Fathers and Sons, Cupolas and Such

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Project by Lenny posted 12-06-2009 07:02 PM 2979 views 0 times favorited 21 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I recently read a post by an LJer that referred to his relationship with his father. It immediately brought back memories of my relationship with my deceased Dad. He died 6 years ago at the age of 90. I believe that many of the handyman skills I possess, I gained from my Dad. I don’t know if skills and abilities can be passed through genes but if so, I got some of it from him. More likely though, the many hours I spent assisting Dad while he completed household projects is how I learned carpentry, electrical and even (yuck) some plumbing skills. My Dad was a perfectionist. One of my older brothers loves to tell the story of how he was assisting Dad in rebuilding the basement stairs one day. He got up about 3 stairs and stepped back to look at his progress. He declared, “That second step is off about 1/4”, and he proceeded to tear his work down to that point to correct the error. I like to think I have some of that perfectionism in me. My wife would certainly tell you I do, based on how long I take to complete a project in our home. As hokey as it may sound, I sometimes think I feel his presence or “hear his voice” while I am working on a woodworking or household project. I don’t mean literally, just something like a little voice in my ear saying, “Come on Lenny, I taught you better than that.” It motivates me to continue to strive for perfection in my work.

About 25-30 years ago Dad learned that I started this woodworking hobby. He said, “I’ve got a great project for “us”. Dad had made a weathervane in metal shop while in high school. It had been sitting in his garage for years and he wanted to display it. He found and sent away for plans for making a cupola. Well the “us” quickly turned into “me” making the cupola. It was an interesting and fun project. The plans called for a copper standing-seam roof. My Dad, a self-employed automobile mechanic, decided to have a customer/friend who was a tinsmith make the roof. I still remember the day I went to Dad’s shop with a car problem and saw the cupola with the shiny copper roof sitting on it. He was showing it to anyone who would listen, saying how his son made the cupola and a friend, the roof. Dad took it home, painted it (It was made from pine and plywood.), installed/soldered the weathervane on it and up on his garage it went. A few years before his death I told him I would love to have the cupola when he was gone and he granted me that wish.

My stepmom passed about a year ago and it was then that I took down the cupola and brought it home. Unfortunately, shortly after Dad’s death someone actually tried to steal the whole cupola from his garage roof. He had put it up there so sturdily that they broke a few of the boards trying to pry it off the roof. The popping sound of the wood breaking woke a neighbor and the thief left with only the moving part of the weathervane. That’s why you don’t see one in the photos. It was a horse-drawn wagon carrying hay, meticulously crafted by Dad. My family and I are guessing they wanted the roof and weathervane for the copper. I had a choice: fix the old cupola or make a new one. I decided that I would prefer a natural wood look as opposed to paint, so I decided to buy some cypress and start fresh. I got the cypress on sale at Woodcraft. I bought 37.1 board feet of 4/4 and had a full board (5.3 board feet) left over. I used the old cupola as my prototype for the new one. If there is any difficulty in making a cupola like this, it’s plowing out 12 equally spaced slots in each post for the slats. I had no plans to work from and I didn’t recall the angle of the slats. I used a sliding bevel gauge and estimated it to be 45 degrees. Prior to getting my table saw this past May, my radial arm saw was the workhorse of my shop. For space reasons I have moved it out of my shop and into the garage. It was nice to re-employ it for this task. After laying out the slots, I set the radial arm to 45 degrees, mounted my dado blade set and made my cuts (see photo). The other challenge was when it came to the crown molding just under the roof. As you know, you can’t walk into a HD, Lowe’s or even Woodcraft and buy cypress crown molding. I resolved to make my own molding. Looking at the crown molding profile I figured if I make a cove molding and sit a half-round or bullnose molding above it, it mimics the look of the crown. So using my router table, that’s what I did and I am pleased with the results. When it came to the finish, I got a great piece of advice from Cypresswoodworker. He has been working with cypress for over 20 years. He explained that it needs to breathe or it will rot. He said I could stain it all over but as for sealing it, make sure not to seal it inside and out.

I found a product I thought would fit the bill perfectly, Waterlox Sealer/Finish. It is predominately Tung Oil. The can states: “One can penetrates, seals, and finishes” and it is a medium sheen. The can also indicates that it is an excellent choice for oily exotic wood and cypress contains a lot of natural oils. I was putting on the last of three coats when my neighbor walked over and asked about the finish. I handed him the can and he said “You’re going to kill me, but read this.” In bold letters it read: “For use on exterior wood surfaces as a primer only.” I decided to sand the whole thing with 150 grit paper to give it some tooth and then applied a coat of General Finishes’ Outdoor Oil. I figure that the combination of the two products should be good for awhile and I will monitor it.

As for the roof, I know there are purists who love the natural (green) patina that occurs on copper over the years. Personally, I prefer a bright, shiny copper. The thing with this roof is that, as you can see in the “before” picture, there was a good amount of pigeon poop stains all over it. THAT would just not do for me. I researched a bit and found a natural concoction that you can use to clean copper (vinegar, salt and flour). I applied it to one side, let it sit for the recommended time and when I scraped it off, I was down to bare dull copper. Since I was committed, I did the whole thing, including the weathervane, and even shined it up with polish. I installed in on my garage roof yesterday morning, just in time for our first snowfall last night. I am delighted with it. The other day I bought a piece of copper and I will be working on a moving part for the weathervane. I plan to come up with something in tribute to my Dad.

One last thing, I was describing this project and telling the story to an out-of-state friend and she asked if I planned to inscribe anything on the cupola. I thought that was a great idea so on the board that supports the weathervane rod, I used my Dremel tool to capture for “eternity” who made the weathervane and cupola (see photo).

Sorry for the length of the post but I hope you enjoyed the story behind the project. I usually post pictures of the progress of the project as I describe it. Given the length of the post I decided not to do that. Instead, I posted the maximum six pictures above and hope it gives a good idea of how the project went.

-- On the eighth day God was back in His woodworking shop! Lenny, East Providence, RI

21 comments so far

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 3885 days

#1 posted 12-06-2009 07:20 PM

COOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Lenny I really like this post. GREAT JOB!!!!! Please keep us informed on the progress with the moving part?

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View Woodbutchery's profile


384 posts in 3585 days

#2 posted 12-06-2009 07:49 PM

You should never apologize for the length of a post like the one above that tells such an excellent story.

Thank you for sharing.

-- Making scrap with zen-like precision - Woodbutchery

View PurpLev's profile


8535 posts in 3648 days

#3 posted 12-06-2009 07:52 PM

very cool. nice construction and finish.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4160 days

#4 posted 12-06-2009 08:17 PM

beautiful story (each and every word !!!)

thank you for sharing
and my heart tugged at the theft part…..

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View sras's profile


4799 posts in 3129 days

#5 posted 12-06-2009 08:32 PM

Great story! Your dad would be (is) proud!

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View blackcherry's profile


3338 posts in 3823 days

#6 posted 12-06-2009 11:52 PM

Great story Lenny it bring back memories of my father and the time we spent together working on odd and ends around the house. We so bless to have had fathers who took the time to pass along the skill it take to survive being a home owner. Your right when you say he still with you when certain task at hand come in to play. Your story show the bond of father and son and how precious it is and how it never really ends. Thanks for sharing and I’m looking forward in seeing the “Legacy of the Cupolas” continue….

View littlecope's profile


3071 posts in 3502 days

#7 posted 12-07-2009 12:17 AM

Wonderful Project and Story, Lenny!! Thank You for sharing it!!

-- Mike in Concord, NH---Unpleasant tasks are simply worthy challenges to improve skills.

View Lenny's profile


1593 posts in 3527 days

#8 posted 12-07-2009 02:42 AM

Thanks for the kind words of support everyone, and for taking the time to read the post. Needless to say, it has great meaning for me. As suggested by sras, I like to think my Dad would approve. MsDebbieP, if not for my Dad’s insistence in doing things right, the whole cupola would have been gone. Assuming the thief wanted it for the copper, I hope that person really needed the money because a family treasure was lost for a few dollars.

-- On the eighth day God was back in His woodworking shop! Lenny, East Providence, RI

View Dusty56's profile


11819 posts in 3688 days

#9 posted 12-07-2009 07:17 PM

Excellent story and project , Lenny ….I’m still trying to picture the thief running away with a cupola if they were able to remove it from the roof …what were they thinking ??
Happy Holidays to you and yours : )

-- I'm absolutely positive that I couldn't be more uncertain!

View Napaman's profile


5526 posts in 4077 days

#10 posted 12-08-2009 06:42 AM

Great Story Lenny…I lost my Dad last January and when it was time to sort through his “stuff” I found the UCLA sweatshirt I am wearing right now…and the “DAD” name plate I made for him in middle school wood shop. Not nearly as grand a project…but my Dad used it everyday as a big coaster for drinks (LOL THANKS DAD)...but regardless he used it daily…it still has the scuff/water marks from all his drinks over the years (my Dad loved big cups of iced tea on hot days)...i was going to clean it up but in the end I decided to keep all the marks…

Thanks for the good story…

-- Matt--Proud LJ since 2007

View cypresswoodworker's profile


89 posts in 3346 days

#11 posted 12-08-2009 01:01 PM

The job came out beautiful. You should enjoy it for many years to come. I like the shinny copper also,I guess it comes from years aboard an aircraft carrier shinning Brass!! Haven’t had much time to work the wood lately, The “JOB” has me working 7 days a week trying to meet an impossible deadline. At least i will have enough “extra” money to buy some more wood and tools !!! Great job Lenny.

-- If at first you don't succeed...Buy another tool !!

View blockhead's profile


1475 posts in 3308 days

#12 posted 12-09-2009 12:38 AM

I love the project and the story. It is a beautiful cupola and looks great on the house. I know your Dad would approve. Thank you for posting.

-- Brad, Oregon- The things that come to those who wait, may be the things left by those who got there first.

View Lenny's profile


1593 posts in 3527 days

#13 posted 12-09-2009 02:25 AM

Thanks guys. I am glad you all appreciate the project and the story behind it. Matt, that’s an awesome story you have there yourself. I love the “scuff marks” on the coaster! I will send a picture to you of the Morris chair I also inherited from Dad. The arms of the chair are worn down and I considered refinishing it but, like you,opted to leave it just as it is.

-- On the eighth day God was back in His woodworking shop! Lenny, East Providence, RI

View Rxmpo's profile


268 posts in 3745 days

#14 posted 12-09-2009 06:26 AM

Great work Lenny! We are woodworkers, and in being such, we tend to enjoy the look of the natural wood. Well, I must say that your selection of wood species for this project was excellent. The Cypress looks fantastic against the fresh snow. Wow!

I too have lost my father and like you, I still work to maintain the standard he set as an example for me to follow. It is not an easy standard to maintain, but you Lenny, have done yourself proud with this effort. Thanks for sharing such a personal story.


View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 3673 days

#15 posted 12-20-2009 03:23 AM

Nice work Lenny.

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