Amatuer redwood deck repair - is this even worth doing?
March 10, 2015 6:01 PM   Subscribe

So I finally cracked a step on my mom's old, warped redwood decking. Really, this 3-tiered monstrosity that's been baking in the California sun for nearly four decades should be replaced, but should I even bother to get a spare board and fix it for now?

Here's the damage. (And my canine assistant, Ziggy.)

The confound is that on the edges of the step, where the board was nailed into the frame piece, a triangular piece of wood that held most of the nails broke off in the process, and broke along the grain. Here's a shot of the undamaged side, and of the underside of an intact section.

So, two questions:

1) Is this even a safe idea to try to fix it myself? Does this raise any safety concerns to anyone with better home repair common sense? I certainly don't want to make a repair that will not be safe enough for anyone to walk on. The house is going to be sold soon, with the new owner understanding that the deck really needs to be replaced entirely, but it's not something my mom wants to pay for before she sells.

2) How should I go about this? I'd like to use either a stronger wood than redwood or one of those plastic composite boards, and I'm handy enough to hammer nails or drive screws and follow directions. I could replace the missing triangular section and drive in screws long enough to go through the new board, the triangular piece, and the intact wood below, but that's the only idea thus far.

Thanks for any input!
posted by Drosera to Home & Garden (12 answers total)
 
Should be an easy temp fix - get a 2x6 or some such (whatever matches the stair treads, hard to tell from the picture) and replace the tread. You could reinforce the stringer (triangle piece) it where it broke by bolting a sister board to the good one, but for a temporary repair, that would depend on how badly rotted the remaining stringer is. It doesn't strictly look necessary from the picture.

You do need to put something there, that is a real hazard otherwise. I wouldn't bother with a composite board - redwood will do just fine. It's only gotta last until the next owner replaces it. Do make sure they know, though.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:17 PM on March 10, 2015


Yes, you should DEFINITELY fix a broken step. That's lethally dangerous, not to mention a liability suit waiting to happen.

And if redwood lasted nearly four decades, it's pretty damn strong (it is, regardless). Sustainability of the redwood crop would be my bigger concern (dunno). If you don't flinch at the price of a composite board, do that (and one step won't be expensive).

I can't tell from the photos if one side of the bed/underlaying lumber is ruined. If it is, you can always "sister" a new section of 2x10/2x12 (whatever you need) with some lag screws onto the inside of the staircase side board (the "stringer"). Drill the boltholes slightly oversized on the sister board (so you don't have to screw the bolt through that; trust me, do this), and drill them to the recommended "pilot hole" diameter on the other two boards. Then, screw in the lag bolts (with a hex or box-end wrench) in from the inside. If you size the bolts carefully, and don't drill through, this patch won't even be visible from the sides, and it will be plenty strong.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:19 PM on March 10, 2015


Not getting that fixed, or blocking off the stairs, is a sure fire problem, obviously.
It looks like the stringers (frame piece) got "doubled up" at some point, the "triangular piece" broke off the outer layer of stringer. 2x material (1 1/2" actual measurement) is I *think* what you have - should be plenty strong. Measure the width of the boards - if it is 5 1/2" that is 2x6 (2 by 6) lumber. Easily available.
Standard widths a 3 1/2" (called 4 by ), 5 1/2" (called 6 by ) 7 1/4" (called 8 by)
Looks like 2 x 6 to me.
You can probably get a piece cut to length at Home Depot, the inner layer of stringer will do fine for attachment.
Probably 16d nails, and you are good to go.
posted by rudd135 at 6:19 PM on March 10, 2015


Okay, I'm a professional woodworker with lots (like, getting into decades' worth) of experience tacking things back together.

That step broke because the grain wasn't running parallel to the edges of the board; it was swirling in odd directions because of the large knot/branch near the break, making the board much weaker than it would otherwise be. It's really not in bad shape given its age.

I would reattach the broken-off triangle of wood using a waterproof glue like Titebond II or III. Don't try to drive screws through it, you'll only split it into little pieces. Glue it, and improvise some way to clamp it tightly in place for a couple of hours while the glue dries. If there are loose splinters along the break making it difficult to bring the parts cleanly together, just pull them off and discard them.

Then, nail on a new board. Don't use some "stronger" wood, and don't use plastic fake wood; it'll stick out like a sore thumb. Real redwood is the better choice here. Pre-drill all of the nail holes with a drill bit just a tad smaller than the shank of the nails, to reduce the risk of splitting the old wood. Minimize the number of nails you drive into the part that broke off.
posted by jon1270 at 6:20 PM on March 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


1) (".. fix it myself."). I think you can. (".. raise any safety concerns ...") The the wood looks good and sound there. I'd glue the original chunk back in and use long screws.

2) ("how should I go about this?") Get a piece of replacement redwood for the step. Using polyurethane glue (gorilla glue), clean the surfaces and put the original triangular chunk back in, and let it set up. Then screw the new step into place where the old one was.
posted by the Real Dan at 6:20 PM on March 10, 2015


Hi guys, thanks for all the input, seems like an easy (and important) fix!

Just to settle anyone's nerves, the area is taped off, and the stairs aren't vital to everyday life, so no one's in immediate danger of falling through. I'll get on measurements; the boards are probably a standard size.
posted by Drosera at 6:36 PM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'll get on measurements; the boards are probably a standard size.

Measure the wood at the store too because dimensional lumber (e.g. the stuff sold as 2 x 4s, 1 x 6 etc) isn't actually the listed dimension.
posted by jamaro at 8:37 PM on March 10, 2015


Meh, getting a board that's 5.897" wide when you wanted a 2x6 isn't really going to diminish the step's strength dangerously.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:51 AM on March 11, 2015


Interesting, that chart that Jamaro linked to is wrong.. deduct 1/2" from nominal size up to and including 6", after that up to and including 12" deduct 3/4".
posted by rudd135 at 4:06 PM on March 11, 2015


Meh, getting a board that's 5.897" wide when you wanted a 2x6 isn't really going to diminish the step's strength dangerously

Spoken like an engineer. However, for a novice DIY'er, buying a board with the expectation that it is one size and but receiving one that is not that size is disconcerting, not the least because they now have to make a decision to have a bigger gap between boards or a shallower step (OP, go with the bigger gap. It's less aesthetically pleasing but is less of a trip hazard).
posted by jamaro at 10:57 AM on March 12, 2015


Thanks, MeFites! Just wanted to show the replaced step, and my mom's dog refusing to use it. I underestimated the expanding properties of gorilla glue, so the seepage will have to be sanded down before I can use a sister board on the broken pieces of the stringer. But she's a sturdy step at the moment!

Thanks to everyone for your advice and input, and for teaching me applicable terms so when I went to the lumber supply place, no male employees could overly-judge me for being a 25 year old female :)
posted by Drosera at 10:20 AM on March 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


jamaro: Meh, getting a board that's 5.897" wide when you wanted a 2x6 isn't really going to diminish the step's strength dangerously

Spoken like an engineer. However, for a novice DIY'er, buying a board with the expectation that it is one size and but receiving one that is not that size is disconcerting, not the least because they now have to make a decision to have a bigger gap between boards or a shallower step (OP, go with the bigger gap. It's less aesthetically pleasing but is less of a trip hazard).
No, spoken like someone who is debunking the scary idea that if you don't measure the wood at the store something bad will happen.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:43 PM on March 18, 2015


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