Letters to the Architect
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The Architect
Bob Harper
Monday, 20 June 2005
Grandchild's Loft Windows


We anticipate spending most of the construction season this year up on scaffolding, roofing the porch and getting the exterior finish done, but before that.......we have decided to build the stairs in the main building. Climbing a step ladder to get into bed, exhausted after a work day, or descending same ladder in an uncaffeinated state in the morning looses its charm after a couple of years. In order to insulate and panel the walls that define the stair, we had to first keep the water out of the building, so we prayed to the Tyvek gods that their product might do the trick for a couple of months.

We also have done a spatial analysis and decided that because the privy/shower is across the porch in the shed building, we could modify Bob Harper's interior configuration, turning the intended main building bath area into a library/desk alcove connected to the living space. We also decided that since the were high (10' floor to floor) we could create a child's lookout loft under the stairs and over the alcove.....a womb with a view, accessible by built-in ladder....probably not for kids under three or four, but we'll see if there is a monkey in the genetic memory of our grandchildren. So this weekend we installed the windows for that loft and got Tyvek on the walls where the stairs will go. Invented a way to attach a scaffolding rail to a modified ladder bracket, which simplifies the scaffolding set up. Have I ever mentioned that I really dont like ladders and scaffolding? In the world of Zen, ya do what ya gotta do....love to all BSB

Posted by Bennett at 5:18 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, 20 June 2005 5:55 PM EDT
First Report from the Mountain: 2005


The computer swallowed my first attempt at a letter , and I am a post Memorial day construction warrior zombie, so I'll do a list of sorts.

First weekend North:
Saturday morning 7:00am ferry.
Great American Quickie platform bed
Walmart Barbecue assembly
Futon-sofa Assembly
Dinner for 8 (Barak Jenn, Baeden, Daina, Eric, Zenta, us) Visit Mass MoCA
Get home early-ish Sunday

Build shed/guest loft stairs Tues and Wed evening in Peconic

Return Friday:
Fill a 15 yard dumpster neatly with 2 years of construction crap Install stairs
Build railing in guest loft
Run to Home Depot in Greenfield Mass for the Living Room Floor parts Install 10 sheets of 3/4 sanded underlayment ply and 300 sq feet of vinyl floor tile, finishing by LED headlamp. Recycle floor ply scrap into shed storage shelves (self supporting so the walls can be insulated and finished later.)

Drive home
Make mistakes at the computer.

Yet to do:
And when the morning light comes streaming in, we get up and do it again. Amen


Posted by Bennett at 5:09 PM EDT
Sunday, 7 November 2004
Sleep Well House

Hi Everybody

We did find a little pile of unmelted snow where it landed after sliding down the valley of the porch roof when we arrived Saturday about 9:00 pm. After all our midnight arrivals this fall, It was a pleasure to get the camp toasty and play Cathedral by the light of a new Coleman lamp. It doesn't hiss as much as the older one. Thanks Chris for a thoughtful gift.

Woke to first light and got up immediately and fired up the kerosene heater. First light in Vermont is a spiritual experience, no matter what the weather......... well it is now that we have a roof and windows.

We used the generator and heat gun to dry the dampness of the dew (dew is a form of precipitation, and will make our brook run even when the summer drought reduces it to almost nothing.) Finished the Ice and Snow Membrane on the porch and were on the way home by 1:00 in the afternoon.

With almost all of the leaves down, photos of different views of the whole camp are possible, so I close the 2004 construction with a bit of a walkabout of the architecture of Bob Harper....bless him

Love to all, BSB

Posted by Bennett at 10:03 PM EST
Updated: Sunday, 3 April 2005 3:45 PM EST
Monday, 1 November 2004
2004 Penultimate Construction Weekend


Are you who read these missives as tired of them as I am just plain tired when I write them? The weather reports for this past weekend forecast rain. Which makes for a week of anxious planning. More tarp magic....17 sheets of 5/8 ply to cut and install. Finished the jack rafters over the kitchen and by the end of Saturday had half the roof sheathed with plywood. With the time change we were able to get a start by 7:00 am Sunday and finished the second half by noon. Not so much rain as occasional sprinkles so we launched into Ice and Snow Membrane installation. Had that half finished by 3:30 when it started raining enough to make the roof slippery and too wet for the membrane to stick.

So.....our last weekend of construction proved to be the penultimate. Louise has to work next Saturday, but if if if the weather promises to be clear, we will leave earlier than usual in the afternoon on Saturday and finish the waterproofing in a half day on Sunday.

