Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Applying Finishing on a New Deck


This picture was taking immediately after the deck was built.  The top of the deck is made of 2x4 S4S Cedar and I used 2x6 Southern Yellow Pine for the trim.  I think the natural color tone of the cedar is amazing, but since I don't want it to gray out from weathering, a stain and sealant is needed.

Before stain


These two pictures below were taken after I finished coating with the stain/sealant.  

Top shot

Bottom shot


Pressure Washer

Wood from the lumber yard is not perfect.  Usually wood sits there for some duration and during that period, dirt and even mildew builds up.  So the first thing i did was to use a pressure washer to clean up the top layer of the wood.  I would suggest a 2800 psi pressure wash for this job.  When using one, make sure to have a 20+ degree nozzle fitted.  If you try to use a 0 degree nozzle, the focus on that beam of water will shred your wood if it is bare.  Just constantly move the washer wand not focused on any one spot unless it is really bad.  Some people suggest using a soap additive for decking.  But if it is new wood, you most likely won't need it.  But just know it is available for killing mildew and other growth.  Last thing, check that your garden hose can supply the gallon per minute requirement of your washer, if not, the engine will break.

Blackhawk 2800 psi, 2.3 gpm pressure washer.

Wood Filler

Follow up the preparation with a new deck by filling the knots in the wood planks.  Also identify any knots that are loose and just drill those out and put in the wood filler.  Use ample amount of it and make a mound.  This mound will later be sanded down flush with the board.  I used the Elmer's exterior ProBond wood filler.  My construction friend suggested I use Bondo because it is cheaper.  I ended up going with ProBond because you can stain it.  With Bondo, it comes in a powder mix and you need to add stain while adding water to give it the tint. Depending on the amount of wood filler, you might want to go with Bonder to save on cost.


So what's a project involving wood if you don't use your sander?  After you use the wood filler and it has dried, there is most likely excess unless you're doing surgical work on every filling.  Use a hand sander with 100 to 150 grit paper to sand the filler flush with the board.  No need to put pressure on the sander as the vibration will do the work.  Also look for spots on your deck where the grain of the wood has stood up after the pressure wash.  This tends to happen with wood after being exposed to water.  Sand those area down. 


There are many brands of stain out on the market.  Each brand carry the following 3 types.  
  • Transparent
  • Semi
  • Solid
If you have new decking, you can and should go for the transparent and semi treatment.  With transparent, you can see the natural color of the wood.  Drawback being you need to stain every 1-2 years because the wood is exposed to the sun.  With semi, it adds some coloring to the stain and you can treat anywhere from 4-6 years.  With solid, it's basically painting over the wood and you can get away with treating only every 10 years.

I went with the semi treatment and custom blended to a natural cedar tone look.  I applied the stain with a 5.5 inch wide hand brush.  I went through 2 coats allowing a day to dry in between to let all the gases dry out.  

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Deck Build (Part 3)

Part 1

Part 2

Finally finished the decking project this week.  Ended up setting a dual pattern.  I have a Herringbone pattern that sets itself between the upper and lower deck and then the continuation of the diagonal pattern that lines the upper and majority of the layer.  It came out very nice.  I tried to make make sure that each board runs the full length of alignment so that there is less cuts in the deck to avoid drawing attention to those unwanted lines.  The hard part was working with the bad knots in the wood that the pickers chose at the lumber yard.

Most of the deck done.  Had to stop due to lack of decking lumber.

Where Herringbone meets the diagonal. 

 Fire Pit

Since my deck is raised above ground level, I had to raise my fire pit as well.  The easiest way I saw was to use concrete blocks as my risers and just build my way up.  I basically have a 3 x 3 feet fire pit area and raised it 24 inches high above level ground.  The first level of concrete sits on pea gravel, the same configuration I made for the deck blocks for leveling.  The second and third level are mortared together with the exception of the big center divide which I'm using as an air and water passage way.  The passage way will provide air flow up into the fire to keep the flames going and the same passage way will allow water to flow down if there is rain to not keep water out of the pit.

Once the concrete blocks are built up, I used fire bricks with adhesive (refactory) mortar to line the inside of the fire pit.  I built this first because the fire bricks are of exact man made sizing and easy to square and setup my lines.  After the mortar dried, I used some 2 inch thick Mexican flagstone and chiseled downed the pieces I needed.  I then mortared those in place and used some clamps for assistance.  Then I chiseled down some lime stone topper rocks and mortared those on top to finish the job off.
Started masonry work on raising the fire pit base.  These are 8 x 16 concrete blocks.  

