Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Fix Stuff - Don't Throw It Out! Replacing a broken suitcase wheel

If you have a broken thing, chances are, you can fix it.  And if you can't fix it, you can at least take it apart and see how it works as you break it some more.  For Cindy's birthday (which was in February), I fixed her suitcase.  It was a simple job, but I got more than I bargained for.  Watch, learn, and enjoy:

I'm intending to make more how-to and little diary style videos.  I've been filming most every project I've worked on for months... now the task is learning how to fold editing time into my regular day!

Let me know what you think and what sorts of videos you'd like to see in the comment section below:

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Fixing a very leaky roof - what worked!

Our roof was leaky for YEARS.  I bought the house in March of 2005, and although the roof had recently been replaced, there was water coming in the upstairs hallway and kitchen before the year was out.   Every time it happened, our tenant would let us know, and I would run up to the roof in the rain with a bucket of asphalt patching tar, smear it on to what I thought might be the source of the leak, and hope for the best.  Usually the patch would hold for a little while, and then the cycle would repeat itself. 

In September of 2006, the leaks in the upstairs kitchen had become essentially un-patchable.  I thought the problem was coming from where the chimney and the roof met - you can understand why when you see the condition of the chimney after a big piece of sheet copper was removed from the side of it:

And this is what it looked like when it was all buttoned back up.  You can see the solar vent fan I installed myself in the lower left (which has never leaked, by the way):

But, the kitchen leak and hall leaks kept coming back.

So, in 2007, I took out a loan and had the roof fully stripped and replaced.  In preparation for the green roof I already knew I wanted to install someday, I also had a couple of water-compromised rafters replaced and the roof access hatch moved from within the upstairs apartment closet to above the 2nd floor landing.

Here's a shot of the roof, stripped to the boards, with the hatch still in its original position (where our apple tree is these days)

A new layer of plywood was laid down over the existing planks, then a layer of insulation board, and finally a new rubber roof.  This photo was from a year or two later, but you get the idea.

That work solved the problems with the main roofing membrane, but problems continued to pop up with some of the myriad penetrations in the roof (we have 4 skylights, 3 plumbing vent stacks, a roof hatch, and the solar vent fan).

For example, there was STILL that leak above the upstairs kitchen. 

I'll smugly tell you that I myself finally figured out that issue and had the roofing company take care of it - the vent pipe had been blocked by something where it transitioned from 3" pipe to 2" pipe just above the kitchen ceiling,  That blockage had allowed water to get trapped, which froze and expanded, breaking the pipe about 12" below the roofline.  The roofing company cut a hole in the ceiling, sleeved in a new transition coupling and pipe, and sealed around the new pipe with a rubber boot on the roof.

Also, the skylight over the main staircase started leaking a few months after it had been re-installed (we had it raised up on a higher curb so it would clear our eventual green roof).  After a couple of failed patching attempts, we had a new one made and installed in 2011,

...only to discover a pinhole leak in the new skylight in the fall of 2012 (after the green roof went in.   The roofers came back, temporarily detached the skylight, and I added a dab of solder to the hole while they added more waterproofing to the curb.

Things seemed pretty stable after that.

...  But not really.

That damn kitchen vent pipe leaked again!  It turns out that the boot was too close to the parapet wall to make a perfect seal, so when it rained fast enough, water would pool in the drainage rock by the down-spout and pour in under the boot.  I fixed that (according to some advice from a roofer) with roofing tar and roofing fabric around the vent pipe rubber boot (so I'm sort of back to the temporary patch deal...):

With all the use the new roof hatch was getting, it was already wearing out, and it too somehow sprung a leak:

I called the original roofing company, but the new roof hatch was out of warrantee, so I hired a different company to replace it with a swanky (and much quieter and easier for Cindy to operate) new-new hatch.

The new-new hatch didn’t leak or squeak, but the roofers didn't insulate the sides, so it lost a lot of heat and developed condensation on the inside like crazy.  The tar on the curb never dried and was getting on the drainage rocks, my hands and my clothes.  So I solved both problems by insulating the sides of the hatch with foam boards and covered the insulation and the tar curb with sheet aluminum:

....Aaaand there was a leak in the upstairs living room, coming from between the side wall of my house and the side wall of the attached house next door:

The same roofers who replaced the hatch raised the parapet wall up a couple of courses of brick and installed a sheet metal flashing to cover the gap between the walls:

None of the leaks were due to the green roof system, which was a tremendous, face-saving relief.  All of them were serious bummers, which lead to another leak - fluid coming out of my eyes. 

