YESTERMORROW Day #5: When one door closes...

Yesterday was the first day we built for the entire 8 hours. It was blistering hot, we moved at a frenetic pace, and by the end of the day we were completely exhausted. Instead of everyone working together with oversight we all worked on different sub-projects (the roof, the trusses, the board and batten siding, etc.) and Patti and Lizabeth made themselves available for consults as needed. While it was fantastic to crank out so much work, it was pretty hard to keep track of everything going on and I didn't really have a single focus area. I started off the day toe nailing trusses to the frame, but proceeded to help out on about five other things. 

Alas, I decided that on our final day (today) I wanted to go back to working on a single, focused project. I signed up to build the door. Naomi signed up to be my buddy. The process looked a little like this:

  1. Put your tongue and groove (TNG) boards all in a row and decide which side you want to show.  We decided on the plain side since we were going to be nailing a double-Z pattern of braces on top of the door for stability and didn't want too much flair going on at once.
  2. Measure the rough opening of the doorway.  Hopefully you remembered to leave a doorway. If not, there's a big design opportunity calling your name right about now.  You'll want to subtract about 1/16 from the hinge side, 1/4 from the bottom edge, 1/8 from the top, and 3/16 from the leading edge.  These are Patti's numbers.  I trust her because she's a girl genius and a very experienced carpenter.  
  3. Shift the boards around and mark the ends with knots or splits. Those will be cut off.
  4. If you're not an all-star at mental math then this is the part where you bust out your Construction Master Pro calculator (or app) and figure out how much you will need to plane off of your two end boards.  You plane both end boards to the same width so that your door is symmetrical. Symmetrical = pretty, but don't tell that to Lyle Lovett.
  5. Mark your boards and drag them over to the table saw.  Slice them up and bring them back over to where the rest of your door is.
  6. Your boards will be staggered based on where the imperfections are that you want to cut off.  Some of them will jut out on one side and some will jut out on the other. Make sure when you slice off the imperfections that your door will be long enough.  If it will, go ahead and clamp the boards together with pipe clamps.
  7. Nail one of your bracing boards below where you plan on making your top cut, then use it as a guide for your circular saw.  A perfect and easy straight cut! I believe you will end up with 4 5/16 of an inch above where you nail in the bracing board.  That will be the top of your door. I hope you made sure that board was square. SQUARE, LEVEL, PLUMB should be your battle cry.
  8. Do the same on the bottom, and double-check your measurements so that the door ends up the right length.  Again, when you use the bracing bar as your guide with a circular saw you wil have 4 5/16" below the board.
  9. Now your door is really looking doorish. You just need to put on a center brace that is parallel to the top and bottom brace and equidistant from both.  Then put in the two diagonal pieces.  Make sure you get the angle right on each side. You should probably use a carpenter's bevel.  I did, and it was pretty sweet.
  10. Nail the diagonals in. Now your door won't rack! Congrats! Screw on some hinges while you're feeling invigorated over the fact that you just built a door. Use a vix bit to make your life easier.
  11. Figure out what you want to do for a handle. Per Lizabeth's suggetion, Naomi and I went for a walk in the woods, cut down a hardwood (deciduous) sapling, debarked it, cut it on the chopper, and screwed it into place. Rustic and Vermonty. We knew that Carol would love it.  We picked a yellow birch because the wood smells like wintergreen. Verminty!
  12. BAM! A door! A real live door!

Yes, I am wearing jorts. No, my (male) partner is not impressed. I will note, however, that the only apparel promise I made to him before leaving was that I wouldn't come back with Carhartts. Promise fulfilled.  

With the door complete, it was time for me to take a little rest.

While I napped in the Yestermorrow tree house I remembered a fun fact: knots with black rims around them signify that the limb was dead when the tree was chopped down. These knots can sometimes fall out, especially in cedar. Knots lacking the rim are from limbs that were alive when the tree was felled. These are usually the higher limbs.

