Gateway (XIV)

Post 14 in a series describing the design and construction of a kabukimon for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The previous post can be found here.


Yesterday was  one of those longer days, a day featuring warm weather, quick setting mortar, and large chunks of granite. I recover slowly today – nothing seems permanently damaged on my body as far as I can tell. My wife was on hand to lend moral support, wield the camera, and help me out where she was able.

The first task after arriving and getting the truck unpacked was to mark out the positions of the granite pieces on the concrete pads cast last month:

From the outlines for the stones I marked locations inboard for the jacking bolts to be placed. Out comes the hammer drill next for a bit of good vibration:

I had my small compressor on hand to blow the holes clean:

The inserts were dropped in and set with a hammer:

Here’s one group:

The jacking bolts get threaded in after that:

The bolts are initially placed so as to be about 1/2″ off the surface of the concrete.

The front posts, wall posts and sills were tackled first, after which I could move on to the rear support post, which feature parallelogram-shaped stones:

More drilling and insert fastener installation followed:

It has rained several times in the interim since I did the concrete work, so I gave the site another tamping to make sure everything was nicely compacted down around the concrete:

There are eight granite blocks altogether, and four of them were small and easily carried over to the site. The other four were a different matter, and were at the limit of what I could lift, let alone carefully maneuver as need be. I spent a fair bit of time in advance thinking out how to best move the heavy rocks by myself. In the end I came up with a plan involving a small bit of staging on wheels. The staging has an adjustable plywood deck level, so I set it to be the same height as the back of my truck deck. Then the block could be wiggled over and onto the stage from my truck deck:

I then popped it up onto a couple of battens:

At the top of the stage I had rigged a 6″x6″ pine beam with a pair of plywood pieces to give the stage a bit more rigidity. The stone could now be easily rolled onto site:

Once the staging was placed over the location where it needed to be placed, I proceeded to rig it with a pair of 500lb. rated ratchet straps and a metal lifting hook I had fabricated:

A 2 ton come-along was rigged next, anchored to one side of the stage and with a lifting point affixed to the 6″x6″ beam above:

With this arrangement, the stone was easy to lift:

Once lifted, the plywood deck could be removed, thus allowing the stone to be lowered down:


I often have that slack-jawed expression when I am concentrating – please pay it no mind.

The stone was lowered until it started to locate on top of the stainless all-thread rod:

A couple more inches lower and the stone was sitting on a pair of sawhorses. This intermediate rest position allowed me to re-rig, swapping out the metal hook for a jatoba lifting spacer/bracket I had fabricated:

This new arrangement allowed the stone to be lowered all the way down while the threaded rod emerged out the top, without interference. The jig also made it relatively easy to determine where the center of mass was so that the stone could be lifted nice and level.

Another 500lb. ratchet strap was fitted as a lifting sling:

A small amount of lift allowed the sawhorses to be scooted to the side:


The stone comes to rest atop 4 jacking bolts:

The stage ensemble was removed, wheeled back over to the truck and the process repeated for the other main post granite support.

Then it was time for the sills, which measure 6″x8″x46″. These are the heaviest pieces in this set up. Here’s the first one parked onto the stage, moved into position and getting rigged for lifting:

Same process as before brings the stone to the ground, except that there is no need to re-rig halfway as there are no threaded rods involved:

You have to be quite careful with granite where any sharp corners are located as it can chip quite easily. Most of the corners on these pieces are chamfered, but for the areas left without chamfer, the lifting mechanism gave me peace of mind and control over the process to ensure no mistakes were made.

Once all the foundation stones were set in place, the process of rough leveling commenced. A good way to do this is to take some preliminary elevations with a transit and decide which ones have to come up and which ones have to come down:

My wife held the tape measure at each location while I spotted.

The four point jacking allows the stones to be precisely leveled in both axes:


The sills are leveled and also set at a height relative to the post supports to either side:

Once all the stones were leveled and checked several times over for height with the transit, it was time for the mortar. I used ‘precision grout’ which is used mostly for leveling machinery to be set up on concrete surfaces. It is a type of grout which does not shrink. As with concrete, once the grouting gets mixed, you have to move quickly and without getting sidetracked.

I mixed the grout for the front post stones first. I used a pry bar to lift them up enough to place a blob of grout under the middle, such that when the stone was lowered back down it would squeeze the grout out to the sides. This ensured that the stone was completely bedded on grout and there were no voids. Later, grout is packed in from the sides and dressed flat.

With stone one and two grouted, I quickly clamped an aluminum box section on to the stones to ensure they were in plane with one another:

The central nut was then tightened to fix the stone in place so it wouldn’t squirm about any further.

Then the rear post stones were set similarly and clamped up to an aluminum extrusion. Then I could measure the two assemblies to check for parallelism:

The same process for the remaining stones in regards to grouting and aligning. Once done, I felt done, let me tell you.

Here’s one side:

The other:

And a view of both, lovely stewartia tree to the left side:

The soon-to-be-relaid granite paving stones will cover the bottom 2″ of the granite foundation stones, so their apparent height after the paving is done will be less. I need to return to grout the joints between the sills and flanking stones, and to seal the opening between threaded rods and their corresponding opening in the stones, a minor job I will tackle in about a week’s time.

All for today – thanks for your visit to the Carpentry Way. On to post 15.

20 Replies to “Gateway (XIV)”

  1. A job well done! Being your own work crew presents some challenges. Nice solution with the heavy stones.


  2. Impressive preparation and planning. Its great when things go smoothly. Impressive support from your wife as well. Congratulations on all fronts.

    Harlan Barnhart

  3. I just started reading your blog a few weeks ago and really enjoy the content. I must know though, what is this great little truck you drive? – Zack

  4. Zack,

    glad you've found the blog and took a moment to share your thoughts. The truck is a 1982 Toyota Landcruiser diesel – the HJ47 model. I bought it from Australia several years ago and have poured way too much money into it, but it sure comes in handy sometimes.


  5. Tico,

    My helper from past installments is in Italy at this time. I should have given my wife more credit for her efforts. She mixed and placed some of the grout for instance. Might have been better to split the work up over two days.

    Thanks for your comment – hope you're doing well these days.


  6. Birmingham,

    most kind of you to say. It was one of the tougher work days I've had in a while, and glad my wife was there to tell me it was time to have lunch, things like that. Still feeling sore all over two days later, so maybe stonework is not for me.


  7. Chris,
    This foundation stonework is fascinating, I thought the use of the threaded inserts to allow adjustment of the plane that the stones rest upon was ingenious. Am I right in thinking that granite (apart from aesthetics) is preferable because it is non porous and effectively provides a damp course between the concrete foundation and the wood?

    Hmmm, parallelogram shaped stones eh…?
    Warm regards


  8. Derek,

    your comment and question is much appreciated. Yes, the granite serves to bring the wood up away from ground level and is a substance which does not wick moisture up and into the wooden elements, unlike concrete.


  9. Chris,
    I have just discovered your blog and I can see that I will have many pleasant hours of reading ahead.

    This project is particularly interesting to me because of your insights with respect to weather water and wood. The management of water seems to have been a major consideration in many old Japanese buildings. Many temples have a granite gutter on the drip line below the eves to channel water away from the building. It's unfortunate that the Museum did not accept your suggestion for a roof. That would clearly make the difference between a gate that will last 20 years and one that could last centuries.

    Have you visited Ise Gingu? That is a fascinating place to think about permanence and renewal of wooden buildings. They take a rather different approach to the problems of permanence and the inevitability of rot.

  10. Hank,

    I greatly appreciate your comment. I haven't visited Ide Jingu in person, however have studied many photographs of the architecture there. Shikinen-zōkan (or shikinen-sengu), the practice of rebuilding Shrines every 20 years, used to happen at most shrines, however to do that on a wide scale today would evaporate the forest resource in short order. So, it isn't really a sustainable practice.

    The practice is often justified as a means of passing down carpentry knowledge, however one point can be made in terms of Ise Jingu itself: there was a 140-year period during the most intense time of feudal warfare in Japan (1600's-1700's) where rebuilding did not happen at that site, so any actual connection with historical practice was severed then. The answer to the problem of course is to reinvent tradition, which is exactly what they did.


  11. Even the 150 years of sengoku did not pose as much of a threat to traditional workmanship as the past 150 years since the Meiji Restoration. After all for all of the political changes at that time there wasn't much changing in the way that people worked wood. The invention of the nail gun and impact screwdriver has changed everything in just the past 50 years.

    Anyway you should visit Ise if you get a chance. One really needs to see Ise as part of an ecosystem that spans the whole archipelago of Japan. The rebuilding of the shrine is like the fruiting of a tree that has its roots in the forests of Wakayama and Mie prefectures and spreads out to touch every shrine in the country. The wood from the old shrine buildings is cut up and recycled in rebuilding and repairing shrines all across the country.

    There is another shrine in Ise, I think it is an Inari Jinja because it is full of fox statuettes. This shrine has a colonnade of Torii gates each maybe 10' tall and 5' wide formed from timber maybe 6″ in diameter. They are placed one right next to the other so as to form an almost continuous tunnel about 20M long. The thing that I found most interesting is that the Torii are all of different ages and in different states of dilapidation. The gates are placed into the ground so they eventually rot and as they become dangerously decrepit they are replaced. You find brand new gates next to gates that are falling to pieces. The old ones are tied to the new ones so they don't fall down and hurt someone before they can be replaced. The result is that the colonnade is perpetual but it is in a perpetual state of decay and renewal. This shrine and the Grand Shrine both are responding to the inevitability of decay and the need for renewal in their own unique ways.

  12. I am enamored of ratcheting tie-downs and so appreciate your use of them in your staging platform. Most creative!
    I also appreciate your “all comments are moderated” paragraphs at the end of each blog entry Very good, C.
    Much aloha,

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