Lumber / Carpentry Filter - Should I use cedar on this project? Is my carpenter right?
May 30, 2011 6:53 PM   Subscribe

Lumber / Carpentry Filter - Should I use cedar on this fence project? Is my carpenter right about the design?

I have a deck with a terrible view of an alley. I want to have a "privacy screen" built that will screen off the deck from the alley. I want it to look like this or like this.

The space to be screened is 16 feet across. The carpenter that I have hired has the following ideas -- I am looking for confirmation/second opinions.

1. He says he should build it out of cedar. He says the other more "exotic" woods that I see on the web (like Ipe or tigerwood) are insanely expensive and that cedar with a nice stain will look just as nice. Sound right? I am worried that the usual cedar decking material will not make a nice uniform/straight line and will not look as smooth/modern as the fence designs I have in mind.

2. He says he wants to built the "slats" out of single-piece 16-foot-long planks. He does not want to cut the planks and use posts because he says the alignment of the slats will degrade over time and the fence will not keep its straight lines. Instead, he is going to use some kind of post/brace that is on the alley-facing side of the fence (which I will not see from the deck). I am not sure this sounds like the design I am seeing in these pictures from the web, but he says its the best way to go.

Any thoughts or second opinions before I take the leap and make a deposit payment next week? Thanks
posted by Mid to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
In my experience, the cedar boards at most home improvement centers have a smooth side and a rougher side. You can special order cedar boards that are "surfaced" on both sides, though. The rough side does look more rustic, and I am not sure that it will give you the look that you want.

I think that cedar is quite beautiful, especially with a nice stain.

I am not sure about the construction method - I would be concerned about bowing/warping, but I am not an expert.
posted by Ostara at 7:04 PM on May 30, 2011


Cedar is a good wood for fencing. As mentioned above, you should be sure that one side is surfaced. As it will grey out after a couple of seasons, you may want to consider either bleaching or staining it as soon as it is built and applying a sealer. This will not prevent bleaching, but it will delay it somewhat. If it is in your budget, consider using stainless steel nails to prevent rust stains streaking down the fence in a couple of years.

I am assuming your carpenter is going to set posts at eight or fewer feet apart and use sixteen foot boards to span three posts. This is a clean way to do it and, if placed on the alley side of the fence, will result in the clean look you are seeking.
posted by Old Geezer at 7:41 PM on May 30, 2011


If the posts aren't done right, the whole project could look horrible in a couple of years. Here are a few question to ask: Does your ground freeze in winter? Would your posts be susceptible to frost heave? If so, how far down are the foundations going to be? Is he planning to sink the posts in the cement pillars or is he using a connector?
posted by bonehead at 8:12 PM on May 30, 2011


Short version: his construction thoughts sound right to me so far.

The eye is very good at picking up discontinuities in straight lines, so the 16' boards is absolutely the way to go. Putting the post system on the alley side is a good idea, and it doesn't prevent you from adding decorative posts on the front should you choose to (picture 1 does not have any, picture 2 does).

As to the wood, I agree that you shouldn't go for an exotic wood and that cedar will likely be fine. A darker / heavier stain will make the pieces look more uniform. As long as he picks up straight boards and they look straight going up you're in good shape. If you don't like the look of a board don't hesitate to reject it; they can always be returned. You could ask him to get a bunch of extra boards just to be safe; also be very specific about what you want - I assume minimal knots or other imperfections. The boards themselves aren't going warp much in that dimension over time, and they aren't going to develop knots, so if you like the look of the boards as they go on, and you like the choice of stain, you should be alright.
posted by true at 8:16 PM on May 30, 2011


I believe the lumber that is best for holding dimension is known as quartersawn lumber.
posted by hortense at 8:50 PM on May 30, 2011


He sounds likes he's got this under control. He's right about the price of exotic woods, but be aware that cedar isn't exactly cheap. If you want it to stay looking new, you'll need to reseal it every couple of years. It might look nice if you let it gray naturally too. Cedar holds up very well to moisture and resist rot.
posted by cosmicbandito at 9:15 PM on May 30, 2011


I put in a fence like this about a year ago. I used cedar fence boards from Lowes, and rippednthem in half on the table saw. The boards have remained true and have not bent warped or split. I let the cedar grey naturally, but I wish I stained it.
posted by pantsonfire at 9:20 PM on May 30, 2011


I think if your already second guessing your contractor your headed for trouble.

