Thursday, June 18, 2009

Don't Go Breaking My Hearth

June 10

The masons have been examining the hearth and have some more discoveries and questions. Before getting into that though, let's finish our discussion of the damper.

Here's a photo looking up the flue. It's dark at the top becasue the damper is in the closed position. There are two wires hanging down. On the left in the photo is the main wire for operating the flue. It runs through a couple of eye hooks embedded in the masonry to help it stay against the wall of the curvy flue. The one on the right in the photo hangs freely.

The main wire connects to a peg located in the smoke chamber just above the lintel. By securing the wire to this peg, tension is maintained on the damper and the damper remains closed. By removing the wire from the peg, tension is released, and the damper flips open (it works on an offset hinge with the weight of the damper causing it to open).

Since the damper works due to gravity, if there is a substantial snowfall sitting on top of the damper, it could get stuck closed. That's what the second wire is for. The second wire can be used to release a stuck damper. It's attached to the opposite side of the damper than the main wire. Alternately pulling then releasing both wires will release the damper. The catch will be avoiding having a load of snow dumped on your head when it opens! Here's a pic of the open damper:

Now back to the hearth...

The masons began investigating around the hearth where
it meets the legs and rear wall of the fireplace. As they removed fill and some bricks, they revealed more of the fireplace leg. Interestingly, the legs of the fireplace have whitewash extending about three inches below the current hearth and floor surface. Additionally, the bottom-most whitewashed brick does not have a chipped off corner (remember the rounded corner treatment that we discussed in earlier posts). Since the brick is whitewashed, it would have been visible, and to be visible it needs to be above the hearth and floor level (which it is not currently). So it appears that the floor was originally lower than it is now. Somewhere in my memory I recall that the kitchen floor is not original, but I've not heard that the level of the floor changed too. Here's a pic of the left leg of the fireplace showing the floor level and the whitewashed bricks.

Another piece of physical evidence that supports this idea of a lower floor is a ghost line for the baseboard on the kitchen wall to the right of the fireplace. The current baseboard stops at the point where the hearth begins. Beyond this, its possible to see that the plaster has been replaired where the original baseboard was installed (remember that in the 18th century finish woodwork was typically installed before plastering took place and as a result was "plastered in" so to speak - this fequently results in "ghost lines" showing where the old woodwork was before being removed). The ghost line from the original woodwork is lower than the top of the current baseboard - though not by much. It's a little hard to see the actual line in the following picture, but you can certaily see the bright white plaster patch that was used to fill in the wall where the old baseboard was:

The mason's stopped work at this point to allow us to discuss the findings before proceeding. We have a meeting scheduled for June 15 to discuss the final work on the hearth, and start planning some roofing work.

In the meantime, it's time for me to start getting ready for the annual garden party and plein air art exhibit tomorrow!

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