lines coming through the wall and around the bracket and everything. I used the jig saw to cut a hole with a slit for the penetration. And I worked out a way to cut out for the bracket. Then I realized it would be a hell of a lot easier if I just took off the bracket and put the gutter piece under it.

I finally had the long overdue inspirational thought, "What you need is a skyhook." So I went in the shed and got one. In this circumstance the skyhook is my big ladder with a standoff and a length of rope I use for tying boats to my car.
Skyhooks are real

Safely remove the old bracket. I caulked the screw holes.
I have a surprisingly vast selection of flashing in my shed. One piece of very wide aluminum bent in an L shape was meant for the skirting of the Spartan but it got wet while sandwiched with a dissimilar metal. It develop an impossible to remove discoloration. I had my sheet metal shop make it again for the Spartan but I saved the ugly one. Nobody will see the discoloration way up there. All I did was cut it to length. I thought I would cut the front edge later if I needed to, but I don't mind it sticking out.

In progress. Aluminum drip ledge moveable to ether side for access.
I have an electric sheet metal shear that works similar to the siding shear. I tried it on the vinyl too. It also works. But the siding shear is better on vinyl. I used the metal shear just for the aluminum.

I slipped the aluminum drip edge under the shingles above the chase. I'm going to call it drip ledge because it's massive. I secured the back piece of vinyl gutter to the wall with some sheet metal screws. I taped the slit in the end of the gutter by the hole for the penetrations. I also reinforced it with a piece of gutter cut from the same curved portion. My PVC cement was all dried up so I used the glue for the foam insulation. That product is the messiest glue I have ever used. I was so glad I was wearing disposable gloves.

I put the new insulation on the refrigerant lines. I glued all the joints unlike the original installer. I'm thorough that way. I'm hoping this batch of insulation will last a lot longer covered up. It's expensive.

The bottom of the vertical section is held away from the lap siding slightly. I shimmed it out from the ribbon joist of the house with a piece of PVC molding scrap I had in the shed.


Found a piece of PVC molding that fit just right

Found a long sheet metal screw that looked good for going through
to the 2x12 under the fiber cement

Two screws at the bottom and one up top seem adequate for the vertical section
I screwed the vertical section on at the bottom and at the top where it was on the shingle siding. There are no holes in the lap siding.

I decided I needed some reinforcement at the top of this whole business so I went rummaging through the shed looking for something that would work. I found a bracket of unidentifiable provenance that looked promising. I modified it with a hacksaw and then hit it with some primer since it was probably some junk from IKEA and would rust if I put it in the shade and then breathed on it.
Primer just in case 
This end reinforced
For the long end I wanted even more reinforcement, plus I had room for something with a long leg in two directions. I got a 5" galvanized L bracket at Home Depot, the only size that even comes in galvanized. I screwed it in place with Deckmate screws so long I think they go through the siding, through the sheathing, and into the 4x4 post that runs all the way to the roof. I like to use all the threads.



Big honkin L bracket
OK, so now what about the open end by the penetration? I decided the best thing to do there was cut a piece of wood the shape of the clamshell and screw the vinyl all around. I found a scrap of 1x8, traced around some gutter scraps, cut it out with the jigsaw, and then primed it. It didn't fit that great in place because screwing the gutter to the wall made it a lot less bendy. I ended up using a lot of backer rod and caulk and more paint to make it look good when I was done.

End capped with wood didn't want to fit tight
The other end has the factory made inside corner. I put the fitting over the big L bracket and under the back of the clamshell. Then screwed them together with 1/2" long stainless steel #6 sheet metal screws. The bracket is just for defeating gravity. Nothing is attached to the top of it at all. 

The weather stripping stacked up at the back of the chase in the photo below is to stop the drip ledge from settling down so much it can't drain. On a sunny side of the house I would expect lizards to go in between the chase and the drip ledge, but in full shade they probably won't.

Clamshell fastened together on top with screws
After I was done connecting the front and back of the clamshell together on top I ran two screws through the aluminum into the vinyl at the front edge. That secures the front section to the wall without depending on the back piece of vinyl. Also stops wind from lifting the aluminum ledge.

Drip edge secured to front of chase with sheet metal screws with rubber washers
The end of the vertical section ends in a molded outside corner. I drilled a hole for the condensate line to come through. The post in the photo below is a reused gate post, thus the hole. The sole purpose of that post is to hold the hose bib. The footings around the posts of the house make it inconvenient to run the pipe up them. This existing post conveniently allowed the perfect amount of clearance for the chase.

Condensate line comes out a hole in the last fitting
I needed the end of this outside corner open to be able to work the hose bib handle. I shoves some extra foam insulation up in the end of the chase to stop critters from going exploring up there.
The west side of the molded outside corner is open

Along the flat back side I didn't need many as screws. Painting partially done
I secured the clamshell halves together with plenty of the stainless steel screws along the overlapping edges. I used about twice as many on the K profile side.

I put a lot of the short stainless steel sheet metal screws on the curved side

Stand back and admire the work 
After I finished the chase I sent my brother photos. He told me I need a trap for my condensate line because wind washing makes biofilm grow. I rigged up something out of PVC parts I had on hand. It still drips into my reused toilet tank condensate catcher. If I decide I like keeping a little vessel constantly full of water right there I can paint it to match the post.

I was happy when I was done and I could clean up all the PVC dust in the shed once and for all. I was looking forward to painting the lap siding, a job I could do listening to podcasts. 

When I stood back and looked at that side of the house that big white thing on the wall just seemed unnecessarily prominent. I decided to paint more of the trim around the windows white, to draw the eye away from it. I guess it's better, I don't know. 

Finally I replaced the hose hanger on the side of the house and I call it done.

It should be straightforward to take the chase apart if the refrigerant lines ever need to be replaced or serviced. I shopped for little plastic rivets to use instead of stainless steel screws to connect the halves. I didn't use them for two reasons. 1. They are stupid expensive 2. All HVAC techs have a screwdriver, but rivets might stump them. It's entirely possible this piece of kit will outlive me. If nobody thinks to look at the web archive to see how I built this they need to be able to figure out how to take it apart just by looking at it.

In conclusion: DO NOT ATTEMPT. This project came out fine. I didn't hurt myself. I didn't spend a ton of money. But it took me a ridiculously long time to do this, like three entire days and multiple trips to Home Depot. I guess if I'd had instructions I could have gotten all the stuff in one trip, but the figuring it out with the junk I had on hand was slow. If I'd spent three days figuring out how to rough in these lines inside the wall by bumping out the inside corner by the door to the bathroom it would have been a superior solution. But building a time machine to go back to 2005 was totally beyond the scope. 

Bill of Materials:
$15.92 10' gutter sections $3.98 x 4 (it's so cheap I got a whole extra one just to practice on)
$13.05 K-Style joiners $4.35 x 3
$6.54 1 inside corner
$6.54 1 outside corner
$35.97 Pipe insulation
$7.98 Pipe insulation adhesive
$3.51 Stainless steel screws
$3.18 Galvanized 5" Angle bracket

Total chase cost $92.69

Add that to the cost of the house caulking/painting project from the last blog post

Painting Project
$6.28 Big Stretch Caulk
$27.98 1 Gallon of Satin House Paint
$5.97 Low grip painters tape
$3.98 Paper drop cloth to cut up and tape over the orange part of the house so I didn't splash it with paint.

Total repainting cost $44.21

Grand total of 2017 Spring Project
~$140

Tiny house = tiny maintenance costs 

I can paint my whole house with a gallon of paint. That's never not going to be funny to me.


Regret for my Past Self: Correcting Caulk

When I built my tiny house by myself I used a Snapper Shear to cut the fiber cement siding. I love this tool because it's quiet and feels relatively safe compared to a circular saw with a fiber cement blade. But most production carpenters don't use this kind of tool because it costs over $300 and it's what Alton Brown would call a uni-tasker.

The video talks about the advantages of the tool, but leaves out the main problem. A saw leaves a sort of burnished edge. The shear basically works by pulverizing the product. It leaves the cut end very dusty. I did not realize at the time this was going to be a problem in the future, but I should have. Caulk can't stick to dust. Where the factory ends butt up against the corner boards the caulked joint looks perfect. But the ends I cut, the caulk didn't stick. Little cracks appeared. I should have washed the ends of the siding in a bucket of water and then let them dry before caulking.
Crack between caulk and cut end of siding
The weather has been pretty good for working outside so I decided it was time to take care of this problem. I worked up a special tool for cutting the caulk at the corner board so I wouldn't go too deep and cut into the house wrap. I used my straight mat cutter with a 3" scraper blade modified to fit it. This turned out to not work any better than my regular utility knife so I'm not even going to put up photos.

