All Hands On Deck {Part Three}

Hold onto your britches, this is a doozy of a post. Why? The deck has been removed and almost completely rebuilt in one weekend. I’m going to be straight honest and say the music I put with this video makes me laugh every time I watch it. It starts slow and then just gets fantastic. Andy is so used to me laughing at my own antics he just rolls with it. That, and he knows how awesome I am. He is a lucky lucky man.

Without further ado: how to remove a deck, in one step.

I feel like the video should be this entire post. I won’t do that to you though. So let’s delve into building the new structure and laying the decking itself. The balusters, rails & final stair treads will be the next and last post on the deck (if you’re just joining in on this super-fun-times project you can catch up first here and here). As a side note, this deck might look narrow in the photos below, but it’s actually a fairly good size. I’ll get dimensions from my awesome man-friend and get back to you.


To start this shindig Andy did all of his measuring and marking and then dug holes for the posts to hold up the deck.

Once he set both posts and made them level, he then removed the vinyl siding on the house, insulation and barrier, so he could put on the ledger. Since we’re re-doing all of the siding on the house it was important to remove it before we put the ledger on. Not only does it create a flat surface, but we don’t want old siding and insulation caught underneath of it.

Andy then did some math, and some more leveling. You’ve been forewarned, there is a lot of leveling when building a deck. A proper deck at least. Our old deck was proof you don’t need to level a deck.

See, I help. My man-sized, or at-least-large-for-a-lady-my-height, hands come in useful.

The dogs kept running out the basement door, which had an extension cord coming out of it so we couldn’t close it. Rosie decided the tractor was a good spot to perch and watch what was going on around her. I had to agree, that black seat keeps your warm when it’s cold out.

Before I go any further, all of the structural base pieces for our deck are from pressure treated wood. Regular wood will rot out over time and it’s bad news. PT is the way to go, but you need to be careful disposing of it as you cannot burn it and do not let dogs chew on it. PT = good deck, bad chew toy and bad wood stove or bonfire material.

After Andy had everything marked out for the ledger, he put it up with some lag bolts. Once it was in and secure he then used this piece of metal and the level to figure out how tall he needed to cut each post to have a level deck surface. I don’t have a photo of this though as I was holding the metal piece and level while he eyed it and did the math out. This was essentially how it worked though. He placed the metal piece against the ledger, I held the level on top of the metal piece and then he measured the correct height and repeated this on the other footing.

Once the measurements were complete, the posts were cut and put in.

Then the first of the structural support beam pieces went in. He made the beam by notching the posts and sandwiching two pieces together with pieces in between and on each end which added rigidity. If any of those terms are wrong, do not blame Andy. He is outside, and Rosie is just a dog who does not know construction terms no matter how many times I ask her. Before he added the final rigidity pieces in, he cut the two beams to the exact size so they would be the same length as the ledger.  Then Lee came over to help Andy with the deck. You might remember Lee briefly from a post on our addition foundation a long time ago. He and Andy work together, and Lee is a cabinet maker by trade and a good guy and his family is awesome. They also live close by which is a double bonus.

Lee helped Andy out for a while, while telling me he would turn the back hayfield into a couple golf holes, which makes every ounce of my DNA cringe, and makes him laugh. I’ve threatened withholding home cooked food if he keeps it up. I’ve informed him good healthy agricultural land should not be anything other than good hearty land. It should be farmed and used for agricultural purposes. The boys then laughs because clearly even Lee knows what buttons to push.

Andy once told me I have an “easy” button in the middle of my forehead. Like the big red “that was easy” staples button. He is no longer allowed to tap my forehead and say, “that was easy” when he gets me going. That happened about three times before he got “the look” I inherited from my father and a stern “knock it off”.

The boys called it quits around five so we could get ready to go to a friends local fundraiser, and Lee could have dinner with his family. I even did my hair (sort of) and makeup. I actually looked like this after. I normally look like your friendly bridge monster on the weekends, which Lee can attest to. The poor guy had to see it…two days in a row. I am yet to decide if my poor husband is immune to it yet, or if he’s secretly suffering. Or if he just thinks I’m a babe no matter what. Let’s go with that one.  I should tell you that after eight years together I still think my husband is still handsome as the dickens if not more so, but particularly first thing in the morning. I’m not sure he even knows that. He will now.

Clearly I do not use Photoshop and I’m not a damn bit ashamed about it. Wrinkles, scars and marks? You bet.

I am so off base here right now. I really need to get back on track. Deck post.


After Lee and Andy had finished the basics of the structure of the deck, Andy got back to work putting the structural support for the actual decking in. Then.

Then my friends – decking!

