Sunday, July 31, 2011

Who'd a thunk it? Geometry IS useful!

The time has come at the little shack on the prairie (well, actually it's been long past) to tear off the rickety front porch with its rusted metal roof.  And this past week, that is exactly what D did.

This was a bit of an adventure in which skunks, geometry and suspected survey monuments all played a part.  And you thought I lived a quiet life in the country.

I arrived home from work to find D wielding a sledgehammer and a crowbar, with most of the porch roof already missing.  I asked D is there was anything I could do to help, but he just indicated that my mere presence and moral support were more than enough.  (The level of assistance I can provide on DIY projects is generally on par with that of a five-year-old child.)  So I settled in to watch the goings-on.  At one point, D got an odd look on his face and backed away from the deck, brandishing the crowbar.

"Skunk!" he exclaimed.
 * * *

One evening a few months ago, I called the cats in and caught a pungent whiff of eau de skunk.  A cursory sniff of my feline family members indicated, thankfully, neither of them were in the line of fire.  Further olfactory investigation revealed the event had definitely taken place pretty much on our front door step.  That odor ebbed, but never really went away.  It did seem to be coming from under the porch deck, but I thought perhaps the skunk had sprayed under there after being cornered by the cats and the odor wasn't dissipating because it couldn't be washed away under the shelter of the porch roof.

* * *

Back on porch demo day, surveying the immobile pile of fur from a distance, I said, "Well, at least that explains the lingering smell."

"What if it's only sleeping?" asked the husband.

"Do you really think that a skunk would sleep through 2 hours of porch demolition taking place right above its head?" I asked.  It's easy to be confident when he's the one in the line of fire if I'm wrong.

D wasn't taking any chances.  He whipped a rotten tennis ball he'd found under the deck at the skunk and, receiving no response, assured himself it was indeed dead.  Closer inspection revealed it had been that way for some time.  Thank goodness that skunk up and died under the porch BEFORE we tore it off and built a new one, which would have made recovery and disposal of the vile thing a significantly more unpleasant task.  For D, of course.  Because that's what husbands are for.

* * *

This isn't the first time we've been startled by an unexpected finding of fur at the little shack on the prairie.  The day we bought the house, D was exploring the dark nether regions of the attic eaves with a flashlight.  There was rotten insulation falling from the ceiling, piles of hazelnut shells discarded by some varmint and mouse droppings everywhere.  Suddenly, D recoils and says, "What the F@CK is that?  Is that a creature?"

I'm backing away from the attic hatch thinking, Right, it freaked you right the hell out and you want ME to investigate?  Ain't gonna happen, buddy.  After some poking with a long stick to assure himself the object was well and truly (currently) inanimate, turns out it was a poorly cured, half-rotten full elk hide someone had just tossed up there with the rest of the mess.  Who does that?  Country people, that's who.

* * *

So after clearing away all the porch deck beams and boards, D was left with the concrete foundation blocks, half buried in the soil that had accumulated over the years.  He begins to dig them out and finally reaches the last one, set closest to the corner of the house.  It was ENORMOUS.  Easily three to four times bigger than any of the others.

"Do you think the county surveyor will mind that I've just dug up and disposed of one of their survey markers?" D asked, only half kidding.

I'm pretty sure the porch deck wasn't built over an official county survey monument.  But in the country one never knows.
* * *

When the porch deck was fully dismantled, we needed some temporary steps built to reach the front door, now two feet above ground level.  D had acquired some lumber and was eyeing up the situation, trying to determine how to measure and construct the steps.  I confidently told him that I was sure there would be an internet calculator that would work it all out for us lickety-split.  D made a cup of tea and waited for me to provide him the measurements.

Turns out it isn't as easy as I thought.  There are indeed stair calculators online, but I couldn't make heads nor tails of the results provided.  So I went back to simple geometry.  Measuring stair stringers is merely an arrangement of right triangles.  I'm calculating hypotenuses (hypoteni?), adjacent and opposite angles and diagramming for all I'm worth.  After an hour, on my third attempt at a measurement diagram that D might be able to read, he went straight to his saw and prepared to cut the stringer to length. 

"Wait! Aren't you going to check my work?" I sputtered.  (My math is notoriously unreliable.) "Or at least draw out all my measurements before you cut?  What about measure twice, cut once?"

"Nope - if you got it wrong, we've only wasted $4 in wood.  And we've got to learn to work together to get this renovation done."

Feeling his confidence was entirely misplaced, I nervously hovered over him while he measured and cut wood to my specifications.  If I'd calculated right, that should result in two stringers on which we could affix the stair treads, hopefully level and plumb.

When the last piece was measured and cut, and it all fit perfectly onto the lengths of wood I specified, I was elated.  I raised my arms in the universal gesture of victory and said, "I don't care what happens now, that was a math WIN!"

Turns out I did have a small logic error regarding the interplay of tread depth and stair rise, which means those three steps now measure 8", 6.5" and 9.5" high to get to the front door, but the damn math WORKED.  They're only temporary stairs anyway, so I'm still claiming a victory.  Anyway, I won't ever make that mistake again when I'm designing stairs; sometimes an error is the most effective way to learn.  

Given this small taste of success, I'm now ready to conquer the DIY world... as long as D is around to run the power tools.
* * *

So tell me about your DIY experience.  Are you afraid of power tools too?


  1. I am a DIY Diva, I have a cupboard in the garage full of power tools. Dynamo Guy is always telling me he dates me to get access to my collection of powertools. I know most of my photos show me lounging but seriously someone has to take the pictures right?? I do hope you are taking before , during and after photos of your reno's, they are always good to look back on and we your readers would love to see them too :-)

  2. I would soooo rather deal with the power tools than do the math. I don't have my own set of tools, but it's really just a matter of time. :)

  3. Yes, husbands are good for all those unpleasant jobs. But I kinda like when I get to use power tools. ;)

  4. Go Betty - I remember that you are the Doyenne of DIY. I love that DG could be dating you for your tools, rather than the other way around. I haven't done specific before shots of that porch because it was truly, truly horrid. But I will keep a record of what we've done and share it - as soon as we start making some real progress.

    Limr - I suppose it's not all tools that frighten me - mainly just those with appendage-severing spinning blades. Yikes. But math is pretty scary too, no?

    Nicki - It looks like you're vote number three for the "afraid of powertools - yep, just you" column. :-)

  5. Skunk! Rotting elk! You really are country folk!

    I'm not so much a DIYer. I'm a bring-Nick-beverages-while-he-DIs.

  6. Considering my reactions to just mice, of all things, I think the elk hide discovery would've given me panic attack. I'm impressed with your fortitude.

  7. Lemon Gloria - I'm generally put on tea brewing duty when D is doing the DI stuff too.

    Hannah - You mean when I was backing into a corner and going "You want me to look!?"? You meant that fortitude? :-)

  8. KB the more horrid it was before the reno the better because the end result looks even more amazing in comparison so yes you must absolutely take before during and after pics even if the before is totally scarey. :-).

  9. Go Betty - you make a very good point. I do have a picture of the house before that porch was torn down, so I can post before and afters. When we get around to the replacement I'll be sure to share our accomplishment!

  10. Wow, that is impressive! Math is truly good for something huh?

    I don't do math or power tools. I just peak in from time to time to make sure the project is coming together as I planned....and I paint. I am a painting ninja (you should see some of the positions I assume!) Other than that, the hubs has it under control and I am the PM - because if not, he will opt to change something and take the easy route my design plans be damned!

  11. Botut - D is Chief Engineer around these parts too... but I generally try to stay out of the way because his vision of the project is usually more comprehensive than mine. Plus he's such a perfectionist, it generally turns out better than I could have imagined.