About That House

Spring sprung and Ellen’s efforts went into the front flowerbed, once that was to her liking she mixed up some mortar and became a stonemason. Last year, one might recall, Ellen could not finish the front wall until the portico roof was done.

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Now that the various flowers and bushes have had a chance to develop the front flowerbeds create a nice approach to the house.

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Finishing the front wall became a real nitpicking job as each and every stone had to be found, selected, fitted, power-washed and then, finally, cemented in place. All in all though it only took a couple of weeks to finish the façade to our “mansion”. Oh what a beautiful difference those few stones made!

As the weather became more conducive to outdoor activities, the Massey dug up more dirt up on the hill and the east, north and west sides of the house were backfilled some more. There is still quite a lot of dirt to be hauled in, but at least now we can get a real good picture of what the outside is going to look like.

I think we’ll like it here…

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Mixing mortar, selecting and fitting stones then power washing the chosen ones is a big job. Once again Johnnie is helping us out with his strong muscles and while Ellen is cementing the stones in place, Johnnie does most of the backbreaking hard labor. Now that school is out Johnnie comes every day that we are home (we’re still doing all those kiln repairs) and helps out with various tasks. I don’t know what we’d do without the young man! While Ellen and Johnnie are laying stone I’m in the shop making a new door for the screened-in porch.

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When thirty some years ago I built the screened-in porch at the old house, I also built a door that was decorated with spindles and quarter-circle corner spindle moldings. The spindles and corner pieces came from various old farm doors of old farmhouses that we had permission to “raid” for usable parts. One might recall the door panel wall on the upstairs landing in the new house. When I dismantled and subsequently resurrected the screened-in porch I used the same old door that I had made thirty some years earlier.

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Back then I did not have much experience making a door from scratch. The styles were really too narrow to accommodate the lock, but with typical ingenuity I made it work for thirty years. Originally the door had two rows of spindles, but we only got to enjoy those for a couple of years. During a particular severe and heavy thunderstorm “Duchess “, our golden retriever chewed them all out, crawled through the narrow opening and hid in the woods for four days…. So we lived with the opening.

This time around the new door will have two rows of spindles again. At first I thought I’d duplicate the original old spindles and with that in mind built a small lathe. Over the years I’ve done some lathe work, but those few projects were unique. This time I would have to exactly duplicate the same shape ten times. The slightest irregularity would show up like a sore thumb… I’m good, but not THAT good… after turning a few spindles I made the wiser choice and ordered a few.

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The parts for the new door were made out of left over 2x material from the old house. Planed down to a thickness of an inch and a quarter, the dimensions were determined by the length of the spindles, the lock & handle assembly and the knee wall of the porch. In order for the spindles to line up with the corner cornices spacer blocks were made. Mortising the parts took some doing as the old spruce was very hard and the mortising bit was dull. Hey! That poor bit is only thirty some years old and has made more mortises in more wood species than I care to remember.

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I really should purchase a new drill bit and chisel set… The drill press turned mortising machine is now forty-four years old. Back in the cabinet shop days I converted a drill press to be used as a mortising machine only and to that end replaced the three-spoke wheel with one long lever. Over the years that lever bent out of shape until finally it gave up the ghost. That’s when I took an old eighteen-inch diameter tractor steering wheel and welded it to the sprocket. Talk about one-handed leverage!

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Now that all the parts have been machined as needed (tenons, mortises and ploughs for the bottom panel) it is time to assemble the center section – the three horizontal members that hold the spindles and spacer blocks. Sure glad I purchased those nifty spindles, rather then making them!  The spacer block and placement of the spindle in relation to the corner quarter circle spindles worked out nice too! As planned…

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…And then I came to the bottom panel…  Last fall when I made the storm doors for the entry doors I carved the center panels. Ellen’s initials in one, mine in the other. Would it not be neat to carve something in that nice flat bottom panel of this door?  How about a smiling sun?  Gurreri,  an Italian ceramist created the smiling sun below and I have used the pictured clay stamp for years.

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I’m no Gurreri, but surely between the two examples I could carve something similar? So out came the chisels, the Dremel tool, sandpaper and elbow grease. One has to be slightly off one’s rocker to attempt something like this, but then again: “Why not?” Thank God I have the talent, the fortitude, the gumption and the time to do something like this.  All that aside, it is FUN too!

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It took about seven hours, but the result is not too bad. Carving in relative soft and grain-less poplar is one thing, carving in old, hard and aged wood is quite another! I developed an even deeper appreciation of the woodcarvers of old who did some masterful carving in oak, which is even harder than pressure treated spruce…

Once the panel was finished it was time to fine-tune the mortises and the tenons and try to fit the parts together.  Somewhere along the line I must have gained a bit of experience in matters such as these, because the door came together really easy and is now sitting in the clamps. Tomorrow is another day!

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“Tomorrow” arrived and after I came back from a kiln inspection tour in Lebanon, I spent time in the shop sanding the door, sizing it for the crooked opening (the concrete porch slab slopes down!) and cutting the lock and hinge mortises. It was a good thing that Johnnie was here to help me manhandle that heavy door: four trips from the shop to the porch (Door on top of the golf cart) and six times in and out of the frame until the door fit like a glove! Ready for the primer coat!

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…And then it was ready for installation.

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Actum Factum. The door closer even closes and locks the door with a nice “solid” sound.

Blessed we are!

Click here to read the whole house story.