Friday, October 31, 2008


Not blog posts -- porch posts.

I said in my first post that this wasn't going to be about my house. But I did want to put in at least a little bit about my home, because it's been such a central part of my life for nearly 10 years, now.

My wife and I moved into the place on our second anniversary, a year and a half or so before we had our first daughter. I'll be honest -- the house was really my find (that's a story unto itself) and my home, more than it was my wife's. That's a little ironic, given I'm not living there anymore and she is, but that's OK -- I'm still there every day, and I'm still taking care of the place.

That first post also mentioned how much of my time the house consumes. A lot. A staggering amount of time, really. Two simple examples: Last summer, I had three lighting fixtures fail in one or multiple ways in the span of four weeks. A pull chain broke, an overhead socket went, the wiring in that same overhead fixture got cooked and needed to be replaced, and the chandelier in the dining room fell out of the ceiling, and hung there by its wires. And within six months of moving into the place, I swear to God that every interior door fell off its hinges -- plus a couple of exterior doors. All the screw holes had long ago stripped out, and the screws were being held in by toothpicks and Elmer's Wood Glue, from all appearances. With all due respect to Elmer's Wood Glue, that's not really much of a repair job...

But this post is about one specific project. Or maybe just tees up a second chapter of that project. That is the replacement of the posts on my porches.

Two and a half sides of my house are wrapped in porches that were no doubt added sometime after the house was built. There's a porch on the back wing of the house, facing south. That's the kitchen porch, and it shelters both the entrance to the kitchen and the barn. We've had plans drawn up to rip that off and bump the kitchen out to make an entry downstairs and a master suite upstairs. There's a south-facing sun porch on the southern wall of the main part of the house. Across the front of the house is an open porch that runs the full width of the place. And on the northwestern corner and side of the house is a screened porch which was either rebuilt not long ago, or was screened in not long ago. It has new walls and windows, but not a new roof or decking.

The roofs on the two open porches are held up by posts -- five across the front of the house, and two on the kitchen porch. They're not too fancy -- just square section, with baseboards, some trim, a shelf and some beveling. But they aren't overly simple, either, and they have a nice look to them. You can see one of them pretty clearly behind the leafing rig in the picture from my last post, holding up the roof of the kitchen porch. When we moved in, they were accompanied by railings and neat balusters, but they were in pretty rough shape, and I pulled them off years ago, with all intention of replacing them at some point. Haven't gotten to that yet, and may never at this rate.

When we moved into the house, all but two of the posts were original. At least, they were painted with very old looking paint and were significantly weathered. Five or six years ago, I noticed that the baseboards on the kitchen porch posts were looking pretty rough, and I decided to replace them. "Rough" isn't really the word to use, I discovered when I started working on them -- "crumbling" would be better. In pulling them apart, I discovered that the posts themselves had significant integrity problems, and were also, in fact, hollow -- just a box section of 1x4s, with some trim layered on. I also learned that they had been sawn off about 10 inches off the deck, and were propped up by a few 1x4's, which were in turn held in and hidden by some trim pieces at the post bases. I think I got a little ashen when I realized I'd been up on that roof the year before, doing some tarring work.

Anyway, I gave my head a good, long, incredulous shake, replaced the pieces propping the posts up with some PT 4x4's, and made a note to replace those posts the following spring. Then I took a good look at the other original posts (on the front porch), and noticed many of the same problems. Only the posts at the northwest corner of the front porch looked OK. I believe the previous owner had made those. They were obviously recently made, appeared to be nicely done, and I didn't feel the need to mess with them. I had also found and used some puzzling L-shaped lumber scraps in the basement that began to make some sense when I started pulling apart the posts, and these led me to believe the two new posts weren't hollow. So my post project swelled from two to five (better than seven!), and my months ahead would now apparently be filled with carpentry.

That winter I bought a table saw and router and miter saw (toys!), and spent hours and hours in the basement making new (and solid-core, btw) posts for installation when the weather turned. Making five posts took a while, but it was simple work made faster with the right tools. I won't get into how I made them here, but I'll get back to that. And yes, I still have all my fingers. Installing them was pretty simple, in part because I already had a pair of big hydraulic jacks that I'd used the summer we moved in to prop up the barn floor with posts and beams from below.

On a side note, one of the original front porch posts is still providing supporting services today. It's at my sister and brother-in-law's place, along with the Shogun Katana bicycle I mentioned a while back. Only instead of sitting in a shed, the post is busy holding up a neat bird house my brother-in-law made. Mike is a super guy. He's a former technology guy who decided to follow his heart, and is now making custom furniture and cabinetry. And it's very nice stuff, at that. His blog is at, and his website is

A few weeks ago, I'd planned to do some painting on the porches, so I borrowed my boss' power washer, and cleaned everything up a bit. And in the process, I discovered that the baseboard of one of the two posts I didn't replace (one the previous owner had made) was rotting. I pulled the baseboard off, and found the core of the post to be soaking wet and rotten as well. It seems the end-grain had been wicking water its entire life, and my guess is that it had stayed wet because that corner stays shaded by a big maple. Another project! Sweet! (That's sarcasm, btw.)

So I'm now in the process of making a sixth post. And with fresh data that Douglas fir will both wick water and rot, I'm going to make that post out of cedar (fortunately, just like the first five I made), and put a wicking barrier on the end grain. Cedar has gotten expensive, by the way. A 10' 4x4 was like $90 -- that's close to mahogany prices! I'll have pictures and more on the post fabrication process later. Happy Halloween!

All for now,


No comments: