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October 31, 2010
What a difference a day makes

Steve and Russell take a break while working in the pouring rain

When we last left our mountain home construction, we had decided to reinstall all of our deck railing posts. We were replacing the lag bolts with carriage through-bolts. Unfortunately, Russell and Gail only installed five posts before it started raining – and three of those weren’t fully tightened.

A 7” lag screw versus a 10” carriage through-bolt (it’s called a “carriage bolt” because of the square shaft right next to the head)

A week later, Russell and Steve came back up to make further progress. Steve actually spent Thursday night, October 28, down in the Bay Area. (Russell took him to see “Rain,” a Beatles tribute show.) So we drove up together on Friday morning in Steve’s truck. (We had left Russell’s van up on the mountain last weekend for just this reason.)

Our goal was to work, rain or shine. Unfortunately, the forecast was for rain. Fortunately, when we arrived in late morning, the weather was clear. It remained clear for the rest of the day.

The two men set to work immediately. Russell was armed with his long johns and a new deep-socket ratchet. Steve was armed with his fuzzy cap. By Friday night, we had successfully installed – and tightened – all 20 front-facing deck posts. Steve also completed two burn piles: one by the trampoline and one by the shed.

One advantage of reinstalling the deck posts was that we were able to compensate for warping in the triple-purlin cross beams.
We made the posts plumb (vertical) by using metal washers.

(The only frustration came when we had to remove a carriage bolt that wouldn’t thread. Last week, Gail had pounded the carriage bolts through the old lag screw holes with a hammer, instead of enlarging the holes. This made it almost impossible to remove a bolt when we needed to. It took almost half an hour with a variety of different tools.)

Not content to stop, we also trimmed, tapered and drilled the six new compressed-wood corner posts. This allowed Russell to put a coat of grey paint on them to dry overnight. We ended up working well past dark, using a portable arc light for illumination.

Russell and Steve worked well past nightfall.
The compressed-wood corner posts: trimmed, tapered, drilled and painted.

Saturday was a different story. The rain began late Friday and continued all night. Steve’s instructions were to let him sleep if it rained, contrary to his normal 7:00 am wake-up call. He ended up sleeping until past 8:30, and we didn’t start work until 9:30. On the positive side, this gave Russell a chance to put a second coat of paint on the corner posts.

Each of the three decks – Cameron’s room, Joss’ room and the panoramic deck that includes the master bedroom and sitting room – would require a corner post and a side post at each end. Russell’s Saturday goal was to install all 12 of them.

Unfortunately, it continued to rain all morning. Even more unfortunately, we experienced three further frustrations.

The first frustration was in Topsider’s plans. Russell tried to use them to figure out exactly where the corner and side posts were supposed to be installed. The plans called for the posts to be placed 48” apart from each other, with a margin of 6-5/8” on one end and 14” on the other end. This totaled 68-5/8”. But the entire beam was only 60-3/4” long!

Russell tried his own formula to determine how far each post should be from its respective end. In fact, he computed it three different ways. In the end, he came up with a set of measurements – 14” (corner) and 47-1/4” (side) – that he wrote down on a crib note for Steve.

Frustration No. 1: Russell's attempt to determine exactly where the side and corner deck posts were supposed to be installed was an exercise in corrections and recomputations

We set up and drilled the first hole for the first side post. The drill wouldn’t go through the glu-lam floor beam. We got down and looked under the deck to see why.

This was the second frustration. The measured hole on the outside ran right into a joist on the inside. Even worse, we couldn’t drill the hole anywhere else nearby. There was a metal plate and a second joist in the way. We could drill through the second joist, but the carriage bolt wouldn’t be long enough to go through. In addition, we couldn’t move the side beam too close to the house; we had to leave enough of a gap for the railing turnbuckles.

Frustration No. 2: A carriage bolt inserted for the side post (bottom) runs right into a joist and metal plate (top)

Russell had no idea what to do, so he punted. We would move on to the corner posts instead.

This was the third frustration. Russell’s measurement for the corner posts wouldn’t work either, because there was a Simpson joist hanger for the triple-purlin cross-beams in the way. Russell re-measured and moved each corner post farther in. The danger was that the corner posts couldn’t be moved too far in, because it would create too much stress on the cables.

Russell borrowed a page from Sherlock Holmes: once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains must be the solution. We were bounded by the joist hangers, so we would have to locate the holes as close to those hangers as possible. The challenge was that we were drilling from the outside, not the inside. With two pairs of careful eyes, we did our best to drill the holes straight and true.

