Just Armando This Week ~ Some Blocks, Some Repello

Sunday Cynthia returned, sick as a dog with a nasty head cold, from a trip to the States. Yes I kissed her when she exited from customs and immigration. And yes, by Tuesday I had it too.

All week I was able to show up in the morning, open the doors for Armando, then totter back home to the hammock. So this week was all about Armando. He was able to build a block wall on the west side of the big floor and apply repello (stucco) to both sides. Here are a couple photos:



Eventually there will be steps down to a terrace area, although the steps won’t be quite so grand or involved as the front steps.

When he completed the wall, he moved to the front steps and began applying repello to the sides of the steps. You can also see that last week I started placing the sheet metal roofing sheets on the big floor. Still a lot more to do, but that will have to wait until my energy has returned:


Armando still has a couple blocks to place in the hole, then he can finish this wall.


The hole in this wall will have a wire mesh door. We’ll keep a propane gas tank or two in this space.

That’s all the progress for this week. I’ll be back at it soon, although Cynthia tells me that some people in the States have been under the effect of this bug for six weeks. We’ll see.

Just a note: The company that hosts this site, DreamHost, recently suffered a catastrophic crash of the server that holds my, and probably many thousands of other sites. This site was down for a while and page loading has slowed significantly while they restore perhaps millions of files. It is getting better. I want to give the company credit; they are keeping me updated with information and have restored every page of my blog. S**t happens, but I think that DreamHost handled it as well as anyone could expect. I like the company.

That’s all for now. Back to my hammock. Thanks for stopping by.



Front Steps ~ Part 2

In the previous post we had completed two of the front steps and were preparing for the third. Moving downward in our construction process, here is the third step finished:


You can see that we have a row of blocks for the fourth step ready and waiting.

Moving downward again, the next photo is of the fourth step. At this point the job is getting tedious, but we are urged onward by how good it is looking.


So far the steps have been two-feet front-to-back, but the fifth step is now down at driveway level where you can comfortably step onto this step from the driveway. The two-feet seemed narrow and confining so I decided to make the step three-feet front-to-back:


To the left of the bottom step you can see an area delineated by concrete blocks. We’ll pour a slab there, but we need to find some fill dirt to level the area first.

Here is the staircase viewed from the landing at the second bedroom door:


After all the construction, the area was a mess. Armando and I spent the morning moving all the junk. We moved a hundred concrete blocks to the other side of the house. We spent an hour pulling weeds that had taken over the driveway. We also spread a small pile of gravel in the driveway and received another eight (of twelve) yards of sand and gravel that we will use to make concrete for the big floor; the sand and gravel from the river wouldn’t normally be available, but we were visited by a big rainstorm from the Caribbean so the rivers brought new material downstream. In the foreground you can see the hangers I fashioned from rebar to support the ends of the beams; there are more substantial support columns just a few feet away.

Here’s a picture of the steps from the front gate:


After lunch, Armando moved to the other side of the big floor to continue digging a trench for the west wall. We’ll pour a footing and lay two or three rows of concrete blocks to support this end of the floor. By the way, our neighbor finally cut the big tree trunk into pieces. I gave the wood to Armando because his family cooks with a wood fire. During the rainy season, his wife hangs the laundry to dry by the stove in the kitchen, and he frequently comes to work smelling like a campfire:


I’ll trim the beam that is too long and weld it onto the beam that is too short. These beams are 40-feet long.

While Armando dug, I fired up the welder and spent two hours welding cariolas to the last beam and installing a couple more carriolas. The floor is nearly ready for the zinc panels that will support the concrete floor!


After the zinc panels are on the floor, the next task is to make the big roof. Now THAT will be exciting! We won’t pour the concrete floor until the roof is up for cover from rain. It will also give us shade from the hot sun.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Progress On Big Floor And Front Steps

Lately we have been working on framing the big floor (front entry, living room, dining room) and on building the broad staircase leading to the front door.

