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Wednesday, Oct. 02, 2002
Happy birthday, Ally.

I had a heck of a time tying the ribbon around the new Corvette in the driveway. . . .

Ever wonder what goes on to make lumber waterproof?

No, I don’t either. But I have to know, I’m one of those people who are supposed to know such things, knowing how lumber can be made to repel water and thus be useful for the construction of things used outdoors.

One of our latest projects in the building of a city is to construct some fencing. It being a gated community, it should stand to reason that it really should have a gate. And what’s a gate without a fence?

So the call went out, “Go ye and build a fence.” Build a fence around yon city. Start here, and when you hit a mile worth of fence, start slowing down. You’re getting close.

You’ve all seen gated communities and the fences they sport. Brick pillars, wrought iron fence. Not so here.

They drew up a wooden fence. Massive 6 x 6 posts sunk into the ground, capped with a two piece decorative wood thing, and an open, quasi-Chippendale sort of custom built fence strung between the posts. This is not the sort of thing you find at Home Depot for $40 per section, the sort of stockade fencing that surrounds the backyard of suburbia. It’s tall, but that’s where the similarities end.

This is the sort of fence you must make from lumber. So many 2 x 4’s, so many 2 x 2’s. Cut and assemble and finish in a shop, put into a truck, take to jobsite and install. It’s all made from salt-treated lumber (most people call it pressure treated, but we’re weird here in our little conclave by the sea, we’re more worried about the salt air and rightfully so). That’s that green lumber you use for lining your flower beds or to make a bumper for your pick-up truck when the metal one falls off.

The Benefactor wanted a sample of the fence, which was understandable. If you’re thinking about paying for 6,000 running feet of fence which is 7 feet tall, you’d want to see a sample too. So Stu and I went to the lumberyard and yanked out the appropriate boards. Beautiful stuff, clean and dry and uniform, straight as an arrow, a delight to work with. Not so much as a knot in it. We built the fence panels, ran it up to the site and stuck the whole affair in the dirt. Three sections there were, and what a joy to behold.

“Beautiful!”, the Benefactor cried. “That’s it! So when can we get started on the rest?”

“Oh right away,” we said. “We’ll order some more of this beautiful lumber and get right on it!”

“I meant to ask about that. How much should I expect to pay per foot for this stuff? I mean, assuming that we’re talking about 6,000 feet?”

Now we’re talking about #1 material here. We bought it from the old guys, the ones with the best stuff, the guys who still air dry it in the old way, who refuse to sell anything with a defect. I'd be willing to bet that very few of you have seen freshly milled pine lumber that is clear and straight and without any defect, it is rare and difficult to find, but it’s still out there, if you’re willing to pay for it and know where to find it.

And if you have a project that calls for it. Me, I thought this was the perfect one. The fence around the guilded city. The lavish appointment for the upper crust who shall dwell there.

So I told him. “Well, it runs a little high, this #1 lumber. But I suspect we can do it for you at $32 a foot. Installed, of course.”

The Benefactor gulped just a little. “Um. What happens if we go with #2 lumber?”

What happens is that you get the lumber you see in the stores. The stuff with the knots as big as a goats ass, or worse, no knots but a hole. Oozing pitch pockets with yellow sap. Big cracks, twists, wet and odorous lumber that makes both you and the saw you’re wielding scream for relief. We told him all this.

“Well, then we just drop the price of the lumber and add on our misery index cost for having to deal with trashy lumber.”

“I guess I’m gonna have to settle for the #2. I need to get the price of this thing down to $15 a foot,” he said.

Now it was my turn to blanch. Starting to cut into my labor price, he was. And we hemmed and hawed for a while but agreed to try the #2 lumber (which he would buy, I refused to have anything to do with the stuff) and run off 100 fence panels, for a total of 800 feet, and see how it went for us. We have that sort of working arrangement with the man, he doesn’t mind paying for our work, and he trusts us enough to know that we’re not out to screw him. He also wanted them in the ground as quickly as possible.

So the lumber shows up yesterday. Sadness. What a perfectly awful waste of a stand of pine trees.

The treatment process which turns the boards green was so recent that a lot of the lumber was actually red, which is what happens when copper sulfate (I think I’ve got that right) contacts steam and then wood. Takes a while for it to turn green, you see. There were knots and cracks and termite pockets and sap and general ugliness. Not a straight board in the bunch. And let me tell you, there was a bunch of it. A thousand pieces or more.

Stu and I fell into that sort of head shaking weariness that we often find ourselves in. “He’s not going to like this stuff, I’m telling you he’s not going to like it,” Stu said with an ominous tone. “We better not build these things.”

“Well it isn’t like we didn’t warn him. He knows the difference, hell, he’s been in the business long enough to know the difference. I say we make him the 100 panels and stick ‘em up there. By God, if he doesn’t like ‘em, he’ll find some other place to use them.” I was virtuous and indignant, having been talked into something that I already knew was going to look half-assed, I wasn’t about to compound the situation by not delivering on a deadline. I won out in the end, and we started sawing.

So today we start putting them together. Maybe I’ll put up a picture or two so you can see the difference between the good and the ugly.

I’m already pretty sure the Benefactor will see it. Carpe dieum, y’all.

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