Sunday, September 13, 2015

Cabin part 13: Everybody must get stoned ... stone facing, that is!

We were very fortunate to find Ian Johnson, a Grand Marais-based mason, to install stone facing around the above-ground foundation below the logs. We thought we'd have to settle for "cultured stone" (that is, cast concrete rocks) but he was up for the challenge of working with natural stone.

The first thing we had to do, once we worked out details with him, was to board up a potential window that was in the concrete foundation on the west side (in the photo at right, you can just see the temporary plywood that we'd had over the window opening ... it has some very yellow Great Stuff foam around it, and over a splice in the plywood). This was a huge, major job for us ... not only was Bruce still not quite up to par (I had to run the circular saw, for example, as his hand was too weak to control it), but we had to dig out the fill around the base. That fill was extremely unstable, and we had dozens of "landslides" that meant we had to dig out the new stuff to clear the area we needed to board up.

Next, we had to remove the old lumber wrap (the white stuff that looks like Tyvek). Then we had to put a wretched, hard-to-control material called Norpro (a thick black plastic film with super-sticky adhesive on the back) over everything to waterproof it, so that Ian could put his metal lath over it.

On our way up to the cabin to work on this wretched task, we stopped at the stone yard in Duluth to pick out our stone. Here's what a "pallet" of stone looks like. This is one of the types of stone we chose. It is from New York state. The other stone we chose is a rusty, yellowish-brown stuff from Montana. We went with 75% of the New York stuff, and 25% of the rusty stuff.

We spent a very intense few days excavating the window opening and boarding it up properly, then getting the sticky black film on it. By the end of it, we were so beat, we could hardly hobble. (We are getting too old for this kind of stuff!)

I had agreed to lead a nature walk on Wild Edibles of the Gunflint Trail on Sunday, July 26. Bruce's niece Carey and her husband Kipp, along with their 6-year-old son Beck and 5-year-old daughter Merritt, came up for the weekend, timing it so they could come along on the nature walk. They are some of our favorite people in the world, and it was nice to do something other than work on that *@#! wall for the weekend.

Unfortunately, the weather was scorching, with temps in the low 90s and very high humidity... not so good for hiking through the brush looking for wild plants! But everyone--particularly the kids--enjoyed swimming in the lake on the days before the hike.

Carey and Kipp shared in meal prep, which was great and gave me a chance to kick back a bit. As a treat, I made a campfire berry cobbler for dinner one night while they were visiting, and our neighbors Deb and Oscar Meyer also came by in time to have a scoop.

Ian showed up bright and early on Monday morning, and got right to work. The process of installing stone facing is pretty interesting to watch. First, he puts tar paper over everything, to provide a moisture barrier.

Then he attaches metal lath (a specialized type of screen-like material) with screws. You can see a bit of lath in the photo at right. The area to the left of the door has the lath on it, while the area to the right is where Bruce and I filled in the old window opening and covered it with that nasty black sticky film. Ian covered that all up with tar paper before proceeding.

Next he smears a thin coat of mortar, called a scratch coat, over the lath. This has to dry overnight before he can start setting the stones. He worked on various tasks in sections; in the photo below left, he has put the scratch coat on the lath to the left of the door and below it, and he has also got the tar paper and metal lath on the area where the window opening had been.

Now for the fun part! Ian sits on the ground and holds a piece of stone on his knee and whacks at it with a chisel and hammer, or just holds it in his hand and chips at it with his hammer, to get it into the shape he wants. (It takes a  good eye to figure this stuff out, and Ian is really good at that.) I was amazed when I realized that he never wore gloves, and when I asked him about it he just shrugged and said that his hands were his gloves. He's got pretty tough skin. His black lab, Sam, is in the background.

He "butters" the back of each stone with some of the same mortar he used for the scratch coat, then puts it in place on the wall. Unbelievably, it does not fall off; he just wriggles it a bit and holds it for a minute or two, and it stays in place. His yellow lab, Tess, is helping out in these photos.

This continues until the whole area is filled with stone. It's really something to watch him trying out various pieces of stone--which, as you can see, are irregularly shaped--to see what might fit, and then tailoring that piece so it fits just right. He's a real artist at this.

After all the stone was applied, he did the tuckpointing--basically, a process like putting grout between  tiles. We had to leave before he got the tuckpointing done, so he sent us photos. And in the two side-by-side shots below, you can see what the stone looked like before and after the tuckpointing. (I'm not sure why the color looks so different between the two shots. I know that he washed the stone after the tuckpointing was done, so that may account for some of it. Also, the light was probably different when I took each of these shots. The shot on the right is more accurate for color and texture.)

We were so pleased with his work when we came back and the entire cabin foundation had been surfaced with stone, and tuckpointed. Here's what it looked like when we came back a week or so later. Next step: Getting the landscaping done. We've had terrible problems with erosion, because so much of the area around the cabin is fill that has been added over the years and it was becoming terribly unstable. Every time it rained, we had new gullies appearing, and more fill washing down the hill. (The next post shows the landscaping.)

While we were up on this trip, we installed a new kitchen sink and faucet--in a temporary plywood counter. We started planning the bathroom, which will be in the lower level. We had a bunch of work to do before the plumbers could come in and hook up the water line to the filtration system and water heater, and also connect everything to the drain lines that go to the septic tanks. Always something!

Throughout the spring and summer, we'd been enjoying the antics of a local gray jay family. The parents brought their three babies to our place in May, but by July they were down to one youngster. We later read that the dominant youngster apparently drives off any others, because there won't be enough food for the family during winter (gray jays are year-round residents on the Northland, and apparently survive largely on food that they cache). Here's one of them enjoying a walnut snack on our deck in August.

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