How to stain in the great outdoors

Steve Maxwell applying deck stain as part of his ongoing deck trials. Many deck finishes don’t work, no matter how well you prepare the surface first. Photo credit: Robert Maxwell JPG, CO

Staining your treated lumber deck need not be so ominous a task, and can generally be accomplished in three steps.

One: pick up the necessary preparation and finishing materials.

Two: print out a clear list of instructions regarding the proper use and disposal of said products.

And three” load your golf clubs into the trunk, double check the cooler to confirm all sandwiches, snacks, and alcoholic beverages are in order, then kiss your wife goodbye and let her know the teenager you’ve hired to do the job should be arriving shortly.

Three easy steps, and that’s it.

Why hire a young person to do this task? Because when done properly, staining a deck doesn’t do an aging lower back, knees, and shoulders any favours. And two, the odds of failure, including/but not limited to, peeling, crackling, and early wear or product deterioration in our temperature zone, fall somewhere between likely and guaranteed.

So, you might as well get a decent game of golf out of the day, strategically positioning this kid as the fall guy.

Why don’t deck stains last as long as advertised? Because the homeowners fail to follow procedure.

Basic procedure No. 1: timing. Because exterior staining puts you at the mercy of the elements, you’ve got to choose your two- to three-hour staining window wisely. Basically, you’ll need to avoid early mornings (dew on the planks), too late in the evening (dew, cooler temperatures), full sun (stain will dry too quickly), too cold (stain will freeze before absorption), or eminent rain in the next 48 hours.

As a result, success will be had while staining on a semi-cloudy day, between the hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with expected temperatures between 18 C and 26 C, with of course little chance of rain.

Unfortunately, achieving this sequence of temperature and climate would have you moving to Fayetteville, Tenn., or somewhere in the central U.S. With that being unlikely, we time our staining the best we can.

Basic procedure No. 2: clean the deck surface the week beforehand. Best results will come from either scrubbing the decking planks with a soap and water solution, or using a deck-cleaning product, which can be applied with a spray-type canister. The deck cleaner is a convenient choice because the solution need simply sit on the decking planks for about 15 minutes before rinsing. In both cases, the soap solutions should be rinsed off with a garden hose.

In an age where emotions relating to impatience and immediate satisfaction are as common as adding cream and sugar to a coffee, pressure washers are an attractive alternative to rinsing.

However, a pressure washer is simply too much tool, and would be akin to calling the SWAT team in to break up a disturbance between two toddlers at the Tots n’ Tubbies Daycare. A tool that was basically designed to clean barnacles off a ship’s hull should not be used on treated pine and spruce softwoods. Pressure washing will result in clean, but your decks surface will be permanently etched (which will attract dirt and mould), and be left saturated with water, requiring at least a week of dry weather to cure.

Besides a simple clear finish, stains come in either semi-transparent, or opaque finishes. A semi-transparent stain is like an interior stain, in that it highlights the wood grain as it provides colour. However, and like an interior piece of furniture about to receive a stain, the decking planks should be sanded. Sanding the decking planks beforehand opens the pores of the wood, and allows the stain to effectively penetrate the decking, creating a more beautiful and lasting finish.

Opaque stains are like a paint, in that they provide a solid colour that hides the wood grain. However, opaque stains differ from paints in that they aren’t as slippery to walk on, and can be applied directly to a clean deck without the need to sand.

Application tidbit: apply the stain with a roller, then back-brush the stain into the wood.

Good building.

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

Oil’s well? Go seal that deal

A recent conversation regarding the subject of how to seal and protect decking lumber had a fellow instructing me the most effective thing on the planet was oil.

“Like an oil-based paint or stain?” I inquired.

“No” the fellow said. “Engine oil or cooking oil, brushed or swabbed on with a mop twice yearly, that’s all you need.

“And best of all, it’s free” the fellow concluded.

“Free oil?” I questioned.

“Yes,” the fellow continued, “you just stop by the auto-repair shops, or the French fry huts, or maybe you know somebody in the restaurant biz, they’re always looking to dump their used oil somewhere.”