About this time, Lee came over again to help Andy put the rest of the decking on. So let’s just fast forward to that part. Oh wait, but first I have to tell you that Andy apparently saved every screw from when we first got the decking so he could re-use them and so they would match perfectly.

Yep, he saved all of the screws. Even the one I’ve lost. It’s the screw he holds nearest and dearest to his heart.

I wouldn’t say I was concerned by any means, but I was just curious what it would be like to have synthetic decking. It. Is. Fantastic. I’m serious. The upside is that it is so smooth, and comfortable on your feet. I truly love it. I love not having to worry about splinters anymore, and I just love how it feels on bare feet. The downside is that the dogs left marks in it in no time, and it’s expensive if you have to buy it. The expensive part is the reason we won’t be putting it on our full length porch on the other side of the house, unless we somehow score a ton of it for free again but I doubt that.

Once the decking was on it was time to build stairs. Because of the way the stairs are in relation to our walk way it was a wonky calculation from what I gathered between Lee doing math on a scrap piece of wood and Andy running scenarios on his computer. They ended up with a comfortable set of stairs to work with and got to cutting it out. First was the test fit to see how well their calculations worked out, before fulling cutting the treads out.

They nailed it on the first time, and Andy cut the treads out. While he was doing this he gave me a tip for you guys. It’s real easy to use a skilsaw or sawzall to cut these, but your bound to over cut or go off course. He recommends cutting treads almost all the way with a skilsaw but leaving just enough to hold it, and then using a handsaw to cut the rest of it out. It’s more work but you will get a cleaner and nicer tread with very little risk to over cuts, which you will see in your staircase.

Another simple common sense tip is once you have one side of your stairs cut out perfectly don’t bother trying to re-draw everything on perfect for the other side, just use the correct side as a template.

After the boys were done with this, they got one side up using a hanging metal brace specifically meant for this purpose, Andy said it’s called a Simpson Strap, and then put the other side up and leveled it.

The boys had me take this photo because they got it level the very first try, or as I believe they called it “nuts on” (sorry Gram). Boys. Also, the walk way is not square to the stairs and that’s something we’re saying “who cares” about right now, and will likely not care about for years to come. Once we get the house finished and work a little more on the landscaping and hardscaping we’ll probably take the stairs off in one piece and fix the path to be square, but for now…meh.

After a while the attention spans were going. So out came the tractors. Specifically, our 1969 Holder from Eddie Nash in New Hampshire which has a story all of it’s own for another day. Lee does not own a tractor. Lee should own a tractor. This photo proves why.

This is about where this post ends. The boys used the old treads from the previous stairs as temporary treads for these stairs. On a side note, does anyone remember how delicious Columbo yogurt was? Especially the vanilla?For now here’s a reminder of what we started with and where we are now. I love it already and it’s not even done.

Oh, and Rosie likes to run full tilt from the house, over the deck and launch into the yard. Launching is sort of her thing, and I’m pretty sure she thinks we made her a giant launching pad. I’ll let her have it, for now. She’ll be pretty upset when those rails go on.

I, on the other hand, will be thrilled. Counting down the days to a nice dinner and a cool drink on the new deck. I have the best husband in the history of husbands. Lee’s pretty cool too.



All Hands On Deck {Part Two}

As I mentioned earlier this week Andy and I decided the first project we had to do on the house was to replace the deck which leads into our kitchen, and is on the opposite side of our addition we’re starting soon. We were going to have to replace it anyway down the line, and we really needed a reliable safe way to enter the house during renovations so this was the perfect place to start (you can find a post on the background of the deck we’re replacing here). I decided this second post would be about the actual materials we’re using. As a reminder, this is the basic design of the deck (this is only one panel, not the entire side of the deck, imagine this repeated).

When I went downstairs yesterday, Andy was ripping the cedar balusters on the table saw. We originally were going to do wide balusters but nixed them, and I’m happy we did. This is going to look a lot better. After he ripped them to size, he put these side by side so you could get a rough visual of what the balusters will actually look like laid out.

So what are we using for materials?

  • Balusters & Posts: Cedar
  • Decking: Synthetic
  • Rails: Mahogany

While we bought the joist material for the deck, Andy’s thriftyness means we already have all of the cedar, mahogany and decking here at the house.

The cedar is from someone who knew Andy’s family. The guy hauled it out of Greenville and then sawed it into boards. They were kept in the upstairs of Andy’s mom’s garage for years; when the house was sold the cedar was among some of the wood Andy decided to take. Cedar is pretty awesome for decking. It’s rot resistant, bug resistant and it smells awesome so I’m pretty happy with the wood choice. I’m really happy with the price. Free.

As for the mahogany—it makes me laugh a little that we’re going to have rich mahogany railings on our deck. Mahogany is not cheap and it sounds so extravagant, and like something Ron Burgundy would do.

