August 5, 2007
Yesterday Beth & Jerry came by to show us an example of the moon corbel we've been considering. After mulling this over, we realize it would be extremely labor intensive (translation: expensive) plus we want to make sure we don't to get too "cutsie" with our design elements: "less is more." But I'm still on the lookout for design options.

August 7, 2007
Greg is still working on that portion of the roof just below the turret (or as I like to call it now, the belvedere - which means beautiful view and a term used for a room created to take advantage of a view). It was becoming more and more difficult to climb in and out of the turret windows to work on the roof. Difficult for two reasons; the temporary ladder Greg had built during the framing stage just wasn't working well anymore and second Greg is now 60 years old. Roofing this area is especially difficult because it requires dozens of custom cuts to the roofing material. This means he has to take the material out of the window, make cut marks, climb back into the belvedere, make the cut, and then climb back out to complete the installation. He also realized that we would need a more efficient way to get onto the roof to clean the windows in the future. So he spent several hours putting together a
break-apart ladder that would work well for a long time. This wooden ladder will serve as a template for a custom aluminum ladder that will be easier to move and easier to store for use in any maintenance.

Custom is the order of the day with this house, only because of Greg's skill and sweat equity. Sweat equity seems to be a term used here in the Pacific Northwest for work by the homeowner.

Once Greg assembled the new ladder and began to use it to work on the roof, he found he needed something to hold onto while he was maneuvering around this small area. The answer was to
install hand holds between the windows around the outside of the turret. These handles are in addition to the safety hook above each window to attach the safety harness. From the ground, looking up to the belvedere, they're hardly visible.

August 8, 2007
We're in the midst of summer and the hot weather is creating
a mess of gooey green algae in our pond and waterfall. So, to the internet to see what can be done.

We found a powdered algaecide which will do the trick but isn't harmful to wildlife.

August 9, 2007
Our front entry door design was turning into a challenge as well as an exercise in creativity.

Before we even broke ground on our project, Greg had found some
very interesting pieces of wood at a local salvage yard he thought could be used to make an unusual front door. These pieces were about 10' long and 3" thick by 6" wide. They had been salvaged from the local college when they tore down a building from the 1940s. This wood, cedar no less, was used as the subroof to which they nailed the asphalt roofing material. It was also tongue and grooved and nailed together with 9" square nails. By the way, today most residential subroofs (the roof sheeting) is usually 1/2" to 5/8" plywood. Greg now recommends spending the extra couple of bucks on the 5/8"; the installation should be the same.

Our entry door will be 4 feet wide, 7 feet tall and 6 inches thick. Because it will weigh about 450 pounds when finished, it will be swung with special ball bearing hinges. So far the hinges are on back order for three months and maybe more.

Greg began building the door about a month ago by
selecting the best pieces of planking from his salvage store purchase. These pieces were scratched up, had bits of asphalt roofing material melted into it, and odd nails that all had to be removed. When he found a nail that could not be removed, he marked it with chalk and blue tape so he would know to work around it when he started the milling work. He then milled off the existing tongue & groove detail because it was too damaged to use and cut a new t&g detail to fit the pieces together. We didn't mind any of the "damage" done to the pieces - it will add character. On almost all the pieces, Greg had to pound out the 9" square nails with a drift pin.

The next step was to resurface the boards
by creating a "hand-hewn" look to the faces.

In the 1980s, at least in Beverly Hills, timber frame details and large exposed Doug fir beams were popular in some of the large homes Greg worked on during that time. It was very popular to "distress" these beams before they were installed to add character. Some carpenters were good at it and some made a mess. Imagine a 25,000 square foot home which is incorporating distressed and hand-hewn beams in the structural framing. Today there are companies which will provide that material, but back then it was done on the job site by carpenters figuring it out as they go. Many of them had never seen real hand-hewn beams and so they approached it with the tools they had. Basically they just beat up the beams. Most of this distressing didn't look good, just beat up lumber.