Then we can say Sleep Well House. Have a nice hibernation, perhaps interrupted by a snowshoe visit.....but I get ahead of myself. Best to all....BSB

Posted by Bennett at 7:51 PM EST
Monday, 25 October 2004
Lessons in Roof Framing 2

Greetings All

Another weekend in the cold of Vermont.....Well, it was about 34 degrees inside and out when we arrived Friday night about midnight. Louise packed long johns for me to sleep in this time and it helped a whole lot. Once the kerosene heater kicks in Saturday morning, it's very pleasant to be there, but the arrival and first contact with cold sheets and the morning air are shall we say , bracing.

Louise cut and installed the roof overhangs on the common rafters while I corrected a miscalculation in the valley rafter bird mouths (ah the joyous learning curve) and installed the hack errrr, jack rafters at the cross gable.

The overhangs of the cross gable were done with a combination of recalling conversations with Bob Harper of three years ago when I brought the framing model to Connecticut for him to review, studying his cross section through the porch gable, a lot of Trial and Error, and finally Brute Force and Ignorance (BF&I).

It is a fine thing to finally be able to see the full form of the camp as the Architect intended it! We left two pair of jack rafters unfinished over the kitchen, but should be able to brave the cold arrival next weekend to finish them and get plywood on, and hopefully also Ice and Snow Membrane.....then the camp could do what bears do in the woods.......hibernate in the winter, while we resume Peconic creativity.

The Red Sox were winning Game 2 when we pulled in the driveway.

Hope all are well...love BSB

Posted by Bennett at 6:35 AM EDT
Monday, 18 October 2004
The Geometry of Roofs

Greetings All,

Did I ever mention that I don't have a whole lot of experience as a framer? I tend to rely on stuff like trig to figure things out, and I like the geometric theory of hip and valley roofs.....the valley rafter is the diagonal of a square....multiply by the square roof of two....right? Not quite. That only works in the horizontal section or what is called the plan. If one multiplies the length of a common rafter by the square root of two to get the valley it don't work so good. I doubt anybody except Martin would care about the explanation which a night of insomnia in 34 degree weather figured out. Anyway I cut seven valley rafters for the four which got installed. Learned a bunch of stuff however.

Next week we will deal with the jack rafters which complete the cross gable, and the overhangs which were designed by Bob Harper as sistered 2x6s. The valley rafters will get cut back to line up with the overhang, but the detail of the square ended overhang on a valley tail eluded me on paper. Week after that we will shoot to get on the plywood and Ice and Snow Membrane for winter tightness, and I suspect that will end this season of building. Roof trim and nice red shingles in the spring. The lack of insulation in the building is felt during the night when we sleep without the kerosene heater running.....burrrrrrrrr in the morning. Love to all...BSB

Posted by Bennett at 6:26 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 18 October 2004 6:31 AM EDT
Monday, 11 October 2004
Porch Raising or Fun with Joints2

Hi Everyone

This past Saturday we arrived on the mountain with Chris and a truckload of 6"x6" beams with funny ends on them. Barak, Jenn and Baeden arrived shortly after and we got started on our porch raising. Chris set out to put in jacks and headers in the main camp where the girders would be supported with steel hangers, spiked in with 16 penny nails. We blessed Bob Harper when we confirmed that the double 2x8 joist header of the guest tower was perfectly aligned with the girders of the porch, so no support modifications were necessary. Barak helped me as we laid out the central frame, square on the porch framing and then cut and installed the cedar posts. Pushed till failing light which also brought failing judgment as I cut the last piece that runs to main house one stinking inch too short. Barak was quick with the suggestion that a build-up of plywood would fill the gap and give support for the whole steel hanger. Done in concept, and done to completion by flashlight. Just in time for a family dinner!

Dropped Chris off in Nork City, and tomorrow I will have to face the responsibility of drawing the porch roof framing, doing the trig calculations for dimensions and putting together a lumber list for next weekend when Louise and I carry on yet again.

We brought a portable propane heater for the shower area, and the increase in creature comfort afforded by drying from a shower in a heated space as the temperature drops toward the 30's outside is a joy. A kerosene heater for the main camp has been fine so far, but perhaps by this time next year we will have enough exterior finish done to justify insulation and the wood stove! I don't think we will carry on past first serious snowfall this year. This time of year I begin to experience long distance construction burn-out.

Hope all are well...love BSB

Posted by Bennett at 8:55 AM EDT
Monday, 4 October 2004
Fun With Joints

Does anybody remember Lincoln Logs? Before Legos you could build a toy version of Honest Abe's log cabin, or, if you had enough sets, an Adirondack Great Camp worthy of the Vanderbilts.

Our camp porch roof will be held up by a girder and collar tie system of 6"x6" Douglas fir. There are only two collar ties to hold against snow load deflection, so I used dovetails to lock the lap joints together since dovetails resist tensional forces. The fir is stiff enough to carry the 8 foot span between the 6x6 cedar posts that are tenoned up into the bottom of the scarf joint.

Chris is coming up with us next weekend and we will finally get the two towers cross braced together with these sticks. Stay tuned....or not....love to all BSB

Posted by Bennett at 6:48 AM EDT
Tuesday, 21 September 2004
Abstract Expressionist Plumbing

Hi Everybody.

Three days on the Mountain. Woke up to torrential rain on Saturday after arriving past midnight on Friday. We were able to locate a few leaks where the roof is only Ice and Snow Membrane. Water getting in the joint between the sidewall sheathing and the roof. An easy band-aid once the rain stopped.

I did my famous abstract expressionist plumbing for the shower and toilet....I just love (ugh) the purple plastic pipe primer and cleaner, the fumes it makes and the stupid head it puts one in. Perhaps the reports of Jackson Pollock's alcoholism were exagerated....He was a glue sniffer.

Put up some walls and 1/4 luan ply left over from closing up the windows for winter a year ago, Louise hung a tablecloth as a curtain, and presto a sanitary facility!

My brother Waring and his wife Audrey came Saturday and when the rain let up, Waring set out gathering stone for the trench around the tower foundation so it would drain ground water away. We had filled the ditch under the deck before we built the deck framing, but Waring finished the back ditch which was the deepest into the bank of dirt. Thankless work accomplished with a Zen spirit of willingness. Thanks Waring. Audrey brought an awesome Crock-Potted pork roast and we had a feast, Louise adding blueberry/peach cobbler done in a Dutch Oven...an inspiration remembered from River Rafting with Andy Glantz....thanks Andy.

The 6x6 beams for the porch roof girders were delivered, and structural Douglas fir is gorgeous stuff. I didn't even attempt to start cutting the joints, but got careful site verified dimensions and will do it in the studio in Peconic, where one doesn't have to start a generator to make a cut. We loaded the fir and cedar posts into the truck, but did a smudge blessing on the again overloaded vehicle before braving the roads to visit Jenn and Baeden on the way to the ferry and home. Having not yet heeded Bob Harper's admonishment to get the porch roof done to buttress the tower to the main house before the hurricanes hit Vermont, I installed 2x6 diagonals from the second floor double plate to the deck girders where they are supported on the concrete piers. Used Timberlock screw fasteners with a shear strength of 2995 lbs. Ought to help. Not that Hurricanes make to Vermont that often. We will return Columbus Day weekend, with a truckload of mortise and tenoned and dovetailed beam joints.

Best to all, BSB

p.s. Beware of Internet Art Transactions that offer to send you a six thousand dollar overpayment, beyond the asking price, with the demand that you immediately send the overpayment back via Western Union. Duh!

Posted by Bennett at 6:05 PM EDT
Monday, 13 September 2004
Personal Hygiene and Stuff

Dear Friends

With no word from Taconic Lumber on the arrival of the Douglas fir 6x6 beams that are the main support for the porch roof, I was at a loss planing the weekends activity...... but there is the discomfort of showering outside in Vermont after the sun has set in the Autumn and the temperature drops like a stone. Time for a Thursday night Home Depot Date. If they had a cafe like the big bookstores it could be a complete romantic evening.

We picked out an acceptable linoleum and plywood for the sub floor for the downstairs of the guest tower and a shower stall and then drove the plumbing department salesman to the edge (like our troops in Iraq, Home Depot is short staffed and he had been there for 11 hours) helping us find all the parts necessary to hook up drain lines for toilet, shower and sink.

On Friday we stopped to pick up The Child of the Fire, from the People of the Fire Suite of bronzes, which had been on extended loan for five years or so. This photo is the first appearance in cyber space of this piece. I didn't have a chance to photograph it when it was completed.

My building efforts got a trap door built to the plumbing crawl space (cellar?), the sub floor plywood and linoleum fitted and installed. Ran into layout confusion with the shower drain falling outside the cellar due to the cantilever of the floor. The shower also intruded on the windows centered on the elevation. Louise suggested a different shower location, and then the toilet found a new location and the interest in mazes that lead to the mosaic spiral also reconfigured the whole bath area as an exercise in "just big enough." I couldn't get the door to the shower/toilet area and the window to share a common centerline. Richard Gluckman would be horrified ( but I doubt he'll visit). Scouted all the 2x4's lying around and built the shower enclosure by the end of the weekend. Didn't have enough to build the privacy wall for the toilet.

Sunday we got in the blocking on the eve wall of the tower (keep out bugs and cold) and built a railing over the stairwell. Last weekend Louise had built a ladder to the loft. Saturday we had a visit from Katherine and Bill Montgomery, our landlords in North Adams during last summers framing of the main camp. They had a new tenant for the student apartment and were getting rid of mattresses, and brought us up the double we had slept on last year. So we now have inhabitable guest space. We are taking reservations......Love to all...BSB

Posted by Bennett at 9:07 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, 13 September 2004 9:19 PM EDT

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