While Armando is occupied digging footing trenches for the steps and laying block, I have been welding the floor joists that will support the concrete floor. Here is a photo with some of the joists in place:


These joists are 24-feet long and fit perfectly between containers 2 and 3. The joists sit on three beams that are supported by the columns that we poured earlier. We still have to raise the third beam into place, but we are waiting for our neighbor to cut and remove the tree at the west end of the floor; the tree is blocking the space where the beam needs to be and he has the best chainsaw in the neighborhood!

The front steps will have the same long-and-low design as the steps from the carport up to my shop. While I am welding, Armando has the more difficult job of digging footings, pouring concrete, and laying blocks. During the dry season, much of the clay-based soil turns rock hard and has to be attacked with a pickaxe. I try to plan his day so that he does the most strenuous work in the morning before the 80 to 85-degree afternoon sun bakes us into the soil.

Each one of the steps has its own concrete footing and row of concrete blocks, so these steps are an ambitious several-week project. Here is the main wall that will support the east end of the big floor and another slightly shorter wall that will support the top step:


While Armando set the blocks, I drilled holes to receive pieces of rebar which will support sheet metal, which in turn will support the concrete steps. Here are the rebar supports in place:


I used a bunch of scrap metal to make the support for the concrete:


The next photo shows the top step all poured and the next one down ready to be poured. I am using 2″x6″ metal cariolas for the front-of-step form. I cut the cariolas on an angle and welded them together where the two cariolas intersect so that each step will have the same slant at the front of the step:


Here are two steps all poured; only three more to go! Preparing a step and pouring it takes the two of us an entire day:


The next photo will give you a feel for what the front entrance steps will look like:


I knew that this stairway would eat a lot of concrete, rebar, blocks and labor. But I also knew that the entry sets the stage for the house. I just couldn’t bring myself to build a one-day, contractor-grade, four-foot-wide puny set of stairs. It just wouldn’t have been right.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.


Easy Stairs And A Splendid Walkway

On and off for about two months when it rained (did I mention that it rained?) and outside work was not fun, Armando and I have worked under the carport roof. We built a walkway in front of the containers and my shop; this walkway will eventually extend around, at the same level, to the front door. We also built a ramp and a few long steps up to my shop.

Now finally, it is all done. I’ve posted a few of the following photos earlier, but here is the project presented all in one post:

I like easy steps. Easy to walk up or down, that is. Most steps are six-and-a-half to eight inches high, but for this application I wanted the steps long and low. I divided the overall elevation gain by four-and-a-half inches and came up with an even four steps. Here we are digging a foundation for each step, pouring concrete, and then laying a row of blocks to hold the fill dirt in place:

Here is the walkway formed and the three steps roughed in place:

We put rebar and remesh in place:

And finally poured all the walkway concrete in one fell swoop:

Here is the slab all poured:

Next we poured a ramp. You never know, plus the ramp will be helpful when it comes time to move the welder or the wheelbarrow when we pour the concrete floors in the house (soon, I promise!):

The first step is also complete in this photo.

Then, one at a time starting at the top, we formed and poured each step. Here is the top step all poured and troweled:

Lastly we cleared all the construction debris away from the area and brought in some crushed gravel to keep us from walking in mud. We left room for future concrete mixing. Here are four photos of the finished project:

You can see the passageway to Cyn’s studio, and sharp eyes will see that I have most of the outside bathroom completed.

Even though it is just a carport, the space feels tranquil and gracious. We will spend a lot of time sitting here as we transition this once jungle lot to our new home.

In other news, Cynthia is all relocated into her new studio. Here she is making a glass bead at her torch:

Hot glass. C.O.N.C.E.N.T.R.A.T.I.O.N. Do not disturb!

Other projects are in the pipe, but that’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Odds ‘N Ends

I know, I know. A lot of you read my blog to see how we are working with the shipping containers, and there hasn’t been a lot of that lately. There will be, but not just yet.

