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Wood & Bones: Chronicle of a Cottage, Part 11

Editor’s note: Here’s part 11 of Bill Smith’s blog chronicle about the restoration of a run-down cottage in Pasadena’s Historic Highlands neighborhood. Bill and his wife, Sheryl Scott, are both graphic designers and do-it-yourselfers who have expectedly found themselves headed for a year of home-improvement adventures. Look for a new post in the saga soon.

There Was a Crooked Man…

When our wayward cat takes a dump it’s a prolonged affair. I know most cats are fastidious, but Cozy’s burial rituals would make the builders of Giza blush. Her large plastic box shakes and echoes with banging, digging and scratching. The sounds of construction will stop for just a second only to resume with renewed ferocity. Having scraped every Trader Joe’s pine pellet into a near-perfect pyramid, she emerges, City of the Dead complete. How does she collect every granule to the center and exit the box leaving the gravity-defying mound unperturbed? It’s a mystery worthy of an episode of In Search Of… But I will share with you a secret, perhaps discovered by the Mayans or Egyptians and recently rediscovered by a guy named Rusty, on how to single-handedly straighten a frame or wall that’s out of plumb. First, you will need a crooked wall….

crooked garage Wood & Bones: Chronicle of a Cottage, Part 11 restoration Pasadena Home renovation historic highlands bungalow  photo

Crooked garage.Crooked cat nowhere in sight.

Then, you probably want to know just how crooked that wall is. “Very” is not an acceptable measurement.

measuring1 Wood & Bones: Chronicle of a Cottage, Part 11 restoration Pasadena Home renovation historic highlands bungalow  photo

Dropping a plumb line

I picked the end of the rafter to anchor my line at the top. I take a measurement of the distance between the wall and the line. I guess you could call this the Eaves Plumb.… too obscure? Here’s a story of a lovely lady.… Okay, moving on then.

measuring2 Wood & Bones: Chronicle of a Cottage, Part 11 restoration Pasadena Home renovation historic highlands bungalow  photo

Tale of the tape

Take another measurement at the bottom ,which will tell you how far out of plumb you are. In this case about 2 1/4″ over 8′.

That’s our magic number. I want to more or less move the top of the wall over 2 1/4″ to be vertically level.

There are several ways to do this. I was working by myself, so I briefly considered just backing my truck into the garage and gassing it, but ration prevailed. I used a variation of a framer’s method for setting walls.

First, I make a hinge out of two 2×4s. I had a carriage bolt nearby but a strong screw works fine, too. Then I straighten the 2×4s and lock the hinge with a screw. This effectively makes one long support. I should’ve made the two boards overlap a little more than in the picture below, but you get the idea, like a giant scissors <insert terribly-inappropriate Mr. Garrison reference>.

joint anchored Wood & Bones: Chronicle of a Cottage, Part 11 restoration Pasadena Home renovation historic highlands bungalow  photo

My elbow

Then I anchor the top of the joined boards to the top of the wall, preferably on or near a wall stud or a similarly stiff area. Let the other end of the board rest on the ground. The length of the joined boards should be at least as long as the square root of 2-times your wall height squared. Ha! Caught you sleeping! If that’s too confusing, just make sure when you join your hinged support, the angle at the top is at least 45°, mine’s closer to 60°, the less steep your jointed support is, the easier it will be for you to leverage your wall.

Now you want to find or make a solid anchor at the bottom. For two of my supports, I drove stakes into the ground and the other I took advantage of a nearby concrete structure. In the photo you can see that I moved the anchor block to be tight against the bottom of the hinged support board.

anchor block Wood & Bones: Chronicle of a Cottage, Part 11 restoration Pasadena Home renovation historic highlands bungalow  photo

Hinged support attached to anchor block

Now this is the important part, all that other stuff was garbage. THIS is where you really should’ve begun reading. Mark on your block assembly where the end of your support falls.

mark line2 Wood & Bones: Chronicle of a Cottage, Part 11 restoration Pasadena Home renovation historic highlands bungalow  photo

Then measure a distance toward the offending wall equal to the amount that said wall is out of plumb (2 1/4″ in this case) and make another mark. THAT is roughly where your anchor block should go. To give yourself a little room for the flexing of the support, movement of your block, etc… you should give yourself a little more, so I added a quarter inch to move my mark by 2 1/2″ closer to the wall. Also, if any of you trigonometry nerds out there are about to pounce on me for not realizing that as the wall straightens the hypotenuse lengthens making this trick less than mathematically perfect, I know and don’t care.

measuring3 Wood & Bones: Chronicle of a Cottage, Part 11 restoration Pasadena Home renovation historic highlands bungalow  photo

Moving the anchor block. Imagine it attached to the top of your wall.

Now I apologize for not having photos of this next part because it is BY FAR the most important step. The preceding information was nonsense meant only for the entertainment of small children and the demented.

Once you’ve reattached your anchor block, you will notice that your angled support is too long to fit; if it is too short to reach, you moved your block the wrong way and I’ve failed as an instructor. Unscrew the second screw that you put in your opened hinge, the one that’s keeping it all from folding in half. It will now fold and allow you to place the end against the block. It’s easier if you allow it to fold upward rather than downward, especially if you’re working alone. Anchor the bottom of your hinge to the block. Now the exciting part: Push down on your hinge, being careful not to pinch your fingers, until it locks straight like an elbow. Replace your second screw to keep it locked, add more screws if you’re a worrier. Check the level of your wall near the support, it should be pretty close to plumb. If need be, unlock your hinge and move your anchor block forward or backward to get it perfect.

garage propped Wood & Bones: Chronicle of a Cottage, Part 11 restoration Pasadena Home renovation historic highlands bungalow  photo

The "locked" hinge

I straightened this wall in three steps, doing the center, anchoring from the inside, and then doing the front and back ends, again anchoring as I went. This way I only needed one hinged support, I just kept moving it. But it’s just fine to do multiple supports and just leave them in place until you can stiffen up the structure and remove them.

garage straight Wood & Bones: Chronicle of a Cottage, Part 11 restoration Pasadena Home renovation historic highlands bungalow  photo

Straightened walls!

Next post: Replacing the garage roof NAKED. That’s a lie, there won’t be much nudity. KIM KARDASHIAN I’m just trying to get more hits. ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION. It’s a shame what semi-legitimate bloggers have to do to survive. JESSE JAMES BRANGELINA. Did I mention there will be videos?

To read more about Bill & Sheryl’s renovation adventures, and to see more photos, go to Bill’s Wood & Bones blog, or stay tuned here for a new installment soon.




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