Well this project took a little longer than the original time estimate. Personal projects have a way of moving down the priority list. I am happy with how this turned out. We wanted a table that could seat 8-10 for dinner or play host to a couple of board games. One where we could spread out the paper on a Sunday or work on a laptop late at night. A table that would grow with family and where stories could happen. This one is working well for that so far. It was baptized over Christmas with a fondue fuel spill and fire. We think it is my mum, haunting the family dinners she used to cook, reminding us that she was damn good at it (this isn't the first time we have had a small blaze during a holiday dinner). It wasn't too big of a fire and the finish held up without a mark! Thank-you Benjamin Moore polyurethane. For the legs, we worked with Victoria's Harbour Door to fabricate a square made from raw aluminum. They are light but super strong. The top is made from two full-width (15 1/2"), Doug-fir planks with a skinny one in the middle. Yes, I am still working through the pile of planks salvaged from Victoria's Fan Tan Alley. Biscuit-joints and glue, followed by a lot of belt sanding. Planing would take out the saw kerfs, and there are just too many old, square blacksmith nails hiding in there from when these boards were floor joists, sandwiched together, forming fire seperation between commercial and residential space in the 1892 building they came out of. On to the next project(s) in the list!
The original design brief made a link to the fired interiors of Victoria Distillers Oaken Gin's aging barrels, purchased from Lynchburg, Tennessee's Jack Daniel's Distillery. Their 'regular' gin is aged in these bourbon barrels, which by law in the U.S., can only be used once. The result is a spectacular combination of aroma, taste and a hue that is reminiscent of single malt but subtly different. When I had a really good look at the drawings for the tasting room at Victoria Distillers, and started doing material take offs, I had one of those 'holy crap' moments. There was a lot of that black stuff. It was on the ceiling 'clouds'. It wrapped the cabinets at the end of the tasting table. It wrapped the top of the fireplace. It was behind the bar. It was behind the shelves in three different merchandise units. They even wanted tables made out of it.
It, the black stuff, is Shou-sugi-ban treated wood. I had seen it before, especially in Dwell Magazine, used as exterior siding. I also saw that look on the bottom side of cedar planks I use for barbecuing salmon. The ancient Japanese technique for preserving exterior siding is being used for more than just siding these days, and I had to figure that out. If I haven't done something before, or don't know anyone that has given it a try, I consult You-Tube. After three videos, I usually come up with my own technique based on what makes the most sense, and give it a go. Shou-sugi-ban, which translates to 'charred cedar' continues to be used to fire-harden wood, make it more insect resistant, and decrease the rate at which it rots. For the tasting room, it was all about achieving that look but with an interior application.
First up was the need to clad a number of different walls and features. I had salvaged all the tongue and groove cedar from the soffits that we demoed on the site. It was straight, clear and only stained on one side. I experimented with a few different procedures out on the patio where I could feel comfortable that I wasn't going to smoke anyone out or burn down the building. Keeping the torch away from the stills, 45 gallon drums of ethanol and finished product was also part of the safety plan. Because it was such thin material, I ended up having to rip the tongue and groove off the soffit material because they would stay on fire too long. With this technique, its more about the singe than the full-on burn. Once I figured it out, it became a race to keep up on production while Rick Silva (above) did the install. Burn, spray down. Sun dry. Brush. Burn. Sun dry. Brush. Finish (unless it needed a third burn to get that alligator hide look). When I went to buy coffee on a particularly busy burning day, the person behind me asked if there was a fire in the kitchen. Guess that wood smoke hangs on in the Levis.
Second up was the tables for the lounge. Work space remained on the patio, and let's face it, the view is spectacular with sail boats, sea lion and otters floating by. For the the table-tops, I had intended to use some chunky, old-growth Douglas-fir that I had salvaged from Victoria's Chinatown. It ended up being too chunky for the slim pedestal chosen by our designer, Samantha Weeks. At about the same time I was looking for options, the bottling line for the distillery side arrived from California, packed in large, wooden shipping crates. The base was made by lumber-yard fresh, 2x10s. Perfect. Ripped, biscuit-jointed and glued up, they had the right weight for the pedestals, and took the torch well. Nice thing about using a roofing torch is that people only bug you with really important site and project questions!
