In ye olden days of yore, when someone (like, for example, Thoreau) wanted to make a simple wooden door out of boards, they put on a top board and a bottom board, and ran a longer board from one corner to another in a Z sort of configuration. Then they took some longer boards and set them up vertically and nailed them to the top, bottom, and crosspiece. I learned this from my dad. He knows things like this. It’s great that he does, because I sure didn’t…
You know how sometimes you’re in the middle of building a house, and you have to stop and chop up some firewood? No? Well, it’s a thing that happens.
“Every man looks at his wood-pile with a kind of affection. I love to have mine before my window, and the more chips the better to remind me of my pleasing work. I had an old axe which nobody claimed, with which by spells in winter days, on the sunny side of the house, I played about the stumps which I had got out of my bean-field. As my driver prophesied when I was ploughing, they warmed me twice,—once while I was splitting them, and again when they were on the fire, so that no fuel could give out more heat.” — Walden, Housewarming
It’s normal, I swear.
Today I went on some errands, one of which involved a trip to the RE Store in Ballard for some reclaimed wood bits to use in making the door and fireplace frame. I found some lovely bits of lath that looked nice and aged (perfect because he used boards from the railroad worker’s shanty to make the door, so they would have been weathered and well-worn). They were all bundled together, though, because they matched, and there was much more than I needed, and more than would fit in the car (some bits were really long).
So I found a nice guy who worked there and asked him if I had to buy a whole bundle of lath if the bits were tied together, or if I could just take what I needed, and he said I could take what I needed and leave the rest. So I went and got a few smaller strips and went back to the front to pay.
He came to the counter to help me, glanced at the strips I had, and said “A quarter…”. I figured perhaps he meant that I had taken a quarter of the bundle, and got out my wallet and debit card while I waited for him to ring me up.
There was a long pause.
I smiled encouragingly, as if to say “Yes, I’ve taken a quarter of the bundle” thinking perhaps he had meant his statement as more of a question, but not sure enough to try and answer out loud.
The pause continued a little longer, then he said, more emphatically this time: “A quarter.”
Then I got it, and replied “Oh! You mean, like, an ACTUAL QUARTER. Sorry!” and proceeded to grab my change purse and carefully hand him one quarter, which he dropped into a cup on the counter.
And that’s how I learned that six feet of used lath at the RE Store costs 25 cents.
It turns out the folks who built the replica of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden, the one you can go visit on a pilgrimage if you are so inclined, didn’t do such a perfect job. I mean, I can hardly criticize the overall finished product, it’s been there for a lot longer than the 2 years, 2 months and 2 days that Thoreau lived in his, but still. It’s not accurate! Consider this photo of the inside of the replica:
And now consider this quote, from a friend of Thoreau’s who visited him at Walden:
“”The entrance to the cellar was ‘thro a trap door in the center of the room. The king-post was an entire tree, extending from the bottom of the cellar to the ridge-pole, upon which we descended, as sailors do into the hold of a vessel.” Joseph Hosmer, from an account of his visit to Thoreau’s cabin. (Borst).”
— Sourced here.
Do you see a king-post in the picture? An “entire tree, extending from the bottom of the cellar to the ridge-pole”? A central support beam? No.
Well, I wanted as much authenticity as possible, so of course I wanted to put in a king-post — but then I decided against, since the king-post would sort of impede the whole ‘library’ part of the project, and get in the way of the books. It was a quandary.
Dad to the rescue! I called him and told him about the king-post problem, and he had a great solution: he suggested I attach a section of replica king-post to the ceiling, but just a short bit that wouldn’t get in the way of books. Then he suggested I carve a slight depression in the floor where the king-post would be, and mark it somehow, perhaps by burning it. Brilliant!
So I did exactly that. I cut a piece of the pine tree in my back yard (pine tree! Just like Thoreau’s king-post would [most likely] have been — though a different kind of pine). Then I cut a small indentation in the ceiling, exactly matching the outline of the post, and glued it in (so it looks like it comes out of the ceiling rather than just looking stuck-on). I hollowed out a slightly larger (since trees are bigger at the bottom) round indentation in the middle of the floor, and burned it with my woodburning tool.