Frustration No. 3: When installing a corner post (right-most post in left picture), we had to avoid the Simpson joist hanger (right picture). This dictated where each side post could be located. The danger is that the farther we move the post away from the actual corner, the more tension the cable railings will ultimately exert on the post.

By early afternoon, we had successfully installed all six corner posts. It was time for a late lunch. Afterwards, Russell took time to think further about the side posts. Steve stayed outside and did some chainsawing.

Russell saw two obvious solutions for the side posts. One solution was to build longer posts, so the through-bolts would end up fastening below the deck joists. The second solution was to get longer carriage bolts. Both of these solutions would require money and time. Russell kept thinking.

Late afternoon on Saturday, the storm finally broke up and the weather cleared

At about 4:00 in the afternoon, two things happened. First, it stopped raining. Second, Russell came up with a solution. Between each pair of deck joists, there was a small space covered by the metal plate. This presented the only spot where a bolt could be placed. Would this spot leave enough room for the cable turnbuckle? It would be very tight. On the other hand, it was the only spot possible. We would have to trust that we could engineer a solution regarding the turnbuckles when we actually install the cables.

The danger with the side deck posts is installing them too close to the support posts that will anchor the cable turnbuckles.
We need to ensure that there is enough space to fit a turnbuckle between the two posts. (They are 12-3/4” when loosened and 8-3/4” when tightened.)

The trick would be to drill through the metal plates. Russell wrote a note on his shopping list to purchase <3/8” metal bits>. Suddenly, he remembered that Gail had purchased a couple of 3/8” bits last week. Russell looked at the package and saw that they were good for wood, metal or PVC. Russell called Steve and asked if he wanted to install the side posts.

What followed was an exercise in improvisation and teamwork. Steve worked above, managing all of the tools and doing the hard physical work of holding the posts. Russell worked below, doing the hard physical work of drilling all of the holes and tightening all of the nuts.

Steve worked above, managing all of the tools. Russell worked below, underneath the decks.

Given the space constraints, we had to use the shorter bit to penetrate each metal plate and start the hole. Once the hole was deep enough, we inserted the longer bit then attached it to the drill. (We had to drill from the inside to the outside. If we started drilling from the outside, we couldn’t be sure of hitting the exact spot on the inside that we needed to.)

When installing a side post (right-most post in left picture), we had to drill through a small spot on a metal plate between two joists. This dictated where each side post could be located.

There was barely enough room to fit the drill between the deck joists

There was one spot where there wasn’t enough room to fit the drill onto the long bit. Instead, Russell used a hammer to drive the long bit through the glu-lam beam.

There were also several spots where the two joists came together so tightly that there was no gap between them. In these cases, Russell had to saw and chisel out part of the joist to create enough of a gap to drill a hole.

By Saturday evening, we had installed four of the six side posts when we ran out of daylight. We retired to a well-deserved evening of Indian food for dinner, followed by a DVD of “Les Misérables in Concert.”

Saturday’s clearing weather brought a spectacular sunset. Steve called it “achingly beautiful.”

We awoke bright and early Sunday to a completely different day. It was sunny and bright, and the air was clear.

We had two more side posts to install, on Joss’ deck. Typically, the last was the worst. Here, the two joists actually overlapped, so once again Russell had to use the dremel saw to make enough room for a bolt, nut and washer.

The drill space was tighter than normal, so Russell inadvertently drilled the hole slightly upward from the inside to the outside. The hole ended up a full half-inch too high on the outside. With no other alternative, Russell had to drill from the outside, hoping to hit the correct spot on the metal plate. It was close enough to be acceptable, and the 32nd – and last deck post – was finally secured in place.

The last side post. The two deck joists actually overlapped each other and had to be trimmed. Who knew when we installed these joists four years ago that they would cause such heartache?

We still had a full two hours to enjoy the sunny morning. Steve continued to chainsaw while Russell put away tools and cleaned up the house. For the second weekend in a row, we treated ourselves to our friendly neighborhood all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant.

We are at the end of October. November doesn’t look good for mountain excursions, due to a combination of Russell’s work schedule, Joss’ college applications and Thanksgiving. There is still a lot of work to do before we finish the deck rails, let alone get our occupancy permit. Stay tuned…

Steve’s exact words: “I may not trust you, Russell… but I trust your work!”


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