Finished laying the inner fire brick lining of the fire pit.

Was trying to create a squeeze funnel for mortaring between the crack.  This experiment failed because the outlet was too small.  But next time, I'm sure I can make it work with a bigger outlet.

Clamping the Mexican flagstone in place to set the position.

Another view of the same work from the picture above.

Setting the position of the lime stone topper.

Fire Bricks

In Austin, fire bricks are a seasonal items at the big box stores.  I think the season starts at around September and ends around January.  I had a hard time finding what I needed until I talked to one of my construction buddy who pointed me in the right direction.  If you go to a stone/rock yard around your area, they should carry everything you need including refactory mortar which is needed for mortaring the fire bricks together.  You can make refactory mortar, but it was a process I did not want to partake at this junction in time.  Also, fire brick sells for more than 50% less at these stone/rock yards than at the big box store.  

Chiseling Rock

These are the lessons I've learned
  • For your design, pick out rocks with sizes coming closest to it. 
  • It's easier to chisel edges of a rock than the middle of a rock.
  • It's easier to chisel thinner rocks than thicker rocks.
  • Place your rock over a surface that has some give.  For example, I had better chance getting the result I wanted when chiseling over grass than over solid ground.
  • Use cold chisels.  And buy at least two sizes, one with a long cutting edge for defining your line and one with a shorter cutting edge but longer handle for making the deeper cuts.
  • Using the chisel with the longer cutting edge, score the cutting line multiple times with medium power hits before doing for the final blows.  This should help create fractures on the surface of the rock and start the fracture lines towards the deeper part of the rock.  Although this isn't a guarantee, it has worked more than not.
Finally finished with everything including clean up.  

Placed some furniture on it to see how it all looks.

Deck Finish

I plan on finishing the deck with a pressure wash with some Thompson water stain next week.  

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Deck Build (Part 2)

More progress after several days of on and off project time.

Nail Gun

Make sure to crank the regulator up to 120 PSI as is suggested max for this nail gun so that you can drive the nail all the way through.  Even at 120 PSI, the 3 inch round headed nails I bought did not go all the way through.  After shooting the nail, about 3/8 inch was still exposed which required a couple hit with a hammer to finish it off.  But still worth buying this tool since it would have taken me a lot more time to hammer in the nails by hand.
Bostitch F21PL attached to the air compressor for the first time.   

Deck Block Placement

These mobile foundations are just a pain in the ass to use even though they are convenient.  Leveling them is a pretty rough best guest effort.  Last time I used these, I tried just digging a hole and placing the blocks in.  But you are bound to not dig the hole big enough for positional movement and then the problem with leveling.  So this time, I dug out the area I needed and used gravel for the intermediate layer before laying down the deck blocks and it worked much better for movement and leveling.  Think of the gravel as wheels for your deck blocks.  I would use this method again for the next build.
Deck blocks in place and initial frame on.

Upper portion of the deck all framed up.

Holes dug out for the lower portion of the deck.  Also note the center fire pit with the concrete block placed and leveled.

More holes, anyone see gophers?

Lower level ground support holes filled with gravel.

How I Framed It

What I did with both upper and lower deck frame was to start off and build a rectangle frame that is squared and then lift it on to the supports.  After doing that, I find out which supports are short, not leveled or not in position.  I then modify each support to fit the frame.  After, I incrementally add on to the original squared frame until everything is installed.  I went with this method because it is feasible to do this alone minus the lifting of the first rectangle frame.  It also helps to cut down on the task at hand until the entire thing is finished.
Lower level deck with frame built

Just a different angle.

Rim joist installed with corners mitered @ 45 degreees

Camo Hidden Fastener System

There are many different types of hidden fastener systems on the market.  Let me tell you why I picked what I did.  Originally, I was interested at the EB-TY and Tiger Claw products.  The EB-TY requires that you slot a groove in the side of your plank, or you buy composite 5/4 planks pre slotted for the install.  I'm installing for a 18 x 18 feet area and that's a lot of planks that I would need to slot since I'm working with S4S 2x4 Cedar.  I'm guessing at around 100 ish planks with around 7 connection points on each side is around 1400 slots I would need to cut out.  So EB-TY may be your best bet for composite boards, this would not work time wise for natural wood.  The Tiger Claw product from what I've read is a very brute force type install.  From all accounts, it is very hard to install the first board on a floating deck since you have no backing to hammer the tiger claw fastener into.  Both of these products have the same draw backs when it comes to replacing boards.  You have to rip out all of the boards to get to the one that needs to be replaced.  I think these two systems were targeted with composite deck material in mind.

