Sunday, May 27, 2012

A garden grows, but you have to work for it

Up until May 17, if was below freezing every morning. After that it has been above 0C every day. Last frost? We don't know. But it is obvious that we had to do something about the garden. There was still snow on the ground when we went out last Monday.
This is a remnant from the huge berm made by snow coming off the roof. Anyway, we took spading fork in hand and went out to the garden.
The rows have to be spaded. Then some natural compost has to be added, and finally manure. It is not the spading that is difficult. It is extracting all dandelions! And they have very long roots, so I wind up bending over a lot, or crawling. Either way it is quite tiring! Above I am pulling one of the pesky varmints. Like vampires, they are hard to kill. They can, however, be eaten -- as long as you don't wait too long. Good in salads.
It is a good feeling, having a row done, but one is tired at the end of the day.

We will skip pictures of soil-building. We add "black dirt," my name for a pile of forest-floor organic matter where a bulldozer went. Likewise the add-manure step. I'm sure you can visualize it. Now on to the payoff. It is Memorial day weekend. This is the traditional planting date in Alaska. I'd like to start sooner, but this was out of the question with a severe winter. So I had some help, thank heavens. My daughter and her friend came up and helped. We did all the transplants.
There are a few more plants on my windowsill. They are a bit too young to be allowed to go out and play with the older boys and girls. But note the plastic cloches over anything that is liable to be lost to frost. I make these out of fruit juice containers by cutting off tops and bottoms. You could use glass jugs but it is much easier to make plastic ones. I can never have enough cloches.

It rained last night, saving me the trouble of watering. It rained all of today, too; no work possible. I have some seeding to do and the greenhouse. But the garden got off to a good start.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The moving of the tank

Back when the Village was young, in the mid-80s, there was no electricity, no gravelled road, no school. The pioneers used ATVs to get in and out (or snow machines in the winter), and cooked and lit their houses with propane. So when I came here I inherited an enormous propane tank. Eventually I was informed by the propane company that it was much too close to the house and would have to be moved. Furthermore I would have to replace the copper pipe that leads the gas inside the house. All this at great cost. No, said I and made other arrangements, at a tenth of the cost. But the tank was most inconvenient.
As you can see, the tank (a) is huge; it must weigh (mass) about 200 Kilos or 400 lb. as you prefer, and (b) solidly blocks the way to the woodshed. It had to be moved. So John and I started out on this odyssey. Regard the cable. What is it connected to? Why, my new come-along. This machine is indispensable for all bush Alaskans.

A come-along is a ratcheting winch. You connect the cable to an otherwise immovable object. You connect the other end to a really immovable object, such as a tree. You work the winch.
Observe the chain at the left of the picture. It is connected to faithful Vicky, my car, on her towing loop. One sweats. But the tank did move. Up to a point. You see, it has feet. The feet were set on top of concrete bricks. Came a point when tank would not move at all! The feet dug into the ground and would not budge. So after conferring, we connected tank direct to the car. Put car in 4WD compound low gear. Tank obediently rolled over and played dead.
The feet of the tank are now in plain view. If you look carefully you can see the concrete footings too, at the left. Once the tank was on its side we used the car to all the hauling. It was quite easy. We used rope rather than chain because we could lead the rope around trees to change the direction of pull, whithout mortal damage to the tree.

The tank now reposes at the regulation distance from the house. I don't need it at all, so if anyone wants a 300-gallon propane tank, you're wealcome to it. But you will have to come and get it and haul it off yourself!

My only complaint at this point is with the manufacturers of the come-along. They did not pre-stretch the cable, and dealing with it is like wrestling with an anaconda. Otherwise a fine piece of gear, much more solid than my previous come-along, which died in battle this winter. RIP.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The tao of tenons

Last post we made a mortise in a piece of 4x4. But something has to fit in that mortise, and that something is a tenon. A tenon is a tongue-shaped piece that goes at the end of a post -- or a brace. The easiest tenon to make is a post tenon. So let's look at it first.
Here is a post mortise. My standard post mortise is 6cm long. I made it just as I did the last one. Drill and clean. And there is Mr. Ferret, as I promised, sitting on top of the 4x4. Wonderful tool to clean out the bottom of a mortise. Better call it 88x88 mm, not 4x4. Got to watch the tricky gringos. They do you out of lumber at every chance. But note that at the right end of the mortise is a space. This is called the relish, for reasons that are obscure to me. So I am allowing a 2cm or so relish. Now we need to cut a tenon that will fit this mortise. This is a mark and saw job. You use the same marking gauge settings you used to do the mortise, but you saw inside the lines a hair. You want a looseish fit. Later you will drawbore the tenons. That is, you will put a peg through them. On the tenon you will offset the hole a bit (2-3mm) toward the shoulder. This will pull the mortise and tenon tight. So we saw out the tenon. It looks like this:
Now on to a more complex tenon. Since I did a brace mortise in the last post, it is only fair to show you how to cut one. A brace runs at 45 degrees between (usually) a post and the piece on top of the post, called a plate if it is a one-story thing, such as I want to do. Because things are at 45 deg the lengths of mortises are longer. For instance, the length of the brace mortise is 12.2 cm. Why? Well, Pythagoras. He worked the problem. Most things on a brace are multiplied by the square root of two. This is 1.4142... and on forever. I could do a whole post on the square root of two. But you may rest at ease; I won't (now, that is. I may still inflict it on you). However, to the nearest millimeter a 90-mm wide brace requires a 122 mm mortise. Slight error here, because "4x4" stuff is really 87-90mm wide, but it is better to overcut than undercut; it is very difficult to lengthen a mortise. So let's do the tenon.

