You might think that slapping some decorative/auxiliary/new window sills on some existing new construction windows wouldn't take much time, right? How hard could it be? Cut a board to whatever size is needed, fasten it to the exterior wall, caulk it in...done.
Sometimes, that's the case.
This is not one of those times.
This is the house where the window sills are being installed. I've talked about it before - a lot, because it's a pretty rad house - so I'll just point out a few things:
Those are essentially 6-piece sills; there's the main sill block, 2 corbels underneath, and then 3 pieces of trim that wrap the sill block. 6 pieces times 5 windows...that's 30 pieces to custom fabricate. And really, with the corbels being made of 4 pieces each, it was more like 60 pieces to custom fabricate.
The fabrication was pretty straightforward, but getting measurements to use to replicate the existing stuff...not so much. In addition to the many, many layers of who knows what covering these things, there was the siding to contend with as well as the fact that with these being certainly made by hand, they weren't all the exact same size. For the corbels, I ended up just tracing the shape...after multiple site visits to try and get decent measurements. I was able to get decent enough ballpark measurements for the sill block.
In spite of all the measuring, and in spite of my decent collection of router bits, and in spite of how simple I figured it'd be...fabricating the trim gave me some fits. The existing sill trim had been dinged up, patched, weathered and painted so many times that the best I could do was get a couple measurements and then kind of estimate what the original radii had been on the curved portions, but I figured that with a combination of routers bits, I'd get a decent profile replication.
As it turned out...I had the right router bits, but the profile I cut was just a hair off. If I had a tilting router lift I think those 4 bits would have been dead on, but...I don't have a tilting router lift so I essentially just used the router to things close, and then went old-school to fine tune things.
Here's one of the new construction windows:
Installation wasn't too difficult, just a little time-consuming. I first traced the sill block outline on the wall, then cut away the siding with a multi-tool. Unfortunately, the GC on this job was a complete clown and, as a result, neither the windows nor the siding is level (and I'm not talking like it's out of whack by 1/16 of an inch, I'm talking 1/4 and 1/2 inch increments), and the walls and siding are plenty wavy. Regardless, I did pretty good with the multi-tool; the idea with this type of installation is to cut away enough that there's a little wiggle room for the sill block, but not so much wiggle room that caulk becomes an inappropriate material to button things up.
With the siding cut away, I pre-drilled some holes in the sill block and corbels through which I drove 4" screws, doing anything I could to hit studs. The sill block screws get covered by the trim, but for the corbels I cut wood plugs to fit the pre-drilled holes and glued them in place after the screws were driven. All parts and pieces received a healthy amount of polyurethane construction adhesive, and I made sure to get a couple coats of primer on everything - even the non-visible sides - beforehand.
With the heavy lifting knocked out, the trim was pretty simple: cut the trim pieces to fit, glue 'em up, nail em' down.
Once the glue on everything dried I went back and spackled the nail holes and any little gaps or cracks or dings in the wood, and shaved the wood plugs flush with the corbels.
A little sanding, another round of primer and a little caulk (sort of) completed the job (I still have a little caulking to do). The painter will handle things from here on out.
...3 sills down, 2 to go.
And those 2...involve ladder work. There's a reason they were saved for last...
The kitchen island project is still ongoing, and since there's no sense in sitting around while I watch the paint on it dry, I've started another project - window sill fabrication and installation - during the kitchen island paint dry time (and there's a LOT of dry time required). The sills I'm making are strictly decorative and are going on new construction so it shouldn't be a huge deal to install them (although with the particular GC involved...who knows, it could be a nightmare), and the fabrication is pretty straightforward, but they need to be a very, very close approximation of the sills on the house the new construction was added on to.
And that house as built in 1858.
The sills on those windows appear to be original to the house; a bajillion layers of paint made it tough to get precise measurements, but I think I came pretty close.
I'm making the new sills out of Douglas fir, which is most likely what the original sills are made from, and Douglas fir is a pretty enjoyable species of wood to work with. It's considered a softwood, but of the softwoods commonly available, Douglas fir is one of the strongest, heaviest and hardest species. In short, it's easy on the tools, but plenty solid.
