The Tiny House Door

Photo of Alva in front of the Tiny House

Satisfaction

Originally, Lisa and Alva were planning to purchase a commercial door for the tiny house. It made sense since door and window manufacturers can produce excellent products at reasonable prices. Or so we thought. As it turned out, the odd size of the tiny house door (78 by 27 inches) amounted to a custom door, and only one manufacturer offered any product — at nearly $1400 per door. Not a very practical option. We began discussing alternatives, and this was to be my re-entry into the world of woodworking and finish carpentry.

I’ve only pursued woodworking sporadically over the last few decades due to the pressures of a professional career. By the time I put 60 hours a week into my job and provided routine care for the ranch, there was little time and energy available for hobbies and projects. Coupled with my wide-ranging interests (some would say lack of focus!), and woodworking got only minimal attention. That could change now.

photo of Assembled door

Assembled door

A search online produced a wealth of information on door construction. In order to gain experience, we decided to build a mock-up with SPF dimensional lumber before making the finish door out of more expensive wood. The best plan we found involved edge-gluing the rails and stiles together to form the door and then reinforcing joints with lag screws that were long enough to go through both from the door edges. Wanting an excuse to buy the biscuit jointer, I suggested we also use biscuits to make the gluing alignment more foolproof. With the lumber purchased, Lisa and I set to work. Cutting the rails and stiles to size went quickly, and cutting slots was a piece of cake with the DeWalt biscuit joiner. In the space of a couple of hours, we had the main part of the door completed.

photo of Stained glass

Stained glass

This left two rectangular openings. Lisa and Alva had been shopping for windows and I suggested they look for some antique stained glass. I had driven by a place on Old Bee Caves road on my many trips to The Natural Gardener that seemed to have a lot of old stained glass on display in the woods. A little research revealed the business as Angela’s Antiques, and they set off to investigate. The next day, they had not one, but two nearly identical windows that would be perfect for both the the front door and one of the sliding barn doors. They were old and a little fragile, so they went to Blue Moon Glassworks for some refurb. Now repaired and reinforced, we could get a good measurement for the window opening, and use a router to cut a ledge. Trim would be used to build out to the door surface and further reinforce the window. A similar strategy would be used to mount a simple wood panel in the opening at bottom of the door.

photo of door with stained glass and trim

Jim showing the door with stained glass and trim

With the mock-up done, we began to reconsider our plan to build a second door out of better wood. Lisa and Alva felt that the mock-up looked pretty good, and would match the style of the rest of the tiny house well. They also loved the rough and knotty nature of the wood. Perhaps Alva would build a new door out of better wood in the future, but this would be fine for now. Stained to match the other finish surfaces in the tiny house, Alva and I were ready to mount the door.

Part of the reason commercially-made doors are attractive, is that they are already mounted in a frame with hinges and a threshold. I’ve installed a number of these “pre-hung” doors, and they do save time. I was also under the impression that a custom frame and threshold were beyond the ability of the average woodworker — mainly because of the tales of door-hanging angst I’ve heard over the years. Our experience was just the opposite.

photo of Alva planing the threshold

Alva planing the threshold

To start, Alva looked for a manufactured threshold, and was disappointed with what was available. We decided to take two pieces of oak, and shape them as needed. An hour or two with a table saw and hand plane, and we had a very professional-looking result. Not so hard. Next, we cut the pieces for the door frame, and trial-fit them into the opening. So far, so good. Now we needed to cut hinges into the doorframe and door. There are a variety of gadgets that are intended to make mounting hinges simple, but to my eye, they looked more complicated than simply using a hand chisel. Some careful measurement and chiseling, and the hinges were installed in the door. Somewhat more difficult (mostly because the frame was already mounted in the opening and my body doesn’t bend like it used to) was cutting the hinge mortises in the frame. Still, not too bad.

photo of Alva mounting the door

Alva mounting the door

Time for the moment of truth. Resting the door on a block of wood to roughly match the height of the opening, Alva screwed the hinges to the doorframe. Perfection. The door swung freely, and did not “fall downhill” one direction or the other. There was an even gap of 1/8 inch all around the door, ready for trim and weatherstripping. This is hard? We decided the key is to measure carefully, and make sure that everything is kept square. That done, the door will work.

Solar Power for the Amateur Radio Station

After adding some solar power to our teardrop trailer, I realized how easy it would be to power part of my amateur radio station the same way. Solar panels and charge controllers had gotten relatively inexpensive, and with the addition of the Elecraft K3 to my station a few years earlier, there was another good reason to try: such a power efficient radio would operate for hours on a modest setup. Also, it would allow me more experience with solar power. Once imagined, I was eager to start.

Diagram of Amateur Radio Solar Power Installation

Solar Power at WBØMMC

A few “back of the napkin” calculations suggested that a 100-watt panel wouldn’t be enough.  The K3 draws roughly 1 amp in receive mode, and the transmit modes, used intermittently, don’t add much to that. That meant I would need about 24 ampere-hours at 12 volts for daily operation. A group 27 lead-acid marine battery was available from Costco for about $80. This battery will provide about 90 ampere-hours to full discharge. A 100-watt solar panel provides about 6 amps in full sun. Ideally, I wanted about 3 days of storage against overcast skies. Time to work the formulas.

Starting with the storage, it looked like I would have some difficulty without having multiple batteries. Lead-acid batteries don’t like to be fully discharged, and it’s best to drain them only about 50%. That left me with about 45 amp-hours of usable storage. Good for two solid days. Not too bad.

On the charge side, It would be nice to completely recharge the battery in one day. On average, we get about 4 or 5 hours of full sun per day in Central Texas, so a 100-watt panel could provide 24-30 ampere-hours of charge per day. Not quite enough to charge and operate some as well. Looking at the various solar panel offerings, I discovered that Renogy made a 150-watt panel that was about the same cost-per-watt as the 100-watt models. That would provide the extra margin I wanted without dramatically raising the cost.

photo of the panel Installed with my friend's help

Installed with my friend’s help

Now to the charge controller. These are divided into two types: “Pulse Width Modulation (PWM)” and “Maximum Power Point Transfer (MPPT).” The PWM controllers can be very inexpensive — on the order of $20 for a 30-amp throughput — but they are less efficient than the MPPT variety. The majority of opinions on the ‘net suggested that the added cost of an MPPT controller wasn’t worth it for installations of less than 200 watts, so I decided on a PWM model. Time to get the parts.

photo of roof-mounted solar panel

We finished just before sunset

Most of the solar parts are available on Amazon, but the wire was cheaper at The Home Depot and the best deal on the battery was at Costco. Various ring connectors and other hardware I had on hand. Total cost for the project was under $400.

It took only a couple of hours to install. Most of that time was spent getting the wire into the ham shack, through the thick log wall of my house. Roof installation was easy with the z-brackets, and the wiring was straightforward. And best of all, I can now operate my radio nearly indefinitely — even in a power failure!

photo of roof-mounted solar panel

Ready for sunrise . . .

 

Chainsaws and Micro Mills

closeup of a planed cedar slab

closeup of a planed cedar slab

We live in the woods. Live Oak and “Cedar” (a species of Juniper). There are acres of trees of all sizes and shapes. Over time, I’ve admired the beautiful work done by artists who use the idiosyncratic shapes of natural wood to make art and furniture pieces. Like puzzles, they assemble naturally occurring shapes to create interesting, useful items. They also “slab” larger logs into “cants” (sawmill terms here) to expose the beautiful grain within. I’ve always enjoyed the idea of using what occurs naturally on our place to make things, and decided to start after learning about “micro sawmills“. By adding a little extra hardware to a normal chainsaw, these devices make it possible to make straight, even cuts on irregularly-shaped logs — turning them into lumber that can be worked with common tools. An order to Amazon, and another to Bailey’s, and I was in business.

The first one to arrive was the Haddon “Lumbermaker”. It adds a pivoting guide or “shoe” by attaching to the bar of any chainsaw. A straight 2 x 4 or 2 x 6 is then attached to the log, and the shoe guides the chainsaw in a straight line by following the attached lumber.

chainsaw with Lumbermaker and guide

chainsaw with Lumbermaker and guide

I broke into the box, and discovered a simple steel tool, a cloth bag of small parts and a photocopied instruction book. Attaching the Lumbermaker to the chainsaw bar was easy with the included set screws and allen wrench, but a little reading made it clear that more complex cuts were possible than I expected. We’ll study those advanced techniques a little later. Looking around the place, I then found a live oak and cedar log that would make good practice candidates. A couple of scrap logs were notched to hold the work. Next, I found a straight 2×4, moved the cedar log onto the sawhorses, and attached the 2 x 4 to the log with wood screws. Ready for the first cut!

chainsaw after first cut

chainsaw after first cut

Cutting was pretty easy once I got used to letting the chainsaw do the work. I have a little peashooter chainsaw (30.5 cc), and it didn’t cut fast, but it wasn’t hard either. Most micro sawmill advice on the ‘net recommends at least a 70 cc motor — so I guess I’ll have to buy another chain saw. Darn. Nevertheless, the result is amazing. Exposing the interior of a cedar log is always full of surprises, and the wood grain is surprisingly attractive in spite of its unremarkable exterior appearance. It’s colorful too. I’ve seen examples of color in sawn cedar that range from blonde (almost white) through rust, reds, browns, and even purple. It’s also a fairly hard wood.

A couple of years ago I bought a DeWalt planer. It wasn’t very expensive, and handles large wood. After making several cedar and live oak slabs. it was time for planing. The slabs were not the same thickness from end to end, and I also wanted to see how the sawn wood looked after smoothing. Pretty great. The pic at the top of this post shows a planed cedar board, and an example of live oak is below. I’ll need some more practice, but I can see possibilities. The second micro mill, the Granberg “Alaskan Sawmill” arrived today. This is going to be fun.

closeup of a planed live oak slab

closeup of a planed live oak slab

The Tiny House is here!

We’ve been looking forward to this all summer. We’re helping our friends, Alva and Lisa build a Tiny House. Last spring, they were looking for contractors in Austin, but everyone’s too busy with the current building boom. They’ve been developing this idea for some time, and worked with the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company for the basic design and constructed shell. With that big part of the project already accomplished, we decided to offer space and construction help for the finish-out at the ranch. We had hoped to start the project earlier in the summer, but construction delays being what they are, the shell finally arrived August 3. The windows followed on the 17th.

Be sure to follow progress on the Tiny House at tinyhousesandteardrops.com.

Let the games begin!

 

A New Well Pump

We moved to the Ranch in December of 1996. Everything was brand new and shiny. The well had gone in a few months before as part of building the house, so by now it was about 15 years old. Most folks thought well pumps would last about 10 years, and so we had beaten the odds. Although it hadn’t failed completely, I had watched water output decline, and the ongoing drought hadn’t helped much either. It was time to get it serviced. I crossed my fingers, held my breath and hoped for the best.

photo of A frame for the hole in the roof

A frame for the hole in the roof

The well service  company could come a few days later. Since we had built the Garden Shed over the well, we were going to need an opening in the roof for the crane they would use replacing the pump. I didn’t want them to simply take a circular saw to it, and decided it would be better to frame a hole before cutting. This didn’t take long, and in a couple of hours I was ready. I would cut the hole on the day they came, and then put it all back together.

photo of Extracting the old pump

Extracting the old pump

They were there by 9 am and I cut the hole. It didn’t take long to remove the well controller, and begin extracting the pump. Since it was 382 feet down and they had to remove sections of pipe as they came out, I expected it would take awhile.

photo of 382 feet of pipe

382 feet of pipe

It was out in 20 minutes. An examination of the pump and wiring was next, and I got the bad news. We would need a new one. One consolation: the wiring was ok and could be re-used. A trip to the shop was needed for parts, and they would be back after lunch.

photo of A brand-new 1 1/2 horse pump

A brand-new 1 1/2 horse pump

The new pump was wired before 2 and lowered to the Trinity River at 382 feet by 3. The well was producing water by 3:15 and everything was back in the Shed by 4:30. The speed of completion was impressive and the well was producing water like 1996.

photo of water flowing at 6 gallons per minute

6 gallons per minute

What a relief. There was one fly in the ointment however. Water levels had dropped by about 10 feet since the well was dug, and likely to decline further with all the development in the area. Good thing we hedge our bets here with a rainwater system!

photo of the Shed Just like new (almost)

Just like new (almost)

Waste Not, Want Not.

Young Bean VinesTwo years ago, I bought a packet of Italian beans at the nursery thinking it would be fun to have a trellis or wall of beans growing in the garden.  There were (as I recall) three types of beans in the mix, all vines.  That spring, I planted a few of the seeds, and they germinated to produce a few plants that grew throughout the summer.  The beans themselves were not especially good as green beans, and I didn’t take the time to pick many.  It wasn’t worth the effort when there were so many other better tasting and easier goodies in the garden.

