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Mailbox First-aid


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    While waiting for our elevator to be replaced, I decided to take on a small project that I have been planning for quite some time now.  It has the advantage of only needing the equipment in the garage shop to do most of the work. (The less we use the elevator right now, the better.)

    Here is a photo of the mailbox before I pulled it out of the ground to start what I thought would be simple project to make some minor repairs and staining it to match the house.  Pulling the post out, I discovered that the full 4” white cedar timber had been reduced below grade to a mere 1 ¾” thickness by about 30 years of rot.  As you will soon see this turned into a much more extensive operation than I thought!


    Here are two photos of the old cross beam.  You can really see by the following close-up that the rot wasn’t just confined to the timber underground.



    Finding full 4” dimension timber also proved to be a very difficult to find item and way more expensive than my budget could accommodate.  Therefore I took some reclaimed 5/4 x 6 red cedar decking and ripped it down to 4” wide and screwed and glued up four layers for a blank for a new cross beam timber.  Taking this blank to my band saw I cut the curved front end.   Then when taking measurements for fitting the angled notch at the opposite end, I noticed that the upper part of the notch in the post was also slightly rotten.  

    Using the radial arm saw, the rot was trimmed off, which of course made some modification of the angled notch joint necessary.  I adjusted the notch and a test fit proved successful.  This photo shows a closer view of the new angled notch joint.


   With that saw I removed the bottom 27” of the post that was rotten, and then cut many 2” deep kerfs that were cleaned out with a chisel to make a 12” long 2” deep half lap joint.  Here is a photo of things as they stood at this point below.


     I had to go down to my basement model shop band saw to cut a 39” long piece of 4 x 6 foundation treated post with a matching half lap joint to be bolted to the bottom of the timber post.  (There was much fun involved in cutting that heavy and awkward 39” long piece of treated post on my band saw which has only a 14” table to balance it on, especially while sitting in my wheelchair!)


     An angled cut was made on the opposite side of the 4 x 6 to give me an overall thickness of 4” where the post will be above grade.  This joint will eventually be hidden by some 1 ¾” cedar.  Here is a photo of a test fit of the half lap joint.


    Here are the timber post, cross beam timber, and treated lower post at this point.


    Here is the cedar box cover. (Notice the rabbet at the bottom.)  As you can see, the interior of the box cover was unfinished, so I decided to apply a heavy coat of stain to improve its resistant to rot.


    The metal mail box was then inserted into the wood cover by putting the raised rear seam and the 3/8” rough sawn plywood back into that existing rabbet inside the cover. One angled segment was rotted out, so I removed the rotten portion and fit a replacement in its place.


    The white cedar cover was secured with eight ¾” flat head brass wood screws through the bottom lip of the metal box into the inside face of the cover.


    The cover was then clamped to the box with a ratcheting cargo strap so the decorative plastic straps that are screwed to the outside could be removed to make staining easier.


     I also took my pneumatic brad driver and nailed each of the individual segments together with aluminum brads.  Once the plastic straps were removed the covered box was stained with left over stain from our houses recent staining.  (This was the whole reason for starting this simple[?] little project in the first place) The routed letters were repainted with some flat black enamel paint.  Once dry, the misc. straps and flag fittings were screwed back on.



    Today I worked on making some more repairs to the post as it had a long split on the backside, (Visible in the before photo.) I used a few heavy pipe clamps to help close it up a little and prevent it from spreading by reinforcing the split with glue and screws.  I drilled several pilot holes for some 2 ¾” cabinet mounting screws (which have very coarse aggressive threads and a large head) and countersunk the heads so that the threads gripped about 2” of the opposite side.  I also forced some wood glue into the split and inserted some wood shims for a tight fit.  It looks rather sloppy at this point, but just like our ship models, wood filler and primer can cover up a host of sins as it will get a heavy coat of solid color exterior stain anyway.



 Shifting back to the cross beam timber, my new beam needed to be roughed up a bit as all of the wood parts have a pronounced rough sawn texture.  By tilting my stiff back saw at a shallow angle, (As shown in the first picture below.)  I raked it diagonally back and forth across the surfaces until it looked right.


  Here is how it looks after the saw texturing.


    I put a coat of stain over this and after it dried, took some 60 grit sandpaper on a block to even out its texture.


    Well, I have caught up to my progress so far, so I will continue this posting after I make some more progress. (Hopefully I will finish soon.)


extra photo
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A simple job, Dave? Simple?? Around the home, there is no such thing as a 'simple' job. But, hope springs eternal, eh? Any job I've ever tackled around the home involves:


a) More than one trip to the lumber yard/hardware store/paint store/plumbing/electrical supplier (delete any if appropriate - which they won't be)

b) A vital tool or drill size not being to hand (go back to a)

c) A second job making itself obvious to you (go back to both a and b)

d) A third job.... (Back to a, b, and c)

e) Bad language (Penalty: start over at the beginning again)

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That also applies to doing repairs on autos and trucks although they often have step involving beating the item under repair with a hammer or tossing tools across the garage/into a river, etc. 


Then there's the trip to get another set of parts for what you broke. 

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I have found that the most dreaded difficult jobs that I put off to the last minute I turn into boogeymen punishing me turn out a little easier than I thought (sometimes)


And the simple ones like you replacing a 4x4 are nightmares.


Kudos:cheers::cheers: for a job well done considering your mode of transportation(inspiring).

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    I made a little more progress yesterday.  I cut a piece of 1 ¾” rough cedar to size for a mounting base for the mailbox to attach to the cross beam timber.  Looking into the metal box you can see here that it has several prepunched holes for doing just that. 


    By setting the mailbox on the base, I simply took a marking pen to transfer those hole locations to the base.


    I drilled four of those marked holes in the base for some #8 1-1/2” wood screws to mount the box.100_4700.thumb.JPG.0a0918f7ea06c2a7d7caab2434ffa316.JPG

    I found some heavy three inch wood screws in my extensive recycled hardware bins and drilled and countersunk holes for them all the way thru the base.  I aligned the base with the front edge of the cross beam timber and tapped the screws to locate them into the timber.


    Removing the base, I finished drilling for the long screws.


    The post was then mounted in my end vise and I flattened the back side flush with a plane for an even surface.  All of the split and screw holes were then filled in with some all-purpose water putty (Shown below.) and set aside to cure overnight.



   That covers yesterday’s labor.  I'll see how far I get today, as once again it's pouring rain outside and not much to do out there otherwise.  We have been averaging around two inches a day since our Aug. 20  deluge of 14". :wacko:  If this mailbox ever gets finished, I hope it stops raining long enough to get this thing back in the ground.







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    First things first, I found out that I forgot about filling four holes on the front side of the post as I was finishing up last night. (I guess one shouldn’t write up your post before you finish what you’re doing!):blush:   Unfortunately, I had already used up all of my filler so I had to use a different method of filling these additional holes. 

    I reached into the dust bin in my table saw and got a good handful of sawdust.  I mixed this with some wood glue in a small jar and forced this mix into the holes until they were overfull and spread some more of it around the holes.  I checked again to make sure I hadn’t missed any other holes to fill and finally set everything aside to dry overnight.   

    Not a lot of time available today, but made some progress anyway.  This morning I scraped away most of the excess filler on the back side of the post and then took my stiff back saw to retexture the surface as I did for the cross beam timber. (It seems odd to be adding texture, rather than making it smooth.)  For the holes on the front side I just went right to texturing with the saw and there was no noticeable difference in the methods, so I was satisfied.:P  Here are views of both.



    I put a second coat of stain on the cross beam timber and the first coat on the base for the box, the post and the pin for the flag. (That’s that little item on the base.)



    I have just enough time to log this into my post. (I checked just to be sure that I didn’t miss something else before I posted!) :Whew:

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  • 2 weeks later...

    I finally got back to the project as working with all the large and heavy timbers was starting to take a bit of a physical toll on me.  I find that when doing heavier work, I am unaware of the strain at the time, but pay for it a day or two after.  Having to use my upper body so much, makes transferring in and out of my chair just that much more of a strain.

    Oh well, so much for excuses, :blush: back to the project.  The half lap joint to the treated 4x6 was reinforced with four 4” long 5/16” carriage bolts.  The fact that the width of the two pieces to be joined didn’t match forced me to lay them both flat on one side on my radial arm saw table and clamp them together.  I just left the difference go on the top as the joint would be hidden later anyway.  I bored the holes in the pattern shown below to make the correct alignment easier to remember when put back together later.



    I bored 13/32” bolt clearance holes thru one piece and a bit into the other. (I didn’t have bits long enough to go thru both at once.)  Once unclamped, I finished the boring the holes thru the other piece.  Both pieces were then counter bored with a ½” spade bit.  The 4x6 was bored just deep enough for the bolt head to fit flush and the post was bored deep enough to allow the washer and nut to also fit flush.



    Having finished machining the 4x6, it was given two coats of stain, as although not visible when done, it had been cut and thus needed a sealant below grade.  The bored holes were also sealed with stain.  That’s enough for one evenings work, be back soon.

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    The following post covers three days of work.


    Wednesday, I went out to the temporary mailbox and removed the wood facing from the metal door so I could install it on the new one.  Unfortunately, this left my temporary box without a handle.  I thought that the mailman might be somewhat upset with that :rolleyes:  as I still had more work to do before putting the new mailbox out.  I dug up an old cabinet door pull from my garage, and using a small block of plywood for backing, screwed the pull onto the temporary box.


