Something for the birds

Lorenzo Sivilotti,left, hammers in a nail as Andrew Millson keeps an eye on the progress of the bird house they were building in a Grade 7 outdoor education program Thurs., Dec. 2, 2010 at King’s Town School on Rideau Street in Kingston, Ont. The class has been building birdhouses to be put around their school and on farm property north of Kingston. MICHAEL LEATHE WHIG STANDARD/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

Today we’re going to be introducing a young person to the world of carpentry by constructing a bird house.

A bird house is an excellent first-time project because it’s carpentry 101, involving the assembly of four walls, a floor, the angling (or not) of a couple of panels to form the roof, along with a hole for an entry point. It’s essentially a simple process, involving a few concepts and some basic principles of assembly.

Plus, this first crack at carpentry carries with it a huge margin of error and forgiveness. You’ll never hear the birds complain the new condo you’ve provided for them is a little drafty, nor will passersby stop to comment on the workmanship.

“Did you happen to see the crappy looking birdhouse that little Jack fellow has hanging from the oak in his front lawn?” one neighbour asks the other.

“I know” the other neighbour replies, “the hole is off centre, and that perch couldn’t support a chickadee, let alone a nuthatch. Why that kid must have been on a Halloween sugar high when he put that thing together.”

That’s a conversation that’s not likely to occur.Plus, this first bird house may lead to other, more complicated assemblies, further honing their skills to the point where that addition or sunroom you’ve always wanted might get completed before they enter high school.

Or, this first litmus test of carpentry skill could demonstrate a serious lack of aptitude, whereby their inaugural attempt at nailing a few panels together ends up resembling some wooden contraption that’s been run over by an 18-wheeler. Or, the concept of a box is lost on them, with each angled assembly resulting in a series of bookends, a relatively obsolete item in our computer age.

If that’s the case, then it may be time to redirect the child to the less-stressful task of having to become a professional hockey player.

Regardless of how simple a birdhouse project is, it’s still going to require a shop filled with about $10,000 worth of equipment to effectively get this home for our feathered friends constructed within a few hours. So, if you’re existing shop isn’t so complete, consider borrowing, renting, or if this is something you hope to dabble in more yourself, buying the necessary tools for the job.

Please don’t attempt to make this project a teaching session based on the integrity and historical significance of the hand saw, performing the cutting tasks old school, with a few callouses the bonus to the child gaining this construction knowledge. Using a hand saw as a teaching tool would only make sense if next weekend’s parent/child life skills session was survivor related, and involved heading into the forest with a sling shot with the goal of bagging a few squirrels to cook for lunch.

Our computer and cellphone age have helped develop modern-day kids with attention spans that last about eight-to-10 seconds per moment. So, handing them a tool that’ll demand their precise attention for the 90 seconds required to saw through a plank of six-inch pine would be ludicrous.

Either they’ll end up cutting themselves 15-to-20 seconds into the procedure, or leave the cut half way through in order to check their cellphones for activity. If there’s a hand saw hanging in the shop, save it for arts and crafts day, whereby you and the young lad, or lass, could jointly paint a charming winter scene on the rusted blade, then hang this magnificent piece of folk art over the fireplace, or big-screen TV.

Very important— before any cutting or assembly begins, first review the function, proper use, and safe handling of each power tool. Novice woodworkers shouldn’t necessarily fear a power tool, but they must be taught that keeping their fingers long-term means showing the tool ultimate respect, and staying absolutely focused, for the duration of the cut.

So, draw or research a bird house plan with your young person and get building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Now onto how to burn

So, you’ve decided to start burning with wood.

Congratulations, the traditional atmosphere you’ll be providing for friends and family will rank second-to-none in warmth and comfort. However, this new role will require attention to detail and continued responsibility, starting with the ignition process.

Understanding the greatest potential for backdraft, a situation where chimney smoke is drawn back into the home, occurs at the start of a burn, let’s review a few good practices.

One, start the burn well before your guests arrive, and be sure your mind has not been altered by alcohol or a most recent purchase of legalized cannabis. Nothing kills a party like smoke and carbon monoxide inhalation.

If a backdraft is going to happen, let it occur while the living room is void of guests. It would also save you the hassle of explaining why a jammed patio door handle required you to use Aunt Tilly as a battering ram, with her walker providing an effective means to shattering the plate glass window in order to secure a quick escape route from a smoke-filled room.

Furthermore, starting a fire will require following a precise sequence of procedures. So, let not your memory, decision-making, and reflexes be handicapped by your early partaking of the drink, or plate of special brownies.

First, open the damper to the chimney, as well as any air intake ducts feeding directly into the firebox. Next, crack open a nearby window. This will provide a little extra oxygen, which will help boost the flame and drive the initial draft. Plus, an open window is a quick fix to a home’s negative air pressure, which can happen when mechanical devices such as the kitchen’s range hood, or bathroom fans, are operating at full capacity, further challenging the chimney’s capacity to draw air upwards.

Cool air sinks. When it’s really cold outside, it sinks even quicker, which will be a challenge to the person starting the fire, since success in avoiding a backdraft lies entirely on creating upward air movement, or reversing the natural course of this chimney air.

So, with a ball of crushed newsprint, jailed inside a tee pee of small, dry pieces of kindling (spruce or pine lumber), ignite the paper. The key is to build flame, not smoke, in order to quickly create an upward draft. Success in getting the smoke to move upwards might be slow, which may be evidenced by your eyes swelling with tears and a sudden shortness of breath during those first 30 seconds.

Regardless, stay calm, work through the combustion spillage, and stick to the plan, the sensation should pass provided you continue coaxing the flame with more bits of wood and newsprint. If you’re two minutes into the ignition process and the fire alarm’s blasting away, the budgie’s now breast feathers up at the bottom of the birdcage, and the eye-swelling has rendered you blind, then abort the process and review the open damper/air intake/open window/shutting off of mechanical systems checklist.

What to burn? Only dry, seasoned (evidenced by cracks and splits in the log’s ends) hardwood. Don’t burn softwoods, painted or treated lumber, general garbage, wet logs, or those paper documents you’d rather the Canada Revenue Agency not see.

Dry hardwoods burn hot, delivering maximum heat and minimal residue, which is exactly what you want out of your wood fuel. Softwoods and used pallet lumber will burn of course, but the heat output will be mediocre at best. So, save this stuff for campfire purposes.

Furthermore, when fires don’t burn hot, creosote is the result, with this tar-like residue coating your chimney liner. Creosote isn’t a good thing because it can re-ignite in your chimney at any time.

Unfortunately, the first person to realize there’s a potential crisis is the neighbour, who upon noticing the flames shooting out of your chimney, is forced to either act, or dismiss the occurrence as you having modified your home into an oil refinery.

Burn safe, and good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Now, onto getting a clean burn

A wood burning stove in a traditional country cottage. POSTMEDIA NETWORK FILES

Sensing a firm squeeze on your shoulders, a loud, stern voice asks “Sir, can you hear me?!”

As you begin to regain your wits and return to consciousness, the blurred face of a burley first responder in dire need of a shave eventually comes into focus.

“Can you tell me your name sir?” the fellow with the four-day beard and large hat questions further.

“Yes” you respond, “my name’s Jack, what’s happened?”

As you turn your head to the side, the flashing lights of a big red vehicle cause you to squint, reacting with a head turn to the opposite side, where you’re semi-delirious state questions why someone has rolled up a rug and tossed it on the snowbank.

But it’s not a rug, and as your mind regains clarity, you realize it’s Aunt Tilly in her favorite floral dress being attended to by another first responder with somewhat less facial hair.

“Son of a gun,” you say to yourself, “did I forget to open that damned fireplace damper again?”

Carbon monoxide poisoning can be a real threat to those households not following a clean burn practice.

So, if you’re about to enter the terrific world of wood burning, let’s follow up on last week’s good burn strategies with what it takes to have consistent clean burns. Clean burning essentially means the only time you should be smelling smoke is if you’re outside the home.

Once in the comfort of your reclining chair, your woodstove or fireplace should be providing a heat that is basically odourless. So, if there’s a smoky scent in the air while you’re burning, don’t dismiss this odour as one of the sweet smells of the holiday season.

What you’ve got is a combustion spillage, which indicates residue gases and particulates are somehow evading the chimney, and making their way into your living room.

