Thursday, September 11, 2014

Summer Camp

How I spent my summer ...

For the most part, I spent a good portion of July and August by myself at Cathy and I's camp (cabin/cottage or possibly Tiny House which is the current trending description) in Kirby, VT. We bought the camp last summer and used it as it was over the past year, with the intent of gutting and re-doing the interior as soon as possible.

Well, this summer the modifications became my summer project. Last summer I made over our shed in Maine into a spiffy bunkhouse and built another shed attached to the old shed. After doing a few small projects this early summer in Maine, such as an outdoor shower I'd been meaning to make for years, it was full bore onto the camp refurbish.

The small camp as we first saw it.

The bedroom area and loft ladder.

The loft area and the ceiling.

The kitchen and dining area.

Kitchen and front wall.

When we bought the camp, we realized that the building itself was usable but rough. However, for the price we got water, septic, power and a driveway as well as a usable shed, not to mention a whole bunch of stuff, to go along with the three acres of very nice land in what we consider to be a very choice location. Basically, the building and stuff was just bonus material as the land and amenities were worth the purchase price alone. We knew that and we could see that in the property at first glance. Most folks can't see that; they can't see past the cosmetic flaws. All three of our houses were that way, not exactly prom queens. With a little effort though and some creative designing, those frogs may just hold a prince underneath.

My dad having fun in the rain.
My first project was to deal with the sagging beams supporting the camp. I knew the real fix was to put in new support piers but hoped bigger beams might be enough. As my parents and I worked all day during a downpour to get the first of the timbers replaced, it became clear that it wasn't the right fix and so I abandoned the plan for the time being thinking I'd revisit and fix things the right way in the fall. In the mean time, I would get busy on the inside, something that we saw every time we were there.

The inside of the 18x22' camp consisted of a small 8x9' bathroom which also house the water pump, water heater and storage tank, with the remainder an open, single room format. Over the 8x9' bedroom area and bath which is to the back of the camp, there was a loft area. Above most of the rest of the room which had a sitting area/living-room, kitchen and dining area, the ceiling was vaulted but had the collar-ties remaining, keeping the outside walls from bowing under roof load. The bath was all done in sheet-rock and partially finished and painted. The bedroom and living-room area was also sheet-rock, again only partially and roughly finished. The walls of the kitchen were done in pine planks, which was not exactly the look we wanted but was the best we had going. The ceiling was all sheet-rock with paneling glued and nailed over the top. There was no real trim or casing of any of the doors or windows to speak of, at least, none that was really finish work.

But the camp was usable and so we used it for nearly a year as it was. When I did get started on the inside this summer in earnest, my game plan was simple, low hanging fruit first, breaking it up into chunks. We were going for the rustic cabin feel and nothing feels more like a cabin then pine. V-groove (tongue and groove) pine to be more specific, the same stuff I used on the bunkhouse in Maine. In fact, I bought it from the same place right in Bethel, Maine, as they have it custom cut for them at the mill. I used 10" wide rougher back V groove which meant it was rough on the back side, finished V groove on the front and 9" wide finished width. When hung horizontally, it gives the appearance of the interior of a finished face log home. The pine is also warm and inviting and gives a great surface to attach things to.

The loft with one side of paneling/sheet-rock stripped.

All stripped, framing done, insulated.

Adding pine.

More pine.

Walls are set.

Window trimmed and ridge capped.

I started with the loft area and the first step was to remove the paneling and sheet-rock. That part was not much fun. Not fun at all really but it didn't take that long. I then re-framed the poorly framed window in the loft and framed in knee-walls on both sides to make the space more usable. Everything that wasn't insulated got insulated and then I went to work boarding the whole thing over in pine. This went pretty quickly. The I cased and trimmed the window and put down a layer of fresh new 7/16" OSB on the floor before turning my attention to the bedroom.

Weekend work on bedroom with help from Cathy.

Finished up and looking better.

Done with that part at least.

The bedroom was pretty straight forward. Gut it down to the studs, fix some electrical, insulate and then board it back up. The ceiling was first and when I was done, I added a new ceiling light as well. Then I started on the wall to the bath and worked my way around. The final wall was the one that needed some electrical work. The entryway used to, at one point, be at that end so the outside light switches for floodlights were there. I wanted to consolidate two into one and move the location. I also needed to drop in a switched outlet for lights I planned to use later on. As always, it was way more work than I'd estimated but I finally got it done. I then finished up the pine and moved on to the trim.

