Get your newels tested in Newtons

Sculptured by Roublliac in 1755 this is a statue at Trinity College Cambridge University of Sir Isaac Newton 1643-1727 a famous English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and alchemist. TONY BAGGETT / GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

Today we’re talking newel posts and how they relate to Newtons, a measurement of force, and not Newton, Hercules’s centaur buddy.

Let your mind wander to thinking of English physicists.

Essentially, one Newton is the force needed to accelerate one kilogram of mass at the rate of one metre per second, squared. The KiloNewton is a unit of force where one KiloNewton is equal to one thousand Newtons.

Because the building code tosses around the term kN (KiloNewtons) like Santa’s elves do candy at a Christmas parade, familiarizing yourself with Newtons and KiloNewtons will get you well on your way to understanding how to fortify your deck in order to meet those resistance loads insisted upon us by the building code.

Conversely, if you happened to have skipped the six years required to secure a master’s degree in engineering, and perhaps lack the educational background to fully comprehend KiloNewtons, and the various other mechanical bibble-babble found in the building code, let’s put the element of KiloNewtons into layman’s terms.

Essentially, one Kilonewton equals about 225 pounds of pushing force. The building code demands your newel posts be able to withstand a vertical load of 1.5 KiloNewtons, about 338 pounds of force, which is akin to either being put in a headlock by your average professional wrestler, or surviving the tugging force of at least three members of the McCulloch dance troupe.

So, considering the push/pull power of Highland dancers – they may be slight, but they’re mighty – deck builders should give serious consideration to the proper installation of their newels. Plus, building inspectors may or may not jump up and down on your deck to test its worthiness, but they always shake the post, and on a combined diet of black coffee and the day’s roadkill, along with early morning viewings of Die Hard I and II, these people are motivated to induce movement.

No matter how secure you fasten a newel post, when vertical (push from the side) pressure is applied to the top of a post, essentially at its weakest point, it’s going to move. The degree to which your newel moves, and how quickly it rebounds back to its perpendicular state, will determine its worthiness as a post, and the resulting security level of your railing system.

All railing systems have engineered drawings which outline how exactly a newel post in their system is to be installed.

Railing systems without engineered drawings are not acceptable, will not pass code, and will have to be dismantled if ever installed. So, avoid bargain brand type rails, yard-sale junk, or bidding on some beautifully ornate rail system at an auction.

What passed code in the 1930s won’t meet today’s standards.

So, unless you plan on using such a rail to decorate the area surrounding your lawn or garden area, or you’ve secured the engineering paperwork with a 2019 re-evaluation, keep it off your deck.

The key to a solid newel post is the blocking, or basically the mass of wood product that will accept the necessary lag screws or bolts that secure the post base. PVC (vinyl) and aluminum railing systems generally have newel posts that come with their own type of steel sleeve or base, which makes the surface mounting of these posts relatively straight forward.

Now, however good or engineered a post system is, failure is certain should you simply fasten these posts into the 5/4-inch decking. Effective blocking will mean placing 2×6 (for bolts) or 2×8 lumber (for accepting six-inch lag screws) underneath your decking planks.

Be sure to laminate the blocking with the help of a PL Premium glue, and secure the blocking into the joist system.

For composite and certain PVC systems, a 4×4 treated post will form the bulk of the post, with a decorative PVC or composite sleeve sliding overtop. In cases such as these, the 4×4 post will need to be buried into the joist system, and not surface mounted. Again, 2×8 blocking will be necessary in order to firmly secure the 4×4 on all four sides.

Good building.

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

The best choice of rail is clear

Around the perimeter of a cedar deck, Colin and Justin opted for glass and metal railings built by the team at Nortech.

Today we’re choosing a railing system for our backyard deck.

As stated last week, there are rules to follow regarding railing height and style. Plus, you’ll require stamped drawings in order for your railing system to pass code, and the inspection process.

So, be absolutely sure of your railing height, style, and available stamped drawings, before placing your railing system on order. It’ll feel like a punch in the gut when you discover your custom railing order didn’t account for the length of decking that butts up against your pool, thereby requiring a 60-inch high rail, instead of the 42-inch high railing you just sank $1,500 in.

Although railing systems come in a variety of manufactured species, including aluminum, PVC vinyl, and composite materials, our local building code limits us to basically two styles of railing systems, them being vertical spindles and balusters, or individual glass panels.

If your deck is elevated to the point where you’ll be having to look through the railing system in order to see what’s happening in your backyard, or if your deck happens to look out upon a garden area, river bank, or some equally desirable landscape, then you’re going to have a hard time beating clear glass panels as your choice of railing system.

Pros to going with glass panels? A completely unobstructed view— especially with those systems that have eliminated the top rail, protection from the wind, and arguably the best-looking system on the market.

Cons to glass panels? Until the local bird population modifies its flight patterns, you can expect a few casualties, which will be unfortunate. So, once the glass panels are installed, be sure to move the bird feeder if there’s one close by. Also, consider installing a few strings of reflective bird tape, hang a few ‘hawk eyes’, or perch a plastic falcon in some conspicuous spot, in order to dissuade the chickadees from the surrounding air space.

Maintenance of glass panels? We owned a glass-topped table once, once! Eventually, the constant finger prints and beverage circles left on this glass table top had us doubling up on our medication. However, today’s exterior glass panels are of such a high quality, they clean up easily with the spray of a garden hose.

So, investing in glass doesn’t mean having to start buying Windex and paper towels by the caseload. A worst-case scenario might have you passing the squeegee once in a while, until you eventually tire of that, and just accept the glass as being 99 per cent perfect.

Other than glass panels, the choices will be a railing system which includes either PVC, composite, or aluminum vertical spindling.

Often, homeowners will choose a PVC or composite spindle for their front porch because it’s beefier, or slightly more massive construction is more in line with the traditional porch spindling of long ago. Aluminum spindles are far more slender than their PVC and composite counterparts, and are a favorite in backyards, allowing those persons seated on a back deck to more easily view the back lawn area.

When discussing the advantages of a glass panel rail versus an aluminum spindled system, I remember one individual telling me the aluminum spindles were the better choice because they’re less expensive, and a better value, because in time you don’t even see them, or realize the thin aluminum balustrades are still there, and essentially look right through them.

Ironically, this fellow was a member of our local court system, and our conversation always had me wondering if this same line was used to console a criminal during sentencing. “I know we’re talking 15 years Rocco, but don’t worry, in time you won’t even notice those bars.”

Personally, I see the bars, just like I notice the safety netting if we happen to be sitting in an area behind the net at a professional hockey game, even though that’s supposed to be invisible also.

So, clear in my view, is only possible with glass.

Good building.

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

How to choose your deck railing design

Pinterest-worth deck railings may be pretty to look at, but they are not always the best choice according to our columnist Chris Emard. Not Released KRBLOKHIN / GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

If your backyard deck is to be 24 inches or more above grade (grass level) the building code says that you’re going to need a railing.

Actually, with persons capable of leaping down 24 inches basically limited to teenagers, trained athletes, or members of the local dance troupe; essentially comprising about 8 per cent of the population.

I find the building code in this circumstance, a little lax. Having experienced surgery on both knees, I would probably request somebody kick me in the groin before leaping down 24 inches, just to distract my mind from the jarring knee joint pain to come.

So, with those very young persons, middle-agers, seniors, and those with joint pain, forming the balance of the 92 percentile, I think it would be kind to consider some form of railing system for any platform higher than one step.

As with all construction or home renovation projects, decks and railings require permits. Failure to get a permit may have you dismantling your project since the odds of you following everything to code without some guidance can be safely estimated at zero.

“What if I build my deck over the weekend? Or work only on Sundays?” you may ask. And, you would presume that nobody would notice, or bring your project to the attention of the authorities because that wouldn’t be neighbourly.

Again, the odds of your project going unnoticed, and the odds of you not being ratted upon, can be safely estimated at zero. So, best to follow the rules.

When it comes to deck railings, there are three areas of concern for the homeowner. These priorities are the railing height, railing style, and engineering specifications.

Because building codes can vary from district to district, it’s important for homeowners to check with their local building department regarding the building codes in their area. Generally, decks that are between two feet and six feet off the ground will require a railing system of 36 inches in height. Decks or platforms higher than 6 feet will require a 42 inch high railing system.

Next, your railing system will have to conform to local regulations, which will allow for most spindle type balusters or glass panel type railing systems. Although horizontal stainless cable systems are quite stylish, they’re unfortunately quite climbable, which can be a safety hazard for young children. So, beware of copying a unique type of railing system as seen on the Pinterest site, where safety is sometimes compromised for style or decor.

Finally, your chosen railing components will have to have engineered drawings showing their manner of installation, and that they’re compliant to the stress loads demanded by the Canadian Standards Assoc. (CSA). This engineering paperwork can be provided by the retail lumber yard selling you the product.

