My Shop ~ Part 2

November 5, 2011

This past week Armando and I worked on my shop. We poured five concrete columns and dug and poured the foundations. Here’s how it went:

Here are the columns:

The column on the right is nearly 12-feet tall, and the concrete in the form exerted some serious pressure on the forms. After we poured it, we were just about to walk away when I spotted the beginning of a split the entire length of one of the pine boards. Luckily I had planned ahead and had some straps standing by. Armando and I rushed and got the column strapped up just in time. We strapped a piece of metal against the split to keep it from bulging out. Close call. Like my favorite line in disaster news stories, “It could have been worse.”

After the columns were done, Armando spent two days between raindrops digging the foundation. In the next photo I am laying out the location of the door so that we don’t put rebar sticking up there.

Then while Armando was mixing concrete, I cut rebar to sit in the foundation trench. I also cut more rebar, bent one end in an “L” shape, and wired it to the bottom rebar. Like this:

These upright rebars will fit in some of the holes in the blocks when the wall blocks are laid, and we will fill the holes with concrete.

Cynthia insisted that I include this next photo. I’m not sure why.

Next we ran a string around all the columns and leveled it. The height of the string isn’t important. Now we need to pour the foundations nice and level so laying the blocks will be easy. We took a six-foot piece of 1″x3″ board and nailed a one-foot piece of 1″x3″ on the bottom like a foot. We put the footed stick in the foundation trench at the height that we wanted the top of the foundation to be and drove a nail in the stick where the string met the board. After Armando dumped a wheelbarrow full of concrete in the trench, I used the footed stick to tamp the concrete down until the nail in the board met the string and, tada — level footing.

Here you can see the string more clearly. This part of the foundation is completed. The blocks are holding the vertical rebars in place.

Armando worked really hard today mixing all the concrete. We used a dozen 94-pound sacks of cement and who knows how many wheelbarrows full of sand and gravel from the river. Here he is putting the cement on top of the pile of sand and gravel.

Then he opens the bags and thoroughly mixes the pile by turning everything several times with a shovel. We kept one eye on the sky but despite the ominous clouds, we were free of rain all day. Cynthia forecast no rain for the day. She’s right again! Armando likes to wear his hard hat because it keeps his head cooler.

Then he makes a hole in the pile and fills it with water and mixes it all together again. I try to help, but this is young man’s work for sure.

At the end of a seven hour day, Armando was dog tired.

And that ain’t no joke.

Bonus photo: Sunrise over my hammock

In other news, after several days of heavy rain a tall, very rotted tree in the lot next to our rental house fell across the main road. A tractor trailer rig came to a screeching halt as the tree fell, missing each other by only inches.  Several people stopped to help including John who lives in town. I’m standing with Cedelinda (pronounced Sadie Linda). I tutor her in English.

Cedelinda helps clear the road.

After we had the job almost done and I had dragged the big trunk mostly out of the road with the truck, four firemen showed up with chainsaws and finished the job. It was difficult to know who these men were, as they showed up in a pickup truck with the logo of the Tourist Police, all wearing orange Panama Civil Defense tee shirts.

Yes, Panama has a Tourist Police division. They are stationed in tourist destinations to keep tourists safe. They are also stationed at the airport, checking the paperwork and recording the destination of taxis departing with tourists.

Extra Special Note: Thanks to Cynthia who took all the photos in this post. She made me promise to take pictures of her tomorrow at her sewing machine. She is making me five new shirts. I can’t wait to try them on.

A Final Note Today: I find it curious that I like to write. To the best of my knowledge, no one else in my family wrote much. I don’t know how good a writer I am, but what qualities I do have I owe to my English 101 teacher, simply known as Prokus, at Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan. I liked Prokus. I remember one time a student raised her hand and asked, “Prokus, how come I didn’t get a “A” on my paper?” He answered, “Precisely.” I thought of this today because I noticed the passing of Andy Rooney. He wanted to work until he died, and he missed that goal by only a few weeks. I always enjoyed his essays. Other writers I have enjoyed over the years include Charles Kuralt, Garrison Keillor, John Ciardi, and Studs Terkel.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.


Windows ~ Part 1

October 26, 2011

At long last, we are working on windows. We still have a few interior partitions to build and Plycem to hang, but I wanted to use the wide open work space in container 4 a bit longer before building those partitions.

I should insert a note here about a recent change in our plan. Way back when this was to be a two story house, we had plans for two bedrooms — one downstairs where our master bedroom is going to be now, and one upstairs that was going to be the master. When the price of containers went sky high and we changed to a one story house, we were going to make a guest bedroom in a detached 20-foot container. But the 20-footer was the same high price as the 40-footers, so our plan stagnated a bit, and we have been floundering with a new plan to have one bedroom in the house and someday add a second.

Both Cynthia and I were unsettled by this un-plan, but we thought that time would iron out the bugs, and it has. Our newest, new and improved plan is this: we will put two bedrooms, two baths, and the laundry in the space between 3 and 4 and in container 4. My shop has been moved to a detached building (yet to be built) at the end of the driveway.

So now, the two bedrooms and bathrooms need windows. The areas to get windows are:

  1. the big open wall between containers 3 and 4 in the master bedroom. This entire wall will be windows. More on this area later in another post.
  2. the clerestory windows in the high wall over container 4, and
  3. the walls in the two bedrooms

We’re starting with areas 2 and 3 first. Cynthia and I talked about where and what size we wanted the windows, and I made a materials list. I bought some two-inch square, one-sixteenth-inch thick square steel tubing to make window frames from. It comes in 20-foot lengths. Here it is on the material rack in container 1:

I also ordered some jalousie windows to be made to fit the steel frames. Although we are not big fans of the look of jalousies, they make a lot of sense here where the rain and saturated fog can blow sideways. You can have the windows open for air but still have protection from the rain. Most of the older Panamanian houses have jalousies, although the newer houses seem to be going to vinyl sliders.

I used the metal chop saw (the red tool on the floor in the above photo) to cut all the pieces for the steel frames. Here’s a photo of the pieces all cut and the jalousies standing by for installation:

Next, I took a sheet of 3/4″ plywood and cut it to the size of the 4’x6′ pane of glass that will sit above the jalousies. Actually, I cut the plywood 6′-3/16″ so that the glass will have a little wiggle room. I also drove a big-headed nail into the 4-foot width, leaving the nail head sticking out 3/16″, making the height of the opening 4′-3/16″, like this:

With this plywood jig, the frames will be the perfect size for a piece of glass 4’x6′ and absolutely square, ready to receive the glass without problems. Here is the plywood jig with the first window frame being welded together:

By the end of day one, here is what I have welded together:

The two frames on the left are for a window in the north wall in each bedroom. The top rectangle is for the large pane of glass, and the lower part of the frame is for two, 3-foot jalousies. I still have to weld the bottom pieces on these frames, but I need to cut another piece of plywood to use as a jig so the jalousies will fit.

The frame on the right side of the photo above will be for the security bars. We plan to use the same design as the front gate, minus the cat tail seed pods. We think that the seed pods would be too busy looking in the design. This frame will be overlaid and attached to the frame that holds the windows. More on that detail in another post.

After these large frames are done, I will make a narrower frame for the east wall of the guest bedroom, and then frames for the short windows in the clerestory.

In another post I will use my new oxy-acetylene torch to cut holes in the container walls and install the frames. Stay tuned.

Bonus photo: As I welded the corners of the window frames, flaming balls of steel flew off the welding rod and rolled onto the plywood, burning this pattern in the plywood:

Welding calligraphy? But is it art?

Reminds me of the wood-burning iron that I had as a kid. I think I remember making a set of drink coasters for my mom for Mothers’ Day one year. Butterflies, I think.

That’s all for now.


Pop Up Garden

September 19, 2011

In this post, we plant a flower garden.

It is a frequent occurrence that neither Cynthia nor I can remember who’s idea it was to do something. There is an organic process that happens between us, a decision is made, and a day later we are oblivious as to how we got from point A to point Z. “Honey, do you remember how we decided to do such and such? Who’s idea was it to get started?” “Um, I dunno.” Well, it just happened again; a huge flower garden just popped up that stretches sixty feet across the the front yard.

Some background: We’ve been living in a nearby rental house for nearly three years. We really wanted to be in this neighborhood and this rental house was the only option at the time. It has a big fenced in yard, big enough for our long-legged, gotta-run dog (I’ve clocked him at 28 mph).

But the house wasn’t love at first site. We saw the outside, figured we could re-assemble our five-man crew from a former project and get the yard cleaned in a week or so. We signed a one-year lease without seeing the inside. When we finally got the keys and opened the front door for the first time, Cynthia cried so hard and so loudly that a neighbor way at the end of our road and up on the hill came down to see if everything was okay.

