Putting Deck Rail Back Up

The last couple of weekends have been really nice in Cincinnati so we took advantage of the weather and decided to complete the railing on the deck. We actually started to replace the railing and some of the deck boards on the 15 year old deck before we got hit by the tornado a couple of months ago.

The railing is really simple, just some custom 4×4 posts, 2×4’s for the rails, plastic rail supports to hold the railing to the posts, and rectangle aluminum spindles. Simply measure the distance between posts and subtract 1/4″ of the total measurement for the thickness of the plastic supports. Then add back the 1/4″ for the top hand rail. The final step was to figure out where the spindles go by using simple math and spacing them 4″ apart.

These things are a God send and worth every penny. They’re about $5 for a pair and save a whole bunch of time and frustration installing the rails to the posts. On my old railing, I toe nailed them to the post with 3″ decking screws. Some rails held up, many didn’t.

To attach the posts to the side of the deck, I cut a notch half way through the post by running my circular saw over the notched area many times. Then I took a chisel and popped off the chunks, followed by smoothing the face with my Stanley 140 block plane. Then I bolted the posts securely making sure it was plum.

The trickiest post to do was the inside corner. This post I cut notched on both sides of the post and cut a square hole into the deck board, then slid the post inside and bolted it from the side of the deck.

When it came to installing the stair railing I had to take my time and figure out all the different angles. Because my stairs come off my deck at 45 degrees, I had to notch out the corners of the posts to attach my rail supports.

I had to cut the notch deep enough so that the plastic support would fit nicely inside. The support was temporary attached to the post so I could figure out the correct angle it needed to be.

Ideally the notch would be 45 degrees on the post, but my stairs were not a perfect 45 degrees of the deck. I had to play with the angle so that the railing would be inline with my steps. I simply eyeballed what the angle should be and cut more on one side of the posts to change the angle of the notch.

After a little trial and error, and constantly nibbling off the length of the rail, I got it to fit nicely between the posts. I attached the rail supports to the end of the rail and screwed it onto the posts. Then repeated the process for the bottom rail as well.

The next thing to do was to figure out the angles for the top rail. Since the rail is angled upward, simply cutting a 90 degree notch at a 45 degree angle on the board won’t work. The angle has to be more acute than 90 degrees and the underside needs to be angled back so the rail fits snugly against the post. I used my template gauge in order to find the right angle and cut everything using my reciprocating saw.

It’s not a perfect fit but it’s good enough for a deck. Once the angles were cut on both sides, I screwed the hand rail onto the top rail with 2 1/2″ decking screws.

Because of the angle of the step rail, the 32″ long aluminum spindles are too long. I simply cut off about an inch of length by cutting them on my chop saw, then drilled new 1/4″ holes on my drill press.

I figured out the spacing on the spindles an attached each one to the rails making sure they were plumb by using a torpedo level. I spaced all my spindles 4″ from each other using a scrap piece of wood that was 4″ long.

The next day, I finished the other stair rail. This one went much quicker since I knew what I was doing.

The railing looks nice from the yard and you can’t spot any of my mistakes. Even though you can barely see them in the photo, I glued some spacers under the bottom rail so they won’t bow down. We’ll stain the entire deck in the coming weeks. Now it’s back on to working on the inside of the house.

Building the Shed Part II

It’s been months since I updated about the shed I’ve been building. I originally broke ground on it back in September. I hadn’t done anything on it for weeks because my wife and I didn’t want the floor of the shed to be plywood. While looking at sheds that Weaver Barns make, we saw that they used a 2 x 8 tongue and groove pressure treated lumber flooring. We both loved it, so we searched around to see who carried it.

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I have a friend who works for Universal Forest Products (UFP), so I asked him if he knew anything about it. He told me it’s called V Groove Decking, and that he could get it for me since Lowe’s nor Home Depot carried it in stock. Well, after waiting a couple of weeks, I knew that was a dead end. Anita found that Menard’s carried it in stock, but the boards were 20 feet long and about $30 a board. We really didn’t feel like driving 20 miles to Menard’s to pick them up so I went to Home Depot down the street and asked how much it would be to special order from them. The price was a lot cheaper, but it would take three weeks to get them delivered to the store. I wasn’t in a real rush so I went ahead and ordered them.

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Well, three weeks turned into six as I found out that UFP doesn’t manufacture the boards, only treats them. They were waiting for the manufacture to make the boards which caused the delay. What really sucked was that Cincinnati had mild weather during that time and there were many weekends where the temperature rose to 70 degrees. All I could do was stand in my dining room looking back at the frame wishing my boards were in.