Cynthia and I were remarking last week that other than the inside of my shop, nothing else is completely done. At two years into this project, and although we have accomplished a tremendous amount given our small crew, six-hour work days, long rainy seasons, and time out for health issues, everything has raw edges. We decided to focus for a few weeks on getting a few items DONE.

Columns: We thought it would be nice to drive up to the project and see the front entrance columns  done, so I started there. About a year ago, we built these two columns for the front gate:

May, 2011. Note how much has been done since then.

The columns still needed a concrete roof cap like the one on the electric service wall, so I set about making some forms. Here is one ready to be installed on a column:

It was somewhat strange working with wood again. I almost tried to weld it! For the nice tight corner joints I used my Kreg Pocket Hole Jig. You clamp your board in the jig, then insert the special drill bit into the appropriate hole in the jig and drill away:

Then you use special screws to screw the corners together:

Here are the forms in place and the concrete poured:

To prevent rainwater from flowing over the edges of the roof and staining the edges with dirt and mold, I pitched the concrete down toward the center line of the roof (to create an interior gutter) and toward the drain pipe.

Here is one of the roof-itos after I stripped the forms:

Of course, the columns are still too stark, so we went down the mountain and picked out a porcelain tile, to be delivered next week. We chose porcelain because the color goes all the way through the tile; regular ceramic tile has a thin layer of color that would be sure to chip when Armando cuts the grass and the weed whacker throws a stone at the tile. The photo doesn’t do it justice, but here is a peak anyway:

This tile will go on the two front gate columns, the electric service wall, and the two buttress columns at the carport.

Driveway: With the rainy season upon  us, the driveway has been muddy nearly every day. We had a big pile of crushed gravel, so Armando and I spread it on much of the driveway. I rolled it with the Honda Steamroller. Quite a difference from the first photo in this post:

Carport Wall: The carport columns and roof are in place, but we wanted a short wall in line with the columns. Because the carport roof is done, Armando was able to work even when it rained:

When the wall block work was done, Armando and I built a form and poured concrete for a shelf on top of the wall:

Here’s the wall and shelf with one side of the forms removed. It was raining cats and dogs all day so I couldn’t get to the outside forms:

Next week Armando will repello (stucco) the wall inside and out (weather permitting).

Plant Pots: I’ve had this little wall in my head for some time. I thought that the shelf would be a great place for plants that don’t need a lot of sun. One of us said, “How about bamboo?” Pots of a nice thin, leafy bamboo would look great on the shelf. It would create a natural curtain for the carport and create some mystery when viewed from the side road. That brings us to pots. We could spend a bunch of money on nice pots, so I said, “I could build them.” In the next photo I put some plastic on the floor of one of the containers and nailed forms to the floor. Armando and I will pour plant pot parts (say that three times fast) next week, then let them sit for a few weeks to cure. I plan to screw the concrete pieces together with plastic anchors and stainless steel screws unless any of you have a better idea:

I'll reinforce the concrete with 1/4" rebar. I'd like to mix in some strengthening fiber, but I haven't seen any in Panama.

Paint: Now that the shop is done and the repello has cured, its exterior walls can be painted, as can the container wall under the carport roof. This will do a lot to unify disparate parts of the project. Cynthia and I have had a Dickens of a time deciding on a color for the exterior of the house. Most Panamanian houses are white or cream or yellow or shocking pink or shocking green or, you get the point, and we would like something different. Any shade of gray was blah and reminded me of my military Navy days so that was out. A light yellow would be pleasant but it is overdone in our neighborhood. So after choosing the porcelain tile (but before we bought it), we went to a paint store to look at colors. Surprise of surprises, we chose a gray teal I guess you could call it. We think the house painted this color will blend nicely with the surrounding greenery. But as always with paint, we could hate it. So we bought a test quart and will withhold our decision until we see what it looks like on the exterior walls. 

