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By Chris | October 4, 2011 - 11:45 pm - Posted in Alternative Materials, Decks & Fences, Farm & Ranch, How To, Poles, Posts, Pilings

What is the best fence post depth? That depends (of course) on what type of fence you are building and which post you are putting in the ground. We’ll cover a few here with some general fence builder rules.

Privacy Fence Post Depth — 1/3 of Height

The general rule of thumb for privacy fence posts is to bury them 1/3 the depth of the height of the post. This is easy for your typical privacy fence. Use 8? posts, bury 2? in the ground, and you’re left with a 6? post on which to build a fence.

Concrete is still a good idea (I recommend it), especially if you live in an area with high winds or occasional hurricanes. I’ve even drilled a 9/16? x 8? hole in the bottoms of the posts and driven a piece of re-bar in with about 12? sticking out. The result is a post buried 2 feet in the ground, with re-bar another 12? (driven into the clay soil), surrounded by concrete — very strong posts. Overkill? Whatever, dude.

Farm & Ranch Fence

Your typical farm or ranch fence, especially one with wire stretched, has 2 types of posts — line posts and corner posts.

Use the 1/3 of height rule for the line posts depths. With 6 foot posts, you will probably bury 1.5 to 2 feet and end up with a 4 to 4.5 foot post. For corner posts, you might want to use a rule of 1/2 the height for the fence post depth. So, a 5 foot tall corner post would probably be buried 2.5 feet in the ground — probably more like 3 feet buried of an 8? post.

By Chris | September 30, 2010 - 8:46 am - Posted in How To, Plans

CT school of wood working

CT Valley School even teaches boatbuilding

Most (ok, nearly all) of discusses larger projects but the more detailed wood working arts like furniture making and wood turning are interesting, too. The scope of wood working is immense so I thought an introduction to wood working schools would be the best way to show some of the variety – stuff you’ve surely seen but might not think much about.

So, we put together a list of relevant wood working schools in America…

Homestead Woodworking Institution

Homestead offers an impressive variety of courses for beginners to advanced students. From turning bowls to making furniture, Homestead Woodworking Institution has a well rounded set of classes to teach you everything you need to know. Located in Newmarket, NH, Homestead’s classes are affordable and you can even sign up online.

Lohr School For Woodworking

This popular wood working school is situated in Schwenksville, PA. The Lohr School for Woodworking is filled with exceptionally trained teachers that offer a comprehensive course level in wood working. You can learn all types of wood working techniques here but, most notably, Lohr teaches live edge free form wood working. Wood technology and joinery methods are covered in this school. This might be the school for the more artistic of you.

Connecticut Valley School

This wood working institution offers you a comprehensive learning program in every course level. Located in Manchester, CT, the Connecticut Valley School teaches traditional wood working skills such as wood turning and finishing but also offers course in such unique and [painstaking] skills as relief carving and boat building. The breadth of wood working techniques taught here is kind of amazing.

So, these are some of the wood working schools in United States that struck me as ones where you could get some great – and maybe unique – lessons.

I was going to make this a really big and comprehensive list and then I found this list of wood working schools and decided to stop writing more.

Happy Wood Working

By Chris | July 14, 2010 - 4:47 am - Posted in How To, Marine Structures, Treated Wood

On his 4th voyage over to America, Christopher Columbus lost all of his ships to shipworms. All of them. Why was so little wood found on the sunken Titanic when they finally raised it from the ocean floor? You got it…shipworms. You got that right, right?

Mollusks, Actually

So what are shipworms…and why and how do they cause so much damage? Shipworms (also known as Pileworms) actually are not really worms at all, but are rather a type of clam that has very small shells used for boring into wood in saltwater.

A marine bivalve mollusk (with 65 different species)…they get their name for their long, narrow, cylindrical bodies – resembling worms. However, upon closer inspection, you will find a small drill-like shell. This shell has two halves with a gap between them, like a clamshell. In the gap there is a muscular foot that acts as a suction cup, holding the shell in place while it’s razor-sharp edges scrape the wood ahead of it. Shipworms have long tubes that stick out into the water so the worm can breathe, and can also seal the worm in the wood in cases of extended periods out of water…low tides for example.