Included in these particulates will be carbon monoxide, a poisonous, odourless gas that can be deadly.

Steps to clean burning?

No.1, invest in a CSA-certified stove and stove pipe system, reviewing the chimney design and stove output with a qualified wood burning salesperson.

Next, have your wood burning unit and chimney installed by a certified WETT (wood energy technical transfer) contractor.

Things to consider?

Wood stoves operate most efficiently when they’re delivering close to maximum heat. So, invest in a unit that will heat the immediate area, and maybe a bit more. Avoid the large, 80,000 BTU unit simply because it’s the most impressive looking stove on the showroom floor, with the intention of operating it at half capacity because it would otherwise heat you out of your home.

Combustion spillage will occur at the start of a burn, as you attempt to create an upward draft, and end of a burn, as the air in the chimney cools and sinks down, allowing particulates to drop into the room’s atmosphere.

However, when a stove is operating at full capacity, there’s little chance of combustion spillage. So, for safe, clean heating, keep your fireplace or woodstove burning hot and steady.

Next, and for optimum efficiency, install what’s regarded as a warm chimney. A warm chimney simply means the chimney is kept inside the home, exiting through the roof at a high spot.

You notice exterior chimneys on older homes, where even the fireplace itself is housed in its own little enclosure, with the chimney running along the siding, upwards through the soffit.

When the chimney is kept inside the home, the air in the chimney remains warm, which means it’s continually rising, creating that all important draft, while eliminating the chances of combustion spillage by backdraft.

Which is best: a wood stove or a fireplace? If its heat you’re after, buy a woodstove. If it’s a more traditional stone wall, hang your Christmas stockings and roast your chestnuts by the open fire type of setting you’re looking for, then you’ll have to sacrifice a little efficiency by choosing a fireplace.

Next week, how to burn.

Good building.

blished by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Getting that good burn

The F2400 wood-burning stove at My Fireplace in London, Ont. on Friday December 16, 2016. DEREK RUTTAN/THE LONDON FREE PRESS/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

In the home wood burning biz, we refer to it as a ‘good burn.’

Achieving good burn status essentially requires two things:

One, the homeowner have a wood-fueled fire contained by either a woodstove or fireplace.

And two, the same number of people who enter the home on any festive evening, safely exit the premises without the aid of paramedics, firefighters, or representatives of the local morgue, barring of course any unscheduled exits due to inebriation or substance abuse deemed unrelated to the burn.

That’s basically it.

If you can create a fire in your home, thereby providing heat and an ambiance unequaled by any other fuel, without family members or guests dying or suffering the adverse effects of smoke inhalation, then you’ve succeeded as a wood burner.

Where to start?

If you’re new to the world of burning wood, then the suggested strategy regarding the acquisition of a wood-burning unit is as follows.

Tip No. 1: Yard sales and auctions are great sources for a variety of household items, none of which include wood stoves. So, avoid buying used, especially if the unit is older than you are.

Although wood stoves have no moving parts, the gaskets around the doors, fire bricks, and ceramic catalytic parts, all wear down and eventually fail over time. Plus, 300- to 400-pound woodstoves aren’t so easily carried about. So, the chances that such a unit was consistently handled in a delicate manner over the past 30 years is doubtful, which simply means the frame could have suffered a few line cracks.

In other words, the air tightness of this unit has most likely been compromised in a number of areas. When that happens, a portion of the gases released through combustion, such as carbon monoxide, will divert from going up the chimney and spill into the room. If the room happens to be an uninsulated and drafty hunting cabin, or fishing hut, where death by any means would likely be a welcome relief to the boredom and the freezing of one’s butt, then the collateral damage is limited.

If we’re talking about a room filled with innocent women and children, then this combustion spillage would be unacceptable.

We have an old coal stove in our home, a family heirloom that was used to make candy in the day, dating back to the early 1900’s. It sits in the corner of our kitchen, set in a working position with a non-operational stove pipe leading to a wall that possesses no chimney. During the Christmas season we’ll fill the copper cauldron that rests on the stove with decorative balls and lights. That’s how old wood stoves are to be honoured.

Either that or dishonorably discharged as scrap steel.