From there the sh!t got real. The low hanging fruit had mostly been harvested and it was on to the biggest design, planning and labor portion of the rehab; the beams. I decided that I wanted to take the ceiling all the way up to the ridge-beam, which meant pulling out the collar-ties in the section of the camp that still had them. However, I needed a structural component to take their place and keep the roof from bowing the outer walls.

Technically, there were a host of options ranging from simple eye-hooks in either outside wall with tensioned cable via turn-buckles holding them in to solid beams spanning the gap of 18' and holding the walls together. I thought about the former and though it would be kind of neat, wasn't the look I was after. I wanted beams, similar to what I'd used in the mudroom addition Cathy and I built years back in Maine. The challenge was the scale. 18' meant custom beams that are custom length at a custom price. You also have to move them. I though long and hard and went through lots of designs before coming up with what I thought to be the perfect, elegant (if not necessarily simple) solution; make a hash-mark with multiple shorter stock length beams.

The idea was to run two 13' beam the short span, perpendicular to the intended structural direction. The purpose of these beams is simply to support the cross beams that are actually carrying the tensional force of the outer walls. Those beams would each be in three sections spaced 4' apart, the same width the other two full length beams are spaced. The beam sections are held together with four 1/2" bolts at each junction and steel angle brackets made from 3" angle-iron at each intersecting corner. The beams would be attached to the top sills of the outer walls via steel angle brackets and lag screws and the two main beams would tie back into the 2x6" floor of the loft using angle iron corner brackets and lag screws.

Simple, right? I headed to the sawmill and ordered some beams. They were sawing hemlock that day so I ordered hemlock. Seven 4x6" beams ( two 14', five 8') cost me $81.60 and were ready later that same day. Yes, they were green but green wood doesn't shrink in length so I wasn't too worried. My dad and I spent about half of a day making the angle brackets from regular steel angle iron and then I painted and set them to dry. It took some creative effort to get the beams placed by myself but one by one, I got them up and in. Getting the holes bored through the beams correctly such that the trough bolts aligned on both sides was a challenge without a jig, using a hand-drill but with some reaming I got them to fit. As they went together everything fit nice and snug and the crimson corner brackets and steel bolt hardware looked great against the stark natural hemlock. I finished them up and then mounted them securely to the sill plates of the outer walls.

The two stabilizing beams tied to loft floor.

Setting the first center section.

One set done.

Almost complete.

Finished hash-mark pattern.

Then I moved back to the main floor and off the step ladder, stripping the sheet-rock from the long side wall and lovingly replacing it with pine. This is a good point to take an aside and talk a little bit about one of the logistical challenges of this build. Actually, how about two of the challenges. The first is material. Remember I mentioned that the pine came from Maine. Well, I used a whole lot of pine and because I don't own a really big trailer or a really big truck, I'm really bad at estimating, and because I don't have room to store the material under cover anyhow, it meant I had to buy material in small lots. A couple hundred feet here, a few hundred there. That translated to a bunch of trips to and from Maine. Fortunately, I had to go mow the lawn there anyhow.

Getting started is the hardest part.

Patched back in with new cedar.

Small but effective.

At one point, I found myself out of material so took a break from the pine and installed a small window into the bathroom. I'd searched for a small single hung window that would work in the tiny wall area I had and came up with a vinyl mobile home window from a vendor on Ebay for $72 shipped. The unit had a nail fin for mounting it to the sheathing, was all vinyl with insulated double pane glass and most importantly, was only 14" wide. That meant I could slide it in between existing studs and would only have to do minimal framing work within the enclosed wall space. The whole process was pretty easy and took less than half a day including stripping the cedar siding back and patching in new. I sealed around the unit with ample quantities of ice and water shield adhesive membrane and then trimmed the inside out with pine to match the rest of the camp. The end result was a huge improvement and added much needed ventilation in the bathroom.

The second challenge was waste and more, disposal of said waste. As you can imagine, tearing out sheet-rock and paneling generated a fair amount of waste. About three truck loads to be exact when piled neatly in the bed of my Toyota Tacoma. The issue was that the town of Kirby, VT has no dump. The only way to get rid of garbage is by the bag for $3/ea at the town hall on Saturday. That didn't scale well for this application. Rather than burn the paneling and dig a hole for the sheet-rock I leveraged the benefits of the property taxes from one of our other places to make the material disappear. It would have been a major pain otherwise.

Long portion of the side wall complete.

