Replacing the Entryway (was: I Love Power Tools)…   3 comments

(click on any photo thumbnail to see a full-size image)

12 JULY 2014

I have seen the light.  I have been converted.  I am a believer in the convenience and benefit of power tools, and I’ll tell you why.  Back in 2002, I took a summer (and then some) and repaired/rebuilt the 16-foot by 20-foot deck on the house in Woburn.  Everything on the deck was replaced except the joists and the ledger.  The four concrete-filled metal posts holding the deck up along the far end were planted on a concrete wall about two feet below grade (i.e., underground), so the posts simply “disappeared” into the ground rather than being mounted on footings.  The span of the deck (16 feet) was too far for the posts as positioned, so the deck had a lot of “spring” to it when one walked across the decking.  I dug and mixed and poured concrete footings where the posts disappeared into the ground down to that subterranean concrete wall, then replaced the four metal posts with 6×6 pressure-treated wooden posts.  I also dug and mixed and poured three additional footings along the center span in order to add a beam in the center of the deck to get rid of the deck “spring.”

I dug these seven footings by hand.  I drilled holes and set rebar into the subterranean concrete wall to anchor four of the new footings to the existing wall.  I mixed the cement a bag at a time (how many bags is lost in antiquity, but in excess of 20) in a mixing trough with a hoe, and shoveled the wet cement into the sonotubes.

It took a few months to get all seven footings poured and cured.  It was backbreaking work.

IMG_7804Fast-forward twelve years, and the Ballot Box in Maine needs to have the entryway landing replaced.  It is too small (see photo at left); to open the screen/storm door you have to step backwards DOWN the stairs to let the door swing by you.  And it is just sitting on the ground, so in the early spring the platform shifts as the ground-frost melts on the side facing southeast that gets more sun.  The obvious solution is to build a larger deck-like landing on footings set down beneath the frostline.  And the landing cannot be attached to the house via ledger because the Ballot Box has the original (now decorative) “carriage house” sliding door that covered the entrance to the former carriage house for the carriages (and maybe horses) to be moved in and out.  A free-standing deck on four footings was the only way to go.  That means digging and mixing and pouring four footings.

IMG_7810I decided to rent an auger to bore the footing holes, and rent a cement mixer to mix the concrete. Oh… My… God…

I picked up the Stihl one-man auger at the local rental center on Thursday morning (10 July), and was able to bore all four footing holes 4+ feet deep, with assistance from a 6-foot 16-pound pry bar and a post-hole digger – and clean up – by 5pm.  We had a guest coming over for dinner at 6pm and with a little fluorescent orange CAUTION tape around the open holes by the stairs we were ready.

IMG_7817Friday morning (11 July) I turned in the auger and picked up a sweet cement mixer that looked like the bastard offspring of a cement truck and a wheelbarrow.  Electric, easily maneuverable, it was an absolute delight to use, ESPECIALLY when compared to what I was familiar with – a trough, a hoe and a lot of elbow grease.  I was able to prep the holes with sonotubes, mix up sixteen bags of concrete, dump each of the mixed bags into a cement trough (what I formerly used to mix cement in by hand), shovel the wet cement into the sonotubes, set an anchor bolt into the wet cement at the top of each footing  – and clean up  – again by 5pm.  This night we had made arrangements to meet some good friends in Brunswick for dinner at 6:30, and we made it!IMG_7800

On Saturday morning I returned the cement mixer to the tool rental place, cleaned up the excess dirt around the now-hardening footings, put the wooden walkway back in place, and covered the curing footings with plastic bags to retain moisture.  I got more done in these two days than I ever could have in two weeks doing things by hand like I used to do.  I love power tools!!

And now I wait.

EPILOGUE #1 – 10 August 2014

Isnapshot_00626E492392_20140804093313 let the footings cure for 3+ weeks while I spent time attending to yard work down south, then I came up the first weekend in August, intending to start the actual construction.  I drove up Thursday (31 July) after work, and hit the lumberyard Friday morning to order the pressure treated lumber I needed, with the hope that it would be delivered Saturday.  No such luck; the earliest available delivery date was Monday morning, so I got no construction work done this weekend.  The lumber was delivered Monday by a nifty truck with a built-in pallet crane (see photo at left), but I was back south so I had to watch on the webcam and wait until the next weekend to start in earnest.

