Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Windowbox Extravaganza -Day Five..Er...Six

[Editor's Note: Day five or six, I've lost count, of the windowbox debacle. I think it's day five; I can't remember. Six days. Sheesh. And I'm not sure it's over yet.]
{Author's Note: Yeah, but the window box is just a pretext to write in my inimitable and compelling style.}
[Editor: Sez you.]
Ever mow the lawn with a toddler in your lap on the tractor? What an expression he has the entire time. Beatific, true, but something of a game face too. Grim determination. I imagine you have the same expression on your face if you've been following along with this window box business. At this point, I'm like a Wallenda,- you're vaguely interested in what I'm doing, but you wouldn't be totally surprised or disappointed if I fell. Well, let's see.

Now, I've got a table saw. Three, actually. I'm not sure if you do. Many people have one in their basement, gathering dust, if not sawdust. It makes it easier to trim this thing out, if you do, but it's not mandatory.
What I want you to do, is take a length of 2-1/2" wide pine, and rip it in half, sorta. Set the fence for 1-1/4", and the blade will take his vigorish, and the waste side of the cut will be a little thinner. No matter. The 1-1/4" wide piece should be the same length as the battens you cut for the front and back of the box, in my case, 39". But I told you before, why measure? Lay the piece on the span, and mark the cut right on it. You can't go wrong that way, and save walking over to the saw, mumbling to yourself: "38 inches, and one big line, and two sorta big lines, and two teeny hash marks" over and over, and mismeasuring. Take the waste cutoff from the 1-1/4" strip, and cut two pieces 7-3/4" long, and glue and nail them on both ends of the front panel, flush with the edges. The last picture shows it better than I can explain it.

Which reminds me. I've got lots of books about making things. Houses, boats, furniture, paintings, all kinds of things. And I can tell you modern books about making things look so much better than old books. They have acres of pictures showing you precisely how to do what's being done. Even my modest little "What's New Page" can bring instant digital photos and accompanying text, with links to buy the things I'm using, and accompanied by the occasional pictures of dead actresses for good measure. Amazing, and good.

But I can tell you dear reader, that the books I treasure the most have few, or no illustrations in them. They're usually 50 plus years old, some much older, and they contain more information than modern books, which are loaded with space gobbling visual information. Since books were precious then, and rarer than they are now, the people who wrote and published them really seemed to be able to write well. The modern ease of photography and writing has removed the heavy lifting of publishing, and we're all 90 lb weaklings compared to our immediate predecessors. There's a lot of information in a fifty year old textbook. There's a lot of pictures and white space in a new one. The modern how- to books are not even in the written tradition, I think, they're more like the experience of working along with someone, like a helper. It's an oral tradition they mimic, and they're not even trying to write, they're writing down what they would say, instead. Which is fine, and useful in its way, but...

[Author's Note: This windowbox thing was originally written three years ago. Please note during the following that I had the idea for "The Dangerous Book For Boys" back then, and there would be no marbling paper in mine. Where the hell is my book advance?]

I have a book reprinted in 1924, originally published in 1905, entitled "The Scientific American Boy." It's filled with a compendium of industrious activities for young men. The book itself is a wonder. It is sparsely populated with a few crude line drawings of the items being discussed, and tons of lapidary and useful text. And they expected you to make, and use, for amusement, the following items: a skating sailboat; snowshoes; a tent; a crossbow; surveying instruments; canvas canoes; rope ladders, a tree house; a derrick and windmill to pump water; a scow with a sail; a toboggan; a winter shelter; a small sailboat; a hammock; paper kites; a water wheel; a log cabin with a fireplace; a gravity railroad, which is essentially a handmade rollercoaster; a cantilever bridge that any modern civil engineer couldn't improve upon; and dozens of other things to make and use, made from readily available things using hardly any tools.

And the part that strikes me as most extraordinary about the whole thing is the fact that you could make this stuff with just a few crude drawings because the text is so well thought out, terse, and incisive. Now it's also neat to think of children making all that stuff and, well, playing outside, but let's leave the pontificating about "kids these days" out of it. Those kids nowadays have different skills, and they're not necessarily inferior. The average teenager knows more about a computer that Bill Gates does, for instance.

And each and every one of those venerable books sits on the shelf and mocks me silently when I write, like I did two paragraphs ago: "The last picture shows it better than I can explain it." Oh well.

OK, back to business. Now you need 2" wide stock for the little frames on the sides. Rip it on the tablesaw, if you've got one, or make do with the 2-1/2" stuff. Because the front is canted forward, and the sides are vertical, the 2" side frames will align themselves visually with the 2-1/2" frame on the front. Now if you inspect the last picture, you'll see we have covered up all the screw fasteners and the laminated edges of the plywood. And the 2" wide pieces align perfectly, cut square, to the little canted portion of the sides. The frames will add the play of light and shadow, and depth, to the whole enchilada, and a certain "whatsis," as Bertie Wooster would say.

In that last picture, I've also laid out what's coming next, in advance, just like you do when telling a bad joke, which I am also an expert at.
Glue and nail the 1-1/4" strip on top of the back. Cut 2 pieces from 2-1/2" wide stock, 7-7/8" long, to the long point, with a 15 degree bevel on the front edge- just like the battens we put under the bottom. There's that 15 degree thing again. It's kismet. Or destiny, Or schadenfreude. Or something. Glue and nail them atop the sides, as shown. Now measure the span from the outside to the outside edge. Better still, lay the 2-1/2" front nosing right on it, mark it, and cut, glue and nail it. Now we're done. Making the box, that is.

Now, a window box does best when it sits on a shelf or brackets, it's true, but we're going to hang this lickity split, and make our bets and take our chances, as they say at the track, and get to the grille earlier.
This next thing is complicated, I know. Gird your loins. Buck up. I have faith in you.

Get some galvanized screws. Long ones. Now I prefer bent ones, because I'm strange, and cheap. You could use straight, brand new ones, but where's the challenge in that? Suit yourself. Get 4 of 'em at least, whatever you choose, a box of mud is heavy.

We've got to go through, let's see, 1/2" of MDO, a 3/4" cleat, +/- 1/2 " of shingles or clapboards or somesuch siding, and another 1/2" of sheathing, just to get to something substantial, framing wise, under the sill. What you're looking for is the framing subsill, usually a doubled 2 x 4 affair, buried in the wall under window opening. You need 3-1/2" to 4" screws, galvanized, to find it and grab it. Tuck the box up under the sill, so that rain from the window sill drips into the box. Predrill the four holes, evenly spaced, about 1-1/2" inches down inside the box, using the nifty bit you got at Amazon through my search box, that's putting my kids through school.

Now comes the really hard part. Drive those four screws, through all that stuff, and be sure to strip the heads just as the heads snug up to the MDO. Don't strip the heads too soon, or the screws will stick out into the box and annoy the ladybugs, and your window box will rattle around. But it is important that you strip the screws horribly, just like the professionals do. Otherwise, when the box is old and tattered and the next occupants of your home want to remove it, and they want to continue the ancient and time-honored tradition of swearing and cursing the thoughtless Neanderthal person who installed the blasted thing in the first place, they will not be disappointed. Of such traditions, civilization is built.

Tomorrow: Paint and Flowers! I guess. Is this thing on?

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