Patty’s home needs a roof

Rough sketch of roof with dimensions and notes on available lumber
Sketch of roof with notes about available lumber and dimensions

I’m used to big box stores where prices and materials are more or less clearly marked. Lately I’ve been searching for local options in an attempt to avoid the big box stores (and their sketchy politics), but I’m often intimidated by the layout and lack of information in such stores. The roof of the playset had more rot than I expected. Each board was 1X6X48 inches. I also wanted to increase the overhang of the roof to keep our birds dry.

So here’s the thing about a project like this- I seem to spend as much time on the planning, designing, and sourcing of materials as I do on the building part. Making art is similar- often you spend more time thinking and planning than making. The making, truth be told, is generally the fun part.

I could have saved about half the wood of the roof and bought 1X6 lumber to replace the rot, but that wouldn’t have allowed me to increase the overhang. I could have used plywood, but I just didn’t want to. I’m not against it, but it does have chemicals in it that limit its long term usefulness as a material. I guess it bothers me that you can’t even safely burn it after it’s usefulness as a building material has run out.

I didn’t see any interesting alternatives at a nearby big box store, so I went to a local lumber store that had been recommended to me.

Did I mention that I’m an introvert? So a brand new store with unknown layout and rules (remember it’s the Covid 19 era as well) gives me pause. I sat in my minivan for a few long minutes before heading on in. Immediately it’s clear that all the wood is out back somewhere. There aren’t any good signs to tell me where and how to find it. The woman who answers my questions is nice enough, but it’s clear that that none of it is labeled for the novice consumer, or priced, and I will just have to ask. I looked around some more and retreated to my car.

So I’m literally in my van with my sketchbook, and I call. What do you have that might work for the project I’m making? The person on the phone is marvelous considering, and I have to call back a few times as he measures the actual size of the wood he has in stock, and I check my math. Because here’s another thing for the unsuspecting novice- a 2X4 piece of wood (why oh why are we still using the English measurement system?) does not actually measure 2 inches by 4 inches. It’s usually closer to 1 3/4 X 3 1/2 inches. So you have to take into account the actual measurements of the wood.

6 raw boards, sanded and ready to stain
6 raw boards, sanded and ready to stain

They had 1X8X16 rough spruce. Not a material I’m familiar with, but I was intrigued- could I make that work? I did the math and figured it it was actually pretty perfect, that if they cut each piece into 3 even pieces 5’4″ each (the van holds a 4X8 board but 16 feet is too long), I could get enough wood if I bought 5 16′ lengths, and bought 6 just in case which turned out to be helpful. That would increase my overhang by several inches lengthwise and about 2 inches longer on each side.

After buying the wood, which necessitated a trip inside, I was told to drive around back. Vague directions, very little signage. I hate that- can you tell I hate that? But I found the right person, who looked a little confused but he found and cut the wood for me. As I’m out there I realize that much of the wood, mine included, is stored outside on the ground. I’m not sure if that’s standard procedure but it doesn’t seem ideal, so even as I’m waiting for it to be cut I’m having this buyer’s remorse, second guessing all of my decisions. In the end I spent $100 on the wood for the roof, which is a bit more than plywood would have been but I feel better about it. My point here is that hardware stores and lumber yards, which are traditionally male spaces although that’s changing, are intimidating if you’re not in the know. Better signage and labeling would help that. This is where the big box stores get it right- making it easier for those of us who weren’t indoctrinated into this world at a young age to figure out how to navigate.

The wood is fine, but it was dirty and pretty rough. I decided to sand it, not smooth, but just enough to get the dirt off and some of the gray bits. My small ‘mouse’ sander was clearly not up to the task. I was able to borrow a palm sander that was better (thank you Jeffu!). It’s all going to be covered with roofing paper and shingles so it doesn’t have to be beautiful, but I stained one side anyway to give it an extra bit of protection from the elements. I figure I can paint the other side, which will then be the ceiling of the 2nd floor, if I want to. We’ll see.

5 spruce boards, stained dark brown and laid out to dry on the playset
5 spruce boards, stained and drying on the 1st floor of the playset

Next step was to trim all the wood that wasn’t exactly 5’4″ (some were longer). Somewhere along the line I thought, well what if I bevel the edges of the 2 pieces that meet at the peak so that they line up nicely? But cutting 5′ boards with a circular saw at a 45 degree angle lengthwise isn’t all that easy, and my first try was off quite a bit, then my 2nd try went awry (I might have cut through my portable worktable a wee bit) and I got frustrated. I was underestimating where the blade came out underneath, and I also kept forgetting to use the correct guide on the circular saw for the 45 degree cut. It’s not good to get frustrated when working with power tools. My husband noticed and said let’s take the dog for a walk now. So we did.

Came home, 3rd try and I got it right. In the end it’s not that different than cutting a beveled mat, but the tools have more HP and the material is a lot denser and thicker. By the way, I always wear safety glasses and ear protection, and I’ve deliberately cultivated a neurotic habit of pulling the battery out every time I put the saw down. Safety is an extremely important consideration- I need all my fingers thank you very much!

Today’s task- replace the rotted boards with the new boards, trim the top of the 4X4s to match. One had some rot at the top so I’m taking 3 inches off the top of all 4. This is where the frame of the roof screws/is bolted to the structual 4X4s of the playset.

Meanwhile, I’ve ordered the shingles and the roofing nails, and they’re ready to pick up at my nearby box store. Sorry local store! I’ll try again… but I do love the new curbside pick-up option.

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