After the long side wall was done I moved to the remaining ceiling, the most challenging or at least labor intensive part of the whole job. It meant first stripping paneling and then sheet-rock from overhead by myself. Frankly, that sucked. That was after I finally pulled that miserable ceiling fan down and threw it in the garbage. OK, I admit it, I couldn't throw it away being I am a cheap old Yankee so it is still sitting in the shed. No idea what I will ever do with it. Maybe I can trade for, eh, something. Once done with all of that fun, I got to deal with pulling out the collar-ties which as it would turn out was a really, really great place for mice to live and poop. Luckily, it was about 95 degrees that day to give the full fun effect.

Collar-ties almost all gone.

Ceiling stripped and ready for planking.

Starting the planking of the ceiling.

Once the collar-ties were down I patched in the insulation and started planking the ceiling bottom to top. This was tough as the run was first, interrupted by the beams and second, long at 13'. I also needed to match the spacing of the planks on the ceiling to the loft section that I'd already completed. It all went fairly well if not perfect though a 13' long plank tends to often have some warping in it, which you then have to deal with. Minor warping can be pried into place with a chisel but a major warp takes some machinery. I've had good luck with shims, stops and a small bottle jack to compress the planks into shape. Often in those cases the finish nails won't hold it in place so you have to resort to screws, which although visible, are better than the alternative. Over the course of a weekend Cathy and I managed to spend a couple half days and get the ceiling covered. It was tough work and time consuming what with dangling off a step ladder or the beams to try and get the planks in place but we got it done. It looked so much better in the end.

Pendant lighting on the ridge cap.

Lighting was going to be a quick project as we planned to drop track lighting on the ridge cap via the centered, switched box that the ceiling fan had hung from. At Home Depot we decided that pendant lights would look very, very nice and so, the simple plan changed. I had to move the existing box and add a second inline box. Not a huge project but it extended the job a bit. Then  I had to get the ridge cap board in place after shimming the boxes up so they met the board correctly. Not rocket science but it ended up being a half day project to get the lights and then get them in. The end result was pretty nice though and really added a great feel and character to the build.

Once the ceiling was completed I moved on to the end wall. This wall included the entry door and a window as well as the existing tile backer for the wood stove. Unfortunately, what that meant was that I had to demo the tile backer for the wood stove, a backer that consisted of masonry backer-board screwed to the studs and then stone and ceramic tile thin-set to the backer. Pulling that down would certainly be a pain in the butt and in reality, it was. I had to pry each and every tile off individually. Luckily, the marble tiles came off easily and mostly in-tact. The granite were about 75% and the ceramic, which were porous, were about 60%. That meant I had a whole lot of material to work with for the free standing backer I had planned.

Getting the complex gable end ready to plank.

Finished product and done with the pine.

View from the loft.

The end wall had a bunch of trim and knockouts to deal with, what with multiple outlets, a window, a door, two beams and then the gable end of the camp. This meant lots of measuring and lots of cuts. It translated to slow going, especially when we got up into the gable end and were working on ladders in places where they didn't always fit very well. Eventually, we made our way to the top and with literally not a board left to spare, we finished off the pine planking for the camp for all of the stage one work. I say stage one because the camp is not completely done in terms of the wall covering. There are still two walls in the kitchen/dining area that were planked with pine already. Not V-groove and not done to my liking but we could live with it at the moment, so that will be a project for another day.

Made with mostly recycled material.

With the recycled red marble tiles in mind, I built a stand alone backer for the wood stove that would mount to the wall behind the stove. I built the unit exactly the same as I had built a couple different hearths for under wood stoves. The construction began with plywood, in this case I used two 2'x4' pieces of 7/16" OSB screwed and glued together onto which I then mounted 1/4" Hardi-backer, masonry backer board. I then banded the perimeter of the piece with 1.5" wide Brazilian cherry which I ripped down from 3.5" pre-finished hardwood flooring that I had leftover. This was the same as I'd done with the hearth for this stove. Then a layer of thin-set tile mastic was applied with a notched trowel and the tiles were laid down in a simple, overlapping pattern, which meant that I needed to cut one tile for every other row. Luckily the diamond blade wet saw handles the stone with precision and ease. I finished it off with a combination of the leftover grout that I had from a couple different buckets making an off white color that worked fine with the tile, got rid of those leftovers and didn't cost anything. All told, the backer hearth cost me about $20 in new materials. It installed easily and looked nice and clean against the pine wall.

Perimeter lighting via LED strips.

The small detail.

With the hard part done, focus was then moved to the smaller details. I'd purchased strings of LED strip lights and planned to use them on the top of the walls in the bedroom and loft. I'd used indirect lighting many times in the past and am a big fan of it. I find that it gives a really nice feel to the space and can also give good definition and highlighting. I built a trough into which I would lay the light strips out of 1x3" pine with a 3/4x1/4" dado and a 45 degree bevel on the lower lip which would be the face and a 1x2" pine board which would be the base. I attached that piece directly to the wall on edge with screws and then attached the face against the base with the dado over the edge of the base for extra support. Finish nails held it in place. Going was slow as it was true finish work and would be visible so the detail mattered. When finished we installed the light strips and hit the switch. The results were incredible as were the strips. These are multi-color programmable and are very, very neat. Great products for short money from Amazon via China.

