I have been working on the last few details as I wrap up the renovation of the front porch. It is always a thrill to see what you dream about come to life.
We originally had a brick front porch and when building a home, the construction method around here is to brick the foundation first, then add the front porch towards the end of construction. With our home, the resulting problem with this method was two-fold: the original porch was never really attached to the house; it merely sat on a pad with nothing to tie the porch to the foundation wall. Secondly, the concrete pad was not sufficient to resist future movement of the ground it sat on.
Over a time span of 15 years, large gaps emerged where the steps met the porch, and where the porch met the house. The front porch was slowly moving in two directions. When visitors began to comment on this obviously backwoods way of making a front porch, my wife and I knew it would have to go. We would have liked to replace it with another bricked porch, but the cost was a deal breaker. A wooden, deck style porch went up in its place.
After only five years of use, problems began to appear on the new porch which is the basis of this renovation. My goal with this project has been to correct two things: 1) the major defects in the replacement porch and 2) to make it look how I really want it to look in the first place. Since my last post, I have worked on the punch list and have a lot to report.
CLEARING THE PUNCH LIST
The first thing on my punch list was to straighten the newel post at the first step. To my surprise, after installing the hand rail, I discovered it wasn’t plumb – about a half-inch out of plumb at the top of the post. I formulated a plan to fix it…
Most of the components used in the renovation have been attached with either screws or bolts. To correct the newel post, I simply removed it. I then fashioned a jig and clamped it to the railing making sure it was plumb. I trimmed the ends of the railing and re-attached the newel post. To make the cuts, I placed my plunge router outfitted with a straight cutting bit inside the jig’s lower box and cut away the excess material. I then repeated the process between the two small horizontal boards above the box.
Part of the renovation includes some landscaping; specifically replacing the old boxwoods that fronted the porch. I had removed them earlier and when my brother-in-law’s tiller became available, I took that opportunity to put new foundation plants in the ground: three semi-dwarf loropetalum were selected. When mature, these plants will get about four feet tall and should do well in the part-sun light condition this area gets.
In the photo above, you can see how the lattice was framed with half-inch strapping. This helps give a clean look to the lattice which would have otherwise looked a little flimsy.
Next on the punch list was to trim each newel post to the same height. I fashioned another jig; a little platform made with scrap wood and simply used my plunge router to trim the top of each post. The jig rests on the hand rail which means all the posts will be the same height above the hand rail.
I considered making post finials, but I found some handsome finials which cost about $3.00 each, so that decision was pretty easy. With the finials added, time to move on to the next item on the punch list.
In this previous blog post; take a look at the sixth photo. You can see how I used pocket screws to join the lower rails to each post. The holes for these screws need to be filled.
Much of this past week has been spent plugging holes. I mentioned once before that I wanted to keep the joinery hidden as much as possible. The old hand rail had just been toe-nailed in place. I wanted a cleaner look, so I chose pocket screws which worked great. After looking at the stock pocket screw plug options at my local Woodcraft store, I decided to make my own since (no surprise) pressure treated pine was not available.
I bought a special drill bit to make the plugs; I had to play around with the set up a little, but making the plugs was pretty easy. In the photo above, you can see the plugs installed as well as a round plug for a screw used to join the two boards which make up the lower rail. I also plugged other screw holes at various places around the porch – more than 30 in all which took some time. These plugs become virtually invisible once the stain is applied.
This porch has three sections of hand rail. The hand rail I chose came in six-foot lengths. This meant two of the sections had to be pieced together since they were slightly longer than six feet (see the fourth photo in this post). I know from past experience that the profile of stock home center molding can vary from stick to stick. This handrail was no different. All of the pieces I purchased had a significantly different shape. Since my father is an accomplished wood-carver, I asked him to stop by and further blend the hand rail joints.
THE COMPLETED PORCH
With that completed, I did some final sanding and began laying down some stain. Yesterday, I got about half of the stain applied before I quit for the day. It is raining this morning, so I’ll take my time applying the rest of the stain this week. I’ll have one final post on this project next weekend.