I like to keep the living knots and remove the dead ones. Personal aesthetic choice I guess.

I also like chartreuse.

And piglets.

After the door was attached there really wasn't much more to do. Lizabeth and Patti had put in the window earlier on in the day and there were just a few pieces of board and batten left to nail into place.

About an hour later someone (Abby?) pounded the final nail into the shed, and just like that, our week of hard work came to an end. 

J and Celeste had already left, but the remaining ten of us tore apart a variety pack of Harpoon (thanks, Lizabeth!) and talked about what type of lives we would be going back to.

Between organic farming, calling for contra dances, working in a pickle factory, acupuncturing, and fighting foreclosures through song, one could never accuse the group of being bland. Part of what made the week so incredible was getting to know 11 women who I would never interface with during the normal course of my life.  

I clearly need to do some social circle diversification.

Though it's hard in SF, where it seems like everyone I meet works in tech and spends all day online #n3rds

But I digress.  With the shed put up and the beers drank down, it was time for good-byes. Hugs ensued, some people took off for one last skinnydip in the watering hole, and I hopped into my rental Corolla with my compass set to Boston.

In case you're wondering, Carol named the shed, "Stud" based on all of the boards she saw that had STUD written on them in big bold letters. I know I speak for all of us when I wish Stud a life of max happiness and min mice infestations. May he forever keep all of Carol's tools and garden equipment safe and sound.

When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us. - Alexander Graham Bell

Yestermorrow Day #4: BLIZZALL!

Let's stop skirting around the elephant in the room.  Yes, I wore full flair today.  

To say it was appreciated would be the understatement of the decade. From my "Put a Bird on It" safety spectacles to my BLIZZALL T-shirt, I was truly the belle of the Hammer Banger's Ball. Check out that shed!  We crushed our list of to do's today.  We crushed it so much, in fact, that we might finish up early tomorrow and start work on another shed that a previous group didn't have time to complete. I would love to tell you more, but I'm exhausted, only half-packed for the return to California, and my eyes are starting to sew themselves shut.

Rest assured, we all signed a rafter before popping the roof on, and now BLIZZALL THE WARRIOR will live on in perpetuity.

 More tomorrow, when I am rested up and roaring at the world. 

Yestermorrow Day #3: Design Opportunities.

Lizabeth and Patti have a motto. That motto is, "Everything is a design opportunity."  In other words, mistakes are all just excuses to redesign something. I love it. The entire Yestermorrow experience is empowering, supportive, and transformational.

Today LJ and I built a wall together and we ended up with quite a few of those design opportunities :)  Still, with the help of Patti and Lizabeth we puzzled everything out and I guarantee you that if we had to build the same wall tomorrow we could build it in half the time with zero help. SUCCESS!

With that, I bring you the latest and greatest fun facts:

  • Most houses in VT use 2x6 studs so that they can fit in extra insulation.  It gets cold out here!
  • Concrete is strong in compression, not tension, which is why it needs rebar.
  • Foundation pourers love Budweiser. They start drinking it at 9 or 10 in the morning and don't stop until they finish the project.
  • If you want to pour your own foundation try using an ICF (Insulated Concrete Form). It will save you money because you won't need to sub out the job.
  • Using pine shiplap helps mitigate shrinkage issues
  • If you build a house, leave a 4' or larger window out somewhere on the second floor so that you can move sheetrock through it with a machine. To quote Patti, "Fuck carrying that shit up stairs".
  • If you throw wild parties you will need to build with wood that has a higher live load.
  • Rainforest Whoopie Wood is local lingo for Philippine Mahogany, which is actually a false mahogany. It's a good choice if you're building on a budget or apparently if you put together a luxury cruise ship in the 70s.
  • When you need lumber you should always go to the yard and hand pick it. If you order it you'll just get whatever is on the top of the stack, and usually the top few boards are boards that other people already rejected. 
  • The reason walking under a ladder is considered bad luck is because a ladder leaning against a wall creates a triangle shape. If you walk under it you're disrupting The Trinity.
  • Don't plant food anywhere near pressure treated wood as the poisons will leach into the soil and kill you.
  • It's all about WWWD (What Would Water Do).  Before you make any major decisions, reflect upon WWWD.

I don't have much to chat about re: today's build. We basically just kept plugging along on the shed. In the morning we went to Allen (Alien) Lumber and learned all about what kind of inventory is there and how to deciper the secret codes.For example, SYP CDX is Southern Yellow Pine that is Grade C on one side, Grade D on the other, and has eXterior glue.

Allen Lumber seems like it would be intimidating if you didn't know what you were going there for.  Today it was overwhelming due strictly to the heat. Too. Hot.

After Alien we drove around Waitsfield and Warren and talked about sheds and roofs we spied out the windows of the van. We also cruised by a stunning poured concrete house with cedar shake on the top.

By the days' end we had all four walls up and a few people had started in on the roof cut list. Tomorrow is going to be even hotter and even more work, but I know we're up to the challenge.  I will be wearing flair on my goggles (in the photo they aren't yet finished) and a t-shirt sporting my new nickname as a way to lift team morale.

Yestermorrow Day #2: From the windows to the walls. 'Til the sweat drips down our sawzalls.

Ahhh yes. The sound of Bob Marley fills my ears and the smell of ripe armpits fills my nose. It must be day #2 of Carpentry for Women.

As I drove to the site I noticed that farmers had baled their hay yesterday evening and every cow I saw was lying down. For you city slickers, those signs mean that rain is on its way.  It's delightfully refreshing to once again get my weather forecast from nature instead of an iPhone app. 

Before I dig into the activities of day #2 I want to tell you some of the cool tips and tricks I learned:

  1. Nails have shear strength because they are made from wire. Screws are poured/molded and do not have shear strength (Some fancy expensive screws do, but your average black sheetrock screws don't).  If you need to hold things together without slippage make a pile of nails your BFF.
  2. There is a term for the act of tossing a banana peel into the woods.  It's "widespread compost," and it's encouraged at Yestermorrow.
  3. A tape measure displays every 12 inches in bold black because people measure things in feet.  A tape measure displays every 16 inches in red because studs are placed 16 inches apart.  There is another special mark on a tape measure and it occurs every 19 3/16 inches. Any idea why?  That's right, it's for government housing!  To cut costs, the feds put studs in every 19 3/16 of an inch, saving one stud per 8 foot section. And seriously, why do poor people need sturdy housing anyhow?  You may as well give them equal rights at that point.  INSANITY!
  4. Studs and joists are essentially the exact same thing except that studs run through walls and joists run through floors.  Also, you can use rough cut lumber for studs, but for joists you will likely want to use pressure treated wood since it's close to the ground and the ground holds moisture. 
  5. Bosch chop saws cost about $525 and make amazing stocking stuffers. I guess you need a jumbo sized stocking though.

Enough is enough. Here's how day #2 shook out:

We kicked off with a lecture on foundations, which quickly turned into a discussion on whether or not one should put a time capsule or a note into the wall of a remodel.  Rebecca and her partner are redoing their kitchen and found a note on some siding that read:


George and Charlie.  

He done the work.  I done the nailing.

We're half-cocked

That little tale led Patti to discuss all of the trinkets/notes/photographs that HER partner leaves in walls when they remodel.  She said, and I quote, "My girlfriend is a bit of a crystal squeezer." And just like that, I have a new favorite word for my new age pals.

From the lecture we moved into field trip mode.  We loaded into the big white van, and off we zoomed to Paul's sawmill. Paul is the owner, manager, and sawyer all in one. He is 74, has had a hardscrabble life, and embodies the spirit of Vermont.  He has a can-do attitude, is tough as tits, and had radiation treatment at 7am but was still at his saw by 10. Did I mention he's 74?  He's 74 and he cuts his own logs, skids them on his skidder, and then moves them on his log truck.  I should BE so amazing at 74. SEVENTY-FOUR, Y'ALL!  Can I get an amen?

Paul showed us how to cut rough cut 2x8s (video to come.  I'm a bit too tired to put it together right now).

Paul's popularity is growing, most likely because he's too damn awesome.  It almost sounds like it's getting bigger than he would like.  He says he only ever intended to do custom jobs, but now people are "finding out" about him and business is non-stop.

From Paul's we took a trip to the hardware store so that we could see how to shop a tool section.

J and I took a break from admiring screwdrivers to rest our California butts outside in the filtered sunshine, but before we could get too comfortable we were loaded back into the van and returned to Yestermorrow for lunch. I had trouble fully enjoying myself because the lowest hen on the pecking order hung out by my feet the whole time, and seeing her naked back made me sad.  No one likes bullies.

I feel sad just looking at the photo.  I wish I had the crying emoji to insert right here.

After lunch we FINALLY got to touch tools.  Building a wall looks something like this:

  1. Make a cut list.  Not everyone is good at carpenter math.  If you struggle then get yourself the Carpenter Master PRO app on your iPhone.  Mischief managed.
  2. Nail the boards together in a frame.  Top plate on top. Sill plate on bottom.  Studs connecting.
  3. Snap a line the width of one of your 2x4s on the floor from day #1. This will ensure your wall is square and level when you pull it up.
  4. Toe nail the wall frame to the line
  5. Square it up.
  6. Saw a diagonal for the bracing (t-bar) and hammer the bracing down.  It should go on the outside.
  7. Lift the wall and hammer in 2 temporary braces (one on each side)
  8. Nail the sill plate to the floor.  You must line it up EXACTLY on your chalk line.
  9. Plumb it all and then nail the rafter plate on top of the top plate.
  10. Build another wall, this time with a window. 

That's the dumbed down version of the process.  I may decide to start an open Google Doc outlining the whole process along with photos for each step so that I don't forget all the little ends, edges, and intricacies.

In the meantime, be good and remember to always shim to the highest point.

Yestermorrow Day #1: I hate that clapboard is pronounced clabberd.

As it turns out, it costs about $1,500 in materials to build a 10' x 7' shed.  I guess that's why so many people go to Home Depot and buy piece of crap sheds made from T111.  

Wait.  Did I just drop the term T111?  That's right, I'm slowly but surely learning the lingo.

For those of you who don't build, T111 (tee one-eleven) is plywood siding.  It's low enough in quality that mentioning it anywhere around Yestermorrow invokes a fury of rolled eyes.

I just finished day #1 of the shed build, and again the experience exceeded all expectations.  Today's task was to put the bottom of the shed together (it doesn't live on a foundation -- it will be carried off to a neighboring property when it's complete).

In the morning we did classroom exercises.  Patti and Lizabeth schooled us on tools and wood. From conventional pipe clamps to Japanese saws (they cut on the pull), we learned the ins and outs of hand tools and how to use them.  

Did you know that saws are measured in TPI (Teeth per Inch)?  

Are you aware that wooden hammers transfer the least amount of shock back into your body, followed by fiberglass and then steel.  The only people who buy titanium hammers are people who have extra money to burn and are looking for ways to spend it.  Do you have a 16oz and 20oz hammer in your toolbox?  You should.  

Is your tape measurer a Fat Max?  Fat Maxes can pull out 11' before crumpling.

We learned all that and more before taking a break for lunch.

Raw rainbow salad, two potato salad, and wild broccoli and YesterKale quiche?  I may never leave this place.

After lunch we began the build.  Our build site is a massive outdoor tent.  It's pretty utilitarian, but the interns found a way to work a disco ball into the ceiling.  Nicely done, folks.

So...How to build a shed...Here you go:

1. Plug in all of your equipment.  Know that thicker cords carry larger loads, so those should be plugged directly into the outlets.  It's worth spending $100 on a good cord so that you have the length you need without throttling your tools.

2. Make a build plan and a cut list. Our cut list was just for the floor, as that was our project for the day.

3. Grab your wood and cut. Don't forget to mark which side of the board is the crown. All crowns need to point up when assembling the frame. You'll see that JL and I cut the two end joists. Our boards looked mighty good when we finished up with them. Smooth cuts and perfectly sized. We rule.  

4. Lay the pieces out on the floor to match the build plan. Since we aren't building on top of a foundation and our floor isn't level, we needed to do some shimming to get everything flush. Make lines on the band joists every 16" so you know where to run the parallel joists.  Mark the edges (16-3/4) so you can flush the joists right up to the lines you draw.  FYI 3/4 is half of 1.75, which is how thick a typical milled 2x6 is.

5. Shim and nail. Make sure the tops are flush and everything is square. We used 16 penny nails for most of it. Why are nails measured in pennies, you ask? Back in 15th century England a "penny" size determined what one paid a blacksmith to forge a hundred nails of that size of nail. One could buy 100 10-penny nails for 10 cents or 100 16-penny nails for 16 cents. Nowadays nails cost a smidge more, but the name stuck. 2/3 of your nail should stick through whatever you're nailing.

6. Square, level, resquare, and relevel.  If everything isn't perfect then your structure will be completely wonky by the time you reach the ceiling. Make sure the diagonals measure exactly the same.  If they don't then you've got yourself a parallelogram.  Sledge on a longer corner while keeping the tape measure stretched out across the shorter hypoteneuse.  Keep sledging until the two diagonals are equal.

7. If you plan on moving your shed you'll need eye bolts in it.  Get out a monster drill and drill 4 holes through the innner and outer band joists.  Run eye bolts through them.

8. Cut the floor. Patti drew out a plan for us on our plywood.  We don't need a subfloor since we're just building a garden shed. 

9. Place the floor on top of the joists. Nail in a corner nail and use it as a pivot to make sure it's aligned correctly.  The tongue faces out.  Groove in.  You'll need to sledge into that groove a bit later.

10. Nail along the joists. Tape measurers show every 16 inches in red because joists are spaced 16 inches apart. Each peasy! Just place 'em 16 and center. Make sure you don't nail too closely to the groove, as you will need to fit the tongue into it later.

11. Keep laying down your plywood pieces.  If you can, keep the factory cuts butted up against each other so that everything stays square and the cuts are over the center of the joists.  We screwed up a bit and cut the plywood wrong the first time because someone thought both sides needed to be measured 24 on center. In reality, the top side had an 8" joist and a 16" joist ( = 24 on center) while the bottom had only 16" joists. ( =32 on center).  Oops.

12.When the whole top is nailed down you'll need to trim off the extra plywood on the side with overhang. Bust out the circular saw and before you know it you'll be done.  In our case, we had to make a 10' cut, which is pretty long.  If you have to make a 10' cut, you should crouch while you do it, not kneel.  If you kneel and your saw kicks back you'll cut your special area out.  You know the one.  The one your bathing suit covers.  Need help remembering?  Try repeating "Crouch saves crotch" a few times in a row and you should be golden. I made that up right now.  I may or may not have had too many glasses of champagne with dinner.  I'll never tell.

That's as far as we got today.  Other things you might want to know:

  • Stainless steel nails don't cause staining, but they can't be picked up by the "love magnet" at the end of a job, so someone (an unhappy homeowner) might end up with a punctured tire.
  • If you're using pressure treated wood then you need to use copper flashing.  Aluminum will corrode thanks to a galvanic reaction.
  • If you're hammering into a butt joint and you think your plank might split, put the nail head-side down on a hard surface and bang it once (hard) with your hammer.  Blunting the tip should help reduce the occurance of splits.
  • Cut nails are very en vogue these days. Apparently everyone wants new floors that look old.
  • As if memorizing your woods wasn't hard enough already, there are soft hardwoods and hard softwoods. Hardwoods are deciduous and softwoods are coniferous.  Balsa is an example of a soft hardwood.  
  • Poplar is great for painting, so you might want to consider using it as a trim wood.

