Hammers make nails

I listened to FHB's Pro Talk podcast a couple of days ago, an interview of a lead carpenter for a remodeling company in Shoreline. Carpentry was a second career for her, formerly a graphic artist. She said she hoped more artists would enter the trade because carpentry is a creative profession and an artist's skill in seeing can be useful.

I mentioned this to R— (also a visual artist) and they said this had been something they struggled with when they first started a couple of years ago. They wanted to make something artistically good even if the work would eventually be covered up or not highly visible.

In a small bathroom, we removed the tub to install a curbless shower. Chip some tile out, remove the drywall to take the rest of it, and put up plywood and tilebacker in preparation for the solid surface panels, which we arbitrarily decided were going to be about 86 inches tall.

The room is five feet wide, and with the vanity taking up half the length. Just before I cut the plywood B— called and asked, “how big is the bathroom doorway?”

It's only big enough for a panel 82” tall.

It's been so long since I've been on a jobsite without a mobile phone, it's hard to remember how we operated without them. Despite their many upsides I think they've contributed to one particular downside for me personally: an increase in first order seeing.

First order seeing is like first order thinking, when you try to solve an immediate problem without considering long-term consequences and knock-on effects.

I was prepping the upstairs shower pan, so I opened up the joist bay to access the drain the plumbers had left there at rough-in. Only when I cut the hole, the drain wasn't there.

It was possible the drain was just one bay over. Though that would mean cutting a bigger hole in the subfloor and cutting through the beam to move the drain over. My phone was nearby and without much thought I called H—, we discussed it and agreed I'd probably have to cut a bigger hole. H— casually said he was almost sure the plumbers had put the drain in the correct place. While we talked I was staring at the wet wall and the vent pipe in it, and somewhat without thinking reached my hand into the joist bay, under the wall, and found the pipe — just about a foot over from where I thought it would be, but still in the right bay. I just couldn't see it at first.

When I tiled the downstairs shower last week, there were two valves. One was a typical valve with a mud ring. The other one didn't have a mud ring, and looked smaller than the other. I thought it was a different kind of valve, maybe the size of a shower wand elbow, so I only cut a hole in the backer board and tile just big enough to fit around it.

After it was all done H— looked at the valve and said it was the same as the first one. It just never had a mud ring put on it, probably because the plumber had forgotten to do it. I cut out the tile and backer board in place with a hole saw and a multitool. When it was cut out I saw we put a nail plate over one half of the valve's mounting screw holes as well.

A few days ago we started installing window sills, and somehow we decided (I don't remember why) to use a full 5/4 by 8, which would stick out from the wall a little more than typical. However we decided that was OK. When R— cut them and put them in, it was obvious they were too big. They already had everything cut upstairs, but we were about to start downstairs because that's the priority for the move-in, so we decided to cut them down later since they weren't nailed off yet, and it wouldn't be much extra work, and it would look better. We all went downstairs and started trimming.

Fast forward to today, when I was done downstairs, went upstairs, and nailed off all the window sills but the bathroom, which R— hadn't cut yet. When B— measured for the bathroom (since they hadn't cut any sills yet) we discovered all the sills upstairs were still too big because they hadn't been cut yet, because I didn't remember we had decided to cut them down. Now we decided to leave them as they were because the extra rework wasn't justified for the aesthetic harmony of upstairs and downstairs.

I've decided I need to remember my decisions.

Last week we moved to the south side. R— was back, after two weeks out. They were sick of something undiagnosed, and we had decided if you don't get a negative test then you should stay home for two weeks. The south side has a roof to wall that's difficult to stage, with the only access off a 10/12 roof. R— is not comfortable at heights. Also the first thing to do there was put in a line of blocking with almost no room to work, where you have to rely a lot on your reach. I've got about a half foot on R— and I had trouble with that spot on the north side.

Knowing all these things I put R— on the blocking first thing. In the past I haven't pushed R— for a variety of reasons but I felt this was a good test. When they had to step away from the task for a moment I somewhat perversely didn't pick it up for them but waited for them to come back to start it. They (slowly) roped up (luckily we had a tie off point right there), and took until lunch to get halfway done, only having to redo the work once fortunately. It's not always easy to gauge how much trouble someone will have with something. I often wonder if the benefit outweighs the cost. Nevertheless when R— finished they gave a victory salute. That's always a good sign.

This past week we formed up for the pour Friday and I let R— and B— take the front porch without much direction. It was an effort at times, overhearing their discussion, not to jump in. It's a challenge to their level of ability, but it's also a challenge to my sense of control of how things should be done. When I let someone do something without much oversight, it's a real letting go. There were little things they had to redo, though that was because the plan was mostly verbal. It's a reminder a drawn out plan is worth the time.

Later R— thanked me for letting them do it on their own. I think in my position I don't have the constant oversight and it's easy to forget what it feels like to be in that position.

They who forget their plan are doomed to repeat it

Sometimes on a project there's one thing that keeps elbowing its way into the conversation. The knee braces again. We decided a few days ago to mount blocks and build the braces later. A couple of days ago we sided right past where the blocks were supposed to go, which I realized as I woke up the morning after. Waking up and remembering what you were supposed to do feels a lot like having a breakthrough idea in the shower.

No matter how many times I do this I forget to have a plan to avoid it in the future.

Looking and not seeing

What's the word for observations not summing to their obvious conclusion? When I was backframing the oven vent I saw new blocking in the bays flanking the side door. Eventually I realized they were for the knee braces to support the awning — I even felt a touch smart because B— and the HO were initially as clueless as I was. H— put the blocking in (a few days ago?), so he must have seen the wire for the outdoor sconce poking out of the same bay. But it wasn't until today, when I was standing outside staring at the door thinking about the awning, that I realized you can't put a sconce where a knee brace goes. Cue H— and HO and eventually HO+1 figuring this problem out for twenty minutes.

Looking and not knowing, for all values of remembering

Yesterday the hangers called me upstairs to ask about the weird laundry room pocket door framing. As I explained it to them I noticed an outlet the electricians nailed up in the pocket. No one told them it was a pocket, so I don't really blame them. When I measured the pocket it was about six inches short anyway, and I had no recollection as to why, even though I framed it a few weeks ago.