Brackets, No Not Those Brackets

Bracket

The stub where my right hand is goes through the wall into the supporting structure.

Usually, the only time I use the word ‘bracket’ is during March Madness, when millions of people try to guess the ultimate outcome of 64 college basketball teams working their way to one winner. I do dumb things with those brackets, like pick the teams I hope will win, instead of those that are likely to win. Then again, this isn’t a post about NCAA Basketball. This is a post, no pun intended, about supporting brackets.

 

I wanted to write about this project, but I wanted to keep it light. So, I decided to do it as part of Linda G. Hill’s SoCS prompt. Of course, Linda didn’t make my job very easy. I want to write about making wooden brackets and she gave us:

Your Friday prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday is: “your/you’re/yore.” Use one, use them all, but whatever you do, enjoy!

She didn’t mention bonus points. I think there should be bonus points when there are three words. And, ‘yore’ – seriously, Linda, yore?

Anyway, back to those brackets. They’re part of a small home-improvement project, currently underway in our back yard. We’ve decided to add an overhanging roof to the gable-end of our screen-porch. One of the reasons we built the porch was to shade the living room from the afternoon sun and shield if from the rain and snow. Now, we’re adding an overhang to shade the porch.

I was going to wait and write a post after the roof was complete. Kind of a what-I-did-on-my-summer-vacation post. You’re lucky I didn’t go that route. I’m guessing that would take about 9,000 words and 800 photos. So, I’m breaking it up for your reading pleasure.

The roof will hang over a wide set of “steps.” I put that in quotes because the steps are really stacked mini-decks. I won’t get into the steps today because they’re going to be replaced later. I only mention them because we didn’t want any posts at the edge of the steps. Snow shovels bump into posts. My wife and I bump into posts and the dog likes to wrap her leash around posts. We have to say something like “my side” to get her to walk on the same side of a post/tree/telephone pole as us.

Remember when we said: “bread and butter?” If two friends had to split up to walk around an object, you said “bread and butter” in order to avoid any bad luck. But, you both had to say it. Otherwise, you would fight later on – according to – superstition.

I don’t want to spend the rest of my life saying bread and butter, so brackets. I’m making the brackets from Western Red Cedar 4x4s. For those of you unfamiliar with US measurements and the concept of dimensional lumber, here’s a quick lesson:

‘4×4’ (pronounced 4-by-4) refers to the nominal width and depth of the board, 4 inches by 4 inches, or 4” x 4”. The measurement is nominal because it’s the dimensions of the rough board, before it’s machined to a nice, square, smooth surface. Typically, a 4×4 is 3 ½” x 3 ½”. For some reason, a cedar 4×4 is about 3 3/8” x 3 3/8”.

For those of you who wonder why the U.S. is still using feet and inches, a system of measurement dating back to days or yore, I can’t answer you. Ask Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. They tried to switch us to the metric system, but that didn’t go so well. We get less wine in a bottle, but that’s about it. Still, I’d rather say four-by-four than 10.16-by-10.16.

Mortise and tenon joint

This illustrates how a mortise and tenon joint is mechanically strong and provides a lot of glue surface.

These brackets have to support a pretty heavy load, so I’m joining them with a combination of mortise and tenon and dado joints. I’ve borrowed the illustration from a previous Thursday Doors post. This joint has a mechanical connection with lots of surface area for glue, and none of the boards lose much strength from the material being cut away.

Each bracket has one 90 degree joint and two 45 degree joints. The 90 degree joint was easy to cut. The tenon was cut on my table saw, with the aid of a couple of jigs. The mortise was cut with a mortising machine and the dado was cut with a router, also with the aid of a jig.

The 45 degree joints were another story. The various settings required on stationary power tools would have taken a long time to set up, and making the cuts would have been awkward. I decided to cut them by hand. I cut the first one with a hand saw and then switched to a small circular saw.

These brackets are the kind of project that, once complete, don’t look like they were hard to build. That’s because all the complicated work is concealed. The photos in the galleries will lead you through the process. If yours is a cursory interest, the first gallery is for you. As a friend of mine used to say, it goes 1,2..6.

 

If you’re interested in the gory details, the second gallery should work nicely.

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Posted in DIY, SoCS, Tools, Woodworking | Tagged , , , , , , , | 40 Comments

Thursday Doors – 27 Quality Avenue

27 Quality Ave

Toward the end of our shop’s operation, we were renting these two bays. That little white square on the right is an exhaust fan I installed in 1986.

If you were opening a custom furniture shop, you might think “27 Quality Avenue” would be a pretty perfect address. That’s what I thought. I remember that thought lasting just long enough to apply for a commercial loan. When I told the loan officer the address, the excitement disappeared from my voice with his reply: “I guess it’s better than 27 Shoemaker Lane (1).”