First job is to lay it out. All angles are 45 deg. I use a Japanese framing square. In a real Japanese square, one of the scales is in plain old centimeters. Another, however, is multiplied by the square root of two. Alas, I have a gringified Japanese square. Inches, so help me, on one side. Shame on Lee Valley tools. Here's the end of the layout phase:
All 45 degrees. Can be done with a framing square very easily. Now we have to lay out the amount we have to saw away from the tenon. We want the edges of the brace to line up with the outsides of post and plate. Many ways to do this, including YAMG, or Yet Another Marking Gauge (This is why I have so many marking gauges. Pain to set up, so you have many of them, because I set them up once. But then I have to select the right one. Sigh). This time, I used a vernier plastic calipers for the task.
I am using a pencil here because this is where I don't want mistakes. On the other stuff I used a felt-tipped pen. Not the best thing but it shows up very clearly in photographs. Remember, a pencil lead is 0.5 or 0.7 mm. A felt-tip is perhaps 2 mm so marking with a felt-tip is asking for imprecision. The Japanese framers use (traditionally) bamboo markers, chisel-tipped, and india ink. Modern Japan has ersatz markers, very nice. Unavailable in Alaska.

Now we take the saw to our layout lines. I use (natch) a Japanese Ryoba saw. I have a real affinity for Japanese tools. We cut the ends all the way through, but we have to be very careful with the depth we marked out with the vernier callipers. That's the one I'm sawing here. You must saw only down to the marked depth on this cut.
And now we have to get rid of the upper portion if the cut, where my right hand is sitting. Some people use a chisel for this. I find it easier to rip it out. Just turn the Ryoba over!

Now if you want to do this for real you need a book. A good book will tell you how to cut all these joints. It will tell you a lot of things that make your life much easier. My bible is called Build a Classic Timber-Frame House, by Jack A. Sobon, ISBN 978-0-88266-841-3. I invented none of this; the old Saxons did this kind of stuff a thousand years ago and some of their buildings still stand. Much more than you can say for basic California ticky-tacky, nailed construction.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The making of a mortise

Now we come to the point -- or is it the edge? of making mortise and tenon joints for timber-framing. We need to make a mortise. I hauled in a salvaged "4x4," a misnomer if ever there was one; 4x4" would be about 100+ mm and what you get, in fact, is about 90mm. Somewhere they have cheated you out of a whole centimeter. But let that pass; I am too tired to rant. You will recall, I hope, that a mortise is nothing but a trench in wood. Into this trench fits a tongue called a tenon. M&T joints were the standard practice in framing a house up to about the 1900s; after that nailing became the practice and collapsing houses the norm. Let's not go there, it's a rant. Instead let me show you how to cut a mortise. We begin by laying out the mortise. If I were making a mortise centered on the 4x4 I would use my new marking gauge.
Note how the wide Japanese style gauge rides over the irregularities in the wood. I have it set up to cut right in the middle of the timber. Also note the knives in the gauge cut the wood rather than scoring it. However, I am practicing brace mortises. These are mortises for diagonal pieces of wood that support corners, keeping them at right angles. So I have to mark out in a different way. So I used a commercial marking gauge, because it is easier to set than my version of a Japanese gauge. But it has a needle point, so it scores rather than cuts. We are, by the way, making 25mm/1" mortises. Since the needles score the wood, we now chisel the edge of the mortise to prevent tear-out in the next step.
So we have prevented the edge from tearing out, because the next step will be to drill out the major portion of the mortise.
We are using a brace and bit for this job. A boring machine would be much faster. Unfortunately they are no longer made, and I have not found one. Fortunately it is not too deep a hole, 6cm exactly. A mark on the drill bit is my depth stop. You have to be quite careful where you drill the holes. They should overlap. This means less cleanout work at the end. So when you are through it looks something like this.

Somehow I am a little off on the hole next to the bottom. This is why this is a practice piece. We learn from mistakes. I think I mistook a crack in the wood for the centerline! Now we clean (square up) the mortise with chisels.
For this I use three (actually four, Mr Ferret is not shown) chisels. Foreground a 19mm Sorby UK mortising chisel, a 1" gringo chisel, and a wide (38mm) Japanese chisel. Be nice to have a 25mm Sorby chisel, but I don't so I use what I have. I am partway through cleanup when the photo was taken. At the end of the day, we have a nice 12 mm x 25mm x 60 mm hole in the 4x4, ready for the tenon.
My mistake in the hole-drilling does not show up too badly. Now it is ready for the tenon. I haven't show you how to make the tenon. Do that later. But here is the trial fit.
Not quite right. Reason is that the bottom of the mortise is not properly clean. When I dug it out with a ferret it worked very nicely. I'll show you the ferret sometime. It is a hooked tool used for carving, and works like a charm for mortise bottoms.

So I am piling up an impressive assortment of marking gauges! Here's my indooor inventory:
The outboard gauges are miniatures, but they work quite well for the big stuff. The left inboard one is commercial, and you have met Mr Japanese before. I find it very convenient to have several, because it bypasses setting these things, so I can have a gauge set up for each kind of joint.

And next time I'll show you how to cut a tenon.