Porch Rail Repair Text

The Worst Rail:  Replace or Repair?     Result-   Repair!
Mad River Lodge #77, Waitsfield Vermont   May 7, 2013
    This test project involved the south railing- a dozen spindles and seven feet of railing.  The two decks of the porch have about 120 feet of rail and over 200 spindles.
    I have posted photos of the repair of this rail here.
 If the porch is to be fixed up  (replaced, renovated, renewed, reclaimed, repaired, restored), I thought starting with the most damaged section would give us a sense of whether we could keep most of the old materials,  how much work and cost would be involved, and any mistakes would fall upon the section most likely to have been already replaced or need replacement now.
   Big questions were- Repair or replace old wood?
                                   How much old paint needs to be removed?
                                   Can it be reassembled, or does it fall apart?
                                    Can we use trim screws in place of old square cut nails
in brittle dry old wood?
  The south porch rail was in far the worst condition, owing to exposure to sun, and limited roof overhang.  Spindles (balusters) were damaged or missing or had been replaced in the past.  Several had already been removed to display or test repair methods.  Rails above and box below were damaged.
   Damage was of three kinds, in synergy:  Paint failed . Old square cut nails rusted and expanded, damaging wood and releasing structure.  Wood rotted or cracked.
1 Top rail– the 2×6  rounded top piece.
2 Under rail– the 1×4 coved piece between the spindles and the top rails.
…Under rail is nailed/screwed  to spindle top cube from above.
…The under rail is nailed/screwed to top rail from below        
3 Spindles- (balusters)- ours have small cube at top and large cube  at bottom.
…Half spindles (cut lengthwise) are attached to the posts.|
…Spindles in this section are from different woods and do not all
match in shape, suggesting previous replacement.
At least one has cubes and lathed portion from separate pieces of wood,
again suggesting previous repair.
4 Bottom rail is a box – 3 boards- top board, inside board, outside board.
and interior spacers (2×3)/ The top board has ½ radius round over.
The inside and outside board run from 3 to 4.5 inch width to follow the tilt
of the porch deck.
…The top board is nailed/screwed to the bottom of the spindles.
 Trim screws are much thinner than deck or drywall screws, and they have smaller head which bury below wood surface easily.  They are sort of a screw version of a finish nail.  About 15 cents each in 316 stainless square drive.
Installation:  Spacers (2×3) to match the bottom box are attached to the posts.   The bottom box rests on these spacers, and the top rail is angle nailed/screwed to posts.
Full Reinstallation requires: two missing spindles, one missing section of under rail, further fill/prime, and paint, corner post and trim  repair/reposition.
Planned Approach:
Disassemble the rail,
Remove paint as deemed reasonable for encapsulation
Some full removal, some loose paint only removed
to compare effort and result.
Repair wood as possible and Replace as necessaryReassemble with screws  to allow disassembly again if desired
Prime to begin encapsulation and judge appearance.
Disassemble:  nail puller, pry bar, knife, pliers, wedges
Did not remove half of spindles from top rail as experiment
(hard to sand between spindles- maybe use strop method)
Numbered spindles and positions for re-assembly.
Remove paint:  scratch, orbital sander with #60 grit and
HEPA filter equipped shop-vac attached,
eye protection, respirator mask, outside.
Three spindles were sanded down to mostly bare wood.
Remainder were scraped and lightly sanded.
Repair wood:    ZAR Wood filler- original architect recommendation, one part, air dry,
thinnable. ZAR worked great on initial spindle repairs.
ZAR was preferred over later a recommendation of Abatron,
because Abatron is two part epoxy, cost much more ($120/gal),
not locally available.   Abatron is better structurally,
but in this case the primary function was fill.
 Filled grain and nail holes in rail top and bottom box,
Filled missing wood on bottom of top rail and under rail
Filled holes and cracks in spindles.
  Replace:        One 18.5 inch piece of top board of bottom box- used 50-year
old clear spruce (half was gone, half was rotted pine)
                         One 14 inch piece of under rail. 5/4 pine, cove 2” dia.
whole length was soft but repairable except this wrecked section
 Reassemble:         Used  2.5 and 1.5 steel trim screws.
But should replace with stainless.
                                No problems. Might make spacing jig for larger section.
                                Filled some space between boards and between spindles.
 Prime:                 Benjamin Moore First Step latex printer, brushed.
$43/gal  ¼ used for one-coat
                                Primed top rail, spindles with under rail, and bottom box, then
                                 Finished re-assembly.
                           How many coats of primer  and then how many coats of paint?
                                Smooth old paint, fill cracks, provide weather seal.
Note: old wood not likely to move much.
Note: Bottom box is completely unpainted underneath.
Note:  Suggest refill any more crack/holes with ZAR, gentle sand,
and then recoat primer
                            Note: Aside from Code issue with railing height, consider how rail is
attached relative to Code later strength requirement (200 lbs).


                 OK-looks good.  Invited feedback at meeting 5/7/13.
A few spindles missing,  Fred cut one in half to duplicate,
I have two, one needs rebuilding with new cubes.
Removed Monday May 6,8:00 a.m.    Returned Tuesday May 7,7:00 p.m.  6 man hours
Rick Rayfield  (with help from Miranda Rayfield)


Future test project:  scrape/sand/prep clapboard ceiling section.
     Must be done on site.  Therefore plastic sheeting surround with duct tape, to
   Scrape with  hooded Tyvek suit, respirator, eye protection
Sand with 60 grit on orbital sander and Shop Vac with HEPA filter.
   Try to fully remove most paint in one section,  and remove loose paint in second section.   Prime.   Examine for acceptability in light of effort and cost incurred.


Partial work done:  we have most of the rounded trim pieces, sanded and filled, ready to re-install.


Projects:   prioritize!
   Ceilings, as determined by test project, above, and
Clapboard between 1st and 2nd floor.
    New supports from foundation to porch, integrating cornerstone
           6×6  or 8×8  wood posts.  Back sides tied down to foundation.
Bare, or white board trim.
    Posts to support second floor: replace or splice?   Reclaim box boards.

Trim mouldings and rail supports.
Repair brick hole on second floor
Repair windows under porch
Provide door(s) under porch- either inner doors, or new Z doors or ??

    Gutters, front and rear. Patch front gutter right off.
    Assess and plan resetting old stone steps either as they are, or recut.
     Re-attach porch to wall at south door, up and in.  Bolt through brick/beam.
    Clean and paint second floor porch floor
    Clean and paint first floor PT deck.