Sunday, October 13, 2013

Lessons from old-timers

Here's us trying to learn from our craftsmen ancestors:

Jeff is pointing at bridging we installed in the balcony floor we rebuilt during our project on Magazine Street.  Bridging serves a two purposes in a floor assembly.  It helps prevent floor joists from deflecting under a load or rolling over all together, as they can do under extreme conditions (earthquakes, say, or wind with a name).  It also helps spread loads between joists, so adjacent joists take some of the weight from their neighbors, stiffening the whole floor.  Modern carpenters use solid blocking to achieve this, usually with culled joist lumber.   

Carpenters on really old houses didn’t bother with bridging, but we’ve noticed that by the end of the 1800s they were installing this type of X-shaped bridging, often using the same heart-of-pine  as the finished floor.  We’ve wondered for a while whether solid blocking or bridging is better, and why bridging is no longer done.

We’ve witnessed motley squabbles over the relative merits of bridging in online chat forums, but had never installed any ourselves.  So, on this balcony floor we elected to try it, using culled 5/4x4 KDAT T&G porch boards, two braces in each seven-foot joist span. 

It took a bit of figuring to get the first set cut and installed (a collaboration between Mark’s iPhone, Jeff’s hazy memory of an old Audel book on framing-square techniques, plus a little trial and error solved the matter), but after that it wasn’t any slower than solid blocking.  We don’t know that it stiffened the floor more than blocking would have, but according to our scientific jump-on-it test, the bridging certainly reduced bounce in the joists.  The benefits of using bridging include having a use for scrap material; pleased electricians, since they had fewer holes to drill; and that, since we used dried and primed flooring boards, we shouldn’t have to worry about shrinkage: we’ve seen solid blocking, installed tightly, separate from its joists within two months of being installed, thus limiting its usefulness.  

Monday, October 7, 2013

Stop! It's Not Hammertime

Because we can't work--or make our employees work--all the time, we schedule in breaks that are both relaxation and team-building. What better way to do both than attend the free "tour "of NOLA Brewery? It was also a farewell to Joe (bottom right), who is leaving us for St. Louis. But first, a team picture.
We look so young!
We say "tour" because it's not as if someone marches you through the facility explaining how beer gets made while you wait impatiently for the moment you're allowed to demonstrate how beer is consumed. No, there is a sign to your left reading "Tap Room," filled with lovely beer and some very friendly and frantically hard-working in-house pourers. Beer procured, you may cross the vast warehouse space and gaze at the vats (roped off), sipping your brew and saying wise things to each other like, "Big vats." "Yup," someone will answer.
Where the magic happens

And then you pull out chairs and settle in to drink and chat with your friends and generally have a fantastic time in a very cool local space for the low cost of nothing. The line was long but once you're in, there's plenty of room to move around, play a few games, marvel at the machinery, and decompress after a long day of making broke-down buildings strong again.

Also, dragons!
Left, dragons; right beer

So thank you, NOLA Brewery. Mark, Jackson, Jeff ....

... Joe ...

... and Eric (yes, this picture is fuzzy; don't judge us) had a wonderful time--urrp--and we will do it again soon.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Wait, What Love Shack?

We're glad you asked! It's a "vintage charmer," as a real-estate ad might claim, "split level two bedroom jewelbox home with lots of natural light nestled in quiet Uptown location."

In other words, this:

Who smells windowboxes!
There's your "split level"
            And, uh, this:

So it's not the Ritz; that's where we come in. This house is next to the Dreamboat, the former bar/bawdy house we are turning into an ace warehouse and workshop space. The old girl might need a dye job and a makeover, but her bones are nice and once we stripped off the paneling and tore out the kitchen fixtures, we began to see the pretty young thing she once was.

And it really does get lots of light.

The front parlor

We'll keep you posted on progress. Demo has begun and we're going to keep this a fairly bells-and-whistles-free project.
sunny kitchen

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Updates: Personnel

Kerby & Co. has undergone a lot of wild and exciting developments during the past year. This blog is meant to help our friends, family, clients, coworkers and potential clients know us and our company as well as possible. Y'all are due more than a few quick updates. Today, personnel.