The attitude of the banker wasn’t the only challenge with the 1,500 square feet (139.35 sq. meter) that was to become Wood Designs. One of the biggest challenges was the entrance.

Make no mistake, in 1985, the space I was moving into was low quality warehouse space. The doors to my shop were latched with a padlock and hasp. That meant that there was no easy way to lock the doors from the inside, or even keep them closed. It also meant that the doors had a little wiggle room when locked. Wiggle room is fine, except when you’re paying to heat the space and when you’re trying to install an alarm system. The doors were about 3” (7.6 cm) thick. i.e. much thicker than most locksets. So, my first task at my brand new wood shop was to fabricate a few metal pieces to allow me to adapt a standard commercial entrance set and deadbolt to fit such a massive door.

Once inside those doors, I was surrounded by wood. 10” square Chestnut posts that were carrying 10” x 14” Chestnut beams in a grid pattern. Thick oil-stained wood planks made for a comfortable floor on which to work all day, as well as a fire hazard, a thought that was never far from my mind.

Shop Layout

The grid wasn’t an ideal layout for the machinery used in woodworking. The most difficult machine to locate was my table saw. I needed to be able to run 4×8 foot sheets of plywood across that, in every direction. Everything else was configured to support the way the stock flowed over the machine. I don’t have photos, but I remember the layout pretty well.

One disconcerting thing about the layout of the shop was the fact that those doors were the only way in or out. 10 feet away from the doors was the oil-fired furnace, which drew oil from a tank under the loading dock.

One winter night, the furnace developed a problem. The burner stopped its precise atomization of fuel and the controlled flame became a burning puddle of oil, much like the scenes in the movie “PT 109” with the oil slicks burning on the ocean surface. The fire was being fed by a pump that had to bring oil from that outside tank. By the time I was able to get to the tank and shut off the oil supply, my shop was filled with heavy black smoke.

I tell that story because, like the Picking House, the building my shop was in had been built a “safe” distance away from the main mill building, due to a risk of fire. It’s ironic, that the two buildings that were separated so a fire in them wouldn’t spread to the mill complex, are the only bits to survive, after the mill burned to the ground.

After I closed my shop, 27 Quality Avenue deteriorated for a while. Eventually, the owner found enough money to renovate the building. He dropped the lower level floors (removing the oil soaked planks) to grade level, creating 12’ high spaces. He replaced the windows and added windows in the walls of the upper level to better match the design of the main mill building.

The building has had several tenants in the nearly 30 years since Wood Designs closed, but it still appears to be a viable mixed-use space. Today, it is home to an engineering firm and a daycare center, among other things.

Scantic River runs behind the parking lot at 27 Quality Ave. One of the best things to come out of the shop experience, was Oreo – our first Tuxedo cat. Unlike the river cats who never got close to people, this little guy wandered up to me during one of my last days in business. He followed me so close that my heel was kicking him as I walked. I remember picking him up and saying: “just what I need, another mouth to feed.”

I couldn’t leave him behind. Despite my wife’s objection (she was allergic), I took him home. When I opened our side door, he jumped into my wife’s arms. As I reached to pet him, he slashed at me as if to say: “you brought me to my mother, you can go now.” My wife didn’t protest her new role as mom cat.

This post is part of an enjoyable ongoing series, Thursday Doors, by Norm Frampton. Scoot on over to Norm’s place. Check out his doors and click the blue button to check out the others or add your own.

(1) I’ve never understood why “shoemaker” has a bad connotation with respect to workmanship. It seems it should be the other way ‘round.

If you want to see that oil fire:

Posted in History, Thursday Doors | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 70 Comments

One-Liner Wednesday – Grocery Shopping

“Warning, they rearranged the store since you’ve been there.”

Stop and Shop

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here

Last week, I was watching my daughter’s cats while she was on vacation. The day before she was going to return, I thought I would go to the grocery store, so she wouldn’t have to go out and get milk for her coffee. Rather that guess at what she might need (as I have done in the past) I decided to ask her if there was anything she wanted.

The on-liner up there was part of her response.

It was too late. I had already offered. I had to go, but my only thought was:

Seriously? I was almost to the point where I could find the usual suspects. What the heck is wrong with these people?

I get it. They keep moving the stuff to different parts of the store so you have to walk around. They’re hoping that, as you walk around, you’ll see stuff you didn’t come for. And you’ll buy that stuff. I mean why else would you put the cereal where the crackers used to be and the crackers where the prepared food used to be? If you haven’t guessed, I was looking for crackers.