Hand hewing today brings the impression of beat up....but in actuality, craftsmen of this era worked with hand tools, no electricity, and strove for and achieved very close to perfection. But for today's purposes, it's necessary to exaggerate the look to distinguish it from something found today. Here Greg uses a
draw knife to create the visual impression of work done by hand from another era.

Greg has always utilized several axioms in his construction work. One is the old adage wrongly attributed to Buckminster Fuller, "Less is more." (Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe adopted the motto "Less is more" to describe his aesthetic tactics of flattening and emphasizing the building's frame, eliminating interior walls to adopt an open plan, and reducing the structure to a strong, transparent, elegant skin. Designer Buckminster Fuller adopted a similar saying, "Doing more with less," but his concerns were oriented towards technology and engineering rather than aesthetics.) Most times, subtle work is more impressive.

On one job, the carpenters devised an ingenious method of hand hewing the beams with power hand planers. Some of these beams were large, structural members that had to be detailed in a quick fashion so as not to delay the job progress. The carpenters would take the hand planer blades and have them ground to form
an arc. Once they were put back in the planer and run on a piece of wood, it would make a rounded cut.

To make the hand hewn look, the carpenter would turn the planer on and drop it onto the beam from one side of the face, Drop it and cut forward about an inch. Pick it up quickly, slide the planer over perpendicular to the length, drop it, move forward an inch. Then again and again:
wash, rinse, repeat. Once the carpenter gets to the opposite side, he has a series of divots 1" long, across the perpendicular width of the board. Start again just above the previous cut and repeat. Like chomping through a corn cob: a quick and subtle rendition of hand hewing.

A note about the planer. Because this technique is damaging to the tool, it's best to purchase an inexpensive planer and save your professional one. Ryobi is a good choice for this purpose.

Although not pertinent to this door, another axiom Greg uses: when you come to a fork in the road on a project or detail and need to make a decision, it is sometimes best to decide what is more important: the form or the function.

A good example of this would be the
light that illuminates the moonvane on top of the belvedere. The very best location (for function) was actually on a nearby portion of the roof that couldn't be accessed by a ladder necessary to change the bulb. Another location accessible by a ladder could probably be found, but it wouldn't be the best location (for form). This "best location" will require installing a cat walk in place of the top wooden plank that was used to work on the metal roof, solely to change to bulb. Access to the cat walk will be from the turret. But then the catwalk could be seen from the ground. Not good "form." But in this case, function wins over form: the light is in the best spot, the bulb needs to be changed, therefore, access to the light must be via catwalk. Moving the light to a less desirable spot would be a victory then of "form over function." Our choice for location is barely visible if you make a point of finding it, but from most angles it is completely hidden.

Back to the front door. Once the hand hewing was complete, Greg could
dry fit the door together. This still isn't the plan for the complete door. Starting from the exterior side, to get the 6" thickness requires the hand hewn pieces to be 2.5" thick, then a layer of 2" rigid pink foam, then 1.5" of mahogany frame-and-panel detail to create a 6" "sandwich." The R-Value of the wood parts, a term used to measure insulation performance, is probably R-4 or R-5 and the rigid foam is R-10. This gives the door an average R-Value of about R-14. Not bad.

With the hinges on back order, further work on the door has to stop until the hinges arrive. The hinges are 8"x8" full mortise liquid ball bearing hinges. Greg found them on the Internet, talked to the manufacturer back East and was given a local distributor in Tacoma. In conversation with the manufacturer tech, Greg determined he would need 3 of these hinges, or a pair-and-a-half. The local distributor could get them for $160 each!!! With shipping, that would be over $500 just for three hinges to swing one door! We were about to bite the bullet when Greg thought, "Wait a minute, how many 450 pound doors are they hanging in Tacoma?" Probably none. But how many 450 pound entry doors are being hung in Beverly Hills? A lot more than Tacoma. So Greg contacted the distributor for Los Angeles (which he had used for his Beverly Hills jobs) and voilà: the same hinges were now $80 each!

