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October 20, 2007
The Octagon

Russell constructs a frame for the octagonal window. He is working downstairs where the floor is flattest.

When Gail and Russell were both up at our mountain house building site last weekend, Gail brought up the idea of installing a window somewhere in the plumbing walls. She had several good reasons. One, it would break up the monotony of a long and high continuous wall running the entire length of the upstairs. Two, it would provide additional light to the upstairs parapet loft once the walls were completely dry walled. Three, it would give someone up in the loft a way to see what was going on down below.

Of course, Gail did not have the easy idea of simply installing a square or rectangular pane of glass. Instead, she suggested that we install an octagonal window. This would add a fourth benefit: it would mimic the overall motif of the octagonal house.

Russell suggested that there was only one place that the window could be located: directly over the hallway. Anywhere else, and it would possibly interfere with a pipe that had to run upwards through the rough. Unfortunately, this would place the window in an unsymmetrical and unbalanced position. Gail realized that if we located the window directly in front of the center pole, it would be directly over the wall of the hallway where there would be no pipes.

Future home of an octagonal window

Back at home, Gail did some research on octagonal windows. She learned that we could buy a ready-to-install framed octagonal window for about $400. On the other hand, we could also buy a 24” piece of tempered glass cut into an octagon for under $100. She decided to go the cheaper route.

Meanwhile, Russell was back up on the mountain by himself; and after three and a half days of hard physical work, he decided to work on something less physical and more mental. So on Friday, October 20, he decided to build an octagonal window frame.

There are two ways to get an octagon. The easy way is to take a square, divide it into thirds both ways, and draw diagonals between the thirds. While incredibly easy, this method does not result in a true octagon. Instead, it results in an eight-sided figure that does not have uniform sides.

The easy way to build an octagonal window. It is not a true octagon, as the diagonal sides are longer than the flat sides.

The difficult way is to construct a shape in which all eight sides are exactly the same length. This method involves using the Pythagoras theorem and the square root of two. Needing some mental exercise, Russell chose the difficult way.

The difficult way to build an octagonal window. While all sides end up identical in length, this method requires measuring the square root of two.

Russell’s octagon window frame project ended up taking all day. He figured out that a 24” octagon meant that each side would be slightly over 10” long (10-1/16”, in fact). With the weather outside looking like it might break into rain at any minute, he worked mostly inside (although it never did rain).

The octagonal window frame in place

Russell also constructed a rough-in in the parapet plumbing wall that enabled him to slide the octagon window frame in and out. This would enable us to install the glass before we put the frame in place. Finally, Russell finished off the frame with quarter-round trim that was left over from the exterior sliding glass doors.

The rough-in with the window frame removed. (Note the additional “girdles” under the ceiling beams for future drywalling.)

Once more, Russell finished just as the sun set and he ran out of light. His week of work is over, and this was his last milestone. Tomorrow he will pack up and go home after six days. But both he and Gail will return next weekend, when we hope to meet with a plumber.

Russell with the finished octagon window frame, including dark brown quarter-round trim


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