When a contractor is complaining about poor quality pressure treated wood that they are forced to use for framing, there may be something else going on.
Every time I work with a builder there are 2 things I check. Firstly, I check their levels to make sure they are accurate. We’ll go through how to do that later, but, you would be surprised at how many guys are using a level that isn’t accurate, and don’t know how to check to see if it is. It always ends up a good thing to teach every crew.
Next, I look for crown marks. What are crown marks? They are basically a check mark or an arrow pointed upwards that should be on every piece of wood indicating “Crown Up”. Why doesn’t my wood have it? Well, that’s because young builder, you haven’t put it there yet!
Every time you start a deck you need to do 3 things:
Count the materials from your own take-off
As a deck builder, you need to do your own materials take off. It is a skill you need to learn and get great at. This will save you time which means more profit long term.
If you are a sub-contractor, it is just as important that you do your own materials list. Confirm what materials you will need so that you don’t run short.
In larger deck companies materials are often estimated by somebody that does not build. A list without a description of what the materials are to be used for from the estimator is never accurate. You will always use the wrong piece of lumber for the wrong thing. It is up to you to make sure you have what you need. As soon as you see a lift of materials without a description of what to use where and for what, you know you need to do your own materials take off and get the shortage of materials sent immediately. Anything that wastes time is something that you need to pay attention to.
Don’t blame the estimator–they are just doing their job the way they were taught. We need to take responsibility for doing our job to get the best results.
Check the size of the materials–The heights may vary
Measure the height of 5 or 6 random joists of different lengths to make sure you have not been shipped joists from multiple lifts and or multiple suppliers. Nothing screams AMATEUR like some guy planing joists flush. It’s a band-aid that will make a deck last decades less. When you open up the untreated core to moisture trapped under decking, the joists may last 6-8 years before rotted to the point the boards come loose.
Every Mill, during every hour of every day, will put out materials of a different height when stood on edge. Blades wear, and machines get set up differently. A 2×8 will vary in height between 7 1/8″ to 7 5/8″. It is for this reason that when I do a takeoff I specify all the joists cut from the same length of the joist. This is the ONLY way to have a nice flat deck surface. What do you do when all the joists vary more than 3/16″? Send them back… tell them what you need and do something else until the materials arrive. You have to train your suppliers.
If a supplier is shipping you the leftovers from 6 lifts–they don’t respect you, or they just have no clue. Rather than discounting cull lumber, many yards will ship it to one of the contractors they see less often. Big box stores…generally don’t know and don’t care, so it’s not their fault. It is certainly your fault for buying framing materials that are stored indoors from a big box. It’s all too dry to work with and will be twisted before you even touch it. Every time you try to nail it, joists and blocks will crack. Now, that is poor quality lumber. Lumber needs to stay wrapped and be stored outdoors to keep the moisture content stable. Quality framing materials need moisture to remain workable.
Go to the pile of joists, choose the straightest ones for plates/rims and beams, and mark every stick of lumber crown up. Using a lumber crayon makes them very visible. You have to teach your helpers and apprentices to pay attention to the marks. Joists with a twist or too much crown can be cut up for blocking. Any cracked or obviously flawed joists should be set aside and returned.
If the joists don’t get crowned, the deck will be a wavy mess. The inexperienced builder complaining about the quality of the wood earlier– he will wave his arms in the air and claim that it is not his fault–he didn’t make the lumber. You as the homeowner will be perplexed. Why does my neighbor’s deck look perfectly straight… and mine doesn’t?
If the joists are all from different lifts and different heights…the deck will be a wavy mess– again… the bad builder will wave his arms– you will scratch your head.
If a deck builder is not trained properly in the art of framing, and the estimator at a deck company is not trained properly, your deck quality will suffer.
How do you know that your deck framing will be nice and straight– and level? Hire professionals to start with, but seeing a deck they have built and looking across the deck for dips and waviness will show you their ability. Any noticeable wave to the deck, you want to look for another builder.
So, what have we learned?
Avoid working with builders that insist they need to work with metal framing because all the pt is terrible and they can’t build with wood. They just may be bad builders! These days, training for the art of frame carpentry is pretty poor in general. The guys that are doing the teaching were in many cases not trained well themselves. To identify a skilled carpenter we need to use our eyes…and ears. Look at what they have built, and listen to what they say.