This mention of a used-oil strategy did conjure up a memory dating back to my early days in retail, with the suggestion motor oil be could be used on unfinished hardwood, in the case of a bar-type of environment, due to the muddy or snow filled boots entering the premises.

“So,” I hesitated, looking to choose my next question wisely, thereby dismissing my naïveté regarding a subject to which this fellow, an older gentleman as you may have guessed, regarded as common sense and accepted general knowledge. “I suppose colour scheme, tint, texture, or any type of consistency or expectancy regarding finish, is somewhat hit and miss.

“Plus,” I needed to be clear on at least one point, “do you mix the old French fry oil with the used motor oil? Or, are the two incompatible?”

“Oil is oil” my senior friend said, “and, it doesn’t matter how you mix it.”

“What about cleanliness?” I asked. “And, isn’t used oil filled with various debris, and overall kind of filthy?”

“Sometimes you get some small nuts and bolts in the mix, or burnt French fries in the batch, but it doesn’t matter” the fellow confirmed. “You just slap it on, and the heavy stuff falls in the grass, or in the river (because oils are great for docks as well), and if there’s food matter in the mix, well— the birds will eat it or pick it off the decking planks.”

So, with that charming visual certainly rationalizing the strategy of choosing used oils, even though actual certification, or recorded study regarding the effectiveness of the used-oil process was most likely lacking, the concept was simply left as an undocumented possibility.

Now, you may ask, how could the seemingly crazy idea of procuring used oils, regardless of whether the oil was claimed from the fryer at Frank’s Fries, or drained from the oil pan of a 1972 Pontiac Parisienne, possibly be viewed as a serious wood-sealing alternative?

Because, as my friend referenced with fact, “paints peel.”

True enough, paints and stains do peel.

Maybe the peeling is related to poor timing, in that it rains the next day. Maybe it was too cold, or too sunny, which had the stain drying before it had the chance to properly adhere to the wood. Or, perhaps the wood’s surface hadn’t been cleaned, or hadn’t been sanded, or was saturated with moisture.

Regardless, paints and stains seem to peel a little too often.

So, with used oils having zero to little chance of peeling, could such a product really be considered as a viable alternative to regular paints and stains? I’m not sure.

The customer would have to accept a yellowish type of tint, depending on the age of the fry oil, or viscosity of the engine oil, with colour essentially differing from batch to batch.

Product texture? Totally dependent on what fry bits and bites are left once the birds have at it.

Product safety? Although used oils aren’t technically flammable, they are combustible, which means there’s little chance of a problem, unless somebody discards a still-burning cigarette, spills the charcoal grill, or drops a birthday cake filled with candles.

So, avoiding carnage might mean installing the appropriate “No Smoking” and “Handle flammables with care” signage in designated areas.

Good building.

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

Panelling success for your fence

Today we’re building a great fence, a beautiful fence, a most powerful fence panel that’ll rank second only to U.S. President Donald Trump’s border wall in its effectiveness in deterring invaders and neighbourhood undesirables.

However, instead of concrete, our fence panels will be constructed of treated lumber and wrought iron. Plus, armed security personnel, drone surveillance, and video monitoring will remain optional considerations.

The bulk of the fence panel will be formed with 1×6 fence boards, along with a combination of 2×4 and 2×6 framing lumber, while a wrought-iron, 12-inch high, picketed-lattice type of crown will provide the panel its décor, ultimate intimidation, and definitely its “wow” factor.

Wood on its own is nice, but essentially lacks something. Steel or wrought iron on its own is beautiful, but maybe a little too correctional or institutional. By combining the two, you get a fence that states we’re not necessarily keeping anybody in, or anybody out, but we enjoy our privacy.

Besides simply being attractive, a fence panel must have two other qualities.

One, that it be serviceable.

And two, that it be removable.

