Composite Deck

After a week of burning the midnight oil, the backyard deck/platform is done and so this completes (hopefully) our backyard extravaganza. Here’s a few shots of the bed and later finished deck:


Kneebraces Pt. 2

With the remaining kneebraces cut to size, it’s on to the mortises in the posts.

Each post and beam corner holds two kneebraces and so I showed the dovetail to each respective post and beam and traced the edge to help with a snug fit. To temporarily hold the kneebrace in place, I used the time honored bungee cord technique.

Once the lines were marked, I removed the kneebrace and using a large and small forstner bit, I removed as much wood in the mortise as possible.

Following that, I then used a 1″ mortising chisel and a 1/4″ paring chisel to finish the job. This gave me ample opportunity to practice my sharpening skills.

While this type of joint can be implemented after the post and beams are up, it’s somewhat difficult to mortise wood at or above eye level, not to mention the inherent danger of holding a chisel at that height. Full disclosure-I managed to drop the mortising chisel once-and while I didn’t make the mistake of trying to catch it, it took a random bounce of the ladder and struck me in the rib. At about this point my first thought was that I’d have to spend a good hour sharpening the chisel, when in fact, I was about to spend three hours at urgent care. The cut was textbook, a 1 1/2″ incision, perfect really thanks to an ultra sharp, 6000 grit Japanese waterstone edge.

The physician at the clinic was rather complimentary-she said it was a beautiful laceration and proceeded to glue it back together rather than use stitches.

After the top and bottom mortises were cleaned out, I tapped in the kneebrace-for some of the fits, I had to file things down to get them to slide in, and in a couple case the fit was less than ideal.

The braces didn’t always line up perfectly with each other which didn’t really bother me.

Once the kneebrace was fitted, I drilled two holes in each tenon and inserted 3/8″ oak pegs.

I chose to leave the pegs proud of the joint for aesthetic appeal.

The entire process of cutting the tenons and cleaning out the mortises has been the most time consuming part of the project. It is also possibly the most interesting aspect of the pergola. The biggest gaps in the joints are around 1/8″…with some possibly a bit more:-) This has been a good learning process and since it’s a pergola and not a house, I’m OK with the imperfections. It’s a balancing act no doubt when it comes to accuracy, aesthetics, structural integrity and expediency. What is sound vs what is adequate vs what looks good. Of all the joints there was one kneebrace that truly annoyed me in terms of not fitting right. Rather than fidget with it, I let it be. It’s still sturdy as hell and I was able to shim it so that the gap was minimized.

Next up are the joists and then the 1 1/2″ x 2″ strips to complete the lattice.

Onward Pegola

Phase I complete. Posts are in. Beds are made. Next step-timber frame joinery.

One point of interest. To use treated or untreated posts. I struggled somewhat with this decision. Common practice is to use pressure treated posts when going into ground. But there is the issue of chemicals to deal with, etc-plus these posts were salvaged and I would have had to apply an preservative myself. So after some lengthy research (see this study by the OSU Post Farm) I found that on average, an untreated 4×4 post of Easter Red Cedar, which is in fact a juniper, lasts 19-25 years in the ground. This also applied in another study done through the University of Missouri. I’m using 6×6 posts so I’m estimating we’ll get 20 years on the low end out of these timbers.

There’s a lot of different opinions out there that go both ways in terms of treated vs untreated. I’m going with the latter route and based on the studies I reviewed we should be  OK.

I’m really looking forward to the next phase of laying out all the joinery and learning a thing or two about timber framing.

Paver Removal

On Sunday, Amy and I were able to pull the pavers (and then some) where the beds and pergola posts are destined for greatness. The pavers, which we think were put in maybe 5-7 years ago (before we bought the house), were set in an angled pattern. The intended beds will be rectangles. So it’s not as simple as just pulling out a large rectangle’s worth of pavers to make way for the beds. Instead, we had pull everything out on the diagonal so that when we reset the pavers to accommodate the beds it would end up being straight. It’s harder than it sounds, at least if your spatially challenged like me.

So we began pulling up each paver and then set it down to recreate the pattern in our currently unused garden bed.

And putting it back together…

It took a couple of hours to pull everything that we needed and rebuild what appears to be the concrete paver version of Frankenstein’s Monster.

And the beast itself.

The last part of today’s experiment was putting the puzzle back together in hopes of affecting a more or less straight line to match up to the future limestone beds. To do this we took the end piece and eventually end pieces from each row and aligned them in such a way as to keep the edge straight.

You’ll note in the upper right hand corner of the photo, a 4-lb mallet and two cold chisels. Those entered the picture when I forgot to compensate for the slight curve of the patio in the lower right hand corner of the photo. Fortunately I only had to size about 4 pieces to finish the straight edge of the “new” patio. Basically I just scored a line on the top and bottom of each paver that I needed to cut and then applied about 10-12 light strikes up and down the score to break each piece to size.

The plan this week is to dig and set one post a night after work so that I’ll have all four up by next weekend and then work on putting in the two beds and steps. The rest will be all timber framing. I’m pretty darn excited about that part.

Pergola Prep Work

Last fall Amy and I decided we wanted to spruce up the very basic back patio area which came with the house when we purchased it 2 1/2 years ago.

The space itself is approx. 12’x18′ and consists of the kind of cement pavers you buy at a big box store for that quasi-euro feel. One can tell from the picture that it drops off somewhat on the left-hand side. The plan for that part of the patio is to put in a somewhat raised bed bordered by limestone and divided into two rectangles by 3 steps up from the sidewalk on to the patio. It’s a nice space in and of itself, with the West wall of the house bordering on the back and a nice view of the yard and of course sunsets.

After we finished the fence last year, we thought about replacing the patio with a deck, but we like the cloistered feel of being hidden behind the fence and if we put a raised deck in, it would be visible for the entire neighborhood to see.

So we settled on a pergola. I wanted to use big timbers but those of course are expensive. However, as I detailed in an earlier post, we were able to find some 6×6 and 4×6 beams from an old barn and they cost relatively little money; especially when compared to what they would go for new. They looked a little rough but were definitely dry and uber straight. And I’m speculating here but my guess is that as the barn was over 100 years old & the wood was probably 100 years old when harvested, the trees that gave rise to these beams were just saplings when the Revolutionary War was wrapping up in the late 1700’s. Plus those old trees were extraordinarily dense which means I’m hoping this thing lasts another hundred years. At least.

We managed to salvage 4 of the 6×6′ and 4 of the 4×6’s which will become the posts and lintels, respectively. They range in length from 14′-16′. The pergola itself will sit about 8 feet tall with about 3′-4′ of post in the ground to insure against the frost line.

I still need to find and purchase the joists. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to find more barn boards, hopefully 2×8’s. And then I would like to cross those with 2×2’s to create a fine grid for the roof. I also plan on constructing something of a circular feature about 5′ in diameter that will “float” in the west facing side to act as a frame for the view.

I’ve been reading up on timber frame construction with the hopes of building this thing entirely out of wood using wedges and pins for compression joints. James Mitchell put out a book, “The Craft of Modular Post & Beam”, and in it he illustrates a number of different joints, a few of which I’ll incorporate into the structure.

Back to the beams though…they had quite a few nails and so I spent a couple hours going through and pulling as many as I could and the ones that weren’t coming out, I just set back into the wood…far enough in that they wouldn’t catch the planer.

It took a total of four passes on each side, taking off about 1/64 of an inch with the power planer in each pass.

The difference is significant. The wood of course has all kinds of imperfections but they only add to the overall look and not one of them are structural in nature. I managed to avoid hitting any metal with the planer until the very last beam. And when I did it basically shattered the mini planer blades. Better at the end than the beginning. I was able to limp through the last side and finish the job.

I’m a big fan of the finished product. Plus they smell like an old hay barn and fir trees, which is what they were/are.

I now need to go through and sand down any rough spots and the next step will be to dig the holes and put those posts in the ground. And I need to square up the ends. The joinery, at least for the posts will have to be done once they are set. If I’ve learned one thing from building my own fence with 25 posts in the ground, it’s that you cut the tops of the posts level after you’ve set them in the ground, not before.