IMG_8248b-33pct20xI drove up again on Thursday (7 August) after work, and spent most of Friday building sizing jigs to get the four IMG_8116a-25pct20xfooting posts the right length for a level deck surface at the right height relative to the door.  Our weekend visitors arrived Friday night so my deck work was put on hold until Sunday afternoon.  With the posts sized I was able to place the two load-bearing beams (double 10-foot 5-inch 2-by-10’s, bolted together with heavy-gauge construction screws).  The outside beam will have joist hangers to hold the joists flush with the top of the beam, but the inside beam will be a joist’s width lower so the joist will sit on top of the inside beam and hang over a bit.  This will allow me to have the deck freestanding, not touching the house, as the carriage-house sliding door is in the way of a few feet of the deck.  The joists at the entryway door will extend closer to the house than the other joists so the decking will be close to the house at the entryway and not have much of a gap between the house and the decking, but the joists at the carriage-house sliding door will be a bit further away to avoid having the door bang up against the deck, as it moves a bit in a strong wind.

I worked on the deck all day Monday and Tuesday (11 & 12 August), with the goal of getting the deck usable before I headed south (“usable” being defined as allowing ingress and egress through the door without having to resort to using the basement door as the only lockable entrance).  I mounted 2-by-8 PT joists every 12 inches, and cut and mounted all the railing posts Monday in preparation for screwing down the decking boards and building stairs Tuesday.  My initial plan was to get the deck “usable” by mid-day Tuesday and head south Tuesday afternoon, but the blade on my skil-saw had other plans.

IMG_8263a-25pct20xCutting pressure-treated wood is noxious to saw blades, dulling them much quicker than when cutting regular wood.  I forgot this, and left my blade-changing wrenches down south, so when the already-well-used skil-saw blade gave up the ghost after cutting the basic shapes of the three stair risers (cut from a 16-foot PT 2-by-12), I wasn’t able to cut the tread notches without the blade binding in the damp PT wood.  Plan B was to use temporary tread blocks in half of the 3-riser set, providing a narrow temporary stair up to the new deck (see photo at left).

Once the stairs were functional I began cutting notches in the decking boards for the railing posts and  screwing down the rest of the decking boards.  I finished up around 6pm by screwing 2-by-4’s on top of the railing posts as a temporary railing until I can build true railings with 2-by-4’s and balusters to match what is on the other deck.

Left to do at this point:

  • Build the permanent stairs (i.e., cut the notches in the three stair risers and lay in decking for stair treads)
  • Snap a chalk-line on the left and right side of the decking and trim the decking boards (with a newly replaced blade in the skil-saw)
  • Buy 1-by-8 PT boards and make a skirt around the deck just under the decking boards to hide the brackets and recessed lag bolts
  • Build a railing to match the railing on the other deck in the background (long-term, may take most of the autumn)

EPILOGUE #2 – Labor Day Weekend 2014

IMG_8424a-33pct20xMore than two weeks have passed since I was up north and working on the deck.  I spent two weekends at the southern house catching up on yard chores (mowing the lawn – twice, hedge-clipping all the shrubbery, staining some of the lower half of the deck, power-washing the vinyl siding on the north side of the house, etc.) but now it’s Labor Day weekend and I’m back north. I came up Wednesday after work, telecommuted back to work for parts of Thursday and Friday, hit the lumberyard to buy more PT wood (1-by-8s for the deck skirt and stair kick plates, 2-by-12s for a landing at the bottom of the new stairs, and three more pieces of 2-by-12 for stair stringer re-dos – I cut the first ones incorrectly), and worked on the stairs for the other parts of Thursday and Friday.  By Friday evening we had permanent full-width stairs (see photo at right)!

These were the first stairs I’ve ever built (and first stair stringers I’ve ever cut), and it was a bit nerve-wracking.  Cutting wood on 90° or 45° angles with a miter saw is a no-brainer, but slicing up PT 2-by-12 planks at odd angles with a hand-held skil-saw, and getting the rise (height of each step) and run (depth of the step surface where your foot lands) correct is NOT a no-brainer.  I screwed up on the first set of stringers (I beveled the back of the stringer too much where it attaches to the deck, and cut the rise too high) so I did have to buy another set of three stair stringer planks again.  Not as catastrophic as some deck-building mistakes I could’ve made, but it annoys me when I mess up.  I spend far too much time planning out projects like this in my head, partly to avoid stupid mistakes, so it really pisses me off when I goof up in spite of the thinking and planning.  Oh well.  Proves I’m not perfeckt.

IMG_8433AND… as of Saturday evening the deck was essentially completed (see photo at left); left- and right-side of the decking boards trimmed, and a skirt under the decking installed to hide brackets and lag bolts.  I needed to install one more handrail on the left side of the stairs and build the permanent railings (with balusters) and install lattice underneath, but it’s a functional deck that could weather the winter as is. The permanent railings will be a project for the autumn… no hurry.  We also need to redo the wooden walkway from the driveway to the base of the stairs.  Right now it’s a little askew as it sits aside the first segment of the walkway that is deeply embedded in the grass.  If we pull it up to align it better with the stairs it would sit crooked and look horrible since all the grass UNDER the walkway is dead.  We’ll probably reshuffle the two halves of the walkway to line up with the new stairs just before the snow flies so it’ll have all winter to resettle.