Predictably, the vines produced quite a few pods, and I noticed that the beans inside were white to cream-colored — perhaps the type known as Canellini in Italian cooking.  The Vineyard in 2009Throughout that fall and winter, it was my intention to collect seed and try again the next year, this time aiming for a dried bean product.  Sadly, I just never got to it.  By spring, the dried pods were all split and beans had fallen out.

As it happened, we were coming off a long drought, with rain beginning in October of 2009 and continuing throughout the spring of 2010.  Surprising things were happening in the gardens, and it was great to see how many plants had survived the drought.  Everywhere I looked, new growth was evident, and garden projects multiplied as I tried to get on top of all the possibilities.  I didn’t really notice that there were quite a few bean volunteers growing under the peach and pear trees.

The Vineyard in 2010Later on, when I did notice, it was interesting to see what these volunteers would do.  I reasoned that the nitrogen-fixing capability of the beans would have to be beneficial to the drought-damaged fruit trees and decided to leave the vines in place and even helped them establish using the trees as a scaffold.  A re-working of the drip irrigation system around the trees completed an environment that the beans found very much to their liking.  By the end of the summer, both fruit trees, part of the enclosure fence and part of the grape arbors were festooned with luxuriant deep-green bean growth.  Having determined the previous year that the green beans were not particularly good for eating,  I once again ignored them

That fall, the first hard freeze came on Thanksgiving Day.  Visiting guests helped me shift the heavy pots that are normally scattered around the place into the greenhouse before we all sat down to a fabulous dinner and amazing piano entertainment.  A satisfying end to the 2010 season and that sense of accomplishment and relief that results from harvest and everything tucked safely away for the winter.


The holidays passed, and by January it was time to get ready for the coming season.  The dried debris had to be cleared away for the new growth of the spring, and I began to cut and haul barrow-load after barrow-load to the compost heap.  What about all of those dried beans?

The Bean TreeBecause there were an astounding amount.  Unnoticed until the clearing process, it became clear that the vines had been very productive, and they hung heavy with dried bean pods.  Splitting them open, they each contained 6-8 fat, white dried beans — perfect for a winter soup or other Italian bean dish.  It seemed a waste not to collect and shell the pods.  It also seemed like a lot of effort would be required.

Picking Beans

Then I remembered purchasing an antiquated pea-shelling attachment for my KitchenAid mixer collection.  Would it work for dried beans too?  Maybe this would be a chance to try it out and fill my pantry.  I began collecting the beans.  Before I was done, and it took several hours of effort spread over two weekends, I had collected two heaping grocery sacks of dried beans that resulted (after shelling) in over 1 and 1/2 pounds of dried beans.  Dried Romano BeansExpensive relative to beans purchased in the store, but fun to see just how productive a small area and a few plants can be.  Oh, and the soup?

Delicious.

A Tankless Water Heater

photo of The Old 50-gallon Waterheater

The Old 50-gallon Waterheater

As houses age, repairs are needed. I have been living in the Log Home for nearly 14  years, and it is no exception. We originally installed a propane water heater reasoning that we would have hot water without electricity, and modest amounts of electricity could be generated for lights, pumping water and a little heat — making the house livable during a power failure. Good thing since the power was out for nearly a week the first month we lived here!

The old conventional water heater was trouble-free up to now, but it is showing its age, and I don’t want to be dealing with it in a rush when it fails completely. I have been thinking about a tankless water heater for some time, and it seems like the perfect time to try one. I got bids from three different plumbers, and was shocked that they varied from $2400 to as much as $3500! This seems ridiculous since I can get a conventional water heater for less than $700, and a tankless one for around $1000. Can I install it myself?

But there’s a problem. All of the tankless manufacturers recommended a 3/4-inch line to supply gas, and our propane supply comes into the house on a 1/2-inch line. Thinking about it, I wonder if gas lines are like electrical wire. Maybe smaller lines/wires can suffice for shorter distances. Charts of recommended gas line sizes found on the Internet seem to allow for this, and I decided to proceed. After all, the propane source is only about 10 feet away from the tankless location.