It wasn’t. The house — how do I say this nicely — had a lot of deferred maintenance “issues.” (Cynthia says this is an understatement.) As I said, the outside was overgrown with weeds and tall grass that we cleared away. Additionally, we spent a couple thousand dollars making vital repairs to the inside of the house to make it habitable. In return we got periods of no-or-reduced rent. Our elderly landlady, who often wears a stylish vintage hat and white gloves, loves us and often says in her broken English, “Oh, you make me new house!”

Here’s a photo of the kitchen as we found it, except we had already removed the termite-ridden upper cabinets. Remember, click a photo to enlarge it, click the back arrow to return here.

Here’s the new kitchen we built:

Some change, huh? Does Cynthia's apron coordinate with the curtains on the cabinets? She's a clever one, I tell you. Oh, and is the chicken coordinated, too? By the way, I made the pendant lamp over the sink, and three others like it, from stainless steel kitchen utensil holders and plumbing supply hoses that we found at a DoIt Center store in the city.

The point I am making here is that this place was a disaster, and relating to this post about our new garden, there were no nice plants in the yard. Here is a photo of part of the yard after the tall grass was cut and a lot of the weeds were hauled away:

And here is exhibit B, a photo of the yard once it was almost cleaned. Note that there were no flowers.

So, for the next few years, Armando would from time to time bring plants from his house, charging us only a small percentage of what we would have paid if we bought the plants “retail.” We ended up with quite a lush yard, and recently with our attention more focused on our new property than on the rental, it was really, really lush. I think I may have said it elsewhere on this blog, but my joke is that you can stick a METAL fence post in the ground here in Panama and a month later you have to come back and prune it. Everything grows so well here in the tropical mountains.

So a few days ago Armando and I dug up a slew of plants and trucked them to our new house. This photo is one of three loads:

Armando and Jabo ready to unload the truck.

With not much to do while all the welding and other infrastructure work has been happening, Cynthia has been chomping at the bit to contribute to the project. So she was on hand and was Project Leader as to the design of the garden and placement of the plants. Nice job, Cynthia! A very productive three days.

Here are some photos. Sorry some are blurry; it was raining fairly hard when I took them.

Overview of the new garden. Later, we will make the stone borders more permanent.

Ornamental ginger, antherium (little boy plant), spider plants, and a blue walking iris make up our new garden.

There is also a tree trunk that we have been debating whether or not to remove. Included in the garden, we think it will look great with orchids and bromeliads covering it. Maybe it will get a bird house on the highest point.

We have these in red, white, and pink. Armando put some rotten tree trunk pieces around each of the antheriums as fertilizer. How does he know this?

All the plants have started out good and healthy. I hope they like their new home.

Not bad for three short (rain by noon) days. We can’t wait to see the garden all filled in a few months from now. I hope that this post has given some enjoyment to those of you heading into winter. The key is under the mat.

To finish the project, Armando and I are getting a few yards of larger rocks and he will construct a more robust border around the garden and the path.

In other progress, when it was raining over the past week or so Armando and I sanded (random orbital sander) the interior container walls and ceiling in the space between 3 and 4 and number 4, and sprayed on a coat of oil red polyurethane primer. Here is the job in progress:

To spray, I am using my Fuji HVLP (High Volume, Low Pressure) spray gun. There is very little paint mist in the air when using an HVLP unit. The gun is powered by the black box which is basically a vacuum cleaner blowing in reverse. HVLP is nothing new — I remember that my parents had one back in the ’50s — it was an attachment to the Electrolux vacuum cleaner that I think they bought from a door-to-door salesman.

Fuji and I met on the world’s largest online tool dating service, Amazon.com, about five years ago. We have been very happy ever since. I quickly clean the gun after every few hours of spraying, and when I am done for the day I clean it within an inch of its life. I recommend this unit if you need to spray a lot of projects.

Bonus photo: Our neighbor cuts the grass early in the morning, kicking up the dew on the grass.

Tomas cutting the grass.

We are getting more and heavier rain of late. Now at mid-September, we are headed toward November, time of the heaviest rain of the year.

That’s all for now.


Interior Walls, Wiring, & Plumbing ~ Projects In Progress

September 9, 2011

This post is mostly about building walls inside shipping containers.

Having been in construction since I was six, I know that there is a natural rhythm to most construction projects. There are periods of time when important work is being done but progress is not very visible. The job seems to be crawling. Then there are the periods of time when the job seems to be flying and progress is very visible. One’s moods can swing on these phases if one is not careful.

I think that the job has just moved from a crawl phase to a flying phase.