Fence brackets, the U-shaped hardware that connects the 2×4 or 2×6 horizontal framing to the fence posts, might not be the carpenter’s way of creating a butt joint, but it’s got to be the fence-builder’s way. That’s because stuff happens in the life of a fence that may require you having to remove or replace a panel.

If a backyard pool is in your future, backhoes are rarely successful in squeezing themselves through 36-inch wide gate openings. Or, the building of a utility or storage shed would certainly be facilitated by the delivery people being able to access your backyard.

And, with the teen next door most recently having acquired their driving licence, the odds of your neighbours’ Ford Windstar making its way through your fence and into your backyard at 3 a.m. on an early Sunday morning has now increased tenfold.

So, for these reasons, we make fence panels removable. Fence panels need to be serviceable in order for them to have any type of longevity. Non serviceable fence panels are those where the 1×6 fencing planks have been fastened to the 2×4 cross members using nails, in a board over board, or good-neighbour type of pattern. Nails make removing a fencing plank without destroying the board almost impossible, while a board on board, offsetting type of plank placement is extremely awkward to paint or stain.

As a result, the crooked or cracked planks that need replacement are rarely removed, and the fencing lumber never gets protected with either a clear sealer or coat of stain.

In order to make a fence panel serviceable, the installer will need to make the 1×6 fencing planks easily removable, which means simply using the appropriate length decking screws.

The fencing planks will also need to be easily stainable, which is best achieved by installing the 1×6 planks vertically, placing one plank up tightly against the next, as you move laterally across the horizontal framing members.

The horizontal framing members should be comprised of two 2×6 treated studs (with one placed at the top of the panel, and one at the bottom) along with a 2×4 horizontal stud going across the middle of the panel, in order to prevent warping. The top of the fence panel should then be capped with a 2×4 stud, which will prevent water from entering the soft end grain, or Achilles heel of any fence plank.

Instead of crowning the fence panel with a traditional wood lattice, the enlightened fence designer would choose from a series of wrought-iron lattice designs.

Fence gate? Go with either a wood/iron frame combo, which would offer privacy, or a wrought iron gate, with its iron bars and curved, pointed spindling, adding a medieval touch.

Post caps? Choose the matching iron caps, they’ll look great, and best protect the post’s end grain.

Good building.

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

Posting a good start

Shane Harris and Travis Bright work on installing new resin and galvanized fence posts into position on Wonderland Road north of Fanshawe Park.in London, Ont. on Thursday July 9, 2015. Mike Hensen/The London Free Press/Postmedia Network MIKE HENSEN/THE LONDON FREE PRESS/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

With our permit secured, the property line clearly established, and the gas/electrical/cable lines effectively flagged across the lawn, we can begin digging our post holes.

How does a person dig a post hole? Preferably with the help of an auger, driven by mechanized heavy equipment.

What about digging a post hole manually, perhaps engaging your son or nephew in a male bonding type of experience? Not a good idea.

This might have been possible about 100 years ago, when real men waged war during the day, then played hockey at night. Unfortunately, time and the computer age have modified the average male physique to the point where the shoulder and lower back development required to perform the task of repeatedly digging a four-foot hole has been genetically eliminated.

Strangely enough, manual post-hole diggers are still available, but with the design not having changed since the days where men could actually perform this task, your backyard soil would have to have the consistency of butter in order to make this task even somewhat conceivable.

As with all fence projects, the key to success will be the posts’ placement.

The best-case scenario will have your posts buried 48 to 54 inches into the soil, and spaced at every eight feet on centre. Use a mason’s cord to ensure a straight fence line. Pull the mason’s cord tightly along the future fence line, then drop the cord to grass level. Using a tape measure, or preferably a 150-foot open-reel fiberglass tape, mark an “X” on your lawn with a florescent spray paint to designate the post holes, and where the backhoe will drop his auger.

Don’t stake the lawn with pickets, keeping the mason’s line a foot or so above the lawn, using strips of ribbon to designate post placement. You’ll never trip over an X, and it’ll never move.