Now that the Distillery and the tasting lounge is open (full license in place July 6!), I am looking at a few other applications for Shou-sugi-ban. I think a dining table has got to happen. How about this look for a board room table? It looks great and is just a perfect way to bring some serious design chops to humble, salvaged material that normally hits a construction bin and then a chipper. I get regular reminders of the work following Victoria Distillers on Instagram - drinkvicgin - as the tables and the wall treatments form the backdrop for a number of the photos they post. Check them out on-line or, better yet, in person after a tour and with a cocktail in hand. Let me know if you need something burnt in your next residential or commercial project! I have this black stuff figured out.
A quick post as I get ready to leap back into work mode. I was walking by a construction site garbage bin at the Kealia Ponds National Wildlife Refuge on Maui. They are getting ready to replace a bunch of the board walk (I was there for the birds, not to look at their work site!). After getting great looks at 'Auku'u (Black-crowned Night Heron), Koloa (Hawaiian Mallard), 'Alae Ke'oke'o (Hawaiian Coot) and Ae'o (Black-necked Stilt), I had another look at the bin and found the sign above. It's an ongoing problem at a work site to manage bins. I try and divert as much as possible through up-cycling first, then recycling. That can mean hanging on a bit too long to some materials, just in case you can reuse them. I am working on that - the kiss of death is to move it twice. An open bin is an invitation to some to dump everything from used oil to, yes, full diapers. If you are going to drop off your old Christmas tree or mattress, at least look to see if the bin is for drywall only. That kills me. I already dumpster dive for art materials. I don't need to do it on a daily basis to keep the drywall bin 'clean'. I am not going to ask Madame Pele to intervene as I think she has her plate full with Volcanoes. That said, I may think about her the next time I find a full diaper in the drywall.
Victoria Distillers just received their new still, built at Specific Mechanical in Saanichton, to join their original, smaller one. It's easy to focus on all that sexy copper (just look at that rectification column!). For the distillery guys (that's Phil and Dave in there getting ready to add some more copper), their work on actual production is not far away. For me, as combo site-supervisor / contractor, I am also looking at everything else in this picture, and who was part of it:
- To get rolling, I did ground truthing and take offs for our architect, and the mechanical, electrical and structural engineers. We poured a new floor in the production space at a .5% grade, with forming by the crew at Interactive and cement via ACT Finishing.
- The space, known to Victorian's as Mineral World and the Scratch Patch, was originally designed as a conference centre. We had to decommission floor plugs and do our best to erase signs of the film production work that had made this space into the Gracepoint, California police station. That included some boardwork, mudding and taping by the guys from Malibu Drywall.
- We worked with Peter Newman from Homestead to build out the opening for a Tedford door big enough to get the still through it.
- I designed the space for colour and the window treatments, getting the Cloverdale Paint up on the walls and ceiling, using a Richlock Rentals scissorlift.
- The window trim is 2x6 Fir salvaged out of the other side of this 8500 sq ft space, in what used to be the platforms for the tables in the old Captain's Table Restaurant. Guys from Labour Unlimited pulled it apart and got out all the nails before I cut them up and paint washed them with help from the distillery guys. I did the install.
- Adam and his crew from Edwards Electric ran all the conduit and got the lights up on the ceiling and walls.
- All those steam pipes and fittings were put set in place by Ray and and his crew from West Bay Mechanical. Mike and MacKenzie from Jopp Welding and Ironworks did the welding. West Bay has also done all the tin bashing and HVAC work, bringing AVIS to clean out years of crap out of the ducts.
Lots more folks involved in this project to date, but I just wanted to focus on what I could see in this picture. There is a tonne of work left to do. We have to commission new HVAC, get the washrooms done, fire up the boiler and then get going on the tasting room. A complete reworking of the exterior is also on the books. If all goes well, we would love to get the whole deal going, production and the tasting room, open for business on the Victoria Day long weekend. Between now and then, that's going to mean a lot of hard work by one heck of a team.
When you are the general contractor, or a site supervisor, you have a choice about the music that is playing on the work site. You can buy a big radio, start early, set your station and guard the dial for the rest of the day. I tried setting a serious tone on one site a while back with wall to wall CBC talk. I had a drywaller on that project come up to me one night and say, 'look, I appreciate the work, but if I have to listen to any more of that CBC stuff I am going to slit my wrists with my board blade.' Duly noted.