Anyhow...I've got a couple sills cut and primed, and all the window sill corbels I need (11) made and ready to go. I still need to fabricate the trim that'll go on the sills, and there's another three sills I need to build (both the sills and corbels required glue-ups, and I only have so many clamps), but I'm off to a good start.
The corbels were easily the most time-consuming activity:
I'll post a few pics of the finished product once I get these things installed...
Long story short, I'm going to start some work next week at a house owned by some people I've done work for in the past. It's a super rad house, and there's no real way to overstate that. Unfortunately, the GC - a big-shot, HBA member, custom home builder - that ran the recent renovation work, the part that involved rehabbing existing stuff, it's garbage. Really. I can't say enough bad things about the work these guys did; shoddy work is wrong to begin with, but when a GC is getting paid as much as this joker did...inexcusable.
Some of what I'll be doing next week is work to a covered porch. The original porch, it's crazy old (may not be original to house, but it could be, and the house was built in 1858). Some of the porch had to be demo'd to make way for an expansion of the main house. The GC simply needed to button up the remaining porch - nothing major, as the porch is slated to be replaced in a year or two - and attach it to the newly constructed addition. This is where the GC pretty much shit the bed.
The work they did, aesthetically, is beyond bad. The work they did, structurally, is 1,000 times worse.
But rather than bitch and whine and point out all the ways these guys failed, I figured it might be a hair more entertaining to go about things in the following manner:
These are pics of what some preliminary deconstruction revealed. A piece of big box store Lauan had been used as skirting (visible in pic #1), and the point of this particular skirting was to hide some sins. Pic #2 shows the original porch, which is the painted stuff on the left, and the "new construction/repair" unpainted work (the post isn't new, but the stuff above and below it is supposed to be) on the right. Oddly enough, it's the new stuff I'm being hired to make right, whereas the stuff that's 100+ years old...perfectly acceptable for what's currently needed. Tells you a lot about, in general, the builders in previous generations vs. some of the current builders out there.
Anyhow...behold, a quiz. Take a few seconds to study the pics, and then let's see how discerning your eyes are for picking out laughable construction in the lower half of this catastrophe (we'll cover the upper half next time). Side note: the paver and wood you see that's under the porch floor (and what holds it and the roof above it up), there's nothing but mud underneath it. No stone. No concrete. No solid anything.
I got stung by a yellow jacket today while digging into this porch. I'm confident that whatever hole in the ground those things live(d) in was exponentially more structurally sound than the work done by the GC-that-shall-remane-nameless.
I think I have a decent plan for going about making this thing halfway solid without breaking the bank or going overboard on a structure that's going to come down for good sooner or later. But I also think I haven't yet uncovered all the surprises.
After a little shuffling of some design elements, I got back to work on the kitchen island yesterday. There's still a lot of work left to do, but hopefully I can start painting the bulk of the thing tomorrow (this is predicated on 1, getting everything sufficiently assembled and 2, my paint sprayer, which I haven't used in years, working as it should). Then there's the top to wrestle with still...but I'm pretty happy to have gotten things dry fit today.
The island will feature a set of full-depth drawers and a couple sets of bookshelves on one side (the "front" side), and a couple sets of bookshelves on the other (the "back" side).
Moving this thing out of the shop is going to be a challenge. I figured I could handle it alone, but while the weight isn't unbearable, it's just a hair too big in just about every dimension to get a good grip on anything. But I'll cross that bridge when I get to it, and if I need to call in some reinforcements, I know all kinds of dudes that hate receiving phone calls from me when I need to get something big and bulky delivered to a job site.
In my various endeavors to round up reclaimed wood, I meet a lot of interesting people. Sometimes those people are one-and-dones, and other times those people become business associates, or colleagues with whom I can exchange ideas, information and resources.
Given the nature of the reclaimed wood world, while there are certainly top-flight vendors and distributors of high-end, milled-and-ready-to-use reclaimed lumber, to come up with some truly decent and relatively affordable stuff, more times than not - outside of rolling the dice on craigslist - one has to know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody. It's sort of an underground, grassroots type of industry for anybody not wanting to pay something like $14/board foot just to purchase reclaimed lumber.
Recently, I was fortunate enough meet one of those people, a guy who knows some guys who know some guys and making a long story short, I am now able to include reclaimed wood flooring procurement and installation as a service we offer.
