Thursday, September 7, 2017

Cat Couch Cover: A Modestly Interesting Project

One thing we have around here is cats!

It all started, pretty much out of our control, back when we lived in the city in the 90’s. Back when we had friends, lots of them. But that was also back when AIDS was decimating a whole generation of artists, designers, florists, secretaries, stylists, lawyers, teachers, accountants, professional drag-queens, engineers - and that was just our little group of friends. As they died, gay and straight alike, picked off by a disease not fully understood at the time they contracted it, a disease nobody wanted to talk about let alone do something significant about to stem the tide, we started ‘inheriting’ their cats.

Then, disheartened by what had become of our friends as well as the once eclectic and interesting enclave we lived in, (Now squashed under towering town-homes and endless boutique shops and boutique restaurants as the boutique loving, beemer-driving, tie-wearing, briefcase carrying yuppies moved in.) we moved a few hours away to an old house on the edge of a small town where nobody knew us.

This house was on an acre between town and pastures and for some reason was a magnet for feral cats, so even as some of the older cats we inherited finished out their natural lives, more cats kept turning up to join the party. Thankfully there was an organization in the area that helped with neutering and spaying costs!!! (Oh come on!! We’re talking about a couple that live-traps mice and captures insects in a bug-cup rather than squishing them. What did you expect us to do?)

The incoming flow of cats trickled to a stop four years later when we moved another 30 miles farther out into the boonies, but even though the remainder are aging and the numbers slowly diminishing, there are still quite a few of them hanging on.

Not the one we have but similar.

They have their own building (Think one of those portable things you see for sale alongside the road.) but a few of the cats are still feral enough that they won’t go inside, even though it’s cooled and heated in there for their comfort. (Yeah, I know, sick, but what can I do?)

The Wife, who does the care and feeding, is constantly adjusting things inside the building which creates a number of little projects for me. In fact, at the moment I have a list of nine to-do items hanging here above the laptop waiting for the weather to cool so the cats can hang around outside while I work on the projects. (Frankly some of the cats hate me, probably because I won’t let them into my shop or The Van, and me walking into their building freaks them out so they have to be evacuated before I can go in.)

For those of you that may not be cat people and don't know this, cats think they own everything, that's why, unlike dogs that jump up and down and get all excited when you come home, cats actually huff and groan, because now they have to share their stuff with you! So my refusing to let them into their shop or van to pee and spray and shed and shit really pisses them off.

But I have one project that isn’t inside their building so I can work on it now. Usually the cat projects are simple and not worth making much note of, but this one might be a little interesting.

A couple of the cats are still wild enough that they will not go into any building, and because they are aging even our mild winters here in central Texas can be tough on them so they need some sort of shelter to keep them at least somewhat comfortable.

For last winter we slapped together this mess for them.

The old wicker couch has been around forever and the cats seem to like it, so after lining a couple plastic boxes with Reflectix and old rugs to go on the seat, (None of the cats are friendly enough, even among themselves, to share the same bed!) we cobbled together a crude cover out of some adjustable extension poles, PVC pipe, tie-wraps and a couple shower-curtain liners we fastened over the whole thing with most the spring clamps in my collection. During cold weather the plastic is pulled down to create a sheltered space out of the wind and rain.

Now this whole thing sits tucked under some trees; for shelter; but right at the edge of the driveway; for ease of access; where it is easily seen, and frankly it just isn’t very pretty. Besides, it’s tying up most of my spring-clamps and I want them back!

So we came up with this idea instead.

It still uses the wicker couch and insulated boxes that the cats have proven they will use on those chilly nights, but the shelter over the whole contraption is just a little more refined, you know, a little less banjo-twangin' redneck. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!)

We wanted something that wasn’t going to cost too much, looked halfway decent, could provide decent winter shelter yet still make the boxes accessible for regular changing out of the old rugs. (Our poor washing machine!)

Oh, and it needs to have a modicum of visual appeal, or at least a minimum of visual un-appeal.

Yah, OK, so maybe this slightly fanciful design is more my fault than anything else since I’ve never been one to be shy about complicating a project in the name of aesthetics. I mean when you get right down to it, pretty much nobody but us are going to see it and a simple shed-roof supported by a couple vertical studs would do the job, but where’s the interest in a straight roof-line? And vertical studs along the sides would be – well – boring, both in looks and the building there-of. Hence the gracefully arched roof, created with a Bezier Curve tool in SketchUp, and the side-structure utilizing a series of incredibly strong and stable; and interesting; triangles.

