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I have been building decks as work arises for just over a year now, but before that when I was full time teacher, I would do projects in the summer and sometimes on weekends. The following deck was built in the summer of 2013 and turns 8 years old this month. Unlike another one that I built that had no maintenance in the ensuing years, this one has been taken good care of. I cannot find pictures of building the deck though I remember taking some. My two youngest sons helped me with the project which included replacing the front steps, installing a thermostatically controlled vent in the front porch shed roof, trimming two trees overhanging the house, reshaping the the contour of the ground above the house to direct water away from the house, and building the deck which replaced a similar one that had not been maintenanced properly. Besides being re-stained regularly since it was new, there have been improvements like the skirt underneath and the concrete pads at the base of the steps and underneath. The wall below the deck was there but has been landscaped along with other areas around the steps. Decks are certainly not permanent structures, but when taken care of properly may last and look good for more than 30 years.

Though you may take care of your deck and it may rot anyway because of circumstances of the wood quality or environment of the deck*, it is much more likely to last in good shape when you do some maintenance.

This idea of maintenance applies to all things that you own, but also applies to your body and relationships. Make time for taking care of yourself. Make time to get to know better those you love and those with whom you are acquainted. You will be happy with the result and the benefits will be long term.

*Things very detrimental to decks include intense solar radiation (south facing or reflection off of glass or radiation from brick or asphalt), residing under trees where there is much litter accumulated and constant moisture that promotes algae and mold growth.

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I built my second handicap ramp this year (see 1:12). It was bright and sunny and when the afternoon came a shade tree covered the spot, cooling the worksite. I would have liked to start with a landing at the door but the practical use of space necessitated dropping immediately out the door to fit the space and stay within the maximum 1:12 pitch of a handicap ramp.

I have taken to tarring the posts in the ground to lengthen the effective lifespan of my structures. A project coming soon will reveal why I set the joists on top of the posts rather than bolt them to the side.

There was some custom cutting and fitting to run the sloping ramp over the existing stoop. I felt that the thinness of the joist at this point compromised its strength sufficiently to need support, so I added a support on the step below.

I like the baluster shadows in this next picture. One should be able to tell time by them. Let’s see, Daylight Savings Time? I probably took this picture just before I left for lunch at around 12:30.

I usually put a toprail on ramps and decks, but we were keeping the cost down as much as possible. That is, of course, hard to do when lumber prices are out the roof.

The evening glow and shadows say that it is time to head for the house, another job complete. Notice the scrap boards under the landing. The two children who frequent great-grandmother’s house had already been playing under the deck.

It was fascinating to see the four generations of this family interacting and coming and going as I worked. What a blessing is a godly heritage, children to keep the elders young at heart and elders to impart wisdom and a sense of belonging and origin. I pray that I might be able to see some of my great-grandchildren and impart some wisdom for life and salvation to them.

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I renewed another deck near ruin. I had been asked to come and cut off the deteriorating beveled tops of the 6 x 6 posts so that a friend of the owner could install caps to protect the posts. Caps or top rails are a good idea because water and fungi will root a post from the top down. The owner asked me about the longevity of the deck. Upon quick inspection I saw that it had 8 to 10 16′ decking boards with rotten spots and some at ground level post deterioration and some top rail warping and rotting. Following is my effort to renew the deck.

The owner requested that I pressure wash the deck before repair and restaining and provided a pressure washer borrowed from a friend at church. The deck had not been stained in five years, a time well within the stain can’s recommendations and “guarantees”, but the elements know no such time scales. This deck is close enough to trees, though not overhung by them, to get their leaf litter, catkins in Spring, and Yellow Poplar samaras. These get down between the decking boards and collect moisture, fungi, and bacteria (read “rot”). Particularly on this deck the gap between boards was not sufficient to allow this detritus to fall through, so it collected. You can see from the picture that the stain acted more like paint, clinging only to the surface and peeling when pressure washed. That is not good and may have been a large part of the deterioration. I would not have thought much of which deck treatment to use before I started repairing them, but I have some strong opinions now.

So, time consuming and tedious as it was, I got down with my knee pads and wire brushed and whisk broomed the boards.

This deck had been put together with screws, square drive heads, so there was no warping in the decking.

I ended up replacing ten decking boards and was pleased with the ones I was able to pick out.

The caps are plastic and functional and I had to replace only two top rails and two balusters.

I feel like the end result looks like new and will last another good many years. I suggested to the owner that she treat the top surfaces yearly to prevent the deterioration that was happening. With a roller and stain the decking and top rails would take no more than 1 1/2 hours to treat. The look and longevity will be satisfying.

If you look closely, you can see the tar that I put around the base of the posts. In my experience, the interface of post to ground, an inch or two above and below grade is where the most intense deterioration occurs. Though the treated lumber is rated for below grade, and actually does fair quite well in the ground, it does not do so well at the interface. I guess the conditions of moisture, air, and temperature are conducive to rotting bacterial and fungal varieties.

By the time it weathers and she treats the decking boards again in a year, you won’t even be able to tell the new boards from the old as in this picture.

I am reminded of the preacher in Ecclesiastes who is reciting a polemic on the vanity of life. Several times he softens the blow of the discouraging speech with a commendation similar to the following: “There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God.” (Ecclesiastes 2:24) At a later time He even calls this enjoyment of life “the gift from God” (Eccl 3:13). So I end with thanksgiving to God for giving me strength to work, money for bills from my labor, and satisfaction that I have renewed a product to increased usefulness and slowed the deterioration in this fallen world for the benefit of a fellow being (in fact, fellow saint in this case). It is a gift from God that I can pass along to someone.

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In this day of record high lumber prices, many people are opting for deck restoration rather than replacement. It is still not cheap since there may be nearly as much labor in restoring a deck as in building a new one. Following is an example of restoration and addition.

But how many boards do you replace? Is structural integrity the only criteria? Where does longevity or appearance or smoothness come into play and to what extent? Beyond structural integrity, the owner has preference and say that should be considered. For instance, this owner specified that the surface be smooth enough of children’s bare feet. But that still doesn’t answer how many boards should be replaced and how many should be sanded or screwed down better. How many boards would you replace in the following picture?

Notice also in the preceding picture that the deck was constructed with nails, and that via nail gun. The young girls of the family regularly pounded the nails down. Expansion and contraction and warping can work the nails out where they can snag a shoe sole or strip off some foot skin. For this reason, I prefer building decks with screws. I get it. A crew is supposed to put up a deck in a day and half and move on, but the result is not the best long-term. Screws cost more and definitely take longer to install, but the result is superior. The best new deck screws have star heads, called torx screws and the most common is T-25. They are so much easier to install than Philip’s Head screws because you don’t have to hold the tool perfectly perpendicular to the screw head and press down so hard. I added some additional screws to the deck and instructed the father to have the girls extract the nails as they come up so that he could replace them with screws that I left behind for that purpose.

The railing was particularly rough. In fact, all top surfaces are typically hard hit by the combination of UV radiation, heat, , heating-cooling cycles, moisture in terms of amount, wetting and drying, frost, and freeze-thaw cycles. For this reason I advise people to treat the top surfaces once a year to increase longevity of their deck. Railing balusters and undercarriage take by far the most time to stain and amount of stain, but the railing needs to be done initially for appearance and probably not more than once every 5-8 years afterwards depending on radiation and moisture exposure. Quick visual inspection will reveal if it needs to be done. Notice that I did not say anything about the undercarriage or joists. I’ve seen 20 year old decks that were not treated and are still sound with only the slightest deterioration between the decking boards. A deck that gets considerable leaf and litter fall is in more danger of joist deterioration, but that depends on how well the decking boards are maintenanced and if the gap between those boards is sufficient for litter to fall through. Boards placed to close together gather organic trash.

The cracks in the following post are not the biggest concern. The post was merely nailed on, and over time worked loose from people using it to steady their ascent and descent and temperature variations. For this reason I bolt railing posts on with a 3/8″ galvanized carriage bolt and screws. My father used to say, “Nothing holds like a nut and lockwasher.” Nails certainly do not. The staircase railing was shaky and that made the steps shaky. I ended up completely rebuilding the stair railing and more firmly attaching the stair stringers to the deck. (1)

I thought that it was quite creative to but a planter pot in the hole and under a table until the hole could be fixed.

The new railing looks nice, is smooth, and is well attached. It bothers me that people who stain decks are so sloppy. There are products that will clean stain off of vinyl siding without damaging it.

The new stair railing bottom posts are planted two feet in the ground, painted with tar, and concreted in. The railing is solid. The old balusters were fine and reusable, which saved more cost in re-cutting than materials.

The owners also wanted a privacy fence and specified the height. I set three 4 x 4’s in concrete and bolted them to the deck. The slat boards were 1 x 4’s ripped on a table saw, meaning they were 1 11/16″ wide. (2) I might have built with wider boards but the owner had a certain aesthetic in mind. Notice additionally that I have begun the framing for the skirt to keep the dog and other critters out.

Yes, there is a 2 x 4 missing in the privacy fence. I had to take a second run to the lumber yard for a few missing boards. It is nearly impossible to go just once, especially on a repair job where new realizations of deterioration become evident. I put it in later, but didn’t want to stop work late in the day for a run to the lumber yard when I was making good progress. Also, this is the only picture where you can glance the result of the floor sander I rented.

Following are the results of the repair. Given time restraints I did not stain the balusters or skirt. The owners did. I like their taste in decor and stain color. To save the lawn and prevent wet or muddy feet, they also added stepping stones.

In two respects I had to be creative concerning the skirting. One was the transition from privacy fence to skirt. I opted for a water shedding wood ‘shingle’ that encased the uprights. The other is not pictured, a screwed in access ‘gate’ at the other end of the deck. If I hadn’t told you, you would never know it is there from looking. You never know when someone might throw or drop any number of things that go through the slats and need to be retrieved or some maintenance needed on the house that requires access under the deck.

Some of these old boards were installed incorrectly, crown down, so that water gathers on the deck. This is major reason to re-stain the deck yearly.

This flowering bush unknown to me is a great way to decorate in front of a garbage can fence. Functionality is great, but appearance is inviting. Extend this idea to God’s Creation. Ecologically self-replicating and self-cleaning and simultaneously visually inspiring and health-giving only begins to describe the depth of God’s gift to us of functionality and beauty in nature for which we should regularly give thanks and praise. Decks and such are only a vague reflection of that creativity.

  1. stairway parts- https://www.mycarpentry.com/image-files/xstair-diagram-solid-risers.jpg.pagespeed.ic.Pc601Vrgj6.jpg
  2. A 1 x 4 is actually 3 1/2″ wide (dressed lumber). If you subtract the 1/8″ of sawdust made by the blade width and divide by 2, you get 1 11/16″. The lumber yard did not have the 1 x 2 inch stock and ripping produces straighter boards anyway. Being from out of town on this job, I asked the owner if a friend had a table saw that I could borrow. A brother in Christ was glad to assist.

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Here it is!

The owner installed the chain to hang the net swing temporarily, then asked me to move the swing. An outdoor aerial silk is supposed to reside here one day.

Check out the plans. The basic concept is there, but the homeowner wanted the addition of a climbing net, a zipline, a beam for the aerial silk, and a good place to mount the net swing. For cost reasons that eliminated the slide and monkey bars. The fold down table became a doorway for the climbing net. The climbing wall got lowered from 9′ to 8′ and 7′ wide to 8′ wide. The zipline resulted in changing from 4 x 4 posts to 6 x 6 posts and adding all of those diagonals.

The zipline, due to height of the playhouse and surrounding topography is steeper than suggested. So we began to look for a way to slow the ending. I added a spring and a friend added a magnetic break. They work on the same principle as dropping a magnet down a copper pipe. Copper does not magnetize but it does conduct electric current well. Therefore, when the magnet is moving down the pipe a current is induced which has a magnet field which just happens to be counter to the magnet’s field. The magnet is slowed by this counter-EMF. So is the magnet surrounding the zipline cable. The black bungee brings the magnet back to the point for the next braking action. So, the zipline is fast but has a controlled stop.

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In the last blog entry, “Something New“, I began revealing my designed big playset coming together. Now we begin to get past mere structure and on to how it will be used.

There are three doors into the playhouse level. These are for entrance and exit but also to act as railing should S and her friends want to spend the night aloft.

The climbing net will go here. The gate doubles as a table in the playhouse.

On a rainy, cold day I worked in the block shed you see in the pictures. I drilled holes and mounted T-nuts, installed 2 x 4 supports and mounted hinges on the treated plywood on my saw horses. A few days later I mounted the wall onto the footboard. The railing was a whole day job, too.

T-nuts allow moving the climbing holds around for new climbs and no boredom.

I designed the climbing wall to meet the owner’s requirement that the playhouse “grow with her.” I told her that meant that I needed to build a serious climbing wall. To wit I installed a winch in order to lower for overhanging climbs out to 40 degrees above horizontal.

Since the winch cable is only one mounting point, I installed to latches, one on each side to stabilize and strengthen the wall when slanted.

You can see the zipline is up and staining has begun. There are so many surfaces and angles that the staining took about 2 1/2 days. The A-frame for the rings and swings is in place as well.

The 4 x 6 x 20 treated beam was special order and took one month to arrive. It came straight from the sawmill they said. Notice the smooth bar in the A-frame. It is for spinning around on.

Picking out and ordering the climbing holds proved a challenge for the owner, so those came finally.

Soon I will reveal the finished product and the plans and how they changed throughout the project and why. It was slow with various delays, but it came together nicely.

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I just finished a large project that took several months. Other responsibilities, weather, special order lumber, and specialty hardware delayed progress but did not prevent completion. It was an intense and satisfying project. Follow me as I show you the progress on S’s new playset.

How do you haul and install 6 x 6 x 20 poles? Picking them up saved time in getting them and money for the customer.

I had help getting them in the hand dug 3′ deep holes.

The homeowner was amazed.

Next, the local lumber company delivered the majority of the lumber.

Because the winter was very wet, the truck could not bring it to the backyard, even though there was access. I hauled two or three boards at a time on my shoulders the next day.

Even though this is in the city, a vacant lot behind the worksite conceals a family of 7 deer. There are some very nice trees and thick underbrush to conceal the Whitetails.

Day 2 involved more digging and considerable plumbing (not water, but vertical with the world) and bracing.

My two helpers were always ready and waiting when I arrived, regardless of time of day or weather.

On day 3, I put in joists, the footboard for the climbing wall, and concreted the posts. The reason for the overkill on the posts’ depth, size and concrete was the planned zipline. Take note of the copious diagonals as it comes together. This structure is stiff.

Some days were longer than others and some saw more progress. The floor was satisfying and very useful for further progress. Hanging out on an extension ladder leaned against a single post putting up long boards is difficult for one person.

The double 2 x 8’s hanging 5′ off of the back will support an aerial silk. S, who is the ten year old girl this is being built for, is taking lessons.

Day 5 saw the roof go on just in time to keep the floor dry from several days of torrent.

At about this point I lost track of what day I was on, since there were doctors’ appointments and multiple days of rain, short days and long days. I had nearly a whole day devoted to installing diagonals. The other part of that day saw the trapdoor go in. (1) I had to think like a kid when I designed this project. The trapdoor is an entrance from the top of the climbing wall. Think fun and adventure.

Can you guess where the zipline will attach? Diagonal City! Leaned against the shed are the 3/4″ treated plywood for the climbing wall.

We are along about day 8 so I will sign off for now. Another day I will show more progress on this cool playhouse. If you are interested in a playset, climbing wall, deck, and any number of other wood projects contact me through my facebook page, ww.facebook.com/decksandsuch

  1. The trapdoor image appears upside down when I load it, even after flipping it in the file. What is that about?

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1 to 12 is the maximum steep ratio of rise to run for a handicap ramp, which means that for every 1 inch the ramp needs to rise it must have 12 inches or a foot of run. I needed to build a ramp up onto a porch 29 inches above the gravel driveway. Following is my solution for the limited space available. It is a very little slope that feels almost like walking on the flat.

I had to double the joists at both ends of the eleven foot span. Notice in later pictures that one of the occupants began washing the siding. It looks so much better now. I also had to reroute the downspout and extend it to again reach the drain pipe it had not been draining into recently. The little details matter.

Notice the tar at ground level. Even though treated wood is rated for below grade (underground use), I have noticed numerous times that it does not particularly rot below grade but does at ground level where it mildews and grows algae prolifically. I do all of the posts with a good quality tar, too. I did not run the deck all the way to gravel so that I would run a mound of gravel to redirect water which was washing out near the foundation. Some little details are not so little.

I detest wasting material. The lumber yard didn’t have 10′ decking boards that I wanted so I had to cut off nearly 3′ of board that was not long enough to use on the 4′ wide ramp. I used some of the scrap for erosion control. A little scrap is a big deal- don’t waste!

I was pleased with the result and so was the homeowner. She gets up and down easily now. The little things make it worth doing a good job.

Classic Pine woodgrain that almost looks like plywood. Would you notice such a little thing?

This turn was the most challenging part of the railing, but it sure makes it sturdy. Notice that the siding is cleaner. Turning every board so that the good side shows takes a little extra effort, but it reaps big benefits in appearance.

Based on what I just said about turning the boards, can you imagine how many knots I hid? The little detail that should also be considered when selecting the side up is the crown or dip of the board. Lumber is cut out of a more or less cylindrical trunk. The grain curves in the board. If the crown is down, the board will bow with a dip in the middle across its width. This can hold water on a flat surface and increase deterioration.

The day is nearing an end and I have a little clean up to do before I talk to the homeowner and head for the house. Another project completed for Decks And Such (www.facebook.com/decksandsuch).

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You wonder how some terms came to be. Then there are others so descriptive of their meaning and utility as to need no further explanation. An example is a Lean-To. Enough said.

I had bought a used riding mower in exchange for labor earlier in the summer. At 60 years of age, mowing a 3/4 acre lot with a push mower was becoming daunting rather than jaunty. When I first got the mower I parked it under my firewood shed to keep the seat dry and deck from further rust. But as Autumn approached I began considering where to put firewood in the dry if I should ever find any. So, I decided to build a lean to onto the side of my shed. The double doors of the shed were not wide enough for the deck of the mower and would require a tedious rework for the purpose of parking the behemoth in the already crowded storage/workspace. I did not want to buy the lumber since it has gone up considerably of late and this was just used mower. When a job required taking down an old deck, I put the better, slightly deteriorated boards aside into my truck for homegoing. One of my sons thought it impressive that I did the lean to in one day. I really took 3 hours of previous day to clear the space of shrubbery and set up the posts, but my wife did not tell him that. I did not think to catch quite the whole process, but following is my lean to build:

Some of the lumber was quite nice to be used. I had built the shed years before. I had hand built roof trusses that allowed a vaulted ceiling over the middle half of the 20′ long shed. I had plywood gussets at the top and ends of the trusses. It had a large Virginia Pine behind it at one point. On the a Friday after Thanksgiving several years ago while we were away at an extended family gathering, my third son was awakened by a loud crash. He looked outside to see everything covered in copious amounts of ice and the Virginia Pine snapped about three feet up its trunk and lying on the shed. The two foot diameter tree and ice broke one truss which slowed it down enough to only crack others. It was a tedious repair job. The new sheets of roofing did not hold onto the forest green Rustoleum paint very well. I need to sand it and try again.

Tools are not toys as some proclaim.

The shed sits in a very wet spot, a fact I did not know when I built it there. For that reason I had to plant the lean to posts on concrete bases, “feet” if you will. The last two years have been very wet, even record wet last year.

The perspective in this picture makes the posts appear kicked out at the bottom. They were definitely plumb.
Diagonals prevent racking.
I decided mid-stream to make the roof one sheet wider, so I will have to go buy another sheet of metal roofing.
I still have a bit of clean up but the mower and lumber are in the dry.

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Overflows from the Heart

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