Morris (see earlier post) had to return to Houston because of family obligations.  We sorely miss him and his contributions.  But as the saying goes, stoop to find a lost nickel, you might find a quarter. What, there's no such saying? Oh well.  Not long after we lost Morris, it became obvious that Jackson and I weren't handling the slack.  So we asked an acquaintance if she had any time or desire to help out.

We're now happy to have on our team as an office manager and chief go-getter, the sophisticated, talented former Washington Post Express senior arts editor and newly published novelist, Arion Berger (left, blogging from the film festival in glamorous Cannes, France).

What's more, we finally persuaded Eric Christison (below, doing something important on the PVC deck of the Du Mois gallery on Freret St.) of Earthslinger, LLC, to join our team as a full-time carpenter. Earthslinger still offers natural clay applications on a selective basis.

Most importantly, Mark Steuer (pictured at left turning the Love Shack in to a Love Palace) has reached a full year working with us. Time and again he has proved himself a valuable, reliable and increasingly talented helper and carpenter in his own right.

He's done great work for us and our clients, and learned as much about the craft of renovation as anyone could during a year.  In return, we've managed to infect him with a lust for the finest, priciest tools. And, it seems that we failed to have any photos of Mark and his incredible, recently shaven, genuine Wyatt Earp mustache. Pity.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Setting Sail

High summer is supposed to be a slow, lazy time, so what are we doing sweating in the sun under the sagging awning of a dilapidated building on a Central City corner? Making dreams come true, that's what.
We have been tremendously busy this season with the Magazine Street renovation and the constructing of a soon-to-be magnificent art gallery on Freret Street, in addition to other bits and pieces of work, trying to stay cool, and hand-feeding a baby pigeon. So we thought we'd buy an enormous warehouse space, whip it into shape, and use it as a workshop and storage space, with rooms to rent out to other like-minded craftsmen and -women. It needs a lot of love, but we see potential.

The layout of the building is ... odd, to say the least. The front seems to have been a bar, with a storeroom or two,possibly  a wet barback area. But that's maybe 1/3 of the total space. Going deeper into the building, you can see the ghost of walls where there were clearly a number of rooms nestled behind the bar--tiny, functional rooms, with a high window, jailhouse-style, and barely room for more than, say, a mattress.

It didn't take long to learn that we are the proud new owners of the former Dreamboat Inn, a 1970s-era semi-notorious tavern and good-time fleabag love motel with back rooms randy customers could rent the by the hour. To fill out their tax forms, no doubt. We are very excited to own this tawdry piece of New Orleans history, and to bring a little life to a neglected Central City corner.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Old studs vs. new studs

Here's a pair of photos I could go on about for hours:


In fact, I'll probably make several posts about them.  The upper one there is a 2013 #2 SYP KD-HT treated with "Frameguard", a piece of drop from a current project.  The lower one is a circa 1850 longleaf pine from our house.

From our viewpoint as carpenters, the two boards can be compared in terms of stability, resistance to rot and termites, strength, ease of use, and cost.  Now, as an old-house junkie and aspiring craftsman, I have a strong preference for the old stud -- bordering on bigotry against the new.  But I have to admit that there are some ways in which the new wood outperforms the old.

I'll get to that eventually.  For now, just have a look at the end-grain of each board (that's where you see the growth rings, not the side of the board).  The new stud is cut from smack in the middle of a young tree, whereas the old is from an undetermined corner of a very old tree.  If each ring represents a year, the new stud was chopped down when it was under ten years old.  The other was...  I don't know, I stopped counting at forty-five.  Also, note how close together the rings are in each.  The younger tree grew at a tremendous pace compared to the old one.

The size, number, and orientation of the growth rings determine how boards perform in the categories listed above.  Which I'll get to soon -- it's daylight, and time to get to the jobsite.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The difference a few mils can make

Now, I am a fan of the reusable grocery sack, and countless other items that are just plain better made with something besides plastic.  But in some cases, a sheet of plastic can't be beat. Below are two photos of concrete floors.


The photos were both taken within a few minutes of each other, within a few yards of each other.  Both are indoors, the left on in our shop, the right in the new apartment-in-progress.  What's the difference?  A six-mil sheet of plastic under the concrete on the right.  It rained a lot the past weekend, then turned quite warm and humid.  I can't explain the physics of it, but the damp in the soil under the slabs is sweating up through the concrete without a vapor barrier under it, while the other concrete stays dry.  Conclusion: use plastic wisely, in the right places.