Besides, the arched roof provides better shelter by curving down front and back, plus slightly curving the clear PVC panels that will go over the top makes them more stable too.

At least that’s the excuse I’m using. . .

So anyway . . . one day we took The Van along on one of our town-trips and came home with the supplies necessary to build this shelter.

The first step was to build the arches, and to do that with a minimum of waste I laminated them up from strips of ¼ ply.

To get started I stood the ply panel on edge, put my knee into it and bent, then turned the panel 90 degrees and bent again. The purpose of this was to find which direction the panel wants to bend easiest. And there is usually a significant difference so getting this right saves a lot of effort later!

Once I had the whole bend thing sorted out I set the fence on the table saw to 3 inches,

then proceeded to turn the whole panel into nice bendy strips.

Each arch is just about 6.5’ long so the whole laminating process would have been easier, and faster, if I started with an 8’ panel and used one full-length strip per layer, but then I would have had half a panel left over so I chose to take the more difficult and time-consuming path and used all but one narrow strip and a few short cut-offs out of a 4’x 4’ panel instead. I had to piece together each layer out of at least 2 strips but there was very little waste and, on the 103 degree day I did this (Back in August) cold weather felt like it was a long ways away, so the extra time it took didn't seem important. Besides, I’m retired so the extra time and hassle was no big deal.

Of course the complex, variable-radius arch wasn’t going to just magically appear, so I went back to SketchUp and drew up a measured grid under the arch that I could then use to build a jig for the laminating process.

To build the jig I took one of my new treated 2x6’s and laid out the base-line of the grid down the length of the board. Then I took a couple more of my new 8’ long treated 2/6’s and cut them in half and pre-drilled for some pocket screw slots in one end of each. Then I milled up 6 clamping-blocks from some scrap I had laying around. (Don't worry, this will become less confusing in a moment. – I hope!)

Now, along with some hardware, I had all the bits I needed to make the gluing jig and form the arches.

With the four 4’ 2x6’s laid out and attached perpendicular to the baseline board in positions corresponding to the measured grid, I was able to measure for and attach the clamping blocks.

I could have made the jig more manageable by cutting the perpendicular boards shorter, but once I’m done gluing up the arches the jig will be disassembled and the boards will re-milled to become parts of the structure so I couldn’t cut them any shorter without wasting wood. Instead I just rolled my work bench up to my saw table, both of which I carefully built (Many years ago now!!) to be the same height, to support the large and heavy jig.

The 4 clamping blocks forming the middle of the arch are fastened down right on their marks, but I pulled each of the two blocks on the ends in by 1 inch to account for spring-back once the lamination is unclamped.

Turns out I only needed to pull them back by a half inch, or maybe even just a quarter inch, but no big deal. That small adjustment will be taken care of by the side structure.

The next step was to tape waxed paper down on the jig so the lamination and jig don’t permanently become one solid structure during the glue-up. After all, that would kind of defeat the whole materials-planning-and-utilization scheme!

Then I pieced together 4 layers of plywood strips, (Right there at the front edge of the bench being held lightly in place by a couple clamps.) making sure that the joints are staggered from layer to layer. (Remember, my strips aren’t long enough to do each layer in one piece.)

Next I temporarily shoved the jig back out of the way to clear space on the bench and, making sure not to screw up the order, lightly misted the back-sides of each layer of strips with water to aid in achieving good glue-penetration, then laid each row of strips, misted side down, side by side in preparation

for slapping on a layer of glue.

I don’t have any in-progress  photos of what happens next because the process is time sensitive, and really messy, but the idea is to stack the rows of strips back up in the proper order, lift the whole dripping mess onto the jig, clamp one end down then start working my way around the clamping blocks (where the red clamps are.) bending and clamping the stacked strips as I go. Along the way I add additional clamps between the clamping blocks to ensure a continuous, tight glue-bond.

I let that cure overnight then removed it from the jig, put on a fresh batch of waxed paper, and clamped up the second arch.

Once I had two arches glued up and cured I disassembled the jig to get it out of the way, (returning all the hardware to the proper bins, setting aside the treated boards for later, and discarding only the 6 clamping blocks into my burn-bucket because I'll probably never need them again and if I do they are small and easy to make up from scraps laying around.) then cleaned up the sides of the arches on the jointer and table-saw, trimmed them to final length, sanded the worst of the edges off, and, since the ply is not treated for outdoor living, slapped three coats of polly on them, making sure to soak the exposed end-grains well.

Next time I’ll work on the structure that is going to hold these arches up in the air.

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