Japanese Gazebo
Home Up Ice Storm 2013 Japanese Gazebo

 

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When we moved into this house in the spring of 2008, there was a kid's tree fort located near the rear property line in the back yard.  It was in very bad shape, although some of the neighborhood kids still used it.  I originally intended to take it down, but found out the posts were set in big blobs of concrete underground.  I could have cut the posts just below dirt-level, but the posts themselves were still in good shape -- although drastically out of plumb, and out of square with each other.  Anyway, here's the photo gallery of the work involved in turning a falling-apart tree house into a Japaneze gazebo. 

I used wedges and a sledge hammer to knock the posts back to plumb, but that was the easy part.  You'd think if you're going to spend all that time and effort and expense to pour concrete for the posts you'd at least set them remotely square to each other, in other words, make them a rectangle to each other with 90* corners.  Nope.  One post was so out of square to the others, I had no choice but to dig out the entire blob of concrete and move the post 8 inches forward.  (Surprisingly, it wasn't the right-rear post you can see leaning against the tree in the "before" pictures, I actually knocked that one back to plumb pretty easily.  It was the right front that had to be moved.  Turned out the tree fort deck was really a trapezoid, I had no idea until I pulled it down and saw how out-of-square it was.

I'd like to say I carved the dragon on the roof, but no, I cheated and bought it on Ebay from Seven Seas Imports in Florida.  They sell a lot of very interesting carvings at very reasonable prices. I was afraid the dragon would be too big and "over the top" (in more ways than one), but I think the dark color and the fact that's it's kind of hidden in the tree branches makes it just right. 

The alternating half-round bamboo roof turned out to be very expensive and time-consuming.  Large bamboo is especially expensive.  That roof is about a curved 5' on each side and 4' deep, so that's about (5' x 4' deep x 2 sides =) 40 square feet of bamboo roof.  I ordered it from a couple different vendors in California, using alternating 4" bamboo poles and 2" poles.  The roof cost about $350, far more than I intended but I really couldn't think of an alternative that would fit the design as well.  (At first I tried shopping for Japanese clay roof tiles, but that would have been even more expensive and probably wouldn't have looked right anyway.)  It was very interesting to work with bamboo, very different from plain old dimensioned lumber we all use every day.  At first I did try to use black Japanese binding twine threaded through real copper rings in the rafters to hold the bamboo down, but I gave up after the first couple hours.  Just didn't work out well.  I finally used what they sometimes call "pole barn screws", galvanized hex-head screws with rubber washers to seal each drilled hole in the bamboo.

I really struggled with how to pull the whole thing together tight and solid.  The heavy 4x6 ridge timber set into the notched 2x12 hip rafters made the roof solid, and then I finally settled on six pieces of 5/8" threaded rod each about 30" long, running through the centers of the horizontal members on each side to tighten up the structure.  You can't see them, they're all hidden since they run through the posts and through the centers of the cross pieces.  The nuts are hidden under the rectangular blocks on the posts.  (Quality Welding in Sioux Falls did a great job welding nuts and washers onto one end of each rod, thanks guys.)  I wanted to stay with an authentic Japanese look as much as I reasonably could and tried to conceal any use of metal fasteners.

The dragon is lit at night with two small 7 watt, 12 volt spotlights and the interior with two small 12-volt, 7-watt bulbs in copper cups tucked in the rafters.  For the ground underneath I was going to use pea gravel to be all Zen and authentic, but the landscaping style of the entire property does not use hard borders or edging anywhere, so there's no way pea gravel would stay neatly out of the lawn.  I used something called "Calico Stone" instead.  It's really pretty stuff, polished smooth, round, grape-sized, multi-colored stones, packaged by Vigoro and sold through Home Depot.       

Finally, here's the translation and explanation of all the Japanese writing, the kanji on the gazebo.  (It was all traced with pencil, then incised or routed about 1/4" deep with a freehand router, and then painted with black enamel.)  This is a regular Microsoft Word file, but you'll need to have a Japanese font installed or enabled in Word to view the document properly.  Click here:  默れ, 靜まれ

Fun project, but I'm glad I'm done.  Now we just have to wait for the grass to grow back to the mulch/rock line.

Oh, I should give credit where credit is due.  The curves on the hip rafters follow the curves in this photograph published by Custom Cabanas, Inc. in Markham, Ontario at www.customcabanas.com/topnav-02/subnav-02a.html .  They do some beautiful work.  I drew the fair curves for mine using big aluminum framing squares bent sideways on a gentle curve with packing tape, then marked the timbers for the bandsaw with a Sharpie.  I wonder how they do theirs.