Belize Blog Post 7 - Steel Roof Trusses and Welding

Day 39 - 17th Saturday
Church is full today.

We heard from Stanley that he got our welding gas and also the hose we need, so should be ready to roll when the steel gets here. Am hoping to do some practice welding tomorrow to be up to speed. There are a few projects we need to do with the welder, so its not even like we'd be wasting materials. Practical Practice, that would be!

Its now the boring part of a Satuday afternoon, when you're kind of stuck. Nothing really worth doing, its a nice warm day, and you've already eaten lunch. If I had a car, or a motorcycle, I'd go exploring. If I had a bicycle, I might even ride it. Or maybe I'll just screw around on the computer a bit, and take a nap.

That's more likely.

Day 40 - 18th Sunday
Today Dan and I went to the Home first thing in the morning, and put up a new clothes line. Well, we got the pipes set in concrete, and welded together. Had a bit of trouble with the new welder, but then realized we just weren't able to pull enough power from the for the settings we were trying to use. This was a bit counter intuitive, in that when we didn't have enough power, we found it worked better when we turned down the power. Anyway, after that, it worked pretty well.

After that, I went back to the new property and did some more welding on some other stuff we needed. Still need practice, but its working nicely. Kind of a trade off, though. Using the shielding gas makes a really nice weld, but lugging that big high pressure tank around gets old.

We are expecting the metal roof trusses tomorrow. Might even get them!

Day 41 - 19 Monday
Wow, the steel trusses actually got here today. Life is good. I guess when they say it will be here by Friday, then say it will REALLY be here on Monday, even though Monday is a holiday, sometimes it really does happen on Monday. The truck got here about 9am if I remember right.

We had a good crew ready, so I just let them unload the truck, since I was getting in the way more than helping anyway. I had been cleaning up our concrete form, from the gate pillars. It had got put off long enough, and was starting to rust, so I thought I'd better get it done before we got really busy. Which happened about 2 minutes after that truck showed up!

The actual plan was that Dan and I would have some time to do practice welding, at least a few days before the trusses got here. That didn't happen. My first chance to weld galvanized trusses, was up on the scaffold, on a real, in place, actual truss that was part of the roof. No pressure there, right? See, I like metal, I've worked with metal before. If you cut metal too short, you just weld it back on, and things are ok. Even the trusses we have, apparently got made too short, so they just welded the tails back on. I like my odds!

We lost some time in the morning getting things set up though. None of us have actually used these scaffolds until now. They were donated, so there is always some lost time where you look at a pile of parts and try to put them together. There was some brow beating, some chest thumping, there was a hammer, then things started to look less hopeless. Even with all the drama, the first truss was standing up by 10am. We didn't have the welder ready until a bit later. I'm finding the nice light 50 pound welder, is a bit slower when you have to drag all the extra stuff around, the hoses, the wires, the big tank. As I get time I'll be building a cart, but for today, it was time to jump into the fire.

This might be a good time to mention, again, that I don't like being off the ground so much. There are people who make good money building roofs. Those people should be here. Seriously. But I guess those people have jobs and a life. So I'm here.

Today I discovered a new fear. Try to picture this: Vertigo, while standing on a scaffold, 8 or 10 feet off the ground, while wearing a welding helmet. For those who didn't grow up with a Dad who welded things pretty often, a welding helmet is a nice black (usually) hood with a little peep hole in the front, the front "window" is made of some seriously dark glass. So once you put it on, you can't see anything. Try an experiment with me. Lets have you stand on one foot, and see how long you can stand like that with out tipping over. Ok, now try it with your eyes closed.

Moving on.

With all that off my chest, things went really well today. We're doing a "Dutch Hip" roof. I honestly don't know what that means, but I'll be sure to post a picture when we get that far, ok? What it means to me, now, is that the end of the roof is taking a lot longer than I ever imagined. Like, we have 1 truss up, then we're welding a lot of top chords and bottom chords off the side, and some other stuff, then there is a valley happening on the corner, and Dan keeps getting excited about his speed square that has all these extra marks on it, one even says Hip and another has Valley. Gibberish to me, but I guess I better try to look interested, or they'll take my welder away and send me back to digging holes and mixing concrete.

I'd miss the smell of my burning flesh though. Did you know that welding involves melting metal to the point where they actually combine into a single piece of metal? Can you imagine how hot that would be? Now imagine that parts of your body that might not be covered by the gloves, and that sizzling sound when meat hits a grill. Oh, and just for extra style points, lets do that while on a truss, maybe 8 or 10 feet off the concrete, so you don't want to flinch too hard, or you'll maybe trip over one of the many wires or hoses that are wrapped around your feet, while your head is covered by a black hood... this sounds like typical jungle maddness, yes?

This evening Dan went into the Home to help put the clothes lines up on the pipes we welded on Sunday. With any luck the kids let them set before they played on the pipes, or they'll be tipped over by now. Guess I'll hear how that goes.

Dan is leaving on Wednesday morning, so I hope I'm learning fast enough.

This week will mark my 6 week anniversary of being in Belize, and we finally got the steel trusses today. My Dad missed it. Dan almost missed it. This is how things happen here. The only reason I'm still here, is I didn't want to go back to the snow. I really need to keep more options open I guess.

Day 42 - 20 Tuesday
I did a lot more welding today. We're still on the first Dutch Hip thingy. Turns out there are a lot of cuts and welds on a roof. Who knew?

The word for today is "Duty Cycle". Most electrical things have one, but no one ever pays attention. After some research, our welder has a 20% duty cycle on it. What that apparently means, is its only supposed to be used 20% on, and 80% off. Might be part of the 80/20 rule they talk about. In the real world, that means if you weld for 2 minutes, it needs to rest for 8 minutes. While that doesn't sound so good, often it turns out to be a non issue. For example, if you were by yourself, building a go cart, you'd measure and cut some steel, then make the first weld. Then you'd measure some more steel, line it up, use a square maybe, clamp it, go for a beer, make the next weld. Take a picture, check Facebook, measure and cut, clamp and square, go to the restroom, make the next cut, by then its lunch time. No problem.

But on our little roof project here, we have 6 weeks of pent up frustration of waiting for the welder, and waiting for the steel, and waiting for the plans, and digging holes and mixing concrete and killing snakes and scorpions and being generally amused by geckos... whew... so now we have 3 people cutting and measuring steel, and 2 of us clamping and welding, and all of a sudden, the welder needs to take a break. Just like that, the trigger that makes everything all sparky and happy, doesn't.

Hmmm. Actually, that happened once yesterday too. But we blamed it on the arrival of the preacher.

Really, when you think of it, welding seems to be more Black Magic than science, so a Man of God really messes things up. The welder quits working just as he drove up. As soon as he left, it worked again. So we just went on with business as normal, no big deal.

Then today, Dan figures I'm having too much fun, and the vultures were circling as I was BBQ my arms with all the flying sparks, or maybe it was the cottony candy smoke that boils off the poisonous smoke from the galvanized steel, anyway, so Dan takes a turn at all the sparkling, then he goes for something and leaves me in charge, and 2 minutes later the welder stops again. Well, fine, so I took a break too. A few minutes later, it works again. Then half an hour later it quits again.

The first day, we spent more time making a template, and using the committee method of roofing, and more measuring, finding clamps (no Facebook or Beer breaks, that was just an illustration there, see?) anyway, day 1, there was more figuring, and less welding. Day 2, we had the figuring pretty much... figured, and tis the time to be welding. And then we ran smack into that Duty Cycle monster. Look at the book, there it is, simple. 20%. Now I have a crew of people who think I'm just making this up. Or maybe I have a small bladder. Because I keep walking away. Very few locals are very technically inclined. This may also include our site supervisor. He's also the guy I may have told that I was making flower pots that other day.

Welders are kind of expensive. So when I explain its only 20% useful, that might make me look less useful. This is where my earlier idea of downplaying my background may be good. Everyone else here has housebuilding background, or construction, or welding, or what ever. Me? I'm just a goof ball. I'm pretty harmless. I stay out of the big words and roof pitch committees.

Anyway, we did come up with a possible solution. We need the end trusses up first, so the other trusses can be set in a line. But we don't have to have the ends completely finished. So tomorrow we'll get the other end up quick, some quick short welds to tack them into place, and then I can go back and finish the big welds at my 20% pace. I see a nick name coming here.

In other news, I took a break and rigged up a cart to haul my pressure tank for the welder. John has a hand cart that was custom built for something that he doesn't have anymore, so he donated it to the project. I bent some hoops from some rebar, welded them to the cart, and it holds the tank pretty nice. For extra style points, I put some old garden hose over the rebar, for padding. I thought the yellow electrical tape over the hose was a nice touch. When in doubt, clash!

Dan is going home tomorrow. Think that's the longest anyone has worked with me with out throwing me off a roof.

Day 43 - 21 Wednesday
And Then There Were Two...

The plan had been to get up early and get a fast start this morning. Dan left for the airport around 9:30 this morning, so we figured on getting a few trusses up on the roof today. Except it rained most of last night, and was still raining this morning. So I didn't get up as early as I thought I would, because, really, who wants to weld steel trusses with electric welders in the rain, while standing on a wet scaffold?

So John and I were talking about what else to do, because we both felt suicide by electricity was not very spiritually sound, and about that time I see Dan carrying the welder out of the locker toward the work site. Sigh. It would just not be right to let your friend go die alone, so I put on my hat and gloves and went to help. We got up several trusses stood up before Stanley took Dan to the airport, and none of us actually died, although Dan did get shocked a few times, and I took a pretty good zap too. I still believe welding in the rain is not a good idea, so after Dan left, I put the welder away until after lunch, when it had a couple hours to dry out some.

When I was hooking things up, I noticed one of our cords was not in good condition, which may have made the shocking worse than it had to be.

In the afternoon I realized I was the last guy who knew how to use the MIG welder. From a military point of view, that's a bad plan, so I decided to start training a couple of the guys. Really, its simple, aim and pull the trigger, and listen to the sizzle. Kevin, one of the Belize locals, has been an extremely helpful worker, in addition to working with us on the roof, he is also one of the ones who has been pushing back the jungle on our grass and brush crew. Anyway, Kevin picked up the basics in about 2 minutes, I gave him a couple tips, and turned him loose. Gotta love the Jungle certification process here!

That freed me up to sit in with a meeting between John and a guy who is selling us a water purification system for the home. Interesting stuff, really. There were 2 levels of systems available, one was very expensive, and one was less involved. Both would work, but I think we'll go for the simpler version. But what do I know? We may get someone who wants to get the fancy one, and has a donation ready to sign over.

One idea I liked from the water system presentation though, was rather than making all the water safe to drink, the main water was filtered and clorinated, and then the kitchen water was fully purified. Then there would be an area to fill drinking water containers from the pure water system. No sense purifying water to flush the toilets with.

Seems kind of weird now, Dan is gone, my Dad left a couple weeks ago, Chuck and Carol are gone, now its just John and me, and as it turns out, we are on opposite corners of the volunteer house here. Nice and peaceful until the next volunteer groups get here in December.

Day 44 - 22 Thursday
Happy thanksgiving, thanks for the left overs! John and I were invited over for Thanksgiving supper, but I'm kind of anti holiday, so I decided to work in stead. They did send a yummy plate of left overs, which was really good. So thanks for that!

Mike did most of the welding today, yesterday Kevin did a lot of the welding. Now I know they could do it if I was to leave, or if I can't work for some reason. We had some problems with the welder, it just wouldn't go sometimes. Might have been too warm, and I also suspect there was a brown out going on. It would work, then slow down. Even at lunch time, when everyone else was stopped, I couldn't get it to start a bead. Kind of feels like its being starved of juice. It works so great when it works, its kind of sad when it sputters.

I also welded some pipes up for John, he'll use them for cord hangers in the tool locker. Came out nice even. I shaped the ends and beveled them all nice and professional. Cords are heavy, and I'd be embarrassed if it breaks! All the guys would laugh at me...

It was a good day, we have most of both Dutch Hips finished, tacked up, now I can go back and finish up the welding in between. At the rate things are going, I'll be welding for ever to catch up!

Day 45 - 23 Friday
The days here are long, but the weeks are short. What's up with that??

The crew worked until 1pm today. We now have all the trusses and Dutch Hip steel up, and this afternoon after the rest of the crew left, I worked on welding some of the steel that was only tacked up. Then around 3:30 it started to rain, which resulted in a slow speed scramble to get the welder unplugged under cover before it got wet and tasered me again. About the time I got everything off the roof and safely tucked away, I realized it wasn't raining anymore.

I spent the next half hour welding some more supports together, and by 4pm I had everything put away.

Mike did most of the welding today, again. He's doing great work, which means I might not be getting much more practice in! Good thing I can play in the evenings and weekends I guess. I might get a chance to weld one of the gates, we'll see. The only bid in so far has been pretty expensive.

Day 46 - 24 Saturday
Decided I needed a break today, away from everything and everyone, so I skipped church, and spent the morning writing some website code. Then I caught a bus into town to get some chinese food and some internet time, where I tested the code, tweaked it a bit, and chilled.

Living here wouldn't be so bad if I had some basics of life, like income, a place of my own, and my own transportation. Otherwise its just a very nice place to be stuck in. Stuck none the less.

Its nice to have a day of rest, but its also kind of frustrating to be looking at a perfectly nice day, that I could be getting some welding down on the roof. I think I miss making my own hours.

By Carlin Comm posted on 2012-11-24