The next problem: completion of the door jamb. Most doors today are "pre-hung": the door and jamb arrive pre-manufactured from the supplier. However, you won't find any 450 pound, 6" thick doors that come pre-hung. Regular doors should have a
slight bevel on the lockset side (right side of diagram) so that when it swings closed, the door edge can clear the jamb. This bevel is usually at a 3 or 4 degree angle. Also, it is good practice to put a slight bevel on the hinge side (left side of diagram) to prevent hinge bind which interferes with the closing action of the door. A 6" thick door would require a huge bevel, so large that the stop could be several inches thick. Greg had to make a mock up sample of the door to work out the jamb details. This sample would also be used by the locksmith because a door of this size requires a custom lockset. We bought our front door lockset several weeks ago, an Arts & Crafts design by Emtek. Most high-end locksets will accommodate up to a 2.5" thick door. A good locksmith can remake the parts to fit a thicker door. We were lucky to find a local locksmith who enjoys a challenge such as ours. Our door mock up helped determine the type of stop Greg would have to create.

August 12, 2007
Always go to the source. We needed compost for our landscaping so I asked our local nurseryman where he gets his and he put me on to a local farmer. By law, dairy farmers must do something with the manure created by their livestock and according to our nurseryman, it is excellent compost....and the price was right too. Now we have
15 yards of steaming cow pie and until it dries out a bit, our place will smell like a dairy farm. Having grown up around horses, strange as it seems, I have a fondness for the smell of manure (they say scent is your most primal sense and instantly evokes memories), so this temporary additive to the air doesn't phase me.

August 14, 2007
Today was a "supply run" day requiring us to go to the "big city." Greg had to get more roofing material among other things and also bought a pair of special safety "sandals." Made by Korkers, they fit over his work boots and will give them more traction on the metal roof. Safety is paramount, especially with roof work: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

August 17, 2007
The hundreds of rocks and boulders that have "bubbled" up from the ground of our property have provided a wonderful landscaping resource that keeps on giving.

I've used the majority of these rocks for the creation of the dry creekbed as well as our pond and waterfall. I've made a special crusade out of looking for rocks that are in shades of green and the rare burgundy-hued ones: the color green is an important color scheme for both the interior and exterior of our home. Besides, green is nature's version of the little black dress - perfect for every occasion. And of course, the forest has had a huge influence on that choice. Many hours of time have been spent either gathering or moving these rocks. And now that I've more or less completed the dry creekbed, I am busy finding places on the outskirts of the property where I can
store leftovers; because you never know when these will come in handy. Rocks are the duct tape and tarp of nature!

I'm especially keeping the green rocks nearby. In the fall when the foliage has died back, I will be able to see all the rocks in the creekbed that have been hidden by tall grasses. Then I will do some finishing touches, adding rocks here and there until my "eye" is pleased. One of the projects that's been waiting to be completed since last summer is the last section of dry creekbed that runs over the septic tanks; it's been in the path of the scaffolding Greg was using to work on the roof. Now that that's been moved out of the way,
I've connected the dots so to speak between the remaining adjoining sections.

I've also been noodling on our driveway design. I want to come up with a different approach if I can. Something other than a run of cement or asphalt or gravel. Since we're still under construction and large heavy trucks will need to use the driveway until after move in, our driveway is constructed of "reject" cement - crumbled cement chunks culled from demolition - used as a base. Earlier this summer
I planted the center strip of the driveway with grass seed to mimic an old country road. I know we'll need to have a cement apron in front of the garages to minimize mud and dirt being carried into the house, as well as one at the beginning of the driveway. But I'm thinking I may be able to create the illusion of a "dry" stream using quartzite flagstone, some of the green gravel (foreground) I bought over a year ago, and perhaps some turf between these elements planted with a thick carpet of groundcover such as thyme. And now I'm thinking I might be able to use any leftover green rocks as cobblestones; as well as working in any of the left over river and bull rock we bought long ago for the waterfall and other projects. As we always say, "Use what you have!" We shall see.

August 18, 2007
Depression is setting in as this roof installation seems to have no end!

