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.

Hit the Deck

Jas’s dining room ceiling remains a work in progress. To make my latest visit worth my time, Jas also asked me to disassemble a couple of decks he salvaged from another house.

The decks had pretty simple construction, treads on top of stringers fastened with a variety of nails and screws. A drill was not sufficient to dislodge the screws – the pressure-treated lumber had strangled the threads. Jas wanted to keep the treads and repurpose them, so cutting them was not an option. I resorted to an extremely high-tech strategy known as “brute force” – whacking the stringers with a sledgehammer until they came loose.


A deck, before destruction.

Jas suggested I cut the stringers into pieces to make the job easier, so I used a circular saw to slice one piece per tread. That way, when I hit the deck, I only had to dislodge one or two fasteners at a time. The work was physically demanding but satisfying.


Sawcut closeup.

To catch my breath, I switched gears periodically to clean up the mess I was making. We spread tarps under the decks to catch sawdust, keeping the pressure treatment chemicals away from the soil. I used a hammer and a prybar (and sometimes the good old sledge) to remove as many screws and nails from the treads as I could reach. Finally, I stacked the treads and collected the scrap stringer pieces in a pile for disposal.

Open House

With the floor built and the timber frame sitting comfortably on top, it was time to build the outer skeleton of Clayton’s house. The perimeter consists of two stud walls sandwiching a void for insulation, 12 inches thick in all. On the original structure, the timber frame carries the weight of the gable roof, leaving the double wall to support only its own weight and the effect of wind. On the addition, the double wall also supports a shed roof.

We use rough-cut lumber for the stud walls. Our 2×3 studs (ACTUAL dimensions 2×3) are actually larger and stronger than dimensional-lumber 2x4s (actual dimensions 1½x3½). Cillian prefers rough-cut because it gets processed less than planed dimensional lumber, for a lower embodied energy. I’m learning a ton from this architect about environmental conscience.


A disadvantage of rough-cut lumber is that it’s hard to make pencil marks on it. Rowan, Ben, and I did our best to follow Cillian’s very explicit drawings which detail the location and length of every stud. The boards also tend to be warped, so I crowned each piece before cutting it to make sure I oriented the bend toward the insulation void.

We also built pump jacks – homemade scaffolding. The basis of the pump jack is a steel bracket with a ratchet on one side. We fit three such brackets around a trio of 4×4 wood posts, raised the posts vertical, and anchored them to the timber frame. The ratchets enable the brackets to climb or descend the posts. By pumping the brackets to roof height and laying long 2x12s across, we made ourselves a temporary work platform.


Pump jacks: raising three posts with red steel brackets.

Anticipating heavy rain one night, we made a big push that afternoon to install rafters for the shed addition so we could cover it with a temporary roof. Rowan and Cillian stood on the pump jack platform, and Pat and I fed them one open web joist at a time. Cillian aligned the pre-cut joists with the gable slope on 2-foot centers so Rowan could nail them down. Meanwhile, Ben manned the northeast wall and nailed down that end.


Raising open web joists for the shed roof.

Night fell, and we turned on some work lights. Fighting numb fingers, we unrolled a massive tarp over the gable roof, overlapping an equally massive sheet of poly we used for the shed roof. Additional poly enclosed the walls. Wherever possible we avoided screwing directly through the plastic materials, which would create a puncture and (in the case of the tarp) a starting point for rips. Instead, we sandwiched the edges of the material between two pieces of lumber and screwed THAT to our building. Lots of jokes thrown around about Clayton preparing to live in a tent.


Batten down the hatches!