Even though I am aching to get back to the windows in the containers, it felt good to work toward completing a few projects. I think seeing more pieces and parts finished will keep us jazzed and moving forward. Even Cynthia looks happier:

That’s all for now.


I Was Rattled ~ Septic Redo

About two weeks ago Armando was working on defining the left side of the driveway. He was digging a trench, pouring a foundation, and laying a row of blocks just as he had done on the right side of the driveway. While he was mixing concrete, we had a power outage. No power/no water pump. No water pump/no water.

Armando is nothing if not resourceful. The drainage ditches have run dry so there was no water there. And the little underground stream that in the rainy season fills the concrete cistern in the side of the mountain was dry too. But he remembered that there was water in the yet-unused septic tank; we filled it to keep it from popping out of the ground.

He removed the lid, leaned over, and dipped a five-gallon bucket into the tank. Startled by something, he pulled his hand out quickly. “There is something in there!” he exclaimed in Spanish. Of course, I immediately thought it might be Jimmy Hoffa or some similarly distasteful discovery. Then trying to lighten my first thought my mind went to, “What is it Lassie? Did Timmy fall down the well?”

Turns out, it wasn’t an object in the tank, but only the tank itself. Even though we had back filled with topsoil and not the expansive clay, the tank still gave way to the pressures of the soil and the high water table. The tank was crushed and split.

I was distressed. I didn’t want to dig up the whole mess and start over again. I was really rattled. How rattled? When Cynthia does the laundry, she dissolves some OxyClean powder in warm water then adds it to the washing machine. Yesterday she left the solution on top of the machine and it played quite a tune as it rattled during the spin cycle. I was this rattled:

I don’t know why, but that video made me smile.

After some discussion, we decided to remove the plastic tank and build the local tried and true concrete block septic tank. One benefit of all of this is that we can make a much larger tank and not have to pump the tank for a long time. Tank pumping is expensive, $300 to $500 seems the average here.

Wanting to beat the rainy season, the next day we started the redo. The tank was filled with water that would have to be removed. Also, we knew that we would be working on the project for two weeks or so, and every morning we would have to bail or pump hundreds of gallons of water from the pit. I decided to bite the bullet and buy a pump. I should have done it back when we were fabricating the columns to set the containers on.

I made a quick trip to town and bought a portable, gasoline engine powered water pump. Chinese, $236. I also bought some PVC pipe fittings and a couple lengths of pipe. Back at the job, the pump worked like a charm and emptied the tank in just a couple of minutes.

Whenever a new tool is brought to the job, the guys have a great time. Here, neighbor Ricardo stopped by to check out the excitement. We were all pumped.

After pumping, we started digging. While the guys dug, I made a tripod for a hoist, like for back yard car engine pulling in the old days. Even when we had the tank empty and dug free, the hoist just pulled the tubes into the ground and the tank stayed put. Eventually we dragged the tank out with a tow strap hooked to the Honda.

The other side was crushed, too. We're going to cut the tank at the first rib to make a swimming pool for Armando's young son.

Then the guys set about digging a larger pit for the new concrete block tank. They decided to work barefooted because the clay stuck to the rubber boots and it was just too arduous to work. I told them they should be paying me for the foot beauty treatment, and I offered to let Armando bring his wife to enjoy the spa too. For some reason he thought she would decline my generous offer:

As they dug, the men kept a rock nearby so they could bang the shovel on it. The clay soil stuck to each shovelful like glue. Finally, after four days of digging, we got to the point where we could set rebar and pour the floor:

Next came the walls. I noticed that Armando’s block work was much better than on the shop. I mentioned it to him, “Good block work, Armando,” and he said it had to be stronger because he didn’t want his work to collapse!

Here’s the repello in progress, inside and out. Outside, they worked their way up with the repello a few rows at a time as the blocks were laid.

And finally the roof. We installed a few 2×3 steel carriolas as joists and placed scrap pieces of roofing metal over the joists.