IMG_8460a-33pct20x - CopyrightSunday was a day of rest – we had a Sunday-to-Monday overnight visitor and extra guests for Sunday dinner (a big slab of Scottish salmon grilled to perfection, boiled Maine potatoes, and a delightful salad with multiple kinds of oil and vinegar for salad dressing) – but I spent most of the Monday holiday working some of the finishing touches for the deck – I installed the second railing on the steps, custom-cut and installed the last little piece of decking by the door, built a jig to standardize baluster placement on the permanent railings to be built, beveled all the 2-by-4s that will be used for the permanent railings, and installed the smallest part of the permanent railing (the segment with only two balusters) to the left of the stairs.  Monday night we went to Damariscotta River Grill to celebrate our postponed 40th anniversary dinner out.  A delightful day, with lots accomplished and lots enjoyed.

EPILOGUE #3 – 19-21 September Weekend 2014

This was supposed to be an alternative activity weekend, but I managed to squeeze in a little deck work on Saturday.  I came up Wednesday night to attend a talk in Brunswick ME given to the Maine AMC club by my brother-in-law, who has through-hiked the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail; the triple-crown of hiking. I tele-commuted Thursday and Friday, then Saturday was supposed to be a day at the Common Ground Country Fair, put on by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, but a migraine kyboshed that plan.

IMG_8518So Saturday was chore and puttering day. I picked up the mail at the post office; I brought trash and recycling to the transfer station; I dropped off the bags of deposit bottles at the grocery store; I picked up more 6-inch construction screws at the lumberyard for the deck railings; I configured a new weatherproof power-over-Ethernet webcam (Foscam FI9805E) that will eventually get mounted outside under the eaves and replace the webcam that’s inside the house looking out over the front yard. But I did find a bit of time to work on the deck too; I built and attached another section of permanent railing (see photo at right).

I was planning on working on the last two sections Sunday, but as of 8am Sunday morning it was raining, so I guess I won’t work on that today.  I won’t be up under the eaves on a ladder stringing Ethernet cable either.

EPILOGUE #4 (and last) – 3-5 October Weekend 2014

IMG_9196a-cClosure!  Completeness!  I finished the last two sections of railing Friday (3 October), and found and installed wooden end-caps for the railing posts Saturday.  I declare the deck done!  I’ll let it sit and season for the winter and paint the railings and skirt next spring or summer (not the walked-on surfaces; they’ll get clear water-seal).  We got the signed building permit on 9 July, literally “broke ground” by using the auger to drill the footing holes on 10 July, and put the finishing touches on the completed deck on 4 October.  Not bad for a construction project 160 miles from the primary residence!  I have to admit, I enjoyed this project!  I had to have a solid idea of how I wanted to build the entryway so I could draw it out and describe it on the building permit; I had to provide a list of materials on the permit so I had to know roughly how much of what kind of lumber to buy, and the work fell into clean delineated chunks (dig and pour the footings, build the frame, build the platform, build the stairs, build the railings).  Progress was made in weekend spurts, with extended (usually 2 week) breaks between, but I was down south at the primary residence so I didn’t have to see the unfinished work every day.

Cost of materials and tool rental and new saw blades and the building permit, etc. – in other words, the cost of the deck not counting labor – was $1,538.87.  I over-bought a bit on the pressure-treated wood (three extra 12-foot decking boards, two extra 8-foot 1x8s, six balusters) but not a lot.

EPILOGUE #5 (truly the last) – 30 August 2015

IIMG_20150830_154012319at’s the end of the following summer, the deck has seasoned, I filled most of the screw-holes with Plastic-Wood® a few weeks ago, sanding them smooth a few days ago, and we primed and painted the railings, kickboards, and skirts this weekend, finishing up today before I rode south on the DownEaster to get ready for the work week.  And here is how the final product looks:


As always, I try to photo-document progress on projects like this, so the ever-expanding collection of photos with more detail can be seen here

Posted 12 July 2014 by Gene Vogt in Home Ownership, Maine, Newcastle, The Ballot Box

3 responses to “Replacing the Entryway (was: I Love Power Tools)…

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  1. Pingback: Waiting Too Long… | The Vogt Family TreeHouse Blog

  2. Pingback: Webcam Replacement Follies… | The Ballot Box Blog

  3. Pingback: And So It Begins… | The Ballot Box Blog

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