Up To 6 Feet Long

shipworm (tereda)Also known as “Termites of the sea”, shipworms eat sawdust. The stomach of shipworms has a pouch for storing sawdust and an organ/gland full of bacteria that aide in digesting wood. The bacteria take nitrogen from the water and convert it to protein for the worms’ nourishment. The shipworm invades wood while still in the larval stage, making an entrance hall that is usually too small to see. It uses the shells on its head to burrow. The ridged, rough surfaces rub the wood away as the worm moves from side to side. This cuts away a perfectly circular tube that is just larger than the shell. The wormlike body follows behind the shell, producing a chalk-like substance to line the burrow. As they burrow deeply into the wood, they grow very quickly. As the worm grows, so does the burrow. Depending on the size of their homes, shipworms can range in size from 6 inches to as long as 6 feet.

Expensive Damages

Once a shipworm claims a home, it is there for life. A piece of wood may be infested with shipworm, but they will deliberately avoid each other’s tunnels. Instead they twist and turn their tunnels until the wood becomes a mass of tubes and holes, and eventually collapses. Shipworms are sometimes called the mollusk with the million-dollar appetite. These creatures are credited with single-handedly destroying the Hudson River piers in New York City. Researchers estimate that untreated timbers, such as pier pilings, exposed to Hawaii’s ocean waters will last less than two years.

A Positive Note

However, this incredible appetite has a purpose. Large amounts of wood get into the oceans by river deposits, forests and mostly, humans. Shipworms play an integral role in reducing the amount of driftwood in the world’s oceans.

How To Stop Shipworms

So, how do we stop the shipworms & protect our ships & wooden structures? By protesting at the White House? Not likely. Shipworms don’t like copper….so we can build using copper nails, or even copper sheeting. A cheaper and easier method is simply using CCA treated wood which contains copper (CCA = Chromated COPPER Arsenate).

Well, We Like Oysters

Or, we can eat them. In some places, shipworms are considered a culinary delicacy. In the Philippines, it is prepared as ‘kinilaw’ – eaten raw, with vinegar or lime juice & chopped peppers and onions…Similar to ceviche. The taste has been compared to a very wide variety of foods ranging from milk to oysters.

Here are some options for those of you perplexed by the question of how to preserve wood posts. Whether you are trying to build a long-lasting fence or other structure or trying to extend the life of existing wood posts you have options. Without exceptions, the options are far easier before installation.

Pressure Treated Wood Posts
No additional work required – just buy wood posts treated for ground contact (usually .40pcf). Depending on the area where you are installing your pressure treated wood posts, they should last between 10 and 30 years (maybe more). 10 years if the area is pretty wet and/or has a bad termite problem and 30 years if the area is pretty dry.

Poly Coated Treated Wood Posts
poly coated wood posts from American Pole and TimberI only know of one place that offers poly coated wood posts – American Pole and Timber based in Houston, TX. The coating is a UV-resistant “poly urea” coating (look and feels like heavy vinyl) and is obviously tough as hell and will not come off of the wood. They guarantee treated poly coated posts will last 50 years. Pretty impressive. The product has only been around for about 10 years but I would put money on 50 years for treated wood coated with a thick UV-resistant vinyl. They supply any quantity but if you are outside of Texas or Louisiana, you might need to buy quite a few to justify the freight expense. You only need to have the post coated from about 6 inches above the ground line to the bottom of the post.

Plastic Coated Wood Posts
Similar to poly coated wood but I wouldn’t put my money on it. Buy treated posts and spray the bottom of the post up to about 6 inches above the ground line with spray-on plastic in a can. You can get a can of spray-on plastic for about $5 at the major big-box hardware stores. One can should easily cover the bottom 3 feet of about 10 posts. It’s cheaper than the vinyl option and should add 10 years onto any posts life.

Sealants or Stains
If you are going to seal or stain pressure treated wood, make sure it is dry first since sealing in the moisture left from the treating process will only make your posts rot faster. Sealing untreated posts will add a few years to their lives but, seriously, just get treated posts – unless you just LIKE replacing fences.

Paint is for color – not protection. Yes, it protects a little but, again, if you are going to use paint to preserve untreated wood posts just go ahead and admit that you like replacing fence posts. Want color? Paint away. Want preservation? Use treated posts.

The BEST WAY to Preserve Wood Posts
In my opinion, the absolute BEST way to preserve wood posts is with pressure treatment – whichever treatment chemical you choose – and a coating of some kind. The longest lasting wood posts will be pressure treated and coated with the vinyl coating. The most bang for your buck will probably be to use pressure treated posts and spray-on plastic.

Now you know how to preserve wood posts and which methods will work best for you. If you choose paint, don’t call me because I hate replacing posts. I will gladly lay in my hammock – supported by my vinyl coated treated posts – while you install your second set of painted posts, though. 🙂

By Chris | November 4, 2008 - 9:02 am - Posted in Decks & Fences, How To, Treated Wood

staining pressure treated lumber I regularly get questions about staining pressure treated lumber so here are some answers to as many of those questions as I can think of now. Before you read on, understand that staining or painting pressure treated lumber is just like staining untreated lumber. The main thing is that the wood needs to be clean and dry.

Can I stain pressure treated lumber?
Yes. You can stain pressure treated lumber as long as the wood is dry.

Why do I have to wait before staining pressure treated lumber?
The pressure treating process involves using a water-based solution to carry the treatment chemicals into the fibers of the lumber while under pressure. The process leaves the wood wet. If you want wood that is already dry, purchase KDAT lumber (KDAT = Kiln Dried After Treatment). KDAT is usually #1 and, yes, it costs more.

What are the consequences of staining pressure treated wood before it’s dry?
The stain or paint will probably bubble a little AND locking moisture into the wood might create a great place for fungus or rot to take hold and destroy some boards.

How long should I wait (allow the wood to dry) before staining pressure treated lumber?
It depends (of course). In a sunny, hot, and windy climate where it never rains your pressure treated lumber will probably be dry in a few weeks. In a cold and muggy climate (Seattle, for instance) it will take months for your wood to dry.

Some professionals recommend building whatever you are building and waiting about six months before staining pressure treated lumber. Then, stain the lumber after a few weeks of warm sunny weather. This is long enough for the wood to stabilize and for the water from treatment to evaporate. Remember to sweep and/or dust before applying the stain or paint.

Read further to learn about drying lumber yourself…

What kind of stain should I use for pressure treated lumber?
There are many stains and paints on the market. My favorites are based on working with lumber yards and seeing results from Consumer Reports. So, I like Cabot and Wolman brands. Many people thing Thompsons is the best because their marketing is the best. Many professionals completely disagree with the idea that Thompsons is any good at all. I am not saying anything about it – I’m just sayin’. The choice between water-based and oil-based stains is up to you. Read the backs of the cans. Back to staining pressure treated wood…

How should I stain pressure treated lumber? Or, how should I apply the stain?
Read the can because it varies with some stains but most stains can be applied with a brush, sprayer, or sponge. You will probably find a sprayer to be the easiest method.

How can I speed up the lumber drying process and stain my lumber sooner?
The best way is to buy kiln dried lumber (KDAT) in the first place. If you don’t want to do that…

You can dry lumber yourself but you need to be concerned about warping.

Ideally, you should stack the lumber on “sticks”, in the same way wood is stacked for kiln drying, and then strap the bundle to keep in straight. To do this, place a few small (1×1 or 2×2) sticks between each layer of lumber (perpendicular to the lumber and spaced about 3 feet apart) allowing for air flow between the layers. Then wrap a few straps around the lumber and make them tight. This allows air to reach all sides of the lumber while applying pressure to the lumber and minimizing the chance of warping. Warping is caused by the movement of moisture in and out of wood. You need to stabilize/support the wood while it dries. To take it to another level, point a box fan (or two) at the side of the bundle to speed up the flow of air across the lumber. If you set this up in your garage or some dry covered area your lumber will probably be adequately dry in a few weeks.

Should I stain pressure treated lumber yearly?
The answer is simple and goes something like this. If you want your deck/gazebo/arbor/whatever to look better for longer you should stain it on a yearly, or regular, basis. Of course, putting a protective stain or other coating on wood will make it last longer and look better while it lasts.

Staining pressure treated lumber is not rocket science. In fact, there is nothing remotely complicated about it but it does take time and if you don’t do it properly, you’ll mess it all up. If I did not make this point obvious enough above then let me say it again here:

Treated wood must be dry before you stain or paint it.

Enjoy your project. Wear gloves. Wear goggles. Be careful with tools. Work in ventilated areas.