If you're wondering what we look like when we're hard at work, here are a few scenes:

Yestermorrow. Subtitle: My Quest to Become a Pioneer Woman

This is going to be the best $800 I have ever spent.

Hands down.

Feet up.

No questions asked.

Sometimes you just know something is right.  And as if the world wants to make sure you get the message, it plays a vintage Casey Kasem Top 40 Countdown on the radio while you're driving home from said right thing.  A countdown from the 80s with Journey and Michael Jackson on it.  If that isn't a divine message from higher powers then I don't know what is.

This evening was my Yestermorrow orientation for a week-long class called Carpentry for Women.  Before I left the house my mom insisted on taking "First Day of School" photos. Yes, I am 34, and yes, I gladly posed. Some traditions never get old. While I didn't have a lunchbox to pose with, I think you'll agree that the level served as an acceptable proxy (see left).

I arrived at the school (located in Waitsfield, and across the street from a nudie swimming hole) not having any idea what to expect. Entirely by design. I like throwing myself into new and potentially uncomfortable situations to test myself.

First up was a campus tour by Kate, the Exec. Dir.  She looked familiar. I'm pretty sure that at some point in my life we have been in a foursquare court together. I think she was in square #1 and got me out with a tough serve. If you aren't familiar with the ins and outs of Vermont, here's a pro tip: we do actually all know each other. It's that small here. When we get bored we play Two Degrees of Ben Cohen or Three Degrees of Phish.

There were 20 of us in the tour group: 10 in the Carpentry for Women class and 10 in the Green Roofs class. Kate showed us all around the main building, which used to be a condemned hotel. Yestermorrow bought the property 12 years ago and has been fixing it up ever since.

After the tour we had some free time and then dinner. WOW. The meal was insane. There's nothing like a meal made out of fresh, local, organic food to get my excitement zooming.

After a bit more milling about it was time to assemble the class and meet the instructors. I was leery of taking a segregated class, but just five minutes into the orientation I cast aside all concerns. For the first time in my life I understand the appeal of female-only courses/schools. It's an entirely different energy, and in a good way. It's supportive. It's fun. And everybody laughs at my jokes. 

There is a woman in the class from Vermont who said that she wants to learn how to build a shed for the "30 horse tractor" she has her eye on. The announcement scarcely left her lips before the entire roomful of women was nodding and sighing in agreement. Meanwhile I was trying to figure out if I could justify buying a John Deere and using it for living room furniture (since I don't have much else to do with it in Oakland).  

A woman from New York plans on building tool sheds and hay bale stations for the farm she works on. My fellow Californian has a dog house on her mind.

Do you know how many times a tech bubble was discussed? Here's a hint: 0.

Ahhhhhhhhh. Refreshment. 

I mean, I love the tech scene just as much as the next Bay Area gal, but sometimes I just need to get out from under it and return to my roots.

The women in my class are smart, interesting, off the grid (some still use dial-up modems, many lack TVs, and virutally none are on FB), and they make me really miss life in New England.  Fun fact: I'm on a quest to feed the New England/Maritime part of my soul this year.  I want to become a more self-sufficient/pioneer women version of myself.  I already learned how to make perogies and bread from scratch; now it's hammer and nails time.

This week my class will be constructing a garden shed for a woman in Waitsfield.  We kick it all off tomorrow with a trip to a mill, lumber yard, and hardware store.  We also get our tool belts and something called a cat's paw, which I can only assume (hope) is less literal than it sounds.