Here’s the finished roof. After the concrete cures a bit, I’ll remove the Styrofoam block, place some plastic over the hole, and pour the access hole cover for future pumping and inspection.

Now the only things left to do is to remove the forms, make a hatch cover, back fill around the tank with sand, move a lot of the dirt to low spots in the driveway near my shop, and spread the rest of the dirt over the tank to make grade.

After finishing the roof on the tank, we quit for the day. I had been wanting to investigate lock options for several of the doors in the new house, so I Googled my search. After watching a YouTube video on electric door strikes, a screen came up with other videos to watch. I was tired and wanted to sit a while longer so I clicked one. It turned out to be the Ukraine version of the TV show X Factor. It was so entertaining that I watched several of the performers and killed an hour. Cynthia pulled up a chair, too. Here is our favorite act:

That’s all for now.



My Shop ~ Part 8 ~ The Floor

The concrete floor for my shop was the easiest and best slab I have ever poured was not without difficulties. All ultimately ended well, but as always, there is a story.

For some time now, we have had a pile of cascajo (cas-ca-ho [the letter a has a soft sound in this word] — river run sand and gravel) taking up space in the driveway. Cascajo is great for foundations and large columns. The mix as it is dug from the river has a range of sizes from sand granules to six-inch rocks. But it is not so great for floors because of the larger rocks. The rule of thumb for pouring a slab is no gravel/stone larger in size than one-third the thickness of the slab. I know we should have sifted the pile, but Armando and his crew balked. They said that sifting just isn’t necessary. If you come across a rock that is grande and causing a problem, just pull it out of the slab and throw it aside.

Additionally, most of the pile had been sitting for months and it was permeated with grass, weeds, and roots. I could foresee a problem when it came time to trowel a nice finish, but again the guys said “es normal.”

Here is a photo of the root-infested pile of cascajo:

I’ve learned to pick my fights with the guys because I can really make a fool out of myself; they usually know things that I don’t. A case in point is when two men showed up to put an internet antenna on the roof of the house we rented when we moved to Panama. They arrived with:

  • the antenna and connecting cable
  • a six-foot length of half-inch electrical conduit
  • a small coil of bailing wire
  • a nail
  • a hammer
  • a pair of pliers

I scoffed to myself. Where was the electric drill? Where were the numerous brackets, bolts, and accessories that they would surely need to mount the mast to the roof? And where was the mast? In my opinion they were missing about $129.95 in essential pieces and parts. But I watched.

They found an old tree stump in the yard to use as an anvil. Then with the hammer they pounded flat about three-inches of one end of the electrical conduit. Next with the hammer and nail, they punched a hole in the flat section, then using the bumper on their small van they bent the flat section to a right angle. Next, back to the tree stump they switched ends of the conduit and punched a hole in the conduit about two inches from the end.

Then using the pliers up on the roof they slightly unscrewed three screws that were holding the metal roofing in place, plus a fourth screw all the way. They put the removed screw through the nail hole in the bent end of the conduit and put the screw back into the hole in the roof that it came from and tightened it down. Then they wrapped some bailing wire around one of the loosened screws, ran the wire up and through the hole at the top end of the conduit, and back down and around the second screw, back up and through the conduit, and down to the third screw. They tightened the screws. At this point the conduit mast was triangulated firmly in place. Then they mounted the antenna dish on the conduit and ran the cable to the router on my desk inside the house. D.O.N.E.

So I am careful. I learn a lot from these capable and resourceful men.

But Sr. Murphy often shows up on the job. In the case of the floor slab in my shop, it seems that my image of troweled-smooth concrete is very different from their version. I like it smooth. Very smooth. I don’t want a sandy surface. They like it flattened out so you don’t trip on any of the ridges. They don’t take smooth into account because it is a long day’s work and anally troweling the floor to a mirror finish is just not going to happen.

There is more to the story, but let’s see some photos:

I held my ground on preparing for the slab. I like a nice level couple-inch layer of gravel to pour the slab on. If you pour concrete on dirt, moisture in the dirt will capillary-action wick its way up into the slab. But capillary action can’t happen through the stones because the spaces between the stones are too large. The slab will stay dry. So even though they thought I was stupid, I had a few yards of one-inch stone delivered. Sammy and I spread it level. Jabo wasn’t sure he liked it:

On Thursday, Cynthia and I put welded wire mesh on the floor to keep the slab from cracking. Here is the floor ready for concrete. My laser level is set up to level the concrete, and in the corner is a wooden bull float that I made from scrap.

The guys mixed a big pile of concrete:

And Armando and I spread it out. Because of the large rocks in the mix, it was difficult to raise the wire mesh to the center of the slab, but I got it raised about a third of the way up. Close enough. I’m using the laser level to set the grade so Armando could more easily screed the concrete. You can see he has thrown out a few trouble maker rocks:

Here Erin and Pancho take a break after using 24 sacks of cement:

In the next photo Armando trowels the floor. After wooden floating the floor, you shouldn’t steel trowel the concrete until all the water has disappeared from the surface. This way you won’t be pushing water around, washing the cement away from the granules of sand. But it was pushing 5:00 and the guys (including yours truly) were tired. So Armando pushed the envelope slightly and troweled while there was still water on the surface. I knew I wouldn’t be happy with the finished product, but it is, after all, just a shop.

We finished, cleaned up the tools, and called it a day. The next morning, Saturday, Armando had work elsewhere, so it was just me arriving on the job. I took a look at the floor. I didn’t like it and gave the job a C-minus, maybe a D. It was rough and there wasn’t enough cement “cream” on the top. It was going to be difficult to sweep it clean in the future.

What to do? It is generally a bad idea to apply a skim coat of cement paste onto a concrete floor because in time flakes will spall off the floor. But our floor was still very green, still hydraulically pushing out water. I’ve read that you have a good chance of succeeding with a skim coat if you catch the slab while it is still only a few hours old. The most common reason for needing to do this is when a surprise rainstorm pops up and washes the cream away just after steel troweling a driveway or a patio slab.

So that’s what I did. I got a steel trowel, a bucket of dry cement powder, a bucket of water, and a sponge. I spent most of the day sprinkling cement on the slab, then adding a bit of water by wringing the sponge, then troweling the paste onto and into the floor. I had to take numerous breaks to stand up and straighten the old Arthur Itis knees. At the end of the day I gave the floor a B-plus. I can’t give it an A because the mesh didn’t get lifted as high as I wanted and also because there were a few dips just a bit deeper than I would have liked. Troweling the top coat was gruelingly difficult for my old body, but I am glad that I did it.

I’m spraying the floor with water a few times a day now, and will continue for a week. This will slow the rate of cure and will prevent a lot of surface cracks. Here’s my finished floor slab just after I sprayed it:

The next time I am in the city I plan to go to Discovery and buy a few gallons of garage floor epoxy. With the epoxy, a quick sweep of the broom will clean the floor “real nice.”

I need to let the slab sit and cure without foot traffic for at least a week, so depending on the condition of my knees, I should be back working on the house windows maybe tomorrow.

That’s all for now.


My Shop ~ Part 7 ~ Electrical, Repello (Stucco) & Pizza

With the completion of the repello (stucco) on the interior shop walls, Armando and Sammy moved operations to the bathroom walls. Because the bathroom is so small, there was no room for me to to help.

I’ve found over the years that working in small rooms and closets doing tasks such as putting up drywall or painting can be more difficult than working in a larger space. There are still the same number of walls, angles, and corners but there is little room to turn around after you get tools and a ladder inside the space. So Armando was on his own in the “phone booth” bathroom and Sammy kept him supplied with mezcla (mortar mix).

