Friday, October 22, 2010

Tennessee House Railings

First, I apologize for not blogging in a while.

The last few weeks have been frustrating in a lot of ways.  

I haven't been able to devote all the time to the project that I have wanted to, partially for exciting reasons that nonetheless took me away from my work here.  And, partially because I've had to put out various fires and deal with things that just come up that required my attention, as happens in life.

The main thing house-related that has been occupying me has been the steel railings for the mezzanine.  All the interior railings have been fabricated and were delivered to the powder coating shop today.

Here's how they all came together:

You may recall that I had built a prototype and reviewed it with the owners.

The reason that you see it up on wood blocks is that we raised it higher for the final version, because that was the height they were comfortable with.

For the uprights, which are made of tapered pieces cut from 1/2" thick steel plate, I contacted a few different steel suppliers before I settled on Siskin Steel out of Chattanooga.  They had a much quicker turnaround and better pricing than anyone else I could find to quote the job.

I went down to their facility and picked up the parts that they had plasma cut to my specifications, using some huge computerized machinery.

I was surprised, when I saw how massively huge their plant was, that they would even take my little order.  All I got was this:

The things in that nifty little wooden box are the base plates.

Next step was to drill the holes for the horizontal rods to pass through, and the bolt holes for the base plates.  For that, I spent the better part of a day with Billy, a friendly local machinist who lives only a couple miles from the site.

I marked the holes with a centering punch...

...while he did the drilling.

Eventually we got through all of it.  Then it was back to my shop for final assembly.

I had made a jig to hold the uprights and base plates firmly in place so they would all weld up identically.

The jig worked pretty well.  Look how uniform they are:

Paul had to inspect them.

Then, I assembled the smallest railing unit first, for the area by the door to the roof deck:

Here it is standing in place.  It won't get bolted down until after it comes back from the powder coating shop.

Then I stood it up at the other opening in the floor, just to get a sense of the scale of that railing.

The other railings followed.  I built a wooden form that was the same size and shape as the beam to which the railings will be mounted, and used that to temporarily bolt down the uprights for assembly.  That worked out pretty well, and I would use that method again.

When I unbolted the first long one from the wooden base, I realized that, while the railing is very sturdy when it's fastened down, it is rather flimsy when it doesn't have that solid, fixed support under it.

I was worried that in the handling that would be involved for powder coating them, they could be damaged, so I built additional temporary steel frame supports, to bolt the railings onto, just to support them and make handling them easier.

This morning, they all got loaded onto Bob the Builder's trailer, and I drove them over to the powder coating shop.

I am disappointed that I won't be here to see them get installed.  I am leaving for L.A. on Monday morning.

But, I am very happy that I got to fabricate these for the house.  Not only are they the largest things that I have ever made, but they are also the most accurate in terms of the overall precision, and they are a major feature of what will turn out to be my greatest design to date.

For these reasons, I have a great sense of satisfaction.


  1. Thanks. I was pretty happy with it, too :)

  2. Looks good but how were you able to get your horizontal spacing so wide? Did this not have to meet building code limitations for openings in guards?

  3. Very impressive work, Earl. Thorough and meticulous. Looks elegant too.

  4. It looks like you are giving an interesting lecture in Denver on "The Role of Ideas in Architecture". Unfortunately, I will be nowhere near Denver on that day (or any time in the immediate future) so I will not be able to attend. Have you written about this topic previously that I can read about, instead?