At the distillery I am site suping right now, I am leaving it to the trades to play their own stuff (as long as its not country. Yes, I can listen to some Dwight Yoakum circa Hillbilly Delux, or Mr. Fred Eaglesmith's take on bluegrass. Hank Williams on a rough day, but that's my limit). The concrete guys (above) didn't have music. Their work is loud, short-term and transient, and they don't like to use earplugs (which would limit the impact of the non-stop insults to each other). The electricians have been going for a bit of a dance / JACK FM vibe lately. It's okay (when Depeche Mode is on) but the Adele / Michael Jackson quotient can have a visible impact on productivity across the site. The plumber is 53. His moustache isn't ironic. I am closer to his era than the electricians. He keeps it glued to the local rock station. His radio came in with a table, lock box for the expensive tools, and a microwave. A salvaged office chair was rolled up within minutes. These guys are used to inhabiting a site. I think he starts earlier each day just to get his radio on first.
Yesterday, the playlist was solidly made up of everything I used to listen to as a teen on the FOX, Vancouver's iconic rock station. Songs from every band I went to see at East Van's Pacific Coliseum rolled out one after another. I will bypass the Judas Priest (not one of my favourite bands but hell, it was at the Coliseum!). Rush's Subdivisions came on, bringing back the night of the concert way back in 1982. That's about 15 years before the apprentice electrician was born, I think . . .). Damn. That was a long time ago. Except for a few punk-influenced summers in Wales, I was a bit of a rocker growing up too close to Surrey. When the Deep Purple, Led Zep and Rush cassettes weren't blasting from the Sound Barrier speakers connected to the Pioneer deck in my Firebird, the Fox was dialled in. All I needed to complete that picture was my hockey mullet and my old jean jacket. I think tight jeans from the Starboard Pant Factory were part of the picture, too. Time to pick up a half sack of Extra Old Stock and go cruise Walley. Yikes. It's nice to know how much I have evolved.
The Tragically Hip's Music at Work came on later in the day and got me thinking about how you could actually have someone DJ a worksite to maximize productivity. I know I can't get away with Henry Ford's amphetamine laced water coolers. I have been accused of similar tactics with 'Fritter Friday' deliveries from the nearby Sidney Bakery. Maybe I need to create a 'mix tape' of my music for work. Think I will start with the vinyl and then start working through the old box of cassettes.
I have taken on a long-term project site supervising the renovation of an ~8400 square foot space into a distillery in Sidney, BC. We will be moving over the operation of Victoria Spirits (currently in a barn with 1500 sq feet of production space) in the next couple of months (more on this in future blogs). Right now, we are seeing what we have to work with. Adaptive reuse of a space starts with knowing what you've got. That means ground-truthing old drawings and updating them with what's been done to the space over time.
The space has had many lives. Originally designed as a conference centre, it's been a restaurant (The Captain's Table), half of it was Mineral World, and it's been a market, offices, a dive shop and for the last little while, vacant. Except, that is, when it played a morgue, jail and police station for the filming of Gracepoint. As we clean things up, I have left the door decals on just to mess with tourists and to give David Tennant fans something to hang on to. Cleaning up the electrical 'work' has been a nightmare. I am still finding blank receptacles placed by the film crew. I still can't figure out what they sprayed on the walls to age them. Maybe I don't want to know.
Knowing what you do have is a bit like detective work, so having a police station logo on the door remains fitting for this phase of the project. A day can start with an innocent call from a mechanical engineer asking about the sprinkler set up. How hard can it be to map that out, I think. Let's just say it took me longer than I thought. Crawlspace, main floor, ceilings and attic all have their own service and runs. Pipes step from 4 inches down through 1 1/4 ". Where it steps down is important to know because that tells you if you have enough pressure to get water right out to the end of the line. The space used to have a full restaurant kitchen, so that means sprinklers designed for that environment. With the walls taken down over time, you can only guess where the different cooking units may have been.
