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An Engineer in the Woods, Installment 15: Woodwork Part 3, Mathematical Challenges

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

As I got into the middle of writing about our doors and millwork I realized that I could probably turn this part of our home construction story into its own series.  But I really want to finish this tale about the woodwork and move-on to my continuously growing list of other topics.  So, here’s just a couple highlights:

“There’s not enough wood.” 
I looked at our carpenter John in complete disbelief, too stunned to say a word.  It was now January.  We had hosted multiple parties in the house without any trim or bedroom doors but with the $60 Home Depot bathroom doors that I had installed myself.  The house was essentially done, except for anything that Fred the fancy lumber guy had promised to deliver – which was ALL of the woodwork and ALL of the interior doors…but now that it had finally been delivered, John and his helper Brian were working daily to get our home finished.

“I checked my list, and it’s complete.  I checked Fred’s list, and it agrees with mine.  But, there’s less actual wood than what the lists show,” John moaned.
“Baseboards, casings or heads?” I asked.
“There’s not enough of ANY of them.”
“How much is missing?”
“1,046 feet.  Here’s my list of what’s still needed to finish.”
I studied the crumpled yellow sheet that I had taken from John’s weathered fingers and tried to decipher his scribbles and cross-outs, but the totals were clear, and we had a problem.

It had taken our entire family a full weekend to carry all that wood and all those doors from the POD in the driveway, down the icy side path and into the rec room.  We had each endured slipping on the snow and ice, sweating under our jackets while our extremities were getting frostbitten, and politely cursing as we pinched our fingers between boards – that much effort and we still had almost a quarter mile of woodwork missing!  How the H-E-DOULBLE HOCKEY STICKS could this happen!!!!!!!!

I regained my composure and called Fred.  Long story made short, about 3 weeks later we had an entire duplicate of our order delivered – not just 1,046 feet, but EVERY stick of wood, again!  It didn’t cost us an extra penny, so after the house was finished I gave some to John for his other projects, my sister Jan used some to remodel her home in Lake Geneva, I built shelves and used scraps for tire blocks and stakes for plants and I still have enough stuck in the rafters of the garage and under my work bench to trim a normal sized home.  If you need some finished red oak, give me a call and we can make a deal!

Closet Doors
Those of you that know me know that I have very strong faith that God is in control.  As an engineer I plan the minute details of EVERYTHING, but being human means that Murphy constantly tries to frustrate me.  What I have learned in 55 ½ years is that God out-plans both me and Murphy and that the end result always turns-out the way it should be.  Knowing that, and seeing it confirmed on a daily basis in both the large and small details of life is not only comforting, but is beautiful.  Now to the closet doors story….

Our remodel of the lower level included a continuous 27 foot long closet along the northeast (street side) wall of the rec room and bar.  Unfortunately, Kristen and I had planned the closet, and John had built it without any of us having a clear vision of how we would hide all of the crap that we were planning to squeeze into it.

Kristen wanted exposed hardware rolling barn doors.

I wanted to build them from old barn boards.
Kristen thought that would be too rustic.
Kristen knew I didn’t have time to build them.
Kristen was right.

We both thought that salvaged antique hardwood doors would look great.
I found some different ones on eBay, and from various online salvage yards.
They were different heights.
They were different widths.
They were different thicknesses.
They were different finishes – I liked the old varnished ones, Kristen liked the old painted ones.
There weren’t enough of them.
Even when I could put a combination together that would work, Kristen thought they were too expensive.
Kristen was right.

I researched having new doors built.
The doors would cost more than a new car, and Kristen thought that was too expensive.
Kristen was right.

Kristen was ready to make “temporary” drapes.
I learned from my dad that the only way to ensure that something will be permanent is to call it “temporary.”  I was lobbying unsuccessfully to veto the idea, trying to not say that Kristen’s idea was wrong.
Kristen began shopping online for fabric because Kristen was sure that her idea was right.
I remained confident that Kristen was un-right, but not confident enough to start a battle.
Then the issue solved itself…

I checked-in on John our carpenter one afternoon, “Howard, all of the closet doors are the wrong size.”
“Too tall or too short?”
“Too narrow.”
“?” The exact words that ran through my mind are not suitable for publication.

