Taking down the dying magnolia

There’s a magnolia in the northwest corner of the front yard, near the street, that is dying. It’s been dying for a long time. The crown is bare of leaves and the wood is brittle, sometimes breaking away in strong winds.

Steven hired Victor to muck out the back yard and take down the magnolia; it was textbook This Old House.

Several neighbors chatted as they walked past, as Victor took down the magnolia. Everyone was happy to see it go — it’s not native to Austin. The oaks will draw more water and light.

Here’s a photo essay.

Victor begins by trimming away as many low-hanging branches as he can reach, focusing on the middle of trunk, where several low-hanging limbs stretch widest, creating the most hazard.
Victor begins by trimming away as many low-hanging branches as he can reach, focusing on the middle of trunk, where several low-hanging limbs stretch widest, creating the most hazard. The magnolia still has green leaves in this middle range, but the crown is denuded, dead.
With the magnolia prepped, Victor cuts a series of wedges into the trunck, near the ground. The wedges take out a slice of wood in the direction he wants the tree to fall when it is cut and finally topples.
With the magnolia prepped, Victor cuts a series of wedges into the trunck, near the ground. The wedges take out a slice of wood in the direction he wants the tree to fall when it is cut and finally topples. Victor is wearing a dust mask and safety glasses.
After cutting away the wedges that are now opposite the camera, Victor used his chain saw to cut into the trunk at the side of the tree facing the camera. In the street, Victor and his brother Francisco pull taut a rope tied high around the tree that they will use to topple the tree.
After cutting away the wedges that are now opposite the camera, Victor used his chain saw to cut into the trunk at the side of the tree facing the camera. In the street, Victor and his brother Francisco pull taut a rope tied high around the tree that they will use to topple the tree.
First pull. The trunk snaps and begins to lean.
First pull. The trunk snaps and begins to lean.
Leaning.
Leaning.
Leaning.
Leaning.
The point of no going back.
The point of no going back.
Toppling.
Toppling.
The first branch touches ground.
The first branch touches ground.
Crash.
Crash. Actually more like a dull thunk. Anticlimactic.
Cutting down the tree exposes just how close it was to dying. The center of the trunk is soft, with no structure. The black ring indicates the division between live wood around the circumference and dead wood at the heart of the tree.
Cutting down the tree exposes just how close it was to dying. The center of the trunk is soft, with no structure. The black ring indicates the division between live wood around the circumference and dead wood at the heart of the tree.
The crown landed precisely where Victor planned -- on Dale's driveway next door. She was OK with the mess and taking out the tree, because she didn't want it toppling in a storm. Victor and Francisco quickly cleaned up the mess. All this wood from the crown of the magnolia was dead, brittle. It crumbled and snapped in our hands.
The crown landed precisely where Victor planned — on Dale’s driveway next door. She was OK with the mess and taking out the tree, because she didn’t want it toppling in a storm. Victor and Francisco quickly cleaned up the mess. All this wood from the crown of the magnolia was dead, brittle. It crumbled and snapped in our hands.
An example of how dead the crown of the tree was -- the main trunk just snapped away on its own as it hit the ground.
An example of how dead the crown of the tree was — the main trunk just snapped away on its own as it hit the ground.

Mucking out the back yard

With sprinkler repairs underway, with the fences and gates erected to create a safe yard for Adobe to burn off crazy-puppy calories while attempting to keep the deer out, Steven asked Victor to haul the trash out of the back yard.

Steven and Victor have done this before. Victor and his team installed part of the landscaping at Sea Eagle, and tackled specific jobs at Emerald Hill during construction.

Now we create a clean slate at Emerald Hill.

When Jacquela and Steven bought Emerald Hill, the back yard was not a priority — saving the house from itself was where we focused.

Previous owners used the back yard as a storage yard for broken tree limbs, old dog toys, an old telephone system wiring box, detritus, cast offs. The sage, lantana and other plants were old, tired, thready. Volunteer hackberries had taken root, making the northeast corner dark, dumping leaves. Lumber used for edging around what purported to be planting beds was rotting away.

Victor and his brother Francisco set to work saving the back yard, racing against approaching rain.

Victor and Francisco have already chopped out an old, thready sage.
Victor and Francisco have already chopped out an old, thready sage. They trimmed lower branches off a bush that the deer would come into the back yard to eat, raising the canopy high enough that the deer can’t reach the lower limbs. The lantana at left is next to go, as are the two hackberry trees that volunteered to grow in the back corner to the left of the telephone pole.
A previous owner used timbers to edge the planting beds. Not a good idea -- fine dining for termites.
A previous owner used timbers to edge the planting beds. Not a good idea — fine dining for termites.
This is what timber used as edging looks like after years of lying in the ground feeding generations of termites.
This is what timber used as edging looks like after years of lying in the ground feeding generations of termites.
More bug-infested, rotted and rotten lumber, coming out, going away.
More bug-infested, rotted and rotten lumber, coming out, going away. The pile of rocks will be used as part of the landscaping when Victor moves this project past demo and into development.
Victor lines the cleaned out bed with brick left over from demo and construction of the house. This gets the brick off the driveway and puts it to constructive use.
Victor lines the cleaned out bed with brick left over from demo and construction of the house. This gets the brick off the driveway and puts it to constructive use.
Francisco rakes new gravel atop the old gravel at the north side of the house, creating a deep layer that we hope retards weed growth. The plastic shed sat atop the gravel. It will be relocated to the northeast corner, where the hackberries have been hacked out.
Francisco rakes new gravel atop the old gravel at the north side of the house, creating a deep layer that we hope retards weed growth. The plastic shed sat atop the gravel. It will be relocated to the northeast corner, where the hackberries have been hacked out.
Francisco begins rolling out landscape fabric that will go into gravel bed along the back fence. The gravel provides drainage. The weed block blocks weeds -- we hope.
Francisco begins rolling out landscape fabric that will go into gravel bed along the back fence. The gravel provides drainage. The weed block blocks weeds — we hope.

And then the rains came.

To be continued.

 

Raising up the new fence and gates

Day 2 of the fence project. A photo essay.

Victor uses a portable band saw to cut to six feet tall one of the galvanized square posts  for the fence at the front of the house.
Victor uses a portable band saw to cut to six feet tall one of the galvanized square posts for the fence at the front of the house.
The black-painted posts at the north side of the house were cemented into position late yesterday.
The black-painted posts at the north side of the house were cemented into position late yesterday.
Noe, left, and Victor wanted to know what size air gap to leave when installing the horizontal fence rails. Steven opted for 3/4 of an inch, which happens to be he height of a framing angle laid on its side as a spacer at the left side of the fence -- highlighted inside the white circle.
Noe, left, and Victor wanted to know what size air gap to leave when installing the horizontal fence rails. Steven opted for 3/4 of an inch, which happens to be he height of a framing angle laid on its side as a spacer at the left side of the fence — highlighted inside the white circle.
Vertical 2x4 cedar posts get star-shaped screws to affix to the galvanized metal posts that were cemented into place yesterday. The cedar 2x4s serve as "facing" to the metal, giving Noe and Victor "meat" to attach the rails.
Vertical 2×4 cedar posts get star-shaped screws to affix to the galvanized metal posts that were cemented into place yesterday. The cedar 2x4s serve as “facing” to the metal, giving Noe and Victor “meat” to attach the rails.
The first section of cedar fencing, nailed up -- 1x4s at the bottom, 1x2s at the top, with a 3/4-inch air gap between each rail.
The first section of cedar fencing, nailed up — 1x4s at the bottom, 1x2s at the top, with a 3/4-inch air gap between each rail.
Victor laid out all his rails for each section of fence, and began working his way down the run.
Victor laid out all his rails for each section of fence, and began working his way down the run.
He's turned the corner.
He’s turned the corner.
Nearly done -- using 1x4s to "face over" and hide the gaps between horizontal rails.
Nearly done — using 1x4s to “face over” and hide the gaps between horizontal rails.
Done. And the sun came out.
Just about done. And the sun came out.
While Victor wrangles cedar in the front yard, Victor is in back cutting, grinding and welding the metal fencing and gates. Here, one side panel is already up as he test fits one of the gate panels.
While Victor wrangles cedar in the front yard, Victor is in back cutting, grinding and welding the metal fencing and gates. Here, one side panel is already up as he test fits one of the gate panels.
The double gates behind the garage are done.
The double gates behind the garage are done. This cuts off the herds of deer in the neighborhood from one entry into the back yard — we hope — and secures the back yard for Adobe to be active dog while fenced in.

 

Off with the fence

Noe and Victor from Austin Brothers Fence set to work this morning taking out the tired old cedar fencing at the north side of the house, and along the back property line. Parts of the fence were already leaning. Several pickets were broken. Where the rails were exposed, we could see termite damage — in cedar.

Cleaning out the old fence was always on the list of things to get to, depending on budget, as we pivoted from saving and rebuilding the house to projects in the yard.

This accelerated when we adopted Adobe. We need to keep the deer herd out of the back yard, and a secure yard from which Adobe cannot escape when she needs to burn off thousands of crazy puppy calories. Adobe is coming up on seven months old. She really needs a safe place to run fast and hard.

