Anything but wood

The staircase in the Mackenzie model by Minto at Arcadia splits on the second level to provide separation between the master suite and other bedrooms. Railings are simple metal spindles in urban black with a modern handrail profile. GORDON KING, FOR POSTMEDIA NETWORK

If our goal is only wanting to touch things once, inevitably freeing ourselves from the bondage of home maintenance by eliminating those products requiring a second touch or further care once installed, then the 42-inch beveled-edge baluster is doomed to become the loneliest product in the lumber yard.

Essentially, it’s made of wood, it’s going to require a second touch.

Depending on how long you keep your home, there could very well be third and fourth touches, which all fall under the dubious term of maintenance.

Saying goodbye to wood appendages will be difficult for some, since the wood spindle’s contribution to residential history has been significant. Formed on a lathe, turned Victorian-style spindles were often the showcase items on those grand, century townhomes that featured exquisite wraparound balconies.

From the post-Second World War years to the end of the 20th century, turned spindles were the look of middle-class prosperity, similar to the white picket fence of the previous generation.

So, are we to forfeit the cultural significance of the turned spindle and dismiss its contribution by eliminating its future use?

Well, understanding that painting a turned spindle ranks right up there with having to change a flat tire or manually dig a post hole on the satisfaction spectrum of household jobs we hold most dear, there’s little chance the next generation of homeowner is going to put up with this type of yearly monotony.

Following the turned spindle, the exterior railing trend switched towards the smooth look of the beveled edge baluster. Though the balusters plain finish would reduce maintenance times rather significantly in most cases, one coat of finish is all most balusters were going to see.

Eventually, with brown-coloured treated wood entering the market, balusters and their handrails would most often be left unfinished. With no paint or stain to protect the finish, the thought was these balusters would keep their brown colour for a few years, then gently turn to a lovely grey hue.

This was, of course, one-touch dreaming.

Unfortunately, time does exposed wood favours in the same way it improves our hairlines, and benefits our ageing knees and lower backs.

So, with exterior wood railings and wood trims being the type of products that will need constant revisiting or replacement within six-to-eight years should you totally ignore them, the only solution to not having to maintain wood spindles is essentially avoiding wood spindles or balusters in the first place.

What one-touch type railing systems will the homeowner have to choose from? Well, there are several, with the more popular choices being aluminum, steel, and PVC (vinyl).

Essentially, the steel and aluminum series of railings offer spindles and newel posts that are thin and sleek, with colour choices that include the popular deep brown and black tones of the day. The PVC railing systems offer a slightly heavier looking baluster and newel post, and are a good choice if a traditional white spindled railing is what you’re after.

One-touch porch posts will need to follow a similar rule, although not quite so stringent, to your deck spindles. In other words, wood columns or posts are fine during the construction phase, but will need to be covered with a PVC wrap at the finishing stage.

Similar to the wood joists and general wood structure, there’s no questioning a piece of wood’s integrity or longevity if it’s kept dry.

Are there any conditions which would allow exposed wood to be used on an exterior deck, and still fall under the one-touch philosophy? If any portion of your deck crosses into the State of Arizona, where temperatures vary between dry and very dry, then perhaps. Otherwise, no.

The task of choosing alternative products to wood may seem daunting at first, but don’t fear the challenge.

There are PVC trim-boards, fascia planks, moldings and lattices available to cover any decking challenge.

Next week, does ‘touch it once’ mean saying no to wood decking?

Good building.

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

Improving your stairway (to heaven?)

Today we’re making the switch from carpeted stairways, to one of hardwood treads and risers.

Why remove the carpeting off your stairs? Well, presuming you’ve already replaced your once-carpeted floors with hardwood, this natural progression completes the project, enabling your stairs to have the same clean, good looking status of your hardwood flooring.

Step one, carefully tear back the carpeting off of “one” step. Don’t remove all the carpeting just yet. The removing of only one step of carpeting will allow you to do some measuring, followed by a bit of research, with the development of a strategy to come next.

This as opposed to creating a scenario where the carpeting has been completely removed, exposing your family members to a minefield of carpet staples until the point in time when you get yourself organized.

The most efficient way of replacing stairway carpeting with hardwood treads is by choosing the “simple tread” kit. These tread kits provide you with one hardwood tread and one riser, in either an oak or maple species of wood.

The wood grain patterns of oak and maple differ considerably, so be sure to inspect the grain patterns of your flooring to ensure compliancy with the treads.

If your hardwood treads are to be painted, choose maple, its smoother and harder finish will provide better results.

Basically, we’re installing new treads and risers over the existing treads and risers.

The advantage to re-treading, as opposed to buying regular stair treads and risers, is the kits’ tread is a thinner, laminated version of what’s standard, allowing you to more easily secure it to the existing spruce or particle board tread. The re-tread also comes with a wide, decorative nosing, which creates a ledge that will be strategic in hiding the edge of the existing tread.

The strategy to using the simple tread kit will involve removing the nose (portion of overhang) of the existing tread, creating a square or flush surface to which to mount your hardwood tread and riser. So, measure the overhang or nose portion of the existing tread (which should be about 1.25 to 1-3/8 inches) then subtract this figure from the total depth of the tread. Hopefully you’ll be left with a depth of 9-1/8 inches or less, with 9-1/8 inches being the total maximum depth that your re-tread will cover.

If for some reason, we’ll call it carpenter’s choice, the person who installed the treads 25 years ago chose to make the treads a little deeper than standard, then you’re going to have a situation where the re-tread’s depth is insufficient.

This is when you either pursue further re-treading strategies, or re-tack the carpeting back in position and get back to your basement beer-making venture. However, and in the interest of progress, since the odds of you causing an explosion, or creating a barely consumable sludge, likely outweigh that of you driving an air nail through your thumb, let’s stick with the stair project.

If the existing tread, once cut, exceeds 9-1/8 inches, then options to solving this spacing issue will include adding a cove or quarter-round molding where the re-tread meets the riser, alternatively using a standard tread, or if possible, trimming the nosing on the re-tread. Regardless, it’ll simply require a little bit of extra finishing carpentry.

If the existing tread, once cut, will be 9-1/8 inches or less, then we’re in business to go forward with the simple tread kit as is.

Keys to success?

One, pre-stain and clear-seal (three coats) your simple treads and risers, as well as any other necessary trim pieces or moldings, beforehand, letting them cure for at least a week before installing. Staining one day, clear coating the next, should you choose to install first, then finish, will undoubtedly leave footprints, which will be disastrous.

Two, put a new blade on your chop saw and table saw.

And three, limit chipping by first scoring the finished surface with a utility knife, then cut on this finished side.

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

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