The most useful tool was a dental spatula I got as part of a $5 set from PJ Tool and Supply, the same place I got some hemostats, also useful.
Here's the useful dental spatula

I really wore down the end of this little tool
After I cut the caulk where it was very strongly bonded to the corner boards I got all the old caulk out of the joint.
Caulk didn't fail, just the bond to the siding
I hoped the caulk would take most of the dust with it, but it sort of didn't. I could make dust come billowing out of the crack with a little brush I got at the grocery store by the dental floss. I washed the whole house down with a scrub brush and a hose after I opened up all the cracks. Then I scrubbed out each little crack again with the brush until I could make any more dust come out.
I cleaned the ends of the siding with tiny brushes for cleaning braces
I used Dap Dynaflex 230 caulk when I built my house. I like it. It was my fault I had to redo it, no fault of the product. But for the sake of curiosity I wanted to use a different caulk for the replacement. I did some research and found some people on the Fine Homebuilding forums like this stuff called Big Stretch by Sashco. I made a special trip to Lowes to get some Big Stretch since they don't carry it at Home Depot. 

I actually don't like it as much as the Dap. It feels kind of gritty. And it didn't fill the gaps as well. Some places it shrank so much I had to caulk again after I painted to make it look consistent. Time will tell how it does in the long run.

Tiny house benefits. All the caulk I had to replace only comes to 115 grams
Because I'm a woman who has eyes I put down a drop cloth while I dug out the old caulk. I dropped the pieces into the same apron I use to pick blueberries. Any stuff that fell on the cloth, I scooped it up before I moved to the next corner. At the end of the job I had about 115 grams of wasted caulk. This is a data point without a purpose.

I was able to recaulk all these joints with less than one tube of caulk. I bought one gallon of paint and repainted the lap siding on three sides of the house. I still have over a quart of paint left. Tiny houses rule!

I repainted the siding on the front porch when I built the porch and turned the door around to swing out. That was 2013. I changed from flat to satin paint on the front porch then. So this time I made all the lap siding satin. I left the flat paint on the shingle siding and overhangs. The caulk seems fully adhered to all the joints of the shingle siding even though I cut the top edge of that with the shear to fit the angle of the gable. I would say it was due to not being in direct sun, but on the north side of the house the lap siding caulk joints failed and they are in the shade all the time. Perhaps larger joints don't exert as much pulling force against the bonded edges. My corner joints are pretty tight, but they are within the specifications of the product. I left bigger gaps for the shingle siding.

Oh, I just figured it out sitting here typing this. The expansion and contraction of a long siding run changes the size of the end gap more than what would happen next to a narrow shingle. Even the short pieces of lap siding between windows are longer than the widest shingle. Expansion and contraction is cumulative.

Next blog: The rabbit hole I went down to pretty up the lines to my minisplit and a new use for the siding shear.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Empathy for my Future Self: New and Improved Lab Entrance

I got a case of Titebond Polyurethane Fast Set Construction Adhesive in the mail two weeks ago. I was one of the first 50 people to email them after they talked about the product on the Fine Homebuilding Podcast. The shelf life on this stuff is only a year, so I was a bit worried about how I was going to use it up in time. I mentioned it to my brother and he said to bring it to him so he could use it between concrete blocks for a retaining wall around his pool. It needs to be high strength so he can compact the soil behind the wall and install pavers. I hadn't thought of using it for concrete blocks. Good idea.

The other day I missed the last step on my shitty back steps and hurt my foot. I mean, it was messed up. I looked up orthopedic treatments on WebMD and everything. Amazingly the ice worked great and it was all better in just two day. But while I was hobbling around with a walking stick for a day I really regretted that I had no handrails to help me in and out of the lab. Also I blamed myself for considering steps a luxury I couldn't afford. Were a couple dozen $1.69 cinder blocks more precious than my continued mobility? That's illogical. I resolved to fix them. I started with a dozen concrete blocks at Home Depot and started playing around with how to stack them around the doorway. I came up with something like this. By messing with the orientation of the lightweight blocks I planned to block all the openings so critters can't fill them with acorns. Which they have happily been doing for the past two years.

One one side I have to put solid blocks to cover the end. I made another run to Home Depot and got more supplies. I needed another whole row on the hinge side of the door and a lot of caps.


When I got back with more blocks I played with my arrangement some more. I had to work in something to hold onto. You can see in the above photo that I already have a cast aluminum handle screwed to the side of the Spartan to stop the door lever from slamming into the side and making a hole. Secondarily if you lift the door lever and drop it behind the handle on the wall of the Spartan it holds the door open. I decided to order some more of those same style cast aluminum handles since they were working well. I ordered two of the longest ones they have at McMaster. They cost around $20 each, more than all the stair components combined. While I waited for the UPS man I kept working on the steps.