In reality, we would never buy wide mahogany railings for a deck. That kind of cash just doesn’t exist in this house. However, you know we didn’t buy it. The wide mahogany railings came from a house being torn down Andy was working on, and he salvaged it. They are dusty but they are really beautiful in person, and they are going to look amazing once refinished. I understand the look might not be for everyone, but we both love the craftsman style so it’s right up our alley.

As far as decking, which I don’t have a photo of, it was given to us by a friend of a family. I was actually there for that one. We loaded it up while the sky couldn’t decide between pouring rain, clapping thunder, or bright blue skies. One second we’re dry, the next we’re soaking wet, the next we’re standing in the garage for cover, and the next it’s blue skies again. I can attest that synthetic decking can hold up to bad weather. I need no further convincing.

Now that all of the materials have been covered, the next decking post will hopefully be the actual removal and building of our new deck. I’m hoping to get a video of the removal; since it’s a free floating deck you know it’s going to include our Mahindra—and anytime you can remove an entire section of your house with a tractor it’s worth video taping.




All Hands On Deck!

It’s official. House renovations are under way! Excuse me while I shriek and do the dance of joy.

The deck is our first official house project to kick off “The Summer of Renovations” as I have just now decided to call it, and I can tell you this is going to be a multi-post project so it doesn’t end up super long, and so I can blog in real time. So let’s kick this shindig off.

We really need a reliable way to get in the house while we build the addition and porch on the other side of the house and this deck is not cutting it. It looks like should be the dock for the redneck yacht club.

It isn’t flush against the house either, it’s a couple inches away due to the hose spigot.

So I am more than happy to see this thing gone. Sayonara deck. Au Revoir. See you on the flip side when you’re a cedar and mahogany masterpiece or engineering. But before we go there. Let’s take a look at a few more photos.

You know you can’t deny you have a real fugly house when you’re confronted with looking at it in a photo. Believe it or not, it’s easy to ignore the house when you have everything else that’s pretty…but goodness gracious. Yikes.

straight on
Road facing the house

…and just because I can, a further back shot of the step side.

This is like one of those “circle how many things are wrong” photos. Focus on the deck people. Ignore the dogs blue pool for cooling off when it gets wicked hot, the seedlings I started which have taken a ridiculous turn of events-in the “of course that happened” way and the ugliest house soffets ever.

Just really focus on that deck. Do you see the fact it’s “leveled” on the right with a cinder block? Do you see the last step leaning up against the pitch fork on the left? Or that it has no handrail on the right? Or that the deck has a giant wave in it from the fact it’s oh-so-level as mentioned a few sentences previous? There are also soft spots you can’t see. Plus, it’s just ugly.

First order of business was apparently moving the spigot, which I entirely missed—as demonstrated by me coming home tonight to find Andy using it and me yelling across the yard, “bloggable activities!” (which is normally Andy’s way of letting me know something good is about to go down). He then informed me it’s been in place since Sunday. Yep. Here’s me. Here’s me being out of it. But, I’m glad it’s done. So the working spigot is now on the right, and the old one is not useable. I’m not sure what the hole is above but my guess is they put it there and then decided they wanted it lower. Since the siding will be entirely replaced this is an easy repair.

Around the same time this was all going on, Andy and I discussed a few design options. Some he liked and I didn’t, some I liked and he didn’t. Then he came up with this design and we both liked it. There will be a mahogany railing, with cedar posts and balusters – all from wood we have on hand. We decided to leave a space between the top railing and the deck, and make a “panel” baluster system that will tie into the posts and will be attached in the center of each panel to the deck. That’s the best way I can explain it. Andy’s quick drawing on some scrap wood should do the trick better.

Backstory done. Now we get to move into the more fun posts. As I’m writing this the buzz of the table saw is going in the basement as Andy rips the balusters.

Let the games begin.



There Is Unrest In The Forest, There Is Trouble With The Trees

The band Rush said it best, and it’s true. There’s trouble in tree paradise around here, and momma ain’t happy about it. About three years ago we planted three fruit trees in front of our garden, a pear, cherry and plum. For the last two years they all bloomed beautifully.

Then it happened. This year while the other two were budding, the cherry tree didn’t. I thought maybe the roots got choked. Or too much water formed. But we have good soil with good drainage, that couldn’t be it. I am so new at fruit trees that I feel completely in the dark about what’s going on, despite researching a ton.

Then. Andy came in and said, “I think we have a problem, I can snap the branches. It’s dead.”

After analyzing again, we realized there was still play in about half to three-quarters of the branches, just a few were clearly gone to the orchard in the sky. But now I’m pretty concerned not only for the welfare of the cherry tree, but for all of the other fruit trees including the apple and pear trees we planted last year in a separate part of the yard. The photos below are where my concern stems from-no pun intended, and it’s getting worst.