BUT! It has been 3 years since the last of the repairs, and apart from a small leak in that same kitchen vent stack boot I mentioned above (which I fixed with more patching cement), the rain has stopped coming in the house.  Someday, maybe I'll move that vent pipe away from the parapet wall the proper amount, but since that leak isn't a mystery, I'll keep an eye on it and not get too fussed.

In 2015, with the roofing work finished, I employed a plasterer.  The walls in the house are true plaster (and lath), and as a preservationist, I'm only interested in replacing them with the same - no drywall.  It would be disrespectful to the house to do otherwise.  Proper plastering is an art form that takes years to master.  But I wanted to learn what I could, so when I hired the plasterer, it was with the understanding that I would be allowed to help and thereby to learn some of the tricks of the plastering trade.

Here's a shot of the repairs in the living room as they were ongoing.  It always gets worse before it gets better.

Here's the wall as it is today (it still needs some work, but we're focusing on fixing up some of the other rooms in the upstairs apartment first):

I used some of the techniques I learned from our nice plasterer to repair our bedroom wall myself, and I made a 2-part video about it for youtube.  Check it out and subscribe!  I'll be putting more videos up in the future.

Lastly, here's a picture of Buster.  He's pretty happy about the fact that we're getting this place fixed up.

Special thanks to Ian and his various roommates for putting up the roof problems in the upstairs apartment for all those years. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Lewellyn Media Cabinet, Pt 1

Cardboard mock-up of early version with fancy-assed walnut plywood in the background.
I finally got started on the media cabinet commission I've had since last August.  In my defense, part of that time was a long design phase.  Then I had to wrap up at Blue Man.  Then Cindy's mom died.  Then I had to go out of town for a week for the Wilderness tour.  Then it was about 6 weeks of work on The Panther Room workshop... And then I had to clean the shop and catch up with all the other stuff that had been languishing - getting the garden planted, finishing the photography phase of a neighborhood survey to extend the historic district... and then the trip to California for blacksmithing and visiting family...

Current drawings, minus 2" of width.
Before I went, I did some experiments with various cutting methods.  The plywood I'm using for this cabinet is SUPER expensive - custom-made 5/8" Russian birch ply with A/A bookmatched walnut veneer finish.  I was afraid (understatement?  perhaps paralyzed with fear?) to cut the stuff and not sure what the best way to cross-cut it without getting tear-out on the veneer would be.  I bought a new 5/8" router bit, thinking I could try to cut it with that (as well as use it for dados to keep the plywood together), and I bought a fine circular saw blade.  It turns out the saw blade won the contest.  With painter's tape on the cross-grain cuts, I didn't get any chipping, and the edge was almost as smooth as it would have been if it were planed.  I free-handed the initial rough cutting, and then I made a circular saw guide and have been switching back and forth between that and my table saw for the final cuts.
Plywood edge as delivered

Plywood edge as cut with sweet new circular saw blade. (fuzz on the underside is painter's tape)
As with many things in life, the plywood didn't come in a state of perfection.  The edges hadn't been trimmed, and the corners weren't square.  So contrary to what we used to do back in my MPC scene shop days, I'm having to cut all 4 sides of each piece and try to get them square (I've resorted to diagonal measuring as a backup for my framing square, which is more flexible and fallible than I would have thought), rather than parallelograms.

I got the bottom, back and sides cut to dimension and started routing out the grooves for the shelves when I realized I had under-estimated the width of the cabinet by about 3/8".  You can't have a cabinet that's made to hold a record player and record cleaner, and neither one will fit!  I had to make a new back (I made it 2" wider to leave more wiggle room) and re-route the dados, but I got it all finished and up-to-snuff by the end of the day.  Good thing I ordered some extra walnut plywood to begin with!

The screw up with the back yesterday reminds me of a time when I'd borrowed Dan's 1970-something Cadillac El Dorado convertible.  I was desperate to return it to him without a scratch, and wouldn't you know it?  I hit a deer on Carmel Valley Road one night.  In that instant, about which I felt terrible (especially for the deer, but also for Dan's car), everything changed!  The thing I was afraid of happening, happened.  And after that, I was much more relaxed.  So it goes with this expensive plywood.  I had to re-cut the largest panel in the whole cabinet project.  There's still enough left over if I make another mistake.  And, although I wanted to call my mom or Cindy to talk my mistake through, I knew the only thing that would fix it was carrying on.  So that's what I did.  That's what I'm doing.  I'm carrying on.  And I'm pretty pleased with my progress.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Baby Steps Outside

Occasionally people ask me what life is like since I left my job at Blue Man Group.  I can tell you, it's strange!  For a long time, I was struggling to figure out what day of the week it was.  I kept thinking it must be Sunday - that it looked like Sunday.  When I finally realized it looked like day, which I normally only saw on Sunday's (I was off Monday's as well, but those always had a miserly feeling with an undercurrent of dread - knowing time was slipping away and there was a coming need to return to work on Tuesday), I couldn't stop laughing.  I've probably told that to half the people who will ever read this post by now, but it is significant.  DAY.  I spent 8 years working 40 hours/week (more or less) in a windowless basement office with only occasional sojourns outside for lunch or walks.  This year, I got to see spring unfold, I've more-or-less been on top of my planting timing in the garden(s), and my eyes are awash with color and light.  I'm even getting a farmer's tan that reminds me so much of my childhood and of my grandmother's tan that I get these wonderful/tragic little flashbacks.

