Restoring Wooden Structures

back_yard_guy(z6 KS)January 21, 2004

Restoring gardens sometimes entails refurbishing or replacing wooden garden structures.

Many of you may have heard that CCA treated lumber is no longer (legally) available at home centers. You may, or may not, know that ACQ treated lumber replaced it. If you're working with replacement wood during your restoratin projects, here's some stuff that you may want to consider.

Like my previous post, this is an active topic on aother GW forum.

Here is a link that might be useful: ACQ Lumber

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I really appreciate both the link above and the other informative link about ACQ lumber you posted on the other thread. We used CCA treated lumber posts to put up our wire fence last June. (I'm not all that worried about the leaching of toxins into the soil as I painted all 108 posts myself with three coats of good quality paint.) Although I knew of the change to ACQ, I had no idea it was so corrosive. I also don't trust the local contractors I know to have much knowledge about the right kind of nails, screws, joist hangers etc. to use with the ACQ stuff. I'll probably go with the borate treated lumber next time I need treated lumber. Thanks.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2004 at 8:46PM
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There are numerous really nice woods that are chemical free and have a rating by the U.S. Navy for up twenty years ground contact. These treated woods are gauranteed only for the treated surface. They often don'tlast more than about ten years in contact with moist ground.
Ipe wood, or Purple heart are becoming popular, Juniper is great when you can find it. Also these woods are often sustainably harvested.
Of course they are also beautiful and, of course they are fairly expensive; but, if you are paying for labor, it will be cheaper than painting, and repainting and then again replacing. ... you'll have to drill a hole before nailing or screwing.
There is a problem with replaceing cedar and redwood, as some of the old structures may have used Old Growth timber, and the new timber doesn't allways look the same. Old Growth timber can be had, but at a really big price.
- A

    Bookmark   January 22, 2004 at 11:33PM
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back_yard_guy(z6 KS)

AshaK, I've always enjoyed your posts and surely don't wish to aggrevate you with my comments. Please consider this to be a friendly arguement.

Your statement about treated wood is applicable to retention-level .25 treated lumber, which isn't suited for either ground contact or water contact. Yes, it is a surface treatment. Lumber rated at .40 is more durable and is rated for ground contact. A reputable contractor would use .60 rated lumber for imbedded columns and posts. It'll be around longer than either of us will be. Barn builders use .60 posts. It's treated through. Morton (barn builder) guarantees them for 50 years. I've been around a good many barns that have been around for a lot longer than that.

The one thing a builder can do to mess up the installation is to embed posts in concrete. That is the one single most detrimental thing one can do. Nearly all contractors do it, and almost all books recommend it, but is the WRONG thing to do. The only justification to use concrete would be for corner posts for a high-tension wire fence. Do you ever see utility contactors imbed electric/telephone posts in concrete? Nope. Never. A little ingenuity with guying and bracing will accomplish a lot more. A friend had cedar picket fence posts, embedded in concrete, rot complete off in merely two years. I suggested that he used tamped soil. He's never had one rot off since. Barn builders, like Mortin, Wick, Lester, Stockade, etc. refuse to embed their posts in concrete.

Treated lumber, made of heartwood, is useless regardless of its treatment level. You casn identify it by its slightly pinkish or tanish tinge. Conversely, cedar & redwood lumber (white color mixed in with the red), cut from sap wood, is no more durable than any other lumber.

The lumber that you recommended is surely good stuff, but is either unaffordable to the typical homeowner - or it is nearly unworkable. Ipe makes excellant deck planking, but I cannot imagine anyone wanting to build with it. High-speed steel cutting tools are useless with Ipe. Carbide-tipped saw blades, router bits and drills are very short-lived with Ipe.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2004 at 12:01PM
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Have you found much success with using Simpson Strong Ties post supports ?

We use them quite a bit in the wood construction end of our business.
Simpson now offers a decorative architectural line of metal straps and connectors for those straps and ties that are designed to be visable.
This decorative line is not as stylistically complete as I would like it to be.
I often think that I 'd like to submit some of our metal strapping designs to Simpson so that they would be more readily available , but have never gotten around to doing it.
It would be a thrill though to see a metal strap that I designed sitting next to one of my grandfathers inventions( the Lally column ) that is offered now thru the Simpson strong tie catalog.

( tradition dies hard... it must be in the genes )

    Bookmark   January 25, 2004 at 4:33PM
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back_yard_guy(z6 KS)

Mich, I'm thrilled to hear from you again. That's the only kind of column base that I use. There may other good bases, but this is the one that I've chosen. Decorative bases? Send them your idea. You'll never know if you don't try. Theirs are UGLY!!

    Bookmark   January 25, 2004 at 8:59PM
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Yeah, the 1 inch standoff is my preference too.
It assists in keeping the open endgrain of the post out of contact with the concrete and or any minor soil build up around the base. The flat table surface makes it a little bit easier and convenient to set the posts plumb too.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2004 at 12:31PM
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Interesting thread. Thanks for the heads up BYG!!!
stated doing a little research after reading your post and the link provided to the other thread.
Borate treated lumber certainly sounded like a safer and more economical alternative to CCA & ACQ. However after a little reading it seems because borates remain water soluble, lumber treated with it cannot be used in a situation where the lumber would be in constant contact with water. Other situations though would seem to make this wood the safer alternativeand less expensive (?) alternative.

Yellow Locust (Robinia) still the choice for untreated fence posts (anyway ) around here. lol

site below for those interested in the Borate Treatment.

Here is a link that might be useful: Borate Treated Wood for Constuction (pdf)

    Bookmark   January 26, 2004 at 2:33PM
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i used post supports on the deck i built 20 years ago, never would even consider placing the 4x4's into concrete. same on my pergola, 11 years ago....

    Bookmark   January 27, 2004 at 8:06AM
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back_yard_guy(z6 KS)

Smart lady, you are!!!! My bet is that you're fiesty too!!

    Bookmark   January 27, 2004 at 12:36PM
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i can't be fiesty, i'm on the local fire department and we all have to be "nice, nice, nice" and watch our "public relations p+q's" i'll tell you, it's one of the hardest parts of my job........

    Bookmark   January 28, 2004 at 7:55AM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

A "handyman" working across the street parked his truck on a slope--forgot the emergency brake---and knocked down one of our mailboxes. He re-set the darn thing on a 4x4 pressure treated POST--set in CONCRETE--all this happened last fall while I was out of town--DH didn't know any better. Oh well--I'll dig it up when I have too...

I'm glad we had our decks re-built before they changed the lumber! Doesn't staining with oil-based stain seal in any undesirable chemicals? And who lets kids chew onthe deck?

Another thought--didn't see any SQUIRRELS dead of arsenic poisoning in the six months we let the deck weather before we stained it...and they DID chew on the railings. I hate squirrels...


    Bookmark   January 28, 2004 at 12:43PM
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back_yard_guy(z6 KS)

I hesitate to post this - I'm not the least bit interested in stirring up controversy...but, my horse barn has wood stall floors. I did that because we've had several instances of horses getting sore backs when standing on dished-out dirt floors. Anyway, I built these floors with CCA-treated lumber. My horses eat their hay & spilled grain off these floors. We've got an old gelding who has been eating off treated wood floors for more years than a lot of this forum's members have been alive. Doesn't appear to affect him adversely.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2004 at 1:02PM
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Cady(6b/Sunset34 MA)

I think that treated lumber has to be chewed for the heavy metals to get into your system. Just touching the surface doesn't seem like a way to absorb copious amounts of toxins, except maybe on newly treated wood.

An alternative to chemically treated wood, is to surface-scorch untreated wood, using a propane torch. Making a layer of carbon on the surface works as a deterrant to wood-boring insects and fungi. It's work, and of course the wood looks burned, but it will last for years in the ground.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2004 at 1:09PM
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ginger_nh(z4 NH)

I researched this topic a bit this summer when a friend of mine was going to make raised bed vegetable gardens from a lot of old treated railroad ties.

There is a huge amount of information on treated landscaping lumber. Quite a few newer studies indicated that there was no leaching of harmful chemicals into the soil any farther than a couple of inches out from the wood, if I remember correctly. So if you planted your veggies a foot away from the edge, you'd ostensibly be safe.

My friend went ahead with the treated lumber beds, but decided to line them with non-PVC plastic just to be on the safe side. Where there's a will there's a way.


    Bookmark   January 28, 2004 at 2:01PM
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Back yard guy wrote---
"A reputable contractor would use .60 rated lumber for imbedded columns and posts. It'll be around longer than either of us will be. Barn builders use .60 posts. It's treated through. Morton (barn builder) guarantees them for 50 years. I've been around a good many barns that have been around for a lot longer than that."

Well I have pulled out ground contact rated wood that I have installed (so I know what that it was for sure g.c. wood) in which the core rotted within 15 years. Yes it is more helpful if you don't imbed it in concrete, partly because treated wood does rot from the inside, which isn't guaranteed. The higher the rating the thicker the surface that is treated ... still the untreated core can rot.
Besides a problem with the ends being in contact with the ground I've even occasionally found problems in treated wood that has been covered by a nice looking wood. On the other hand, I have also seen good quality old growth cedar and redwood posts that have lasted 20 years...
One problem with installing a post on stirrups is that it can have problems with wind ... it is a little shaky unless you use stirrups that go up the post a good long way, personally i even find a one foot height not that satisfactory for some situations, like door/gate posts in fances. I've even used stirrups along with a metal post down the center of the post tied in with concrete and the metal post tied in by bolts. This is of course not a pretty site unless you have your own stirrups forged.
Using Ipe and other very hard woods is, as you say, difficult, but if you get some local woods such as Juniper, Locust or Cryptomeria that is relatively fresh (say within 4-5 months of being milled) ... and don't fear the shrinkage factor) you will have little problem cutting it with normal tools. These do, as you say, make good decking etc. I might not build a house with kiln dry Ipe, but where i used to live iin North Carolina there are some beautiful old barns buit with locust. But then I wouldn't build a house or barn with treated lumber: ... one reason is because of the problems with arsenic (which all the treating companies say is not a problem) but even in the case of CAB treated lumber which is environmentally friendly, it doesn't look that great.
I think there are a lot of pieces to this puzzle that depending upon what you are doing, what the budget is etc. I've been using a lot of hand split granite and innovative uses of concrete and metal for a lot of my fencing, esp the posts. For planting beds stained concrete or stone for sure!
As you can see I'm not a big lover of treated wood.
- Asha

    Bookmark   January 29, 2004 at 11:48AM
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back_yard_guy(z6 KS)

I understand your dislike of treated lumber. I share your dislike. But in many regions, that's your only choice (I never heard of locust untill you & Cady brought it up's not available here).

I also share your dislike of stirrups. I would never use one except that local code forces me to. Because of that, I use the one that Mich posted the the pic of.

I don't doubt for second that you've pulled rotted GC timbers. I do doubt that they were .60 retention level. .40 is also GC, and yes it will rot fairly quickly compared to the .60.

The primary reason you see that is because home centers sell treated wood that is 'juvenile' wood. Juvenile wood won't absorb the preservative. It is a bunch cheaper, which is why HD & Lowes love to stock it.

AshaK, please don't construe my position as argumentative with yours. In a perfect world, one wouldn't have to use treated lumber. My world ain't perfect, and my customers aren't affluent.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2004 at 12:56PM
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Cady(6b/Sunset34 MA)

The "juvenile" wood splits like a sonofagun. That has to help accelerate the rotting as well.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2004 at 12:58PM
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kitcatclub(z5 NY)

OK, I'm going to ask a dumb question about the stirrup thing Mich posted. If I understand it correctly, you slip the stirrup onto the end of the post and nail the dickens out of it (that's what the holes in the top are for, right?). Then you set the thing upright, put it in the hole and pour the concrete. How does this help preserve the wood? It is still in contact with the 'crete.

Now, the only alternative I can see is to only slide the stirrup part way on the post. The end of the post would stop where section 'H' stops, then you concrete it up to the top of section 'D'. If that's the way it works, would it be beneficial to take one of those monster nails they use to connect railroad ties together and nail it in the bottom of the post? That way, when you cemented section D in, the nail would be cemented, too. It might provide more stability.

DH and I are building a pergola this spring, so I have a vested interest in this question!

    Bookmark   January 29, 2004 at 3:45PM
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Dig your post hole first - to the proper depth for your calculated load.
Insert your rebar cage if required.
Insert your sonar tube or if your soil is stable enough pour your concrete directly into the footing hole.
Vibrate your concrete - either manually or by hand. (I'll hold that joke for now... )
Scree the top of your footing level and bevel/slope the corners/ edges for drainage.
Insert the bottom U half of the Simpson Strong tie. Leaving the 1 inch stand off plate and attachment straps above the concrete footing.
Plum and level the Simpson strong tie.
Let the concrete cure
Slip your post into the stirrups and screw or nail.
Install decorative molding around the base to cover the galvinized exposed straps or as we did in the photograph that was posted simply sleeve a composite column base and trunk over the 4x4. ( they are amazingly inexpensive ) for a decorative finished look.
( we choose a doric styled column because the house had the same style columns used on its architectural facade )

    Bookmark   January 29, 2004 at 4:58PM
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back_yard_guy(z6 KS)

KitKat, if you follow Mich's instructions, you can't go wrong...concise & thorough. About nails driven into the end of posts...whether monster nails, or whatever...nails driven into end-grain have about 1/6th the holding power of that same nail driven into face-grain or end-grain. Simpson makes special nails for use with their connectors. If you choose not to use them, and you are concerned about nails working their way out...use ring-shank nails. You'll have to destroy the lumber to remove them. Or, you can use screws.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2004 at 9:30PM
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mich, i had to laugh, took me back to my old carpenter formwork days. vibrating your concrete, on the big job sites, the huge vibrators were called "donkey dicks". it was amaizing the names those guys would create for some of the tools we used......

    Bookmark   January 30, 2004 at 8:03AM
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kitcatclub(z5 NY)

Thanks, Michelle! I've saved your instructions and, if we actually do it right, I'll post some pics. Where is the photo you mention? I tried the gallery and the GW Gallery, but can't find it.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2004 at 8:44AM
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No, I don't think we are posting opposing views at all. Rather it is that when building with wood there actually are a number of considerations to mull over. For instance, using something to cover up the stirrups is common, when the added on part doesn't get in the way of the rest of the building and when it looks appropriate, though I haven't seen the use of the plastic column bases that Michelle suggests.
Cost is one issue. Replacement is of course a large cost to begin with and so should be considered from the point of view of the future as well as the present..
As has been brought forth, I think, the issue of chemically treated lumber is not as simple as it would seem on the surface. The one environmentally friendly process is probably not easily accessible, the brands of treated wood you mention are also not always available but at least one can learn how to pick and choose the "good" pieces.
There are also a growing number of premade fencing panels that are cheap and can be used, but like the description of a weed they can easily be like a plant out of place.
Metal is another interesting material with which to replace wood. It's cost can be about the same as a presentable wood if you use creative designs. Stone may give back a sense of an older time, but the interesting thing about stone is the new methods of gluing and cutting. There is even one product of stone flooring cut just like boards. And cement isn't just cement anymore.
I'm surprised that the new combos of recycled plastic and wood dust haven't' been mentioned. Though I made a deck and a planter box.. and probably only once.
Regarding restoration of an old structure (rather than just fixing something) an old building often used old growth timber which looks and acts (esp with regard to duration) very differently from the wood we have today. In come cases the wood is not even available any more.
Regarding woods like juniper, locust and some other local woods, it may mean that you need to mill your own wood, and there are a growing number of portable saw mill people these days.
- A

    Bookmark   January 30, 2004 at 11:27AM
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Years and years ago when we were framing up our stepped foundation it was just me , the boyfriend and the concrete pumper dude.
It was a hot June day and I was incharge of the donkey dick.
Sweat was pouring down my forehead and without really thinking ( you know what kind of frantic pace and hurried stress one is under when working with concrete ) I temporarily wedged the donkey dick between my legs while taking a quick moment to wipe the sweat from entering into my eyes.
Of course at that exact same moment our very Christian neighbors came onto the jobsite just as the boyfriend yelled ' Git that vibrator out between your legs and use it where it really matters '
Then the concrete pumper dude had to add a couple of humorous jabs and I couldn't resist adding a few of my own puns.

Needless to say , we didn't get too many impromptu visits from the neighbors across the street after that.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2004 at 12:18PM
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mich, now that we have everybody's attention (tee hee).........

    Bookmark   January 30, 2004 at 3:40PM
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Cady(6b/Sunset34 MA)

Now mich just has that electric eraser doohicky... :D

    Bookmark   January 30, 2004 at 3:48PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)


    Bookmark   January 30, 2004 at 4:42PM
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Oh, dear ... now that I've wiped my eyes so that I can see enough to type . . .

Recently for posts or garden applications where one would have traditionally used railroad ties or treated lumber that are going to be in contact with soil, we've used a material that's recycled from the nonsteel parts of cars. It comes as a 6" x 6" (I'm not sure if it comes in other sizes), is dark brown in color, and is quite heavy. Since I haven't seen any info on leaching, we haven't used it in a garden with food, just in an ornamental garden and in concrete in sono (sp?) tubes as the foundation of some small sheds.
For some ornamental uses, like south or west facing porch balisters, my husband has used some of that plastic that can be used in place of wood. It can be cut, run through a shaper or router to get nice profiles, or turned, but isn't structurally sound enough to do the safety stuff for the rails and posts, so those are hollow with metal pipe inside. I know the idea of plastic sounds cheesy, but whatever this stuff is looks quite classy with a couple of coats of paint and won't splinter, etc. as the sun and weather does its thing on this type of application.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2004 at 7:40AM
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