Thursday, April 3, 2014

In the shop: A new porch for the travel trailer, the wood bits

We jointly own a travel trailer with my father-in-law. He uses it down on the Gulf Coast during the winter to fish and just generally avoid the mid-west winters.

For the first time in 5 years we are bringing the trailer back up to our property during the off-season so we can use it as an alternative bathroom/kitchen while we do some remodeling in our place.

A glimpse of the original porch, before weather took it's toll.
Now those tiny little folding steps that travel trailers come with might be fine for the young and spry but for the older (And frankly, less than spectacularly coordinated.) person they can be a challenge, so quite some time ago I built a miniature knock-down porch that was a little safer for an octogenarian to negotiate.

When we went down to the coast to prepare the trailer for it's move up to our place it was clear that after years of constant coastal exposure the porch had lived it's useful life and a replacement was needed.

Rather than build the same thing again I made a few modifications to address some of the shortcomings of the original.

The most obvious change is the use of steel instead of 4x4 wood posts for the supporting structure and railings. The railings of the original always flexed just a little more than I liked so I'm hoping using inch and a half square tubing with diagonal bracing will stiffen things up a little.

Both the original and the new version are designed to be broken down into sections that won't break your back when you try to load them into the trailer for transportation. The original used about three dozen bolts 8 or more inches in length and

broke down into 12 separate parts. With the new design I have it down to about a dozen 4" bolts and 7 sections. The original had to be assembled on it's side then turned upright and lifted into place, (And that was no fun!!) the new version can be assembled upright in place so you only have to move individual sections and never the whole thing.

Of course, for those paying attention, the new version is going to require some steel work and we all know that's not my strong suit, but we'll just have to get through it.

But first let's take care of the wood bits. The steps and the deck.

Once you've done it a couple times it only takes a few minutes with the framing square to lay out the stair stringers.

The small notch is where the upper end of the stringer will rest on a steel support.

Once the first stinger is cut I use it to mark the cuts for the other three. I always take extra care to use the first stringer to lay out each of the others, that way any variance in placement, pencil line thickness or cut accuracy is minimized rather than amplified. The steps are about 41 inches wide so I would only be cheating just a little by using three stringers which would lighten up the steps some, but my experience shows that steps take a heck of a beating so I'm using 4 stringers closely spaced.
Here the risers have been installed on the stringers. Again, I could have reduced weight by eliminating the risers but I want this assembly to be as stiff as possible to reduce flex in the lower end of the stair railing which will bolt to the side of step assembly. The risers go on first so the tread can be installed flush with the face of the riser.
Now the treads have been cut and installed which completes the step assembly. Once the steel structure is completed and the deck can be set in place the steel angle the notch in the stair stringers will rest on can be fine-tuned to maintain a consistent rise from step to step to deck. (It only takes as little a 1/4 inch variance in rise or run to cause people to regularly trip going up or down steps.)
Now on to the deck. Since this new version has the deck supported by steel the full length of all 4 sides I reduced the joists down to 2x6's instead of the 2x8's I would otherwise use for a 4 foot span.

Here I have two boards that will become the rim-joists clamped together and I'm plowing out a 1" deep dado for the two center joists to sit in. Again the joist spacing is pretty close, only 13" on center, but I want to make sure the deck feels strong and stable underfoot.
Creating this dado does two things. First and foremost, it allows the ends of the joists to rest on steel supports, taking the downward load of an American sized person standing on the deck off of any fasteners.

And second, it covers the ends of the joists for a cleaner look as opposed to separate blocking between the joists where you are looking at block, joist, block, joist. The ends of the two outer joists will be hidden by steel uprights.(Should have pulled the tag off the end of that board before taking the photo. Those dang things might be handy for the manufacture and retailer but they sure are a pain in the butt for the consumer!)

With the simple supporting structure done all that's left is to put the deck boards on. The scraps of cardboard in the upper left have the nails I use as spacers between boards pushed through them. The cardboard makes sure the nail stays where I want it and gives me something to grab to pull it clear when I'm done fastening the board.

Unless the deck is exactly divisible by deck boards + spacing, which almost never happens, I start from each edge and work towards the middle. This way I don't end up with a glaringly obvious narrow board on one end. When I'm down to a little less than two or three board-widths left I trim an equal amount off of each remaining board and put the profile back on the cut edge with a round-over bit in the router that matches the factory edge radius.

 In this case you can spot the two narrower boards because I took 13/16's off each one. I could have taken 13/32'nds off of 4 boards and hidden them better but that just seemed like too much work. If anyone does notice the narrower boards, they're right in the middle so it's not visually jarring.

A quick pass across the cut ends of the deck boards with the same router setup and all the wood parts are complete.

It took me about 3 leisurely hours to get this far; we'll have to see how the steel-work progresses.

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