Introduction: How to Repair Columns That Were Built in 1861.

Picture of How to Repair Columns That Were Built in 1861.

Hi, My name is Drew and I work at the UW where some very old columns were sadly allowed to rot. I was the carpenter who did much of the repair and made or designed many of the tools to do the job.

Step 1: Removal

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To lift the columns that were rotten at the base I designed a metal frame that when "let" into the rotten base with a chainsaw actually fit under the columns.

Step 2: Lifting the Column

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The column was lifted using this heavy metal frame.

Step 3: Wheels

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In order to prep and paint the columns I came up with this idea . I could roll the column by myself .

Step 4: Damage

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I made a survey of each column to find out how much new wood I would have to mill.

Step 5: Midevil Scraper

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To assist the painters in paint removal and to help me shape new staves I had these made. It's nice to have access to a water cutter.

Step 6: Scraper

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Because the staves are tapered only the initial hogging out of the wood could be done with the shaper. The rest was done by hand.

Step 7: Old School

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Because the staves are tapered I was limited in how much I could use the shaper. So a lot of hand work ensued. I also made a pea-shooter to toe nail the staves together using hot dipped galvies.

Step 8: Really Good Circles

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One tricky aspect of this job was creating patterns for the shaper to run against a rub collar to make the concrete form. The form was made of several stacks of poplar rings that had to join exactly atop another with each profile matching the exact duplicated pattern of the original column base and meeting the ring above and below it.

I made the ring by joining 120 pieces of poplar . The length of each piece dictated the approximate size of the ring and the size of the pattern rings dictated the exact finished size of each ring.

The first picture is of the router jig I made to make perfect patterns. I used some channel steel ,MDF and a really nice round chunk of brass for the pivot.

Step 9: Not Bad for a Concrete Form

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Since the form would be used 4 times I had to protect it. To try and achieve a nice finish on the concrete I sanded and sanded.................

Step 10: Meet the New Base, Same As the Old Base...but Harder

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After the concrete was poured I had to attach the treated wood rings that I would toenail the columns to through an identical ring in each column.

Step 11: Put It Back

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To lower the rebuilt and repainted columns over the iron post in their center's I created this padded squeeze harness.

Step 12: Laser Bob

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I have no patience .I'm sorry I just don't so the idea of trying to use a plumb bob or a level to line up four landmarks while a crew of workers was watching? No way.
Instead I used a self plumbing laser strapped to the new concrete base at the apex of the point where a string touched all 4 bases and a target fasten to the sweet spot on the column. When the red dot was on the x it was plumb. This worked beautifully .

Step 13: OK Next

Picture of OK Next

All 4 columns back in place.


chesterjohn (author)2014-06-05

what Paint did your use to coat the column?

drewgrey (author)chesterjohn2014-08-30

Painters took care of that and I have no idea what they used.

neffk (author)2010-11-15

This is a form? It looks like furniture.

drewgrey (author)neffk2010-11-16

Thanks, Concrete will only be as smooth as the form it hardens in and I had to use this form 4 times without degradation. ...Also we were showing off.

Kaelessin (author)2010-06-28

Truly beautiful work! My dad's a hobby carpenter (he just built the desk that I use every day) but the sheer scale and skill of this project is awe inspiring! Initially I was wondering how you were going to keep the building propped up without them then I wondered where the building went . . .finally I came to the sluggish realization that they were free standing. . . ahh the little mental trips one goes through

Gh{O}sT (author)2008-12-04

lol, is this reealy nessasary

Rishnai (author)2008-09-09

Same as 1861, except the '62s were available with the Hemi.

technodude92 (author)Rishnai2008-10-10

And Posi-Traction. But not in Metallic Mint Green!

am i the only one that saw My Cousin Vinny?

Rishnai (author)technodude922008-10-17

Umm... yes.

technodude92 (author)Rishnai2008-10-17

i feel so alone...