At least they didn’t move that aisle, so I didn’t accidentally end up there. You all know what aisle I’m referring to. The aisle men never visit. God forbid that they ever put the crackers in with those products. Fortunately, as with everything else, those products seem to need an entire aisle for themselves.

One Liner WednesdayThis post is part of Linda G. Hill’s fun weekly series One-Liner Wednesday.

Posted in Family, Humor, One Line Wed | Tagged , , , | 86 Comments

A New Sheriff in Town

Permit

We’re good to go.

We’ve recently started a small home improvement project. The project began, as every home improvement project should begin, with the application for a Building Permit. I’m sure one or two of you are wondering why I bothered getting a permit. I’m sure, because there have been at least one or two people in my daily work-life circles who have asked me that question.

The short answer to “why bother with a permit?” It’s the law. Evidence of the need for such a law is abundant in the rattrap “additions” I’ve seen recently.

Anyway, we have a new Building Inspector. I have pulled so many permits, that I was comfortable with the previous inspector. He was comfortable with me as well. I’d show him my plans. He’d look them over and say: “let me know when you’re ready for me to take a look,” and off I’d go. The permit would arrive in the mail, a few weeks later. The new guy is a bit more formal, like the old guy was 25 years ago. It’s OK. He has a job to do, and I respect that.

It’s been three or four years since I pulled a permit, and the process has changed a bit. Looking at some of the changes, I can see why some people avoid getting permits, but I still say they’re wrong:

Taxes paid? – Today’s Building Permit application has a box indicating that the taxes on the property are current. In fact, I had to take the application to the Tax Collector and get his stamp in that box before the application could be submitted. That’s a good idea in my book. If you have enough money to add on, you should use some to pay your taxes.

Zoning? – Are you allowed to build what you propose? You have to get that answer from the Zoning department before submitting the application. It’s a simple question but I drive by three houses on my way to work that have “additions” where the answer would have been no, had they bothered to ask. We’re putting a little roof to shade/protect the south side of our porch. No zoning issues here.

Fair market value? – This one took me by surprise. All the previous permits I’ve applied for included a base fee of $20 and an incremental fee of $10-per-thousand of the total cost. Total cost, in my case, has always been the cost of material. I could add in the cost of labor, but my wife doesn’t pay very well. She did let me buy that new chop-saw, but… I met with the inspector. We hemmed and hawed and agreed on a reasonable number. Reasonable, I like that.

Form 7A

Yet another form

Workmans’ Comp – There’s a new form that accompanies the Permit Application, where I have to show that all “employees” are covered by Workmans’ Comp insurance or attest to the fact that I am doing all the work myself. I’ve been injured on-the-job, as it were, while doing home-improvement projects. Medical costs, for even minor injuries, can be staggering. We once asked a friend to leave, because his girlfriend was messing around with equipment and material, and we knew that she didn’t have any medical insurance. If she had gotten injured, we would have gotten sued. Who needs that?

People also make fun of me for pulling a permit because: “your taxes will go up.” No they won’t. We’ve already over-improved this house relative to the market. Besides, they do a walk-through assessment every five years…they aren’t going to notice the roof hanging over the stairs? I’m not going to complain about that, well, I will, but not because of having to have a permit. Think about it:

First and foremost, if you build cheap, you’re putting yourself, your family and your guests in danger. I don’t want this roof collapsing under a heavy load of snow. The damage would greatly exceed my “savings” and my homeowners insurance wouldn’t have to pay, if they didn’t want to. The Building Code is there for a reason.

Additionally, if you skirt the assessor and keep your taxes artificially lower than they should be, everybody else’s taxes go up to cover the contribution you’re not making. The Town has to get money somewhere. Similarly, if they day-laborer you snagged in the Home Depot parking lot gets hurt on your job, he’s going to the ER, and our medical insurance costs are going up. Finally, that unsightly-piece-of-crap you put up is making it harder for the guy across the street from you to sell his house. We’re in a community, nobody is special.

Posted in DIY, Home Repair, Opinion | Tagged , , , , , | 81 Comments

apples, etc.

Dan (the other Dan) entertains those of us who follow him with stories like this and thoughts deep and profound. Well, stories like this, anyway. I always enjoy his writing, but sometimes, I feel like sharing it. I’m going to close comments here. If you feel the need, comment on Dan’s site.

itkindofgotawayfromyou

As far as I know , there is only one type of apple that will grow in most of southern California , in the Los Angeles basin , the Anna’s apple . When ripe it is sort of striped red and green . Most apples need a colder climate than we’ve got in Arcadia and around the area .