     It’s quite a homely sight I know, but good enough for now.


    The metal latch handle was removed from the new metal box door and I drilled four holes for mounting the wood facing.


    Here are photos of the front and back of the removed wood facing for the metal mailbox door.



    The facing was clamped to the door and the four new mounting holes were marked on the back side of the facing.  I also marked two additional holes for mounting the door latch.  Just to be sure that I didn’t drill right thru the facing; I took the door to my drill press where I could use its depth stop, and drilled the six holes for the 3/4" pan head sheet metal screws.  The facing was given two coats of stain, inside and out, and screwed together.  Here is the mailbox shown below at this point.


    On Saturday I re-bored the hole thru the post for a new 3/8” lag screw, slipped the cross beam into place and tapped the end of the lag screw to mark the location of the hole in the cross beam.  The joint was then unassembled and a long 5/16” drill was used to bore the hole for the 8” long lag screw into the end of the cross beam.  Reassembling the joint once again, the lag screw was installed with a washer and drawn up tight as shown here.


    Flipping the post up, here is the post and cross beam assembly.


     A ¾” wood plug was cut and driven into the post (Not glued, just in case.) to cover the lag screw.  The post/cross beam joint was planed down flush and a pilot hole was drilled at an angle into both sides of the cross beam into the support knee for some 3” square drive screws.  I counter bored holes for some dowel plugs, drove the screws home, installed the plugs, and cut off flush as shown here.


    To make the trim base to cover the half lap joint, I ripped down some 1 ¾” thick rough red cedar into four 5 ¾” wide slabs about 12” long.  I beveled one end of each piece at 30 degrees for the top ends. I also beveled the left corner of the tops of each one to allow the bevel to turn the corner when assembled.  All of these pieces were given two coats of stain over the entire piece as shown below.


    I clamped the four pieces around a scrap piece of post to check the fit and drill two 1/8” pilot holes on the left edge of each one and slightly into the mating edge.  Taking the each piece to my drill press, I finished drilling the pilot holes into the mating edges for 3” square drive screws.  I enlarged the pilot holes in the faces slightly to make clearance holes for the screws.  I used a ½” spade bit to make the holes large enough to install some dowel plugs into the faces to cover the screws later.


    Two pairs of base trim were then screwed together and had the plugs driven in and trimmed as shown here.


    Now with screws set into the remaining holes and left slightly protruding to act as locating pins, the assembly can be set around the bottom of the post, slid into place, screwed together, have the plugs installed, and the stain touched up.  I plan to set another screw thru the base into the post to tie it together.  The base will appear as shown below when completed.


    After much fun by me and a neighbors’ son on Sunday removing the temporary post and enlarging the hole for the new one, we managed to get most of it installed.   My helper had to leave for his to return to classes at UW Whitewater, but he had done most of the heavy work putting it in, so I thought I could handle the rest myself.  

    I set the base for the box plate with the heavy screws onto the cross beam.  Then I set the box onto the base and had to screw the box down onto it. Unfortunately, my power driver couldn’t fit inside the box, so I had to try screwing it down by hand with this tool.


    The ones on the left side went in fairly easily, even though I was forced to reach in from the curb which was as close as I could get to it in my wheelchair.  However, doing the ones on the right side required me to do it left handed.  It took quite a while with much frustration (not to mention some colorful language:default_wallbash:) to get the front screw down!  The screw in the back corner is beyond me, so I have to wait for my helper to return, as he is a lefty and can reach a lot farther.  The base will also have to wait as I won’t be able to even come close to reaching down far enough to drive the screws!  So, for now this photo shown below is as far as I can go right now until my assistant comes home for the weekend in two weeks.


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  • 1 month later...

    Today I did some touch-up work on the mailbox to finally get the project completed!  Here are a few pictures of the completed mailbox below.




    It had taken quite some time to get both my assistant and I to coordinate our the time to do it.  Between the crappy weather and our schedules, nothing ever seemed to work out.   Then on Saturday we were both available right around noon and although it was cold out we thought we could work with the temperature. 

    Well, as we were taking the base materials and the needed tools out to the mailbox, it started to sprinkle.  A few minutes later the wind gusts really picked up.  A few more minutes later the rain changed to huge snow flakes and ice pellets.  (My wife was watching from the living room at that time and took a photo of it as she thought it looked like we were having a regular blizzard!  I posted her photo on page 104 of the topic: Weather Report-post your significant weather-past or present.) 

    Normally a little snow wouldn't be as bad as rain because at least you would be drier, but it was snowing and blowing so hard that we could hardly see what we were doing and we were so covered with a heavy layer of snow we were actually getting soaked!  Regardless of these conditions, we stubbornly continued the work until we finished the installation at last.




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