We've had a lot on our plate for a long, long time. Of course the building of this home is all-consuming. But mix "life responsibilities" in with that and it feels overwhelming. What's that saying? "Life is what happens when you're making other plans."

Greg has been working on the roof for a year and a half now. There have been numerous starts and stops due to weather, family illness, supply runs, and any manner of other projects that required immediate attention. So, just conclude that until you read it here...we're still working on that @#%&* roof.

As we wrote about before, one of the most aggravating components of this roof has been the product we're using for the roof venting system. The brand we're using is AirVent and I wrote about this in my June/July entries. Here's a shot of a
finished portion. If you look closely, you can see some waviness and denting. and although no one will ever notice (unless we point it out), besides being way up on a two-story roof. But it just drives Greg crazy when the product design makes a neat installation impossible.

August 29, 2007
About two years ago we bought an electric caulking gun by Rigid, a Home Depot brand. It seemed like a good idea because your hands can get mighty tired if your doing a lot of caulking. And eventually, that duty will fall to me later on in the building process.

But no sooner had Greg began to use it, when the caulking oozed out all over the place when you were squeezing out the caulk. It was a mess and a real headache to clean up. It is a durable tool though and survived being flung from the turret after it leaked polyurethane sealant all over the metal roof. From then on it went into the tool storage. So, there sat a relatively expensive tool.

In one of my clearer moments, I thought I'd give it a try and called Rigid Customer Service to explain the problem. They were willing to repair it for free (seems Home Depot has a lifetime guarantee on Rigid tools), so I took it to a local repair shop and received a (brand new) refurbished gun. We haven't had reason to use it yet, but hopefully we won't have the same problem. Although Greg has a sneaking suspicion that the problem is in the design.

August 31, 2007
We're putting the finishing touches of sprucing up the
spray booth in anticipation of my getting out the paint sprayer to prep more siding. We've made some changes to exterior design and so need more of the staggered edge. We won't dismantle the booth until all the siding is installed (hopefully by year's end) because it's always possible we're need still more.

Now I'm doubly glad to be writing this journal - I'll go back to my instructions for spray painting to bone up.

September 1, 2007
Finally got a chance to start spreading that compost. I'm anxious to cover the exposed areas to prevent weeds from coming back full force.

Now that I'm finishing up some of those landscaping projects requiring use of rocks, I've been able to
create a shade garden underneath the decking outside our front door. Well, we live in a forest and what's easier than gathering up some native sword ferns. So I trekked to the back of the property that is still untouched wilderness; found my ferns and began digging them out. Only to be attacked by hornets! I remember thinking: well, there could be a cougar or a bear out there, but it never dawned on me I'd be running from hornets! Seems these particular ones like to make nests in the ground and my prize fern was their home. At least they don't sting like bees; more like a sharp pinch and some minor throbbing for a few hours.

September 5, 2007
As we build, we design. And this is the fun part. We decided the
apex of the gothic arch of our front door needed something. I'll give you three guesses of what we decided to use - the first two don't count! I like the image of the moon we used for our moonvane that sits atop our belvedere, so a smaller version seems just right.

After hours and hours of working on transferring our jpg image to their computer, we watched the metal worker use a laser beam (or plasma cutter) to cut the image out of a sheet of copper. Here you see the
image on the computer screen. Here is the plasma cutter at work. The sparks generated by this procedure were a mini-version of the fourth of July. The metal sheet is placed on a bed and the laser is guided by the computer image. As I watched, the image began to reveal itself. When the laser work is complete, the metalworkers detach it from the sheet and burnish sharp edges.

September 8, 2007
After a two-year hiatus, I'm back to spray painting Hardie siding.

We've known for some time that we would need more pieces than we originally bought - mainly due to making some changes as to exterior materials.