Regardless, don’t start an old stove up again. Besides being truly airtight, and likely far more efficient in keeping heat in the room, new wood stoves also carry with them updated information regarding the proper spacing between the unit and combustible walls, which is key to safe operation.

The same buy new recommendation extends to chimneys as well. I shudder when I encounter persons looking for parts relating to a series of insulated chimney lengths they found online, or at the side of the road during anything goes garbage night.

However, if again we’re talking about heating a shack that would serve the world better by burning to the ice, with any and all contents sinking to the river bed, then a mishmash system of chimney pipe may work in the short term.

On a new home, the interior stove pipe should be of the double-wall variety, with a two-inch insulated pipe used when piercing through a wall or ceiling, with this same insulated pipe continuing up into the outdoors.

Who should install your chimney and stove? Somebody who is WETT (Wood Energy Technology Transfer) certified, thereby ensuring your heating unit is code compliant, and adheres to all safety rules and regulations.

Next week— lighting the fire. Safe burning.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Improving your stairway (to heaven?)

Today we’re making the switch from carpeted stairways, to one of hardwood treads and risers.

Why remove the carpeting off your stairs? Well, presuming you’ve already replaced your once-carpeted floors with hardwood, this natural progression completes the project, enabling your stairs to have the same clean, good looking status of your hardwood flooring.

Step one, carefully tear back the carpeting off of “one” step. Don’t remove all the carpeting just yet. The removing of only one step of carpeting will allow you to do some measuring, followed by a bit of research, with the development of a strategy to come next.

This as opposed to creating a scenario where the carpeting has been completely removed, exposing your family members to a minefield of carpet staples until the point in time when you get yourself organized.

The most efficient way of replacing stairway carpeting with hardwood treads is by choosing the “simple tread” kit. These tread kits provide you with one hardwood tread and one riser, in either an oak or maple species of wood.

The wood grain patterns of oak and maple differ considerably, so be sure to inspect the grain patterns of your flooring to ensure compliancy with the treads.

If your hardwood treads are to be painted, choose maple, its smoother and harder finish will provide better results.

Basically, we’re installing new treads and risers over the existing treads and risers.

The advantage to re-treading, as opposed to buying regular stair treads and risers, is the kits’ tread is a thinner, laminated version of what’s standard, allowing you to more easily secure it to the existing spruce or particle board tread. The re-tread also comes with a wide, decorative nosing, which creates a ledge that will be strategic in hiding the edge of the existing tread.

The strategy to using the simple tread kit will involve removing the nose (portion of overhang) of the existing tread, creating a square or flush surface to which to mount your hardwood tread and riser. So, measure the overhang or nose portion of the existing tread (which should be about 1.25 to 1-3/8 inches) then subtract this figure from the total depth of the tread. Hopefully you’ll be left with a depth of 9-1/8 inches or less, with 9-1/8 inches being the total maximum depth that your re-tread will cover.

If for some reason, we’ll call it carpenter’s choice, the person who installed the treads 25 years ago chose to make the treads a little deeper than standard, then you’re going to have a situation where the re-tread’s depth is insufficient.

This is when you either pursue further re-treading strategies, or re-tack the carpeting back in position and get back to your basement beer-making venture. However, and in the interest of progress, since the odds of you causing an explosion, or creating a barely consumable sludge, likely outweigh that of you driving an air nail through your thumb, let’s stick with the stair project.

If the existing tread, once cut, exceeds 9-1/8 inches, then options to solving this spacing issue will include adding a cove or quarter-round molding where the re-tread meets the riser, alternatively using a standard tread, or if possible, trimming the nosing on the re-tread. Regardless, it’ll simply require a little bit of extra finishing carpentry.

If the existing tread, once cut, will be 9-1/8 inches or less, then we’re in business to go forward with the simple tread kit as is.

Keys to success?

One, pre-stain and clear-seal (three coats) your simple treads and risers, as well as any other necessary trim pieces or moldings, beforehand, letting them cure for at least a week before installing. Staining one day, clear coating the next, should you choose to install first, then finish, will undoubtedly leave footprints, which will be disastrous.

Two, put a new blade on your chop saw and table saw.

And three, limit chipping by first scoring the finished surface with a utility knife, then cut on this finished side.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard