Monday, February 13, 2023

Heller and Shannon: Bit-by-bit

One of the new people who requested a connection on PluggedIn asked “What are your plans for lodging? Do you already have a place to stay?”

“Anita” responded

I am at a loss for what I am going to live.

In my culture, my father would contact his brothers or his older cousins and one of them would open up his house for me to stay.

They would promise my father that they would look after me and protect my virtue just like he would.

That will not be possible because my father does not have any family in Michigan. Even if he did, I would not want to stay with them because that would make it impossible for me to experience your culture.

At first I thought I wanted to be near the university because there is night-life, but then I realized that there is a chance that students from Indonesia would recognize me and word would get back to my father.

So if it is possible, I want to live in a private home and be invited to private parties but I don’t know how to look for those opportunities.

-Anita Santosa


Heller was laying block.

Every night he had time after work to lay about three courses of block before it got dark.

Shannon would beat him to the work-site and have a fresh batch of slow-set mortar, a couple of sandwiches and a thermos of iced tea waiting for him when he pulled in.

Shannon was fascinated by the process of using chalk-line to run a straight course from corner-to-corner. She was also fascinated as he built up the corners last so they would be set for the next night’s work. He even let her get experience in using the level to nudge the block in-or-out so the corner was set vertical and true.

“High-tech is handy but sometimes it is more of a pain-in-the-ass than it is worth” Heller told her.

Another thing he told her was “A foundation wall set true-and-square is a house half built.”

A serious mason could have laid up the wall quicker than Heller managed. He hadn’t done a lot of block-laying but he knew the motions. More important, he could recognize when something was wrong before the mortar set.

The team was working to the plans Kim Bockbeck had picked out.

Uncle Ed was fabricating the roof-trusses and roof-sections. He was also fabricating the shelving. Kim had chosen vertical ladder-section type shelving with 1-by-8s for shelves. 

Kim wanted to have some flexibility, so Heller was mortaring in “nailer blocks” above the fourth and eighth courses of blocks down the entire length of each wall. “Nailer blocks” are horizontal, treated 2-by-4s that “furniture” can be screwed into.

Another oddity is that Kim opted for a full, eleven courses of blocks which seemed extravagantly tall. When Heller asked her why she wanted it that tall, she responded “It is so I can use standard doors in it.”

That made sense to Heller. There is no shortage of “used” doors on the market as people remodel or from demo work and the time and cost of adding another row or two of blocks wasn't that big. Sometimes designing around something is a good idea and doors is probably one of them. Most doors have a hollow core and trying to make one shorter leaves the bottom or top unsupported.


  1. Good advice on those door height considerations. My Brother and I had to make a custom door using 1x4 rails sandwiched between 1/2" exterior grade plywood exterior - interiors faces. The door height was 2'-6" x 6'-6", replacing an old screen porch door that was now a solid exterior rear door. Was a pita to build in field but we had power source for saw so that helped a lot. Critter proofing that outside threshold sill was part of the plan galvanized sheet to combat rat gnawing intrusion.

  2. Making it tall also means it easier to move around inside and that stuff can be stacked higher, or the shelves can be taller...
    As a relatively tall guy, I am a fan of enough headroom I don't have duck walk, especially when carrying stuff.

  3. Increased storage space, as well as conditions! 11 feet off the floor will be very different than 1 foot, when measuring temperature and humidty.

  4. Umm
    Eleven courses of standard block yields a top plate height of 88”
    Unless block in the Midwest is a different module.
    But unless you’re retired NBA it shouldn’t be a problem

  5. When my parents built their house at The Ranch, they built it to accommodate a wheelchair, as that was an issue my maternal grandmother had to deal with (ironically perhaps, that is not the situation they ended up dealing with). In my world, planning for full size access (e.g. me not bending down) sounds like a great idea.

    I admire masons a great deal. It is work I am not inclined to by patience.

    1. Watching the care of good masons makes bible stories about the Key Stone more real, eh?

  6. That is all very impressive, but what do you charge for doing something useful like laying cement blocks?

  7. Never cut the top of a door, unless it's to shave it down to fit an out of square jamb. On hollow core doors, there is only about an inch and a quarter of solid wood to work with around the perimeter. I would never use a hollow core door for an exterior application.

    1. Anon 6:23 here - that hollow door situation was exactly why we had to replace that door. Because ranch foreman stored cattle cubes inside structure, it attracted rats and got them gnawing on the bottom of the hollow core door. Soon had a vermin highway into the unoccuppied ranch house.

      Bad idea for short cuts where you are present most of the time - they will come back and bite you again.

    2. But IF you do have to cut a hollow core door down past the perimeter wood - it's a pretty easy fix: remove the corrugated cardboard that fills the void between the two face skins - take it out using an old work chisel down to a depth of slightly more than 1.5". Then cut a piece of wood to fill the void space that you just created. Use wood glue on the interior side of the face skins and slide your new perimeter piece of wood into the void. Clamp until the glue has cured. Custom door!

    3. Of course. I've fixed hollow cores just like that, but only cutting off the bottom. Watched a guy try to fit a door by cutting the top. He cut it three times and it still wouldn't fit. (He wouldn't listen to me.)

    4. Average modern "exterior grade" door is a variation on hollow-core construction, a rigid foam core with an outer skin of weatherproof material, with a minimum of wood in the edges (stiles, rails).

      No room for error in sizing, usually sold pre-hung in a frame sized for your opening.

    5. Those exterior materials would be either lightweight steel or fiberglass skin for the inexpensive exterior doors. Those pre-hung exterior doors also come with an integral threshold.

  8. Concur with Mike! And if you DO, you'll only do it once... because the next thing is going back to the hardware store and spending MORE money.


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