Deck improvements

17 01 2015

We’ve been living at this house for just over a year. Something I needed to do soon after we move in was to stain the deck which was completely untreated. However there are two problems with the deck that will require it to be re-laid.

Picture of deck before work

The deck before remedial work begins.

  • The warm sunlight (the deck faces NW) of New Zealand has caused all the boards to shrink and there is now a 7-8mm gap between each board.
  • A heavy concrete garden table sits  at this end of the deck (where the camera is), and its weight has caused the deck to dip slightly which you can see by the lopsided puddling on the table top when it rains.

The strategy is to, from the side of the house outwards, creating a gap of about 4 boards to give room to manoeuvre, and then re-fix one row of board, this time with screws instead of nails.

Four boards out to create room to manoeuvre.

Four boards out to create room to manoeuvre.

The approach is partly defeated by two issues:

  1. The butt joints of boards in a single row are an angled overlap with the boards at the house end being the upper boards. Access to lift the first boards against the house is poor.
  2. The supporting framework at the end furthest from the house has to be re-levelled before boards can be re-laid. In fact at the end closest to the camera the entire width of boards will have to removed.

A numbering system is required to facilitate fitting the boards back together again. I named rows ‘A’ to ‘R’ as I lifted them right to left, and within a row boards were numbered ‘1’ to ‘6’ as they got closer to the house.

Board showing its unique number.

A numbering system is required.

Each board was marked on the underside in chalk, and I tried to stack them in such a way that I could re-lay those that I had least recently lifted.
I show some of the tools used in the picture to the right. As time went on I found I could use the claw-hammer as a sort of wrecking bar and managed to lift entire lengths of board using just the hammer.
Demonstrating improved nail extraction

Adding padding under the claw-hammer to improve leverage on long nails.

As an aside. When a nail is already pulled most of the way out of a board it can be almost impossible to use the lever of the claw-hammer to finish the job. Any hard padding (like a block of wood) can act as a base of the hammer reducing the relative length of the nail and improving leverage.
Rain stopped play.

Rain stopped play.

Needless to say it started to rain about 2 hours after I started.
(To be continued.)

Leftover nails from previous deck

A lazy deck constructor?

Getting there

Getting there

Looking back on a day's work

Looking back on a day’s work

The problem with the supporting piles

The problem with the supporting piles


A step up

7 08 2010

Having lived in our house for three years I thought it was about time I replaced the two bags of cement that formed the step down from utility room  into our garage. Timber left over from our kitchen diner conversion had been lying around for ages, and some of it very substantial mahogany from around the old dining-room patio windows.

Picture of steps from utility room to garage

The finished steps

Having previously had some experience of building steps I decided to repeat my previous technique of building two free-standing platforms and mounting one on top of the other with hidden fixings. They are slightly shallower than a standard staircase (16cm instead of 19cm) and slightly deeper (25cm instead of 24cm), but provide a generous footfall when negotiating awkward items in and out of the house. The entire project was planned on paper, a cutting list drawn up, and all timber cut before assembly began. This was very satisfying as there was just a small piece if rework to embrace the gas pipe which runs along the wall.

(the) Sky is the Limit

24 06 2008

It has to point in the right direction
I’ve always felt that paying for commercial satellite TV was a bit “rich”. Having already paid a sizeable sum for the National TV licence, I haven’t wanted to pay another £19 a month for just a few extra channels (since most of them are unwatchable). When we moved to Greenleys some research showed that Virgin Media did a cable package that was very reasonable without having to adopt a Virgin Media phone. (The website is very unclear about this though but a few discussion boards revealed the truth.) On phoning Virgin however, they told me the cable infrastructrure in Milton Keynes is too old to support cable TV. (Uggh – and I thought MK was one of the most technologically advanced towns in the UK.)

As an alternative I’d heard that Sky offer a Freesat service for a one-off payment of about £150, but if you visit and try looking for “freesat” in their search box you’ll get nothing. But here’s the rub, if you go to freesatfromsky you’ll find they will help you do much better deals, and hidden in the FAQ’s is the fact that if you’ve got an old Sky receiver, you only have to buy a viewing card for £20.