Don’t attempt to install a railing system that is not CSA approved, or that doesn’t have the engineered drawings, it will simply not pass and have to be replaced.

What if a person were to greet their building inspector with an XL triple-triple coffee and a box of Timbits, might that help them soften up on the regulations? Actually, they would be insulted.

Building inspectors are rock solid and are immune to compromise. They drink their coffee black, right out of the crock, and snack on a bag of nails as they drive from site to site. So, don’t even think of trying to sway their integrity with common folk food.

Finally, don’t skimp on the installation process by lightly tying your newel posts into the decking. Once your railing is installed, the post’s integrity will be tested by a shove or a shake from the inspector’s hip or hand, and some of these inspectors pump iron every morning. So, if you’ve used screws instead of bolts to secure the newel posts, in a quick-fix attempt to finish things up before sundown, your strategy is going to have you staring at a “FAILED INSPECTION” stamp. Next week, more on railing systems.

Good building.

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

Stop the bleeding

File No. 626, titled “knot bleed,” has us examining a case of gumming, or sap leak, being faced by a Mr. Ely McCutchen, aka the “Bainsville Bleeder.”

Formerly known as the “Bainsville Bomber” due to Ely’s prowess in the ring as an amateur boxer, the unfortunate circumstances of Ely’s present moniker came at the hands of a Mr. Hank McFarlen, aka the “Huntsville Hurricane.” A formidable boxer in his youth, Ely’s strength permitted him to back his opponent into the corner buckle with a series of jabs, then with a haymaker-type swing, drop the bomb, which ultimately ended most of his bouts within a few rounds.

Matter of fact, the Bomber’s technique was so successful, most battles had him leaving the fight totally unscathed.

That is, until the Bomber’s first professional bout with the Hurricane, who’s speedy manner had the Bomber suffering his first real blow to the nose. Within moments, the Bomber was spouting blood quicker than a punctured fuel tank, with the bell to end the first round saving him from an early exit.

Entering the second round with basically a box of tissue paper stuffed up each nostril, the proud Bomber stepped towards his opponent, only to be met with a second lightning-quick blow to the nose. Once again, perfectly good O-negative blood spewing out at a rate of one quart a minute, and had every towel in the joint turning to red in an attempt to quash the bleeding.

In that moment, the Bomber, in a cruel twist of fate, became the Bleeder, and his career in boxing was over.

Fast forward 20 years. Our Mr. McCutchen is walking across his newly constructed, treated-lumber deck.

Surveying the general quality of the construction, Ely found himself barefoot, with his sandals having been left three steps back, essentially stuck to the decking surface. Equally gummed were the soles of Ely’s feet, and upon closer examination, Ely noticed sap extract and various other gummy deposits pooling around several of the decking plank knots.

With the former Bomber coming to the realization his deck was now bleeding, the little gummy pools of sap strangely turned to red, as our Ely experienced a dizzying, PTSD flashback. Minutes later, waking up on the deck with his face now stuck in a sap deposit, the Bleeder was at a loss as to why his decking was reacting in such a manner.

Essentially, treated lumber is a mixture of wood species that include spruce, pine, and fir, which has been infused with a copper formula to prevent insect infiltration and rot, then kiln-dried to a moisture level that can vary between 12 per cent and 15 per cent. At this moisture level, lumber maintains its structural strength, and accepts a nail or screw with lesser chance of splitting.

Although the wood’s been cut, it’s not quite dead, so there may be resins and sap residues that leak out of the knots, which is commonly referred to as knot bleed. Knot bleed occurs when the wood absorbs moisture, either through rain or general high-humidity circumstances, with this moisture pushing these natural oils and tannins to the wood surface.

So, can treated lumber which is displaying knot bleed be painted or stained? No, the moisture levels are still too high.

Is there a means of sealing a knot in order to prevent further knot bleed? Not really. Shellac and Bin type sealers may work temporarily, but the sap will bleed through regardless, somewhat marring the finish.

What’s the solution to knot bleed?

Ultimately, you’ll need to patiently let the knots bleed through until they’re dry, then scrape off the sap residue and sand the area clean before staining.

Testing for dry? In a sunny spot, tape (on all four sides) a piece of saran wrap to the top of a plank, then wait 20 minutes. If condensation appears under the plastic, it’s too soon to stain. When the plastic remains dry, it’s stain time.

With that, file No. 626 was closed.

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