Here’s the floor marking:
And here’s the ceiling with the king-post:
[image to follow, right now it’s under a paint can while the glue dries — see picture below of paint can, the king-post is under it, I swear]
Home Depot is a pretty fun store, really. I mean, they have so many things, and so many handy things, and lots of very helpful people who sometimes know what they’re doing and sometimes don’t. I spent four hours there yesterday (in two visits), and it was great. I bought:
- 1 sheet of plywood
- 2 cedar stake-things
- 1 hand sander
- 1 hand sander refill
- 1 bottle of super-awesome wood glue
- 2 long narrow poplar strips
- 1 short slightly wider poplar strip
- 1 can of exterior sealant
- 1 can of interior paint
We had decided to build the Walden Little Free Library. Easier said than done…
There are so many details to consider!
I wanted to use a mix of new and reclaimed wood (as Thoreau did: he used a mix of trees he cut himself and boards/nails from a railroad worker’s shanty that he bought and tore down). I also, however, wanted it to be very specific: to scale, and ideally authentic down to the type of wood (Thoreau used a mix of white pine and possibly cedar). Reclaimed wood is hard to find in exact sizes, it turns out, and I lack both tools and skills to turn a pile of randomly-sized bits and boards into exact components of a very specific little house. Reclaimed wood also has a tendency to be warped and such, which makes it that much harder to fit all the pieces together and have it not leak. Plywood, on the other hand, is nice and flat and consistently thick, and comes from Home Depot where there are many helpful gentlemen who are happy to cut it up into very specific bits for you. This is handy when all you have to work with is a hand saw, a ruler, and a [very professional] pencil.
Speaking of leaking… I wanted it to be as authentic as possible, but I also wanted it to be watertight and weatherproof. I doubted my ability to make a tiny [dollhouse] window that was watertight and weatherproof, so the window (and the door, and the fireplace…) would have to be decorative. Also, speaking of the fireplace… real bricks were out of the question, so how to make a brick fireplace and chimney? So many questions…
On the other hand, this is when it started to get really fun. I began sourcing various decorative materials online. I found miniature dollhouse shingles made from white pine for the walls, and cedar for the roof! Perfect! My dad came down for the day and we did a lot of sketching and math to figure out exactly what we needed. How would we make the side of the house that would open to provide access to the books? What would we use for tar paper on the roof? Actual tar paper? Something else? How would we affix the shingles to the house and to the roof (it’s pretty impossible to nail down a 1″x1″x1/16″ shingle)? What would the house rest on? Would we also build the woodshed, which was essential for Thoreau, even though it was detached from the cabin? Etc.
I collected quotes from Thoreau on the subject of his house-building (he was a great writer, but Walden is hardly a builder’s guide — he can be excruciatingly specific about one thing, like the cost of bricks, and then maddeningly general about something else, like where exactly the trap door into the root cellar was located or how he shingled the roof). We decided to look at Thoreau’s collected journals, which will hopefully have a lot more detail.
I decided to build the chimney and fireplace out of wood, and paint it to look like brick. Later I found super-awesome 1.5″ square by about 3′ long cedar stake things, with a 45 degree angle cut at the end, so I bought two and plan to cut down the ends with the angle cuts for the fireplace and affix them to a longer piece from the square end in the middle as the chimney. I’ll screw/glue them together, then I’ll use my dremel tool to etch the bricks into the wood, then I’ll use brick-colored paint mixed with a fine pumice gel medium for texture and paint the whole thing, then I’ll use my woodburning tool to burn out the top center of the chimney for effect, then I’ll use a pick to scrape the paint out of the etched brick spaces (re-dremeling if needed), then I’ll seal the whole thing with a waterproofing sealant and screw it down to the base platform behind the house. Things like this get me super excited these days. This chimney is going to be AMAZING!
And just wait until you see what I have in store for the window…
Alright, first post, breaking ground! Starting at the beginning, and jumping right in….