Stove Talk

November 6, 2011

In this post we go stove shopping.

Cynthia loves to bake. Bread and cookies and bagels and you know, carb stuff and sweet stuff. Coincidentally, both of us like to eat what she bakes. Neither of us however, can afford the carb-o-calories, as one 4-ounce bagel split in two transmutes to a 37-pound weight gain per person. But no matter, she likes to bake as it is one of the major ways that she expresses love. She usually keeps a small amount for us and gives the rest away to friends and neighbors.

A couple years ago we were living in a different rental house that had an old, crappy 20-inch gas stove. It was no fun to cook on and not much fit in the oven. So we went stove shopping. We came home with a 36-inch Bompani gas range.

Image from the Bompani website

The Italian-made Bompani looks great and we had high hopes for it. I understand that others like their Bompanis, but we don’t. Maybe it needs a tune up or adjustment, but we aren’t the only ones here in our area who don’t like this model stove. The stove top burners take forever to light and then blow a lot of air. The oven is a big disappointment for Cynthia as it doesn’t get hot enough to bake bread well or brown.

Indeed, I had to convert our BBQ grill into a pizza oven by putting firebricks on the grill. Cynthia makes the dough (with Herbs de Provence) and homemade sauce and I bake them in the BBQ. I’m a vegetarian, but I understand her chicken (not nuggets from a box) pizza with BBQ sauce is dee-eee-licious. Perfect pizza every time. But I digress. The other day Cynthia made some delicious bagels but instead of ten minutes in the oven they took twenty and still didn’t brown.

So a few weeks ago we went stove shopping. A must have on her list is a convection oven. We decided on gas as electricity here is expensive and can be quite unreliable. Also, most electric ovens are computer controlled and have lots of digital do-dads on the back panel, all of which are vulnerable to our frequent power surges, brown outs and black outs.

We found our options very limited. One store had a gas on gas convection, a Frigidaire Professional series. But the unit seemed to have a split personality;  although the placard said “Professional,”  there were way-goofy digital buttons on the dashboard that said things such as “Pizza” and our personal favorite, “Chicken Nuggets.” We had to stop and visualize a professional chef, let’s call him Adolfo (no last name, just Adolfo), at a high end restaurant opening a box of frozen chicken nuggets to cook for the hungry folks at table 8. Huh?

Also, we don’t want a dashboard at the back of the stove as the stove will be situated in an island in the kitchen.

We kept looking. Although way, way out of our budget, we stopped at the Viking store on Ave. Brasil. They have a gas convection wall oven for “only” $4,200. Like the Bompani it looks great. Maybe we could get a separate cook top and the Viking wall oven.

Image from the Viking website

We could save for it, Cynthia loves to cook, and it would be a reasonable splurge (swallow hard). As we left the showroom the sales agent sent us off with a bundle of advertising glossies the size of a phone book.

We lived with this idea for a few weeks, then two things happened.

I (conveniently at breakfast time) often drop in to see our Panamanian neighbors I. and J. They always have a glass of fresh fruit juice and a Panamanian tortilla (more like polenta) for me. We sit on the back porch and I share the recent gossip of our neighborhood as they are here only on the weekends. I mentioned the Viking to I. and he said that I should Google it because his daughter has a kitchen full of Viking and it has all needed frequent, expensive repairs.

Sure ‘nuf, the Internet seems to be full of complaints about Viking. Seems that they now outsource much of their line. I read about an architect who specified Viking in a kitchen. He and his clients have been very unhappy with the performance and durability of the entire line. One reviewer said, get a GE. It is better and cheaper.

Cynthia and I aren’t appliance snobs (remember my refrigerator conversion?) so I can’t say that we are crushed or disappointed by the Google revelations. But what to do?

The second thing that happened is that during our Googlizing, we came across the old electric vs. gas oven debate. What we took away was quite surprising to us. Seems that gas is a moist heat (water is a bi-product of burning gas), good for not drying out roasts and the like. Electric is a dryer heat, good for browning breads and such. Huh, who knew.

So, being that Cynthia’s focus is on baking breads and not meat, we are now toying with the idea of getting a good gas cooktop and a separate, reasonably priced electric convection wall oven, one cheap enough to repair or replace if it gets zapped by an electric spike, probably a GE or whichever doesn’t have the stoopid “Chicken Nuggets” button. We just aren’t push button food type people I guess. That shopping trip is for another day. Stay tuned.

In other news, Cynthia has just cut out fabric for five new shirts for me. This afternoon, she woke me up from a slumber in the hammock to show me a piece of fabric. Okay, I stand corrected. She didn’t directly wake me up. But she did have Jabo take his current favorite chew toy, a flattened two-liter plastic soda bottle, then directed him to “Give it to Dad.” Every time he gnaws on it is makes a very loud crinkling sound, sure to wake any husband from a Sunday siesta.

“Look at this!” she exclaimed.
Wiping the sleep from my eyes, all I could see was a piece of fabric.
“Find the pocket,” she said.
“I don’t see any pocket,” I said.
She handed the fabric to me and, upon close inspection, sure enough there was the pocket.
“Now look inside,” she instructed.
“Wow, look at that, the inside of the pocket is a contrasting fabric,” I said.
So here is the first shirt in progress. Try to find the pocket!

Find the pocket. It's there!

That’s all for now.


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.


My New Oxy-Acetylene Tank Cart

October 21, 2011

Thanks to everyone who guessed about my latest contraption in my last post. You all guessed correctly. You are a smart bunch. Even you, Charles.

No, actually, as Juan and Rick guessed, it is to hold the oxygen and acetylene tanks that I just got. Charles–Fugetaboutit.

My next task on the house is to make frames for windows, cut holes for windows, and fix the frames in the holes. So far, I’ve been cutting the container walls with a steroidal 9-inch angle grinder with a metal cutting disk. But let’s face it, this is really arduous and dangerous. Arduous because it takes a lot of muscle power, and dangerous because of the propensity for the machine to kick back and sever body parts. I’ve written before about my plasma torch that died an electronic death, not to be revived here in the harsh Panamanian climate of rust, humidity, electrical brown outs and power spikes, and geckos that have the propensity of dying on circuit boards, “melting,” and shorting out the whole mess.

So that leaves two choices:

Choice 1: Hammer and chisel. I remember when I was first investigating Panama as a place for us to live, I stayed at a hotel in Boquete. Early one morning, 6:15 to be exact, I heard a hammer pounding a chisel on metal. It didn’t stop. Finally I got up and got dressed and went to check it out. Two men were cutting strips off of 20-foot lengths of sheet metal roofing. No angle grinder, no plasma torch, no shears, and, bringing me to choice number two, no oxy-acetylene cutting torch.

Choice 2: Oxy-acetylene cutting torch. A torch is really low-tech. No electrical parts, no computer, just a hot flame that slices through metal. The cost had been stopping me, but it was finally time to bite the bullet and buy a rig.

I got a medium duty Victor brand set, complete with welding/cutting torch, hose, and gauges for the oxygen and acetylene. $245 at Pemco in Panama City. Victor is an excellent brand and I like the way the torch balances in my hand. Tools like this are exciting.

Next, I needed to rent the oxygen and acetylene tanks. $300 deposit for the two tanks, plus $75 for the gas in the tanks. I could have bought the tanks, but I would have had to return to the city each time they needed refilling. With the rentals, I can just swap them locally at the hardware store.

But they don’t just deliver out here in the hinterlands. The tanks need to be transported upright and I had no way to accomplish this with the Honda Ridgeline. So I welded up a goalpost rack for the truck. I used the existing tie-down fixtures in the bed of the pickup to affix my rack.

Here are the tanks strapped to the goalpost rack. Jabo is a gas, too.

And here it is in all its painted glory, along with the long-load rack that I made some time ago but just now got around to painting. The traffic police will be happy with the official reflective sticker, $1.

I used the goalpost rack again today to transport two, heavy eight-foot lengths of 4″x6″x1/4″ angle iron that I picked up for my next shop project, a sheet metal bending brake. But I digress.

The point of this post is the cart that I just made to hold the oxygen and acetylene tanks in my shop, and to make it easier to move them around the job. Here are some photos of the cart ready for paint:

I pretty much started the project by holding a length of 1.5″ square tubing in my hands and holding it up to the tanks. The rest just followed element by element. I love the lines, kind of retro, like something that would have been in my grandfather’s shop. I think it has a little Steampunk look about it. I considered clear coating it, but safety yellow won out.


And here it is with the tanks loaded and strapped in with the safety chains across the tanks and an additional anti-theft chain.

So that’s that, I am now ready to cut the window openings in the container walls. I’ve just picked up the windows I had fabricated, so my next post will about windows.

Thanks for all your comments on the Name That Contraption post. That’s all for now.


Sunday Afternoon With A Good Book ~ To Catch A Thief

September 11, 2011

No, we neither read the book nor sat back and watched the movie; this post is about catching a thief in our neighborhood. Sorry, no photos this post.

As part of my Sunday day off, Cynthia and I decided to go to our new house and sit and read for a while. You know, get the feel of being in our new home without construction going on. Cynthia had a new book on the Kindle, and I had my copy of 501 Spanish Verbs and wanted to learn more about the fourteen tenses (English has six).

Cyn was settled in reading, and I was talking over the fence with Abdiel who works for one of our neighbors. I was asking Abdiel about the name of a tree with orange flowers (acacia), and we also chatted about the six break ins in our small neighborhood during the past few weeks. Doors have been ripped off their hinges and security bars on windows have been cut and removed. Most of the take has been small stuff; propane tanks ($70 refundable deposit), cameras, stereos, etc. Cynthia and I haven’t been hit because we now have several layers of security at our rental house, and our shipping containers are locked up frog-butt tight with high security padlocks. But still, I am the president of our local neighborhood watch and want to see our barrio safe and sound.

While Abdiel and I were talking, a man that we didn’t recognize, obviously very drunk, crossed our neighbor’s yard and walked toward us. This was a red flag, because in Panama it is against the law to enter someone’s property without permission. Even when our gate is open, none of our neighbors will cross the property line without our permission. He had a garden hose over his shoulder and a spider plant in his hands. His face and hands were all cut up as if he had lost an argument with a barbed wire fence. He pleaded with us to buy his things, but we figured out what was going on and sent him away. The man went to the next neighbor’s house and while apparently scoping the place out, was chased away by the owner.

The man’s next stop was at another neighbor’s house where the entire family was having a get together. He brazenly walked through the front gate and right into the house. The owner (JR) chased him out.

I was watching and decided that enough was enough. He was a little too familiar with our neighborhood and I wondered if he was indeed the perpetrator of all our thefts. I talked with JR and asked if she wanted to press charges. “Yes!” she replied.

We live on the line between two Panamanian provinces. One police department is about 10 minutes away and the other is about 40 minutes. They like to shuffle the calls from our neighborhood off on each other. I called the closest one and made my report and requested a police cruiser (more likely a pickup truck) to apprehend the guy.

Then I ran home and got our car and headed after him. I found him on a side road, trying to sell his bounty to some locals who were waiting for a bus. I drove right up to him and he again tried to sell the hose to me. $10. I got one of the bystanders aside and told him what was going on. I thought I might string the hose vendor along and tell him I would buy the hose but my money was in town and I would take him there, however actually intending to drive right into the police station.

Although I didn’t know the bystanders, they strongly urged me not to do it by myself. They were obviously concerned for my well being and I was touched. I had to honor their request even though I had my hand on my pepper spray and thought I could handle the guy.

I pulled to the side of the road and called the more distant police and gave a detailed description of the man. “Ten minutes,” the officer assured me. Now the man was on the move again, clearly crossing into the jurisdiction of the closer police. I then called the closer police department and gave them the man’s description. While I was parked there, another neighbor called to tell me that they had seen the guy too, and he looked suspicious. But I didn’t get the call because we lost reception.

The man tried to flag down a bus, but it was full. Another bus came along and I ran across the street, warned the driver of the drunken hose thief (it was the thief, not the hose that was drunk), and the driver refused entry to the man.

As I waited for the police, any police, the man walked out of my view and disappeared. It turned out that the police had sent a patrol unit to the edge of town and simply waited for the man to walk into their dragnet.

I drove to the police station, pointed to the man, and made my statement about what had happened. I also got on the phone and asked JR to come and identify the perp as the one who had entered her house.

By then, police from the neighboring province showed up. I re-stated my statement, as did JR. I told the police about the recent Rash of Break Ins (why is it always a rash? Why not a Flurry? Or a Bevy of Break Ins?). The police asked that we try to identify the owner of the hose (which we have now done) and get them to also make a statement to the police.

One of the cops asked if I was in the military during Vietnam. He said that I looked very official and was brave to deal with this guy who could have become violent. It’s funny, or more like odd to me, that even though I really don’t like conflict, I wasn’t at all afraid to confront this guy. I stood right in his face and told him to never come to my neighborhood again. One of the policemen tapped the man on the head and said, “Listen to the man.”

The upshot of this several hour intrusion on my Spanish verb study is that the man was led off in handcuffs (called esposas, same as esposa, the word for “wife” — go figure) to the other precinct, facing at least three or four charges: attempting to sell goods that he most likely didn’t own, trespassing at JR’s house, being out and about without his national identity card (a really, really big oops), and being drunk and disorderly in public.

So I feel pretty good about all of this. We got a petty thief off the street, and perhaps he is the one who has been doing all the damage in our neighborhood under the cover of darkness. Now he knows that we will take him to task for his habits. I also feel really good that once again our Panamanian neighbors have shown us that this is indeed a village. By the end of three hours, seven households were involved to pull together the pieces to put this man in jail.

That’s all for now. Tomorrow I’m back to work. I’d like to get some paint sprayed on some interior walls.


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