Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Tiki build-along, pt. 19

And here's the fun deck rebuild I reference in my previous build-along. Oddly, I seem to have misplaced a number of photos taken early in the process, so you'll have to use your imagination for those.

Our house has a deck that extended all the way to the fence I rebuild with bamboo (see link above). The deck was of western red cedar, which is naturally decay-resistant and should last indefinitely if taken care of. Previous owners did not take care of. The deck had turned a dull gray, had water and UV damage and was occasionally splintery. Problematically, some of the nails were working themselves loose, to the extent my son cut his foot badly on one last fall. Clearly, something had to be done, so in January I began taking the deck apart to get an idea of what it would take to repair it to a usable state. This was made so much more fun by the fact that the deck was originally secured with nails, but a previous owner made repairs using screws. Try disassembling a deck with those mixed fasteners in a reasonable amount of time. Don't worry, I'll wait.

Also, a great number of the planks turned out to be rotten. Mold and fungus had turned sections brittle and spongy. Some sections literally crumbled as I pulled them up--it's a small miracle that the entire deck hadn't collapsed. So, this is what I did: I took each and every plank, determined what wood was salvageable and used a circle saw to cut off the rotten stuff. Then I took a belt sander and sanded down the UV-damaged wood, and sanded away any surface mold and fungus. Then I saturated the "clean" wood with Mold Armor. Once it dried, I applied several coats of Flood UV weathersealant. This is what it looked like returning the wood to the deck, using deck screws--and deck screws only--to secure the planks. If I ever find those missing photos, I'll retroactively add them here.

Here's where I pause to offer this public service announcement. If you ever have to sand wood that has mold or fungal issues, wear a breathing mask. Seriously. When I started this, I took one small section of wood to use as a test to see if any of it could be salvaged. I was outdoors in a well-ventilated area. The wood was in generally good condition, with just a little bit of mold. No problem, I thought. This'll take five minutes, I'll be fine. Wrong. I was ill for almost five days after, terrible congestion, watering eyes, headaches... it was pretty unpleasant. I've developed some mold allergies in my old age, but this went way beyond that. All this despite the fact I was making an effort to not breathe in the dusty residue of my sanding. Lesson learned. I did not sand anything else without a mask on--safety glasses, either. I went through half a dozen masks. Look at the one below--see how brown that mask is? That's all the crap that didn't go down into my lungs.

So, back to the deck. The more I pulled up, the grimmer it became. At some point, the previous owner effected some "repairs." Super-half-assed repairs. From what I can surmise, the concrete footers had subsided, resulting in a sagging deck. Rather than re-set them, the guy tossed them aside and piled up landscape timbers, 2x4s and 4x4 posts to support the deck. Honestly, it was a mess.

On the bright side, I had all these concrete footers I could use! I had earlier decided the rebuilt deck would not extend all the way to the fence, and that was a fortuitous decision, because not nearly enough good wood remained to extend that far. In fact, I had to buy several new planks to even fill in the shortened deck. After ripping out all the cross-beams and ill-advised wood pile-ups supporting the deck, I leveled the ground then built up a layer of rocks/gravel as a foundation for the concrete footer. Will this help prevent them from sinking into the clay soil? Maybe, but probably not. But it felt like a good thing to do so I gave it a shot. When I finished, I had a pretty solid deck frame in place.

The space that used to be deck, but isn't anymore, will be a landscaped area. Because it's an abrupt drop-off, I needed some type of railing. At first, I thought I'd just put up pieces of landscape timbers, with maybe rope wrapped around them. That would be simple and quick. Unfortunately, I am incapable of doing either simple or quick. "Hey!" I thought. "Why don't I get 4x4 posts and carve them to look tikish? That'd be cool, right?" So, armed with that foolish optimism, I purchased two 8' long 4x4 posts. I bought pressure-treated posts, because 1) the untreated posts were almost twice the price and 2) this stuff was going to be exposed to the elements, so the more protection the better, right? Then I cut them in half, giving me four 4' posts. Here's where I refer back to that masked photo above. Even though pressure-treated wood no longer uses arsenic as a preservative, the chemicals they use still aren't good to breathe in. Honestly, sawdust in general is bad to breathe in, but you really don't want pressure-treated sawdust in your lungs. So wear a mask, and only work in well-ventilated areas. And unlike regular sawdust, the pressure-treated type isn't a good thing to get into the soil, so I swept and vacuumed up the stuff and threw it away. Just so you know.

The whole idea of doing these posts was rooted in aesthetics, so I started out with a chamfer bit in my trim router to bevel the top of the posts.

Hey! That worked out pretty well!

I didn't want the bevel to be the only routered flourish, so next up I used a V-groove bit in the trim router, and a scrap piece of plywood clamped to the posts as a guide.

The result was four parallel V grooves wrapping around each post. It almost looked like I knew what I was doing.