Gwyneth wanted more TV choice and so I felt a project coming on. Find a cheap sky-compatible satellite dish. Maplins want £39.99 for a 48cm dish, ebay – £11.95 including a free fixing kit. (Okay – postage was bit steep.) A satellite finder meter – £3.69 (complete with compass – that turned out to be the size of a shirt button). It whistles at you and gives a signal strength reading. The dish turned up on Monday, and when I’d finished work at 5pm I started the project by drilling a hole through the living room wall behind the TV. Four hours later (and I ate dinner in that time) we had a result. That's sky for you

 When I was up the ladder I had two cordless drills run out of battery on me as I tried to drill the brickwork. In the end I had to cart an extension lead and a mains drill up to fix the bracket to the wall. It all has to be done quite precisely and so I abandoned the shirt-button compass and used the Silva compass that Anna bought me, along with a spirit level. I could set it pointing to 147 degress fairly precisely. The bracket had an approximate elevation protractor stamped into the metal, and so when I first applied power from the connection to the set-top box, the finder meter immediately whistled at me. It had found the 28.2 Astra 2A satellite. All that was needed was a bit of fine tuning. Phoning Sky the next day was completely without hastle, and we await the viewing card in a couple of days’ time. Total cost – £28.53 (materials), £20.00 (viewing card) plus four hours of my time; a bargain, and no subscription.

Here are some useful websites: – Gives you precise azimuth and elevation based on your address, and a google map satellite picture showing the line to the satellite (so you can check buildings and trees aren’t in the line of sight ). – A quality advice site. Confidence-building information. – Some useful forums on all sorts of satellite issues.

Widening the drive

21 06 2008

Widening the drive

The project for today (Saturday) was to widen the drive. Can you see the difference? There used to be just a narrow gap between the side of the car and the hedge. Mothers with buggies struggled! But not anymore.

Gwyneth and I had discussed this and as we’d had so many favourable comments about the new steps, we decided that we would like to open out the front of the house even more, although originally I was going to go in line with the edge of the grass. (I descoped the project a bit.)

I’d had some experience of pulling up bushes before and they can be tough; but I had a plan. I just needed a scaffold pole to use as a lever. That plus a rope or some webbing and lifting out the old laurel would be easy. The only problem was I’d lost my 10ft scaffold tube two house moves ago. The removal men had left it in the garage. [So I had a little sub-project earlier in the day – locate likely sources of scaffold tubes in MK that would be open on a Saturday (in the rain!)] Google indicated that there was somewhere on Bleak Hall. Better still when I got there the yard man gave me an 8ft pole for free! (Incidentally, the scaffold pole yard employed 24 people last year but now they’re down to 6 – caused by the slump in the building industry. It’s the worst for about 30 years.) Mission accomplished.

Once I’d cut most of the branches off with my telescopic handled loppers, I gave the trunk a bit of a shake. Seemed a bit solid to me. Then I saw the Sante Fe – with tow bar. That seems much easier.

What a Santa Fe is meant for

Laurel bush no longer part of hedge


A quick trip to Wickes secured hogging, ballast and pea shingle to go on top of the hardcore I had already bashed into the hole. I re-used some edging stone and cemented it in place. The job was finished around 5pm. I’d started at about 11am. The reward for completing the latest project – a nice hot Radox bath! The result was well worth the effort.

Happy Father’s Day

17 06 2008

What a brilliant Father’s Day I shared with my family and others this year. There were 5 Dads present and 9 children for a barbeque. Sadly one daughter was over 11,000 miles away. But isn’t it a strange world? Anna is living in Wellington, New Zealand. Not wanting to miss out on the celebrations she decides to buy me a present. It’s something to complement one of my projects; a camera case for my new (to me) DSLR. She reaches out across the world and purchases it in Germany. It is duly delivered (and left unopened) two days ahead of time. It is really appreciated, and I’m so glad I didn’t make do with a Lowepro backpack which I thought about buying in Edinburgh airport the day before.

A friend of mine wrote to his kids (all adults) explaining that Father’s Day is just commercial exploitation and not to be celebrated with cards and the like. What a shame! It was a quality day. We met up with friends and family and Jenny and Sally barbequed for the first time ever. Just to see them engulfed in smoke made us realise that it’s a bit of a blokes’ thing. There were grandchildren sqawking and Gracie trying to join in the games.

This is no fun

You might be interested in the cards I got.  Inside the first card it said “Have a rest from building steps, making websites, and all your other “projects”! Well I’ve just started another project! It’s called “A Man Must Have a Project“.

from Jenny & Simon
from Sally & Craig