The wood is salvaged from barns across the country, kiln-dried, and milled to include the traditional tongues and grooves through which the flooring is installed. The milling process includes skip-planing the lumber, which creates a surface that is relatively smooth yet full of character. The wood species in a box of flooring is typically mixed, although the usual suspects - oak, walnut, elm, etc. - are prevalent.
The reclaimed wood flooring gets installed like just about any other type of unfinished wood floor, in that it gets nailed or stapled down and then undergoes some combination of sanding and finishing (could be a polyurethane finish, could be an oil finish) depending on the desired look and feel.
I'm pretty excited about this new product we're able to offer, and should anybody want a sample, let me know!
I didn't buy much, and if it weren't so convenient I probably wouldn't have bought any.
But I recently heard some rumors about decent reclaimed barn wood being warehoused in...Benton Park West, which is the neighborhood maybe 10 minutes (but only 3 miles) away, which is definitely inside the St. Louis, MO city limits, thus making it a place one typically doesn't find a lot of reclaimed barn wood.
I usually have to drive an hour away, out into the country, to get decent barn wood. Or, I can deal with one of the couple reclaimed wood operations here in town, although the one that typically has the widest selection of barn wood usually has stuff that is the absolute worst quality and yet they want a higher price than anybody else (I won't name names, but it's a sketchy business I refuse to deal with).
So...good proximity...good reclaimed wood quality...good price...it's sort of like finding a unicorn. And today, I bought that unicorn.
Really, I only bought a handful of boards - full 2" thick x 8" wide oak boards - but these are the stacks they came from:
The lumber apparently came from a barn in the part of the world shown on the map below. The story I got was that the structure had partially collapsed, and the owners wanted the rest of it brought down before it became a more significant hazard and safety issue.
Everybody's seen barn wood though, right? It's really not any earth-shattering stuff. What I thought was pretty cool was being able to find some so close to home, in a neighborhood with buildings like this:
Not a place one would expect to find barn wood, right? Benton Park West is a strange neighborhood, and one that exemplifies (a little too well) the standard St. Louis characteristic of being able to go 3 blocks in any direction and finding both "good" spots and "bad" spots. This neighborhood has great architecture, houses that have been meticulously cared for, and houses that have plywood covering doors and windows. That said, I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of rehab activity going on...that's always a good sign.
Anyhow...the barn wood, I went there for the barn wood. IL barn wood, salvaged and warehoused by a guy living in Benton Park West, purchased and hauled to a shop by a guy who doesn't have a truck.
Pretty unique Saturday morning all the way around.
Last week, I started building a kitchen island. After running into a couple hiccups in terms of the design and how exactly the piece was going to shake out, I decided to put that project on hold for a day or two while I knocked out something entirely different: a door.
But I didn't get asked to build any ol' door, I got asked to build a sliding, barn-style door out of reclaimed wood. I was pretty excited to take on the project.
The lumber - all oak - came from a barn that was built in the 1920's in Warrenton, MO.
I only had to drive out to Winfield, MO to get it, and by the time I put my eyes on the lumber it had been pretty well picked through but I was able to find enough halfway straight, rot-free boards to build a pretty decent door. Side note: I also bought some barn tin, which isn't really tin at all, and have some goofy ideas for how to incorporate that into some of the future builds.
Once I got the lumber in the shop, the work was pretty straightforward: clean the wood, mill it, assemble it, throw down some poly, call it "done". That said, it'd been a while since I made one and the design was pretty open-ended...so I pretty much made it up as I went along.
I think she turned out pretty well, and if nothing else, the door is rock-solid and kind of obnoxiously heavy. But it was a fun project; hopefully I'll be able to build a few more in the future.
If you want to check out the build video, here it is:
I've been sitting on this project for a while, and needing a break from the kitchen island build to revisit some design choices, I figured I'd spend today doing something a little more rustic: building a sliding door out of reclaimed barn wood.
I don't know much about the lumber's history, although I was told it came from a 1920s era barn in Warrenton, MO. By the time I made the trek out to purchase the lumber it'd been pretty well picked through, I but I was still able to find a few gems. They're going to make a pretty good-lookin' door...