Having worked six weeks in the yard, Armando has finally finished filling holes, leveling humps, and removing lots of trunks and roots. He has planted some grass and the yard is starting to be a yard. Additionally, yesterday we moved five coconut palm trees and two other palms (Cousin Christine — yours is being planted this weekend) that we had been holding in a nursery area at our rental house. We planted three of the coconuts by the electric service entrance wall at the southeast corner of the lot. Instant transformation, they are softening that concrete corner. This progress is exciting and a big boost to our moral. We can actually begin to see The Warmth of Home emerging from Job Site Mud and Muck.

Three new coconut palms soften the corner of the lot.

The floor between container 3 and container 4 is ready for rebar and concrete, but we are holding off on that until we do some more infrastructure in the area. It is nice to be able to walk on the floor and be able to more accurately gauge how the spaces will feel. Here is the floor ready for concrete:

We’ve been working on the interior walls in number 3. I used 2″x3″ galvanized steel carriolas to make the wall framework. I framed the walls with the 2x3s as horizontal purlins (a style seen in old barns; the purlins go sideways so that the exterior board siding can be installed vertically). We will screw 4’x8′ Plycem (tilebacker / cement board) sheets to the steel stud work.

Building the walls goes like this: First, determine where a wall will go. I have chosen to place the wall so that the framing is in alignment with an outward bend of the corrugated siding of the container. Perhaps a photo will help:

You can see that the framing for the new wall is placed where the container siding is outward.

Next, I cut a carriola bottom plate to fit between the walls of the container. I drilled some holes in the carriola, measured from two points at the end of the container to get the wall parallel with the container, and screwed it to the floor with 3.5″ drywall screws. After the Plycem is up, the concrete floor will lock this wall in place, so the screws are only a temporary placeholder.

Then, as you can see in the photo above, I cut a vertical stud to sit on the bottom plate. At the top of this stud, you may have to cut a notch out of the stud to fit around the beam at the top of the container like this:

The top beam sticks out more than the bottom beam so you have to cut a notch.

I did this at both sides of my new wall and welded the studs in place.

Then, I cut purlins and welded them in place every two feet on center up the wall like this:

Plycem can now be screwed to the purlins.

By placing the wall where the container corrugations go outward, I can now put the Plycem in place and it will make a nice inside corner. I’ll probably run a small bead of urethane caulk around the Plycem to seal any insect highway gaps.

Here's a scrap of Plycem showing how it will make a nice corner against the container.

Here’s an overview of the three new walls in container 3.

Three new walls framed.

At the far end of the container is a hallway; I will cut holes in the container for a doorway from the living room, into the hallway, then into the master bedroom. By the way, this is the only hallway in the entire house. I avoid hallways if possible; they are major space wasters.

The next space toward where I am taking the photo from is a half bath, accessed from the hallway.

The next, larger space will be a walk-in closet off the master bedroom and studio space for Cynthia’s torchwork (making glass beads), her seed bead stringing, and fabric storage for sewing projects. These spaces will be dehumidified.

The final space, the one that I am standing in in the photo above, will be an eight-foot square deposito (storage closet), accessed by the existing container end doors. This deposito will be for outdoor tools and equipment.

But before the Plycem goes up, I have to do some rough electrical and plumbing. Here’s some electrical roughed in in the half bath:

I cut holes for the conduit with an angle grinder with a cut off blade. I welded the rough-in box to the wall framework.

As an aside, I finally got my plasma torch repaired in the city. Two, four hour round trips, $50 to diagnose, $25 to repair, and $0.39 for the new part. When I got it home, I fired it up, cut a nice round hole in a carriola for the electrical conduit. Fantastic! Then when I went to cut a second hole, it made a wild clicking sound (relay going bad?) and shut itself down. Okay fussy, finicky machine, fine, die that death if you want to. I’m done. So instead of nice round holes, I have nice square holes cut with the angle grinder. No law against round peg in square hole.

The above wall happened to be placed above a container floor beam so I couldn’t drill straight down for the hole for the conduit. Instead, I used two elbows to relocate the hole. Later, the concrete floor will cover this conduit:

Oh, one thing I discovered is that where there it a forklift pocket on the side of the container…

there is a steel plate under the wooden floor, so it is easier just to swing the conduit and relocate the hole through the floor away from the steel plate. This is all working for me because we will have the three-inch thick concrete floor to cover these conduits throughout the entire house.