Last year when the stone mason was installing our Eldorado stone, we decided not to continue it
on the south side of the house (see South view on left, North side on right) since this particular area isn't easily visible. So we decided to make a money-saving decision and use more Hardie there. Also during that time, we decided we'd use Eldorado on the north side of the building which is very visible as you approach the house. However, adding that stonework will have to wait until after we move in. We might add the scratch coat for weather protection before that, and we might tackle installing the stone ourselves since we won't be under any time crunch by then. But we haven't made a final decision yet.

At any rate, I was a little nervous about remembering my "technique" for the spray painting but it all came back as soon as I got going.

One mistake I won't make again is stacking the finished pieces too soon. The stain puddles on the underside of the piece. Last time we didn't realize these puddles hadn't dried thoroughly and they ended up sticking to the adjacent board. We were able to do some touch up and use those "damaged" pieces in areas where the imperfection won't be noticeable, but the pieces I'm painting now will grace the front of the building and so I'll be seeing them every day.

I've also been using that compost I had delivered to dress some major areas of the landscape. The weeds got ahead of me this year and I believe they got a good start in areas that didn't have compost. So, I'm working on that and planting seed in hopes the coming fall weather will give it a chance to take hold.

September 11, 2007
I'm slowly whittling down
my Bandini Mountain. Used some of it on the driveway center strip to give it more base.

September 14, 2007
We just read in our paper about a local artist who works in copper, creating lifelike salmon sculptures mainly for Indian casinos. Only in a small town can you read an article, go to the white pages, and find someone's number! So I called this local artist, Clark Mundy, and asked him if he could take our "new" copper moon and give it some "life" and he said he'd give it a try. I went to his studio and was amazed at his work and can't wait to see what he produces.

September 17, 2007
We have averted disaster.

One of the big ticket items we bought very early on, before we began building, were our special order garage doors from Home Depot.

Although it's not recommended, I am dead set on painting these doors to go with our exterior color scheme. Seems painting the doors, especially dark colors, can concentrate the heat from the sun and damage the glue that attaches the decorative overlay. But we can't have white (or even almond) garage doors when nothing else is that color, so I'll chance it and go ahead with my plans and damn the consequences. However, that side of the house is nearly always in shade and we don't get extreme hot temperatures here, so it should be okay.

So, the other day I was looking over our purchase order to request a materials sample from the manufacturer to test my paint. And I nearly fainted! Here, two years down the line, I realized the wrong door design was ordered. I didn't make a mistake, the salesclerk did, but that was two years ago!

By dumb luck the technical support at the garage door company let slip that there was a problem with the glue formula that attaches the facade (or decorative outside) component of the door.

Here's the bottom line: I went to the Contractor's Desk and found a great employee, Rachelle, who really took care of me. Once I explained the entire situation, especially about the defective glue, and explained that regardless of the incorrect order, I would have come back to Home Depot to get satisfaction for the defect, she arranged to have my entire original purchase price refunded. And she went that extra mile by waiving the usual 15% restocking fee for special orders.

Rachelle was so wonderful, I wrote to the CEO of Home Depot to sing her praises and gave her a copy of the letter.

September 18, 2007

Guess what? GREG HAS FINISHED THE BELVEDERE (TURRET) ROOF!!!!!!! Wooooooo Hooooooo. Now one more small section to go (which includes putting up siding, installing fireplace vents, painting and installing wood trim, and designing and building and installing corbels) and the roofing saga will be behind us. Then it's on to completing the siding and building jambs and installing exterior doors. I'm keeping my fingers crossed we'll be done with that by year's end...if luck is with us.

September 19, 2007
Well, that was quick! Mr. Mundy called and said our moon was ready! And he did
an incredible job! His talent gave it dimension and life. Can't wait 'til we can hang it for real, but I just couldn't resist putting it up just to look at.

September 22, 2007
While Greg is closing in on completing the roof (hooray!), I continue to paint the current batch of Hardie siding. And I'm still using that compost all over the place. Right now I'm - once again -
adding to the width of the green strip that runs down the center of the driveway. And design possibilities for the driveway are brewing.



And for previous house notes go to

to see what we've been up to lately

(the newest entries are always at the bottom of the page)