I assembled the parts. Home Depot had most of what I need, but some parts like the stainless vent pipe have to be ordered. Before long, I had everything, although one Home Depot employee was convinced that it wouldn’t work with 1/2-inch line — even with a short feed distance. I planned the installation for a weekend. There would be no hot water for at least 24 hours (assuming everything went well), so I took care to have all the parts and tools I needed on hand. I also moved everything I could out of the utility room in advance of the project so it didn’t take valuable time during the install.

photo of cleared area

Cleared and ready.

Saturday dawned and I began work. First, I demoed the old water heater. It took a little while to drain the tank, and I disconnected the vent stack, gas line and water supply while that finished. After the last line was disconnected, it was time to move the old beast. It was resting on a 2-foot platform, and I had to wrestle it down to floor level and onto a dolly. Fortunately gravity works, and it didn’t matter if it broke on the way down. Within about an hour the space was clean.

photo of installed vent pipe

Out with the old, in with the new!

Installing the new vent was next. Gas-powered tankless water heaters use a clever coaxial vent arrangement with the hot exhaust gas pipe surrounded by the fresh air intake pipe.

photo of coaxial vent pipe

Fresh air in and exhaust gas out

It can be right next to a wall since it never gets hot. The old vent stack could be removed and the ceiling patched. All of this meant quality time spent in the cramped space above the utility room. I had cut a hatch in the ceiling a few days before, but getting up there wasn’t easy. I was working by myself, and the tool I needed always seemed to be on the ground after I had contorted into the space to work. Nevertheless, the vent was in place by early afternoon.

photo of ceiling hatch and step-stool

Not the easiest to climb

Mounting the new water heater was next. Although it is heavy, it has an intelligent mounting system and I had it mounted in no time. The trickiest part is mating it to the vent, and I was glad I had measured carefully. Once or twice more into the ceiling to finalize the venting, and the worst was over. I was beginning to think this might work.

photo of partially installed water heater

After the first day

The final task was piping it up. This might seem complicated, but I’ve always enjoyed working with copper. It felt pro to design, cut and solder the pipes into place. There are four connections: cold water in, hot water out, gas and an emergency drain. I worked carefully, and had the hot water connection complete by the end of the day.

photo of completed water heater installation

Clean and compact

Sunday morning started with the cold water feed. This involved fewer connections, and went smoothly. Next, the gas connection. A flexible corrugated pipe, a valve and adapters were needed here and quickly installed. The emergency drain is a flexible plastic pipe that was directed to a drain below the platform. Finally, the tankless required a 120 volt connection.

photo of The remote control panel

The remote control panel

A small panel is provided to control temperature. You can purchase more, and they can be mounted in other rooms. By adjusting each remote panel, the temperature is determined by what was most recently requested, so each application (bathroom shower, washer, dishwasher, etc.) can have a custom temperature setting. Since I’m the only one living here, the single panel and setting is sufficient. Might be something to add later though. I decided to mount it next to the water heater.

Time for testing. I opened the water supply valve and checked for leaks. Everything was tight. Opening the gas valve, I used a solution of soapy water to check the connections for leaks. Tight. Power was on, moment of truth time. Opening the hot water spigot on the utility room sink, water flowed and I heard the water heater start up. Internal valves opened and the fan started. Within about 15 seconds, there was hot water coming out of the spigot. Success!

Update: The question I’m always asked is: how is that tankless water heater? I’m impressed. I was using 100 pounds of propane every 6 weeks with the old water heater, and now use only 30 pounds every 6 weeks. A 70% reduction! It does take 10-15 seconds longer to produce hot water, but that’s the only downside. With all the space recovered, I installed a pantry. It was well worth the slight added cost and effort — I am very happy with my tankless water heater.

photo of water flowing in a sink

Hot water!

 

The New Pond

New Pond inside closeupThe New PondIt’s been very hot here this summer, with very little rain, and we’ve had to take steps to shelter animals and any plants and trees that we value.  With temperatures rising to around 105 degrees nearly every day for the last month, and less that one inch of rain in the same time period (on top of about a 30-inch deficit over the last 24 months), we could easily have a large die-off.  The original pond is a good example of the potential danger.  With it in direct sunlight all day, it seemed like overly heated water might endanger the fish.  After all, about 2 inches of water was being lost to evaporation (and probably wildlife water needs) every day.