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I finally got the board in early December, dragged them out to the base and laid them out to see how much overhang I had on each side. Luckily I ordered the right amount of boards as I had only a couple of inches overhand on each side.The boards were 16 feet long so I had a foot of overhang on each of the long sides.

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The best part was that the floor was completely level on all four sides with the floor laid down.

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I took my time and went through the boards to find the straightest board and screwed them to the base crown up so that they were as straight as possible. I screwed three screws per joist which totaled over 600 screws used to attach all the deck boards.

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The last boards were the most warped so I grabbed a couple of 6 foot long pipe clamps and squeezed the boards to the rest of the decking and screwed them down.

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Once all the boards were attached, I trimmed off the excess with a circular saw and flush cut them with a router bit. Thankfully Christmas Eve was warm as I was working on the shed in only a t-shirt.

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Hopefully we’ll have a mild winter as the next part is to start framing the walls. I work outside during the winter building displays for my day job, so as long as the temperature is over freezing, I’ll be fine. I just doubt I’ll be able to get any of my friends to help me.

And so it Begins- The Shed Part 1

I tore my old shed down one fall day and told myself that I would build a new one in the spring. That was seven years ago. Well, after seven years, I finally got my act together to build a new shed. One of the biggest issues in building it was how to build it level with a yard that is sloped downhill. I considered using deck blocks, but after watching a few YouTube videos, I decided to build a framed base.

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My wife, Anita, and I decided how big of a shed we wanted and where to put it in the yard. We opted for a 10′ x 14′ and laid it out in the yard with stakes and strings. I then used a line level to see how far off the ground the right side of the shed would be in the air. It’ll end up being about two feet in the air on the back right side which won’t look bad once we plant some shrubs around the shed.

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After we went to the home center to pick up the lumber. I cut and screwed the 2×6’s together into a 10′ x 14′ box. I measured corner to corner to make sure the box was square then attached boards on all four corners to keep it that way. I then grabbed some spray paint and sprayed the ground at the corners to show me where to dig my posts. After I dug the four holes 30″ deep, I stuck the 4×4’s in the ground and used clamps to hold the box to the posts. Then using a level, I leveled the box on all four sides, held it in place with clamps, then concreted the posts in place letting them dry over night.

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In the morning, I bolted the box in place with 3/8″ galvanized lag screws using four screws on each post. I then marked where my stringers would be and dug holes for two more posts in the middle of the shed so that the floor won’t sag.

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Attaching all the stringers and covering the base of the shed with 3″ deep of gravel stone with landscaping fabric underneath, the shed has a nice base. Now I need to go back to the home center to pick up more lumber.

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This is a drawing of the shed I designed. We already bought three old windows for the shed last year, so I incorporated them into the design. We’ll see how close the final shed will look to this drawing.

Making a Roubo Style Workbench Part 5 – revisited

Well the bench is all done. I am really happy the way it has turned out. A few mistakes here and there but it’s just a workbench so in time it will be beaten to pieces anyway.

I finished up the base cutting through mortise and tenons through the front and back legs for the side stretchers. The front and back stretchers I cut slot dovetail joints so it won’t rack from front to back. No where on the bench (other than the top) did I use any glue. If and when I move out of my house, I need to be able to disassemble it and carry it out of my basement.

After the base was built I had to focus my attention back onto the legs. A couple of the legs split  down the sides as they were drying in my basement. I cut some 3/4″ thick butterfly keys out of red oak and pounded them into place. I then took some polyurethane glue and poured into the cracks to help stabilize the material. Honestly, I  don’t think the poly glue did anything other than make me feel better as I hear polyurethane glue doesn’t have any gap filling properties anyway.

On the bench leg that I installed my leg vise on, I needed to cut out and insert a southern yellow pine wedge. ACQ lumber is very corrosive to metal and because my leg vise hardware is made out of cast iron, I needed to insert a wedge so it wouldn’t corrode. I attached the wedge to the leg with wax coated screws designed for the ACQ lumber.

Once the bench was put together, I applied some deck stain to the base and then worked on the accessories like the crochet, the deadman, leg vise jaw and the drawer. On the curves of the crochet and deadman, I used my Stanley #113 circular plane. The plane’s bed can flex to a concave as well as a convex shape with the turning of a screw on top of the plane. I planed both sides of the crochet with ease however, you could also do this with an oscillating spindle sander if you don’t own one of these planes.


When I originally drew the bench, I didn’t incorporate a drawer. My old bench had a tool tray where I laid my bench dogs and hold fasts in. The tray worked fine but every time I planed or sawed something, the bench would rack and the tools in the tray would vibrate annoying me. It was only after I built the bench, that I realized that there was no way for this bench to rack, so I quickly built a drawer 12″ long x 3″ tall x 16″ deep. Even though in the picture the drawer looks like it’s in the way of the deadman, it can be pushed back so that the deadman can slide by.

I drilled 3/4″ holes down the front of the bench top for my bench dogs. In the back I drilled four 5/8″ holes to accommodate my hold fasts. I made they hold fasts while taking a blacksmith class from Don Weber in Paint Lick, KY in January. He showed me how to take an old car spring, heat it up, hammer it straight, then pound the pad and bend the curve to make a hold fast with incredible holding power. Spring steel hold fasts work far better than the cheap cast iron ones you find in woodworking stores because the steel has the ability to flex. The class was a lot of fun and Don is an honory gentleman filled with Welsh chair bodging and blacksmithing knowledge. Hopefully I’ll be able to go back to take his Tool Making for Woodworkers class in April.

After the bench was complete, I applied a coat of shellac to the top. It gave it some protection but also it raised the grain a little bit so that the top wouldn’t be so slick. Having a top with a little bit of grip is a good thing so tools won’t slide off.

Using the Emmert Pattermakers Vise

Some people say that owning a pattermaker vise for cabinet work is a little over kill as you will never really need all the versatility that the vise offers. I say, “it’s better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it”. Actually I have found one major advantage of using the vise.

Often the biggest disadvantage of building a bench that is designed low enough for planing is that when it comes to cutting joinery, the work piece is too low making it uncomfortable. Some woodworkers build a smaller bench that sits on top of the bench or simply switch over to a taller work bench when cutting joinery. Because the Emmert vise face can turn 360 degrees, I swing the jaws up making the the top of the jaws 38″ from the floor. Now it’s a lot easier on my back cutting dovetails.

I’m sure there is a lot more useful things I can do with this vise but I’ll need some more time to experiment to find out what they are. I plan on making chairs some day and the jaws ability to angle 10 degrees will come in handy when I’m working with tapered legs.

Making a Roubo Style Workbench Part 1– revisited

I wrote this blog three years ago at Fine Woodworking.com and decided that I should bring it home to my blog. It’s in five parts but I will add a sixth part at the end to tell how the bench has held up. Enjoy!
It’s 2009 and I still haven’t made a new workbench I promised myself when I bought an Emmert patternmakers vise at an antique tool auction in Indianapolis last spring. After the auction I bought Workbenches by Chris Schwarz and was planning on building the Andre Roubo bench he built in the book. Then a couple of months ago, while attending  Woodworking in America Conference in Berea KY, I  saw Roy Underhill’s version of the Roubo bench and fell in love with it. The bench was solid as a rock with its back legs splayed out and it didn’t rack from side to side. Something my current bench is horrible with. Luckily there’s a write up of Roy’s Roubo bench in his new book The Woodwright’s Guide; Working Wood with Wedge & Edge. Because there were things that I liked in both benches, I decided to incorporate some of the features of both and design something that would fit my needs.
The two books that are instrumental for building the bench.
The design of the workbench. My Sketchup skills are still nonexistent so I have to design the old fashion way.

The bench will be eight feet long and made out of Southern Yellow Pine with my Emmert vise installed at the end. I’m going to try something that I’m not sure has ever been done before and build the legs and the stretchers out of pressure treated wood. I just like the idea of the added weight with pressure treated wood. Plus, I was able to buy 6×6’s for the legs and save some money verses buying more 2x stock and gluing them up to create a 5”x5” legs the way Chris does. I calculated how much material I need and bought (12) 2x10x8’s, (4) 2x12x8’s and (2) 6x6x8’s. The total cost was $132.00. Not bad considering I paid $150 for a piece of 8/4”x 8”x60” walnut when I built my Pennsylvania Secretary a few year ago.  The reason I didn’t make the entire bench out of pressure treated lumber is because ACQ lumber is very corrosive to metal. You need to use hot dipped galvanized or stainless steel fasteners when working with it. Since my vise is cast iron, it would end up corroding if I used ACQ pressure treated lumber for the top.

The lumber stickered and ready to dry. I need to find my moisture meter so I can see how dry the lumber is before I mill it to size.

After letting the lumber acclimate in my shop for about a week, I ripped the boards in half so that they would dry faster. My wimpy little table saw doesn’t have enough power to rip through 2x stock without binding, so I had to set the blade a little under ¾” high and make two passes, flipping the board over after the first pass. Due to the high moisture content some of the boards started to crook immediately once I took them off the table saw. Once the ripping was complete, I stickered all the boards to let them air dry for a couple of more weeks. Once dry I’ll start milling them to size.

I don’t know how this bench will turn out using pressure treated lumber but I figure I can describe some of successes and pitfalls I encounter while building it. I’ll keep you posted