Building the Deck: Day 1

Wednesday, our first day of building, dawned clear and chilly. Thank goodness. The night before we’d had pelting rain and wind.

Our first order of business was to set the deck’s support posts. A year and a half ago, I’d paid the carpenters who were putting up siding and pouring concrete piers for the apartment’s covered entry to also pour piers for a future deck. So Gary and I were starting the project with cured, four-foot-deep concrete piers in the ground.

We could see at a glance that the piers were not perfect. They were not quite square with the building — but we could correct for that with our anchors. They were not set at the same height in the sloping surface — but we could correct for that, too, by cutting our posts to different lengths.  And they had not been set with anchor bolts — but we could drill some in.

Here is Gary drilling the anchor bolt and setting the post anchor on the first pier.
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Once we had our anchors down and our posts standing and temporarily braced in place, we had to calculate the proper height of each post.

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At this point, Gary ran a measuring tape along the flashed ledger board that I’d also asked the siding men to install, and made an unwelcome discovery. The ledger board was 12′ 9″ long. This was a totally random number that made no sense. Why would a carpenter cut a support board to this odd length? The rule of thumb in any building project is to use standard dimensions to limit waste and costs.

A month ago, looking up from the ground in the snow, I’d assumed that it was a 12′ ledger. My foolish mistake.

The ledger was also offset a little over an inch from center under the door. What?

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I shared with Gary that I had decided not to re-hire that builder after seeing the poor job his team had done on the simple four-foot covered entry — which was neither level nor square, facts I was doing my best to disguise with paint, and had two roofs applied before they managed to put one up without ruining the metal with creasing and dimpling.

So the strange ledger should not have been a shock. However, I had pre-purchased 12′ materials. There was nothing to do but accept that we would have nine inches of ledger board sticking out one side of our deck.

“Paint it white!” Gary advised. “Just like in the theater, where the rule is, ‘Paint it black and the audience will never see it.’ ”

To calculate the proper height of the posts, Gary nailed up a joist hanger on the ledger, we set a joist, and marked one post. Then we ran a board from the first post to the second, leveled it, and marked the second. We took down the posts, cut them to their different lengths, and reinstalled them.

Here is Gary cutting rabbet joints for our cross-beams.

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I learned the joy of clamps as we set the first cross-beam and braced it.

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I’ve never used clamps much but I could see how helpful they were to keep materials steady for nailing — the equivalent of another pair of hands, something I am always in need of.  (On my next visit to the hardware store, I bought a clamp.)

Here I am nailing up a clamped brace on the east post.

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(Notice the mess of wires going into the house? The electric company had promised they would return to clean that up. “Yeah? How long ago was that?” Gary inquired. “Three years? Good to know they aren’t stressing.”)

However, he and I were stressing briefly after we began installing the floor joists and realized that in addition to everything else, the concrete piers — and thus our posts — were also not centered under the door. Our floor joists were running almost four inches out of square.

There was a brief pause for cursing — “After looking at the rest of their work, how could I have assumed that carpenters you’d paid to put in those piers would have done anything right?” Gary exclaimed — and then we took the joists down and re-hung them.

At the end of the first day we had the floor frame up.

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The floor slopes one inch away from the house for water run-off.

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It was 7:30 when we quit work, cleaned up our tools, and I headed down the hill to do barn chores. A long but very satisfying day.

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One Response to Building the Deck: Day 1

  1. Michele says:

    We had a similar situation as your ledger… Our 1950’s house had a rotting deck off the back. When we went to remove it we discovered that the builder had just extended the floor joist out so the deck was literally part of the house. The deck was also an odd length and off center from the door. When we cut the deck away from the house we solved the problem by making our ledger 2x12x20… Longer than our deck would be (14′) but we would be able to center the new deck. We painted the ledger white and I’m happy to say you can hardly tell that it is there and off center.

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