So , moving right along , here I am in Poland with a borrowed electric chain saw chopping branches from apple trees . There’s a cherry tree in the yard too , and a pear tree , but the apple trees dominate the property . They cover so much of the yard that I was asked to saw several  branches off to open things up to the sunlight .

How did I get myself into this situation , you might ask . Another fine mess you got me into ? Well…

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Put That Phone Down, Let’s Talk

For the love of beer

The perfect place and beverage to share some casual conversation.

If we were having a beer, you’d be buying…for a change.

“Hey geek-boy. I’m glad you’re here. Cheryl, pour that man a Yuengling.”

“Geek-boy? Let me guess, you’re having problems with your laptop, and it just happens to be in your car.”

“No, no, nothing like that, I need to pick your brain about V2V.”

“Here’s your beer Dan. It’s not too late to get this in a sack to go.”

“Thanks Cheryl. V2V? Should I just start babbling, or is there something in particular?”

“Like you’d have a problem babbling? I heard them talking about it on the radio, I was just curious.”

dashboard

Nothing fancy here, just plain old vehicle-to-driver communication

“It stands for vehicle-to-vehicle, as in communication. It’s part of the whole Internet-of-things thing.”

“Please, don’t work yourself into a geeky froth.”

“I’m not sure this beer is adequate payment.”

“Cheryl, when he’s done with that one, put a refill on my tab. Let’s try to start this conversation, again.”

“In a nutshell, V2V will allow vehicles to communicate safety and mobility information amongst themselves. That could reduce congestion, prevent accidents, who knows? Maybe save a few lives.”

“I’m not sure I want my car talking to other cars. What if my car tells your car something I don’t want you to know?”

“You drive a Jaguar. It probably wouldn’t talk to my Jeep.”

“Good point. You have to stay in the right lane, like in high school.”

“Actually, it’s limited to information related to vehicle control.”

“Removing control from the driver? What if I want to run a red light?”

“Is that really an option worth preserving?”

“It is. Sometimes, you have to break a minor traffic law, in order to avoid an accident.”

“Yes, but if your car is talking to the other cars, you aren’t going to be in those situations.”

“Why not just let the car drive itself? What do you need me for?”

“They’ll get there, soon enough.”

“That’s shortsighted. Studies have shown that driving is good for your mind. This is another case of you snap-heads doing things because you can, without considering if you should.”

“Snap-heads?”

“You didn’t seem to like geek boy, so…”

“OK, let’s not say ‘driverless’ – let’s say you have a guy driving a truck but there are nine driverless trucks following him. That would be efficient. It would be like a train.”

“You and your trains. So nine people forget how to drive?

“People forget how to do a lot of things. Then they learn how to do other stuff. It’s called progress.”

“Speaking of progress, you’re not making any, Dan. Let me pour you that second beer before he takes back his credit card.”

“Thanks Cheryl, but he did ask for the information. I’m not looking forward to any of this, I like driving.”

Chili's

You can still get a waitress, but who knows for how long.

“It’s not just driving. You know what else you can forget? You can forget Cheryl. At Chili’s, they have digital Cheryls. Sign-in, order, pay, tip, complain… all to a box… Is that what you want?”

“Whoa! Stop with the digital Cheryl’s please. You can’t replace this pretty face and delightful banter with a box.”

“You might have a point, Cheryl, but does anyone care? I mean there’s us two relics, but I’ve seen this bar packed with people staring into their cell phones. They’d be fine with Cheryl-in-a-box.”

“Sheesh, keep talking and I’m gonna pour myself a drink.

“Let’s not send Cheryl over the edge. I think you’re overreacting a bit.”

“You think? Remember driving with the window down and mooing at the cows in the fields? When was the last time you mooed at a cow?”

“I love mooing at cows. When Faith was little, I even got a cow to moo back.”

Trinity Farms

Nothing but moo in our milk. These guys belong to Trinity Farms.

“Ha, well consider a little girl in the back of a self-driving car. She’ll see a picture of a cow on a screen. She’ll touch the cow and the car will play the sound a cow makes.”

“You know, you can do that now. It’s like a digital See & Say.”

“You’re missing the point, there’s actually a cow outside the car. An honest to goodness cow, but the car would ‘see’ it, not the girl. I’m telling you, it’s the end of communication as we know it.”

“You’re sure you’re not overreacting?”

“I don’t think so. I think we post photos instead if describing people and things. We post video instead of telling stories. The human race could actually forget how to tell stories!”

“Seriously? Not overreacting, even a little?”

“Nope. In twenty years, if this bar is still here, I’ll bet no one will be talking.”

“You know, there’s a bar in England where the owner offers no WiFi and blocks cell signals. He’s forcing people to talk.”