By the way, speaking of the wooden floor, the floors in our containers are mahogany, just a tad under one and a quarter inches thick. We will be pouring a concrete slab floor because it is the surface that we want. Also, it will cover the wood which is no doubt heavily drenched in pesticide. Before I work in the containers, I use a large fan to flush the fumes. Otherwise it can make your eyes water.

So far I only have roughed in the water supply for the toilet in the half bath. I brought some PEX tubing with me when we moved to Panama and decided to use it to make the pipe stub-ups. I like PEX a lot, but so far have not seen it here in Panama. Here is some PEX, the brass fittings, crimps, and the crimping tool:

Blue for cold, red for hot. Same stuff, just color coded for easier identification .

Here’s the toilet stub-up:

You can warm PEX with a torch, bend it, and it will keep its new shape. I welded two pipe clamps to the side of the container. Later, this bathroom wall will get Plycem. That and the concrete slab will hide the plumbing.

The PEX, the PVC electrical conduit, and the PVC water pipes can all be cut with this dandy pair of shears made for the job:

In the meantime, Armando has been working for two days grinding away remnants of the container siding webbing in container 4. I’m glad that he has the Power of Youth still on his side.

You can see that he is wearing safety glasses (and not-seen earplugs), and the guard amazingly is still on the machine. I insist on it even though most workers here think these safety devices are mere nuisances. I’ve seen two nasty cuts from guardless machines and I’d just as soon not make a trip to the hospital.

Next I’m on my way down the mountain to see if I can get the DeWalt angle grinder that Armando has been using repaired. I think the switch has given up the ghost; it has had some rough duty during its life on this job. I’ll probably buy a second one, too; a guy can’t have too many angle grinders.

If you are considering a container house project, I hope that I have given you some good tips from my experience. Take what you want but you are on your own. Have fun. Keep the guards on your tools and be safe. It’s a jungle out there. At least it is here in Panama!

That’s all for now.


A Big Floor And Some Small Stuff

August 30, 2011

In this post, I frame the floor between #3 and #4, build some interior walls, and do some minor stuff.

A significant amount of rain has been falling, and I am happy to have a bunch of interior work to do. The interior of #3, #4, and the 12-foot space between is now bone dry. Not a drop of rain enters, thanks to Juan who mentioned in a comment that he uses Sika Urethane caulk to seal container seams. I searched but could not find that brand, but I did find some other urethane and it is working well. I sealed the two 40-foot seams where the walls that hold up the metal roof connect to the containers below. Here’s a photo of the urethane on the tilebacker wall:

Good and gooey and very workable, the solvent based urethane caulk is holding out rainwater. Remember, later I will build a sloping metal roof over the container roof.

Next, I had some 2″x2″ square metal tubing in my way so I built the framework for the wall that will hold the low end of the big roof between #2 and #3. I caulked the welds with the urethane and prime painted the metal:

The framework is at the top right of the photo. Most of the photos I have posted so far have been from the east side, but this one is from the west.

Next, while I waited for delivery of the metal for the big floor between #3 and #4, I started some of the interior walls in #3. The wall in this photo will divide the hallway (that goes from the living room to the master bedroom) from the half bath. The half bath will be about 4-feet by 8-feet.

This wall will get tilebacker on both sides, brand name Plycem. There will be a sliding door on the bathroom. I am standing in what will be a dry room -- a closet with a dehumidifier -- a real necessity here in the cool but humid mountains.

Then, before I made a big mistake with a bad paint and painted all of the exterior of the containers, I wanted to test out some oil based polyurethane red oxide primer and some white polyurethane wall paint, so I sanded, primed two coats, and painted two coats onto the 12-foot section between #3 and #4. I used my Fuji HVLP (High Volume, Low Pressure) spray gun. This is a nice rig and it sprayed the polyurethane on the metal siding like glass.

At least something is finish painted. Will it remain white or will we choose a color?

Finally, my delivery arrived and I could get to work on the 12-foot by 40-foot floor between #3 and #4 — that’s the space behind the white wall in the above photo. The floor will consist of 2″x4″ metal carriolas, covered by metal roofing panels, and topped with a 3-inch concrete slab that will extend throughout the containers, too. Here is the framing underway:

I have to admit to a small error; when I placed the containers on the columns, I placed these two exactly 12-feet apart measured from the outside of the containers. However, the floor joists ended up being about 12-feet two-inches long because I affixed them to the indented part of the container main floor support I-beam. I had to buy 14-footers. Should I do this again, I would move the containers a few inches closer to each other. Nevertheless, I can use the cutoffs for other projects.

