Sunday, October 23, 2011

The gate latch saga

Here is the gate latch at the main gate to Searock; deceptively innocent and simple looking, but actually a complicated affair involving telephone lines, electrical solenoids, springs, buzzers, and a delicate balance between a positive closure and a heavy wooden gate that sometimes slams (too often) and sometimes stops short of closing (also too often.)
A solenoid built into the latch receives an electrical impulse of about 26 volts when someone enters the correct code on the keypad outside the gate. With a loud buzz, a plate is pulled back within the latch by the solenoid, allowing the latch to swing freely out of the way when the gate is pushed. After ten seconds the voltage is cut and the plate snaps back to prevent the latch from allowing the gate to open.

After a recent flurry of guests (about 50 in one afternoon) the latch stopped stopping! The gate would just bounce against the stone when it slammed, and the gate could just be pushed open at will, even by the wind, and then Gideon
would be out on the highway trick-or-treating.
Having repaired this same latch almost 5 years ago, I wasn't all that excited to take it apart to figure out what was going on, but I could tell things were askew in there and that 'surgery' was indicated. Here's how it looked then, in December of 2006:
After I chipped away the mortar holding the housing in place, got it on the bench and opened it up, I removed the latch/solenoid mechanism and put it in the vise.

The solenoid is in the upper section, the latch in the lower.

The latch is supposed to pivot on a pin when the solenoid pulls the plate back. You can see the head of the pivot pin at the right, protruding out from the side of the assembly. At first, I thought I'd found the problem: the pin had slipped out of its port on the left side of the assembly, causing the latch to sit askew in the housing, eventhough there is an allen screw locking the latch against the pin. It must've come a bit loose. I had to loosen it more, though, to push the pin back into place. When I pushed the pin all the way in, things straightened up nicely. But it didn't look likely to stay, what with all the banging and slamming that the gate undergoes, so I decided to pull the pin and replace it with one I could make stay. Of course I had to also decide I would be able to get that little spring in the middle wrapped around the pivot pin back in place around a new pin. So I pulled the pin, and made a further discovery:
The latch itself was breaking around the pin! in two places! And the pin was bent from the repeated stress of the gate banging against it. So now, instead of just putting it back together, I had to have a new latch. I didn't want to put this one back in service just to have it break again in the near future.
Fortunately, I had a new latch/solenoid assembly with which to replace the whole unit. Unfortunatley, the new unit was in a housing of an entirely different shape and size.

Fortunately I could fabricate a hardwood block into which I could mount the new latch assembly that would allow for future servicing by being removable and yet sturdy enough to hold up to rough duty at the gate.

Things were going well. I took the new assembly out to the gate to test and mount it.
I hooked up the wires and pressed the code into the keypad. "Buzz", said the latch, and I physically operated the latch with my finger to prove it was released by the solenoid. I then proceeded to mount the assembly.
But when I finished and stood back to test it again, unfortunatley it didn't work, no buzz, no nothin'. Partial disassembly and tried the code again..."buzz", okay, we're in business! Reassembly, but then, no buzz, no work!
After removing the assembly once more, I measured the voltage at the gate wire to be 25.9 volts. Checking the rating label on the new solenoid latch I saw this:

"16 to 24 V.AC"
Okay, so I must've burned up my new solenoid with too much voltage. I wonder if I can mount the old solenoid in the new housing?
Fortunately, the old one was still functional and I was able to fit it into the new housing by cutting away some of the steel plate on which the old solenoid was mounted.

The new, burnt-out solenoid is on the right, the old, modified one is on the left; the blue tape is the pattern I used to make the cuts.
The picture further above of the opened new latch assembly is actually the new housing with the old solenoid fitted into it. After remounting the whole thing back onto the gate post, I am pleased to report that it has never worked, or looked, better!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Lizard pup

I met this little lizard this morning.
I was watering plants in the greenhouse and I thought he was a little dry leaf.
He was feeling kinda out of place, so I scooped him up and handed him outdoors, where he happily scurried off. I was lucky to catch it with my iphone, so I thought I'd see if I could even upload it!

Friday, October 14, 2011

revisiting the dry stream bed
The work laid down last year proved inadequate. This year's new & improved version involves mortar and metal lath.  After digging out the impacted streambed of dirt-encrusted river rock, I excavated an additional couple of inches deep for shelves on either side of the deeper drain trench. After placing an edge of wet mortar and a cut sheet of expanded metal lath on the shelf with additiional mortar then placed atop the lath, river stone is placed into the wet mortar in a fluid pattern:
The pattern fills in and forms a swale in the path that diverts rain run-off in a less erosive manner.
A couple larger granite stones are used to block out drainage ports in the trench...
They can be pulled to provide direct drainage to the trench.

Some stepping stones are left in the bed for footing and reinforcing. After initial washing, the contours of the stream bed are revealed...
...after another washing
later tonight, the stream bed will be finished and ready for the rainy season, to see if it sheds the rain and stops erosion along the path.

I can hardly wait to see what the unintended consequences will be.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Tree falls in the forest, no one hears it!

We were walking with some guests over towards the south side to look back at the house when I noticed a downed tree along the trail. It hadn't been down the day before.
It just toppled over in the night, taking two other trees with it.
It was not a small tree. About thirty feet of the top broke off and landed in the surf at the bottom of the cliff.

There had been no sign of distress in the tree itself that we were aware of, and there was no significant wind to speak of, but it evidently was rotten at the core, and down it went, taking a couple of smaller neighbors with it.
Its time had come...

Time Out!

We were priviledged to host a group of men who had been attending a conference in Monterey over the weekend. What a wonderful group of earnest, engaged young leaders and older mentors all interested in "making a difference"! In the photo above, a tech industry ceo and mentor talks about "truth telling" and making ethical decisions in business and personal life.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Kitchen hearth part 4

The new lintel is in place, the columns on either side are set and the pieces missing from the top border are being set.
Time to lay up the back wall:

Once the back wall is layed up, the plaster repairs begin to the wall surrounding the fireplace.
There's also the large crack on the mantle to patch. Into this crack and the crevices in the stone work under the damaged plaster, I injected an epxoy compound made for masonry.
While we're at it, I am patching the flashing around the chimney to prevent the intrusion of water, the culprit that started this whole project.

A primer coat goes on...
...and a top coat.

With everything back in place, it  looks just like an old fireplace. Perfect!