New brass castings set to restore mahogany handrail

John Nelson at work on the new brass fittings we custom-cast to restore the handrail system.

John Nelson at work on the new brass fittings we custom-cast to restore the handrail system.

Here’s a sneak peek from John Nelson’s metal shop in Portland, Maine.

John is coming down to install a beautiful reproduction of the original railing system, complete with a mahogany handrail.

Over the winter, we designed and cast some of the brass parts for this railing. It will be exciting to see the finished results. Of course we’ll keep everyone posted.

Follow John Nelson on Instagram @nelsonmetalfab, and like his shop, Nelson Metal Fabrication, on Facebook.

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Discovered: Original Fresnel Lens rotation mechanism

Polishing a century of grime from one of the brackets of the original First Order Fresnel lens rotation mechanism.

Polishing a century of grime from one of the brackets of the original First Order Fresnel lens rotation mechanism.

Ever wonder how the giant First Order Fresnel lens rotated to produce that smooth, sweeping beam lf light?

The good guys at the US Coast Guard revealed the secret by sending us the old engineering drawings of parts of the original mechanism, which are still bolted to the 5th level ceiling.

Since that ceiling is being restored, we figured we’d take the mechanism down and clean it up, which we did this week at home.

Here’s how it worked: Every two hours the Keepers wound a 300-lb weight up a 50-foot tube using a hand crank. The weight was connected by a series of pulleys (pictured) and connected to a big clockwork device, which regulated the speed and drove a gear that spun the two-ton lens.

The system was converted to an electric motor long ago, but happily the Coast Guard left all the old stuff in place, which made it possible for us to tell the story.

 

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Casting call: Making exact copies of original bronze fixtures

Arthur crafts exact copies of lighthouse fixtures out of bronze. He's at Mystic Valley Foundry in Somerville, Mass.

Arthur crafts exact copies of lighthouse fixtures out of bronze. He’s at Mystic Valley Foundry in Somerville, Mass.

In restoring and refurbishing Graves Light, we try to find original items from other lighthouses and ships.

Sometimes, though, finding an exact match proves to be impossible. That was the case of the bronze brackets to hold the wooden handrails in place on the lighthouse’s winding stairs.

We had some original pieces, but couldn’t find a match anywhere.

Arthur at Mystic Valley Foundry in Somerville, Mass., helped us out. He took an original bracket and made 10 exact copies out of bronze.

Here are pictures of Arthur at the foundry, as well as a shot of the 10 copies and the original.

 

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The oak ceiling is almost ready to be installed

At his Nantucket shop, Karl Phillips works on the new oak ceiling of the 5th floor of Graves Light - a perfect copy of the ruined original.

At his Nantucket shop, Karl Phillips works on the new oak ceiling of the 5th floor of Graves Light – a perfect copy of the ruined original.

We’re getting wicked excited about a winter project that’s entering its final stages.

The oak ceiling of the Graves Light living quarters are being reconstructed, just as it would have looked in 1905.

Down on Nantucket, Driftwood Construction’s own Karl Phillips is working day and night, this time building the amazing paneled oak ceiling for the 5th floor study.

Karl already built perfect oak copies of the original casement windows, window sills, window paneling, and interior stairway doors.

He’s been using the original 1903 architectural drawings to rebuild the ceiling. But since parts of the original ceiling are still in place (despite their heavy damage), Karl was able to take measurements right off the original.

For the fun of future generations, we think we’ll install this new ceiling to cover the original old one, so that in another 100 years, people will have something to discover.

Take a look at the pictures of Karl’s latest work.

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Super ladder 2015 replaces what the storm claimed

Super Ladder 2015 is ferried out to Graves.

Super Ladder 2015 is ferried out to Graves.

Remember that big ladder we installed on the dock last spring?

Well the November storms tore it away, and although we spent an afternoon scuba diving to find it, all we came up with was one lousy rung.

But today, friends, behold the new Super Ladder 2015!

All that's left of our 2014 ladder.

All that’s left of our 2014 ladder.

Fortified with double strength rails and bolted right to the stone pier below, this baby should last until … November?

Maybe we should take it down after the season this time. . . .

Hats off to Emmett who helped build it and Mike and Pat who helped ferry it into position using our dock fenders and a spare life ring!

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Restoring the glass skylights

Alison works on a skylight. She's in the Lamp Room, looking down at the floor. The photographer is in the Watch Room, looking up at the ceiling.

Alison works on a skylight. She’s in the Lantern Room, looking down at the floor. The photographer is in the Watch Room, looking up at the ceiling.

Without a doubt, the most beautiful feature of Graves Light is the lantern, the glass room which housed the great Fresnel lens.

Built into the cast metal floor are 13 little round skylights that were the sole source of natural light for the Watch Room below.

The years have been kind (the heavy glass has turned from clear to a purply sun-colored amethyst) and unkind (several of them are missing or broken).

Not a problem for Alison MacDonald of ACKFire Studios.

Using one carefully removed glass tile, Alison has created a mold in her Nantucket glass studio and is busy reproducing the missing pieces.

We hope to report that by end of summer, the skylights will be fully intact again and ready for the next century of use.

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Being built on Nantucket: New oak trim for window interiors

Wide interior oak panels for the reconstructed casement windows, made by Karl Phillips of Nantucket.

Wide interior oak panels for the reconstructed casement windows, made by Karl Phillips of Nantucket. Karl copied them from the original 1903 Graves Light architectural drawings.

Seven-foot thick granite walls make for some deep windowsills, and our man Karl Phillips is making up beautiful trim to complement, in his workshop in Nantucket.

These are the side and top panels for the window wells, based off the original native white oak interior built at the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment wood shop in Portland, Maine.

The originals are gone, so we used the 1903 architectural drawings to make copies.

Karl also made reproductions of the original interior doors this winter. Last summer, he built exact copies of the original oak casement windows, among other work.

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Starting springtime at Graves Light

Lynn removes the non-original brass vent cover so that the restored originals can be installed.

Lynn sets a cleaned and restored component of the original USLHS ventilation system.

We started springtime restoration at Graves this year by wrapping up our last winter project, which was to install the original brass vent covers in the watch room.

The heavy cast covers had been lost for decades, but we found them last year, and now they’re back in place.

Lynn is shown at work on one of the vents.

These vents allowed fresh air to flow through a specially designed duct (to prevent rain and seawater from entering) and up into the lantern above where five burners produced the illuminating flame.

In the gallery below, Dave is standing on the snow-covered watch deck, holding one of the original vent covers about to be returned to its space.

Another picture shows the vent cover back in place, flanked by two portholes. We added the portholes, from a steamship that sailed at the time Graves Light was built, to provide light and ventilation in the formerly windowless watch room.

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Rebuilding the inside of Graves Light – on Nantucket

Making exact copies of the interior doors of Graves Light at Karl Phillips' Nantucket shop.

Making exact copies of the interior doors of Graves Light at Karl Phillips’ Nantucket shop.

The snow and ice haven’t stopped the renovation of Graves Light. We’ve been using the winter months to reconstruct precise reproductions of the original interior woodwork.

Lots going on at the Nantucket workshop of Master Carpenter Karl Phillips.

Karl has finished replicating the interior stairway oak doors, and the deep oak sills of the windows that he built last summer.

One photo shows the sole surviving original interior door, rebuilt and stripped down to the wood, flanked by two reproductions to be installed in the spring.

The original door itself needed major repairs, but it provided us a good template to work from. Original 1903 US Light House Service architectural drawings of the doors helped ensure faithful reproductions.

Karl also built nine new oak windowsills using one rotted original sill (in the foreground of the gallery picture below) as a guide.

Just wait until he installs these with his oak paneling – still under construction – to fill in the deep window pockets!

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‘This Old House’ features Graves Light


The PBS supershow This Old House broadcast a segment on Graves Light, adding animated models of the envisioned renovation and calling Keeper Dave “intrepid” for tackling the “amazing” vacation home project.

Richard Tretheway, who visited Graves earlier to scout out the lighthouse for the August shoot, hosted the segment that aired November 13.

Above is a preview of Episode 7, featuring Graves, as part of an ongoing program on the restoration of a Charlestown, Massachusetts, townhouse. On the program’s website, you can stream the entire episode. About 10 minutes into Episode 7 is the part about Graves Light.

See our This Old House photo album on Facebook. More photos below:

 

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