In order to allow for the three-to-four inches of spacing underneath your fence panels, and at least a few inches of fence post extending above the fence panel, along with the possibility of some variance in soil height, a five-foot fence will require you using 10-foot fence posts, while a six-foor fence will require 12-foot fence posts. Your posts can be made of 4×4 or 6×6 treated lumber.

The 6x6s look better, stay straighter, and are significantly stronger, so they’re definitely the preferred choice.

Securing the fence posts? With the post hole drilled into the soil, insert a sono-tube (cardboard cylinder) into the hole. A 4×4 post will require an eight-inch diameter sono-tube, while a 6×6 post will require a 10-inch cylinder. The sono-tubes are key to containing the concrete and gravel matter that will surround and secure the posts, and help prevent ground moisture from infiltrating this same area around the posts.

Be sure to toss a shovel-full of gravel into the sono-tube before inserting the post. This will help keep the bottom of the post somewhat dry.

If a fence post (regardless of it being a 4×4 or 6×6) is going to have a gate secured to it, with this gate presumably seeing regular swinging use, you’ll be wanting to first toss three-to-four bags of pre-mixed, just add water, concrete into the hole before filling the balance of the space with gravel.

All the other posts will not require cement, and can be secured using a 1/2 to 5/8 gravel mix, or stone dust.

Installing fence posts is minimally a two-person, brawn/brain joint co-ordinated effort. The brawn gently shovels and packs the gravel into the space surrounding the post, while the brain surveys the post leveler, making any necessary adjustments to post lean in an attempt to keep the post perfectly straight and in line with the mason’s cord.

Fence gates? Wooden gate panels can be made to size, but the more decorative wrought-iron type gates will require specific spacing between posts.

So, choose a gate pattern or style before starting the post-hole drilling process.

Next week, creating a great fence panel.

Good building.

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

Good fence vs. bad ones

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, is not only the title of probably the greatest western movie ever made, but also describes the three types of wood fencing a homeowner has the choice of building.

With the market already saturated with a combination of bad and ugly fences, it’s my recommendation we look to differentiate ourselves by building a good, or even what would be considered a great, wooden fence.

Now, to be fair with the bad and ugly fence builders, their fences didn’t necessarily start out that way. As a matter of fact, bad and ugly fences could have very well been quite attractive in their early years, and simply declined into their present state of battered, grey crookedness over time.

So, our goal will be to build a fence that will look good, and keep looking good at least until the middle of the century, or until which time a Canadian-based team wins the Stanley Cup, whichever comes first.

As mentioned last week, fences fall under the building code, and therefore require permits. Not only are permits key to making sure you follow the basic rules pertaining to fence height and acceptable product mix, but the permit process will initiate the “locate” process. Locates are those little yellow flags you occasionally see darting across persons lawns, and are placed there by the cable, electric, and gas-line people, indicating where these service lines run across your property.

Essentially, there are two reasons why the service people don’t want you hitting, or cutting off their lines in your attempt to dig a post hole.

One, if you happen to break a line, you’ve automatically ruined their mood by adding another three hours of emergency service time into what is already a fully scheduled workday. And two, sometimes the coroner isn’t always immediately available, which in the case of a severing a gas or electrical cable, could have the service guy having to re-connect a line while your corpse lies rotting in the sun only metres away, which can totally ruin a fellow’s appetite come lunch hour.

For a wood fence to be great, all four components, them being the post holes, fence posts, fence panels, and fence maintenance program, all have to follow a program of procedural excellence.

Starting with the posts holes, drill them anywhere from 48 to 54 inches in depth. Any shallower and you risk the frost heaving the posts up every winter, which will disrupt the entire fence line, and look lousy.

Does frost heave, a scenario whereby the frozen soil pushes things up to the surface, really occur? Just ask any local farmer who has to pick rocks out of his fields every year.

As for fence posts? 4×4 lumber is good, but 6×6 timbers are much better. So, if there’s wiggle room in the budget for the extra costs of using 6×6 posts, go for it. Besides simply looking better, 6×6 timbers are significantly more solid (great for high-wind areas), and stay straighter over the long haul.

