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July 6, 2008

Gail could only access the upstairs southern wall with difficulty. How could we stain the entire wall without a deck to stand on?

With the warm weather (and one of the hottest summers on record), we have been able to make a lot of progress on the construction of our mountain home. Our friend Steve has particularly enjoyed staining the exterior walls. This is beneficial, as the wood greatly needs the protection.

One challenge is that on the upper floor, three of the walls have no surrounding decks. They are therefore difficult to stain, as there is no place for a person to stand. Unfortunately, one of these three upper walls is the notorious “southern wall,” which is particularly prone to both winter rain and summer heat. We discovered (the hard way) that with the southwesterly winds on top of the mountain, rain hits this wall almost sideways.

While Gail was able to paint and caulk the wall from the inside – as well as caulk much of the outside by leaning out of the window – we still needed to cover the exterior with several coats of stain. The question was: how do you reach the wall?

How do you reach the wall?

On July 4th weekend, with the entire family up on the mountain for four days, we attempted to tackle this problem. Russell’s first idea was to take several of our longest planks of wood and span them across the deck ends on either side of the southern wall. Unfortunately, it was not until after Cameron and Joss had hoisted a couple of them up that we discovered they were not long enough.

After Joss and Cameron hoisted our longest planks up, we discovered that they were not long enough to span the gap

Russell’s second idea was to take our 10-foot metal ladder, straighten it into a 20-foot length of metal, and use that to span the gap. Russell never got to try his second idea because Gail then proposed her idea: build a scaffold up to the second story and rest the planks on top of that. Gail even had a foundation for the scaffold in mind: an old crate, originally used by Topsider to ship our shutters, that had been sitting off to the side of the building pad for the past four years.

The shutter crate

It was at this point that our friend Steve arrived for the weekend. Hearing the proposals, he immediately decided that Gail’s was the more suitable idea (and the safer one as well – Steve would be the one who would have to stand on top of the ultimate solution). Even better, this was a rare weekend where Steve had brought his truck (his motorcycle was in the shop).

So while Russell continued his work on reconstructing the downstairs chase, Gail and Steve set about improvising a scaffold out of the old crate. Our oldest son Cameron was also able to help, but our youngest son Joss was still recovering from his recent spinal surgery.

Last year, Russell had added lumber to the shutter crate to convert it into a shower. Cameron now had to remove all excess lumber to make the crate as light as possible.

The job ended up taking most of the day Saturday, July 5th. In order to approximate the height of the deck, the crate had to have 18 inches sawed off of the end. Then, it needed to be dragged about 40 feet to the side of the house and turned up on its end.

The crate (left) needed to be dragged 40 feet to the southern wall (right)

Despite Steve’s truck, the movers discovered that much of the intervening ground was covered with gravel. The move ultimately took a combination of skids, rock clearing, levers and brute force. We had not done anything this massively physical since three years ago when Steve and Russell had dragged a solid wall across the building site (also with Steve’s truck).

Moving the crate required Steve's truck and a combination of skids, rock clearing, levers and brute force

Turning the crate up on end was no easier, as it was heavier than it looked and had a low center of gravity. Due to the way it was dragged, the side that we envisioned as the top would end up having to be the bottom. This required extra lumber being added to one of the ends. Once again, the actual lifting effort ultimately required both levers and brute force. The crate was finally upended in late afternoon, and – despite the extra lumber added at the last minute – turned out to be a workable height.

Upright at last!

With planking then nailed onto the top (and several ropes holding everything in place), Gail was able to finish caulking and Steve was able to begin staining. By the time we departed a day later, the wall was pretty much weather tight from both inside and outside.

Gail caulks atop the scaffold while Steve plays “safety net”

We left the scaffolding in place, to allow one more coat of stain on our next trip. A future challenge will be to dismantle and reassemble the entire structure two more times to scaffold the other two deckless walls.

A vertical panorama – just as dangerous and precarious as it looks


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