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October 24, 2010
Rethinking the deck posts

Russell and Gail re-install a deck post using carriage bolts instead of lag screws

In our last letter, we talked about needing to reinstall the deck posts at our mountain home. Dennis, our friend in the inspection department, advised that we should be using carriage bolts instead of lag screws for longevity. There were two additional issues to resolve before we could perform any reinstallation work.

The first issue was that Dennis also told us that the current building code required a Simpson strong tie on every post. He sent us information on the “HD2AHDG.” Russell researched and studied this information, but for the life of him he couldn’t figure out how we were supposed to use these on our posts. They required a joist next to each post, which our configuration did not have.

The Simpson HD2AHDG strong tie and its recommended application

Russell finally emailed Dennis for help. Dennis’ reply was that if our plans did not specify the strong tie, we shouldn’t worry about it. Once again, we were grandfathered in to the old code anyway.

The second issue was that we had spent $150 on the old lag screws, and those were 7” long. Where were we going to find 9”- to 10”-long carriage bolts, especially without spending even more money? Once again, it was Dennis to the rescue. He told Russell about an out-of-the-way place in the tiny town of Escalon, where you could buy hardware by the pound.

Russell was skeptical, but on Friday, October 22, he drove up to Escalon with a shopping list. He followed google maps to “Farmers Blacksmith,” and was actually informed that he was at the wrong one. (Who knew there were two “Farmers Blacksmiths”?) Russell was at the welding shop; he needed to be at the hardware shop. Russell drove outside of town and found the other location.

Stepping through the door of the unassuming warehouse, Russell was amazed. Literally every square inch of the entire warehouse was packed full of bins, boxes and barrels of hardware. It took Russell almost half an hour to walk through the entire place twice, and he still couldn’t find the carriage bolts he was looking for.

Farmers Blacksmith: a cornucopia of hardware and bits

Russell finally asked Sonya, one of the clerks, if she carried < 3/8” x 10” > carriage bolts. She walked straight down the aisle, turned a corner and pointed to a barrel in the far corner. Russell was flabbergasted. Sonya also helped him find metal washers and lock nuts.

The price for our original 7” lag screws: $150.00.
The price for the new carriage bolts, washers and nuts: $28.60.

$28.60 worth of new deck hardware, including 66 3/8” x 10” carriage bolts

Russell continued up to our mountain house, but the deck post work would have to wait. Gail and Steve were not due to arrive until Saturday afternoon. (Russell actually tried reinstalling a post single-handedly, but it was a foolhardy idea.)

In the meantime, on Saturday morning Russell returned to an incomplete chore from his previous trip: installing screws into the finished treads of the stairs. Armed with a new box of longer 1-1/4” screws, Russell set to work. The upper flight was straightforward but slow-going, due to the constant overhead work and Russell’s injured shoulder. The middle flight was harder, as it involved Russell lying on his back under the stairs. The lower flight was the most challenging, as Russell had to cram himself into a space that was barely large enough for him to fit into.

The area under the stairs gets progressively smaller.
Russell had a tight fit to reach the lowest flight.

Russell finished just as Gail drove up. (On her way up, Russell had asked Gail to purchase a couple of 3/8” extra-long drill bits. She ended up having to go to three different hardware stores to find them. In the meantime, Russell found a suitable bit that Gail had actually purchased on a previous trip. Needless to say, Gail was extremely gracious about the whole thing.)

Gail’s priority this weekend was to help Russell with whatever he needed. With rain due at any moment, we set to work immediately. Gail was able to hammer new carriage bolts through the old holes in the composite deck posts. Russell was able to enlarge the screw holes in the deck to accommodate the new carriage bolts. Together, they fit the first post in place. They had just finished doing so when Steve arrived.

Russell works on a deck, while Gail works on a deck post

Steve offered his help, but we decided that the deck posts were a two-person job, not a three-person job. Steve was just as happy to hear this; the county had declared no restrictions on burning this weekend. While Gail and Russell continued with the posts, Steve drove down the hill to start the first burn pile of the season. Within minutes, we heard his chain saw echoing through the forest.

The reinstallation of deck posts was slow but steady. In fact, we only got five posts set before it started raining. We tried continuing to work, but we were constantly looking up and it was raining into our faces. By late afternoon we finally had to call it quits and bring everything back inside.

Steve checked in shortly after. He was unable to get a burn pile going, but he decided to keep working anyway, hauling brush. Nevertheless, he too called it quits before sundown.

Steve relaxes after a hot shower, while Gail installs an outlet plate

By evening, it was pouring rain pretty heavily. Gail’s evening consisted of taking a hot bath, while the men played one of Russell’s handy games (“San Juan,” a Euro-style card game). Afterwards, we enjoyed a DVD performance of Stephen Sondheim’s stage musical, “Company.”

Sunday morning we awoke with more pouring rain. Gail awoke with a major migraine. We decided to keep an easy agenda that morning. Gail and Steve moved 15 sheets of OSB from downstairs to upstairs. (Russell couldn’t help because that’s how he first injured his shoulder.) We needed to get the OSB upstairs before the stair railings are installed, which would inhibit such moves.

For the rest of the morning Gail rested. Russell did some work on his PC. Steve went back outside (in the pouring rain) and raked leaves. We lunched as usual at the Chinese all-you-can-eat restaurant, but Gail slept in the car. All in all, it was not a great weekend for Gail.

On the plus side, we have the tools and the process to re-install the deck posts. On the minus side, the rainy season is beginning and we’ve only got five posts installed. On the plus side, the upstairs walls appear to be rainproof. On the minus side, the downstairs walls are still showing water leakage.

Russell and Steve are scheduled to return next weekend. We are hoping for fair weather – because the two men are planning to install more deck posts, rain or shine.

Gail was upset about the posed photo at the top of this letter – she was upset that Russell was in it! According to Gail, this is how the deck post was really installed!


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