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October 19, 2008
Capping the chase

Russell sketches out the shape of the chase cap on a scrap piece of plastic

Russell’s first plan the weekend of October 18 was to go up to our mountain house building site with his friend Steve. The two would continue work on installing shutters and tending to the trails. Unfortunately, Steve’s schedule ended up getting too full for him to come.

Undaunted, Russell decided to drive up by himself for the weekend. His second plan was to continue installing shutters by himself. Unfortunately, after he arrived on Friday evening, he looked at the work and decided that it really needed two people.

Undaunted, Russell simply moved to the next item on his “to do” list. His third plan was to construct the top “cap” piece for the chase that surrounded the center pole downstairs. The chase had been constructed to be as small and close-fitting to the plumbing pipes as possible. Unfortunately, the pipes splayed out near the ceiling. A wider cap piece would be required to enclose those wider pipes.

The chase around the center pole – first constructed in May, then reconstructed in July

When he had designed and constructed the chase itself months ago, Russell had given no thought to how he would actually construct the cap piece. Now he had to think about it. He knew that it would need to be about 10 inches wider than the chase on each side, and about 9 inches high in order to fully enclose the pipes. What he didn’t know was how he would construct it.

Near the ceiling, the plumbing pipes splay out wider. Rather than construct an equally-wide chase, we decided to construct a wider cap at the top only.

Russell spent a couple of hours Saturday morning trying to figure out what to do. The first challenge was how to fasten 2x4s together at multiple right angles so that no nails or screws would be exposed in the finished product. Do you hang the 2x4s vertically (like joists) or horizontally (like sill plates)? The second challenge was how to fasten the whole thing to the eight glu-lam beams that spoked the ceiling. The third challenge was how to construct the cap so that all of the future drywall had places to attach.

Russell started by digging out the piece of clear plastic that he had used to construct the original (revised) chase. He successfully scrounged a second piece of plastic that he overlaid onto the first in order to draw the larger cap piece. He used this as a guide to cut the wood.

Russell designed the cap piece using a piece of clear plastic that he overlaid onto the original chase drawing.
The cap piece would also be six sides, with each side 10 inches wider than the original chase.

Russell spent the afternoon cutting the six-sided shape of the cap. It would be difficult to measure the exact placement of the cap around the chase (remember, there is no flat ceiling – there are only the eight glu-lam beams). So he also constructed nine “spokes” that would help serve as guides for the exact placement of the cap. Finally, he cut 15 five-and-a-half-inch pieces of wood to serve as the vertical walls of the cap.

Russell also constructed nine “spokes,” each one custom-measured and cut. These spokes would attach to the top of the chase and help determine exactly where the cap should be fastened to the glu-lam beamed ceiling.

The first problem came when Russell discovered that he had cut the 15 vertical pieces a half-inch too small. All of them had to be re-cut.

The second problem was even worse. Russell discovered that he had cut all nine of the spokes too long. This was even worse because Russell didn’t realize this until all nine spokes had been nailed and screwed into place on top of the chase. It had taken hours to install them, and Russell was not about to remove them. The only alternative was to saw each of them in place.

The spokes, nailed and screwed in place. Russell realized that he had cut each of them one-and-a-half inches too long. Rather than dismantle them, he decided to trim them in place.

Because of the glu-lam beamed ceiling, Russell had to use the heavy circular saw upside-down on top of a ladder. The result was face-fulls of sawdust and several runs to the faucet outside to wash out his eyes. By the time Russell trimmed the last spokes, he was using a flashlight because the sun had gone down. Frustrated and exhausted, Russell called it a day.

Sunday went much better. Rising at 6:00 am (after waking up at 4:30 am), Russell had a new day’s energy and a much better mood. The final assembly of the cap piece went much more smoothly, and he was finished by 9:00 am.

The completed cap. The six pieces of the outline have been fastened to the spokes with the six-inch vertical pieces, then screwed into the glu-lam beamed ceiling.

With the cap piece in place, the center chase is now completely finished. (Gail will undoubtedly have a nightmare trying to drywall the whole structure, but that is a challenge for another day.) After one more task on a future trip – building a box around some exposed pipes on the lower-floor ceiling – the entire interior framing of the house will at long last be finished.

The center pole chase and top cap


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