The Cross House

A Columnar Dilemma

There is a 6×6 post holding up the house.

 

I really hate that post. For five years I have ignored it but, as the big push this year is finishing the south facade, something will have to be done about that 6×6 post.

But what?

 

This is what was originally there. It was a single wood column. Its hand-carved capital matched all the other column capitals on the house. The column base was unique. And the round column sat atop a square wood column, rather than stone as with all the other columns.

 

That column, today. The poor dear. Its only value is as a template. You can see how the round column sat atop a square column.

 

Back to this image. The crook was caused by the weight of the house crushing the vertical support because the support was made of various pieces. And, if I recreate what was, this will happen again.

 

Ideally, the entire LONG length of the column should be made of one solid piece of stout wood, top to bottom, and with the capital being hand-carved in place.

Well, that is so not gonna happen as the cost will ruin me.

 

As this is written, four columns are being made to replace four lost columns on the main porch and porte-cochère. They are being made of cedar, and are being turned on a lathe. I am beyond excited about this.

It took two years to find somebody to do this. And, while researching this, I simultaniously tried to find if the TALL column could be recreated as one solid piece of wood.

Nope. It is just too tall and nobody has a lathe that large, even if I could afford it.

 

In pondering this for five years, I think perhaps maybe I could install a thin steel column to support the weight of the house. Before this is installed, I could drop over the steel column:

  1. A square hollow base made of pressure-treated lumber.
  2. A hollow wood column.
  3. A hollow capital, cast in resin from an original capital.

This would not cost too much money. The steel column would offer unbroken structural support from top to bottom. What one would see however would be a decorative outer layer.

This way, I can correct an 1894 structural flaw, while recreating the 1894 look.

Well, these are my current thoughts.

 

 

 

14 Responses to A Columnar Dilemma

  1. As I was reading, my thoughts were the same as yours. Use some sort of very stout steel beam to hold the house up. You must support that weight to help stay off further damage. My suggestion was also pieces, but rather than hollow and dropped over, I was going to suggest forming in sections, hollowing out the sections and then cutting them in half, then securing around the beam.
    I’m sure you will figure out the best way to solve this problem while both supporting the weight of the house and maintaining the esthetic. I love reading about you progress on the Cross House, thank you for the updates.

  2. For posterity’s sake, definitely go with the encased steel post. And since the overlaying sheath wouldn’t be weight supporting, each of the pieces could be made in 2 parts. Benefits? You could install the steel column now, before the porte cochere falls on your head, and add the decorative pieces as you could afford them.

  3. Definitely go with the steel post immediately, especially if you’re going to be climbing on that section soon. As David said, you can add on the decorative bits later as you can afford it, and can also wait till you need a one day job later this year to install them.

  4. Hi Ross-
    How long was the column and what is the width of the square part? With the actual dimensions known, there may be a way to get this done the right way.
    My lathe has a bed with extensions that allow me to turn almost any length piece of wood. I could take it apart, put it in my car, and set it up at the Cross House as long as you could provide me a long enough surface to affix it.I could also carve the capital afterwards. The other problem is a seasoned piece of wood to turn.
    -Businesses that cut down trees professionally could cut a tree that they are being paid to remove to provide the right length of hardwood log from which your column could be milled.
    -There are lots of hobbyists who have band saw or chain saw mills all over the country. I find it hard to believe that there is not such a hobbyist in your area who would volunteer to mill a section of a recently cut down tree to the correct dimensions. It would be good to add an inch or so to the dimensions to allow the wood to change dimensions as it dries.
    – There are so many ways to achieve the goal of a long hardwood column, these are just a few.
    ********** I would think that there are plenty of people among your followers who live nearby that are paying someone to cut down a suitable tree and others who know of someone who , if they don’t themselves, owns a portable mill who would mill it for you. If you can find the person with the tree, the hobbyist will likely cut the tree down for free in exchange for the wood that you don’t need.
    There may even be someone who has a long seasoned log to mill already.
    HOW ABOUT IT LOCALS, anyone know the right people?

  5. Even if a wood replacement can be made I would likely go with a steel pole dressed up to look like a column

  6. I’m going to jump on the already-crowded bandwagon suggesting using a structural steel column with authentically-turned and carved wood covering around it. I will offer a few of my own suggestions, however:

    1. Pay close attention to the supporting foundation supporting. It appears to bear considerable weight. If there’s not already a firm, level, and sound reinforced concrete footing and pedestal, I would build one.

    2. Ensure the pedestal is a minimum of 8″, preferabley 12″ or 18″ above final grade, to keep the base of the column above the rain splash zone.

    3. If you use a steel column, ensure it’s well-protected from corrossion, as it is liable to be exposed to weather if the wood covering is breached. Hot-dipped galvanized would be ideal, but a zinc-rich primer and quality topcoat would suffice.

    4. Construct the wood covering with details to allow open weep holes at the base, and small vent holes at the top to allow any water that makes its way inside out, and allow for airflow to allow drying. This will both protect the steel column, as well as help the paint and wood covering last longer, as it can dry out from the inside.

    • I also have some civil engineering thoughts. The wood columns aren’t that thick so if you make this one into a wrap encasing a steel column, the steel might be too slender to resist buckling any better than the wood does. My sister is getting married today but we can look at this later. I think it would be a lot easier if you go with steel column/wood wrap to install the wood with a vertical seam.

  7. Given that the original was made of separate pieces, and likely only started to buckle when the rot started, and looking at the pictures of the structure my guess is the load is not that great. I think a steel pole of perhaps 3-4″ through the middle of a wood wrap would work fine. Worthwhile getting an engineer to confirm my assumptions though. I’d try to take steps to avoid water getting trapped at the bottom in any way. A small stone foundation could help enormously

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