Know when to use a nail, or a screw

Often for outside work with lumber, nails are used. In this instance though, a June 4, 2016 file photo, volunteeers are using screws in the fascia board of the rafters for a new pavilion. The Owen Sound Sun Times/Postmedia Network
Often for outside work with lumber, nails are used. In this instance though, a June 4, 2016 file photo, volunteeers are using screws in the fascia board of the rafters for a new pavilion. The Owen Sound Sun Times/Postmedia Network

Before we begin our discussion on screws and nails, let’s be clear on one thing. The key to successful building, whether it be a backyard deck, or pair of book ends, is not only related to the proper nail or screw holding things together, but whether it was glued or not.

Wood studs, joists, and to a lesser extent plywood, will generally shrink over the first few months after installation, due to moisture loss. Then, as we create humidity in the home by cooking, showering, and just plain breathing, these wood products start to re-absorb some of that lost moisture.

This give and take scenario is a natural process that won’t affect the strength of a product, but it might compromise the joint, leading to popped nails and screws, and certainly the odd squeak. So, unless the plan is to dismantle your project at some point in the future, make that wood to wood, wood to plywood, or wood to composite connection (be it cement board or MDF molding and paneling), as solid as possible by adding the appropriate glue.

Most gluing jobs can be handled by keeping two types of glue in the shop cupboard. That being a bottle of yellow, all-purpose glue, and a few tubes of PL premium, for all exterior, or heavier duty type connections.

Generally, we nail for one of three reasons. Because the shear strength (force required to bend, tear, or break) of a nail, is superior to that of a screw, nails are often required by code when fastening joists to a ledger board, as in the case of a deck, or when laminating lumber together to form a beam. Nails also, on average, have a smaller head than screws, making them less visible, and more easily hidden when performing finishing work.

Finally, nails don’t require electrical power, but only a swift swing of the hammer, keen focus on the nail, and a thumb that knows when to get out of the way, in order to effectively insert.

For everything else, we use screws.

Now, there are hundreds of types of screws. However, choosing the right screw for the job has been made easy due to the fact the name of the screw usually corresponds with the product you’re working with. As a result, if you’re hanging drywall, you’d request drywall screws. If you’re finishing around your shower with a cement board underlayment, you’ll require cement board screws. Regular lumber and plywood will require wood screws. Treated lumber? Either green or brown treated screws of course, depending on what color of decking material you’ve chosen.

The only other information the salesperson serving you will require is the desired length, which if you’re not sure, has equally become a pretty standard thing. So, there’s no more asking for a Robertson or Philips type of screw, with a specific diameter, and desired length. Screws have become so product specific that we automatically suggest to you a 1-1/4 inch, #6, Philips screw if you’re hanging 1/2 inch drywall, and a 2-1/2 inch, #8, Robertson screw if you’re to be fastening down deck boards.

Can screws be mixed? Or in other words, is there great risk in using a decking screw to fasten drywall, and vice versa. Worst case scenario is that the sky thunders, clouds separate, then bolts of lightning descend, turning your pathetic, mortal being into nothing more than a heap of ashes. Best case scenario is that the screw tears the finished surface, or rusts, and eventually fails.

Basically, we don’t mix screws. Screws used for treated lumber have a ceramic coated finish, in order to avoid corrosion from the chemicals in the wood, and rust from the elements. Concrete screws (a.k.a. Tapcons) have a finer, double-thread that effectively holds in the hard, brittle type of conditions found in cement, while drywall screws have a thinly tapered head that best suits the paper surface of drywall.

A screw or nail for every task.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Not worth losing your head over

Might look nice, but is it up to code? Pinterest photo
Might look nice, but is it up to code? Pinterest photo

Negligence; the failure to use reasonable care, resulting in damage or injury to another.

Case #255, titled ‘Heads will roll’, has our Mr. Blimp inquiring as to the availability of aviation wire. Since his list of previously quoted items included 2×8 joists, 4×4 posts, and various other lumber materials, his request for aviation wire intrigued me. Was this Mr. Blimp to construct a rejuvenated version of the Howard Hughes ‘Spruce Goose’, with the aviation wire used to support a great wing expanse of golden brown plywood? And, will the balance of the aircraft equally benefit from the advancements of time, basking in the glory of our new age pressure treated lumber?