Put the project on hold find an architect who can design a fence and screen how you and he agree is both of the style you want and the materials you want.

Submit it for bid and not get in a tussle with your contractor.
posted by pianomover at 11:11 PM on May 30, 2011


Everything you say your carpenter has said is both right and true.

Did he come well referred? Do you think he knows what he's doing, and if you know enough to know what you don't know, are his ideas presented in a reasonable manner? I ask because your second-guessing could lead to problems that you don't need and will not help in getting the best fence built.

As mentioned above, splurge for stainless screws, quarter-sawn cedar 'one-side-good' will look good, stained for a bunch of years and lastly as you report it, your carpenter has good ideas.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:29 AM on May 31, 2011


Nthing that your carpenter sounds very competent and on the right track. Since there are so many sorts of cedar, you might ask him to clarify his suggestion. I suspect that the cedar he intends to use is Western red cedar, which is an excellent choice. Red cedars are big, slow-growing trees that produce very nice lumber. I'd be a lot less excited about Northern / Eastern white cedar, which comes from smaller, faster-growing trees, but I don't think he'd easily find 16' boards of white cedar.
posted by jon1270 at 2:08 AM on May 31, 2011


Not really what you're asking about, but I'd suggest looking for FSC certified lumber. Personally, I'm pretty freaked out by most western redcedar lumber I see, because the majority of it is old-growth. Old-growth lumber is generally better quality, but I don't like the idea of cutting down a 700 year-old tree for a fence or shingles or whatever. At least FSC lumber is assuring better management practices in forestry and extraction.
posted by Red Loop at 3:10 AM on May 31, 2011


My observations:

-Cedar is an excellent choice..

-Quartersawn lumber is an insanely wasteful cut (many mills won't do quartersawn) and the boards are generally narrow. Look at the diagram from above and you'll see you need a very big tree to get large quartersawn boards. You really want the nicest vertical-grain boards you can find. Flat-grain boards are to be avoided if possible because the grain will raise and split over time.

- If you are going to install the boards horizontally, I would suggest ripping a slight angle ( a few degrees is plenty) along the top edge to shed water.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:05 AM on May 31, 2011


Thanks, everyone. The carpenter came highly recommended on Angie's List. I just know very little about this stuff and wanted a double-check.
posted by Mid at 5:07 AM on May 31, 2011


Quartersawn lumber is an insanely wasteful cut... You really want the nicest vertical-grain boards you can find.

FYI, "quartersawn" and "vertical grain" mean the same thing, i.e. that the annual rings are perpendicular to the face of the board.
posted by jon1270 at 5:10 AM on May 31, 2011


FYI, "quartersawn" and "vertical grain" mean the same thing, i.e. that the annual rings are perpendicular to the face of the board.

I was in the lumber business for 25 years, and I can assure you they are absolutely not the same thing.

Vertical grain boards are boards cut straight through the trunk closer to the heart. Quartersawn boards are cut at an angle through a quartered piece of trunk.

They both give you a vertical grain, although quartersawn does look different from vertical-grain (it tends to have a more "flecked" appearance).
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:19 AM on May 31, 2011


Benny, if you'll consult the US Forest Service's Wood Handbook [pdf], you'll find that the term "quartersawn" is defined according to the angle of the rings, not the particular sawing method. Of course "vertical grain" boards sawn as you describe would be mostly quartersawn, but have a flat/plainsawn area in the middle, so perhaps it's helpful to differentiate.
posted by jon1270 at 5:35 AM on May 31, 2011


Cedar comes in many different grades including some that will work well for a project like this. I have a regular rough-grade cedar fencing which is not what you want to use. Have your carpenter show you a sample of the wood he will use. If you don't think cedar can be used for finished work then you have obviously never seen a cedar chest.

Regardless you may want to shop around for another contractor who has experience with this type of fence to avoid surprises.
posted by JJ86 at 8:19 AM on May 31, 2011


[few comments removed - maybe take this to email folks?]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:02 AM on May 31, 2011


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