Saturday, February 8, 2014

Manzanita Trail Rails

Before I started the trail rails and before I launched into the multitude of thousands of projects that have been waiting for me since I was idled with Steve's (my right ankle) resurrection (see The Three Phases of Steve), I wanted to make sure he was going to be OK once I started wandering this hilly ground again.  So I got me a pair of these:

I had to get two of them because Steve has a brother.  So whatever I get Steve I've got to get Ed.  Yes, my other ankle is named Ed.  I have no idea why.  Or how.  As you can see, the boots are getting broken in.  They're already wearing the results of a few days worth of manzanita wrangling as well as an all day brush burn.

Anyway, here's Ed and Steve with their new dance shoes on:
These babies are high top AND steel toed.  Steve feels very secure and if I drop a big rock on my foot, more than likely my toes won't break and I'll still be able to dance.  So I got that going for me.  Now I can really go out and kick me some kaboodle!   But probably not too soon.  Steve's still a little painful to waltz around on, especially with those high top dance shoes on, but I can tell he is definitely on the mend.

Ever since the Deep Side Trail was completed, I have wanted to put up some railing along them steep steps that are all part of the trail system.  Prior to Steve going under the knife, I dug me some holes and sunk me some posts.  I decided to go with treated 4x4's for the posts.  I figure they'll outlast me at this point, which is what I want.  I don't want to be revisiting anything I do around here if I can help it.  I bought 3-10 footers and I cut them all in in half for my posts.  I need three for the Deep Side stairs and I need 3 for another set of stairs elsewhere.  I figure 2 feet in the ground is plenty, with roughly 3 feet above.
Then I dug me 3 holes along the stair route, one at the top, one in the middle and one at the bottom, all three roughly 2 feet deep.  Give or take.  This isn't rocket science, and if one is a little higher than another so be it.  I think the slope will assuage away any elevation differences to the undiscerning eye.

Then I mixed me up a little concrete.  At this stage of my game I generally use either a 50 pound bag of fence post mix or a 60 pound bag of ready mix.  I'm getting too old to be tossing around a 90 pound bag of concrete.  I can do it, but then I won't be able to walk for 3 days.

That's my trusty red wheel barrow below.  My brother gave that to me for my birthday about 35 years ago, it's still running strong.  It used to be sky blue though.  But what with the sweet salt air of Monterey a decade or so back it started to get a little rusty.  So I lightly sanded it and gave it a new coat of paint, red this time.  I think a red wheel barrow looks classy, even if it's a little war torn and weary.  Plus this way it's easy to find if I leave it out in the elements.  Imagine how hard it would be to find in a meadow if it was painted hay, or alfalfa for instance.
After mixing the concrete to a good consistency, I tossed the post in and then filled the hole with a little concrete.  One 50 pound bag per post.  I leveled them up, and wallah, three little posts in a row, similar to three little monkeys on a bench.  Only different.                                          
Then I had ankle surgery and sat on my ass for a couple months...sort of.  Prior to sitting on my keester though, I had made the decision to use manzanita as my stair rail.  I got a shi*t ton of it.  I have spent the last couple years clearing the ground around here, primarily of a lot of dried brush, which was primarily manzanita.  I call that wonderful chore "Manzanita Wrangling".  It's almost as fun as barbed wire wrangling.  Tears up my T-shirts just about as much too.  And work gloves.  And body.

As a matter of fact, I am once again hip deep in brush clearing.  If we are in for a drought here in Northern California, I'd rather clear and burn dried vegetation on my terms, not have it burn on a wild fire's terms.  Side note, we're now just at the beginning of a weekend long downpour, expecting about six inches of rain here in the foothills.  Thank you very much.  As soon as I started clearing brush and burning it the rain started to come in.  Apparently it's my own personal form of rain dancing.  But I digress.

I've got a pile of manzanita from clearings past, I mean a pile.  Nice, long sticks from five to ten feet and more.  I meandered on up to the pile and found a couple nice sticks that would be long enough.  They looked kind of like this:

Manzanita's lovely living brick red color rapidly fades to black once the stick is no longer attached to the ground in anyway.  It turns black about as fast as a charcoal briquet turns to ash once it's lit with a cigar.    But it is an extremely hard wood, so I knew it would clean up just fine.  To that end I got busy:
I got out my trusty electric drill, the one I bought a few houses back when I was screwing off a deck.  Yeah, I know.  There's screwing off, which I'm actually quite good at as well, and then there's screwing off a deck.  This happens when you have just about finished the new deck you've just about built.  You generally want to get the all the decking material on the joists toot sweet, so as you align your wood you generally just screw in each end and move on.  Once all the wood is on, then you've got to go back and attach each piece to each joist.  Otherwise, eventually, over time, all hell breaks loose and pigs fly.  So if your joists are 16" apart, and your deck is 20 feet by 20 feet you end up having to insert about four hundred thousand screws.

I basically blew up my little battery powered drill on the 10,000th screw, so I went out and bought a $30 electric drill.  I've had it about a decade now.  One of these days I'll get another battery powered drill, but so far, this little gizmo has suited me just fine. 

