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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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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Chillin’ at Graves on a February day


GL 2015.02.07eFinding a rare calm day between back-to-back-to-back Nor’ Easters in February, we chanced a winter maintenance trip to check on leaks, reload the cameras and stuff like that.

The seas were cold and choppy, but when our man Randy made it to the ladder we thought we were “on station.”

Not to be.

An easterly swell out lifted our little dinghy onto the cross-brace of the dock and punched a hole in the side, and it immediately started leaking fast.

We abandonded post and rowed like mad to the safety of the Keepah and Captains Meg and Pat.

Whew – if that dinghy had sunk we’d either be stranded on the ladder or tossed into the sea. Needed a couple of cold Harpoon ales over at KO Pies to settle after that one!

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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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Last work of the season: interior cleanup and glazing windows

Pedro is up on the lamp deck, a hundred feet above the rocks, glazing the windows. Photo by Richard Green, who was passing by on the 'Freedom.'

Pedro is up on the lamp deck, a hundred feet above the rocks, glazing the windows. Also see the oak-and-brass casement windows, faithful reproductions of the originals, installed in the granite tower. Photo by Richard Green, who was passing by on the ‘Freedom.’

We wrapped up a busy first season of bringing Graves Light back to life, concluding with work that wasn’t as dramatic as much of what we’ve seen, but was every bit as important.

The crew from Partner Solutions General Contracting came in to do a major cleanup.

Their targets: the rust, tar, dirt and mystery goo from the glazed white interior bricks.

This was the first time the bricks had been cleaned in about 40 years.

We were thrilled with the job that Ricardo, Claudio and Leo did to make the inside of Graves Light shine once more.

On Columbus Day weekend, we went out one last time for the season, before the seas got too rough for our boats to approach the dangerous stone ledges.

Among other things, Pedro went all the way up to the top of the outside of the lighthouse, to the lamp deck, to glaze the huge curved window panes joined together by colossal brass frames.

Pedro stopped the water from leaking into the top of the lighthouse.

By happy coincidence, a friend and fan of Graves Light, photographer Richard Green, happened to be passing by on the flybridge of the Freedom, and took some dramatic pictures with his telephoto lens. Nobody realized it at the time, but Richard snapped some photos of Pedro working up on the lamp deck.

Richard shared the pictures with us on the Graves Light Facebook page.

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The watch room: Before, during and after

Watch Room

Before, during and after the restoration of the watch room, the metal room on the top of the granite tower and beneath the lamp room that contains the light. This set of pictures builds on our previous watch room update.

After Rick Tower of Tower Blast & Paint sandblasted and primed the iron, steel and bronze interior, our crew of volunteers applied black and white marine epoxy paint, while our skilled metalworkers and carpenters installed antique portholes salvaged from an old steam ship.

The lamp room had no windows, and we wanted to add windows to let in light and fresh air, while being as authentic to the period as possible.

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Facelift just in time for TV advertisement shoot

Still from Harvey window ad, by Redtree Productions.

Still from Harvey window ad, by Redtree Productions. See how different the lighthouse looks after the exterior restoration?

Our summer-long facelift was completed just in time for a local production company to film a television advertisement for Harvey windows.

The ad, produced by Redtree Productions, features a Harvey window being installed in a lighthouse.

PowerwashShot in Boston Harbor, the ad shows Curtis, a Harvey contractor, braving choppy waters to deliver a carefully wrapped, custom-built window to the lighthouse.

The intrepid contractor takes a lobster boat to the rocky ledge and rows the window ashore in a wooden dinghy. He is greeted by a lighthouse keeper. (See still shot above from the ad, and the video directed by Jonathan Bekemeier.)

Freshly cleaned of more than a century’s worth of coal dust and other grime, its stonework all re-pointed, Graves Light glows as it did when it was completed in 1905. There’s even a glimpse of the freshly painted iron stairway railing inside.

In the ad, the lighthouse keeper leads the contractor the curving staircase. The window is neatly installed, showing the Harvey Building Products brand.

All this really did happen, and the Harvey window was installed at Graves Light. But it was just for the shoot. We’re sticklers for staying as close to the original as possible, and one of our workers found an original 1905 casement window, in a rotted oak frame, stored in the oil house.

With that exciting find, we used the original window as a template for nine reproductions. Those were custom-built out of oak and brass, true to the original, by a master carpenter in Nantucket.

But the Harvey ad sure tells a nice story. Here’s Harvey’s Facebook page, and the YouTube video, below.

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