To start the project, I measured off two-foot incriments, then used the angle grinder to take away some of the paint for easier welding:

A carriola floor joist is ready to slide into place and be welded.

To measure the lengths of the carriolas, I used two boards and a clamp, adjusting the length for each joist. You wouldn’t expect it, but the lengths varied due to various dents and strengthening gussets. Here’s a photo of the measuring jig being used to mark a joist for cutting with the chop saw:

After three days of cutting and welding, here is the floor framing finished and with two sheets of roofing metal screwed in place:

You can also see that I fashioned a center beam from two carriolas. Tomorrow Armando and I will pour three small footings to further support the concrete slab and to reduce any floor bounce. I also built the framework for the wall that will separate the bedroom (foreground) from the master bathroom.

Throughout all of this, Armando has helped me lift and tote the heavy stuff, but mainly he has been working to smooth out the lot. He is almost done:

You can really see his progress in this next photo taken from the northwest corner of the lot. He is taking out a lot of stumps and surface roots as he goes:

I can’t wait for windows! The big opening on the west wall of our bedroom will be divided into a window grid with 2″x2″ square tubing.

My next small task will be to finish cutting and removing a scrap strip of container siding metal and re-purpose it into a very short wall section that will go at the bottom of the bedroom window wall.

That’s all for now. Thanks for visiting my blog. I’m pleased that so many people have subscribed to receive notice of new posts, and it was fun to watch the 10,000 hits mark come and go right at the one-year mark of my blog. Here’s a screenshot of month-by-month hits:

A dip last year during "family business," but otherwise my traffic is growing! Please feel free to add your comments to my posts. Fred


Welding Frenzy ~ Welding On Shipping Containers

August 6, 2011

With the tilebacker walls in place, it was finally time to haul the welder up onto the roof of container four. The four-foot high wall that holds up the high end of the roof over the space between three and four was only tacked in place. I am now faced with the task of welding a forty-foot long bead, welding the wall to the roof of the shipping container.

Armando and I tried first to lift the welder with pulleys and a rope, but we were getting exhausted and the welder wasn’t budging far off the ground. When I bought the pulleys I wanted double-block (two wheels per unit) pulleys but could only find less mechanically-advantaged single-block pulleys. So we rigged an electric winch (thank you for the loan of the winch, Ivan) and effortlessly lifted the heavy welder to the roof. Once up on the roof, with the new ATW wheelbarrow wheels, the welding rig no longer bumps and bangs, but rolls across the corrugated roof very easily.

The wall to be welded is made up of metal siding cut from the wall of the container below. Here’s how the siding sits on the container. You can see that I have some significant gaps to fill while welding. White is the wall, red is the container roof.

This is the largest gap, about a quarter of an inch. Most of the spaces are about a sixteenth of an inch or the metals are kiss-fitting.

I really wasn’t looking forward to this welding task. If it rains, the gig is off. If it is sunny, working in a hot welding hood on the hot metal roof, body crouched so as to reach the area to be welded but avoiding flying sparks and splatter, legs falling asleep; no, I wasn’t looking forward to this task. But it had to be done, and afterwards no more water will enter the container below.

I also wasn’t looking forward to the job because I have been using number 6011 welding rods. These are the standard welding rod here in Panama and can be found in any hardware store and even some grocery stores right next to the duct tape. They burn paint away easily and work in any position. But they stick easily and this can be frustrating.

If you don’t know, the idea of welding is to touch the welding rod to the metal you want to weld, create a short circuit if you will, get sparks flying, then pull away slightly and maintain a gap that the fire jumps across, heating and fusing the metals. It is during this initial getting-the-sparks-flying stage that the welding rod can fuse itself (or stick) to the metal to be welded. If it sticks you have to wiggle the rod back and forth until it breaks free then start the process all over again. When I tacked the wall in place, there was a whole lot of sticking going on and I wasn’t looking forward to forty feet of frustration.

I have to declare here that welding is new to me. Previously my work life involved wood, glue, screws and nails. I learned a little bit about welding from Bob H. back in the States, just enough to get me going and make me dangerous as they say. I guess you could call me a back yard welder. I don’t know squat about the coefficient of this or that, or the temperature that bronze-molybdenum-strontium 90 alloy melts at. I only know to get the spark going and keep it going. So to all the professional welders who fall across this blog by mistake, those with multiple certifications in underwater welding and welding in deep space on the Space Station while holding a wet cat, please have pity on me for what I am attempting to do at this stage of my life, and maybe remember those first not-so-pretty welds that you made so many years ago. Thank you.

So for my birthday, friend Les gave me about ten pounds of not 6011 rods, but instead 6013 rods. I thought I would give them a try on this project. How bad could it be? As it turns out, not bad at all.

The ubiquitous 6011s burn real hot. They burn paint real quick. Lots of slag flies everywhere, the rods stick easily, and if you are thinking about last night’s fight with your wife and not paying 100% attention to counting the number of seconds that are passing, you can burn a hole in the metal the size of Texas.

Even though technically in the same family (I don’t really know this for sure, I’m making this up), the 6013s are a real pleasure to work with. If the 6011s are a stay-out-all-night rebellious teenager, the 6013s are their stay-at-home studious twin. Rod sticking is much, much less with the 6013s. They burn hot enough to eat through the numerous layers of paint on the container roof, but the burn is more surgical if you will. There is less flaming slag flying over the top of my welding helmet, thereby burning fewer holes my scalp. Both rods seem to want to burn well for me with 60-amps set on the dial of the welder:

The new (to me) 6013s also don’t burn big holes in the metal nearly as easily. And if I do burn a hole, I can close the doughnut hole much more easily. A blob of the 6013 seems to stay in place as it cools making closing the hole quite easy, whereas the 6011 blob shrinks as it cools, leaving the hole almost as large as when I started. And if I switch the amps down from 60 to 40, the holes close quite rapidly.

To weld, you have to keep the welding rod moving. There are numerous techniques: the back and forth wiggle, the circle swoop, etc. The technique that I found to work best for me is this: working in the general form of a backwards letter C, maybe something like this:  ]  , I start at the bottom left of the backward C.  I get the spark going and sit in one place on the roof of the container for a second-and-a-half to two seconds, burning paint and making a small puddle of molten metal. Then in the next second I sweep to the right and up, then over to the left. Then to prevent creating a hole, I get the heck out of Dodge, wait for the new metal to cool for a second, then repeat. I’m left handed and am working from right to left. So if you are right handed maybe you will find a forward C and left to right easier. Your mileage may vary.  If you figure that I move about an eighth-of-an-inch at a time, that makes only 3,840 repetitions in the forty-foot long stretch. It goes like this: weld, weld, weld, move, stretch, drink water, repeat. Simple.

Here is a photo of the mess I am making:

A lot of the mess is paint that has burned and flaked, and the weld cleans up fairly well with a wire brush. It looks to me like it will keep water from leaking into the house. Here is the weld all wire brushed but not prime painted. The roof was too hot and the paint probably would have boiled. Hey, maybe Monday I’ll fry some eggs for lunch.

I got to the half-way point today before I sensed the blisters on my knees from the hot roof. I quit about 2:00. Monday weather permitting I will be back at the second half. With my new knowledge of the 6013 rods and my experience today, I’m not dreading the second half at all. Still, it will be good to be done with this part of the job. I will have to repeat this process when I erect the wall over container two. Stairs will lead up to this wall, and a door will take us out to the roof deck. I am anticipating the hammock swinging in the breeze.

Thanks for the swell welding rods Les! That’s all for now. Happy welding!


Alan Gets Blog Cred ~ Rethinking The Roof on Container Three

August 4, 2011

In this post I talk about the roof over container three. I planned to pour a concrete slab.

In my previous post, Wallito, reader Alan wrote an extensive comment* (repeated below in its entirety) about the roof on container three. Thank you for going out on the limb to suggest an alternative solution. Most guys won’t give another guy suggestions or advice unless we ask for it. We don’t want to cut in on another guy’s turf. But thanks Alan, you did, and you did it with grace and class.You made me think, especially when you mentioned the half-life of caulking.

And another thing happened. We have had some wicked heavy rain since I applied the urethane caulk yesterday and the caulk all washed away. I thought it was urethane, but it turns out that it is urethane enhanced elastomeric caulk in a latex base. The urethane caulk that I have been using elsewhere on the containers is sticky-gooey in a non-latex base. It cures fast and remains flexible. Water doesn’t affect it even if it isn’t cured, but this elastomeric caulk didn’t have enough time to develop a water-resistant skin. Bye bye three tubes of caulk.

In my construction career I learned not to trust caulk of any kind for any mission-critical project. Make joints tight and right. But I guess I forgot or got lazy. Reminds me of the painter’s saying, “A little putty, a little paint, makes a carpenter what he aint.” Thanks Alan for bringing this to my attention.

Alan also mentioned that the concrete slab would accumulate heat during the day. Very true, and I was going to put a sheet of foam insulation under the concrete.

