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Made in the Shade!

This past summer, I got a request from a friend to help build a gazebo on his dock.  These are our good friends who own a lake house and who often have invited us over to enjoy weekends together—which we have done.

Being a good friend and thinking it was no more than a half day project, I gladly accepted the request. And since I enjoy working with my hands and putting things together, I knew this would be a fun project.  We just didn’t know how much fun it would be. But actually, the “fun” got started even before I arrived.

The all metal gazebo came in one huge box weighing over 500 pounds that was strapped to a pallet.  When my friend purchased the gazebo, it had been loaded into the bed of his truck with a forklift.  My friend made it uneventfully all the way from Memphis to his street but when he was ascending the next to last hill to their lake house, he heard a loud “thunk.”  The pallet unexpectedly had shifted and slid out the back of his truck (the pallet was longer than the truck bed and so the tailgate was down).  Knowing that he would not be able to lift it back up, he removed the outer box to reveal four separate boxes.  These individually, while still heavy, were able to be reloaded back into his truck.

Once I arrived the next week, our first task then was to get the boxes from the street above down these multiple flights of stairs to the dock.  We got started about 8:30 in the morning and first debated several different approaches, one of which was just to unbox everything and cart the individual pieces down.  But we figured the pieces would be so numerous, that we would wear ourselves out just going up and down the stairs.

My friend suggested we lower the boxes individually from the street to the lower deck using ropes. After a couple of rope engineering failures, we finally figured out that a separate rope on each end of the box would allow them to be lowered.  This worked out surprisingly easy and saved having to carry the boxes through the house and down two flights of stairs.

But we still had all these stairs to descend.  Two of the boxes were so heavy that all we could do was carefully slide them down the steps.  The first of these we made without incident until the very last step when the box landed on it roughly and split it in to.

The third box was light enough that the two of us could carry it down and the last box I carried down by myself on my shoulder.

The whole process, including the trials and errors, took almost three hours; so much for my half day projection.

Inside the box was two sets of instructions, the first a 14 step “Ikea-like” page with just pictures and the second, a lengthy booklet with up close, spelled out instructions.

Step one was to assemble the bases on the posts and then connect them with the upper frame.  We attached each side post together…

…and then strapped one side to the dock railing to keep it stationary while we connected the other two together.  The only mishap was the socket from the rachet somehow went missing.  We did not hear it hit the dock decking below or the water but still could not find it.

We broke for lunch at 2:00 PM, me still optimistic that the next assembly steps would go more quickly. I was wrong again.

It took us until almost 5:00 to get to this point, often times precariously perched half on the ladder, half standing on the railing thirty feet above the water, holding on to the gazebo frame with one hand while ratcheting with the other.

The pictorial instructions showed four people connecting the cupola with the roof frames.  Since there was just the two of us, we had to improvise by inverting the cupola frame and attaching four of the eight roof supports to it creating an oversize spider (missing four of its legs).  Then it took both of us to lift it up and slide the roof supports into their brackets.

Once we had attached all of the cupola roof panels, we discovered we had left off the four edge frame pieces that the roof panels would screw into at the bottom edge.  To remedy this, the roof panels had to be removed. Thus, this disassembly cost us some extra time but by 7:00 PM, we had corrected our error and were ready for the next step.

An hour later, we had attached the roof support cross members (24 of them) but realized we were not going to finish that day.  We worked into the dark another 30 minutes managing to get three of the 24 roof panels attached.

The next morning, we were well rested and ready to finish the job and when we moved the boxes out of the way, we found the missing socket (which then gave us two to work with).

My friend thought we should be finished in about three hours, just in time for lunch and a well-deserved beer.

Four hours later, this was the view I had after attaching the last of the 24 roof panels.  But then we had one section that had not attached very well and so we had to go back and loosen one of the panels to get it better aligned.  This went surprisingly easy giving us the finished look.

A few moments later, we were ready to enjoy the fruits of all our labor, feeling blessed that neither of us had fallen off the ladder or the dock, had not lost a single screw, washer or nut, and not lost any tools.

But as the old saying goes, a job’s never done until the paperwork is finished.  In our case, we had to haul all the boxes and packing back up the stairs along with all of our tools and ladders.  This time though, we were able to strap all four boxes together with the packaging inside and cart them back up the stairs.  When we got to the lower deck, we again used our ropes and lifted them up to the street loading them into the back of his truck for disposal.

As we made our way up the stairs for the last time, it was nice to look down and see all the glorious shade provided by the gazebo.  In spite of it being an almost 19-hour project rather than the four I originally envisioned, I knew the next time we visited our friends at their lake house, we would have many more hours of pleasure sitting under the gazebo.  For we really would have it “made in the shade.”

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