Painted kitchen cabinets were a big improvement.

As we were back in Bedford briefly at one point I took the opportunity to build a new ladder for the loft. The old was was fine, and functional but wasn't the focal point I was after given the somewhat crude construction methods. I chose the inset my 2x8" steps into the 2x6" rails by building a jig to make the 1/4" dado cuts with my router. I'd used this same technique on a similar project in the past. It worked great and I attached the stair treads to the rails with glue and screws nicely coutersunk. On one side I added a railing made from 3/4" black steel pipe and fittings which I spray painted black. Simple and functional and a good marriage of wood and steel. Similarly, we added a 4' long 1/2" black steel pipe curtain rod to the ceiling of the bedroom area and then attached a nice, cotton shower curtain to it. This gave some privacy to the room and also added some definition to the otherwise open space.

The new ladder to the loft.

Next it was on to the kitchen cabinets. They were ugly, darkened pine. Nothing special but they were functional. Our plan was to build new ones, eventually. For now, Cathy had the idea that painting them world be fine. We decided to go with vibrant, contrasting colors for the faces versus the doors. We pulled the drawers and doors as well as all of the hardware and after a little sanding to prep the surface, we started laying down the paint. The results were immediate and looked awesome. When we finished up and re-asssembled the cabinets we could hardly believe our eyes. The transformation was incredible as was the difference it made to the space. No need to replace them after all and the total cost was the price of two quarts of paint and some foam rollers. While we were at it, Cathy also re-did the bathroom vanity which gave similar results.

Privacy curtain.

The painting continued into the bathroom where we laid down a bright yellow that was leftover from our master bath in Bedford. This did not go on as well and just didn't want to cover. More, we had barely enough paint to start with and in the end, I used it all. The walls were certainly not perfect but they were significantly better. I then installed some Closet-Maid wire shelving and we finally had storage space for our bike bags. That in and of itself made a big difference in cleaning the place up. I whipped of a small quilt hanger for a nice bright wall hanging my mother had quilted for us. This gave some nice color to the tiny bathroom space. I cut out a pine tree themed back for a towel and TP holder and installed that as well after giving it a coat of green paint. Nothing fancy but functional for certain. That finished off the bathroom and for the most part, had us done.

Bathroom updates made a big improvement.

Yea, storage space, finally.

The only other thing I'll mention is the dining room table choice. We'd had a really nice, solid cherry table which was locally made, sitting under the bed in the guestroom in Bedford ever since we had purchased a bigger table. At first we though this may be too big for the camp and I planned to build an island bar unit with storage instead. As we thought about it and time got away from me, we decided to go the easy route and use the table regardless of the size to replace the vintage 60's era table we had. To our delight, the table looked great. Now we just needed chairs. The locally build options would run us about $300/ea on sale, which was way beyond our budget for the camp. I appreciate the value of locally handmade furniture. That is what my brother does for a living. We have lots and lots of it. However, for camp, we were OK with imports.

The cherry table and bargain chairs.

On a trip to Home Depot with my folks to get new track lighting for the kitchen, we stopped at Tractor Supply to look at wood stoves. Beside them was a furniture store that was blowing out scratch and ding chairs from their warehouse. These were all good quality hardwood, albeit imported from Asia. The price was a too good to be true $30/ea. We found two sets of two different chairs that matched close enough for us and gladly paid the man for out treasure. When set against the cherry table they looked great as did the room. the finishing touch. The old table and chairs as well as a chest of drawers went to my uncle. Cheap old Vermonters can't throw anything away and will take anything that is free.

Phase two of the camp rehab is underway.
So that concluded phase one of the camp rehab. We still have tons of plans and many more projects. In fact, I spoke with my sister in law's brother, a friend of mine from high-school, about some foundation work. Turns out he could throw a full foundation under the camp for a pretty reasonable price. We went to the town a couple weeks back and got a permit and Bruce started work on it this past Monday. This is what it looked like last night. It will be a full walkout with 8' ceiling height and a pad under the deck. I'll frame and enclose the walkout and will add a nice nine light door and two big windows to the front. I'll also put a full size window on the side and we will have four casement windows around the perimeter. It is going to be pretty incredible.

We are very excited.

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