Posted by: highmountainmuse | March 7, 2009

Building the deck

A picture of the deck taken last week.

A picture of the deck taken last week.

Last week, we talked about our usual way of building up here, far away from stores and with plenty of junk piles to choose from:  the three step method of deciding what you need, taking a look at what you have, and then coming up with a plan to build what you need out of what you have.  So, here we use the same method on a pretty good sized scale:  building our front deck.


This is the story of how we built our front deck with almost no direct expenses involved.


It starts almost eight years ago, when we were pouring the last of the foundation for our house.  (see Building our Home) The extra concrete that was left over from the final load needed for the foundation of our cabin was poured into forms for a foundation of what we at best planned on being a greenhouse, and at the least, the supports for a deck.  At this stage of the game, we did not knowing when we’d get to it, nor what materials we’d use for it.  But we did know some day we’d have a deck outside our southern windows.


So, several years pass, we stay busy working on finishing the construction of our cabin. But the day finally comes when our cabin building is caught up. Time to plan the construction of our deck.  Again, we turn towards our junk piles to dictate what we are able to build. We don’t find enough glass and materials for that greenhouse yet, but materials for a deck look possible. We assess the leftover materials, which included the old 4×12 planks salvaged from a bridge that was renovated down river from our ranch; and neat old steel hardware from an antique cattle guard replaced many years ago, but just thrown down hill into the brush along the side of the road.  An interesting side note here is that the bridge planks and the old wood from the cattle guard happen to be of similar dimension.  We can only guess they may have come from the same mill, and been installed around the same time, possibly as far back the days of the CCC workers in the 30’s. In any case, these planks are still sound and in good, workable condition for our needs.  In fact, you’ll find them all over our ranch, as we have used them for steps, bridges over run-off creeks, headers for barn construction, and my favorite, raised beds in my gardens.


Early in spring, about three years ago when the weather finally permitted, we got started. We began with the uprights, and for this we used left over logs from the construction of our cabin, short lengths worked fine, and in dimensions of about 8 to 10 inches width.  Into the logs, we notched in and then bolted in with that antique hardware the framing.  For this, we used those 4×12” salvaged bridge timbers. Then, for the floor joists, we used these 10 foot long, 12 -inch TGIs which had been sitting around since the beginning of our cabin building project.  Bob actually got the bunch of them banded together in a bundle that was thrown in on the deal when he was negotiating for our roof rafters, for which he needed TGIs of a longer length.


Well, those shorter length TGIs were just right for the floor joists of the deck, however, they were not recommended for outside use.  To water/weatherproof them, we oiled them down with a combination of a bunch of things we cleaned out from the old shed, extra materials that were just sitting around getting old and probably creating a fire hazard:  old linseed oil, various left over quantities and colors of paints and thinners and finishes.  The result was a witches brew than smelled heavy duty, medium grey in color, and a good thin mash that was easy to paint on. It probably would have preserved the TGIs for ten lifetimes.  But just in case that wasn’t enough… we were still not satisfied with the protection of the brew and didn’t want the floor joists to ever need replacing, so we then covered them with a layer of black roofing tar, which we painted on. This step was a mess, and it stunk even worse, but I’m pretty sure these floor joists are mighty water and weather proofed now.

A front on view of the deck taken last September

A front on view of the deck taken last September

Then for the flooring.  For this we used a combo pattern of 2x6s and 2x4s.  It may look intentional, but it was the result of us knowing we didn’t have enough of either one to complete the job.  So we did an “every other” pattern. We nailed the boards down with the nail gun instead of screws – it was easier and faster. Now, those 2x6s and 2x4s were from a salvaged lumber place, purchased years ago for various other projects, starting with the construction of our cabin.  They were a bundle of “triples”, which means three layers nailed together.  All we had to do was pull apart the different layers to come up with the single boards.  Bob spread them apart with a crow bar and leverage board, me and Forrest and even my mom tapped the nails in, turned each board over, and pulled the nails.  Each board came out cheap, about 75 cents per board, rather than $3 per board for pine, or $6 or more per board if you use fancier materials.  A great savings, if you didn’t mind pulling them apart and removing all the nails.


