Sippican Cottage

Close this search box.
sweeping up
Picture of sippicancottage


A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Ribbon, Ribband, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

If you don’t mind (I’ll bet you won’t), we’re going to have to speed things up, and I’ll just wave my hand and tell you that there was a second step called and then a miracle occurs, and we ended up with beefed up framing all over the basement basement. For just a taste, here’s what we did to beef up the basement floor, which is overhead.

Those are 2 x 8 framing members. However, old house lumber isn’t sized like new house lumber. We had to run the 14-foot-long joists through a table saw and take about 1/4″ to a 1/2″ off them. They’re way, way undersized for the span, but no one asked me how big they should be back in 1901. Besides being too small, they’re spaced too widely, and somewhat randomly. We had to decide whether to “sister” the new pieces to the old pieces, or decrease the spacing between them. I performed intense calculations using my razor-sharp powers of observation and my encyclopedic knowledge of building practices, looked at my son, shrugged, and said, “I dunno. Whatever.”

They’re sitting on a flimsy cleat, mostly relying on being nailed to studs that extend up through the next floor for support. That was a common practice in balloon framing back in the day. Houses aren’t built like that anymore because lumber in long lengths is rare and expensive. It also leads to very bad fires, because smoke and flames have an easier time racing up the wall from floor to floor. My house isn’t balloon framed everywhere. It’s post and beam where it’s the biggest pain in the ass to work on, and it’s balloon framed in the worst places for that type of framing.

The thin, pine board the whole floor is resting on is called a ribbon (actually a ribband, but everyone calls it the other thing), and it makes me nervous. Let’s fix it, and lift the wall into place at the same time. Like this:

First we get some proper framing lumber under those joists and over the ribband. Then we use jacks to lift the sidewall until it lines up with the back wall again. Then we extend the corner post (there’s the post and beam shite again) to meet the very large sill. Finally, we support the new, beefy ribband with 2 x 4s on the flat, also extending to the sill. Like this:

We installed fire blocking, which segregates one floor from another. If you look at the first and second sheathing boards, you can see that the side wall was lifted about four inches or so at the back corner. I’ll have to patch up the sheathing and the clapboard siding later.

It’s finally time to start working on the foundation. In many cases, we would have been required to dig a hole five feet deep where the foundation goes, directly underneath the wall we’re going to support, and we’d have to do it with shovels. Yeesh. I’ve done it, it’s not fun. However, while the fellows that built my house were somewhat mercurial, they weren’t stupid. Down a few inches below ground are giant granite blocks that served as the foundation and footing. The part that used to show above ground was brick, and was ground to dust, but the granite is harder than Chinese arithmetic and never budged:

That railroad (trumpet) jack I told you about earlier is basically holding that entire section of wall, and three floors above it in place. It’s sitting on an oak plinth, on top of a big steel plate, with a big steel plate on top of it, too. Man oh man you just put a length of steel pipe into the yoke of that bad boy and turn it and the house goes up. It’s amazing. Then you tighten up the screw jacks to catch up. Wonderful.

We’re dumb, but we’re not dumb enough not to tie the part of the wall we’re building above ground to the granite part below ground. I drilled some 1/2″ holes in the stone, and pounded some #4 rebar into it. Rebar has its own system of sizing. Each number corresponds to 1/8″. So a #4 is 1/2″, and a #8 is 1″ in diameter, etc. We put some rebar horizontally, also, and tied it to the vertical bar. It just has to be held in place until the concrete fills the form. We also put in anchor bolts. Normally you place the bolts in the wet concrete, and then fit the sill to the bolts. We’re working upside down and backwards and sideways and obliquely, so we drill holes in the sill first, put the J bolts through, and hook them on the horizontal rebar, which is good practice.

All that is a pain in the arse if the form’s in place so we do it first. Then we start fitting the concrete form to the very uneven ground outside and the even more uneven concrete indoors. Like this:


We took apart the ridiculous beam we demolished and used some of the pieces to make the form. It had so many spikes (large framing nails) sticking into it, it reminded me of a porcupine pulled inside out. It was a beast to disassemble, but we were on a budget and we have to substitute labor for material wherever we can.

Hey look it’s our free cement mixer. The wheelbarrow was left out on someone’s curb during the Festival of Trash, so it didn’t cost anything. The teenaged boy wasn’t free, exactly. He isn’t getting paid, but I had to buy his mother dinner a few times before she agreed to marry me. Money in the bank, I figured.

So we mixed up a bunch of concrete with our hoe, which is plenty hard work, shoveled it into the form, and “rodded” it by plunging a leftover piece of rebar into the wet mix to get the air bubbles out of it. And just like that, we have a two-car garage/pigsty/barn under our house again.

[Tune in tomorrow to see if we can make this place presentable, now that’s it’s not going to fall on our heads. And tell a friend about Sippican Cottage]

2 Responses

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Thanks for commenting! Everyone's first comment is held for moderation.