Sunday, June 6, 2010

Rainy Day Project

Well, I should have the back deck, phase two, completed by now, but no. Actually, "phase two" is just another way of saying "all the work I didn't finish last summer like I planned." Hmm.

If things had gone like they should have, I'd have cracked on like smoke and oakum and we would now be enjoying the midnight sun on the back deck. But sunny day after sunny day slipped by as I did this and that. When I did try to work on the deck, I first had to figure out what the heck I was thinking when I last stopped. That took most of one day. Then, I had to undo some mistakes I made after misinterpreting what I had been thinking when I last stopped. That took another day. Then I realized that I never ordered enough decking. So I ordered it. It came. So did the rain.

So, I worked in the shop instead. Yea!

While rethinking the deck, I found I had an unneeded pressure treated 4x4. I decided that it should replace the street address post at the end of our driveway - which truth be told was a 1x3, sharpened to a point, driven into the ground with our address scrawled on it with a Sharpie (or possible a Sir Marks-A-Lot). This new post would have spiffy reflective numbers and a decorative cap. The numbers came from the Borg, but the decorative cap was going to come from my shop.

I wanted this to be a quick project, so I worked rather fast and loose, which was actually fun. First I needed to create a horizontal element. For this I wanted a square that would overhang all the sides of the post evenly. Instead of measuring, I used the sliding extension on my folding rule to capture the difference between the width of the stock and the width of the post...

...and then directly transferred that to the face of the stock (marked a line, set the post section to the line and added the extension distance) to determine the correct length to cut. Could I have measured? Sure, but it would have been slower and no more accurate.

I should point out that I wasn't concerned by the rough edge of the board I was using as I planned to round it over. In the end I didn't like how it came out, but if you look closely you can spot it in the background in a later picture.

As the stock I was using was an off-cut from the deck, it had kerfing on one side. This wouldn't do. Time for the scrub plane!

The scrub, followed by the jack, and the stock was ready to go. I used to clamp everything I planed between a bench dog and the vise dog in my end vise. Over time, I've switched to doing most of my planing with the stock just butted against a bench dog, as shown here. Even with side-to-side adjusting (not needed as often as you might think) it's much faster.

Next, I wanted to make a pyramid to top the cap. Some quick layout, and sawing, followed by the trusty jack and there it was:

It was at about this point (no pun intended) that I scrapped the rounded over look for the horizontal square. I decided to make another, and wrap it in mitered moulding. So I dug out the sticking board, selected a profile and got to work.

My sticking board has a built in miter box in the fence, which is handy, if not too accurate.

Lurking in the background is the stair nosing plane I used to round over the edges of the first square.

Since my miters were not great, I needed to adjust them with a chisel. The sticking board made a handy fixture for this.

It is also great for holding the work while drilling, such as for these pilot holes for the nails in the moulding. The fence holds the stock securely with no need for clamping. I do this often, as you can tell by the number of holes in the sticking board.

In the left background is the first square I made, in the right background is the second one, with the first piece of moulding already in place.

I added two more layers of moulding - a thumbnail above the square, and a dropped ogee below it. They came out a little rough, a combination of fast and loose working and not so great stock selection (I ripped some sticks from another decking off-cut). Here's the final cap with all elements in place:

And here it is in place on the actual post at the end of the driveway:

The tool kit used on this project (missing the sticking board).

One of the things I liked about this project was the reminder about the place of perfection. There is a lot more going on in a piece than just perfection of each part. Imperfect parts can be put together into a pleasant whole; perfect parts can be assembled into a ghastly whole. I think the whole (including proportion, character, sense of place etc.) has the overriding influence. Of course, perfect parts can help create a better whole...

P.S. - If you are sharp eyed, and a bit of a photo details nerd (like me), you may have spotted the elusive candle rack on the bench in several photographs. Yep, I'm still working on it...


  1. Dan, you win.

    You have more patience than I could ever hope to achieve. The post looks amazing and there wasn't one peep out of a screaming router at any time during its construction. I am truly impressed.

    Just one little suggestion. The square, as you call it, with its attached molding does not look angled off in the pictures. If they aren't, they will hold water and that will seriously shorten the life-span of your work, which would truly be a shame. A little work with your #78 should do the trick. Ok, second suggestion; some caulking in all the seams and nail holes would extend its life, as well. The water gets in there, freezes and expands and before you know it, the molding is on the ground.


  2. Dan,

    Just came across your blog today. Very impressive and what I've read so far I've enjoyed reading. Good work and nice looking blog.


  3. Mitchell - Thanks! I don't have to worry about the first problem, as I didn't get the post in plumb. Ha! Saved by my own incompetence! Nice! As for the caulk, somehow it doesn’t feel right (although I think I would feel differently if it were painted) so I guess this will be an experiment. Actually, the way they "trim" the brush back from the road around here is with a huge chain flail and they are none too discriminate (they regularly take out newspaper boxes etc.) so it might not live long enough to finish the experiment. Thanks for the ideas.

    Michael - Welcome, and thanks, I'm glad you enjoy it.

  4. Dan,

    (Recognizing that this all happened several months ago...) ;)

    Instead of caulk, I've been experimenting with melted beeswax as a filler. Works pretty well -- although if you have a **really** big void, it shrinks a bit. But otherwise, it tends to stick to the adjoining surfaces pretty well. Just melt it, putty it in, and (optionally) scrape off the excess. In yellow-ish wood, it looks pretty decent: a bit rustic, but appropriate.

    You may (or, may not) want to consider wiping it all (or at least, the top sursfaces of the crown stuff) with a beeswax-BLO-alcohol mix: it'll leave a waxy (and thus, waterproof) surface.


  5. Gye - Clever idea. I just might have to try that one out. Thanks!