Construction Journal Entry Week of 6/7/15

6/9-11/15 I went up to Camp Serendipity for 3 days: Tuesday through Thursday.

On the way, I stopped to visit Priscilla in rehab and to pet Puddy for a while. Then I proceeded on to Monroe where Uncle Charles beat me in a game of checkers. From there I went to drop some yogurt off for Marilyn and George and had a delicious lunch with them.

It was a hot 86 going over the pass. I arrived at Camp Serendipity at 1:40. I watered Brian, the giant sequoia, and then wet down the dirt at the base of the front staircase. I need to ram and compactify that dirt to make a firm base for the stone steps and it needs to have a certain amount of moisture in order to compactify. I did some of the ramming of the dirt with a big hammer.

On Wednesday I set up a big beach umbrella over the work area because now that the trees to the east and south are gone, the work area is in direct sun from early morning till late in the afternoon. The umbrella makes working in the heat tolerable.

I decided to use the big boulder that I had pulled out of the ground as part of the staircase. If I could get it resting solidly on the compact soil, I figured it would help make a very strong base for the steps. The problem was that I couldn't lift the rock and could only barely roll it. So it was a struggle to try to get the rock placed right.

After fighting with the rock for the entire morning, I finally gave up and decided to stick to rocks that I could lift or at least move more easily. I rolled the big rock across the roadway and into a position on the cliff edge where it will stay. That was all in direct sun so I was super hot and sweaty when I took a break for lunch and a nap.

I had left the windows in the cabin open all night and even had a big fan blowing air in through the living room window during the early morning hours, so the temperature in the cabin was a nice cool 65. I closed the windows before it started warming up outside so when I went in for lunch, it was delightfully cool.

When I went back out to work I decided that I needed a bigger selection of smaller rocks so I took the wheelbarrow to the rock pile in the back and hauled a bunch of rocks to the worksite. Then I started on the new strategy of placing smaller rocks into position with the intent that once I was happy with the configuration, I would dismantle it and re-assemble it with mortar in between the rocks.

After spending quite a bit of time piling up rocks, I got them into a configuration that looked right. But then I measured them and found out that they were too low. I needed a better way to make sure the steps would come out right.

I decided to base the measurements from the lowest log tread that was already in place. To measure the horizontal nose positions of the stone steps, I held a two-foot piece of rebar between the fingers of my left hand and let the rebar act as a plumb bob. With the top of the rebar against the log tread nose I slowly lowered the bar so that it rested on the dirt beneath. Then with my right hand, I used a tape to measure from the rebar over to find out where the nose of the rock steps should be.

For vertical measurements, I placed a long mason's level on the log tread so that it stuck out over the rock steps. With shims underneath, I adjusted the level so that it was level and then I made the vertical measurements from the underside of the level down to the rock.

These methods worked very well because I could easily move all across the stair. Unfortunately I discovered that the rocks that I had placed were too low.

On Thursday morning, I raised the rock structure that I had built but after doing so, I still wasn't satisfied. I needed a better set of objective numbers. What I needed was the target riser height and tread length for the stones so that they matched the lower courses that were already in place and also made a nice transition to the log steps.

Using my previous method of measurement, except instead of using a rebar plumb bob I used the mason's level held vertically, I carefully measured the total rise and run of the rock steps in four places across the staircase. Then I took these measurements inside the cabin and did some calculations to figure out the needed riser height and tread lengths for the steps.

I was disappointed to learn that the riser height would be 8 inches. The riser height for the log steps above is 7.5 inches. I didn't want there to be that much difference so I wasn't sure what to do. Rather than figure it out, I turned my attention to something else.

I decided to split some firewood. I won't be building a fire in the stove until next fall, but I have a big stockpile of rounds that should be split so they can dry out during the summer. I decided to split up a few rounds from time to time to get the firewood ready for winter. I split and stacked three big rounds.

I left for home at 12:45 a little disappointed in the lack of stonework progress, but I want to do it right the first time. I'll think about how to fix the problem over the weekend and hopefully the steps will come out better for it.

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