“Really? That sounds wonderful. Cheryl, they should do that here.”

“We’re halfway there. We’ve never had WiFi, and if you’re on Verizon, there’s no signal here.”

“I am painfully aware of those facts Cheryl. I guess my car won’t be revealing any secrets in your parking lot.”

“As long as your credit card works, I’m good. Thanks for the beers, AND for the conversation. I’m going to drive home while I can still see the cows.”

Posted in Current Events, Humor, If having a beer, Technology | Tagged , , , , | 76 Comments

Thursday Doors – Sad Story

Somersville Mfg

Somersville Mfg (west side).

There are three major mill buildings in the Somersville section of Somers, Connecticut. The Picking House at 49 Maple St. The Somerville Manufacturing Company, across the street from the waterfall, and the much smaller workshop/warehouse behind Somersville Manufacturing Company. That smaller building is the building in which I had my cabinet shop in the mid-80s.

Last week, when I brought you the doors from 49 Maple Street, I was very careful not to include any photos of the other side of the street. That’s where today’s sad story is told.

Somersville Manufacturing was established in 1879 by Rockwell Keeney. The company grew quickly to be a major manufacturer of wool and woolen products. Army blankets by the thousands rolled out of the mill during the World Wars and, at the opposite extreme, high-end women’s fashions were produced during the mill’s 90-year span. After the mill closed in 1969, the property changed hands and cycled through periods marked by the optimism of eager developers and the despair of financial and environmental setbacks.

Ad for wool' suit

Ad for wool suit

The long term plan(s) for the complex was for it to be converted into retail and housing. Straddling Scantic River in Somers, with views looking out over the mill pond, waterfall and the meandering river, the complex could have been a wonderful addition to a quaint little Connecticut community known for horse farms and New England charm.

When I opened my cabinet shop in 1985, the Maple Street level of the main building was occupied by another woodworking shop. The shop made waterbeds, which were sold in an attached retail store. I remember the manager of that shop coming over to welcome me to the neighborhood. He even offered access to their much large capacity machines, if the need ever arose.

The waterbed factory wasn’t going to be in the complex very long. The then new owners were trying to obtain financing for a full retail / residential conversion. My landlord assured me that his building was not part of the plan. That building sits adjacent to the lower level businesses, including State Line Lift, a fork-lift sales and repair outfit run by two comical characters whose periodic company I very much enjoyed. Rent in the large mill complex was far less than what I was paying, but the future was uncertain at best.

The financing plan ultimately fell through, when the EPA ruled that the lower levels could not be converted to residential use, because they were in a flood plain. In addition, the challenges of a true mixed-use space were daunting, as described in this article in the Ellington Patch which was written by a descendent of the original owner. In case you’re wondering about the today’s title, let’s borrow the opening paragraph from the Patch:

With one simple event, over 130 years of modern industrial development and 43 years of struggle to repurpose the complex came to an end. The mill’s demise not only was a crippling blow to Somersville, but also showcased Connecticut’s reluctance to utilize its growing list of abandoned historic structures and their inherit sustainable properties.”

In 2012, a group of twenty-year-olds broke into the abandoned mill, for a late night tour. A carelessly discarded cigarette set the complex on fire. Oil soaked floors fed the flames for hours. Units from local and several surrounding fire departments battled the blaze for hours, to no avail. The heat from the flames caused the structural steel to melt under the weight of the brick walls.

Very little remains of a once proud textile mill and a once promising suburban project. The area might still be attractive. The holding pond, waterfall and natural drop of the Scantic River still can support a small hydro-power project. Portions of the historic building remain and the area along the river is attractive for recreation. The Town of Somers has recently received a $1.8 million Brownfield grant to clean up the property. First, they have to acquire it from the owners, which is likely to happen through a tax sale. Once the Town owns the property, they can start thinking about its future.

Since, once again, there are a lot of photos, I’ve grouped them into sets (before the fire, after the fire, photos from others). Thanks for visiting.

The pictures in the first gallery are from various points in time, but none date back to 1985. Some are from a tour when my English friend, David Pennington visited prior to our attending an event in New York City. Others are from when our daughter Faith was on an Art School photo shoot.The building was in bad shape, but it still had potential.

The photos showing the fire damage are from our recent visit.

I’ve taken the unusual step of including a few photos from other sources. I’ve given credit, when available.

This post is part of Norm Frampton’s amazing weekly series – Thursday Doors. Pop on over to Norm’s place, check out his doors, then click the blue button to see all the other doors. You can add a door, too!

Posted in Connecticut, History, Photography, Thursday Doors | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 73 Comments