While they were doing the repello, I took a day and cleaned up the repello-ed walls in my shop. There were some trowel marks, rough spots, and small pimples that I wanted to get rid of so the walls would take a nice finish. I have a wet angle grinder and a set of diamond polishing pads. I put the 50-grit pad on the machine and passed it over every square inch of the walls. Here’s the grinder, Hellcat brand; you hook a garden hose up to it, plug it into the wall, and try not to shock the hell out of yourself:

The grinder did a great job, leaving the walls quite smooth and ready to finish.

I’d been having a back and forth debate with myself on whether to paint the walls white or to coat them with a clear acrylic polymer. The white would be nice for light reflection, but it would get dirty very quickly with all the welding and grinding going on in the shop. Also, a good quality paint would cost a hundred bucks or more, and the paint would hide the nice look of the repello-ed walls. Ultimately, the polymer won out and I applied two coats (about $25) with a sponge that same day and the next morning. Here’s the polymer:

The guys were still doing well on their own so I decided to start the interior wiring. Before we laid the concrete block walls, I had decided that I would surface mount the electrical boxes on the walls rather than build the boxes into the walls. I’ve pulled covers off of built-into-the-wall boxes and they are all nasty with rust and corrosion from the concrete.

So after I applied the two coats of polymer sealer, I struck a level line around the shop walls for the receptacle and switch boxes. Even though they are a lot more expensive, I decided to use weatherproof exterior boxes because they won’t rust and there are no holes for spiders to enter and make cozy little nests. In this next photo I have drilled two 1/4-inch holes in the wall and am tapping in screw anchors, called tacos here.

I drilled two holes in each of the boxes and screwed them to the walls. The boxes have little lugs on the back that stand the box off the wall, so I ran a bead of gray urethane caulk around the boxes to seal yet more spider hideouts. I hate to reach for a plug and put my hand in a spider web. You can get some nasty spider bites here in the tropics.

Then I measured and cut PVC conduit and clamped it to the walls and ran it across the floor as needed. I chose PVC conduit because metal conduit would rust fairly quickly, especially under the concrete floor slab. 

I also mounted boxes for lights on the ceiling. Even though I like 4-foot strip fluorescent fixtures, I decided to use individual fluorescent bulbs because the electronics in strip fixtures get blown by the uneven electrical current here. Cynthia helped me pull wires through the conduit. You can also see how nice the concrete walls look; they have a slight shine that you can see on the wall at the left of the window blocks in the photo above.

By the time the electrical was to the point that the concrete floor could be poured, the guys were done with the bathroom walls and some other small details. But before the floor, it was time to repello the exterior walls. The exterior walls are larger than one man can repello in a day and I didn’t want any “cold” stop/start joints so I had to pitch in and sling mud with Armando. Now I can get another dollar a day in my pay envelope because Armando taught me how to apply the repello. Repello-ing is hard work!

Years ago when I was carpentering for a living, someone asked me if it was hard to install a window. I said, “No, not as long as you know what you are doing!” It’s not the same with repello. Even if you know what you are doing, it is still damn hard work.

As of today we have the back side, the east side, and the front side all repello-ed, leaving only the west side that we will tackle tomorrow if I can get out of bed. For the east side, we didn’t start our work day until 11:00 a.m. so that the sun would have time to pass overhead and we could work on the wall in shadow. We finished about 6:00, at which time I flopped into my hammock for the rest of the night. I think Cynthia hooked me up to an IV frijole dip drip so I could get some nutrition while I slept. Here is a photo of the front and east walls just after I hosed them down to help them cure:

There is a tradition here in Panama that when a roof goes on, you have a roof party. So last Friday was the day. I knocked the guys off at 12:30 for a pizza lunch and the rest of the day off. Cynthia and Cedelinda had been making the dough and preparing the toppings:

It’s my job to cook the pizzas. Our fancy Bompani oven isn’t up to the task of cooking pizzas, so some time ago I went down the hill and bought some locally-made firebricks. I cut them in half with my tile saw. Then I lined our BBQ grill with the half-bricks. Like this:

A half-hour preheat turns the BBQ into a Jim Dandy 500-600 degree pizza oven. By the way, I don’t know who Jim Dandy was, and I didn’t know whether to capitalize it or not, so I Googled it. It’s capitalized. And while looking, I found a Jim Dandy BBQ restaurant in Cincinnati, Ohio. Who’d a known. I wonder if they do pizza. Anyway, a big shout out to Jim Dandy’s even though I am a 30+year vegetarian. I love Google!