I've also been to California for a week.  My sister in law, Jodi, got me a rental car and a round trip ticket to go out and help with her school's California Gold Rush festival.  I was the mining town's blacksmith.  I spent most of the week visiting with my step father, Daron.  There is lots to say about that, but I've got to go to New Jersey later today for a tech rehearsal.  Another United Nations gig is coming up this week (World Ocean's Day), and I'm getting too antsy to sit in front of the computer.

Making my first pair of tongs, Daron operating the forge blower.  The school's garden (with chickens) is in the back.
So, I'll sign off for now with one last thing: I'm trying to post something to this blog or Project Happy Life's social media at least once/day.  Most of what I've been doing lately is on Instagram; I've been wrestling with the perfectionist tendencies in my mind and letting the blank blog post scare me... pressure, you know, it has to be good... blah blah blah.  This is me trying to train myself to let go and take baby steps as needed.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

First Lesson of Project Happy Life

I want to find the perfect way to tell you that there have been huge changes for me lately.  Maybe you've heard:

I quit my job at Blue Man Group.

I never really wrote much about the fact that I worked there.  I wasn't sure what the rules were, and I was afraid, honestly, that I would inadvertently break one and get in trouble or embarrass someone or hurt someone's feelings.  There's a lot to say about what working there has meant to my life.  I'll get to that another time.  For now, the actual departure and aftermath:

The day I left - the day I had cleaned out my office and had everything packed and ready to get loaded into a cab for home, we also had my dear friend, Zea's birthday dinner to attend.  So we left all my things near the exit on the wardrobe work tables, and went to dinner.  On the way back to the theatre to get my stuff, Cindy heard a message on her phone that her mother had just passed away.  As we walked, she stopped every 50 yards or so and threw up in the street.  When she was as collected as possible, she hailed a cab, and I shuttled things up the stairs and out onto the sidewalk.  Our friend Elvin came by and jumped in to help as soon as he knew what was going on.  The cab driver was lovely and sympathetic.  Cindy sobbed most of the way home.  The driver even helped unload all the stuff into our house!

And then we were home.  I had no more job.  Cindy had no more parents.  I didn't know what to feel; I'm not sure I had any feelings.  Cindy was monumentally sad.  She was trying to figure out how she could immediately fly to Hawaii.  I was trying to figure out how I could immediately get to work on Project Happy Life.  Actually... I was a little angry.  I felt a little robbed.  I had just finished my last week in a job I'd had and loved for 8 years (one of the many I've had at Blue Man over the 20+ years I worked there).  I was the Production Stage Manager for the New York production.  My last week was beautiful.  I had my final show on Wednesday, and my best friend, Bernadette (who is also the Stage Manager there) and Akia organized a party for me in the lobby afterwards.  So many people said such nice things to me.  I wanted time to reflect.  I wanted to put those memories in my pocket, so I could have them whenever I need them.

But I said I felt robbed.  I had all these impulses - to stay at home for a couple of weeks and ball-up.  I wanted to have a good cry and to take stock of everything that happened to me.  But at the same time, how could I not go with my wife to her mother's funeral?  Honestly, I looked for excuses to stay home.  The first day of school for the class I am taking this semester was that Tuesday.  Cindy and her brother urged me to stay home and attend my class.  But, I knew that wasn't right.  As I made my peace with the fact that things weren't going to go as I had planned, some friends offered to skype me into my Tuesday class from Hawaii.  It was settled.  I was some kind of relieved. I was going with Cindy.  We organized and packed on Sunday, and we flew to Hawaii on Monday morning for the funeral.

We've been home now for 5 weeks, and for the majority of the time, as Cindy has been grieving, I have felt like I've been working without inspiration.  I've felt aimless and yet excessively busy with school, theatre projects, organizing...  I haven't really known what to say to you.  I wanted to have some big sort of splashy reveal of Project Happy Life, LLC and how it will work.  I wanted to be able to tell you about all my big plans.  But it's honestly, I overextended myself with theatre projects and volunteer projects and class projects.  First lesson of Project Happy Life - don't take on too many projects, and leave space to show up for the people you love.

More to come.