Tricks and Tips

A flat surface to work on is invaluable.  I use the back patio (a concrete slab).  When I am doing a frame, I cut all four sides of the frame before I put the frame together.  I then lay all four sides out, one end butted up against the patio step and then I drill the pilot holes and put the screws in the opposite end.  This helps me get the initial frame square / even.  It also gives me something to push against when I am putting the screws into the frame.

Use Deck screws.  I use the Phillips Head Deck screws because that is the kind of bit that I have or my drill.  Do not use nails.   If you use "normal" nails they will (eventually) pull out and rust.  Also, I used LOTS of Deck Screws when I did these projects.  I used 3, 4 or 5 screws when I put two of the 1.5X7.25 boards together.  Think about whether or not the boards seem to be "structural" or not.  Will they need the strength?  It is easier to put more screws in now than try to add screws after the whole thing is together.

When buying deck screws, I generally bought the 5 Lb box of 2.5" screws.  I then bought a 1 or 2 Lb. box of 3" screws and a 1 or 2 Lb box of 1.5" screws, just get an assortment.  Most of the joints I put together were either joining a 1" board to 1.5" board or two 1.5" boards together.  I have the small box of 3" screws and the small box of 2" screws just in case the boards I am joining are thicker or thinner than the 1.5" and 1" boards.  I use one or two of the 3" screws when I joined the 1.5" boards together  I use many screws.  Do not be stingy with the number of screws when you are joining boards together.  It is easier to put more screws in while you are building the project than to try to add them when the project is finished and wobbly because you did not use enough screws.

Pilot Holes are a very good thing.  It helps keep the wood from splitting.  It also helps to drive the screws in straight.

Get a tool that allows you to quickly switch from drill bit to Phillips head bit.  At first I would drill the holes, remove the drill bit, put the Phillips head bit onto the drill, screw in some of the decking screws, pull the Phillips head and put the drill bit back in (and so on).  A little tedious but it worked.  I found the DeWALT reversible Screw / Drill Bit "Drill Drive" and that helped immensely.  Switching from drill bit to Phillips head bit only takes a few seconds.  I am sure that other manufactures have created the same (basic) tool.  I do (however) go thru quite a few drill bits and just a few Phillips Head bits.  I don't have the drill bit set exactly center in the DeWALT and the drill wobbles a bit until I get it in the wood.

BE SURE to check the wood and see how it is treated..  If it is CCA wood PLEASE be very careful.  Recent data has shown that this wood is not as safe as previously thought.

This is where the pliers come in to play.  If you ever chew up the head of a deck screw you have two choices.  If it isn't in too obvious of a spot (or you don't care) you use the Vise-Grip Locking Grip Pliers. Close the end of the pliers until they are a little smaller than the head of the screw.  Clamp down HARD on the head and either tighten the screw or loosen it (if you want to try again with a new screw).  You can use the pliers to drive it in flush or you can back the screw out and try with a new screw.

 The cheap hotel pens are perfect for marking the length of a board before I cut it.  They never seem to get all gunked up with wood shavings / dirt / etc.  If there is ever any dirt, just drawing a line on a piece of paper just cleans them right up.

All my measurements are in inches.  If you can find a tape measure that has inches on one edge and feet / inches along the other edge that will probably make life easier.

I tried to allow for "slop" in these projects.  Error of 1/8" or 1/4" here and there should not make too much of a difference, but do try to be as accurate as possible.  Very few of the 5.5" by 1" boards I worked with were exactly straight, most had curvature of some sort in them and I still managed to get good fits.

I didn't use the clamps at first, but the would have been extremely useful if I had them available.  You can do the work without them but life is easier with them.

If you do not have an old deck out back but you still want to do these projects, check with a local salvage yard for the wood.  Look in the yellow pages under "Building Materials, Used".  Also see if there is a swamill in the area. You may be able to get wood that isn't perfect for a very low price..  The porcelain coated cast iron double kitchen sink in the potting bench was $35 at a used Building materials place (The faucet and plastic tubing I attached was much more than that).  Be sure to check the "Used" prices against your local hardware store (like Home Depot or Lowe's).  New might be about the same price as used.

When you need to move these projects around, get 3" PVC pipe and cut into 4 foot sections making 3 of them.  Lift up one end of the project, slide a PVC pipe underneath, roll it forward and slide the next one underneath and finally the last one.  All of these projects can be rolled around the yard using the technique that the Egyptians used to roll their large stones around.

All of these projects are downloadable in PowerPoint format and PDF files. The Powerpoint version is available so that you can modify the projects if you have different kinds of wood than I have used. Each of the "boards" in the PowerPoint is set up at a 12 inches = 1 Foot ratio (unless otherwise noted). It makes it easier to see if everything is going to fit together before you actually cut the boards.   Some of the ratios I used are in the file Ratios.txt.   To see the "size" of the board in PowerPoint, Right Click on the board you wish to size. Click on Format Autoshape then click on the Size tab.   The "size" will be the ratio, for example if you want a 12" wide by 24" long board, the width will be 1" and the height will be 2".   If you want a 24.5" high by 15" wide board you would put 2.04" into the "height" box and 0.12" into the "width" box.  Rotation should be 0 (Unless you want the board to be at an angle).

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