I think screws are better to use than nails because nails will many times start popping up after a fashion.  So then you have to either pound them in again or tear some flesh off the bottom of your foot from time to time.  Or you could just screw them in and forget about it.  Save some money on tetanus shots and band aids too.
Besides the Roto Stripper, I also used my orbital sander.  The Roto Stripper worked well.  I was a little concerned at first because that wheel contains a bunch of wire "needles" that are metal and I thought they might be too rough on the wood.  Not so.  It stripped off the loose bark with ease, and the process left the stick pretty smooth.  I touched it up with the sander.  I didn't want the wood perfectly sanded to a fever pitch, I just wanted most of the knobs and kitches removed.  And of course have the wood relatively smooth.  I probably spent an hour and a half on each stick, which were each 8 to10 feet long.

Once that was done, I applied some penetrating oil.  That's about the only thing that will penetrate a hard wood, a varnish won't.  The sticks did have a number of cracks and I wanted the wood as weather proof as possible to minimize future and more serious cracking.
I put on several coats and let them dry for about a week.  Then it was time to figure out how they were going to lay.  To this end I employed the able assistance of my lovely wife and her keen decorator eye, which extends way beyond simple wall coverings and painted flamingos.  With one of us on each end of the stick we went to the posts and wheedled about.  We raised, we lowered.  We shucked, we jived.  We did the Freddy.  We did the Locomotion.  We did the Cha Cha Cha.  We turned, we burned.

Once our heart rates almost got back to normal, we stopped sweating and we figured out how they would fit best, I marked with chalk how the sticks would lay on the posts.  I also marked a spot for a hole to be drilled in the manzanita.  (The chalk was my lovely wife's idea too.  I started in with a Sharpee, but that ink penetrates the wood.  It's takes a few months to years for the Sharpee ink to wear off.  Chalk was a much better option, thank you my dear.)  Here's the top post:

 Here's the bottom post:
 And here's the middle post where the two sticks will meet:
And here's the chalk dots on the sticks.  I wanted to make sure the holes I drilled would be in the exact right spot since the manzanita was substantially less than even.   Anywhere.  If the hole was drilled anywhere else or in any other direction the stick would not fit as per our delicate positioning.

Then I drilled holes all the way through the manzanita sticks, large enough to allow the 5 inch lag bolts below to pass through and then into the posts.  Drilling a hole all the way through the manzanita made it really easy to attach the stick to the post.  I simply pushed the bolt through the manzanita and ratcheted it on into the post.  If I had tried to simply screw the stick to the post, more than likely the stick would have split.  Plus, since manzanita is so hard it would have probably taken me a century to screw in one rail.  Screw that.
Once the holes were drilled, it was attachment time.  Fortunately all measurements and chalk marks were chill, and the drill was skilled.  I cannot stress the importance of taking one's time when taking measurements, especially when getting into an artsy form of building.  It made this step a snap.
Now, I knew the sticks would be longer than the length I actually needed.  But by attaching them with over runs on each side allowed me to cut them even with the posts for a much cleaner look.  I used my trusty old hand saw to cut them even with the posts.
And when it was all said and done, the rails look like so:

Animal Update

Our Rooster and his harem are all doing fine.  They've been enjoying our recent drought weather, but now that rain has finally come they're got to dust off their version of Angry Birds and hopefully play happily indoors for a while.

The kitty's are fine as well.  My how they have grown though.  No longer cup cakes, they are probably about half their adult size right now at about 6 months of age.  They are still cute as hell.

They are also going outside now from time to time.  We really wanted to wait a little bit longer before letting them out, but these girls are QUICK.  An open door for an instant and they are through.  I mean, all our kitties have always been allowed to go outside.  Yes, we know there are hazards, we've lost some kitties to those hazards over the course of our lives.  But we also feel it's a little living being's right to enjoy the spectacular outdoors.  It's a lot bigger than the indoors and there's a lot more going on.  Plus there's delicacies out there that don't come in a can, like rats, moles, voles, gophers and the like.  And that food comes with a fun chase as well.  Most of the cats we've had have lived very long, happy lives.  We just put our forever top cat Tom to sleep last summer at the age of 18.  He'd been going outside his entire life.

We also have crazy cat Joe, who is now 18 and has been going outside his entire life.  Now, definitely out here in the country it's imperative to get the kitties in at night.    That's when all sorts of nocturnal predators prowl, like fox, bobcat, raccoon, coyote and owls, to name a few.  A small feline would no doubt fit in as a very delectable dish to many of those critters.

The only day light predator I am concerned about right now is a hawk.  We've experience a couple hawk attacks on chickens here and until the kitties are fully grown I will harbor some concern.

But they are very, very fast and agile, these two lovely little demons.  I have never seen kitties move so fast.  I think that comes from the fact they have rough housed, wrestled and chased each other since they were cupcakes.  They seem to be smart, and both will come right away when we call their names.  They are staying fairly close to the house right now, but they do make forays out into the thick to check it all out.  With a little more experience, which they are getting every day, my concern will eventually gravitate towards the hawk should he ever decide to try and dine on one of these little damsels.  He could end up being their dish, some form of Hawk Ragu.

And I bid you adieu.