I was going to use the concrete slab on the roof of container three to direct water off the roof. This roof will handle a lot of water. If we look at the photo of the model again, you can see that two significant roofs dump onto number three.

The model is somewhat lacking, as there is actually a two-foot high wall on the right side of container three, and that wall is the tilebacker wall that I just detailed in Wallito:

I am going to duplicate this wall on the left side of the container for the other roof to sit on.

The concrete slab is now off the table. Alan suggested installing a sloped roof using cement board roofing tiles. Alan, I’m going to take your sloped roof idea, thank you, but I think I’ll use the corrugated metal roofing sheets that I am using on the other roofs. Several of our friends have the cement board roofing panels and they seem to need more maintenance to keep the green slime pressure washed off the roof. Also, it is slicker than slick to walk on and I see a lot of broken tiles. The metal roofing is not elegant in any way, but it is economical and the only potential leak points are where the screws penetrate the metal making it easy to diagnose and maintain. Another advantage of the metal roofing is that it is highly reflective and doesn’t accumulate a lot of heat.

With the two-foot high walls, I can easily construct a roof over number three that slopes from about eighteen inches at the high end down to nothing at the other end of the container.

The metal roofing is flexible and I can roll it up the wall and screw it in place. The screws won’t hold in the tilebacker, but I can place a carriola behind the tilebacker to receive the screws. Armando and I can work together; he on one side of the wall and me on the other.

I can also use Alan’s idea of the roll insulation placed directly on the container roof below the new sloped roof.

In other happenings, today was a near washout with torrential rains beginning at 10:30 a.m. But I did manage to spray two coats of white paint on the exterior of the 12-foot wall between three and four, and between raindrops I got one piece of tilebacker up on the triangular wall section.

That’s all for now. Thanks again Alan.

*Here’s Alan’s comment in its entirety:

Hi Fred,

Thanks for your most recent update. I’m enjoying the process of your build and I am taking notes for that day when I will also build a container home or container something.

In any case, I wanted to chime in regarding your roof and give you an unsolicted opinion. You know what that’s worth!

You may have already thought through your process so please don’t look upon my advice as expert, other than I’m building my own home and have lots of experience with leaky buildings especially where I come from (Pacific Northwest). I am also building a home in Panama and it’s a learning experience for me also.

With regards to mixing different elements like concrete, caulking, and metal; these are all materials that expand and contract differently. So it’s almost guaranteed that eventually your caulking will separate from your metal. If you put concrete over the seal, it may help but the mass of the concrete will expand at different rate as the metal on the roof. If the concrete cracks due to this dynamic, it’s possible water could penetrate the concrete and this will require you to seal and paint the concrete regularly to keep it from taking on water.

So, my thought is to suggest a slightly sloped roof for the top of our container made from concrete board (plysem) that is corregated and also conveniently stained red. The plysem overlap each other in the installation so you have a sealed, overlaping joint wherever they meet. The corrugated look may not be what you are looking for so this is also a consideration. I have installed on my own roof and it looks good the way it is despite the fact that I am installing reclaimed clay roof tiles on top of the plysem.

With regards to where the plysem meets your newly installed concrete board wall, you would simply install an L shaped flashing that covers the top of the plysem where it meets the wall by at least 5 inches and goes up your concrete board wall by the same amount. You can later cover your concrete board with a repelo to hide the flashing that’s attached to the concrete board wall. Ideally, the flashing would have been placed behind your concrete board and extended outward to cover the plysem but you’ve already got your board up and this will work just as well.

This should also allow you to install a radiant barrier (plastised aluminum sheet ) underneath your plysem directly on the top of your container roof. This is a cheap way to reduce your cooling and reduce the temperatures of your house. You can pick radiant barrier at Hopsa for about $96 per roll 4′x100″.

The other thing you need to be aware of is if you choose to use concrete to cover the top of the container, it wll also collect heat all day and dissipate into your interior as it will be directly connected to the metal on your roof that I believe is also the ceiling in your rooms.

You can overlap and tape the radiant barrier by a few inches and it also acts as an emergency secondary barrier for any leaks that may come through your plysem roof. The radiant barrier will most definitely reduce the amount of heat entering your home as it acts to deflect infra-red heat back up and into the plysem. You need to make sure there is at least one to two inches separating the radiant barrier and the plysem and the corrugated part of this concrete board provides sufficient space between the two.

Again, only a thought and most likely not what you’ve spec’d but may be worth the consideration.