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

Avoiding the shake down

REUTERS photo

It’s the same sensation of gut wrenching trauma the Montreal furriers’ felt when PK Subban was traded to Nashville.

What just happened? Well, due to your newly installed porch railing section having just failed the shake test, you, like the furrier shops, will be suffering a yet to be determined financial loss.

When a newel post, which is essentially the backbone of your spindle and rail system, fails the shake test, it brings two things into question.

One, is the newel post perhaps missing a few lag screws, and simply lacking the proper blocking (when extra pieces of 2×8 lumber are used to secure the post into the joist system)?

Or two, has the newel and subsequent railing system been installed in a manner that contradicts the stamped drawings regarding this product?

If it’s a case of adding a little lumber and a few screws, then the burden is one more trip to the lumber yard, and yet another opportunity to pick up a coffee and blueberry muffin at the local drive-thru.

If it’s a case of the railing not meeting code, or being improperly installed, the sense of nausea is your body’s reaction to the fact this deck is yet going to require more time, and money.

What is the shake test? The shake test is a battle between a fixed 4×4 newel post, made of either treated lumber, aluminum, or composite matter, and one motivated inspector. I’m not sure what amount of education and practice is required before an inspector attains his “shake ’em up” certification.

What we do know is that the training is intense. Once the inspector gets his or her hands on the newel, and the “shake” procedure begins, it would take a crow bar to pry their fingers off. Basically, the integrity of the post is challenged by clasping the top of the newel, and with subjective force, an attempt is made to move this post backwards and forwards.

If the degree of deflection (the measure to which the post can be forced off its 90 degree perch) is significant, the inspector will ask for the proper documentation regarding the manner of install.

This “documentation” element is going to be the make-or-break factor in how well the rest of your day is going to proceed. Either the next few hours will be spent in calm repose, once the documentation confirms your manner of install as being correct. Or alternatively, an error or omission is discovered in the strategy, leading to you performing donuts on your front lawn in therapeutic frustration.

As a homeowner about to build a deck, especially if a pool’s involved, it’s important to understand one key point. Your deck drawings may have been good enough to earn you a building permit, but this in no way signifies your deck and railing system is to code.

In other words, the building permit has simply OK’d your drawing. From this point on, it’s up to you to follow code, and have the proper engineered stamped drawings regarding your chosen components.

As an example, a deck plan with newel posts placed at every 8 ft. on center, will pass the permit stage.

However, not all railing systems are permitted to span 8 feet. Some composite railing systems are stamped acceptable for 6 ft. on center newels only.

Vinyl, composite, and aluminum railing systems, all have their specified manor of install, which will differ from wood, and even from manufacturer to manufacturer.

What happens is that 8 ft. composite railing sections get purchased and installed, and then it’s discovered the Ontario building code has only approved the 6 ft. long series of components.

Or, the newel posts get surfaced mounted to the deck, when the approved drawings indicate they should have been integrated into the joist system. So, avoid those big headaches by procuring the stamped drawings regarding your specific chosen line of products, first.

Then, proceed accordingly.

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

The little things that can make a big difference

Taking care of the little things can add up to having a beautiful deck. Handout/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder
Taking care of the little things can add up to having a beautiful deck. Handout/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder

Today we’re talking about the little things that are going to help make your cedar, or treated lumber deck, a thing of beauty.

Most backyard decks start out in the same manner. Plan, permit, list of materials, followed by the delivery of said materials. Those are the big things, or easy decisions.

Once these decking materials are sitting in your backyard, the deck enters into its “great potential” stage. At this point, your lumber, bolts, and screws, are like a clean canvas with a series of paint colours on standby.

As a result, is this deck that your about to construct going to be the Mona Lisa of treated decks, or at least a Monet? Or, will it rank up there with the finger painting works of Mrs. Latulipe’s advanced kindergarten class?

And, is your present strategy going to have this deck still looking great in 10 years? Or, will a series of poor decisions and cutting corners likely have your project scheduled for demolition?

Therefore, and in an effort to build a deck that will give us 25 years of faithful service, be relatively splinter free, relatively maintenance friendly, and avoid collapse while entertaining your buddies after Tuesday night, keg league softball, we’re going to focus on the little things that are going to make a big difference.

First strategic move? Protect the supporting joists and beams by covering them with a protective membrane. The narrower edge of your 2×8 or 2×10 joists can be covered with standard three inch lengths of waterproof strips, while the wider double or triple 2×8 beams can be covered with a Blueskin WB rubber membrane.

Why use the protective joist and beam strips? To avoid the rot caused by standing water, and mold resulting from the wet debris that always manages to get stuck in between the decking planks.

Key aesthetic point number one? Avoid face nailing or screwing the decking planks. Surface screws are to lumber what hockey pucks are to the average set of teeth owned by professional hockey players.

Keeping the decking planks looking pristine can be achieved by using the ‘Camo’ clamp, or deck-track system of joist brackets. The Camo strategy involves clamping the deck board in position, just for a few moments, while screws are inserted into both sides of the plank.

The deck-track system will have the installer nailing 40 inch strips of perforated steel along the entire length of the joists and perimeter board. The deck-track provides the means for a shorter screw to be inserted into the decking planks from underneath.

Both systems add a little time, maybe a little more back ache, and a couple of hundred bucks to the average deck project. But, the seamless, splinter-less results are spectacular.

Next, picture frame the decking with a perimeter board. Basically, we don’t want to see or expose the end cuts. This goes for the planks on the stairs as well.

Creating a picture frame type of installation will mean beefing up the framing with two extra joists along the perimeter, spaced an inch or so away from the main perimeter board.

Install the picture framing planks first, mitering the corners, then fasten the center portion of the deck.

Start the decking plank installation on the outer edge, working your way towards the house.

Which face of the plank goes up? Look at the edge grain. Essentially, there will be less cupping and better plank stability if the curves of the wood grain face downward.

Next, use the plastic rail connectors (see the ‘Deckorator‘ series of products) when fastening your 2×4 or 2×6 handrail to the 4×4 newel posts. Toe nailing looks lousy, creates splinters, and generally creates a weak joint.

Finally, don’t forget the Deck Drawer. We were so happy with our deck drawer on our deck, we had a second one installed. The deck drawer is a great space saver that keeps your backyard stuff safe and dry.

Good building.

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