Rishnai (author)technodude922008-10-10

I've heard rumors about a few late-year '62s in the mettalic mint green, but never seen one. I suppose I'll have to keep checking Old Columns Monthly and Antebellum Mopar Buildings Digest.

mwwdesign (author)Rishnai2008-09-14


zeppozeppozep (author)2008-10-17

This is very interesting for me as I restore plaster work and have redone several capital restores. The last one I did was for Braselton City Hall:

I had nothing to do with the column restoration itself so this is very appealing to me. Thanks

technodude92 (author)2008-10-10

Great instructable. I didn't think the columns were free standing, i though tey were propping something up. Nice work though. Just one suggestion. Step 5, its medieval not medevil.

arni0202 (author)2008-09-15

this is an amazing instructable. and they turned out beautifully I hope people notice them every day and say Drew Grey Rocks!!!!

Plasmana (author)2008-09-15


Ward_Nox (author)2008-09-15

and the award for most spesific Ible ever is.......drewgrey YAHHHHHHH! still cool that u did this never know what could be handy at some point

Solderguy (author)2008-09-14

Those columns are made of wood? @_@ Thanks for the warning.

djm4pf (author)2008-09-13

Another vote for awesome on your efforts and the posting. I enjoyed your use of a laser-plumb, but had done hand woodwork on the shaping of the columns - a good marrying of the ages. Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing.

rhubarb (author)2008-09-12

Thanks for sharing this work and documenting it so well.

david_baines (author)2008-09-12

Very interesting Instructable, and very good craftmanship too. Well done, and thanks for taking the time to document the work. It is interesting to see that you replaced a wooden base with a concrete one and that others have commented on this. I have heard it said that there is a difference in priorities in restoring antiques between the US and Europe. In Europe a high value is placed on using the same materials and techniques as the original. In some cases people will go so far as to only use the same tools that were available too. In the States a high priority is placed on using the best currently available materials, for example modern glues, or nails and rivets that won't be seen in the final result and might make it stronger and more durable. The work on your forms looks incredible. They were so well finished in such a noble material. I wonder if you were able to use them for anything else? I guess that the concrete destroyed the finish that you had worked so hard to achieve.

drewgrey (author)david_baines2008-09-12

Actually the forms are well preserved. I put alot of urethane finish on them to prevent them soaking up the water from the concrete. I don't know what they will be used for next except as a sample of what is possible. My lead at work could probably do an instructable on this also. He made the pattern for the shaper knives using wd-40 ,bondo and aluminum wire.He also had the hardest task of all in this project, that is making me believe it was possible.

t3hr4v3n (author)2008-09-12

Dude, I used to walk by those columns every day. I'm really glad to see someone's taking care of them.

CoolKoon (author)2008-09-12

hmmmmmm..... Pretty impressive, though I don't understand why would anybody build columns from wood? The reason is probably the way of thinking that forces millions of people over the pond to build their homes from plywood, I guess :P

ax89 (author)2008-09-11

Truly impressive - both in scope of work and the creativity and level of skill used to carry it out. The results of your prep work in the forms really paid off. I hope your bosses appreciate the result of your efforts as much as this community does!

woofboy111 (author)2008-09-09

It's possible that I may have missed this, but what is UW?

drewgrey (author)woofboy1112008-09-10

Univerity of Washington

xenobiologista (author)drewgrey2008-09-11

I thought it was University of Wisconsin and I was trying to figure out where on my campus they were!

Quinkes (author)2008-09-11

Amazing, worth all your effort.

OrionBlade (author)Quinkes2008-09-11

Awesomeness. I totally agree. Thanks so much for taking the time to document the process. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the utility casters mounted to the 6 by 6 beams to roll the column while you work. Like OMFG!

I do consulting work, and quite often I have to come up with little things like that, but not necessarily carpentry. Awesome.

*high five*

mattl (author)2008-09-11

Beautiful. I've replaced much smaller columns on my house when I opened the front porch of my 120+ year old house and know that it is no small task. Very impressive.

Rowan13 (author)2008-09-11

Cool instructable! Aren't those the columns by the herb garden area on the edge of the UW campus? If so, I've been there a couple times and seen them up close. Really fun to see an instructable about something here where I live in western Wash!

drewgrey (author)Rowan132008-09-11

Yes ,they are.

tsaylor (author)2008-09-11

Very interesting instructable. The only thing that really confuses me is, what are these columns there for? I figured they were attached to a building but it looks like they're just sitting in a field.

drewgrey (author)tsaylor2008-09-11

In 1861 they where part of the building that was part of the original university. They have been moved several times. Now they are art.

grant0 (author)2008-09-11

While almost none of us (maybe none of us) will ever do this, it's still a wonderful instructable to have on the site. Great job with the photos and specific instructions. It's my firm belief that even if I will never use a single method of yours specifically for anything, it's great to know about them. They're sort of inspiration, and as someone said above, "the more you know…" Awesome work, sir. They look great! (author)2008-09-11

Very cool. I've used had my first restoration experience. I restored about 7 feet of rail cap and two post bases using Abatron's LiquidWood and Wood Epox restoration kit. It was a lot less complicated than your project, though, the materials I used would have worked for you, too. I would not want to have wanted to take on that project. Very, very impressive.

ironsmiter (author)2008-09-10

Awesome work on the instructable... and some pretty fancy woodworking too. I do find it a little weird though, that you replaced a WOOD element with a CONCRETE element, on a historical monument! I can see the thinking, that the base would rot the fastest, because of it's shape, and contact with the bottom concrete pad. Teak, Cypress, or even composite lumber would have been a better choice, if the concern over rot was that high. The original wood survived well over 100 years, and, well, that's longer than any concrete I've seen :-) As the current columns stand, you'll get rot along the bottom of the flutes, without proper maintenance(same issue that led to the initial rot, I'd presume) What's done is done though, so three bitty suggestions. First, in addition to getting scraper blades made, get a plane blade made also! Planing wood is SOOOOOoooooo much faster than scraping. Second, get a good quality concrete sealer, and then paint the bases too? it may not be original but there's no reason it can't LOOK original, at least to the casual observation. I figure the columns are designed(and painted) to look like the marble columns of having a "white stone" element isn't too far off the original intent. Finally, "using hot dipped galvies" ouch?!? Stainless steel, while more expensive, is far superior. though I would really REALLY like to see a separate instructable on how you "also made a pea-shooter to toe nail the staves together"

drewgrey (author)ironsmiter2008-09-10

The columns are actually about 1/8 off the concrete with urethane sealant between and are now painted. I also dabble in Blacksmithing . My forge has design elements borrowed from the NCC 1701

ironfly (author)drewgrey2008-09-11

Great Job!! Thumbs up on the concrete base. It's only my opinion, but I think that when it comes to restoration, all measures should be taken using the most sound building practices, to insure that a restoration practice will have survivability into the future, while preserving the original concept. The concrete base definitely does this.

Gort (author)2008-09-09

Pretty amazing job you did. Man you have a nice shop too. I particularly liked the way you used the laser to plumb them. Good thinking all the way through.

drewgrey (author)Gort2008-09-10

Thanks to you and to everyone for the feedback. And yes ,lasers rule.

tercero (author)2008-09-10

Jaw dropping, aw inspiring work. And the details are fantastic. Thanks for the great instructable.

yoshhash (author)2008-09-10

to shooby- no, they're Ionic, not Corinthian. Nice job Drew, well done! ps-When you say UW, do you mean University of Waterloo? If so, we're practically neighbours.

Ferrite (author)2008-09-10


canida (author)2008-09-10

Wow, what a fantastic amount of detail work! The results look fantastic. I particularly loved that inside view of your wooden concrete mold.

shooby (author)2008-09-10

Corinthian, ewe! Good restoration job anyways.

Sandisk1duo (author)2008-09-10

VERY nice! now all i need to do is find some old, rotting columns to fix!

toymotorhead (author)2008-09-10

Very Nice job. Its rare to see someone take the kind of time to do jobs properly. Richard

About This Instructable




Bio: My name is Drew and I like to make things.
More by drewgrey:using a koi pond to produce great lemons and using a vegetable filter to clean a koi pondMaking and using a hand crank lathe for use with a plasma cutterUsing my water saving valve box
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