Porch Ponderings

I set out Sunday to build a porch.

Over the past few years, as those of you who read this dribble regularly will recall, the carpenter bees have been epidemic in my yard. They have bored into and carved their little tunnels through the front porch and it had begun to sag and appear completely in surrender.

Well, as you are also aware, I have been threatening to rebuild it for a couple years now, but of course, I usually go creek fishing instead. This philosophy was forced to change last week when we realized the porch was divorcing the house and heading south.

I had been saving some big cypress beams for several years for just such a project, so Sunday morning I got to work.

Now, I decided something early on in the planning stages of all this: I was going to put the frame of my new porch together traditionally, i.e., what’s called “timber frame.”

Essentially, this involves mortise and tenon joints between the beams. For the uninitiated, you cut one end of a beam down to a sort of square peg, cut a hole broadside of the other beam, and insert the peg (tenon) into the hole (mortise) to make an incredibly strong if somewhat Neanderthal joint at 90 degrees. I’ve done quite a bit of small mortise and tenon joinery on furniture projects and such, but nothing to this scale.

First I had to get the beams. They had been in the wood shed for about 10 years. Huffing, puffing and cussing, I got all six of them out into the yard and, one at a time, hoisted these six-inch square, 12-foot monsters from the back yard to the workshop up front. I think I know how Noah felt with the gopher wood frames for the ark.

I started with a mortise – the hole. I carefully laid it out in pencil, then drilled out the bulk of it. Then I took my big framing chisel and got to work squaring out the sides from one end to the other.

Easier said than done, I must confess. I had the dangdest time keeping things flush and symmetrical, in fact, I failed. After an hour of working on one mortise, I had a “square” hole that was rather cartoonish, wonky-jawed on each corner and decidedly wider at the top than where it came out at the bottom.

Forget that. I was sweating profusely and, at that rate, building my porch would take several years, rather than the expected and generous few weeks.

So I chopped off the mess and decided to go with a lap joint, simply notches at the end of each beam that fit into each other top-over-bottom.

Lugging these monsters to the front of the house and testing their fit with each other dang near sent me to Happy Hunting Ground. But I managed to get the square frame laid out after five hours and, when I realized I could no longer stand without wobbling, promptly quit for the day.

I’m not saying its pretty, and Norm Abrams would probably laugh his head off at my joinery, but heck, I ain’t complaining. During all this, the carpenter bees were buzzing angrily around my head, and I dispatched two of them by a lucky blow from my mallet. I hope a few coats of marine paint will keep them out of the new porch framing.

It’ll all be covered with treated decking boards and painted a nice, traditional color. It’ll also be a little larger than the old porch, which was only a small affair under a dormer kinda thing over the front door, about 7 feet square. The new one will be about 12 foot by 10 foot, not much of a porch, by most standards, but then, I’m not much of a carpenter and it’s only a simple ol’ shack anyway.

After a shower and a long nap, it was late in the day and Suzie and I retired to the back patio to watch the sunset and see if our Prothonotary Warblers would come back by to feed their young ‘uns in the house we put up for them. They would come nearly every day, accustomed to us though we were only a few feet away, feed their chirping chicks bugs.

We hadn’t seen them in a few days, and didn’t again, so finally we agreed to check, and I gently opened the bird house flap to find only an empty nest. We felt like proud grandparents!

Over closer to the ol’ shack, huge sunflowers were almost glowing in the late day sun, half facing the light and half bowing their heads, their pollination cycle done. I planted mixed flower seeds in that garden, and I have cosmos, zinnia, black-eyed Susan, purple coneflower and lots more coming up, but the sunflowers were volunteers from Suzie’s bird feeder which hangs right over the little plot. It’s quite beautiful.

Oh, there was a red-tailed hawk in the oak tree a day or two earlier, and I got a pretty good picture of him. The egrets fly east along the bayou every night, and now and then we see wood ducks.

My sycamore trees are growing like bad weeds, and my red oaks not so vigorously, but good. I planted two ash trees this spring, and a drake elm. They talk to each other in the wind of late, and apparently understand each other’s languages. A squirrel got close to us one night, staring curiously at me from the oak tree, and I got a pretty good shot of him, too.

Yeah. Things are pretty dang good around the ol’ shack, ya know?

2 comments to Porch Ponderings

  • pete cooper, jr.

    And I’ll tell you from experience that stuff like that will become much more meaningful as the years pass.
    “Swamp canaries”, huh? Congrats, grandparents! That’s mighty fine!

  • blufloyd

    Ah yeah I got plans to redo the boxing in of back ‘porch’ my floor is good old concrete though.

    Sat under the front overhang a few afternoons, read a couple books and watched the birds and squirrels.
    Good way to spend layoff week after morning Gill Festing.

    River dawg still is in pursuit of her dream to rid planet of bumblebees so that is a good time as well.

    Storms are dumping more water into the Mississippi drainage up here.

    I got my garden maters today so happiness abounds

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