Securing a Deck Post with Big Ass Bolt

“Howdy folks,” part of me wants to say. “Today we’re gonna talk deck posts, so giddyup lil’ saw horse, yuppie-mai-tai-o-kay.” Something about Home Improvement begs for a grizzled, gruff-but-kind, suspender-wearing sage.

And something in me rebels. Maybe I’ll use an upper-class British voice: “In addressing issues with veranda fenders, it is critical that one first select the correct gin.”

Or maybe Beat carpentry, from Kerouac or Ginsberg: “I have seen the best deck posts of my generation peel from their joists like naked bananas made limp from the yellowblack rot of bad technique, flinging tiki torches and angelheaded ex-hipsters like mediocre meteors across the suburban Bellevue sky into the Nirvanic Void of drained swimming pools, and while the railing is not safe, you are not safe.”

Let’s just let it rip, shall we? There may be some stylistic swerves.

We dwell in Possibility—
A fairer House than Code—
We need not bracket Deck Posts—
What could—Possibly—go Wrong?

— Emily Dickenson

The Problem

It was 2:30 in the afternoon when I arrived at the bungalow. Her eyes were as cool as the ice in her Gin Rickey. She wore a thin negligee, and with the air conditioner on, I guessed the rest of her must be cool too. Anyway, one of us had goosebumps.

“Come in, Mr. Bolt. I’m Misty—Misty Carrera.”

“The introduction is hardly necessary, Ms. Carrera—I’m familiar with your oeuvre.”

Her eyes flashed hot in anger: “You know nothing of my ovaries. Besides, I don’t do those kinds of movies anymore.”

“You have a problem with your deck.”

“My deck is fine. I have a problem with an inspector—that awful Inspector Pinckney. Follow me.”

I sighed. Pinckney—James “Picky” Pinckney. We went out onto the deck.

“Look, Ms. Carrera, everyone has a problem with Picky. He’d hold up the opening of the Taj Mahal if the acidity of the elephant shit in the alley was off.”

A familiar fedora appeared above the floor of the deck, followed by the rest of his rare roast beef face. “Big Ass—I should have known you’d show up. Sorry I can’t test you for acidity, I left my pH kit at the office.”

She glanced at my butt with arched eyebrows: “Big Ass? You look more like a Titus to me.”

I’ve given up trying to explain—my parents named me Bhigas—a revered name in the old country, something to do with owning lots of land. That which doesn’t kill me.

“Let’s cut to the chase. Something about a dryer vent? C’mon Picky, let the nice lady enjoy her deck.”

“Not a chance. She coulda bolted the post into the wall of the house, but no, she’s got to be cute and let the railing float. But with the dryer vent in the way, there’s no room to screw in a bracket. And you’re not going to find a way around this one, Big. Oh, I’m sorry–I should have said, ‘Ass’.”

This is what I hate most about Picky. I’m the rebel outsider, he’s the stuffed shirt from City Hall, yet somehow he comes up with all the good lines.

Anyway, there it was: a deck post without a bracket, the smoking gun. People think that deck posts break or something, if they bother to think about them at all. But that’s not how they fail. They’re bolted to the rim joist, and they act like a lever—get enough force leaning on the top rail, and it’ll pry the joist off like a pop top on a cheap beer. Brackets create a secure “load path” to an inner joist.

I shook my head. Stoned rail-leaners on high decks, taking in the view. Lots of people have died of the view.

I turned to Misty. “So why not remove the dryer vent?”

“Are you kidding me? I had a hard enough time getting it through the foundation wall, but getting to those quarter-inch hex screws so I could secure the vent cover? I finally had to use my little 90 degree screwdriver without a bit in it—I was just lucky the standard shaft size is also a quarter-inch hex.”

I passed on the obvious joke about a quarter-inch being a standard shaft size. I was impressed—I figured she hired some Joe to do her dirty work. She was tough, and resourceful. More to her than I realized.

“I’ll take a look.”

Picky was smirking. He knew he had me.

It was worse than I thought. It was tighter than—okay, that’s two jokes I’m passing on. Even a 90-degree attachment on a power screwdriver wouldn’t fit. Her trick with the little driver was good, but these were structural screws going into wood, not sheet metal.

The Solution

The way to do the impossible is to do the impossible. If the goal is to tie to an inner joist—just do it. But how? There wasn’t room for much more than a bolt.

Maybe it was the joke I didn’t make about the tiny quarter-inch shaft. Suddenly, I knew what to do.

“Be right back.” I went out my car and came back with a namesake. They were exchanging barbs. She saw me over his shoulder.

“Wow—that’s a big-ass bolt,” she said. He turned to me, puzzled, and then his jaw dropped. He knew. I was packing 24 inches of ¾” galvanized steel—enough to go through the post, the rim joist, and through the next inner joist. The head alone was 3 inches wide.

The bright kids at Virginia Tech had figured out the loads on posts, and it got put into code: 500 lbs. My bolt had a tensile strength in the thousands of pounds.

It didn’t take long to pull the old bolt, drill the larger hole, and install the new one. I even put in blocking and bracketed the bolt to the next inner joist, just to rub it in. Picky signed the permit, spat out “Be sure to use an approved deck sealer,” and slunk away.

She turned to me, amused. “Would you care to come in and have a drink? Perhaps we can discuss my oeuvre.” She said it with a perfect French accent. There were many layers to her, and I wanted to peel them all off. Slowly.

Note: This article is written for your dining and dancing pleasure only. Want to know how to properly secure a deck post? Check out this article in DeckMagazine.com:
http://www.deckmagazine.com/design-construction/railings/code-compliant-guardrail-posts_o

6 Replies to “Securing a Deck Post with Big Ass Bolt”

  1. I wish there was a like button I could click! Even though I still don’t grasp the technical genius of the construction problem-solving here, I DO grasp the storytelling genius. I never knew there were so many ways one could approach explaining the conundrum of securing a railing post, nor would I have guessed I wanted to know, but this was incredibly entertaining! And being a bit of a leaner myself, I’m very glad you figured it out, since I hope to visit said deck as often as possible. I hope you and Misty had a good time, she sounds like quite the lady…

  2. Thanks, Jeanie! Not genius, but maybe interesting how I got there. I hadn’t done anything on the blog all week, and it was noon Friday–deadline day. No ideas. I was going to write, but whatever I’d connected with in meditation that morning said, “Do the deck first.” I went with it, then decided to write about it. Then there was the problem with the Home Improvement voice, which turned out to be the solution. I worried about how to give the different voices equal length, but the Whatever said, “Don’t worry, just write the next thing.” And it worked.

    And yes, Misty is quite a lady–you have no idea. I’ll let Big Ass tell it:

    “It’s the perfect name for her: she can be as soft and yielding as mist, hard and cold as Carrera marble, and fast & wild & thrilling as a Porsche Carrera. And being with her was like having brunch in the eye of a hurricane: heavenly and idyllic, but then the napkins would start fluttering, and you knew you were in for a ride.”

    “Why did she keep her porn star name? She went into therapy after leaving the field, and the one thing she got from it was that without her mistakes, she would not have her unique perspective. She turned this into a philosophy she called Divine Error…”

    Big Ass had a lot more to say about her, but maybe that’s a post in itself.

    1. Ooh, yes, I think we need to know a lot more about Misty. I loved hearing the backstory of how you got to this post (and how you wrote it the same day as working on the deck & coming up with the idea – wow!). Your creativity seems to have a boundless source, much like a star nursery.

  3. Thanks–that kind of creativity is certainly the goal! Bhigas just did another project, so we may be hearing more about Misty.

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