Final Stage of Pergola

The pergola is now done-after installing the kneebraces, the joists were considerably easier. I installed 8 12′ 2×6 joists with a 45 degree cut on the West facing end on 16″ centers. I used what I  would call a modified bridle joint to set the joists on the beams and then secured them with two screws on either end.

For the cross pieces I ripped the remaining 2×6’s into 12′ 2x2s and installed 11 of them on 9 1/2″ centers and added a 45 degree cut to both ends. They were a little wonky to begin with so they don’t look perfectly straight from above but they are secure.

My favorite view-from the chaise lounge:

And of course we hung the obligatory paper lanterns to finish it off. What I’m really looking forward to is our first “drive-in” movie night with the screen and projector. I’m thinking Star Wars: Episode IV.


Kneebraces Pt. 2

With the remaining kneebraces cut to size, it’s on to the mortises in the posts.

Each post and beam corner holds two kneebraces and so I showed the dovetail to each respective post and beam and traced the edge to help with a snug fit. To temporarily hold the kneebrace in place, I used the time honored bungee cord technique.

Once the lines were marked, I removed the kneebrace and using a large and small forstner bit, I removed as much wood in the mortise as possible.

Following that, I then used a 1″ mortising chisel and a 1/4″ paring chisel to finish the job. This gave me ample opportunity to practice my sharpening skills.

While this type of joint can be implemented after the post and beams are up, it’s somewhat difficult to mortise wood at or above eye level, not to mention the inherent danger of holding a chisel at that height. Full disclosure-I managed to drop the mortising chisel once-and while I didn’t make the mistake of trying to catch it, it took a random bounce of the ladder and struck me in the rib. At about this point my first thought was that I’d have to spend a good hour sharpening the chisel, when in fact, I was about to spend three hours at urgent care. The cut was textbook, a 1 1/2″ incision, perfect really thanks to an ultra sharp, 6000 grit Japanese waterstone edge.

The physician at the clinic was rather complimentary-she said it was a beautiful laceration and proceeded to glue it back together rather than use stitches.

After the top and bottom mortises were cleaned out, I tapped in the kneebrace-for some of the fits, I had to file things down to get them to slide in, and in a couple case the fit was less than ideal.

The braces didn’t always line up perfectly with each other which didn’t really bother me.

Once the kneebrace was fitted, I drilled two holes in each tenon and inserted 3/8″ oak pegs.

I chose to leave the pegs proud of the joint for aesthetic appeal.

The entire process of cutting the tenons and cleaning out the mortises has been the most time consuming part of the project. It is also possibly the most interesting aspect of the pergola. The biggest gaps in the joints are around 1/8″…with some possibly a bit more:-) This has been a good learning process and since it’s a pergola and not a house, I’m OK with the imperfections. It’s a balancing act no doubt when it comes to accuracy, aesthetics, structural integrity and expediency. What is sound vs what is adequate vs what looks good. Of all the joints there was one kneebrace that truly annoyed me in terms of not fitting right. Rather than fidget with it, I let it be. It’s still sturdy as hell and I was able to shim it so that the gap was minimized.

Next up are the joists and then the 1 1/2″ x 2″ strips to complete the lattice.

Barred Owl aka Eight Hooter

As the light waned last night, I finished tapping in the final hardwood peg into the peg mortise & tenon joint and was visited by one and then two Barred Owls in the Pin Oak. They sat there while I pushed the last peg through and then lit off when I came down the ladder.

Here’s a view of the pergola thus far:

On Timber Framing

If you’ve been following recently, you’ll know I’ve been working on designing and constructing a pergola in the backyard. It’s still in the nascent stages and I’m learning as I go. One commenter, Jay C. White Cloud, has been kind enough to take an interest and give some advice as well. Below is his comment on the history and technique of one particular methodology of putting posts in the ground and/or using stone plinths.

It is easier to work on a timber if it is not already stuck in the ground, which yours appears to be in the one photo? Are you using, “edge rule,” “scribe rule,” or the oldest method still in use, and the method I teach, “center line reference?” Did you know, that even today in Japan, Korea, and China, Wood structure that are built outside are set on “stone plinths.” This protects the wood from the elements and is much better than sticking it directly in the ground. If it is stuck in the ground for simple or common structures, (temporary shed, fence posts, etc.) they would “char” the portion that goes in the ground with fire, there by “carbonizing” it. Carbon is what diamonds are made of and this technique can extend wood, that is in direct contact with soil, life span to centuries and in some cases millenniums.


Onward Pegola

Phase I complete. Posts are in. Beds are made. Next step-timber frame joinery.

One point of interest. To use treated or untreated posts. I struggled somewhat with this decision. Common practice is to use pressure treated posts when going into ground. But there is the issue of chemicals to deal with, etc-plus these posts were salvaged and I would have had to apply an preservative myself. So after some lengthy research (see this study by the OSU Post Farm) I found that on average, an untreated 4×4 post of Easter Red Cedar, which is in fact a juniper, lasts 19-25 years in the ground. This also applied in another study done through the University of Missouri. I’m using 6×6 posts so I’m estimating we’ll get 20 years on the low end out of these timbers.

There’s a lot of different opinions out there that go both ways in terms of treated vs untreated. I’m going with the latter route and based on the studies I reviewed we should be  OK.

I’m really looking forward to the next phase of laying out all the joinery and learning a thing or two about timber framing.

Paver Removal

On Sunday, Amy and I were able to pull the pavers (and then some) where the beds and pergola posts are destined for greatness. The pavers, which we think were put in maybe 5-7 years ago (before we bought the house), were set in an angled pattern. The intended beds will be rectangles. So it’s not as simple as just pulling out a large rectangle’s worth of pavers to make way for the beds. Instead, we had pull everything out on the diagonal so that when we reset the pavers to accommodate the beds it would end up being straight. It’s harder than it sounds, at least if your spatially challenged like me.

So we began pulling up each paver and then set it down to recreate the pattern in our currently unused garden bed.

And putting it back together…

It took a couple of hours to pull everything that we needed and rebuild what appears to be the concrete paver version of Frankenstein’s Monster.

And the beast itself.

The last part of today’s experiment was putting the puzzle back together in hopes of affecting a more or less straight line to match up to the future limestone beds. To do this we took the end piece and eventually end pieces from each row and aligned them in such a way as to keep the edge straight.

You’ll note in the upper right hand corner of the photo, a 4-lb mallet and two cold chisels. Those entered the picture when I forgot to compensate for the slight curve of the patio in the lower right hand corner of the photo. Fortunately I only had to size about 4 pieces to finish the straight edge of the “new” patio. Basically I just scored a line on the top and bottom of each paver that I needed to cut and then applied about 10-12 light strikes up and down the score to break each piece to size.

The plan this week is to dig and set one post a night after work so that I’ll have all four up by next weekend and then work on putting in the two beds and steps. The rest will be all timber framing. I’m pretty darn excited about that part.

Stone City

Still gathering supplies for the backyard pergola project and this weekend it was all about rocks. A friend and I took a road trip to Weber Stone, located in Stone City, IA. It’s a tiny little village near Anamosa, and appropriately enough is the home of Anamose Limestone, which they’ve been quarrying since the 1850s. It’s also the home of the Stone City Art Colony, founded by Edward Rowan, Adrian Dornbush, and most famously, Grant Wood.

There are only few dozen structures in the whole place, mostly all made from of course, limestone and mostly residential. It’s a picturesque little spot, with the Wapsipinicon River running right through the middle of town. If you are ever in the area, be sure to stop by the General Store for a 1 lb or better burger (hauling rocks all day works up an appetite) and an oatmeal stout, all of which can be enjoyed on the back deck overlooking the river.

(photo courtesy of Bill Whittaker)

The quarry itself is in the middle of town and is a massive operation. If you’re in the market for some limestone, this is the way to go, plus it’s really fun seeing all the different rock cuts, and how it comes right out of the hillside. It’s a quick process, you drive up on the scale, get weighed and head out to the yard to hand pick your product. Then it’s back to the scale, for gross weight and out the door. We got what we needed and then took a leisurely stroll through the yard just to see what’s there.

Total take for the day was 980 lbs of planter stone for the two beds and steps that will be incorporated into the patio/pergola area.

Had I a larger vehicle (the wagon was limited to an additional weight of 1145 lbs) I probably would have got more, although I don’t need any-there’s something compulsive about buying beautifully cut rock at such a affordable price.

I did a quick layout of where the beds would go, just to visualize it:

Archie immediately located where the stairs would go.

Now for the fun part of tearing out the old pavers to make way for the posts and beds. Whoo-hoo!