Working With Pressure Treated Wood
During our tenure as the home improvement guys on the Family Channel TV show Home & Family we were involved in projects that ranged from concocting simple cleaning formulas to building a room addition for the Shier family – a couple blessed with quintuplets. There was never a dull moment. The show’s executive producer Woody Fraser would constantly reminded all of us, “laugh and learn people – laugh and learn”.
Woody wanted a stage built in the back yard. He wanted something that could be used as a backdrop for guest entertainers. We put our heads together and decided to build a covered deck overlooking the rest of the back-lot at Universal Studios. In fact, the deck actually overlooked the Jurassic Park set – dinosaurs and all.
There was a method to our madness. Our strategy was to build the deck as a show and tell project and then use the finished product as a stage. We also knew from the beginning that we would be able to use the deck later for segments on maintenance and upkeep.
The material we chose for the project was Redwood. Although we later felt that we had been remiss in not using a “combination” of wood species instead (Pine, Fir, Cedar and others). We chose Redwood because it is a magnificent deck building material. It contains natural resins that resist attack from insects and rot. But Redwood isn’t available countrywide. Whoops! By the time we realized that we were building with a material that wasn’t available to all of our viewers, the deck was done. So we decided to use this weeks offering to make things right.
We also could have used Cedar. Like Redwood, Cedar is a weather-resistant material that is well suited for deck and fence construction. Unfortunately, again like redwood, Cedar simply isn’t available nationwide. To top it off both Cedar and Redwood can be expensive.
An inexpensive alternative to Cedar and Redwood, that IS available everywhere, is pressure treated lumber. That’s because pressure treated lumber can be made from practically any specie of wood – Pine, Fir, Birch, you name it. Pressure treated lumber is created by forcing wood preservatives deep into the fibers of wood creating a protective barrier that makes otherwise susceptible timber pest and rot resistant. In fact, pressure treated material is stronger and more rot and pest resistant that Cedar or Redwood. But, pressure treated materials do have their drawbacks and require special handling.
The preservative used in the creation of pressure treated lumber is a pesticide and is therefore poisonous. Thus, special handling is in order when using it as a building material. The Treated Products Communications Council (TPCC) suggest that you take the following precautions when handling pressure treated lumber:
- When sawing or machining pressure treated wood use eye protection and an appropriate dust mask. This is true for any kind of woodworking, but especially important when the inhaled dust contains a poisonous chemical.
- Use galvanized or stainless nails, screw or bolts. These types of fasteners are corrosion-resistant and will prevent rust stains on the material.
- Drill pilot holes first – especially when nailing near the end of a board. Pressure treated wood is dried before it is treated with the pesticide. This makes it hard and prone to splitting when nailed.
- Even though the material is dried during the pressure treating process there is the chance that it may shrink. Butt ends together tightly to prevent gaps later.
- Yep, even pressure treated wood should be coated with a wood preservative. Like Redwood and Cedar this task should be performed every year or two. Pressure treated lumber is relatively dry (absent of most of its natural moisture) by the time you get it. Therefore, a wood preservative can be immediately applied. Other types of wood (that contains its natural moisture) should air dry before being coated with preservative.
- Never, never, never burn treated lumber. The resultant gasses could be deadly.
- And what ever you do, don’t use treated lumber to make a cutting board. Need we explain why?
The fact that just about any type of timber can be pressure treated has another advantage. Stronger species of lumber such as Douglas Fir and Southern Yellow Pine can be used. This is important because Redwood and Cedar aren’t really sturdy enough for most structural applications. Wood strength becomes important when constructing any support structure (retaining wall posts, floor beams, etc.). On the other hand, Redwood, Cedar and Mahogany, in our opinion, are far more beautiful than bumpy, green pressure treated wood. Our compromise — save money and gain strength by building substructures out of pressure treated material and use the more beautiful woods such as Redwood, Cedar and Mahogany for decking, rails, trim and other finishes. How’s that for a compromise? Think we ought to run for political office?
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