As for the Camo system, I compared it with the Kreg decking jig.  Both of these products use the same fastening principle which is slot a small self screwing screw at a vertical angle on the upper edge of the plank.  I ended up with the Camo system due to positive reviews on Amazon.  Also both of these system allows you to easily remove a single plank if necessary which is great when you have to remove a bad plank a few years down the road.  Both of these product also requires that you purchase their proprietary screws.  The Camo system has cheaper screws.  As for availability, the product and its accessory can be easily purchased via Amazon.  Living in Austin, there were also several decking supply houses that inventory these products.  It's worth mentioning with any type of construction work, there are times when you run into a pinch and need to run to the store to grab something extras.

After using the Camo system I love it a lot.  It's easy to use and I think it is great that the system comes with a built in spacer on the installing tool.  Just make sure the footing on the install tool is flat on the board or else the entry points on the screws may be on the plank face and not on the upper edge of the board.  Since i was doing the install of my deck at a vertical angle, you have to position the install tool twice per joist/beam to have the screw meet the joining frame correctly.
Using the Camo hidden fasteners

Part of the upper deck installed.

Freehand Routing

I ran into an installation issue when installing a rim joist on the lower deck that sits adjacent to the upper deck which was suppose to float under but didn't.  I missed the clearance by 1/4 of an inch and the overlay had this crazy triangle shape to it.  So what I did was marked the area of the rim joist that needed to be shaven off and used a plunge router to cut that section off.  

The rim joist is clamped down on both ends to my deck frame and two boards are clamped to the side of the joist for extra surface material for me to use the plunge router on.  I installed a 1/2 inch straight bit and zeroed the plunger.  Then set the depth cut for max 1/8 inch.  It took me two plunges in a single position to get at the 1/8 inch depth due to the fact that straight bits aren't meant for drilling.  After getting to the cutting depth, that's when I started to free hand route the area out.

Free hand routing on the rim joist.

After routing.

Another view of the wood routed from further out.

Bottom deck framed out with rim joist installed.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Why Go Longer With Lumber?

When buying lumber for construction framing type work, make sure you buy the larger lumber lengths unless the pre-cut lengths fit exactly the dimensions you are designing against.  And here is why.  The shorter your lumber is, the less amount of long cuts you can apply against it.  Let's say you had to make a bunch of 7 feet cuts, but you bought 8 feet lumber.  For every 7 feet cut, you have about 1 foot worth of waste.  If you go with a longer piece of lumber such as 15 feet, then you would only wasting 1 foot waste for every 2 cuts.  Also, I find that I am able to make more small odd cuts with a longer piece of wood.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Deck Build (Part 1)

Started work on building a deck in my back yard.  The patio space we have is getting a bit cluttered so it's time to invade some grass space.  

The right way to lower a truck.  With 3300 lbs of gravel.
Living on a hill is sometimes annoying.  In order to build anything, I have to level it.  Depending on the grade, I usually have to level all the way or half way and build out above the elevation with pier and beam framing.  For this deck build, I'm doing a combination of digging and pier and beam.  I'm trying to stay as close to the elevation as possible by stair stepping the decking.

Highest part of the elevation dug out.  Further dug out holes and filled with gravel for where deck blocks will be going.

Just another picture of the same with a bit less zoom.

I went with McCoys this time for material.  I've always gone to Home Depot for general framing material but decided to drop by a local hardware store and try them out.  McCoys did not disappoint with the customer service and free delivery.  The delivery person was even nice enough to fork lift everything into my back yard.

I raided the lumber yard!

Deck blocks on the left and concrete blocks on the right.

For lumber, I bought a combination of pressure treated pine for the framing, cedar and southern yellow pine for the deck.

Close up for lumber.

Trying to layout my blocks

Chop saw with side supports for those 20' long beams.

Bostitch F21PL

I bought this on Amazon several days ago and I'm ecstatic to have it prepped and ready work tomorrow.  Word of advice for anyone making a similar purchase.  If you're buying this specific model, make sure you get the F21PL and not the F21PL2.  The latter version does not come with the positive placement nose tip which you will want and will eventually use if you're doing any type of outdoor build requiring metal connectors.  Seems like Stanley Bostitch advertises both models the same and many people have bought the latter because it is cheaper only to find out the mistake after opening the package.

The box it came in is pretty bare.  Pretty much just the nail gun, positive placement nose tip and the black trigger for surface only trigger less fire.  Luckily, I had a 1/4 inch NPT male hose attachment and also purchased some pneumatic oil to lubricate the beast before hand.  But this stuff you can find at any big box retailer if you don't have it on hand.

Also, the PSI needs to be regulated between 80-120.  Instruction advises an air regulator and a water/oil filter.  I'm going to be firing this gun tomorrow without either attachment and see how it goes.  I have a Makita portable air compressor with 2 built in air regulators and since it is new, there shouldn't be much water/oil in the air tank.  But I'll definitely be purchasing a water/oil filter to inline with my hose in the near future.

Just a word of advice on anyone starting on big outdoor projects requiring hammering.  Just skip the cheapskate-ness and get this gem.  Your hand will LOVE you for it.  Last summer, I build a 8 x 12 shed with just a hammer and a circular saw.  It took my hand and wrist 2 weeks to recover from the hammer shock.

Bostitch F21PL + Positive placement nose tip + 3 1/2 collated nails

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Giving More Life to a Butcher Block

My mother-in-law gave us a well used butcher block from New York.  We've been using it religiously for the past 2 years.  With the addition of my outdoor kitchen, I wanted a cutting board out there as well.  So i ended up getting a Boos.  Doing the finishing for my front door last year, I had some pure Tung oil left over.  So I ended up redoing this butcher block and will be using it outdoor instead.  

Outdoor Big Green Egg Mobile BBQ Table

Recently, I've been wanting to do some serious smoke grilling outside.  After some researching, I decided to get a Big Green Egg kamado grill. I went to a BBQ outfitter near me and before pulling the trigger, I wanted to put it on something that I could cook, cut and serve off of.  Being in a mood to build something, I went home and drew up a plan.  

Created this in Sketchup.  I mainly used this as my dimensional guide.  I didn't end up following this exactly because I wanted to try some different type of joinery so I had to move some widths and heights around to accommodate

The stock of white oak ordered from Dakota Hardwood and Lumber.  The planks on the right are jointed on 2 sides only and the stock on the left is just rough not milled.

Doing my first butt edge table glue up.

Finished results from the table glue up.  Came out pretty good except for two spots.  Need to improve on my jointing.

Finished with mortise in sub-frame joist.  The stack of cross beams with tenons cut on the left.

Mortise were cut with a plunge router and finished off with chiseling.  The tenons were done with an incra router table.

Just more of the same.

tenon/mortise glue up of one side.

A man can never have enough clamps.  I love these Bessey KR series clamps.  They give a very strong grip compared to those one hand quick releases.

Highlighting my open dado cuts for the top of the legs.  They came out perfect.  Just check the alignments.

Check out the tenons standing side by side so pretty and all.

Did the full glue up of the sub-frame.  notice I'm missing the clamp on one of the cross beams.  I compensated by clamping the beam and moving the clamp to the nest cross beams.  Once you've clamped down tension, the joints are not very likely to release.

Glued up the legs to one side of the sub frame.  The top beam is just there for placement for me to check rightness of the leg attachments.

Check out the precision of the dado joinery.  I did the dado cuts with a miter saw by sliding it back and forth.  I couldn't use a router or router table for this since the dado cut needed to be deeper than what my bits could provide.

This is the table for the bottom shelf.  The corners are cut to fit the legs.  The table has been poly'ed with no stain.

The bottom shelf table installed into the sub-frame.  Fit was just perfect.

The table top being sanded down.

Sub-frame, legs and top joist glued.  Wheels attached as well.

Precision joinery shown with an open dado cut on the top of the legs, top joist glued on.

Everything poly'ed thus far.

Just an artistic picture of the table top with some of my most trusted tools.

Table top cut out to fit the BGE.  The hole was 26" in diameter.  I ended up cutting the table top with a plunge router using a custom made circular cutting jig that I attached on the plunge router base.  It took about 7 passes to cut the .6 inches of wood. 
The final result with the BGE put into it.

And really, the end result!

Pork ribs cooked with the 2-2-1 technique @ 230F degrees .  Make sure to buy some nice thick fatty ribs.  If you use lean ribs with 2-2-1, the meat won't hold on to the bones at all!