I decided not to use the four old cinder blocks. They don't match the new ones. If I'm going to this much trouble it better look nice. But I was ready to glue caps on one side of some of the blocks. I did that in the morning so the glue could cure while I went to town.
Unstacked blocks to be glued up. I cleaned off all the loose sand with a brush
Puncture the inner seal on the adhesive
Run a bead of adhesive around the block
Place the cap on and twist it back and forth a bit. I had a bit of squeeze-out to clean off
on the first one but I learned to keep the bead away from the outer edge
After I finished with the glue here's how I saved the tube. Bamboo skewer and aluminum foil

I poke the skewer through the foil

Stick the skewer in and wrap part of the foil around the spout

Break off the skewer and wrap over the whole thing

Make a collar over the tube

Put the tube back in the caulk gun so the foil doesn't get knocked off
I used this method on a tube of this stuff after I secured a plastic door threshold at a client's office two days before the step project. The adhesive had barely even skinned over under the foil. I had to squirt out about an inch worth and throw it away. I will update this post when I try to use the half tube put away after this job. Two days definitely fine.

This product does not have an offensive odor to me. It's has the same lack of smell of other polyurethane glues. It's nothing like Liquid Nails construction adhesive that stinks like a silk screen shop. It's still good to have a lot of ventilation though, and wear gloves. It will stain your skin as bad as Great Stuff.

Mark Schroeder, the Titebond VP of Marketing, mentioned on the FHB podcast that they worked on the consistency so it doesn't keep shooting out of the nozzle when you put it down. I had no problem with that at all. Very well behaved stuff. I confess I probably have muscle memory for releasing the pressure when I put down the gun though. I probably automatically hit that lever on the back whenever I finish running a bead so I didn't really give it a chance to make a giant mess.

Squeeze out on the inside is better than on the outside
I wanted to stick the blocks to the slab with something that would even out the surface so they wouldn't rock, but I may need to disassemble this whole thing one day. I'm not using the construction adhesive there. It's way too sticky and doesn't have enough body to fill in gaps. I started on the main section using up some rapid set cement I had leftover from a septic tank repair. I only had enough for the main rectangle.

For the rest I used some polymer modified thinset leftover from the tile floor. I keep it in a 3 gallon bucket so it doesn't go bad. I prefer working with it so much I'm not even showing photos of the other stuff.

Let the thinset slake while getting ready to use it

Chalk outline around the blocks where I want them

Move the blocks out of the way and put some thinset down. I used a large notched trowel

I added a little bit of polyurethane adhesive between the blocks
After the steps were all done I left them overnight. I came back the next day to work on the handles.

Here's how they come from McMaster inside a box inside another box

I tested the enclosed screws with a neodymium magnet to be sure they were good stainless steel
They gave me a lot extra. I still have 6 of these nice oval head screws
The cast aluminum handle has a wallowed out place to allow it to go
over this rivet. Rivet means strut on the inside which is good
The top of the handle is not over a strut but it goes into the wood I added
when I was installing the deadbolt. It gets longer stainless steel screws
than the bottom of the handle

I always put gutterseal under my aluminum to aluminum connections

If a little gutterseal oozes out that's ok

Clean up the excess gutterseal with acetone on a rag

Here's the finished entrance from the outside

I mounted the second handle on the inside of the door.
This one turns out to be the one I use the most

Action selfie
The weird shape of the top step lets me grab the handle from the ground and then step right foot on the first step, left foot on the second step. Then I'm standing out of the way to open the door.

"Tetris" is not a valid step shape for a house built to code. But this is not a house. I'm not going to get a ding on the inspection report when I try to sell it. If I sold the lab it would require knocking these steps loose to put the whole thing on a flatbed and send it away. 

I'm already used to alternating tread stairs because of the ship's ladder to my loft in my house. To me it feels natural. I asked my aunt with the bum knee to come over and try it out. She gave it the seal of approval. She appreciated both the handles.

If the climate situation keeps going this way I will never have a problem with freeze/thaw cycles. I don't think it's going to freeze again this season. There's a lot of thermal mass here too. When it does freeze here it's only for a few hours. I don't expect the underside of these blocks on the south side of the lab to ever get below freezing.

I've been using the steps for a few days now. I mostly come from the non-handle direction and go straight in without grabbing any handle. I like being able to open the door from the top step. Now that I'm ready for inevitable infirmity I will probably enter an extended period of peak health. I would say my enhanced grace and lack of clumsiness is assured, but that pyrex pie plate I smashed in the kitchen sink this morning says otherwise.