Thursday, July 10, 2008

Has One Plus One Gone Quantum?

I pulled out my carpenter’s tools again recently, to finally make some crawl-space covers. I have two openings in the foundation (due to someone having put a solid concrete wall down the middle of the house) and the covers had been so rotted when I got here that they seemed like the Hot L Baltimore for termites. I’d pulled them immediately, but since it was November, I just piled some cinderblocks and bricks in one, and for the other I’d tried an old window and some bricks, followed by a very large piece of cardboard and some bricks (obviously I didn’t have enough bricks for the opening… should tried shifting some from my head… or is that rocks?). I’d promised myself that “as soon as the dry weather came” I’d get a decent pair of wooden covers made. But various other crises intervened, and I’ve only just now gotten to them.

I have a tshirt with the Measure Twice Cut Once reminder, and -- just in case of inflation -- I measured three times before I began to cut the 2x4s. The first problem was that the rectangular hole had developed a parallelogram shape -- either the deceptively upright concrete was leaning, or the house was sagging… or I couldn’t measure (always a likely culprit!). I did what I usually do in these cases -- I averaged. If one side is 15.5 inches and the other is 14.5, then the best measurement for both will be 15, right? It generally works for fabric (as long as I keep moving so no one notices one sleeve is longer than the other). Apparently this is not as helpful with rigid things like wood. I cut all four uprights and one set of horizontal studs, then wisely decided to test them out in the actual opening. I immediately discovered that I had neglected to allow for the fact that, nailed together, one measurement would be lengthened by the thickness of the attached 2x4 (which is not, as you might think, two inches, but is in fact one and a half inches - all part of the conspiracy of the Milluminati to control the world by shrinking all numbers).

Suddenly the project had taken on the characteristics of those math word problems that I so loathed in middle and high school: “If two boards are each 1.5 inches too long, and the matching uprights are 1.5 inches too short, how do you cut the boards to get them to fit the damn opening???” Alright, the book didn’t swear - but the book never had to figure out the answer. I was running out of 2x4s but I realized that the larger of the two uprights (cut too short) would do for the smaller opening, so I only had to re-cut one pair. Quantum physics was obviously attacking my simple rural cosmos again, so I switched to my guaranteed way of measuring -- putting it against the item you want to match and drawing a cutting line. Who cares if it’s 15.5 inches or the square root of pi? It fits the place it’s gonna be in! So back and forth I went, around to the openings, back into the garage -- where I had graduated from cutting on stacks of cardboard boxes to cutting on a side chair and an end table -- and back to the opening, etc. When I had the rectangle cut, I tentatively hammered the studs together -- in my studio, starting with one board propped on a spare suitcase. I had a handful of really big nails, and a couple dozen that were too small for the framing, but would work for the plywood. So I rationed the big nails, one to a corner; I figured this cover wasn’t gonna get a whole lot of use, unless skunks had learned how to work in teams.

I checked the frame out before attaching the plywood sheeting -- and found that while the measurements were pretty darn close, that meant that it was almost impossible to wedge the damn frame into the opening! There is a concept known as “leeway”, and rigid objects need more of it than stretchy things like fabric and some people’s patience (not mine!). In order to get it to slide/shift into the opening, it had to be slightly smaller than the opening. Back to the drawing… well, the big sheets of paper and the black crayon. I examined the issue from as many sides as I could (including inside the house with a cold drink), and concluded that the easiest thing was to dig out just a bit of the dirt and then push it back into place later. With that inspiration, I felt free to place the 2x4 frame on the plywood, trace a rectangle (parallelogram) and cut it out… it mostly fit, and the extra nails I used to attach it to the frame made up for the dearth of joist nails. I can always tell when I’ve exceeded my patience, because I begin to pick up steam like a locomotive, or a snowball on the top of a hill.. and obstacles begin to fly sideways as I crash into them or sweep them from the area. I was developing this kind of reckless speed, and so, with the covers wedged in place and only enough room for mice, rats, squirrels or a determined skunk to squeeze past them, I considered my job done for the day. I’d get to the sanding and painting another day… and if this is anything like the living room curtains (that hang so lovely and so un-hemmed), probably another year.

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