Feb 242008

Aaron and his crew from Homes New and Old completed the rear deck framing about a year ago, and I finished the decking a few months after that. I hired Aaron back to install the cedar ceiling, the only things left were the column wraps and the railing. With spring fast approaching, we were eager to get the deck in usable shape so we didn’t miss out on another summer of outdoor entertaining. I called my Dad and he was willing to join me for a solid four day weekend of work, while Mary Lou and Devon flew off to Nevada to visit her family. Before Dad arrived, I spent several hours preparing detailed drawings and step-by-step instructions for preparing the material and assembling the wraps and railing. The railing system consists of both wrapped and unwrapped posts, the wraps cover all the pressure-treated (PT) 6×6 posts, and the 4×4 posts serve as intermediate posts ensure a rigid railing. The design for the columns borrow several elements from the early 1900’s Craftsman homes of Portland [Column Gallery] The railing itself is a more traditional style, mostly following the construction described by Scott Schuttner in Building a Deck. A few pictures are featured in the text below, but there are many more that capture some of the details in the [Columns and Railing Gallery]. [More…]

The first project was the column wraps. They’re constructed of of 5/4 finger-jointed pre-primed cedar to match nicely with the siding of a similar material and the tight-knot cedar decking and ceiling. The box is constructed of 4 identical sides, glued, biscuited, and screwed together. Once the screws are installed, the clamps can be removed. This allowed us to assemble 3 sides of all the wraps in the garage on the assembly table, which is much less awkward than working with them vertically over the finished deck. The taller wraps had to be relieved in order for the bolts on the brackets to clear. The 2×4 crown is self-aligning via the biscuit slots at the top of the taller wraps. A simple chamfer on the corners adds a nice simple detail (be sure to chamfer the sides before you start assembly, or you’ll be risking hitting the screw heads with your router bit).

The next step was to install intermediate railing posts (the existing ones were also supporting the deck structure and the roof, and continued down to the footings). We had to install 2 6x6s, 4 4x4s, and 2 half-4x4s that we recessed into the siding against the house in order to add some real rigidity to the railing. We carefully located the columns according to the plans and the existing structure (which happened to be mostly in agreement with each other – not always the case). Once we located the positions, we carefully marked them on the deck and carefully removed the decking with jigsaw, making the final adjustments to the opening with a chisel and a file. We scribed each opening to the particular post to be used at that location. We found that scoring the outside of the pencil line on the cross grain helped reduce tear-out with the jigsaw. Before the final installation, we applied a coat of stain to the newly cut wood to help prevent decay. Marking the deck level on the posts, we used a bar clamp to hold the post at the right height while we adjusted the post and beam in order to get the post plum. In a couple cases this involved chiseling a relief into the bowed 4×12 pressure treated rim beams (tedious, awkward, and time consuming). Once satisfied with the final fit, we bored two holes about 7 inches apart with a counter bore for the bolt heads in the rim beams. We used 1/2″ hex bolts for the 4x4s and 3/4″ hex bolts for the 6x6s. Once cranked down, those posts were every bit as sturdy as the existing massive 6×6 continuous posts.

One the posts were all installed, it was time to install the column wraps. This was a bit daunting, but it actually went pretty smoothly. We cut 3/16″ shims from scrap cedar, and used a finish nailer to quickly tack them to the posts at specific locations so we could be sure to drive the nails through the shims. With the shims in place, we maneuvered each 3-sided wrap into place, and drove in 3 8d hot-dipped-galvanized (HDG) finish nails into two sides, leaving the wrap a little flexible in order to facilitate installing the 4th side. Vernon showed up on the fourth day, just in time to help with the rather complicated glue-up of the 4th sides. With 12 biscuits and about 16 screws a piece, working with the taller wraps was much easier with a third person. Pulling the joints tight with the parallel clamps, we secured them with screws and moved on to the next wrap. Lastly, we installed the 4th side of the crown, and then glued up the bases. The bases were a bit tricky, as they were 10 3/4″ tall, and fit with biscuited miter joints. If you don’t plane your material yourself, you are likely to run into some difficulty with the miters – as we did. Some of the 5/4 stock had cupped slightly, causing the miters not to line up exactly. With some judicious use of clamps and screws, we were able to pull them in for a pretty snug fit. If I were to do this again, I would definitely plane the stock to be used for the mitered pieces first. To ease assembly, we glued up pairs of boards, and then assembled the two halves after the glue had dried. We tacked them together with a finish nailer while the glue dried, and secured them to the wraps with 4 8d HDG finish nails on the 2 sides where the railings would attach, the other two sides “floated”.

With the columns wrapped and the bases installed, we could move on to installing the primary rails. We (and by we I mean Vernon) very carefully measured each section (near the base) and cut the 2×4 rails to length. We cut 3 7/8″ spacers to position the lower rail, and a balustrade length spacer to place the upper rail flush with the tops of the intermediate posts (some the intermediate posts were a tad too long, I later trimmed them flush with a flush-cutting saw and a block plane). The rails were attached to the posts with #8 3″ coated ACQ rated exterior screws: 2 in the top from the top, 3 in the bottom, 1 from the top (to be covered with the balustrade) and two in the sides (to be bunged). Ideally you would install the bottom rail from below, but with an inboard railing, there just wasn’t space to get the drills under the rail. Scott Schuttner recommends a 1/2″ dado in your posts to receive the lower rails, but in our case, most of the lower rails terminated at the bases of the wrapped posts, making a dado impossible. If you can’t use a dado, Scott recommend using more fasteners, so we used 3 instead of two. This was as far as we got before Dad and Vernon had to return to their day jobs.

Still, I was eager to get the balustrades up, and so was Mary Lou. She watched Devon while I plugged away at the balustrades, and she pitched to cut balusters and prime end-cuts while he napped. Scott’s balustrade system is great. Using the spacers we made to separate the upper and lower columns, I created a jig on the assembly table to properly space the secondary rails to receive the balusters. The one gotcha here, is that not all 1-by cedar is created equal, and none of it is a full 3/4″. It’s a good idea to cut each set of balusters specific to the gap left after installing your upper and lower secondary rails in the jig. In my case I had to rip a custom extra thick upper secondary rail to compensate for a couple sticks of extra thin 1-by stock. To locate the balusters, I mark the center line, and then use 3 7/8″ spacers and scrap baluster material to determine if I should center a gap or a baluster on the rails – I used whichever yielded the largest gap under 3 7/8″ on each end. I used 3 7/8″ (and not 4″) to allow for any expansion/contraction in the material and be absolutely sure the balustrades would pass code. Starting with the center-most balusters, I drove a #8 3″ coated exterior screw into each end, and then used the spacer blocks to locate the remaining balusters. With the screws in, I then checked for any twists, straightening them as needed, and drove a 6d HDG finish nail in each end of each baluster to prevent any future twisting. To my initial surprise, not a single rail or baluster split as a drove in the fasteners without pre-drilling. To install the balustrades, I created a simple spacer to center them on the primary rails, then pre-drilled the ends of the secondary rails to ensure against splitting, and countersunk all the lower screw location to allow for bungs to hide the fasteners. I placed a #8 2″ coated exterior screw in every other opening. Again, ideally the lower secondary rail would have been fastened from below, but there wasn’t room for the tools.

That’s it for Part 1, in Part 2 I’ll cover the finishing details: the bunging, the clear cedar cap rail, the base cap and minor crown, the short column caps, and the final prep for paint.

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