After sending photos back and forth, and bringing out the magic markers to designate the different lines, it all started to make some sense. Crawling around in the attic and the crawlspace (aptly named) makes you wonder how they got all the material in there in the first place. Running through the iPhone photos, I realized that these things look pretty cool. Now I can't walk through another building without looking at how the sprinklers are placed, and what heads they have used. We have had to take down some of the lines to prep for the build phase. You know I am hanging on to the copper to bring it back into the space. It might be used in some the steam lines for the stills or we'll turn it into light fixture for the tasting lounge. Maybe it just ends up back in the sprinkler system, now that we know what we've got.
I was sourcing some cast iron grating for a California drain I am installing in a distillery (more on that project soon). On the sales counter of Corix Water Products in Victoria, they had this note pad attached to a tiny pallet. I have to say that after years of ripping apart discarded pallets and schlepping them home or to a work site, this is the kind of pallet that I like these days. I get calls, texts and e-mails all the time from well meaning folks saying, hey, there's a big stack of pallets on the corner of this street or down that alley. I am so busy these days that its not often that I track down a tip like that. It's not that I have reached peak pallet. If I need some shipping type material, I have some go to spots where I can get what I need. I have talked to the property owners, and they are cool with me picking up what I need. For example, I needed some chunky legs for some outdoor tables I made for Dockside Green and know of a place that ships metal into Victoria on some huge pallets. They have guys hitting their pallet pile for bon fire wood but I think they appreciate my approach. I leave things cleaner than I find them, and if I pull them apart on site, I sweep up any nails or screws that hit the ground (two reasons: it saves tires, mine and theirs, and I reuse the nails and screws, too). I also salvage after hours or on the weekends so that I don't get in the way of their business. Some folks will put stuff I look for aside until I can get there, which is great. I choose spots that are clean when I do make a run. An unsupervised site can become a dump for all kinds of nasty business. I have been moving my way up the salvage chain, too, with a move towards more valuable materials that I can use either in my own projects or move to someone that is looking to up-cycle. That part is pretty encouraging. The more people that are thinking about re-using and up-cycling material, the better off we all are. I don't care if it's about the aesthetic, or trying to save money. It's all good. I do wonder if the little pads of paper on pallets were shipped from overseas, on a much bigger pallet. That would be a bit ironic, wouldn't it?
The intersection of three things over the last little while made me think of three knives I have in the kitchen drawer and how my Mom is connected to all three. Anthony Bourdain, a Napoleon Apollo 3-1 Smoker-Cooker-Grill and my goalie getting surprised by his Mom on his 35th birthday party.
1. Bourdain: I just watched this:
Great series where Bourdain visits crafts people, making things by hand. They go through the process of making books, knives, cast iron pans, suits and then he has a drink of scotch at the end, provided by the sponsor. Good gig. This one is with a guy that makes amazing, hand-crafted knives down in Washington State. My mom was a phenomenal cook. She would have loved this. One of our last conversations before she passed away was about bad boy Bourdain and his book Kitchen Confidential. She loved the guy.
2. The Napoleon: the guys on my hockey team just chipped in on the Smoker-Cooker-Grill for, shall we just say, a milestone birthday of mine. I was joking with my wife that it's almost like buying your partner lingerie. It can be a gift for both of you (if the sizing is right). Yes, I can fit a whole brisket in that thing.
3. Pillow's Mom: The goalie of my old-timer hockey team, the Vancouver Island Silver Marmots, just hit official old-timer status by having his 35th birthday. We call him Pillows because he used to have tiny pads that looked like little pillows. (Yes, we are okay with the fact that most of us are over 40 and he's still young. Someone has to cover up for our bad back check.) His mom flew out to Victoria from Ontario and surprised him. Nice.
So the connection to the above three is about Mom's and cooking and knives and memories. The blade on the lower left is a heavy Craftsman from Sears. A gift from my Mom when I went off to work on a salmon fishing resort ship in Hakai Pass on BC's mid-coast. Heavy and chunky; it has seen a lot of miles. A perfect starter blade. She gave me a quarter with it. A superstition that she brought to Canada from Wales. Money with the gift of a knife offsets it's potential to cut a friendship or family tie. That, along with other superstitions like new shoes on a kitchen table bringing bad luck and the absolute cataclysmic weather results of opening an umbrella inside kept me on my toes as a kid.
The second knife is a cheap cleaver she picked up for me in Vancouver's Chinatown. It also came with a quarter. I remember her taking apart whole chickens and freezing the parts in meal-size portions in sets of Tupperware (those old, opaque white ones). At just under five feet (yes, the Welsh are a small people), she used to have to get up on stool, wield her cleaver over her head and bring it down with 'thwack' as she cut through a back, or chopped off a wing or leg. She used to get the chickens from the same farm she would procure the lambs that had been at the PNE petting zoo. That's another story, for another blog. I will use my cleaver on the ribs I intend to smoke low and slow in the new Napoleon.
The third blade is my Mom's. It's a not-too-expensive Henckels Twin Star. She spoiled herself one day and brought it home to feel like one of the chefs she watched on TV. Maybe she thought it was like the knives Bourdain used. I have it now. I use it all the time but can't bring myself to sharpen it, knowing that she was the last one to put an edge on it. I will get to it one day. It still can slice through a tomato with no problem. I am going to get it out tonight to cut up the toppings for some homemade pizza. We will eat at the table I made, by hand. I think she would be happy to know that.
When my father-in-law visits, he usually helps out with whatever home reno we've got going. It usually ends up with him painting something. The man does not stop. You have to stay ahead of him and prep everything or he shoots you a look like its the last time he's going to help you out. The dog has learned to keep moving or get painted.
On a recent trip to Nanaimo, I was able to help him out a little with renos in his latest home purchase. Bill has flipped a ton of houses, and the in-laws have moved so many times I harbour some concern that they may be in the witness protection program. Along the way, Bill has figured out how to get most things done. Fast. My assignment was pulling off the old baseboard in their late sixties split level. He told me I didn't need to bring any of my tools. Out comes a catspaw, an Estwing hammer, a old-school version of a Wunderbar (you have to say this like the 70's commercial for Cadbury's Wunderbar chocolate bar), and a cleaver. Paint splattered, worn smooth with no paint on the business ends. Old man tools. He's been using the same cleaver for pulling base for years. He handed it to me with a little smile that said, 'bet you don't have one of these in your tool box'. I usually use a Wunderbar for pulling base, but you always run the risk of breaking through the drywall if you pry too hard or don't have it placed on a stud. That often happens in an older house where they actually used finish nails that were set and filled, rather than the current approach of brad nails shot out of nail gun.
I tried out the cleaver. It works like a charm. Bill was worried about the walls. I wanted to keep the wood in one piece. It worked for both. Guess I will be rummaging through the knife bin for a cleaver the next time I am in a thrift store. In case you are wondering, yes, he brought down all the baseboard with him during his last visit. It's clear Doug-fir. Of course I was going to take it! I am thinking I will up cycle the stack into a furniture project one day. It is too good to just use it a baseboard again.
Ohhhh K. So now I get it a bit better. Portland is pretty cool. And weird. And full of freaks. I was down there last weekend for an old timers hockey tournament. The Vancouver Island Silver Marmots were in the wrong division. Most of the guys we were playing against looked like they were too young for a legal drink. At least when we played a team of firefighters, there was always at least one paramedic on the ice. Still a little sore with either a cracked rib or I pulled something. Either way I am popping a few Ibuprophins this week rather than the diet of craft beer, street food and donuts that fuelled the weekend.
Came back with tonnes of pics and inspiration. Those folks do up wood well. Found some great books at Powells, including one on pallets (yes, there is always something to learn), a '50s era furniture design book and bargain on Contemporary Bar and Restaurant Design. The pic above is of the front desk of the Jupiter Hotel (we were staying in the dive across the street). Great work. Love the use of Simpson Strong Tie lag bolts, something usually used behind the scenes with decking hardware. I used the same lags on my food truck tables and benches for Beta at Dockside Green.
If I am going to compete, though, I need two things: a bunch of ink, and a beard. Our goalie, Pillows, went to a beard competition (for charity) at Dante's. That's the bar that has the 'Keep Portland Weird' sign on the back of the building. I don't think I will ever match his full-on lumberjack look. As far as ink goes, I was contemplating getting a hammer done on the forearm until I walked by a tattoo parlour with two of the artists outside having a smoke. They had full sleeves and their legs between their boots and jean cut offs showed nothing but tat. They took one look at my unsullied arms and both shook their heads. Weird. Guess I was the freak!
To start working on my Portland vibe, I am off to watch this: The Man Issue (Portlandia)