The floor boards we sealed with an outdoor wood preservative – the only thing we had to purchase outright for this project.  Looking at it now when it is 3 years old, we might be wise to redo a coat of wood preservative every 3-4 years.  It helps the wood last longer, but it also makes it look nicer, gives the wood a warm glow.


You hear a lot about people needing redwood or cedar or simulated plastic boards for the floor boards of their deck so they last. The last deck on the old cabin was 2×2 pine boards, much like we’re using.  Bob’s dad built it back in the 70’s.  With very little maintenance, it was still functioning and usable after 25 years when we removed it to do the remodel of the cabin. This country is just not hard on wood like the moister, fair weather climates.


Finally, we put up the railing.  On the south end, the deck is at least 6 feet off the ground in the front.  We knew a rail was needed.  We wanted simple and clean lines because sitting here in the living room looking out, your view is right through the rail.  Therefore, we chose to put 2 steel pipes between the log posts, which we cut to desired height and finished at at 45 degree angle as we finished many of our extending logs on this cabin. This railing may not be to code, but it works great for our needs, and matches both our log construction and the surround metal pipe corrals and fencing.

The deck in September

The deck in September

As you can imagine, the deck gets lots of use and lots of love.  We’ve been able to enjoy it twelve months of the year.  We keep it shoveled in the winter, and as it’s southern facing, bake ourselves while we sit out for lunch even in January.


The added bonus of finishing the deck:  after many years of looking out onto paradise through dirty windows, we were finally able to reach the outside windows to wash them! Oh, and the slider door that leads onto the deck came later on that summer… now that will be another story.


  1. Great job on the deck. Your certainly do look like you’re living the good life there in Colorado. I have to admit, your woods are much bigger than mine here in central Ohio; you have to stand down in the valley in the middle of the preserve to get away from the traffic noise of the neighboring town.

    It’s interesting you responded to my blog: I’m strongly pursuing a green collar job, though I haven’t posted on it yet. I’ll have to check out what you have to say about living off grid.

  2. Glad to hear from you, Dug, and hope you find something helpful on the site, otherwise, write and ask questions. I haven’t blogged much about our green building, but it’s super, I’m excited by it, and I would so be happy to share info and stories from our limited experiences.
    I had told my husband about your blog and your post, how optimistic and helpful it is in these hard times. It’s really thoughtful of you.
    We have our own financial woes and problems, the story has slowly been coming out in this blog and I’ll share more in the future.
    It’s hard times, it’s interesting times, but it’s also exciting times and beautiful times. Suppose it’s what we make of it.
    Keep in touch and the best to you!

  3. What a great looking deck! Im glad that you wrote about it, it reminds me that I need pick your “boys” brains a bit about the deck we plan to build on our cabin in June. Im not sure that we will have enough time to be quite as resourceful as you all were, but we’ll do the best we can! I could spend a month up there building a deck, and would if it weren’t for a somewhat new job and little vacation time (who determines that you should work an entire year before “taking” a vacation?, I do not agree with this persons mindset!) Oh well, one of these days. . .

  4. Russell, I know the boys would be really happy to help in any way they can, even if brainstorming with ideas. Your cabin needs a deck. It’s beautiful there. No, a year before “earning” vacation time does not seem fair at all, seems like more and more unfair deals right now with the tough economy. What is your job?

  5. Ok that sounds great. . . It does need a deck, doesnt it? Thats one of the first things Rob and I said after we saw it. I can’t really complain too much about my job- Im a Firefighter/EMT here in Springdale, AR. And I have a small construction co. that I’ve run for several years before that, I build on my off days when there’s work to be done. That’s slowed down a ton of course so it’s nice to have a city job for the slow months!

  6. Many of our friends who do construction here are out of work, or extremely limited in work. There are few industries, I suppose that are not effected by these hard times, but construction and building workers seem to be taking one of the harshest blows. Now is the time we need to stay positive, get creative, and help each other out.

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