Damage on the leader

I’ve looked up every disease I can find for a black cherry tree and none of them look like this except maybe, maybe silver leaf. Here are some more shots.

Where the trunk meets the ground.
Trunk just above where branches start.
Trunk. Top left of the wound is where I cut a sucker off last year I believe-I'm pretty sure that black mark wasn't there.

And then there is this, which I spotted after carefully staring at the tree for a while. A weird white spot that looked like it was on the surface. The camera is focused in right on it, to the right of the bud.

White Spot On Cherry Tree

And finally, branch discoloration. Is this normal? I’ve never noticed it before but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been there all along.

Cherry Tree Branch discoloration

After all of this, I started inspecting the other trees, especially my plum tree and I gulped. The same plum tree I just fertilized and put saw dust around. How I didn’t see this before, or think, “that’s not right” I don’t know. I honestly have no idea what I’m looking at, but it doesn’t look good. Maybe this is normal, but it doesn’t look normal.

Plum Tree Trunk

The rest of my plum tree is beautiful though, with what looks like no damage to the branches like the cherry has.

Finally, the pear. It’s not blooming as much as it did last year, but this tree despite being a dwarf has always seemed slightly more stunted than it should.

Pear Trunk
Pear Branch
Pear Bloom

Someone please tell me I’m paranoid, this is normal, and whatever has taken my cherry tree hostage hasn’t destroyed my other trees. Unless that’s not the truth. I’m at a loss. Thank God for MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association) as they help me try to figure this out. Which is part of the reason I wrote this post. If any of you have suggestions though, speak up. . I need real proven knowledge from those who have dealt with it.



Gee-Golly Country Life—Sort of?

I got to thinking and when I get to thinking now and again a blog post happens. This life really is, “The Adventure That Lasts”.

Pittston Farms

Sometimes when I write this blog I wonder if people think we live some grand old gee-golly country life down an old dirt road on 100 acres with a hand pump for water and gas lanterns for light for regular not-just-power-outages use. Maybe you don’t think that at all and I’m way off which is entirely possible. We definitely live a country lifestyle, and we really do live amongst a small farming family but I mean, I go to the city for my day job—and I enjoy what it has to offer. I just don’t write much about the city very much ever because it’s not who I am at heart, and this blog is all about heart.

When I come home, the world is taken off my shoulders and I can breath. We personally own a little over an acre, but are surrounded by over 100 acres of woods and farmland that we have free access to use as we please as long as we respect it. We might as well be related in blood to our neighbors so it certainly feels like it’s ours somehow. I think there’s just this understanding that if we all pitch in to take care of the land, the animals, respect the abundant wildlife, and each other it all works out, and you know what, it does. It’s pretty simple around here.

I sort of have the perfect balance where I live. If I need things I’m not too far out, but I’m just far enough out that I won’t go to the grocery store on the weekend if I don’t have to. Maine’s pretty unique like that though; you can be in the city by the ocean and an hour later be in the middle of nowhere farmland, or in the mountains with crisp cool swimming holes. Despite being near some towns most people would know, I say my town name and people screw their faces all up and have no idea where I’m talking about. I’m more surprised when people do know. Let alone meet someone from my town. This town is a gem of country and “back in time” living in a lot of ways so there’s always this sort of inherent understanding of each other when we meet. It’s like the other person just gets it. Oh, and if you go too fast on our road you will bust your suspension. Not that I would know that or anything. Andy might though, he’s had to replace a few parts…on my car.

We’re just two twenty somethings living life in our little piece of countryside, and amongst the bigger countryside around us, and enjoying ourselves, even when homesteading gets tough—like haying in July with a migrane, or preserving the garden by standing over a vat of hot vinegar in the middle of August. Truth be told, I wouldn’t change it for anything.

So I guess I just want you to know that yes, we live a homesteadish life style and we live where is legally deemed rural, but I won’t pretend we’re plowing our soil with oxen and churning our own butter. Unless we do those things someday; and I honestly wouldn’t put it past us. I would consider the life we live idyllic for us and maybe that’s why you guys like reading, because of how much I just love our life. Or maybe it’s because I fight with our garden tiller Troy and honestly write about it pissing me off, who knows. I just know we deal with similar stuff to you guys like day jobs and commutes and budgeting and cooking dinner and dirty laundry and the excitement of your first house and making it your own. We just have huge agricultural based dreams and maybe that’s rare for twenty something year olds. I’m not sure. I just know who we are, are people who might have something small but the dreams and plans are already as big as the moon.

I know I’ve said some of this in various posts, but here it is all in one. So boom, there ya go.