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May 30, 2011
Deck rails: cables

Russell installs eyebolts on the support posts. Eyebolts will be used to secure the cable railings at each end of the deck.

Several points in our mountain home construction stand out as particular milestones. Hoisting up the center support beam with a crane. Closing off the roof. Muscling up the first wall and securing it in place. Turning on an electric switch and a hot water faucet for the first time.

The deck cable railings are another such milestone. When we first designed the home with Topsider back in 2003, we wanted the deck railings to be as invisible as possible. We decided on cable railings, which Topsider shipped out to us with our original house kit in 2004.

For the next seven years they have been sitting in storage. We thought the deck railings would be a low priority, still years away. Then, our inspector informed us they were necessary for an occupancy permit. We immediately had to begin researching how to install the things.

Gail was ever-resourceful in obtaining the necessary tools. She found a cable cutter for an incredibly cheap price on Craigslist, and we drove down to the Santa Cruz mountains to get it. She also found a swaging tool (used to crimp the cable ends) at a fraction of the normal cost.

The plethora of tools necessary to install the cable railings include the cable itself (on a spool at the top), a swaging tool and cable cutters (right side)

Some of our construction milestones are also scarier than others, and the deck cables fell into that category as well. Russell did everything he possibly could on the decks – including installing, uninstalling and reinstalling the deck posts several times – before attacking this last milestone.

Finally, on the afternoon of Sunday, May 29, we were at “that point.” Gail asked if we should start leveling the floors inside, given the inclement weather. “No,” Russell replied, “Let’s keep working toward the occupancy permit.”

After so much preparation, the actual task of stringing the first cable turned out to be ridiculously straightforward. The 1/8” uncoated cable was wrapped in spools. We simply unspooled cable as we fed it through the eight posts on Cameron’s deck. When we reached the far end, we used the swaging tool to crimp it to a fastener. The fastener was in turn secured to an eyebolt that we had installed in the exterior support post.

The swaging tool was enormously helpful in securing the cable ends. Of course, after this project we will have absolutely no further use for the thing.

At the far side, we cut the other end of the cable and crimped it to a turnbuckle. The turnbuck was in turn secured to another eyebolt at the other end of the deck. We finished two out of eight of the cables on Cameron’s deck before it got too dark to continue.

Our first two cable rails… succesffully installed!

However, Gail spent a fairly sleepless night on Sunday night. On Monday morning, she confessed that she had been worried all night about the tension on the corners of the decks. This had actually troubled us since we first started preparing the decks. Topsider’s instructions were very vague about how we were supposed to string cables around the corners. We even used real wood instead of composite because we so concerned about the tension.

Sure enough, when we re-examined our work on Monday morning, we saw that the cables were already starting to rip the holes in the corner posts

In less than a day, the cable was already starting to rip through the corner holes

After some brainstorming, we decided to drive into Jackson and visit Lowe’s hardware store before we strung any further cables. We bought two eight-foot lengths of aluminum angle iron along with a load of 4” hose clamps.

We bought two eight-foot lengths of 2” angle iron and 24 4” hose clamps – enough for all six deck corners

Back at the construction site, the idea was to place the angle iron on the corner posts to reinforce them, then secure them in place with the hose clamps. Russell used a hacksaw to cut the angle iron into appropriate lengths.

The solution worked well. We reinforced both corners of Cameron’s deck before we ran out of time for the weekend.

Russell used the hose clamps to secure the angle iron to the corner deck posts

The corner deck posts, before and after reinforcement

Another view, showing how the turnbuckles are connected to eyebolts on the support posts

With end of school, graduation and a business trip coming up, it may be several weeks before we make it back up here again. By then, we will certainly know if our corner post trick has worked or not.

On the wildlife front, we saw a beautiful four-foot long California king snake, who didn't seem to mind at all when Gail petted it

Gail wanted to make sure that we also included a picture of her whacking weeds


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