Fence panels? Avoid the standard and very much overused board-on-board, or what’s referred to as the “good neighbour” style of fence panel, for basically two reasons.

One, because the fence boards are installed in an offset manner on either side of what’s normally a couple of 2x4s running vertically from post to post, the element of privacy isn’t so private. In other words, when standing on an angle, you or your neighbour can easily see into each other’s property. So, if you’re looking forward to seeing what latest fashion in swimwear your neighbour will be sporting this year, then choose what’s essentially a good viewing of the neighbour fence design.

Two, the good neighbour fence design is an atrocity to paint or stain, which will inevitably make continued maintenance a virtual impossibility.

Therefore, with privacy and easy maintenance being two important elements to our fence’s long term viability, next week we’ll look into building a “friendly neighbour” design.

Good building.

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

Surveys make ‘fence’ between neighbours

An October 2008 file photo of Ron Denis of land survey firm Farley Smith and Denis, with his survey equipment. JULIE OLIVER/OTTAWA CITIZEN/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

Today, we put to paper a plan to fortify our home’s perimeter, initiating a strategy that’ll forever protect our backyard property from those undesirables set on disturbing our goal of privacy and tranquility.

In other words, we’re building a fence.

Two things to consider before planting a post hole-drilling auger into the soil.

One, fences require permits, so be sure to get one.

And two, know the exact location of your property line.

Unfortunately, fencing is like any other home renovation, in that its manner of construction is guided by rules. So, if you were planning on topping your fence with a department of corrections-approved razor wire, and installing electrical power around all possible points of entry with a shock surge capable of incapacitating a 200-pound man, then the city officials may ask you to modify your drawings.

Where you build your fence isn’t such a concern for the city, unless of course you end up placing some of your fencing, or parts thereof, on city property.

Other entities that may show concern for your haphazard drilling of holes along perceived property lines are your neighbors. So, if a fence is in the plans, have your property surveyed.

If, on the other hand, good ol’ Mr. MacTavish, your friendly neighbour of 15 years, has you thinking you can save yourself $500 on the cost of procuring a survey by settling on a designated property line together, relying on your good relationship to keep things cordial, give your head a shake.

Guaranteed, the moment you finish your fence line, ol’ Mr. MacTavish drops dead like a sack of potatoes after choking on his haggis. The new owner of the property, a Mr. Chauncey MacDonald, moves in a week later, and while being not so happy to discover your ancestors might have participated in the death of his forefathers at the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692, decides to test the integrity of this fence line by having the property surveyed.

Guaranteed, just like the time you decided to forgo the information search and invest in steam-engine auto technology, your best-guess fence location strategy is going to end up biting you on the ass.

Often, neighbours will choose a mid-point between two homes or properties in order to establish the likelihood of the property line. This can be faulty reasoning, because most homes see some type of renovation over the years, whereby extra garage, deck, or living space is added to the width of the home, often encroaching upon the home’s property line.

When this happens, the dividing line between properties becomes far from the centre point, which will only be an issue years later when new, unassuming owners move in, and start making undocumented land decisions.

So, to avoid the awkwardness of having a new neighbour, a neighbour who essentially has pre-judged you as descendants of brutal thugs who had stolen land from his family only 300 years before, presenting you with a document indicating your fence has been constructed three feet onto his property, we get a survey.

With the perimeter lines of your property clearly established by the survey, you can begin to plan out the post placement.

If the fence is to be yours, then the posts should be wholly placed on your side of the line. This strategy will cost you a little of your backyard square footage, but will at least ensure the decisions regarding the look and status of the fence to be entirely yours.

What about shared fencing?

As with anything shared between neighbours, whether it be a fence or a snow scraper, this type of scenario is probably best avoided.

Next, what about fence height and fence building materials?

Both will fall under the scrutiny of your city permit, whereby your idea to raise emus and other exotic birds by building a 12-foot perimeter wall with used sheets of galvanized steel roofing, will most likely be discouraged.

Next week, the best fence.

Good building.

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