Sippican Cottage

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

I’ve Got The World on a String

We’ll be moving right along with this project, mostly because we didn’t take many photos. Without photos, I’m forced to remember what I did, which I mostly can’t. I do stuff, and write stuff, and the minute I’m done with it I forget what I did or what I said, and move on to other things. I basically only remember grudges. Oh well.

Here’s where we left off. The porch in front of the door is as solid as the Silicon Valley Bank, so we can move on to fixing the semicircle part. It was pretty evident, as soon as we peeled up the plywood, that everything under there was going to be a total loss. My son was helping me, and asked me how we were going to be able to put the porch back in the right place if we demolished the whole thing. Bright kid.

Back to geometry class. We used a tape measure to determine the radius of the (semi)circle. We measured back from the step, and from the spot where the curved kneewall met the side of the house. The spot where they meet is the center of the imaginary circle we’re working in. We drove a screw into the siding at that spot, and then cut a piece of mason’s twine to the length of the radius. We tied one end to the screw. Bingo, we could lay out anything in exactly the right spot just by swinging the string around in an arc. This got important in a minute.

There’s a hint of and then a miracle occurs in my sequence of photos. Mi dispiace. Everything light greenish in the image is stuff we installed. You can espy the radius timber I mentioned before. It made it about 2/3 of the way to its intended destination. After that, it eaten away by carpenter ants and dry rot. But it was handy to have in place as a target for our repairs. So we supported it, along with the top cap on the kneewall and the curved rail underneath it, until we could underpin it properly. If you wonder if carpenters were more skilled and versatile one hundred years ago than nowadays, you could take a look at that curved rail. it’s a perfect semicircle, and they fashioned it into a curve with a hatchet.

We removed a dozen or two ad hoc concrete block props. Then we dug a footing hole under the post you see at the end of the radius timber. It was nothing fancy. Dig down to get below the frost line (I’m lying. The frost line is five feet deep around here. We went down a couple of feet and got tired and said enough’s enough). We dumped some crushed rock in the bottom of the hole for drainage. The main reason posts heave in the winter is because the soil at bottom of the hole has water in it, so we tried to make up for the depth as best we could by draining it properly. We dropped one of those ready-made mushroom footings you get at the Home Depot on top of the gravel. Then we very carefully measured the distance from the underside of the curved rail framing to the bottom of the pre-made socket in the footing. Once we had the curved rail sitting on top of the post and new footing, we could “sister” pressure treated framing lumber on both sides of the existing timber, and fill in the gap at the end with some scrap lumber. The sistered lumber laps the post, so once we had the height correct, it was easy to attach it firmly. How did we get the height? We matched the slope of the existing porch (down and away from the house) using a level and straightedge. No measuring necessary.

In the last picture, you can see the vertical pine planks that made up the curved wall’s sheathing. They were pretty rotten, and even the cedar shingles nailed on the outside of it rotted up a few feet. It’s hard to make cedar shingles rot, but somehow my predecessors managed it. It’ll all have to go:

We’re approaching the Ship of Theseus level of renovation here. You can see all the sheathing and shingles in a heap over there, and next to nothing left of the porch. We had to make a curved doppelganger bottom sill to match the curved top cap timber. How are we going to do that, asked my bright son. That’s what the string is for, I said. We laid pressure treated boards on top of the rail, and cut the ends at an angle so they made a faceted circle. Then we tied a pencil to the string. and drew the outside circle by pulling it around the circumference. Then we shortened it by the width of the cap, and drew the inside circumference.

We cut the curves on a bandsaw, because my hatchet skills aren’t that good. Then we did it again, only we staggered the seams on the boards to beef it up. We screwed the two curved pieces together on the flat, and they were plenty stiff. We attached them to the posts we had at the house, the radius timber, and at the step, and filled in the spaces with 2 x 4s. We rabbeted out a, well, a rabbet on the studs to accept the curved board you see on the left. We wanted to support the end of the decking so it doesn’t feel like a diving board. We didn’t steam the board to curve it. It was thin enough to pull it into that shape with a pipe clamp, and hold it in place with screws.

The Home Depot had a stack of pressure treated pine 1 x 6 lumber that no one knew what to do with. It was the nastiest looking pile of stuff in the place, and that’s saying something. They were cheap, and I doubt they replaced them after I bought them. We nailed them vertically on the framing. It makes a vaguely faceted semicircle, but shingles will smooth that over. I bought all they had, which wasn’t enough, so there are a couple of regular pine boards on display in the picture. The outside looked like this:

So we’ve essentially put the porch back the way it was when it was built. The framing is more or less laid out the same. The Victorian builders would have liked the pressure treated lumber framing, and hated the pressure treated decking, but other than that, nothing I used would have made them scratch their heads. So we could button it up and get ready for the next century of use:

We bought sheets of exterior beaded board, and bent them around the curve. The original was beaded 1 x 4 pine sticks, but we ain’t got time for restoring that. It looks like the same thing, and when it’s painted, it will match the other end of the porch. Unfortunately, the cat lost several scratching posts, and will have to go around the outside and dig to get at the mousies.

Now we’ve got another problem. The columns have to go back in, and there aren’t enough of them, and the ones we do have are too short. We’re going to have to make some stuff.

[To be continued. If you’d like to support Sippican Cottage, recommend it to your online friends, leave a trenchant comment, or a regular one if you prefer. You can hit our tip jar if you’re feeling wealthy, because I’m not]

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