 

new pond closeupQuite a different problem emerged however.  With all that heat and sun, and an adequate supply of water (one of the few examples of that at the ranch), the pond instead became hyper-productive.  Various water plants, and the ever-present pond weed were choking the pond, with open water for the fish to move around always shrinking.  I began to think that that was the greater danger.

 

The New Pond insideI’ve always wanted to have a second pond to develop a “back stock” of fish and plants.  Several years earlier, my neighbors had donated an old stock tank that seemed perfect for the project.  With the visit of my nephew (extra labor and interest in ponds), the time seemed right to create a shaded pond, move the fish, divide the exuberant plant life and expand my landscaping.

 

PT (the dog) by the PondAs you can see, PT worked hard with us, and about a day’s effort resulted in the pond you see in these pictures.  It’s near an area I’m developing for an oriental meditation garden (which needs a pond and fish anyway) and is shaded most of the day.  A couple of improvements on this version: an easily serviced bio-filter and an automatic fill valve.  The bio-filter is a commercial model, is mounted so the cover is at about waist level (no more stooping!), and is serviced by simply lifting trays out and rinsing them off.  The automatic fill valve was constructed using parts stolen from an automatic dog watering bowl and is intended to keep the pond at a constant level.  There are five fish at present (two from the old pond and three new additions).  One measure of the old pond’s productivity: after splitting and re-potting several of the plants, and removing a contractor’s wheelbarrow of extra plant material, there were still enough plants to make both ponds look full.  Amazing!

New Pond Overview

Rebuilding A Piano

Baldwin FinishedWe like music at Roy Creek Ranch, and some time ago I decided to get one of my pianos rebuilt.  There are two pianos here, an 1893 Weber (originally purchased at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893 — but that’s another story) and a 1927 Baldwin “C”.  Both had seen better days, and I had been contemplating getting one of them updated.  The process is long and very expensive, and the plan had been years in the making.  Finally, in March of this year, a slot came open in the rebuilder’s schedule, and we sent the Baldwin off for a six month month stay at the “spa”.

Originally, I was going to have the Weber rebuilt since I had “won” it in a Concerto Competition and it had considerable nostalgic value, but the process of finding a temporary replacement while it was away had ended with the purchase of the Baldwin.  You see, it’s not easy to rent a grand piano — the dealers really want you to buy one.  A lucky break uncovered the used Baldwin — originally a very fine piano.  Since it was newer, had a more modern action, needed the least amount of work, and was probably a better instrument overall, it moved to the head of the line.  Off to Bernard Mollberg’s shop.

It needed extensive work: new strings, hammers, dampers, action, and pin block.  New keys and key tops as well.  About the only thing I didn’t have done was a complete refinish of the case.  It still looked ok, with what I would call “age-appropriate” wear.  I was able to visit the shop from time-to-time, and see the work as it progressed.

The first step was to remove the action and lid, and then remove the strings, plate, and pin block.  Although Baldwin Bare Shellan estimate had been made, it’s hard to tell exactly what work will be needed until the project is underway.  I got some good news right away — the soundboard was still crowned with no penetrating cracks, and with a re-finish, it would be just fine.  The next time I visited, it had been sanded, the bridges had been re-shaped and new bridge pins had been installed.

 

Baldwin PinblockI wasn’t able to visit every week, and would have missed some of the milestones if Bernard hadn’t been kind enough to send a few pictures every now and then.  The next big steps involved shaping a new pin block, and cleaning and re-painting the plate.  It was great to see progress!

Meanwhile, another technician was working on the action.  Initially, I imagined keeping the existing keys, thinking they could be cleaned up and reshaped.

Baldwin Plate

Bernard recommended complete replacement with plastic key tops since the existing keys had big gaps, they had a fair amount of side-to-side movement and weren’t real ivory anyway.  I hadn’t realized that they were an early plastic — celluloid.  Besides, by starting over, the keyboard could be rebalanced and when combined with new, modern whippens and other parts, a great action would result.  Trusting his recommendation, I agreed.

Baldwin With No DampersSeveral more weeks passed, and I learned that the piano had been re-assembled.  With the strings and action installed, it was nearly playable, and the work of tuning and regulation had begun.  I decided to visit the shop and was rewarded with my first look at the now-gorgeous piano.  The other techs who were working on it seemed to think it was going to be a really fine instrument — music to my ears.

Two more weeks, and a call from Bernard advising me that the piano was nearing completion.  Could I come by and check the work?  We made arrangements, and I waited (impatiently) for the appointment.

As I drove out that day, I wondered what I would encounter.  It had been nearly six months, and the anticipation was intense.  Was it worth all the time and expense?  Would I end up with an instrument that would inspire me?.  No worries there.  As I played it, I was reminded of my experience as a piano performance major (I won’t say how many years ago) on nine-foot concert grands that received attention from a piano tech each and every week.  Magic.  I now had an instrument that would stretch my abilities and sounded extraordinary.  A truly great piano!Baldwin Seal

More pictures of the finished piano –

A Second Tank

Rainwater Tanks

In the post of April 17, 2008, I mentioned the addition of a second rainwater tank to the north tank farm.  It was actually purchased and delivered last spring and has been sitting on a decomposed granite pad since then.  Since we’ve had very little rain this summer (actually an official drought) there wasn’t a pressing need to get it connected to the rest of the system.  With Hurricane Ike, and a possibility for heavy rain, it seemed wise to finish the project.

second tank step 1I started on the weekend of Labor Day.  The weather was very hot — in the high 90’s or low 100’s.   The first step was to dig a trench between the two tanks.  Normally, I would save work like this until a mechanical trencher is available, but the distance was only 15-20 feet, and too close to the tanks to use a machine.  An “artisan” (that’s “hand made”) trench would be required.

Texas Toothpick

I’ve dug plenty of holes at Roy Creek Ranch, and it’s never fun.  There isn’t much soil (usually not more than about two inches of topsoil) and underneath that is a material called “caliche” — a kind of soft limestone that is “dig-able” with difficulty — mixed with harder rock. The technique is straightforward: clear the turf with a spade or trenching shovel, and then use a 40-pound “cinch bar”  (aka. breaker bar, Texas toothpick, digging spud) to break up the caliche.  This is back-breaking work, and it’s best to split it up, if possible.  Two four-hour sessions in the cool of the morning and the trench was done.  The good news is that it isn’t necessary to go very deep here — the ground never freezes below a couple inches because of the mild winter weather, and a six-inch trench is more than enough.  A tip: softening the caliche with a little water helps.

Softening the groundNext step, pipes.  As I mentioned in the earlier post, two connections were needed.  Each tank has a 2″ nipple at the base and another near the top.  This allows for simultaneous water use and fill.  The plumbing scheme required top-to-top and bottom-to-bottom connections, with some added ports and valves to allow for different filling and use “modes” (see the earlier post for more details).  I’ve done a fair amount of PVC plumbing, but 2″ doesn’t bend much, and it is a little more challenging to work with.

first pipe and valve

Lengths and connector angles really matter.  A connection to the bottom of the new tank was first, using a valve, two 45 degree connectors, and a compression fitting.  The compression fittings are really helpful.  Each side of the fitting grabs an adjustable amount of pipe with a collar and  rubber gasket.  They’re intended for making repairs in tight spaces, but are also handy for fine- adjusting pipe lengths.  I also added a “T” so that future connections are possible.  The blue handle operates a ball valve that controls water flow to and from the tank.

Because the pipe is nearly rigid, and the positions of the tanks are fixed, it was necessary to measure carefully and trial fit pieces before glueing them into place.  Another compression fitting at the old tank allowed for the fine adjustments pipe union compression fittingnecessary to complete the run.  This is the end that feeds the supply pump and pressure tank, so extra ports are visible in the picture.

A connecting pipe between the upper ports on the two tanks were completed the next day.  In addition to the upper port on the new tank, this pipe connected with the large ball valves on the old tank that were already in place.  Again, compression fittings on both ends allowed for fine adjustment of the  tank connections.  This run was much easier, partly because I had had some practice the day before, and partly because it’s a simpler run (fewer tricky angles to account for).  Pretty soon it was done.

both pipes inPlumbing completed, and ready for testing.  After pumping about 2000 gallons of water into the new tank, it was time to look for leaks.  Everything was tight.  I expected some settling with the added weight of the water, and decided to leave the trenches open for a week or so to make sure that no problems developed.  Everything was ready for Ike though!

And then he took a different track.  I am grateful that we didn’t have to deal with torrential rain and 100+ mile-per-hour winds, but a little rain would have been welcome.  Maybe next time.  Trenches filled and everything tight, we’re ready for the next rain! roof washer added