In which I help to accomplish something

photoAll told, the best thing about rebuilding my brother’s deck yesterday is that it makes a boring story.  That’s not going to stop me from telling it anyway– you’ve been warned– but there’s really not a lot of meat here beyond “hey, we built a deck!”

Actually, the most exciting part of the day happened before I even got to my brother’s house, where I was able to luck into a combination of a great sale at a local hardware store and a couple of coupons and managed to get this drill for about a hundred and forty dollars.  I like tools; I’d been looking for an excuse to buy a better cordless drill for a while, and needing to put 500 or so screws into a deck certainly sounded like a damn fine reason.  I had said in the previous post about the rebuild that we were hoping that we’d find that the structure underneath the deck was still sound and that all we needed to do was redo the upper boards; we had discovered that we were about half right.  I’ll get to the details in a bit.

See the upper-left corner of this picture, how it looks like there are still some boards there?  That was all the demolition we had left to do when I got there, other than removing a bunch of broken nails.  The previous owner had decided that iron nails were a good idea for some reason, and they were all rusted to shit, meaning that they kept breaking, sometimes rather explosively, and a lot of the time the heads were popping off.  So a good portion of the first couple of hours were spent tearing off nails or, in the case of those boards, trying to get those last few sonsofbitches off the structure.  Each of those boards had about fifteen thousand nails in it.  And they were tiny, and spaced close together, and the structure underneath was unpredictable, meaning that that little chunk of demo took maybe a third of the time it took to demolilsh the entire rest of the deck.

Here’s the “half right” part.  The wood underneath was consistently sound, which was very very good, since none of us really had any good idea how to rebuild the support structure for the deck.  The deck in its previous configuration was basically an oversized parquet, and we wanted the boards on the new deck to all be facing the same direction.  What this meant was that half of the support joists were effectively useless since they’d be running in parallel with the new boards.  We were either going to have to rip out the ones going the wrong direction or just reinforce them with new boards going the right way; ultimately we decided to just cut the middle out of each of the ones going the wrong way and hang new ones in the proper direction.

First problem: I hadn’t properly explained what a joist hanger was, and he’d bought corner brackets– which would have worked, but not as easily.  So we sent someone off to Lowe’s and started cutting boards.  Then my father-in-law showed up.  My father-in-law is a general contractor, and we’d asked him to come over to look at the deck and tell us where we were being stupid.

It took him about ten seconds.

(Incidentally:  whenever I use the word “we” here, I’m referring to between four and eight people depending on the time of day.  My brother and I were far from the only people involved in this job; his neighbor and my FIL were both more useful than I was.)

“You can’t use that wood,” he says, pointing at the boards we were going to use for structure.  My brother misses the gesture and thinks he’s talking about the entire deck.

“Why not?”

“It’s untreated.  It’s going to rot out from underneath you.”

I won’t describe his reaction, because it wasn’t terribly funny– he kinda looked like he wanted to shoot himself, but long story short it took a couple of minutes to convince him that my father-in-law was talking about the new boards and not the whole damn thing.  I’m pretty sure my brother’s entire life had flashed before his eyes.  Anyway, we sent someone back out to Lowe’s again and, using the wrong boards, put the joist hangers in place so that all we’d have to do was recut the new, treated boards and drop them into place.  Fun fact about me!  I cannot hammer straight to save my goddamn life, or at least I can’t hammer in a joist hanger while crouching, bending over, or any other configuration of my body that allows me to get anywhere near the hanger in question– and when I do manage to hammer one in properly, I discover I’ve put it in a touch too high and it’s going to make the joist no longer at the same level as the rest of the boards and it has to be torn out.

Oddly, I’m pretty sure that “can’t hammer straight” is the only thing I did incompetently all day; there was some comedy when we were trying to determine how best to attach the deck boards (long story short: predrill everything) but that was about it.

And really?  That’s about it, as far as stories go.  Once we got the new structure in place, there was a little bit of slowdown while we made sure we were measuring everything right and we wouldn’t end up with something stupid happening like needing another inch of board at the last second, and a bit of nonsense with cutting some of the 45 degree angles we needed, but after that everything was smooth as butter.  My dad and my brother brought the lumber back to my father-in-law and my neighbor, who did the cutting, one of his friends and I drilled (her) and screwed (me) the boards into place, and by the time I had to leave and take a shower and go to OtherJob we had about 20-25% of the top boards in place.  The rest of the job just involved finishing that and evening off the edges with a circular saw; I wasn’t there for that part but from what I heard it went smoothly.  And now my brother has a deck that actually functions.



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Luther M. Siler

The author of SKYLIGHTS, THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES and several other books.

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