Monday, August 21

OK, Corral!

Jennifer and I moved into the farm in late April and after four months of country living many projects have been started but few of them completed. I'm proud to say that I did complete the corral project, well at least phase 1 of the project anyway.

It's a bit of a running joke at work that software projects will always have an ellusive phase 2 (or more). This is where features initially thought to be "must-haves" are pushed off to a later date in order to meet a deadline or resource constraint. Much is the same in the farm project world. I had originally imagined a much more elaborate corral system, complete with reconfigurable sections for different needs. As in the software world, I needed to prioritize the fundamental features and focus on delivering them first due to time and resource constraints. Other "must-haves" had become "would-be-nices".

Having never built fence on my own, many valuable lessons were learned in this project and my loyal readership will hopefully benefit from my mistakes. First and foremost: while your four-legged animals won't care if everything is square and true all your visitors of the pipedal primate orders will immediately notice and comment on crooked things.

I originally laid out the corral with spray paint and mason's line, being sure to mark where I wanted the post holes on the line with spray paint. However the holes, to no fault of the auger operator, didn't stay perfectly centered. So when I began concreting in posts they were no longer on the centerline. At the time it seemed to make sense to start on one end and work to other. I carefully made sure each post was vertically level then set it in concrete. I was so pleased with my progress I continued on around the corral setting each post vertical and cementing it in. It took an outside voice (my wife) to point out how crooked of a line the posts made. I blew it off and made a comment that it didn't matter. In fact it didn't affect the operation or diminish the utility of the fence. Even if it did it was too late! I was reminded about how crooked it was each time someone else too a look at it (the neighbor, my Dad, my wife, my Dad).

Lesson learned: set up your corner posts first, pull your string and then set line posts based on the string from corner to corner.

Another lesson learned wasn't so much as embarrasing as it was exhausting. I mentioned before that the barn was built of hand-sawn oak right off the land and surrounding places. What I learned is weathered and seasoned oak must be one of the hardest substances on Earth, second only to diamond, I think. I wanted to attach the 2x8's to the barn to connect the barn to the first line post. I had purchased 4" coated screws and charged up my trusty 16.8 volt Craftsman cordless drill.

I began to get frustrated after the third or fourth stripped out screw (on the very first board). I remember by that time it was getting into the heat of the day and I decided it was a good time to quit on that project for a while. It was such frustrations that led to the many start and stops of the project and the overall lenghty implmentation.

In addition to stripping out the screws, it seemed like my drill didn't have enough umph behind it to get the job done. At least that's how I rationalized it to myself. I ended up borrowing a more powerful DeWalt hammer drill from a friend of mine. When I pulled it out to use I noticed it had a funny square shaped bit. It was then that I noticed the box of screws had a label stating the screws would work with with a phillips bit (which I was previously using) or a square-tipped bit.

I tried the square bit and the more powerful drill and with some effort I was able to get the screws to drive. After some experimenting (putting the square bit on my drill) I learned that the square bit was the key. It still took considerable effort to drive each screw, and my charge didn't seem to last quite long enough, so I resigned myself to only putting in one screw for now and coming back with the other two screws per end to hold it securely.

Lesson learned here: read the directions, even on something so simple as a box of screws.

The effort required to attach each 2x8 into the treated 4" wood posts was very tiring. The steps necessary to complete each section was lengthy. First measure the distance between center on each post. Then drag board off the pile and set it on the saw horses. Measure (twice) and cut the board and repeat that process for all four boards. I initially didn't work on this project unless I had the help of two strong teenage cousins of mine, the pace by myself was demotivating. Having help made the dragging of the boards from one place to another much quicker, as we could pipeline our efforts (one dragging, one holding, and me measuring and cutting). Having help also made the next step possible as I hadn't figured out a way to hold the boards up by myself while securing it. It took at least two of us to hold each end on the carefully measured mark and secure the board.

My next valuable lesson came in creating a set of jigs to correctly position the crossboards on the posts. The first board up from the ground was 8", the second was 5" above the first, then 8" to the next, and again 8" above the third to the fourth and final board. The measuring, marking, and holding of each crossboard was time-consuming, and could only be completed by at least two people. After we made the jigs which where simply scrap 2x8's cut to length, I could hang the boards myself. I just placed one 8" board on the ground agains each post, set the crossboard on top putting pressure against the posts and attached the board to the post. I repeated that process on up the post setting the scrap pieces on top of the newly attached board.

Lesson learned: work smarter not harder.

Flash forward to this last weekend when I set a personal goal of finishing four more sections of fence, hanging three gates, and adding the remaining fasteners to each board. This time I was armed with a Rigid Pneumatic Framing Nailer. I set the nailer to rapid fire where I can hold down the trigger and a nail fires each time contact is made with the board. I made short work of several sleeves of nails and in no-time the boards were securely mounted. The nailer made it so attaching the boards was no longer the bottle neck in the process. Had I been in possesion of this tool 4 months ago the project would have flown by.

So the exahusting lesson learned here that I allueded to earlier.: the right tools make all the difference in the world.

The picture above was taken this evening and started as 4 shots that where stitched together with some software (thus the ghosting of Desi as she moved about the corral). It's taken from the bed of my truck as I panned from left to right. It looks so simple in the image, and indeed it's not that big of a project. But none-the-less it's something I'll be proud to see put to use.

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pablo said...

Wow! I can hardly wait to visit and comment on how crooked it looks.

Kara said...

Your post about the oak and crookedness reminded me of a summer when I helped my dad build a horse pen out of oak. WE predrilled all the holes... with an ELECRTIC DRILL. We broke like umpteen bits and started dipping them in vegatable oil or something. Seems like it took ALL summer to build that thing. Cause after we got it put together we had to paint it. Since it was dry... it took about umpteen coats of paint. And yes, it was crooked when it was done. The boards are going to warp anyway and get more crooked.

Jack said...

Yep, that barn oak is hard stuff. Fer sure.

Hal at Ranch Ramblins said...

The first time I tried driving nails into our seasoned barn oak, I was sure I had bought a bad batch of nails!

The corral that you built looks just fine to me - if someone complains about it, just ask them why they weren't there to help you during the construction phase.