A month or two back, Elaine mentioned that a couple of the stair treads on the short stairs (from the BBQ deck down to the shop walkway) were cracked and looking sketchy.
This whole BBQ deck was a one-day build 10+ years ago. And those stairs were built with two risers, not three. So, maybe it was time, I got thinking.
Sure enough, here’s what a quick visual inspection revealed as needing fixing at a minimum:
As long as we were going to tear into the stairs, then we might as well do it close to right and write up the repair process. We reckon this will be a 5-10-year fix.
The first step is lining up all the materials that could possibly be used. Nothing puts a whole in a project like stopping (sometimes more than once) and driving to the Big Box store. Especially out here in the dingleberries. Where it’s an hour and five-minutes of driving time; more is you’ve got a load in the bed you’re being gentle to…
Begin before lumbering-up what you’ve got in the way of materials on hand. We keep all kinds of materials around for just this “driving avoidance” strategy.
We have a dozen sheets of various thicknesses. Including plywood siding material (we detest the stuff, but it’s a mobile home in the woods…). We can always lay our hands on half a dozen 2-by-4’s, too. A resaw on the band saw and a pass through the planer and passable stock can be made for framing cabinets, as so forth. A few sheets of quarter-inch birch ply for facings…you get the idea.
Over in the hardware department, there are hinges and pull handles, too. All to spend time-on -task and stay off the roads.
Every time we do a project, anything reusable is set aside. Now, I’m sure there are some uppity city types who say this makes a place look “junkie” but a lot of it is stored out of the weather in a former goat shed which works for us.
Where we found some leftovers from the large front deck that the Southern climate had killed off a couple of years back. Even treated wood is only good for 10-12-years here. Less, if painted. Fortunately, I saved the still useable stair risers.
These were perfect for recycling into this project.
What we didn’t have on hand was a lot of 5-quarter decking. Grudgingly it was off to Lowes to snag a load of 4X4’s (*starting to stock up for another deck build) and an armload, or three of 5-quarter decking.
We assume you’ve done the homework for this week? Reviewing how lumber is graded which is useful data every home handy bastard should have top of mind when going to Lowes or the Home Despots…
Most of the lumber you’ll find in #2 or better but take your time and rule out decking that has any visible knots on the weather surface.
Something people don’t take into account is that even though a “standard 2-by-4” should be 96-inches, more often than not they’ll run from 95.25 up to 96.5 inches. Patiently remember to measure everything. Sloppy measurement means half-assed work.
Also, when you get things cut (for the stair treads in this little adventure) the weather surface would be where the grain curves down at the ends. If you put the curve in a board’s middle in low, the board will “cup” over time and look like crap. It will also trip people.
Lumber is Cheap! Stock Up!
I was shocked at how cheap my load of wood was. Just over $100 bucks for all this: (and it’s stacked here 2 and 3 deep). 10-sticks of 5-quarter, treated 4×4’s and some reasonably useful 2-by’s
You’ll see there is one board with a knot, but that was all “in the plan” because one stick of the decking would be cut down with the knot going to scrap.
Funny story: Second from left 4X4 felt really damn heavy when I was loading the truck out. Was I turning into a nearly 74-year-old wimp???
When I got home, out came the digital scales. I weighed it: Just over 46 pounds! The one next to it was a bit under 27 pounds (both were treated, but apparently one really took a liking to the bath salts!). It was somewhat reassuring to know that yes, the wood was super heavy.
Let’s Get to Work
The term in commercial real estate Tenant Improvements (T.I.) is demising the space. We don’t think about this in home construction projects much, but it’s a real cost in commercial. For Home H.B.’s its usually just time, but depending on where you live (and if you can run a burn barrel of burn pile) don’t forget a trailer and dump fees – and always do a time estimate –then double it.
I was hoping I’d built the old deck out of weatherproof deck screws – but I couldn’t remember. Well, no such luck. It was time to haul out the pry bars.
Remember to constantly adjust the pry bar by keeping the fulcrum point as close to the nail groove as possible. The idea on a pry bar is to make a lot of small, highly-levered actions. Because if you don’t, you’ll tire quickly from having to apply too much “arm-strong.” Let your tools do the work for you instead of making you work harder.
Instead of 20-minutes demising, it was 45. The “double the time” always works out on a project, one way or the other.
The first real problem run into, once the treads and risers were pulled, was the rotten ledger board:
This all cleaned up nicely. And fiberglass insulation was pressed back into place. Being a “trailer”, the actual structural weight of the home rests on four steel beams that run the length of the building. The faux foundation rockwork is just there for appearances.
When the rot was cleared out (and treated – read more at 8 Easy Ways to Treat Dry Rot – wikiHow) the whole void area between the rock and the structure was filled with Loctite high expansion foam.
It expanded…and expanded…and turned into a God-awful mess, but in Disney fashion, a quick spritz of gray primer to color blend with the rocks and everything would come out fine in the end.
The process of covering involved cutting down a 5-3/4 inch strip of pre-finished plywood and mudding in with the foam and then on the top and sides, adding some Alex paintable caulking to top it off.
Rather than wait for the foam to cure (time is money, right?) I used a 4-inch putty knife. A slicing motion works well if you have the patience to wait for the foam to cure. I have no use for waiting, though. There were sticky spots (most of it, infact) which will really dirty your favorite mud knife.
In this case, you run into the shop, fire up the belt sander and gently sanded off all the goo that has dried on, being careful not to breath the dust coming off the sander.
Next step was to put in a slightly offset from center third stair support. I also shortened the treads on the house side by an inch to reduce water splash and flow onto the house.
This is total overkill, since this deck will be replaced in 5-19 years (if we’re still around, I will lean on G2 to do that project, lol. with him off on an adventure, this was an “all George” project.).
Two new risers were set since the one next to the house didn’t pass the knife test during demising. Soggy and doggy is not what we build with.
Cutting down the treads and installing was a piece of cake.
Elaine came out to watch. Like back in the old days when new construction in the 1950’s downtown had benches for the “sidewalk superintendent’s, she couldn’t just sit and watch me have “all the fun.”
“Here, dear. Put two screws into the bottom of the lower railing….”
Elaine loves to work with tools, too, so here is part of her 15-minute tussle with two 1-inch Philips head screws reattaching the deck railing. This had been removed previously, more or less intact.
The screws were giving her fits. “Here, you do it!” she finally admitted. A full 15-minutes had ticked by while I went to the office to look in on the websites.
“If you insist…” Zing, zing, 10-seconds tops.
“You sure have a way with power tools…”
Thing about tools is you have to use force. They need to know who is in charge. Like an auditor (or salesman), tools can sense fear, weakness, and indecision. Firm hands; never use less than a Death Grip, and keep your tools running and always know what the steps in your workflow will be. Send out angry, kick-you-ass vibes to your tools before touching them, lest they fail to respect you. BE THE WORKSITE BULLY!
Another useful hint: Park your work pickup truck and work out of the bed of that. Faster than dicking around with sawhorses for a lot of things – like cutting down the long, recycled risers. And it’s a place to lay a sheet of plywood for a rough cut which can then be precision cut (5-5/8 X 49.5″) on the table saw inside.
That’s why we can do things like tear apart a deck, put in new risers, clear out dry rot and button everything up (including paint) in 4-hours.
With The Boss looking on approvingly, the stairs are set once again and ready to move heavy appliances up and down. The cats have been advised to go easy on the paw licking until a few rains have come through, Overall, I was a bit sore but it was a very rewarding repair especially to “get done” in short order:
This is is weekend fun.
I skipped lunch (working through with only a bottle of Soylent) but honestly, it was perfect working weather. 65-degrees.
This morning, being Sunday, I’ll take a pass through the 3806 KHz ham crowd with my Sunday radio coffee, and then do a short picture series for next weekend on fixing up the shop’s carport area which doesn’t look at all strack.
Tool list there is gas leaf blower, pressure washer, impact driver, level, circ saw and whatever else. Time budget is 3-hours.
I know just the man for that job, but he’s usually sitting on his ass day trading and writing. Or like now, thinking about racking out for a couple of extra hours of shuteye.
As Chicago sang “Does anybody really know what time it is, now?”
Write when you get rich,