John explained, “I checked the list that we gave Fred and it included 5 six-foot wide bifold closet doors.  Twenty panels at 18” each.  When Fred was here he measured the closets also and agreed with me, but what we have are twenty panels at only 15” each, enough for 5 five-foot doors.”
I remained speechless as my mental mumblings were still producing etymological combinations that were much too vulgar for a civilized conversation.
John interrupted my silent cursing with, “I could reframe each of the closets, but that will take some time.”
“I’ll call Fred and get the right-sized doors.”  I slumped my shoulders and trudged to the car to return to the office to use the phone.  I hoped that the three-minute drive would clear my thoughts…

Four weeks later the 20 new 18” prefinished solid oak doors were delivered.  Fred accompanied the delivery crew.

“Fred, the 15” doors from the first delivery are in the downstairs sunroom for you to return.”  I was pleasant, but not smiling.
“They’re yours to keep, you’ve been through enough,” was his polite response.
“I really don’t have any need for them.”
“Me neither.  They’re a custom size and custom color. Maybe you can put them on Craig’s List?”
“Ok, thanks.”  We shook hands and smiled shallow smiles.

Sure, it seems obvious now, but it wasn’t at the time. 
A few nights later I startled from my sleep in the middle of the night.  My engineer’s brain had been working numbers without my conscious knowledge and had found the answer.  I bolted upright, “I know how to do it!”
Kristen responded with her often uttered 2 am groan.  I have more “Eureka’s” while not sleeping than Ponce deLeon.  My patient wife is not pleased by this affliction, but she has become used to it over the past 33 years.  “Go back to sleep.”
I ignored her admonishment; slipped out of bed; tiptoed downstairs; collected a tape measure, note pad and pencil from the workshop; flipped-on the lights in the rec room and stared at the open wall of closet.  I measured, sketched and cyphered then measured again. I counted and measured the doors to make sure, then I measured the closet again – not only would it work, it would work beautifully!  Thanks God!!  I returned to bed and slept like a baby until the woods began to awake with their 4:30 am bird serenade.

Wide-awake, I made some coffee, filled my 32-ounce “Super Dad” cup (my daily coffee consumption is a concern to the Surgeon General as the “Big” cup, is just the first cup of my regular morning caffeine binge) and sat at the computer to create a CAD model to help John understand my vision.  He didn’t. 
I showed it to Kristen.  She uttered confidence in my abilities but didn’t fully understand the plan either.
John took the plan to the lumber yard to order the hardware.  They didn’t get it either.  Their quote was for only half of the hardware and was triple my estimate.
I found an online shop and ordered the rolling barn door hardware at less than half of my estimated cost.  They called me to warn me that whatever I was planning wouldn’t work as I had ordered too many of some items and too few of others.  I sent them the CAD sketch as an explanation.  It didn’t help. I finally told them to just ship the order, at my risk.  I had to sign a hold-harmless agreement as they remained doubtful.  I signed and returned the agreement.

The CAD model allows me to slide the doors and play with different combinations.  Here are two of the outputs and a description.

The continuous closet has two large 108” openings on each side and one 45” opening in the center. There are three rows of 15” doors in each of the large openings.  Each large closet opening is 108” wide and 8 doors hang in each opening, totaling  120”.  In each section the outside row of four doors hang in front of the wall on a continuous exposed rail that extends 15” past each end of the opening.  This allows the outside row of doors to be pushed aside individually or in a group.  When pushed aside in pairs one door covers the wall on each side of the opening, and one door hangs over the opening on each side.  The next two rows of doors hang on a sliding door rail inside the opening.  Two doors hang on the front side of the rail (the center pair of doors) and two doors hang on the back side of the rail (the back pair of doors).  When fully closed, the front doors abut each other, but overlap the center doors by 3” on each side.  The back doors abut the jam, but hang behind the center doors by 3” on each side.  When slid all the way to the sides, all 3 rows of doors hang behind each other.  In the sketch above I have color coded each row of doors.

The center opening was simpler, but equally difficult to describe.  Three doors fill this opening.  One is on a hinge, the other two are on a bifold rail.
It’s simple and beautiful when you see the finished work, but even with all of the components delivered and ready for installation John couldn’t figure-out how to put it together.  I took a morning off of work to help him.  In a couple hours John stood back, said “Now I see it,” and took a picture to add to his scrapbook of great accomplishments. 
To cheapo Scottish heritage Howard the true beauty is that the doors were free, and of the 20 “useless” doors – this uses 19 of them.  I keep #20 as a trophy of frugality, ingenuity and mathematical prowess.

Kristen and I use those doors every day and think of them as normal – but, then again, we think of ourselves as normal! Here’s a couple pics:


Have a wonderful, stress-free day!