Sukkah 2017

Two years ago I built a temporary outdoor room in celebration of the Jewish holiday Sukkot. Last year I missed my chance because I traveled to China for the duration of the holiday. This year it was time to plan and construct a new sukkah.

I salvaged some 4×4 posts and decking lumber from another job, and used these for the four corners of my 6-foot-by-6-foot sukkah. I cut points in the ends of the posts hoping to drive them into the ground, but the earth was too rocky and so I dug postholes instead. I buried the posts leaving a couple feet exposed, tamping down the surrounding soil so they wouldn’t budge.


Four posts and four columns.

Next I attached a board to each post raising the height to 7 feet. I used screws for easy disassembly. I framed the top of the boards with four fallen branches, again with screws, to support the roof. Then I laid a fifth branch across the middle to keep the roof from sagging.

One of my two purchases for the project was a pair of 2-foot-by-8-foot trellises, which I used as the starting point for the roof. I laid them across the branches and secured them with a couple of screws. Then I covered the top with some leafy branches. It feels a little like having a pile of yard debris on the ceiling, so I’ll think of something more deliberate for next year.


Roof trellises and support branches.

The other purchase was six yards of white cloth, which I used to wrap three sides of the structure. I stapled the cloth to the four corner columns with an ordinary stapler, wrapping the ends around and reinforcing them with extra staples. Because the cloth is only 42 inches wide, there’s a space around the top and bottom, giving the sukkah only partial privacy but a pleasant airiness.

Alas, Sukkot ended Thursday night and I will disassemble the structure soon. Looking forward to next year!




After Hans and I removed the rotted old decking and built out the new shape of the deck, it was time to install new boards. The roofed portion abuts the back door, a critical spot for moisture protection. We’d managed to pry out the old decking board from the wall without destroying the metal flashing, and we used a flat bar to cram the first new board into the same space. The flashing directs water down the siding and onto the deck, where otherwise it could flow back and get trapped inside the wall.


The first course of new decking slides into the existing flashing.

Our new decking was 1¼-inch-thick untreated pine. We didn’t use pressure-treated lumber because the sawdust is a bit toxic and because this was a budget job; the homeowners will stain the wood later to seal it from the elements. Hans cut lengths to stagger the joints and did a nice job minimizing waste. I mostly stayed on deck and screwed ‘em down.

As we approached the step down and again as we approached the new joists, we started to measure the distance remaining. Our goal was to reach the edge with a full-width decking board, running straight. We tweaked the spaces between boards and finished perfectly on the upper deck. I’m bummed about the lower deck where we finished a hair short, but it looks OK.


Hans cuts new decking to vary the joint location and minimize waste.

The last day was a scramble to finish lots of decking accessories. We built railings from scratch – 18 feet for the new squared-off lower deck plus two 4-foot lengths to create some intimacy on the upper deck (and highlight the step down). We replaced the top rail on all existing railings, cutting rounded ends with a jigsaw to match the shape of the old pieces we scrapped. We leveled the stairs on both sides and screwed new treads on top for equal-height risers. We scribed and cut little pieces of decking to fit around posts where we’d skipped earlier. And we cleaned up as many nails, screws, and wood scraps as we could find.


New railing at the step-down.

A few finishing touches on Saturday morning and the job was done in one week, with plenty of time to spare before the bridal shower.


Isn’t she lovely!


Karen and Neil hired Hans and me to replace their back deck. It had to be complete in time for them to host a bridal shower for their granddaughter, so we worked long days to finish in one week. We worked around weather, taking advantage of a roof over the upper half of the deck to stay dry when it rained.

Step One was to remove the old decking. Happily, the deck was nailed down, not screwed, allowing us to lever the boards out with a massive 5-foot-long pry bar. Most of the boards came out easily, but the unroofed portion of the deck had a lot more rot and the boards were more prone to splitting. I learned to pry free both ends of a board before I tackled the middle. We returned with a regular crowbar to extract any nails that stayed put. The most stubborn ones we lopped off with a sawzall, leaving the tips embedded.

The existing framing was in good shape, so we didn’t need to do much structurally. But we did need to build out the deck’s far end. The old deck wrapped around a pool, and with the pool gone the homeowners wanted to square of the new construction. This was a tricky proposition – how does one lengthen a bunch of variable stringers to the same length, and what new supports are needed?

Hans executed the addition beautifully. First we strung a string along the line we wanted to build to. We dug a trio of postholes four feet deep (frost) and buried 12-foot 4×4 posts in them, holding a level to get the posts perfectly plumb and flush to the string line. Our rim joists went up next, nailed to the outside of the posts. Then I measured each space from old rim joist to new rim joist, along with the angle at one end. Hans cut new joists to match and I toe-nailed them into place, collinear with the existing joists to make the decking easy to attach.


Hans digs a posthole.