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July 31, 2007
Interior walls: door frames

Gail with our first completed door frame – Russell's closet in the master bedroom (Gail decided that Russell should get the closet that's closest to the outside of the house... and the bugs)

For the last several months, we have known that our sons Cameron and Joss would be gone during the last week in July. From Saturday to the following Sunday they would be out with their Church Youth Caravan, working with the homeless in the barrios of south central Los Angeles.

This would leave Gail and Russell with a rare eight days to be empty nesters. We thought about going off on a vacation trip somewhere. We also thought about spending the week up at the building site. In the end, we decided to use the building site as a fall-back plan, but keep searching for a fantastic last-minute vacation trip deal. No deal ever materialized, and we decided to spend the week building. However, we would give ourselves an easy schedule, taking occasional day trips with driving tours and going out to dinner at actual restaurants.

So on Saturday, July 28, after dropping the boys off at church, Gail and Russell loaded up the car and headed for the mountain. It would be our longest continual stay since our “house raising” party more than two years ago. But this time we would have electricity, lights, a refrigerator, and a working flush toilet. And it would be just the two of us.

We had purposely been saving up several building challenges for this trip, when we would have the time and attention to tackle them (and without the stress of teenagers with short attention spans).

The first challenge was that we really couldn’t proceed much further in our construction of interior walls without beginning to construct door frames. There were two problems. One, we had no idea how to construct door frames, having never done so before. Second, we weren’t sure if certain doors (such as the boys’ closets) should be swing doors, bypass doors, or fan-fold doors.

In preparation, Gail did her usual research on the Internet, printing out a good half-dozen sets of instructions on “how to build a door frame.” The trouble was that many of them contradicted each other, outlining different procedures and specs for everything from the size of the rough openings to the actual stud construction. We also had to learn a whole new vocabulary of terms such as “king stud,” “jack stud,” and “cripple.”

On the drive up, we also stopped at the Lowe’s Construction store in Jackson and looked at doors. Russell took three pages of notes and measurements, and we were pleased to see that the ready-to-install doors (which ranged anywhere from 24 to 36 inches) actually indicated the correct rough opening sizes right on their cartons.

By the time we arrived at mid-day, we were ready for work. The first walls on the agenda were the two master bedroom closets, which required full walls on the backs and sides as well as door-framed walls on the fronts.

Russell was in charge of schematics and measurements. Every wall and every door frame would have to be constructed differently due to the size of both the door and the wall. Russell approached his tasks with his usual meticulousness and ever-present pad of paper.

Russell divided 2x4s into three stacks based on how much they warped: "good" (used for main headers and footers), "okay" (used for secondary headers and footers), and "wonky" (severely warped, used for studs)

Gail was in charge of cutting and constructing. The chop-saw that we got from Gail’s step-father made cutting a breeze, but floor space for putting things together got increasingly scarce as we continued to install walls. Gail approached her tasks with her usual versatility, finishing walls faster than Russell could spec them.

Russell's schematic for the master bedroom door and the actual door. As floor space became increasingly scarce, we had to find ingenious ways to lay out the walls

Together we installed walls and door frames one by one, growing increasingly proud as things began to take shape.

(Our trip to Lowe's actually helped to prevent a huge problem. While there we window-shopped for bathtubs, and saw that the one we want is exactly 60 inches wide. When we arrived at the building site, we discovered that the bathroom – as we built it – was actually a fraction of an inch smaller than 60 inches. We ended up moving one of the walls a quarter-inch over so that we would not face disaster a few months down the road.)

We build the master bedroom closets

The final master bedroom closets, constructed over two days out of six separate wall sections

The second challenge for the week was the hallway. When Russell first mapped out the upstairs floor several weeks ago, he realized that if we constructed the hallway walls according to the blueprints, the center post of the house would protrude seven inches into the hallway. Through cell phone conversations with Gail, we decided to have the hallway curve around the post, and Russell mapped the walls accordingly. We would account for the curve by having various bedroom doors set at an angle to the walls.

However, when Gail came up and actually looked at this plan, she decided against it. The finished product would look too much like we had done something wrong in construction. Instead, Gail decided to move the entire hallway seven inches over, stealing the space from the boys’ bedrooms. In this way, the hallway would be perfectly straight as intended, but the center post would be hidden in the laundry room. As well, Gail decided to round the initial corner of the hallway to create a softer feel.

The map of the hallway, before and after Gail's revisions (note the rounded corner at the lower-right

Having the hallway situation resolved would now enable us to build the entry door frames for each of the bedrooms.

However, this in turn would bring us to the third challenge for the week. As our wall construction converges towards the center of the upper-story floor, we run not only into the center post but all of the knee braces that protrude from it.

Two questions emerge. First, how do we attach wooden walls to the metal center post to ensure stability? Second, how do we construct walls – and ceiling joists – around eight knee-braces that jut out at various angles?

This third challenge is the biggest of all. Russell is in charge of figuring it out.

A looming challenge: how do we construct walls and ceilings around the center pole and knee braces?


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