At this point I put the camera down and started cooking. Cynthia’s pizzas are works of art. I got busy cooking and then planted my face in my pizza and completely forgot to take photos of the finished pizzas. Trust me, they were beauties.

We bought about a dozen pizza pans, the kind that have hundreds of 3/8-inch holes on the bottom. The crusts get nice and brown and the pizzas don’t stick to the pans. We like to have build-your-own pizza parties every year on my birthday. That and homemade chocolate cake makes me happy to be a year older. Or at least I don’t notice.

Anyway, the roof party was a delicious success. The guys were stuffed to their shirt collars and got to take home leftovers. The first time we made pizza for a work crew here each man took a slice. They clearly liked it but were too shy to take more. We had to order them to eat more, at which point they loosened up. It was great fun to see them egging each other on to eat yet another slice. There were lots of jokes about not having to eat for a week and not being able to work because they were too full.

That’s all for now. Maybe next week we can think about pouring the floor in my shop. Stay tuned.

My Shop ~ Part 6 ~ The Roof

Now that the dry season is here, we are making good progress on my shop. All the interior walls are repello-ed (stuccoed) and the roofing metal has been delivered. Here are some photos of walls being finished:

Armando works a wall

We call this little closet "the phone booth"

Gusty winds come with the dry season, so we geared up with ropes and clamps and extra bodies to keep the 24-foot-long roof panels from blowing away. Here we are placing the first panel on the east side of the shop:

Armando and I place the first panel. Gloves are mandatory when working with these over sized razor blades.

Up goes the second panel

After lifting and placing each panel, Sammy and I go up on the roof. He sits on the bottom end of the metal to keep it from becoming airborne, and I take a straight edge and a Sharpie marker and mark locations for screws. Armando follows me, placing a few screws to keep the panel in place.

Break time at the half way mark. Sunglasses are mandatory while working on the highly reflective roofing. Later, much later, the roof will extend out another 15 feet over the carport.

After all the panels were in place, Armando and Sammy went back over the roof and placed the missing screws. What a beautiful day in the tropics!

I included a six-foot roof overhang on the west end of the shop. Below the roof there will be an outside sink, a clothes line, and space for potting plants, etc. It is also a place that Armando can wait out a rainy season deluge. Maybe a hammock is in order:

The larger window is in my shop, the smaller window is in the bathroom.

Here are some inside shots with the roof on:

Now that the roof is finished, I can remove the temporary center stick. It reduced the bounce while working on the roof.

We were finished with the roof about 2:30 so I sent the guys home. Armando proclaims the roof “listo” (LEEZ-to — done, ready):

Will he walk the plank?

Tomorrow Armando and Sammy will go back to repello-ing the remaining bathroom walls.

My job for the day will be to clean up the repello on the interior walls. There are some trowel marks and a few rough edges here and there that need attention before paint. I’m going to start out using a wet angle grinder with a diamond polishing wheel and we’ll see how it goes.

After cleaning up the walls, I’ll make the final decision — white paint or clear polymer finish? I’m leaning toward the polymer as it won’t show the inevitable scuff marks, although the white would make the shop a bit brighter.

After the walls are finished, I can mount the electrical boxes and conduit. I plan on running most of the conduit under the floor slab. I don’t like horizontal conduit because it is a dust collector.

Then we can pour the floor slab and make the front door. Move in is in sight!

That’s all for now. Arf!

Bonus photos: