Shed the lean-to; built yours to last

Garden shed exterior in Spring, for gardening and outdoor lifestyles. Not Released EDWARDSAMUELCORNWALL / GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

Today we finalize the plan for what will be your 10’x10’ backyard shed.

Even though this shed will not be subject to the scrutiny of a building inspector, due to it covering an area less than 105 square feet, and thereby not requiring a building permit, we’re not building a dog house.

In other words, we’ve eliminated the babysitter, and any professional advice an inspector could bring to the project, but this shed is going to be a whole lot more than just a few sheets of plywood tacked together.

Now, and after completing this fine shed, should you decide on a late night of carousing and mischief as a means to celebrate the construction of the project, inevitably bringing shame upon your once proud family, the fact this shed now provides you with a quiet space for somber thought, essentially defined as having landed yourself in the doghouse, should in no way be a reflection on the overall integrity of this structure.

First, decide on what type of platform your shed is going to rest on.

A concrete pad is best, but obviously quite permanent, and time consuming to construct, whereby a wooden platform can be assembled within a few hours.

Prepare the platform site by staking out the 10’x10’ space, then remove the grass and dig down about four inches. Next, fill the bed with four to six inches of compacted three-quarter-inch gravel. Now you’re set to either build a 2×6 form, then pour a 4-6 inch concrete slab overtop, or frame a platform using 2×6 lumber and three-quarter-inch treated plywood.

The pros to a wooden base is that it’s an easy build, while being strong and lightweight enough to make this shed somewhat movable. The pros to a concrete base is that it’s of course rock-solid, is there for the long-term, and can handle whatever weighty items you choose to park on it.

Furthermore, 100 square feet of platform will require anywhere from 80 to 100 bags of pre-mixed concrete, making the task of mixing an excellent occasion to initiate a couple of teenagers into the responsibilities of manhood.

As stated last week, the key to this shed being truly functional will be the inclusion of a roll-up, or sectional garage door. Essentially, that’s all you need as a point of entry.

Now, if the idea of a square building with one sectional door seems too commercial for you, then you can certainly make your shed look a little more homey, by adding a single entrance door and a couple of small windows.

Walls? Plan on framing your shed with 2×4 lumber, not 2x3s, and certainly not 2×2 lumber. When the big bad wolf threatens to huff and puff, we don’t want our shed blowing away, or developing a lean, should you happen to bump it with your riding mower.

Plus, walls remain square, while doors and windows tend to operate more smoothly when things are framed with 2×4 lumber.

Next, plan on ordering engineered trusses. Cost- and time-wise, there’s little to save by attempting to re-invent the wheel, so to say, by designing some lean-to type of roof system, or by figuring out the angles needed to arrive at a 4/12-pitchzaed truss.

The roof is a key component to any building, no matter what the size.

As a result, you need an engineered roof that’s designed to handling snow loads, thereby protecting what’s inside the shed, which at times will be you, as well as your precious tools. Plus, your roofline should look perfectly smooth and even, which is what you’ll get with a proper engineered truss.

Siding? Choose something that will complement what’s on your home. Smart panel, readily available in 4×8 sheets, is a good choice because it’s an outdoor, woodgrain panel that installs easily, looks attractive, and can be painted, so the colour choices are unlimited.

Otherwise, vinyl or composite sidings always look good, and offer the homeowner a variety of decorative stone, horizontal, or board-and-batten textures.

Good building.

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

It’s your serve

Reilly McMillan, 12, plays ping pong with her sister Gracie, 9, and Joy McCullagh under the Fourth Avenue flyover on Wednesday August 9, 2017, in Calgary, Alta. Gavin Young/Postmedia Network

Today we’re building an outdoor ping pong table.

Why outdoor ping pong? Because its summer.

Why the sport of ping pong? Because it’s as much fun as tennis, but a whole lot cheaper, considering the average paved backyard tennis court starts at about $150,000. All in, we should be able to build this baby for under $250.

Plus, a ping pong table usually adapts quite well to most backyard decks (tennis courts, not so well) with one of the supporting leg options being to lay the ping pong surface on top of an existing outdoor dining table. And, ping pong has fewer rules and etiquette boundaries than tennis.

Essentially, backyard ping pong has one rule— regardless of any prevailing winds and rain, table slope, variable conditions including spilled beer and crushed nuts on the playing surface, if the ball hits the table before it drops to the floor, the point’s good.

Ping pong clothing? Optional, it’s your backyard.

Materials for the job will include one litre of exterior latex primer, one litre of exterior ‘super white’ flat latex paint (for the lines), along with two litres of exterior flat latex paint (tinted to your surface colour of choice).

Choosing a ‘flat’ sheen of paint will be key to eliminating glare. Although dark green was the traditional table surface colour of choice, navy blue has been the preferred ping pong surface colour since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Basically, any dark colour will do.

The table surface material of choice will be ¾-inch, Baltic (aka Russian) birch plywood. Avoid cheaper surface alternatives such as fir (good one side), particle board, or MDF (medium-density fiberboard). Their surfaces are too soft, are subject to warpage, and they definitely won’t last outdoors.

On the other hand, there are several reasons why Russian birch plywood makes for the best choice in ping pong surfaces.

First, Russian plywood comes in a 5’x5’-sized sheet, which is perfect in our case, since a standard-sized ping pong table is five feet wide, by nine feet long. So, all you’ll have to do is trim (or have your local building supply dealer perform the cut) six inches off the edge of two 5’x5’ sheets.

Further to that, ¾-inch Russian plywood uses an exterior-grade adhesive, and is made of 12 plies of solid, cross-banded birch. As a result, the Russian plywood will remain flat and stable. Russian birch plywood is also super smooth, allowing it to be painted to a perfect finish, and is super hard.

Hardness in a ping pong surface is important because it provides for better ball bounce.

Be sure to paint the ¾-inch x 5’ x 4.5’ ping pong surface panels before assembling them, it’ll be easier to manoeuver them around this way. Start with the exterior primer, painting both sides of the sheet, along with the edges. Next, after the primer’s dried (60 minutes) apply your first coat of blue (or whatever your chosen surface colour is) finish. Again, do both sides, and don’t forget all the edges.

When this first surface coat is dry (four-to-six hours) give all the sides and edges a second coat. Wait a day for this second coat to dry, then using green painters’ tape, prepare the surface for the white lines.

Because we’re making this table to official standards, have a ¾-inch white line follow the perimeter of the sheet, along with a 1/8-inch dividing line running down the centre.

Connect the two sheets using a piano hinge, fastened to the show or playing side of the table. This way, the show side can be folded upon itself, better protecting the playing finish. Cut the piano hinge about four inches shy of the surface edges. This will prevent the hinge from interfering with the standards that support the netting.

If no existing table is available for support, or you’ve got the room to have this gem stand alone, folding table legs could be easily fastened to the sheets.

Good building.

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

The civil deck

One way to put a damper on that backyard barbecue? Splinters from your deck. Postmedia Network

So far we’ve managed to build a deck that can deflect the effects of direct sunlight or a light rain, that can control the winds and skew the view of peering neighbors, and that can provide valuable storage for seat cushions and pool supplies.

Today, we further our quest to build the most civilized of decks by eliminating one of the most dreadful components of exterior deck building, that being splinters.

Essentially, when it comes to entertaining, the book of host etiquette deems it a major faux pas to expose your guests to an environment that can inject them with a pain so formidable, that during times of conflict, the piercing sensation of a splinter was considered an effective means of getting information from infidels.

Basically, if splintering is to be avoided, we are to never screw or nail into wood without first pre-drilling a hole. The best case scenario when fastening down cedar or pressure treated decking will have the installer avoiding the use of surface screws entirely. Surface screws can be replaced by one of two systems, them being the ‘Decktrack’ band, or the ‘Camo’ clamp.

The Decktrack band is a 45 inch strip of powder coated steel that gets nailed along the top edge of the deck’s 2×8 or 2×10 joists. The Decktrack bands are perforated, and allow the installer to insert 7/8 inch screws into the decking planks from underneath.

The Camo clamp is a mechanism that sets the special Camo deck screws in position on an angle. The installer then clamps the plank in position with one hand, then drives the screws into the edge of the plank with the use of a cordless drill, held in the other hand.

The Deck track and Camo systems require a little more time on the part of the installer, and are a little more costly than simply having to buy regular decking screws. However, a deck surface free of screws is a beautiful thing. Surface screwing not only promotes splintering, but by penetrating the wood grain, will enable your decking planks to regularly absorb moisture, which isn’t a good thing. Decking planks that are constantly wet do a poor job of absorbing stain, which will translate into a future of watching your painted or stained decking wear or peel off every season.

Is there any good way of using a surface screw? Yes, by pre-drilling, and using the appropriate countersink bit beforehand.

How else do we avoid splinters? By using connecting hardware every time one piece of lumber meets up, or butts up, against another. The key is avoiding the toe nailing technique. Toe nailing, or toe screwing, is a rough framing strategy whereby a nail or screw is inserted at an angle into wood, in close proximity to the just-cut edge. No matter how careful one is when toe nailing (or screwing) the piece being nailed always cracks and splinters, at least slightly.

With rough framing (that’s inevitably hidden inside the wall cavity) this strategy is quite common and poses no issue. In the world of finishing, the toe nailing procedure looks horrible. So, where the 2×4 railing butts up against the 4×4 newel post, or where your 4×4 newel meets the decking platform, use the appropriate connecting brackets.

Now, connecting hardware isn’t cheap, costing at least a few dollars per assembly joint, compared to paying pennies for a couple of nails or screws. However, and again, we’re building a civilized deck here, not a tree fort.

Next, avoid painting or staining when you can. So, be sure to consider the aluminum spindles (available round, square, or in flat iron) instead of wood, and be sure to cap off your newel posts with the matching aluminum caps.

What’s new in deck accessories? The sliding door kit. Swinging doors can sag over time. So, if cordoning off your back deck is necessary, due to having small children, or small puppy dogs on board, consider the very effective, and smooth operating action of a sliding door.

Good building.

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

Civilized decking

Pergolas can be built to allow the light to shine in or for sun protection, or as a stand-alone unit or attached to an existing structure. Postmedia network

With the term civilized defined as ‘bringing a place or people to a stage of social, cultural, and moral development considered to be more advanced’, and decking defined simply as ‘a wood planked platform or terrace that is attached to a home’, how do we combine the two?

Like everything else, with focus, foresight, and a little determination.

Essentially, we want our deck to be a comfortable place to live on, and not just on those slightly cloudy, 25 degree Celsius days. Which brings us to advanced decking feature no. 1, the SunLouvre pergola.

Scorching sun or a mid-afternoon rain need not send the party indoors. A regular pergola is a good deck feature because it offers partial shade. Partial shade on a sunny afternoon is a good thing. However, when it’s high noon, and the sun’s at its strongest, those pieces of 2×6 or 2×8 lumber overhead, fixed in position on their edges, will be offering limited relief. And, if it should happen to rain, well . . . unless you’re a member of our national ballet core, there will be no staying dry under a plank of lumber that’s 1-1/2 inches wide.

So, in comes the SunLouvre pergola. Built completely out of aluminum (making maintenance, staining, and cracks or warpage, a thing of the past) the big advantage to a SunLouvre pergola is that the top sleeves are movable, operating on a system of louvres. This feature allows the homeowner to relax under full sun, full shade, or anything in between.

When the louvres are closed, the sleeves overlap in a manner that prevents rain from entering. So, and unless we’re talking a torrential downpour of biblical proportion, there will be no need to corral your guests indoors at the first sign of a few droplets. In most cases, the pulling down of one mechanism will operate an entire ceiling structure. Although the aluminum columns that support the SunLouvre system are quite decorative, if you’re a wood lover who absolutely wants to keep their wooden columns intact, the SunLouvre system works independently of the posts, and as such, can be custom ordered to fit and operate on an existing wood frame.

Next, if inside storage space is considered to be an essential asset, then it’s going to be just as valuable a commodity outside. Decks can be like any other living space, either spacious and neatly staged, or cluttered with furniture, side tables, and any number of appendages. So, where is a homeowner to store chair cushions and those extra folding chairs?

Plus, decks often cozy up to pools. Pools require brushes and leaf nets, long hoses for vacuuming, and little floaty devices, with all this stuff having to be placed somewhere when not in use. You can always toss these items into a pool or storage shed, but it certainly would be more convenient if things could be tucked away in a drawer.

Which, brings us to advanced decking feature no. 2, the ‘Deck Storage Drawer’. In general, the space underneath a deck would be regarded as a damp, spider infested no man’s land. However, the Deck Storage Drawer changes all that, enabling the homeowner to gain 64 cubic feet of quality, dry storage space. The Deck Storage Drawer is essentially a box of hardware, containing the necessary tracks, wheels, and brackets to assemble (along with the required treated plywood) a drawer that can be up to 48 inches wide x 24 inches deep x 96 inches long, capable of holding up to 250 pounds of whatever you like. The added bonus of the deck drawer is that it doesn’t take up valuable deck floor area, while having about twice the storage capacity of one of those plastic, surface deck boxes. It also comes with its own pull handle and keyed lock mechanism. The front of your Deck Storage Drawer can be finished with whatever product you’ve chosen as a skirting material for around the deck, be it lattice, treated lumber, or composite decking.

Good building.

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

Bringing indoor comforts outside

Backyard decks are a terrific addition to any home.

Without them, well, you’re basically barbecuing and lounging about on grass or mud. And, besides a deck providing the homeowner with an easy transition from the interior of their home to a level section of outdoor living space, it’s important that the homeowner not forget the ideals of what makes a living space comfortable. In other words, a backyard deck plan that calls for little more than a raised platform is essentially a giant frypan designed to unmercifully roast you in the scorching sun. And, while an open concept living space may be desirable inside, this same strategy outdoors will simply allow your scrutinizing neighboors to question why a hefty 260-pound man such as yourself, would once again purchase the latest style in men’s competitive speedo swimwear.

So, understanding that indoor living is comfortable due to us being able to control the light, shade, and our privacy, while also protecting us from the wind and rain, it stands to reason that if we’re to enjoy a little outdoor living, some of these indoor living features will need to be duplicated outdoors.

Now, what about those persons who claim that the outdoors is what it is, and that we should accept the elements in all their natural glory? Those persons are what we refer to as campers, and they’re essentially nuts. How else can you explain such uncivilized activity as sleeping in tents and collecting your poop in plastic bags? We might as well go back to walking with the aid of our hands and living in caves.

When I step outside, I want to be comforted by the texture of treated lumber, or a composite deck underfoot. Then, once I make my way over to the louvered privacy wall, adjusting the planks, thereby enabling a slight breeze to help counter a hot, still air, created by a relentless afternoon sun, I would then park myself under the partial shade of a pergola. That’s as close to roughing it as I want to be. Matter of fact, if throughout these few minutes of setup, my coffee were to chill slightly, then this outdoor experience would have been truly regretful.

Further to bringing some of the general comfort amenities of indoor life to the outdoors, your deck is also going to require you providing it with some storage space. Deck chairs, benches, and sofas, often come with cushions. Unless you plan on bringing these cushions in every night, a better and simpler option would be to keep them in an outdoor storage space.

With our theme for the next few weeks relating to what every deck should have in order to provide more peaceful and comfortable outdoor living, let’s start with how to ensure a little privacy. Creating privacy between you and your neighbour can be a sensitive issue. We all like our privacy, and we generally get along well with our neighbours, so, how formidable a dividing wall structure do we need to build?

Does the building of a solid plank wall essentially say, “I’d rather not talk to you”, with a lattice wall, or typical offset plank (good neighbour) pattern, signifying that you’re more open to visitation? To answer this state of condition between neighbors, with the bonus of being able to go either full disclosure, or complete privacy, homeowners should consider the ‘Deck Sunblind’ system.

The Deck Sunblind is a hardware kit that permits the homeowner to construct a louvered section of panels up to 72 inches wide, by 48 inches high. With most dividing walls being about 6 ft. in height, the 48 inch high section of louvers works well because it allows the builder to install a 12-18 inch section of solid wall at the bottom, with 6-12 inches of solid planking at the top, which when all assembled will look quite decorative. The 72 inch maximum width is a guideline, since going any wider with 5/4×6 decking planks would risk them warping.

Next week, more deck must haves.

Good building.

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