As part of this project, Jacquela gets the privacy fence she wants in front of the house, between the kitchen and driveway, to shield the gravel deck off the kitchen from passersby. Jacquela and Steven found online a photograph of a horizontal fence on which they both instantly agreed. Austin Bros. said they could do it by cutting a conventional 1×4 down the middle, creating two 1x2s. The design features 1x4s at the bottom, traveling to half way up, with the 1x2s taking the top half of the fence — with an air gap between each horizontal. Fences in Austin apparently tend to be vertical pickets, or horizontals that all the same dimension.

Why did Austin Bros. get the job?  It’s run by two brothers — Nate and Jeff. And dad answers the phones and runs the office. This resonates with Steven, who works with his brothers — and misses his dad every day.

Here’s a photo essay of day 1 of 2:

1-dsc_3883
Victor, left, and Noe arrived with the trailer loaded with cedar posts and rails, and galvanized metal poles.
First job was to walk the project with Steven and lay out string lines for the new privacy fence at the side and front of the house. Then Noe, left, and Victor measured out the fence line for posts separated by six feet, and went to work with post-hole diggers.
First job was to walk the project with Steven and lay out string lines for the new privacy fence at the side and front of the house. Then Noe, left, and Victor measured out the fence line for posts separated by six feet, and went to work with post-hole diggers.
With the holes complete and several posts already cemented in behind Victor, at left, Noe sets up the corner post, making it plumb, level and six feet away from its neighbor.
With the holes complete and several posts already cemented in behind Victor, at left, Noe sets up the corner post, making it plumb, level and six feet away from its neighbor.
Victor mixed and poured the fast-setting concrete while Noe held the metal post in position.
Victor mixed and poured the fast-setting concrete while Noe held the metal post in position.
At the north side of the house, Noe and Victor have already taken out the old cedar fence and gate that had partly rotted away.
At the north side of the house, Noe and Victor have already taken out the old cedar fence and gate that had partly rotted away. The metal post at right will also be demo’d and hauled away.
Noe and Victor discovered old sprinkler lines in front of the house as they dug.
Noe and Victor discovered old sprinkler lines in front of the house as they dug.
They repaired each cut in the sprinkler lines.
They repaired each cut in the sprinkler lines.
Removing several pickets exposed and confirmed the dire condition of the fence after years of little if any maintenance. All the horizontal rails along the back property line were riddled by termites and mud tunnels. There was not much structure left to the wood. The vertical pickets behind the horizontal rail belong to the neighbor's fence, which appears to be newer.
Removing several pickets exposed and confirmed the dire condition of the fence after years of little if any maintenance. All the horizontal rails along the back property line were riddled by termites and mud tunnels. There was not much structure left to the wood. The vertical pickets behind the horizontal rail belong to the neighbor’s fence, which appears to be newer.
Victor used a sawzall to cut away sections of decaying fence. This revealed the metal posts to which the fence was attached. Several of the posts are not vertical and plumb -- they lean akimbo, which explains why the fence was decaying, rotting, bug infested and beginning to topple over on its own.
Victor used a sawzall to cut away sections of decaying fence. This revealed the metal posts to which the fence was attached. Several of the posts are not vertical and plumb — they lean akimbo, which explains why the fence was decaying, rotting, bug infested and beginning to topple over on its own.
A second clear example of termite damage to a fence rail.
A second clear example of termite damage to a fence rail.
The original plan was to leave in place one section of the back fence. It was eight feet tall and appeared to be in better condition that the six-foot-high sections. But ... as Noe and Victor cut away the shorter sections of fence, they revealed the terminal condition of the horizontal rails behind the eight-foot pickets. Steven spoke with Jeff at Austin Bros. to get a price to take out this additional section. Jeff offered to add $100 to the invoice. Steven approved it.
The original plan was to leave in place one section of the back fence about where the gray gravel field behind the garage is located. It was eight feet tall and appeared to be in better condition that the six-foot-high sections. But … as Noe and Victor cut away the shorter sections of fence, they revealed the terminal condition of the horizontal rails behind the eight-foot pickets. Steven spoke with Jeff at Austin Bros. to get a price to take out this additional section. Jeff offered to add $100 to the invoice. Steven approved it.
As the back fence came down, Steven disassembled several sections to save a supply of pickets that he will re-use to repair sections of fence that are not included in this picket. The wood is already faded by time and will match the fence where Steven has to remove broken pickets. Less waste. No additional cost for new materials that don't match the old.
As the back fence came down, Steven disassembled several sections to save a supply of pickets that he will re-use to repair sections of fence that are not included in this picket. The wood is already faded by time and will match the fence where Steven has to remove broken pickets. Less waste. No additional cost for new materials that don’t match the old.

Hauling out the holiday lights

After lunch, Steven climbed the ladder into the storage loft in the garage — and began passing down to Jacquela boxes stuffed with holiday ornaments and lighting.

Working under the eaves and in the trees into the dark, surrounded by a herd of nearly 20 incurious and incautious deer, Jacquela and Steven hung white string lights at the eaves of the house and thee red-lit wreaths at the oak trees in the forest outside the front of the house.

It’s a start on the first major holiday in the house on Emerald Hill.

Back to work, part 3

Steven trimmed the extra inches off the 8-foot-long desktops, spray painted the cut ends with flat black, then black satin, then two coats of clear satin polyurethane. That took 48 hours in the garage, waiting for paint to dry.

Saturday morning, Jacquela helped to carry the desktop modules into the office. Steven finagled all three panels into position, using 5/8-inch spacers to hold each desktop free of the walls — to create a “pass through” for network cables and electrical cords.

Lying on his back on the floor, Steven screwed 1/2-inch wood screws through the brackets and into the underside of each desktop, locking the wood panels into secure position. Jacquela was NOT available to photograph Steven working under the desks.

Everything got wiped down and cleaned up.

And, then, finally, it was time to bring the desktop computer back into the office — and power it up.

In photo above … Steven’s desktop computer set into place at the southwest corner of the office — booted up, connected to the Web. With Adobe’s dog bed tucked neatly under the side wing — because the dog is barely separable from Steven.

There's a new computer coming from HP. Two monitors are unboxed and ready to connect to the new machine when it arrives -- right side of desktop.
There’s a new computer coming from HP. Two monitors are unboxed and ready to connect to the new machine when it arrives — right side of desktop.

Back to work, part 2

The Leons came back from Thanksgiving dinner with the Cooksleys and Steven set to work burning off the calories.

Steps in the process — locate the studs behind the drywall, mark them with blue painter’s tape, calculate the height for the desk at 30.5 inches per guidance from the web on desktop ergonomics, measure out a level line around the walls, then mount the brackets level and plumb that Steven ordered last week — the brackets arrived the day before Thanksgiving — while also working out where to not put brackets in order to be able to slide two-drawer file cabinets under the desktop and between two brackets.

After that, Jaquela helped Steven carry in from the garage two of the desktops — test fitting the parts to calculate what has to be cut off.

In photo above, one of the desktop pieces resting in position — the plywood is now stained black, using a black stain that is premixed with polyurethane. Then Steven applied two coats of clear satin polyurethane atop the stain. From a distance, it’s perfect. Up close and personal, it’s not perfect, but it should endure years of abuse from keyboards, monitors, pens, pencils, paper, glasses, paperclips, and countless projects that trundle into Steven’s work.

From atop a chair, a vertiginous view of the brackets and one of the smaller desktops test-fitted into place -- and all the obstacles that Steven is working around -- tools, chairs, network-attached storage devices, uninterruptible power supplies ...
From atop a chair, a vertiginous view of the brackets and one of the smaller desktops test-fitted into place — and all the obstacles that Steven is working around — tools, chairs, network-attached storage devices, uninterruptible power supplies …
Shifting perspective to floor height from the office entry off the pantry corridor -- brackets screwed to walls, blue tape to mark studs, unfinished planks of pine to use as spacers.
Shifting perspective to floor height from the office entry off the pantry corridor — brackets screwed to walls, blue tape to mark studs, unfinished planks of pine to use as spacers.

Meanwhile, out in the garage, Steven measured everything three times, then cut the two larger desktops down to size, and began touching up the cut ends — first with flat black spray paint to cover the raw cuts, then spray black satin stain mixed with polyurethane to blend with the surface of the finished desktops and, eventually, two coats of clear satin polyurethane sprayed over the cut ends to protect eveything. Sometime as early as tonight, the desktops will be ready to transport into the office for permanent mounting.

Punch list — windows

Xavier and Greg from Milgard Windows punched out the punch list for the windows.

They replaced screens that did not fit properly, tightly; replaced window cranks that were damaged in shipping or construction; and adjusted several operable windows that were not quite square, level or plumb.

That’s Greg, in photo above, removing one of the lock mechanisms at a window in Steven’s office — before replacing it.

Back to work

1-dsc_3853Now that the garage floor is clean and clear of obstacles, Steven moves on to his next project — staining the plywood that will become the desks in his office.

Actually … These are the plywood desks from his old office at Sea Eagle. Steven saved the wood to re-use it. Thinking ahead, as always.

Today, he sanded the bare wood bottoms and patched the holes with wood filler, and sanded what were the polyurethaned desktops, giving them “bite” for an application of stain or spray paint.

The desktops will be black — drama against the white walls.

The first coat of stain will need “sanding” with steel wool. Then a second coat of stain. Maybe a third.

The shelf brackets that will brace the wood to the walls are already on order.

"Make it new." Ezra Pound.