Unfortunately, no such plan was in the making. The aviation wire was to be used in replacement of the more traditional spindle, and be installed horizontally, perhaps every 8-10 inches apart, tautly stretched from post to post, on a proposed backyard deck. No doubt an attractive, nautical type of installation manner (being the preferred railing system of most cruise ships), offering the person on the deck a relatively unobstructed, clear view of whatever landscape formed their backyard, the horizontal line strategy unfortunately contravenes our local building code.

When Mr. Blimp was made aware of the fact this type of horizontal install, be it wire, rope, board, or spindle type of railing structure, would not only violate the four-inch spacing bylaw, but would further be non-compliant due to this system permitting a child to easily climb over the railing, he remained unfazed. “Well, I’m not getting a building permit” were his justifying words.

According to the household insurance people, negligence is certainly subjective. Being held financially or legally liable, as the result of somebody injuring themselves on your property, due to you, as the homeowner, inviting people onto a backyard deck that was not code compliant, is arguable, and like everything else, subject to interpretation.

If a homeowner, after having a guest, or neighborhood child, injure themselves on their property, were to be asked the question, “Were you intentionally negligent in the construction of your deck, and deliberately designed it in a manner to inflict injury?” Most of us would, I suspect, answer with a definite “no”, and moreso, be quite shocked by such a damning inquiry.\

However, in Mr. Blimp’s case, he was aware of the fact he required a permit for his deck construction, and was further aware of the fact his proposed railing system was not code compliant. So, would moving forward with this strategy make him careless, reckless, just plain negligent, or none of the above?

In this case, Mr. Blimp remained defiant, and built his deck and railing according to his plan. Days later, as fate would have it, a child broke their ankle after climbing over the railing. The following week, an invited guest, late Saturday evening, decapitated himself after attempting to squeeze in between the aviation wires in a hurried attempt to retrieve his fallen beer.

So, who pays for the damages? Again, it becomes subjective. In the lawsuit to come, will it be discovered that the little kid was left unsupervised by his babysitter, or that the decapitated guest was by his own doing, inebriated. With luck very much in Mr. Blimp’s corner, both suits were amicably settled. The small child was paid off with a year’s subscription to an ice cream of the month club. The girlfriend of the decapitated man, having been desensitized to the trauma by binge watching all six seasons of ‘Game of Thrones’ over the previous weekend, and citing a strained relationship anyway, due to this fellow being a Leafs fan, accepted as fair compensation the same ice cream of the month club.

Case #255 closed.

Not all breaks and decapitations end up so rosy, or easily negotiated. My recommendation, avoid negligence. Build safe, and build to code.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Sway me over to a wider door

Over the last 10 years my elbows have been taking a beating. What seems to be the cause?

Well, I’m not a member of the army reserves, so it’s not due to me having to crawl on all fours during bi-weekly basic training. I don’t play tennis, and I don’t arm wrestle, after being soundly defeated by little Wendy Shulster in the quarterfinals of the 1972 primary school sports activity week. The problem, after further investigating the situation, and studying the effects of time on the human body, has been pinpointed to one specific affliction affecting most of us over the age of 40, that being “sway”.

Basically, if you’re under the age of 40, you probably walk a relatively straight line. Over 40, well, we’re facing two realities. One, we probably wouldn’t fit into our high school gym shorts. And two, with sports injuries, manual labor, or the weight of life having taken its toll, the head movement of the average middle ager as they perform the simple task of walking, is like following the crow’s nest of a sailing ship on a stormy night.

That natural sway that we develop isn’t exactly a handicap, unless of course you’re attempting to move from one room of the home, to the other. Basically, I can’t manage to carry a basket of clothing, move even a light piece of furniture, or carry a burger in one hand, beer in the other, through a standard sized 30 inch doorway, without bumping at least one elbow. Give me more than 40 lbs. to carry, and I end up pin-balling my way through.

Solution? Widen the doorways. Now, I don’t expect those persons in existing homes to start taking a sledge hammer to perfectly good interior doors and frames, unless of course you’re totally fed up with bruised limbs. However, as we progress from those first starter type homes, and look to build for the first time, it might be a good idea to keep our aging lifestyle in mind as we design the floorplan. Or, if your middle-aged income will allow you to begin extensive renovations on an existing home that you’ve come to love, then it’s time to look past the weekly door crasher sale specials on 30 inch pre-hung doors.

Plus, some of our futures will involve walkers and wheelchairs, which for ease of movement, will of course require wider than average doorways.

Is aging all doom and gloom? For the most part, yes. Regardless, if you’re building or renovating at the age of 35-40, and you plan on staying in this home for the next 10-15 years or so, then know this. Even healthy older folk wake up sore in the morning, put on their slippers, then begin that gentle sway as they make their way to the washroom. So, make that passage more manageable by installing a 32-34 inch wide door slab in all bathrooms.

The balance of the home, including bedrooms and office areas, should have minimum 32 inch wide door slabs. Where will the 30 inch and skinnier slab sizes find a home? As linen closets, perhaps.

These wider door dimensions, along with the tendency towards people choosing larger casing moldings, will of course require 2-4 inches more of wall space in order to make it all conform. As a result, be sure to inform your architect, home planner, or whoever’s making the drawings for your new home or addition, of your desire for wider interior slabs.

Wider bedroom doors may not directly affect the structure, but bathroom doors, often found squeezed into a space at the end of a hallway, will certainly require some slight modifications to a general plan. No matter what the delay, it’s much easier, and cheaper, to make changes to a floor plan when it’s on paper, as opposed to after construction begins.

So, do yourself a favor when designing your next home, and widen those doorways.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Do not be afraid of the light from above

Skylights give the impression of more space and can completely change the feel and ambience of a room. (Free press file photo)
Skylights give the impression of more space and can completely change the feel and ambiance of a room. (Free press file photo)

My wake-up ritual is pretty well the same practice every time – get up, shower, get dressed, make my way down the stairs and as I walk through the archway that leads into our kitchen, I stop, turn to my right, flick on four light switches, and move on through.

I like plenty of light to work in. When spreading the almond butter on my toast so that it’s perfectly level, covering every bit of exposed toast surface, it’s essential in providing a positive start to each and every day.

In our previous home, my up and out of bed routine was basically the same, minus the light switch pause. Was I buttering my toast in the dark back then? That would be ridiculous and way too risky, of course. The difference, or game-changer, was that back then we had a kitchen with skylights. Now we don’t.

Whether it be a second floor, bedroom balcony, detached garage, or walkout basement, the topic of home must-haves, if they’re architecturally possible and feasible budget-wise, has been discussed before. Well, add one more home must-have to the list, and that would be skylights.

Providing twice the light of an equal-sized exterior wall window, at about half the price – although the extra installation procedures would essentially make it a break-even scenario, then factor in the energy savings, there are few better values in home options than a skylight.

So, why aren’t they more popular?

Unfortunately, skylights have the reputation of leaking. Which is not only an undeserved slander, but a weak argument to avoid skylights. The reason? Everything, given time, will leak.

Windows leak, roofs leak, 95 per cent of basement foundations leak. A strictly confidential office memo, distributed to our most senior management, was in the hands of the part-timer mopping the floor not five minutes after it was issued – leak!

We live in a society that is comprised of nothing but leaks and procedural failures, so why have skylights become the fall product? Not sure.

Regardless, you won’t find a better, more decorative and more useful home feature than a skylight.

Where to put them?

Any room in the home that would benefit from the bonus of daylight. Which, could be everywhere of course, except for perhaps your theater room or storage areas. Rooms that specifically benefit from skylights are kitchens and bathrooms, since these areas, due to wall space occupied by cabinetry and counter tops, often have smaller windows, yet require the most light. As a result, you get the bonus of light, without forfeiting privacy, unless of course you’ve built beside an airport runway.

Skylights are most effective when installed in a cathedral ceiling, where the light tunnel is minimal. However, regular roof trusses, or flat ceilings, can certainly accommodate a series of skylights. Due to the longer shaft, or walls stemming down from the skylight, the light reflected in will not be as great as a cathedral type installation. However, the look will be every bit as impressive.

Why do skylights leak?

As is the case with our windows and exterior doors, the caulking and various membranes that seal around these units will shrink and somewhat deteriorate over the useful lifespan of the product, which can be anywhere from 15 to 20 years. When it comes to the seal around our windows and doors, we notice when gaps develop or when the caulking cracks and becomes brittle, forcing us to deal with the issue.

Skylights fall under the out-of-sight, out-of-mind type of maintenance schedule, whereby years of caulking neglect will no doubt result in a leak. When this leak eventually makes its way down to the ceiling’s drywall, well, the whole idea of having a skylight gets put under scrutiny.

Having no skylight issues is like every other household appendage. Have it professionally installed, and check the seal every few years, adding a bead of roof tar once those first little cracks appear.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard