Sunday, October 31, 2010

Veneer Masonry Progress/Front Left Side

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Apprentice Hugo waving from a cloud of dust at the brick saw.  We've burned through three saws and many more 14" diamond blades during the course of building the Daulton House.  This attention to masonry detail is one of the many factors contributing to the project's success.

Front left corner of the house as scaffolding is being removed.  The house will not have gutters with the exception of this front left valley system.  The amount of water that will converge on this relatively small area will need to be managed by a copper collection basin and gutters custom fabricated to match the aesthetic of the overall design.  Copper elements are almost always opportunities to enhance a design.  The raised area above the corbelling at the two eaves will provide a space for the gutters so as not to totally obscure corbels themselves. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

New Bostitch Hammer

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Since the 90's, I've faithfully used a 21 oz. Stanley model hammer (the wooded handled driver shown above).  When the hammer was brand new, the last 2" of it's handle was painted canary yellow, but the factory finish has worn off over the years.  When Stanley stopped making what I believed to be the perfect hammer,  I became open to the possibility that some other paragon of nailing utility might surface.  This said, I stock piled half a dozen or so of the Stanleys (such was my faith) because the handles are custom fitted to the model's unique head and not easily replaced.  So for more than a decade now I've waited, while the hardware market has been inundated by a range of "nifty" excuses for a hammer.  Of course these have been intermingled with old standards like Vaughn and Estwing which have been the go to nail drivers for more than half a century despite poor design.  

One by one, the handles broke and the hammer shown here is the last of my Stanley 21 ouncers.  I've been using it with care since 1999, though a crack in the upper handle has been threatening for more than half that time.  At some point, while lamenting a world without readily available good hammers, the decision was made that the day my last hammer breaks, I will stop work at that moment no matter what the cost, and get wrecked.  On reflection this is not only a tribute to the tool, but to the French Timber Framers Guild who are known for the practice of breaking out a bottle of wine when an incredibly debilitating joinery mistake has been made.

All this to say, Bostitch has come out with an outstanding 20 oz. driver.  I would prefer a wooden handle, but best not to look the gift horse ....  The anti-vibe handle design and the magnetic nail slot in the top of the head are cute marketing tricks I can live with, but the hammer's real success is the size of the driving face and the face's balanced proximity to the shaft of the handle.  The new Bostitch touts a 75% increase in the nailing face and this alone was enough to make me believe the designers of this tool might have actually considered using it.

Because of what I speculate to be a production limitation, most factory made smooth faced hammers have a slightly convex nailing surface.  Naturally, this causes the hammer to glance off the nail; but the problem is easily remedied by grinding the surface down until it is slightly concave.  In the case of the Bostitch, there is a bevel around the perimeter of the nailing face which I have also ground down a bit to increase the nailing surface even more.  

The groove of the Bostitch hammer's nail claw is also too shallow; this causes more force than should be necessary to deal with stubborn nails.  But this also can be addressed by tooling the groove to the appropriate width and depth.  

The jury is still out on how long the applied rubber handle will last.  The length of the handle is actually more appropriate than the Stanley, and though every good father tells his son that the appropriate way to hold a hammer is at the end of the handle, this is simply not the case.  Of course holding it at the end affords more swinging force but the goal is to land in a place where power and accuracy are balanced — this requires a bit of choking up, and by using this method you can set and drive a 16 cc nail (3"nail) with one lick (in spruce).  The trick is getting the nail about a third of the way into the material on the set and this is where one's fingers beg for precision.  After explaining the technique to zealous, home for the summer, collegiates who are chomping at the bit for action, the following moments can be painfully entertaining.

Note: Not long after writing the above comments, I was using the new Bostitch driver and noticed an almost imperceptibly small bit of brand copy near the Bostitch title on the hammer's head.  I put it out in the light for a better squint, and to my surprise, the subtle hailing, "Stanley." Well what-a-you-know, Bostitch is a subsidiary.  

Cheers Stanley,
a carpenter 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

EPA Fireplace Emissions Forum

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In August 2010, I was contacted by Bryan Light of the the Brick Industry Association (BIA) and asked to participate in a discussion with the EPA about regulating fireplace emissions.  While working in concert with the Masonry Contractors Association of America (MCAA), the BIA organized a dialogue between select members of the brick industry and EPA representative Gill Wood on August 18th, 2:00pm Eastern. A dozen or so Contractors, Architects and Masons from all over the country contributed to this discussion.  Final comments were emailed to EPA representative Lucinda P. Powers by 12:00, September the 11th.

The concern by those of us effected in the brick industry by this potential regulation is as follows:
1. Emission testing would be expensive and would fall to the builder's or masonry company's expense.
2. That on-site-built masonry fireplaces are already inhibited by a number of obstacles.  Required testing would add to that burden and make it even more difficult to bring on-site-built fireplaces into production.

The general protest against regulation by brick industry representatives revolved around job loss in the market place.  It is my whole hearted opinion that this is not a good argument because jobs are simply not more important than the environment; we might go a step further and ask what is ever more important than the environment.  The more important question to ask in this case would be, "is this truly a relevant contributor to the global pollution problem when there are so many blatantly ignorant and obviously disastrous activities damaging the air we breath?

It makes sense that any pre-manufactured wood burning heating system should undergo rigorous testing to insure that particulates admitted are kept at a minimum.  But true Masonry Fireplaces* are built so infrequently that the resources required to create a program for regulation would be an inordinate mis use of tax dollars. The real dilemma in masonry fireplace regulation deals with the fact that no two are alike, as opposed to pre-manufactured systems which are, of necessity, homogenized to only a few different sizes.  This is the thing that would make testing so expensive and prohibitive — each test would have to be customized to the specific parameters of every Masonry Fireplace* constructed.

As a great proponent of the masonry built fireplace, there is a particularly pertinent and personal observation I should  mention:  Last year, in my own home I only built two fires.  The fireplace, is not just about fire, but an important architectural element to the aesthetic of a home's interior.  This said, people in general enjoy a significant and inherent connection with "fire," and even though I only took full advantage of my fireplace twice last year, it was still important to me to be able to do so.

With some regret, much of what I've mentioned so far in this introduction was not included in my final comments to the EPA, but they are more familiar with the general dialogue than the readers here might be and much of what has been mentioned in the introduction above would have been redundant to include in the statement.

The following is my email to the EPA concerning the fireplace emissions issue — I included images of Masonry Fireplaces* I have built intermingled with the text as a ready reference to the matter at hand :

For the sake of the discussion, I will identify the three types of fireplaces most commonly associated with the term "fireplace" :

1.  Pre-manufacture Fireplace Insert :  Made of steel, sheet metal and ceramic, this light weight, inexpensive, production oriented, fireplace is by far the most common in building today.  It arrives on site as a single boxed unit and does not require masonry.

2.  Pre- manufactured Fireplace Kit : Isokern made by Earthcore is a good example of this fireplace type.
The sturdy kit is assembled on site and is generally augmented by applied masonry though not necessarily.  Utilizes cast iron throat dampers and/or chimney top dampers.

3.  Masonry Fireplace :  Refers to the traditional fireplace type that is built on site one brick or stone at a time; this is the least commonly built fireplace today.

Because of the definitive parameter "on-site-built," the fireplace type introduced above as "1. Pre-manufactured Fireplace Insert" is not pertinent to the discussion.

The question deals with the particulate emissions of on-site-built fireplaces and how these emissions might be tested, regulated and minimized.

Jobs created in the market place by fireplace production are not more important than the environment.

I am a professional designer, mason and timber framer.  I personally build architecturally sensitive Masonry Fireplaces and chimneys and have only built 6 in the last three years.

Because I am always interested in new construction, I visit construction sites frequently, and have not seen another Masonry Fireplace being built in the Atlanta area in that time.  The only thing I have seen, in terms of on-site-built fireplaces, is the Pre-manufactured Fireplace Kit which is cost comparable to a true Masonry Fireplace, but does not require the same degree of skill and is generally faster to construct.

As an exercise, I think it would be an interesting challenge to try and find a Masonry Fireplace being built now or in the last year.

The only legitimate statistical indicators for on-site-built fireplaces would be damper sales because, whether wood burning or gas, each on-site-built fireplace is constructed with a single damper.  The caveat to this damper figure is that while cast iron throat dampers represent the vast majority, chimney top dampers are also implemented.

It would not be an impossible leap to determine the rough number of individual damper sales through damper dealers, both throat and chimney top types within the last year — but the real challenge would be determining what portion of those sales represent Pre-manufactured Fireplace Kits and what portion represents Masonry Fireplaces.  All this to say, based on reasonable observation, I believe Masonry Fireplace production to be fractional to that of Pre-manufactured Fireplace Kits  

Economically this would make sense because laypeople are not able to differentiate between the two types of fireplaces and there is a cost advantage to the Pre-manufactured Fireplace Kit because it is faster and less complicated to construct.

If this is the case, the moderate amount of particulate produced by the few Masonry Fireplaces being constructed today does not justify the effort it would take to monitor them.  In addition, this is a dying art — its very difficult to believe that the annual number of Masonry Fireplaces being built is remotely significant to the particulate issue at hand.  As a kind of "endangered species," I would ask you to take the Masonry Fireplace's continued existence very seriously.

The reality of the matter is revealed in how readily that metaphor resonates — it's obvious that in our snap together, get it done yesterday, conventional construction mentality that the "artisan-craftsman" is running on life support.

Masonry Fireplace design is still incredibly important to the world of architecture and nothing should be done to discourage it.


While so many modern distractions seem pitted to divide us further and further from our natural history, a fire at the hearth is still one of the few tangible reminders of who we are and where we come from.  If the environment is to be truly protected, we have to be able to identify with it. The alternative is to suppose we are separate from, and above, the very thing that allows us to exist.  And while much of the green movement is extreme, and even erroneous, it is only a response to the opposite extreme which, in my opinion, is much less forgivable.   

Monday, October 25, 2010

Corbelling Along Radius RoofLine

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Apprentice Hugo striking joints of radius corbelling. Mason Alejandro inspecting his brick work from behind.  Generally, radius rooflines are executed poorly in residential building — sometimes awfully.  Not a design element to be taken lightly.

Veneer Masonry Progress/Slate Delivery

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Window triptych with hand cut sills and shared corbeled header.

Rooflines enhanced by corbeled accents.  Corbels (along gable rakes and eaves) are an effective substitute for the more typical soffit and fascia design. The corbels build out wall caps allowing roof edges to project for better sheltering.  This limits the amount of exposed wood and minimizes maintenance.  Copper drip edges wrap over the roof decking and face off against the masonry.

Extensive scaffolding required to brick two stories of veneer on a 3' to 4' crawl.

31 Squares of 14,"— 1/4" to 3/8" thick random width slate, (10 pallets).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Reverse Corbelling Measures

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Reverse corbelling along right side of house.  Framing was water proofed with mastic along the corbeled area beforehand.  Flashing and two layers of Tyvec were also wrapped over the water proofing prior to building.  3/4" ply wood was placed behind the corbelling during construction (like a drag board) to insure the airspace between the masonry and the framing.  Head joints were left open to air space every 32" at the brick ledge.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Eave Corbelling

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Apprentice Hugo and mason Alejandro corbelling an eave along the left side of the Daulton House.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Field visit with Kitchen Designer Matthew Quinn

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Matthew Quinn and Jack Daulton on site discussing design alternatives. Matthew was brought on board as one of the Southeast's foremost kitchen and bath designers.  He is based in Atlanta and is doing a great deal to bring the project to it's full fruition.  I asked Matthew to comment on the French Modern design he has tailored specifically for the Daulton House :

"I first met the Daultons at an Atlanta Symphony showhouse kitchen where I had designed the kitchen.  I loved how excited they got when they spoke about their home that was about to break ground and their talented architect and his unique building techniques.  I was intrigued and appreciative when we decided to work together on their kitchen and baths.  The kitchen is very important to Jack as he loves to cook. The kitchen is truly at the center of the home and visible from the front door.  We created a deep paneled, arched hallway that disguised doors to the powder room and laundry room that connected the foyer to the kitchen.  Naturally, Clay had the front door in perfect alignment with the gorgeous raised hearth fireplace in the keeping room at the other end of the house.  It worked beautifully to align the pendants over the 9' long island on that same centerline.  The refrigerator, microwave and small countertop appliances will be tucked to the side allowing the 48" pro range and custom metal hood to be the focal points of the space.  Three clerestory windows will cascade light over the wall cabinets and give glimpses of treetops while sitting at the island.  Lots of workable countertop, drawers for everything, tall pantry storage and even a wine cooler and coffee system were accommodated.  The perimter cabinets will be painted a warm taupey gray while the island will be painted black apearing as if it has "grown" out of the dark hardwood floors.  A layering of texture and colors such as the matte granite countertops, dimensional tile backsplash, and polished nickel faucets and hardware will be the finishing touches.  I cant wait to see it all come together."