I found this image I'd posted to Instagram. Not great quality, but it shows me using a pattern I cut out of cardstock to sketch an alternating triangle pattern into the sides of the posts. At first I thought I'd do different designs, like I did with the center trim on the wall. But sanity prevailed. I figured using the simpler, geometric pattern I'd already used for the baseboard would make things go more quickly and tie the posts to the other detail in the tiki bar via shared design elements. I was partially correct--the routering went much more quickly than if I'd gone with a more complex pattern. The trouble is, it still took an insanely long time. So many cuts! I used a core box bit in the trim router, which cuts round-bottomed grooves. Four posts, four sides each, at roughly one hour per side. Ugh. It should've gone more quickly. It didn't.

I have to admit they looked pretty good once I got the triangle patterns finished.

Next was the final bit of ornament--I'd penciled on patterns of the sea turtle, gecko, frog and sea horses similar to those on the center trim. These were smaller, and would be negative carvings as opposed to the positive carvings on the trim. I made the decision (wisely) to forgo the details of the center trim. The result turned out quite nice--each column is dedicated to one of the creatures. Sometimes my ideas work out pretty good.

Next, I had to face a potentially disastrous mistake. I planned to drill a hole through the post near the top for a rope to go through, but I'd routered out those horizontal grooves early on. I wasn't sure how I'd be able to drill on that uneven surface. Cautiously, I drilled a pilot hole to guide the larger bit I'd use to cut all the way through.

Luckily for me, the 3/4" bit I used had a center point that extended farther than the V groove cut I'd made. This allowed the pilot hole to truly act as a guide and ensure my larger drill bit stayed true and straight. It would've been simpler (and smarter) to drill this large hole first and the V groove afterward. I'll remember that if I ever do this again. But it all worked out nicely.

Here's the 25' of 3/4" Manila rope I picked up. I wanted to get 1" rope, but that was nearly twice the price for the extra 1/4". I bought more than I needed, figuring it was better to have an extra 5' than to come up short. Plus, I didn't entirely trust my measurements.

And here's the hole the rope goes through.

With all the ornamental cuts completed, it was time to flame treat the wood. I wasn't sure how the pressure-treated wood would react to fire--I know it's not advisable to burn it--so I just lightly singed it to increase the color contrast and accentuate the grain. Unlike the other wood I've worked with on the tiki bar, I did not rub it down with a wire brush afterward.

The difference between the scorched and non-scorched posts was striking.

After scorching, I applied a coat of Flood UV weatherproofing, natural wood semi-transparent tint. With pressure-treated wood this was not strictly necessary. But because it was pressure-treated wood, it had a greenish, coppery look to it which was out of place in my tiki bar. The Flood coating, combined with the scorching, darkened the surface to an earthy brown suitable for the tiki bar. It's all about aesthetics!

The next challenge was how to attach the posts to the deck? I removed planking (remember those deck screws? Easy-on, easy-off!). Then I secured the post in place using clamps. I used a carpenter's level to ensure the post was vertical.

The view from the back side.

I used this long drill bit to drill all the way through the posts and the cross beam supporting the deck. Two holes per post.

I secured the posts to the cross beam with long carriage bolts. Washers and nuts completed the assembly. I tightened them as much as I could muscle, until there was no give in the post. In the interim, the posts have loosened up somewhat, so I need to go re-tighten at some point.

I cut the deck planks to fit around the posts. Each cut surface I applied more Flood UV weather sealant.

Then I ran the rope through the posts to complete the effect. I thought it looked very good.

But I wasn't finished. I realized that decks aren't terribly exotic. There's nothing wrong with a deck, mind you, but it didn't bring any significant added value to the tiki aesthetic. But tiki is about escapism and illusion. It's all in the presentation. I hit upon a simple, and slightly silly work around: I'd router out a sign that would transform the deck.

Scrap plywood wasn't the best material for the job, but it was plentiful for me. I printed out a template, routered the letters then gave the sign a light torching before applying my trusty Minwax Special Walnut stain, followed by black paint for the letters and a topcoat of spar urethane to weatherproof it. A couple of eye loops went into the top for hanging.

Like magic, the old deck was transformed into Hula Stage! Again, it's all in the presentation.

I wasn't quite finished. No white walls, as Bamboo Ben would say. The old paint on the fiber cement siding was dull and greying. So I painted the trim around the windows with Olympic One "Fudge Truffle" then followed on the wall proper with "Doeskin" or somesuch. That wall faces due west and receives almost no shelter from sun or rain, so bamboo or lauhala matting would only last a few years at best. For now, paint seems our best option until we come up with something more permanent and durable. But you know what? The paint itself is a vast improvement.

Sometimes the most simple things make a huge difference. It took from January through May to complete the deck restoration. That's a huge amount of time and often I felt I was making zero progress. Fortunately, I now feel like I've made some real progress on the tiki bar and have achieved some major milestones. That's always nice!

Now Playing: Marty Robbins Hawaii's Calling Me
Chicken Ranch Central

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