I’ll let the photos do the talking, so long as everyone remembers that there are captions underneath:
As a brief introduction, Jamie and I came to the realization that the solar system here at Kopila was completely insufficient, and our “solar power” was actually just coming from batteries that were charged by the grid to provide some voltage during peak shaving. During one particular week, the women’s center needed power for a class being taught here, and the generator had to be run for almost 6 hours every day. We decided to build a pergola to preserve space on the roof of the house for sitting and still provide space for an expanded solar PV array. The house here conveniently faces south (with only a 10 degree offset).
I eagerly decided that I would be the one to build the pergola, for two reasons: 1) I do not yet trust our carpenters here to build something that I want to be beautiful, carefully made, and something they’ve never made before, and 2) I was excited to make something myself, having spent months planning other projects and not actually doing the dirty work.
I didn’t properly anticipate how difficult it would be to work with the wood that was cut to variable thicknesses and crooked lines. Nor did I anticipate how deflating it would be to come home from a long work day at the land and see the unfinished pergola only 10′ above my bedroom. But I slowly persevered, with the help of Jamie and Sandip, and I finally finished the damn thing.
Hence the parenthesized part of the title! Enjoy my struggles! Outlined below..
The legendary devdar wood as our mill had prepared and stacked it. The wood is sold by the cubic foot ($30), so you’re always better off getting longer lengths.
Multiple workers claimed that they themselves had cut down the tree, and that it was 5,000 years old. This number, I very much doubt, though it wouldn’t surprise me if the tree had been a couple hundred years old (based on the distance between rings). The lumber mill had a government issued certificate that they harvested all their wood sustainably – cutting down trees that are dead or dying – and I wouldn’t have bought from them if they hadn’t. With the corruption here, though, who knows whether the certificate was bought out or forged.
During the week I wanted to cut the wood, the city power in Surkhet was on for about 3 hours per day and usually only at night. Once the power finally came, the bandsaw operator had gone on vacation and we had to bring all our wood to the nearest lumber mill across the street.
Touching poem written on my wood-
I hate me
Cause she hates me
I proposed her
I love her
I am mad and
U r mad
U r reading this
baby…Maybe U don’t know me
and I don’t know you
Do U think
this is enough for our
relationship?No. No I don’t think this is enough for our relationship
I don’t have relationships with
People that I don’t know
People that write poems on boards of cedar (my addition).
This is the guy who cut the cedar for our Pergola. He was incapable of communicating without yelling, which was shrill and, when combined with his wide eyes, made you wonder whether or not he’d kill you for telling him that the boards were not cut straight enough.
But indeed, I did tell him, multiple times, that the boards needed to be more straight. All things considered, he did a decent job (it’s not easy doing a straight bandsaw cut on an 11′, 150 pound board), but his image still shouts crazy.
The tuk-tuk that took our wood away. These tuk-tuks have to be started by pulling out a crank from a hardware box, hooking it directly up to the engine, and spinning it with all your might. Once the spark is engaged, the engine fires a huge black fart right into the face of the driver, and the tuk-tuk is ready for action.
The wood, safely delivered.
Having notched the tops of the posts. I wanted to have a quarter inch difference between the notch in the post and its corresponding joist, so a quarter inch chamfer would match well.
Now, notching the BEAMS. This was done similarly to the joists, but it was a little more complex because of the alternating lap joint in the center. Organization of all the notches for beam/joist intersection.
Notches finally cut on the beams.
Fitting together our joists with a simple lap joint. I alternated them so the pattern wouldn’t be too obvious.
I tried to individualize all of the notches in the beams, but to do this I had to measure the variation in thickness for each of the joists at the appropriate place. I made this chart so that I could group together beams and cut more than one notch in one go (by clamping together the group and cutting through them with the skilsaw). For example, I clamped all six boards for the D-notch and cut them at 1 1/4″. For the I-notch, I clamped boards 1,2,5,6 and cut through at 1 1/4″, and then clamped boards 3 and 4 to cut a notch at 1 3/8″. Some, like the F notch (see image), took a little while longer.
Clamping together joists for notching, then ripping across at the appropriate thickness. I straightened one side of every joist and clamped them all together with the straight sides flush (on the ends, where they lie on the beams) so that I could cut a 1″ notch in every board. In total, there were 108 notches (54 on the beams, 54 on the joists).
A particularly troublesome board. These square pieces were for the top.
Putting up the damn thing. For the four corner posts, I had our welder make simple 4″x4″ metal boxes that I could drill through. I put holes into the concrete slab below and filled the holes with epoxy and a screw. I then screwed through the side of the box into the post. The ropes were to ensure the whole thing didn’t tip over the forty drop to the south.
Up it goes. Everything was prefabbed, which made this part really fun. In my desire for perfectly clean joints though, I had to widen about a third of my notches with a skilsaw up on the ladder… so that part was less fun. I was terrified the posts (or me) would fall over the edge onto someone below.
The structure is up! Just missing the corner braces, top nailers, and the planter boxes.
Corner braces added.
Preparing for the pieces to go along the top. Some pergolas don’t have these, but I much prefer the aesthetic and enclosing-feel of a grid up above your head. Also, we’ll need these if we want to attach a solar system (which was the whole point).
The sunset finish. I really only had Saturdays to work on this, since we had been working from 6:30 to 6:30 on our rammed earth boundary (that’s for another post), so we frantically worked to finish the top nailers last Saturday. Working up top made me feel like a cow trying to cross a slatted bridge – walking along the grid, between boards of plywood, was not a stress-free work environment, and I was delirious with joy as I fastened in the last piece of the top.
Wrapping our posts in plastic to prepare for the corner planters.
Pete made the four corner planters, and we fill the boxes with old bricks, stones, and (in this photo) a big bag of broken bathroom tiles for drainage.
The corner planters – Pete did a great job, and combined locally harvested Sal for the trim and a dark waterproofed plywood for the rest of the box. As soon as he finished, I went with him and Cass to buy bougainvillea and random flowers to plant. We used Jamie’s compost from the land, and put everything in place with each corner a different color.
View from below, on the main road through Surkhet.
The pergola today. Next steps: add furniture underneath and string a set of dim lights along each beam.